Podcast: Escalating Protests in Iraq

Crisis Brief is a new special edition of ISW's Overwatch podcast series intended to provide timely updates on unfolding crises with implications for U.S. national security. This set of episodes covers the situation in Iraq following the emergence of protests in early October 2019.

Iraq Crisis Brief:  Iranian Proxies Expand Efforts to Oust US Forces from Iraq (Update #15- April 15, 2020)

Iran’s proxy network in Iraq has escalated rocket attacks, stood up at least four new Shi’a militia groups, and diversified its targets and methods of attack. These efforts aim to wear down US forces and eventually compel their withdrawal from Iraq. In this episode of Overwatch, Middle East Security Program Manager Nicholas Heras and Iraq Research Assistant Katherine Lawlor discuss Iran’s ongoing campaign to shape Iraq into a state that serves Iran’s geopolitical interests.

Listen on AppleSpotifySoundCloud, and Stitcher. Transcript forthcoming.

Iraq Crisis Brief: Iranian Proxies Escalate Against U.S. in Iraq (Update #14- March 14, 2020)

Iran’s proxies are again escalating against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. Kata'ib Hezbollah fired rockets at a U.S. base in Taji, north of Baghdad, on March 11, triggering an immediate U.S. reprisal. Today, another rocket attack targeted the Taji base. In this Overwatch Crisis Brief recorded on March 13, ISW’s Iraq experts Nicholas Heras, Katherine Lawlor, and Brandon Wallace discuss the implications for the U.S.-led coalition’s relationship with Iraqi security forces and the increasing cooperation between Iran’s proxy groups.

Listen on AppleSpotifySoundCloud, and Stitcher. Transcript can be found here.

Iraq Crisis Brief: What You Need to Know Following the Death of Iranian IRGC Quds Force Commander Soleimani (Update #13- January 3, 2020)

The United States killed Iranian IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and several senior proxy militia officials in a Baghdad drone strike on 03 JAN 2020. Soleimani was a designated terrorist and the second most powerful person in Iran. This strike follows an Iranian proxy militia attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the killing of an American contractor by Iranian proxy militias, and a months-long escalation in Iranian rocket attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq and across the Middle East. Iran experts Nicholas Carl and Kyra Rauschenbach of the American Enterprise Institute's Critial Threats Project and Iraq experts Brandon Wallace and Katherine Lawlor of the Institute for the Study of War brief what you need to know to make sense of the coming news cycle.


Iraq Crisis Brief: Proxy Violence and Political Stagnation Following the Resignation of Iraq's Prime Minister (Update #12- December 20, 2019)

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mehdi resigned on November 29 following a renewed outbreak of violence against protesters and the withdrawal of support by Shi'a religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Iraq's political elites have scrambled to find a replacement to Mehdi, who was himself a compromise candidate, and have so far failed to achieve consensus on either a new prime minister or any meaningful concessions to the protesters. Meanwhile, Iran's proxies in Iraq continue to attack three groups - protesters, nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his supporters, and the U.S.-led Coalition - in order to drive political action in Iran's favor. ISW's Iraq experts Katherine Lawlor and Brandon Wallace offer their take on the political stagnation, proxy conflicts, and increased violence they expect to see moving into the new year.

Crisis Brief: The Emerging Violent Cycle of Iraqi Protests (Update #11- November 13, 2019)

The second round of Iraqi protests is entering its third week. ISW's Director of Innovation and Tradecraft Ketti Davison recaps how we got here and discusses the possibility for prolonged instability due to an emerging violent cycle of the protester movement. 

 Listen on AppleSpotifySoundCloud, and StitcherTranscript forthcoming. 

Crisis Brief: Iraqi Protests Grow After Iran Intervenes to Prevent the Prime Minister's Ouster (Update #10 - November 7, 2019)

Protests in Iraq have continued to grow after resuming on October 25th. Iranian proxy leader Hadi al Ameri reversed his position on the ousting of the Iraqi prime minister under the direction of the Iranian IRGC Quds Force commander. This direct intervention by Iran signals the potential for a more violent Iranian crackdown against Iraqi protesters. ISW Research Director Jennifer Cafarella discusses three possible trajectories for Iraq's future.

Listen on AppleSpotifySoundCloud, and StitcherTranscript forthcoming.

Crisis Brief: The Ouster of Iraq's Prime Minister Looks Imminent (Update #9 - October 29, 2019)

Rumors of an imminent resignation of the Iraqi prime minister emerged after nationalist Shi'a cleric Muqtada al Sadr made a dramatic return to Iraq and joined escalating protests in Najaf. He and Iranian proxy leader Hadi Al Ameri each released statements pledging to hold a no-confidence vote against the prime minister in the Iraqi parliament. ISW Research Director Jennifer Cafarella discusses the political stakes and possibilities. 

Listen on Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. Transcript forthcoming. 

