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  • Author: Patrick Martin
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: ISIS is waging a renewed offensive campaign in recaptured areas that could exploit vulnerabilities in the Iraqi Government’s ability to respond amidst accelerating political competition before upcoming elections.
  • Topic: War
  • Political Geography: Iraq
  • Author: Jennifer Cafarella
  • Publication Date: 01-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute conducted an intensive multi-week planning exercise to frame, design, and evaluate potential courses of action that the United States could pursue to defeat the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. ISW and CTP will publish the findings of this exercise in multiple reports. The first report examined America’s global grand strategic objectives as they relate to the threat from ISIS and al Qaeda.[1] This second report defines American strategic objectives in Iraq and Syria, identify the minimum necessary conditions for ending the conflicts there, and compare U.S. objectives with those of Iran, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in order to understand actual convergences and divergences. The differences mean that the U.S. cannot rely heavily on international partners to achieve its objectives. Subsequent reports will provide a detailed assessment of the situation on the ground in Syria and present the planning group’s evaluation of several courses of action.
  • Topic: International Security
  • Political Geography: Syria
  • Publication Date: 02-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The Afghanistan ORBAT (PDF) describes the location and area of responsibility of all American units in Afghanistan, down to the battalion level, updated as of February 2016..
  • Topic: International Security
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan
  • Author: Ahmed Ali
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Iraq's 2014 national elections are taking place at a difficult time. The country is at a crossroads, presented with the possibility of widely different futures. Deteriorating security conditions frame political thought in ways that harken back to Iraq's first national elections in 2005. The Iraqi state does not hold control of territory in some of Iraq's key political provinces, such as Anbar, Ninewa, and Diyala. The disenfranchisement of Iraq's Arab Sunnis; the rising threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS); and the activation of Ba'athist groups collectively discourage electoral participation.
  • Topic: Islam, Armed Struggle, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • 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: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Damascus is the Syrian regime's center of gravity. The capital of Syria has long been viewed by the rebel forces as the key to winning the war in Syria, and its loss is unthinkable for Bashar al-Assad. Thus the struggle for Damascus is existential for the regime as well as the opposition. An operational understanding of the battle for Damascus is critical to understanding the imminent trajectory of the war. This report details the course of the conflict as it engulfed Damascus in 2013; laying out the regime's strategy and describing the political and military factors that shaped its decisions on the battlefield.
  • Topic: Security, Political Violence, Civil War, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • 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: 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: International Relations, War, International Security
  • Political Geography: Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Ahmed Ali
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Iraq's 2014 national elections are taking place at a difficult time. The country is at a crossroads, presented with the possibility of widely different futures. Deteriorating security conditions frame political thought in ways that harken back to Iraq's first national elections in 2005. The Iraqi state does not hold control of territory in some of Iraq's key political provinces, such as Anbar, Ninewa, and Diyala. The disenfranchisement of Iraq's Arab Sunnis; the rising threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS); and the activation of Ba'athist groups collectively discourage electoral participation.
  • Topic: International Relations, International Political Economy, Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Ninewa, Anbar, Diyala
  • Author: Charles C. Caris, Samuel Reynolds
  • Publication Date: 07-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The Islamic State's June 2014 announcement of a “caliphate” is not empty rhetoric. In fact, the idea of the caliphate that rests within a controlled territory is a core part of ISIS's political vision. The ISIS grand strategy to realize this vision involves first establishing control of terrain through military conquest and then reinforcing this control through governance. This grand strategy proceeds in phases that have been laid out by ISIS itself in its publications, and elaborates a vision that it hopes will attract both fighters and citizens to its nascent state. The declaration of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, however, raises the question: can ISIS govern?
  • Topic: Security, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Syria
  • Author: Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Jessica D. Lewis
  • Publication Date: 09-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The Islamic State poses a grave danger to the United States and its allies in the Middle East and around the world due to its location, resources, the skill and determination of its leaders and fighters, and its demonstrated lethality compared to other al Qaeda-like groups. In Syria, the Assad regime has lost control of the majority of the state, and the regime's atrocities and sectarianism have fueled violent Islamists, particularly ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (JN). In Iraq, the government has lost control over large portions of territory that the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga are incapable of retaking without significant foreign support. The Sunni Arabs of Iraq and Syria are the decisive human terrain. Al-Qaeda and similar groups can only flourish in distressed Sunni communities. Any strategy to counter al-Qaeda requires working with these communities, as the U.S. and the Iraqi government did during the Awakening in 2007. Having neglected Iraq and Syria, the U.S. currently lacks the basic intelligence and contextual understanding to build a strategy. The U.S. must adopt an iterative approach that tests assumptions, enriches understanding, builds partnerships with willing Sunni Arabs, and sets conditions for more decisive operations.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Islam
