That’s not easy

The Kosovo parliament yesterday mounted the two-thirds margin needed to approve constitutional amendments required to allow creation of an internationally-staffed Special Court that will meet outside the small country to consider cases that date from after the end of the Kosovo war and may include some in which the crimes actually occurred in Albania. It will likely be years before the court reaches any verdicts.

It took courage for Hashim Thaci, who is rumored to be the subject of at least some of the cases in question, to dragoon his political party into providing the votes necessary to reach the two-thirds threshold. The constitutional amendments had failed just a few weeks ago, due to defections by Kosovo Liberation Army enthusiasts. They regard the creation of the Special Court as an attack on the legitimacy of their liberation struggle and the sovereignty of the state it created.

The international community saw things differently. Kosovo’s friends in Washington and Brussels might have preferred the country’s own courts to take up the cases in question. But Kosovo is too small and too interconnected for its still nascent court system to be able and willing to try such cases, which require foolproof witness protection. In any event, it would not have been possible for the Kosovo courts to deal with those involving crimes that allegedly occurred in Albania, including murder and organ trafficking.

It is unfortunately not clear that the internationals can manage the feat either. The European Union Rule of Law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) has been bumbling at best, incompetent and even corrupt at worst. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which lacks jurisdiction in the cases the Special Court will hear, hasn’t been a lot better. Its trials have dragged on for years, with inconsistent and difficult to account for outcomes. Its main virtue was that it removed notorious alleged war criminals from circulation in their own countries and thereby muted their political currency and relevance.

It was supposed to do better than that. International justice was intended to hold individuals accountable, remove the presumption of guilt from ethnic groups, and provide a just foundation on which to build real reconciliation and a warm peace. Judged by those expectations, the alphabet soup of international efforts to make law the rule rather than the exception has to be judged a miserable failure. While the military potential to wreck havoc in the Balkans is today greatly reduced, ethnic tensions still prevail over moderation, mutual disdain over common interests and hatred over good  sense.

My one fear about this new court, whose creation has to be counted as a big step forward, is that it may fail like other international justice efforts to hold perpetrators accountable. Bringing people to trial for crimes allegedly committed 15 or 16 year ago is challenging. Evidence goes missing or is destroyed, witnesses become unavailable or unwilling, memories fade. The organ-trafficking allegations will be particularly difficult to prove. Perhaps the single biggest challenge in Kosovo is intimidation: I wouldn’t want to live in a country of less than 2 million people where most of the population would consider me a traitor. Testifying means a lifetime in exile in some other country’s witness protection program.

So I do hope the internationals understand the big responsibilities they have taken on with the creation of this Special Court: assembling airtight cases from aging evidence and testimony, conducting trials expeditiously and transparently, convincing not only the accused but two whole countries that the process is fair and unbiased, avoiding the besmirching of reputations without ample proof, assigning responsibility in a way that avoids harming innocent people.

That’s not easy.

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Shore-up Jordan before it’s too late…

Mount Nebo, from where Moses saw the promised land in Deuteronomy.  Are storm clouds gathering over Jordan?
Mount Nebo, from where Moses saw the promised land in Deuteronomy. The Dead Sea is visible in the background. Are storm clouds gathering over Jordan? PC: Eddie Grove

Ambassador Oded Eran (Senior Research Fellow, INSS, former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, the EU and NATO, and former head of the Israeli negotiating team with the Palestinians) and Eddie Grove (Research Assistant Intern, MEI and former Research Assistant Intern, INSS) co-authored an article entitled Threats to Stability in Jordan in the July 2015 issue of INSS Strategic Assessment.  The article describes the challenges that Jordan must overcome in both the short-term and the long-term to remain stable.

Despite persistent predictions of the imminent demise of the Hashemite regime, Jordan has remained stable, buoyed by international aid from the US and the GCC.  Jordan faces a growing jihadi threat, fueled largely by a poor economy and high youth unemployment.  In the short-term, Jordan’s stability will be aided by low oil prices and a temporary rise in patriotism after pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh’s murder by ISIS.  In the long-term, Jordan needs to address water and energy scarcity issues to remain stable and serve the needs of a growing population, including its many refugees.

