Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts

20 July 2017

Why Obama's Iran Nuclear Deal Will Live On

Farhad Rezaei

The Trump administration should focus on pressuring Iran on missiles and support of terrorism.

On July 14, 2015, Iran signed the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement along with P5+1 countries China, France, Germany Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. After an unprecedented lobbying campaign, Congress approved the deal following an acrimonious debate between Republicans who vehemently opposed the agreement and Democrats who sided with the Obama administration. President Donald Trump has been highly critical of the deal, but so far no changes have been made to the situation.

On April 18, 2017, the Department of State certified Iran as being in compliance with the agreement as required by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted that “Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism” and that the administration would conduct a comprehensive review of the Iran policy. The review “will evaluate whether the suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national-security interest of the United States.” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently complained that Iran violated the spirit of the agreement by conducting tests of a missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads prohibited under Security Council Resolution 2231. Hailey also noted that Iran violated the JCPOA provision of the arms embargo on Iran, which was further elaborated upon in paragraph five of Annex B of Resolution 2231.

19 July 2017

What Really Matters in the Middle East

By Jacob L. Shapiro

The fight against the Islamic State appears to be going well. On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in Mosul after the city was finally retaken. The same day, the United States and Russia agreed to a cease-fire in southwestern Syria, ostensibly giving government forces and Syrian rebels a freer hand in fighting the Islamic State – not that the rebels have ever fought IS. Then on July 10, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead, as had been rumored a month ago.

These are welcome developments for the enemies of the Islamic State. But the fight is far from over.

A Broken City, a Hydra

Let’s take a look at each of these developments, starting with the liberation of Mosul. It took nearly nine months to dislodge IS from the city despite the fact that Iraqi security forces significantly outnumbered IS forces and were backed by the United States. (By comparison, it took IS only two weeks to take Mosul.) The difficulties of urban warfare surely account for the length of the battle of Mosul, but only up to a point. The Islamic State simply could not have lasted as long as it did without a fair amount of local support. Losing Mosul is ultimately a symbolic but tolerable defeat.

18 July 2017

How Saudi Arabia Botched Its Campaign Against Qatar

By Bassima Alghussein and Jeffrey A. Stacey

The diplomatic and economic blockade of Qatar by its neighbors has plunged the Middle East into further discord. On June 5, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates announced a complete boycott of Qatar, accusing the country of aiding regional terrorist groups. However, the primary reason for the condemnation is Qatar’s relationship with Iran.

The conflict has rapidly come to a head. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) gave Qatar a deadline of July 2 for meeting 13 demands, ranging from ending relations with Iran to closing down the Al-Jazeera TV station. Not one of the demands was ever likely to have been met; in fact, many of them were based on false premises about Qatar’s behavior to begin with.

Because Qatar complied with none of the GCC’s demands, the gambit’s lack of coherence is being laid bare. Without a plan B, immediate escalation is unlikely to transpire. Instead, it is probable that both sides will go forward for the time being in a state of mutual diplomatic paralysis. The GCC may apply additional token “sanctions,” but neither side is likely to back down soon; the stare-down will continue apace.

17 July 2017

Qatar: Big lessons from a small country

Qatar's experience reminds Singapore of the need for small states to behave like small states, and to cherish regional and international institutions.

As a long-time student of geopolitics (for over 46 years), I am rarely surprised by geopolitical developments. There is an almost inevitable logic to them.

Let me cite an example. Many Western observers reacted with shock and horror when Russia seized Crimea in violation of international law. Yet, this was an almost inevitable blowback from the reckless Western expansion of Nato onto Russia's doorstep. Geopolitical follies have serious consequences.

Against this backdrop, one recent geopolitical development didn't just surprise me. It shocked me. This was the decision of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to break off diplomatic relations with Qatar.

They didn't just break off relations. Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, the Maldives, Libya and Yemen have closed their airspace for landings and take-offs between their countries and Qatar. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE have also closed all transport links by air, land and sea. This has caused some suffering for Qatar because as much as 40 per cent of its food comes over the Saudi border.

16 July 2017

The Battle For Iraq Doesn’t End With Mosul—Or ISIS

Rathna K. Muralidharan

As the battle of Mosul reaches its end, President Trump must decide how to proceed in Iraq. Both the U.S. and Iraqi governments’ rhetoric indicate American troops will withdraw after Mosul has been recaptured. However, that would leave the country vulnerable to Iranian influence. U.S troops should remain in Iraq to secure its territory and government from external threats.

