Women in the Afghan Peace Process

Fawzia Koofi, a women’s rights activist and politician is eating lunch with members of the Taliban delegate at Doha peace conference. July 7, 2019. Image: Rise to Peace

Under Taliban rule (1996-2001), Afghan women were banned from attending schools and working as well. In addition to violating their civil and political rights, the Taliban has threatened women lives. Since the fall of the Taliban, women have feared that negotiating for a peace agreement with the Taliban meant giving up some of their rights in exchange for the chance to end the war.

In 2015, the Afghan government created a National Action Plan (NAP) that was developed to address the challenges women have faced in the areas of participation, protection, prevention, relief, and recovery.

As a result of the NAP, women have the chance to attend school and to participate in political and economic opportunities.

Women want to participate in the Afghanistan peace process.

Of 23 rounds of talks between 2005 and 2014, there were only two occasions where women were present at the table. Moreover, there has only been one minister in the Afghan government that was a woman. Women have gained the right to participate politically, but what good does that do when women’s roles aren’t addressed in the government/local sector?

There are a few ways outside of the government in which Afghan women make contributions to address violence and equality throughout the country.

Female electoral candidates work to provide a voice for uneducated women.

For example, female members of peace councils try to negotiate with insurgent leaders. By doing so, they are working to reassure their support for reintegration of Taliban fighters into the community.

Women also encourage local fighters to participate in talks within the community to address current extremist narratives. 

Involving women in the peace process could only benefit the affair. In the past, the female-led peace councils have gathered with the wives of fighters to facilitate the release of hostages, which has been successful.

Building relationships and trust with allies could lead to a negotiation between the two parties. Given the violent history towards women, it is hard to contribute to the peace movement since it’s predominantly male-led. 

Wazhma Frogh is the Cofounder of the Research Institute for Women, Peace, and Security and is one of the brave women in Afghanistan. She briefed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on various recommendations to improve the involvement of women in the peace process.

Her advocacy included topics such as delegating a specific institution to oversee the NAP to ensure proper inclusion and implementation, allowing more women to participate in peace talks, and encouraging women to participate in the policing and security sector.

Integrating women into the political realm in a country where women have long suffered inequality could take some time to incorporate fully.

Therefore, the Afghan government should consider making small changes that further women’s participation. For instance, the government should consider including a particular amount of females in peace talks. One or two women would be better than none at all.

The government should also include women in law enforcement and security. Since local female political leaders move to represent the underrepresented women, this will provide women with more opportunities for leadership and capacity building in an area that most women fear.

This could give women the confidence they need to understand political matters in a way where they can then network in domains where men cannot. 

Afghani women today are not only moving to become more equal but wanting to partake in a way that allows them to help the entire country to progress from war. Including women in the peace process empowers them to build trust and rapport with both local communities and the government. 

AMISOM and an Approaching 2021 : Is Somalia Prepared?

Photo Credit: Photographer Ilyas Ahmed for AMISOM.

In March 2019, it was unanimously decided by the United Nations Security Council that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) would maintain its deployment and reduce uniformed personnel by 1000, in conformity with the prevailing plan to steadily transfer these responsibilities to existing Somali security forces. Resolution 2492 (2019) therefore authorises this reduction, allowing a maximum of 19, 626 AMISOM personnel by 28 February 2020. As the end of AMISOM’s mission is approaching in 2021, prioritised tasks for the mission include, as previously mentioned, the gradual handover of security responsibilities to Somali forces and reducing the threat posed by the Al-Shabaab.

Moreover, the Security Council authorised other key tasks to be achieved before 2021: the securing of key supply routes to areas recovered by Al-Shabaab, the conducting of ‘targeted offensive operations’ in support of the transition plan and assisting the Government of Somalia in the implementation of a total ban on charcoal exports. However, the Council has also expressed grave concerns for the ongoing humanitarian situation, namely the conflict and sexual violence that civilians continue to be victims of. It is recognised that AMISOM cannot remain in Somalia forever, and with the mission set to end in 2021, a fundamental question is provoked: is Somalis ready for AMISOM’s departure?

To provide a concise context, it is necessary to reiterate that AMISOM was established in Somalia as a regional peacekeeping mission between the African Union and the United Nations. Created by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council in January 2007, AMISOM had an initial mandate of six months. Fast forward to August 2017, the United Nations Security Council had issued a new resolution where the security responsibilities would be shifted gradually from AMISOM to the Somali security forces ‘continent on [the] abilities of the Somalis security forces and political and security progress in Somalia’.

