Not so easy: A member of pro-Iraqi government forces outside Fallujah, in Anbar. (photo: حيدر محمد علي)
Since the extremist Islamic State group sparked a security crisis in Iraq in the middle of 2014, Iraqi security forces have recently been successful in taking terrain back from the extremists. Now the extremist group only has a few bases left in the country.
However, even though the Islamic State, or IS, group was pushed out of places like Tikrit and Fallujah some time ago, the lack of progress for locals in the liberated cities and towns indicates that the Iraqi government doesn’t have much of a plan for what happens in the post-IS world.
Local authorities and local security forces – such as the police – have lost their authority in people’s eyes, cities and infrastructure have been destroyed in the fighting and unemployment is growing.
Law And Order
After the IS group took control of terrain in Iraq, local security forces collapsed. This included the local police, many of whom were in danger from the IS fighters. Now that the IS group has been driven out, the police are eager to return to work. The return of the rule of law and respect for Iraq’s judicial system, no matter how flawed, would be supported by the presence of local police. However, the federal government doesn’t trust local police forces in areas formerly held by the IS group. They suspect the police has been infiltrated by extremists. And it has slowly become clear there is no genuine plan to reactivate local police forces.
The security forces in charge in provinces such as Salahaddin – including the army, the Shiite Muslim volunteer militias, the local police and other volunteer militias with tribal affiliations - don’t all answer to the federal government. They act separately and they seem to make their own decisions.
Although almost two years have passed since the capital of Salahaddin, Tikrit, saw the end of the IS group’s occupation, local authorities still haven’t been able to unify these different forces.
The same kind of thing is happening in Anbar province. When the IS group took control of the province’s largest cities in 2014, the local police force collapsed. Members of the police went into hiding, fled or were forced to pledge allegiance to the extremists. When the Iraqi army regained control of many parts of Anbar in 2016, they treated the former police with suspicion, cutting off their salaries. Today security there is taken care of by the army, newly formed policing units and tribal militias, made up of local men and affiliated with local clans. The latter cannot fulfil the same roles as they are loyal to certain families and tribes and act upon those loyalties.
“Before the IS group attacked we had 25,000 police,” Faleh al-Issawi, deputy head of Anbar's provincial council, told NIQASH. “Now there’s about a third of that number. We should be supporting the local police to regain control of security in Anbar.”
Security in the cities formerly held by the IS group is not based upon respect for the authorities and the rule of law. Rather it is due to respect for the power of certain tribes or certain militia groups. When locals have problems, they go to the tribal or militias leaders for justice.
No Trust In Politics
Many of the Iraqis who were forced to leave their homes during the security crisis, and who lived for months in camps for the displaced - and even those Iraqis who stayed in their homes and lived unwillingly under the IS group’s control - have something in common: They all blame their local government for what happened.
There was very little trust in the Iraqi authorities anyway, and now after this security crisis, there is even less. Existing political groups and bodies are increasingly unpopular. There’s no doubt that an election would be helpful to correct this imbalance. However, given the security crisis and the number of displaced Iraqis as well as damaged infrastructure, it looks increasingly unlikely that the provincial elections planned for 2017, will be held on time in Iraq.
So it’s quite likely that unpopular local politicians will continue to act as mayors and governors beyond early 2017, making decisions to enrich themselves or for personal reasons, because they well know that as soon as there are elections, they won’t be in power much longer.
In fact, provincial politicians in the post-IS group landscape appear to be getting more involved in bitter and protracted political conflicts than before the security crisis, instead of trying to unite locals in their area or dealing with reconstruction issues that require funding and aid.
In Iraq most jobs are provided by the government, which uses revenue from oil, to pay wages and provide services. Many locals have been loyal to their government because the government is also their employer. However, due to the fall in oil prices and the ensuing deficit in the federal budget, the government has been struggling to fulfil those obligations to salary earners.
The security crisis caused by the IS group has coincided with this financial crisis, making things even more difficult – especially now, when major reconstruction efforts are needed in places like Anbar and Salahaddin. The Iraqi government says the number of people living in poverty in provinces like Anbar, Salahaddin and Ninawa has risen dramatically and that unemployment is also growing in the wake of the security crisis.
Locals have returned to their homes nonetheless, given that they had spent uncomfortable months in camps for the displaced. But they have returned to find, not just destruction, but also unemployment and lack of any funds to rebuild. Many had spent their savings while they were displaced and unemployed. And now the government is no longer even able to provide new job opportunities.