Iran has tried to increase its influence in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. Tehran has extended its reach through Shi’a militias loyal to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei. These militias have fought alongside Iraqi security forces and Kurdish troops against ISIS to claim territory, not help civilians, and many of them have political wings that seek to align Iraq’s government with Iran’s political and religious structure.

Since 2016, the U.S. has invested over $10 billion and an additional $4.83 billion in the fiscal year 2017 budget to combat ISIS. Currently, there are more than 5,000 U.S. troops and 3,500 coalition advisers to train 65,000 Iraqi soldiers, police, Kurdish troops, and Sunni tribal fighters. The U.S. should continue to support the Iraqi government as it rebuilds. This will help regional partners and the U.S. protect their interests. If the U.S. withdraws, Baghdad may become a puppet of Tehran, making the rest of the region susceptible to Iranian control.

What Really Matters in the Middle East

By Jacob L. Shapiro

The fight against the Islamic State appears to be going well. On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in Mosul after the city was finally retaken. The same day, the United States and Russia agreed to a cease-fire in southwestern Syria, ostensibly giving government forces and Syrian rebels a freer hand in fighting the Islamic State – not that the rebels have ever fought IS. Then on July 10, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead, as had been rumored a month ago.

These are welcome developments for the enemies of the Islamic State. But the fight is far from over.

Let’s take a look at each of these developments, starting with the liberation of Mosul. It took nearly nine months to dislodge IS from the city despite the fact that Iraqi security forces significantly outnumbered IS forces and were backed by the United States. (By comparison, it took IS only two weeks to take Mosul.) The difficulties of urban warfare surely account for the length of the battle of Mosul, but only up to a point. The Islamic State simply could not have lasted as long as it did without a fair amount of local support. Losing Mosul is ultimately a symbolic but tolerable defeat.

15 July 2017

** After ISIS: Creating Strategic Stability in Iraq

Anthony H. Cordesman

The United States, its allies, and international organizations are just beginning to come to grips with the civil dimensions of "failed state" wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. In each case, any meaningful form of "victory" requires far more than defeating the current extremist threat in military terms. The insurgent threat exists largely because of the deep divisions within the state, and the past and current failures of the government to deal with such internal divisions, and the chronic failure to meet the economic, security, and social needs of much of the nation's population.

In practical terms, these failures make the host government as much of a threat to each nation’s stability and future as are Islamic extremists. Regardless of the scale of any defeat of such extremists, the other internal tensions and divisions with each country also threaten to make any such “victory” a prelude to new forms of civil war, and/or an enduring failure to cope with security, stability, recovery, and development. They also require a different approach to stability operations and civil-military affairs.

Iraq provides a critical test case, and is the focus of a new Burke Chair analysis entitled After ISIS: Creating Strategic Stability in Iraq . This analysis is now available on the CSIS website at It provides a detailed picture of the challenges Iraq must meet, drawing on material from a wide range of sources—such as World Bank, IMF, CIA, UN, Transparency International, Institute for the Study of War, and IISS—to address the deeper critical challenges that Iraq must address over time if it is to achieve any degree of lasting strategic stability.

Why Victory in Mosul Is Overblown

Daniel L. Davis

U.S. leaders seem to believe that America can kill its way out of this mess—and that’s totally wrong.

The battle for Mosul is all but completed, and any question about the strategic significance of its conclusion has yet to be answered by military leaders. That being so, it is time to start asking the difficult questions, such as why the current administration—which ran and won on the promise to change American foreign policy—continues to follow the path of its two previous predecessors in embarking on tactical combat missions that do not contribute to U.S. national security nor the accomplishment of strategic objectives?

The next tough question: Why does Washington continue expending the lives and limbs of its service members and hundreds of billions of dollars on lethal military operations that not only fail to enhance American security, but arguably diminish it?

Brig. Gen. Andrew Croft, deputy commanding general for Air, Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command, Operation Inherent Resolve, claimed that the battle to liberate Mosul would be completed “within days,” and then heaped effusive praise on the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Their accomplishment, he boasted, “would challenge the best military in the world,” and that the nine-month struggle in Mosul was “like Stalingrad, but it's 10 times worse.”

What the Islamic State is saying about its loss of Mosul

By Amanda Erickson

In Mosul right now, families are cheering, singing as they clutch the Iraqi flag. Drivers are blasting their horns. All because in their city, the Islamic State has been ousted.

