On 25 February, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Tehran, only his third trip abroad since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, following trips to Russia in 2015 and 2017.
Assad’s Tehran visit is largely symbolic, marking the declared ‘victory’ of his forces with the support of Iran, but it can also be read as part of an escalating American-Iranian showdown that is playing out in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
The visit came shortly after US President Donald Trump declared victory against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Trump boasted on Twitter that ‘we have defeated ISIS’, with the ‘we’ referring to the US-led international anti-ISIS coalition.… Seguir leyendo »
The ISIS attack on Sweida in southern Syria last week, where coordinated suicide bombings and raids left more than 200 people dead, took many by surprise. Many had felt that ISIS was all but defeated in Iraq and Syria, and now concern is growing that it remains capable of conducting terrorist attacks.
But the situation in Sweida says more about the Syrian regime than about ISIS, and about how far the regime is willing to go to pursue its goals at the expense of civilian lives.
The ongoing military campaign has been presented by Russia and the Syrian regime as targeting ISIS and other terrorists.… Seguir leyendo »
This year featured key parliamentary elections in Iraq and Lebanon. In both countries, formerly controversial populist figures performed far better than expected and are playing central roles in the scramble to form governments. In Iraq, the Saeroon coalition led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the notorious former leader of the Mahdi Army militia, won the plurality of seats. In Lebanon, the Samir Geagea-led Lebanese Forces, a former militia traditionally seen as a right-wing Christian party, doubled its number of seats in parliament.
At first glance, the two outliers, Sadr and Geagea, may appear to be diametrical opposites, but their surprising victories reveal an emerging form of populism sweeping the Middle East.… Seguir leyendo »
Israel’s retaliatory attack on Iranian military targets inside Syria represents the biggest direct confrontation between the two countries in their history. It came after rockets were launched from Iranian bases in Syria towards the Golan Heights. This escalation has caused widespread concern that war might be imminent between Israel and Iran.
But neither wishes to engage in all-out war with the other. Iran’s Golan Heights rocket launch was the product of the growing pressure it faces in the Syrian conflict. Unless the United States steps in with a plan for Syria, Israel and Iran will continue to clash there.
Iran regards its presence in Syria as crucial for its influence in the Levant.… Seguir leyendo »
Lebanon finally held a parliamentary election, nine years after the last one and following several false starts over the past five years, but the results have not brought change to the country’s political status quo. The same old political elites continue to dominate Lebanon’s political scene, winning the vast majority of seats.
Turn out in this election was lower than in the previous one, standing at 49 per cent. This signals a sense of popular ambivalence about the political process among most Lebanese, especially since the outgoing parliament renewed its own mandate twice unconstitutionally, and since the elections that were meant to take place in 2013 kept being postponed under the pretext of lack of security.… Seguir leyendo »
It was on Wednesday 11 April that Donald Trump sent that fateful tweet about a looming attack on Syria as punishment for the latest use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. My judgment, before then, was that Western military action was not, necessarily, part of the answer to the conflict. Needed, instead, was political will on the part of the US in particular – as the only superpower able to exert serious pressure on the main broker in Syria, Russia – to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table.
But once Trump had declared that he would punish Bashar al-Assad militarily, he had to follow through – not doing so would have destroyed US credibility.… Seguir leyendo »
The recent victory by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) over Ahrar al-Sham has consolidated the al-Qaida-affiliated armed coalition’s military control over Idlib. But military control does not mean that it is in charge of all aspects of life in the governorate.
The reality is HTS has not managed to put down deep roots in areas under its control, despite taking over the provision of electricity and water in Idlib, which provides both a key source of income and a mechanism to control the population.
This hold on key resources is the main reason many acquiesce, rather than because they agree with the group’s ideology or methods.… Seguir leyendo »
The ceasefire declared in Syria at the end of 2016 has already practically collapsed. This is not surprising. No ceasefire in Syria has so far managed to hold long enough to pave the way for meaningful peace talks. This is not because the Syrian opposition hasn’t taken ceasefires seriously, but because the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its allies have re-defined ceasefires.
In Syria, ceasefires have become another tool of warfare. They are tools for making military gains, political statements, and playing power games.
