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"

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 »

Mothers of the Middle East

by Steven A. Cook
An Egyptian boy attends evening prayers called "Tarawih", during Laylat al-Qadr outside Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque, the first and oldest mosque ever built on the land of Egypt, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Cairo September 16, 2009 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). An Egyptian boy attends evening prayers called "Tarawih", during Laylat al-Qadr outside Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque, the first and oldest mosque ever built on the land of Egypt, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Cairo September 16, 2009 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

As I write, Mother’s Day 2015 is coming to a close. It was a special day. Who is better than Mom? I called my mother, made breakfast in bed for my wife, spoke to my mother-in-law, and cheered all the Moms whose photos showed up on my Facebook feed. Yet for all of the celebration of Mom, there remain a few Mothers who—to the best of my knowledge— have gone without recognition this year, which is a bummer for them. So here goes, my favorite Middle Eastern Moms: Read more »

Weekend Reading: Migrants and Libya?, Taking Tikrit, and Escaping Yemen

by Steven A. Cook
A group of 104 sub-Saharan Africans on board a rubber dinghy reach out for life jackets tossed to them by rescuers of the NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) some 25 miles off the Libyan coast (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Courtesy Reuters). A group of 104 sub-Saharan Africans on board a rubber dinghy reach out for life jackets tossed to them by rescuers of the NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) some 25 miles off the Libyan coast (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Courtesy Reuters).

Issandr El Amrani argues that a strong, stable Libya would not solve the migration problems in the Mediterranean.

The editors at the Middle East Research and Information Project urge for a humanitarian corridor for foreign nationals and Yemenis to escape Yemen. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Overplaying Sectarianism in Yemen, Iraqi Cinema, and Peacemaking in Oman

by Steven A. Cook
A Saudi border guard patrols near Saudi Arabia's border with Yemen, along a beach on the Red Sea, near Jizan (Faisal Al Nasser/Courtesy Reuters). A Saudi border guard patrols near Saudi Arabia's border with Yemen, along a beach on the Red Sea, near Jizan (Faisal Al Nasser/Courtesy Reuters).

Abubakr al-Shamahi’s blog post on the misuse of the terms “Sunni” and “Shia” in the context of Yemen remains as pertinent today as it was when he published it a year ago. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Kurds in ISIS, Houthis in Sanaa, and Netanyahu in Washington

by Steven A. Cook
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights near the Israel-Syria border (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters). Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights near the Israel-Syria border (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters).

Rebecca Collard reports on Kurdish men who have joined ISIS and attacked their own people.

Nabeel Khoury looks at who the Houthis are, their ambitions, and the options before them. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Spider-Man, Ottomania, and Iraq’s Militias

by Steven A. Cook
Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014 (Yagiz Karahan/Courtesy Reuters). Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014 (Yagiz Karahan/Courtesy Reuters).

Browse through Hossam Atef’s photo gallery, the photographer known as Antikka who recently made headlines with his latest project, “SpiderMan At Egypt.”

Pinar Tremblay investigates the discriminatory effects of introducing Ottoman Turkish to the national curriculum. Read more »

Making War In Iraq

by Steven A. Cook
A member of the Kurdish "peshmerga" forces takes part in an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants in Jalawla, Diyala province (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). A member of the Kurdish "peshmerga" forces takes part in an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants in Jalawla, Diyala province (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

It was sort of amazing back in August when President Barack Obama went before the White House press corps and publicly declared, “We don’t have a strategy yet” when it came to combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was pilloried in a collective freak-out that crossed partisan lines. The president probably should not have said what he said given what he must now know about the press, his opponents, and his previous, ill-considered comments about post-Bin Laden extremist groups being “JV.” That said, admitting that his administration had not yet determined how to meet the ISIS threat was also sort of prudent. “Strategy” and “strategic” are among the most misused and abused words in Washington, and given the complex and unprecedented problems that are consuming Iraq and Syria, it was a good idea for the administration to take a step back and ask a number of basic questions before settling on its goals and determining the resources necessary to meet those objectives. For example, what resources were available to the United States? What are ISIS’ goals? What can regional allies do? How might regional adversaries react to various courses of action? What are reasonable goals for the United States? How will the American people respond to different approaches? Instead, as I wrote last September, the president was bullied into bombing ISIS after James Foley was beheaded, leaving the Pentagon, White House, and State Department to figure out a strategy on the fly. It was no way to go to war. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Mubarak Acquitted, (Another) Tunisian Uprising, and Iraq’s Flags

by Steven A. Cook
A supporter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrates in front of Maadi military hospital after Mubarak returned to the hospital following the verdict of his trial in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrates in front of Maadi military hospital after Mubarak returned to the hospital following the verdict of his trial in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Hossam Bahgat sheds some light on the verdict acquitting former President Hosni Mubarak of charges against him.

Sam Kimball and Nicholas Linn contend that despite Tunisia’s recent elections, the country could be headed for another uprising. Read more »

Weekend Reading: On Being Jewish in Egypt, Iraq’s Militias, and What Just Happened in Yemen?

by Steven A. Cook
Shi'ite Houthi rebels bury comrades, who were killed in recent fighting against government forces, in Sanaa (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters). Shi'ite Houthi rebels bury comrades, who were killed in recent fighting against government forces, in Sanaa (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters).

An old one from Eric Rouleau, who reflects on his experiences as an Egyptian-Jewish journalist.

Omar el-Jaffal examines the phenomenon of militias in Iraq and its implications on the Iraqi state. Read more »

Weekend Reading: HRW Reports on Raba’a, Defeating IS, and Iran’s Man in Baghdad

by Steven A. Cook
Shi'ite volunteers, from Abbas Unit who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State parade down a street in Kerbala, southwest of Baghdad August 14, 2014 (Mushtaq Muhammed/Courtesy Reuters). Shi'ite volunteers, from Abbas Unit who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State parade down a street in Kerbala, southwest of Baghdad August 14, 2014 (Mushtaq Muhammed/Courtesy Reuters).

Full text of the Human Rights Watch report on last year’s forcible dispersal of the pro-Morsi Raba’a sit-in.

Nabeel Khoury, writing for The Tahrir Forum, argues that if the United States fails to defeat the Islamic State, then Iran and Hezbollah will have to do it. Read more »