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.

Women and Radicalization

Ninetta Bagarella and her husband, Totò, who successfully raised children in the extremist Mafia tradition. Image credit: Associated Press.

Emilie König, Yasmin Bulbocus, Sadaa Boular each have something in common: all are women of ISIS. Emile is a well-known example of a young French woman who converted to Islam and emigrated to Syria, where she served as a recruiter and propagandist for ISIL, while Yasmin is a former extremist that was radicalized when she was only seventeen. Meanwhile, the case of Safaa Boular, her sister Rizlaine, and her mother Mina, who were found guilty of plotting  terrorist attacks in Britain, is a clear example of transmission of dysfunctional values within families. Each has a unique story about how and why they became radicalized, but as a group, they provide fascinating insight into the role women play in ISIS.

As co-leaders, strategists, trainers, advisors, ruthless criminals, and persuaders, women involved with terrorist groups such as ISIS, as well as women in organized crime rings such as the Mafia, often share the same harsh attitudes towards authority and broader society. They reflect the criminal subcultures that raised them, bear unhealthy values, purvey hatred, and act as loyal partners in crime.

Many women of the Mafia pursue their own battle against the State and Civil Society. They are tasked with raising future generations of “men and women of honour,” thus ensuring the survival of their clans and criminal associations. The following conversation took place in the visitors room of the penitentiary where Gianni Riina, the eldest son of the most fierce Sicilian mafia boss Totò Riina, was imprisoned:

Salvo Riina: “See, I’m from the school of Corleone.”

Ninetta Bagarella: “Well, thank goodness, thank goodness.”

Salvo Riina: “My father’s from Corleone, my mother’s from Corleone, what other school and blood could I have?”

Ninetta Bagarella: “Pure blood.”

In this conversation, Ninetta Bagarella, Totò Riina’s wife, clearly expresses her satisfaction after her son Salvo remembers his “pure” Corleonese origins. As a woman, part of her role is to raise children who, like Salvo, have “pure” origins and strong ties to the organization- something which women in ISIS, raising extremist “cubs,” must also do.

The determination they show in pursuing these roles demonstrates that their power is seriously underestimated. Both in extremist groups and in mafia organizations, women make their own contributions in two ways:

  1. They provide potential extremist women with role models;
  2. They ensure the survival of criminal systems by raising children with extremist values.

With regard to the first issue, one possible counter-strategy could envisage the creation of narratives that focus on the life stories of women that were formerly involved in criminal organizations and decided to quit. The confrontation with real life examples of women who chose to abandon lives of extremism could help potential extremists develop new ideas and opinions about criminal groups, based on more genuine information.

The second issue presents us with a big challenge: preventing children from being indoctrinated by their parents and families. During the first few years of life, babies are totally dependent on their parents, so it is inconceivable to develop a strategy leaving their mothers or fathers out of their socialization. Instead, it is possible to expose older children to messages of tolerance and peace, using means familiar to them like cartoons, books and songs or planning different operations according to the characteristics of the context.

Ultimately, counterterrorism strategies should just not be “gender-sensitive,” but should be more specifically based on social roles.

This will ensure that the social roles played by women, often overlooked, are finally addressed- and that generations of their children will no longer be raised in lives of crime.

Women are key to counterterrorism efforts, because they play crucial roles in families and educational institutions and thus play a key role in either increasing or mitigating the risk of radicalization. Increasing the participation of women in the prevention of criminal behavior could help tackle the problem at its roots, giving new generations more chances to grow up with positive cultural values that promote social cohesion and solidarity.

No-Deal Brexit: Implications for Transnational Security

Anti-Brexit demonstrators wave EU and Union flags opposite the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

 As the threat of a no-deal Brexit looms closer, it is becoming increasingly clear that such a scenario would significantly hamper counterterrorism efforts in both the United Kingdom and Europe.

As an EU member, the UK is party to European institutions such as the European Arrest Warrant, a system of warrants valid throughout the European Union, and Europol, the EU-wide law-enforcement body that combats terror and organized crime. The UK also receives additional European data including fingerprints, DNA, and passenger flight information. Should it leave the EU without a deal establishing a continued partnership on such initiatives, it will lose access to European intelligence and risk becoming unaware of potential terrorist threats within their own borders.

