Mohammed Shia al-Sudani speaks during a statement at the special session on Iraq of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 1, 2014 (AP photo by Salvatore Di Nolfi).

After more than nine months of deadlock following parliamentary elections last year, Iraq appears to be on the verge of forming a government. The Coordination Framework, a parliamentary bloc that includes Iran-backed Shiite militias, has nominated Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as its candidate for prime minister. The nomination of al-Sudani by the Shiite bloc could thread the needle, as analyst Hamzeh Haddad writes, by producing an Iraqi government stable enough to make tough but necessary policy decisions, but not so polarizing as to spark a renewed round of civil conflict between rival Shiite camps.

U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a working session with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Al Salman Royal Palace, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. President Joe Biden’s “summer of diplomacy” continued last week, this time with stops in the Middle East, where he visited two long-term U.S. regional partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unlike recent stops in the German Alps for the annual G-7 meeting or in Madrid for the NATO leaders’ summit, Biden’s meetings in Riyadh, in particular, generated a great deal of criticism and even opprobrium. Ahead of the trip, critics had warned that visiting Saudi Arabia went directly against Biden’s campaign promise to no longer give the kingdom a “blank check” when it comes to its human rights record. […]

African heads of state gather for a group photograph at the African Union leaders’ summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb. 5, 2022 (AP photo).

Last week, 13 African heads of state and government attended the African Union’s Mid-Year Coordination Meeting, the principal forum for the AU and Africa’s Regional Economic Communities, or RECs, to align their priorities and coordinate implementation of the continental integration agenda. This year’s meeting, the fourth since the format was launched in 2017 to replace a mid-year leaders’ summit, was focused on issues like the status of regional integration in Africa; the division of labor between the AU, its member states and RECs; a tripartite free trade agreement between the East African Community, The Common Market for Eastern and Southern […]

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President Joe Biden entered office promising to return the U.S. to the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the JCPOA. But doing so has proven tricky for Biden’s administration, in part because of the complex politics surrounding the deal in both Washington and Tehran, but also because of the tense relations between the two countries, which soured significantly under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune speaks with the press ahead of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Algiers, Algeria, March 30, 2022 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

On July 5, Algeria celebrated the 60th anniversary of its independence with a military parade in the capital city, Algiers, complete with tanks, helicopters and missile launchers, moving along roads lined with the national flag. The event was meant to celebrate a pivotal day in 1962, when the country officially bucked French colonial rule after fighting a brutal, eight-year war of liberation. But for many, the vision of military hardware parading across the capital that sunny, summer day served instead as a reminder of all that has gone wrong since independence. According to Mourad Ouchichi, a professor of political science […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, center, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose for a photo prior to their talks in Tehran, Iran, July 19, 2022 (Sputnik photo by Sergei Savostyanov, Sputnik).

Three days after U.S. President Joe Biden returned to Washington from a controversial visit to Saudi Arabia, Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Tehran with a complex set of goals of his own. Much like Biden, who aimed to strengthen Washington’s ties in the region, Putin sought to bolster Russia’s relations in the Middle East. The meeting in Iran showcased the awkward relationship between these two dictatorial regimes and their oil-rich nations, both of which have been subjected to Western economic sanctions. By embracing one another, Putin and Iran’s supreme leader aimed to show that they are not pariahs.

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The Syrian civil war that has decimated the country for more than decade, provoking a regional humanitarian crisis and drawing in actors ranging from the United States to Russia, has been drawing inexorably to a conclusion for years now. President Bashar al-Assad, with the backing of Iran and Russia, has emerged militarily victorious from the conflict, which began after his government violently repressed civilian protests in 2011. But is the crisis in Syria really over?

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Two weeks ago, I returned to Beirut for my first visit to Lebanon since an economic crash transformed the country into a perverse lab experiment on the limits of human tolerance for completely avoidable privation and abusive governance. The human impact of the crisis, which began in October 2019, has been thoroughly chronicled, but it’s still stunning to see it in person. Every individual and household in the country runs a daily obstacle course to secure what food, fuel and medicine is available. Meanwhile, the ultra-rich continue to live in style, packing into clubs and luxury shops in full view […]

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid address the media following their meeting in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. President Joe Biden made his first presidential trip to the Middle East this week, stopping in Israel for a three-day visit that was refreshingly uncontroversial, before heading on to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that has raised hackles in Washington since it was announced several weeks ago. The contrasting atmospherics of the two legs of Biden’s trip serve to underscore how much has changed in the region in recent years, but also paradoxically how much has stayed the same. Coming a year after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, […]

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The novel coronavirus caught many world leaders unprepared, despite consistent warnings that a global pandemic was inevitable. And it has revealed the flaws in a global health architecture headed by the World Health Organization, which had already been faulted for its response to the 2014 Ebola pandemic in West Africa. Will there be an overhaul of the WHO when the pandemic is over?

President Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office of the White House after stepping off Marine One, June 13, 2022, in Washington (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

I had planned this week to write about my impressions of Beirut from my first visit there in more than three years. But I’ll save that for next week’s newsletter, because U.S. President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to the Middle East is screaming out for corrective analysis. The problem with the trip is not so much the fact of its occurrence, but the framing of its purpose by U.S. officials, which appears to be based on an outmoded understanding of how foreign influence works in the region’s functional but eroding system of states. Biden is scheduled to make stops in […]

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, speaks with lawmaker Mansour Abbas ahead of the vote to dissolve the Knesset, in Jerusalem, June 30, 2022 (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, was dissolved last Thursday, triggering new elections in November that will be the country’s fifth in four years. The elections, which extend an unprecedented streak of instability in Israel’s electoral politics, became inevitable after the coalition government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett lost its razor-thin majority a little over a year after it took office. Billed as the “government of change,” the unwieldy coalition that Bennett helmed comprised parties from across the political spectrum, held together only by the common interest of unseating Bennett’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Netanyahu was a decisive figure […]

Migrants climb the fences separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco in Melilla, Spain, June 24, 2022 (AP photo by Javier Bernardo).

International condemnation is growing against Morocco and Spain as more details emerge about the violent deaths of at least 37 migrants during an attempt last week to cross Morocco’s border with the Spanish enclave of Melilla. According to media reports, more than 2,000 people attempted to enter the enclave from the Moroccan city of Nador. Moroccan authorities initially claimed that the migrants died in a stampede or as a result of falling from the high, barbed-wire fence that separates Melilla from Moroccan territory. But human rights groups threw cold water on those claims, and video footage quickly emerged and circulated on […]