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Jabhat Fateh al-Sham: Al-Qaeda’s Ace in Syria Rebranded

On July 28, 2016 Jabhat al-Nusra declared that it was rebranding itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. This maneuver was announced by the group’s commander Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, who in a spirit of apparent transparency revealed his identity after years of anonymity, dressed as and quoting Osama bin Laden. The decision is a significant shake up within the Syrian[…]

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ISIS’ Reversion into an Insurgency: 4 Reasons Why it Doesn’t Really Matter

On May 21st, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani stated in a much hyped message that the much heralded Islamic State “does not fight to keep territory.” Initially one might be tempted to say that this sort of statement undermines the movement’s own message, strategy and heralds the beginning of the end. The Iraqi Army and[…]

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Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra: “Nice and Respectable” Jihadism

“So it looks like gold. It looks beautiful from the outside, but on the inside, it is nothing.” – “Gold Plated Attraction”  (Al-Qaeda’s view of ISIS)   J.M Berger’s recent article in the Atlantic, ISIS Is Not Winning the War of Ideas, correctly asserts that Islamic State ideology does not have mass appeal. If it[…]

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Killing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

It’s hard to believe that Saudi Arabia, currently heading up the UN Human Rights Commission, started 2016 with the beheading of 47 prisoners. When was the last time the head of a global human rights commission executed 47 people in one day? The crude symbolism of who was executed and who wasn’t was supposed to[…]

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How to Make a Yemen Peace Process Stick

Six months into the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the situation inside the southwestern Arabian peninsula country remains as fluid as it is deadly.  Pro-government forces allied to Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi — thanks in large measure to the willingness of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar to deploy[…]

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Sure, Talk with ISIL. Just Choose the Right Topic

Terrorists At The Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace received a glowing review from Fareed Zakaria. In his latest Washington Post column he distilled the book’s thesis as follows: “Terrorism is a reflection of an underlying political problem that almost always needs to be addressed politically.”  He went on to argue that the so-called Islamic State in Iraq[…]

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The U.N. Needs a New Framework for Yemen

Three months into a Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthi militia and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s Republican Guard, Yemen has degenerated into a terrible cycle of misery, fratricidal violence, and nationwide suffering.  Already the poorest country in the Arab world before the Houthis captured the Yemeni capital of Sanaa last September, air operations by[…]

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ISIL’s Adaptive, Evolving Tactics: Regional & Global Implications

The triple attacks at a chemical plant in France, a beachside resort in Tunisia and a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait, happened as Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani as-Shami implored ISIL sympathizers to perform jihad during Ramadan. ISIL fighters also re entered the outskirts of the town of Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) and reportedly massacred over two hundred[…]

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How to Truly Defeat ISIL

In 2011, it was widely assumed that the so-called “Arab Spring” would render groups like al-Qaeda irrelevant, as dissidents would find that they could achieve their goals for reformation through the ballot box rather than needing to rely on violence. I was one of the early and consistent cynics of this thesis. It seemed clear[…]

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Shia Militias, Sectarianism & Sovereignty in Iraq

In recent months there has been an important shift in American strategic thinking about Iraq, with key government officials and analysts arguing that Shiite militias are displacing the Islamic State as the most serious threat to Iraqi stability. In January 2015, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that increased Iranian influence[…]

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National Security Strategy: From South Park, Colorado to Washington D.C.

In the Comedy Central television series South Park, the boys discover a cartel of gnomes who steal people’s underwear. Over the course of the episode it’s revealed that these seizures are part of their business plan which goes:   Step 1: Collect Underpants → Step 2: ? → Step 3: Profit   The punchline, of course, is[…]

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Don’t Write Off the GCC Camp David Summit Yet

When the King of Saudi Arabia comes to Washington to visit the President of the United States, it’s always a big deal.  But when the top princes and sheikhs of all six Gulf Arab powers make the trip at the same exact time, the news dominates the front pages of the western and Arab newspapers[…]

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Al-Baghdadi’s Manufactured Miracles

There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again. – George W. Bush   On April 21st, The Guardian reported that the leader of Dae’sh or Islamic State, was allegedly seriously injured in air-strikes which[…]

