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  • Author: Genci Mucaj
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council of American Ambassadors
  • Abstract: A few years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine the regional transformation underway in the Middle East. From the Arab Spring to the rise of ISIS, to a catastrophic Syrian war, we see a Middle East in turmoil and crisis. While the region’s geopolitical map varies, the root causes of conflict remain the same. What Is Pan Arabism, Sunni Islam and Shi’ism? In the early 1960s, Pan Arabism led by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt attempted to unite Egypt and Syria as well as other Arab countries in one Pan Arab Union where member nations would be linked by a common language and culture despite differences in their respec­tive religious beliefs. The failure of this noble effort, I believe, resulted in the beginning of radical Islam. Arabism’s secular ideology that aimed to bring together people of all faiths in a modern Arabic society faced strong opposition from traditional Islam. The Islamic con­servative backlash was especially acute in tribal societies and led to the creation of a movement which became known as political Islam. In subsequent years, Arab countries suffered deep socio-economic and political crises. Rapid population growth[1] and a rural exodus in favor of large cities overwhelmed housing, employment and other resources, leading to social dislocation, instability and political radicalization. The radicalization of Sunni Muslims became a defensive tool against other religions and sectarianism. Individual Sunni scholars put their emphasis on incorporating Sharia law in all forms of government whereby their Holy Book would be the sole political manifesto. This action created constant institutional ambiguity as there was no recognized clerical religious authority to decide on specific matters of governance. This vacuum allowed many Sunni organizations, militants, self-proclaimed caliphs and radicalized groups such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Al Nusra and other lesser known groups to impose their own view of Sharia. While the Sunnis do not have one supreme authority figure who sets the moral tone, the Shi’ites do. In the Shi’ite denomination, there is one supreme religious leader who unites all Shi’ites together, with Iran as its foremost state and Khomeini as the supreme, undisputed leader. Iran Iran’s sphere of influence in the Shi’ite world extends from the Strait of Hormuz with Houthis in Yemen, to Lebanon with Hezbollah, to Iraq and Syria. Shi’ite radicals put their emphasis on the character of the ruler who oversees the implementation of Sharia law. Foreign fighters who support Bashar al-Assad in Syria are sponsored by Iran, come in large numbers from Afghanistan and include other Shi’ites from countries that were once part of the former Soviet Union. Syria is extremely important to Iran. It links Tehran with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it closes the circle of influence in the region, making Iran a regional superpower. Besides the manpower Iran supplies for the war in Syria, it is estimated that Iran has spent nearly $1 billion in cash to prop up the Assad regime. Lifting the embargo and applying the 5+1 format conditions in the Iran Nuclear Agreement will make Iran economically viable once again. The Agreement is seen as a victory for Iran and its domestic policy, but it will have absolutely no effect in changing Iran’s policy in the region. Under no circumstances would Iran allow Assad to lose Syria, and that’s where old partners as well as adversaries have found common ground. Last August, Russian aircraft conducted raids in Syria after launching from Iran’s Hamedan military base, sending an important message to the West about this new/old alliance. Turkey, the Refugee Crisis and the European Union Iran’s new role in global geopolitics has implications for another key player in the region—Turkey. Turkey’s foreign policy and its international influence has waned as Ankara is faced with growing domestic violence. The ongoing terrorist threats in Turkey are not only from the Kurdish separatist movement and its Syrian PDY arm but are also from a faction of a radical group that deserted the Assad Army known as the Syrian Liberation Army (SLA). The SLA was originally supported by Turkey, a few European Union (EU) member nations and the Gulf States with the aim of getting rid of Assad. In part because of these domestic concerns, Turkey failed to recognize Russian and Iranian power-sharing ambitions in the region. The influence of Iran in the Shi’ite world and Russia’s interests in the region cannot be underestimated. New geopolitical alliances and the refugee crisis in Europe have created a serious dilemma. The European Union’s underlying principles have been called into question. Dealing with the influx of refugees fleeing war-torn areas goes beyond borders. The lack of a unifying foreign and defense policy will remain an EU challenge for the foreseeable future. Moreover, Turkey and Greece and other countries whose Mediterranean shores have accepted waves of refugees cannot face these challenges alone. Viewing the refugee crises as a regional issue is a mistake. This crisis is certainly a global concern. The European Union is now desperately trying to convince Turkey to shoulder more of the burden even though Turkey has been housing over 2.5 million refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. Europe and the whole world were transfixed last year, watching hundreds of thousands of desperate people crossing mountains, rivers and iron fences that were built across Europe. Most of these refugees ended up living in tents provided by the Turkish government. Turkish concerns about the plight of the refugees, however, fell upon deaf ears. This early warning of a pending humanitarian crisis was something that EU leaders failed to understand. By closing its borders, the European Union will not resolve the refugee crisis. It may, in fact, lead to bigger problems. Conflicts must be tackled at their origin. The European Union must find a way to balance its economic and security concerns with its inherent humanitarian obligation to help alleviate the suffering of immigrants who have walked thousands of miles in order to reach southeast Europe. Turkey and the European Union have serious issues when it comes to Turkey’s demand for nine billion euros to keep the refugees inside its borders. It certainly would cost the European Union less to have Turkey become a full EU member rather than continuing to deal with mounting pressure from the influx of refugees from the Middle East and beyond. Security is a global issue and cannot be handled in isolation. Europe is stronger, safer and bigger with Turkey and the Balkans inside its structures rather than outside. There is no better solution for these turbulent times than a strong and unified European Union. While the United States is trying to take a leadership role to find a solution, there are numerous bumps in the road. The Iran deal is viewed by some as a good step to satisfy and control Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but it is not enough. Europe is still trying to come to grips with Britain’s departure from the European Union. Russia’s attempts to increase its sphere of influence, on the other hand, makes the landscape even more complicated unless each individual player in the West maintains its geo­political influence in the region. The U.S. role in the crisis is vital, particularly in convincing the EU partners to stick together.
