Italian Premier Matteo Renzi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi at a press conference, Rome, Italy, Nov. 24, 2014 (AP photo by Alessandra Tarantino).

Earlier this month, Italy cooperated with Libyan military commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar to ensure the delivery of 700,000 barrels of oil from eastern Libya, despite the fact that the Italian government officially supports the United Nations-backed national unity government in Tripoli that Haftar opposes. In an email interview, Silvia Colombo, a senior fellow at the Institute of International Affairs, discusses Italy’s policies in North Africa and the Middle East. WPR: Who are Italy’s main partners in North Africa and the Middle East, and to what extent do hydrocarbons drive relations? Silvia Colombo: Italy’s foreign policy has always had a distinct […]

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 […]

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 […]

Demonstrators of the Berber community stage a protest in front of a walled area where Algier's newspapers are headquartered, Algiers, July 8, 2015 (AP photo by Sidali Djarboub).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s editor-in-chief, Judah Grunstein, and senior editor, Frederick Deknatel, discuss Africa’s presidents for life, the need to rethink U.S. relationships with the Arab world, and political stagnation in Indonesia under Jokowi. For the Report, Vish Sakthivel joins Peter Dörrie to talk about the outlook for Algeria when the Bouteflika era comes to an end. Listen: Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Relevant Articles on WPR: Why Africa’s ‘Presidents for Life’ Are So Afraid to Lose Power Why the U.S. Should Prioritize Iraq and UAE Ties Over Egypt and Saudi Arabia Why Indonesia’s Apparent Stability Under […]

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 […]

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika applauds after taking the oath as President, Algiers, April 28, 2014 (AP photo by Sidali Djarboub).

The ailing health of Algeria’s aging president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, commonly leads Algeria-watchers to assess the prospects for regime continuity and the risks of political instability in what amounts to an interregnum. Both make up chapters of the country’s recent history. Over the past 25 years, Algerians lived through 10 traumatic years of insurgency and counterinsurgency, sometimes called the Dark Decade that shook the country to its foundations from 1991-2002, followed by a decade and a half of peace under Bouteflika. Bouteflika, along with his predecessor Liamine Zeroual, negotiated the laying down of arms and reconciliation—albeit an imperfect one—among armed groups […]

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 […]

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 […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, Hanoi, Vietnam, Oct. 6, 2016 (AP photo by Tran Van Minh).

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was in Vietnam this week, the first stop of a three-nation tour of Southeast Asia. During his visit, Rouhani and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang agreed to work toward the goal of boosting trade to $2 billion. In an email interview, John Calabrese, an assistant professor at American University, discusses Iran’s diplomatic outreach in Southeast Asia. WPR: What is the state of diplomatic and economic ties between Iran and Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, and what areas and sectors present the best opportunities to deepen relations? John Calabrese: Iran’s interactions with Southeast Asia are not new. Iranian […]

Children peer from a partially destroyed home, Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 11, 2016 (Komsomolskaya Pravda photo by Alexander Kots).

Should the United States use military means to try to stop Syrian and Russian forces from massacring the civilian population of Aleppo? If the answer to that question is no, then what level of atrocity is the U.S., and the world, willing to tolerate in Syria—and elsewhere—before intervening? The questions in isolation are relatively straightforward to answer. But when we consider them in tandem, the answers become mutually incompatible. This is the crux of the tragedy of the Syrian civil war for those not condemned to suffer its terrible consequences directly. At first glance, the case for intervening on humanitarian […]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter at the Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan, July 12, 2016 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

A “less is more” school of thought seems to be emerging in Western capitals where policymakers, public intellectuals and on-the-ground practitioners are trying to find ways to improve the outcomes of international interventions and post-conflict stabilization operations. It may be a fine-tuned judgment about the limited effectiveness and disappointing track record of past efforts, and also about the capacities of receiving countries to absorb aid and technical assistance. But it’s also an expression of the crisis of confidence in Western countries about their core activities to make the world a better place. Syria is the extreme example that raises doubts […]

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