Understanding and managing intra-state territorial contestation: Iraq's disputed territories in comparative perspective

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Arab and Islamic Studies

Abstract

The 'disputed territories of Iraq' are a contentious and destabilizing issue with wider regional ramifications of increasing national security importance to the UK. The contestation impacts upon broader Middle East instabilities, and is of interest to the UK and Europe in terms of energy security and economic interests in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

The stability of Iraq is a critical UK foreign policy concern, even though in recent years it has diminished in visibility. Key issues remain unresolved, with perhaps the most pressing being the territorial extent of the Kurdistan Region, its relationship with Baghdad, and the management of security and resources in this oil-rich territory. The centrality of this particular issue also derives from the wider regional implications of the "Kurdish question" that also affects Turkey (a NATO ally), and Iran and Syria.

This project examines the dynamics of the disputed territories - internally in terms of the social and political aspirations of communities there, and 'externally', in terms of their links with Baghdad and Erbil (the capital of the Kurdistan Region), and the interests of these two power poles, plus their regional and global interactions. It does so with a view to assessing current proposals (including those submitted by the UN in 2009 and Kurdish demands for a referendum on the disputed territories) to resolve what remains a dangerous political stand-off, while presenting an empirically rich and comparative analysis to assist in the formulation of approaches that may assist in the management of the dispute.

This analysis focuses upon three inter-related issues which we contend lie at the core of the contestation: (1) communal mobilization and the articulation of local aspirations, i.e. what do people in this territory want, in terms of their governance, socio-economic provision, and overall future? (2) the interests of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Government of Iraq (GoI), in terms of 'security' and natural resource exploitation, and (3) the influence of neighbouring and regional powers (namely Turkey, Iran, Syria, and the Arab Gulf states) and of extra-regional and global powers (especially the US and UK) on the status of the Kurdistan Region and its overall status as either an autonomous entity existing inside Iraq, or an independent entity having seceded from Iraq.

With this set of understandings in place, the research then considers the current options that have been posited by different interest groups for the resolution of the problem. At the time of writing, two proposals have gathered significant traction. The first is that by the KRG and those political forces in Iraq that tend to stand in opposition to the government, namely the implementation of relevant constitutional articles that specified a roadmap for the resolution of the status of the disputed territories (Article 140). There exist a myriad range of problems regarding the implementation of this article in terms of (a) how the article could be implemented, and (b) the impact of the implementation (or lack of implementation) of the article. The second set of options that exist are those presented by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) in 2009. Following in-depth fieldwork in the disputed territories, UNAMI submitted a range of possible power-sharing options, all of which were rejected by Iraqi stakeholders for reasons of political sensitivity at the time. We contend that these proposals warrant systematic and comparative analysis to identify their appropriateness as possible solutions to the problem. We will base our analysis of these proposals on the current state of the art in relation to the management of territorial disputes in divided societies, thus being able to reflect on what are considered feasible and viable options for relevant institutional designs and how these may be applied in the specific context of Iraq's disputed territories.

Planned Impact

The research stands to benefit four sets of interests:

1. Local stakeholders in Iraq's disputed territories, including the general population of this region that is subjected to political uncertainties, and their associated structures of local government, including the Governors Offices and Provincial Councils.
2. Iraqi stakeholders that are contesting ownership/sovereignty over the disputed territories, and namely the offices of the Government of Iraq (Baghdad), and the Kurdistan Regional Government (Erbil).
3. International stakeholders that have a role to play in mitigating conflict and improving the political stability and socio-economic circumstances in Iraq's disputed territories. These stakeholders include Her Majesty's Government (in particular the FCO and the UK Embassy), the Government of the United States, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), and the EU External Action Service (EEAS).
4. Commercial interest in the oil and gas sector, and particularly International Oil Companies (IOCs) with interests in Iraq. Of direct relevance to UK interests is the position of Shell and its operations in Iraq and, in the US, Chevron with its operations in the Kurdistan Region.