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “the end of the ISIS statelet” in his country. It's being celebrated as a major, national victory for embattled Iraq, one that has brought dancing revelers into the streets in Baghdad and fireworks over the southern city of Basra.

That's not the story you'd get, though, if you follow the Islamic State on social media. Since it lost Mosul, the terrorist group has been working to counter "persistent narratives of its gradual defeat by characterizing its current situation as a heroic, action movie-esque last stand,” explains Rita Katz, a terrorism analyst and co-founder of the Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Intelligence Group. Katz pointed to a July 10 communique that read in part: “The soldiers of the Caliphate continue to record epics until they achieve one of the two good ends, either victory or martyrdom.”

The Islamic State also described the loss of Mosul as a loss for all Muslims against the Shiites and the “Crusader coalition.”

“Describing things in this way is not only an attempt to save face amid a major symbolic loss, but also to capitalize on the developments in a way that energizes the group’s base,” Katz wrote in an email.

Is Baghdadi Dead? For ISIS, it May Not Matter

By Paul D. Shinkman

The U.S. government on Tuesday said it could not verify increasingly widespread reports that Russian forces had killed Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a move that many hope would not only rid the extremist network of its charismatic so-called caliph but also undercut its ability to recruit.

"We cannot confirm this report but hope it is true," a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. headquarters fighting the Islamic State group, tells U.S. News. "We strongly advise ISIS to implement a strong line of succession. It will be needed."

Moscow's claim on Tuesday marks at least the third time its state media has reported that Russian forces killed Baghdadi, stemming from a supposed air strike somewhere outside the Islamic State group's capital of Raqqa, Syria, in May. This time, the U.K.-based non-governmental organization Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the report.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, has been actively targeting and killing top leaders since the war began three years ago and, within Iraq and Syria, has been quite successful. Army Col. Ryan Dillon told U.S. News last month about these high value targets, saying, "There was an 'org chart,' if you had Baghdadi and his lieutenants and deputies, any HVTs we strike nowadays are typically people who are on the fourth or fifth string."

12 July 2017

What Comes After ISIS?

By Elliott Abrams
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. Foreign Policy has assembled a group of policymakers and regional experts to answer them.

The defeat of the Islamic State as a “state” will leave two serious questions facing the United States. The first is: Who will fill the spaces from which the jihadi group is driven? There is a clear effort by the new Iran-Hezbollah-Shiite militia-Russia coalition to reply: “We will.”

That is an answer the United States should reject. Such a development would cement an anti-American coalition in place, threaten Jordan and Israel, and leave Iran the dominant power in much of the region. To reject this challenge verbally would be a joke, however; it must be resisted on the ground, through the use of force by a coalition that must be built and led by the United States.

The conflict in Syria has destroyed any possibility of an easy formula for putting that country back together, but in the medium term, one can envision a discussion with Russia of how our interests and theirs can be accommodated while bringing the violence down to a level that allows many refugees to return home. But that discussion will achieve nothing unless American power first gains Russian respect and the Russians come to realize that compromise is necessary.

11 July 2017

ISIS, Despite Heavy Losses, Still Inspires Global Attacks


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Three years ago, a black-clad cleric named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ascended a mosque pulpit in the Iraqi city of Mosul and addressed the world as leader of a new terrorist state.

The announcement of the so-called caliphate was a high point for the extremist fighters of the Islamic State. Their exhibitionist violence and apocalyptic ideology helped them seize vast stretches of territory in Syria and Iraq, attract legions of foreign fighters and create an administration with bureaucrats, courts and oil wells.

Now, their state is crumbling.

In Syria, American-backed militias have surrounded Raqqa, the group’s capital, and breached its historic walls. Across the border, Iraqi forces have seized the remains of the Mosul mosque where Mr. Baghdadi appeared and besieged the remaining jihadists in a shrinking number of city blocks.

10 July 2017

*** What the largest battle of the decade says about future war


The bloody battle to wrest Mosul from ISIS was the world’s largest military operation in nearly 15 years. 

Here’s how Western-backed Iraqi soldiers helped break the Islamic State’s grip on a city of more than 1 million people — and what we can learn from it. 


The Mosul offensive began on October 17, 2016, when a variegated body of more than 100,000 troops—local volunteers, regular soldiers, elite Iraqi and Western special forces—collapsed on the country's second-largest city. The force, believed to overmatch ISIS 10-to-1, moved under the cover of airpower provided by a half-dozen nations.

