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  • Author: Emma Hesselink
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Now that IS has been defeated, at least territorially, governments, donors and the international community are investing in Iraq’s state building programmes both at national and local levels. However, Nineveh governorate, which suffered greatest damage and requires greatest attention, has been the scene of a highly divided security landscape since its liberation from IS. The chronic divisions between different actors such as Peshmerga and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are only worsened by the presence of the Hashd al-Shaabi and other non-state actors in the Disputed Territories. This brief provides an analysis of the risks posed by Hashd in Nineveh and offers recommendations into regaining a grip on the situation.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Islamic State, State Building
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen, Goran Zangana
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Chemicals are widely used in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region (KRI) for various civilian purposes. Terrorist organizations have demonstrated their intention, know-how and capacity to convert chemicals of civilian use to chemical weapons. Without an urgent and comprehensive policy response, the KRI can face significant breaches in chemical security with immeasurable risks to the population and the environment. This report follows a special MERI workshop on chemical security, where major challenges were identified and a number of policy recommendation made.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Chemical Weapons
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: James M Dorsey
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA)
  • Abstract: Turkey expects Chinese support for its incursion into Syria against the Kurds, but in return, China expects Turkey to turn a blind eye to its persecution of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Turkey’s refusal to fully recognize Kurdish rights is thus intertwined with China’s brutal crackdown in its troubled northwestern province. Both parties justify their actions as efforts in the fight against terrorism.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Ethnic Cleansing, Conflict, Syrian War, Kurds
  • Political Geography: China, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Syria, Xinjiang
  • Author: Seth G. Jones
  • Publication Date: 04-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: With President Donald Trump threatening to pull out of Syria, the Bashar al-Assad regime ramping up its military campaign against rebels, and the Islamic State in decline, al Qaeda has attempted to resurge and reposition itself at the center of global Salafi-jihadist activity. Syria has been perhaps its most important prize. For some, al Qaeda’s cunning and concerted efforts in Syria and other countries highlight the group’s resilience and indicate its potential to resurge and rejuvenate. Yet a growing body of evidence suggests that al Qaeda has largely failed to take advantage of the Syrian war. Confusion and finger-pointing have been rampant as individuals have clashed over ideology, territorial control, personalities, loyalty to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and command-and-control relationships. Al Qaeda’s struggles in Syria have also highlighted some weaknesses of al-Zawahiri. The al Qaeda leader has had difficulty communicating with local groups in Syria, been slow to respond to debates in the field, and discovered that some Salafi-jihadist fighters have brazenly disobeyed his guidance. As one Salafi-jihadist leader remarked, “The situation in Syria for the jihad is extremely dire.”
  • Topic: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Al Qaeda
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Seth G. Jones
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The Issue Some U.S. policymakers have argued that the United States should withdraw its military forces from Syria. But the United States has several interests in Syria: Balancing against Iran, including deterring Iranian forces and militias from pushing close to the Israeli border, disrupting Iranian lines of communication through Syria, preventing substantial military escalation between Israel and Iran, and weakening Shia proxy forces. Balancing against Russia, including deterring further Russian expansion in the Middle East from Syrian territory and raising the costs—including political costs—of Russian operations in Syria. Preventing a terrorist resurgence, including targeting Salafi-jihadist groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda that threaten the United States and its allies. Our Recommendations: Based on U.S. interests in Syria, Washington should establish a containment strategy that includes the following components: Retain a small military and intelligence footprint that includes working with—and providing limited training, funding, and equipment to—groups in eastern, northern, and southern Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Coordinate with regional allies such as Jordan and Israel to balance against Iran and Russia and to prevent the resurgence of Salafi-jihadists. Pressure outside states to end support to Salafi-jihadists, including Turkey and several Gulf states. As the war in Syria moves into its seventh year, U.S. policymakers have struggled to agree on a clear Syria strategy. Some U.S. policymakers have argued that the United States needs to withdraw its military forces from Syria. “I want to get out,” President Trump said of the United States’ military engagement in Syria. “I want to bring our troops back home.”1 Others have urged caution, warning that a precipitous withdrawal could contribute to a resurgence of terrorism or allow U.S. competitors like Iran and Russia—along with their proxies—to fill the vacuum.2 In addition, some administration officials have argued that the Islamic State has been decimated in Syria and Iraq. The National Security Strategy notes that “we crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.”3 But between 5,000 and 12,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Syria and continue to conduct guerrilla attacks, along with between 40,000 and 70,000 Salafi-jihadist fighters in Syria overall.4
  • Topic: Civil War, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Seth G. Jones
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The Issue: Hezbollah and Iran have accumulated a substantial amount of weapons and fighters in Syria that pose a threat to the United States and its allies in the region. In response, Israel has conducted a growing number of strikes against Iranian, Hezbollah and other targets in Syria. An escalating war has the potential to cause significant economic damage, lead to high numbers of civilian casualties and internally displaced persons, and involve more countries in the region than did the 2006 Lebanon War. The stakes are high, making it critical for Washington to help prevent such an escalation.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Syrian War, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Howard J. Shatz
