The long-term aspirations of the Kurds are oddly similar to those of the jihadists they are fighting: both seem equally intent on erasing the old borders of the post-Ottoman order. When I drew this somewhat audacious parallel in conversation with a PYD official in northern Syria during a visit in March, he flashed a bright smile and said: “Daesh threw the first bomb. We will reap the result.”
The Belgian intelligence services are monitoring roughly one thousand “potentially dangerous” individuals; 130 of them have been in Syria or Iraq and returned to Belgium. Notably, upwards of 80 percent of them are of Belgian-Moroccan origin, including several of the Brussels and Paris attackers.
It is easy to underestimate how much fear can obstruct a society’s recovery from horrific violence or repression, or both; and fear now dominates Iraq as its leaders try to make a new start after decades of a ruthless tyranny, its violent removal, and the chaotic aftermath.
In mid-March, a violent government campaign to put down a month-long popular revolt turned Bahrain into an island of terror. Images of security forces firing on unarmed protesters chanting “peaceful, peaceful” went around the world via YouTube and other media. Today Bahrain has largely receded from the news, emerging only …
As the flames of protest leap from North Africa to the far reaches of the Arabian Peninsula, many Iraqis are feeling that history may have dealt them a poor hand. Having failed to bring down a weakened Saddam Hussein in a mass uprising in 1991, they now see that regimes …
For the occasional visitor such as myself, various methods exist to measure America’s standing in Iraq, Iraqi suspicions and aspirations, and progress in the transfer of power, but none prove as illuminating as the checkpoints into and throughout Baghdad’s Green Zone, that diminishing symbol of the Bush administration’s ambitions. Armed …
Jordanian officials appear to be far less worried about the refugees than about the growing extremism the Syrian war has been feeding. Jordan is the third-largest contributor of fighters to ISIS after Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic State’s violent strain of Salafism is starting to invade Jordan’s tribal culture.
In June 2014, after the fall of Mosul to ISIS and the collapse of the Iraqi army, Iraq’s most senior Shia religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, issued a general call-up to the Shia masses to step in. Now, the country is increasingly run by an amalgam of Shia armed militias, many of them equipped and supervised by Iran.
For Iraqi Kurds, the jihadist blitz through northwestern Iraq has offered an opportunity to take possession of areas they’ve long claimed as theirs and push for independence. At the heart of these “disputed areas” is the strategic city of Kirkuk, which the highly motivated Kurdish Peshmerga took over in mid-June. But the Kurds’ sudden gains may not be a panacea.
Part of what makes the current situation in Bahrain so disturbing is that the regime has succeeded in replacing the narrative of a peaceful movement for reform with an altogether different one: that the country’s majority Shia are intent on driving the Sunnis off the island and handing the country over to Iran. Although last year’s protests were led by predominantly Shia opposition groups, Bahrain’s urban populations have long been mixed and the uprising also drew Sunnis dissatisfied with how the country was run. But as I witnessed during a recent five day visit, by mobilizing Sunnis against Shia protesters on the claim the latter are manipulated by a predatory Iran, the regime has made Shia-Sunni hostility the conflict’s overriding theme.
On November 23, the government of Bahrain was in an uncharacteristically welcoming mood. The occasion was the release of a report about its handling of last spring’s popular uprising. Since the report had been requested—and paid for—by the government itself, officials were expecting a few minor criticisms. Then, they reasoned, the country would move on. Things didn’t go according to plan. The room fell quiet as Cherif Bassiouni, the report’s chief author, said words like “rape” and “torture” to King Hamad, the ruler of Bahrain. He was clear that these abuses weren’t just random acts by a few bad apples. “A number of detainees were tortured,” he said, “which proved there was a deliberate practice by some.” For the first time—perhaps ever—an independent jurist standing before a Persian Gulf monarch publicly accused that monarch’s government of systematic abuse.