The Iraqi parliamentary elections were held early in response to the 2019 mass protests. The final results have yet to be announced; yet, it appears that the Sadrist movement is the big winner while pro-Iranian militias seem to have suffered the greatest loss. Considering though the lowest voter turnout since Saddam Hussein’s removal in 2003, the very democratic legitimacy of the new government, whose formation process is expected to be lengthy and complex, is under question. Additionally, its fragility is highlighted in the gravity of the challenges it faces: serious socio-economic problems related to the Covid-19, climate change and entrenched corruption.
Despite the latest ceasefire in Idlib, tensions are once again rising across Syria. In the northwest, the high mobility in Idlib indicates that renewed fighting is rather a matter of timing, while in the south and east, escalating assassination campaigns in Daraa and Deir ez-Zor generate new dangerous dynamics. In central and eastern Syria, the resurgence of ISIS cells further exposes a severe security vacuum that opens way for intensive influence competition between the Kurds and the regime. Last but not least, the unprecedented economic crisis that face the country threatens to derail even the minimum stability enjoyed in Syria at the moment.
The ongoing process of the “safe zone” establishment in Northeastern Syria and the management of the Idlib province further complicate and strain relations between allies, jeopardizing an already fragile and volatile state of affairs. The reconciliation of the incompatible aims of all parties involved therein is an uphill task. Both the US and Russia struggle to balance the colliding interests of their allies on the ground, whilst maintaining good ties with Turkey appears pivotal for them. For its part, Turkey, pressed by its domestic problems, is using the refugees and the jihadist threat as bargaining chips in negotiations.
Relations between Erbil and Baghdad have been ofttimes strained in the past. Lately, following the fallout of the 2017 referendum of independence, KRG lost most of its tools for leverage in negotiations with Federal government. That has been evident in the military invasion and finally re-establishment of Central government’s control over Kirkuk and most of the disputed territories, and given the international, notably US, silence. One year later, after the Iraqi and Kurdistan Region’s parliamentary elections in 2018, hopes are relatively renewed. However, as long as key issues in their disagreements remain unsolved, these hopes can easily fade away.
The elevation of the Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria in the last years to strategic partners of the U.S. in their fight against the Islamic State has generated new hopes of an independent Kurdistan. However, the empowerment of PKK-related forces has upset Turkey, an important U.S. ally. The Trump administration has claimed to aim for future stability and is seeking to rewarm ties with Turkey, meaning a possible end of partnership with certain Kurdish groups, although some of Trump's policy advisers seem favorable towards a Kurdish independence in the KRG under the right conditions.
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