TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Conflict is escalating in Syria as the uprising there enters its 18 month. With clashes between government forces and rebels in recent weeks, tens of thousands of Syrians have fled to safety in neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The United Nations estimates that some 30,000 Syrians have ended up as refugees in Lebanon because of the Syrian uprising. Wadi Khaled, a valley at the border in northern Lebanon, is one of the preferred areas through which Syrian refugees cross illegally into Lebanon. Most cross at night and with the help of cross-border smugglers. They arrive in need […]

For the past year and a half, the Arab Spring has convulsed the Middle East. It has resulted in the overthrow of four leaders who only two years before seemed destined to rule for life, plunged another country into a fratricidal civil war and placed even long-established monarchies under renewed political and economic stress. What triggered this tsunami of political upheaval? And is it localized to the Arab world, or could it spread? It is no secret that authorities in Beijing and Moscow are playing close attention, attempting to ferret out any indications that a prerevolutionary situation may be building […]

The kidnapping of two Western journalists in northern Syria last month by foreign jihadists seems to affirm the Obama administration’s worst fears: Radical foreign fighters are entering the fray, bringing the potential to aggravate the conflict and further destabilize the region. With analysts estimating the presence of 200 or more extremist fighters in Syria, Washington has stuck to its policy of not providing arms to the Syrian opposition. In addition, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a secret decree earlier this year authorizing the CIA to help guide weaponry provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar into the right hands — moderate, […]

When world leaders converge on Tehran next week to attend the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, they will give the Iranian regime a desperately needed opportunity to display competence and confidence, and not a moment too soon. Expect bluster and grandstanding from Iran’s leaders, with a message aimed not only at the international community but also at a restless domestic audience. Behind the over-the-to taunts and frequent bravado, the reality is that the Islamic Republic is being squeezed on all sides. As if Iran’s leaders didn’t have enough on their hands with economic sanctions, talk of war and a besieged […]

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Syria’s second largest city of Aleppo has been at the epicenter of the conflict since intensified fighting erupted there almost a month ago, triggering a major army assault a week later. According to a top Free Syrian Army commander, rebels control almost two thirds of the city, but that’s a claim denied by a security source in Damascus. Video News by NewsLook

Amid Syria’s widespread civil disorder, ongoing since March 2011, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pressed on with its policy of rapprochement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Political disputes, border tensions, demographic differences and personal animosities between their political leaders have troubled relations between Syria and Iraq for many years. For decades, relations were also strained due to the two neighbors’ traditional rivalry for pre-eminence in the Arab world, allegations of interference in each other’s internal affairs, disputes over oil transit fees and their stances on Israel, and suspicions that each side was aiding the opponents […]

Nabeel Rajab, a prominent opposition activist who founded the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was sentenced to three years in jail last week for his participation in protests. The protests, led mostly by members of the Shiite Muslim majority who are calling for democracy, began last year and continued even as the government imposed martial law and responded with what many call excessive use of force. Explaining that he was disappointed but not surprised to read the news, Toby C. Jones, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University, told Trend Lines the verdict represents the end of any pretense […]

Editor’s note: Ulrike Guérot is on a break. Guest columnist Richard Gowan will be writing the Continentalist while she is gone. A malaise has settled over diplomatic discussions of the Syrian civil war at the United Nations. Last week, there was confusion over whether the U.N. had a replacement for Kofi Annan as envoy to Damascus. Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi had been offered the post, but it was unclear whether he would accept it. While Brahimi eventually agreed to take the job, an anonymous U.N. source briefed that he wanted to get away from the “failed approach” tried by Annan. […]

The Obama administration took office in 2009 with high hopes that it would be able to break the diplomatic stalemate over Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Now, as the Obama team finishes its fourth summer with no resolution to the nuclear imbroglio in sight, it is a good time to take stock of its efforts. Obama’s national security team wanted to break out of what it saw as a binary choice between having to learn to live with a nuclear Iran or using force to end the Iranian nuclear program. The possibility of a third way beckoned: duplicating the terms of […]

In the space of a few short days, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has pulled off a lightning-swift realignment of the country’s political map. On Aug. 12, Morsi assumed powers as vast as those of his predecessor, the deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak. And, incredibly, he did it without immediately triggering either street protests or a countermove by Egypt’s erstwhile all-powerful military. The curiously quiet reaction — a nonreaction, really — from the military suggests the soft coup did not happen in a vacuum: Morsi probably laid the groundwork within some sectors of the armed forces. But if that may explain the […]

In early July, Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), assembled Syrian Kurdish leaders in Irbil, Iraq, to broker a deal to unite Kurdish groups against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. By the end of the conference, the Supreme Kurdish National Council was born to represent Kurds in a post-Bashar al-Assad Syria. Turkey, which did not participate in the conference, initially welcomed the Kurdish unity: With the fall of Assad as the group’s primary goal, one that Turkey shares, unified Kurdish opposition would only hasten the end of the Syrian regime. However, Turkey’s perception of […]

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited France last month in an effort to improve the two countries’ strained bilateral relationship. In an email interview, Dorothée Schmid, head of the Turkey program at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), discussed France-Turkey relations. WPR: What explains the deterioration of Franco-Turkish relations over the past several years? Dorothée Schmid: Three main issues became contentious between France and Turkey over the past decade. In chronological order, the recognition of the Armenian genocide came first: The French Parliament passed a bill in 2001 officially calling the events of 1915 a genocide, triggering an immediate […]

For the first time in several decades, Iraq reclaimed its place as the second-largest OPEC oil producer in July. Iraq produced more than 3 million barrels per day (bpd) over the month, surpassing Iran, whose production fell to 2.9 million bpd. The development resulted from a combination of Iraq’s gradually increasing oil output and Iran’s decreasing production due to the growing impact of international sanctions on Iran’s energy production sector. During the past five years, Iran’s oil production has decreased by about 1 million bpd due to various multinational and unilateral sanctions on its commercial activities. Meanwhile, Iraq’s output has […]

Editor’s note: Ulrike Guérot is on a two-week break. Guest columnist Richard Gowan will be writing the Continentalist while she is gone. The Syrian civil war is becoming simultaneously more brutal and more confusing. As the battle for Aleppo has dragged on and diplomatic efforts to forge a peace deal have been derailed, it has been hard to assess whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime are close to collapse or able to sustain a protracted war. Yet there is a growing sense that, if and when Assad falls, some sort of international peacekeeping force will likely be needed […]

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