Country Profile



Iraq, long a stronghold of both Shia and Sunni Islam, as well as a haven for religious minorities, increasingly represents a country in which religion and sectarianism constitute divisive forces, expressed in both politics and violence. An insurgency with considerable transnational aspects is tied up in domestic issues of governance and sectarian representation.

1The contest for power on the basis of sectarian identity has been a recurring theme in Iraq's modern history. After the removal of Saddam Hussein, poor governance and mismanaged reconstruction policies exacerbated suppressed sectarian divisions.

2ISIS constitutes a rebranding of the post-2003 Sunni insurgency, and the organisation has a decade's worth of experience in mobilising Iraq's Sunni Arab tribes and militants against the Iraqi state.

3Violence in Iraq is inherently tied to the actions and situation of its regional neighbours. In particular, the conflict in Syria has exacerbated regional sectarianism, and Iraqi Shia militias have fought alongside the Syrian regime and Hizbullah.

Situation Report

In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham took control of large swathes of territory in northern Iraq. It seized Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, as well as other towns and cities in the predominantly Sunni Arab north. ISIS emerged in Iraq against the backdrop of disastrous post-conflict reconstruction after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and more than a decade of civil war and sectarian warfare in the post-2003 Iraq. ISIS is a re-branded version of Iraq's post-2003 Sunni insurgency, comprised of a range of disparate actors including al-Qaeda in Iraq, remnants of the former Baath regime, local Sunni tribes and local as well as international jihadis. Insurgent violence thrives on weak institutions, failed or weak states, sectarian division and regional volatility. In Iraq, it has thrived on and exploited with maximum impact the country's sectarian divisions. The organisation has manipulated agitations within the Sunni Arab community toward their loss of power and marginalisation, whether perceived or actual. Conversely, the jihadi organisation thrives on fears among Iraq's Shia community that they might go back to dictatorial rule and become an oppressed majority, as the majority of Iraq's Shia community was under the Baath regime, although some were co-opted.

The toppling of the Baath regime in 2003 and failed reconstruction policies allowed for previously suppressed sectarian sentiments to emerge and play a dominant role, both within the Iraqi state and the Iraqi society. Religion and sectarianism have since constituted powerful mobilising forces, politically and violently. The matter is a contentious and complex one because of recent Iraqi history, geopolitics and the nation-building process that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and toppling of the Baath regime. Collectively, these factors have allowed for an environment conducive to the aims and objectives of radical and Islamist groups, with devastating consequences that are likely to define the Iraqi state and society for decades to come.

  • Global Overview
  • 1. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: September 2016 41
  • 2. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: August 2016 46
  • 3. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: July 2016 56
  • 4. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: June 2016 77
  • 5. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: May 2016 76
  • 6. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: April 2016 32
  • 7. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: March 2016 16
  • 8. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: February 2016 21
  • 9. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: January 2016 23
  • Extremism
  • Fatalities: Civilians: September 2016 278
  • Groups: Fatalities caused by ISIS in Syria and Iraq: September 2016 302
  • Counter-Extremism
  • Counter-Extremism Incidents: September 2016 20
  • State Counter-Extremism: Statements: September 2016 2
  • State Counter-Extremism: Use of Force: September 2016 10