Country at crossroads

55Shora Save our souls: Families from Shora, a village liberated by the Iraqi army, arriving at a checkpoint in Qayyara.

The ouster of president Saddam Hussein in 2003 left a power vacuum in Iraq. The following year, American troops that had invaded the country tried to fill that vacuum by installing an interim government. Soon, the first multi-party election was held, and the Shia majority, which had been excluded from power during the Saddam regime, rose to power. The Shia government was optimistic about the future, even as the Americans finally withdrew from Iraq in 2011.

Then began a series of attacks by Sunni militants. By 2013, the sectarian violence had become an actual uprising. Al Qaeda coordinated most of the attacks, which took the lives of hundreds of people.

55Erbil Scene at a shopping mall in Erbil, where many Christian families from Bartella and Qaraqosh moved in after IS seized the cities in 2014. The two cities were liberated in October this year.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, struggled to put an end to the strife. 2014 saw the rise of Islamic State in Anbar province. IS began recruiting Sunni militants to build up their presence in the region, posing a direct threat to the fledgling Iraqi democracy. By the end of 2014, IS had much of northern Iraq under control, with Mosul as its unofficial headquarters.

The years of insurgency have almost destroyed the country’s economy. Attacks on oil infrastructure alone have resulted in losses of billions of dollars. Iraq is now a battleground of forces competing for power. The central government is a coalition of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders. The Kurdish minority has autonomy in the north, with its own government and security forces. Another influential political entity is the Sadr movement, started by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and has links to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement. Its armed wing has fought government forces, Sunni militia and rival Shiite groups.

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