Jordan has high unemployment, including a youth unemployment rate of ~30%.  A few key reasons for this include:

A UNHCR Syrian Refugee tent in Irbid. PC: Eddie Grove
A UNHCR Syrian Refugee tent in Irbid. PC: Eddie Grove
  1. Jordan’s education system doesn’t provide students with necessary skills for the workforce.
  2. Jordanian students often choose fields of study that aren’t in high demand in the workforce.
  3. Syrian refugees compete for informal sector jobs.

Youth unemployment, often long in duration, leads to frustration.  This frustration is compounded by a lack of avenues for political expression among Jordanian youth.  Little real reform occurred during Jordan’s relatively small-scale Arab Spring protests.

The kunafe at Habibeh in Amman, made by a family originally from Nablus, is tasty evidence that the majority of Jordan's population is originally Palestinian. PC: Eddie Grove
The kunafe at Habibeh in Amman, made by a family originally from Nablus, is tasty evidence that the majority of Jordan’s population is originally Palestinian. PC: Eddie Grove

Some discontented youth see jihadism as attractive.  Experts estimate that there are 5,000-10,000 jihadis in Jordan, and that this number may have doubled since the Arab Spring.  Jordan’s jihadis were traditionally mainly Palestinian, but growing numbers of ethnic Jordanians (East Bankers) have been joining the movement.  East Bankers have traditionally been regime loyalists and comprise the majority of the military and security services.  Cracks in their loyalty pose a serious threat to the regime.

 

 

The Shariah College in Jabal Webdeh, Amman. The Jordanian government tries to monitor the content of mosque sermons closely. PC: Eddie Grove
The Shariah College in Jabal Webdeh, Amman. The Jordanian government tries to monitor the content of mosque sermons closely. PC: Eddie Grove

The government closely watches jihadis; it arrests those who post jihadi content online and preachers who deliver extremist sermons.  According to one expert, the vast majority of Jordan’s jihadis now sympathize with ISIS. ISIS has grassroots support, if not an organized presence.  YouTube videos have shown pro-ISIS rallies in Ma’an and Zarqa and there is also evidence of ISIS sympathizers in Irbid.  As of fall 2014, there were 1000-1500 Jordanian fighters in Syria, and 8% of Jordan’s population sympathized with ISIS.  Ten percent didn’t consider ISIS a terrorist organization, and opposition to Jordan’s participation in coalition airstrikes was widespread: #ThisIsNotOurWar was a trending Twitter hashtag.

The sign in the grass at the Roman Theater in Amman has the patriotic slogan: "Hold your head high."
The sign in the grass at the Roman Theater in Amman has the patriotic slogan: “hold your head high.” PC: Eddie Grove

When Muath Al-Kasasbeh was murdered, it prompted an anti-ISIS backlash and a surge in patriotism.  A February 2015 poll showed overwhelming support for Jordan’s participation in coalition airstrikes, and that 95% of the population now considered ISIS a terrorist organization.  Confidence in PM Ensour’s government also increased.  King Abdullah urged Jordanians to “hold their heads high.”  This became a trending hashtag on Twitter.  The surge in patriotism was not universal, however, as a Jordanian MP and a high-ranking Jordanian diplomat publicly derided this new slogan.  In addition, an ISIS cell was arrested in Mafraq in March 2015, a poor city with many Syrian refugees.