The Al-Shabaab, also known as “The Youth”, are commonly known as an Islamist ‘insurgent group’ with its base in Somalia. The group has claimed their allegiance to other known terrorist groups such as the Al-Qaeda, and are responsible for several massive attacks throughout Somalia as well as neighbouring countries.

Though the foundational objective of the Al-Shabaab has been debated by professionals of various backgrounds, Bronwyn Bruton of the Atlantic Council has stated that the ‘unifying idea of Al-Shabaab is opposition to the Western-backed government.’ It is also stated that the group’s main aim is to establish an Islamic State in Somalia. The group is known to possess harsh interpretations of Sharia law, headed by the current leader, Ahmed Umar (also known as Abu Ubaidah), the ‘emir’, or ‘prince’. To fund their operations, the Al-Shabaab has engaged in the illicit charcoal trade that has brought over $7.5 million USD per annum, notwithstanding the United Nations ban on charcoal in effect since 2012.

The United States’ has been long concerned with Somalia potentially becoming a country where terrorist groups find ‘refuge’ in to plot attacks to the United States or to ‘destabilise’ the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, another core concern is the Al-Shabaab’s recruitment of the Somali diaspora residing in the United States. It has been found that many Americans, predominantly from Minneapolis, Minnesota, have volunteered themselves to fighting for the Al-Shabaab in Somalia. This aforementioned fact coupled with the Al-Shabaab’s enduring presence and recruitment in Somalia are cause enough for concern of the Somalia’s security personnel’s ability to handle the situation on their own in a little over a year from now. Shrinking resources certainly are of no help to them in confronting this issue themselves, come the end of AMISOM’s mandated involvement December 2021.

In addition to the physical and military power, the sheer logistical concerns of Somalia’s availability of security forces in states other than the capital of Mogadishu are alarming. In select regions where AMISOM will no longer hold presence, no security forces exist and therefore will have to be ‘built from scratch’– a time and energy consuming task.

With reports stating that the Al-Shabaab remains in control of approximately 20% of Somalia, this transition of security measures from AMISOM uniformed personnel to the Somali security forces has been observed to be a point of vulnerability, where it is feared that the Al-Shabaab may use this transitory period to their advantage in carrying out more deadly attacks. Just in late March 2019, the Al-Shabaab carried out a deadly attack at a Ministry building in Mogadishu, claiming over 15 lives. It was noted that though the group has been pushed out of former major strongholds, attacks such as these demonstrate that they remain capable of carrying out massive violence and sending the capital into a state of fear and instability.

To establish any surety in the Somali security force’s capability to handle the Al-Shabaab and overall instability in the country as of December 2021, the current transition plan can consider shifting its major focus to building a stronger Somali security force presence, as well as a re-evaluation of the transition priorities to perhaps add more pressing concerns.

A Profile of Brian Isaack Clyde: What We Know About the Dallas Courthouse Shooter

Photo courtesy of Tom Fox Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

On June 17 at 8:50am, a gunman dressed in full tactical gear opened fire outside of the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse in Dallas, Texas. No officers or citizens were injured except for the gunman, who was later identified as Brian Isaack Clyde. Clyde was shot outside of the courthouse and transported to a local area hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Brian Isaack Clyde was a 22-year old U.S. Army veteran who was discharged after serving 2 years as an Army infantryman. The reason for his discharge has not been disclosed. Clyde was seen wearing a 101st Airborne Division patch on his bullet proof vest outside of the courthouse.

During Clyde’s time in the Army, he achieved the rank of private first class and was never deployed to a warzone. One of the individuals who had served with Clyde stated that he, “felt pressure to stay in the military, but after 2017 wanted to look for a ‘new path.’ ” Clyde left the military and enrolled at Del Mar College, where he received an award for being an outstanding student.

Clyde had come from a family of military veterans and was infatuated with military history and medieval weapons. He participated in war re-enactments and was noted by fellow soldiers as a gun enthusiast. Although he had no prior criminal record, an anonymous FBI official said that the FBI had received a call from Clyde’s half-brother in 2016. His half-brother reported that Clyde was suicidal and had a fascination with guns. At this time, Clyde was still enlisted in the Army and no action was taken by the FBI.

