Parliamentary elections held Sept. 21 in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq further cemented the undisputed leadership of the regional government’s president, Massoud Barzani. Reigning supreme in Iraqi Kurdistan, dominating the political scene in Iraq and enjoying his status as a major Western go-between in Syria, Barzani has become a key political figure to watch in the Middle East this year. The official results are not out, but early exit polls point to a sound victory for Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the voting. They also indicate that the KDP’s coalition partner, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), […]

HASAKAH GOVERNORATE, Syria — The little Kurdish fighting position looks far more professional than what is usually seen in Syria. Instead of just a pile of sand for protection, it has proper fighting and communications trenches, sandbags and even a small tower at the far end for the machine gunner. Discipline is what distinguishes the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the mainly Arab rebel groups the Kurdish militia is fighting in northeastern Syria. Traveling across Syria’s Kurdish-majority northeast, one is struck by the difference between the areas controlled by the YPG and its political master, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), […]

Diplomats at the United Nations experienced something approaching euphoria at the end of last week. The annual gathering of world leaders for the U.N. General Assembly, in most years an exhausting and tedious exercise, had turned into a nail-biting drama. International and official commentators were gripped by two questions. Would the Security Council make a deal on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons? Could the U.S. and Iran move toward rapprochement over Tehran’s nuclear goals? Neither outcome was guaranteed, but the week culminated with a pair of diplomatic coups. On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama reported that he had made […]

The decades-long relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has faced major challenges since the start of the Middle East upheavals in 2011. The past few months have produced new tactical strains in the bilateral relationship: Ongoing political changes in Egypt, Syria’s civil war and the possibility of new attempts at diplomatic engagement with Iran have all brought to the surface divisions between Washington and Riyadh. The United States and Saudi Arabia continue to share several common strategic interests, including regional security cooperation in dealing with threats from Iran and al-Qaida affiliates, but how the two countries work together […]

In the weeks since British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a parliamentary vote that would have authorized the use of force in Syria, commentators have breathlessly debated whether the crisis over the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons has heralded a significant shift in Western security relationships. Some have been moved to claim that, as a consequence of the vote, Paris is gradually replacing London as Washington’s European security partner of choice. While certainly providing food for thought in both the U.K. and France, such claims are profoundly misleading. Insofar as the United States chooses to work with its European […]

As the U.S. military struggles with severe budget cuts driven by political posturing rather than a strategic vision, the Army is facing a deep identity crisis. As defense expert Nadia Schadlow explained, “After 10 years of fighting two major wars and suffering the brunt of America’s military casualties, the most experienced and powerful ground force in the world now has to justify its value and relevance.” The historical American preference was to keep only a small army during peacetime, creating one only when war came and demobilizing afterward. That would not work during the Cold War, however, so, for the […]

Only a diehard optimist would argue that there will be a sustainable cease-fire in Syria by the end of this year. While Russia and the Western powers are still bickering over the precise terms for the destruction of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons, brutal fighting persists on the ground. The army and rebels continued to clash last week, and the rebels have also been battling one another, with radical Islamist and more-moderate factions struggling over the northern town of Azaz. This sort of fratricidal combat reinforces the fear, previously voiced by United Nations officials, that Syria could fragment into another […]

The terrorist assault on Nairobi’s Westgate mall comes amid a lengthy military campaign by Kenyan forces to root out the militant group al-Shabab from southeastern Somalia. That intervention has proved more difficult than Kenyan officials initially predicted and sparked fears—now apparently realized—of terrorist blowback within Kenya. This background note reviews WPR’s extensive coverage of the Kenyan intervention and Somalia’s state of governance and security. Al-Shabab’s Looming Threat in Kenya After Somalia Intervention, Kenya Faces War Within, by Charles Wachira, Dec. 12, 2012: In the wake of its intervention into Somalia, Kenya has feared a backlash at home. Kenya Gets Pro-Active […]

Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday and plans to use the occasion to reach out to world leaders about restarting talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program. As U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration consider how they should react to the friendlier diplomatic face put forward by Rouhani and his team, they will need to contend with five popular myths about U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear program. 1. It’s Iraq all over again. No. For anti-war activists, simply invoking the Iraq War is an easy way to avoid making a fresh judgment […]

An exchange of gunfire and rockets over the Central African Republic’s northwestern border with Cameroon has heightened fears that the troubled African nation could fall back into full-blown conflict. In recent days, fighting between the Seleka rebel alliance and militias loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize have put towns and rural settlements in northwestern Ouham prefecture under siege. More than 100 civilians have been killed in the clashes; whole villages have been burned to the ground; and thousands have been displaced from their homes by the fighting. At the epicenter of the violence are the river towns of Bossangoa and […]

In 2011, Algeria had serious misgivings about international intervention in Libya, which Algiers feared would result in many unintended consequences, few of them good for Algeria or the region. Those misgivings have since proven correct. Libya itself has collapsed into violent chaos, while weapons flows out of Libya in 2011 and 2012 fueled a Salafi jihadi insurgency in northern Mali that eventually resulted in Bamako losing control of the entire northern half of the country. And in Tunisia, a new Salafi jihadi threat has emerged on Algeria’s borders. Although Algeria initially stuck fast to its long-standing principle of noninterference, its […]

As the United States, Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria engage in a complicated diplomatic dance, Washington remains fixated on Syrian chemical weapons, leaving what may be a more important issue—America’s relationship with the Syrian rebels—muddled. The U.S. supports one rebel faction but not enough to allow it to win outright, fearing that doing so will inadvertently help extremists affiliated with al-Qaida or taint the United States with the misdeeds of its rebel allies. This is simply the latest example of the confusion and uncertainly that has long characterized America’s dealings with militias. Although the U.S. military itself grew […]

Although welcome, the U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons reached this weekend in Geneva will prove difficult to implement. Some of these problems can be reduced with concerted effort and continued focus. But the Syrian crisis should not be seen in a vacuum—it is the latest in a series of chemical weapons crises that includes Iraq and Libya. As a result, the United States and other countries should respond not only by working to implement the U.S.-Russia deal, but also by strengthening broader nonproliferation efforts as well as their own national instruments for combating chemical weapons use and proliferation. The […]

Early in President Barack Obama’s first term, there were suggestions that the United States and China could forge a new partnership to manage global affairs. Some commentators argued that a Sino-American “Group of Two” could run the world better than the G-20. It is said that the Obama administration made some version of this proposal to Beijing but was rebuffed. Last week, it suddenly seemed possible that the Syrian crisis could trigger the creation of an alternative G-2, this time involving Russia. When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov arrived in Geneva on Thursday […]

The U.S.-Russian negotiations over Syria’s chemical weapons, now underway in Geneva, will determine whether President Barack Obama can walk back his threat to launch punitive strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But they will also impact the paradigm for addressing WMD elsewhere, particularly Iran. Depending on the outcome of the talks over Syria, the U.S. could find itself with new options for negotiating a deal to resolve the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program—or find the door to a peaceful outcome firmly shut. U.S. officials have characterized the Russian plan to secure Syrian chemical weapons as “doable but […]

Fighting between rebels and security forces erupted in the southern Philippines Monday after heavily armed Muslim rebels landed in coastal districts with plans to declare an independent state. As Reuters reported, security officials say the rebels are part of a rogue faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that was angry over claims the government had not fully implemented an existing peace agreement. In an email interview, Steven Rood, Philippines country representative of the Asia Foundation, said the incident in Zamboanga City is not likely to destabilize the peace deal signed last year with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front […]

During a recent visit to Afghanistan to assess the implications of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) withdrawal with regard to humanitarian needs and responses, I was struck by the dissonance between the debates over Afghanistan’s future inside and outside the country. The troop withdrawal has dominated the international agenda since it was announced in 2009. It still remains unclear how many troops will stay in Afghanistan after 2014, when ISAF’s mandate is set to expire, and what their role will be. Meanwhile, the recent row over the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement has raised the specter of a “zero option” […]

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