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  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: What’s new? A U.S. resolution seeking to extend UN arms restrictions on Iran beyond their October 2020 expiration failed at the Security Council. Washington has asserted that it will claim the right to unilaterally restore UN sanctions, which were terminated as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Why does it matter? Any U.S. attempt to reimpose sanctions will be controversial, given the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and likely to create deadlock at the Security Council. The administration’s goal is clear: kill the deal or make it that much harder for a successor administration to rejoin it. What should be done? The remaining parties to the deal should be united in resisting Washington’s efforts, as should other Security Council members. They should essentially disregard a U.S. “snapback” – restoring sanctions – as ineffectual, obstruct attempts to implement it and discourage Iran from overreacting to what will end up being a symbolic U.S. move.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, United Nations, Sanctions, UN Security Council
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: What’s new? Turkey has to deal with thousands of citizens who travelled to join ISIS and have now returned. Of the few convicted, many will soon be released from jail. Others are under surveillance. The fate of the rest is murky. Why does it matter? ISIS’s diminished stature and measures adopted by the Turkish authorities have spared Turkey from ISIS attacks for more than three years. But while the threat should not be overplayed, it has not necessarily disappeared. That Turkish returnees turn their back on militancy is important for national and regional security. What should be done? Ankara’s approach toward returnees or others suspected of ties to jihadism relies mostly on surveillance and detention. The government could consider also offering support for returnees’ families, alternatives for youngsters at risk of being drawn into militancy and support for returnees released after serving ISIS-related jail time.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Law Enforcement, Violent Extremism, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: With the Syrian regime’s offensive in Idlib paused, the time is now for a deal sparing the rebellion’s last stronghold the full wrath of reconquest. The parties should pursue an improved ceasefire including the regime, Russia, Turkey and the Islamist militants entrenched in the province. What’s new? A Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive against rebel-held Idlib halted when Russia and Turkey negotiated a ceasefire in March. Turkey is sending reinforcements, signalling a military response to what it deems a national security threat. For now, this step may dissuade Russia from resuming the offensive, but the standoff appears untenable. Why does it matter? Successive Russian-Turkish ceasefires in Idlib have collapsed over incompatible objectives, diverging interpretations and exclusion of the dominant rebel group, Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is UN-sanctioned and considered by Russia and others a terrorist organisation. A Russian-backed regime offensive to retake Idlib likely would result in humanitarian catastrophe. What should be done? All actors should seek a more sustainable ceasefire – optimally including HTS, notwithstanding legitimate concerns about the group – that avoids the high military, political and humanitarian price of another offensive. Turkey should push HTS to continue distancing itself from transnational militancy and display greater tolerance for political and religious pluralism.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Conflict, Syrian War, Islamism, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Federal forces now patrol Kirkuk, the diverse, oil-rich province disputed between the central and Kurdish regional governments. The arrangement is unsettling communal relations, with Kurds feeling excluded. With outside help, Baghdad and Erbil should design a joint security mechanism including a locally recruited multi-ethnic unit. What’s new? In October 2017, the Iraqi army restored central government control over the disputed Kirkuk governorate and its oil fields in the country’s north. Since then, multiple federal forces including paramilitaries have policed the area. The new arrangement reassured the province’s Arabs and Turkmen but left local Kurds feeling abandoned. Why did it happen? The federal government’s move into Kirkuk was triggered by a Kurdish independence referendum staged the previous month, which raised Baghdad’s concerns that the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil would declare Kurdish statehood and annex Kirkuk, other disputed territories and their petroleum riches. Why does it matter? Finding an equilibrium that satisfies Kirkuk’s three main ethnic groups by ensuring that none dominates the security apparatus at the others’ expense is a fundamental condition for the area’s stability. Only such a configuration will ensure peaceful coexistence and help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State. What should be done? With international support, Baghdad and Erbil should establish joint security management in Kirkuk that includes a locally recruited multi-ethnic force under federal command. This arrangement would help protect the area from renewed insurgency, contribute to intercommunal peace and lay the foundations for an eventual settlement of Kirkuk’s status in Iraq.