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It’s Time For Politics in Yemen

Highly concerned that the security situation inside Yemen was no longer possible to ignore, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud made a decision that was highly uncharacteristic of Saudi behavior over the past decade: he went beyond the traditional option of funding acceptable proxies by assembling a Sunni Arab military coalition for conventional operations in Yemen.[…]

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Maintaining the Status Quo ≠ Advancing U.S. National Interests

In the wake of the nuclear parameters framework agreement, the Obama administration is facing criticism for mishandling American relations with countries in the Arab world. As David Rothkopf argues in Foreign Policy, “although [Obama] raised hopes of a new, better era in regional relations…ultimately, his only real efforts to change relations ‘for the better’ in[…]

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ISIS Losing Ground in Iraq–But What Would a True Victory Look Like?

As SISMEC has previously explored, Dae’sh was able to gain so much territory in Iraq and Syria by targeting areas which were extremely vulnerable. They have so far performed extremely poorly in direct combat with well trained, equipped and prepared armed forces. In fact, Dae’sh armies in Iraq may be getting stretched thin by the[…]

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ISIS and the Escalation Game

ISIS distinguishes itself from other jihadist organizations, particularly its progenitor al-Qaeda, by positioning itself as the group that will do what other groups are unwilling or unable to do. There is a clear dialectic wherein other terror organizations will commit an a heinous act that receives widespread media coverage; ISIS will then try to divert[…]

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CIA Drone Campaign Demonstrates Need for Greater Intelligence Oversight, Accountability

A year ago SISMEC pointed out that, although most of the victims of U.S. drone strikes have ostensibly been “militants,” the White House definition of “militant” is extremely vague (generally, any fighting-aged male). Moreover, the purpose of the program isn’t to target any and all possible combatants, but instead to eliminate high-value targets from international terror[…]

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Dear Iraqi Government: Punishing Civilians Hurts Everyone but ISIS.

According to an analysis of province-level electricity usage by Andrew Shaver, the Iraqi government may have drastically reduced the provision of power to areas controlled by ISIS. He finds that within the “three provinces most affected by the Islamic State — Anbar, Ninewa, and Salah-al-Din — the organization’s arrival has been marked by massive reductions[…]

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Trajectories of the “ War on ISIL ”

Assessing ISIL’s Local Threat (Musa al-Gharbi) From its inception, ISIL has seized and focused on areas which are ill-defended and where the government presence is generally minimal and largely unwelcome. These areas also tend to be rural and sparsely populated e.g. North (East) Syria, Western Iraq, small areas in North Lebanon)—allowing ISIL to quickly occupy[…]

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A Fork In The Road To Damascus? The U.S., Saudi Arabia, and a New “Moderate” Syrian Militia

Despite all of Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s recruitment efforts to enlist Sunni heads of state in the Middle East for an anti-Islamic State coalition, it is important not to forget what many Sunni leaders want to eradicate from Syria first and foremost: Bashar al-Assad and his Alawite-led regime. On September 11, 2014, King[…]

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Sunni Leaders Are Key to Fighting Islamic State: An Optimistic View

While young Muslims from around the world continue to flood into the battlefields Syria, Obama’s two key diplomats in the coming war against the so-called Islamic State are also on the move. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel just flew to Turkey to enlist the country’s military support along its southern border with Syria, and Secretary[…]

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Oil for Sovereignty? America, Iraq, and Kurdistan

Christian Sinclair   Much like the dispute in Libya between Cyrenaica and Tripoli, the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have long been engaged in local disputes over oil sales and revenues. Baghdad, for example, is withholding the KRG’s share of oil revenues, which amount to US7bn for 2014 alone. In July[…]

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Depose Al-Malaki…And Then What?

Contrary to the popular narrative, Iraqi PM Nouri al-Malaki was not a sectarian leader. His fault was that he was an overly-ambitious autocrat who had the further misfortune of presiding over a fundamentally sectarian political system–and during the particularly polarized period in the Mideast following the Arab Uprisings. And while deposing al-Malaki had been a key demand of the Sunni opposition (as[…]