  • Topic: Nuclear Power, European Union, ISIS, Sunni, Shia
  • Political Geography: United States, Europe, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
  • Abstract: There was general agreement that the JCPOA was a very positive solution to a complex issue, providing a constructive and peaceful way forward for the Middle East in particular, and the non-proliferation regime in general. The deal contained in the JCPOA is working as intended. Iran has been determined by the IAEA on multiple [6] occasions to be in full compliance with its obligations, and now has the most comprehensive safeguards and verification regime in history. World powers have followed through with some sanctions relief thereby aiding the Iranian economy. Furthermore, there have been other positive dimensions, including an effective joint commission process, greater transparency among parties, as well as communications and interactions taking place in a more positive atmosphere. At the same time, it was recognized that the deal is unstable: although the terms of the JCPOA were ring-fenced from the wider geopolitical environment of the Middle East, political manoeuvring can threaten its continued implementation. The spill-over of non-nuclear issues, often labelled under “Iranian behaviour”, should not be allowed to derail the process. It was noted in a positive sense that all the main candidates in the Iranian Presidential campaign have signalled their desire to continue with the JCPOA. However, several participants felt that some of Iran’s regional policies could undermine this, risking a negative reaction from the US and other states. Some argued that given Iran’s disputed compliance history with IAEA safeguards agreements (which even two years later remains heated) and, in general, the uneasy relations in the past between Iran and IAEA, it is important that Iran continue to strictly comply to the letter of the JCPOA. The US domestic context provides perhaps the greatest potential risk to the sustainability of the JCPOA. It was noted that President Trump may not, after all, ‘tear up’ the deal. The possibility was raised that, because many in his national security team were seen as hostile to Iran, any minor safeguards violation may be seized upon to terminate the deal. Such a hard-line approach could isolate the US from a global consensus and weaken its hand in other relevant matters. There is further danger that Congress could act alone in enacting a bill (of which many are on the table) that would be in contravention of the JCPOA. This possibility was considered unrealistic by some participants. Some details of Security Council resolution 2231 were seen as problematic in a number of ways: the explicit provisions on ballistic missiles were viewed as an unnecessarily punitive measure unrelated to the main goals of the JCPOA; equally, some of the inquiry and resolution mechanisms were seen by some as unbalanced. The JCPOA should in any case be understood as a temporary solution. Even though continuing to implement it effectively would build more confidence, ultimately trust between Iran and some Western states will likely never be high. However, the deal does hold the potential for transformative progress in Iran-US relations, pending further steps to de-escalate and normalize relations. Many of Iran’s neighbours worry that the remaining latent nuclear capacity has only delayed the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran down the road; at the same time, many regional states are also pursuing nuclear fuel cycle programs. The JCPOA should also offer the international community an opportunity to consider how to extend some measures indefinitely and extend them to other countries. Regional stability and non-proliferation could be enhanced by extending some of the JPCOA provisions to the Middle East and beyond it. As such, Pugwash should make efforts to convene and organize meetings to explore far-reaching initiatives that are in the spirit of the agreement; for example: initiatives to discuss ‘internationalizing’ the nuclear fuel cycle; forward-looking regional agreements, such as a threshold of uranium enrichment, a ban on plutonium reprocessing, or limits on stockpiles of LEU; innovative safeguards measures, such as advanced monitoring technology, enhanced access to centrifuge production facilities, or explicitly set times for snap inspections; further multilateral scientific and technical cooperation, such as the SESAME project.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Military Strategy, Nuclear Power, Nonproliferation
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Kristin McKie
  • Publication Date: 12-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Kellogg Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: Since presidential term limits were (re)adopted into many constitutions during the third wave of democratization, 207 presidents across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have reached the end of their terms in office. Of these, 30% have attempted to contravene term limits whereas 70% have stepped down in compliance with tenure rules. Furthermore, of the presidents who have attempted to alter tenure restrictions, some have succeeded in fully abolishing term limits, others have only managed a one-term extension, while a minority have failed in their bids to secure any additional terms in office. What explains these divergent trajectories? On the basis of a series of statistical analyses, I argue that trends in electoral competition over time are the best predictor of the range of term limit contravention outcomes across the board, with the least competitive elections permitting full term limit abolition and the most competitive elections saving off attempts at altering executive tenure rules. Furthermore, results show that failed contravention attempts are true borderline cases, rather than instances gross miscalculations of success by the president and her party, in that they feature less competitive elections than non-attempt cases but more competitive elections than successful contravention cases. These findings suggest a linkage between political uncertainty and constitutional stability more generally.
