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  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: With the Syrian regime and opposition locked in a see-saw battle, Kurdish forces have consolidated control over large portions of the country's north. Their principal players, the Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, PYD) and its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG), now dominate three large, non-contiguous enclaves of Kurdish-majority territory along the Turkish border, over which the PYD proclaimed in November 2013 the transitional administration of Rojava (Western Kurdistan). Kurdish governance is unprecedented in Syria and for the PYD, an offshoot of the Turkish Kurdish insurgent movement PKK, from which it draws ideological, organisational and military support. But it is unclear whether this is a first step toward stability and the Kurdish aspiration for national recognition, or merely a respite while the civil war focuses elsewhere. The PYD alone will not determine the fate of Syria's north, but it could greatly increase its chances by broadening its popular appeal and cooperating with other local forces.
  • Topic: Security, Ethnic Conflict, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 03-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: 2012 marks the fifth anniversary of one of Lebanon' s bloodiest battles since the end of the civil war: the deadly, three - month war pitting a jihadi group against the army in the Nahr al - Bared Palestinian refugee camp. Since then, the camp ' s displaced and resident population has suffered from slow reconstruct ion of their residences, a heavy security presence that restricts their movement and livelihood as well as the absence of a legitimate Palestinian body to represent their interests. Today, there are bigger and more urgent fish to fry, none more so than dealing with the ripple effects of Syria ' s raging internal conflict on inter - sectarian relations in Lebanon and the risk that the country once again could plunge into civil war. But it would be wrong to toss the refugee camp question aside, for here too resides a potential future flare - up.
  • Topic: Security, Civil Society, Bilateral Relations, Governance
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Publication Date: 11-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Syria's conflict is leaking out of its borders, but in few places are risks higher than in Lebanon. This is not just a matter of history, although history bodes ill: the country seldom has been immune to the travails of its neighbour. It also is a function of recent events, of which the most dramatic was the 19 October assassination of top security official Wissam Hassan, an illustration of the country's fragility and the short-sight edness of politicians unwilling to address it. Lebanon's two principal coalitions see events in Syria in a starkly different light – as a dream come true for one; as a potentially apocalyptical night- mare for the other. It would be unrealistic to expect Lebanese actors to be passive in the face of what is unfolding next door. But it is imperative to shield the country as much as possible and resist efforts by third parties – whether allies or foes of Damascus – to drag the nation in a perilous direction. In the wake of Hassan's assassination, this almost certainly requires a new, more balanced government and commitments by local and regional actors not to use Lebanese soil as an arena in which to wage the Syrian struggle.
  • Topic: Security, Political Violence, Regime Change, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Lebanon, Syria
  • Publication Date: 11-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The Syrian crisis may or may not have entered its final phase, but it undoubtedly has entered its most dangerous one to date. The current stage is defined by an explosive mix of heightened strategic stakes tying into a regional and wider international competition on the one hand and emotionally charged attitudes, communal polarisation and political wishful thinking on the other. As dynamics in both Syria and the broader international arena turn squarely against the regime, reactions are ranging from hysterical defiance on the part of its supporters, optimism among protesters that a bloody stalemate finally might end and fears of sectarian retribution or even civil war shared by many, through to triumphalism among those who view the crisis as an historic opportunity to decisively tilt the regional balance of power.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Civil War, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Arab Countries, Syria
  • Publication Date: 09-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Who could be against Palestinian security reform? In the past few years, the Palestinian Authority (PA) largely has restored order and a sense of personal safety in the West Bank, something unthinkable during the second intifada. Militias no longer roam streets, uniformed security forces are back, Palestinians mostly seem pleased; even Israel – with reason to be sceptical and despite recent attacks on West Bank settlers – is encouraged. Initial steps, long overdue, have been taken to reorganise an unwieldy security sector, where overlapping, unaccountable branches had become fiefdoms of powerful chiefs. West Bankers applaud the changes but are far less comfortable with their accompaniment: unparalleled security cooperation with Israel and crackdown on opposition groups – notably but not exclusively Hamas – affecting civil society broadly. Without serious progress toward ending the occupation and intra-Palestinian divisions, support for the security measures risks diminishing, PA legitimacy could further shrivel, and ordinary Palestinians' patience – without which none of this can be sustained – will wear thin.
