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  • Author: James M Dorsey, Raffaello Pantucci, Bilveer Singh, Noor Huda Ismail
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The high-profile assassination of General Qassim Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (QF), on January 3 in Baghdad marked the lowest point in US-Iran relations in recent times. It triggered a new spell of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East with far-reaching consequences for South and Southeast Asia. Soleimani’s killing has also coincided with the potential rejuvenation of the Islamic State (IS), and ongoing anti-government protests in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Soleimani’s killing was bound to have reverberations beyond the Middle East. Muslim-majority states in South and Southeast Asia, where both Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in sectarian proxy wars by funding and influencing the Sunni and Shia segments of the population. While states in both regions have condemned Soleimani’s killing, they have stayed largely neutral to avoid getting sucked into rising geopolitical tensions. Against this backdrop, the March issue of the Counter Terrorists Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features three articles that explore different dimensions of Soleimani’s death and their geopolitical implications. In the first article, James M. Dorsey argues that as US-Iran tensions have eased in recent months, Iranian hardliners, emboldened by a sweeping mandate earned in recent domestic elections, remain committed to a well-honed strategy of escalating asymmetric warfare. According to the author, this raises the prospects for a full-scale war, with the United States also still pursuing a maximum pressure campaign on Iran that has to date, yet to produce tangible results. In the second article, Raffaello Pantucci reasons that despite a general consensus that the US-Iran rupture will ease pressure on transnational jihadist groups in the Middle East theatre, it remains unclear how Soleimani’s killing will shape their future behaviour. On the one hand, Iran-backed Shia militias are likely to step up their operations, which will exacerbate sectarian fault-lines in the region and feed into IS’ self-portrayal as the saviours of Sunnis. Conversely, pragmatism continues to define interactions between Tehran and Sunni jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, who appear happy to cooperate to ensure broader strategic goals. Next, Bilveer Singh examines the implications of Soleimani’s assassination for South and Southeast Asia. regions where both Iran and Saudi Arabia enjoy ideological influence among the Muslim-majority states. Sunni Malaysia and Indonesia have reservations about Tehran, but domestic political pressures are likely to endear Iran to them more than the US. The impact in South Asia could be more varied, mostly affecting Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran through its Shia militant proxies can undermine US interests in Afghanistan. The QF has also recruited significant Shia militias in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively for operations in Syria. Moreover, Pakistan has to walk a tight rope given Iran has an inside track to its significant Shia population. Besides cross and intra-regional assessments of Soleimani’s assassination within the broader US-Iran fissures, the threat landscapes in Indonesia and West Africa, both long-time hotbeds for terrorist activity in their respective regions, are also examined in this issue. Firstly, Noor Huda Ismail takes a closer look at pro-IS terrorist networks in Indonesia, a country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. By examining the background, tactics and modus operandi of local terrorist groups, both online and offline, and comparing their legacy with those of previous militant Islamist movements, the author believes important learning lessons can be drawn to help mitigate future security threats. Finally, Atta Barkindo analyses the jihadist threat in the Sahel region, where a landscape conducive to terrorist activities provides the fertile ground for IS and Al-Qaeda to grow by linking up with local militant networks. The tactical sophistication exhibited in terrorist attacks by Sahelian jihadist groups, particularly in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, testifies to a growing footprint of global jihadism. Sahel provides an arterial life-line through the region, by facilitating the movement of goods and people between the Mediterranean and West Africa, which has been enormously beneficial to terrorist groups involved in organised criminal enterprises. Moreover, desertification and environmental degradation have also created a conducive environment for criminal activities and terrorism.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Bilateral Relations, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Marina Henke
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Many countries serving in multilateral military coalitions are “paid” to do so, either in cash or in concessions relating to other international issues. An examination of hundreds of declassified archival sources as well as elite interviews relating to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization operation in Afghanistan, the United Nations–African Union operation in Darfur, and the African Union operation in Somalia reveals that these payment practices follow a systematic pattern: pivotal states provide the means to cover such payments. These states reason that rewarding third parties to serve in multilateral coalitions holds important political benefits. Moreover, two distinct types of payment schemes exist: deployment subsidies and political side deals. Three types of states are most likely to receive such payments: (1) states that are inadequately resourced to deploy; (2) states that are perceived by the pivotal states as critical contributors to the coalition endeavor; and (3) opportunistic states that perceive a coalition deployment as an opportunity to negotiate a quid pro quo. These findings provide a novel perspective on what international burden sharing looks like in practice. Moreover, they raise important questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of such payment practices in multilateral military deployments.