Although a motive has yet to be determined, Clyde’s social media pages seemed to have foreshadowed this event. Just before the attack on Monday, Clyde had posted a photo on his Facebook page of several gun magazines, with the caption stating, “2 40 rounders and 8 30 rounders total”. Although Clyde’s Facebook page has since been removed, several people reported seeing disturbing videos that Clyde had posted. In one video, Clyde refers to a coming “storm” but states that he “is not without defense” while wielding a gun. Another video posted on his page features Clyde looking disheveled, saying “You don’t want to get in my way when I’m angry … because I don’t see you as a person… I see you as food.”

Clyde’s video where he stated a “storm is coming” can be traced back to QAnon conspiracy theorists. The QAnon conspiracy believes that “Trump is part of a countercoup to restore power to the people after more than a century of governmental control by a globalist cabal.” The members of this group believe that a “storm is coming” and that they must be prepared to destroy everyone and everything that stands in their way of creating a state filled only with loyalists. This also includes mass arrest of those that are connived against them. Clyde’s video suggests that he may have been a QAnon conspiracy theorist, although that has yet to be confirmed.

Clyde also frequently posted memes on his personal media pages; these memes referenced incel subculture, which is a forum for men that describe themselves as “involuntarily celibate”. These men gather to commiserate and blame women for their alienation. Members of incel subculture have a history of isolation and rejection, turning to the internet in order to feel a sense of inclusion. They describe themselves as unwanted by society and find women to be the root of their isolation and distress. This incel subculture is one filled with rage, where mass killings are glorified and members are encouraged to take their frustrations out on women.

Not only did Clyde post about QAnon conspiracies and incel subculture, but he also frequently posted about Alex Jones, an American radio show host and alt-right conspiracy theorist, swastikas and confederate flags, verbal attacks against Hillary Clinton, and references to “Hollywood Pedophiles”.

Through his social media activity, Clyde appears to be involved in groups that are generally consistent of isolated, alienated, and depressed individuals. Clyde was involved in the same subculture as other mass shooters, such as the 2014 Isla Vista shooter, who was glorified in incel forums following the shooting. This suggests that Clyde was radicalized online through a combination of these forums. Whether or not Clyde was mentally stable remains under investigation; he may have been particularly vulnerable to radicalization if he was suffering from serious mental illness. Further research into Clyde’s social media activity is necessary in order to identify what influenced him to carry out an attack of this nature.

Caitlyn Ryan is a Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow at Rise to Peace. She holds a Bachelors degree from Amherst College and is also pursuing a Master of Arts degree in international security with a concentration in counter-terrorism from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. 

US-Iran Relations No Longer Have Use for Sanctions

Image Credit: Gulf News

All is not well on the eastern front, as Iranian-American relations have hit their lowest point in decades.

The current round of escalation began on June 20th, when it was reported that Iran shot down an American drone over the Straits of Hormuz, in international waters. In response, the United States prepared to retaliate against three Iranian targets. However, the attack was called off at the last minute by President Donald Trump, allegedly because of the estimated death toll. Instead, the US response included cyber attacks and new sanctions on Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, preventing them from using international fiscal institutions. While the cyber attacks have been described as a “game changer,” the sanctions are frankly an ineffective stick in the US policy deck of cards.

It would be an understatement to describe the new sanctions as “unsurprising,” as every US president since Jimmy Carter (barring George H.W. Bush) has imposed sanctions on Iran in response to its unacceptable behavior. In recent years, sanctions have been imposed with the intent of creating an economic chokehold that would force Iran to halt its nuclear program.

However, it appears this tactic is ineffective, as countries such as China continue to buy Iranian oil in violation of the sanctions. Iranian citizens mocked them, one of them declaring, “The only people left to sanction are me, my dad and our neighbor’s kid.” Furthermore, just a week after the newest sanctions were imposed, Iran announced it had exceeded the enriched uranium limit previously imposed by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Deal.

Whereas in the past the United States may have responded to events such as the Russian invasion of Crimea, or the use of chemical weapons in Syria with military force, the generational trauma of Iraq and Afghanistan have made the Obama and Trump administrations reluctant to use force, for fear of entering into another seemingly endless, unpopular war. As a result, unfriendly ambitious states such as China take advantage of the United States’ retreat from its role as the world’s policeman to further territorial ambitions without fear of violent escalation with the world’s most powerful army.

