As events in the wider Middle East gather pace – particularly the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq – they have overshadowed (and some would say trivialised) many other more localised threats. One of these threats is that represented by the Egyptian militant group Ansar Beyt al Maqdis (ABM). The Sinai-based extremist movement has been targeted by a massive security crackdown over the past year, but has proven that not only does it have the ability to continue its “traditional” attacks against the security forces, but has also proven its willingness to adopt new strategies. This shift in tactics is believed to have come about partly as a result of increased collaboration between it and other prominent militant organisations, such as the IS.read more
The past week has been an extremely busy one in Iraq, with a number of serious developments occurring across the country. On 07 August 2014, US President Barack Obama announced that he had authorised the US military to carry out targeted airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) forces in Iraq. The following day, 08 August 2014, US military aircraft began limited operations in the country’s north. In what is believed to have been one of the first attacks, two F/A-18 aircraft reportedly dropped several laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece that was attacking Kurdish forces not far from Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This was followed up over the weekend by a series of targeted attacks by both manned and unmanned US aerial vehicles; largely hitting specific small-scale IS assets, less in an effort to destroy militant forces, but rather to stall their advances into Kurdish-held territory. But why has Obama – who has made no secret of his hesitation to consider military operations to counter the Islamists gains in Iraq – chosen this moment to reverse his previous stance? The answer lies in a number of recent events, which constitute a clear deepening of the conflict, particularly the IS advances into areas held by the Kurds, its targeting of embattled religious communities (like the Yazidis), and its seizure of large amounts of heavy weaponry from Iraqi military bases. In parallel to these military developments, Iraq’s political crisis has also worsened, as incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s struggle to hold onto power continues to exacerbate divisions in the nation’s capital.
Unless you have been living under a rock lately, you will undoubtedly have heard of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), sometimes referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and its recent lightning advance across much of western and northern Iraq. To listen to many mainstream media reports, the Sunni militant group is akin to an all-conquering force, brushing aside everything in its path like a modern-day Mongol ‘Golden Horde’. Indeed, the group and its allies have captured a vast amount of territory, particularly in the last fortnight, and have again demonstrated their reputation as a disciplined, well-organised and well-equipped fighting force. However, much of ISIS’s recent advances have been less about its military prowess and more about its active choice to pragmatically take advantage of opportunities, by using its well-honed ability to find and exploit weakness and division. It is clear that ISIS has helped to “breathe new life into militancy in Iraq, rejuvenating their confidence, resources, and cause”, as part of its efforts to merge regions of Iraq and Syria into a mono-religious state. The growing influence of the militant movement and its divisive agenda represents a key risk to the stability and integrity of the Republic of Iraq, which outweighs the threat it poses as a traditional military force. ISIS is unlikely to be able to generate the numbers and the support forces it would require to take and hold territory for extended periods outside of the so-called ‘Sunni Triangle’ in Iraq. Nevertheless, its true danger may lie in the reinvigoration of the sectarian conflict that so devastated the country between 2006 and 2008.read more
The wild, remote and beautiful Sinai region has long been known for its lawlessness, having historically served as a key focal point for smuggling routes. Today, however, it is an active war-zone, especially in the north, where hardened Islamist militants battle almost daily against the Egyptian security forces. One of the primary fighting groups in the Sinai, Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), has come into the limelight in recent months, quickly becoming recognised as the dominant extremist group in the area. This increased prominence can be attributed in part to its alleged involvement in a number of spectacular terrorist attacks, which are distinctly notable for the fact that they have occurred in the populous Nile Delta, far away from ABM’s strongholds in the mountains and deserts of the Sinai. ABM has gone from relative obscurity to becoming almost a household name, particularly amongst the international media fraternity, so it is important to assess just who this shadowy movement is, and where they have come from, seemingly so suddenly.read more
More than four months after its official deadline passed, the Final Plenary Session of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was held on 21 January 2014, and the framework from which the new Yemeni constitution will be constructed was agreed. With the official closing ceremony slated to be held on 25 January 2014, the details of the framework document are widely anticipated. A federal system for the future Yemeni state has been agreed upon, although how the country will be divided is still heatedly disputed. It is also expected that the Cabinet will be reorganised, and the Shura Council restructured to comprise equal numbers of representatives from the north and the south. The final session also saw delegates voting to allow President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to remain in power beyond the two-year term that he was elected for in February 2012. While many sources have reported that the decision extends his term by one year, the vote will ultimately secure Hadi’s position until another President is elected after the new constitution has been drafted and approved. Despite being lauded as a monumental success, however, the closing of the NDC comes amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation in most of the country, with very few substantive steps having been taken to resolve the underlying conflicts and grievances among the population. As the international community rushes to congratulate Yemen on its achievement, the government appears to be ignoring a host of factors which not only undermine the legitimacy of the framework document, but will also make its implementation a Sisyphean task.
There is no overarching theme in Libya – that is, unless you count the effect political paralysis in Tripoli has on the country’s numerous security problems. The longer Prime Minister Ali Zeidan remains isolated, and the General National Congress (GNC) can override his wishes, the longer the Libyan Government will remain unable to brave the endless oil blockades in the East, as well as terrorism, assassinations and intertribal clashes. In fact, the continued political stalemate in Tripoli, as well as the tendency of authorities to divert attention toward the supposed threats of Muammar Gaddafi’s ghost, has only exacerbated these problems.