This report examines President Trump’s emerging counter-terrorism policies, the dilemmas his administration faces in battling ISIS and al-Qaeda across the Middle East and South Asia, and how to avoid deepening the disorder both groups exploit.
U.S.-backed govt forces and allied militias continued to make gains in campaign to retake western half of Mosul in north from Islamic State (ISIS). In north-western Mosul, govt forces 14 May took control of Ureibi and Rifaie districts and 27 May launched offensive on al-Shifaa, al-Zinjili and Al-Saha al-Oula neighbourhoods. ISIS mid-month had reportedly lost control of all but 9% of western half. ISIS early month claimed two suicide bombings and several more attempted suicide attacks against K1 military base hosting U.S. advisers in Kirkuk, 150km south east of Mosul. In north west Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) 14 May pushed west from Tal Afar airport, took control of road connecting Sinjar to Qairawan and leading to ISIS-held town Baadj near Syrian border, 29 May reportedly took control of several villages along border. Faced with PMUs’ expansion, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Barzani 15 May discussed military coordination with Iraqi national security adviser and PMU leader Faleh al-Fayyad; 30 May said peshmerga forces would not withdraw from areas outside Iraqi Kurdistan secured before start of Mosul offensive in Oct 2016. ISIS claimed multiple bombings in Baghdad: suicide bombings killed nineteen people in southern districts 19 May and at least sixteen people in Shiite district Karrada 30 May. Unclaimed bombing killed eleven people on al-Shahada bridge in Baghdad 30 May. Unidentified attackers 2 May killed at least ten soldiers near Rutba in Anbar province in west. Unclaimed bombings killed 33 people at checkpoints near oil fields in Basra province in south east 19 May.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliates face a stark choice: risk their gains in northern Syria through continued prioritisation of the PKK's fight against Turkey, or pursue local self-rule in the area they have carved out of the chaos of the Syrian war.
The U.S. campaign against ISIS in northern Syria both benefits from and is complicated by its partnership with an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group fighting against its NATO ally Turkey. The challenges will grow as the war on ISIS moves further east.
Iraqi youth who came of age during the post-2003 turmoil share a sense of hopelessness and disempowerment. Across the political spectrum, they feel trapped: join a protest movement or militia, or emigrate. Even amid the severe challenges the government and its partners face, this generation must be prioritised, lest Iraq’s most important resource become a major security threat.
The US-led coalition’s military assistance to Kurdish forces against the Islamic State (IS) is inadvertently accelerating intra-Kurdish fragmentation. The West should coordinate its aid better, build upon Iraqi Kurdistan’s past efforts in transforming its peshmergas into a professional military, and encourage Kurdish coordination with Iraq’s central government in the fight against IS.
The jihadi surge is the tragic, violent outcome of steadily deteriorating political dynamics. Instead of a rash military intervention and unconditional support for the Iraqi government, pressure is needed to reverse sectarian polarisation and a disastrous record of governance.
Iraq, which is in charge on paper, does not want to give away a single piece of land [to the Kurdistan Regional Government].
The Iranians have been prioritizing something that the U.S. has overlooked [in Iraq]: control over strategic roads, rather than control of the Sunni communities.
The shift in the Trump administration's approach reflects an assessment that the primary threat posed by surviving ISIS fighters derives from those who came from Europe.
There isn’t an easy solution to [the Turkish-U.S. disagreement on Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria], and now Turkey has raised the stakes.
Iran's strategy in Iraq is a policy of divide and rule. Kurdish society is very divided at the moment and Iran has a chance to exploit those divisions.
Exxon didn't care [about the political impacts of their decision]. And this was of course music to the Kurds’ ears.
In a Berlin speech to German and Dutch officers, diplomats and civilians, Crisis Group's Middle East and North Africa Program Director Joost Hiltermann argues that any attempt to help Iraqis piece their country back together again needs to take into account local realities, the grander geopolitical picture, and especially regional powers Turkey and Iran.
Directly arming one mainly Kurdish faction in Syria makes U.S. partly responsible for the fate of Syria’s Kurds. Given Ankara’s bitter opposition to the group, Washington should push its Kurdish partner to focus on regional autonomy in Syria, not its insurgency in Turkey.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
Despite suffering significant blows in Syria and Iraq, jihadist movements across the Middle East, North Africa and Lake Chad regions continue to pose significant challenges. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to prioritise conflict prevention at the heart of their counter-terrorism policy and continue investment in vulnerable states.