  • Topic: Security, Regional Cooperation, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 10-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Much is at stake in the never-ending negotiations to form Iraq's government, but perhaps nothing more important than the future of its security forces. In the seven years since the U.S.-led invasion, these have become more effective and professional and appear capable of taming what remains of the insurgency. But what they seem to possess in capacity they lack in cohesion. A symptom of Iraq's fractured polity and deep ethno-sectarian divides, the army and police remain overly fragmented, their loyalties uncertain, their capacity to withstand a prolonged and more intensive power struggle at the top unclear. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken worrying steps to assert authority over the security apparatus, notably by creating new bodies accountable to none but himself. A vital task confronting the nation's political leaders is to reach agreement on an accountable, non-political security apparatus subject to effective oversight. A priority for the new cabinet and parliament will be to implement the decision. And a core responsibility facing the international community is to use all its tools to encourage this to happen.
  • Topic: Security, War, Peacekeeping
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 03-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The policy of isolating Hamas and sanctioning Gaza is bankrupt and, by all conceivable measures, has backfired. Violence is rising, harming both Gazans and Israelis. Economic conditions are ruinous, generating anger and despair. The credibility of President Mahmoud Abbas and other pragmatists has been further damaged. The peace process is at a standstill. Meanwhile, Hamas's hold on Gaza, purportedly the policy's principal target, has been consolidated. Various actors, apparently acknowledging the long-term unsustainability of the status quo, are weighing options. Worried at Hamas's growing military arsenal, Israel is considering a more ambitious and bloody military operation. But along with others, it also is tiptoeing around another, wiser course that involves a mutual ceasefire, international efforts to prevent weapons smuggling and an opening of Gaza's crossings and requires compromise by all concerned. Gaza's fate and the future of the peace process hang in the balance.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, International Relations, Security
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Gaza
  • Publication Date: 01-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: One more major effort, strongly encouraged by the UN and European Union (EU), should be made in 2008 to resolve the long-running dispute between ethnic Greeks and Turks on Cyprus and achieve a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island. All sides have much to gain from such a settlement. For the Greek Cypriots, it would end lingering insecurity, give them access to the Turkish economy, the most dynamic in the region, and increase their service industry's value as an eastern Mediterranean hub. For Turkish Cypriots, it will mean being able to enjoy the benefits of EU citizenship of which they are presently largely deprived. For the EU, the unresolved Cyprus problem now hampers its functioning on issues as diverse as cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan and Chinese shoe imports. And for Turkey a settlement would overcome a major obstacle to its convergence with the EU.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Cyprus
  • Publication Date: 10-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: A long-festering conflict over Kirkuk and other disputed territories is threatening to disrupt the current fragile relative peace in Iraq by blocking legislative progress and political accommodation. Two events in particular stand out: a two-month stalemate in July-September in negotiations over a provincial elections law in which Kirkuk's unresolved status was the principal obstacle and, during this period, a campaign by the Iraqi army in and around the Kurdish-controlled disputed district of Khanaqin. To avoid a breakdown over the issue of Kirkuk, the current piecemeal approach should be discarded in favour of a grand bargain involving all core issues: Kirkuk and other disputed territories, revenue sharing and the hydrocarbons law, as well as federalism and constitutional revisions. Despite some progress, Iraq's legislative agenda, promoted by the U.S. in order to capitalise on recent security gains, is bogged down. The main culprit is a dispute over territories claimed by the Kurds as historically belonging to Kurdistan - territories that contain as much as 13 per cent of Iraq's proven oil reserves. This conflict reflects a deep schism between Arabs and Kurds that