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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: Haviland Smith
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: American Diplomacy
  • Institution: American Diplomacy
  • Abstract: It is clear that there are powerful people both in the United States and in Iran who would like to force a real confrontation between our two countries. What is completely unclear is whether or not those hawks on both sides want a modified Cold War type confrontation, built perhaps on cyber warfare, or an all-out military confrontation. What this situation, with all its incredibly profound dangers and possible disastrous outcomes, has done is once again prompt the question, “what is the United States doing in the Middle East and what precisely are our goals there?”
  • Topic: Cold War, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Minorities, Ethnicity
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Houssem Ben Lazreg, Phil Gursky
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Islamic State (IS) has demonstrated unprecedented capabilities in attracting foreign fighters, particularly from Western countries. Between 2011 and 2015, Western foreign fighters coming from North America, Europe, and Australia traveled to Iraq and Syria in order to join IS and the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra. As IS has been significantly weakened, authorities in many western countries are increasingly worried that returning fighters will come back to their home countries radicalized, battle hardened, and eager to commit terrorist attacks. This concern is clearly manifested in Phil Gursky’s book cover which features a striking image of a Belgian returnee from Syria, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who has been named by security officials as one of the architects of the attacks in Paris in 2015. ​ In Western Foreign Fighters: The Threat to Homeland and International Security, Phil Gursky, a former analyst at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, elaborates on the phenomenon of ‘Western Foreign Fighters.’ This book aims at addressing two fundamental issues: “why people leave their homeland to join terrorist groups?” and “do they pose a threat upon their prospective return?”[1] To answer those questions, Gurski relies not only on a detailed analysis of the excerpts and statements by the fighters recently engaged in violent extremism at home and overseas, but also on accounts that delineate historical parallels and differences with previous conflicts sharing similar dynamics. ​ Gurski divides his analysis into eight substantive chapters, an appendix, a glossary and a suggested reading list, using accessible, non-academic prose. He conducts the majority of his historical analysis in chapter three. His discussion of western volunteers—mainly Canadians and Americans—and their involvement in previous conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War and the Boers Wars provides informative and engaging insights, mostly for a general readership.[2] It also sets the stage for shedding light on why Westerners join terrorist groups like IS, and what threat they pose to homeland/international security. Obviously, these issues will be of most interest to intelligence officers, policy makers, scholars, and practitioners...
  • Topic: Terrorism, International Security, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Homeland Security, Book Review
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Middle East, Syria, North America, United States of America
  • Author: David Witty
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: More than a decade ago, the United States created the elite Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service to conduct, coordinate, and lead CT efforts within the country. The CTS generally thrived in this role, even as Iraqis viewed the group with suspicion owing to its secretive operations, forbidding look, and avoidance of publicity. Beginning in 2014, though, the service experienced a dramatic boost in popularity after spearheading the ouster of Islamic State forces from Iraqi territories. In this respect, the CTS far outshone other elements within the Iraqi security architecture. But the anti-IS effort entailed a vastly expanded role for the CTS, straining its capabilities, producing high casualties, and raising questions about how the group should position itself in a future Iraq. In this new study, David M. Witty examines prospects for the Counter Terrorism Service in Iraq's post–Islamic State landscape. Despite the group's impressive performance in recent campaigns, he argues that it should return to its CT focus and that Washington can help drive this by conditioning future aid on these terms. The high cost of not doing so could include stunting the healthy growth of other Iraqi security entities.
