U.S. Policy Against ISIS Unlikely to Change

NESA Communications Intern Nathan Turregano provides us another piece, this one focusing on how the U.S. will combat ISIS following the Paris attacks…

There will never be a short term or simple solution to D’aesh. What Westerners and their governments must realize is that this fight will not be over soon and a long term permanent solution is much more complicated and difficult than one might hope. Avoiding significant reactionary actions and staying the course may be the best option. D’aesh will be rid from this world in due time, but the question that one might ask themselves is at what cost they are willing to pay for that to happen?

Obama’s foreign policy in regards to D’aesh will remain the same, regardless of the incidents in Paris. The U.S. will focus on strategic airstrikes and minimal Special Forces involvement in the area, and avoid a massive troop presence on the ground. The reasoning behind that is credited to a number of factors, one being Americans reservations of further involvement in the Middle East, while at the same time the current administration avoiding giving D’aesh what they want. D’aesh seeks to provoke Obama and the West into sending troops, so that D’aesh can continue to hurt the West on their own turf.

The short term domestic policy effects of Paris have already been seen in the States, with the House of Representatives passing a bill that would limit the number of Syrian Refugees admitted to the U.S. This is, again, is playing into what D’aesh wants. They have created a refugee situation that expunges Syrians and Iraqis from their homeland, while at the same time barring them from others. Closing borders is not an option if the goal is to stop terrorism, it will only fuel it. These events weigh heavily on the upcoming 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. ISIS has already been major discussion point, but the pressure for troops on the ground is felt more now than ever before. Another major component to any candidate’s foreign policy platform is how to approach the developing and challenging refugee situation.

While the situation in Iraq and Syria continues change daily to  the U.S. will adapt with it. It is important that reactionary and impulsive actions are clearly thought out, focusing on a larger and more permanent end goal, which is the eradication of D’aesh. 

 

 

 

Digital Operations Against ISIS

NESA Communications Intern, Mr. Nathan Turregano, offers his views with the following piece on how “hacktivists” are joining the fight against ISIS…

After the Paris Attacks the hacker group Anonymous released a video on YouTube declaring war on the Islamic State (ISIS). Anonymous sent the message that they will “Hunt them (ISIS) down” and to “Expect many Cyber Attacks” in their efforts to combat the extremist group. This is not the first time the Hacktivists have gone toe to toe with ISIS, the Charlie Hedbo attacks also provoked the same response. Anonymous is meeting ISIS on the more unseen battlefield of this conflict, the Internet.

The Islamic State is known for its boisterous and active participation in social media. It constantly uses Facebook and Twitter in efforts to reach out and radicalize people across the globe. These efforts are extremely difficult to combat without a serious invasion of privacy into the lives of private citizens. On the other hand it is impossible to pinpoint one single source of ISIS propaganda. ISIS has over 46,000 twitter accounts posting videos and sharing messages that accelerate radicalism beyond their borders. Combating such a large scale operation, while still conducting airstrikes and special operations missions, has proven difficult to western governments.

Anonymous has taken it upon themselves to contribute to the global front against extremism. After the Charlie Hedbo attacks the group brought down ansar-alhaqq.net a known French terror mongering website. In their very recent battle the group has been focused on the eradication of ISIS Twitter activist and ISIS accounts. Anonymous is not the only group to take on this battle,  Ghost Security Group or Ghostsec have been a major force against ISIS. Ghostsec, unlike anonymous, Deals strictly with social media. It tracks and maps online communication networks, and then passes the information on to relative authorities.  Anonymous has been criticized by Ghostsec in the past on their approach to ‘hacking,’ claiming that tearing down websites leads to a loss of valuable intelligence.

Both Anonymous and Ghostsec provide the world with their form of modern vigilante justice. They independently take on the evil that they see in the world in order to serve what they call “freedom.” While these groups are not without controversy, their hacktivism still finds support across the globe. Anonymous and Ghostec will harass ISIS with no end in sight and continue to be a forefront of digital warfare in a modern age.

Two Different Reactions, One Objective: Japan and Jordan on ISIS

A contribution from NESA intern Madison Barton.