  • Topic: Democratization, Democracy, Institutions, Political Parties
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America
  • Author: Nikolay Kozhanov
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Transatlantic Relations
  • Abstract: This paper is part of CTR's Working Paper Series: "Russia and the West: Reality Check." The current level of Russian presence in the Middle East is unprecedented for the region since the fall of the Soviet Union. Records of diplomatic and political contacts show increased exchange of multilevel delegations between Russia and the main regional countries. After 2012, Moscow has attempted to cultivate deeper involvement in regional issues and to establish contacts with forces in the Middle East which it considers as legitimate. Moreover, on September 30, 2015, Russia launched air strikes against Syrian groupings fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Before that time, Russia had tried to avoid any fully-fledged involvement in the military conflicts in the region. It was also the first time when it adopted an American military strategy by putting the main accent on the use of air power instead of ground forces. Under these circumstances, the turmoil in the Middle East, which poses a political and security challenge to the EU and United States, makes it crucial to know whether Russia could be a reliable partner in helping the West to stabilize the region or whether, on the contrary, Moscow will play the role of a troublemaker.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Military Strategy, Military Intervention, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, United States of America, European Union, Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Author: Ben Yoni Menachem
  • Publication Date: 11-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
  • Abstract: Fatah and Hamas representatives will meet again in Cairo for a further round of talks on the difficult issues that so far have prevented a reconciliation.
  • Topic: International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Africa Center for Strategic Studies
  • Abstract: After losing territory in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has affirmed its intention to expand its operations into Africa. A review of militant group activity on the continent, however, suggests that ISIS will be challenged to do so.
  • Topic: Regional Cooperation, Violent Extremism, ISIS, Militant Islam
  • Political Geography: Africa, Iraq, Middle East, North Africa, Syria
  • Author: Muhammed Ammash
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Global Political Trends Center
  • Abstract: An extended period of strained relations has finally ended with a series of lengthy negotiations.
  • Topic: International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Creed Atkinson, Jinhui Jiao
  • Publication Date: 06-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto
  • Abstract: High-skilled Prime working age (PWA) people are fundamental in securing economic growth. Therefore, a country’s ability to attract PWA immigrants and encourage its domestic PWA population to remain put, is crucial to sustaining economic competitiveness. Looking at Canada and Israel, authors Creed Atkinson (MGA ’17) and Jinhui Jiao (MGA ’17) found that Canada is currently benefitting from PWA brain gain while Israel is experiencing PWA brain drain. Given Canada’s already high ability to attract high quality PWA immigrants, its policy should focus on circulating PWA migrants back home. With the acute shortage of high-skilled workers and unique geo-political and legal conditions in Israel, limiting its ability to attract PWA migrants, its policy should also focus on brain circulation. Accordingly, both Canada and Israel would do best if they focus their future activities on brain circulation instead of attracting PWA immigrants.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Labor Issues, Economic growth
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Canada, Israel, North America
  • Author: Adam Garfinkle
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: By now the world knows that U.S. military forces for the first time since the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011 have attacked regime targets. Plenty of the basic facts are known about what transpired about 18 hours ago, but a few important ones are not—at least not in the public domain. For example, we have only a very general Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) report. This matters because Tomahawk cruise missiles are very accurate if “lite” weapons. Knowing what the four dozen or so missiles hit and missed, deliberately and otherwise, could tell us a lot about why the President, presumably with Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ guidance and concurrence, chose the lesser of three options presented at what has been described as a meeting of considerable length. That, in turn, could tell us if the intention ultimately is to coerce the Russians into coercing the Syrians to stop doing monstrous things to their own people, and possibly coercing them to support a compromise political settlement to the war; or if it’s just an Eff-You gesture designed only to relieve the sudden pressure of moral unction that unexpectedly came upon our new Commander-in Chief—who seemed to lurch from coldblooded Randian to “Godtalk” invoker of the American Civil Religion in the wink of an eye. In other words, knowing more about the target set would tell us whether there is any political strategy attached to the use of force, or not. Probably not.
