Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaking to his supporters before entering Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone, March, 27, 2016 (AP photo by Karim Kadim).

A key character from the Iraqi insurgency is back center stage in Baghdad, but what does it mean? The re-emergence of Muqtada al-Sadr, the 42-year-old Shiite cleric notorious for his firebrand rhetoric and command of a feared militia, the Mahdi Army, has sparked all kinds of coverage. Sadr has been compared to an “Iraqi Gandhi”—an evolution, in the same headline, from “rabid warlord.” His apparent reinvention from militia leader to “shrewd political operator” has people asking, again, whether he is the most powerful man in Iraqi politics. The return of this “old provocateur” in February amid streets protests outside Baghdad’s […]

Porcelain photos decorated with the images of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a shop in Damascus, April 18, 2016 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Although they are on opposite sides of Syria’s civil war, Russia and Saudi Arabia find themselves in similar positions. Both are presenting themselves as trying in earnest to rein in their proxies. Russia, wanting to again be considered a great power, has forced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to come to the negotiating table and perhaps can force him to make important compromises. The Saudis, wanting to be seen as reliable and essential U.S. allies in the region, claim to have organized the fragmented Syrian opposition into a moderate, cohesive body. Moscow and Riyadh may indeed have enough leverage to rein […]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during a Likud-Yisrael Beitenu campaign rally, Ashdod, Israel, Jan. 16, 2013 (AP photo by Tsafrir Abayov).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done it again. It seemed like only yesterday that he was claiming Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews until he was convinced to do so by the grand mufti of Jerusalem; that he was race-baiting Israeli Arabs to win re-election; that he was sticking his finger in the eye of the U.S. president—the leader of Israel’s closest ally—over the Iran nuclear deal. But with Netanyahu, there’s always some new provocation. This month, he struck at the very heart of the civilian-military relationship in Israel, in the process showing once again that there is […]

A Syrian Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units (YPG), Sinjar, Iraq, Jan. 29, 2015 (AP photo by Bram Janssen).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s editor-in-chief, Judah Grunstein, and host Peter Dörrie discuss the challenges facing President Maurico Macri’s reforms in Argentina, Mozambique’s hidden debt crisis, and land protests in Kazakhstan. For the Report, Denise Natali joins us to talk about how the Syrian war has impacted the country’s Kurds and their prospects for autonomy. Listen:Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Relevant articles on WPR: Macri’s Moment: Can Argentina’s New President Live Up to the Hype? Massive Debt Revelation Another Blow to Mozambique’s Economy Kazakhstan’s Unprecedented Land Protests Only the First Wave of Discontent? Can Syria’s Kurds Leverage War […]

Supporters of the Islamist party Ennahda during a rally in Tunis, Tunisia, Feb. 16, 2013 (AP photo by Amine Landouls).

On Thursday, Rachid Ghannouchi, the founder of Tunisia’s Ennahda, told the French newspaper Le Monde that his party—long defined and projected as Islamist—would be “leaving political Islam behind.” Rather than Islamists, Ghannouchi says, Ennahda is a party of “Muslim Democrats,” echoing a paper that a party legislator recently published for the Brookings Institution. The move requires some clarification: Ennahda is not stripping Islam from its identity. Rather, the group will formally delineate between its political and religious activities. Its leadership will focus exclusively on politics and technocratic issues, whereas its other members will remain free to engage in the civic […]

Hezbollah supporters carry the coffin of slain commander Mustafa Badreddine during his funeral procession, southern Beirut, Lebanon, May 13, 2016 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

For all its current brutality and intractability, the war in Syria, like all wars, will one day come to an end. In pondering over what the Middle East will look like when that day comes, it is worth considering how the war will have changed Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia and political organization. Last week Hezbollah’sMustafa Badreddine was killed in Syria.Badreddine was not just an ordinary fighter for the group. He was responsible for some of Hezbollah’s most spectacular attacks over the years, including the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, along with other hotel, embassy and airline bombings. […]

A Syrian Kurdish sniper looks at the rubble, Kobani, Syria, Jan. 30, 2015 (AP photo).

The breakdown of the Syrian state has been a political boon for Kurdish groups. Failed governance, civil war, jihadi threats and external support have enabled the Kurds’ Democratic Union Party (PYD)—an affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)—to advance its leftist-nationalist agenda. Since 2011, the PYD has created new facts on the ground in Syria by expanding territories, assuming de facto control over oil fields, creating three autonomous cantons, and declaring a so-called federal Kurdish region. The PYD has also benefitted from both U.S. and Russian backing in the campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), support that has bolstered […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Paris Climate Conference, Le Bourget, France, Nov. 30, 2015 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Given global headlines, you might think the world is terribly off course. Geopolitical rivalry threatens stability from Eastern Europe to the South China Sea. Jihadi terrorists sow mayhem throughout the Middle East. A scary virus emerges in Latin America, spreading across borders. A Brazilian president is brought down, as the Panama Papers expose corruption in other lands. Publics everywhere, alienated by yawning inequality and anemic growth, vent their frustration at a system rigged for moneyed elites. Populist politicians, sensing the sour mood, promise to reverse globalization by building walls to keep out foreigners and abandoning trade agreements. This noisy, negative […]

Map of the Sykes–Picot Agreement signed by Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, May 8, 1916 (U.K. National Archives image).

