Many European nations are avoiding the responsibility of taking back their citizens who traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State; this will only fuel the cycle of radicalization and extremism. Ensuring fighters are afforded a fair trial at home and suspected terrorists who have not committed ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The U.S. government has confirmed that it repatriated eight U.S. citizens—two women and six children—who were with the Islamic State in Syria. The eight had been held by Syrian Kurdish forces, part of the tens of thousands of former Islamic State militants and family members ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Just last week, seven members of the so-called Islamic State, all of them from France, were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court. Many Western countries have refused to take back citizens who traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State. An estimated ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The conditions inside camps of displaced persons across Syria and Iraq, including family members of Islamic State fighters, presents an immediate humanitarian threat and a long-term strategic security opportunity. The camps are a mix of people who fled the Islamic State as well as hard-core ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On March 19, the coalition fighting the so-called Islamic State announced it was finally in control of Baghouz, IS’ last openly held territory in Syria. With tens of thousands of IS fighters and their families now captured, pressure is rapidly escalating as detention centers grow ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran can exercise ‘hard power’ in Iraq through several major Shi’a militias that it has nurtured. Iran’s militia allies are emerging as significant political actors in Iraq and potentially in the broader region, following the prototype of Iran’s key regional proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah. With armed ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran has built leverage over Iraq’s key power centers and its economy through its arming of Iraqi Shia militias and supplies of natural gas. The growing prospects for a U.S. military drawdown in Iraq are causing Iraqi leaders to draw closer to Iran than they ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Even after the collapse of the territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State will live on through its franchise and affiliate groups. Among the most capable affiliates are those in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Islamic State Khorasan Province in Afghanistan and IS’ branch ...

  Bottom Line Up Front A partially declassified study of U.S. military operations demonstrates the difficulty in accurately counting and mitigating civilian casualties. Disparities exist between official Pentagon estimates of civilians killed and those done by external agencies, leading to assumptions about the former being less transparent. The study reiterates ...

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats released the Worldwide Threat Assessment on Tuesday, with Intelligence Community leaders briefing Senators on the biggest threats facing the U.S. While The Cipher Brief will cover all aspects of the broader threat matrix that includes China, Russia and North Korea, this week we are ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities enable it to project power while compensating for an otherwise modest conventional military capacity. Iran’s supply of missiles to regional armed factions have helped these groups morph into significant threats to American interests and allies. The fielding of Iranian-supplied missiles by ...

In part one of his two-part exclusive series for The Cipher Brief, AEI Scholar Kenneth Pollack, the author of the recently-released Armies of Sand: The Past, Present and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness, discusses how the fundamental balance of power in the Middle East is changing, and what's driving the change.  You ...

With U.S.-Iran tensions rising after the re-imposition of nuclear sanctions, neighboring Iraq will likely emerge as a critical battleground in the U.S.-Iran contest. As the U.S. and its allies have pulled back from Iraq over the past decade, Iran has upped its engagement with local proxies to gain an advantage ...

Despite years of forecasts predicting implosion, partition, revolution, Iranian absorption and other apocalyptic scenarios, there were generally more good events in 2018 than bad in Iraq, still Iraq's challenges in 2019 are significant. The good events were only “mostly” good. A new government formed (mostly). ISIS was defeated (mostly). Security ...

  Bottom Line Up Front By October 2019, the U.S. will have spent approximately $6 trillion in efforts related to support of the so-called ‘global war on terror.’ This figure factors in the true costs of a series of seemingly endless military campaigns, to include debt payments and spending across ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Approximately 700 children were born in the caliphate to parents from Western countries, although many European governments are either unsure of what to do next or unwilling to let these children ‘return’ to their parents’ countries of origin. Some children witnessed killings, beheadings, and unspeakable ...

As Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) has terrorized his opponents at home and abroad, fear has spread within the Saudi kingdom. Has he become the new Saddam of Arabia? As Iraq’s Saddam Hussein did in the 1980s, MbS is cementing his power domestically and regionally through fear and economic largesse under ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The Trump Administration is seeking to minimize any U.S-Saudi rift over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in order to preserve Washington’s recently revitalized counter Iran strategy. The policies of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia (“MBS”) have set back, rather than ...