Downtown Mafraq. PC: Eddie Grove
Downtown Mafraq. PC: Eddie Grove

The wave of patriotism will fade and energy costs will increase, so Jordan needs to address its water

The Jordan Valley Authority controls irrigation water in the Jordan River Valley.  It is one of Jordan's best-performing water utilities, with low NRW.  PC: Eddie Grove
The Jordan Valley Authority controls irrigation water in the Jordan River Valley. It is one of Jordan’s best-performing water utilities, with low NRW. PC: Eddie Grove

and energy scarcity issues.  Water scarcity may have been a contributory cause of Syria’s civil war, and Jordan is one of the world’s most water-scarce countries.  Additionally, ~40% of the inputs into Jordan’s water networks become Non-revenue Water (NRW).  NRW is essentially water that is not accounted for when customers are billed, due to leakage, illegal use, faulty meters, incompetent meter-readers, and poor accounting.  Israel provides Jordan with water from Lake Kinneret, and this quantity may increase in the future.  Jordan also plans to desalinate water at Aqaba.  However, solving Jordan’s water crisis requires progress on multiple fronts, including NRW reduction (with the help of the international community).  Climate change could worsen Jordan’s water woes, and comparisons between Jordan and Syria are ominous.  Water scarcity drove internal migration in Syria, which combined with other factors like corruption, unemployment and inequality to ignite the crisis.  Jordan displays similar risk factors.

A view of Aqaba from Mount Tzefahot in Eilat.  Jordan plans to desalinate water here.
A view of Aqaba from Mount Tzefahot in Eilat, Israel. Jordan plans to desalinate water at Aqaba. PC: Eddie Grove
Wadi Ziglab, one of Jordan's water reservoirs.
Wadi Ziglab, one of Jordan’s water reservoirs. PC: Eddie Grove

Jordan must also address its energy scarcity issues.  Jordan used to import natural gas from Egypt, but repeated terror attacks on the pipeline through the Sinai halted the imports and damaged Jordan economically, forcing it to import costlier petroleum products.  Low oil prices provide a temporary respite.  Fortunately, Jordan has plans to diversify its energy sources by 2020, with the following breakdown:

Jordan's deserts are ideal for solar panel generation. Wadi Rum (top), camel crossing sign near Wadi Rum (bottom left) and patches of snow near Ma'an (bottom right). PC: Eddie Grove
Jordan’s deserts are ideal for solar panel generation. Wadi Rum (top), camel crossing sign near Wadi Rum (bottom left) and patches of snow near the restive city of Ma’an (bottom right). PC: Eddie Grove
  1. 10% from wind and solar.
  2. 14% oil shale.
  3.  6% nuclear.
  4. 29% natural gas.
  5. 1% imported electricity.
  6. 40% petroleum products.
The spine of mountains that runs North-South in Western Jordan provide opportunities for wind farms.  This windy spot at Ajloun Castle is a great example.  PC: Edie Grove
The spine of mountains that runs North-South in Western Jordan provides opportunities for wind farms. This windy spot at Ajloun Castle is a great example. PC: Eddie Grove
Jordan's first planned wind farm is here in Tafileh. PC: Eddie Grove
Jordan’s first planned wind farm will be in this town, Tafileh, but little progress has been made on it. PC: Eddie Grove

Unfortunately, this won’t happen, at least not by 2020.  Israel may import gas from Israel, but this is politically challenging and Israel’s gas companies are embroiled in an anti-trust dispute with the Israeli government.  Gas from Gaza is more politically palatable for Jordan, but is unlikely to come online soon for political reasons. Jordan imports LNG from Qatar, but this is costlier than gas via pipeline.  Little progress has been made on the wind and solar projects, and Jordan’s nuclear ambitions may never come to fruition because of high costs and international opposition.  Oil shale (not to be confused with shale oil) has never before been extracted on a commercial scale and may not be viable at oil prices below $75/barrel.

Costly energy imports damage Jordan’s economy (and therefore its stability) as follows:

  1. High energy prices increase the cost of living for struggling Jordanians.
  2. Jordan’s remaining energy subsidies are a burden on the government’s budget and divert funds from key areas.
  3. Energy subsidies crowd-out private sector investment.

Energy diversification (with the help of the international community) would alleviate these issues, and help counteract the poor economic conditions that contribute to the rise in jihadism.

