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The War After the War
The War After the War
Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?
Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?

The War After the War

Originally published in Foreign Policy

The Islamic State stands on the brink of a twin defeat. Mosul, the largest city under its control, has almost entirely fallen from its grasp, and Kurdish-led forces are advancing into its de facto capital of Raqqa. Now, as the saying goes, comes the hard part. The Islamic State’s territorial setbacks have introduced new questions about the basic future of the Middle East. Crisis Group's Robert Malley was one of six policymakers and regional experts assembled by Foreign Policy to answer these new questions.

For most of the United States’ allies in the Middle East, the war against the Islamic State never was the primary concern. Even as Western nations decreed this struggle a universal priority, these nations largely humored Washington, echoed its alarm, joined its international coalition — and looked the other way. Almost from the start, their gaze was fixed on the wars after the war against the Islamic State.

For Turkey, what mattered was the fight against Kurds, and for Kurds a self-determination struggle; for Saudi Arabia and Iran, their regional contest took priority; within the Sunni Arab world, competition between the more Islamist (Qatar and Turkey) and the less so (Egypt and the United Arab Emirates) was viewed as existential; among Iraqis, a sectarian and ethnic race for post-conflict spoils had pride of place. The counter-Islamic State campaign always served as an imperfect cover for regional conflicts and contradictions. With the Islamic State increasingly in the rearview mirror, these will be laid bare.

When the dust settles, Washington will confront a Middle East struggling with familiar demons. It will also face its own familiar dilemma: How deeply should it get involved? Allies will plead for it to leap into the fray. They know Washington’s current predilections and will cater to them, dressing up raw power plays in more appealing garb. President Donald Trump’s administration is preoccupied with countering terrorism, combating Iran, and — no less important — doing whatever former President Barack Obama did not. That’s how America’s allies will frame their respective pursuits.

There is evidence already. Saudi Arabia and the UAE presented their war in Yemen as pushback against Tehran and their attempt to bring Qatar to heel as an anti-Iranian and anti-terrorist gambit. Syria’s Kurds, fearful of being jettisoned by Washington once their utility in the anti-Islamic State fight is exhausted, champion themselves as long-term bulwarks against Iranian influence and Turkish-inspired Islamism — while Ankara paints those same Kurds with a broad terrorist brush. Egypt masquerades its indiscriminate intolerance of all Islamists as a holy battle against terrorism.

Read the full article at Foreign Policy.

Podcast / Africa

Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, Crisis Group’s Sahel expert, about whether it is time for a new strategy in Mali as the government and its allies struggle against jihadist insurgents. 

The war in the Sahel appears to have reached a stalemate. In Mali, fighting pits the Malian security forces, backed by regional militaries and French special forces and airpower, against an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist coalition, JNIM (the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims). Since Mali’s crisis in 2012-2013, efforts to defeat jihadist militants have only seen their influence expand. Violence has spread across the Sahel at terrible human cost. Two successive coups in Bamako, Mali’s capital, have fuelled political instability. French officials appear exasperated by the lack of progress. Yet militants themselves are also under pressure, with several leaders killed over recent years. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, Crisis Group’s Sahel expert, to ask whether it is time for a new approach. They take stock of the insurgency’s current state, its aims and JNIM’s relationship with al-Qaeda. They discuss the future of the French presence and the consequences of the recent coups. They also speak at length about prospects for talks between the government and JNIM leaders, what such talks might entail and the challenges such a path would pose. 



Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sahel and Mali regional pages as well as our work on Jihad in Modern Conflict. Be sure to keep an eye out for Ibrahim’s upcoming report.

Contributors

Interim President
atwoodr
Naz Modirzadeh
Board Member and Harvard Professor of International Law and Armed Conflicts
Consulting Analyst, Sahel
IbrahimYahayaIb