A familiar pattern
Looking at the series of ceasefires in Syria over the past year reveals a pattern.… Seguir leyendo »
On 26 June, the Iraqi government declared Fallujah, a city just west of Baghdad, fully liberated after more than two years of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) control. The Iraqi army played a key role in the effort, but it could not have won without the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) – an umbrella of Iraqi militiamen who are mainly Shia but who now also include some Sunnis – and airstrikes by the US-led coalition. The Iraqi government has been unwilling to acknowledge its dependencies, however, and has portrayed the PMF as a mere sidekick to the national army even though many of the groups fighting under the PMF banner operate independently.… Seguir leyendo »
The attack on Istanbul’s main airport has underlined President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increased weakness, a vulnerability that’s a product of the actions of Turkey’s allies and opponents alike. But it’s partly Erdogan’s own doing.
From the beginning of the Syrian uprising, Erdogan has used the conflict as an opportunity to crack down on the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a militant group that has been battling the Turkish state for decades and is listed by NATO, the U.S. and the EU as a terrorist organization.
The government stoked the fires of Kurdish grievances, and the PKK returned the favor in-kind — ratcheting up its terror attacks on the Turkish state, mainly against security institutions like the police, which have increased in number and frequency over the past five years.… Seguir leyendo »
As the Iraqi army backed by the US-led international coalition embarks on an offensive to liberate Fallujah from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), reports are starting to come out about the campaign’s military successes. The leader of ISIS in Fallujah has been reportedly killed by coalition airstrikes, while the town of Karma, north of Falluja city, has been cleared not just from ISIS fighters but also from its residents.
But ‘victory’ against ISIS in Iraq is not a simple case of eradicating the organization militarily. Examining the social and political dimensions of the anti-ISIS offensive reveals that ‘victory’ is likely to be short term as long as the drivers that led to the emergence of ISIS in Iraq in the first place continue to be reproduced.… Seguir leyendo »
As the Iraqi army backed by the U.S.-led international coalition embarks on an offensive to liberate Falluja from ISIS, reports are starting to come out about the campaign’s military successes. The leader of ISIS in Falluja has been reportedly killed by coalition airstrikes, while the town of Karma, north of Falluja city, has been cleared not just from ISIS fighters but also from its residents.
But «victory» against ISIS in Iraq is not a simple case of eradicating the organization militarily. Examining the social and political dimensions of the anti-ISIS offensive reveals that «victory» is likely to be short-termed as long as the drivers that led to the emergence of ISIS in Iraq in the first place continue to be reproduced.… Seguir leyendo »
The government of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi in Iraq is facing mounting criticism from both Sunnis and Shia supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, who both accuse it of corruption and of acting against the national interest. This criticism has added to the pressure on the government to prove itself as legitimate. In the absence of a political compromise, a military victory by the government against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has become one way of securing its future.
Yet as the Iraqi army embarks on an offensive on Fallujah to retake the city from ISIS, the Iraqi government continues to inadequately address the crucial dimension of buy-in from local Sunni residents for this army-led initiative.… Seguir leyendo »
On Sunday Lebanon witnessed its first round of elections in four years with the holding of municipal elections. They were a landmark event because this was the first time a technocratic list of independent candidates not belonging to any political party (called the ‘Beirut Madinati’ or Beirut My City list) contested the municipal elections in the governorate of Beirut in at attempt at challenging the status quo.
Beirut Madinati did not win a single seat, and the prevailing list in Beirut was called the ‘Beirutis’, representing the dominant political parties in Lebanon. What is notable about the ‘Beirutis’ list is that it brought together candidates from Lebanon’s two main political camps – March 8 and March 14 – that hitherto had been arch rivals in elections.… Seguir leyendo »
After a year of playing a muted role within the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, Turkey is now actively engaged in airstrikes against the terror group. But ISIS isn’t Turkey’s only target.
Turkey is genuinely concerned about the terror threat bubbling away on its border, but ISIS has also given President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a convenient cover to crack down on Ankara’s long-time nemesis: Kurdish rebels from the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
Erdogan is now waging parallel campaigns — one against ISIS, and one against PKK rebels in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq. The strikes on PKK targets have brought an end to a two-year ceasefire between Turkey and Kurdish rebels, prompting the latter to cry foul.… Seguir leyendo »