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Joseph Holliday
  • Publication Date: 03-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The conflict in Syria transitioned from an insurgency to a civil war during the summer of 2012. For the first year of the conflict, Bashar al-Assad relied on his father's counterinsurgency approach; however, Bashar al-Assad's campaign failed to put down the 2011 revolution and accelerated the descent into civil war. This report seeks to explain how the Assad regime lost its counterinsurgency campaign, but remains well situated to fight a protracted civil war against Syria's opposition.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Elizabeth O'Bagy
  • Publication Date: 03-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Fragmentation and disorganization have plagued Syria's armed opposition since peaceful protestors took up arms in December 2011 and began forming rebel groups under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. A lack of unity has made cooperation and coordination difficult on the battlefield and has limited the effectiveness of rebel operations. Since the summer of 2012, rebel commanders on the ground in Syria have begun to coordinate tactically in order to plan operations and combine resources. This cooperation has facilitated many important offensives and rebels have taken control of the majority of the eastern portion of the country, overrunning their first provincial capital in March 2013 with the capture of al-Raqqa city. However, rebels have been unable to capitalize on these successes, and fighting has largely stalemated along current battle fronts particularly in the key areas of Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. In order to overcome the current military stalemate, the opposition needs to develop an operational level headquarters that can designate campaign priorities, task units to support priority missions, and resource these units with the proper equipment to execute their missions. Recently, the opposition has established a new national military structure that may grow to serve this purpose. On December 7, 2012, rebel leaders from across Syria announced the election of a new 30-member unified command structure called the Supreme Joint Military Command Council, known as the Supreme Military Command (SMC). The Supreme Military Command improves upon previous attempts at armed opposition unification through higher integration of disparate rebel groups and enhanced communication, which suggest that it could prove to be an enduring security institution. The SMC includes all of Syria's most important opposition field commanders, and its authority is based on the power and influence of these rebel leaders. Its legitimacy is derived from the bottomup, rather than top-down, and it has no institutional legitimacy apart from the legitimacy of the commanders associated with the council. Thus, the SMC is not structurally cohesive, and its ability to enforce command and control is dependent on the cooperation of each of its members. The incorporation of rebel networks has resulted in chains of command that are not uniform across the five fronts, with each sub-unit retaining their own unique authority structures. The SMC's primary function to date has been to serve as a platform for coordination. Regardless of the limits of its current command and control, the SMC has played an important role in syncing rebel operations with several notable successes. It has allowed for greater opportunities for collaboration and coordination among the disparate rebel groups operating in Syria. As the SMC develops its institutional capacity, its ability to assert greater authority will likely depend on its transactional legitimacy and its ability to distribute critical resources to rebel-held communities. To date, disparate sources of funding have significantly handicapped the rebels' ability to unite and consolidate authority on a national level. Although private sources of funding will likely continue outside the parameters of the SMC, uniting the support channels of rebels' main state sponsors will be fundamental to ensuring the legitimacy of the new organization. The ability to provide resources and material support to its sub-units is the determining factor in whether or not the SMC will be able to unite rebel forces under its command and establish a level of command and control. The SMC has the potential to serve as a check on radicalization and help to assert a moderate authority in Syria. If the SMC can create enough incentives for moderation it will likely be able to marginalize the most radical elements within its structure. To this end, the SMC has recognized the importance of the inclusion of some of the more radical forces, while still drawing a red line at the inclusion of forces that seek the destruction of a Syrian state, such as jihadist groups like Jabhat Nusra. Ultimately, even if the SMC only serves as a mechanism for greater cooperation and coordination, it is a significant development in that it has united the efforts of rebel commanders across Syria. It is the first attempt at unity that incorporates important commanders from all Syrian provinces and has enough legitimacy on the ground to even begin the process of building a structure capable of providing a national-level chain of command. Syria's state security apparatus will collapse as the Assad regime finishes its transformation into a militia-like entity. The Supreme Military Command is currently the only organization that could serve to fill the security vacuum left by this transformation. As the Syrian opposition begins to build a transitional government, the SMC could create a framework for rebuilding Syria's security and governing institutions if properly supported. The SMC's ability to act as a basis for a national defense institution will be an important component in filling the power vacuum left by Assad's fall and will aid in a secure and stable Syria. There remain a number of critical obstacles ahead for the SMC. They include the incorporation of existing command networks, which will have an impact on command and control and resource allocation; mitigating the strength of extremist groups; and managing disparate sources of financing. Overcoming these obstacles will be difficult, especially as the nature of the conflict transforms and the sectarian polarization makes it more challenging to create a strong military institution and professional armed force. Although the SMC must do its part internally to overcome these obstacles, its success will largely depend on greater international support and access to more resources. The goal behind U.S. support to the opposition should be to build a force on the ground that is committed to building a nonsectarian, stable Syria, with a government more likely to respect American interests. Working with the SMC could enhance America's position vis-à-vis Syria's armed opposition and provide a mechanism for stability should the Assad regime fall.