A decade of avoiding confrontation with rising powers, even in circumstances in which the use of force could have been legitimate, has undermined US deterrence credibility. Iran is now emboldened to upend the status quo, violating international law by shooting down the drone over what were technically international waters; enriching uranium despite anti-proliferation norms; and, increasingly worrisome, growing Iranian military presence in strategic areas in its regional neighborhood.

The sanctions policy has become reflexive and ineffective, as only part of the world abides by them; releasing new ones is widely viewed as symbolic, and has no real deterrence value. If the United States and its allies wish to maintain an international order based on democratic values, sovereignty, and diplomacy, they must give up the façade of national and personal sanctions. Instead, the threat of retaliatory cyberattacks, like the one carried out in response to the drone attack, must become the new US deterrence against states violating international norms.

Image Credit: Luba Lukova

“People, not Pawns”: Female Extremists Beneath the Sensation

Image Credit: Luba Lukova

Image Credit: Luba Lukova

 

 

The majority of violent extremists in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and around the world are males. However, women also participate in the violence perpetrated by extremist groups and promote radical ideologies. While there may be statistically fewer women in these roles, their participation is still serious and should not be overlooked.

This article aims to highlight the important research findings published by Laura Sjoberg, a respected feminist scholar, in a USAID brief from 2015. This brief was published at a time when many women and girls, a significant number from Western countries, were traveling to territory controlled by ISIS in order to pledge themselves as foreign fighters.

Sjoberg’s (2015) work illustrates the specificities of how women are radicalized, why they are radicalized, and their gender-specific roles within these groups. She advocates for further work being done on counter-violent extremism (CVE) programs that are supported by the knowledge of why/how women participate in extremism. This article will be the first publication of our women and extremism project – intended to further knowledge in this field to create meaningful policies.

Stories in the news about female extremists in recent years have sensationalized the role women have within these networks.

Shamima Begum and Lisa Smith are examples of women whose identities as female extremists have garnered them much public attention. These women are labeled as ‘jihadi brides’ in order to explain the phenomenon of women in the role of what is stereotypically portrayed as a male one.

This label highlights gender stereotypes assigned to women by citing things like emotions or sexuality to explain the participation of these women in extremist activity – accentuating their supposedly helpless nature. Locating women to a position of victimhood marginalizes them and warrants the necessity of their being saved – likely by men. This de-politicizes their actions and strips agency from the motives and agendas with which they seek to further by way of their participation.

In contrast to the assumption that women are ‘lured’ into extremism against their better judgment, research demonstrates that male and female extremists “have more in common than not,” when it comes to the drivers for their radicalization and participation in extremist groups (Sjoberg 2015, p. 2).

In interviews, women also cite things like ideology or desire for political change as reasons for their mobilization, rather than the desire for ‘romantic adventure’ (Sjoberg 2015, p. 2). The positioning of female extremists as victims does not account for their personal agendas for joining these groups that are often rooted in political or religious motivations. Interestingly, when women become radicalized they are titled female extremists, unlike their male counterparts who are just ‘extremists,’ rather than underscoring their gender.

Female extremists can contribute to violent agendas in a variety of ways. Their roles can range from support roles in the organization as well as being on the ‘front lines’. Further, women bring an added value in their role within extremist agendas because they are less likely to bring attention from authorities or be searched in public spaces (Sjoberg 2015, p. 3). This unique and distinct utility that women bring emphasizes the seriousness that should be paid to women who are being radicalized – particularly as their involvement is being made light of.

Sjoberg (2015) asserts that the oversight of women’s participation in extremism results in most counter violent extremism programs being targeted at males (p. 2). A first step is to recognize that women of varying identities and cultures participate and provide real assistance to violent groups.

This positioning of women extremists as victims is detrimental to effective policy on countering radicalization because it ignores their reasons for joining and credits their radicalization to gender stereotypes.

By drawing attention to women extremists, this team of researchers aims to expand discourse and scholarship to research female extremists with the gravity they should be regarded. This does not mean to disregard that some women are in fact victims and have been unknowingly enticed into extremist groups.

However, by sensationalizing women extremists in the news and using terminology like ‘jihadi bride’ all women are often essentialized into a category that is devoid of potential political agenda and well-calculated motives. Sjoberg’s (2015) work specifically addresses extremism in the MENA, but our work intends to address women across the globe supporting groups like the IRA in Ireland, FARC in Columbia, or others.