Israel has a strong interest in preserving Jordan’s stability, as Jordan is a buffer state.  Jordan used to

Haifa Port. PC: Eddie Grove
Haifa Port, now used to export Jordanian goods. PC: Eddie Grove

export goods through Syria, but Israel has allowed Jordan to use Haifa’s port for exports, and is improving the facilities there.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is always a complicating factor in Israeli-Jordanian relations; the majority of Jordan’s population is Palestinian, causing a political climate in which Jordan requires at least a semblance of progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to ensure quiet domestically.  Jordan’s 2014-2015 UN Security Council membership further complicates this balancing act.

Checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem (top), the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit (bottom left),  and downtown Ramallah (bottom right). To ensure domestic quiet, Jordan ideally wants positive progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. PC: Eddie Grove
Checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem (top), the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit (bottom left), and downtown Ramallah (bottom right). To ensure domestic quiet, Jordan ideally wants positive progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. PC: Eddie Grove
A view into the area around Aqaba, Jordan from what was once an Israeli defense post.  Today, the site is part of the Eilat Botanical Gardens.  Jordan and Israel were once enemies, but are now strategic partners.
A view into the area around Aqaba, Jordan from what was once an Israeli defense post. Today, the site is part of the Eilat Botanical Gardens. Jordan and Israel were once enemies, but are now strategic partners. PC: Eddie Grove
A view of Jordan through an arrowslit at the Crusader castle of Belvoir, Israel.
A view of Jordan through an arrowslit at the Crusader castle of Belvoir, Israel. PC: Eddie Grove

To shore-up Jordan’s stability, Israel can:

  1. Increase bilateral cooperation (this has likely already happened).
  2. Expedite water and gas transfers.
  3. Allow for greater access of Jordanian products to Israel, but more importantly, the Palestinian market.
  4. Increase its use of Jordan’s port of Aqaba, which could produce mutual benefits.

 

In addition, the US and GCC must keep up financial assistance to Jordan, but ensure that this assistance addresses long-term issues. The immediate risk posed by ISIS is likely not a frontal attack. ISIS rather seeks to exploit pockets of poverty and unemployment within Jordan, including among East Bankers.  Financial resources are needed to prevent this.

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Peace picks August 3-7

The Washington Monument.  In April 2015, the nearby Office of Personnel Management was hacked by the Chinese government, causing a huge data breach.  PC: Eddie Grove
The Washington Monument. In April 2015, the nearby Office of Personnel Management was hacked by the Chinese government, causing a huge data breach. PC: Eddie Grove

1. Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare: An Evolving Challenge | Monday, August 3rd | 11:30 – 2:00 | Hudson Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The U.S. government has established an arsenal of economic warfare tools aimed at weakening rogue actors, isolating illicit finance, and protecting the global economy. Washington’s playbook is filled with asset freezes, sanctions, trade embargoes, and blacklists. At the same time, the Information Age has led to a transformative development in the realm of economic warfare: the potential use of cyberattacks to cause the U.S. substantial economic harm and weaken its national security capacity.  With the exception of cyberterrorism, cyberattacks on U.S. economic targets have been treated as vexing nuisances and a cost of doing business, but have not been viewed as a strategic national security threat. The changing nature and increased volume of cybercrime, espionage, hacking, and sabotage raises the question: Is there lurking a new type of action aimed specifically at undermining American economic power, destabilizing the global economic system, and threatening U.S. allies?  What are America’s vulnerabilities and how can the U.S. government and private sector recognize, monitor, deter, defend against, and defeat such warfare? A new report, Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare: An Evolving Challenge, edited by Dr. Samantha Ravich seeks to address these questions. Leading experts will come together on August 3rd to discuss and debate the report’s critical findings in an event hosted by Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance.  Speakers include: The Honorable Juan C. Zarate, Chairman & Senior Counselor, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Congressman Mike Rogers, Distinguished Fellow, Hudson Institute, Former U.S. Representative, Michigan, and Former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Steven Chabinsky, General Counsel & Chief Risk Officer, CrowdStrike, Dr. Michael Hsieh, Program Manager, DARPA, Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director, Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Director, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Mark Tucker, CEO, Temporal Defense Systems.  Dr. Samantha Ravich, Editor, Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare: An Evolving Challenge and Board of Advisors Member, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, Foundation for Defense of Democracies will moderate.