Crisis Brief: Mass Protests Resume in Iraq (Update #8 - October 25, 2019)

Mass protests resumed in Baghdad and across the Shi’a-majority provinces in southern Iraq despite the Iraqi government’s attempts to de-escalate through concessions and limited reforms. Protesters torched political offices and militia headquarters in multiple provinces, chanting slogans against both the Iraqi government and Iran’s proxies in Iraq. One Iranian proxy militia reportedly used live ammunition against protesters. ISW’s Research Director Jennifer Cafarella and Iraq expert Samantha Leathley discuss Friday’s escalation and what could follow.

Listen on AppleSpotifySoundCloud, and Stitcher. Read the transcript here

Crisis Brief: A New Phase of Unrest in Iraq? (Update #7 - October 21, 2019)

Iraq’s government has not addressed the conditions that prompted street protests in early October 2019. Baghdad will also struggle to hold accountable the forces that engaged in a violent crackdown on protesters given Iran’s role in Iraq. The stage now appears set for a new phase of unrest. ISW Research Director Jennifer Cafarella and ISW Iraq analyst Samantha Leathley discuss the potential for renewed protests this week at a time when some U.S. forces are shifting from Syria into Iraq.

Listen on Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. Read the transcript here

Crisis Brief: The Risk of an Iranian Military Response (Update #6 - October 8, 2019)

Iran signaled it may send Iranian security forces to Iraq, ostensibly to secure the upcoming Arbae’en pilgrimage. But Iran may alternatively be preparing these Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) to help suppress Iraqi protests. The LEF previously helped the Bashar al Assad regime attempt to suppress the Syrian rebellion as early as 2011. The Iranian Regime has used it more recently to quell domestic protests. The unit may assist Iran’s proxies in Iraq to do the same. Nicholas Carl, an Iran expert from the Critical Threats Project, discusses this possibility and its implications with ISW’s Research Director Jennifer Cafarella.

Listen on Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. Read the transcript here.

Crisis Brief: Iran's Coup by Proxy (Update #5 - October 7, 2019)

The Iraqi prime minister’s concessions to protesters reflects one aspect of the ongoing crisis, but it is only part of the story. There remains an ongoing competition for the future of Iraq. ISW Research Director Jennifer Cafarella and the Critical Threats Project’s Iran Analyst Nicholas Carl discuss the Iraqi government’s recent actions, what the information environment tells us about the situation on the ground, and how the Iranian regime is positioning its proxies as it vies for greater control.

Listen on Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. Read the transcript here.

Crisis Brief: What Could Happen Next (Update #4 - October 4, 2019)

This update outlines possible paths of escalation of the Iraq crisis. Multiple reports of assassinations and other targeted killings of activists and demonstrators reflect an attempt to suppress the protests through intimidation, likely by Iran's proxies. Leading Shi'a political figure Muqtada al Sadr called for the dissolution of the government and a new election in an attempt to oust the sitting Prime Minister, who has failed to address the crisis. A parliament session is reportedly scheduled for October 5th. It remains unclear whether a reshuffle in the political leadership in Baghdad would ameliorate protest demands, however. ISW's Iraq expert Samantha Leathley joins Jennifer Cafarella to discuss developments on the ground and what ISW is watching for next. 

Listen on Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. Read the transcript here.

Crisis Brief: How We Got Here (Update #3 - October 3, 2019)

This update addresses the political dynamics that have lead to recent mass protests against the Iraqi government. ISW's Research Director Jennifer Cafarella zooms out to discuss how key actors, domestic political competition, and Iranian influence over the last several years have shaped the current crisis. Crisis Brief is a special edition of the Overwatch series intended to provide timely updates on unfolding national security crises.

Listen on Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. Read the transcript here.

Crisis Brief: Baghdad Protests Morning Update (Update #2 - October 3, 2019) 

Iraqi protesters have defied a government curfew in Baghdad, triggering renewed clashes with security forces. The death toll is now at 19 with hundreds wounded. The internet remains severed as the Iraqi government tries to disrupt the protest momentum and minimize reports of civilian casualties. ISW Research Directer Jennifer Cafarella and CTP Iran Analyst Nicholas Carl discuss what has transpired in the last 12 hours and what to watch for next.

Listen on AppleSpotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. Read the transcript here.

Crisis Brief: Baghdad Protests (Update #1 - October 2, 2019) 

Crisis Brief is a special edition of the Overwatch series intended to provide timely updates on unfolding national security crises. In this installment, ISW's Research Director Jennifer Cafarella discusses a deteriorating political-security situation in Iraq. Mass protests against the Iraqi government have spread to eleven predominantly Shi'a provinces. Iraqi government forces have used live ammunition in multiple provinces and are fighting with protesters to secure Baghdad International Airport. This update describes the unfolding crisis and the possible trajectories for further escalation. 

Listen on AppleSpotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. Read the transcript here.