  • Topic: Security, Oil, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kirkuk
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: An uprising of unprecedented scope has rocked Lebanon as the country’s economy tumbles deeper into recession. Poverty and unemployment could lead to violent unrest. Donors should put together an emergency package but condition further aid upon reforms to tackle corruption, a major grievance driving protest. What’s new? The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Lebanon’s economy, which was already slowly imploding, has brought it to the brink of total collapse. Since October 2019, popular protests have pushed for greater accountability from an elite that, having engorged itself, seems incapable of instituting critical reforms. Why does it matter? The accumulation of crises is driving ever greater numbers of Lebanese into absolute poverty. While the lockdown is gradually easing, the loss of jobs and purchasing power triggered new protests that are turning violent and may prefigure the disintegration of state capacity and institutions. What should be done? Lebanon will need emergency external assistance to ward off the worst social consequences of the crisis. Beyond that, external actors and donors seeking to help the country exit the crisis should focus on efforts geared at rooting out corruption and clientelism.
  • Topic: Corruption, Poverty, Protests, Crisis Management, Unemployment
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Naval incidents in the Gulf have spotlighted the danger that a U.S.-Iranian skirmish could blow up into war. The two sides have little ability to communicate at present. They should hasten to design a military-to-military channel to lower the chances of inadvertent conflagration. What’s new? Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have repeatedly brought the two sides to the brink of open conflict. While neither government seeks a full-fledged war, a string of dangerous tit-for-tat exchanges amid mounting hostile rhetoric underscores the potential for a bigger military clash. Why does it matter? Due to limited communication channels between Tehran and Washington, an inadvertent or accidental interaction between the two sides could quickly escalate into a broader confrontation. The risk is especially high in the Gulf, where U.S. and Iranian military vessels operate close to one another. What should be done? The U.S. and Iran should open a military de-escalation channel that fills the gap between ad hoc naval communications and high-level diplomacy at moments of acute crisis. A mechanism facilitated by a third party might contain the risk of conflict due to misread signals and miscalculation.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Military Affairs, Conflict, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: For years, Gulf powers have mulled the notion of regional dialogue to calm existing crises and head off new ones. Today, with several active Middle Eastern conflicts, all sensitive to rising U.S.-Iran tensions, it is an idea whose time has come. What’s new?* Middle East tensions spiked in the past year following attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities, the U.S. killing of a senior Iranian commander and Iranian military retaliation. Some of Washington’s allies, losing confidence the U.S. will reliably extend military protection, have started making cautious diplomatic overtures to Iran. Why does it matter? While these tentative steps toward de-escalation are welcome, they risk being inadequate, particularly in the absence of regular, high-level communication channels among potential conflict actors. Existing UN-led mechanisms for resolving individual conflicts, such as Yemen, are worthwhile but insufficient to lessen region-wide tensions. What should be done? Diplomatic efforts are needed to both de-escalate tensions and make progress toward resolving regional conflicts. Gulf actors, supported by external stakeholders, should consider launching an inclusive sub-regional dialogue aimed at reducing the risk of inadvertent conflict by opening new communication channels.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Turkish intervention in Libya’s war stopped the besieged Tripoli government from collapsing. But fighting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces has since escalated, threatening a protracted conflict. Both Ankara and Haftar’s regional backers should urge their allies toward a return to negotiations and a ceasefire. What’s new? In January, Turkey stepped up military support to Libya’s UN-backed government of Prime Minister Faiez Serraj, stalling an offensive by forces allied with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Its foray, underpinned by its own strategic, political and economic interests, has further complicated the already multi-layered Libyan crisis. Why does it matter? Turkey’s intervention has neither de-escalated the conflict nor yielded productive negotiations between rival political and military factions. It has instead exposed a different risk: the more outside actors provide military hardware and fighters to their respective Libyan allies, the longer the conflict may last and the deadlier it may become. What should be done? As Turkey’s intervention appears not to be producing a ceasefire or a return to negotiations, and since no outside actor is likely to back out unilaterally, Ankara should engage with other external players involved in the conflict to explore potential compromises regarding their respective interests in Libya and beyond.
  • Topic: Military Intervention, Conflict, Negotiation, Crisis Management, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Libya
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought many times about going home but in the end deemed the risks too great. Donors should increase aid allowing the Lebanese government to continue hosting the Syrians, so that any decision they make to leave is truly voluntary. What’s new? Pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon to return home is rising. Although Syria remains unsafe for most, refugees are trickling back, escaping increasingly harsh conditions in Lebanon and hoping that the situation will improve back home. Procedures that clarify refugees’ legal status are making return more plausible for some. Why does it matter? While even a small number of successful repatriations represents positive news, conditions are too dangerous for mass organised returns. Yet the Syrian government and some Lebanese political factions increasingly insist that it is time for large-scale returns to begin. What should be done? Donors should plan for many refugees to stay for many years, and provide support to help Lebanon meet Syrians’ needs, ease the burden on Lebanon’s economy, and reduce friction between refugees and their Lebanese hosts. The Lebanese government can take additional administrative steps to ease voluntary returns.