Bottom Line Up Front Iran’s Shi’a militia allies in Iraq enable the mullahs to exert substantial influence over Baghdad, and will continue to do so no matter the composition of the new Iraqi government. Key Iraqi Shi’a militia commanders are emerging as prominent politicians in their own right, capable of ...

Bottom Line Up Front: On September 26, Danish police arrested two men on charges of trying to send money and drones to the Islamic State in Syria. On September 27, police in the Netherlands arrested seven men in the central Dutch city of Arnhem and accused them of planning a ...

Bottom Line Up Front: On September 27, the U.S. Defense Department reported that 1114 civilians have been unintentionally killed in anti-Islamic State airstrikes since August 2014. The monitoring group Airwars has counted 6575 civilians killed by coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria throughout the same time period. Russia incredulously denies ...

Bottom Line Up Front: The Iraqi city of Basra has returned to relative quiet after a week of protests and sporadic violence. While some want to put a sectarian spin on the protests, the persistent issues of corruption, poor governance and inefficient provision of services compelled residents to demonstrate. The ...

While not in the headlines every day, al Qaeda operatives are still the targets of somewhat regular military operations in places like Yemen.  The U.S. carried out a series of air strikes against al Qaeda targets in Yemen over the summer according to U.S. Forces Central Command (CENTCOM). Former Acting ...

From ‘Remain and Expand’ to ‘Adapt and Evolve’ Small pockets of Islamic State fighters have regrouped throughout parts of Iraq and Syria. Jihadists are becoming more brazen, executing coordinated attacks on security services and oil fields. The Islamic State’s remaining war chest could prove to be sufficient for the group ...

The Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization is putting the IAEA on notice that Tehran is likely to begin producing centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium.    According to the Fars news agency, Ali Akbar Salehi says the move does not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ...

Cipher Brief Note:  Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr assured Iraqis this past weekend that the next Iraqi government will be ‘inclusive’.  Al-Sadr, who once fought U.S. troops after the invation of Iraq, held meetings with Prime Minister Haider al-Adabi on Saturday and Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of a coalition backed by ...

Following the near destruction of ISIS in Iraq and in the U.S. “zone” in northeastern Syria, and then a call recently by President Donald Trump to pull out of Syria, administration officials, pundits and foreign leaders have all urged the president to keep troops in Syria. As justification, these officials—including ...

Monday marks 15 years since President George W. Bush announced the start of the Iraq war, followed by a 'decapitation' air strike on Baghdad meant to target Saddam Hussein. After a 48-hour deadline for Saddam to leave Iraq expired, ground troops from the U.S., UK, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq ...

Is the U.S. drawing down its military presence in Iraq, following a declaration of victory over ISIS? Messages from Iraqi and U.S. spokesmen are muddled: An Iraqi government spokesman said Monday the U.S. has begun to reduce the number of its troops in-country. An unnamed senior official close to Iraq’s ...

Bottom Line: On paper, Iraq’s democratic electoral system promises rare, fair representation in a region where politics is dominated by monarchies and authoritarian regimes. But in reality, the country’s political system has been hamstrung by inefficiencies and gridlocks that have often segregated, rather than united, the Iraqi populace. As Iraqis ...

The Sept. 25 Kurdish referendum has risked permanent damage to the relationship between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi government (GOI), but the blame may lie as much with inequities built into the structure of the Iraqi constitution as with the independent-minded Kurds. The Iraqi constitution of 2005 and ...

As ISIS loses territory across Syria and Iraq, its capacity to generate revenue has declined drastically. Nonetheless, ISIS continues to profit from its oil industry, black market antiquities trading, and taxing and extorting local populations under its control. The U.S. government has worked with allies in the region to try ...

ISIS is rapidly losing territory across Syria and Iraq and, as a result, is suffering significant financial setbacks. Yet ISIS remains driven by its goal of establishing a physical caliphate. To acquire the necessary funds to maintain its bloody campaign, ISIS may turn to more traditional methods of terrorist financing, ...

