By Ali Ziad al-Ali, researcher specialising in international and strategic affairs.

In general, arbitrary or unsystematic threats to national security are a direct menace to the intrinsic values and underpinnings of any society. Iraq’s national security faces an unprecedented number of visible threats that form a direct menace to the strategic security apparatus. The consequences of these threats and the challenges they create can be felt directly. However, the threats that constitute an even greater danger to the national security’s strategic apparatus are those whose effects cannot be directly felt. The hidden or unseen challenges to Iraq’s national security manifest themselves in the impact they have on nationally important strategic sectors such as the infrastructure sector, which touches the lives of every citizen. There are also other challenges such as those facing Iraq’s digital system, in the form of cybersecurity threats, as well as the challenges concomitant with population growth and weak strategic planning. These challenges or threats are addressed more broadly as follows:

1.Cyber Threats

Cyber ​​threats are invisible challenges affecting Iraq’s national security. In the era of technology, information security has taken on the biggest role in combatting and preventing any real or perceived cyber-attack, and no state organ is immune from it, while it also protects the operational systems from any attempt at unauthorised access. The technological development witnessed by Iraq in the field of information and communications after 2013, which coincided with a weakness in the digital security of the country’s infrastructure (whether national, banking or personal security), meant that Iraq became strategically exposed to hacking and spying on its security agencies by many countries around the world, whilst also turning Iraq into a platform for the launch of cyber-attacks and hacking operations against  the information security of third countries. In addition, these breaches were used to steal information for nefarious purposes, such as aiding in and the commissioning of terrorist operations. It should be noted that the majority of Iraq’s institutions have agreements in place for the processing of information by satellite providers located outside Iraq’s territory, which means that information passes through the servers of these third countries before returning to Iraq. This amounts to a breach of Iraq’s information security, and in order to prevent such large-scale violations from happening, an integrated information security system is needed. Accordingly, protecting Iraq’s e-security will require the creation of the necessary legal and regulatory frameworks and the organisational structures to back them, as well as providing the technical and technological means to support them. This will require the private and public sectors, both domestic and international, working together to protect Iraq’s national cyberspace, with special focus on guaranteeing the availability of information systems, enhancing privacy, protecting the confidentiality of personal information, and ultimately to take all necessary measures to protect citizens from the dangers of cyber space.

  1. Media challenges

Media challenges represent one of the most critical and hidden or unseen threats to Iraq’s strategic security apparatus. It is a modern phenomenon that has become a threat to the security of Iraq’s national media. The impact of media on the everyday reality of Iraq’s strategic environment is a matter of great importance and with far reaching consequences, most of which may be identified as threats to national security. Iraqi society has become influenced to a very great extent by what Arab and other regional satellite channels peddle as news and entertainment, and which is in reality no more than a gateway to alter the perceptions of the Iraqi public. It is this which has created a type of exposure to a media with its own broad strategic aims, to which have also succumbed certain political, security and social agencies. As an example, regional media – especially in the highly charged atmosphere of regional rivalry– has become an influential tool in the manipulation of the national strategic environment and has already abused the limits of national media sovereignty, which is built on the public’s perceptions and trust. This type of media, with its immense influence, is attempting to steer public opinion, and relies in its efforts on modern technology and the financial clout of its backers. Therefore, Iraq is the victim of strategically orchestrated media exposure, and there is no doubt that this exposure comes within the class of other security threats, especially if viewed from the angle of constituting a flagrant threat to Iraq’s national security. Although traditional security threats are the primary concern of the national security apparatus, however, today’s regional media is no less of a challenge and sometimes may even overshadow the traditional security threats faced by Iraq’s national security.

  1. The challenges posed by population growth

One of the most important hidden challenges facing Iraq’s national security is the rapid gowth in the population without a corresponding increase in levels of well-being and economic growth. The country’s population has now risen to more than 37 million, with annual population growth estimated at 2.61%. According to new statistics prepared by the Central Bureau of Statistics, population estimates for Iraq in 2017 indicate that the population reached 37,139,519 people, and the rate of population growth is still higher than previous ones at 2.61%. According to estimates by the Ministry of Planning issued in 2009, the population stood at 31.6 million, although these figures are all estimates, since there has been no official census since 1997, as a result of the differences that emerged after 2003 over the disputed areas between the federal government and the Kurdistan region.  The estimates by the Ministry of Planning are based mostly on the food ration card, a food distribution programme instigated in the 1990s to distribute food rations to the population. Based on the foregoing figures, the state must provide an additional one million people, year on year, with the necessities of life such as food, housing, schools, health care and jobs. This is a monumental task that requires great strategic capacity which, as matters stand, the organs and institutions of the state regrettably lack.

