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
On 05 April 2014, Afghanistan will go to the polls, to hold elections for a new president and over 400 provincial councillors. This will be the fifth national election held since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, but will be the first to be held on a constitutionally established election schedule, and also the first to be overseen by a permanent and independent entity, the IECC, rather than the controversial temporary bodies set up to monitor previous votes. Without a doubt, this upcoming election is an important moment in Afghanistan’s modern history, particularly in relation to its often problematic, decade-long democratic transition. A successful election that establishes a legitimate government would deal a substantial blow to the aspirations of Afghanistan’s militant groups. However, a failed election, combined with a coordinated push by Taliban forces, could provide an impetus and a rallying cry to these same extremist groups, potentially reinvigorating the insurgency that has caused so much bloodshed over the past decade. Although the elections could be crucial to the future stability of Afghanistan, the process is likely to be far from smooth, as there are a number of important obstacles that could significantly impact the chances of a successful outcome.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.
The Asia-Pacific is in the clutches of tense geo-political rivalry, as states attempt to come to grips with a new balance of power in the region. 2014 is likely to see growing confrontations between Asian powers, mainly in the problematic but resource-rich maritime zones of East and Southeast Asia, in a struggle for influence, financial reward and territorial domination. Although not an ideological battle such as that seen following the Second World War, this ‘cold war’ is also made up of mutual recriminations and escalating tensions, as a background to the ongoing power shift in Asia, with regional actors attempting to manage and counter China’s growing assertiveness.read more