2. The Role of IGAD: A Regional Approach to the Crisis in South Sudan Tuesday, August 4st | 2:00-3:30 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Soon after it achieved independence in 2011, South Sudan erupted into civil war resulting in thousands of people killed and another 2.2 million displaced. There have been several international and national mediation efforts have done little to stem the violence and arrive at a viable solutions. One of the key actors in these efforts has been the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is one of the African Union’s eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs). This session will assess IGAD’s role in mediating the crisis in South Sudan, the challenges that IGAD has faced (including how regional dynamics and interests have impacted IGAD’s mediating efforts), and offer recommendatios and options for international actors and IGAD for more effective mediation of the South Sudan crisis.  Speakers include: Southern Voices Network Scholar Dr. Getachew Zeru Gebrekidan, Lecturer at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia and Mr. John Prendergast, Founding Director, the Enough Project.

A view towards the Afghan border, which is 20 miles away, from Chiluchor Chashma, Tajikistan.  Fears of ISIS in the region were compounded when Tajikistan's security chief, Gumurod Halimov, disappeared in April and joined ISIS in Syria.  PC: Eddie Grove
A view towards the Afghan border, which is 20 miles away, from Chiluchor Chashma, Tajikistan. Fears of ISIS in the region were compounded when Tajikistan’s security chief, Gumurod Halimov, disappeared in April and joined ISIS in Syria. PC: Eddie Grove

3. The State of Afghanistan and Prospects for the Future: A Discussion with General John Campbell | Tuesday, August 4st | 3:00 – 4:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | While the combat mission in Afghanistan concluded in late 2014, U.S. involvement remains significant and critical to security in the country. In recent weeks, talk of a settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government has gained momentum. At the same time, however, increased U.S. air strikes against insurgents have taken place, and Afghan soldiers continue to take their heaviest losses of the war as intense fighting continues in a number of Afghan provinces. Additionally, concerns over ISIS moving into the region are also mounting. General John F. Campbell, commander of Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, will discuss the country’s security landscape. Michael O’Hanlon, co-director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, will moderate.

Bab Al-Bahrain in Manama, Bahrain.  Bahrain hosts the US 5th Fleet.  PC: Eddie Grove
Bab Al-Bahrain in Manama, Bahrain. Bahrain hosts the US 5th Fleet. PC: Eddie Grove

4. The Future of Naval Capabilities | Tuesday, July 21st | 10:00-11:00 | CSIS | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Please join us for a discussion with Admirals Aucoin and Winter on the U.S. Navy’s efforts to develop new capabilities above, on, and under the sea.  Speakers include: Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, USN, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems and Rear Admiral Mathias W. Winter, USN, Chief of Naval Research, Director, Innovation, Technology Requirements, and Test & Evaluation.  Moderated by: Andrew P. Hunter, Director, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group, Senior Fellow, International Security Program, CSIS.  The Maritime Security Dialogue brings together CSIS and U.S. Naval Institute, two of the nation’s most respected non-partisan institutions. The series is intended to highlight the particular challenges facing the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, from national level maritime policy to naval concept development and program design. Given budgetary challenges, technological opportunities, and ongoing strategic adjustments, the nature and employment of U.S. maritime forces are likely to undergo significant change over the next ten to fifteen years. The Maritime Security Dialogue provides an unmatched forum for discussion of these issues with the nation’s maritime leaders.

If more Americans visit Iran in the aftermath of the deal, they may be amused by one of their laundry detergent brands.  Washing your clothes with barf makes more sense when you consider that barf means snow in Persian.  PC: Eddie Grove
If more Americans visit Iran in the aftermath of the deal, they may be amused by one of their laundry detergent brands. Washing your clothes with barf makes more sense when you consider that barf means snow in Persian. PC: Eddie Grove

5. After the Deal: A Veteran Journalist’s View from Tehran | Wednesday, August 5th | 12:00-1:00 | Johns Hopkins SAIS – Rome Building | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Roy Gutman, Middle East bureau chief of the McClatchy newspapers, will share his insights from Tehran, after which respondent Joyce Karam, Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an international Arabic daily based in London, will comment on reaction to the deal in the Arab press and concern about increased regional turmoil. SAIS faculty member and MEI scholar Daniel Serwer will moderate the conversation.