  • Topic: Terrorism, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Global Focus
  • Author: Hamoon Khelghat-Doost
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Women In International Security (WIIS)
  • Abstract: Many scholarly works on women in jihadi organizations emphasize women’s lack of agency. Authors of these works argue women have fallen victim to these male-dominated organizations and thus have lost control over their actions. However, certain groups of women in some jihadi organizations—for example, Islamic State (or IS), Jaish al-Fatah, and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham—enjoy a degree of agency within the scope of their duties. This policy brief examines the extent to which women in jihadi organizations have agency—that is, to which extent they are able to make independent decisions. Understanding the conditions under which women have agency, allows policymakers to recognize the diversity of roles and contributions of women within jihadi organizations and design appropriate policy responses.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Islam, Terrorism, Women, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Nancy Gallagher, Clay Ramsay, Ebrahim Mohseni
  • Publication Date: 02-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
  • Abstract: Summary of Findings 1. Views of the Rouhani Administration President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif enjoy high levels of popular support in Iran. Nearly 8 in 10 Iranians say they have a favorable opinion of Rouhani and Zarif. Yet the intensity of their popularity has substantially eroded since August 2015. With Iran’s parliamentary elections only about a month away, 6 in 10 Iranians continue to want Rouhani supporters to win, while a growing minority favors his critics. Though Rouhani receives high marks for improving Iran’s security and deepening Iran’s relations with European countries, views of the economy are mixed. An increasing majority of Iranians think that Rouhani has not been successful in reducing unemployment. Iranians are also substantially less optimistic about Iran’s economy, with less than half now thinking that the economy is getting better. 2. Iran’s February 2016 Parliamentary Elections Four in ten Iranians voice confidence that the upcoming Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) elections will be very fair, and another four in ten assume it will be somewhat free and fair. Two thirds are highly confident they will vote in the upcoming elections for the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts. The most important issues Iranians want the new Majlis to tackle are unemployment and Iran’s low performing economy. 3. Civil Liberties in Iran Two in three Iranians believe that it is important for President Rouhani to seek to increase civil liberties in Iran. However, only a small minority complains that Iranians have too little freedom. While only about a third thinks that civil liberties in Iran have increased during Rouhani’s presidency, a plurality expects that civil liberties will increase at least somewhat over the next two years. 4. Approval for Nuclear Deal Seven in ten Iranians approve of the nuclear deal, though enthusiasm has waned somewhat. The deal garners support from majorities of those who favor Rouhani’s critics in the Majlis election, as well as those who favor his supporters. Two thirds still think the Iranian leadership negotiated a good deal for Iran, though the number of those disagreeing has risen to one in five. The number who believes it was a win for Iran has also declined, while the number who believes it was a victory for both sides has risen and is now a majority. 5. Perceptions of the Nuclear Deal Substantial numbers of Iranians now have a more accurate picture of the deal than they did in August 2015. About half (up from a third) now realizes that Iran has accepted limits on its nuclear research. Almost half (up from a quarter) now knows that many US sanctions are not covered by the agreement and will continue. However, growing majorities continue to believe incorrectly that Iranian military sites cannot be inspected under any conditions. A majority also believes that the US has agreed to not impose new sanctions to replace the ones that were removed as part of the nuclear deal. 6. Expectations of Economic Benefits Three in five Iranians expect that the nuclear deal will eventually result in improvements in their own economic well-being. This sentiment is shared by a majority of those who support Rouhani’s critics in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Majorities expect to see, within a year, better access to medical products from abroad, more foreign investment, and significant improvements in unemployment and the overall economy, though these majorities have declined from August 2015. 7. The Nuclear Deal’s Effect on Iran’s Foreign Relations A large majority of Iranians thinks that Iran’s relations with European countries have already improved as a result of the nuclear deal, but only one in three thinks Iran’s relations with the United States have improved. 8. Views of US Cooperation in the Nuclear Deal Six in ten Iranians are not confident that the US will live up to its obligations under the nuclear agreement and do not think the US will accept other countries cooperating with Iran’s civilian nuclear sector, as provided for under the deal. Half assume the US will use pressure and sanctions to extract more concessions from Iran—up from only a quarter in August 2015. 9. Views of the Nuclear Program Just as in past years, four in five Iranians see the development of an Iranian nuclear program as very important, and three in four see this program as being for purely peaceful purposes. Four in five continue to favor the idea of a Middle East nuclear-free zone that would require all countries in the Middle East, including Israel, not to have nuclear weapons. 