French President Francois Hollande and Iraqi President Fouad Massoum during the opening of a conference on strategy against the Islamic State group, Paris, Sept. 15, 2014 (AP photo by Brendan Smialowski).

France has suddenly and shockingly found itself in the middle of the Iraq maelstrom that it had managed up until now to avoid. With its armed forces engaged in the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State group and a French citizen killed by the group’s sympathizers in retaliation, Paris’ policy in Iraq and the region beyond is being put to the test. In a recent statement, as succinct as it was scathing, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the spokesman for the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS), called on the group’s recruits and supporters to target France and its citizens […]

Leaders walk along the Volga embankment during the Caspian Summit, Astrakhan, Russia, Sept. 29, 2014 (Russian Presidential Press and Information Office photo).

The leaders of all five littoral states attended the fourth Caspian Sea summit in the Russian city of Astrakhan yesterday. The latest meeting was more significant than previous summits held in Turkmenistan in 2002, Iran in 2007 and Azerbaijan in 2010, as the parties reached important agreements on some issues. Yet, others continue to divide them, with implications that reach far beyond the Caspian. At yesterday’s summit, the five littoral state presidents—Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev—renewed their commitment to keeping non-Caspian countries from establishing a military presence on the […]

Migrants arriving on the island of Lampedusa, Italy, Aug. 2007 (photo by Flickr user No Border Network licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

Earlier this month, a boat carrying upward of 250 migrants toward Europe sunk off the coast of Libya. A week prior, an estimated 500 migrants were killed when their vessel was sunk by human traffickers off the Maltese coast. These are just the latest events in a year that has proven to be exceptionally deadly for migrants seeking to enter Europe. With over 3,000 people having drowned trying to enter Europe so far this year, there have been many calls for European nations and the European Union to do more to address the issues of migration and asylum. The dramatic […]

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Andrew Dacey reviews security checkpoints with Iraqi soldiers in the city of Abu Ghraib, Iraq, March 31, 2009 (U.S. Army photo).

Soon after the George W. Bush administration toppled Saddam Hussein, it became clear that Iraq was headed for a bitter conflict driven by Saddam’s politicization of sectarian and ethnic divisions and the lingering pathologies of his parasitic dictatorship. Thus, for the U.S., getting out of Iraq required the rebuilding of an Iraqi army that could maintain internal security. The U.S. military embraced this challenge, lavishing money and effort to create a new Iraqi army designed for the sort of effectiveness and apolitical professionalism that characterizes America’s armed forces. The raw material that U.S. military advisers and trainers had to work […]

Houthi Shiite rebels ride in a pickup truck at the compound of the army’s First Armored Division, after taking it over, Sanaa, Yemen, Sept. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

It is still too soon to know what the Sept. 21 takeover of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, by a group known as the Houthis will mean for the country’s future and its internationally backed political transition. But in a matter of days, the Houthis have redrawn Yemen’s political map far more radically than the 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh after 33 years in power. So quickly did the Houthis rout tribal and Sunni Islamist militias and a military unit loyal to one of their fiercest rivals before signing a peace deal on extremely […]

Protester at the talk with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, New York, Sept. 24, 2014 (photo by David Klion).

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke yesterday at an event sponsored by the New America Foundation at the New York Hilton. The event was well attended and the audience included many journalists, although only New America board member Fareed Zakaria had the opportunity to ask Rouhani questions. Rouhani began his prepared remarks by noting that he used to run the Center for Strategic Research and called for more interaction between U.S. and Iranian think tanks. He then turned to the Middle East, where the forces of the Islamic State group—which Rouhani, through his translator, described variously as extremists, terrorists, or using […]

Then-Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Mohamed A. Al-Attiyah at the Conference on Security Policy, Munich, Germany, Feb. 5, 2012 (AP photo by Frank Augstein).

At the end of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Doha last week, Qatar’s young emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, drove Erdogan to the airport in his own car. The gesture, perhaps, was meant to signal Turkey and Qatar’s close ties. But one couldn’t help thinking it was also a sign of the course they’ve charted, often together, over the past three years as the chief sponsors of Islamist political parties and movements across the Middle East. Both countries’ calculations, however, could be changing. On the heels of Erdogan’s trip to Doha, the Guardian reported that Qatar had […]

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping before the opening ceremony at the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit in Shanghai, China, May 21, 2014 (AP photo by Aly Song).

Two Chinese warships paid a port call to Iran over the weekend, in advance of a four-day joint naval exercise with the Iranian navy that was reportedly to begin Monday. The visit highlights China’s ties with Iran, at a time when the outcome of international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program remains uncertain. As those negotiations resume, China seems to be the least concerned of all the parties about their outcome. This apparent indifference is understandable: Iran is physically distant from China; has not threatened China directly or through supporting terrorism targeting China; and is not China’s only source of Middle […]

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sits on a wheelchair after taking oath as President, April 28, 2014, in Algiers (AP photo by Sidali Djarboub).

