Mosul eyes Kurdish referendum

Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani attends a rally to show their support for the upcoming September 25th independence referendum in Duhuk, Iraq September 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ari Jalal - RC1557987530

A “yes” vote for single-issue referendums usually results in a myriad of unexpected consequences. In anticipation of such a “yes” vote in the forthcoming Kurdish independence referendum on September 25, there is unease among those tasked with post-ISIS stabilization in Mosul and Ninewah Province. According to sources from direct interviews in Iraq, it is clear… Continue reading Mosul eyes Kurdish referendum

Could Muqtada al-Sadr be the best hope for Iraq and the region?

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr shout slogans during a protest demanding an overhaul of the elections supervision commission ahead of provincial elections due in September, in Baghdad,Iraq February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSY58N

Muqtada al-Sadr has long been something of an enigma. Over the past several weeks, the firebrand Shiite cleric, who heads Iraq’s most powerful socio-political movement, has been warmly welcomed in the region’s leading Gulf states, which have largely shunned Iraq’s Shiite majority and then returned to Iraq to mobilize opposition against corruption, stagnation, and authoritarianism… Continue reading Could Muqtada al-Sadr be the best hope for Iraq and the region?

The Gulf’s airlines are winning on product but losing at politics

Qatar Airways aircrafts are seen at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon - RTS16R4Z

“Three airlines from two countries the size of South Carolina are trying to take over commercial aviation,” intones a narrator in a recent “educational video” produced by Delta Airlines. The 15-minute film was the latest salvo from U.S. airlines against Gulf carriers Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways (known collectively as the ME3), portraying… Continue reading The Gulf’s airlines are winning on product but losing at politics

Gaza end game?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) and Palestinian security adviser Mohammad Dahlan (R) attend a meeting with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza April 5, 2007. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA) - RTR1OBRZ

This week’s news that Gaza’s Hamas rulers have entered into a new pact with former Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan appeared to signal a new phase not only in Palestinian politics but in the wider Palestinian-Israeli and Arab regional arena. What once seemed unthinkable has become a reality, as the balance of power shifts due to… Continue reading Gaza end game?

Syria today and the legacy of the 1967 War

A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stands with a civilian on the rubble of the Carlton Hotel, in the government controlled area of Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki - RTX2VH44

Fifty years on, the legacy of the 1967 War has been an omnipresent element of governance and conflict in the Middle East. In Syria, the ongoing bloody civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions now overshadows regional events. While there have been other visible major conflicts in the region since 1967—the… Continue reading Syria today and the legacy of the 1967 War

Does the road to stability in Libya pass through Cairo?

A boy wearing a Libyan flag takes part in a celebration marking the sixth anniversary of the Libyan revolution, in Benghazi, Libya February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSZ7CB

Libya has been in the news over the past week, for grim reasons. The Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, was a Brit of Libyan descent.  He is suspected to have been radicalized by ISIS in Libya, and went there just days before the attack. In Egypt, the government has alleged that last Friday’s deadly attack against Christians in Minya, south of Cairo, was carried out by militants who trained in… Continue reading Does the road to stability in Libya pass through Cairo?

Reaping the fruits of war in Yemen

Children displaced by the war in northwestern Yemen, pose for a photo near their makeshift huts on the pavement of a street in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen May 15, 2017. Picture taken May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad - RTX361DA

While Yemen was barely mentioned during President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week, there is no doubt about its centrality to the U.S.-Saudi alliance. Trump warned against the Iranian threat to Yemen and the region. He also praised the Saudi-led coalition to fight the Houthis. The deaths of thousands of innocent Yemenis, however, were… Continue reading Reaping the fruits of war in Yemen

Is Hamas re-branding to orient towards Egypt?

Hamas Gaza Chief Yehya Al-Sinwar (C) and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) take part in the funeral of senior militant Mazen Fuqaha in Gaza City March 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem - RTX32NQR

Nearly 30 years after Hamas was founded in the occupied Palestinian territories, it is now revisiting its founding ideals and principles. The move comes at a watershed moment as the senior leadership also undergoes a significant reshuffle, a process that has been long in debate and fruition. The changes—aimed at appeasing domestic constituencies and establishing… Continue reading Is Hamas re-branding to orient towards Egypt?

