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  • Author: Harith Hasan, Kheder Khaddour
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: Over the past nearly two decades, the presence of a variety of state and nonstate military and security forces has transformed the Syrian border district of Bukamal and the neighboring Iraqi district of Qa’im. Following the end of the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s caliphate, Iranian-backed militias began to play a major role in the area, turning it into a flashpoint between Iran and its allies on the one side and the United States and Israel on the other. The strain of tensions and the threat of instability are liable to ensure that this heavily securitized part of the border will remain a magnet for conflict for years to come.
  • Topic: Geopolitics, Islamic State, Conflict, Borders
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Max Erdemandi
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Recent discussions on the Turkish state’s actions, which have devastated Kurdish people within and outside of its borders, suffer from a familiar deficiency: they neglect the historical and cultural foundations of the dynamics that placed the Kurdish people at the center of Turkey’s national security policy. Serious human rights violations and voter suppression in southeast Turkey, the massacre of Kurdish people in various parts of northern Syria, and purging of Kurdish politicians on false accusations are all extensions of Turkey’s decades-long, repeated policy mistakes, deeply rooted in its nationalist history. Unless there is a seismic shift in the drivers of Turkish security policy, especially as it pertains to the Kurdish people, Turkey is bound to repeat these mistakes. Furthermore, threat externalization with linkage to legitimacy of rule will further erode the democratic institutions of the state and other authentic aspects of Turkish identity.
  • Topic: Security, Nationalism, Ethnicity, Syrian War, Borders, Violence, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Kurdistan
  • Author: Can Kasapoglu
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: NATO Defense College
  • Abstract: In three decades, Ankara’s strategic agenda in Syria has considerably changed. First, back in the late 1990s, Tur- key’s primary goal was to put an end to the Hafez al-As- sad regime’s use of the PKK terrorist organization as a proxy. To address the threat at its source, Ankara resort- ed to a skillfully crafted coercive diplomacy, backed by the Turkish Armed Forces. A determined approach – championed by Turkey’s late president Suleyman Demi- rel – formed the epicenter of this policy: it was coupled with adept use of alliances, in particular the Turkish-Is- raeli strategic partnership. In October 1998, Syria, a trou- blesome state sponsor of terrorism as designated by the US Department of State since 19791, gave in. The Baath regime ceased providing safe haven to Abdullah Oca- lan, the PKK’s founder who claimed thousands of lives in Turkey. The same year, Damascus signed the Adana Agreement with Ankara, vowing to stop supporting ter- rorist groups targeting Turkey. In the following period, from the early 2000s up until the regional unrest in 2011, Turkish policy aimed at reju- venating the historical legacy. During that time, Ankara fostered its socio-cultural and economic integration efforts in Syria – for example, cancelling visas, promoting free trade, and holding joint cabinet meetings. Turkey’s foreign policy was shaped by then Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s thought, popularly formulated in the concept of “Strategic Depth”. Refer- ring to David Laing’s anti-psychiatry school, Davutoglu claimed that the nation was alienated from its roots and embraced a “false self”. To fix the “identity crisis”, Tur- key pursued charm offensives in the Middle East. This ideationally motivated stance even led to speculative neo-Ottomanism debates in Western writings.2 From 2011, when the Arab Spring broke out, there were high hopes as to Turkey’s role model status. In April 2012, before the Turkish Parliament, then For- eign Minister Davutoglu stated that Ankara would lead the change as “the master, pioneer, and servant” of the Middle East.3 Five years later, the Turkish administration dropped these aspirations. At the 2017 Davos meeting, then Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek stated that the Assad regime’s demise was no longer one of his gov- ernment’s considerations.4 In fact, by 2015, Turkey had to deal with real security problems on its doorstep, such as the Russian expedition in Syria, ISIS rockets hammer- ing border towns, the refugee influx, and mushrooming PKK offshoots.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, NATO, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: Europe, North Atlantic, Turkey, Syria, North America
  • Author: Soner Cagaptay