  • Topic: Security, Civil War, Military Strategy, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Marisa Sullivan
  • Publication Date: 04-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Today, political and military power in Iraq is highly centralized in the Prime Minister Maliki's personal office. The national unity government that was formed in the wake of the 2010 parliamentary elections has given way to a de-facto majoritarian government in which Maliki has a monopoly on the institutions of the state. This will have important implications for the future of Iraq and the trajectory and durability of its democratic transition. Maliki is the dominant force over Iraq's conventional military forces, special operations units, intelligence apparatus, and civilian ministries. Maliki began his security consolidation not long after taking office in mid-2006. Maliki's security consolidation enables the prime minister to prevent any coup attempts, to aggressively target Sunni terrorist groups, and to check political rivals through the implicit or explicit threat of force. Since 2007, Maliki has used the creation of extra-constitutional security bodies to bypass the defense and interior ministries and create an informal chain of command that runs directly from his office to the commanders in the field, allowing him to exert direct influence over the both the targeting of individuals and the conduct of operations. Chief among these are the Office of the Commander in Chief (OCINC) and provincial-level operations commands. OCINC reports directly to the prime minister and is staffed by Maliki loyalists. The extra-constitutional body has no legal framework to govern its existence and therefore no accountability or oversight, yet it has significant powers and resources. Maliki has also attached Iraq's most elite units to his military office, and has used them for political purposes. Maliki relies on the operations commands to coordinate government responses to security challenges. He maintains direct control over these headquarters through OCINC and through the appointment of trusted commanders. The lack of oversight on military appointments has allowed Maliki to choose his preferred officers (nearly all Shi'a) to head the most significant command positions in Iraq—those of the Iraqi Army Divisions and Operations Commands. Maliki has appointed these senior military officers in acting capacities to bypass requisite parliamentary approval and oversight. The individuals who benefit from these appointments become, in turn, invested in Maliki's success and continuation as prime minister. After the 2010 election, Maliki greatly expanded his control over many of Iraq's civilian institutions, including the judiciary and independent bodies such as the elections commission, central bank, and the anti-corruption watchdog. Through his consolidation of power, Maliki has subverted the system of checks and balances that was intended in the Iraqi constitution. His growing influence over and limitations on supposedly independent institutions have tarnished the legitimacy and efficacy of these bodies, particularly the judiciary and the parliament. Politicization at the national level has effectively compromised the role of the judiciary as an independent check on the other branches of government. The judiciary has been an accomplice to the centralization of power by Prime Minister Maliki through a series of controversial rulings that have empowered the executive and restrained or removed his political rivals. Maliki has used his parliamentary allies and favorable judicial rulings to remove key personnel deemed obstacles to his control of Iraq's independent bodies, the most important of which are the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI), and the Integrity Commission. The prime minister has also used his influence over these bodies to check his political rivals and shield his political allies. Free and fair elections will be nearly impossible in the current political environment without an impartial and independent IHEC. Thus, Maliki's efforts to influence, if not control, IHEC are particularly concerning because it suggests his effort to subvert Iraq's electoral process. The Council of Representatives (CoR) has not been an effective check on executive authorities. The parliament's internal dysfunction, combined with Maliki's own efforts to undermine the body, has limited its oversight ability. Maliki has adopted a strategy meant to keep his parliamentary opposition fragmented and prevent the coalescing of a broad anti-Maliki bloc. This has proved largely successful, aided by the opposition's own internal divisions. Maliki's requests have prompted judicial rulings that have curbed the legislating and accountability powers of the parliament, namely by preventing the CoR from initiating legislation and limiting its ability to question ministers. Maliki uses his control over the security and civil institutions mentioned above in various ways to advance his interests. One objective is to dismantle Iraqiyya's senior leadership, while another is to expand his control over Iraq's financial institutions. Maliki has also used his control over the security forces and judiciary to defuse a federalism challenge from several Iraqi provinces. De-Ba'athification, along with accusations of terrorism and corruption, have become convenient political tools to discredit and even remove opponents. Maliki is not the only politician in Iraq to use these tools, but he has the most latitude in doing so on account of his growing executive authority. Maliki still faces some challenges to his power that he will likely have to face in the near future. The first stems from his rivalry with the Sadrists for political dominance among Iraqi Shi'a. The second comes from the growing Sunni discontent with the status quo. While the demonstrations have thus far remained largely peaceful, they have mobilized a significant number of Sunnis in opposition to the government, something that Maliki has sought to avoid. There is also the danger that Sunni discontent and the instability in Syria may translate into a resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Any security crackdown or further actions seen as disenfranchising the Sunni participation might actually exacerbate the drivers of instability that could fuel a regeneration of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Maliki will seek to keep the Sunni fragmented by alienating or removing leaders from rival political parties (such as Nujaifi, Issawi, and Allawi), while cultivating allied Sunni politicians and political groups. The promise of patronage that participation in the Maliki government affords is often a strong motivator for politicians. The upcoming provincial and parliamentary elections present an important political test for Maliki. If the status quo prevails in the coming months, Maliki will emerge from these next elections in a better political position. A strong electoral showing in the provinces would allow him to increase his number of seats in the parliament, to regain the premiership, and to make the parliament even more of a rubber stamp, ideally by installing amore pliable speaker to accelerate the move toward majoritarianism. The United States has largely stayed quiet on the issue of Maliki's consolidation. This silence gives the perception of consent, even if the United States harbors reservations about Maliki's authoritarian behaviors and intentions. U.S. engagement with Iraq in recent years has focused more on the need for preserving stability and providing Iraq with security assistance. Such assistance has ignored the political context that is helping to fuel security challenges and has only strengthened the hand of the prime minister, especially given Maliki's tight control of the security forces. Maliki—in his willingness to support the Assad regime in Syria and unwillingness to abide by U.S. sanctions on Iran—is pursuing a regional policy that is much closer to Iran's than that of the United States. The U.S. does retain leverage within Iraq, but it must use it more effectively. In light of these factors, the United States should reevaluate its relationship with Maliki and be more vocal in rejecting any actions that undermine the democratic process in Iraq. The United States should seek a better understanding of how power is exercised within the Iraqi state. Additionally, American officials should engage more broadly in the political sphere and not simply focus on security cooperation. Greater attention to the timing and means of engagement will also be necessary to break the perception of unwavering U.S. support for Maliki's actions. The United States and other international actors can play a vital role in enabling (or inhibiting) Iraq's exit from Chapter VII. A willingness to speed, slow, or stop weapons sales under the Foreign Military Sales program may also serve as a vehicle to exert influence. Supporting an authoritarian leader in the name of stability will have the opposite outcome and only exacerbate tensions and divisions within Iraq. Ultimately, the United States must recognize that stability in Iraq will only come through an inclusive, representative, and fair political system that protects the rights of all Iraqis—goals that run counter to Maliki's current aims, policies, and behaviors.
  • Topic: Security, Armed Struggle, Governance, Authoritarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Stephen Wicken
  • Publication Date: 05-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The political participation of the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq is critical to the security and stability of the state. At present, they are functionally excluded from government, with those that do participate coopted by the increasingly authoritarian Shi'a Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Without effective political representation, the Sunni in Iraq are left with few alternatives to address their grievances against the Maliki government. The important decisions lie ahead on whether to pursue their goals via political compromise, federalism, or insurgency.