10. Iran’s Involvement in Syria and Fighting ISIS Large majorities of Iranians approve of Iran being involved in Syria and strongly support countering ISIS, preserving Iran’s influence in the region, and countering Saudi, American, and Israeli influence. Overwhelming majorities approve of Iran fighting ISIS directly. Large majorities also approve of Iran supporting Shiite and Kurdish groups fighting ISIS and providing support to Iranian allies in the region. Strengthening the Assad government gets more modest support and is seen as a secondary goal for Iran. Two in three Iranians approve of sending Iranian military personnel to help Assad fight against armed Syrian rebels, including ISIS. 11. Views of US Involvement in Syria A large majority of Iranians disapproves of US involvement in Syria. US involvement in Syria is widely perceived as being primarily motivated by a desire to topple the Assad government, to increase US influence and power in the region, to protect Israeli and Saudi interests, and to decrease Iran’s influence and power in the region. Views are divided about whether the United States is seeking to protect Syrian civilians, to end the conflict, to prevent the conflict from spreading, or to fight ISIS. A modest majority says US efforts against ISIS are not at all sincere. A bare majority supports direct cooperation with the United States to counter ISIS in Iraq. 12. Views of Other Nations Involved in Syria Large majorities of Iranians approve of the involvement in Syria of Russia and Hezbollah, and seven in ten express confidence that Russia’s efforts against ISIS are sincerely motivated. However, large majorities disapprove of the involvement in Syria of Turkey, France, and, especially, Saudi Arabia. Large majorities say that the Saudis’ efforts against ISIS are insincere; views of the sincerity of the efforts by Turkey and France are less negative. A large majority has a negative view of Saudi efforts to create a coalition against terrorism, primarily because Saudi Arabia is seen as a supporter of ISIS. 13. International Collaboration on Syria and ISIS Despite their suspicions of other countries operating in the region, eight in ten Iranians approve of Iran participating in the international talks on the conflict in Syria. Of those who know about the Vienna agreement, seven in ten approve of it. 14. Views of Other Countries Iranians view their country’s allies, notably Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Hezbollah, favorably, and view Saudi Arabia and Turkey increasingly unfavorably. Views of Russia and China are generally favorable and have improved considerably over time. Western countries, with the exception of Germany, are viewed unfavorably, with Britain and the US viewed negatively by large majorities in Iran. In contrast, a majority has a favorable opinion of the American people.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, Geopolitics, ISIS, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Britain, Russia, United States, China, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Lina Khatib
  • Publication Date: 06-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The self-proclaimed Islamic State is a hybrid jihadist group with a declared goal of establishing a “lasting and expanding” caliphate. Its strategy for survival and growth blends military, political, social, and economic components. Yet the U.S.-led international intervention against it has largely been limited to air strikes. The gaps in the international coalition’s approach as well as deep sectarian divisions in Iraq and the shifting strategies of the Syrian regime and its allies are allowing the Islamic State to continue to exist and expand.
  • Topic: Civil War, Islam, Terrorism, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arab Countries, Syria
  • Author: Anthony H Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 08-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The events in Iraq over the last month have shown that any success in Iraq requires both the Iraqi government and the United States to go far beyond the war against ISIS, and makes any partisan debate over who lost Iraq as damaging to U.S. national interests as any other aspect of America’s drift toward partisan extremism. The war against ISIS is a critical U.S. national security interest. It not only threatens to create a major center of terrorism and extremism in a critical part of the Middle East, and one that could spread to threaten the flow of energy exports and the global economy, but could become a major center of international terrorism. It is important to understand, however, that ISIS is only one cause of instability in the region, and only one of the threats caused by spreading sectarian and ethnic violence.
  • Topic: Terrorism, International Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Alia Braley, Srdja Popovic
  • Publication Date: 07-2015
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Attacking terrorism at its root, through slow and incremental cultural change, will pay off in the end, but this process is a difficult sell to those facing IS now. Such a long-term view neither benefits the people struggling to survive each day under IS’s murderous and authoritarian reign, nor does it equip the international security community concerned about IS’s immediate threat to regional stability. There is another solution. If what is needed is a relatively rapid rearrangement of social conditions that would cut off IS’s critical sources of power, then there may be no better route than collective nonviolent action undertaken by Iraqi and Syrian civilians. Collective nonviolent movements have been shown to be more effective than violent movements, even against highly violent or authoritarian opponents. Such a movement might take a page from IS’s own book, and tap into the same sources of power that have been indispensible to its success. After all, IS did not attract an army of nearly 30,000 fighters and capture a cumulative swathe of land larger than the United Kingdom merely because it had weapons. IS has flourished by successfully filling at least two critical power vacuums within Iraqi and Syrian society. It has seized upon a powerful narrative during a time of turbulence and confusion, and it has delivered necessary human services in places where the state has proved incompetent. However, a nonviolent collective movement of Syrian and Iraqi citizens could fill these power vacuums much more convincingly than IS, and in so doing, cripple IS’s power in the short term and impede the growth of new terrorist movements in the long term...
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Authoritarianism, Islamic State, Civilians
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria