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). Govt forces 6 March said they had captured “al Hurriya” bridge that leads to ISIS-held city centre, and 12 March said they had retaken seventeen of 40 districts in western half from ISIS and surrounded remainder. Govt forces 14 March killed ISIS commander of Old City, Abdul Rahman al-Ansary, and 18 March captured two additional neighbourhoods al-Kur and al-Tawafa. ISIS fighters 20 March captured nine govt officers in western Mosul. U.S. airstrike in western Mosul 17 March reportedly killed over 150 civilians. Iraqi ambassador to UN 10 March denied reports by medical workers and World Health Organisation that ISIS had likely used chemical weapons in Mosul, said “really no evidence”. Govt airstrike 31 March reportedly killed several ISIS commanders in al-Qaim, W Anbar province, including Ayad al-Jumaili believed to be second-in-command. Unclaimed bombings 9 March killed at least 26 people in village 20km north of Tikrit in centre, 20 March killed 21 people in Baghdad’s Shiite Hay al-Amel suburb and 29 March killed seventeen people at police checkpoint in southern Baghdad. Intra-Kurdish tensions rose sharply in Sinjar in NW as relations between Turkey-backed Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Iran-backed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continued to deteriorate: KDP-trained Syrian peshmerga forces 3 March tried to expel PKK-affiliated Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) from Sinjar, seven people killed; 14 March killed one woman at anti-KDP protest organised by PKK-affiliated factions in neighbouring Khanasor district. In show of force against KDP, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party early March tried to seize KDP-affiliated North Gas Company refinery in NW. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr 24 March said he would call for boycott of elections unless electoral law is changed; provincial elections are planned for later in 2017.
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.
An alliance between the local military council and the jihadi ISIL group is keeping the besieging Iraqi army at bay around Falluja, but unless Sunni alienation is addressed, the city risks a new round of devastating conflict.
With Sunni Arab frustration at a boil at home, unprecedented Sunni-Shiite polarisation in the region and deadly car bombings plaguing the country, Iraq is inching toward relapse into generalised sectarian conflict.
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.
It is true that Turkey is stepping into a foreign country, but it is also true that some of the Iraqi actors have strong links to regional powers. So how to draw the line between what is Iraqi and non-Iraqi? It's kind of difficult.
[In Iraq, the U.S. and other nations are channelling resources into local Sunni coffers, a tactic used during the U.S.-led occupation.] What’s at stake is re-establishing the same sort of political order that actually led to the rise of [the Islamic State]. We have to be careful not to repeat the same mistakes of the past.
Originally published in The New York Review of Books
In Kirkuk, the extremist group's defeat risks rekindling old ethnic and religious conflicts — unless cooler heads prevail.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
In a keynote speech for the World Water Week in Stockholm on 28 August 2016, our MENA Program Director Joost Hiltermann assesses the role of water in Middle East conflicts – even, potentially, when used in the cultivation of Yemen’s beloved stimulant, qat.
Originally published in Es Global