Kurds wave Kurdish flags and flash the victory sign as they gather to support the referendum in Iraq, Beirut, Lebanon, Sept. 17, 2017 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region made history this week by voting “yes” in a highly contested referendum on independence from the central government in Baghdad. While the poll is only one step in what is sure to be a long, fraught political process, it points to a broader push for autonomy by Kurds throughout the region, including in Turkey, Syria and Iran. With the self-proclaimed Islamic State in retreat and Syria’s war winding down, WPR has compiled 10 key readings on the buildup to the referendum and what comes next. Purchase this special report as a Kindle e-book. Road to the […]

Residents walk through the rubble of the resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, Syria, May 18, 2017 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Last month, for the first time in six years, the Syrian government hosted an international trade fair in Damascus. Staged at a fairground in the southern outskirts of the capital, near the airport, the exhibition was promoted as a sign of victory for President Bashar al-Assad. Russian, Iranian and Chinese companies headlined the list of attendees, which also included representatives of European firms. The fair—last held in the summer of 2011, as Syria’s uprising was just turning into a civil war—“sends a message that the war has ended … and we are at the start of the path towards reconstruction,” […]

An Iraqi Kurdish man prepares to cast his ballot during the referendum on independence from Iraq, Irbil, Iraq, Sept. 25, 2017 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

Iraqi Kurds voted for independence on Monday, a move that generated controversy within their semiautonomous territory of northern Iraq and threats from powerful neighbors Turkey and Iran, and most of all the Iraqi government in Baghdad. All three are bent on preventing any further steps on the road to Kurdish statehood. Some Iraqi Kurds themselves would even have preferred to give priority to economic and political reforms before pushing for full independence. It was easy to come up with many reasons for why the referendum was ill-advised, or why the prospects for true independence will remain poor. All that criticism […]

Hamas supporters chant anti-Israeli slogans during a protest at the Palestinian Legislative Council, Gaza City, July 21, 2017 (AP photo by Adel Hana).

Over the summer, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a vague decree restricting freedom of expression on social media and online news sites, ostensibly to uphold “national unity” and the “social fabric.” Critics slammed the measure as an attempt to censure criticism of the Palestinian Authority. In an email interview, Charmaine Seitz, a consultant on the Middle East who formerly reported from Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, explains what’s behind the move, its impact on civil society, and how both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have curbed dissent. WPR: What steps has the Palestinian Authority taken to clamp down […]

A man walks past a TV news screen showing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump, while reporting North Korea's a possible nuclear test, Tokyo, Sept. 3, 2017 (AP photo by Eugene Hoshiko).

The chances of a major war involving the United States are higher today than at any time since early 2003. Seldom a week goes by without a new missile or nuclear test by North Korea. President Donald Trump and his top advisers have stated categorically that they will not allow North Korea to develop the capability to attack the American homeland, preventing it by force if necessary. In a speech this week to the United Nations General Assembly, Trump vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the United States or its allies. These shocking words demonstrate how dangerous […]

Kurds wave Kurdish flags during a rally to support an independence referendum in Iraq, Beirut, Lebanon, Sept. 17, 2017 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Iraq’s Kurds are slated to vote on a referendum for independence on Sept. 25, despite fervent opposition from outside parties, including Iraq’s central government. With tensions building, the referendum has become a lightning rod among the coalition of forces united to eliminate the self-proclaimed Islamic State, whose stronghold straddles Iraq and Syria. In an email interview, Ramzy Mardini, a nonresident fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, discusses how the referendum might affect the international campaign against the Islamic State, the post-conflict state of affairs in Iraq and relations between the Kurds and […]

Turkish supporters of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi protest with a portrait of current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, depicted as the "last pharaoh," Ankara, Turkey, July 13, 2013 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

Egypt and Turkey, two of the Middle East’s largest and most influential states, have developed diametrically opposed foreign policies since downgrading their diplomatic ties four years ago. With leaders in both countries continuing to consolidate power domestically, the region should brace for the impact of competing influences in the power struggle between Cairo and Ankara. In an email interview, Yasser El Shimy, adjunct professor at George Washington University in Washington D.C., discusses the evolution of Egypt-Turkey ties, how their foreign policies have become increasingly competitive, and what outside forces have done to exacerbate tensions. WPR: How have Egypt-Turkey relations evolved […]

Security forces line up Sudanese migrants detained at a police station after they were rescued from a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, Rosetta, Egypt, Sept. 21, 2016 (AP photo by Eman Helal).

The remains of at least 14 adults and children, mainly skulls and bones, were discovered last month on a desert road in Egypt’s Nile Valley. Days later, a similar discovery was made nearly 200 miles away, according to a report in Al-Monitor. Along with a series of high-profile arrests, the grisly discoveries in Egypt again raised the specter of illicit organ trafficking in a country that has become a launching point for the migration of vulnerable people from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe and beyond. Egypt has long been a destination for its troubled southern neighbors, such as Sudan, Ethiopia and […]

President Donald Trump greets Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, at the White House, Washington, Sept. 7, 2017 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

The meeting in the White House last week between the ruler of Kuwait and President Donald Trump set off a flurry of diplomatic activity. For a moment, it appeared as though it might lead to an opening for resolving the three-month-old dispute that has divided U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf, with Qatar on one side and a Saudi-led bloc of four countries on the other. Hopes were dashed, however, when the efforts collapsed into even more bitter acrimony between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But this time, there was a new twist in the dispute: Some of the invective, though […]

Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., listens during the Security Council’s nonproliferation meeting on North Korea at U.N. headquarters, New York, Sept. 4, 2017 (AP photo by Bebeto Matthews).

