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  • Author: Helle Malmvig, Jakob Dreyer
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: • Denmark should focus its attention on the border region between Iraq and Syria, which presents a high risk of insurgency, and is where the main Danish military contingency has been deployed since 2015. • Given the likely partial US withdrawal from Iraq, NATO and European governments should prepare for taking on new tasks and responsibilities. • The US-led coalition should allow and prepare SDF to negotiate alternative political/security arrangements, as SDF may have difficulty sustaining its presence in Syria.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Fragile States, Islamic State, Syrian War, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Hanny Megally, Leah Zamore, Tayseer Alkarim
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Center on International Cooperation
  • Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic poses a dire risk to the tens of thousands of people imprisoned in Syria’s archipelago of prisons and detention facilities, many in conditions so ghastly that they constitute crimes against humanity. These facilities function as overcrowded torture chambers by design. Thousands have already died in detention due to such circumstances, and those still living are especially vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus. If COVID-19 is permitted to take hold, the devastation among the prison population will be swift and fatal. Nor will it stop at the prison walls. What can be done to avert a catastrophe that threatens not only the up to 100,000 who may still be alive in detention, but also the war-weary Syrian population at large? This briefing outlines a two-step approach to averting the looming disaster, calling first and foremost for immediate and large-scale prisoner releases, because no prevention or mitigation efforts will succeed unless the challenges presented by overcrowding are addressed. While releases are underway, the living conditions of those who remain imprisoned must be radically transformed to safeguard health and prevent the pandemic from taking hold.
  • Topic: Prisons/Penal Systems, Humanitarian Crisis, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Leah Zamore, Tayseer Alkarim
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Center on International Cooperation
  • Abstract: The humanitarian crisis in northern Syria is on the verge of becoming a COVID-19 catastrophe. A decade of conflict has left the healthcare system in ruins—and millions of displaced people in Idlib province were already suffering due to a lack of shelter and sanitation. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic posed to spread to an area with just 600 doctors and fewer than 50 adult ventilators for four million people, the situation is dire. Why is Idlib the last refuge for internally displaced Syrians, and what can donors, international humanitarian actors, and local organizations do to ensure that they are not left behind as the world grapples with COVID-19? This policy briefing by Tayseer Alkarim, Hanny Megally, and Leah Zamore delves into roots of the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, details the current capacity of the exhausted healthcare system amid the ongoing conflict, and examines what these constraints mean for mounting a response to the spread of the coronavirus. The briefing explains how donors and international humanitarian organizations can take action now to support local institutions, increase testing and treatment capacity, improve availability of PPE and public information, and press for an immediate ceasefire. The plight of Idlib is one of the most complex humanitarian dilemmas of our time, influenced by prolonged conflict, a looming COVID-19 outbreak, and the ongoing failure of the international community to take effective action. A further failure to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Idlib will cost lives—and risk global health security further by allowing the virus to spread in one of the places that is least-equipped to contain it.
  • Topic: Health, Conflict, Humanitarian Crisis, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, 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: Bríd Ní Ghráinne
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Institute of International Relations Prague
  • Abstract: On Wednesday 9 October 2019, Turkey launched a cross-border operation in Northern Syria. Turkey justified its actions as a response to an ‘imminent terrorist threat’ from Kurdish-led forces. Its operation was directed at pushing back these groups from its border and creating a ‘safe zone’ in Syria where up to two million Syrian refugees can be resettled. This reflection aims to assess whether the Turkish operation to establish the safe zone was lawful; and whether the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the safe zone is in conformity with international law.
