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.
PM Abadi announced victory over Islamic State (ISIS) in Mosul in north 10 July after weeks of heavy fighting to recapture western half, though small-scale clashes between U.S.-backed govt forces and ISIS continued in city in following days. Fighting continued around Mosul: ISIS captured Imam Gharbi village 70km south of Mosul 5 July, retaken by govt forces 20 July; govt forces 11 July repelled ISIS attack on nearby al-Jaran village. Govt-backed forces 11 July also repelled ISIS attack on Hatra city 110km SW of Mosul. ISIS killed 30 civilians in Hawija district, Kirkuk province in centre north 18 July. Abadi rejected rights groups’ allegations of abuses by govt-backed forces 12 July, day after footage emerged online appearing to show security forces beating and summarily executing detainees in Mosul. German Chancellor Merkel 19 July urged Abadi to investigate alleged abuses by govt-backed forces during and after operation to retake Mosul.
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.
There is a risk that the Arabs, the Turkmen and the Shia will protest [against a referendum on Kurdish independence] and that Baghdad, backed by Iran, will send in militias or security forces.
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.
Originally published in World Politics Review
Originally published in Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale
Originally published in The New York Review of Books
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