Flag of Iraq
  1. Iraq Main Page
  2. Iraq Gains Independence
  3. Rise of the Baath Party
  4. Saddam Hussein's Ascendancy Brings Series of Wars
  5. After 9/11, the U.S. Launches War in Iraq
  6. No Evidence of Weapons in Iraq
  7. Insurgency Gathers Steam
  8. Iraqi Leadership Struggles in Effort to Form a Government
  9. U.S. Strategy Under Fire
  10. Bush Orders a Surge of U.S. Troops to Iraq
  11. Iraqi Parliament Gets Down to Business
  12. Political Veterans Fare Well in 2010 Parliamentary Elections
  13. War in Iraq Is Officially Over but Political Unrest and Violence Continue as ISIS Emerges
  14. 2014 Parliamentary Elections Unexpectedly Peaceful Despite Rise of ISIS
  15. New Prime Minister Forms a Power-Sharing Government
  16. Mixed Bag in the Fight Against ISIS
  17. Blackwater Guards Convicted
  18. Prime Minister Calls for Overhaul of Government
2014 Parliamentary Elections Unexpectedly Peaceful Despite Rise of ISIS

In May 2014, Iraq held parliamentary elections amid the insurgency in Anbar Province led by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an extremist Sunni affiliate of al Qaeda. Suicide bombings and attacks on polling stations around Baghdad spiked in the weeks leading up to the vote, and ISIS threatened to disrupt the election and warned Iraqis not to vote. With voter turnout at around 60%, citizens seemed to have ignored the threats. The country took extraordinary precautions and implemented unprecedented security measures to prevent violence, and the efforts seemed largely successful, with only a few incidents of violence being reported. Prime Minister Maliki's State of Law coalition prevailed, taking 92 seats out of 328 seats in Parliament. More than 9,000 candidates competed for the 328 seats.

ISIS was formed in April 2013 and is active in both Iraq and Syria. Foreign jihadists compose the bulk of the organization, which believes that an Islamic state should be created in what is now Syria and Iraq and ruled by strict shariah law. Al Qaeda recently distanced itself from ISIS because of the group's brutal tactics, including attacks on Muslims.

Members of ISIS took control of Mosul in northern Iraq in early June 2014, dealing the government an enormous—and unexpected—blow. The militants released Sunni insurgents from prison, looted banks of about $425 million, and occupied an airport, several government and military buildings, and a police station. Government troops abandoned the fight in droves and joined civilians fleeing the city. As many as 500,000 people fled Mosul. Defection has increased in recent months as the Sunni insurgency has intensified. Prime Minister Maliki was widely blamed for fueling the sectarian crisis by alienating Sunnis from the Shiite-led government and ordering the military to target Sunnis. He declared a state of emergency and appealed for help from international allies. Mosul is the second-largest city in Iraq and an important hub in the country's oil industry.

The militants, who were joined by other Sunni groups, pressed on after occupying Mosul, taking Tikrit. Iraqi air force officials told about 1,700 cadets to return home after the militants won control of Tikrit. The cadets never made it home and were all killed by ISIS militants. Their bodies were found in mass graves in April 2015.

ISIS militants then seized control of the country's largest oil facility, located in Baiji, as they headed south toward Baghdad. As the militants expanded their areas of control and the stability and future of Iraq grew even more dire, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's senior Shiite religious leader, called on all Iraqis to fight the militants, saying it is "the legal and national responsibility of whoever can hold a weapon to hold it to defend the country, the citizens and the holy sites."

Thousands of Shiites heeded Sistani's call and joined the fight. The untrained fighters were met with brutal attacks from ISIS, and hundreds of Shiites were reportedly massacred after taking up arms. ISIS continued to seize more territory in the north and west, putting pressure on the U.S. and other nations to consider a military response. On June 21, President Obama said 300 military advisers would be sent to Iraq but said combat troops would not be deployed.

There were calls from both inside Iraq and by foreign leaders for Maliki to step down to make way for the formation of a unity government. He refused, and headed a caretaker government while Parliament struggled to elect a speaker, a necessary first step to form a government. Parliament failed on two occasions to elect a speaker. On its third attempt, in July, Parliament elected Salim al-Jubouri, a moderate Sunni Islamist, as speaker. Under the Constitution, Parliament has 30 days to elect a president, and two weeks after that it must name a prime minister. As part of a power-sharing agreement, the speaker is a Sunni, the president a Kurd, and the prime minister a Shiite. Parliament elected Fouad Massoum, Kurdish politician, as president on July 24. He was sworn in after the vote.

