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Alternative Futures for Syria: Regional Implications and Challenges for the United States

October 29, 2014 Comments off

Alternative Futures for Syria: Regional Implications and Challenges for the United States
Source: RAND Corporation

The civil war in Syria poses a thorny problem for U.S. policymakers. The conflict has morphed from a popular uprising against an autocratic regime into a multi-sided battle involving government forces, pro-government militias, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi’ite militias, secular/moderate rebels, Kurdish separatists, traditional Islamist rebels, nationalist Salafi-jihadist rebels, and the transnational Salafi-jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) movement. Most neighboring states and several Persian Gulf states have sent arms and money to one or more of the factions in this war. Iran and Russia have consistently supported the Assad regime, including providing advanced weaponry, since the onset of the conflict. The outcome of the conflict will affect Middle East stability and regional political dynamics for years — perhaps decades — and could exacerbate a wider Shi’a-versus-Sunni sectarian conflict in the region.

Momentum has shifted several times during the course of the conflict. Defections from the Syrian army, rapidly growing rebel ranks, and the regime’s loss of key ground convinced many observers early on that the Assad’s demise was only a matter of time. The Assad regime has exploited rebel weaknesses and its own superior weaponry and external support to shift the momentum once again in its favor. The lineup of antagonists is complex and confused. While still seeing the Assad regime as an adversary based on its patron-client relationship with Iran and its implacable hostility toward Israel, U.S. decisionmakers are also dealing with the threats caused by the dramatic recent gains made in Iraq by ISIS and the influence it wields within the Syrian rebel movement. To examine these challenges, this perspective draws on a December 2013 RAND workshop to assess four possible future scenarios for the conflict in Syria: prolonged conflict, regime victory, regime collapse, and negotiated settlement. The authors update and reassess these scenarios based on developments in Syria and Iraq through August 2014 and explore the implications that each has for Syria, the region, and the United States.

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Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Progress and Continuing Challenges, CRS Insights (October 1, 2014)

October 8, 2014 Comments off

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Progress and Continuing Challenges, CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

On August 18, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced the complete destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons (CW). Despite this significant achievement, serious challenges relating to Syrian CW remain. In early September, the Syrian regime announced previously undeclared chemical weapons research facilities, raising questions about what else it might be concealing. Repeated reports have alleged chlorine gas attacks by the Assad regime. Moreover, press reports speculate that insecure chemical weapons stocks in Syria and Iraq may have gotten into the hands of the Islamic State (ISIL). Most of these questions cannot yet be answered definitively, but the fate of Syria’s CW capabilities warrants continued attention.

CRS — Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief (September 16, 2014)

October 1, 2014 Comments off

Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

The President’s requests for authority and funding for the Department of Defense to provide overt assistance, including possible military training and weapons, to vetted members of the Syrian opposition and other vetted Syrians for select purposes are the subject of close congressional consideration. This report introduces these proposals and the analysis and table below explore similarities and differences among some of these proposals.

The “Khorasan Group” in Syria, CRS Insights (September 24, 2014)

October 1, 2014 Comments off

The “Khorasan Group” in Syria, CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

On September 22, U.S. military forces launched strikes against Syria-based terrorists referred to by U.S. officials as the “Khorasan Group,” whose members President Obama has described as “seasoned Al Qaeda operatives in Syria.” According to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, the group “includes some former al Qaeda operatives, core al Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan and Pakistan [a region historically known as Khorasan] who made their way to Syria.” Rhodes added that the Administration views the Khorasan Group as “an extension of the threat posed by al Qaeda and their associated forces. These are individuals who have their origin, their history serving in al Qaeda.” Other U.S. officials and independent observers report that the group’s members may hold leadership roles in the Al Qaeda-affiliated Syrian insurgent organization known as Jabhat al Nusra (the Support Front), which the United States has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell has described the “Khorasan Group” as “the external operations arm” of Jabhat al Nusra, saying its members “came from Pakistan” and “focus on attacks in the West.” Despite this reported affiliation, some observers believe the approximately 50 to 100 members of the “Khorasan Group” focus primarily on planning international terrorist acts, rather than aiding Jabhat al Nusra’s efforts to topple the Asad regime.

