Sunday’s Terrorist Attack in Erbil and the US-Iraqi Strategic Framework Agreement

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On Sunday, September 29, 2013, I woke up to some horrible news. At 1:24pm Erbil time, the Directorate of Security building in Erbil was the target of terrorist attacks. The more I poured over news reports, the more I found myself shocked and dismayed. The attack was limited in size and scope due to the efforts of Asayish, Kurdistan Regional Security Agency. As a result, the first attack was stopped when security forces fired shots at the driver, causing the vehicle to explode before entering the targeted building. However, the attack still claimed the lives of six security officers and wounded 62 people. The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), an affiliate of Al-Qaeda that is active in both Iraq and Syria, has claimed responsibility for the attack. This is the first time violence has erupted on the streets of the Kurdistan region of Iraq since the 2007 attack on the Ministry of the Interior, when a bystander was killed.

Kurdish security forces responding to the attack on Sunday. Image Source.

Why is this Important?

While attacks are frequent in the rest of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been relatively stable and safe for over six years. As a safe haven, the Kurdistan Region plays an important role for Iraq, and shows the benefits of working toward peace, security and democracy. In fact, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) just had its fourth parliamentary elections a week prior to the attack.

The escalating violence in Iraq that now includes a terrorist attack on the Asayish headquarters in Erbil, the region’s capital, underscores the urgent need for progress in developing a long-term strategic partnership between the US and Iraq as outlined by the Strategic Framework Agreement. The security challenges of Syria’s civil war and growing political tensions in Iraq and across the region threaten the country’s overall stability as Iraq prepares for national parliamentary elections in 2014. Stronger cooperation between the US and Iraq on matters of security, good governance, education, commerce, and long-term sustainable development can help reverse current trends that threaten to destroy the country’s prospects for peace and democracy. As a wealthy nation with one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Iraq does not need traditional aid, but as Iraqi officials are quick to acknowledge, the country needs technical assistance, technology, knowledge transfers, and partnerships. The US would also be wise to continue to support civil society and independent media in Iraq as key allies in pressing Iraq’s government to become more transparent, responsive, just, and accountable.

Without sufficient equipment and capabilities for policing Iraq’s long Western desert border with Syria, militants on both sides of Syria’s conflict will continue to cross in and out of Iraq and violent extremists like ISIS will continue to carry out terrorist operations on both sides of the border.

The US ought to be doing more to help Iraq prevent the Syrian conflict from spreading across the region and destabilizing Iraq, the region’s fastest growing economy.  As Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the US, stated at the Brookings Institute just over a week ago, “There is no benefit for America to be idle.”

Here at EPIC, we agree with Ambassador Lukman Faily. We believe that the United States must prioritize Iraq by providing aid to the recent influx of refugees and give support to Iraq to ensure the stability of the region. If you have not yet signed our petition urging the Obama administration to put Iraq back on the agenda, please do so now!