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  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The jihadi surge is the tragic, violent outcome of steadily deteriorating political dynamics. Instead of a rash military intervention and unconditional support for the Iraqi government, pressure is needed to reverse sectarian polarisation and a disastrous record of governance.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Governance, Reform
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Attacking the finances of the so-called Islamic State (IS) with limited collateral damage will be orders of magnitude more difficult than attacking its military factions The group has thoroughly embedded itself into local and regional economies in Syria and Iraq, and damaging its finances while not devastating civilian populations will be as difficult as it is necessary IS oil revenues might be the easiest to disrupt but such action comes with significant collateral economic damage, while taxes, tolls, extortion, and food sales generate more income while remaining highly resistant to external forces In the areas under its control, IS has been providing social services as well as delivering levels of fuel, electricity, and food to populations utterly without recourse, meaning the group needs to be replaced and not simply removed.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Terrorism, Insurgency, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 11-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The collapse of two prominent coalition-supported Syrian rebel groups at the hands of al-Qaeda-affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) has not just compounded doubts against the capabilities and loyalties of these groups but also doubt as to whether any "moderate" rebel group can succeed. This long-simmering uncertainty about arming and training rebel groups that aren't as cohesive or even as moderate as once hoped throws into question the prospects of an acceptable military solution to the almost four-year long Syrian civil war. The coalition-equipped rebel groups Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front were overrun in northern Syria by JN-though most rebel groups have long cooperated with it and, unlike Washington, don't consider the group to be a terrorist organization. Reports of increased airstrikes against JN will further drive a wedge between most rebel groups and the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), that demands the primary target is the Bashar al-Assad regime and not extremist groups fighting it. The realities of settling the civil war exclusively, thus far, via rebel military might open up other avenues for non-military actors to assume a role in resolving the war; after all, there are an estimated 2.5 million refugees and another 6.5 internally displaced persons in Syria, with obvious needs that perhaps new Syrian civilian leadership might stand up to address.
  • Topic: Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Foreign Aid
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: While there is understandable concern that an unknown percentage of foreign fighters fighting for the so-called Islamic State (IS) might return to their home countries intent on continuing the fight, IS appears intent on using them in suicide attacks in both Iraq and Syria IS goes to great length to publicize the foreign fighters who die in suicide attacks, which greatly enhances the group in the eyes of unstable people looking for martyrdom, creating a feedback loop of death A recent statement by IS showed that 80% of the suicide attacks in Iraq between September and early October were committed by foreign fighters; this continues a trend of IS using their foreign fighters in suicide attacks while Iraqi fighters take on the role of traditional soldiers Along with Saudi nationals, who conducted 60% of the suicide attacks referenced above, fighters from North Africa consistently feature prominently in IS suicide attacks, which closely matches the suicide bombing statistics from the 2003 Iraq war, though now there are more suicide operatives from western Europe
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Coalition airstrikes are intended to blunt the momentum of the self-declared Islamic State (IS) and provide time for a popular Sunni uprising that might never happen given the understandable lack of trust among all sides The Sunni Awakening that helped diminish the precursor group to IS in 2006-2009 is the successful outlier in Iraq's history of tragic uprisings; and it will not likely be replicated since the conditions that allowed it to succeed no longer exist To that end, one of the foundational assumptions of the effort to dismantle IS-that the Sunni tribes will soon rise up and oppose IS in a second Awakening-is built on uncertain ground Sunni tribal leaders realize there won't be anything near 2007-levels of support (material, financial, training) if they oppose IS en masse, and after gaining next to nothing politically after the first Awakening, there is no trust in a different outcome for any second Awakening Reports of a failed Sunni uprising in eastern Syria are additional disincentives for both Syrian and Iraqi Sunni populations to fight IS, and additional incentive to wait and see what external factors will emerge to change the status quo.