Once billed the richest terrorist group in history, ISIS’ revenue streams are drying up, which may force it to rely more heavily on criminal enterprises and donations from like-minded extremists to survive. The group has ceded nearly 90 percent of the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, according ...

The Kurdistan Regional Government is already suffering international blowback from its independence referendum, and now some Kurds are calling for the ouster of those who backed the vote, sending local politics into freefall. Parliamentary elections scheduled for Nov. 1 were delayed on Monday, after the region’s political parties failed to ...

Iraq’s top diplomat in Washington, D.C., cried foul Friday over Kurdish government charges that Iran backed Iraq’s campaign to retake Kirkuk. “The KRG has been mounting what I call a campaign of quasi-disinformation, trying to paint this as an Iranian-led affair,” Iraq's ambassador to the U.S. Fareed Yasseen said of the ...

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi published an op-ed in the New York Times on Wednesday, denouncing the “illegal” referendum held by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq last month, but more importantly, making an impassioned case for Iraqi unity in the aftermath of ISIS’ defeat. The potential break-up ...

This September, voters in the territories controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly to declare independence from the central government in Baghdad. In response, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran have conducted joint military exercises around the KRG in an unprecedented show of solidarity between three historic ...

The surprise advance of Iraqi troops into the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk on Monday raises a spectre that has haunted Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion: Can the country remain united? In a referendum held this September by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), 90 percent of Iraqi Kurds voted in ...

This September, voters in the territories controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly to declare independence from the central government in Baghdad. In response, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran have conducted joint military exercises around the KRG in an unprecedented show of solidarity between three historic ...

Iraqi forces seized the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk on Monday, according to Kurdish and Iraqi officials, leaving Washington scrambling to respond to the surprise dawn assault. American officials seemed taken aback by the attack, with the State Department saying only it was closely monitoring the situation in Kirkuk and the ...

The United States has long sought to export its system of liberal democracy abroad. In places where military juntas and dictators have risen – and where U.S. national interest aligns – the U.S. government has sought to implement regime change through both covert and overt means. While these efforts are ...

The concept of regime change – toppling a hostile or distasteful foreign government and replacing it with a friendly one – has long tantalized U.S. policymakers, inspiring covert actions like the U.S.-supported Iranian coup in 1953 to U.S. military invasion and occupations, such as Iraq in 2003. Under the Trump ...

Today, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq is holding a historic referendum on Kurdish independence. Kurds are widely expected to overwhelmingly vote Yes, a result that threatens once again to undermine the fragile Iraqi state – split between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish regions – and is causing consternation throughout ...

Until 2003, Iraq and Saddam Hussein posed perhaps the most direct military threat to Iran in the region. Haunted by the memory of bitter trench and chemical warfare during the eight year Iran-Iraq war in the ‘80s, both countries eyed each other warily for decades. The 2003 U.S. invasion, which ...

Iran’s principal regional nemesis was removed when Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown by the United States in 2003. The new Iraq quickly fell under the leadership of powerful Shia Islamist parties, most of whom had sheltered in Iran to avoid Saddam’s persecution. One example is Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s ...

Since the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2011, Iran has been able to exert powerful influence over its majority-Shia Arab neighbor. This became especially apparent in the years following ISIS' rapid territorial gains in Iraq in 2014. Today, Tehran funds and trains Shia militia in Iraq, enjoys ...

No terrorist group has capitalized on networked technology more than ISIS, both for recruitment messaging and commanding their fighters on the ground. The internet is their response to asymmetric disadvantage. Where they lack in infrastructure and resources of a state, they use the web to plan attacks, solicit money and ...

The liberation of Mosul by the Iraqi military presents the Trump Administration with an opportunity to both stabilize the region by continued successful counterterrorism and to challenge Iran. As the Administration pursues its objective to defeat ISIS in the Middle East, continued military assistance is likely to be required. On ...

With the liberation of Mosul from ISIS and the impending conquest of the “Caliphate” capital Raqqa, the U.S. is at a decision point in the Middle East. But it does not yet have a coherent strategy, as has been pointed out by Emile Simpson in a savvy piece in Foreign ...