6. Beyond Afghanistan’s Dangerous Summer | Wednesday, August 5th | 1:3o-2:30 | USIP | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As the one-year anniversary approaches for the inauguration of Afghanistan’s national unity government, the country is in the midst of a dangerous summer as its security forces battle an intensified insurgency. Despite these risks, the government in some ways has been transformative. President Ashraf Ghani’s outreach towards Pakistan has offered the possibility of a relationship based on mutual benefit rather than mistrust. Significant progress has been made by the Afghan government in its effort to open peace talks with the Taliban, after years of stalled attempts. Internal governance reforms have begun.  Yet in an increasingly complex security environment, the government seems to be in a race against time. Ambassador Dan Feldman will discuss these developments and what the United States can do to help ensure these transformations lead to a stable Afghanistan that can act as a strategic partner for the United States in the region. Comments will also be provided by Stephen J. Hadley and Andrew Wilder, and then the discussion will be opened up to the audience. Opening remarks by Nancy Lindborg, President, USIP. Speakers include: Ambassador Dan Feldman, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State, Stephen J. Hadley, Chairman, Board of Directors, USIP and Dr. Andrew Wilder, Vice President for South and Central Asia, USIP.

7. Managing Tensions in Asia | Thursday, August 6th | 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm | PS21 | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As a rising China becomes ever more assertive over its claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea and beyond, regional tensions are rising faster than ever before in recent history. PS21 brings together a great panel of Washington-based experts to discuss how conflict can be avoided and where the risks really lie.  Panelists include: Ali Wyne, Member of the Adjunct Staff, RAND Corporation, PS21 Global Fellow, Harry Kazianis, Executive Editor, The National Interest, Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, Center for the National Interest and Scott Cheney-Peters, Chairman, Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).

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Nuance in regional reactions to the Iran deal

On Wednesday, the Wilson Center hosted a panel on  “The Iran Nuclear Deal: The View from the Region.” Speakers included Muath Al Wari, Senior Policy Analyst at Center for American Progress, Deborah Amos, International Correspondent for NPR, Shlomo Brom, Visiting Fellow at Center for American Progress and Fahad Nazer, Political Analyst at JTG Inc. The event was moderated by Henri J. Barkey, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Al Wari analyzed the UAE response to the nuclear deal. He claimed the UAE concern is less about the nuclear aspect and more about the fact that Iran ran a clandestine program under the authority of a state that is willing to undermine other governments in the region. However, Emiratis have decided to look towards the future, believing President Obama secured the best deal possible. The UAE is now looking at what the deal means for future Iranian encroachment in the region and what the US and other P5 countries will do to constrain Iran. The UAE hopes that Iran will normalize its regional behavior. In the coming days, the Emiratis will study the outcomes of King Salman’s visit to the US.

Al Wari criticized the sectarian portrayal of the nuclear deal. Regional concerns about the deal are linked to the geopolitical security competition. Sectarianism is exacerbated by the competition and contributes to it. His belief is that the deal is an American tool to prevent escalation in the Middle East—the agreement is a formal check on Iranian hegemony and encroachment.

Amos explained that the deal so far is unsurprisingly irrelevant to daily life, but the consequences of the agreement will be tested on the ground. She reiterated Al Wari’s words—the Gulf States want to know if attention will be paid to non-nuclear developments that are heating up. That said, the deal unlocks significant trade potential regionally (especially for the UAE and Oman) and globally. The calculus of power has already shifted, with Europeans sending trade delegations and major American companies, such as Apple, preparing to tap into the Iranian consumer market.

