Tag Archives: Iraq

The new phase of terrorism

Many observers believe that recent developments in security measures have increased the effectiveness with which we can face terrorism, as evidenced by the falling number of attacks by IS or other groups. While we may have developed strategies and tact…

The path toward the regional settlements

Since the Astana negotiations the crisis in Syria has been on the path towards resolution. We have seen multiple factors working towards this resolution including the shift in Turkey’s position, the Russo-Turkish alliance and more recently the Gulf crisis and the rising Qatari-Saudi hostilities.

As the Qataris have positioned against Saudi Arabia, armed groups in Syria have lost financial and logistical support and as the Qatari Iranian rapprochement has developed, Syria and its allies have strengthened as Iran, Russia and Hezbollah have been draining the resistance in many areas across Syria.

As a major neighbor, Jordan has also begun to reposition as a result of these shifts. Stability in the south of Syria is a primary objective due to the direct link to stability and national security within Jordanian borders. In addition to security, from an economic and political perspective the stabilization and reopening of the border with Syria is a critical step in normalizing and rebuilding the Syrian state.

In parallel and of equal strategic importance for Jordan are efforts to reengage with Iraq and reopen that border. Broader regional developments have created new challenges on this front. Stability and security remains fragile, as does Jordan’s ability to build strong political ties. Additionally, the potential for renewed relations for Iraq with Saudi Arabia and the possibility of new border openings between them will be distracting and a higher priority for Iraq.

Given that regime change is no longer the priority in Syria and all of the key stakeholders have changed their narrative, resolution of the Syria issue and outlining a pathway to bring Syria back into the Arab League should become a priority. Egypt is in the box seat given that since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood there, Egyptian-Syrian relations have been progressively improving.

While Saudi Arabia led the anti-Syria campaign in the region, they have cause to reconsider their position. They are seeking to disengage from conflict and crisis in Yemen and Syria as Qatar develops the upper hand in Syria and Iran encouraging the wasting of their resources in Yemen.

While Saudi Arabia has been quick to war and capable of building coalitions against shared enemies, the Minister of Defence, who has become the Crown Prince is transitioning to become King, which could very well result in a transition from war to peace.

Saudi Arabia has many great challenges to face in the coming generation and needs development and economic growth in order to face them. So while successfully waging war may have made him Crown Prince, stability and growth is the path to becoming King.

As a result, we may see a regional shift towards peace, social development and economic growth, things the Arab world greatly need.

Dr. Amer AL Sabaileh

The risk of political isolation

The ever dynamic geopolitics of the Middle East have been particularly fluid recently. Since the recent visit to Riyadh by President Trump, which included a summit and announcement of an anti-terrorism coalition, Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as the main political protagonist in the region.

If Saudi Arabia is serious about taking the initiative for real progressive reform within the Islamic world, then there is hope for change. However, it will not be easy, especially given the internal politics that the ruling class in Saudi is facing.

Separating the religious state and the nation state is the only real way to end the continuous official exploitation of religion. A clear division between the religious mandate as the custodian of the two holy mosques and the King of Saudi Arabia’s mandate as leader of the state is required. Religion must be depoliticized in order for an independent nation state in Saudi Arabia.

This would also mean that the Sunni Islam community would have a single interlocutor, who is also the custodian of the two holy mosques. This clear division could also create a clearer religious identity and legitimacy for the custodians.

In the meantime, we are also seeing normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab countries. The Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu has referred to this on two different occasions recently. Firstly he said that Israel is more interested in peace with Arab countries. Secondly, when he welcomed President Trump to Israel, he commented that he looks forward to the day when a plane could do the same route that President Trump did but directly go from Jerusalem to Riyadh, rather than having to route through a third country.

The increasing normalization of Israeli-Arab relations and the potential for an exclusive group representing the Sunni Muslim community, combined would have wider implications across the region and the world. In particular it could politically isolate some countries and reduce their influence.

Jordan is one of the countries that could be affected by these developments. Sovereignty over al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem could stir competition and rivalry among Muslim political system. We saw the potential for this in the recent issues as several groups claimed to have influenced the Israeli decision to reopen the mosque.

Jordan’s strategic geography has always been an advantage, but clever strategic thinking is required in order to leverage that advantage. Given recent developments, Jordan should be seeking a complete change in attitude, strategies and political decisions.

Jordan should seek to reengage with Iraq and Syria, as in any process of re building Syria, Damascus could be the lungs from which Jordan breathes. Jordan also needs to pivot to bolster its internal systems as true legitimacy comes from a strong internal political system. There is a real risk of increased weakening of the internal regime as a result of external factors like the Al Aqsa mosque.

It is important also to review how Israeli-Jordanian relations have deteriorated to this point. The Israeli Ambassador and entire staff have left Jordan, which is effectively an unofficial severing of diplomatic ties. Given the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, it is important to revise how both countries got to this point.

Jordan must focus and be smart enough to avoid the potential political isolation that could be a result of recent developments in the region.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh


Mosul Battle: What next

According to various security reports, the last few weeks have seen a mass systematic withdrawal of IS fighters from Mosul, anticipating the US operation of liberating Mosul from ISIS.

Politically, the US insists on separating the efforts of fighting ISIS in its main cities of Mosul and Raqqa. This kind of tactic highlights the lack of pragmatism in the way the US is fighting terrorism in the Middle East.

Since the declaration of the Caliphate by IS, the US has wanted to appear as the savior and liberator of Mosul and Raqqa.  There was a similar Hollywood-style in the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and a similar political investment.

The announcement of the US military plan to liberate Mosul based on avoiding a humanitarian disaster demonstrates the American interest is the political story in Washington and the impact on the presidential election. The message being sent is the role of the current administration in the liberation of Mosul to demonstrate the success of Obama’s second term, much like the elimination of Bin Laden was used to demonstrate the success of his first term.

In publicly announcing their plans, ISIS has responded by withdrawing from Mosul, making American success much more likely as the ISIS presence in Mosul has decreased significantly, making liberation a much simpler task. While IS fights have moved to Raqqa, those remaining in Mosul have taken to guerilla tactics with an increase in suicide bombings and surprise ambushes.

So while entering Mosul will not be so difficult, the next step will be the real challenge as they attempt to reestablish political stability, without challenging Iraqi authority. Furthermore, the real battle with ISIS is just being shifted to Raqqa, where most of the IS forces are preparing for a confrontation. A battle for Raqqa is likely to be far more complicated, not just because ISIS will remain and fight after having months to prepare, but also because of the lack of coordination between the Russian and international allies, which will only create more complexity and make success more difficult to achieve.

Meanwhile, Turkish supported troops have taken the village of Dabeq will crush the IS ideology on which the terrorist group justifies itself as the successor of the medieval caliphate and the prophecy that they will prevail in the final battle of Armageddon between the forces of good and evil.

The impending fall of Mosul will also trigger the search for the next successor to the caliphate.  We are likely to see the birth of new groups claiming to be the legitimate successor of the caliphate heritage. Moreover, the direct attack on Mosul could also scatter IS fighters, which will result on individual and uncoordinated terrorist attacks across the region and the world as followers of the IS doctrine have shown a capacity to operate globally.

Despite all of this, the symbolism of the fall of Mosul is very important, as it is the place from which La Baghdadi announced the birth of the caliphate. As such, it will be considered a big blow to the organization and its narrative. While there may be negative implications for IS, it will also have negative impacts for the rest of the world with a greater risk of terrorist attacks, while also setting up a difficult battle for Raqqa. Especially so if the US insists on not coordinating with other forces in the region to liberate the last remaining major city that IS holds.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh