Middle East

  • The Long War in Idlib

    A Syrian regime offensive on Idlib province has been avoided for now, through a Russian-Turkish agreement. This is a much-needed reprieve for the beleaguered people of Idlib. Turkey, Russia, and the United States are likely relieved as well. There is speculation that a new US policy in Syria compelled Russia to make concessions and agree to a deal, but it is more likely a result of Russian-Turkish convergence on key issues. This alignment of interests bodes relatively well for the deal (given the dismal standards of deals in this war). Yet some of Turkey’s obligations are unrealistic and the regime remains undeterred long term, making this an inherently fragile arrangement.

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  • Iranian Attacks in Iraq Are More About Messaging Than Reality

    US and Iranian officials traded accusations earlier this month over an attack on Iran’s consulate in the southern city of Basra, followed by mortar or rocket attacks that appeared to target US missions in the capital, Baghdad.

    Tehran blames Washington for being behind the trashing of its consulate. The allegation was simply untrue. The protesters that did it were possibly loyal to the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr—whose bloc recently won the majority of seats in parliament—and is no ally of America by any stretch of the imagination. More likely the young men were angry over persistent unemployment, power cuts, and lack of services, and were probably behind the sacking—a means of venting against Iran because it is perceived as dominating the political class. 

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  • What Do The Renewed Protests in Iraq Mean?

    Civilian unrest in Iraq has refocused its attention on Haider al-Abadi and the Islamic Dawa party. Ongoing demonstrations this month in the southern city of Basra indicate trouble ahead for the Iraqi federal government and foreshadow an end to Haider al-Abadi’s run as prime minister, as he does not seek a second term.

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  • Military Developments in Idlib

    Damascus’s escalations in the rebel-held Idlib province in northwestern Syria in August and early September preempted tensions between the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While Turkey stated clearly its opposition to any action that would send additional hundreds of thousands of refugees to its borders, Syrian allies Iran and Russia adamantly supported Damascus’s mission of ousting all remaining opposition enclaves inside Syria.

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  • Khamenei Reversal on FATF Suggests US-Iran Talks Possible Under Trump

    President Donald Trump’s policy towards Iran is imposing “maximum pressure” purportedly aimed at bringing Iranians back to the negotiating table. Trump demands renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal which, according to him, has “terrible flaws.” He also wants restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program and a change in the Iran’s aggressive policies in the region. Trump has said that he would start talks without pre-conditions.

    Iranian leaders have rejected the offer. The demands, many observers maintain, are non-starters. Meanwhile, they argue, by abandoning the multilateral nuclear agreement between Iran and six major powers, Trump and his administration have lost their trustworthiness. Talks, therefore, would be pointless.

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  • Iran’s Alliance With Russia in Syria: Marriage of Convenience or Strategic Partnership?

    Russia’s alliance with Iran to buttress embattled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is approaching a critical phase, as pro-government forces consider how to retake Idlib province, the last major stronghold of Syrian rebels. While this alliance has successfully shifted the balance of power in favor of the Syrian government, it will likely not lead to a long-term strategic partnership between Iran and Russia, as their strategic goals in Syria and the region at large are quite divergent.

    Iranians historically have been wary of their giant neighbor to the north. In the nineteenth century, the Persian Empire was forced to sign a series of humiliating treaties relinquishing claims over territories in the South Caucasus to Tsarist Russia. Even today, Iranians are concerned that after sacrificing millions of dollars and thousands of lives in Syria, Russia will throw Iran under the bus for its own benefit. Recently, an Iranian lawmaker, Behrooz Bonyadi warned of “Syrian-Russian rapprochement at Iran’s expense.”

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  • From Syria with Love, Senator McCain

    The Arab Spring forever altered the lives of Syrian-Americans. The community now refers to life before and after the start of the Syrian revolution. Initially, the infectious energy from al-Assi Square in Hama and Tahrir Square in Cairo captured hearts across the world and triggered supportive policy measures from governments. It was only a couple of years before the enthusiasm turned into heartache and horror.

    By mid-2013, few US policy makers wanted to stake their professional careers on increasingly beleaguered democratic movements in Cairo, Misrata, and Homs. Senator John McCain was one of the few that did not shy away from the challenge, especially in Syria, where he emerged as a singular champion of the cause of freedom in public, behind closed doors, and even on the ground in Syria itself.

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  • New Hardline Voices Rise in Iran’s Theocratic Center

    On August 16, a number of young hardline clerics held an anti-government protest in Qom that highlighted differences among conservatives.

    The rally was supposed to be against “financial corruption” and “government mismanagement,” but the banners held by the attendees, which contained messages threatening moderate President Hassan Rouhani, turned the event into an even more controversial demonstration, with moderates and reformists attacking the organizers.

    A few conservative grand ayatollahs unexpectedly came forward to condemn the rally. What angered them weren’t the banners but a speech by a hardline theorist.

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  • Iran’s Deteriorating Human Rights Situation and Trump Administration Policies

    Iran’s human rights record continues to deteriorate but there are effective ways to advocate for improvement that include making demands as specific as possible and enlisting broad multilateral support.

    These were the main conclusions of a September 13 panel on the topic organized by the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.

    The system imposed in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution seeks a return to conservative social values through rigid interpretations of Islamic law. From women losing rights previously enshrined in a 1975 Family Protection Act, to intimidation and repression of civil society at large by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Judiciary, Iran has violated a wide spectrum of ethnic, social, and religious rights.

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  • Slavin in the Interpreter: Trump to Take on Iran at UN Security Council Table

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