  • Topic: Government, Refugees, Syrian War, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Tens of thousands of foreign men, women and children affiliated with ISIS are detained in northeast Syria. The camps where they are held pose a formidable security and humanitarian challenge to the region. Western governments should, at minimum, accelerate the repatriation of women and children. What’s new? Alongside the thousands of foreign fighters detained in north east Syria are thousands of non-Syrian children and women. Western governments have for months publicly wrestled with political and policy qualms about repatriating their nationals. Turkey’s incursion into Syria highlights that the window for repatriation or transfer could close suddenly. Why does it matter? The long-term detention of these men, women and children in north east Syria has always been deeply problematic for security and humanitarian reasons. The Turkish incursion and shifting balance of power in the region makes the security of the camps where they are held more precarious. What should be done? As a first step toward addressing this challenge, Western governments should accelerate repatriation of their national children and women. They should recognise the diversity of women’s backgrounds and repatriate those who are unthreatening. They should also pour substantial diplomatic and financial resources into developing responsible options for the remaining population.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Law Enforcement, Islamic State, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Rebuilding war-torn Syria poses a formidable challenge for European governments, which are unwilling to legitimise the Damascus regime by funding reconstruction. Instead, the EU and its member states could consider bankrolling small projects without regime involvement and testing an approach that trades aid for reforms. What’s new? The Syrian war is drawing to a close, but whether the regime in Damascus can also win the peace is uncertain. Few appear willing or able to invest significantly in reconstruction, and Europe, which could make substantial funds available, is withholding support absent a genuine political transition. Why does it matter? Without reconstruction, Syrians’ living conditions could deteriorate and leave the country’s recovery indefinitely postponed, perpetuating current instability. Yet many European leaders believe reconstruction support without substantial reforms could have a similar effect, empowering a regime intent on repression, not reconciliation. What should be done? Europe should consider supporting small-scale rehabilitation projects on condition of no regime interference. It could also test an incremental incentives-based approach – a progressive lifting of sanctions, gradual normalisation of relations and staggered disbursement of reconstruction funds – in exchange for political reforms and regime steps to ease repressive and discriminatory practices.
  • Topic: Foreign Aid, Reconstruction, European Union, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: A tumultuous month in north-eastern Syria has left a tense standoff among the regime, Turkey and the YPG, mediated by Russia and, to some degree, still the U.S. All parties should respect the ceasefire as the regime and YPG negotiate more stable long-term arrangements. What’s new? The U.S. withdrawal announcement and subsequent Turkish incursion in north-eastern Syria shattered an awkward but fairly stable stalemate that had persisted for several years. A Russian-brokered ceasefire and partial reversal of the U.S. withdrawal have restored the impasse, but in far more fragile form. Why does it matter? The ceasefire leaves the biggest question unanswered: who will govern and police the north east? As the Syrian regime, Turkey and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) all stake potentially irreconcilable claims, and the U.S. stays put at the area’s oil fields, the emerging dispensation is highly volatile. What should be done? All sides should respect the ceasefire. The U.S. should protect its Kurdish and Arab partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces and prioritise stability in the north east in discussions with Russia and Turkey. The YPG should reassess its exclusive reliance on U.S. protection and pursue mutually beneficial arrangements with Damascus.
  • Topic: Syrian War, Negotiation, Crisis Management, YPG
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Once again, the Islamic State may be poised to recover from defeat in its original bases of Iraq and Syria. It is still possible, however, for the jihadist group’s many foes to nip its regrowth in the bud. What’s new? In Iraq and Syria, ISIS is down but not out. The group remains active but reduced and geographically circumscribed. Keeping it down requires sustained effort. Any of several events – Turkish intervention in north-eastern Syria, but also instability in Iraq or spill-over of U.S.-Iranian tensions – could enable its comeback. Why does it matter? Iraqis, Syrians and their international partners paid a heavy price to dislodge the militant organisation from its territorial “caliphate”. Yet even as an insurgency, it still threatens Iraqis and Syrians locally, and, if it manages to regroup, it could pose a renewed threat globally. What should be done? Keeping ISIS weak will require avoiding new conflict in either Iraq or Syria that would disrupt counter-ISIS efforts – most immediately, Turkish intervention in north-eastern Syria. Syrians and Iraqis need a period of calm to pursue ISIS insurgents and stabilise their respective countries.