  • Topic: Human Rights, International Law, Refugees, Syrian War, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Scott Crino, Conrad "Andy" Dreby
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: The use of drones as weapons in the Middle East and North Africa has grown rapidly in recent years, especially as non-state actors from the Houthis in Yemen to militants in Syria seek to level the playing field. Often powered by widely available commercial technology, these systems present a real and present security challenge. What should policymakers do to adapt to this new threat? How can they best structure defenses and leverage available technology to protect key assets? “Drone Attacks Against Critical Infrastructure,” by Dr. Scott Crino and Conrad “Andy” Dreby, addresses these questions and more. Crino is founder and CEO and Dreby is director of red-teaming at Red Six Solutions, LLC. The authors analyze developments in the use of weaponized drones in the Middle East and beyond, exploring how regional policymakers can adapt to mitigate this threat.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Weapons , Drones
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Erwin van Veen
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: On 10 July 2020, UN Security Council Resolution 2504 expires.1 It authorises humanitarian access from Turkey into northwest Syria. Should it not be extended, a humanitarian catastrophe will almost certainly occur. Fortunately, intense lobbying is already underway to avoid such an outcome. But other actions are essential beyond the resolution’s renewal. Key among those is the need for a shift in approach: instead of handling northwest Syria as a humanitarian emergency, the area should be treated as a protracted crisis to reflect the absence of a short-term solution to the predicament of its four million residents, including 2.7 million internally displaced. In practice, this means that much more humanitarian aid should be delivered through local Syrian organisations, reliable mechanisms for cross-line aid operations should be introduced, and the ground should be prepared for more EU engagement with Turkey and Russia. Without such actions, human suffering and its exploitation are bound to increase.
  • Topic: United Nations, Syrian War, Crisis Management, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Engin Yüksel
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: Recent Turkish interventions in parts of Syria, Iraq and Turkey itself, look like pushing various Kurdish armed forces and political groupings towards ‘defeat’ via a concerted regional strategy that combines battlefield action with repression and co-optation. But the ‘anti-terrorist’ frame and tactics that Ankara uses in a bid to solve its Kurdish problem feature many sticks and no compromises to improve Kurdish collective minority rights. It is likely that this approach will inhibit peaceful resistance and fail to reduce support for armed groups like the PKK and PYD despite their own authoritarian practices. Moreover, Turkey’s new regional militarism risks escalating conflict across the Middle East because of the complex international and transnational contexts in which Ankara’s interventions take place.
  • Topic: International Affairs, Non State Actors, Conflict, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Julien Barnes-Dacey
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: After nine years of conflict, the US is mounting a ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Syria, seeking the regime’s demise. But, with Assad having effectively won the war, he is unlikely to succumb to US economic pressure. Assad bears responsibility for the country’s freefall but this strategy will further accelerate societal collapse, especially as coronavirus looms, and will not deliver a transition. European governments should pivot to a longer-term strategy focused on protecting those societal forces that are still standing and that can help salvage a better future aligned with European interests. This should include increased – and cautious – support to them within government-controlled Syria. The unpredictability of the Trump administration means persuading the US down this track is not impossible – Europeans should seek to influence Washington to widen space for societal support.
  • Topic: Sanctions, Conflict, Syrian War, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Bashar al-Assad
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Asli Aydıntaşbaş
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Turkey now controls a long stretch of Syrian territory along its southern border that hosts nearly four million people, most of them Sunni Arabs. The challenges for Turkey there include a difficult balancing act with Russia, the huge financial costs of direct rule, the presence of radical Islamist factions, and the lack of a modus vivendi with the Kurds. Turkey faces the risk of the “Gazafication” of the area – the emergence of a militarily controlled territory that is perennially poverty-stricken and unstable. EU member states can find ways to cooperate with Turkey to support stabilisation in parts of the safe zone, without violating their interests and core principles. They should single out the Euphrates Shield Zone for stabilisation work, on the understanding that other areas captured from the Kurds are politically sensitive for European governments and voters alike. Europe should aim to strike a grand bargain with Turkey: in return for targeted European reconstruction aid to the safe zone, the country would lift its veto on stabilisation in Kurdish-controlled areas, allow trade between these zones, or agree to Kurdish participation in the UN-led political process on Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Treaties and Agreements, Border Control, Geopolitics, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Gaza, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: George Tzogopoulos