The extremist group known as ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) has received various responses from a wide range of countries to their brutal tactics. The recent executions of Japanese Security Contractor Haruna Yukawa, Journalist Kenji Goto, and Jordanian Pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, have amplified the ever-growing animosity towards ISIS. Both, Goto and Yukawa were Japanese hostages whose lives were taken by the radical group. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke out against the acts of terror, denouncing the heinous behavior of ISIS, and reassuring the continuation of humanitarian aid to countries in need. However, while Japan chooses to advance with peace and prosperity in mind, Jordan is taking an antithetical approach. The two countries have suffered tremendous loss, and though the crimes have been carried out differently in each situation, they are analogously related. Why then, are the reactions so very different?

Just over two weeks ago Haruna Yukawa was murdered, one day later ISIS announced that the fate of Kenji Goto would be the same unless Jordanian prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, associated with hotel bomb attacks that killed 60 people, was released.  Goto was killed on January 31, 2015. ISIS claims that the Japanese aid was the reason for taking the hostages. Prime Minister Abe pledged 200 million in aid to countries fighting ISIS. The group later demanded this same amount for ransom and proclaimed that Japan joined an “unwinnable war” when they chose to provide assistance to their allies. Japan’s reaction to the horrific events has been especially interesting because it is one in which hostility and military action is not at the forefront. Of course Japan is outraged, they are mourning, and they are willing to take part in the international fight against ISIS.

Unlike Japan, Jordan has taken a more aggressive stance towards the extremist group. The video of Jordanian Pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned alive was released on February 3, 2015. The pilot was taken hostage in December after his plane came down in Syria during an anti-ISIS mission. Since the release of the graphic video, there has been a surge in news headlines around the globe displaying Jordan’s indignation. Jordan promised revenge and the country has carried out their threats promptly. Hours after the news of Lieutenant Al-Kasasbeh’s death, attempted suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, and al-Qaeda operative Ziyad Karboli were both hanged in Jordan. Since then, Jordan’s air force has performed 56 airstrikes on ISIS, wiping out 19 locations said to be housing Islamic State commanders and fighters. Other targets are their economic and financial sources. These countries’ goal is to eradicate ISIS completely, and they seem to be letting very little get in their way. Jordan has vowed that this is just the beginning of their fight and will not stop until they have accomplished their goal.

Why did the two countries have different reactions?  Both countries have remained fairly quiet in international controversies, until now. Though Japan has not taken such an aggressive stance towards ISIS this does not imply that their punishments won’t be just as severe as Jordan’s. To Japan, it seems that an aggressive approach would mean giving in to terrorist tactics which is not something that they are willing to do. Others may think that Japan’s location is responsible for their reaction, as they are not as close as Jordan and therefore are not facing an immediate security threat, thus explaining them having not taken immediate forceful action. Jordan’s reaction has been more combative. Jordan wants to wipe ISIS from the face of the earth, and no time has been wasted. Is this because of their more immediate location? Has hostility been building up in the country? Whatever the reasons are a more peaceful and stable international world order is the objective.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Jordan And ISIS

A contribution from NESA intern Maryam Arshad.

By now the news of the Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, being burned alive by ISIS has been heard by everyone. Reactions have been explosive in their own right. King Abdullah, of Jordan, has promised a powerful escalation of Jordanian airstrikes against the Islamic State.  Fox News has faced backlash for posting the ISIS produced propaganda video of the violent immolation, but the news channel’s reasoning is that the world needs to witness the horrific acts of ISIS. Overall the Muslim world has decried the violence of ISIS as being senseless and un-Islamic. As passionate as these reactions to this heinous event are, the current state begs the question – What’s next?

So many questions are coming out of the fold. Questions regarding the degree of Jordanian involvement in the airstrike campaign and that of other Gulf States have arisen. Along with this, the effectiveness of the U.S. led coalition is being probed. For six months airstrikes have been made on key Islamic State locations focused in Iraq, with a few in Syria. But the UAE and other countries have stopped airstrikes in Syria, saying that only the removal of President Assad will help the elimination of ISIS. The biggest question that remains is how will the world change its reaction to ISIS following this event?

