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  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: No region has seen more of its people travel to fight in Syria than North Africa; more than 3,000 Tunisians have traveled there as of last April, and more than 1,500 Moroccans This is a repeat of a decade ago when large numbers of North Africans traveled to Iraq to fight there as well, in proportions far above those of neighboring countries A significant number of recent North African fighters have conducted suicide bombings in both Iraq and Syria, highlighting that the deadly ideological message of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups is finding purchase in North Africa The reasons for this export of extremists include incomplete political reforms that have failed to redress serious societal issues, persistent high youth unemployment, and a failure to cope with the apparent high levels of disaffection, despair, and anger that drive people to choose violent extremism.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia, North Africa, Syria
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Turkish parliament's vote to authorize the deployment of military forces in Syria and Iraq provided a legal and official framework for such action It may appear to be a positive step in degrading and destroying the putative Islamic State (IS), however, the parliament in its vote used the broader term "terrorist organizations," thus the landscape for Turkey, Syria-Iraq, and regional states and interests remains exceptionally complex Though there is nearly universal and implacable opposition to IS among all actors in Syria and Iraq, Turkey's future role-depending on steps taken-could aggravate tensions not only with Arab Gulf states and Kurdish elements in Syria and Iraq, but Iran, Russia, and the Iraqi government Turkey's desire to create a buffer zone on the Syrian side of its common border remains one of the most sensitive issues Amid reports of increased IS pressure on Kobani, Kurdish PKK has insinuated Turkey will be to blame-not IS-for creating conditions for the refugee crisis, and threatens to resume opposition activity in Turkey. The Turkish parliament's vote Thursday to authorize use of its army and military facilities in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) may appear at first look to be a positive step for the broader coalition. The measures-to be determined-are in addition to any financial, diplomatic, humanitarian, and support activities for the anti-IS coalition. However, parliament's vote did not entail Turkey's officially joining the coalition. After the recent deal-details yet to be revealed-to bring home over 40 hostages IS had taken from Turkey's consulate in Mosul, Iraq, in June 2014, pressure increased for Turkey to take military steps in the anti-IS fight. A factor increasing the possibility of military action is Turkish special operations forces' guarding the tomb of Suleyman Shah, a Turkish enclave in Syria reported to be increasingly surrounded by IS. Though there is almost universal animus toward IS in the region, there is also nearly uniform resistance to Turkey's perceived unilateral military involvement in Syria and Iraq, outside the framework of the anti-IS coalition. Turkey's next moves may cause more conflict than benefit in the anti-IS fight. Indeed, the political landscape for Turkey's moves at home and abroad remains extraordinarily complex.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 11-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The following IntelBrief is excerpted from The Soufan Group's recent long-form report on The Islamic State, which takes an in-depth look at the extremist group's operations across Iraq and Syria. From late 2011 up to today, The Islamic State has shown itself both tactically and strategically adept. After years of surviving as a persistently violent criminal/terrorist gang able to mount multiple synchronized attacks in urban areas in Iraq but little more, it achieved unparalleled gains when the collapse of government in northern and eastern Syria allowed it to expand across the border. At the same time, the sectarian approach of then-Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki had made the Sunni minority in Iraq ready to support any group that appeared to have the potential to reverse its increasing marginalization. It's accurate to say the group would still exist-but in nothing like its current form-had only one of those two catastrophes-Syria and Maliki-occurred; that both played out as they did made what has happened seem an almost inevitable accident of history.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The deliberate targeting and killing of journalists by The Islamic State (IS) and the resulting lack of outside reporting has created a nearly information-free zone for the group to fill with its own messaging. The group's embrace of the decentralized nature of social media has allowed its many thousands of cyber-supporters to create and operate their own ministries of propaganda. Abu Mohammad al-Adnani is the official spokesman for the group, but the notion of an official spokesman does not really apply to IS in the way it has applied to al Qaeda; the crowdsourcing of messages negates the need for a single point of contact.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Communications, Mass Media, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq, North Africa, Syria
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: For a group that feeds on chaos, The Islamic State (IS) itself is rigidly structured and organized. The growing bureaucratic and administrative demands on IS as it attempts to govern the areas it controls-while under increasing military pressure-will stress the group and its structure like never before. The group benefits from ruling over populations that have little experience in effective government services, meaning that the very conditions that helped fuel IS's rise now give it wide latitude to deliver sub-par services for at least the near-term without risking revolt, at least for reasons of shoddy governance. From the caliph-level down to the district level, the group has a repetitive three-office ruling structure that provides easy-to-understand lanes of responsibility and authority, which is vital for a growing organization whose sole membership requirement is belief in its cause.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Governance
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Syria
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Like a tumor, the Islamic State (IS) feeds off the vitality of its unwilling hosts, sustaining itself from the economies of the areas it controls Efforts to deprive IS of its million-dollar-a-day revenue will be as difficult as it will be vital, since the group takes a percentage of local economic activity; hurting those economies to deprive IS of money will be counter-productive The coalition efforts to defeat IS militarily must be sufficient enough to thwart its advances while remaining targeted enough to ensure the vulnerable population doesn't unite with IS in collective suffering Destroying mobile oil refineries is an effective use of air power to deny IS more finances but it will prove less effective against destroying the percentage IS takes from everyday transactions that it calls taxes In short, the solution is to remove IS from the money, not the other way around, which only will only weaken and radicalize already struggling populations.