  • Topic: Security, National Security, Regional Cooperation, International Security, Military Strategy, Military Affairs, Alliance
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Kuwait, Vietnam, Korea, Somalia
  • Author: Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Natasha Quek, Md. Didarul Islam, Naman Rawat
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State’s (IS) territorial defeat reflects a shift in the epicentre of violence from Iraq and Syria to the peripheries (countries with an active presence of IS cells or other insurgent and terrorist threats). In the study of terrorism and insurgency, age-old threats can persist while new threats are always emerging, either due to policy shifts that give rise to new opportunities for insurgents to exploit, or due to changes in the political climate of societies. As such, the May issue deals with three key thematic challenges in a post-IS threat landscape. First, it looks at returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), who after IS’ territorial defeat have either traveled to or attempted to return to their home countries. According to the United Nations (UN) more than 40,000 FTFs from 110 countries had traveled to Iraq and Syria to join IS. The return of segments of the FTFs indicates escalation of threats in their home countries as they come armed with operational skills and could possibly regroup, establish local cells and engage in violence. In this case, a high number of FTFs travelled to Iraq and Syria from Tunisia despite the country’s peaceful transition towards a participatory democracy, in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Second, in order to deal with the shifting threat landscape, it is necessary to develop new and strengthen existing de-radicalisation programmes. De-radicalisation is a smaller part of broader counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation efforts that focus on terrorists or returning FTFs in custody. Effective de-radicalisation programmes will provide detainees with opportunities to reintegrate back into the society by rejecting violence and promoting peaceful coexistence. This issue critically evaluates de-radicalisation as a concept and specific programmes in Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, while extoling the need for holistic approaches for effective outcomes. Lastly, beyond the Islamist extremist threat emanating from IS and other affiliated or local groups, other non-Islamist threats continue to persist. This includes far-right extremists gaining traction and engaging in violence in parts of United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, ethno-separatist groups (Baloch Liberation Army in Pakistan) and communist groups (The New People’s Army in Philippines and the Naxalites in India) also have a strong support structure and operational presence. According to the Global Terrorism Index, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or Naxalites killed 205 people in 190 different incidents across 2018. This issue specifically delves into the Naxalite insurgency in India, which has evolved from a mass-mobilisation movement to a militant insurgency over the last few decades. The article advocates for institutional reforms to address various grievances to reduce the agency to violence. In the first article, Natasha Quek and Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff explore the causal factors behind Tunisia contributing one of the highest numbers of FTFs in theatres of conflict in the Middle East and beyond. The authors contend that the proliferation of Tunisian FTFs and surge in jihadist-linked violence domestically in recent years, poses a threat to long term stability, and could also fuel conflict in the wider region. Tunisia’s strong history of secularism provides an advantage, as the government can rely on a robust civil society rather than adopt a purely security-based approach. However, additional policy responses are needed to curtail jihadist activities and safeguard the country’s democratic achievements. Md. Didarul Islam then assesses various definitional aspects and theoretical models of de-radicalisation programmes. The author further provides observations on the gains, limitations and local context of de-radicalisation programmes, gleaned from four country case studies, which suggest that effective de-radicalisation of individuals necessitates a holistic approach focused on three key areas: (i) re-education or ideological interventions; (ii) vocational training or financial support; (iii) and a viable reintegration environment. Isolated approaches towards de-radicalisation that discount these variables are likely to only bring short-term success and a higher likelihood of recidivism. Lastly, Naman Rawat then examines different factors and underlying causes which have sustained the Naxalite insurgency in India for over fifty years. The author argues that since the 1960s, the lack of legitimate political institutions as well as corrupt practices of the government and bureaucracy have contributed to the Naxalites’ socio-political alienation in India. Additionally, the ineffective implementation of land reform laws, which prohibit acquisition of the tribal lands by non-Adivasis, has pushed the more extreme sections of tribal and peasant people to revolt against the government. Though the insurgency has been weakened in recent years, it is far from over.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Radicalization, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict, Radical Right
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, South Asia, Indonesia, Middle East, India, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Syria, Tunisia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Mahfuh Bin Haji Halimi, Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Bin Sudiman, Nur Aziemah Azman, Mohammed Sinan Siyech