Digital Repression Keeps the Crisis in Sudan Hidden from the World

Photo Credit: Photographer Ahmed Mustafa of Agence France-Presse

“How Come My Heartbreak Isn’t Loud Enough?” This message signifies the calls of the Sudanese people who yearn for democracy. The issue is, few in the international community are aware as Sudan’s authoritarian regime restricts citizens’ access to the internet to deter pro-democratic demonstrations, and hide government actions against its own people. Sudan has many challenges to overcome to secure its democratic freedom and in order to do so, Khartoum must restore its digital freedom to share its struggle with the world.

Authoritarian regimes such as Gabon, Zimbabwe, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have all blocked internet access to its citizens in the first three months of 2019. Sudan takes this repression a step further.

On April 3, a council of generals assumed power in the country against the wishes of democratic demonstrators who sought civilian rule. As a result, Sudan’s government shut down internet access to its citizens as a means to stop pro-democratic movements from mobilizing. Democratic movement activists are reduced to using text messages and secret meetings in order to organize and share information. This alternative process seems primitive compared to the share power of Twitter and Facebook.

Demonstrators engaged in a sit-in protest in Khartoum on June 3. The world did not seem to notice that this public activism turned violent when government forces used deadly force against protestors. Reports state that 30 anti-government protesters have been killed. Twitter users began to use and share the tag #BlueforSudan to spread awareness of the violent repression and support the Sudanane pro-democratic movement. Currently, Twitter users report closer to 500 deaths and 623 injured.

The blackout in the country appears to be working. With no video, pictures, or other forms of media coming from Khartoum, these atrocities are only verified by witness accounts. Major international media outlets seem weary to pick up the story.

Greater media coverage on the situation in Sudan is needed. Reporters and journalists are barred from entering the country however, there are additional means of information gathering. Al-Jazeera and NPR have both spoken to people about the occurrences, but additional coverage is required to increase awareness globally.

The United Nations Security Council recently debated the situation in Sudan and attempted to forward a unified bid condemning Sudanese actions. The draft was vetoed by China, with the backing of Russia and Kuwait, claiming it needed amendments. China claims it is an “internal issue”, while Russia asserts that the situation needed to be handled with extreme caution. Eight European nations condemned the actions by Sudan’s security forces, but as it stands, no formal action has been taken.

China typically defends Sudan’s government and its atrocities. An interest in Sudanese oil is linked to this stance. Since the discovery of oil in 1997, China invests heavily into the northeastern African nation and subsequently, defending it at the UN, even when action is needed. A transfer to a democratic framework puts Chinese oil imports in danger.

Following the coup this past April, Sudan announced that they will have a three year transfer to democracy.  On June 4th, Sudan’s government said they will have a ballot box election in nine months. The fear is that this mode of election will be rigged to favor the current administration.

The UN conducts election monitoring, when assistance is specifically requested, and this presents an opportunity to ensure a fair election in Sudan. This mechanism is beneficial if citizens doubt the integrity their national electoral process and seek outside assistance. A UN representative from the particular state, a mandate from the Security Council or General Assembly (GA) can initiate this process also. A GA mandate would be ideal, seeing the Security Council’s recent blocking to condemn Sudan’s actions.

International media outlets must report on Sudan’s current democratic struggle so that the country can have free and fair elections. These actions are only possible if the Sudanese government lifts its restrictions on civilian media, primarily internet access, so that interest builds in the situation. Media organizations must seek additional means, such as establishment with reliable sources, despite information blocks. The global community would devote greater attention to the crisis in Khartoum, and create a unified front, if they knew the state violence conducted by the Sudanese government.

The Hezbollah Dilemma

On March 22, American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Lebanon to convince countries in the region to join the United State with enacting harsh sanctions against Iran. The US believes that Iran is funding terrorist organizations around the world and believes it must be stopped.

Under the Trump administration, the US has been hard against Iran by increasing sanctions and pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Pompeo discussed Hezbollah with the Lebanese government. According to Pompeo, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and will start wars, end democracy in Lebanon, and allow Iran to rule it.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri understand the United States’ perspective with the issue of Hezbollah, but they view Hezbollah as a legitimate party organization, not terrorists.