Several answers can be speculated. The first speculation to what’s next?, could be that the U.S. and the rest of the world, including the airstrike coalition, do not change their strategy. Continue with business as usual, since it has been effective enough in Iraq. Moreover it doesn’t seem that any western country is interested in sending ground troops to fight another war. In this case continued airstrikes seem like the best option. Keeping the status quo however, is already proving to be something that will not happen. Jordan has intensified its response to ISIS in a very real way immediately following the release of the video. There also seems to be a public response urging a state reaction to ISIS. People are rallying in Amman following the airstrikes in support for more military response.

So if the status quo is not going to remain, then how is the response going to change? Ground troops in either Syria or Iraq do not seem to be a viable option. The public support for an operation like that just isn’t there. So what will change? The response and cooperation from Gulf States will increase, most likely following in Jordan’s example. The United States will still, most probably lead in the amount of airstrikes, but having the public support of people may change the outcome of the fight for the better.

The ISIS problem will not be one that will be resolved quickly or cleanly. According to BBC, ISIS still has full control in various regions in Syria. And ISIS’s penchant for fear based propaganda illustrates their fear mongering method of control. Because of this people are not likely to confront their power. ISIS also draws much of its power from residing and functioning in failed states. Syria and Iraq, already in unrest, make ISIS taking control effectively effortless. The removal of ISIS then rests in the hands of the global community, but how is up for speculation. So, what’s next?

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Israel Announces New Plan for Settlements

A contribution from NESA interns, Maryam Arshad and Madison Barton.

This past Friday Israel published bids for 450 new settlements in the West Bank approximately 425 acres from A-Nahla, a Palestinian village. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are areas occupied by Israel since 1967, but feature a predominantly Palestinian populationIsrael purposefully established the E2 settlement, also known as Givat Eitam, east of the West Bank border, physically bisecting the West Bank territory. In 2004 Israel took control of the area and Palestinian landowners appealed to no avail. Since then, in October 2013 the E2 area has been designated as agricultural farming area, a guise for an influx of settlers into the Palestinian owned land. The location of the proposed settlement would effectively block Bethlehem from south West Bank, essentially constructing an obstruction to any future two state solution.

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Settlements have previously been established in this region, but announcements of new Israeli settlers have been followed by outrage at the actions of the current administration in IsraelThe United States and European Union have denounced Netanyahu’s plans as being illegitimate and illegal. In fact the Israeli settlements are a violation of the IV Geneva Convention, which is in place to protect the rights of civilians during war. Because the settlements are a method of creating conditions on the ground that inflate Israeli numbers, it is seen as an affront to the Palestinian civilians who are living on the land. Peace Now, an organization that advocates a two state solution, argues that the settlements could jeopardize a future for a possible two state Israel-Palestine agreement. The Palestinian Liberation Organization went as far to call these settlements war crimes, urging the International Criminal Court to thwart Israeli advances.

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It is no secret though, that Israeli settlements of the sort have existed for quite some time. So how much of a hindrance are these settlements to a prospective two state solution? Foreign Policy believes they are inconsequential to any future negotiations or deliberations between the two parties. Perhaps it is true that the settlements in question would not do much to make Israel stronger or Palestine weaker, but the issue of settlements speaks to a larger issue of Israel continuously pushing its boundaries in the international community, hoping to garner more and more for their interests, without regard for international law.

Just recently Netanyahu’s snub of President Obama, by accepting an invitation from the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to speak to the United States Congress illustrates just how far the Israeli Prime Minister is willing to push even his closest ally. International diplomatic relations are traditionally performed by the respective heads of state, and by not asking or even informing President Obama of his presence in the United States legislature, Netanyahu has severely strained ties with the President. Furthermore, as the International Criminal Court has introduced investigations into Palestinian territory to uncover possible war crimes in the region, Israel could face ramifications for its policies, including the settlement advances. So then, are these announcements just symbolic pushes of Israeli power?

Maps from BBC and Peace Now 

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

2014 Israel-Palestine Peace Talks and Complications

A contribution from NESA intern, Yevin Jayatilake.

