The majority of recent focus on Iraq has fallen on the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS, also known as Daesh) and its geopolitical, ideological, and especially human security impact. Now that IS has lost its foothold in Iraq there exists both the opportunity for affected civilians to begin rebuilding their lives as well as the risk that current and newly-arising threats will disrupt any attempts to re-establish normality. This is particularly true in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq. Home to diverse religious and ethnic groups, Kurdistan has been plagued by intercommunal violence which peaked during the period of serious instability which followed the fall of the Hussein regime in 2004. Social, economic, cultural, and even military divisions have created a volatile environment which the absence of IS will not resolve.
People who have been impacted by the recent fighting against IS are quick to point out that “Daesh did not come from the sky,” alluding to the fact that the continued existence or eventual destruction of Islamic State is not the sole determining element in stability as long-standing ethno-religious conflicts predate and will outlast any military victory. Therefore, future humanitarian efforts in the region should emphasize the security of communities with the objective of establishing the kind of stability which enables moderates within different factions to cooperate on peacebuilding and mutually beneficial initiatives. Where communities are not able to establish security there is little chance to bridge the divides which have exacerbated the war.
Northern Iraq is home to numerous internally displaced persons, some of whom are also members of other vulnerable demographics, particularly those who identify with vulnerable or persecuted minority groups. Many of these IDPs have been displaced due to fighting associated with the war against IS without being specifically targeted while other groups have been targeted specifically for their religious identities, such as in the case of the Yazidi minority. These groups have been identified based on their recent experiences of hardship and persecution during the war against IS as well as their potential for continued vulnerability in the region after the defeat of IS. The primary reason for the continued vulnerability of these groups after the removal of their main persecutors is that the defeat of IS has created a power vacuum in which the Iraqi state, the Kurdish Regional Government, and various militias are likely to compete for influence, especially in light of the Kurdish independence referendum in late 2017. There is the potential for new conflict to arise between these parties as well as for new harmful non-state actors to arise. Minorities generally suffer most during such conflicts, whether due to neglect or specific targeting upon ideological grounds.
Within each targeted communal group other demographics may find themselves to be additionally vulnerable, such as women, children, and disabled people.