began with the creation of modern Iraq after World War I; has simmered for decades, marked by intermittent conflict and accommodation; and was revitalised due to the vacuum and resulting opportunities generated by the Baath regime's demise in 2003. In its ethnically-driven intensity, ability to drag in regional players such as Turkey and Iran and potentially devastating impact on efforts to rebuild a fragmented state, it matches and arguably exceeds the Sunni-Shiite divide that spawned the 2005-2007 sectarian war. Stymied in their quest to incorporate disputed territories into the Kurdistan region by constitutional means, Kurdish leaders have signalled their intent to hold politics in Baghdad hostage to their demands. At the same time, the Iraqi government's growing military assertiveness is challenging the Kurds' de facto control over these territories. Rising acrimony and frustration are jeopardising the current relative peace, undermining prospects for national unity and, in the longer term, threatening Iraq's territorial integrity. Rather than items that can be individually and sequentially addressed, Iraq's principal conflicts - concerning oil, disputed territories, federalism and constitutional revisions - have become thoroughly interwoven. Federalism cannot be implemented without agreement on how the oil industry will be managed and revenues will be distributed. Progress on a federal hydrocarbons law and a companion revenue-sharing law is inconceivable without agreement on the disposition of disputed territories that boast major oil fields, such as Kirkuk. And the constitution review has faltered over failure to settle all those questions, the solutions to which will need to be reflected in amendments reached by consensus. How to move forward? If there is a way out, it lies in a comprehensive approach that takes into account the principal stakeholders' core requirements. A sober assessment of these requirements suggests a possible package deal revolving around a fundamental "oil-for-soil" trade-off: in exchange for at least deferring their exclusive claim on Kirkuk for ten years, the Kurds would obtain demarcation and security guarantees for their internal boundary with the rest of Iraq, as well as the right to manage and profit from their own mineral wealth. Such a deal would codify the significant gains the Kurds have made since they achieved limited autonomy in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War and especially after April 2003, while simultaneously respecting an Arab-Iraqi - as well as neighbouring states' - red line regarding Kirkuk. This package entails painful concessions from all sides, which they are unlikely to make without strong international involvement. The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has been providing technical support on a range of issues and, since late 2007, has devoted the bulk of its efforts to the question of disputed internal boundaries. It will need stronger backing from the U.S. and its allies, which have an abiding interest in Iraq's stabilisation yet have played a passive bystander role that has confused Iraqi stakeholders and encouraged them to press maximalist demands. The U.S. should make it a priority to steer Iraq's political actors toward a grand bargain they are unlikely to reach on their own and to secure its outcome through political, financial and diplomatic support. There is little time to waste. As U.S. forces are set to draw down in the next couple of years, Washington's leverage will diminish and, along with it, chances for a workable deal. This serves no one's interest. The most likely alternative to an agreement is a new outbreak of violent strife over unsettled claims in a fragmented polity governed by chaos and fear.
  • Topic: Security, Ethnic Conflict, Oil
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 06-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Amid the media and military focus on Baghdad, another major Iraqi city – Basra – is being overlooked. Yet Basra's experience carries important lessons for the capital and nation as a whole. Coalition forces have already implemented a security plan there, Operation Sinbad, which was in many ways similar to Baghdad's current military surge. What U.S. commanders call “clear, hold and build”, their British counterparts earlier had dubbed “clear, hold and civil reconstruction”. And, as in the capital, the putative goal was to pave the way for a takeover by Iraqi forces. Far from being a model to be replicated, however, Basra is an example of what to avoid. With renewed violence and instability, Basra illustrates the pitfalls of a transitional process that has led to collapse of the state apparatus and failed to build legitimate institutions. Fierce intra-Shiite fighting also disproves the simplistic view of Iraq neatly divided between three homogenous communities.