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: In neighboring Iraq, over 1,100 Jordanians are believed to be fighting for the so-called Islamic State (IS) according to Jordanian former Prime Minister Maruf al-Bakhit, with another 200 having already died fighting Although that's only 0.0203% of Jordan's 6.4 million population, and enough for serious concern, it's testament to Jordanian society that with the constant fighting next door such a small percentage have taken up arms for IS After the 2005 Amman bombings, al Qaeda in Iraq (the precursor to IS) was widely despised in Jordan; now nine years later, over a thousand Jordanians are fighting for the same group In his October 18, 2014 remarks, Bakhit stated that there were between 2,000-4,000 Jordanians who adhere to the violent takfiri ideology most famously espoused by the late Jordanian Abu Mus'ab al Zarqawi Along with the fear of a radicalized population after a decade of war raging across two of its borders is the fear of what happens next in Iraq and Syria According to Bakhit, a partitioned Iraq is too problematic to work despite its obvious appeal amid the current fighting, with resources unevenly distributed across the country and Baghdad far too mixed for one side to claim.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The self-declared Islamic State (IS)'s strategy of exploiting and exacerbating divisions among its opponents ranks as one of its greatest weapons, and one of the coalition's greatest weaknesses Turkey's airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers' Party in southeast Turkey are the latest example-and perhaps most damaging in the near-term-of opponents of IS fighting each other instead of the group IS was sustained during its weakest period (2008-2010) in part by exploiting real tensions between various groups-Sunni vs Shi'a, Sunni vs Sunni, Sunni vs Kurd, etc-that prevented an "everybody vs IS" opposition that remains the only way to defeat the group IS will continue to create/exacerbate/leverage the differences between the US and Turkey, Saudi Arabia/UAE and Qatar, the Kurds and various parties, so much so that focus is more on tactically keeping the coalition together and less on strategically strangling IS.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Arab Countries, Kurdistan
  • Author: Ahmad Khalid Majidyar
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Persian Gulf states of Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have largely been immune to the rising tide of sectarianism that has rocked the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring. The three monarchies have successfully integrated their Shi'ite minority populations into their countries' sociopolitical and economic spheres, giving those populations little reason to engage in violence or seek political guidance from Iran or Iraq. Omani, Qatari, and Emirati Shi'ites strongly identify themselves as citizens of their respective countries and remain loyal to their ruling regimes. However, the spillover effects of the Syrian civil war—a sectarian conflict between the Shi'ite Iran-Hezbollah-Assad axis and the opposition groups backed by regional Sunni governments—are threatening Sunni-Shi'ite stability in the UAE, Qatar, and to a lesser degree, Oman. The United States should help maintain harmony in these states by reaching out to independent Shi'ite business communities and by working with regional leaders to ensure equal citizenship, political rights, and religious freedom among minority populations.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Security, Islam, Post Colonialism, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates
  • Author: Joseph Bahout
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: When the Arab revolutions reached Syria, the Sunni-Shia cleavage in Lebanon was already well in the making. Syria's turmoil only added fuel to an existing fire in Lebanon. Syria's crisis is intensifying Sunni-Shia tensions in Lebanon on two levels, symbolic and identity-based on the one hand, and geopolitical or interest based, on the other hand. The shift toward identity-based or symbolic forms of sectarianism can probably be explained by the existential character the struggle in the Levant is taking, whereby both “communities,” however imagined or over-constructed, are coming to perceive themselves as defending not only their share of resources or power, but their very survival. Lebanon's minority communities – including Christian and Druze – are increasingly anxious about the changing regional environment. Lebanon and Syria must face the difficult equation of sectarian diversity and national unity.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Melani Cammett
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The Syrian crisis has had a negative impact on Lebanon's political scene, including the dynamics among political factions within and across the country's major sectarian communities. The political fragmentation of the Sunni community has implications for the growing trend toward political violence triggered by the Syrian conflict. The rise of challengers and the decline of centralized authority within the Sunni community further increase the probability of violence perpetrated by in-group factions. Despite the pressures from the Syrian conflict, mounting sectarian tensions will not inexorably spark another all-out civil war. If Lebanon does not move past the current political deadlock and stagnation, the spillover from the Syrian crisis stands to undermine the country's stability in the longer term.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Lebanon, Syria