6 elements of a strategy to push back on Iran’s hegemonic ambitions

FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012, a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo - RTX2RCC8

Iran is posing a comprehensive challenge to the interests of the United States and its allies and partners in the Middle East. Over the past four decades, it has managed to establish an “arc of influence” that stretches from Lebanon and Syria in the Levant, to Iraq and Bahrain on the Gulf, to Yemen on… Continue reading 6 elements of a strategy to push back on Iran’s hegemonic ambitions

Jordan’s troubles in its own backyard

King Abdullah II of Jordan has had every reason to be pleased with himself lately. Following the January inauguration of President Donald Trump, he was the first Arab leader invited to Washington to meet with the new administration. The visit was hailed a success by all involved—not only in terms of U.S.-Jordan relations, but also… Continue reading Jordan’s troubles in its own backyard

The disastrous ripple effects of Trump’s executive action on refugee resettlement

The international refugee system, constructed in the aftermath of World War II, has enabled millions of refugees in every region to find safety in other countries. President Trump’s expected action to suspend all refugee resettlement to the United States and to impose additional restrictions on refugees from largely Muslim countries is a sad day for… Continue reading The disastrous ripple effects of Trump’s executive action on refugee resettlement

Yemen: Ceasefires and lost opportunities

The mid-November announcement of yet another ceasefire in Yemen should have been good news. Ostensibly, the short break in fighting between a Saudi-led coalition of pro-Yemeni forces against Houthi rebels was for humanitarian reasons. But the ceasefire didn’t hold, and reports indicate that it won’t be renewed. This brief ceasefire—and short ceasefires in general, even when they do hold—simply did not offer enough time to begin tackling the impacts of prolonged… Continue reading Yemen: Ceasefires and lost opportunities

Experts weigh in: What this election means for U.S. foreign policy and next steps

By: Pavel K. Baev, Natan Sachs, Bruce-Riedel, Ted Piccone, David Dollar, Dany Bahar, Richard C. Bush, Kemal Kirisci, Daniel L. Byman, Federica Saini Fasanotti, Ranj Alaaldin, Beverly Milton Edwards, Elizabeth Ferris, Philippe Le Corre, Matteo Garavoglia, Jessica Brandt, Sarah Yerkes, Dan Arbell and Robert L. McKenzie The U.S. election season was watched with great interest around… Continue reading Experts weigh in: What this election means for U.S. foreign policy and next steps

How to resolve Iraq’s Shiite militia problem

The operation to liberate Mosul will almost certainly bring an end to the Islamic State’s territorial control in Iraq and will be the death knell of the so-called “Caliphate.” But what comes next? Iraq lacks the resources and the capacity to rebuild the towns and cities that have been destroyed since the anti-ISIS campaign was… Continue reading How to resolve Iraq’s Shiite militia problem

Protests in Jordan over gas deal with Israel expose wider rifts

With the world’s attention fixed by events in Syria and the diplomatic fall-out over the particularly acute crisis in Aleppo, Jordan’s announced commitment last month to a gas deal worth $10 billion—signed by the state-owned National Electric Power Company (NEPCO)—might have gone unnoticed, except for one thing. The NEPCO deal was concluded with Israeli suppliers… Continue reading Protests in Jordan over gas deal with Israel expose wider rifts

Between Iraq and a hard place: How the battle in Mosul will affect ISIS control in the region

Sumaya Attia (SA): The campaign to re-take Mosul is gaining traction, and there are many different actors involved. Who would you say are the biggest stakeholders in the outcome of Operation Mosul? Ranj Alaaldin (RA): The biggest stakeholders are the political, social, and religious actors who have dominated the Iraqi political scene over the last… Continue reading Between Iraq and a hard place: How the battle in Mosul will affect ISIS control in the region

