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Ten Elections to Watch in 2017

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Courtesy of las.photographs/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 9 December 2016.

Millions of people around the world went to the polls this year. The results provided plenty of surprises. British voters defied the pollsters and voted to leave the European Union. Colombians did much the same in rejecting their government’s peace deal with FARC, though Colombia’s president found a way to complete the deal a few months later without a vote. The biggest electoral surprise of all might have been in the United States, where Donald Trump defied the political experts and defeated Hillary Clinton. Perhaps 2017 will produce similarly surprising results. Here are ten elections to watch.

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Post-Sistani Iraq, Iran, and the Future of Shia Islam

Courtesy of Aslan Media/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 8 September 2016.

During a recent trip to my hometown of Najaf in southern Iraq, I stumbled across a book titled My Leader Khamenei in the personal library of a cleric studying in the Islamic seminary known as the Hawza. He had picked it up at a bookstore near the shrine of Imam Ali, where the first Shia Imam is buried. It is a popular destination for Muslim pilgrims – especially Shia Muslims – from across the world.

Najaf, which lies 100 miles south of Baghdad, is the heartland of Shia Islam. Home to a seminary established in the early 11th century and the seat of the Marja’iyya – the influential religious establishment led by Ayatollahs.

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Interview – Banafsheh Keynoush

Iranian Soldiers during a parade. Courtesy of The Israel Project/flickr

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 27 April 2016.

Banafsheh Keynoush is an international geopolitical consultant, foreign affairs scholar, and author of Saudi Arabia and Iran: Friends or Foes? (Palgrave Macmillan, February 2016). The book is based on dozens of interviews with Saudi and Iranian leaders, politicians and decision makers, and rich archival material collected and made available for the first time in English. Drawing on unique insight into the relationship over a span of a century, the author challenges the mainstream fallacy of the inevitability of sectarian conflict or that it is the main cause of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and instead argues that the relationship can be fixed through increased diplomacy.

Do you think that Iran is seeking to revise the Western dominated regional order in the Middle East?

Iran promotes the view that the security of the Persian Gulf and by extension the Middle East should be guaranteed and upheld by the regional states, rather than by foreign powers. Its view of regional security is somewhat revisionist, aiming to correct the regional order which is influenced by foreign powers including the United States. Tehran believes that foreign power influence does not serve it, because the Arab Gulf states rely on Washington to advance their security while Iran generally views U.S. presence as a threat.

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Iraq Situation Report: January 12 – 19, 2016

Iraqi army soldiers from 4th Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 5th Division stand outside an Iraqi army compound in Buhriz, Iraq.

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 20 January 2016.

Key Take-Away: Iraqi Shi’a militias significantly escalated their confrontation with the U.S. by kidnapping three American contractors and an interpreter in southern Baghdad on January 15, reportedly from the apartment of the interpreter. While no group has claimed responsibility, Iraqi Shi’a militias proliferate both the neighborhood of abduction, al-Dora, as well as Sadr City, the northeastern neighborhood to which the contractors were reportedly taken. Iranian proxy militias were responsible for kidnapping American servicemen before the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. Iraqi Shi’a militias carried out similar kidnappings of Turkish citizens in Baghdad in September 2015 and Qatari citizens in Muthanna Province in December 2015. The kidnapping of the American citizens came just one day before the release of four American prisoners by Iran and two days before the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran in response to an Iranian ballistic missile test in October 2015. The timing of the kidnapping suggests that Iranian proxies did not kidnap the contractors in response to the additional sanctions, but did so in order to secure future leverage over the U.S. However, the possibility remains that an Iranian proxy militia may have conducted the kidnapping without a direct order from their supervisors in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF). Regardless of intent, the kidnapping underscores the impunity with which Iranian proxies operate as well as the persistent threat they pose to U.S. personnel and interests.

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Could Iran Be the Next Country to Legalise Cannabis and Opium?

Marihuana Grafitti. Image: Benzene Aseel/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 22 October, 2015.

After Uruguay courageously legalised the use of cannabis under a new drug policy, could Iran be the next country to make it legal? From the outside, the image of Iran as retrograde and inherently conservative hardly fits with the reality of a more dynamic domestic political debate within. But drug policy is one of the areas of debate in which the Islamic Republic has produced some interesting, yet paradoxical, policies.

Iran has a conspicuous drug addiction problem – which officially accounts for more than 2m addicts (though unofficial figures put this as high as 5-6m). Drug traffickers risk harsh punishments that include the death penalty. Yet Iran also has very progressive policies towards drug addiction, which include distribution of clean needles to injecting drug users, methadone substitution programmes (also in prisons) and a vast system of addiction treatment. » More

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