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Turkey, Russia, and Washington have compelling reasons to welcome a new ceasefire agreement, however imperfect, but they still need to address the longer-term dangers posed by the Assad regime’s murderously maximalist strategy. Recent fighting between Turkish and Syrian regime forces in Idlib province has seemingly wiped away the last vestiges of the September 2018 Sochi agreement, brokered by Russian president Vladimir Putin as a way of pausing hostilities and dividing control over the country’s last rebel-held province. Beginning last December, renewed Russian and Syrian attacks against civilians sent a million residents fleeing toward the Turkish border, creating another humanitarian disaster. Then, on February 27, thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed when their unit was attacked in Idlib—Ankara’s largest single-day loss in Syria thus far. Turkey initially blamed Bashar al-Assad for the deaths, but eyes soon turned to his Russian patron as the more likely culprit, elevating tensions between Ankara and Moscow to a level not seen since Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane in November 2015. Meanwhile, the Turkish military and its local partner forces launched a string of attacks against the Syrian regime and its Iranian-backed militia allies. On March 5, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with Putin in Moscow to discuss these rising tensions. If the two leaders reach another ceasefire deal, will it last any longer than the short-lived Sochi agreement? More important, what effect might it have on the latest refugee crisis threatening to wash over Turkey and Europe?
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Treaties and Agreements, Syrian War, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Idlib
  • Author: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: During the war years in Syria, the northwest, specifically Idlib, has become a site of heavy internal displacement. Observers on the ground recognize the green buses traveling to Idlib carrying migrants who have refused reconciliation agreements with the Damascus regime. Since around 2014, a range of jihadist, Islamist, and Salafi actors have wielded control in the area, the most recent being the al-Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which has ruled—ineffectively and brutally—through its so-called Syrian Salvation Government. But the group's reign is unlikely to last long if current trends persist. The regime's recent move against the town of Maarat al-Numan suggests plans for a broader takeover in the northwest, aided by Russian firepower and other allies such as Iran. In this Policy Note filled with local insights, jihadism expert Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi presents the current scene in and around Idlib province, the last Syrian outpost still run by independent rebels. Absent an intervention by Turkey, the Assad regime will likely prevail in a campaign that quashes the insurgency at a high humanitarian cost.
  • Topic: Al Qaeda, Displacement, Military Intervention, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Enhancing deterrence and protecting Americans in Iraq and Syria requires a more formalized system for rationing out retaliatory strikes at the proper intensity, time, and place. When U.S. airstrikes targeted Kataib Hezbollah militia personnel and senior Iranian military figures on December 29 and January 3, they were releasing long-pent-up retaliation for a range of provocations by Iraqi militias. Yet while these powerful blows may have injected some caution into enemy calculations, such deterrence is likely to be a wasting asset. The most proximal trigger for the strikes—the killing of an American civilian contractor during Kataib Hezbollah’s December 27 rocket attack on the K-1 base in Kirkuk—was just one in a series of increasingly risky militia operations against U.S. facilities. Only good fortune has prevented more Americans from dying in attacks conducted since then, including January 8 (when Iranian ballistic missiles struck the U.S. portion of al-Asad Air Base, causing more than a hundred nonlethal traumatic brain injuries), January 26 (mortar strike on the dining hall at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad), January 31 (rockets fired at the U.S. site at Qayyarah West), February 10 (explosive device thrown at a U.S. logistical convoy south of Baghdad), and February 13 (rocket attack on U.S. site at Kirkuk). The United States has seemingly communicated to Tehran that it will strike Iraqi militias and Iranian targets if any Americans are killed, but this redline has opened up a dangerous gray zone in which Iran and its proxies are emboldened to continue their nonlethal attacks. Besides the fact that such high-risk attacks are destined to result in more American deaths at some point, they will also produce many more injuries if permitted to continue, as seen in the January 8 strike. More broadly, they will limit U.S. freedom of movement in Iraq and Syria, undermining the point of being there in the first place. This situation is unacceptable—the United States needs a way to deter such behavior even when attacks fall short of killing Americans. When faced with similar challenges in past decades, the U.S. military established reckoning systems that matched the punishment to the crime, with useful levels of predictability, proportionality, and accountability.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Assassination, No-Fly Zones
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Fabrice Balanche
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Various displacement scenarios may unfold as the fighting escalates, each carrying a high risk of negative humanitarian and economic consequences even if the parties live up to their promises. The battle for Idlib province, the last stronghold of Syrian rebel forces, is heating up again. As Turkish troops clash with Assad regime forces and displaced civilians continue piling up along the border, various foreign and domestic players are considering moves that could send hundreds of thousands of refugees to other parts of Syria, northern Iraq, or Europe.
