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  • Author: Faysal Itani
  • Publication Date: 04-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Since August 2014, the US-led air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has successfully inflicted casualties on ISIS and weakened its oil revenues. However, the same efforts have also accelerated the rise of the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and the near-collapse of nationalist rebel forces. In "Defeating the Jihadists in Syria: Competition before Confrontation," Faysal Itani of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East details the unintended consequences of the coalition air campaign and proposes a revised US strategy. He argues that the United States can effectively assist nationalist insurgents to defeat ISIS and the Nusra Front by enabling them to compete with and contain these groups before ultimately confronting them. Itani writes that the US-led campaign thus far and the train-and-equip initiative set to begin next month undermine and weaken nationalist rebel forces. He criticizes these efforts for failing to provide sufficient support to the rebel forces, while directing them to target ISIS instead of the regime. Meanwhile, the Nusra Front and other jihadist organizations have greater resources and have been effective in targeting the Assad regime. As such, nationalist rebel forces and local populations have increasingly aligned with the Nusra Front and even tolerate ISIS in order to protect themselves against regime violence, criminality, and chaos. Itani's proposed US strategy offers a practical and workable response to the rise of jihadists groups in Syria; this revised strategy seeks to support rebel forces to compete with the Nusra Front for popular support and to take control of the insurgency, contain ISIS, and build capacity for an eventual offensive against the jihadists. This approach will build on positive results in southern Syria by significantly increasing direct financial and material support and training for vetted nationalist groups that have already shown significant success. Simultaneously, in the north the campaign can provide sufficient material support to nationalist forces while expanding coalition air strikes to target ISIS's frontlines, allowing the nationalist insurgency to defend and govern territory. Only once nationalist insurgent forces have successfully competed with the Nusra Front and contained ISIS can they confront and ultimately defeat the jihadist groups in Syria.
  • Topic: Politics, Terrorism, International Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Syria
  • Author: Faysal Itani
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Jihadists are steadily capturing territory and resources and establishing a state in Syria and Iraq. The most capable jihadist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), now controls swathes of territory, energy resources, and sophisticated military hardware in both countries. Although the extremists are currently occupied with fighting other nonregime armed groups and the Syrian and Iraqi regimes, these efforts are a means to an end: building a state from which to confront and target the United States, its allies, and its interests in the region. These jihadist groups also bring boundless suffering to the populations they control, and serve as a magnet for and inspiration to jihadists worldwide.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Danya Greenfield, Barbara K. Bodine
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: With the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the explosion of violent conflicts from Tripoli to Gaza, the Middle East is looking more unstable and unpredictable than ever. While the focus in Washington is centered on jihadist extremists in Iraq and Syria at present, the threat from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) against the United States continues. Top al-Qaeda leadership in Yemen is hailing the territorial gains of ISIS in Iraq, and some al-Qaeda operatives are imitating ISIS' techniques such as public slaughters of those deemed infidels, prompting fears of cooperation between two of the most active Islamist militant networks. Recent aggression by the Houthi movement, a Zaydi Shia rebel militia, against state institutions and tribal opponents has opened a new front of instability and security vacuum that AQAP is all too ready to exploit. Inattention to the interconnected nature of tribal conflict, terrorist activity, poor governance, economic grievances and citizen discontent is proving to be a dangerous combination for both Yemen and the United States. The Yemeni context may seem far from the current focus on Baghdad and Damascus, but getting the US strategy right in Yemen will have consequences for regional stability and core US interests throughout the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Economics, Terrorism, Foreign Aid, Labor Issues, Reform
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Bilal Y. Saab, Michael S. Tyson
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: On September 10, 2014, President Barack Obama delivered a speech outlining the administration's strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIS. Achieving success requires four key elements, Obama said: a systematic campaign of airstrikes, increased support to allied forces fighting ISIS on the ground, robust counterterrorism to prevent ISIS attacks against the West including the US homeland, and continued provision of humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians. Airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and recently in Syria have supported the first, third, and fourth elements of this strategy.