Brom delved into the nuances of the Israeli stance on the nuclear deal. For Israel, Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of it acquiring nuclear weapons has always been a central issue. Indeed, Iran’s nuclear program is the centerpiece of Netanyahu’s foreign policy. He believes he won the elections because of his strong security agenda and perceives Iran as an existential threat. Many Israelis think the combination of a religious and ideological regime with nuclear weapons could lead to Iran striking Israel. However, Netanyahu’s opinion isn’t representative of all Israelis. Many dissenters coming from the Israeli security and foreign policy community, including Brom, believe the agreement is not perfect, but still better than no agreement. A better agreement would have been unlikely.

Like Brom, Nazer also cautioned against making generalizations about regional players. He thinks it is too simplistic to assume that all Saudis think the nuclear deal will usher in an Iranian hegemony with American blessings. Instead, he thinks the Saudi position has shifted slightly. The Saudis are no longer committed to preventing the deal from being implemented. The Saudis support any agreement that prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and guarantees the reinstatement of sanctions if Iran doesn’t comply. After Saudi Foreign Minister Al Jubeir’s visit to Washingon, he openly commended the robust inspection of the verification regime and provision of “snapback” sanctions.

At the same time, the Saudis are maintaining a wary position on the deal. Saudi Arabia is not depending on the US and hoping for the best. High-level Saudi officials have had meetings with Russians, Europeans and other key leaders. Prince Faisal has also said Saudis will expect the same nuclear standards for themselves and should be permitted at least the same levels of uranium enrichment capability as Iran. Prince Bandar has compared the Iran agreement to the nuclear agreement President Clinton signed with North Korea. He feels President Obama is not keeping the lessons of Korea in mind.

The US and Saudi Arabia also have differing threat perceptions. President Obama thinks Saudis need to worry less about an external threat from Iran and focus on the internal implosion stemming from a generation of youths with few hopes for the future. Conversely, the prevailing sentiment in Saudi Arabia is that Iran constitutes a serious threat. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been on polar opposite ends in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. Nazer believes there is a serious credibility gap between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which could lead the Saudis to take matters into their own hands, as they have done in Yemen.

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Insider views on ISIS in Iraq

Screen shot 2015-07-31 at 4.16.02 PMOn Thursday, Stimson hosted a discussion in cooperation with the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) entitled Threat Of ISIS In Iraq: Views From The Ground. Speakers included: Stimson Middle East Fellow Geneive Abdo, , Brookings Non-resident Fellow Christine van den Toorn, AUIS Director of the center for Development and Natural Resources Bilal Wahab.  Three AUIS students, Noaf, Anas, and Khusai were featured in recorded videos. Lukman Faily, Iraqi Ambassador to the US, also spoke.  Stimson President Ellen Laipson moderated.

AUIS was founded in 2006. Students come from many religious backgrounds and Iraqi regions, as well as from neighboring countries.

Van den Toorn, explained that Iraq is more complicated than the discourse in DC.  The students from AUIS explained the situation in their regions.

Noaf is from Sinjar.  He and his 6 brothers all finished college.  He was supposed to study in Mosul after high school but had worked as a translator for US troops and is Yazidi, so he feared for his safety. He got a scholarship to study at AUIS and graduated with a degree in Business Administration.

Noaf (top left) is from Sinjar (top right), Ninewah Province (bottom left), Iraq (bottom right).
Noaf (top left) is from Sinjar (top right), Ninewah Province (bottom left), northwestern Iraq (bottom right).

ISIS still threatens Sinjar and tried to take back his village, Hanasour, two days ago.  The northern part of Sinjar was liberated from ISIS five months ago and many different actors are defending the area.  Military leaders believe a unified force could liberate the rest of Sinjar in 3-4 days. Noaf wants autonomy for Sinjar with NATO protection.  The people of Sinjar have lost trust in both Iraqi and KRG security forces; an international force would allow the IDPs to return.  Sinjar has agriculture and oil, so it could have its own economy.

Anas was born in Samarra, Saladin Governorate.  His father had refused to join the Ba’ath Party, was forced into the military, and died.  He graduated with an engineering degree from AUIS.

Anas (top left) is
Anas (top left) is from Samarra (top right), Saladin Province (bottom left), north-central Iraq (bottom right).