Hezbollah has 70 of the 128 seats in the Lebanese Parliament and has gained momentum in recent years. However, the US continues to sanction them and Iran. President Aoun has said that even though these sanctions target Hezbollah, Lebanon suffers as well. Pompeo says that if the Lebanese government helps him, the US will help Lebanon.

The issue Lebanon faces is quite difficult because Hezbollah is an important actor since the Lebanese Civil War. Their military power is also important because they help defend Lebanon against its enemies, such as Israel.

Lebanon does not want to cut ties with the US but they cannot afford to lose an important military and political actor. But Hezbollah is not just invested into Lebanon, they also have a presence in Syria and support Al-Assad militarily. This is also a conflict of interest for the United States.

In previous administrations, they have all condemned Hezbollah and deemed them to be a terrorist group, but no other president has been so severe against the group and Iran than Trump.

This dilemma has been shrugged off year after year by both the Americans and the Lebanese, but it could change today. The economy of Lebanon could suffer under the sanctions posed on Hezbollah; thus, forcing the Lebanese to change their political affiliations with the group.

The country has not been this stable in decades. Lebanon is open for commerce, tourism, and development. They do not want Hezbollah to be in the way of being more connected with the rest of the world.


Nick Webb is the Research Fellow at Rise to Peace.

 

Iran and Saudi Arabia: Funding Terrorism

The Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi said, “Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of fundamentalist ideology and a source of organized international terrorism, lacks competence and credit to accuse other countries of terrorism.” Qassemi said this in response to Saudi Arabia’s Minister Adel al-Jubeir’s comments in a press conference in Pakistan that accused Iran of funding terrorists. He calls out the Saudis hypocrisy of calling an end to terrorism with one hand while funding it with another.

This press release by Iran is quite interesting because it shows that the proxy conflict with Iran and Saudi Arabia is still alive and well. Iran is making it seem like Saudi Arabia threw the first punch at Iran. It is essentially a blame game for who is allowing terrorists to thrive in the Middle East and North Africa. It is no secret that Iran funds terrorist organizations.

They created the group during the Lebanese Civil War and during the Israeli occupation in the south of Lebanon. Iran funds Hezbollah to commit terrorist attacks on Israel and other targets in Lebanon to create the proxy Islamic Republic. Iran notices the power and more openness of Saudi Arabia to the West, so it uses terrorist to disrupt systems in the Middle East to prevent Westernization and Saudi reach/power. Iran has made great strides doing this because they have more control in Lebanon through Hezbollah with a growing movement in the country, as well as more power in Syria with supporting radical Shi’a groups.

It is no surprise that Iran funds terrorism, but Saudi Arabia is not so innocent either. Both states are at fault for supporting and funding terrorist organizations. Reports show that Saudi Arabia has funded terrorist organizations in Yemen to support their efforts in the Yemeni civil war.

It is almost comical that both states go back and forth for blaming each other for supporting terrorists when they both are at fault. They simply blame the other and reassure the public that they do not support terrorism. Yes, of course, they kill terrorists and support the West in this regard. They continue to aid them as well. It seems that there is no answer and ending the Saudi-Iran sour relations due to their control of proxies through the region.

The only way to really create change would be through regime change if that is a revolution or peaceful succession of a more liberal leader. Neither of these tends to be in sight because at the end of the day both want full control of the Middle East and North Africa. They will both continue to aid terrorist groups and publicly mudsling each other.

This Cold War type conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is difficult because it is multi-faceted. It impacts the entire region including countries like Syria and beyond with countries like the US/EU and Russia. The best way to deescalate the conflict is for larger powers, such as the US, to call out Iran and Saudi Arabia for supporting terrorism.

Saudi Arabia should be punished like Iran from the US and its allies by imposing sanctions or to cut military aid. The US punishing and isolating Iran will only further the proxy/cold war conflict in the Middle East.

It is also a national security risk for the US and any other country, including America’s adversaries like Russia and China to allow Saudi Arabia and Iran to fund terrorist.

In the present time, it might be helpful to continue this aiding, but in the long-term, these terrorist groups can create damage and harm Americans. For example, in the 1980s when the US helped arm the Mujahidin during the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. Some of those fighters joined organizations that the US considers a major terror threat today. The US needs to take a different direction regarding Saudi Arabia and Iran to prevent inefficiency and furthering the deaths of innocent people.

Iraq in Rubble after ISIL

At the beginning of 2019, the size of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been reduced greatly by a coalition including the United States. Unfortunately, people return home to discover their towns in rubble.