After numerous failed prospects for peace, it was no surprise that the latest series of negotiations between Israel and Palestine with heavy U.S. involvement, came to a dead end.  There were many hiccups throughout the process that started in August 2013 and ended abruptly in late April, with Israel citing the unification between Fatah-Hamas as the reason for failure. The second term of President Obama’s presidency was supposed to focus on the pivot to East Asia. This move by the administration was seen as an attempt by critics to steer away from the ongoing complications of the Middle East. However, with the appointment of Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S foreign policy remained focused on the Arab world, targeting the very complicated Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Secretary Kerry gave himself a timeline of nine months to make an attempt at successful negotiation. From Kerry’s point of view, those nine months would not need to have rendered a deal, rather the opportunity to extend the negotiations.

The United States brokered the deal between Israel and Palestine, and was the only one that remained committed throughout the nine month process. As a gesture of goodwill by the Israeli government, 104 Palestinian prisoners were to be freed in four batches, in order to keep the Palestinian leadership involved in the latest round of talks. Through the latter half of 2013 into 2014, the relationships between Israel, Palestine and the United States were stable and the possibilities of concessions were on the table. Towards the end of March 2014, the thread keeping the peace talks together started to break apart. The Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that they would not release the fourth batch of 26 prisoners, unless the Palestinian leadership decided to extend peace talks for at least another six months. For a very reasonable demand on behalf of the Israeli government, who took severe backlash for releasing what many Israelis viewed as terrorists, the Palestinian negotiators made every attempt to divert and point blame back at the other side. In the middle of this tense moment, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel decided to issue 700 new housing tenders in the expanded settlement areas of the West Bank. The issue of settlement construction is extremely delicate to the Palestinian identity, and this put a wrench in the middle of the talks. Many U.S. officials blame Uri Ariel for the collapse of the talks, citing it was not the correct time to push expansions through. Ariel has long been to the right in Israel’s conservative party Habayit Hayehudi.

 After learning of this situation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international treaties, declaring Palestine an independent state. Since that declaration on April 1, Secretary Kerry was trying desperately to bring the two sides to collaboration, but the leadership was so rigid on their motives, that no negotiating could undo the damage. On April 23, President Abbas declared a unity Fatah-Hamas pact, which ended any chance for reconciliation. Hamas, which is declared as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel, does not accept Israel’s right to exist. At the culmination of the tensions, Israel decided to suspend negotiations, citing that they could not continue discussions any longer, while Hamas is a part of any legitimate Palestinian government.

The implications of this collapse are far greater than either side would like to admit. Each side is more content with delaying legitimate peace offers than trying to figure out a solution to the severely complicated problem. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas stick to their stories and claim they cannot go back to their communities with any compromises to the other side. However, as the two sides keep delaying a resolution to the never-ending conflict, Israel becomes more vast and powerful, and the future of the state of Palestine becomes ever more complicated. With Israel expanding into Areas B and C in the West Bank and continuing to have blockades surrounding the Gaza Strip, there becomes less hope for Palestinians to have a unified land.

The situation is not only a tragedy because of the constant terror and instability that Palestinian citizens face on a daily basis, but the situation continues to grow worse with every skirmish. The leadership of both states are too rigid, and so long as they are unwilling to compromise, at even the most micro level, then no true peace can occur. The intention of the leaders as they entered the peace deals in mid-2013 was not to achieve legitimate talks, but instead to continue the status quo for as long as possible. Knowing that neither side would agree to concede on controversial topics like Jerusalem and expanded settlements, the basis of the talks was more to make an appearance of cooperation to the world. In order to move forward with any logical approach to this conflict, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu must work together and put aside their inflexible agendas, sort out a solution, and then present it to their communities. It will not be an effortless motion; however, with the heads of both states cooperating, and support from the international community, an agreement can be reached that gratifies communities on both sides.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Al Qaeda’s Breakup with ISIS and its Consequences

A contribution from NESA intern, Philippe Labrecque.

The Syrian war just got more complex when Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s top commander, officially disavowed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). There are a variety of factions fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, but few of these groups have grown in strength as much as ISIS, as numbers of foreigners joined their ranks in the last year.