The relevance of the proposed research to these beneficiaries is as follows:

1. Local stakeholders: this research would prove important in benchmarking the situation in the disputed territories in what remains a very unstable Iraqi state that is generating increasing concern in the wider regional and international community. The research may identify local approaches to confidence-building measures and further constructive discussion and negotiation over settlement preferences and mechanisms, within the setting of a neutral, objective, project. The project should allow for the articulation of local stakeholder preferences and views to higher levels in the GoI and KRG, and to international stakeholders that are engaged in managing the contestation. Finally, the focus on local stakeholders would also allow for the identification of projects that could improve socio-economic well-being for IOCs corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
2. Iraq stakeholders: The GoI and KRG have shown themselves to be remarkably adept at failing to find common ground when negotiating the status of the disputed territories, or the management of resources in these areas. The research can present objective findings to these key stakeholders and also provide further examples of possible solutions from comparative study. Iraqi stakeholders may also benefit from the provision of workshops held in neutral settings (e.g. in RUSI, or in the UK embassy in Baghdad) to discuss draft option papers generated by the research.
3. International stakeholders: The UK and US remain involved in Iraqi political life, having invested heavily in terms of lives given and resources used in the removal of the Ba'th regime. To see Iraq collapse into civil war would be viewed as a serious problem for London and Washington, and one that both would deem essential to prevent. Yet little work has been done to ascertain the mechanisms by which the disputed territories can be managed, and so this research would provide a much needed analytical support for the diplomatic efforts of London and Washington. The UN has been significantly involved in researching the disputed territories in previous years (UNAMI 2009), yet has not engaged recently. Again, this research will provide a valuable benchmarking for UN efforts.
4. Commercial interests: IOCs are engaged in Iraq, but struggle to make sense of what the dispute between Erbil and Baghdad means for them in the future. Of concern to companies that work 'with Baghdad' and 'with Erbil' (such as Shell and Chevron respectively) is the negotiations that may lead to a new oil and gas law, that would impact upon their operations. Any such law would require compromises to be reached between Erbil and Baghdad.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We are still in relatively early days with this grant, but our research at this point has pointed to several very concerning issues that are developing in Iraq's disputed territories, namely:

1. The politicisation of refugees in camps in the Kurdistan Region
2. The very significant possibility of there being violent confrontation between Iraqi Kurdish parties
3. The radicalisation of Sunni Arab communities in the disputed territories

Over the course of the second year of our research, we have developed the following areas of study:

1. The political and economic parameters of future Kurdish plans in the disputed territories, and particularly related to the Kurds' drive for independence
2. The role played in the disputed territories by Shi'a militias, and the problems that they could bring to the process of intra-state contestation resolution
3. The crisis of leadership among Sunni Arabs, following the removal of IS from Nineveh Province
4. The issues of social reintegration and normalisation of Arabs in Nineveh and Kirkuk provinces, following the removal of IS.

The funded period of the grant has now ended (February 2019) and we are now in a position to move ahead with disseminating our work on Iraq, and on the comparative dimension. We have discovered considerable theoretical linkages between different sets of disputed territories, and particularly with reference to the methods and tools deployed to manage them. We question the utility of previously highly regarded socio-economic approaches to managing narratives of intense nationalism and communal-identity based politics, suggesting that the emotive and ideational aspect of intra-state contestations can be so extreme that methods promoting economic advancement can, often, generate even more intractable problems rather than resolve them.
Exploitation Route We are still developing our findings, but we will be convening several seminars in the months ahead at which we will present our initial findings to fellow researchers.

Second year:

We have begun holding research dissemination events and have been speaking publicly about our research. As more publications become available, this will of course increase.

Over the last two years, HMG has utilised findings of the research to assist them in developing a security sector reform programme for the military forces of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (the peshmerga), in an attempt to ensure that the disputed territories are made more secure.
Sectors Education,Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

