Archive for the ‘Yemen’ Category
New York- Regarding the planned nuclear deal to be reached by late June, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani announced “Today is a day that will remain in the historic memory of the Iranian nation.” Could a statement like this indicate the Islamic Republic is finally falling back into line with the Great Power political order after decades of U.S. estrangement? Possibly. Are there leagues of people who desperately seek to derail such an initiative? Undoubtedly.
Without getting into the granular details of the proposed quid pro quo arrangement whereby Iran will cull centrifuges in exchange for the letting up of sanctions, my angle is how the battle for Tikrit in neighboring Iraq and the coming battle for Mosul factors into this.
Part of what I suspect has changed the decades long game in toxic U.S.-Iran relations is the rise of the Islamic State. President Obama met one of his campaign foreign policy goals by fully withdrawing American military personnel from Iraq (minus those protecting the gargantuan embassy in Baghdad). Guantanamo hasn’t closed and Afghanistan is still festering. Iraq seemed like something of an accomplishment. But when I visited Iraq in mid-2013, it was clear to me that the Pentagon had left behind a fractious mess that was vulnerable to infiltration by non-state groups working to undermine both the Kurds and the then highly divisive Maliki government.
Then we have the twitter-fueled IS takeover of Mosul with a nascent state building to create a salafi-hihadi entity bent on perpetual warfare until an apocalyptic utopia can be achieved. Now as things stand, the Americans and Iranians are working together if purely by default. Notorious militias like the Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl al-Haq have been battling IS with bravado during the siege of Tikrit. Of course, American military planners don’t want to work with Iranian-backed war fighting groups in Iraq. War, however, is not about the ideal. It’s much more often about the pragmatic.
Military planning is constantly a re-evalutation of the lesser of evils on the battlefield. The least worst option always seems better than total defeat. In the Second World War, the Allies partnered with Stalin to defeat the Axis and achieve the near term goals of eradicating fascism from Europe and Pacific. This led to the death of tens of millions of Soviets both in the Red Army on the battlefront and then those who were felled in the Great Terror, Great Purge, ethnic deportations of nationalities collectively accused of Nazi collaboration and the Gulag system. The Cold War and the nuclear arms race immediately followed the Axis defeats.
For the US to preserve what little is has left in Iraq, it will have to work with those it has been fighting in the mid-2000s. This is not to the liking of the Israelis and their vast support network here in the United States. Nor does it please King Salman and the House of Saud who operate in a bizarre realm where the theological and geopolitical are conflated to the detriment of an entire region. In turn the U.S. is supporting the un-imaginitively named Operation Decisive Storm to rout the Houthis in Yemen which sort of proves that the Americans aren’t taking sides in ancient Sunni-Shia fitna. The Israelis and the Saudis have traditionally had a common goal of keeping the Iranians isolated by the U.S. but this paradigm looks to be both shifting as well as no longer sustainable.
I’m not saying the decades of mistrust will suddenly evaporate in a few months time. But the de facto cooperation for lack of a better term on Tikrit may be a prelude to the eradication of IS from Mosul. The Iraqi military simply isn’t up to the task. It has neither the willpower nor the esprit de corps to effectively carry out this mission in my view. One thing endemic to battlefields is that alliances shift with time owing to perceived necessity.
New York- I have the lead story in today’s edition of Asia Times Online about the hearing of KSM and Khallad at Guantánamo on Saturday, the killing of Fahd-al Quso in southern Yemen (or South Yemen if you prefer) by a drone strike on Sunday, and the apparent leak on Monday of the disruption of a suicide bomb plot believed to have the hand of AQAP’s Ibrahim al-Asiri. A very interesting succession of events to say the very least. The article contains some of my on-the-ground research on the background of the USS Cole attack and how that plan intersected with the 9/11 ‘planes operation.’
Thira- Sitting here in the very tranquil village of Karterados on the island of Thira in the Santorini archipelago is an uneasy contrast the strikes and protests rocking mainland Greece. The country is on the verge of bankruptcy which is roiling global financial markets and yet here, if you didn’t bring up the subject with locals nor tuned into Al Jazeera online, you might be able to stick your head in the black sand and wish it all away. Of course I am the quintessential news junkie and could never do such a thing. I am putting a paltry few Euros into the economy, though the dollar has actually been gaining against the Euro for the first time in a while-good news for me and perhaps me only.
After mulling over the reported killing of Anwar al-Awlaki on Friday and the consequences of what it means well beyond US-Yemeni relations, I could not help but write something after thinking of my visit to his old mosque in San Diego last spring while doing some research. I became more and more disturbed by this policy decision-cum-travesty of justice-and not for the obvious reason many readers might think. I just had to say something. Something that could be easily misinterpreted or disagreed with. I wasn’t planning on writing any articles from here as I am working on some long form writing. This incident (which of course is already being disputed by members of the Awaliq tribe who have visited the scene of the crime in al-Jawf) necessitated a more nuanced commentary apart from the overhype about AQAP and the debate of al-Awlaki’s actual role in the group.
Los Angeles- On Friday evening (GMT), I appeared on BBC Arabic’s Newshour presented by Malak Jaafar to discuss reaction to that days Washington Post story entitled “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role” by Karen de Young and Greg Jaffe with Egyptian Brigadier General (retd.) Safwat al-Zayat. Thanks to my colleague Murad Batal al-Shishani for arranging this.
New York- We have a new book out on Yemen and its three primary security struggles of the Saada war/Houthi rebellion in the north along the Saudi border, the rejuvenation of secessionist sentiments in the south, and as if those weren’t enough, threats from AQAP leaders.
“The Battle for Yemen is a rare and comprehensive volume that tackles the facets of instability that currently plague Yemen. It offers a wealth of analysis and keen observations from the experts of The Jamestown Foundation, who have monitored the developments within Yemen since 2004. Combining indigenous sources with original analytical insights, this book represents a vital research tool for those seeking a detailed account of Yemen’s struggle for stability, the various movements that shape the security environment, and the radical personalities that strive to undermine the Saleh government and its partnership with the United States.”
Order your copy from Jamestown here for $24.95.
Washington D.C.- We had a very interesting conference on Yemen last week at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on think-tank row. I headed down from New York to meet some of my new colleagues from Militant Leadership Monitor and to help out with the event. After our Jamestown event concluded, I rushed over to Tenleytown to the campus of American University to attend the tail end of Jen Marlowe’s Rebuilding Hope screening and a night out at a vaguely themed Afro-Middle Eastern bar called Soussi in Adams Morgan. Just another 18 hour day in D.C.. Good thing I don’t live down there!
New York- The new issue of Militant Leadership Monitor is online. In this issue we have two pieces from two of Yemen’s three fronts. A profile of Adel al-Abbab of AQAP by Murad Batal al-Shishani and a bio of Abdulmalik al-Houthi leading the Zaidi rebellion in the country’s north by Michael Horton. Moving across the Arabian Sea up to Pakistan, Syed Adnan Shah Ali Bukhari tells us of the brutality of Ibn-e-Amin in the strife-torn Swat Valley. Heading west, we have a profile of Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, a hard bitten Tuareg rebel leader hailing from the Mali-Algeria border. Additionally, I have briefs on the arrest in Karachi of Mullah Omar’s son-in-law and the death of JI’s Bali bomber, Dulmatin, in a suburb of Jakarta last month.