Escorted by bodyguards, Omani Sultan Qaboos arrives for an official welcoming ceremony, Tehran, Iran, Aug. 4, 2009 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

Oman rarely draws international attention in a region overshadowed by the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia and, since last year, the war in Yemen. But the country has emerged as an important element of U.S. policy in the Gulf and wider Middle East, serving as an interlocutor between Riyadh and Tehran. Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said—the Middle East’s longest-reigning monarch, having held power since 1970—has maintained Oman’s relative neutrality in regional conflicts, making the country a hub for delicate negotiations. For many years, Oman has enjoyed the best relations with Iran of any member of the Gulf Cooperation […]

Iraqi counterterrorism forces prepare to attack Islamic State positions in Tob Zawa, outside Mosul, Oct. 24, 2016 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

As the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State proceeds, the stakes for Iraq’s neighbors vary. Although victory is still a ways off, the outcome in Mosul will more likely entrench existing regional dynamics than change them. Last week, I looked at the possible upside for Iraq should it successfully recapture Mosul, as expected. There will be humanitarian costs and concerns about blowback from the Islamic State in and outside Iraq, but the Iraqi state and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will be the main winners. That is, if Baghdad keeps the Shiite militias that are helping retake the city […]

Indian paramilitary soldiers and policemen during clashes with protesters, Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Oct. 7, 2016 (AP photo by Dar Yasin).

Not long ago, India and Pakistan appeared to be on a war footing. On Sept. 18, terrorists besieged an Indian army base in India-administered Kashmir, killing 19 soldiers in one of the worst single attacks on the Indian military in decades. New Delhi accused Pakistani militants of orchestrating the assault—the same allegation they made after an attack on an Indian air force base in Punjab earlier this year. After months of shrill rhetoric and saber-rattling, the subcontinent was aflame with war fever. India’s notoriously bellicose media called on the country to take up arms against Pakistan. Politicians from Prime Minister […]

Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi speaks in front of a map of Aleppo at a briefing at the Russian Defense Ministry's headquarters, Moscow, Oct. 19, 2016 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

Does Moscow care at all about international declarations of outrage over its behavior in Syria? Could threats of legal action against Russian officers involved in the siege of Aleppo affect their decisions? Over the past week, Western and Arab diplomats made a concerted push to shame Russia and the Syrian regime into curtailing their operations in Aleppo, with a flurry of meetings and statements in Brussels, New York and Geneva. But it is not clear that President Vladimir Putin and his advisers take all this sound and fury very seriously. The crisis may just exacerbate splits between Western and non-Western […]

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky meets with an Iraqi soldier before the Mosul offensive, Iraq, Oct. 10, 2016 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Lemmons).

In 2014, the so-called Islamic State rolled across northern Iraq in a shocking offensive, as Iraqi security forces crumbled before it. Although the extremists could not take Baghdad, they did occupy several major cities, mostly importantly Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which they quickly turned into their de facto capital. But 2014 was their high-water mark: Since then Iraqi security forces and Shiite and Kurdish militias regrouped and pushed the Islamic State back. Now the most important battle of the counteroffensive has begun with an ongoing operation to recapture Mosul. Kurdish forces known as peshmerga, advancing in gun trucks and armored […]

Rebels from al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra on top of a Syrian air force helicopter, Idlib, Syria, Jan. 11, 2013 (AP photo by Edlib News Network).

Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with backing from the U.S., have launched the most important battle yet against the self-described Islamic State, seeking to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the Islamic State’s last, most crucial stronghold in Iraq. The campaign marks a turning point in efforts to defeat the terrorist group, which has now lost as much as 90 percent of the territory it held at the height of its power. Unfortunately, the continuing victories against the Islamic State also provide an opening for its principal rival, al-Qaida, to revive its brand. Al-Qaida, the group responsible for 9/11 and other […]

President Barack Obama and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, at the White House, May 13, 2015 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. President Barack Obama’s second term has illuminated the dysfunctional nature of many of the United States’ closest relationships in the Arab world and the need to rebalance its commitments. Some of this dysfunction is a product of policy differences, such as the strains between the U.S. and the Gulf states on both Syria and the Iran nuclear deal. But the roots of other facets go back further, to […]

Cote d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara during an interview, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Oct. 29, 2015 (AP photo by Schalk van Zuydam).

Last week, Cote d’Ivoire’s parliament approved the draft of a new constitution that President Alassane Ouattara says will “turn the page” on the country’s “successive crises,” and offer a “new social pact.” That’s because the new draft makes good on his 2015 campaign promise to lift the restriction on presidential candidates with dual nationality, a deep-rooted source of social tension in a country with a large immigrant population. Ouattara himself had previously been barred from running for president, due to speculation that his father was born in Burkina Faso. Ivoirians will vote on the new charter in a national referendum […]

Iraqi forces deployed during an offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants outside Mosul, Oct. 17, 2016 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

Early Monday morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of military operations to retake Mosul, two years after the so-called Islamic State seized the city. The anticipated recapture of the Sunni-majority city by a diverse coalition of forces holds the promise of improving some of Iraq’s most troubling trends. How the U.S. manages the complex politics of the coalition and how Abadi handles the Shiite players involved in the offensive will be critical to shaping the political aftermath of any eventual military success. In the run-up to the campaign to retake Mosul, the U.S. provided additional troops to […]

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to journalists after a speech at the annual Women’s Empowerment Principles event at the United Nations, New York (March 10, 2015).

