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  • Author: Michael Knights, Pierre Morcos, Charles Thépaut
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: NATO stands ready to increase its commitment in a slow and steady manner consistent with Baghdad’s needs, but careful communication will be crucial, as will a more strategic discussion on how to combine different assistance efforts. On February 18, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced a decision to increase the size of NATO Mission Iraq (NMI) from 500 personnel to as many as 4,000. Although he noted that such deployments would be “conditions-based,” “incremental,” and subject to Baghdad’s authorization, the troop numbers were the only element of his announcement widely reported inside Iraq, resulting in swift political pressure on the government to explain the seemingly steep increase. In fact, there is no imminent NATO “surge” planned in Iraq, but rather a greater openness and general intent to gradually provide more advisors capable of assisting local authorities with security sector reform (SSR). When handled appropriately and combined with other efforts, this initiative can create good opportunities for quiet, persistent security cooperation that helps strengthen the Iraqi state, evolve multinational military relations beyond the campaign against the Islamic State (IS), and spread the burden of support more broadly among U.S. allies.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, NATO, Military Strategy, Reform
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Jacob Lees Weiss
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: On December 20, 2020, 21 Katyusha rockets struck the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, breaking an Iranian-sponsored ceasefire in Iraq for a second time (U.S. Central Command, December 23, 2020). The Iraqi security forces later arrested a member of the Iraqi political and militant organization Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), Hussam al-Azirjawi, after finding conclusive evidence of his involvement in the attack (al-Hurra, December 26, 2020). Following al-Azirjawi’s arrest, multiple widely-shared clips on social media appeared to show a large mobilization of armed AAH militants in East Baghdad. A further clip showing masked AAH gunmen threatening to attack Iraqi security forces on command from AAH leader, Qais al-Khazali (al-Arabiya, December 25 2020). These arrests and video clips reveal that AAH has begun to show increasing signs of dissent from the party line set by Iran and its most loyal proxy in Iraq, Kata’ib Hezbollah.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Conflict, Militias, Resistance
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Helle Malmvig, Jakob Dreyer
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: • Denmark should focus its attention on the border region between Iraq and Syria, which presents a high risk of insurgency, and is where the main Danish military contingency has been deployed since 2015. • Given the likely partial US withdrawal from Iraq, NATO and European governments should prepare for taking on new tasks and responsibilities. • The US-led coalition should allow and prepare SDF to negotiate alternative political/security arrangements, as SDF may have difficulty sustaining its presence in Syria.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Fragile States, Islamic State, Syrian War, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The surest way to counter Iran’s malign influence is to proactively focus on human rights issues that the new prime minister can actually affect, such as organizing free elections and preventing further violence against protestors. On February 1, a plurality of Iraqi parliamentary factions gave President Barham Salih the go-ahead to nominate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as the new prime minister-designate. The mild-mannered Shia Islamist nominee will now attempt to form and ratify his cabinet in the next thirty days. As he does so, political blocs will probably rally behind him while limiting his mandate to organizing early elections next year, having struggled through a long and fractious process to replace resigned prime minister Adil Abdulmahdi. For the first time since the dramatic events of the past two months, Iraqis and U.S. policymakers alike can catch their breath and consider their medium-term options.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Elections, Domestic politics, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The general’s peerless domestic stature would have served a crucial mediatory role during the eventual transition to Khamenei’s successor, so his death brings significant uncertainty to that process. Following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, much attention has been focused on the foreign operations conducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force. Yet his organization also played a major role at home, one whose future is now unclear. In particular, Soleimani himself was well positioned to be a unifying, steadying figure once Iran faced the challenge of determining a successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
  • Topic: Politics, Military Affairs, Authoritarianism, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: David Pollock
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A host of crucial multilateral interests are baked into the U.S. presence, from keeping the Islamic State down, to protecting vulnerable regional allies, to preventing Iran from taking Iraq's oil revenues. The assassination of Qasem Soleimani has brought the tensions in U.S.-Iraqi relations to a boil, with militia factions strong-arming a parliamentary resolution on American troop withdrawal and various European allies contemplating departures of their own. Before they sign the divorce papers, however, officials in Baghdad and Washington should consider the many reasons why staying together is best for both them and the Middle East.
  • Topic: Oil, Bilateral Relations, Islamic State, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Jordan, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Khamenei and other regime officials have been quick to swear revenge, but for now they may focus more on stoking patriotic and militaristic sentiment at home. A few hours after Iran confirmed that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani had been killed in Iraq, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a statement describing those who shed his blood as “the most wretched of humankind.” Calling Soleimani the international symbol of “resistance,” he then announced three days of public mourning in Iran. He also declared that “severe revenge awaits the criminals” who killed Soleimani—an act that the United States had claimed credit for by the time he spoke. Other highranking officials echoed this sentiment, including President Hassan Rouhani, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, and Defense Minister Amir Hatami, who explicitly promised “revenge” on “all those” involved in the assassination. Despite this rhetoric, however, and despite Soleimani’s unmatched role in carrying out Iran’s regional policy of adventurism and asymmetric warfare, the regime may avoid major, immediate retaliation if it sees such a move as too costly or as a potential trigger for serious military conflict with the United States. On January 1, amid escalating tensions in Iraq but before Soleimani’s assassination, Khamenei stated, “We would not take the country to war...but if others want to impose something on this country, we will stand before them forcefully.” In response to President Trump’s assertion that Iran played a role in the December 31 riot at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Khamenei told listeners he had two messages for Washington: “First, how dare you! This has nothing to do with Iran. Second, you should be reasonable and understand what is the main cause for these problems. But of course they are not [reasonable].”