This month marks the centenary of the Sykes-Picot treaty, a French-English agreement to establish areas of control and influence in the Arab lands of the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The milestone has stirred up resentments and a sense that the flailing states of the region never really existed as coherent geographic entities. But changing borders is not easy, and even if one could draw a better map of the Middle East, it would not solve its deepest sources of distress. Much is being said about the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, a minor event […]

South Korean President Park Geun-hye at a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Tehran, May 2, 2016 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited Iran earlier this month, pledging to forge ahead and establish a new era of relations with Tehran built on closer economic cooperation. During the three-day visit, Park and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed to 30 joint economic projects, totaling more than $37.1 billion. The two sides also agreed to more than 50 memorandums of understanding dealing with everything from infrastructure cooperation and joint energy ventures to work on medical and health care projects. South Korea was eager to quickly restore relations with Tehran following the finalization of last year’s nuclear deal between Iran and […]

U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, April 5, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

There has been a distinct pattern to America’s time as a global power: Whenever the United States becomes involved in a conflict, it quickly draws lessons that set the trajectory for the next conflict or problem. American strategy truly is iterative, with the recent past paving the way for future action. This means that getting the lessons right, or at least as right as possible, is a vital part of strategy-making. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, the lessons of Vietnam haunted policymakers and framed public debate over America’s role in the world. This led the U.S. military to […]

A member of the Moroccan special anti-terror unit at the headquarters of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, Rabat, Morocco, April 20, 2015 (AP photo by Abdeljalil Bounhar).

Last week, the Long War Journal reported that the “self-proclaimed head of the Islamic State’s arm in the Sahara has reportedly threatened to attack Morocco,” according to an audio statement sent to Al Jazeera. The message’s authenticity has not been verified, and there has been no official media release of the tape. But it drew attention to the potential terror threats facing Morocco, which has for years taken pride in its domestic anti-radicalization programs and has emerged as an important counterterrorism partner for European countries, including France and Belgium. In 2014, the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), Abu Bakr […]

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jets on the tarmac at the Siauliai airbase, Lithuania, April 27, 2016 (AP photo by Mindaugas Kulbis).

The next NATO summit, set for July in Warsaw, is arguably one of the most important meetings of the alliance’s heads of state in the post-Cold War era. European security is at its worst since the end of the Cold War, while Europe finds itself facing a range of serious internal challenges, including continued slow economic growth, the influx of migrants and refugees and the rise of extremist parties. The United States, on the other hand, is distracted by its own poisoned domestic politics and must contend with security challenges in not only Europe, but also the Middle East and […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Ankara, Turkey, May 4, 2016 (Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Service, via AP).

The ouster of Ahmet Davutoglu as prime minister of Turkey is an internal matter. But it will almost certainly have negative repercussions for the hard-fought and controversial deal between Turkey and the European Union, by which Brussels agreed to compensate Ankara for helping to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe. It’s the latest of several cases where domestic political dramas have affected the foreign policy interests of important middle powers. Last week, a long-simmering power struggle between Davutoglu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to a boil. Erdogan had recently cajoled or convinced others in his […]

South Sudanese First Vice President Riek Machar, left, and President Salva Kiir after the first meeting of a new transitional government, Juba, South Sudan, April 29, 2016 (AP photo by Jason Patinkin).

South Sudan’s original political odd couple is back together again. In late April, President Salva Kiir watched over the swearing in of his very recent rival and enemy, Riek Machar, as first vice president before declaring that the ceremony marked “the end of the war and the return of peace and stability to South Sudan.” Is Kiir right? While the homecoming for Machar, the vice president-turned-rebel leader, is a crucial initial step in returning peace to South Sudan, it is only that. And it would be dangerous to reduce the peace process to simply the state of the relationship between […]

Iraqi counterterrorism forces hold an ISIS flag they captured regaining control of Hit, Iraq, April 13, 2016 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

Two years ago the conflict between the self-styled Islamic State (ISIS) and the government of Iraq saw dramatic, unexpected shifts, as large swaths of territory and major cities changed hands. The battle lines moved back and forth. For a while it seemed that the extremists might march triumphantly into Baghdad. But then the Iraqi government and security forces regained their bearing and held on. Slowly the tide turned, at least a bit. Since then, anti-ISIS militias have grown stronger; U.S. air attacks have crippled the group; and the coalition fighting the movement has made strides in shutting down its access […]

Celebrating the spring festival of Nowruz in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, March 21, 2016 (AP photo by Murat Bay).

Growing disorder throughout the Middle East has created the possibility for major changes to the status of Kurdish minorities in Iraq, Turkey and Syria. At a time when the region is shaken by sectarian divisions and upheavals, Kurds have emerged as critical actors in providing security and stability. Kurdish military gains in Syria and Iraq, along with initial political gains in Turkey after last June’s elections, gave a boost to their self-confidence in 2015. However, with internal challenges and unending battles, that self-confidence has since been punctured. In December 2015, Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government […]

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