Conflict dynamics and potential for peacebuilding in Iraq


What does the literature indicate are the current conflict dynamics in Iraq and what is the potential for peacebuilding?


This report is an update of the information available in the October 2014 GSDRC Contemporary conflict analysis of Iraq.

Since the beginning of 2014, the extreme jihadist group ISIL, who are also active in Syria, has gained control of territory in the mainly Sunni and contested areas of Iraq, although government forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and the Shia dominated Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units/Forces, PMU/PMF) volunteer force, have regained some territory. ISIL recently seized control of Ramadi.

The conflict has taken on an increasingly sectarian nature and minorities have been disproportionally affected. The ISIL insurgency is very brutal, with populations, especially minority groups, subjected to mass executions, systematic rape and extreme violence.

Current conflict dynamics:

  • Sunni support continues to be important to the success of either ISIL or the Iraqi government.
  • Attempts have been made to create an inclusive government which wins their support.
  • Resistance to ISIL exists in some Sunni communities.
  • ISF and ISIL’s capacity can affect the course of the conflict.
  • Shia militias who have responded to ISIL have increased their power and legitimacy.
  • There is the potential for deepening sectarian conflict, especially as a result of revenge attacks.
  • Intra-Sunni and intra-Shia dynamics, as well as Sunni-Shia dynamics, and intra-Kurd and Kurd-Shia dynamics, can cause tensions and alliances which affect the course of the conflict, as well as creating potential future conflicts.
  • Changing relations of Iraq and the US with Iran can influence underlying tensions and how the conflict is fought.
  • The conflict is closely interconnected with the conflict in Syria.
  • Recent protests and promises of reform could play into the conflict dynamics.

Potential for peacebuilding:

The lack of a peacebuilding strategy to complement the military operations is a cause for concern. The literature does not engage much with peacebuilding platforms or actors. Some suggestions in the literature about the potential for peacebuilding include: i) the general rejection of violent groups; ii) increasing Sunni support for the government; and iii) a sense of common identity. Some important peacebuilding actors could include: religious leaders, political figures, civil society organisations, and international actors.


Suggested citation

Rohwerder, B. (2015). Conflict dynamics and potential for peacebuilding in Iraq (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1263). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.