 
Description Members of the research team have met regular with the FCO, Cabinet Office, MoD (PJHQ, DI), and DFID. Our engagement has assisted UK policy thinking on the questions posed by Iraq, Syria, the Kurdistan Region, and the Islamic State. Stansfield continued, in the 2016-2017 period, to engage with HMG departments on the policy questions raised by the situation in Iraq's disputed territories and worked closely with the Cabinet Office as they prepared for the Joint Intelligence Committee review of Iraq. He also engaged closely with the FCO and DFID, through the Stabilisation Unit, on the preparation of post-IS Operation policy papers for ministers, with research from the project feeding into ministerial submissions, particularly on the situation in Mosul, and the identification of post-IS political leaders in Nineveh province. In 2018, Stansfield was requested by HMG to advise on the status of Iraq's security forces, with a particular view to their deployment in the disputed territories, following the Kurdish referendum of September 2017. Stansfield has since advised HMG on the reform of the peshmerga forces and on security problems in the disputed territories, including to the FCO, Stabilisation Unit, and MOD Defence Intelligence.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Engagement with UK FCO on Iraq
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Participant in UK MOD Component Commanders Conference
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Participation in UK MOD Component Commanders Conference
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description UK HMG Post-ISIS Mosul Planning
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
 
Description ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, User Engagement Fund
Amount £7,500 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/M500446/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 08/2017
 
Description New York University Research Enhancement Fund
Amount $200,000 (USD)
Organisation New York University Abu Dhabi 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Arab Emirates
Start 05/2017 
End 09/2018
 
Description Adviser, PJHQ 
Organisation Ministry of Defence (MOD)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Professor Stansfield has been requested to advise the Chief of Joint Operations on matters relating to the Middle East with particular reference to Iraq and Syria.
Collaborator Contribution I convene regular seminars and roundtables for the CJO and his team.
Impact Engagement informs research. Also, engagement may see research impact on UK policy in Iraq and Syria.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Adviser, PJHQ 
Organisation Ministry of Defence (MOD)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Professor Stansfield has been requested to advise the Chief of Joint Operations on matters relating to the Middle East with particular reference to Iraq and Syria.
Collaborator Contribution I convene regular seminars and roundtables for the CJO and his team.
Impact Engagement informs research. Also, engagement may see research impact on UK policy in Iraq and Syria.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Atlantic Council Iraq Task Force 
Organisation Atlantic Council
Department Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Professor Stansfield has been invited to be an expert member of the Atlantic Council Iraq Task Force to report on future possibilities for peace building in Iraq.
Collaborator Contribution The Atlantic Council convened meetings in Washington, Suleimani, Baghdad, and Najaf on this project.
Impact Informs research project.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Foreign and Commonwealth Office Building Identities 
Organisation Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Seminar on comparative discussion of nation building strategies, with the research team represented by Professor Stefan Wolff.
Collaborator Contribution Full engagement with academics.
Impact Informing of research. Mechanism for engaging with the FCO.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Kurdish Affairs 
Organisation Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Professor Stansfield was invited to be an academic adviser to a cross-HMG gathering focusing on policy towards the Kurds and Kurdistan.
Collaborator Contribution The discussion, held under confidentiality rules, saw an open exchange of opinions and views on the trajectories being followed by Kurdish actors in the Middle East.
Impact The engagement will further inform the research of the grant.
Start Year 2016
 
Description RUSI Seminar Collaboration 
Organisation Royal United Services Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution In cooperation with the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI) three seminar discussions were held in London. The seminars focused on stabilisation and effective governance in Syria and Iraq and aimed at finding solutions to deal with the challenges ahead. More detail about the participants and the content of the seminars is offered under section (4) Engagement activities.
Collaborator Contribution Stansfield and Wolff designed the subject of the seminars and identified the visitors coming from Iraq, and participants from government departments in Whitehall. Stansfield and Wolff then chaired the seminars and oversaw the writing of the briefing papers.
Impact Three briefing papers have been produced from these seminars, each focused on different sets of policy questions pertaining to Iraq, Syria, the Kurdistan Region, and the Islamic State.
Start Year 2016
 
