Courtesy by Thomas Hawk / Flickr
This article originally appeared in swisspeace’s à propos No. 148 which is published by swisspeace in November 2016.
In the wake of the 9/11 attack, members of the international community responded in a heavy handed and militarized way to terrorism and adopted a counter terrorism (CT) approach. Yet, terrorist attacks and fatalities have dramatically increased and more powerful terrorist groups have been created. With the emergence of the prevention of violent extremism (PVE) approach, a greater emphasis is now given to so-called “soft” alternatives. However, the question remains whether it is a change in content or just a semantic shift.
Multinational organizations and donor countries have been engaged in various counter terrorism (CT) initiatives particularly since the 9/11 terrorist attack as part of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). This simplistic approach viewed terrorism as a form of criminal and subversive activity that targeted the West and its values. However, CT practices increasingly showed a proclivity for grave violations of human rights and international law. Some countries have also manipulated CT measures to silence political opposition and criticism. The acts committed by US security personnel in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the widespread practice of illegal detentions and renditions, decades of arrest without charge in Guantanamo are all manifestations of the failures of this approach. Terrorist attacks and fatalities have dramatically increased, more powerful terrorist groups have been created, the landmass controlled by terrorist groups has expanded, the number of foreign fighters crossing borders to join terrorist groups has surged, and terrorist attacks have reached new heights of cruelty and depravity in the last few years.
Courtesy of Boris Savluc / Flickr
This article was originally published by the IPI’s Global Observatory on 18 October 2016.
There was little media coverage of last month’s United Nations ministerial meeting on Mali—opened by Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon—held on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York. This was in stark contrast to four years ago, when United States presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned the conflict in northern Mali during a debate with Barack Obama. Does this mean that Mali is falling off a busy multilateral agenda dominated by the refugee crisis, Syria, and the transition to a new UN secretary-general?
The optimists would see it as a sign that the situation is not as bad as it once seemed, and that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), deployed in July 2013, is—alongside French counterterrorist force Barkhane—helping to prevent terrorist groups reoccupying northern Mali. Yet this goes against observations of “a doubling in the number of attacks perpetrated by violent extremist groups in northern Mali” and the fact that “attacks have spread to the center of the country” as Ban noted in his most recent Mali report to the Security Council.
Courtesy Kashmir Global / Flickr
This article was originally published on War on the Rocks on 14 September 2016.
India’s Kashmir Valley has been the scene of a Pakistan-backed insurgency since the 1990s. The Indian army and its associated security forces have been engaged in fighting this insurgency and assisting the civil administration in maintaining law and order. On July 8, the Pakistani terrorist group Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s commander in Kashmir, Burhan Wani, was killed in an encounter with security forces in Kashmir’s Anantnag district. Wani’s death plunged the state into deep turmoil, pitting Indian security forces against a large number of disenfranchised Kashmiri youth sympathetic to Wani’s anti-India resistance movement and calls for jihad. A full-blown confrontation between incensed youth and Indian security forces followed that resulted in 68 civilian deaths and over 2000 injured protestors, leaving an embarrassed Indian state facing a crisis of governance with no clear plan to prevent escalating violence. Exposing the fragility of the Indian state further, the Indian military publicly declared its frustration with political directives. In an unprecedented step, a strict curfew imposed in the Kashmir valley during Eid celebrations has renewed a fresh cycle of violence between protestors and security force, killing two protestors and injuring several more. New Delhi appears to be running out of options to de-escalate levels of violence.
This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 27 May 2016.
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the Popular Mobilization launched a major operation on May 23 to recapture Fallujah from ISIS. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced Operation Breaking Terrorism late on May 22 following weeks of force build-up in the area. The ISF and Anbar Sunni tribal fighters carried out shaping operations to the south of Fallujah in the weeks prior, recapturing al-Salaam Junction and moving along the southern road on May 7. Iranian proxy Shi’a militias, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Harakat al-Nujaba, deployed heavily to the vicinity of Fallujah beginning on May 17. Progress of the actual operation has been rapid, with the joint ISF-Popular Mobilization forces recapturing key locations within the first 24 hours. These included Garma sub-district, a small town northeast of Fallujah, and Naimiyah on the southern edge of Fallujah City on May 23. Even before ISIS, Sunni militants including Jaish al-Mujahideen, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, and Jaish Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandiyah (JRTN) used Garma as a support zone. As of May 26, security forces have captured much of the Garma area and have pressed on Fallujah’s northern, eastern, and southeastern flanks, though the progress of the ISF and Popular Mobilization in Albu Shajal and Saqlawiyah, on the northeastern axis, remains limited. These areas need to be controlled in order to complete the encirclement of Fallujah.
Operation Breaking Terrorism comes amid a period of instability for Baghdad and the Iraqi government. PM Abadi is weak, and the Council of Representatives has failed to make quorum due to boycotts by numerous parties, including the Kurdistan Alliance, the Reform Front, and the Sadrist Trend. Meanwhile, Sadrist demonstrators have threatened Baghdad security, breaking into the Green Zone and major government buildings first on April 30 and again on May 20, when protesters clashed with security forces. The demonstrations have exceeded the Interior Ministry’s security forces’ ability to provide basic protection in Baghdad; the increased instability caused by large-scale protests has required the deployment of additional forces to the capital, including members of the Golden Division, a unit within the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), that closed the entrances of the Green Zone on May 20.
Portrait of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, courtesy thierry ehrmann/flickr
This article was originally published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) on 5 May 2016.
Former Baathists—members of the Baath Party that ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein—including army and security officers, are today the most influential figures in the Islamic State (IS). The opportunism and ideological ambiguity of the former regime elements (FRE) make them ruthless tacticians who use torture and intimidation, but they should also be seen as a potential Achilles heel of the IS. The EU, together with the United States, needs to cooperate on political intelligence in order to examine the possibilities and conditions for weakening IS by bargaining with some of its key members.
Origins of Cooperation between Baathists and Jihadists
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority embarked on the “de-baathification” of Iraq, a process that aimed to remove senior Baath Party members from the country’s institutions and political system. More than 400,000 members of the defeated Iraqi Armed Forces (IAF) were dismissed and barred from further employment in the government sector, while being allowed to keep their weapons. In the faltering economy, dominated by the public sector, de-baathification meant social exclusion or at least a sudden deprivation of privileges that the elite had become used to over decades. Some of them formed local insurgent forces, and later joined the rising jihadist groups including Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which in 2006 established the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (today’s IS). To a large extent this cooperation resulted from discriminatory policies of the Shiah prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (2006–2014), who persecuted former officials and marginalised the entire Sunni population.
What united the FRE and the jihadists was the common enemy, the United States and Maliki’s government, rather than ideology. Even during the Faith Campaign (Hussein’s shift towards Islam in the 90s) Baath Party members lived relatively secular lives. Despite different ideological backgrounds, the common enemies and shared desire for power led to a strong synthesis of the jihadists and the ex-Baathists. The degree to which this occurred can be illustrated by the fact that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current leader of IS, was elected to the position in 2010 owing to the support of a former intelligence colonel, Samir al-Khlifawi, who subsequently cleansed the IS management and replenished it with further FRE.