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The January issue focuses on an overview of the terrorist and violent extremist threats in key countries and conflict zones in the Asia-Pacific throughout 2018. The articles discuss the regional terrorism threat and responses in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, China and the Middle East. Thematically, the articles also analyse online extremism and the counter-ideology dimensions of terrorism and violent extremism in 2019. The lead article argues that global terrorist and extremist threat is likely to persist in 2019 as the Islamic State (IS) is going through a phase of readaptation and decentralisation. The group has established clandestine and underground structures to survive in Iraq and Syria. Its ideology is still intact and continues to be propagated in the cyber space. In the provinces, groups, networks and cells which have pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi are radicalising Muslims and conducting attacks. Harnessing both the physical and virtual space, IS continues to present an enduring threat worldwide. Although the apex of IS leadership and many of the directing figures are on the run and might be eliminated in 2019, the penultimate leadership enabling the fight and supporting the infrastructure will continue to operate in the shadows as they become agile and more cunning. The IS and Al-Qaeda (AQ)-centric threats are likely to remain given the lack of an effective global counter terrorism plan and strategy, the continuation of superpower and geopolitical rivalry, and the failure to resolve the underlying causes of extremism and terrorism.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Benjamin Tua
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: American Diplomacy
  • Institution: American Diplomacy
  • Abstract: Efforts to portray Muslims and their faith as threatening diminish our society by stigmatizing a significant American minority. They also can facilitate costly foreign policy blunders such as the 2017 Executive Order banning entry into the US of visitors from several Middle Eastern majority-Muslim countries, an order purportedly based on terrorist activity, technical hurdles to properly document these countries’ travelers, and poor coordination with US officials. Two recent books, “Mohammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires” and “What the Qur’an Meant: And Why it Matters,” take on the task of broadening Americans’ still unacceptably low understanding of Islam. The authors – Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, and Garry Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winning lay scholar of American Catholicism – approach their subject in distinctly different manners. Yet, their message and conclusions are remarkably similar – namely, that ignorance of and distortions of Islam and what the Quran says both alienate vast numbers of Muslims and have led to foreign policy missteps. The books complement each other nicely.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Islam, Peace Studies, Religion, Judaism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Ukraine, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Haviland Smith
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: American Diplomacy
  • Institution: American Diplomacy
  • Abstract: It is clear that there are powerful people both in the United States and in Iran who would like to force a real confrontation between our two countries. What is completely unclear is whether or not those hawks on both sides want a modified Cold War type confrontation, built perhaps on cyber warfare, or an all-out military confrontation. What this situation, with all its incredibly profound dangers and possible disastrous outcomes, has done is once again prompt the question, “what is the United States doing in the Middle East and what precisely are our goals there?”
  • Topic: Cold War, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Minorities, Ethnicity
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: James Aird
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policy
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Five months after Iraq’s May 2018 parliamentary elections, rival political blocs have broken deadlock and are set to form a new government. On October 2nd, the Iraqi parliament selected Barham Salih, a career politician from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), for the Iraqi presidency. Shortly after his election, Salih named Adil Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s former oil minister, as prime minister. Iraqis and international observers applauded the selection of these politicians who have eschewed sectarian rhetoric as a victory for political compromise, but Salih and Abdul Mahdi face the challenge of answering popular calls for government reform after a summer marked by violent protests.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Politics, Water, Elections, Employment, Protests, State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: John Millock
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policy
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: ISIL recruited children through a variety of means, including abducting children from orphanages and hospitals, or offering to pay parents hundreds of dollars a month in exchange for each child’s attendance at military training. Additionally, child soldiers were often taken from particular ethnic groups or religious communities, such as Yazidis and Christians, as a means to terrorize these groups. Since the territorial collapse of ISIL began in 2017, many of these child soldiers have defected; some fled ISIL territory and are living anonymously in Europe while others returned to their home countries. Debates about how national legal systems should handle these former child soldiers have arisen in all of these jurisdictions. In Iraq, which has dealt with a particularly large number of former ISIL child soldiers, there have been concerns about the national justice system’s capacity to adequately address the prosecution and rehabilitation of ISIL’s former child soldiers.