Advancing from the south, east and the north, Baghdad and its allies needed just 14 days to make it to Mosul’s doorstep. Iraqi special forces raced about 15 miles in those two weeks, and became the first to knock on that door. But such large-scale, coordinated assaults would prove much more difficult in the months to come. 

9 July 2017

Qatar Stands Up to the Neighborhood Bullies


A fence at the border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. CreditValeriy Melnikov/Sputnik, via Associated Press

My country, Qatar, is a nation under siege. For the past month, its borders and airline routes have been closed off by a regional bloc consisting of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. The authorities in the neighboring Gulf states have forced the repatriation of Qatari citizens, regardless of age and health.

The bloc has issued a list of wild accusations against Qatar. They include the hosting of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in our capital, Doha; the funding of the pro-Iranian Lebanese militia organization Hezbollah; and support for the Islamic State terrorist group. This hardly makes sense since Hezbollah and the Islamic State are sworn enemies, at war with each other in Syria.

Other claims are equally spurious. Qatar stands accused of supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Yet, until this blockade started, my country participated in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and lost soldiers fighting the Houthi rebels. This accusation is an insult to their memory.

The Gulf bloc also came up with a list of purported terrorist groups and individuals whom Qatar supposedly hosts or sponsors. One of them is, in fact, a Yemeni Salafist leader who lives in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Others named do not live in Qatar and have no connection to Doha.

The Muslim Brotherhood Is the Root of the Qatar Crisis

Eric Trager

The Saudi-led bloc has made thirteen demands of Doha, but they're mostly about resolving one issue -- and time is almost up.

Monday marks the end of the 10 days that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt gave Qatar to comply with 13 far-reaching demands. For starters, Qatar is being told to cut off relations with Iran, shutter Al Jazeera, and stop granting Qatari citizenship to other countries' exiled oppositionists. Despite high-level American and Kuwaiti mediation efforts, a deal appears unlikely. Qatar considers the demands an assault on its sovereignty and has refused to buckle to pressure. The other four countries, which declared an economic and diplomatic embargo on Doha on June 5, have repeatedly insisted that their demands are non-negotiable, and have promised further escalation if the deadline passes without an agreement.

On the surface, the policy disagreements at the center of this rift aren't new. The anti-Qatar bloc has long viewed Doha as too chummy with Iran, too provocative in its backing of Al Jazeera and similar media outlets, and too supportive of Islamist movements. What's new is the zero-sum stakes that the anti-Qatar bloc perceives in the current standoff. Saudi Arabia and the UAE particularly view Qatar's support for Muslim Brotherhood affiliates as lethally threatening to their own regimes, and therefore see Qatar's behavior as not merely objectionable, but utterly intolerable.

8 July 2017

What ISIL really thinks about the future

In a conversation I had with a fellow university student in Damascus in 2000, he made curious remark. "Ana mubayie," he said. The sentence, which translates into “I owe a pledge of fealty”, was a reference to a supposed secret oath he made to Mullah Omar, then the emir of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In a secular country like Syria, the lack of context for young students meant nobody made much of it beyond observing its oddity.

When I wrote about the anecdote for The National three years ago, ISIL’s announcement of a "caliphate" was widely dismissed as comic and a delusional ambition. Many hoped that ISIL's military campaign soon would be reversed once the Iraqi army recovered from the initial shock. Even more than the military challenge, moreover, it was harder for politicians, clerics and observers to grasp the implications of the declaration on the region and the world, and the subsequent evolution of ISIL from a local insurgent group into a global organisation.

More than the appeal of an obscure emir in Afghanistan, ISIL would have a larger impact. The group operates in the heartlands of the Islamic world, and sectarianism will prove an exhaustible spring for it to endure and even prosper, as it did after it was thought defeated in 2008-2009 in Iraq. Its jihadist project will continue to inspire violence for years to come, regardless of how the group fares militarily on the ground in Syria and Iraq.

7 July 2017

** American Strategic Interests in the Gulf States: Looking Beyond the 48-Hour Deadline

The United States needs to be far more careful in dealing with the current crisis over the embargo and deadlines that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have imposed on Qatar. The current split within the Trump Administration—in which two critical cabinet members, Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis, are calling for compromise and mediation, while the members of the President's staff have pushed him into siding with the Saudis and UAE—poses an unacceptable risk to U.S. strategic interests.

The President's erratic statements that have taken the side of Saudi Arabia and the UAE risk dividing the southern Arab Gulf states, pushing Qatar towards Iran and Turkey, and losing focus on deterring Iran and on dealing with the real-world threat of Islamic extremism. They also undermine U.S. influence and credibility in the region, and tie the United States to the long-standing rivalries and bickering between the southern Gulf states at a time when America has far higher strategic priorities to deal with.

