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 […]

This week, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama laid out a U.S. foreign policy agenda for the remainder of his term in office, with particular emphasis on finding a solution to the impasse over the Iranian nuclear program and making a lasting breakthrough in the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute. However, the overall focus of the address, with its emphasis on the centrality of the Middle East, is seemingly at odds with the direction articulated earlier in his administration, most notably by former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: the so-called […]

A group of Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, whose rebellion against the central government sparked a coup and eventually a French intervention, announced yesterday that they were backing out of a June 2013 peace agreement with the Malian government. The move is a step backward for the efforts to stitch Mali back together again. But as Kamissa Camara wrote in WPR earlier this month, the agreement put on hold yesterday was problematic to begin with: Mali’s central government has signed a series of peace agreements with Tuareg rebels over the years, but they have only served short-term purposes. The latest […]

When heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly arrived in New York two years ago, they shared the spotlight with another group of people massing in the city. Lower Manhattan was becoming the epicenter of a movement that became known as Occupy Wall Street, a manifestation of the wave of people power that was sweeping the globe. Back then, masses of everyday citizens were flexing their muscles worldwide. Demonstrators seemed to have the upper hand—peacefully toppling dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, raising complaints and demands seemingly everywhere. The very meaning of power seemed to be changing. Over the […]

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 […]

Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in 2002, Turkey has been reorienting its foreign policy toward increasing Ankara’s weight within the perimeter of the former Ottoman Empire through a combination of economic policy, diplomacy and an emphasis on historical and cultural ties. Dubbed neo-Ottomanism, this approach represents a departure from the strictly NATO-oriented vision Turkey followed in the 20th century, and Turkey has pursued it even more actively since Ahmet Davutoglu, the academic who elaborated the concept, was appointed foreign minister in 2009. In addition to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, the Balkans are a key […]

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 […]

A state of emergency in place, curfews that begin at 7 p.m. on Fridays, army tanks in the streets, Islamists either dead or in prison, Egypt’s aging former dictator Hosni Mubarak out of jail, a rise in Islamist militant attacks against security targets and the intimidation of journalists and human rights workers: These are some of the developments since June 30 that have left some wondering whether, two and a half years after the uprising that brought Mubarak down, Egypt is in fact going through a counterrevolution. On July 3, three days after millions took to the streets calling for […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Global attention has been focused on Syria in the past few weeks, but the most influential country in the Arab world—and historically the one whose political developments tend to be echoed in neighboring countries—remains Egypt. And Egypt is, essentially, being redesigned. The new Egypt could end up looking a lot like the one that existed before the 2011 uprisings. It could also still become something closer to what the pro-democracy revolutionaries aspired to. But it could turn into something entirely different. How Egypt’s story turns out will be greatly influenced by this, the third chapter of the tumultuous era that […]

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 […]

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