  • Topic: United Nations, Law, Children, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Transitional Justice, Conflict, Criminal Justice
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Houssem Ben Lazreg, Phil Gursky
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Islamic State (IS) has demonstrated unprecedented capabilities in attracting foreign fighters, particularly from Western countries. Between 2011 and 2015, Western foreign fighters coming from North America, Europe, and Australia traveled to Iraq and Syria in order to join IS and the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra. As IS has been significantly weakened, authorities in many western countries are increasingly worried that returning fighters will come back to their home countries radicalized, battle hardened, and eager to commit terrorist attacks. This concern is clearly manifested in Phil Gursky’s book cover which features a striking image of a Belgian returnee from Syria, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who has been named by security officials as one of the architects of the attacks in Paris in 2015. ​ In Western Foreign Fighters: The Threat to Homeland and International Security, Phil Gursky, a former analyst at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, elaborates on the phenomenon of ‘Western Foreign Fighters.’ This book aims at addressing two fundamental issues: “why people leave their homeland to join terrorist groups?” and “do they pose a threat upon their prospective return?”[1] To answer those questions, Gurski relies not only on a detailed analysis of the excerpts and statements by the fighters recently engaged in violent extremism at home and overseas, but also on accounts that delineate historical parallels and differences with previous conflicts sharing similar dynamics. ​ Gurski divides his analysis into eight substantive chapters, an appendix, a glossary and a suggested reading list, using accessible, non-academic prose. He conducts the majority of his historical analysis in chapter three. His discussion of western volunteers—mainly Canadians and Americans—and their involvement in previous conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War and the Boers Wars provides informative and engaging insights, mostly for a general readership.[2] It also sets the stage for shedding light on why Westerners join terrorist groups like IS, and what threat they pose to homeland/international security. Obviously, these issues will be of most interest to intelligence officers, policy makers, scholars, and practitioners...
  • Topic: Terrorism, International Security, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Homeland Security, Book Review
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Middle East, Syria, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Michael M. Gunter
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
  • Institution: School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University
  • Abstract: Kurdish nationalism is challenged not only by the more developed counternationalisms of the states in which the Kurds live (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria) but also by the problem of Kurdish disunity and infighting.
  • Topic: History, Conflict, Kurds, Referendum, Infighting
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Kurdistan
  • Author: Özlem Kayhan Pusane
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Uluslararasi Iliskiler
  • Institution: International Relations Council of Turkey (UİK-IRCT)
  • Abstract: Since the 1960s, Turkish policymakers have developed a distant attitude towards the Kurdish movement in Iraq and they have been concerned about the possibility of similar developments taking place in Turkey. However, in the early 1990s, and then from 2007/2008 onwards, Turkey left its distant attitude towards northern Iraq and pursued an active policy developing close relations with the Iraqi Kurds. This paper explores to what extent Turkey’s foreign policy change towards northern Iraq in these two periods constituted leader-driven change and to what extent these changes resulted from structural/environmental factors.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Politics, Kurds, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turgut Özal
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Lars Erslev Anderson
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Connections
  • Institution: Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes
  • Abstract: This article investigates the developments of al-Qaida and The Islamic State in the context of the war on terror. The Iraq war 2003–2010, including the US Counterinsurgency strategy implemented in Iraq in 2007 onwards, together with the political developments in Iraq after the US withdrawal of combat troops at the end of 2011 is seen as the breeding ground for Islamic State in Iraq and thus for establishment of the Nusra Front (al-Qaida) in Syria. The chapter argues that without political developments based on reliable states in the Arab Middle East there is no solution in sight for ending the conflicts and wars in the region.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, War on Terror
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Andrea Sjøberg Aasgaard
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Connections
  • Institution: Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes
