Anti-government Sunni militants have swept across western and northern Iraq over the past week, gaining control of the cities of Mosul and Tikrit. Operating mainly under the banner of the State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or also known as ISIS), in many places they seemed to have faced little to no resistance from the official Iraqi army, who, according to reports, laid down their arms and melted into the countryside. As they neared Baghdad, Kurdish paramilitary pesh merga fighters took control of the strategic oil town of Kirkuk, defending the city against the ISIS advance.

group sitting at table tweeting

The U.S. Institute of Peace hosted a question-and-answer session on Twitter on Friday, June 13, to examine the origins of the crisis, its-cross border implications for Syria, and how the U.S. and Iraqi governments might respond.

Participants in the session from USIP included Khitam Al-Khaykanee, program officer for the Rule of Law team; Raya Barazanji, senior program officer for the Middle East & Africa; Sarhang Hamasaeed, senior program o fficer for the Middle East & Africa; Steven Heydemann, vice president for the Center of Applied Research on Conflict and head of USIP’s Syria program; and Manal Omar, associate vice president for the Middle East & Africa.

Here are some of their key comments. The entirety of the conversation, pegged to the hashtag #USIPIraq, is collected in this Tagboard.

Many in the online audience wondered about ISIL, the radical group that has long operated across the Syria-Iraq border. Raya Barazanji cautioned against seeing them as a monolithic force.

Manal Omar, participating from Jordan, considered whether the ISIL offensive could be stopped without the use of militias.

As the Iraqi government and the United States deliberate over their response to the crisis, Sarhang Hamasaeed called for a careful, comprehensive approach, noting that the anti-government forces may have a much broader base of support than was initially thought.

Omar noted that many in the Middle East are skeptical that the Iraqi government will be able to swiftly find a way out of the crisis.

And while many analysts around the world were surprised at the apparent lack of resolve of the Iraqi army in the face of the ISIL advance, Khitam Al-Khaykanee (tweeting through USIP’s Twitter account) was more sympathetic, noting that the army still lacks some capabilities and may be exhausted by nearly continuous operations since the American withdrawal.

Steven Heydemann, meanwhile, handled a number of questions on how the ISIL advance will affect Syria.

Heydemann also discussed how Iran might respond to the situation.

Read the entire conversation.

Related Publications

Nancy Lindborg on Iraq Rebuilding After ISIS

Nancy Lindborg on Iraq Rebuilding After ISIS

Thursday, April 11, 2019

By: Nancy Lindborg

Following her trip to Iraq, Nancy Lindborg discusses the country’s efforts to rebuild after ISIS. “They’ve [ISIS] been deprived of their territory … rebuilding is under way. But, there is very much a sense that the ISIS ideology is alive and well and there are a lot of concerns overall about security,” says Lindborg. “There has been important progress, but it’s very precarious and completely reversible.”

Reconciliation; Violent Extremism

Reaching a Durable Peace in Afghanistan and Iraq: Learning from Investments in Women’s Programming

Reaching a Durable Peace in Afghanistan and Iraq: Learning from Investments in Women’s Programming

Friday, March 29, 2019

By: Danielle Robertson; Steven E. Steiner

USIP recently partnered with New America to convene roundtable discussions with government, civil society, and humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding organizations to learn from the past decade of women’s programming in fragile states such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on these discussions, this report provides guidance for improving future programming to not only integrate the needs of women but also recognize the role women play in transforming violent conflict and sustaining a durable peace.


The Current Situation in Iraq

The Current Situation in Iraq

Friday, March 29, 2019

Iraq has been ravaged in recent years by cycles of warfare, an internally displaced persons (IDPs) crisis, crippling sectarianism and, most destructively, a three-year campaign to drive ISIS from the third of the country it controlled. Even after the military defeat of ISIS, Iraq continues to face severe challenges including resolving the political, sectarian, and tribal conflicts that fueled the spread of extremism and its entanglement in regional rivalries.

View All Publications