This will adversely impact Europe as well. For every suspect arrested on a European Arrest Warrant, British authorities arrest eight EAW suspects from other states, so the benefit to European countries from British forces is huge. Given the extensive travel between Europe and the UK, it is critical that the two cooperate on intelligence so that no criminal may slip through borders unnoticed. Should this cooperation end, it is likely dangerous individuals will cross between Britain and Europe without notice.

If no deal codifies the partnership between British and European law enforcement, then both the EU and the UK are in an extremely risky position. To avoid the possibility of turning the UK into a de facto safe haven for European criminals, a no-deal Brexit must be avoided, and the UK must negotiate a continued partnership with the European Union.

Dividing The Union: How Terrorism Has Changed European Unity

Since the refugee crisis’ start in 2015 Europe has been under considerable strain. Tension and anger commingle as Europeans grapple before the world with their humanitarian duty and concern over their increased risk at the hands of Islamic terrorism. There were only two reported terrorist attacks linked to Islamic extremism in 2014. That number has multiplied many times since the refugee crisis’ start. There were 17 attacks in 2015, 13 in 2016, and 33 in 2017.

The EU’s Approach to Migration
The European Union’s grand migration strategy states that, “…rising to the migration and refugee challenge — and doing so in full respect of human rights and international law — is a vital interest at the core of the EU’s values.” But the statement has been challenged within the EU itself.

The grand strategy attempts to address concerns about terror’s growing threat in Europe, but it does imply that it is the EU’s duty to welcome those in need. Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland, however, have actively resisted accepting large numbers of refugees. The Czech Republic and Poland may soften their stance. But Hungary continues to resist EU migrant norms. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused — in a conspicuous breach of EU core values — of anti-immigration policies, attacking the rule of law, and minorities in the media. While unlikely to lead to real punitive action, the accusations lead to Hungary’s losing its vote.

The EU is known for implementing the Schengen Agreement among 26 countries to abolish borders within the Union. The agreement is a cornerstone of European unity. But six EU countries including France, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway have agreed, in light of increased terrorism, to temporarily reinstating internal border controls.

The agreement is surprising and the rationale, startling. “Persistent terrorist threats,” “security situations,” ”threats resulting from continuous significant secondary movements,” and, “continuous serious threats to public policy and internal security,” represent some of the verbiage being bandied about. The most significant citation, “…significant secondary movement” relates to the Schengen Agreement’s position regarding free movement between states.

Populism in Europe and the Anti-Immigration Argument
Italy, Sweden, and Germany are now pushing back against EU immigration policies. The four nations have seen their politics become more nationalistic and anti-immigration. While not every country is experiencing a populist turn like Italy, right-wing populist groups are ascendant elsewhere. One of Europe’s most notable changes in the past decade is the disintegration of support for established, left-wing parties. There has been a commensurate increase in right-wing, populist affiliation. And such groups traditionally hold anti-immigration stances. In 2018, Pew research found that social democratic parties are hitting all-time lows over most of Europe.

Circumstances have put Italy’s no-boat policy to the test repeatedly

Italy’s new populist government took power over the summer and has made moves to boldly enforce anti-migration policies. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on record, “Not one more person arrives in Italy by boat.” In a more nuanced pronouncement later Salvini said he doesn’t oppose helping refugees, and he has pledged to allow refugees, especially pregnant women, and children stay in Italy. But he added that he continues to see migrants traveling by boat as a serious threat to Europe.

Circumstances have put Italy’s no-boat policy to the test repeatedly. In June, before Salvini’s statement, the Italian government refused disembarkment to a ship carrying 600 migrants. This led to a standoff between Rome and the EU. The tension abated when Spain volunteered to receive the ship. While that represented a win for Salvini, two months later, in August, Rome caved to EU pressure and allowed a ship with 150 migrants to dock.

Germany and Sweden too have seen increases in populism and anti-immigration rhetoric. The Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant, pro-welfare-state party, won 18% of the vote. Comparatively, political powerhouse, the Social Democrats suffered 11% losses in union support. This saw them drop to the third most popular party in Sweden. It is noteworthy that the Social Democrats received few youth votes. These developments suggest a long-term political shift in Sweden.

Germany experienced similar political seismic shifts in 2017. The success of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) makes it the first far-right group to hold seats in the Bundestag in 50 years. AfD mirrors other right-wing groups throughout Europe: each embraces a platform of anti-immigration and emphatic German nationalism. A striking aspect of AfD’s success is that since 2013, the party gained 7.9% growth in support. It draws from all German regions, while the country’s traditional parties such as Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (Christian Democratic Union of Germany, CDU) and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD), suffered substantial losses all over the country.