  • Topic: Politics, Qassem Soleimani, Assassination
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Enhancing deterrence and protecting Americans in Iraq and Syria requires a more formalized system for rationing out retaliatory strikes at the proper intensity, time, and place. When U.S. airstrikes targeted Kataib Hezbollah militia personnel and senior Iranian military figures on December 29 and January 3, they were releasing long-pent-up retaliation for a range of provocations by Iraqi militias. Yet while these powerful blows may have injected some caution into enemy calculations, such deterrence is likely to be a wasting asset. The most proximal trigger for the strikes—the killing of an American civilian contractor during Kataib Hezbollah’s December 27 rocket attack on the K-1 base in Kirkuk—was just one in a series of increasingly risky militia operations against U.S. facilities. Only good fortune has prevented more Americans from dying in attacks conducted since then, including January 8 (when Iranian ballistic missiles struck the U.S. portion of al-Asad Air Base, causing more than a hundred nonlethal traumatic brain injuries), January 26 (mortar strike on the dining hall at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad), January 31 (rockets fired at the U.S. site at Qayyarah West), February 10 (explosive device thrown at a U.S. logistical convoy south of Baghdad), and February 13 (rocket attack on U.S. site at Kirkuk). The United States has seemingly communicated to Tehran that it will strike Iraqi militias and Iranian targets if any Americans are killed, but this redline has opened up a dangerous gray zone in which Iran and its proxies are emboldened to continue their nonlethal attacks. Besides the fact that such high-risk attacks are destined to result in more American deaths at some point, they will also produce many more injuries if permitted to continue, as seen in the January 8 strike. More broadly, they will limit U.S. freedom of movement in Iraq and Syria, undermining the point of being there in the first place. This situation is unacceptable—the United States needs a way to deter such behavior even when attacks fall short of killing Americans. When faced with similar challenges in past decades, the U.S. military established reckoning systems that matched the punishment to the crime, with useful levels of predictability, proportionality, and accountability.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Assassination, No-Fly Zones
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Fabrice Balanche
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Various displacement scenarios may unfold as the fighting escalates, each carrying a high risk of negative humanitarian and economic consequences even if the parties live up to their promises. The battle for Idlib province, the last stronghold of Syrian rebel forces, is heating up again. As Turkish troops clash with Assad regime forces and displaced civilians continue piling up along the border, various foreign and domestic players are considering moves that could send hundreds of thousands of refugees to other parts of Syria, northern Iraq, or Europe.
  • Topic: Refugees, Displacement, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Turkey, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: To ensure that new protests, new sanctions, and new political leadership wind up helping rather than hindering Iraqi sovereignty, Washington must handle upcoming developments with great care. In the coming weeks, Iraq’s parliament may appoint a replacement for Prime Minister Adil Abdulmahdi. This is a very positive development, since the country’s sundry Iranian-backed militias would like nothing better than to keep the discredited leader under their thumb as an open-ended caretaker premier following his November resignation. In contrast, a new leader with a new mandate could get the government moving again, pass a budget, bring the criminals responsible for killing protestors to justice, and assuage angry protestors by making visible preparations for early, free, and fair elections—thereby remedying the results of the widely disparaged 2018 vote. Such is the political space that has opened up since the deaths of Iranian Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis earlier this month. For the United States, the challenge is how to support these changes without disrupting positive local dynamics.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Sovereignty, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In this detailed Policy Focus, meant as a primer for Iraqi and international agencies, leading scholars examine the current status of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces. Hastily raised when the Islamic State was knocking at the gates of Baghdad, the state-backed Iraqi militia network al-Hashd al-Shabi has swollen into a 160,000-strong armed force with an annual budget exceeding $2 billion. But more than five years after its formation, the Hashd -- also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces -- still lacks defined roles and has largely fallen under the sway of Kataib Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed factions. Now that Iranian Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis are no longer on the scene, observers are asking what comes next for the Hashd. In this highly detailed Policy Focus, meant as a primer for Iraqi and international agencies, analysts Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi lay out the PMF’s current status, offering a novel look at its functions, structure, and activities as a military institution. The study identifies achievable security-sector reforms while exploring longer-term options around which consensus must first be built. Although demobilization is not a realistic goal in the near term, Iraq and its partners can take practical steps to honor Hashd units for their sacrifices while also containing them in the interests of national sovereignty and stability.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Militias, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Hamdi Malik
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The Iraq-based Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) is diligently and meticulously working to achieve hegemony among Iran-backed 'resistance' militias in Iraq. The group is positioning itself as the 'true resistance' faction and obliging other Iran-backed groups to follow its lead. In order to achieve this goal, KH is operating on military and non-military fronts. KH is stepping up its non-military vigilante activities, drawing heavily on its youth movements that have been developing in the past decade. These organizations serve to promote the most radical version of the anti-U.S. Shia Islamist ideology promulgated by the ‘axis of resistance’, and they work to squash opposing views in Iraqi society. These efforts work in tandem with the group’s military front, where KH has managed to lead attacks against U.S. interests following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. While details of KH’s military wing have been covered in my piece “ The Still Growing Threat of Iran’s Chosen Proxy in Iraq’’ and Michael Knights’s Back into the Shadows? The Future of Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iran’s Other Proxies in Iraq,” it is worth examining the group’s growing non-military activities as well.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Violence, Militias, Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH)