Russia is flexing its diplomatic muscles at the United Nations again. Moscow appears intent on using the U.N. to complicate American efforts to put pressure on North Korea and sow confusion over its own intentions toward Ukraine. Western diplomats should be alert, because Russia is a fine player of the U.N. game. World leaders gather in New York next week for the new U.N. General Assembly session. All eyes will be on U.S. President Donald Trump. His Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will be absent. But Moscow knows how to make its presence felt in New York. Just days after Putin […]

Protesters carry pictures of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a rally supporting Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in Israeli jails, Ramallah, West Bank, May 3, 2017 (AP photo by Nasser Nasser).

When Mahmoud Abbas was re-elected as the head of Fatah at the party’s seventh congress late last year, the now 82-year-old president of the Palestinian Authority succeeded in affirming not only his 12-year grip on power, but his unquestioned supremacy within Palestinian politics. After years of purging his political opposition, the gathering was absent any members of Fatah that were not loyalists of the president. At the time, Abbas heralded it as “a congress for developing and getting to national unity.” Yet the real goal of the congress wasn’t to unite behind Abbas. It was to resolve the lingering issue […]

Migrant laborers work on a road construction site,Dubai, United Arab Emirates, April 10, 2017 (AP photo by Kamran Jebreili).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series about workers’ rights in various countries around the world. Rich in wealth but scarce in human capital, the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf have relied heavily on migrant laborers for much of the last half century. In recent years, however, social tensions and a severe economic downturn have put pressure on the region’s migrant labor force and caused many workers to be expelled. In an email interview, Karen Young, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, explains the policy underpinning migrant labor in the […]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at his Likud Party conference, Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday Aug. 9, 2017 (AP photo by Oded Balilty).

For months, some of Israel’s top political figures have been embroiled in a series of growing corruption scandals that threaten to bring down the government. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has also been implicated and could face increasing pressure to resign from office as the story unfolds. In an email interview, Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf explains the backdrop of the multiple corruption investigations, what it all means for Netanyahu’s position as prime minister, and why Israel’s corruption problems date back decades. WPR: Can you describe the current set of corruption scandals unfolding in Israel and who is involved? Noam Sheizaf: There […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a special session in Turkey’s parliament to mark the anniversary of the botched coup attempt, Ankara, Turkey, July 15, 2017 (AP photo by Ali Unal).

After a failed coup attempt in July 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been on a mission to purge the country of his opponents, dismissing thousands of people from the military and civil service, stifling the press, and targeting Turkey’s formal political opposition. In an April referendum, Turkish voters granted Erdogan sweeping new powers that, according to his critics, pushed the country closer to authoritarianism. In an email interview, Iyad Dakka, a fellow with the Center for Modern Turkish Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, describes the new political landscape of the opposition, Erdogan’s efforts to target parties and […]

Members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress in South Africa, hold a frame photograph of former South African President Nelson Mandela, Pretoria, South Africa, June 20, 2013 (AP photo by Markus Schreiber).

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s devastating military defeats in 1991 and 2003 demonstrated that taking on the U.S. military in conventional battles is a very bad idea. Knowing that, some of America’s adversaries, like Russia and Iran, turned to what security experts call the “gray zone”—methods that relied on proxy forces, psychological warfare and other provocations at a level that would not compel U.S. intervention. Extremist groups like al-Qaida, the Taliban and the self-styled Islamic State cannot muster the resources for full-on gray zone aggression even if they wanted to. This has forced them to rely on insurgency instead. Luckily […]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan upon his arrival at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017 (Photo by Emmanuele Contini for SIPA USA via AP).

Lately, it seems that every week Germany’s ties with Turkey hit another low point, and there are few signs of this trend reversing any time soon. The latest escalation came with the arrest last week of Dogan Akhanli, a Turkish-born German writer on vacation in Spain, following a warrant issued by Turkey. German officials decried the move as politically motivated and warned that the Turkish government may be using the multinational police organization Interpol to pursue political opponents abroad. Akhanli’s detention is the most recent in a string of arrests of German citizens both in Turkey and abroad. Since the […]

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Donald Trump listen as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi speaks during a bilateral meeting, Washington, Apr. 3, 2017 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

Since taking office, U.S. President Donald Trump has run an erratic foreign policy, failing to deliver a clear and consistent message to allies and enemies alike. So, when the State Department decided to cut and withhold a combined $295 million in economic and military aid to Egypt last week, despite exceedingly warm relations between Trump and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, many were once again left scratching their heads. For nearly a year, Trump has been an ardent supporter of the regime in Cairo, ending an era of rough-and-tumble relations between Egypt and the Obama administration. Sisi, for his part, was […]