The CSS Blog Network

The (Overblown) Concerns Linking Foreign Fighters, Civil Wars, and Terrorist Campaigns

Courtesy of thierry ehrmann/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 15 June 2017.

More than 30,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries have entered ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq since 2011. While the flow of these fighters has decreased dramatically over the past twelve months, two important concerns remain regarding foreign fighters. First, foreign fighters could radicalize rebel groups causing an escalation of violence in conflicts, lengthening their duration, and/or reducing opportunities for their resolution. Second, upon the conclusion of their participation in foreign conflicts, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks. In two articles at Research & Politics and Journal of Conflict Resolution, we suggest that both of these concerns are easily exaggerated.

Previous studies present divided evidence as to whether foreign fighters aid or undermine the rebels that they join. On the one hand, data summarizing foreign fighter participation across the period 1900 to 2006 suggest that conflicts involving foreign fighters were more likely, on average, to conclude with insurgent victory than with government victory. On the other hand, in Chechnya, the arrival of foreign fighters perverted the goals of local rebels, negatively affecting their resource and recruitment bases and losing them support within local populations.

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ISIS in Africa: Implications from Syria and Iraq

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This article was originally published by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) on 17 March 2017.

At the end of 2016, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), announced that the group had “expanded and shifted some of our command, media, and wealth to Africa.” ISIS’s Dabiq magazine referred to the regions of Africa that were part of its “caliphate”: “the region that includes Sudan, Chad, and Egypt has been named the caliphate province of Alkinaana; the region that includes Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda as the province of Habasha; the North African region encompassing Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Niger, and Mauritania as Maghreb, the province of the caliphate.” Leaving aside the mismatched ethno-linguistic groupings included in each of these “provinces,” ISIS’s interest in establishing a presence in Africa has long been a part of its vision for a global caliphate.

Battlefield setbacks in ISIS’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria since 2015, however, raise questions of what impact this will have for ISIS’s African aspirations. A useful starting point in considering this question is to recognize that the threat from violent Islamist groups in Africa is not monolithic but is comprised of a variety of distinct entities. For the most part, these groups are geographically concentrated and focused on local territorial or political objectives. Specifically, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies has identified 5 major categories of militant Islamists groups in Africa. In order of lethality on the continent, these include Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, ISIS-linked groups in North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Sinai-focused groups.

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Stop Believing in the Many Myths of the Iraq Surge

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This article was published by War is Boring on 10 March 2017.

Politicians and military officers continue to insist the 2007 troop surge was a glorious success. It wasn’t.

The other day, I found myself flipping through old photos from my time in Iraq. One in particular from October 2006 stood out. I see my 23-year-old self, along with my platoon. We’re still at Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, posing in front of our squadron logo splashed across a huge concrete barrier.

It was a tradition by then, three and a half years after the invasion of neighboring Iraq, for every Army, Marine and even Air Force battalion at that camp to proudly paint its unit emblem on one of those large, ubiquitous barricades.

Gazing at that photo, it’s hard for me to believe that it was taken a decade ago.

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The Consequences of Politicized Forces in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

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This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 19 January 2017.

The politicization of the Kurdish military and security forces has a diverse and severe impact on human security, and stability in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The lack of a nationalized armed force in Kurdistan remains the biggest threat to its future. The Iraqi constitution allows the Kurdistan Regional Government to form its local force and legalize the existence of the Peshmerga, but Baghdad does not intervene in the details of the formations and the recruitment process. The ruling parties in Kurdistan have the ultimate power over mobilization, recruitment, and financing of the security forces.

Kurdistan has been an autonomous region since 1992. It emerged as a quasi-state after the establishment of the no-fly zone in northern Iraq by the United States – along with the United Kingdom and France – which put an end to Saddam Hussein’s murderous attacks on the Kurds. From this time onwards, The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been predominantly ruled by two major parties; the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Mustafa Barzani, established the former in 1946 while Jalal Talabani had founded PUK in 1975 when he split from Barzani’s KDP. Although the two parties have fought the Iraqi regime in the 1980s, they also fought one another.

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Are Conditions Ripening for an Iraqi Kurdish State?

Abstract

Courtesy of Mustafa Khayat/Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 5 January 2017.

The failure of Iraq, breakdown of Syria, and changes in Turkey have created opportunities for Kurds in all three countries. They are not quite the regional kingmakers that some Kurds have boasted they might become, but Kurdish political and military power is now a growing factor in Middle East geopolitics. This has produced not only unique challenges, but also new possibilities for U.S. policy in the region. As President-Elect Donald J. Trump shapes his administration and officials look at the Middle East beyond the battles against the so-called Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa, they will have to come to terms with the Kurds, some of whom are intent on using their new clout and political developments around them to push for a sovereign Kurdistan.

It is unlikely that Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) or its fighting force, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), or Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) will realize their objectives of statehood, but Iraq’s Kurds may be in a far more advantageous position to press for independence. Significant obstacles remain for Iraqi Kurds, but the combination of regional instability, the coming liberation of Mosul, and the state of Iraqi politics may help advance the historic goals of Kurdish leaders.

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