  1. The challenges posed by weak strategic planning

Planning is one of the main requirements of a strategic leadership, and an important component for the stability of the national security apparatus. Planning is linked to the future and the use of advanced technologies, theories and modern scientific practices needed to achieve it. It is a process carried out by the strategic institutions of the state; in order to define future objectives and to meet imminent challenges, and to take decisions on the allocation of resources to counter these challenges and achieve the desired objectives; and to deal with the consequences, repercussions and negative implications that affect the running of the strategic institutions of the state. Today, Iraq suffers from a state-wide weakness in its strategic planning. This has reflected negatively on the work of most of Iraq’s state institutions and their output, who in the first place suffer from inferior strategic planning, a blight of the present era, at a time when the work of government institutions should be geared towards achieving the desired national goals. Therefore, what is needed are special tools to predict and forecast the future. Accordingly – and based on an analysis of the work carried out by strategic institutions in other countries – we find that there is a decline and a clear failure in the strategic planningprocess; coupled with a lack of vision and weak governance. These negative variables have reflected badly on the core work of these institutions, resulting in muddled and confused output by the majority of the state institutions. In the end,all this took its toll on the development process of both the individual and the state, at a particularly sensitive period when Iraq needs real vision for its future planning to solve the ongoing financial and security dilemmas that have long afflicted the institutional system of Iraq. This vision entails the establishment of a stable government programme alongside effective planning techniques. This requires forward thinking and planning in order to put in place solutions to the problems facing Iraq and, subject to available capacity, to improve the overall performance of the strategic system.

  1. Challenges posed by a crumbling infrastructure

The concept of the infrastructure of any country is defined as encompassing all the institutions and technical structures that support society and materially affect the nation’s economic, scientific and health security as well as services such as schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, dams, stations, airports, factories, agricultural production and electricity. Whereas the concept of superstructure refers to all the legislation, regulations and laws and their more extensive framework and other state institutions that govern the work of the aforementioned infrastructure. We can add to the concept of infrastructure, the system of values ​​that society has established and enshrined for thousands of years. Infrastructure is an indispensable necessity for the process of growth and economic development in Iraq. Its presence is one of the most important elements for attracting investment and for the development and progress of the national economy. In the course of time, the process of comprehensive development in Iraq must be accompanied by parallel infrastructure services, aimed at improving the living conditions and standards for individuals through the provision of financial and social services. However, the country’s plunge into long-running wars and the imposition of international economic sanctions led to the destruction and devastation of its infrastructure. There has been little or no interest in the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure, mainly as a result of the reduction in the annual allocations from the public federal public budget for infrastructure projects. To date, this has had a substantial and so far an almost irreversible negative impact on the work of public institutions and the strategic organs of the state, which has been further compounded by the repercussions of the war with Daesh, which led to a major collapse in the infrastructure of most cities and towns occupied by this terrorist organisation. Inevitably, the infrastructure sector represents one of the most important pillars on which the strategic national security of Iraq sits, and which has suffered in the face of major challenges and threats caused by the progressive lack of investment in infrastructure, its decline and in many instances, its complete collapse.

In conclusion, it can be said that Iraq’s national security apparatus faces a number of challenges that can be categorised as both visible and hidden, the most dangerous of which are those that are out of plain sight or unseen, and which can only be directly perceived through analytical research and extrapolation.

These challenges pose a strategic threat, which in turn has a knock-on effect on the country’s strategic security (for both individuals and the state), i.e., that these challenges impact on most sectors and on both governmental and non-governmental institutions, which revolve around the state’s infrastructure, eventually making their way to the citizen’s cognitive security. These challenges range from cybersecurity threats to the national digital system, to population growth, if the latter is left without corresponding strategic planning that keeps abreast of the developments and challenges facing the official and non-official state institutions. All this poses a grave challenge to Iraq’s strategic security apparatus; hence the urgent need to focus research efforts and forward thinking on this field, especially in view of the marked increase in the challenges facing Iraq’s strategic security apparatus.