  • Topic: International Security, Military Affairs
  • Political Geography: America, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Amaia Goenaga
  • Publication Date: 09-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: IEMed/EuroMeSCo
  • Abstract: The European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) and Casa Árabe, with the collaboration of ICEX (Spain Trade and Investment), organised in 2016 an international conference entitled "Post-conflict re-construction in MENA: Previous experiences and stakeholders’ inclusive involvement in the future reconstruction of Libya, Syria and Iraq". The aim was to tackle the different aspects and challenges related to reconstruction in post-conflict countries in the region. Given the dimension and complexity of the subject, the conference was structured in a double meeting, bringing together stakeholders, academics and experts. The first one took place in Barcelona on the 11 April 2016 and the second one on the 19 September 2016 in Madrid. This document gathers and assesses the main conclusions and recommendations reached in both meetings. Thus issues tackled have been grouped into five main lines of discussion, which are divided into epigraphs devoted to some key concrete issues:
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Conflict Prevention
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Lawrence G Potter
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: This essay takes as its focus society in the Persian Gulf over the long term, both before and after oil. In order to understand the transitions society has gone through, it is necessary to review the region’s historical evolution and how society in the Gulf today differs from that of the pre-oil era. The Gulf is presented as a distinct historical region, where a tradition of free movement helped account for the success of its port cities, themselves linked more to the Indian Ocean basin than the Middle East. In the twentieth century, the historic ties that connected the people of the Gulf littoral were curtailed as nationalism became the dominant ideology, and borders and passports were imposed. After oil was discovered and exports began following World War II, the small Gulf shaikhdoms, most of which were under British protection until 1971, experienced a surge in revenues that ushered in the modern era. Newly independent states sought to impose a new identity, manipulate history, and exploit sectarian cleavages to solidify the power of ruling dynasties. The historic cosmopolitanism of the Gulf was ignored by states that privileged the tribal, Bedouin heritage of their leaders. Arabs and Persians, both Sunni and Shi‘a, as well as many other groups have lived with each other in the region for many centuries, during which mutual differences occasionally led to conflict. But the current mistrust, tension, and sense of vulnerability felt by all sides is a product of the modern age.
  • Topic: Nationalism, Oil, Regional Cooperation, Religion, Maritime Commerce, Independence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: In an effort to explore the evolution of the art and cultural scene in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, and to understand the complexities of these fields, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University in Qatar undertook a two-year research initiative titled “Art and Cultural Production in the GCC.” Artists, cultural administrators, curators, critics, and academics were invited to Doha to attend two separate meetings in which they debated topics of relevance to the GCC’s cultural field. The research culminated in the publication of original studies in a special issue of the Journal of Arabian Studies (September 2017). This project builds on the available literature by contributing towards furthering knowledge on the prevailing issues around art and cultural production in the Gulf.
  • Topic: Regional Cooperation, Arts, Culture
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Qatar, Persian Gulf, Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: Academic interest in Gulf security has continued to focus on traditional notions of zero-sum security threats emanating from Iran or Iraq, or the role of the United States. There has been limited exploration of the deeper, structural issues that threaten the region. In line with this, in the 2014-2015 academic year, CIRS launched a research initiative on “The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf.” The purpose of this project is to scrutinize the ways in which domestic security threats in the region are evolving, and how newer challenges related to human security are being reinforced by—and in some ways actually replacing—military threats emanating from regional and outside actors. This project brings together a number of distinguished scholars to examine a variety of relevant topics, which resulted in original research chapters published in an edited volume titled, The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf (Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2017), edited by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen.
  • Topic: Security, Military Strategy, Political structure
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: The situation of the healthcare systems in the Gulf has become multi-tiered, primarily due to the lack of systematic population health need assessments, including short-term health solutions for low-skilled workers. Even though the Gulf region has attained significant social and economic achievements in a short span of time, healthcare policies are still centered more on curative health and not enough emphasis has been placed on protective and preventive measures. There is a lack of medical educational institutions in the Gulf, and the role of the private sector is in need of further study as there is no explanation as to why patients are shifting from public to private healthcare institutions.
