Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

Kurdistan: Just Being Independent

by Steven A. Cook Monday, October 28, 2013
A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier holds a Kurdistan flag (Azad Lashkari/Courtesy Reuters).

Iraq is going to break up.  It is already happening, but no one wants to acknowledge it because no one wants to be perceived as being responsible for the disintegration of a major Middle Eastern country.

There is not much about the Kurdish region of Iraq that is Iraqi.  When you arrive at Erbil’s brand new international airport, there are no signs that welcome you to Iraq.  I am sure somewhere at the entrance to the airport there is an Iraqi flag, but I didn’t notice it.  The only hint that I was actually in Iraq was the stamp a Kurdish police officer put in my passport that says in tiny letters, “Republic of Iraq—Kurdistan Region.”  The Kurds have a foreign ministry (actually two, maybe even three, but that is another story), a military, interior ministry, intelligence services, a parliament, president, prime minister, investment authority, and a flag.  No one under the age of 30 speaks Arabic (English being the favored second language) and not a single person I met of any age believed themselves to be Iraqi.  Why would they?  What is the common idea that ties someone from Sulaimaniyah to someone in Basra?  There isn’t one. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Cairo’s Communities, Israel and Iran, and Aid to Egypt

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 25, 2013
Shi'ites perform the traditional Baraa dance as they celebrate Eid al-Ghadir in Sanaa October 23, 2013 (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters).

Tadamun  takes a look at one of the oldest urban communities in Cairo’s Giza governorate, Mit ‘Uqba.

Jonathan Tobin says that the answer to the question of whether Israel will strike Iran is not to be found in historical precedent. Read more »


by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, October 23, 2013
A Muslim woman holds the Qur'an and a crucifix during the funeral for four victims killed in an attack at a wedding on Sunday, at Virgin Church in Cairo October 21, 2013 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Erbil—I am in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, but the news from Egypt is never far away.

There are no words for Sunday’s attack at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Warraq that killed four, including two little girls, and injured seventeen. Who does that?  Why? I’ve read in the news that the bloodshed was part of a pattern of “revenge attacks” for the July 3 coup. That’s clearly a misnomer.  This was violence for violence’s sake.  One could make a case—which I am not doing—that attempts on the life of the Interior Minister, for example, and attacks on security forces in Sinai and other places around the country are return fire for the events of July 3, July 26, August 14, and October 6, but spraying gunfire at guests gathered for a wedding celebration is both senseless and counterproductive, to say the least.  If the violence is intended to put pressure on the government to release the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership, it is likely to do the opposite. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Morocco’s Monarchy, Saudi’s Seat, and Turkey’s Turn on Syria

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 18, 2013
An Iraqi Kurdish man shows his ink-stained finger after voting during regional parliamentary elections at a polling station in Erbil (Azad Lashkari/Courtesy Reuters).

Samia Errazzouki examines Morocco’s new cabinet, and argues that authoritarian politics remains the dominant trend in the country.

Maya Gebeily discusses the irony of Saudi Arabia’s decision to sit out its turn on the UN Security Council. Read more »

Turkey: Spies Like Us

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, October 17, 2013
A Turkish flag flutters near the monument of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 24, 2013 (Marko Djurica/Courtesy Reuters).

I co-authored this piece with my friend and colleague, Michael Koplow, author of the blog Ottomans and Zionists.

Ehud Barak’s political instincts have never been great, but his security instincts are generally top-notch. So when he warned in 2010 that any intelligence information shared with Turkey might be passed on to Iran, his fears may not have been completely unfounded. David Ignatius reported yesterday that in 2012, Turkey deliberately blew the cover of ten Iranians who were working as Israeli agents and exposed their identities to the Iranian government. Ignatius also wrote that in the wake of the incident, which was obviously a large intelligence setback for efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program, the United States did not protest directly to Turkey and instead walled off intelligence issues from broader policymaking. Read more »

Egypt: Reductio Ad Absurdum

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans during a protest against the military (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Outsiders tend to underestimate the deep psychological impact that the last almost three years have had on Egyptians.  Not long after the exhilaration of Mubarak’s exit, Egyptians confronted the complexities of their reality.  What followed is now a well-worn story of disappointment, tragedy, more disappointment, some more exhilaration, and despair.  There are, of course, Egyptians who are looking forward to better days now that the Muslim Brotherhood experiment has been short-circuited.  Still, the uncertainty and violence have taken a toll.  For good reason, Egypt is a country collectively on-edge. Although it has avoided the general depravity that characterizes Syria—with perhaps the exception of the Sinai—the delegitimizing and dehumanizing discourse that is now common in Egyptian debates about the future makes the search, conducted mostly by outsiders, for negotiation and consensus fanciful.  Egypt has reached the stage where, despite a roadmap for reconstituting an electoral political order, the goal remains for one group or another to impose its political will on the others, just as it has been since February 2011. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Pharaoh, Algerian Foreign Policy, and Democracy in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 11, 2013
Said Saadi (C), leader of the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), argues with police during an anti-government demonstration in Algiers February 26, 2011 (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

Zeinobia from the Egyptian Chronicles argues that Sisi is the new Pharaoh.

Hamza Hamouchene asks, “Is Algeria an Anti-Imperialist State?” Read more »

U.S.-Egypt Relations: It’s Time to Go

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, October 10, 2013
An Apache helicopter flies over Tahrir Square during a protest to support the army, in Cairo July 26, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

As many are now well aware, word came on Wednesday evening via a leak to CNN that the United States was cutting military aid to Egypt.  After almost a day of furious speculation on Twitter and elsewhere, the outlines of the administration’s plan have come into view, though still without the benefit of an official statement.  It seems that Washington will delay the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters, and according to press reports, dock $260 million of cash transfers to the government and pull back on plans for a $300 million loan guarantee. Read more »

Hero of the Crossing? Anwar Sadat Reconsidered

by Steven A. Cook Monday, October 7, 2013
Late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat seen announcing to the Egyptian parliament, and the world his venture to visit Israel, Egypt's enemy at the time, on November 9, 1977 (Courtesy Reuters).

At 2pm on October 6, 1973, operation codename “Badr” began when two hundred Egyptian aircraft—under the command of General Hosni Mubarak—screamed low over the Suez Canal on their way to Israeli airbases and command and control installations in the Sinai.  Within fifteen minutes of the airstrikes, 4,000 Egyptian soldiers aboard more than 700 rubber dinghies made their way across the Canal along five fronts to assault the Bar-Lev line. By the morning of October 7, the Egyptian military had transferred an astonishing 90,000 men, 895 tanks, and 11,000 vehicles into the Sinai and established five bridgeheads east of the Canal while inflicting heavy losses on the Israel Defense Forces. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Elections in the KRI, Civil War in Iraq?, and Mapping the Violence

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 4, 2013
A woman reacts at the site of a suicide bomb attack on Shi'ite mosque in Mussayab, 60km (40 miles) south of the capital Baghdad, September 30, 2013 (Alaa Al-Marjani/Courtesy Reuters).

Joel Wing, writing at the Musings on Iraq blog, discusses the significance of the recent electoral results in Iraqi Kurdistan.

An article from Ya Libnan warns of worsening sectarian violence in Iraq that could potentially result in a civil war. Read more »