  • Topic: Security, Islam, Insurgency, Authoritarianism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Christopher Harmer
  • Publication Date: 06-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The Iranian regime has among its strategic objectives expanding its power in the Middle East and rolling back U.S. influence in the region. Iranian leadership considers the Persian Gulf and much of Central Asia to be a "near abroad" where Iranian culture and interests should have significant influence. Recent developments confirm that Iran is committed to this ambition, has a strategy to realize this outcome, and is making significant progress towards it. Iran also clearly has ambitions to be a significant and relevant actor on the global stage, whose capabilities and intentions must be taken into consideration by superpower nations.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Hegemony
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Central Asia, 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
  • Publication Date: 04-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: On April 20th, Iraq will hold its third provincial elections since 2005. There are 447 open seats nationwide, and competition for them is fierce. Previous elections illustrate that winning provincial seats can reverberate on the national level. A simple majority of seats offers the parties an opportunity to control the senior provincial posts, including the governorship and chairmanship of the councils. Control of these positions provides space for maneuvering to achieve national level objectives.
  • Topic: Democratization, Regime Change, Governance
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • 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: Wesley Morgan
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This document describes the composition and placement of U.S. and other Western combat and advisory forces in Afghanistan down to battalion level. It includes the following categories of units: maneuver (i.e. infantry, armor, and cavalry) units, which in most cases are responsible for advising or partnering with Afghan troops in particular districts or provinces; artillery units; aviation units, both rotary and fixed-wing; military police units; most types of engineer and explosive ordnance disposal units; and “white” special operations forces. It does not include “black” special operations units or other units such as logistical, transportation, medical, and intelligence units or Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This document describes the composition and placement of U.S. and other Western combat and advisory forces in Afghanistan down to battalion level. It includes the following categories of units: maneuver (i.e. infantry, armor, and cavalry) units, which in most cases are responsible for advising or partnering with Afghan troops in particular districts or provinces; artillery units; aviation units, both rotary and fixed-wing; military police units; most types of engineer and explosive ordnance disposal units; and "white" special operations forces. It does not include "black" special operations units or other units such as logistical, transportation, medical, and intelligence units or Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, International Security
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United States
  • Author: Joseph Holliday
  • Publication Date: 03-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The rebels will have to rely on external lines of supply to replenish their arms and ammunition if they are to continue eroding the regime's control. The emergence of al-Qaeda-linked terrorist cells working against the regime poses risks to the United States and a challenge to those calling for material support of the armed opposition. As the militias continue to face overwhelming regime firepower the likelihood of their radicalization may increase. Moreover, the indigenous rebels may turn to al-Qaeda for high-end weaponry and spectacular tactics as the regime's escalation leaves the rebels with no proportionate response, as occurred in Iraq in 2005-2006. Developing relations with armed opposition leaders and recognizing specific rebel organizations may help to deter this dangerous trend. It is imperative that the United States distinguish between the expatriate political opposition and the armed opposition against the Assad regime on the ground in Syria. American objectives in Syria are to hasten the fall of the Assad regime; to contain the regional spillover generated by the ongoing conflict; and to gain influence over the state and armed forces that emerge in Assad's wake. Therefore, the United States must consider developing relations with critical elements of Syria's armed opposition movement in order to achieve shared objectives, and to manage the consequences should the Assad regime fall or the conflict protract.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, United States, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Germany, Syria
  • Author: Jeffrey Dressler
  • Publication Date: 03-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The Haqqani Network represents hh a strategic threat to the enduring stability of the Afghan state and U.S. national security interests in the region. The Haqqanis are currently Afghanistan's most capable and potent insurgent group, and they continue to maintain close operational and strategic ties with al-Qaeda and their affiliates. These ties will likely deepen in the future. Unlike the Quetta Shura Taliban in southern Afghanistan, the counterinsurgency campaign has not weakened the Haqqanis' military capabilities significantly. Few of the “surge” resources deployed to their strongholds in Eastern Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network has increased its operational reach and jihadist credentials over the past several years. The Haqqani Network has expanded its reach toward the Quetta Shura Taliban's historical strongholds in southern Afghanistan, the areas surrounding Kabul, as well as the Afghan north. The Haqqanis maintain considerable sanctuary and support nodes inside Pakistan's tribal areas. From their safehavens in North Waziristan and Kurram Agencies in Pakistan, the Haqqanis project men and materiel to resource their terrorist campaign in Afghanistan's southeastern provinces of Khost, Paktika and Paktia onwards to the provinces surrounding Kabul. The Haqqani Network is the primary proxy force backed by elements of Pakistan's security establishment. Pakistan's support for the Haqqani Network has increased, through both facilitating additional sanctuary and providing strategic and operational guidance. The Haqqanis serve Pakistan's interests by dominating key terrain along the border and beyond in Afghanistan's south and east, serving as a Pakistani-influenced “firewall” against national, northern, U.S. and Indian influence. The Haqqanis would also serve Pakistan's interests by being the primary influence in Afghanistan's Ghilzai Pashtun lands, as well as the tribal areas in North Waziristan, organizing these tribal areas in ways consistent with Pakistan's interests. The Haqqanis execute spectacular attacks in Kabul in order to generate a disproportionate psychological and propaganda effect. The Haqqanis have strengthened their presence in Logar and Wardak, surrounding the southern and western approaches to Kabul. They have also expanded into Kabul's eastern approachs in the provinces of Nangarhar, Lahgman, and Kapisa. The