Iraq Situation Report: December 7-20, 2016

Local and regional actors are maneuvering to secure their position in 2017 and for a post-ISIS Mosul. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki travelled to the southern provinces on December 9 and 10 to attend several tribal conferences where he has typically looked to secure electoral support, suggesting the he is positioning for upcoming 2017 provincial and 2018 parliamentary elections with an eye on the premiership. Large anti-Maliki protests, which were likely Sadrist, however, forced him to cut his visits short, indicating that Maliki may be facing stronger competition from other Shi’a parties in southern Iraq than before. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is moving to extend its boundaries while anti-ISIS operations in the region are ongoing and before the complete recapture of Mosul cements the current control of terrain. The KRG used operations around Mosul, including those prior to October 17 when the operation launched, to claim territory that will remain under its jurisdiction after operations end. The KRG will do so similarly around Sinjar. The U.S. and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) separately warned on December 15 that the continued presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated terrorist group, in Sinjar is a detriment to the area’s stability and resettlement. The PKK recaptured western Sinjar during anti-ISIS operations in November 2015; the KRG occupies the eastern half. The KRG will move to expel the PKK from Sinjar while the power dynamics are still shifting lest the PKK gain a permanent presence in northern Iraq, contrary to the KRG’s interests.  ISIS, however, is also positioning for the upcoming year and for the possible loss of Mosul. The group is reconstituting networks and capabilities in recaptured areas, such as Fallujah despite its recapture by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in June 2016, from where it can continue to launch attacks, particularly into Baghdad and the southern belts. ISIS’s position in the Euphrates River Valley could also maintain a connection with its affiliates in Syria which can provide support as ISIS reconstitutes in Iraq.