Head-hunting for Hamas

As Hamas approaches the 30th anniversary of its founding, the movement is increasingly preoccupied with upcoming leadership elections. While the issue of who leads Hamas pales in comparison to who will lead the United States after November 8, its portents for Palestinians and beyond matter quite a lot. Khaled Mashaal—who, based in Qatar, has been… Continue reading Head-hunting for Hamas

Libya’s implosion and what it means for the West

The chaos in the Middle East today is thought to have a clear epicenter: Syria. But as diplomats and policymakers in the United States, Europe, and Russia continue to direct their energies there—including specifically on containing the threat posed by the Islamic State—Libya’s downward spiral has serious implications for the same actors. As such, Libya… Continue reading Libya’s implosion and what it means for the West

Youth unemployment in Egypt: A ticking time bomb

Earlier this week, a satirical Facebook post announced that the Egyptian Army engineers have developed an Egyptian dollar to combat the continued rise of the U.S. dollar. The new and improved $100 note features Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s photo instead of Benjamin Franklin’s. Another post shows a video of Karam, a simple man from upper Egypt, revealing his secret… Continue reading Youth unemployment in Egypt: A ticking time bomb

How to revive the stalled reconstruction of Gaza

Two years after Hamas and Israel agreed to a cessation of hostilities, reconstruction in Gaza has been painfully slow. Experts discuss the challenges and how to improve the process.

To save his Middle East legacy, Obama must recognize a Palestinian state now

To salvage his Middle East legacy, advance American interests in the Arab world, and align with the position of the international community on this conflict, President Obama must make the long overdue decision of recognizing a sovereign and independent Palestinian state before leaving office.

The case for a regional reconstruction strategy for the Middle East

What needs to be done to resolve the issues of conflict and fragility in the Middle East?

Five years later, lessons of the uprisings in North Africa

Five years after the Arab uprisings, optimism has faded to cynicism as ongoing conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Yemen cast a shadow on the prospects for a sustainable democratic transition in the region. After five years, the main participants—the Islamists, the Arab youth, and the regimes themselves—should process several lessons.

Highlight reel: Some of Brookings’s best foreign policy pieces of 2015


Experts in the Brookings Foreign Policy program produced a lot of impressive work in 2015—from blog posts to policy papers to book manuscripts. Mike O’Hanlon, the program’s research director, gives a snapshot of some of the highlights.

The West is walking into the abyss on Syria

In the face of chaos in Syria, Russia is embarking on its second offensive foreign military operation in the country in 18 months. Meanwhile, the United States and its European partners remain dangerously disconnected from Syria’s realities. Amid recent geopolitical machinations, one simple reality appears to have been forgotten or purposefully ignored: Assad is not and should never be seen as a better alternative to the Islamic State.

In a multipolar Middle East, a strategic partnership between India and the UAE evolves

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s August visit to the United Arab Emirates marked the first visit in 34 years of an Indian leader to the UAE and Modi’s first official trip anywhere in the Middle East. Kadira Pethiyagoda examines the visit and its outcomes, arguing that it presages India’s long awaited giant leap into the great game’s Middle Eastern theater.

Yemen conflict: Gulf states should overcome pride and advance solutions

It is never a good idea to fight a war based on pride and without either the moral justification to sustain popular support or a clear set of achievable goals. Unfortunately, the Middle East has become best known for “wars of confusion.” The latest example is the war in Yemen.

Why small states matter in international politics: The case of Sri Lanka

In the last few years, Sri Lanka began to feature as a country of strategic relevance to great powers, particularly China and the United States. Western policymakers should not take the island state for granted. The larger lesson of Colombo’s shift to the West is that strategic small states like Sri Lanka now have more options and can easily switch sponsors. 

Not just a gas station: India’s broader interests in the Middle East

India and Middle Eastern states—particularly in the Gulf—have long enjoyed strategic and mutually beneficial relationships driven by flows of energy and migrant labor. India’s “hands-off” approach—secured by Washington’s commitment to ensuring the free flow of oil worldwide—has suited India’s traditional non-aligned and non-interference foreign policy, which in turn boost its reputation in the Middle East. Yet major changes in global, regional, and even internal Middle Eastern politics call for a new interpretation of the strategic importance of the Middle East to India and vice versa.