The economy in Samarra is bad because Samarra is controlled by the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). Last year, ISIS entered half of the city, but left the next day. ISIS is now 20 km away.  Samarra is 100% Sunni, but about 90% of the security forces are Shia.  Some PMUs are good; others are criminals.  Locals are hesitant to join the PMUs because some of those who fought Al Qaeda in 2006 were later arrested by the government.  The PMUs should transfer control to the local police.  Tikrit has been liberated, but most residents haven’t returned because the PMUs have arrested some returnees.  The PMUs, not the government, decide who can and cannot return to liberated areas.  Returnees to some villages have found homes and shops destroyed and Shia flags flying.  There is a misconception that Sunnis support ISIS,  but ISIS destroyed Sunni regions.  ISIS killed two of his uncles.  The problem is that Iraq’s central government treats Sunnis as enemies.

Khusai was raised in Baghdad, but his parents are from Najaf.  He finished high school in 2008 when the security situation was terrible.  He went to AUIS to study in a safe environment.  He works in finance in Baghdad.

Khusai (top left) is from Baghdad (top right/bottom left), central Iraq (bottom right).
Khusai (top left) is from Baghdad (top right/bottom left), central Iraq (bottom right).

The security situation was very bad before Ramadan in Baghdad.  During Ramadan, the situation improved and the curfew was lifted.  ISIS will not invade Baghdad because it is protected by the PMUs. But Baghdadis fear the PMUs because they are armed criminals.  Fortunately, their presence in the city center has recently decreased.

Southern Iraq remains safe, but some residents resent the costly war.  Additionally, the IDPs in the south are causing higher prices and competition for jobs.  But most southerners still believe in one Iraq, and want to liberate the northern cities, because of Ayatollah Sistani’s fatwa.

Wahab said that centralization in Iraq has been a failure.  There have been attempts to create an Iraqi identity, through both force and co-optation using oil wealth.  The 2003 invasion offered the opportunity to decentralize, but centralization has been stronger.  In response, the KRG is pushing for statehood.  Basra is also looking for more autonomy and some in Kirkuk talk of a distinct Kirkuk region.

The government controls 50% of the economy.  The economic power of the executive branch makes it hard to hold it accountable.  The collapse of oil prices hurt the economy, which suffers if the government cannot inject enough cash into it.  Government expenses have also increased because of military costs.

Without a comprehensive, international strategy to defeat ISIS, regional powers and domestic players will continue to use the crisis to their advantage, e.g., the PMUs.  Kurdish society is less united than before as it argues over who deserves the credit for holding back ISIS.  Within Iraq, both political and economic reform are needed.

Abdo spoke about how religious identity in Iraq has nearly replaced the identity of Iraqi citizenship.  The fight for a united Iraq is true more in theory than in reality.  Religion is being used for political gain in Iraq, as it has been in Lebanon and Bahrain. Ayatollah Sistani’s fatwa asking his followers to take up arms is rare in Shi’ism and shows urgency, but Sistani can no longer control the PMUs.  The Shia have been radicalized too.

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Ambassador Faily

Ambassador Faily noted that all sides in Iraq blame others.  This is a vicious cycle, with no magic solution.  Everyone has agreed to decentralization, but getting there necessitates a dialogue towards a common strategy. ISIS is an existential threat to Iraq and is a problem for all of Iraq’s communities.  Dealing with ISIS will take time, but respect for the integrity of the state is key.  Those who want power at the state’s expense will harm everyone.  The US plays an important supportive role but should give Iraq breathing space to improve its politics.

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The Turkey/Syria conundrum

This discussion of Turkey and Syria on CCTV America yesterday went well. Mike Walter moderated with the following guests: 

  • Cale Salih, from Oxford, is a visiting fellow to the European Council on Foreign Relations focusing on the Kurdish people.
  • Daniel Serwer is a professor in conflict management at Johns Hopkins University.
  • Tulin Daloglu from Ankara is a Turkish journalist and opinion writer.
  • Joshua Walker is a transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a non-partisan U.S. think tank.

And part 2:

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