With the Iraqi army in retreat, Kurds took over the northern, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which they long dominated but have not fully controlled. The Kurdish security force, the pesh merga, fought back ISIS militants. The Kurds, largely autonomous in northern Iraq, aspire to have an independent state made up of Kurds from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Their initial success in taking control of the city and beating back the advance of ISIS gave Kurds hope that their dream may become a reality. However, in early August, ISIS fighters proceeded north and took over three towns, Sinjar, Zumar, and Wana, after defeating the pesh merga, which proved unfit for such a fight. ISIS threatened to exterminate members of the Yazidi minority who live in Sinjar, and 40,000 members of the group fled to Mount Sinjar with just the clothes on their backs. They were stranded in the heat without food, water, medicine, or other supplies. Yazidis practice a religion based on Zoroastrianism , and ISIS considers them heretics. ISIS, which changed its name to the Islamic State and declared the territory under its control—Anbar province (west of Baghdad) and most of Nineveh (north of Baghdad)—a caliphate, also threatened to kill all Christians in Mosul who didn't convert to Islam. Nearly all of the city's Christians, who numbered about 60,000 ten years ago, fled.

Maliki dispatched Iraq's air force to assist the pesh merga in their fight against the militants. The move seemed tactical only and did not signal an easing of tension between the government and Kurds. The U.S. again became militarily involved in Iraq, with President Barack Obama authorizing airstrikes in August to protect Americans and American facilities in Iraq, particularly in Erbil. The U.S. military also dropped food and medicine to the thousands of Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar. Obama said the authorization is narrow and he will not allow the U.S. to become mired in a war in another war in Iraq. "I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these," he said. "I understand that. . . As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq." The first airstrike was launched on Aug. 8 and targeted militants near Erbil. Obama is the fourth consecutive president to bomb Iraq.

Iran, which holds tremendous influence over the Shiite-led government of Iraq, has advised Iraq during the crisis. Qassim Suleimani, head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, traveled to Baghdad to help Maliki and military leaders plan a response to the ISIS advance, and Iran has regularly sent military supplies to Iraq. Syria has also contributed, launching airstrikes targeted at ISIS militants in western Iraq.

In August, ISIS militants took control of the largest dam in Iraq, which is located in Mosul. The dam provides electricity for all of Mosul and is the water supply for the city and much of the surrounding area. The UN has declared the dam is unstable and is vulnerable to collapse. If the dam is compromised, a 65-foot-high wave of water could deluge the city. After about a week of fighting, the pesh merga recaptured the dam.

Members of ISIS beheaded American journalist James Foley, 40, in apparent retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the group. Foley, who worked for GlobalPost, went missing in Syria in November 2012. ISIS released a graphic video of his killing. After his death, the U.S. announced that troops had attempted to rescue him and other U.S. hostages in July, but they were unable to locate him. ISIS said Steven Sotloff, another kidnapped American journalist, would be killed if the airstrikes continued. President Obama referred to ISIS as a "cancer." "The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people," he said. "We will be vigilant, and we will be relentless." The U.S. stepped up its airstrikes against the militants following Foley's murder. Two weeks later, ISIS released a video showing the beheading of Sotloff, 31, who worked for Time and other news outlets. He was abducted in 2013 in Syria.

In early September, a coalition of Shiite militias delivered ISIS its first major setback in Iraq. ISIS had been surrounding and attacking Amerli, a town between Erbil and Baghdad that is home to Shiite Turkmens, for about three months before the militias, aided by U.S. airstrikes, beat back ISIS, ending the siege.

President Obama said in September 2014 that he had authorized airstrikes against ISIS and would work with allies in the region to retake areas under ISIS control and decimate the terrorist group, which he has referred to as a "cancer." He was clear that he does not plan to deploy ground troops in the fight against ISIS. He also asked Congress to authorize money to fund and train moderate rebel groups in Syria to aid in the fight. Obama authorized the airstrikes under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force law, which allowed President George W. Bush to use "necessary and appropriate force" against those involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East—including American citizens, personnel and facilities," Obama said. "If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies." The White House uses the name Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In the days following the speech, the U.S. intensified its attacks on areas taken over by ISIS in Iraq. The strikes targeted areas near Baghdad and regions in the north. While the U.S.-led attacks stopped ISIS from taking over Baghdad, they did little to thwart the advance of ISIS in the north. Indeed, the group continued to expand the area under its control, running schools using strict Islamic curriculum and operating a police force under the name "the Islamic Police of the Islamic State of Iraq."

Next: New Prime Minister Forms a Power-Sharing Government
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