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Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa

Crisis Group Role

As MENA Program Director, Joost leads the organisation’s research, analysis, policy prescription and advocacy in and about the region. Previously, he was Crisis Group’s Chief Operating Officer (2013-2014), in which capacity he was responsible for the oversight and management of the organisation’s programs and operations around the world. Prior to that, he was Crisis Group's Deputy Program Director for the Middle East and North Africa (2007-2012) and Project Director for the Middle East (2002-2007), helping to manage a team of analysts deployed throughout the region.

Areas of Expertise

  • Iraq: political transition, constitutional process, the situation of the Kurds, Kirkuk and other disputed territories, oil, relations with neighbouring states
  • Bahrain
  • Yemen
  • Jordan
  • Israel-Palestine
  • Middle East region: security threats, authoritarianism and democratisation, political Islam, sectarianism

Professional Background

  • Chief Operating Officer, International Crisis Group (2013-2014)
  • Deputy Program Director, Middle East and North Africa, International Crisis Group (2007-2012)
  • Project Director, Middle East, International Crisis Group (2002-2007)
  • Executive Director, Arms Division of Human Rights Watch (1994-2002)
  • Director of Iraq Documents Project, HRW (1992-1994)
  • Research Coordinator, Al-Haq (Ramallah) (1988-1990)
  • Database Coordinator, Al-Haq (Ramallah) (1985-1988)
  • PhD, Sociology, University of California, Santa Cruz (1988); MA, International Relations, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (1980)
  • He has written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Financial Times, The National Interest, Middle East Report, and other publications


  • Board Member, Center for Civilians in Conflict (previously known as CIVIC)
  • Advisory Board Member, Arab Regional Office of Open Society Foundations
  • Research Affiliate, MIT Center for International Studies
  • Consultant/Advisor, Dialogue Advisory Group

Frequent interviews with major media outlets, including BBC, CNN, The New York Times, Financial Times

  • Two books: A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja (Cambridge, 2007), and Behind the Intifada: Labor and Women’s Movements in the Occupied Territories (Princeton, 1991)


  • English
  • Dutch
  • Arabic
  • French

In The News

16 Oct 2017
[Kurdistan Regional Government of President Masoud Barzani] may have made a miscalculation of historic proportions by proceeding with the [independence] referendum over the objections of just about everyone who counts. The New York Times

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
16 Oct 2017
The fight [between the Kurdish and Iraqi forces] is clearly not over. The potential for civil war is there. Los Angeles Times

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
3 Oct 2017
If things escalate [after Baghdad’s threats of military action against the Kurds], it will be because of a particular dynamic that evolves. I don’t think we’re even close to that point. The New York Times

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
3 Oct 2017
[Former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's] biggest victory, and vindication, was to ascend to the presidency of Iraq, succeeding a dictator who had worked long and hard to eradicate the Kurdish national movement. The Washington Post

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
30 Sep 2017
Kurdistan is not ready because economically, it is a mess. I don’t see independence happening. It’s all about capability, not desire. The New York Times

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
25 Sep 2017
The competition between the central government [of Iraq] and the [Kurdistan Regional Government] over the loyalty of minority groups in the [Ninevah] plain is one of the main drivers of conflict there. The Atlantic

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa

Latest Updates

What Did the Kurds Get Out of the Referendum?

The “yes” vote in the 25 September 2017 referendum will not deliver independence for Iraqi Kurds. Rather, it is designed merely to remind Iraqi leaders in Baghdad that it is the Kurds’ strong wish to split off from a country from which they have always felt alien.

Originally published in The Atlantic

Also available in العربية

Qatar Punched Above Its Weight. Now It’s Paying the Price.

Doha has become a casualty of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ fights with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. But don’t expect a war.

Originally published in The New York Times

Also available in العربية

Reconciling Iraq's Hard Realities

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.

How All Sides of Yemen’s War Are Weaponising Hunger and Creating a Famine

With the world's largest hunger crisis, Yemen sits precariously on the brink of famine. Avoiding it will require all warring parties to desist from weaponising Yemen's increasingly fragile economy and return to the negotiating table.

Originally published in World Politics Review