  • Topic: Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The U.S. decision to leave troops in north-eastern Syria has bought the area time but not lasting stability. Washington should press its Kurdish YPG allies to loosen their PKK ties – lest Ankara intervene – and stop obstructing their autonomy talks with Damascus. What’s new? After President Donald Trump announced a full U.S. withdrawal from Syria, his administration decided to leave a residual force there. All parties – the U.S., Turkey, the Syrian regime, Russia and the PKK-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) that control the north east – are adjusting their stance to the resulting uncertainty. Why does it matter? The withdrawal reprieve provides an opportunity to prevent a violent free-for-all in the north east. Had U.S. troops left precipitously, Damascus might have tried to recover the territory and Ankara to exploit the vacuum to destroy the YPG. A resurgent Islamic State could have filled the void. What should be done? Washington should use its remaining influence to address Turkish concerns about the PKK’s role in the north east while protecting the YPG; and Moscow should help the YPG and Damascus reach agreement on the north east’s gradual reintegration into the Syrian state on the basis of decentralised governance.
  • Topic: Islamic State, Syrian War, Autonomy, YPG
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Syria, North America, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 08-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Should U.S.-Iranian tensions escalate to a shooting war, Iraq would likely be the first battleground. Washington and Tehran should stop trying to drag Baghdad into their fight. The Iraqi government should redouble its efforts to remain neutral and safeguard the country’s post-ISIS recovery. What’s new? In June, several rockets landed near U.S. installations in Iraq, and in July-August, explosions shook weapons storage facilities and a convoy of Iraqi paramilitary groups tied to Iran. These incidents helped push U.S.-Iranian tensions to the edge of confrontation, underscoring the danger of the situation in Iraq and the Gulf. Why does it matter? While the U.S. and Iran have so far avoided clashing directly, they are pushing the Iraqi government to take sides. Iraqi leaders are working hard to maintain the country’s neutrality. But growing external pressures and internal polarisation threaten the government’s survival. What should be done? The U.S. and Iran should refrain from drawing Iraq into their rivalry, as doing so would undermine the tenuous stability Iraq has achieved in the immediate post-ISIS era. With the aid of international actors, Iraq should persevere in its diplomatic and domestic political efforts to remain neutral.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Geopolitics, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Israel is pursuing new ways of cementing its grip on occupied East Jerusalem, further enmeshing the city’s Palestinians while maintaining a Jewish majority within the municipal boundaries. These schemes could spark conflict. The new Israeli government elected in September should set them aside.
  • Topic: Territorial Disputes, Crisis Management, Annexation
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Jerusalem
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 11-2016
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The December 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, signed in Skhirat, Morocco, has re- configured more than contributed to resolving internal strife. A year ago, the conflict was between rival parliaments and their associated governments; today it is mainly between accord supporters and opponents, each with defectors from the original camps and heavily armed. The accord’s roadmap, the idea that a caretaker government accommodating the two parliaments and their allies could establish a new political order and reintegrate militias, can no longer be implemented without change. New negotiations involving especially key security actors not at Skhirat are needed to give a unity government more balanced underpinning.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War, Peacekeeping, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Libya
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Growing numbers of Central Asian citizens, male and female, are travelling to the Middle East to fight or otherwise support the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL or ISIS). Prompted in part by political marginalisation and bleak economic prospects that characterise their post-Soviet region, 2,000-4,000 have in the past three years turned their back on their secular states to seek a radical alternative. IS beckons not only to those who seek combat experience, but also to those who envision a more devout, purposeful, fundamentalist religious life. This presents a complex problem to the governments of Central Asia. They are tempted to exploit the phenomenon to crack down on dissent. The more promising solution, however, requires addressing multiple political and administrative failures, revising discriminatory laws and policies, implementing outreach programs for both men and women and creating jobs at home for disadvantaged youths, as well as ensuring better coordination between security services.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, International Security
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Middle East, Asia
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: In a region of troubles, the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program stand out. The first-step agreement, signed in November 2013, broke a decade of futile diplomatic forays punctuated by mutual escalation. The product of a rare confluence of political calendars and actors, it set a framework for a balanced arms-control agreement that could form the basis of a comprehensive nuclear accord. But reasons for caution abound. It is easier to pause than to reverse the escalation pitting centrifuges against sanctions. Mistrust remains deep, time is short, and the process remains vulnerable to pressure from domestic and regional detractors. In bringing the sides together, the accord revealed the chasm that separates them. Success is possible only with political will to isolate the deal – at least for now – from its complex regional context. It will ultimately be sustainable only if the parties, building on its momentum, recognise that their rival's legitimate interests need to be respected. But a far-reaching resolution of differences will be possible only after a relatively narrow, technical nuclear agreement.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • 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