  • Topic: Refugees, Displacement, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Turkey, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Oula A. Alrifai
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Besides highlighting Assad’s financial mismanagement, the recent unrest gives the international community a genuine opportunity to push for transition while bolstering the more prosperous local administration in the northeast. Since mid-January, shop owners, government employees, students, and even children have been gathering in the streets of various Syrian communities to express their frustration with the Assad regime’s economic policies and untruths. Although the protests remain small for now, the fact that they have persistently carried on in the middle of regime-controlled territory highlights Bashar al-Assad’s potential vulnerability on these issues. In Suwayda, a Druze-majority province in the south, residents have protested the sharp drop in the value of the Syrian pound/lira and the deteriorating economic situation in general. In the central-western town of Salamiya, protestors were seen chanting “we want to live.” And in the Suwayda town of Shahba, demonstrators raised loaves of bread in the air while openly criticizing Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s political and media advisor. The latter protest was partly spurred by a recent interview on the pro-Assad television network al-Mayadeen, where Shaaban not only claimed that the country’s current economy is “fifty times better than what it was in 2011,” but also declared that “Syrians are self-sufficient in everything.” In response, protestors sarcastically noted that her comments referred to her own household’s economy, not Syria’s. Elsewhere, former agriculture minister Nour al-Din Manna described Shaaban’s remarks about the war-torn country as “hard to believe,” and a closer look at the country’s finances supports this disbelief.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Economics, Syrian War, Currency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Martha Crenshaw
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The 2011 civil war in Syria attracted thousands of fighters from at least seventy countries to join the Islamic State. Al-Shabaab carried out large-scale attacks on civilian targets in Uganda and Kenya as retribution for the deployment of peacekeeping forces in Somalia. In this report, Martha Crenshaw considers the extent to which civil war and foreign military intervention function as a rationale for transnational terrorism, and how understanding the connections between terrorism, civil war, and weak governance can help the United States and its allies mount an appropriate response.
  • Topic: Terrorism, War, Non State Actors, Islamic State, Transnational Actors, Peace, Al-Shabaab
  • Political Geography: Uganda, Kenya, Africa, Middle East, Syria, Somalia, United States of America
  • Author: Heidi Peltier
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University
  • Abstract: Throughout the 18 years the U.S. has been engaged in the “Global War on Terror,” mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government has financed this war by borrowing funds rather than through alternative means such as raising taxes or issuing war bonds. Thus, the costs of the post-9/11 wars include not only the expenses incurred for operations, equipment, and personnel, but also the interest costs on this debt. Since 2001 these interest payments have been growing, resulting in more and more taxpayer dollars being wasted on interest payments rather than being channeled to more productive uses. This paper calculates that the debt incurred for $2 trillion in direct war-related spending by the Department of Defense and State Department has already resulted in cumulative interest payments of $925 billion. Even if military interventions ceased immediately, interest payments would continue to rise, and will grow further as the U.S. continues its current military operations.
  • Topic: Debt, War, Military Spending, 9/11
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, Middle East, Yemen, Syria, North America, United States of America