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Baraa Sabri
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Over the last four years, Kurds in Iran have watched Kurdish communities in Syria and Iraq continue to suffer losses at the hands of hostile forces, disoriented by the turbulent shifts in Washington’s decision-making. It once seemed that the United States would support change in Iran beneficial to the country’s Kurds, but now a series of decisions by American leadership in Syria and Iraq have left many Kurdish political leaders in Iran afraid and discontented with U.S. policy in the region. Two moments during the Trump presidency particularly have soured and confused perceptions of the United States among Kurds in Iran. First, Iranian Kurds watched as the Trump administration allowed Shia militias hostile to Iraqi Kurds to take the city of Kirkuk in October 2017. Two years later, Kurds watched again as the Trump administration allowed the Turkish forces to invade northeastern Syria, driving local Kurds to flee their homes. These two moments pushed Iranian Kurds to doubt Washington’s potential contributions to the improvement of Kurdish rights in Iran. There now exists a political rift between U.S. and Iranian Kurdish leadership that may force Iranian Kurds to re-think their diplomatic position. Unfortunately for both groups, it seems that no one will benefit from such a rift—except for the Iranian government.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Minorities
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, Kurdistan, United States of America
  • Author: Sardar Aziz
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: When I moved into new accommodations in the centre of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, the lift announcements in the apartment tower were in Chinese, followed by Kurdish, Arabic and English. This multilingualism was surprising but positive; it was a clear sign of the dawn of a new era. If in the past, Kurdish was the local language, Arabic regional, and English global, the addition of Chinese signified the plurality of global language and, potentially, of global power. These days, there is a regional focus on Iran’s newly announced 25 year deal with China, which has resulted in a lot of noise both inside and outside Iran. It is not surprising that Sino–Iranian relations are continuing to develop as both countries are hoping for a different world order. Though not so scrutinized, Iraq has seen its own growing ties with China, with the two countries having signed a number of agreements last year. Former Iraqi PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi, once a Maoist himself, stated in his visit to Beijing ‘we belong to Asia and we want to be a part of its emergence.’ The large Iraqi delegation accompanying him—as told to me by one member of the delegation—all noted and admired what they saw as China’s shift from a poor country to a global power. The deal agreed upon during that meeting, in remaining secret, has created fertile ground for conspiracy and speculations inside Iraq.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: China, Iraq, Middle East, Asia, Kurdistan
  • Author: Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Three experts examine one of the most sensitive problems facing Iraq's new prime minister: the future of militias that were mobilized to fight the Islamic State but have since balked at subsuming themselves to the government's authority. On May 20, The Washington Institute held a virtual Policy Forum with Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, coauthors of the recent study Honored, Not Contained: The Future of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces. Knights is a senior fellow with the Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program. Malik is a London-based Middle East analyst at IITV. Tamimi is an independent analyst and a doctoral candidate at Swansea University. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.
  • Topic: Government, Non State Actors, Islamic State, Militias, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Rami Jameel
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: On October 9, the Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) signed the “Sinjar Agreement” to normalize the situation in the war-torn district of Sinjar in northern Iraq. The agreement stated that only Iraqi federal forces should operate in Sinjar and all other armed groups must leave the town. It also gave the KRG a say on establishing a new local government, including appointing a new mayor, and planning and running reconstruction efforts in Sinjar, including related budgetary matters (Rudaw, October 10).
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Non State Actors, Kurds, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Engin Yüksel
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: Recent Turkish interventions in parts of Syria, Iraq and Turkey itself, look like pushing various Kurdish armed forces and political groupings towards ‘defeat’ via a concerted regional strategy that combines battlefield action with repression and co-optation. But the ‘anti-terrorist’ frame and tactics that Ankara uses in a bid to solve its Kurdish problem feature many sticks and no compromises to improve Kurdish collective minority rights. It is likely that this approach will inhibit peaceful resistance and fail to reduce support for armed groups like the PKK and PYD despite their own authoritarian practices. Moreover, Turkey’s new regional militarism risks escalating conflict across the Middle East because of the complex international and transnational contexts in which Ankara’s interventions take place.
  • Topic: International Affairs, Non State Actors, Conflict, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: The security crisis facing the Kadhimi government and the Iraqi state is a major obstacle to stability and economic development in Iraq, representing a significant drain on the country’s resources and capacities.
  • Topic: Security, Natural Resources, Governance, Economic Development , Militias
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Peter Bartu
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: In 2019,the Middle East seems beset by conflict, chaotic politics and dysfunctional economies.However, the mood of the people in Algeria,Sudan,Lebanon and Iraq is more defiant.Not since 2011 have we seen such public demonstrations for accountability and an end to corruption,war and foreign meddling.