network will use these positions to increase their destabilizing attacks in Kabul. The Haqqani Network has increased their presence in Afghanistan's north, through their partnership with the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The Haqqani Network and IMU execute targeted assassinations of northern powerbrokers who are affiliated with the Jamiat-e Islami Party. These assassinations are meant to undermine the Jamiat party and the influence of minority powerbrokers, who are historical rivals to the Pashtuns and the Pakistani state. The Haqqanis are ideologically committed insurgents, and they are increasing their territorial reach. The group also has ties to al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The Haqqanis have never given any indication that breaking ties with al-Qaeda was either possible or in their interests. Consequently, the Haqqani Network is not reconcilable. They also do not fully follow the guidance of the Quetta Shura Taliban, because they maintain a separate power base and leadership structure. Coalition and Afghan forces must conduct a sustained, well-resourced offensive against the Haqqani Network inside of Afghanistan. This campaign would likely require at least two adequately-resourced fighting seasons. Consequently, it is imperative that the U.S. retains force levels at 68,000 troops after September 2012, rather than conducting a further drawdown. Without such a campaign, the Haqqani Network will be a dominant force inside of Afghanistan indefinitely, and the United States woulf fail to achieve its stated objective of preventing the return of al-Qaeda and affiliated groups to Afghanistan. Addressing the threat from the Haqqani Network inside of Afghanistan is necessary, even if further action should ultimately be taken to disrupt the organization in Miramshah. The ANSF are not equipped to deal with the threat from the Haqqani Network in their current state. The Afghan Security Forces lack the intelligence, enablers, and sophisticated command and control required to reclaim the enemy support zones south of Kabul. The Afghan units are also under-filled and wrongly positioned for this fight. American troops in a properly-resourced campaign can help reduce the threat from the Haqqani Network to a level that the Afghan Security Forces can handle. The United States must not abruptly shift the mission of its forces in Afghanistan from counter-insurgency to security force assistance. U.S. forces cannot curtail or cease offensive operations in the areas South of Kabul in Regional Command East in 2012. The United States and its Afghan partners must dismantle the Haqqani Network's strongholds in Khost, Paktika, and Paktia and contain the organization's expansion toward Kabul prior to a shift in mission. Failure to do so will present a strategic threat to U.S. national security interests in Afghanistan.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Terrorism, International Security, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, United States
  • Author: Elizabeth O'Bagy
  • Publication Date: 04-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Policymakers must identify and understand Syria's political opposition, both in exile and on the ground, in order to develop a clear vision of their aims and a better strategy for support. Any successful U.S. policy in Syria should focus on constructing a viable alternative to Assad's government. This report provides detailed information on the diverse groupings of the Syrian political opposition in order to inform the international community's response to the conflict. It distinguishes between the expatriate political opposition and the grassroots protest movement operating on the ground in Syria. Policymakers must come to the understanding that they may not get the chance to sit across the table from a single opposition party, but rather will have to work directly with the nascent political-military structures that have formed at a local level. The key to creating an effective national opposition lies in connecting the established national coalitions with the grassroots political movement. The most well-known and widely recognized established political opposition coalition is the Syrian National Council (SNC ). The SNC is based in Istanbul and functions as a loosely-aligned umbrella organization comprised of seven different blocs: the Muslim Brotherhood, the Damascus Declaration, the National Bloc, the Local Coordination Committee (as representatives of the grassroots movement), the Kurdish Bloc, the Assyrian Bloc, and Independents. The SNC has not meaningfully engaged with local opposition forces, and is losing credibility and influence within Syria as the conflict grows more militarized. The other significant established political opposition coalition is the National Coordination Committee (NCC ). The NCC is based in Damascus and favors a negotiated political settlement and dialogue with the regime. This stance has made the NCC less popular amongst the grassroots opposition movement. The grassroots movement functions at a local and regional level through coordination between the local coordinating committees and revolutionary councils. This movement has become tactically adept, better organized, and more cohesive, developing nascent political structures. The local coordinating committees, called the tansiqiyyat, form the base unit of organization. As the movement has grown, urban centers have developed oversight councils called the revolutionary councils to manage the committees within specific districts. The revolutionary councils are the main organizational structure for the grassroots political opposition. They manage the activities of the tansiqiyyat, organize protests, and coordinate with the armed opposition. The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) is the largest grassroots coalition. It represents roughly seventy percent of the revolutionary councils and the majority of the local coordinating committees. armed opposition cooperates with the grassroots political opposition and a number of insurgent groups have shown a willingness to work under the guidance of the revolutionary councils. The lack of secure communications equipment has hindered the grassroots opposition's ability to coordinate above the local level because the government retains the overwhelming capacity to monitor, track and suppress greater organization at a national level. The established political coalitions such as the SNC have articulated a national vision for a post-Assad future and have received nominal support from the international community, yet they lack strong networks and popular legitimacy inside Syria. On the other hand, the grassroots political opposition has gained the support of the people, but it lacks a national vision and united front as the basis for international support. The United States must consider adopting a bottom-up strategy that provides better support to the grassroots movement operating within Syria. This entails developing better relations with critical elements of the grassroots movement and working with key individuals who have deep networks of supporters within Syria but also maintain ties to the SNC or the NCC . A bottom-up strategy would provide an avenue for U.S. support that incorporates both national and local opposition groups and encourages the emergence of a legitimate national political leadership.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, International Cooperation, Armed Struggle, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Joseph Holliday