With around 1000 armed groups, with a total of nearly 100,000 fighters, friction and conflicts within such fragmented opposition with different objectives had to be expected, even between al-Qaeda’s affiliates. But al-Zawahiri’s statement in relation to ISIS goes deeper than factions fighting for control over regions of Syria.

Al-Zawahiri’s public rejection of ISIS should be understood not only as a result of diverging interests and strategy in Syria between rebel groups but also as a growing internal struggle within al-Qaeda itself. ISIS is a creation of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his organization, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), that dates back to April 2013.

After creating the al-Nusra Front to fight in Syria, al-Baghdadi expanded his operations across the Syria-Iraq border in April of last year when al-Nusra’s successes on the battlefield made the headlines. By moving his operations to Syria, al-Baghdadi demanded that al-Nusra go back to being incorporated into ISI, effectively creating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), against al-Zawahiri’s explicit orders.

The public defiance of al-Baghadadi in creating ISIS led to a schism within the about to be absorbed al-Nusra Front as many within al-Nusra pledged their allegiance to al-Qaeda and al-Zawahiri in their own defiance to al-Baghadadi. The survival of a faction of al-Nusra, loyal to al-Qaeda, and the creation of the defiant ISIS helped fuel the recent carnage and violence between rebel groups that we have witnessed since at least January 2014.

The merger under al-Baghdadi’s command had tactical implications in the fight against Assad but it also weakened al-Qaeda’s successor to Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, within the organization as al-Baghadadi grew powerful enough to refuse an order by al-Zawahiri when the latter forbid the merger with al-Nusra. Al-Baghdadi’s rising influence and might was proven when al-Zawahiri didn’t further oppose the merge of what are two al-Qaeda affiliates.

It may be premature to say that al-Baghdadi and ISIS could challenge al-Zawahiri as the leader of al-Qaeda or even the al-Qaeda’s influence in Syria since ISIS is already isolated amongst the rebel groups in the current conflict due to their unpopular, brutal, tactics and their will to dominate the entire insurrection against Assad’s regime. However, for al-Qaeda’s top commander to publicly disavow one of its affiliates demonstrates that it may only have partial control over many of its ideological affiliates. If ISIS were to overwhelm al-Nusra and become the dominant faction amongst the rebel groups, it could further damage al-Qaeda’s leadership position within the organization and against rival international Islamist groups.

What this means for the civil war in Syria is that al-Qaeda is reduced to what is left of al-Nusra as well as fighting ISIS for influence and control over the opposition while the war against the Syrian regime is still raging. Its chances of achieving the dream of an al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist state on a parcel of Syria’s land is now nearly impossible. Moreover, the break with al-Baghdadi over Syria also means that al-Qaeda has very little influence left in Iraq as al-Baghdadi retains leadership there, for the moment at least.

Russian and Iranian support behind Assad’s regime and al-Qaeda’s potentially diminishing influence in Syria’s civil war and ISIS’ increased isolation confirms what most observers knew at this point: the Syrian civil war is a proxy war between Iran and the Gulf States for influence over the Middle East.

It remains to be seen however if al-Qaeda will get out of this conflict stronger, either by influencing the outcome or through propaganda, or if it may become even more decentralized to the point where it becomes difficult to truly assess what their actual strategic objectives are and if its ideological core has any executive power over self-proclaimed al-Qaeda affiliates in other regions such as North Africa. A fragmented al-Qaeda with tens of thousands of hardened fighters, after an eventual end to the Syrian conflict, might very well become the greatest threat to the greater Middle East and the West.

Despite the disavowal by al-Zawahiri, Al-Baghdadi proved that regional commanders with enough power may pursue their own objectives and vision of what the ideological cause demands. Depending on how and when the Syrian conflict culminates, the fight against al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism may become even more multi-faceted and require fighting many varied fronts if the West, and particularly the United States, must face multiple regional leaders increasingly free of al-Qaeda’s central command.