Three common sets of strategic interests are involved. The first is the fight against violent extremism and terrorism—and many of the Saudi and UAE demands are little more than a strategic sideshow. Al Jazeera is largely an irritant—one that mixes reasonably competent reporting with some of the most biased commentary and panels imaginable, but still an irritant and not a threat.

The Crumbling ISIS Caliphate

By David Ignatius

TABQA, Syria -- The Islamic State's headquarters in this city at the western gateway to Raqqah has been crushed like a sand castle by American bombs. At a dam complex on the Euphrates River where ISIS was torturing prisoners and hurling alleged homosexuals from a giant concrete tower, all that's left of the extremists are militant slogans scrawled on the wall and a pile of trash.

It's far too soon to say that life is returning to normal here after liberation, but much of the horror is over. Mines and improvised explosive devices were cleared here last week. Young children flash "V" for victory signs. Islamic beards have nearly disappeared. The most visible people sporting full beards on Thursday were American special operations soldiers who accompanied visiting U.S. special envoy Brett McGurk.

The city is strewn with rubble, and Ahmad al-Ahmad, the co-president of the newly formed Tabqa Civil Council, described it as a "city of ghosts," with perhaps 40 percent of its buildings damaged. The electricity, water-distribution and school systems have been largely destroyed. Young boys who were indoctrinated at ISIS training camps are trying to find their balance in a new world where beheadings and the chanting of Islamic slogans are over.

How ISIS Will Go On Without Mosul

Long after the city is back in the hands of the Iraqi government, it will continue to be a prop for the Islamic State—although an altogether different one.

Eight and a half months into the coalition-backed campaign to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second city looks like it is finally on the brink of freedom. After launching the last phase of the battle in mid-June, the Iraqi security forces slowly but surely penetrated the Old City, one of the final ISIS redoubts in Mosul. And, on Thursday, just after recapturing the Nuri Mosque—at which ISISleader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi accepted his role as “caliph” in June 2014, and which ISIS demolished one week ago—the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the “end of the Daesh [ISIS] state of falsehood.”

While this is indisputably good news, we must rein in our optimism. The truth is, ISIS has been planning for defeat in Mosul for months, if not years. Losing the city has long been part of its global plan. And even though the loss of its self-declared Iraqi capital will be a genuine blow to the group’s territorial pretensions, ISIS is not going to evaporate just because it has fallen.

Since October 2016, when the campaign to retake Mosul was first launched, ISIS has been putting up an immensely stiff resistance: thousands of its fighters have been killed by coalition forces, and hundreds more blown up in suicide operations. But no matter how fiercely it fought, the group was never realistically going to repel the onslaught. The few thousand fighters that ISIS had holed up in the city faced about ten times as many members of a reconstituted and determined Iraqi security forces that was backed by U.S. air power.

6 July 2017

*** Charting a Course Beyond Mosul: No Easy Way Forward

With the imminent military defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul, the government must find ways to unite to keep the specter of chaos at bay. On June 29, as Iraqi state TV proudly proclaimed "The Myth of the ISIS Caliphate Has Fallen," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made his way to western Mosul to give a victory address. On June 29, after months of tough urban fighting, Iraqi forces reclaimed critical pieces of the western part of the city, including the remains of the al-Nuri mosque in the Old City. Like the mosque, the Islamic State in Iraq lies in rubble, but the Mosul offensive has helped rehabilitate the security forces in the eyes of many Iraqis. Yet many battles still lie ahead, including dangerous political ones.

While victory in Mosul is close, the fighting is not over. Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for the Joint Military Command, confirmed that Iraqi forces had militarily defeated the Islamic State there. Within hours of a dawn assault June 29, Iraqi counterterrorism units had advanced on all major portions of Mosul's Old City, where the tight, densely populated, winding streets filled with deadly clashes. Iraqi forces aim to take the western banks of the Tigris River in the Old City; they have controlled the eastern banks since January. Hostages and weary families emerged from hiding throughout western Mosul, and thousands have yet to be freed. They add to the strain of hundreds of people seeking refuge daily in makeshift camps. While eastern Mosul has resumed the patterns of pre-Islamic State life and many refugees have returned home, the western half is months away from some semblance of normal life because of the destruction and because of hidden improvised explosive devices and other military traps planted by the Islamic State.