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq
  • Author: Richard LeBaron
  • Publication Date: 12-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Tension between the United States and its partners in the Gulf flared up visibly in the last several months, notably with Saudi Arabia's public displays of displeasure with the US approach to the Syria conflict, nervousness about an interim nuclear deal with Iran, and sharp differences over Egypt. Gulf distrust of US intentions and actions is nothing new, and is in no small part rooted in the Gulf states' deep frustration with how the United States executed the war in Iraq, which they perceive as placing Iraq under Iran's sphere of influence. But these latest tensions also point to a fundamental gap in expectations about the US role in the region and its commitment to security for the Gulf states.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt
  • Author: Jeffrey Mankoff, Müjge Küçükkeleş
  • Publication Date: 03-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Growing disorder throughout the Middle East has created the possibility for major changes to the status of Kurdish minorities in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Turkey's handling of its Kurdish population and its relations with Kurdish groups throughout the region are creating new challenges for US foreign policy and US-Turkish relations. US policy toward the Kurds remains subordinate to wider regional security interests. Officially, the United States does not support the establishment of an independent Kurdish state. In practice, however, US policy is often inconsistent: the United States backs Kurdish groups in some states while opposing them in others.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Ethnic Government, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, North America, Kurdistan
  • Author: Barbara Slavin
  • Publication Date: 03-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Over the past three decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has shown remarkable endurance. It has survived an eight-year war with Iraq, mounting economic sanctions, and serious domestic unrest. It has benefited from the missteps of adversaries, which have created opportunities for Iran to expand ties to militant movements in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, and to increase its influence in Afghanistan. Recent uprisings against Arab governments long allied with Washington have encouraged the Iranian government to portray itself as the fulcrum of a "new" anti-Western Middle East.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Islam, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Middle East, Palestine, Lebanon
  • Author: Marshall Billingslea, Gary Winterberger
  • Publication Date: 12-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: NATO's forthcoming 2012 Summit in Chicago gives the Alliance's senior decision-makers the opportunity to assess the health of transatlantic relations and to tackle a set of overdue internal issues that have been long postponed due to more pressing operational issues in Afghanistan, Iraq, and then Libya. Chief among these issues is the matter of reforming NATO's own headquarters and its many and varied agencies. A careful reform effort, with a special focus on shared services, restructuring and integration, NATO's human capital, and the procurement and capabilities development structure and process, could pay significant dividends for the Alliance and ensure the more efficient use of already limited resources. While not a panacea, this would go a long way towards preparing the Alliance for future challenges.
  • Topic: NATO, Diplomacy, Economics, International Cooperation, Science and Technology, Reform
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Chicago
  • Author: Jones James
  • Publication Date: 09-2007
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Retired Marine General James Jones, Chairman of the Atlantic Council, chaired the Committee that produced this report assessing Iraq's national police force. The report's overall assessment said "the Iraqi armed forces - Army, Special Forces, Navy, and Air Force - are increasingly effective and are capable of assuming greater responsibility for the internal security of Iraq; and the Iraqi police are improving, but not at a rate sufficient to meet their essential security responsibilities. The Iraqi Security Forces will continue to rely on the Coalition to provide key enablers such as combat support (logistics, supply chain management, and maintenance), and training. The Commission assesses that in the next 12 to 18 months there will be continued improvement in their readiness and capability, but not the ability to operate independently. Evidence indicates that the ISF will not be able to progress enough in the near term to secure Iraqi borders against conventional military and external threats."
  • Topic: Security, War, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Richard Murphy
  • Publication Date: 02-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Winning the peace in Iraq – assuming the current regime will be displaced by war or by other means – will require successful management of several challenges. Chief among these is building the necessary consensus on a common vision for the future of Iraq. In this connection, three interrelated issues merit the highest priority attention: power sharing arrangements, Iraq's economy and oil sector, and regional stability.
  • Topic: Peace Studies, United Nations
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East