  • Topic: Corruption, Politics, Arab Spring, Conflict, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Sudan, Middle East, Algeria, Arab Countries, Lebanon
  • Author: Mark Furness, Annabelle Houdret
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: German Development Institute (DIE)
  • Abstract: State–society relations are in flux across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), nearly a decade after the Arab uprisings. The protests and revolts that swept the region in 2011 arose from widespread rejection of the post-independence Arab social contracts. These were based on redistribution of rents from natural resources and other forms of transfers and subsidies, as “compensation” for acquiescence to political and economic authoritarianism. In several MENA countries, including Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, but also in Algeria, Lebanon and Palestine, the old social contracts have been destroyed by civil conflicts and internationally sponsored wars, which in some cases predated the 2011 uprisings. Since broken social contracts are at the root of conflict in the MENA region, supporting new social contracts should be the core objective of development cooperation with the region’s most conflict-affected countries. But “post-conflict reconstruction” often ignores the fact that conflicts do not end with peace agreements, and conflict-affected societies need more than reconstructed infrastructure, institutional capacity and private sector investment if they are to avoid violence in the future. Development agencies term this kind of cooperation “resilience”: promoting political, economic, social and environmental stability, rather than risking uncontrollable, revolutionary transformation. However, resilience has often provided cover for short-term measures aimed at preserving the position of particular actors and systems. Development cooperation needs to get beyond reconstruction and resilience approaches that often fail to foster the long-term stability they promise. By focussing on the social contract, development cooperation with conflict-affected countries can provide a crucial link between peacebuilding, reconstruction and longer-term socioeconomic and political development. It can thereby contribute not only to short-term, but also to long-term, sustainable stability. Using the social contract as an analytical lens can increase understanding not only of what donors should avoid doing, but also where they should concentrate their engagement during transitions from civil war. Practical examples from challenging contexts in the MENA region suggest that donors can make positive contributions in support of new social contracts when backing (a) stakeholder dialogues, (b) governance and reforms, and (c) socioeconomic inclusion. In Libya, the socioeconomic dialogue process has brought stakeholders together to outline a new economic vision for the country. The Municipal Development Programme in Palestine focusses on improving the accountability and delivery of local institutions. The Moroccan Economic, Social and Environmental Council provides an example of a process that engages previously marginalised groups. These programmes are all examples of targeted efforts to build cooperation among the groups that make up MENA societies. They aim to broaden decision-making processes, and to increase the impact of specific measures with the ultimate objective of improving state–society relations. They could be adapted for other fragile contexts, with external support. In backing more of these kinds of activities, donors could make stronger contributions to sustainable, long-term peace- and state-building processes in conflict-affected MENA countries.
  • Topic: Development, Natural Resources, Conflict, Peace, Social Contract
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Algeria, North Africa, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Maria-Louise Clausen
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: The state of Iraq is struggling to exert control over its territory. As a result, remote surveillance is being used to enhance the effectiveness of policing. However, constant surveillance may have a negative impact on emerging state–society relations. RECOMMENDATIONS ■ Invest in research focusing on the impact of surveillance on state–society relations in the Global South. ■ Work to introduce transparency in the use of surveillance in the Global South. ■ Encourage a discussion of issues of privacy and the regulation of airspace in the Global South.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Fragile States, Surveillance, Violence, Justice
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Global South
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Despite the damage wrought by the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, the main drivers of Islamic State resurgence in Iraq can still be restrained by local U.S. engagement, which is now even more vital than before. The gross uncertainty surrounding the future of counterterrorism operations in northeast Syria is raising understandable fears of an Islamic State comeback in Iraq. After all, the IS resurgence of 2011-2014 was partially driven by the chaotic war conditions in Syria, and suppressing the group there will be extremely challenging in the coming months amid U.S. withdrawal and Turkish invasion. Another resurgence in Iraq is hardly inevitable, however—the country is subject to different internal drivers, and the United States is still well-positioned to lead international support of Baghdad’s counterterrorism efforts. Yet Washington will need to stay engaged and urgently address new problems if it hopes to prevent another disastrous insurgency.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Recent U.S. decisions have seemingly ignored the degree to which the group is continuing its insurgent attacks and reorganizing its supporters inside increasingly vulnerable detention facilities. In contrast to President Trump’s statements over the past half-year, the Islamic State has yet to be defeated outright. True, the group is nowhere near as capable as it was in 2015, but it is steadily rebuilding its capacities and attempting to break thousands of its supporters out of detainment. The vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal and Turkish invasion will create more space for those efforts, while compounding the original problem of states being unwilling to deal with their citizens who joined IS and remain in Syria. To avoid becoming known as the administration that allowed IS to reemerge and, perhaps, conduct mass-casualty attacks in Europe or elsewhere, President Trump and his cabinet should take urgent action to salvage and mobilize their surviving ties with Washington’s longtime partner against IS, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Violent Extremism, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Oula A. Alrifai
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Tehran and its proxies have been exerting hard and soft power in northeast Syria, combining military consolidation with economic, social, and religious outreach in order to cement their long-term influence. On September 30, Syria and Iraq reopened their main border crossing between al-Bukamal and al-Qaim, which had been formally closed for five years. The circumstances surrounding the event were telling—the ceremony was delayed by a couple weeks because of unclaimed foreign airstrikes on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps targets in east Syria following the Iranian attack against Saudi oil facilities earlier that month. What exactly have the IRGC and its local proxies been doing in Deir al-Zour province? And what does this activity tell us about Iran’s wider plans there?