  • Topic: International Relations, Security, Civil War, War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 11-2006
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: UN Security Council Resolution 1701 halted the month- long fighting between Israel and Hizbollah but did little to resolve the underlying conflict and, if poorly handled, could help reignite it. The resolution has held remarkably well, with only limited violations. However, the temptation by either party to overreach could trigger renewed fighting. The greatest threats would be attempts by Israel or UN forces (UNIFIL) to use 1701 as a blunt means of disarming Hizbollah in the south or by Hizbollah to test UNIFIL's resolve. 1701 should be seen as a transitory instrument that can stabilise the border by containing both sides' military impulses until bolder action is taken to address both domestic Lebanese matters (reforming and democratising the political and electoral systems; building a strong sovereign state and army; resolving the question of Hizbollah's armaments) and, especially, regional issues (in particular re-launching the Syrian track and engaging Iran). In short the international community must be modest in implementing 1701 for as long as it is not prepared to be ambitious in its regional diplomatic efforts.
  • Topic: Security, Treaties and Agreements, United Nations
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Lebanon, Syria
  • Publication Date: 07-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: As all eyes are turned toward efforts to stabilise Iraq, the conflict that has been percolating in Kirkuk remains dangerous and dangerously neglected. That struggle is equal parts street brawl over oil riches, ethnic competition over identity between Kurdish, Turkoman, Arab and Assyrian-Chaldean communities, and titanic clash between two nations, Arab and Kurd. Given the high stakes, the international community cannot afford to stand by, allowing the situation to slip into chaos by default. It needs to step in and propose a solution that addresses all sides' core concerns without crossing their existential red lines. The most viable negotiated outcome, which a special UN envoy should mediate between leaders of Kirkuk's communities as well as representatives of the federal government and the Kurdish federal region, would rest on the following provisions: Postponing the constitutionally-mandated referendum on Kirkuk's status which, in today's environment, would only exacerbate tensions; Designating Kirkuk governorate as a stand-alone federal region falling neither under the Kurdish federal region nor directly under the federal government for an interim period; Equitable power-sharing arrangements between Kirkuk's four principal communities; and continued reversal of past abuses, including managed return of those who were forcibly displaced by previous regimes; facilities and compensation for those brought by previous regimes (including their offspring) who agree to leave voluntarily; resolution of property disputes via the established mechanism; and a process by which former Kirkuk districts can either be restored to Kirkuk governorate or remain where they are.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Security
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan, Kirkuk
  • Publication Date: 08-2002
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Iran is at a crossroads. More than two decades after the revolution that swept Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini into power, its people and leaders are deeply torn about the country's future. The outcome of the struggle for the revolution's soul will resonate across the Middle East and have major implications both strategically and for ongoing efforts to curb violence, including terrorism, in the region. The internal struggle is fluid and unstable. While the notion of a clear-cut battle pitting conservatives against reformers is appealing, it does not do justice to the reality. There are divisions within both camps and connections between them; indeed, some actors may be “conservative” on certain issues and “reformers” on others. Likewise, the idea that Iran's rulers can be dismissed en bloc as obstacles to reform overlooks the genuine differences that exist regarding the proper role of religion, democracy, social norms, economics and foreign policy. The complexity of Iran's domestic situation makes it all the more difficult – but also imperative – for the international community to exercise caution, properly fine-tune its actions and anticipate their impact.
  • Topic: Security, Economics, Human Rights, Politics
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 07-2002
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: President Bush, announcing U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on 24 June 2002, has set the terms of the international response to the conflict for the immediately foreseeable period. Before peace can be negotiated the violence has to stop. If the Palestinians are to have their own state – and the clear message is that they should – it must be one based on the principles of democracy, transparency and the rule of law. For that to happen the current leadership needs to go. The logic is sequential: political progress is conditional on a new security environment, institutional reform and, in effect, on regime change.
  • Topic: Security, Human Rights, Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Arabia