  • Topic: Health, Privatization, Labor Issues, Health Care Policy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Persian Gulf
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: The Red Star and the Crescent (Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2018) provides an in-depth and multi-disciplinary analysis of the evolving relationship between China and the Middle East. Despite its increasing importance, very few studies have examined this dynamic, deepening, and multi-faceted nexus. James Reardon-Anderson has sought to fill this critical gap. The volume examines the ‘big picture’ of international relations, then zooms in on case studies and probes the underlying domestic factors on each side. Reardon-Anderson tackles topics as diverse as China’s security strategy in the Middle East, its military relations with the states of the region, its role in the Iran nuclear negotiations, the Uyghur question, and the significance and consequences of the Silk Road strategy.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: China, Iran, Middle East, Asia
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: In recent years, the Middle East’s information and communication landscape has changed dramatically. Increasingly, states, businesses, and citizens are capitalising on the opportunities offered by new technologies, the fast pace of digitisation, and enhanced connectivity. These changes are far from turning Middle Eastern nations into network societies, but their impact is significant. The growing adoption of a wide variety of technologies in everyday life has given rise to complex dynamics that beg for a better understanding. Digital Middle East sheds a critical light on the continuing changes closely intertwined with the adoption of information and communication technologies in the region. Drawing on case studies from throughout the Middle East, the contributors explore how these digital transformations are playing out in the social, cultural, political, and economic spheres, exposing the various disjunctions and discordances that have marked the advent of the digital Middle East.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Communications, Digital Economy
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Dylan O'Driscoll, Dave Van Zoonen
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This report views the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces, PMF) as having played an intrinsic role in the provision of security in Iraq since the dramatic rise of the Islamic State (IS). However, through the lens of nationalism it analyses the negative role the PMF may play once IS is defeated. The report therefore presents suggestions to deal with the perceived threat of the PMF in the short to medium term. The various groups within the PMF essentially represent a number of subnationalisms, which to a different extent act as competition to the state. The leaders of the various militias use their own particular brand of nationalism in their attempts to gain and maintain power and in doing so they dilute any prospect of national unity or loyalty to the state. Through providing security they act as competition to the Iraqi army which directly impacts on the perception of the state and is used by members of the PMF for political gain. The multiple competing subnationalisms in Iraq do little for the fostering of Iraqi unity or the functioning of Iraq as a state, and are likely to result in the continuation of violent conflict. Therefore, dealing with the challenges surrounding the PMF will be one of the most pressing issues in Iraq following the defeat of IS. The ultimate solution to this problem would be the incorporation of these forces through demobilisation and integration into the conventional ISF. Having one inclusive army, police force and border patrol operating under unified command structures and accountable to civil bodies of oversight is not only an important symbol in aiding national reconciliation and promoting cooperation between different communities, it is also a primary prerequisite for the effectiveness of the security sector as a whole. However, the current situation on the ground, in terms of security, reconciliation, and political will, precludes an aggressive, straight-forward pursuit of this objective. This necessitates an initial phase in which significant progress in these areas is made before incorporation of most PMF units can realistically take place. The government of Prime Minister Abadi needs to use its time following IS’ defeat to build a solid political platform based on shared citizenship, unity and reform. This platform has to include serious reforms in the areas of security and national reconciliation. At the same time, an assistance programme will have to be set up for individual militia members wishing to either integrate into the ISF or make the transition from fighter to civilian immediately following IS’ defeat. This joint process will allow for the gradual dissolution of the PMF as the functioning of the Iraqi state improves, cooperation and unity is advanced, and the army grows in strength. During this time the government can stop colluding with the PMF and begin incorporating, containing, and eventually suppressing the various groups within the PMF based on the level of loyalty to the state that the group holds. Only then can a comprehensive demobilisation and reintegration programme based on formal agreements with all militias be launched as an ultimate solution to Iraq’s problem with militias and subnationalisms. It is crucial that this programme is adapted to fit the local context and that the government of Iraq can exert primary control over it. Accordingly, some conventional standards of DDR programming may have to be deviated from in order for this programme to be successful.
