Ten years after al-Qaida declared war against the United States, andseven years after the U.S. followed suit, much of what we know aboutthe group is filtered through the lens of the Global War on Terror, aconcept that hides and distorts as much as it reveals. In reducingal-Qaida to a terrorist organization, we have ignored the broadersocio-cultural movement it represents. The result has been to overlookthe range of its activities on the one hand, while exaggerating itsprospects for success on the other. To formulate a soundstrategic response to al-Qaida, we must first have a clearunderstanding of just what kind of enemy […]

LONDON — The business of war-fighting just got more difficult. These days, British troops — over-stretched, under-funded and ill-equipped — must contend not only with implacable enemies abroad, but also with a seemingly disinterested Defense Ministry and a sometimes hostile public at home. No surprise, then, that morale has plummeted. The low level of morale was highlighted in a survey — the first ever — that was conducted among more than 24,000 service personnel across the armed forces. It revealed that almost half are ready to quit. The reasons are not hard to find. During October alone, the British government […]

In early October, news and rumors spread through the city of Mosul in northern Iraq that insurgents were targeting the area’s Christian population. The attacks were apparently aimed at driving the Christians out of town — a sort of “religious cleansing.” The anti-Christian campaign reportedly began in September, with “death threats through letters, SMS and e-mails,” according to Mustafa Gundogdu, a researcher from the U.K.-based Kurdish Human Rights Project. (Iraq’s minority Kurdish population, concentrated in self-governing Kurdistan, includes many Christians, although not all Iraqi Christians are Kurds.) Gundogdu told World Politics Review that the threats were signed by a group […]

Russia Annexes Georgian Provinces on the Installment Plan

A couple of articles in the French language press (one this weekend in Le Monde, the other today in Le Figaro) indicate that, contrary to what I’d expected, Russia is in fact annexing South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the installment plan. Apparently most of the political leaders installed in the two provinces are Russian (the new South Ossetian prime minister is a product of the Russian security forces), a rail bridge that linked the Abkhazia’s ethnically Georgian populaiton to Georgia has been blown up, and negotiations are under way for pemanent military bases. (I imagine that bargaining will be less […]

Editor’s Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” WASHINGTON — At 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2007, a suicide bomber blew the Moorish-style facade off the building that housed Algeria’s Constitutional Council, which oversees the country’s elections. Ten minutes later, elsewhere in Algiers, a truck containing 1,800 pounds of explosives and another suicide attacker leveled part of a United Nations building. The blasts killed 42 people — including 17 U.N. employees — and injured 158 others. They were also the surest sign to date that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb […]

Editor’s Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” Two months ago, on the seventh anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, dozens of American scholars published articles trying to determine whether al-Qaida is stronger or weaker today than it was seven years ago. Nearly all of the analysis, though, viewed al-Qaida exclusively through the theoretical lens of counterterrorism, an approach that essentially defines the organization by its choice of tactics. But ignoring the many social, cultural and historical factors that effect al-Qaida’s relation to its principal constituency, the “Arab street,” skews […]

Editor’s Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” Salim Hamdan was not a typical al-Qaida prisoner. For seven years prior to his capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, Hamdan had been Osama bin Laden’s personal driver and bodyguard. He had been caught red handed on an al-Qaida film carrying an AK 47 while protecting the al-Qaida chief, and as if that weren’t enough, pictures of Hamdan’s car at the time of his arrest showed two SAM 7 heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles there on the backseat. Hardly the normal accoutrement for an […]

On Oct. 16, 2002, President Bush signed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution into law. But six years later, neither the political left nor the political right has internalized the key lessons we should have learned from the run up to the Iraq War. Both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain deserve credit: Obama for his skepticism and opposition to the war in 2002 and 2003, McCain for supporting the Surge which has helped make the decision to invade Iraq marginally less disastrous than it appeared in 2006. But the debate over those two questions this […]

In the midst of two wars and with an “era of persistent conflict” foreseen ahead, America and its military are confronting battlefield urgencies and operational complexities that challenge the very way in which we conceive of warfare. Whether on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, or on the waters off of Somalia, the reality of today’s conflicts have exposed gaps in our tactical thinking and operational approach to waging war. The responses have combined doctrinal evolutions and operational innovations, demonstrating once again the strategic asset represented by American ingenuity and creative thinking. But they have also generated a passionate and […]