The fight has been going on for over four and a half years yet ISIL has been forced to retreat to a small area in Eastern Syria called Marashida. At the height of ISIL’s power, they had controlled 10 million people.

This contributed to the massive refugee crisis out of Syria and Iraq.

Buildings are destroyed, streets are gone, and there are few public services  There are only bullet holes, twisted shrapnel, and dust. Yet despite their difficulties, the Iraqi government nor any other Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) is supporting them.

There are no hospitals either, or any sort of aid. They have no other choice but to rebuild alone. Civilians are exhausted from movement, fear, and the thought of uncertainty.

They just want a place they can have a healthy and safe life.

Yet some are worried because of President Trump’s announcement to withdraw troops from Syria. He claims that ISIL is destroyed yet that is incorrect.

The villagers are worried that ISIL will return to oppress them once the United States leaves. This will not only create havoc for the population, but ISIL could start to recruit again, thus growing in numbers and territory.

American military leaders do not know when they should withdraw from Syria, even though the president has made announcements about.  This uncertainty creates instability all over the world. Russia is going to involve themselves more in Syria, NATO is unsure on how to react.

President Trump might not follow through with this move. If he does pull out, it would be best if NATO and other European Union (EU) countries stepped in to make sure that the terrorists are defeated and that human rights and peace are achieved at the end of the conflict.

Having Russia being the only other party involved in Syria would be dangerous for the global order and regional order in the Middle East. It is against US and EU interests and would be detrimental on the process of having freedoms in the Middle East post-conflict.

The returning of refugees and civilians back to their hometowns in Syria have been dramatic due to the destruction of their schools, hospitals, and homes.

Many are hopeful for the future but struggle to rebuild because they are alone on this venture.  The uncertainty created by the US for proposing a pull out of military forces in Syria create worries for the people living there and that this will create the growth and spread of ISIL again.

It is imperative to have the EU and NATO to maintain strong even if the US pulls out to be a voice of freedom and human rights.

 

 


Nick Webb is the Research Fellow at Rise to Peace.

Photo Credit: RadioFreeEurope/Radio Library

Does Designating the IRGC as a FTO Help or Hurt the US?

IRGC troops marching during the anniversary of the 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in Tehran

Photo Credit: RadioFreeEurope/Radio Library

On April 8, 2019, President Trump designated Iran’s most powerful security organization, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). He believed it was necessary as America has already labeled Iran a state sponsor of terrorism. This is the first time that the United States has ever designated another government entity as an FTO. In response to this designation, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) ordered that American troops in the Middle-East be designated as terrorists.

According to Daniel Benjamin and Jason M. Blazakis, two experts in terrorism and counterterrorism, designating the IRGC as an FTO was unprecedented and counterproductive. They stated that “FTO designations are supposed to be apolitical and preventative.”

The Trump administration didn’t act immediately to these attacks, therefore making this designation seem more as a punishment for Iran’s retroactive actions rather than focusing on other factors that pose a terrorist threat to the United States. Before imposing this designation on the IRGC, there have been executive orders long predating this Administration that have been taken by the State Department allowing the US to take further legal and financial actions against Iran.

The current policy states that the US will continue to place maximum pressure through sanctions to manipulate Iran to change its behavior. It’s hard to say when diplomatic relations will be restored but the US has rebuilt its relationship with both the Soviet Union and China.

The Secretary of State should revoke the designation within a specific time frame. The United States has a list of conditions for a policy change with Iran that include a revised nuclear deal and normalization of US relations. If the US and the Iranian government can engage in conversation within this time frame, it could leave room for negotiations.

There could be a significant backlash because of the absence of proper reasoning for this FTO designation. Benjamin and Blazakis believe that American troops in Iraq and Syria could be attacked by Iran. Others state that Tehran’s participation in the 2015 nuclear deal can’t stop Iran from retaliating in domains outside of proliferation. They could detain and imprison US citizens, assassinate people, and harass American ships in the Persian Gulf, or even exploring in the cyber realm.

Due to this being the first time that the United States has designated a foreign country’s government entity as an FTO, it should have been examined more closely. Rather than keeping the IRGC designated as an FTO, maybe the Administration should look at reopening dialogue with Iran. Having an open conversation on revoking the designation on the IRGC in return of some negotiation may lead to less or no negative effects toward the United States.