Earlier this month, Algeria and Russia signed a nuclear energy cooperation deal. In an email interview, Bruno Tertrais, senior research fellow at the Paris-based Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique (Foundation for Strategic Research), discussed Algeria’s nuclear program. WPR: What is the current status of Algeria’s civil nuclear program? Bruno Tertrais: Algeria has had a nuclear research program for almost three decades. Algeria has two main research facilities: Draria, which hosts a small 1-MW reactor near Algiers, and Ain-Oussera, a 15-MW reactor in the Sahara desert south of Algiers. The country has had plans for nuclear power reactors for a long […]

Sudanese men wave Iranian and Sudanese flags celebrating Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit with President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum, Sudan, Sept. 26, 2011 (AP photo by Abd Raouf).

As headlines in the Middle East continue to be dominated by the civil war in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State group, the region’s shifting geopolitics are also making their impact felt in other parts of the world. The Horn of Africa is a case in point, as illustrated earlier this month when Sudan closed Iranian Shiite cultural centers operating in the country and expelled a diplomat responsible for them. Sudan’s famously complex politics have long been influenced by the bitter rivalries of outside powers: the Soviet Union versus America during the Cold War; the Egypt of Nasser […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with his Arab counterparts after a meeting with them in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 11, 2014 (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool).

In a Sept. 13 speech, President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy for dealing with the Islamic State group. “We will degrade and ultimately destroy” it, Obama said, “through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” The strategy he outlined in the speech includes three components: U.S. airstrikes; increased support for militias and national militaries directly fighting the Islamic State group; and efforts to prevent the group from undertaking terrorist attacks against the U.S. or other nations. As always, Obama was careful, cautious and restrained, seeking an indirect and supporting role rather than the leading one. He ruled out large-scale American involvement […]

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and his wife Queen Maxima, center left, arrive at the Hall of Knights, The Hague, Netherlands, Sept. 16, 2014 (AP photo by Jasper Juinen).

AMSTERDAM—The annual event known as Prince’s Day in the Netherlands brings an uncommon dose of pomp to the decidedly informal Dutch landscape. Tens of thousands of people gathered on Tuesday to watch King Willem-Alexander and his superstar wife Queen Maxima travel in their golden carriage to the Hall of Knights for the opening of Parliament. The crowds come for the pageantry, but the day contains a large dose of serious substance. The main event is the king’s speech, which offers important clues to emerging priorities for the Netherlands, and usually for much of Europe. This year marked the 200th occasion […]

President Barack Obama speaks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

When President Barack Obama announced plans for calibrated U.S. air strikes in Iraq last week, he set off heated debates about the wisdom and chances for success of his strategy to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State group operating there and in neighboring Syria. This week, the White House announced another military deployment that, despite involving not air strikes but some 3,000 American boots on the ground, evinced barely a second glance: the medical humanitarian mission to West Africa to contain the ongoing outbreak of the Ebola virus there. The reason for the contrast in reactions is of course […]

French President Francois Hollande and Iraqi President Fouad Massoum during the opening of a conference on strategy against the Islamic State group, Paris, Sept. 15, 2014 (AP photo by Brendan Smialowski).

Much of the discussion around the strategy unveiled this past week by President Barack Obama to combat the Islamic State has focused on whether or not the administration will be able to successfully forge a “core coalition” of states to participate in the fight, and whether that grouping will be substantive or a largely ceremonial equivalent of the “coalition of the willing” assembled by George W. Bush prior to the invasion of Iraq. But the main proposition is largely accepted as a given: The United States can supply air power, intelligence assets and even training and equipment, but other coalition […]

In this undated file picture released Nov. 29, 2013, posted on the Facebook page of a militant group, members of Ahrar al-Sham brigade exercise in a training camp at unknown place in Syria (AP photo).

Last week, on Sept. 9, the entire leadership of one of Syria’s strongest rebel groups, Ahrar al-Sham, was killed in a blast during a secret meeting in Idlib, in northern Syria. A dozen of the deeply conservative Salafi movement’s leaders died in the attack, which some sources claim was a suicide bombing and others an airstrike by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. As the United States mobilizes an international coalition against the militants of the Islamic State group, with plans to train 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels, the attack could have domino effects across the conflict, especially among often-shifting rebel alliances. The killing […]

A man sits alone near the road between the Dakhla Refugee Camp and Awsaard Refugee Camp, June 24, 2003 (UN photo by Evan Schneider).

The Western Sahara conflict is fast approaching its 40th anniversary with no end in sight. A web of geopolitical interests keeps the conflict in a permanent state of limbo. At the heart of this web is the U.N. Security Council, which has managed the conflict since the late 1980s. The council has been historically reticent to take dramatic action to resolve the dispute and remains so today. Though there has been “peace” in Western Sahara since 1991 when a cease-fire came into effect, all efforts to reconcile Morocco’s claim of sovereignty against the local population’s right to self-determination have failed. […]

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard atop an armored vehicle at a combat outpost on the outskirts of Makhmour, Sept. 6, 2014 (AP photo by Marko Drobnjakovic).

IRBIL, Iraq—As the United States is moving to broaden its war against militants of the so-called Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), perhaps its most important ally is the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq. The reasons are clear: In a region where states have either imploded or where stability flows largely from dynastic rule, the KRG is stable, its politics are in the main moderate and pro-Western and it holds regular elections. Yet the KRG has its own strategic agenda, some of which is potentially problematic. And under its democratic facade, […]

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