  • Topic: Security, Nationalism, Military Strategy, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Irene Costantini
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: On Monday 20 February, Muqtada al-Sadr announced a 29-point roadmap for governing Mosul after the eventual liberation from Islamic State (IS), which appears closer than ever considering the ongoing offensive in the western part of the city. In October last year, Ammar al-Hakim proposed a political reconciliation plan, the “Historical Settlement”, as a template for governing Iraq in view of the defeat of IS. Though both are drawn from the Shia leadership and represent the Shia electorate, the two leaders and their constituencies have noticeable differences. A third pole is represented by the non-reconciliatory vision of Nuri al-Maliki, who has so far obstructed any dialogue in the country. In light of the Sunni’s weak political leadership and the Kurds being distracted by internal discordance as well as talks about independence, the Shia Block is realistically the key determinant for national reconciliation to occur in Iraq. However, its internal divisions make it a problematic and non-unitary interlocutor for national, regional, and international initiatives. This policy brief analyses what the common and competing positions of the plans that have been announced so far within the Block are. The major shortcoming of both al-Sadr’s and al-Hakim’s initiatives is the political heritage that they attach to a national reconciliation plan. Free from such heritage, al-Abadi, the fourth pole in the Shia Block, has yet to reinvigorate his initial push for reconciliation and articulate it in a comprehensive plan, one that may find support among a broader spectrum of domestic and international actors. Competing positions A key difference between al-Hakim’s and al-Sadr’s plans is first of all their political inception. Al-Hakim is the key promoter of the “Historical Settlement”, but the plan is, in theory, the expression of the National Iraqi Alliance, the large but loose Shia Block holding the majority of parliamentary seats. Elected as chairman in September, after years of tensions over the Block’s leadership, al-Hakim will hold the position for a year based on the rotational presidency arrangement struck upon his election. In contrast, al-Sadr’s plan is an expression of his own political will. Al-Sadr’s political block, al-Ahrar, has boycotted NIA since spring 2016 and rejoined in October in what was most probably a political calculation when talks about provincial elections were underway. There is so far no indication that al-Sadr is promoting the plan among Iraqi parties and it has received almost no traction, but the announcement itself can be seen as another sign of competing visions within the Shia Block. A second key difference is their scope. Al-Hakim’s plan (based on leaked versions of it, as no official document was released) is intentionally vague. In all, the plan sets principles, parameters and steps forward, which participating parties must adhere to before a dialogue could start under the auspices of the UN. So far, the UN has repeated that “there is no UN draft or UN initiative. It is still an Iraqi national initiative”, waiting most probably for the document to gain traction among the Iraqi leadership. On the other hand, al-Sadr’s plan calls for a number of initiatives, which include a national dialogue, but extend to measures targeting socio-economic issues and the security apparatus, most of them as vague as the ones in the “Historical Settlement” document. The two plans are also different with relation to a number of specific points. Al-Sadr sets as a condition the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country. The document is explicit in calling for ending Turkish presence in the country (by diplomatic means, or otherwise) but also for ensuring “the exit of all occupying forces and the “friendly” ones, so to speak, from Iraqi lands”. This is in line with al-Sadr’s past position on opposing foreign presence in Iraq, including through armed struggle. However, the leader allows for UN engagement in settling the dispute with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and eventually supervising the political process in the liberated areas. The engagement of the UN is more pronounced in al-Hakim’s plan, which gives the UN the role of submitting a detailed strategy based on consultation with key representatives, and in collaboration with Jordan, a key country hosting the Sunni opposition to the current Shia-dominated government. Another difference in the documents concerns whether any plan for the future of Iraq should occur within or outside the electoral process. Al-Sadr asserts that a dialogue for national reconciliation, as he sees it, “should not be based on political and electoral grounds but on grounds that guarantee civil and social peace”. In al-Hakim’s document, instead, the “binding recognition of the results of free and fair elections” indicates the opposite attitude. This point is certainly important considering next year’s election and it may reflect the two parties’ electoral weight in the country. Furthermore, in al-Hakim’s document the call for refraining from “the practice of duplication in attitudes towards the legitimacy of the Iraqi political system (a foot in the government and a foot in the opposition), including the cessation of instigation against the legitimacy of the existing political system internally and externally” is something that al-Sadr could take quite personally, given his confrontation with the current government. Converging positions The reaffirmation of Iraq’s unity is shared by both plans. According to al-Hakim’s, “the aim of the initiative is “to maintain and strengthen Iraq as an independent state that enjoys sovereignty, unity, federalism and democracy and that brings all of its people and components together.” The same necessity is recognised in al-Sadr’s roadmap as preserving “the unity, security, and sovereignty of Iraq”. Al-Hakim’s Historical Settlement goes perhaps even further, by affirming as one of the parameters: “faith and commitment in words and deed to the unity of Iraq … and reject its division under any circumstances”. This is a point that is certainly problematic for the KRG’s aspiration for independence. Al-Hakim and al-Sadr therefore present a similar vision on a number of other issues. First, they both envision the involvement of tribal leaders, social elites, religions, sects, minorities, and ethnic groups in the process of settling the ethno-sectarian tensions that have brought the country to the verge of collapse. They both exclude from the process Baathists and terrorists, al-Hakim extending this exclusion to Takfiri groups, defined as groups who label others as apostates. A key difference on this point could, however, emerge in the final draft of the document. Indeed, al-Hakim excludes the “Baath Party”, potentially leaving the door open to some Baathists to be involved in their personal capacity. Al-Sadr, instead, has referred so far to the Baathists as a whole, most probably excluding any form of consultation with them. With regard to the security situation, al-Sadr’s plan expresses the need not to interfere in neighbouring countries, alluding