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Below are remarks by Ambassador Frederic C. Hof at the NATO Parliamentary Forum at the National Defense University on Dec. 11, 2017 that touched upon the evolving US approach to Syria and Iraq.

I’ve been asked to discuss the evolving US approach to Iraq and Syria. I will try to do so as accurately and as briefly as possible. Brevity will not be a problem. Accuracy may be something else. I’ve been out of government for five years, and although I stay in touch with former colleagues and try to offer ideas on objectives and strategy, I do not purport to know what the commander-in-chief has decided on key issues affecting Syria and Iraq.

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In yet another attempt to resolve Libya’s war, on September 20, the United Nations presented a new Action Plan for Libya, supposedly to form a legitimate, functioning, and unified government. But this Action Plan will also fall short of what is needed to end this crisis because it misses a key point: it focuses on producing a government all belligerent parties can agree on, without understanding the financial situation behind the crisis. The UN and the international community should not be narrowly focused on producing a legitimate government that satisfies all the rival groups, but rather should focus on supporting the government’s ability to exercise its power to improve the people’s lives. The crisis in Libya is not a government legitimacy problem, it is a government effectiveness problem. And how can a government be effective when it does not even control its own finances?

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Earlier today, videos showing armed fighters carrying former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s body surfaced online and shocked the region. The General People’s Congress (GPC) confirmed that Saleh and Assistant Secretary General to the party Yasser al-Awadi were killed in a Houthi attack on one of his compounds. This turn of events holds tremendous implications for Yemen’s future and the course of the ongoing conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and led to what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently announced his new war against corruption. In using the term “war,” he intended to convey the difficulty of implementing a productive policy to fight corruption. Abadi hopes to build on his successes in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the crisis with Kurdistan by turning his attention to a popular and persistent demand: fighting corruption. International financial institutions and nonprofit organizations—including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF)- identify rampant corruption as a main impediment to development in Iraq, and Transparency International consistently rank Iraq among the most corrupt countries.

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It has become blatantly obvious that the Yemen tragedy will not end unless Riyadh decides to unilaterally cease fire and call for a peace roundtable, preferably in a neutral location such as Muscat or even Geneva. Washington could be a catalyst by prodding Saudi Arabia to put diplomacy first and becoming fully engaged in the effort. The prospects of that happening, however, are not good. It may be time for the Yemeni warring parties to take the initiative and, ignoring all regional and international chatter, launch an independent peace initiative to end the conflict once and for all. Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi could make himself the unlikely national leader by making such a call or continue on his current path of total irrelevance.

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With the Iraqi flag now flying above Kirkurk’s oil fields, a major pivot in the Kurdish-Israeli relationship threatens to isolate the KRG from its limited alliance system. In just four days, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) lost nearly all territory gained by Kurdish Peshmerga 2014 forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the 2003 American intervention to Iraqi federal forces. Iraqi Kurdistan has now retreated to the national borders it occupied before the 1991 Kurdish uprising, and faces damage to its political and economic institutions that will take years to recover. Whether Kurdish President Barzani designed the referendum as a true bid for secession or a tactic to amass political autonomy, the referendum was a gamble that fell flat, jeopardizing the KRG’s posture in the global oil market and strategic regional partnerships.

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After a more than four-year absence, Jund al-Islam (JAI) has returned to the forefront in Sinai, marking a new chapter in the fierce conflict between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (Daesh, ISIL, ISIS). The group published an audio recording in which it took credit for an attack targeting ISIS affiliates in Sinai known as Wilayat Sinai (WS). Jund al-Islam deemed them Kharitjites or those that defected from the group, and demanded that WS leaders turn themselves in. This attack raises many questions related to the sudden timing of Jund al-Islam’s emergence, its relationship with al-Qaeda, and the likely impact of the renewal of old hostilities between Wilayat Sinai and Jund al-Islam.

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To say that Yemen is facing a humanitarian crisis is an understatement. Numerous agencies are struggling to provide aid to a population in desperate need, but aid can only be as effective as the willingness to protect Yemen’s civilian population. That willingness has been lacking on all sides of this multi-sided war. Without civilian protection, building trust between the belligerent parties to reach even a cessation of hostilities, much less a long term, sustainable peace, is impossible.

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The Western Sahara is a region controlled by the Moroccan government for the past thirty-five years. It has long fostered the idea of a referendum while Morocco has publicly discouraged bids for independence. The Catalan referendum has bolstered the Western Sahara cause while standing as an example for Morocco of the possible repercussions: protests, violence, and overall fragmentation by the Spanish government and now-ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont illustrate the dangerous potential for Morocco’s ongoing tension with the Western Sahara region it controls. What is the history of the Western Sahara and what is its relationship with Morocco? How close is it really to a referendum?

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Normally, the beaches of southern Tunisia are quiet in November. It is the start of the lean months, when few tourists arrive and the jobs which depend on them vanish. This year is different. Tunisia’s beaches have a new customer: Tunisians trying to go to Europe

Between October 1st and November 8th, more Tunisians took to the seas than in 2015 and 2016 combined, with Italy and Tunisia detaining 4,709. In total, more than 8,700 Tunisian migrants have been caught by Italy and Tunisia in 2017. There are suspicions this represents only a fraction of those who have left.

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