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  • Author: Samar Batrawi
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: During 2019, the original Syrian conflict entered its closing phases, except for the battlefields of Idlib and in the north east. As a result, conflict dynamics have become somewhat easier to read, as the regime and its key allies have shifted towards a triumphalist ‘post-war’ narrative and corresponding governance styles, deal-making and decision-making. These developments can be witnessed in three interlinked spheres: security, civil, and political economic practices. Together, they largely form the Assad regime’s political economy, which – although poorly understood due to limited access – is crucial to understand to assess the negative externalities likely to result from its wartime survival and re-entrenchment. The paper analyses six such externalities: 1. risk of conflict relapse due to economic pressures 2. the politics of refugees 3. risks and instrumentalisation of terrorism 4. regional instability 5. humanitarian culpability 6. deterioration of the international legal order. These externalities are interconnected and emerge from the political economy of the regime – the accumulation of its security, civil and political economic practices. Their nature and volume suggest that the Syrian civil war will plague its neighbors, as well as Europe, for a long time to come. These externalities also focus our attention on the fact that adequate containment strategies should be designed as a matter of urgency, to limit their negative impact.
  • Topic: Security, International Law, Political Economy, Terrorism, Refugees, Conflict, Syrian War, Bashar al-Assad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Hamzeh al-Shadeedi, Erwin van Veen
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: Iraq’s emergent democracy stands at an important junction. The continuing intensity of the protests that have rocked Iraq since early October 2019 shows that its citizens are only too aware of this. Moreover, the necessity of going through three government formation attempts to install a new prime minister and cabinet after the resignation of Adil Abdul-Mahdi in December 2019 suggests that Iraq’s political elites are conscious of the precarious state of ‘their’ democracy as well. Although, so far, with the intent to block rather than enable reform. This report largely focuses on how international actors can help strengthen the democratic mechanisms of Iraq’s political system. One contribution that they can – and should - make is to facilitate processes of contestation between Iraq’s social forces (its political parties, elite networks, tribes, ethno-sectarian groups, religious authorities and protestors) about the hierarchy of systemic reform priorities for the country’s political system, and the balance between the speed, scope and feasibility of their implementation so that such reform can be undertaken as peacefully and as well-informed as possible.
  • Topic: International Relations, Democracy, Political Science
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Lars Hauch
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: This report examines Syria’s Constitutional Committee process and parallel military developments during the Syrian civil war to reveal that the two have so far been interconnected. It arrives at the conclusion that the Government of Syria and Russia created and subsequently manipulated various linkages between conference room and battlefield to increase their own advantage. This has included the use of the Constitutional Committee as a placeholder to avoid greater Western diplomatic, or even military, efforts to resolve the conflict; the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure to force opposition bodies out of Syria; and polarization of the Committee by engaging in continuous human rights abuses among the Syrian population during negotiations. The Constitutional Committee can still help build bridges, but this requires redressing the balance of forces on the battlefield first. A joint Turkish-European military humanitarian intervention in northwestern Syria can serve this purpose and revitalize efforts to negotiate a (late) solution to the war.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Constitution, Humanitarian Intervention, Syrian War, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Erwin van Veen, Hamzeh al-Shadeedi
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: Iraqi Kurdistan has done well for itself in recent decades by carving out a largely autonomous region free of most governance and security interference from Baghdad. The alliance of convenience between the two pre-eminent Kurdish parties (PUK and KDP) effectively seized a number of opportunities to consolidate and expand Iraqi Kurdistan, such as the international no-fly zone (1991), the US intervention (2003), the crafting of a new constitution for Iraq (2005) and, arguably, even the rise of the Islamic State (IS) (2014). Yet, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) also faces a triple crisis. Politically, this includes the exclusive and increasingly repressive rule of the KDP and PUK in a context of mediocre governance, as well as strained relations between Erbil and Baghdad over the disputed territories. Economically, it includes a general downturn combined with serious financial disputes with