  • Abstract: Why do young Muslim women from the whole world join the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, despite the fact that the group is notorious for conducting terrible sexual violations against women? Through comparing how al-Qaeda (AQ) and IS are positioning women in their ideological literature, this article sheds light on IS’ appeal to women. This is interesting, as AQ in a historical perspective only attracted a handful of European women to physically join the group. The comparison highlights that AQ and IS position women in different ways: as housewives, migrants, warriors and sex slaves. Both groups’ ideologies agree that a woman’s primarily role is to be a housewife and mother, and exclude in principle women from the battlefield. However, only IS is emphasizing that Muslim women have a right and duty to migrate to its territory. Through using ideological arguments in its literature, IS convinces its supporters that it is a religious duty to enslave women the group defines as idolaters. For this reason, IS’ brutality against non-Muslim women will not discourage its female supporters from joining the group.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Migration, Sex Trafficking, Islamic State, Sexual Violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Mona Kanal Sheikh
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Connections
  • Institution: Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes
  • Abstract: The Islamic State (IS) movement has opened a new chapter in the Afpak region, changing the landscape of militant movements in the area. This article looks at the patterns of rivalry and collaboration between the Islamic State on one side and Al-Qaeda and Taliban-related movements on the other. It also surveys the way Al-Qaeda has developed during the past years where most of the international attention has been devoted to the formation of IS in Iraq/Syria, and shows that Al-Qaeda is still active, though it has become more locally oriented. Finally, the article looks at the prospects for the further expansion of IS especially in Pakistan where, on one side, a range of sectarian anti-Shia movements that resonate with parts of the IS agenda while, on the other side, there is no ideological tradition for embracing the kind of caliphate-jihadism that the IS advocates.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Angle Smith
  • Publication Date: 09-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Ambassador's Review
  • Institution: Council of American Ambassadors
  • Abstract: As Acting Public Affairs Officer in Erbil in 2016, I had the privilege of working with the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH), the only pan-Iraqi organization located in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. IICAH was originally established with U.S. Department of State funding, and it has since become a regional leader for training cultural heritage specialists. Also with State Department funding, the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Delaware work to train Iraqis in the skills needed to preserve, protect and recover cultural heritage in Iraq, namely “the stabilization, rescue and recovery” of Iraq’s cultural legacy. This mission takes on an even greater importance in times of crisis, when cultural heritage is under threat of annihilation, and IICAH’s role has never been more significant than now, as those it has trained are well placed to preserve and restore sites and artifacts damaged or de­stroyed by ISIS. What is cultural heritage really? There are generally considered to be two categories—tangible and intangible. Tangible heritage includes things such as structures, ruins, handicrafts and landscapes. Intangible heritage includes nonmaterial things such as arts that are communicated through oral traditions. In The Past Is a Foreign Country, David Lowenthal writes that preserved objects also validate memories. While digital acquisition techniques can provide precise visual models of an object’s shape and appearance, it is the actuality of the object, as opposed to a reproduction, that draws people in and gives them a literal way of touching the past.
  • Topic: United Nations, Culture, Heritage, UNESCO
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Ches Thurber, Austin Bowman
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Ches Thurber is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University. He was previously a research fellow at the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago and at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. His current book project, Strategies of Violence and Nonviolence in Revolutionary Movements, examines why political movements seeking to overthrow the state embrace strategies of either armed insurgency or civil resistance.
  • Topic: Security, Islam, Non State Actors, Sectarianism, Social Movement, Conflict, Interview
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Graeme Wood, Eli Stiefel
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Graeme Wood is a correspondent for The Atlantic. He was the 2015 - 2016 Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and is a lecturer in political science at Yale University. He was formerly a contributing editor to The New Republic and books editor of Pacific Standard. He was a reporter at The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh in 1999, then lived and wrote in the Middle East from 2002 to 2006. He has received fellowships from the Social Sciences Research Council (2002-2003), the South Asian Journalists Association (2009), the East-West Center (2009-2010), and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide (2013-2014). He has appeared many times on television and radio (CNN, ABC, BBC, MSNBC, et al.), was the screenwriter of a Sundance Official Selection (2010, short film), and led a Nazi-hunting expedition to Paraguay for a History Channel special in 2009.
