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: 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 »

Weekend Reading: Destroying Religious Shrines, the Yazidis, and Humans of Kurdistan (as well as New York)

by Steven A. Cook
A member of the Kurdish peshmerga forces sit with a weapon during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Makhmur August 7, 2014 (STRINGER Iraq/Courtesy Reuters). A member of the Kurdish peshmerga forces sit with a weapon during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Makhmur August 7, 2014 (STRINGER Iraq/Courtesy Reuters).

Mohamad Ballan explores the Islamic State’s destruction of religious shrines in historical context.

Matthew Barber reports on recent IS advances against Iraqi Kurds and the plight of the Yazidi minority. Read more »

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 »