Baghdad. Socially, it includes deteriorating popular satisfaction with the quality of rule and life in Kurdistan. In this report Erwin van Veen and al-Hamzeh al-Shadeedi analyse four factors that could drive future (in)stability in western Iraqi Kurdistan: 1) geopolitical tensions; 2) further clashes over the disputed territories; 3) growing dissatisfaction with the KDP and 4) protracted displacement. On balance, it does not consider the risk of immediate crisis or violence as being very high, but the report does note that many elements are in place that could easily trigger violent incidents with the potential of escalation. For each factor, the report proposes restraining factors, developments to monitor and trigger events. While international influence on the domestic politics of Iraqi Kurdistan is limited, coupling an offer of international (UN) mediation to facilitate resolution of the disputed territories with the development, or strengthening, of a dedicated fund that can rapidly initiate the reconstruction of the Greater Mosul area (including some of the disputed territories) would be a valuable intervention to further the peaceful development of Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • Topic: Governance, Political stability, Autonomy
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Ana Uzelac, Jos Meester
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: This report analyses the challenges of implementing a “protection in the region” agenda in Lebanon, a country that hosts the highest number of refugees per capita in the world, and which has been the recipient of one of the largest per capita aid and support packages since 2016. Our main finding is that EU diplomatic efforts and financial commitments to date have made very limited progress in ensuring protection for Syrian refugees in the country or improving their dismal socio-economic position. On the contrary, the main socio-economic indicators for Syrian refugees have remained very poor for the past three years, and the refugees’ continued presence in the country is increasingly questioned by parts of Lebanon’s political establishment. This report traces the reasons why donor efforts have had such limited success: restrictions created by Lebanese and European political narratives of displacement; the limitations imposed by Lebanon’s clientilistic economy; and the challenges of combining protection in the region with an economic reform agenda. Many donors have opted for predominantly technical approaches, based on cooperation with line ministries and state institutions. In our view, these approaches pay insufficient heed to the complex web of sectarian and personal interests that fuel Lebanese policy-making, with the result that limited progress is achieved for refugees.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Migration, European Union, Refugee Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Erwin van Veen, Feike Fliervoet
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: Militancy is a common method to exercise influence in a given political order. It has become a widespread tactic and necessity across the Levant, especially since 2011. While militancy is sometimes downright violent and destructive, it can also be a force for positive change and even emancipation. Much of the time it sits in between these extremes. But the use of confrontational methods almost always requires organisation and possession of coercive capabilities. This report examines the purpose, nature and development of five types of organisation through which coercion is exerted across the Levant - namely, governmental coercive organisations, quasi-governmental coercive organisations, hybrid coercive organisations, anti-regime coercive organisations and anti-state coercive organisations. The analysis focuses on hybrid coercive organisations because of their paradoxical tendency to work with and against the state at the same time. Consider Iraq's Peshmerga or Badr Corps, for example. The report makes a strong case for being more cautious with the near-automaticity of peacebuilding efforts to focus on coercive organisations representing 'the state'. More precisely, the evidence-base underpinning the report suggests that effective peacebuilding efforts should: Assess the demerits and merits of coercive organisations based on their interests, constituencies and behaviours in relation to the legitimacy of the political order they seek to realise. View the violence mobilised by coercive organisations as a manifestation rather than a cause of the breakdown of political order. Influence coercive organisations on the basis of their behavioural incentives. These incentives are grounded in the domestic political economy interests of coercive organisations, the nature and level of foreign support they receive, and the expectations of their social constituencies. Ensure that the aim of external interventions corresponds with the prevailing interaction dynamic between a particular hybrid coercive organisation and governmental coercive organisations (this point only pertains to hybrid coercive organisations). The report provides a range of basic ideas for how external parties might nudge the interaction between hybrid coercive organisations and the government in a direction that helps to reduce violence.
  • Topic: Government, Non State Actors, Violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Levant