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: Discussion paper for the workshop on: “The emerging security dynamics and the political settlement in Syria”, Syracuse, Italy, 18-19 October 2018. The Syrian war encompasses multiple conflicts and a diversity of groups. This paper considers the financial support that two groups in particular have received: the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] or, by its Arabic acronym, Daesh) and Jabhat al-Nusra (the Victory Front). Both are US-designated foreign terrorist organisations and specially designated global terrorists and employ terrorist tactics, such as suicide bombings, but they also may be considered insurgent groups by their goals and actions of governing territory.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, Finance, Islamic State, Syrian War, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Jabhat al-Nusra
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: James M Dorsey
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS)
  • Abstract: Pakistani militants of various stripes collectively won just under ten per cent of the vote in the July 2018 parliamentary elections. Some represented long-standing legal Islamist parties, others newly established groups or fronts for organisations that have been banned as terrorists by Pakistan and/or the United Nations and the United States. The militants failed to secure a single seat in the national assembly but have maintained, if not increased, their ability to shape national debate and mainstream politics and societal attitudes. Their ability to field candidates in almost all constituencies, and, in many cases, their performance as debutants enhanced their legitimacy. The militants’ performance has fueled debate about the Pakistani military’s effort to expand its long- standing support for militants that serve its regional and domestic goals to nudge them into mainstream politics. It also raises the question of who benefits most, mainstream politics or the militants. Political parties help mainstream militants, but militants with deep societal roots and significant following are frequently key to a mainstream candidate’s electoral success. Perceptions that the militants may stand to gain the most are enhanced by the fact that decades of successive military and civilian governments, abetted and aided by Saudi Arabia, have deeply embedded ultra-conservative, intolerant, anti-pluralist, and supremacist strands of Sunni Islam in significant segments of Pakistani society. Former international cricket player Imran Khan’s electoral victory may constitute a break with the country’s corrupt dynastic policies that ensured that civilian power alternated between two clans, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs. However, his alignment with ultra-conservatism’s social and religious views, as well as with militant groups, offers little hope for Pakistan becoming a more tolerant, pluralistic society, and moving away from a social environment that breeds extremism and militancy. On the contrary, policies enacted by Khan and his ministers since taking office suggest that ultra- conservatism and intolerance are the name of the game. If anything, Khan’s political history, his 2018 election campaign, and his actions since coming to office reflect the degree to which aspects of militancy, intolerance, anti-pluralism, and supremacist ultra- conservative Sunni Muslim Islam have, over decades, been woven into the fabric of segments of society and elements of the state. The roots of Pakistan’s extremism problem date to the immediate wake of the 1947 partition of British India when using militants as proxies was a way to compensate for Pakistan’s economic and military weakness. They were entrenched by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s and General Zia ul-Haq’s Islamization of Pakistani society in the 1980s. The rise of Islamist militants in the US-Saudi supported war against Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan and opportunistic policies by politicians and rulers since then have shaped contemporary Pakistan.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, United Nations, Violent Extremism, Secularism, Domestic Policy
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, United States, Middle East
  • Author: Janko Bekić
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for Development and International Relations (IRMO)
  • Abstract: After seven years the war in Syria is nearing its completion, even though the result will almost certainly not be a decisive victory by either side, but rather a frozen con�lict and unstable peace dictated by the regional and global powers embroiled in the con�lict. From a political scientist’s point of view, the most interesting feature of the war in Syria has been its gradual transformation from a failed revolution to oust president Bashar al-Assad and introduce democratic rule to a civil war between regime loyalists and a myriad of local as well as foreign islamist factions, and from there to a war on terrorism concentrated on eradicating Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s murderous and enslaving Islamic State. In its last phase, starting in late 2017, the war in Syria has mutated into a textbook example of proxy warfare in which the exhausted belligerents are fully dependent on their external sponsors and �ight mainly to accomplish geopolitical interests and goals of outside actors.
  • Topic: Civil War, Terrorism, Conflict, Repression
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 04-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, Princeton University
  • Abstract: The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University (LISD) convened a special Liechtenstein Colloquium,“Emerging European Security Challenges,” in Triesenberg, Principality of Liechtenstein, from November 12-15, 2015. The colloquium brought together senior diplomats, academics, policy-makers, experts and representatives of European civil society and NGOs. The colloquium was off-the-record and was financially supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and SIBIL Foundation, Vaduz. The objective of the colloquium was to examine the interactions between and the various effects of three key crises—the Ukraine war, the war in Syria, and the European refugee crisis—for broader regional, EU, and international security. Cluster One considered “Russia, Ukraine, the West, and the future of collective security,” including the role of the Baltic states in security issues, the relationship between Russia and the European Union, and the role of media, information and hybrid warfare. Cluster Two, “The Syrian War and ISIS/Da’esh” focused on several issues related to the ongoing civil war and conflict in the Middle East, including alliances of the Assad government, rebel and other opposition groups, ISIS/Da’esh, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and, especially, the Kurds. Emphasis was put on the plight of Christians and other religious groups in the region. Cluster Three, “The refugee crisis and the challenge of European collective action,” connected the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II to the situation in the MENA region. It focused on refugees and migrants within Europe’s borders and along the Balkan route, the role of Turkey, Greece and Germany, terrorism concerns, and EU actions and emerging differences between member states. The protection of religious minorities and the longer-term question of integration and assimilation of refugees and asylum-seekers offered another focus. This report reflects the substance of these discussions and includes an updated Chair’s Addendum.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, European Union, Refugee Crisis, ISIS, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Ukraine, Middle East, Syria