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Education, Military Strategy, Geopolitics, Conflict, Soft Power
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Bilal Wahab, Barbara A. Leaf
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Even as Baghdad works to rein in militias that invite outside attacks, Washington needs to be patient with the country’s contradictions in the near term and give space for it to exert sovereignty in the long term. As President Trump met with Iraqi president Barham Salih today on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, they were no doubt buoyed by their governments’ mutual conclusion that the recent attack on Saudi oil facilities in Abqaiq did not originate from Iraq. Initial concerns about that possibility were well founded—a previous attack on a major Saudi pipeline was carried out from Iraqi territory this May, and multiple Iraqi militia facilities have been struck since June, reportedly by Israel. Each of these developments was linked to Shia “special groups” with known ties to Iran. On July 1, Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdulmahdi ordered these and other militias to fold themselves under state authority, but so far he has been unable to impose order on them. The government has also failed to prevent them from threatening neighboring countries at Iran’s presumed behest—an especially dangerous lapse given that Iraqi authorities cannot protect the territory these militias hold from external retaliation. To keep other countries from turning Iraq into a proxy battleground, Baghdad needs to rein in the unruliest militias. This is a tall order because Tehran has spent fifteen years building them into a parallel force of its own. Given the willingness these “special groups” have shown when asked to attack U.S. troops, fight on the Assad regime’s behalf in Syria, or secure other Iranian interests, they risk implicating Iraq in Tehran’s regional confrontations with the United States, Saudi Arabia, and/or Israel.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations, Non State Actors, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Bilal Wahab
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The U.S. withdrawal of troops from northeast Syria has placed Kurdish fighters in a near-impossible situation, while alarming Kurdish communities in other countries, but Washington can still take steps to mitigate the damage. On October 21, footage of Kurdish civilians heckling withdrawing U.S. troops in both Iraq and Syria offered a rare and disturbing sight. This scene was facilitated by President Trump’s October 6 decision to unilaterally withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, in effect paving the way for the Turkish military to cross the Syrian border three days later and attack the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Thereafter, a safe haven quickly became a war zone. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 180,000 people have now been forced from their homes. James Jeffrey, the U.S. administration’s envoy to Syria, told Congress on October 22 that the fighting has resulted in hundreds of SDF deaths, a likely war crime by a pro-Turkish militia, and the escape from prison of more than a hundred Islamic State (IS) fighters. The U.S. action has unsurprisingly left the Syrian Kurds feeling abandoned and exposed against the militarily superior Turkish army and its Arab militias. On a deeper level, America appears to have entirely lost Kurdish sympathy and trust, while at the same time failing to either deter or appease Turkey. Rather than ameliorate matters, President Trump has poured salt on the wound. He responded to backlash against his policy by claiming the Kurds were “no angels” and that they had failed to contribute to the Allied cause in World War II, while characterizing their Syrian military campaign as a fight over “long-bloodstained sand.”
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Public Opinion, Military Affairs, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Rojava
  • Author: Ann Wainscott
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Religious actors in Iraq wield considerable influence, and Iraqis perceive them as playing an important role in moving the country toward peace. This report analyzes the influence of Iraq’s religious actors—who has it, why they have it, and how they exercise it—to illuminate their crucial role in supporting peace and reconciliation efforts and to help policymakers and practitioners understand how to engage them in efforts to advance peace.
  • Topic: Religion, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Peace, Reconciliation
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Susanne Wolfmaier, Janani Vivekananda
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: The Hague Declaration is a six-point plan covering a call for an institutional mechanism on climate and security within the UN system, for a process to develop a climate security risk assessment in Lake Chad, and for concrete action in two of the most vulnerable post-conflict countries: Mali and Iraq. It is also a commitment by a growing community of practice to systematically address security risks related to climate change - from analysis to action, built on the conviction that everyone must work together to address and manage risks and threats before they arise. This briefing note by Susanne Wolfmaier and Janani Vivekananda presents the outcome of a survey by the Planetary Security Initiative on the objectives with the Hague Declaration, its achievements so far, and the gaps in and challenges to progress that still need to be overcome.
  • Topic: Security, Climate Change, Treaties and Agreements, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Mali, Global Focus, The Hague
  • Author: Anthony Dworkin
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Hundreds of EU citizens who joined ISIS abroad are in detention in northern Syria, a territory whose future is deeply uncertain. EU governments remain extremely reluctant to bring these detainees back home and have instead sought to have them tried in the region. Sending suspects to Iraqi courts or an international tribunal also appear to be non-starters given the risk of unfair trials and questionable legal footing available. Returning European ISIS supporters to Europe is the best way to ensure they remain under control and can be prosecuted, interrogated, and helped with re-engagement as necessary. Repatriation would also help the plight of European children in detention camps, who are now at risk of illness and further radicalisation.
