The effort to secure Iraq’s borders after the defeat of ISIS has created other, new sources of instability, as conflict supply chains adapt to new circumstances.

A close look at two border towns in Iraq’s western desert illustrates the law of unintended consequences. The Iraqi government, bordering countries, and the international community moved to more tightly control official border crossings in order to defeat ISIS. As a result, however, militias and smugglers have moved a great deal of commerce, legal and illicit, to other crossing points. In the meantime, people along once-prosperous trade routes suffer privation and violence, driving new conflicts.

Researchers Renad Mansour and Hayder Al-Shakeri tell the tale of trade, smuggling, and conflict across Iraq’s borders. The trajectory of trade route towns Rutba and Qaim help explain the mechanics of conflict supply chains and the unintended consequences of efforts to secure parts of the border without thinking of the spinoff effects.


  • Haydar Al-Shakeri, research associate, MENA Program, Chatham House
  • Renad Mansour, director, Iraq Initiative, Chatham House
  • Thanassis Cambanis, director, Century International