  • Topic: Security, Non State Actors, Islamic State, Journalism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Loretta Napoleoni, Karen Jacobsen
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: This book is a lively journalistic read, filled with stories and details of encounters between jihadists, smugglers, organized crime, drug smuggling across the Sahara, kidnapping of rich tourists, and European ransoms. The author, an Italian journalist, describes herself as a ‘chronicler of the dark side of the economics of globalization’ and has written several books on ISIS, terrorist financing, and money laundering. In Merchants of Men, Napoleoni argues that the proliferation of failed states and the breakdown of law and order in regions like the Sahel, accelerated by the burgeoning cocaine business in the region, have enabled a rapid increase in trafficking and kidnapping. The profits of these merchants of men have flourished, aided by the secrecy of European governments surrounding the ransoming of their citizens (notably, the U.S. does not, publicly at least, pay ransoms). Napoleoni raises these and a number of intriguing issues in the preface. She points to the “false sense of security about the globalized world” that allows both “young, inexperienced members of the First Nations Club” and humanitarian aid workers to explore the world and bring aid to conflict zones — and become the primary target of kidnappers. She gives (unsourced) statistics about the growth of the kidnapping industry and its mirror, private security companies, and asks whether “the economics of kidnapping are immune from the laws of economics,” because as competition has increased between kidnappers and private security firms, prices have gone up instead of down. She argues that when the migrant crisis erupted in Europe in 2015, the business of hostage taking — already set up with “a sophisticated organizational structure in place and plenty of money from trading hostages” — switched to trafficking in migrants and refugees. The profits of these merchants of men have continued to increase since then.
  • Topic: Crime, Refugees, Islamic State, Book Review, Journalism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Middle East, Syria, Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Paul Hedges, Jasminder Singh, Muh Taufiqurrohman
  • Publication Date: 10-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: October 2017 has been a fateful month for the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. In Syria, its de facto ‘capital’ Raqqa has fallen to an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by the US-led coalition. Earlier in Hawija, the last remaining IS stronghold in northern Iraq, about 1,000 IS fighters surrendered to Iraqi forces rather than fighting for ‘martyrdom’. Over in Southeast Asia, the Philippines authorities announced the liberation of Marawi after a five-month battle and the killing of IS top leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute. The string of losses suffered by IS since 2016 nullifies and invalidates the IS slogan of ‘remaining and expanding’ and constitutes a huge symbolic blow to its standing as leader of the global ‘jihadist’ movement. It is likely that the fall of Raqqa was expected by the top leadership of IS and that plans have been made well in advance for al-Baghdadi and his senior commanders to go into hiding, and for the ‘jihadi’ struggle to persist in some form in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. This is already evident from IS’ decentralisation of its ‘jihad’ and ‘virtualisation’ of its so-called caliphate (from a territory-based entity). The ‘decentralisation of jihad’ through its various wilayats and online presence (including videos and publications), is similar to Al-Qaeda’s post-9/11 franchising strategy. IS has been urging its affiliates in different parts of the world to continue the so-called ‘caliphate’ project by granting them more autonomy and freedom to mount operations. Against this backdrop, Southeast Asia has to contend with the threat of IS and other terrorist groups engaging in recruitment and proselytisation, and planning attacks through the online domain. This context necessitates close monitoring of hotspots in Southeast Asia, including Marawi in the Philippines, Rakhine in Myanmar and the southern provinces in Thailand. In the Philippines, security forces have successfully managed to contain, isolate and eliminate the IS threat in Marawi. Although the battle is almost over with the deaths of IS Philippines leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the threat of terrorism in the region is far from over. Rohan Gunaratna discusses the situation in Marawi, the activities of the militants, the government’s response and future trends. Despite the elimination of top leaders and fighters in Marawi, IS will prevail in Southern Philippines and pose a security threat to Southeast Asian countries as the leadership outside Mindanao remains intact. In addition, other militant groups are joining IS’ East Asia Division, indicating efforts to expand from the Philippines to Northeast and Southeast Asia. While IS has failed to hold territory, it has been successful in cyberspace, with regular online publications of battle news, ‘religious’ articles, showing exploits of IS fighters and propaganda videos. In this connection, Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani discuss the unprecedented appearance of a Singaporean national in an IS-propaganda video last month and its possible implications. In the midst of IS decline in the Levant, the video attempts to rally the ‘jihadists’, boost their morale, and gives the false impression that IS will prevail. The video underlines the need for continued high-level vigilance against extremist teachings and ‘jihadist’ propaganda and