to the involvement of Iraqi elements within the Hashd al-Shaabi in the fight against IS in Syria (such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Saraya al-Khorasani), something al-Sadr is opposed to. The need for non-interference is also explicitly mentioned in al-Hakim’s document. Their position on the domestic role of the Hashd al-Shaabi is, however, less clear, with al-Sadr, for instance, calling for integrating the “disciplined elements with the Hashd in the security forces”. The law regulating the Hashd al-Shaabi (November 2016) has already caused a harsh reaction from Sunni elements strengthening the rejection of al-Hakim’s plan by the National Forces Alliance, the biggest Sunni block in the parliament. Identifying shortcomings and conditions for national reconciliation There are many things lacking in both documents. One of these missing elements is the result of the avoidance of concretely addressing the governing mechanisms in Nineveh in the future, a point which will be key in settling reconciliation within the governorate but also countrywide. Secondly, despite calls for an inclusive process, the “Historical Settlement” as well as al-Sadr’s roadmap appear to be too focused on party politics, and so far there appears to be little engagement with bottom-up initiatives, another fundamental condition for national reconciliation to succeed. Furthermore, in the absence of a clear time framework, any reconciliation initiative runs the risk of becoming trapped in the electoral game in the midst of the next parliamentary and provincial elections which are likely to be scheduled for April 2018. Not only will this not serve the purpose of reconciliation, it will further discredit similar mechanisms in the eyes of the population, making reconciliation even more difficult. Most importantly, al-Hakim and al-Sadr only represent part of the Shia Block, whose cohesion has been undermined over the last years by personal projects; polarisation within the electorate; and more recently the presence of armed groups––the Hashd al-Shaabi––partly a product of existing and perhaps newly forming political parties. The brokers of the two plans are far from being perceived as super partes actors, as both al-Hakim and al-Sadr were active (and problematic) parts in the political makeshift of Iraq after 2003. Beside these two brokers, the third pole, the Dawa Party, is still commanding political power within the Block and in the country. Al-Maliki is certainly not a realistic candidate under whom any reconciliation plan will succeed. He has already labelled the “Historical Settlement” as “treason against the Iraqi people”. Despite the Dawa Party’s nationalistic credentials still being strong, at least among a segment of society, al-Maliki is associated with the dark days of the advancement of IS, something that inevitably weakened his position. Despite coming from the same party, al-Abadi has the credentials of having faced, so far successfully, IS and retaken important swathes of Iraqi territories. Al-Abadi had already come to office with a commitment to pursue a national reconciliation project. The passing of the General Amnesty Law in August 2016 is an indication of this commitment together with the work of the National Reconciliation Committee in the Prime Minister’s Office (NRC). By revitalising his initial push for reconciliation, al-Abadi has the opportunity to build upon common positions in existing plans and reconcile them with other demands coming from the Iraqi society. A comprehensive plan coming from al-Abadi would certainly have a more likely chance of finding support among a broader spectrum of domestic and international actors.
  • Topic: Elections, Islamic State, Sunni, Shia
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Mosul
  • Author: Tomáš Kaválek
  • Publication Date: 06-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This report concerns the political and security situation in the district of Shingal after the summer of 2014. Specifically, it focuses on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) presence in the area. In August 2014, the Peshmerga forces hastily withdrew from Shingal district due to the IS (Islamic State) advance. The Yazidi population of the district was then exposed to atrocities at the hands of IS. These events damaged trust between the Yazidi population and the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government). The PKK entered the stage in Shingal district and aided Yazidis at the onset of IS’ advance. It capitalised on its image of being the saviour of Yazidis and promptly began to build governance and armed structures in the district. The area has thus become an arena of competition between the KRG (especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party– KDP) and Baghdad. PKK’s increasing presence challenges the KDP’s strong influence in the district. The ongoing power struggle in Shingal district also takes place against a background of wider regional competition. The report utilises Zachariah Mampilly’s theoretical framework in order to analyse the effectiveness of rebel governance. It is argued that the model used for PKK-linked political and armed structures in Shingal district follows the PKK’s governance model as it is established in PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan’s ideological works and is currently in place in Rojava, run by PKK-affiliated actors. Furthermore, building upon Anna Arjona’s typology of rebel governments, it is asserted that the PKK-linked governance in Shingal district has become, since the summer of 2014, increasingly effective and entrenched despite certain shortcomings stemming mainly from lack of resources to satisfy all the needs of the population. Ultimately, the PKK-linked civilian governance structures represented by the Self-Administration Council and the armed structures of the Sinjar Protection Units find fertile ground among the Yazidi population for their project of self-administration and self-defence for Yazidis in Shingal district. The PKK-linked forces’ influence goes beyond a mere military presence and thus poses a new reality in which the PKK-linked forces are indeed actors which must be taken into consideration in future political arrangements in Shingal district. While outlining the competing interests in the district of Shingal, the paper provides a set of recommendations to the PKK, the PKK-linked actors in the district, the KRG, the GoI, Turkey, and the US with an aim of promoting stabilisation and the well-being of the local population. The best case scenario would include at least partial demilitarisation of the situation in the district while shifting the competition for the population between the GoI, the PKK-linked forces and the KRG into a non-violent domain, instead focusing on trying to win the hearts and minds of the population. Competition within the scope of Iraqi law with an aim of generating as much genuine popular support as possible in the upcoming elections in Iraq is the way forward. In the long-term, the PKK-linked forces should engage in democratic electoral competition with the KRG and aim for integration into governance and administrative structures as per Iraqi law. Both sides could then work on improving their standing electorally.