  • Topic: European Union, Islamic State, Justice, Foreign Fighters
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe
  • Author: Tobias von Lossow
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: With the liberation of Mosul from so-called Islamic State (IS) in November 2017, Iraq entered – once again – a post-conflict period. In his Policy Brief Tobias von Lossow analyses how shrinking water quantities and acutely declining water quality pose tremendous challenges in the process of rebuilding the country: Dam building in Turkey and Iran has contributed to a remarkably reduced water inflow of the Euphrates and Tigris; Iraqi water installations had been in very poor condition before IS used water as a weapon and further damaged infrastructure; Tigris River’s waterflow upstream of Baghdad requires careful coordination between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and central government; extremely salinised water resources and environmental degradation in the Marshes risk the extinction of agricultural activities and livelihoods in that area. To address these challenges, technical measures will be important, and necessary – for instance, investment in water infrastructure. But that will not be nearly enough, as the water issue has the potential to accelerate re-emerging social divisions and political fragmentation and thus undermine Iraq’s stability and security. The political implications of water policies must be carefully taken into account in Iraq’s postconflict process and should complement technical efforts in this crucial sector. The basin-wide protection of the supply infrastructure could serve as a technical as well as a political entry point for water cooperation in the region.
  • Topic: Natural Resources, Water, Infrastructure, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Nancy Ezzeddine, Erwin van Veen
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: It has become clear since Iraq’s May 2018 elections that many of the armed groups that make up the country’s Al-Hashd al-Sha’abi (aka Popular Mobilization Forces) intend to fully integrate into the Iraqi Security Forces and/or disband at some point now that the fight against the Islamic State (IS) has reached a much lower level of intensity. Several groups are less likely to do so, however, including those linked with Iran. Although all 50+ Hashd groups have been brought under the legal purview of the Iraqi state, in practice a number continue to operate autonomously. The fragmented nature of both the Iraqi state’s coercive capabilities and the country’s political landscape will make it difficult, in the short term, to compel reluctant groups to integrate into state security forces or disband. Pushing for enforcement of such compliance risks violence and is best avoided. At the same time, using a broad set of indicators to monitor Hashd-related events and incidents based on open, online sources, this policy brief provides substantial evidence that some Hashd groups are using their autonomy to strengthen their power base in ways that will complicate achieving greater integration in the future. Our research suggests that policy makers in Baghdad and Western capitals should support four initiatives that can help limit this risk without triggering large-scale violence: Gradually establish a direct, incentive-based relationship between Hashd fighters and the state to shift the loyalties of fighters over time. Tighten local command, control and coordination mechanisms of all state security actors to compartmentalise the way in which Hashd groups operate, especially locally. Ensure that (international) reconstruction funds have strong in-built safeguards and standards that reduce corruption and do not contribute to the growing penetration of the Iraqi economy by armed actors, e.g. by contracting them. Address the root causes of the emergence of IS to remove the rationale for some Hashd groups to retain arms (and to make Iraq safer).
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Conflict, Militias
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Irene Costantini
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: 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. So far, the Block has outlined two separate and independent plans: al-Hakim’s “Historical Settlement” and al-Sadr’s roadmap
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, International Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: This paper reviews the importance of western Mosul to all parties in the conflict: the Iraqi forces and their allies, on the one hand, and the Islamic State’s forces, on the other, and the obstacles to any of these parties resolving the conflict. It also touches on the extent of their forces and the clear dominance of the offensive forces, and it discusses the military strategies for the battle and potential outcomes in addition to the available options for the Islamic State (IS). It anticipates an end to the fight in favour of the Iraqi forces within a few weeks if the battle and its results progress at a similar pace to that of its first week. This will depend on any unaccounted for variables during the battle that would change the equation on the ground. It concludes by discussing the available options for IS after the battle ends, with the expectation that IS will fight until the end; while its commanders will inevitability lose the battle, this will not eliminate threats to security and stability in Iraq in the foreseeable future.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War, International Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • 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: Maisie Cook
  • Publication Date: 12-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: With the liberation of Mosul fast becoming a reality, attention is turning to post-IS dynamics. Without sufficient deradicalisation policies, including within the education system, the narrative of the Islamic State will lie dormant or transform, creating the potential for another extremist group to emerge.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Education, Radicalization, ISIS
  • Political Geography: Iraq
  • Author: Irene Costantini
  • Publication Date: 11-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Nearly thirteen years since the beginning of one of the largest programmes for post-conflict reconstruction, Iraq finds itself again in need of international financial assistance, but the conditions are hardly the same. This time the role of the international community should be matched by the Iraqi political leadership taking responsibility for the country and all of its population.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Conflict Prevention, ISIS
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Dylan O’Driscoll
  • Publication Date: 09-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: When the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, came into power in 2014 he promised to end the politics of dominance that was largely responsible for the rise of Islamic State (IS). Yet, with the military defeat of IS in Iraq imminent, Sunnis are still being marginalised and until this ends, the foundations of IS will remain within the society.