Description World Bank Sub-National Governance 
Organisation World Bank Group
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Advisory work by Professor Stefan Wolff on peace and state-building strategies, including one week of seminars and workshops with World Bank staff.
Collaborator Contribution Full engagement with World Bank staff and experts
Impact Early insights to feed into and inform comparative dimension of ESRC project.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Briefing for UK Deputy Commander JTAF Operation Inherent Resolve 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Private briefing for Maj Gen Rupert Jones before his deployment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Briefing on Iraq to UK DFID 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited to give a briefing to DFID London team engaged on Iraq.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Briefing to UK Chief of Staff (Operations) of PJHQ on Kurdish Politics in Iraq 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Private briefing for COS(Ops) of PJHQ, on Kurdish politics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description ESRC funded seminar on Kurdish politics in Iraq and Syria 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact ESRC funded seminar addressing Kurdish politics in the disputed territories of Iraq, and Syria.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description ESRC funded seminar on intra state territorial conflicts in comparative perspective 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact ESRC funded seminar as part of grant project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description ESRC funded seminar on oil and gas politics in Iraq's disputed territories 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact ESRC funded seminar on oil and gas politics in Iraq
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description ESRC funded seminar with the American University of Iraq - Suleimani 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Co-convened seminar with AUIS on Iraq's disputed territories, bringing to Suleimani people from the disputed territories.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description ESRC seminar on mediation in conflict 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact ESRC funded seminar, held at the University of Birmingham, on mediation in conflict.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description FCO Roundtable presentation on ISIS 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Guest presentation to seminar on 'Can Daesh (ISIS) be deterred?'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description International Studies Association Conference, Baltimore, February 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The entire research team presented their research papers at the ISA Conference in Baltimore.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited participant at Cabinet Office discussion on Iraq 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Private briefing to Cabinet Office staff working on Iraq as part of the national security committee.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Invited participant at Konrad Adenaeur Foundation seminar in Italy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact High profile seminar at the KAF retreat in Cadanabbia, on Iraq politics after ISIS.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Keynote lecture at the Eighth Annual International Saladin Days Conference on the History, Literature, and Future of the Kurds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote lecture on the future of the Kurds and the rise of Islamic State, at the prestigious House of Literature event in Oslo.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.saladindays.com/2016-2/
 
Description Lecture to King's Royal Hussars 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Guest lecture to the officers of the King's Royal Hussars on Iraqi politics and ISIS.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Lecture, Emirate of Sharjah 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lecture on Iraq and Syria, hosted by HH Sheikh Sultan of Sharjah. Q and A afterwards, on a subject of great sensitivity in the Gulf.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Lecture, Imperial War Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 100 people attended a public lecture on The Rise of ISIS, followed by Q and A. The feedback has been very positive, with the audience finding the lecture to be very useful.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Lecture, King's Royal Hussars 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Lecture to the officers of the King's Royal Hussars on the situation in Iraq and Syria, followed by a question and answer session.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Participating in Defence Intelligence (DI-MOD) meeting on Kurdistan and Islamic State 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Seminar on Iraq and ISIS, for UK MOD DI and US counterparts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Public lecture at the Imperial War Museum, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public lecture at the Imperial War Museum as part of the launching of the IWM's 'Fighting Extremes' exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.warandmedia.org/contemporary-conflicts-talks-imperial-war-museum/
 
Description Research seminar bringing together Iraqi MPs and UK Government officials, RUSI 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The roundtable was attended by Iraqi MPs and representatives of Iraqi civil society. The challenges for effective governance were discussed, followed by a discussion on the situation on the ground and necessary stabilisation strategies necessary in order for Iraq to move forward.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Research seminar on disputed territories politics after ISIS 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact the seminar organisers (stansfield and wolff) invited Professor Peter Bartu from Berkeley to present his recent research findings, and to compare his with those of the ESRC funded project. The audience, primarily from the FCO, found the event to be enlightening, and organised at a critical time half way through the Mosul Operation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Research seminar, RUSI 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The roundtable presented a delegation of high ranking Iraqi officials, who discussed the security threats Iraqi is facing and the ongoing efforts of the Iraqi Army and Popular Mobilisation Forces to fight Daesh. The discussion also expanded on the current reconstruction efforts and the prospect of reconciliation between different ethnic communities in Iraq's deeply divided country. The delegation offered views on how to de-radicalise individuals who have been under the control Daesh, outlining the prospects for intra-religious dialogue and the possibility of using faith as a way to bring the Iraqi society back together.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016