  • Topic: Governance, Democracy, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Khogir Wirya
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: With the military defeat of the Islamic State (IS) in Mosul city, the task to liberate Tel Afar continues to loom large. The fall of Tal Afar to IS on 16 June, 2014 has severely damaged the already strained Sunni/Shia relations in the area, as well as Turkmen relations with other ethno-religious communities. Most of Tal Afar’s Sunni and Shia population were displaced during the crisis. However, some Sunni Turkmen decided not to flee and remained in Tal Afar. Although much is still unclear, it is widely believed that a number of Sunni Turkmen from Tal Afar joined IS and stand accused of having committed war crimes in their name. Reconciling communities and repairing social ties are critical needs in ensuring stability and preventing the onset of renewed cycles of violence in the future. Such processes however, can only be advanced through consultation with local populations regarding their needs and vision for the future. The focus of this report is therefore on Turkmen perceptions of needs, opportunities, and obstacles to reconciliation within their own community as well as with other communities. The report finds that Turkmen from Tal Afar overwhelmingly conceptualise reconciliation as a security objective that is important for enabling the safe return of the displaced. At least in the short term therefore, participants prioritised reconciliation between the Sunni and Shia Turkmens over reconciliation with other communities living elsewhere.Interviews revealed strongly overlapping views on how sectarian violence had emerged and escalated in the past, and how it should be addressed in the future. Because reconciliation in Tal Afar requires communities to reject and actively combat extremist ideologies, the process must encompass mechanisms to enable these communities to resist the influence of radical organisations. According to the majority of both Sunni and Shia participants, the first step in this process is the inclusion of Sunnis in the security sector. Creating an inclusive, formal security sector comprised of all elements of society is seen as the main need for enabling reconciliation in the future. Serious issues of distrust, however, appears to stand in the way. The process of building trust between Sunni and Shia Turkmen faces additional challenges stemming from the fact that both communities continue to perceive each other as serving an exogenous agenda. While Shias suspect Sunnis of alignment with Turkey, Sunnis for their part see the Shias as an extension of Iranian interests in the area. Nonetheless, both communities clearly labelled security sector reform as the first step in stabilising the area after liberation, and expressed the hope that any process would not be thwarted by external actors. In terms including Sunnis in the security sector, Shias expressed concerns about infiltration of government institutions by extremist elements. This obstacle can partly be overcome by recruiting Sunnis in the force tasked with liberating Tal Afar. For the Shias, Sunni participation constitutes a vetting mechanism which can identify those who are committed to peaceful relations and oppose extremist ideologies. Sunni inclusion in the operation to liberate Tal Afar will also increase inter-group contact and cooperation, thus contributing to the formation of shared experiences and long-term objectives. Although intra-community reconciliation is clearly prioritised over reconciliation with other communities, participants also reflected on ways to improve relations with the neighbouring Eyzidi community. The liberation of Tal Afar will present opportunities for doing so. Criminal investigations into the crimes committed by IS as well as other actors should be initiated promptly. Sunni tribal leaders must strongly condemn crimes committed by members of their tribe and cooperate closely with law enforcement to ensure accountability can be imposed. However, it is equally important to publicise positive stories of Turkmen from Tal Afar who have risked their own lives to resist IS and help free some Eyzidi captives. Highlighting these accounts can serve an important role in countering perceptions of collective guilt towards the Sunni Turkmen community in Tal Afar.
  • Topic: Islamic State, Ethnicity, Sunni, Shia
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Mosul