  • Topic: Political Theory, Political Power Sharing, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Dave Murray
  • Publication Date: 10-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Centre for the Study of Security and Development, Dalhousie University
  • Abstract: Despite the carnage wrought by ISIL around the world, the days appear numbered for its caliphate in Syria and Iraq. We are likely talking the shorter to medium term at most. ISIL faces intense military pressure on all fronts. It continues to lose territory and its leadership figures are being targeted and killed. Increasingly ISIL faces significant challenges in replenishing its losses due to efforts by Turkey and most nations internationally to block the flow of foreign fighters into the caliphate. As leadership figures are eliminated, internal factionalism will create serious stresses and vulnerabilities. The forces aligned against ISIL are powerful, despite conflicting agendas. Add to this reports of financial problems, including a strained ability to pay its militants, and the result is a picture of an entity on a downward trajectory. This in no way means that the caliphate or its extremist message will die easily or that we are nearing an end to the scourge of ISIL inspired terrorism – only that its ability to sustain itself territorially has limits. If one accepts the above assessment, now is the time to consider what this will mean. Now is the time for thinking and planning directed at dealing with the eventual collapse of a self-proclaimed state in which countless thousands have been radicalized, traumatized, received military and terrorists training, let alone the reality of child soldiers and intense psychological scarring caused by ISIL.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Radicalization, Islamic State, Conflict, Foreign Fighters
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Canada, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Teemu Sinkkonen
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The ISIL surge has inspired a new generation of jihadist terrorists. The large number of foreign volunteers in Syria may cause a global terrorism blowback when ISIL is defeated in Syria/Iraq. This underlines the need for common goals and policies regarding the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon. The EU has not been able to take a decisive role regarding the Syrian conflict and foreign terrorist fighters, but it can still play an important role in coordinating the responses of the member states. The EU could take a role in establishing common guidelines for social media regarding extremist material and agitation for violence. Finding common ground with Turkey on information gathering and sharing would be essential in preventing the travel-for-terrorism cause. Countries bordering Syria and Iraq are in danger of ISIL spill-over effects in the form of potential affiliates and organizations emulating the rebel group. Egypt and Libya are also likely to become breeding grounds for such groups.
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Syria, Egypt
  • Author: Scott A. Vickery
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have had clear benefits, but a broader campaign involving more intelligence and targeting assistance on the ground is required to reap the full strategic benefits of turning back ISIS.
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Syria
  • Author: Matthew Levitt, Phillip Smyth
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Although Iran's proxies are fighting ISIS in parallel with the U.S.-led effort, their actions and radical Shiite agendas are diametrically opposed to the goal of building inclusive governments and societies in Iraq and Syria.
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Syria
  • Author: Matthew Levitt, Gilles de Kerchove, Jacob Bundsgaard, Maj. Gen. Doug Stone
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On the margins of the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), global leaders in efforts to rehabilitate radicalized fighters gathered at the Institute to share their insights into what works -- and what doesn't. On February 20, Gilles de Kerchove, Jacob Bundsgaard, Doug Stone, and Matthew Levitt addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Kerchove is the European Union Counterterrorism Coordinator. Bundsgaard is Lord Mayor of Aarhus, Denmark, and a prominent player in the city's widely known jihadist rehabilitation program. Stone, a retired Marine major general, oversaw all theatre interrogation and detention in Iraq during the post- 2006 surge; he now works for the UN and helped develop the Rome Memorandum, the seminal best-practices compendium for rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders. Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler Fellow and director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Institute. The following is a rapporteur's summary of their remarks.
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Denmark, Rome
  • Author: Michael Eisenstadt
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The coalition effort to rebuild and retrain the Iraqi security forces (ISF) will have better odds of success if American advisors urge their counterparts to incorporate lessons from other Arab armies that have experienced defeat, learned from their failures, and eventually prevailed against their enemies. These armies -- Egypt in the 1973 war with Israel, Iraq in the latter phases of its 1980-1988 war with Iran, and even hybrid actors such as the "Islamic State"/ISIS -- succeeded by developing workarounds for persistent shortcomings exhibited by conventional Arab armies, and by adapting foreign concepts and practices to their specific needs.
  • Political Geography: Iraq, America, Arabia
  • Author: Michael Knights, Phillip Smyth, P.J. Dermer
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On February 6, 2015, Michael Knights, Phillip Smyth, and P.J. Dermer addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Knights is an Institute Lafer Fellow and author of the Institute study The Long Haul: Rebooting U.S. Security Cooperation in Iraq. Smyth is a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of the Institute study The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects. Dermer is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served multiple tours in the Middle East, including two in Iraq. The following is a rapporteur's summary of their remarks.