Spillover from the Conflict in Syria: An Assessment of the Factors that Aid and Impede the Spread of Violence

September 25, 2014 Comments off

Spillover from the Conflict in Syria: An Assessment of the Factors that Aid and Impede the Spread of Violence
Source: RAND Corporation

All roads lead to Damascus and then back out again, but in different directions. The financial and military aid flowing into Syria from patrons and neighbors is intended to determine the outcome of the conflict between a loose confederation of rebel factions and the regime in Damascus. Instead, this outside support has the potential to perpetuate the existing civil war and to ignite larger regional hostilities between Sunni and Shia areas that could reshape the political geography of the Middle East. This report examines the main factors that are likely to contribute to or impede the spread of violence from civil war and insurgency in Syria, and then examines how they apply to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.

CRS — The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy (September 11, 2014)

September 24, 2014 Comments off

The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Islamic State is a transnational Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group that has expanded its control over areas of northwestern Iraq and northeastern Syria since 2013, threatening the security of both countries and drawing increased attention from the international community. There is debate over the degree to which the Islamic State organization might represent a direct terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland or to U.S. facilities and personnel in the region.

The Islamic State (IS) was initially part of the insurgency against coalition forces in Iraq and has in the years since the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq expanded its control over areas of northwestern Iraq and northeastern Syria. The Islamic State has thrived in the disaffected Sunni tribal areas of Iraq and in the remote provinces of Syria torn by the civil war. In the summer of 2014, Islamic State-led forces, supported by Sunni Arab tribalists and groups linked to ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, advanced along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, seizing multiple population centers including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Since then, IS forces have massacred Iraqi civilians, often from ethnic or religious minorities, and recently executed two American journalists who had been held in captivity. The Islamic State’s tactics have drawn the ire of the international community, increasing U.S. attention on Iraq’s political problems and on the civil war in Syria.

See also: The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq: A Possible Threat to Jordan?, CRS Insights (August 28, 2014) (PDF)
See also: Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response (September 17, 2014) (PDF)
See also: American Foreign Fighters and the Islamic State: Broad Challenges for Federal Law Enforcement, CRS Insights (September 19, 2014) (PDF)
See also: Considerations for Possible Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State, CRS Insights (September 16, 2014) (PDF)
See also: Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief (September 16, 2014) (PDF)
See also: U.S. Military Action Against the Islamic State: Answers to Frequently Asked Legal Questions (September 9, 2014) (PDF)

The Dead Hand of Socialism: State Ownership in the Arab World

September 12, 2014 Comments off

The Dead Hand of Socialism: State Ownership in the Arab World
Source: Cato Institute

Extensive government ownership in the economy is a source of inefficiency and a barrier to economic development. Although precise measures of government ownership across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are hard to come by, the governments of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen all operate sizeable segments of their economies—in some cases accounting for more than two-thirds of the GDP.

International experience suggests that private ownership tends to outperform public ownership. Yet MENA countries have made only modest progress toward reducing the share of government ownership in their economies and are seen as unlikely candidates for wholesale privatization in the near future.

MENA countries need to implement privatization in order to sustain their transitions toward more representative political systems and inclusive economic institutions. Three main lessons emerge from the experience of countries that have undergone large privatization programs in the past. First, the form of privatization matters for its economic outcomes and for popular acceptance of the reform. Transparent privatization, using open and competitive bidding, produces significantly better results than privatization by insiders, without public scrutiny. Second, private ownership and governance of the financial sector is crucial to the success of restructuring. Third, privatization needs to be a part of a broader reform package that would liberalize and open MENA economies to competition.

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