If it is obvious that the Syrian conflict is a proxy war, it is not so clear whether an even more fragmented al-Qaeda is necessarily better from an American counter-terrorism perspective. By the war’s end in Syria, the entire Middle East and the West may very well face a large wage of battle-tested fundamentalist fighters looking for their next battleground, creating instability in neighboring countries especially.

If Syria seems in a deadlock at the moment, it shouldn’t prevent the U.S. from preparing for a potentially disrupting new terrorist threat that equally endangers the stability in various Middle Eastern countries, especially Jordan, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon and Egypt. In every crisis there is an opportunity and as American interests and Middle Eastern interests converge, the U.S. should take the lead in building even stronger ties in the region and start the dialogue and cooperation with key actors in dealing with a common threat.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

 

The Need for a Ceasefire in Syria

Today, our guest blogger, Chris Chapman, returns with a new post on a potential Syrian ceasefire…

The Syrian conflict rages on daily as death counts of military personnel and civilians climb higher.  It is time for a ceasefire to be brokered between the warring factions in order for aid and relief to come to a weary populace.  The US, UN, and Russia are trying to get the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian government at the table for talks/negotiations, but the SNC has demanded the release of prisoners, easing of sieges, and humanitarian aid to be allowed.  While the opposition and Assad government may be at odds on who claims legitimacy and rights to govern Syria, they can agree that an end to bloodshed and preserving the lives of innocents is optimal.  The first step in resolving the crisis is this ceasefire, followed with the second step of an extended ceasefire to allow aid and medical relief into high risk areas. 

Agreeing to a short-term ceasefire in which the government forces and opposition forces lay down weapons and even fall back from current positions would send good faith messages by all sides.  The parameters of such an agreement should be completely in public via the press.  If guns are put aside for a week leading up to discussions it would provide both the opposition and the government a foundation of trust heading into the Geneva talks. 

Once the Geneva talks begin, a new ceasefire allowing for relief and aid should be established.  The situation is dire for the majority of Syrians stuck in the middle of violence.  Allowing medical aid workers to test and vaccinate for polio and other diseases is essential after it was confirmed that polio is present in parts of Syria.  The devastation of war created an unhealthy environment when water-treatment facilities, power plants, and more were destroyed.  Today Syrians are only getting 1/3 of their daily water compared to prewar levels and a large quantity of that water is contaminated.  Both the rebel and government forces must agree to let the International Committee of the Red Cross and their partner the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to move about freely and access besieged areas.  The ICRC and SARC are equipped to help those suffering, they just need access.

Of course, these actions are only possible if all parties agree to them, including the more extreme elements of the opposition.  For Salafist or Sunni extremist groups in particular, a misstep would be disastrous for credibility among citizens who are fearful of their intentions for Syria.  Because neither side has shown the ability to claim a total victory through military force, the Geneva track may well be the only hope for ending the violence. Establishing a ceasefire and allowing aid to those in need are two very basic foundations for any settlement the Geneva talks could reach.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

 

 

Iraq Seeing Resurgence of Violence

Today, our guest blogger, Chris Chapman, returns with a new post on Iraq’s continued troubles…

Syria and Egypt garner the most press when it comes to current coverage of the Middle East. Yet, a rising tide of violence in Iraq should not be ignored.  Iraq, the country the United States spent eight years and countless dollars engaged within, is teetering on the edge of intense conflict.   Recent waves of sectarian attacks are reminding analysts of the mood in Iraq during 2006-2007 when the country nearly fell into civil war

An increase in car bombings, suicide attacks, and jailbreaks have marked a resurgence of Al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq.  But the violence is not solely being directed by Sunnis against Shiite Muslims.  Within October alone, Iraq has seen multiple attacks on Sunni and Shiite targets.  On October 15 in Kirkuk, a bomb exploded in a crowd of Sunni worshippers coming out of a mosque to celebrate Eid al-Adha and killed 12 people.  On October 13, a string of bombings across the country, many in Shiite areas, killed up to 42 civilians at commercial areas, public spaces, and a funeral. On October 12 a car bomb exploded in Samarra killing 17 people.  These are not battles such as in Syria, these are women and children being killed going about their daily lives.  Reports show that since an April crackdown by the Iraqi government on a Sunni protest camp in Hawija, over 5,000 people have died in sectarian violence.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq is creating an environment of fear and doubt.  Fear of public safety and doubt that the Shiite led government can keep the country stable are on the rise

