Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

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Showing posts for "Iraq"

Weekend Reading: Non-Sectarian Refugees, the Transformation of Egyptians, and Inside the Fight Against the Islamic State

by Steven A. Cook
Egyptians celebrate on Tahrir Square during the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ended 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters). Egyptians celebrate on Tahrir Square during the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ended 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters).

Laura Dean reflects on the surprising absence of sectarianism among Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Amro Ali encourages Egyptians to recognize their individual political transformations as the true achievement of the 2011 revolution. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Sunnis Fighting With Shias, Agatha Christie in Arabic Literature, and Who is Ali Abd al-Aal?

by Steven A. Cook
A man looks at a book outside of a bookshop that sells Islamic and reference books for Al-Azhar students near the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt, May 18, 2015 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters). A man looks at a book outside of a bookshop that sells Islamic and reference books for Al-Azhar students near the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt, May 18, 2015 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters).

Mustafa Saadoun reports on the cautious optimism of Sunni recruitment to Iraq’s Shiite militias, the Popular Mobilization Units. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Tourism in Egypt, Descartes in Reyhanli, and Corruption in the KRG

by Steven A. Cook
A girl holds a child inside a refugee camp for the internally displaced in Jrzinaz area, southern part of Idlib province, Syria October 13, 2015 (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters). A girl holds a child inside a refugee camp for the internally displaced in Jrzinaz area, southern part of Idlib province, Syria October 13, 2015 (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters).

Farah Halime studies how continued violence in Egypt, particularly against the tourism industry, negatively impacts the country’s economy.

The blogger Maysaloon discusses teaching identity, philosophy, and Descartes to Syrian refugee children. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Syrian Opposition, Iraq’s Identity, and Hamas Holds Back…For Now

by Steven A. Cook
Free Syrian Army fighters, part of the Suqour al-Jabal (Mountain Hawks) brigade, rest with their weapons at their headquarters building in Aleppo, Syria, July 30, 2015 (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters). Free Syrian Army fighters, part of the Suqour al-Jabal (Mountain Hawks) brigade, rest with their weapons at their headquarters building in Aleppo, Syria, July 30, 2015 (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters).

Aymenn al-Tamimi examines the potential for a unified Syrian opposition as a result of Russian intervention.

Harith Hasan al-Qarawee and Matthew Schweitzer outline a strategy to rebuild Iraq’s cultural and historical identity. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Turkey and the EU, Tunisia’s Nobel Winners, and Life in the Qandil Mountains

by Steven A. Cook
Hussein Abassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia, in this August 16, 2013 photo. Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, an example of peaceful transition in a region otherwise struggling with violence and upheaval (Anis Mili/Reuters). Hussein Abassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia, in this August 16, 2013 photo. Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, an example of peaceful transition in a region otherwise struggling with violence and upheaval (Anis Mili/Reuters).

Natasha Lennard examines the altering dynamics between Turkey and the European Union brought about by the refugee crisis.

Read the press release announcing that the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Revisionist Jihad, Rationalism in Iraq, and Turkish-Kurdish Relations

by Steven A. Cook
A rebel fighter from the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement reacts as they fire grad rockets from Idlib countryside, towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stationed at Jureen town in al-Ghab plain in the Hama countryside, April 25, 2015 (Mohamad Bayoush/Reuters). A rebel fighter from the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement reacts as they fire grad rockets from Idlib countryside, towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stationed at Jureen town in al-Ghab plain in the Hama countryside, April 25, 2015 (Mohamad Bayoush/Reuters).

Sam Heller discusses the revisionist ideology of Syria’s Ahrar al-Sham and the future of jihadi thought.

Marwan Jabbar takes at look at Iraqis translating scientific articles into Arabic in an effort to combat extremism. Read more »

Overstating the Islamic State

by Steven A. Cook
A man rides a motorcycle with a child in the historical city of Palmyra, September 30, 2010 (Nour Fourat/Reuters). A man rides a motorcycle with a child in the historical city of Palmyra, September 30, 2010 (Nour Fourat/Reuters).

Ever since the self-declared Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, virtually everyone has made it fairly clear in mostly unintended ways that we do not understand a lot about the group. Perhaps that is a bit unfair. There are a number of talented scholars who have done great work on the origins and worldview of the Islamic State. Both Will McCants and Dan Byman have new books on the group and Aaron Zelin has long been a terrific resource on all things extremist. Their work should help Washington understand how to meet the challenge the Islamic State presents, yet I keep hearing the same things about the Islamic State that I have been hearing since everyone discovered it and rediscovered Iraq fifteen months ago. One of the most dissatisfying is this, or some variation of it: “The Islamic State cannot provide services in the areas that it controls thereby sowing the seeds of its own demise.” This strikes me as one of those things that make a lot of sense to those of us here, but seems erroneous in the context of the Islamic State. It is pretty clear to me that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does not care about guaranteeing services, that failing to provide things like electricity will not actually undermine the Islamic State, and that the inability (or unwillingness) to extend services to people living in IS-land does not make it all that different from any number of states in Middle East. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Rediscovering Saddam, Revisiting Tunisia’s Democracy, and Reviewing the Islamic State

by Steven A. Cook
Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters). Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters).

Victor Argo revisits the persona of longtime Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Nadia Marzouki and Hamza Meddeb question the assumptions behind the claim that Tunisia is a democratic success story. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Debunking Iraq’s Myth, Demolishing History in Egypt, and Biking Syria’s Civil War

by Steven A. Cook
The word "Mubarak" is seen inside the burnt headquarters of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's political party National Democratic Party (NDP) during its demolition in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). The word "Mubarak" is seen inside the burnt headquarters of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's political party National Democratic Party (NDP) during its demolition in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Sara Pursley, in a two-part report on Jadaliyya, debunks the myth of Iraq as an artificial state.

Mahmoud Riad protests the demolition of the National Democratic Party’s headquarters in Cairo. Read more »

Lost in Iraq

by Steven A. Cook
An Iraqi soldier carries a displaced kid from Ramadi on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). An Iraqi soldier carries a displaced kid from Ramadi on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

On Sunday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter appeared on CNN’s State of the Union during which he reflected on the performance of the Iraqi Security Forces in the recent battle for Ramadi. “What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” he said. “They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight.” It was a stunning admission. The United States has been retraining and reequipping the Iraqi military (again) since last summer and its ignominious performance in Mosul, Tikrit, and every place in between. The defeat in Ramadi and Secretary Carter’s blunt assessment suggests that the Obama administration’s return on investment is close to nil. It is extraordinarily worrisome because the White House’s entire strategy is based on providing local actors, primarily the Iraqi Security Forces, the means to “degrade and defeat” the self-proclaimed Islamic State instead of deploying American soldiers to do the job. The secretary’s statement was particularly surprising since Secretary of State John Kerry assured the press a few days earlier that the Islamic State’s grip on Ramadi would be temporary, while the White House called it a “tactical setback.” Perhaps Carter was responding to the Iraqis who blamed Washington for the defeat. Or maybe he knows better than anyone what is what in Iraq, and when the inevitable accounting is done, Carter and the Pentagon do not want to take the blame for who lost Iraq (again). The most straightforward explanation for the administration’s mixed signals, however, is this: No one really knows or understands what is happening in Iraq. Read more »