Iraq is no stranger to conflict. Since its formation in 1932 the country has been subject to British occupation in WWII, internal military revolts, one-party states with oppressive rule, border disputes with its neighbours (particularly Iran), multiple conflicts over the northern Kurdish region, war with Kuwait (and a multinational coalition), and a widely publicised invasion from the US-led coalition following suspicions of the development of weapons of mass destruction.
After the defeat of the Saddam Hussein government in 2003, many troops from the US-led coalition remained in the country to support the sovereign Iraqi government that was established the following year. Shortly after, criticism of the government and its foreign support escalated into an armed conflict, in which a number of opposition groups became involved and in which the perpetrators of a large number of attacks were unable to be identified. In 2011, the USA withdrew their last troops from Iraq and it was the first year since the invasion that the conflict in Iraq did not pass the intensity threshold of war.
However, in 2013, Iraq’s intrastate war with the terrorist group Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS, formally ISI, also known as ISIL or IS, and in Arabic Da'eesh) escalated to war level. ISIS seeks to establish an Islamic State and is also very active in Syria, as well as maintaining limited territorial control in Libya and Nigeria and affiliates in other nations. ISIS and other Sunni militant groups have been fighting the government, which is supported by Shiite militias, Kurdish Peshmerga, pro-government Sunni tribal fighters, Iran, and a US-led coalition. According to the UN, 12,282 civilians were killed in 2014, and by mid-2015 over 3 million people were internally displaced. ISIS launched a large-scale operation in northern Iraq, resulting in considerable territorial gains and ISIS announcing an Islamic State, covering parts of Syria and Iraq, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaiming himself as caliph (religious leader). Following ISIS’ territorial expansion, an international coalition conducted hundreds of airstrikes against major Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq.
Despite Iraq’a current crisis with ISIS continuing to see horrific violence in 2015, there have been past examples of peace attempts (and some successes) in other conflicts for Iraq. The country’s interstate war with Iran ended in 1988 with a UN-brokered ceasefire, and the last prisoners of war were exchanged in 2003. Even though the two countries improved their diplomatic ties and enhanced their cooperation in the fields of economy and trade in recent years, the border line between both countries remained a controversial issue. However, in 2013, a border agreement was reached and the foreign ministers of both countries announced that they had managed to renegotiate an agreement and wanted to implement the original 1975 Algiers Accord.
The international community is concerned about citizens from around the world joining with the ISIS in the current conflict, with Australia recently coming to an information agreement with Iran concerning Australians travelling to join the Islamic State, and France planning to open a controversial rehabilitation centre for young people returning after fighting alongside Islamic militants.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has been active as a political mission in Iraq since 2003, advising and assisting the government, but the continuation of violence (going on two generations of fighting since the 2003 invasion), coupled with the unprecedented displacement of civilians, is raising concerns for the possibility of nurturing reconciliation in Iraq. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are both attempting to address this overwhelming issue.