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This report examines the increasing effectiveness of Syria's armed opposition, explains how responsible provincial-level military structures have emerged, and considers how uncoordinated external support could compound existing fractures within the opposition.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, International Security, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Bilateral Relations, Border Control
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Elizabeth O'Bagy
  • Publication Date: 09-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This report examines the presence of jihadist groups within Syria, explains where various Syrian rebel groups and foreign elements operating in Syria fall along the spectrum of religious ideology, and considers their aggregate effect upon the Islamification of the Syrian opposition. The Syrian conflict began as a secular revolt against autocracy. Yet as the conflict protracts, a radical Islamist dynamic has emerged within the opposition. There is a small but growing jihadist presence inside Syria, and this presence within the opposition galvanizes Assad's support base and complicates U.S. involvement in the conflict. Internally, Assad has used the threat of jihadists within the opposition to build support for the regime among the Alawite and Christian communities. It has also served to discourage middle and upper class Sunnis from joining the opposition. Externally, Russian and Iranian leadership have consistently pointed to the presence of radical Islamists as a critical rationale for their support of the Assad regime. Compared to uprisings in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the opposition in Syria faces a much greater threat of jihadist infiltration. Many jihadi elements now operating in Syria are already familiar with the terrain, having been sponsored by the Assad regime for over three decades. These jihadi elements turned against their former regime allies in 2011 and are now cooperating with local jihadists. Moderate political Islam is not incompatible with democratic governance. However, ultraconservative Sunni Islamists, known as Salafists, envision a new world order modeled on early Islam that poses a significant threat to both democracy and the notion of statehood. Salafi-jihadists are those who commit to violent means to bring about the Salafi vision. It is difficult to distinguish between moderate Islamists and Salafi-jihadists in the context of the Syrian civil war. Assad's security solution transformed the largely peaceful uprising into an open civil war, and now even political Islamists and Syrian nationalists are engaged in violent means. Additionally, the mainstream use of jihadi iconography by non-Salafist rebel groups distorts perceptions about their ideologies and end-goals. It is significant to draw the distinction in order to understand which Islamist opposition groups are willing to work within a state system. hh The vast majority of Syrians opposing the regime are local revolutionaries still fighting against autocracy; while they are not Islamists, in the sense that their political visions do not depend upon Islamic principles, they espouse varying degrees of personal religious fervor. There are also moderate Islamists operating within the Syrian opposition, including those who comprise rebel groups like Suquor al-Sham and the Umma Brigade, who are typified by a commitment to political Islam that is compatible with democracy. hh On the more extreme end of the spectrum are groups like Ahrar al-Sham, which is comprised of conservative Islamist, and often Salafist, member units. Ahrar al-Sham's leadership espouses a political Islamist ideology, though it is clear that the group has attracted more radical and extreme elements of the opposition including many Salafi-jihadists. The brigade also has notable ties to Syria's indigenous jihadist organization, Jabhat Nusra. Al-Qaeda's direct involvement in Syria has been exaggerated in the media. However, small al-Qaeda affiliated networks are operating in the country, including elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Fatah al-Islam and Jordanian Salafi-jihadists. Rather than sending large numbers of operatives, these networks are providing operational support, including trainers and bomb makers, in order to capitalize on the instability in Syria and expand their influence in the region. Jabhat Nusra, Syria's homegrown Salafi-jihadist group, has important links to al-Qaeda affiliates and demonstrates a higher level of effectiveness than many other rebel groups. Jabhat Nusra has demonstrated sensitivity to popular perception and they are gaining support within Syria. The emergence of indigenous Salafi-jihadist groups such as Jabhat Nusra is far more dangerous to the long-term stability of the Syrian state than foreign jihadist groups because it represents a metamorphosis of a Salafi-jihadist ideology into a domestic platform that is able to achieve popular resonance. The U.S. cannot afford to support groups that will endanger Syria's future stability. However, if the U.S. chooses to limit its contact with Islamist groups altogether, it may alienate a majority of the opposition. Identifying the end goals of opposition groups will be the key to determining whether their visions for Syrian governance are compatible with U.S. interests. The U.S. Government has cited concern over arming jihadists as a reason for limiting support to the Syrian opposition. However, U.S. allies are already providing material support to the Syrian opposition, and competing sources of funding threaten Syria's future stability by enhancing the influence of more radical elements. The confluence of jihadist interest with that of the Gulf states raises the possibility that these states may leverage jihadists for their own strategic purposes, while simultaneously limiting Western influence. In order to counter this effect, the U.S. should seek to channel this support in a way that bolsters responsible groups and players while ensuring that Salafi-jihadist organizations such as Jabhat Nusra are unable to hijack the opposition movement. If the U.S. hopes to counter this threat and stem the growing popularity of more radical groups, it must clearly identify secular and moderate Islamist opposition groups and encourage the international community to focus resources in support of those groups alone. Such focused support would increase the influence of moderate opposition groups and undercut the appeal of Salafism in Syria.
  • Topic: Islam, International Security, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Border Control
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia
  • Author: Sam Wyer
  • Publication Date: 12-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This report examines the political, religious, and military resurgence of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. Forces, identifying the group's key actors, their present disposition and strategy, and their regional expansion. AAH is an Iranian-backed Shi'a militant group that split from Moqtada al-Sadr's Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) in 2006. Since that time, AAH has conducted thousands of lethal explosively formed penetrator (EFP) attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces, targeted kidnappings of Westerners, rocket and mortar attacks on the U.S. Embassy, the murder of American soldiers, and the assassination of Iraqi officials.
