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  • Author: Marisa Sullivan
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Hezbollah's deepening involvement in Syria is one of the most important factors of the conflict in 2013 and 2014. Since the beginning of 2013, Hezbollah fighters have operated openly and in significant numbers across the border alongside their Syrian and Iraqi counterparts. They have enabled the regime to regain control of rebel-held areas in central Syria and have improved the effectiveness of pro-regime forces. The impact of Hezbollah's involvement in Syria has been felt not just on the battlefield, where the regime now has momentum in many areas, but also in Lebanon where growing sectarian tensions have undermined security and stability.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Jessica Lewis
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Anbar is not the only front in Iraq on which Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), now operating as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), is fighting in 2014. ISIS has also established a governorate in Diyala. Its spokesman has named the province the central front in the sectarian conflict he has urged. The security situation and sectarian tension in Diyala province are grave. ISIS has returned to fixed fighting positions within Muqdadiyah, Baqubah, and the Diyala River Valley. Shi'a militias are now active in these areas as well. Increasing instances of population displacement demonstrate the aggregate effect of targeted violence by both groups. It is important to estimate the effects of this displacement and the presence of armed groups within Diyala's major cities in order to understand how deteriorated security conditions in this province will interfere with Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections. Furthermore, violence in Diyala has historically both driven and reflected inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian violence in other mixed areas of Iraq, including Baghdad. Diyala is therefore a significant bellwether for how quickly these types of violence will spread to other provinces.
  • Topic: Security, Ethnic Conflict, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Valerie Szybala
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Following the January 2014 uprising by rebel groups in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), ISIS contracted its footprint in Syria. The group was pushed out, tactically withdrew, or went below the radar in cities and towns across much of Idlib, Aleppo, and Deir ez-Zour. It continued to battle the Kurds in Hasaka, but constituted most of its strength in ar-Raqqa, where it is in firm control of the provincial capital and several other towns. In Syria's eastern province of Deir ez-Zour, ISIS is attempting a resurgence. At the end of March 2014, ISIS began to move forces from the north into place for an offensive back into the heart of rebel territory in Deir ez-Zour province. This resurgence has come in the form of an offensive largely against Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front, which are predominant in the province. Local tribal militias have come to play an increasing role as well.
  • Topic: Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Jessica Lewis
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: There are indications that ISIS is about to launch into a new offensive in Iraq. ISIS published photos of a military parade through the streets of Mosul on June 24, 2014 showcasing U.S. military equipment, including armored vehicles and towed artillery systems. ISIS reportedly executed another parade in Hawijah on June 26, 2014. These parades may be a demonstration of force to reinforce their control of these urban centers. They may also be a prelude to ISIS troop movements, and it is important to anticipate where ISIS may deploy these forces forward. Meanwhile, ISIS also renewed the use of suicide bombers in the vicinity of Baghdad. An ISIS bomber with a suicide vest (SVEST) attacked the Kadhimiya shrine in northern Baghdad on June 26, 2014, one of the four holy sites in Iraq that Iran and Shi'a militias are most concerned to protect. ISIS also incorporated an SVEST into a complex attack in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, on June 25, 2014 in a zone primarily controlled by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Shi'a militias on the road from Baghdad to Karbala. These attacks are demonstrations that ISIS has uncommitted forces in the Baghdad Belts that may be brought to bear in new offensives. ISIS's offensive has not culminated, and the ISIS campaign for Iraq is not over. Rather, as Ramadan approaches, their main offensive is likely imminent.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Nichole Dicharry
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Forces from the Peshmerga were deployed to the Mosul Dam. The new force is reportedly larger and better equipped than the forces that had clashed with ISIS previously in the area. Also, unconfirmed reports suggest that the Peshmerga have retaken the area of Wana, located near the dam, that fell to ISIS yesterday.
  • Topic: Armed Struggle, Refugee Issues, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Nichole Dicharry
  • Publication Date: 07-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: ISIS published images of Eid celebrations in Mosul showing kids and teenagers playing at a large carnival. The images also showed ISIS members handing out candy to children. This comes after residents from Mosul and ISIS reported that the organization launched a radio station in the city.
  • Topic: Islam, Governance, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Aaron Reese
  • Publication Date: 07-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The first half of 2013 has demonstrated clearly that sectarian conflict is spreading in the Middle East. This conflict is a product of developments over the course of 2012, including Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's consolidation of power and the development of an armed opposition movement in Syria. A turning point, however, came this year with the Syrian opposition's loss of the strategic town of al-Qusayr in early June to regime forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah. The intervention of this prominent Shi'a militant group has heightened the "sectarianization" of the conflict. Sectarian narratives provide an emotional rallying point for popular mobilization, and are easily leveraged by actors involved in the conflict to achieve their goals. The rise in sectarian violence sponsored by external actors poses an existential threat to these already-fragile states.
  • Topic: International Relations, Security, Armed Struggle, Refugee Issues, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Ahmed Ali, Kimberly Kagan, Jessica Lewis
  • Publication Date: 05-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Escalating violence in Iraq crossed a new and very dangerous threshold this week. Al Qaeda in Iraq launched a concentrated wave of car-bomb and other attacks specifically against civilian Shi'a targets in and around Baghdad. Shi'a militias are mobilizing and have begun a round of sectarian killings facilitated by false checkpoints, a technique characteristic of the 2006-2007 period. Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki has taken a number of steps to demonstrate that he remains in control of the situation. The expansion of Shi'a militia activity, however, is likely to persuade many Iraqis that he is either not in control or is actively abetting the killings. The re-mobilization of Shi'a militias in Iraq coincides with the formal announcement by Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah of his organization's active military participation in the Syrian civil war. Al Qaeda in Iraq's sectarian mass-murder attacks coincide with the announcement by AQI's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra, that attacking Hezbollah is that group's primary target henceforth. The stage appears to be set not merely for the collapse of the Iraqi state into the kind of vicious sectarian killing and sectarian cleansing that nearly destroyed it in 2006 and 2007, but also for the expansion of that sectarian warfare throughout both Mesopotamia and the Levant.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Jessica Lewis
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) announced "The Soldiers' Harvest," a new campaign on July 29, 2013, immediately after the Abu Ghraib prison attack. AQI then declared that event the conclusion of the "Breaking the Walls" campaign, which apparently achieved its goals: to stoke sectarian violence by targeting Shi'a communities; and to reconstitute the veteran AQI fighting force by breaking former members out of Iraq's prisons. ISW has assessed that AQI has reconstituted as a professional military force. It is therefore crucial to examine the first 60 days of the new "Soldiers' Harvest" campaign for indications of what AQI means to accomplish this year. Initial indications suggest that AQI will seek to establish control of key terrain in Iraq while targeting any Sunnis who work for the government. The campaign name, "The Soldiers' Harvest," refers in particular to the intimidation and displacement of the Iraqi Security Forces, especially through the destruction of their homes.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence, Prisons/Penal Systems
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Ramzy Mardini
  • Publication Date: 04-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani will be visiting the White House on April 4 and meeting with President Barack Obama. Discussions are likely to involve Kurdish concerns about Iraq's prime minister, but may largely focus on defining what Vice President Joseph Biden termed as a "special relationship" between the U.S. and Kurds during his visit to Arbil last December. Relations between the governments of the United States and Kurdish Region have grown and deepened considerably since the 2003 U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq. The Kurds continued to be staunch proponents of the American presence and ongoing engagement in Iraq.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East