This month’s release of Field Manual 3-07, “Stability Operations,” marks a milestone for the United States Army. With it, the Army acknowledges and codifies a dramatic change in thinking: No longer does the mission of the military stop at winning wars; now it must also help “win the peace.” As Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, IV, states in the foreword to the new manual: As the Nation continues into this era of uncertainty and persistent conflict, the lines separating war and peace, enemy and friend, have blurred and no longer conform to the clear delineations we once knew. At the […]

The three short articles by an anthropology professor from California seemed out of place beside a large area map and various military memoranda on a plywood wall at combat outpost Tarmiyah, about 20 miles north of Baghdad. Not long ago, the accompanying note demanding that all platoon and squad leaders not only read the articles, but pass the information along to their men, would have made most commanders in Iraq laugh at the thought of burdening their already overworked junior officers and NCOs with articles by college professors. But the conduct of the Iraq War has taken a decidedly cultural […]

Massoud Barzani: The KRG Representative to the U.S. Responds

Editor’s note: The following is an unsolicited response to a World Politics Review commentary from Qubad Talabany, the Kurdish Regional Government’s representative to the United States. WPR usually publishes reader mail on our blog, but we have chosen to publish this as a stand alone item out of respect for Mr.Talabany’s diplomatic stature.As both a news and analysis journal, WPR recognizes that some articles it publishes will provoke differences of opinion and disagreements of interpretation. Above all, our commitment is to airing all sides of a contested issue, so long as they are respectfully expressed. Dear Sir: The “Commentary” by […]

No Quick Solutions to Pirate Crisis

On Sept. 25, Somali pirates armed with rockets and assault rifles and traveling in small boats called “skiffs,” scaled the side of the Ukrainian cargo ship Fainaoff the Somali coast and overpowered the 22 crew members on board. Inside the 530-foot roll-on, roll-off vessel, the pirates made a surprise discovery: 33 Soviet-designed T-72 tanks, plus small arms, rockets and ammunition. The arms shipment was reportedly on its way to an unspecified customer in Sudan, but now seems likely to wind up on the African black market instead, unless the vessel’s shady owners cough up the unprecedented $20-million ransom demanded by […]

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Email messages linking the Colombian Marxist guerilla insurgency (known by its Spanish acronym, FARC) to politicians, union activists and left-wing parties overseas have revealed a network of supporters spanning several continents, and have kept tensions high between Colombia and some of its neighbors. “The FARC have been less isolated than originally believed, and have wide-ranging political contacts throughout Latin America and elsewhere,” Michael Shifter, an analyst with Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Dialogue, wrote by email. While Shifter called the relationships “isolated,” he said “the support network did give the FARC a sense that they were seen as legitimate […]

When the Syrian capital of Damascus was rocked by a car bomb on Sept. 27, the wheels started spinning wildly inside intelligence agencies, Middle Eastern tea houses, and conspiracy theorist circles alike. The explosion, which killed 17 people and injured 14, took place along the Damascus airport highway close to a Syrian intelligence installation. The question on everyone’s mind was: Who did this and why? The most striking aspect of the search for answers is just how many theories are potentially credible. Clearly, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been walking a high wire of strategic alliances, making friends and enemies […]

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a new biweekly column by World Politics Review Contributing Editor David Axe. Axe is an independent correspondent who has covered conflicts from Somalia to Afghanistan to East Timor. The column shares its name with David’s blog, which is at WarIsBoring.com. On a morning late last November in Mogadishu, Somalia, a tall, toothy 65-year-old man climbed into his beat-up sedan parked in the makeshift squatter’s camp he called home. Ali Mohamed Siyad, chairman of the central Bakara Market — once the economic engine of Mogadishu, but now a mostly ruined battleground — motored […]

Once an oasis of stability in Iraq, the Kurdish north is increasingly a source of unrest. Because of the misrule of Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq (KRG) who may go down as the Yasser Arafat of the Kurdish people, the region is becoming a danger both to the country and to its own people. The contrast between Barzani and Iraq’s president, Jalal Talibani, is striking. Talabani, the scion of Kurdish Iraq’s other political dynasty, has spent the years since liberation from Baathist rule in Baghdad, earning a reputation as one of the great uniters […]