radicalisation in the real world and the murky cyber world. Muh Taufiqurrohman et al. examine the issue of jihadist radicalisation and activities in Indonesia’s prisons at Nusa Kambangan. They observe that lax security measures, understaffed prison facilities, low budgetary provisions and overworked prison guards have enabled high-profile jihadists such as Aman Abdurrahman, Iwan Darmawan, Abdullah Sonata and Abu Hanifah to recruit, preach, communicate, plan and execute attacks without hindrance. They recommend placing terrorist inmates in special prisons or solitary confinement, employing full-time religious counsellors, recruiting more qualified prison guards and increasing the prisons’ operational budget. On the issue of radicalisation, a better conceptual understanding of the subject is required. Paul Hedges explores and clarifies key issues associated with the term radicalisation. He argues that radicalisation is largely linked to socialisation and that there is no commonly accepted personality profile nor a linear pathway to radicalisation; basically, the landscape and trajectory of terrorism in terms of recruitment and evolution are both changing and fluid. In order to counter the booming youth ‘jihadist’ cultural milieu, he argues that it is necessary to have credible moderate role models and voices messages that are packaged to appeal to the youth. He added that any response to address the issue of trajectories into violence needs to be measured, targeted, evidence-based, and empathetic to the communities involved.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Philippines, Syria, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Mahfuh Bin Haji Halimi, Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: As the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group evolves into the next phase of its life cycle, it is operationalising its so-called wilayats (governorates) in different parts of the world. In June, with the loss of ground in Iraq and Syria, IS has made significant territorial gains in the Philippines along with carrying out a high profile terrorist attack in Indonesia. The operational strength and sophistication exhibited in these latest developments in Southeast Asia is concerning for three particular reasons. First, IS will stay alive and relevant through its wilayats notwithstanding its defeat in the Middle East. This could result in higher levels of violence and radicalisation in the regions where IS might turn its attention. The ability of the so-called Caliphate to operate in the online and offline spheres has already provided the group a virtual sanctuary to survive and stay relevant despite real world defeats. Second, with the seige of Marawi in the Philippines by IS, the city and surrounding areas may emerge as a new hub for IS supporters, sympathizers and lone-wolf fighters. In its latest issue of Rumiyah, the terror group has encouraged its supporters to relocate to Marawi if they cannot migrate to Iraq or Syria. This might galvanise a new wave of pro-IS fighters in Southeast Asia. IS has already prepared them for the setbacks in the Levant and provided them with sufficient religious grounds to press on with their ‘struggle’ through its propaganda machinery. The porous and heavily forested terrain and cluster of small islands with almost no control of the government in southern Philippines suits IS designs to fortify and consolidate its footprint in the region. It will require concerted efforts under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to counter IS gains in the region. Even though Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have done remarkably well to check the security challenge posed by IS, more needs to be done in places like the Philippines and Thailand with coordinated operational efforts and timely intelligence sharing. Third, IS online followers, supporters and sympathisers are now moving from open social media platforms to encrypted ones such as Telegram, Whatsapp and WeChat. This adds a new layer of complexity to keep track of vulnerable segments of youth susceptible to radicalism and disrupt any terrorist plots that may be planned and executed through communication in encrypted social medial platforms. Various Social Media Companies (SMCs), law enforcement agencies, academia and civil society organisations (SCOs) will have to team up and redouble their efforts to discuss how to deal with the challenge of cyber radicalism. Further procrastination in operationalising stronger social media strategies to counter violent radicalism will hamper efforts to curtail the spread of extremist propaganda and avert terrorist attacks. Equally important is the realm of counter-ideology and promotion of religious moderation. A strong rebuttal of Sunni extremist groups’ exploitation of Quranic verses and other religious texts to further their narrow agendas serves to de-legitimise their efforts. Once the ideological appeal of these groups is neutralised, it will be easier to counter them operationally. Terrorist groups can survive loss of sanctuary and decapitation of the top leaders, but ideological de-legitimization deprives them of the moral support they enjoy among the vulnerable social segments. These are some of the issues which the current issue of CTTA discusses at length highlighting: a) Marawi: A Game Changer in Terrorism in Asia by Rohan Gunaratna, b) The Evolution of Online Extremism in Malaysia by Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin, c) A Rebuttal of Al-Qaeda and IS’ Theological Justification of Suicide Bombing by Muhammad Haniff Hassan and d) Abrogation and the Verse of the Sword: Addressing Sunni Extremists’ Misappropriation of Concept and Verse by Mahfuh Halimi
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Indonesia, Middle East, Philippines, Syria, Singapore, Thailand, Southeast Asia