The southern provinces of Maysan, Dhi Qar, Muthanna, and Basra are populated almost entirely by Shi’a Arabs, in the major cities of Amarah, Nasariyah, and Basra, as well as in the rural marshlands. Of these provinces, Basra is the primary economic hub.
Government of Iraq
The mid-Euphrates region of Iraq lies south of Baghdad. Its main cities include Karbala, Hillah, Kut (الكوت), Diwaniyah (الديوانية), and Najaf (النجف). The population is predominantly Shi'a in the south and generally a mixture of Sunni and Shi'a to the north of Hillah and northwest of Kut. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) play an important role in this region, particularly the 8th Iraqi Army Division led by the capable General Othman Ali Ferhood.
The Iraqi province of Diyala lies to the north of Baghdad. Its shares its eastern border with Iran, its northern border with Kurdistan, and its western border is shaped by the flow of the Tigris River. The Diyala River, a tributary of the Tigris, flows south through Diyala before meeting with the Tigris just south of Baghdad. Diyala's main cities include Baqubah (its capital), Muqdadiyah, Balad Ruz, Khalis, and Khanaqin. The province has a mix of Sunni Arab, Shi'a, and Kurdish residents.
Western Iraq is comprised of a single province, Anbar, located to the west of Baghdad. It stretches northwest to the Syrian border and southwest to the Saudi Arabian border. The Euphrates River Valley represents the main line of communication in the province, with numerous cities and settlements lining its banks. Moving from west to east, the cities of al-Qaim, Rawah, Haditha, Hit, Ramadi, Habbaniyah, and Fallujah make up the main population centers of the province. Anbar’s population is almost entirely Sunni Muslim.
Northern Iraq extends north from Baghdad and is bordered by Syria, Turkey, and Iran. It consists of the provinces of Salah ad-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, Arbil, Dahuk, and Ninawa. Iraqi Kurds inhabit the northern area, including Sulaymaniyah, Arbil, and Dahuk. The remainder of the region has a mix of ethnic and sectarian groups.
Tribal movements and Sons of Iraq (SoI) groups have been a critical partner for coalition forces in stabilizing Iraq from 2006 onwards.
As US forces in Iraq transition from a combat role to an overwatch role, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) will take on an increasingly important role in the provision of security for the Iraqi people.
Iran has been actively involved in supporting Shi'a militias and encouraging sectarian violence in Iraq since the invasion of 2003.
Although one of the smallest factions in the Sunni insurgency, Al-Qaeda in Iraq may be one of the most deadly. US operations have put tremendous pressure on the group.