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: The King of the Kurds, Sexual Violence in Egypt, and Israel’s Accidental War

by Steven A. Cook
A Sunni Sheikh carries a mock of a rocket during a demonstration organised by Lebanese Sunni Islamists and Palestinians to denounce Israeli air strikes on the Gaza strip (Ali Hashisho/Courtesy Reuters). A Sunni Sheikh carries a mock of a rocket during a demonstration organised by Lebanese Sunni Islamists and Palestinians to denounce Israeli air strikes on the Gaza strip (Ali Hashisho/Courtesy Reuters).

Sarah Carr, writing for Mada Masroffers an in-depth and graphic look at sexual assault and the Egyptian state.

J.J. Goldberg explores the triggers to an “unintended” war in Gaza. Read more »

Iraq: Allah Have Mercy

by Steven A. Cook
Iraqi Shi'ite politician Ahmed Chalabi (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters). Iraqi Shi'ite politician Ahmed Chalabi (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters).

It seems impossible, but it is true.  President Barack Obama was elected to the highest office in the land in 2008 in part because after five years in Iraq, he promised the American people that he would not “do stupid stuff.”  He is about to do precisely that in Iraq.  It is not just the “I-don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry” feeling I had when I learned the news that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk had met with Ahmed Chalabi the week before last to discuss the current crisis and Chalabi’s potential role in a new government. The irony is too much to take, but the dalliance with Chalabi is not actually the issue.  Chatting up Chalabi is just a symptom of a bigger, albeit more abstract, problem the Obama and Bush administrations have had in Iraq:  Bad assumptions. Read more »

Kurds: Running Before Walking

by Steven A. Cook
Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga celebrate in the city of Kirkuk June 24, 2014 (Ako Rasheed/Courtesy Reuters). Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga celebrate in the city of Kirkuk June 24, 2014 (Ako Rasheed/Courtesy Reuters).

Erbil had a weird feel to it this week.  The euphoria that came when the Kurd’s military, known as the peshmerga, took over Kirkuk on June 11 has not exactly faded, but reality is making people nervous.  The Kurds have never had it so good, but it is all relative, and the Kurds may be getting ahead of themselves which could lead to disaster. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Ira-q-aos

by Steven A. Cook
Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces take their positions during clashes with the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the city of Ramadi June 19, 2014 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces take their positions during clashes with the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the city of Ramadi June 19, 2014 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

Faysal Itani examines the jihadists’ threat to Iraq (and Syria).

Inside Iraqi Politics offers a roundup of what has been going on in Iraq while everyone else was paying attention to anything else. Read more »

A Requiem for Iraq

by Steven A. Cook
Kurdish Peshmerga troops (Azad Lashkari/Courtesy Reuters). Kurdish Peshmerga troops (Azad Lashkari/Courtesy Reuters).

Istanbul–The United States should help Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki fend off the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria given the threats the group poses to American allies and interests, but Washington should also let Iraq go.  The country no longer makes sense to the people who live there. Read more »

The Contest for Regional Leadership in the New Middle East

by Steven A. Cook
Free Syrian Army fighters pose on a tank, which they say was captured from the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, after clashes in Qasseer, near Homs (Shaam News Network/Courtesy Reuters). Free Syrian Army fighters pose on a tank, which they say was captured from the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, after clashes in Qasseer, near Homs (Shaam News Network/Courtesy Reuters).

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) just published this report that I coauthored with Jacob Stokes, Bacevich fellow at  CNAS, and my research associate Alexander Brock.

“The Contest for Regional Leadership in the New Middle East” shows how, in addition to the historic political change occurring within the major states of the Middle East, there is a transformative process underway remaking the dynamics among the states of the region. The reordering of the geopolitics of the region has exposed rivalries among the contenders for leadership, as well as different ideological, economic, nationalistic and sectarian agendas. The report argues that Washington has sought to accommodate these changes in a way that continues to secure its strategic interests. What role the United States will play in a “new Middle East” is the subject of intense debate among Americans, Arabs and Turks. Nevertheless, it is clear that with all the problems regional powers have confronted trying to shape the politics of the region, American leadership will continue to be indispensable. Read more »

Kurdistan: Just Being Independent

by Steven A. Cook
A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier holds a Kurdistan flag (Azad Lashkari/Courtesy Reuters). 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: Elections in the KRI, Civil War in Iraq?, and Mapping the Violence

by Steven A. Cook
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). 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 »

Weekend Reading: Iraq’s Sects, Jordan’s Elections, and Bahrain’s Social Networks

by Steven A. Cook
A man reads the Koran at the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, before the early morning prayer of Al-Fajr in the holy city of Medina (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man reads the Koran at the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, before the early morning prayer of Al-Fajr in the holy city of Medina (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Wadah Khanfar discusses Iraq’s problem of increased sectarian tension, which threatens Iraq’s security and the security of the whole region.

Abdulilah, posting on AmmonNews, offers reflections on Jordan’s upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place on January 23. Read more »