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)
  • Abstract: This essay by Dr. George Tzogopoulos, focuses on the multidimensional nature of Greek-Israeli relations. The understanding of the depth of these relations can explain why the two countries – along with Cyprus – are interested in coming closer. On the other hand, the effort of Israel and Turkey to normalize bilateral ties – already under way since 2016 – is a logical development that deserves attention. However, it is not related to the future evolution of Greek-Israeli collaboration. The evolution of Greek-Israeli relations in the last decade and trilateral Greece-Israel-Cyprus summits outline the common interest of the three countries to enrich their cooperation. Israel and Turkey have started since 2016 to normalize their relations. This is an ongoing process that has evolved in a period during which Greece, Israel and Cyprus charted a joint course in the Eastern Mediterranean. Israel and Turkey are expected to find a modus vivendi by agreeing on some issues and disagreeing on others. A potential Turkish-Israeli collaboration against Iran in Syria might pave the way for new synergies between Israel and Turkey. This is a highly controversial and complicated matter that entails risks for Ankara.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Europe, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Israel, Greece, Syria
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: After Turkey’s unsuccessful ultimatum set for the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to commit to the Sochi Agreement, Ankara has targeted the Assad regime and its allies’ locations along the de-escalation zone by launching Operation Spring Shield. Russia has capitalized on Turkey’s anger by offering an agreement establishing new facts on ground during a Turkish-Russian summit on March 5th.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Armed Forces, Geopolitics, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Idlib
  • Author: Mark Furness, Annabelle Houdret
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: German Development Institute (DIE)
  • Abstract: State–society relations are in flux across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), nearly a decade after the Arab uprisings. The protests and revolts that swept the region in 2011 arose from widespread rejection of the post-independence Arab social contracts. These were based on redistribution of rents from natural resources and other forms of transfers and subsidies, as “compensation” for acquiescence to political and economic authoritarianism. In several MENA countries, including Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, but also in Algeria, Lebanon and Palestine, the old social contracts have been destroyed by civil conflicts and internationally sponsored wars, which in some cases predated the 2011 uprisings. Since broken social contracts are at the root of conflict in the MENA region, supporting new social contracts should be the core objective of development cooperation with the region’s most conflict-affected countries. But “post-conflict reconstruction” often ignores the fact that conflicts do not end with peace agreements, and conflict-affected societies need more than reconstructed infrastructure, institutional capacity and private sector investment if they are to avoid violence in the future. Development agencies term this kind of cooperation “resilience”: promoting political, economic, social and environmental stability, rather than risking uncontrollable, revolutionary transformation. However, resilience has often provided cover for short-term measures aimed at preserving the position of particular actors and systems. Development cooperation needs to get beyond reconstruction and resilience approaches that often fail to foster the long-term stability they promise. By focussing on the social contract, development cooperation with conflict-affected countries can provide a crucial link between peacebuilding, reconstruction and longer-term socioeconomic and political development. It can thereby contribute not only to short-term, but also to long-term, sustainable stability. Using the social contract as an analytical lens can increase understanding not only of what donors should avoid doing, but also where they should concentrate their engagement during transitions from civil war. Practical examples from challenging contexts in the MENA region suggest that donors can make positive contributions in support of new social contracts when backing (a) stakeholder dialogues, (b) governance and reforms, and (c) socioeconomic inclusion. In Libya, the socioeconomic dialogue process has brought stakeholders together to outline a new economic vision for the country. The Municipal Development Programme in Palestine focusses on improving the accountability and delivery of local institutions. The Moroccan Economic, Social and Environmental Council provides an example of a process that engages previously marginalised groups. These programmes are all examples of targeted efforts to build cooperation among the groups that make up MENA societies. They aim to broaden decision-making processes, and to increase the impact of specific measures with the ultimate objective of improving state–society relations. They could be adapted for other fragile contexts, with external support. In backing more of these kinds of activities, donors could make stronger contributions to sustainable, long-term peace- and state-building processes in conflict-affected MENA countries.
  • Topic: Development, Natural Resources, Conflict, Peace, Social Contract
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Algeria, North Africa, Lebanon, Syria