  • Topic: Security, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran, 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
  • Author: Stephen Wicken
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Opponents of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been pushing for his removal from power for much of his second term in office. In recent months, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani and leaders from the Iraqiyya list have turned to an effort to withdraw confidence in Maliki as prime minister. Iraq's Shi'ite parties, though concerned about Maliki's accumulation of power, have largely abstained from the no-confidence push. Yet the anti-Maliki effort gained new life in mid-April when the powerful Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr intensified his opposition to Maliki and voiced his intention to remove the premier. Sadr's push for a no-confidence vote is an important inflection not only in his own posture towards Maliki, but also in the ongoing political crisis in Iraq. It has prompted a backlash from Iran, which has supported Maliki by seeking to restrain Sadr and to prevent a vote of no confidence. This backgrounder explores the possible calculus and responses of Sadr, Iran, and Maliki as Iraq's governmental stalemate continues to drag on.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Government, Regional Cooperation, Governance, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Stephen Wicken
  • Publication Date: 09-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: On Sunday, Iraqs Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death by hanging after he and his son-in-law were convicted of organizing the murders of a security official and a lawyer. All told, Hashemi is subject to more than 150 charges of terrorism based upon allegations that he used death squads to target his political opponents. The verdict carries distressing implications for short-term domestic security in Iraq and for diplomatic relations with neighboring Turkey, where Hashemi currently resides and has been based since his trial began. While some observers view the case against Hashemi in purely sectarian terms, the targeting of a Sunni politician in a Shiite-led state, the sentence in fact highlights the pernicious nature of personal rivalries within Iraqi politics. Further, it demonstrates the politicization of the Iraqi judicial system under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has commandeered Iraq's legal institutions in order to consolidate power around his inner circle.
  • Topic: Democratization, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Sam Wyer
  • Publication Date: 09-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Since the withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Iraq in December 2011, the rate and lethality of attacks against civilian targets have steadily risen. Most notably, there have been seven major attack waves, defined here as a series of simultaneous and coordinated attacks that target at least 10 cities within one day. The attacks targeted a combination of security posts, government facilities, and Shi'ite shrines and neighborhoods. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an umbrella organization formed in 2006 for many Sunni insurgency groups including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), has claimed credit for a large majority of these attacks.3 This summer has seen a further alarming development with the announcement of ISI's "Destroying the Walls" campaign.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Joshua Himes
  • Publication Date: 10-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The Arab Spring has fomented increasing uncertainty in the Middle East, a circumstance in which Iran's regional intentions are of increasing concern. U.S. attempts to isolate the regime are driven by concerns over Iran's nuclear program, the enduring energy chokepoint at the Strait of Hormuz, and Iran's export of radical Shi'a militancy through proxy groups across the region, particularly as it affects Iraq, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon.
  • Topic: Islam, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Joseph Holliday
  • Publication Date: 12-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This paper provides context for understanding the cycles of violence in Syria. The first section provides a brief historical overview of sectarianism in Syria in order to understand its role in the current conflict. The second section provides a framework for understanding the operations and strategy of the Assad regime. The paper then analyzes regime security operations in seven regions: Dera'a province; Damascus; Homs and Hama in central Syria; the coastal region; Idlib province; the Arab east; and the Kurdish northeast. The paper concludes with an examination of regional and international responses to the conflict.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Ramzy Mardini
  • Publication Date: 12-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: On October 21, 2011, President Barack Obama announced his decision to withdraw all of the remaining 39,000 U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year. The complete pullout of U.S. forces satisfies the final phase of the withdrawal timetable established by the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement signed in December 2008 by outgoing President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The decision comes after negotiating efforts failed to reach a new security arrangement with Iraq that would have allowed for a continued U.S. military presence beyond 2011. This document compiles and analyzes many of the reactions of Iraq's leaders to the cessation of negotiations and the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, James Danly
  • Publication Date: 04-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Seven of the eight names of the Accountability and Justice Commission's additional candidates for disqualification, based upon the de-Baathification law, were released today by Haider al-Mullah, spokesman for the Iraqi List. These individuals join Ibrahim al-Mutlak, who was among the 52 candidates named prior to the election, but whose disqualification at the time was denied by IHEC for having been named too late in the election process.On April 26, 2010, the three-judge election panel nullified their candidacies in response to an appeal submitted by the State of Law List, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
  • Topic: Democratization, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Marisa Cochrane Sullivan
  • Publication Date: 03-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This backgrounder provides an update on the political landscape in Iraq on the eve of parliamentary elections. The paper begins with a brief overview of the electoral process. The second part of the backgrounder documents the Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurdish political landscapes. This paper concludes with some considerations on the post-election period of government formation.
  • Topic: Islam, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: James Danly
  • Publication Date: 02-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This backgrounder is an update to the ISW publication dated January 14, 2010 and entitled "Sunni Politicians Barred from Candidacy." The political landscape in Iraq has changed dramatically. Multiple government entities and politicians have weighed-in on the issue of the candidate ban, various politicians have claimed un due foreign involvement by different governments and, as the elections draw near, Iraq's already tense politics have become even more divisive. The candidates' ban has sparked widespread claims of legal and constitutional illegitimacy, threats of election boycotts and a nationwide rise in vehement anti-Ba'athism. This political environment threatens the legitimacy of Iraq's second national elections since the fall of the Ba'athist regime in 2003. The following paper briefly details and analyzes the events that have unfolded since the publication of the original.
  • Topic: Democratization, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Marisa Cochrane Sullivan
  • Publication Date: 01-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Multi-National Force-Iraq has identified various Shia extremist groups operating in Iraq, often using the label Special Groups or Secret Cells. MNF-I named Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH, or the Leage of the Righteous) as an active group on August 19, 2008 and released information that AAH is "affiliated" with Special Groups.This paper evaluates how the two groups, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Special Groups are affiliated by testing four hypotheses about the relationship between the Special Groups network, led at one time by Qais Khazali, and Asaib Ahl al Haq (League of the Righteous).