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Omar Sheira, Muhammed Ammash
  • Publication Date: 04-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Global Political Trends Center
  • Abstract: The 26th Arab League Summit, held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, came amidst a series of divisive crises in the Middle East and North African region: in Yemen, a Saudi Arabian-led coalition initiated a campaign of airstrikes to counter the advance of the Houthi rebellion; in Libya, a multiparty civil war continues between rival governments and Islamist-oriented groups; in Syria, the civil war enters its fifth year, prolonging the conflict and adding more parties; and in Iraq, the government leads an offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to regain territory which was seized by the group in the Summer of 2014. Meanwhile, Iran also has an alleged role in the crises in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, which was referenced during the Summit. In addition to these issues, the agenda of the Arab League Summit also aimed to monitor the implementation of past recommendations, express support for Palestine and Somalia, and discuss ways to combat extremist groups.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Arab Countries
  • Author: Faysal Itani
  • Publication Date: 04-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Since August 2014, the US-led air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has successfully inflicted casualties on ISIS and weakened its oil revenues. However, the same efforts have also accelerated the rise of the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and the near-collapse of nationalist rebel forces. In "Defeating the Jihadists in Syria: Competition before Confrontation," Faysal Itani of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East details the unintended consequences of the coalition air campaign and proposes a revised US strategy. He argues that the United States can effectively assist nationalist insurgents to defeat ISIS and the Nusra Front by enabling them to compete with and contain these groups before ultimately confronting them. Itani writes that the US-led campaign thus far and the train-and-equip initiative set to begin next month undermine and weaken nationalist rebel forces. He criticizes these efforts for failing to provide sufficient support to the rebel forces, while directing them to target ISIS instead of the regime. Meanwhile, the Nusra Front and other jihadist organizations have greater resources and have been effective in targeting the Assad regime. As such, nationalist rebel forces and local populations have increasingly aligned with the Nusra Front and even tolerate ISIS in order to protect themselves against regime violence, criminality, and chaos. Itani's proposed US strategy offers a practical and workable response to the rise of jihadists groups in Syria; this revised strategy seeks to support rebel forces to compete with the Nusra Front for popular support and to take control of the insurgency, contain ISIS, and build capacity for an eventual offensive against the jihadists. This approach will build on positive results in southern Syria by significantly increasing direct financial and material support and training for vetted nationalist groups that have already shown significant success. Simultaneously, in the north the campaign can provide sufficient material support to nationalist forces while expanding coalition air strikes to target ISIS's frontlines, allowing the nationalist insurgency to defend and govern territory. Only once nationalist insurgent forces have successfully competed with the Nusra Front and contained ISIS can they confront and ultimately defeat the jihadist groups in Syria.
  • Topic: Politics, Terrorism, International Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Syria
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Islamic State has been moving aggressively to exploit the chaos of Libya since last summer, with profound risks for the Mediterranean region and beyond Libya is a perfect breeding ground for an expanded Islamic State, with large amounts of heavy weaponry, systemic lawlessness, a divided population, and sustained armed conflict The group has formed three active and capable groups in Libya-in Tripoli, Fezzan, and Barqa-all of which have conducted deadly attacks in recent months The phenomenon of Islamic State affiliates-beginning in the summer of 2014, before which the group was entirely focused on Iraq and Syria-is actually in the tradition of its arch-rival al-Qaeda the presence and power of the Islamic State in Libya will likely increase as conditions in Syria and Iraq deteriorate for the group, and conditions in Libya continue to worsen.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Libya, Syria
  • Publication Date: 04-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Iran and the P5+1 countries are expected to issue a joint statement today that outlines most aspects of a comprehensive nuclear deal, but defers some still thorny issues to further talks A key remaining sticking point is Iran's demand for immediate and comprehensive lifting of sanctions, which the P5+1 cannot accept The United States is attempting to reassure nervous regional partners, such as Israel and Arab Gulf states, that the U.S. is not making too many concessions for the sake of a deal U.S. allies in the region are concerned that lifting sanctions, even if done gradually, will enable Iran to provide even more military and financial aid to the Assad regime in Syria, Shi'a militias in Iraq, and the Houthi movement in Yemen.
  • Topic: Government
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Yemen, Syria
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Outside of its own borders, Iran now has significant proxy presence and influence in four countries encompassing 1.1 million square kilometers and 82 million people, in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon It has done this by leveraging tactical decisions made by other countries into its own strategic expansion; from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen, Iran is taking advantage of the short-term actions of others in its long-term plan The complete collapse of the U.S.-aided Yemeni president and the associated counterterrorism and military support is just the latest example of measures intended to address immediate pressures, which ultimately benefit Iran-all while U.S. airstrikes support Iraqi and Iranian militias in Tikrit against the immediate threat of the Islamic State It's not that Iranian leaders are all-knowing, masterful chess players but rather that the Middle East has for decades been a battlefield of ad hoc stability measures by numerous countries that have enabled Iran to steadily project power, to the extreme concern of countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has now launched airstrikes in Yemen.
  • Topic: Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Syria
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The horrific suicide bombings at Sana'a mosques, which killed at least 137 people, are the worst such attacks in 20 years and an omen of sectarian conflict that the beleaguered country has so far avoided With worsening sectarian violence, terrible governance, terrorist groups on the rise, meddling regional powers, and a tribal population awash with weapons but little else, Yemen resembles post-2009 Iraq, with significant differences but troubling similarities The Iraqification of Yemen will be a disaster for that country and an international community that is already unable to deal with Syria, Iraq, Libya, and other failing states The Houthi advance into the central town of Taiz, after calling for a general mobilization against the supporters of deposed/exiled president Hadi, and the fighting in Aden show the situation is escalating and could easily follow the path of Iraq, as more sectarian violence and regional demands tear the country apart.
  • Topic: Governance
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Yemen, Syria