EU policy should protect European citizens without turning its back on a humanitarian crisis.

Looking Forward
In light of immigration trends, increasing terror attack rates, and populist waves plaguing Europe, the EU must unify behind the values, and goals its member states share. It must continue counteracting growing populism movements. And it must reassess how it can address the refugee crisis. Recently, President Jean-Claude announced that the EU would deploy 10,000 armed border police — with the freedom to use force — on the EU’s external borders to tackle unlawful immigration. While this is a step in the right direction for European security, it is imperative that the EU listens to all member states. It must not deny the real dangers caused by unchecked immigration. But fear should never outweigh the moral responsibility to help fellow humans in need. EU policy should protect European citizens without turning its back on a humanitarian crisis.

This cartoon by Patrick Chappatte appeared in the April 25, 2015 International New York Times. He titled the cartoon “Migrants and the European Union,” and added the caption, “Europe looks for an answer to the migrants reaching for its shores.”Credit Patrick Chappatte

Brexit and Northern Ireland, Troubles Afoot?

As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union in March 2019 there remain many who are concerned about what this will mean for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Twenty years after the end of the ethno-national Protestant and Catholic paramilitary conflict known as The Troubles, the British Isles once more fear the start of the terrorist violence. In 2016, when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, one of the most pressing questions regarded what to do with Ireland and Northern Ireland border – and how to keep violence from reemerging there.

The Troubles were a 30 year (1968 – 1998) ethno-conflict over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The two sides to this territorial conflict had distinct visions for Northern Ireland: the majority Unionist Protestants fought to keep Northern Ireland a part of the United Kingdom.

While the minority Catholic Unionists fought to unite Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. 3,600 people were killed, thousands more were injured, and an intolerable unease lingered for three decades. 

Fears of Troubles-era violence and the paramilitary groups’ reemergence grow daily as Brexit negotiations continue. According to the United Kingdom’s domestic counterintelligence and security agency, MI5, Northern Ireland violence is now classified as severe, indicating the belief that chances of attacks in the region are high. In Britain the threat level is moderate.

Violence in Northern Ireland never ended completely. Despite the Good Friday Agreement, radical Protestants and IRA splinter groups (such as New IRA, formerly known as Real IRA) consistently, violently attack one other.

Examples of such attacks include early July attacks in Derry wherein a group of boys, some as young as eight, fired AK-47 rifles and threw IEDs at police officers. The attacks were claimed by New IRA. On the other side, an office at the Irish Republican party Sinn Fein was targeted in an arson attack. No one was harmed, and no one claimed the attack, but the party publicly stated that the attack was anti-democratic.

There is legitimate concern that Brexit negotiation tensions will exacerbate this unending Troubles Epilogue, provoking broader terror operations and ubiquitous violence. But what is it about these negotiations that they can re-ignite great contention in Ireland? 

The reintroduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a border where citizens from both countries would have to go through customs to enter the other side. Among other things, The Good Friday Agreement stipulated that the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border remain open to the point of figurative invisibility. No stopping travelers and traders, in other words, at Customs to awkwardly hand-over paperwork.

Brexit negotiators have borne this in mind, but lately, news outlets, political analysts, and political leaders alike opine that there is a growing possibility of a “No Deal Brexit.” Such a thing would mean the UK and EU agreed to shrug off the unresolved nature of the border problem and proceed regardless, triggering the installation of a hard border – imagine what this will do to trade alone.

According to recently released technical papers, the British government’s publicly stated opinion on trade and travel hardships caused by a prospective hard border boils down to, “…ask Dublin.” The rhetoric exasperates leaders on both sides unsettled by a lack of deference for the seminal Good Friday Agreement.

The looming threat of a No Deal Brexit is not the only cause for concern. A bill passing through Parliament allows for stops and searches within a mile of the Irish border in Northern Ireland for purposes of combating terror. Unsurprisingly, there has been backlash over this bill in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Fears are based on the growing perception that the British government isn’t even interested in putting a good face on violating the Good Friday Agreement’s spirit which seeks to defuse tension rather than fuel it with hard borders. London must redouble its investment in resolving the border question lest it reignites an old fire. With tensions on the rise and violence already occurring in the area, the scars of the past are opening. A No Deal Brexit could be a straight shot to terrorism’s reappearance on the British Isles.

Picture by Margaret McLaughlin


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