Are Antonio Guterres and Hillary Clinton on course for a clash over Syria in early 2017? The question may seem premature. Guterres was only confirmed as the next United Nations secretary-general last week and will take up the post at the beginning of January. Clinton is still campaigning hard to be U.S. president. If, as now seems likely, she wins November’s election, Clinton and Guterres will face a common dilemma over what to do about Syria from the start of next year. The Russian-backed assault by Syrian forces on Aleppo has left both the Obama administration and the U.N. on […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande during a news conference, Moscow, Russia, Nov. 26, 2015 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

Russia’s deepening role in the Syrian conflict continues to damage its relations with the West, as the brutal Moscow-backed Syrian offensive on Aleppo shows no signs of abating. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled a planned visit to Paris after his French counterpart Francois Hollande called Russian airstrikes in Syria “war crimes.” That followed Moscow’s veto of a French-backed U.N. Security Council draft resolution condemning the violence in Aleppo. Putin, whose visit was initially planned to inaugurate the opening of a Russian cultural center in Paris, reacted to Hollande’s comments that the trip would be downgraded to “a working […]

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi enters the court room to hear the verdict of the International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands, Sept. 27, 2016 (AP photo by Bas Czerwinski).

Late last month, judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued a landmark verdict, sentencing Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a Malian member of a jihadi group tied to al-Qaida, to nine years in prison for the destruction of sacred mausoleums in Timbuktu. For the first time, the ICC prosecuted the destruction of cultural heritage as a war crime, sending a powerful message of international condemnation against the growing use of attacks on cultural heritage as a weapon during war. Prosecuting the destruction of the Timbuktu mausoleums was a way to respond through law rather than force to similar devastation […]

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, Cairo, Egypt, April 8, 2016 (AP photo by Mohamed Abd El Moatey).

Last week, commodities traders noticed something unusual in the spot oil markets. Representatives of Egypt’s state oil firm were suddenly making more aggressive buys, entering uncommonly large orders. Traders for the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation reportedly purchased 560,000 tons of gas oil, more than double the September amount. And the orders required almost immediate delivery. Since Egypt gets most of its fuel from Saudi Arabia, it wasn’t difficult to trace the cause of the sudden scarcity. The Saudis, it became apparent, had suspended deliveries of highly subsidized fuel to Egypt. Riyadh had just fired a shot across Cairo’s bow. Fortunately […]

Still frame from video provided by Doctors Without Borders shows a house on fire in Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 5, 2016 (Doctors Without Borders via AP).

Will the next American president be able to save Syria? No. What about the international norm of preventing atrocities against civilians? Again, no. That’s ultimately the takeaway from the short exchange about Syria in Sunday’s mostly awful Town Hall-style debate between U.S. presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. While Trump is more aligned with President Barack Obama’s reticence toward escalating America’s military involvement in Syria than Clinton, neither candidate offered any big new ideas about the conflict. The long-term worry is not just about how the obvious limits to American power in this crisis will affect other issues, but […]

Turkish armored personnel carriers near the Syrian border, Karkamis, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2016 (AP photo by Halit Onur Sandal).

In late August, Turkey launched operation Euphrates Shield, a cross-border military incursion into northern Syria to secure two primary goals: prevent the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from further expanding west of the Euphrates and push the self-proclaimed Islamic State away from the Turkish border. A little over a month in, the operation has certainly achieved these initial goals, but Turkey’s longer-term exit strategy, and whether the intervention will expand deeper into Syria, remain unclear. Euphrates Shield has enough manpower to take small villages, but the number of Turkish troops and allied rebels is inadequate to take al-Bab, a […]

Demonstrators during a rally for peace, Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 5, 2016 (AP photo by Fernando Vergara).

The international community got ahead of itself when it celebrated the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC insurgency before it was a done deal. It is now making the same mistake again, grieving the death of peace after Sunday’s failed referendum. In fact, the chances for a peace deal in Colombia still look promising after voters rejected the agreement that had produced a premature popping of the champagne. Reaching another deal will not be easy. But there is a real possibility that Colombia could go through a process that would help it tackle not only the half-century-old […]

European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini speaks at a media conference, Brussels, Belgium, July 18, 2016 (AP photo by Darko Vojinovic).

In late May, amid the chaotic lead-up to the United Kingdom’s referendum on its membership in the European Union, British newspaper The Times published an article alleging that the EU was scheming to establish an “EU army,” but intended to keep its plans secret from British voters until the day after the June referendum. The story was among the flurry of articles published by British media eager to stoke skepticism toward the EU ahead of the Brexit vote. The report spread quickly, and other outlets seized the opportunity to embellish. “Britain will be forced to join an EU ARMY unless […]

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