Kawa Hassan Addresses European Parliament on Security in Iraq

News | July 14, 2016

On July 13, Hassan exchanged views with the Security and Defense subcommittee of the European Parliament on the security challenges in the conflict-ridden Middle East nation. The director of EWI's Middle East and North Africa Program spoke during a session in Brussels. 

Below is the text of his address. The session was streamed live and can be accessed through this link.


Dear Mrs. Chairman, 

Dear esteemed members of the Subcommittee on Security and Defense, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Afternoon. Thank you very much for this kind invitation; it is an honor to be back at the European Parliament and exchange views with you on the security situation in Iraq. 

With the liberation of Falluja and recapturing of the Qayara air base 50 miles south of Mosul, the war against Daesh is entering an extremely critical phase. According to HIS Conflict Monitor, as of 4 July 2016, ISIS controls roughly 68,300 square kilometer in both Iraq and Syria, which is roughly the size of Ireland or the U.S. state of West Virginia. In 2015, ISIS lost 14% of its territory, and over the past six months its territory was further reduced by an additional 12 percent. 

Without doubt this is welcome news and must be hailed and celebrated. But as Iraqi forces prepare for the crucial battle for Mosul, daunting political and military challenges lie ahead for Iraq and the Global Coalition against ISIS.      

First, even though our meeting is about security challenges in Iraq, it is imperative not to lose sight of the battle of ideas between ISIS and the rest of the world. The recent horrible and heinous attacks in Baghdad, Balad, Daka and Istanbul are terrible reminders of the tenacity and resilience of the ideology of ISIS. In short, ISIS is losing territorially but winning ideologically, at least for the time being. The most monumental mission after the military defeat of ISIS will be how to provide an alternative narrative to the foot soldiers of ISIS, who come from more than 100 countries. The brutality and appeal of ISIS is not only an Iraqi or Syrian problem, it is in fact a global problem. The globalization of ISIS should be tackled through globalization of solidarity with all victims of ISIS’ barbarism. One of the most powerful messages on Iraqi social media after the terrible Karada attack almost two weeks ago was questioning the lack of mass solidarity rallies and moments of silence in the West for Iraqi victims in light of memorials and recognition for ISIS victims in Paris and Brussels.   

Second, alleged human rights violations were committed by Popular Mobilization Forces and Federal Police during the liberation of Falluja. According to Human Rights Watch, an Iraqi government investigation into alleged abuses against civilians during military operations to retake Fallujah is being kept under wraps. Serious and transparent investigations into these abuses should be conducted. Those who committed these violations should be held accountable and justice should be provided to victims and their families.      

Third, although ISIS certainly committed the Karada bombing, it can still be considered a consequence of the fragmentation and deep division of Iraqi security forces. In Bagdad these forces are divided between the Iraqi army, ministry of interior, two intelligence services, Popular Mobilization Forces from different backgrounds who answer to different commanders, and neighborhood patrols. All of these forces are tasked with the same objective, namely defending Baghdad. The multiplicity of agencies and at times overlapping responsibilities create confusion and chaos due to a lack of coordination.  As a result this makes it difficult, at times, to hold agencies responsible when there is a terrorist attack. The security situation in the Kurdistan region is better than federal Iraq, but it suffers from somewhat similar structural security problems. Despite reform promises and plans by the Kurdish leadership to transform security services and peshmarga into professional, non-partisan and institutionalized forces, they remain divided along party lines between KDP and PUK. This is due to a lack of political will. Kirkuk and other disputed territories between Bagdad and Erbil also face the problem of proliferation of security forces. In the liberated Sinjar where ISIS committed genocide against Yezidis, the KDP and PKK are engaged in a potentially disastrous power struggle that has divided the already-traumatized Yezidi community. The Kurdish infighting between these two parties has resulted in an economic siege and blockade of Yezidis who returned to Sinjar. This is not what the Yezidis expected to face when they decided to return home. These structural divisions do not bode well for future battles against ISIS, in particular for the liberation of Mosul. Existential questions regarding Post-ISIS Mosul must be addressed now: Which force will control which part of the city? Which forces acceptable to local communities should provide security? Which donors will provide reconstruction funds and which Iraqi groups will control them? What would be the future of disputed territories between the Kurds and Sunni Arabs?           

Fourth, the military division is compounded by and is indeed a reflection of political fragmentation. The major Iraqi communities and parties are deeply divided about the future of Iraqi state. The post-2003 political system that emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein is collapsing. Communities are divided internally and externally. Internally there is no consensus within communities about what kind of Iraqi state they want to see in the post-ISIS period. Externally there is no consensus with other communities about the form of the future state. The unprecedented protests and storming of parliament over the past two months in Bagdad are about both pushing for genuine reforms and at the same time a real, albeit for now political, infighting between major Shiite forces for what will be left of the Iraqi state. The Sunni forces are deeply divided about their vision for post-ISIS Sunni areas and Iraq as a whole. The political process in the Kurdistan region is facing a crippling stalemate: the parliament is paralyzed; the parties cannot agree on a joint vision and plan for the region’s future with federal Iraq. Furthermore they cannot agree on a transition plan until the next election, expected to be held in 2017 to solve the expired presidency of Barzani and the future form of the political system, namely whether it should be a parliamentary, presidential or semi-presidential system. Despite promises by Kurdish leadership to implement overdue and urgently needed reforms and tackle structural corruption, no serious, real or meaningful actions have been taken to date.          

Fifth, due to the falling oil prices, structural corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and cronyism that have marked the post-Saddam era, Iraq is facing its worst economic crisis since 2003. The economic downturn is impacting the war against ISIS. As a result Iraq is in a dire need of international financial aid to support and return millions of internally displaced persons to their places of origin and implement reconstruction projects.           

In conclusion, even if ISIS is militarily defeated, there will be no sustainable security if these military, political and economic problems are not addressed and firmly resolved. It is the responsibility of Iraqi leaders to care for their country and come up with inclusive solutions that aim at crafting a new political pact. The European Union can and should be a relevant actor in this process. It should support Iraqis in their efforts to defeat ISIS and establish a new Iraq. The EU should join the U.S., UN and other international actors in mediating between Iraqis by initiating short, mid and long term political, military and economic initiatives with the aim to encourage Iraqi leaders to find common grounds and reach painful but vital, historic and much-needed mutual compromises. However this support should be conditional. It has to be based on basic democratic principles, namely: true power sharing, peaceful transfer of power when office terms come to an end, implementing real reforms, rule of law, human rights and addressing human rights violations, transparency and accountability. Without this new pact, the new Iraq will be the old Iraq, and ISIS will be back, probably even with more brutality and vengeance.      

Thank you very much for your kind attention. I look forward to your questions and comments.