The brazen attacks in popular community sites exemplify Al-Qaeda’s mission to destabilize the state.  And in doing so, it is pulling Iraq further away from democracy.  The al-Maliki government’s crackdown on terrorism led to a renewed emphasis on a strong internal security apparatus and consolidation of power within the government.  People found guilty of terrorism are subject to the death penalty.  In fact, last week 42 people were executed on charges of terrorism and 68 people received the death penalty in 2011.

The danger of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is real.  Already ISIS is entrenched in Syria fighting.  Reports show they are killing and kidnapping civilians.  If Iraq falls into a civil war alongside Syria expect reports of this type to be more common.  One reason for the invasion of Iraq was to foster stability in the region, but this recent evidence only points out the failings of that endeavor. 

Chris Chapman is currently a Research Intern at the NESA Center and an M.A. candidate at American University’s School of International Service

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

What the New Syrian Opposition Alliance Means

A contribution from NESA intern, Chris Chapman.

This week eleven Syrian opposition groups signed onto an Islamic alliance in efforts to repudiate the legitimacy of the internationally backed Supreme Military Council (SMC) and Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and form a united front against Bashar al Assad.  Led by the Islamist group, Jabhat al-Nusra this bloc represents a majority of the militant opposition in Syria.  Their letter stated four main points: first, for all opposition to unite under an Islamic framework and operate under sharia law, second, they can only be represented by those living within Syria, third, a denunciation of the exile opposition National Coalition backed by the West, and last, a plea for unity within the opposition ranks to avoid further conflict. 

This alliance may or may not last, but it does reveal three factors about the current and future status of the opposition forces in Syria.  The signing of this agreement is a direct blow to the US and Western backed attempts to support a moderate opposition, it shows a new level of rebel interaction, and presents a potential game-changer for future opposition dynamics. 

To start, the creation of this alliance hurts the US and West’s efforts to find and support ‘moderate’ opposition units.  Many of the groups under the direction of their SMC, the Western backed military wing, have signed onto this alliance.  So, will US aid continue to arrive?  These units are part of both the SMC and this new Islamic agreement.  A main reason for these groups signing on was to show their objection to the exile opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition.  Rebels within Syria do not accept their legitimacy or any possible government they intend to establish.  So what we see is the US and its chosen ally in Syria, are unfortunately cut off from the on-the-ground reality of the opposition.  This act was done out of frustration with the US and West’s inability to provide what the rebels see as adequate support.  It muddies and already murky situation for the US to be dealing in. 

Next, the eleven participants are not all using this purely to establish sharia and an Islamic Syria; some are using it as protection.  Recent infighting between more extreme units and moderates for control of towns pushed these moderate groups to join this bloc.  In essence, this is politics of protection for these groups.  They are all fighting for the same result, the end of Assad’s regime, so this is an effort to decrease tensions between groups fighting on the same side and assure a sense of security from what they deem an ally.  It is an interesting turn of events and one that I want to keep my eye on for future possibilities within the rebel community. 

Furthermore, for the above reasons, I think that if this alliance decides to organize itself into a political entity, it would rival the SNC for control of a post-Assad Syria.  Divided, these groups stood little chance of rallying enough support to succeed politically.  Combined, however, these groups represent a majority coalition of the opposition within Syria.  They are the main fighting force against Assad and as it stands, would garner more support than any party comprised of exiles.   

In the end, the existence of this agreement amongst so many rebel units bodes ill for the US as it tries to navigate the Syrian conflict.  The statement alone of their signatures sent a clear message that the rebels are done waiting for US assistance and wholly disappointed with US and Western attempts to act on behalf of their best interests.  It will be much more difficult for the US to make inroads and sustainable relationships with such views against it. 

Chris Chapman is currently a Research Intern at the NESA Center and an M.A. candidate at American University’s School of International Service

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.