  • Topic: Economics, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Syria
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: As King Abdullah remains out of sight, worries persist over Saudi Arabia's ability to handle its many domestic and foreign issues The Sunni-Shi'a divide is now seen largely in terms of competition for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran But it is not just the Sunni-Shi'a tension which impacts the region as Saudi Arabia and Turkey also compete for primacy in the Arab Middle East; the three-way competition has been a key factor in the chronic conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen Common antipathy toward the self-declared Islamic State is the only glue that holds together the US-led coalition at this time: there's no consensus on how to defeat it, what to put in its place, and the role of Iran-issues made more complicated by questions about Saudi Arabia's internal decision process.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Islam, Power Politics, Counterinsurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: As if sustaining an effective coalition against the anti-Islamic State coalition weren't complicated enough, increasingly open Iranian support for Syrian and Iraqi Kurds has the potential to further destabilize the situation Geopolitical machinations have excluded Iran from the international coalition but geographical realities will ensure the country has a significant role to play in the future of both Iraq and Syria Iran is seeking to leverage its support for the Kurds as a way to bolster its beleaguered ally in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad, and increase Iranian influence in Kurdish regions at the expense of Turkey and the West Overt Iranian support for the Kurds-while reaffirming support for Assad-will further stress the coalition, inevitably increasing sectarian tensions among members already grumbling that Assad and not IS is the true enemy; all while the West remains focused on IS and how to avoid entanglement in Syria As a sign of Iran's surprising Kurdish influence, Turkish and Iranian officials met on October 9 to discuss the unfolding events in Kobani, remarkable in that neither country is a member of the coalition but both hold most of the cards to resolve the immediate crisis.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, International Affairs, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria
  • Author: Danya Greenfield, Barbara K. Bodine
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: With the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the explosion of violent conflicts from Tripoli to Gaza, the Middle East is looking more unstable and unpredictable than ever. While the focus in Washington is centered on jihadist extremists in Iraq and Syria at present, the threat from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) against the United States continues. Top al-Qaeda leadership in Yemen is hailing the territorial gains of ISIS in Iraq, and some al-Qaeda operatives are imitating ISIS' techniques such as public slaughters of those deemed infidels, prompting fears of cooperation between two of the most active Islamist militant networks. Recent aggression by the Houthi movement, a Zaydi Shia rebel militia, against state institutions and tribal opponents has opened a new front of instability and security vacuum that AQAP is all too ready to exploit. Inattention to the interconnected nature of tribal conflict, terrorist activity, poor governance, economic grievances and citizen discontent is proving to be a dangerous combination for both Yemen and the United States. The Yemeni context may seem far from the current focus on Baghdad and Damascus, but getting the US strategy right in Yemen will have consequences for regional stability and core US interests throughout the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Economics, Terrorism, Foreign Aid, Labor Issues, Reform
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Bilal Y. Saab, Michael S. Tyson
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: On September 10, 2014, President Barack Obama delivered a speech outlining the administration's strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIS. Achieving success requires four key elements, Obama said: a systematic campaign of airstrikes, increased support to allied forces fighting ISIS on the ground, robust counterterrorism to prevent ISIS attacks against the West including the US homeland, and continued provision of humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians. Airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and recently in Syria have supported the first, third, and fourth elements of this strategy.
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq