Clashes in rural districts of Anbar province and shelling on the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi continued to fuel Iraq’s cycle of violence, whilst over 140,000 civilians have reportedly fled their homes since the outbreak of the crisis in December 2013, in the most important displacement of population since 2006-2008.
Although levels of violence remained high, with northern and central provinces continuing to attract most incidents, mass-casualty attacks have been largely avoided this week, with only a few VBIEDs reported. In the midst of a security crisis which weakens the position of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ahead of determinant elections in April, the government appears to be seeking new strategies to consolidate Shia support.
Indeed, as the situation in Anbar remains stagnant and Sunni-dominated areas across the country are increasingly vulnerable to militant attacks, political divisions have been exacerbated by levels of violence unseen since 2008. On 21 January, Maliki announced a plan to convert four administrative districts into provinces.
The decision concerns areas in Salahuddin, Nineveh and Anbar governorates. This controversial move is likely to be driven by electoral considerations, in an attempt to weaken Sunni strongholds and foster the perception that central authorities are protecting Shia interests, with two Shia-dominated districts incorporated in the plan.
As ISIL militants continue to focus their efforts on northern provinces and shift away from southern governorates, such superficial measures could benefit Maliki and mitigate the political impact of the country’s worsening security environment.
The stalemate in Anbar will provide militants with unchanged opportunities to strike surrounding provinces, and levels of violence are therefore expected to be sustained over the next reporting period.