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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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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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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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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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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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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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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[…]

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When Hypocrites Take the Hippocratic Oath

Or, Undoing the “Arab Spring” Earlier this month, the White House unveiled its new foreign policy credo: “Don’t do stupid shit.” While many lamented the modesty of this approach, acting with restraint in order to limit iatrogenesis is certainly a worthy goal—and an approach with wide and enduring popular support—in fact, this is the vision[…]

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Baghdad and Kabul – A Reminiscence of Saigon

The fall of Saigon in April of 1975 left an indelible scar on the American psyche. The memorable scenes of the U.S. embassy and intelligence officials boarding helicopters from the rooftop of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, surrounded by thousands of desperate and panicked South Vietnamese civilians, signaled the end of an almost 30 year[…]

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Talking to Strangers

Ambassador David Dunford speaks with SISMEC researcher Christina Sciabarra about his new book with Ghassan Muhsin Hussein entitled “Talking to Strangers.” He discusses the challenges of joining the Coalition Provisional Authority which served as the occupational administration after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Tasked with rebuilding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Dunford describes the challenges[…]

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Campaign 2014: Of Candidates and Conflicts

The spring of 2014 will be yet another in a restive line of transformative periods in the broader Middle East, for better or worse, as the region’s people continue their political overhaul by electing new presidents, parliaments, and constitution-drafting bodies. Eight Middle Eastern countries have elections scheduled in 2014, and most will proceed without external[…]

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Framing the War Before it Frames Us: A Conversation with Iraqi Poet Dunya Mikhail

“The war continues working day and night. It inspires tyrants to deliver long speeches, awards medals to generals and themes to poets. It contributes to the industry of artificial limbs, provides food for flies, adds pages to history books, achieves equality between killer and killed…” That was an excerpt from Dunya Mikhail’s poem “The War[…]

Memento Mori: Poetry, Conflict & the Uncanny

How does poetry grapple with the conflicts and social issues of our time? What can a poem do in the face of rocket-thuds, choking smoke, a child’s pink sandal in a blood-pool on the street? Can it find meaning in THAT? Is poetry perhaps, as Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail put it, not medicine but an[…]

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Al-Maliki proves that he isn’t a Sissi: U.S.-Iraq Rapprochement

After Nuri al-Maliki was elected prime minister in 2010, several months of wrangling ensued with the Sunni “Iraqiya” bloc, highlighted by a near last minute walkout. Eventually, Iraq’s top officials produced a power sharing agreement that was lauded by world leaders. These days, the 2010 “equal-share” bargain has effectively fallen apart, and without U.S. troops[…]

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From Diyala to Dahiya and Beyond: The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria

After the deadly bombing in the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahiya in southern Beirut, Lebanon that killed close to 30 people and injured up to 400, jihadi media outlets were inundated with posts by members of the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) praising the attack. In the rebel-held provincial capital of al-Raqqa[…]