  • Topic: Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Patrick Gaughen
  • Publication Date: 01-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Even as U.S. operations to co-opt large elements of the Sunni insurgency and target irreconciliable al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters resulted in lower levels of violence during the summer, U.S. forces have simultaneously pursued rogue elements of Muqtada as-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM). These operations, often in collaboration with Iraqi Security Forces friendly to Sadr's main Shi'a rival, the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq (ISCI), took place within the broader context of a violent struggle between ISCI and the Sadrist Trend for supremacy within the Shi'a community, the lucrative income from control of the Shi'a shrines, and control of southern oil fields. This struggle has increasingly centered on the city of Diwaniyah, located in southern Iraq, approximately halfway between the capital of Baghdad and the southern port city of Basrah.
  • Topic: Religion, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Yemen, Syria
  • Author: Danielle Pletka, Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan
  • Publication Date: 02-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The conflict between Iran and the United States began in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution and the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran. Born partly of ideological differences and partly of real and perceived differing national interests, it has continued, alternately hot and cold, for almost three decades and seems unlikely to end soon. Like most previous conflicts, its conclusion cannot be foreseen. Many such struggles, like the Anglo-German tensions between 1871 and 1945 and the centuries-long tensions between Britain and France, lead to full-scale war. Others, like the Anglo-Russian or Russian-Ottoman tensions throughout the nineteenth century, lead to more limited conflict. And some, like the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, are resolved without direct armed confrontation. One key to resolving any such conflict is understanding both the nature of the enemy and the scope of the conflict—insights that have eluded most Americans and, indeed, many Iranians. This report addresses this lack of understanding and argues that while neither Americans nor Iranians desire full-scale military confrontation, Iranian activism and American passivity are contributing to a drift toward war.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Nuclear Weapons, Border Control
  • Political Geography: Britain, United States, Iran, Middle East, France, Germany, Syria
  • Author: Eric Hamilton
  • Publication Date: 03-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Coalition operations have significantly degraded the Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) network over the last year, particularly in central Iraq. One of the main successes was the dismantling of AQI's vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) network. As the VBIED network was rolled up, AQI shifted to conducting more suicide bombings. A major component of the suicide bombing network was located in the Baqubah-Khan Bani Saad corridor in Diyala province, which lies northeast of Baghdad. In January and February Coalition and Iraqi forces set about dismantling this network. This backgrounder details AQI's shift to suicide bombings and the operations to dismantle the Diyala suicide bombing network. A number of conclusions are draw about how AQI continues to operate throughout Iraq, the increasing capacity of the Iraqi army, and the relationship between kinetic and non-kinetic aspects of counterinsurgency.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Farook Ahmed
  • Publication Date: 02-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The United States' Joint Campaign Plan for Iraq has laid out a goal to achieve security in Baghdad and other critical parts of Iraq by the summer of 2008 and then extend a self-sustaining security environment to the rest of the country by the summer of 2009. To that end, the United States surged its combat troops and changed to a counter-insurgency strategy that focused on providing population security. This coincided with an opportunity provided by the discontent Iraq's Sunni Arab population felt towards al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) militants and their draconian rule. The United States took advantage of the situation by striking political deals with the disaffected local populations, most of whom are Sunni Arab.
  • Topic: Security, Military Strategy, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Arabia
  • Author: Kimberly Kagan, Marisa Cochrane, Eric Hamilton, Farook Ahmed, Andrea So, Wesley Morgan
  • Publication Date: 02-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Operations by Coalition and Iraqi Forces throughout 2007 have transformed the security situation in Iraq. Violence decreased dramatically in the second half of 2007. The number of enemy attacks in Iraq, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians, and the number of murders in Baghdad, dropped to levels last seen in early 2006. The mission shift to an aggressive counterinsurgency strategy, with an emphasis on population security, which occurred in January 2007, solidified these gains more quickly than many had predicted. Unexpected developments, like the emergence of Awakening movements and the unilateral Sadrist ceasefire, further helped to accelerate the ground level improvements in security. By late 2007, Al-Qaeda in Iraq had been defeated in Anbar, and its network and safe havens in Baghdad and the belts were largely disrupted. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been steadily pushed north, into isolated pockets, often far from population centers. Coalition Forces have also aggressively targeted Shi'a militia extremists and Iranian-backed Special Groups, with encouraging results.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq
  • Author: Eric Hamilton
  • Publication Date: 01-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: In the last year Coalition and Iraqi Forces and local Iraqi citizens made significant progress fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). AQI was cleared from former areas of operation like Anbar and Baghdad and the organization became fragmented with its freedom of movement and ability to conduct operations reduced. Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-Iraq) recently released a series of maps illustrating these developments. These maps are presented and explained in this Backgrounder.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Marisa Cochrane Sullivan
  • Publication Date: 03-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: While al-Qaeda in Iraq remains the primary threat in northern Iraq, violence by Special Groups—Shi'a extremist elements funded, trained, and armed by Iran—remains a key challenge to stability and security in central and southern Iraq. Despite reports in late 2007 that Iranian sponsorship of Special Groups had declined, the trend in Special Groups activity in January and February 2008 suggests otherwise. In a recent briefing, Admiral Gregory Smith, the Deputy Spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, explicitly stated, “The Special Groups' activity has not decreased in recent months. They continue to be probably the most violent of the extremist groups that we're seeing from Shi'a sects. [The] intent of Iran in supporting the training and financing we believe continues.” Other officials from both the Departments of State and Defense have also cited an increase in Special Groups activity since the beginning of 2008.The use of highly-lethal explosively-formed penetrators (EFP), a hallmark of Iranian-backed groups, has risen since the start of 2008.Indeed, the month of January saw twelve EFP attacks, which was the highest monthly total of such attacks in over a year. This meant that, on average, from early January to early February, there was an EFP attack every three days.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Military Strategy, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East