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 ...

On September 25, Iraqi Kurdistan is set to hold a referendum on independence. There are plenty of strong voices around the globe in support of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s (KRI) right to self-determination, but questions surround both the timing of the vote as well as the KRI’s preparedness for ...

The territorial battle against ISIS is nearing its final stages in Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has already declared that the ISIS caliphate has fallen and, in Syria, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are pushing deep into the ISIS "capital" of Raqqa. However, as victory looms, new and ...

Nearly three years ago, the Islamic State (ISIS) catapulted to the top of the news worldwide after the group seized vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, used Mosul’s revered Great Mosque of al-Nuri to announce the creation of an Islamic caliphate, executed tens of thousands of civilians, and committed genocide ...

There are two schools of thought about the nature of the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Some experts say the group is nearly vanquished as it struggles to hold on to Mosul, Iraq, and prepares for the inevitable fight for its capital in Raqqa, ...

The territorial battle against ISIS is nearing its final stages in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, U.S. coalition-backed Iraqi forces have trapped the remaining ISIS defenders in one tiny pocket of Mosul, and in Syria, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are pushing deep into the ISIS "capital" of Raqqa. However, as ...

The Iraq-Syria border has emerged in recent months as the hottest piece of real estate in the multi-sided struggle between the Islamic State (ISIS), anti-ISIS fighters, and Iran’s militia proxies. Why is this? I’ve stood on the Iraq-Syrian border many times and it is not much to look at. Empty ...

The U.S.-led military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria appears to be nearing its end. In Mosul, Iraqi military forces are now pushing into ISIS’s last pocket of resistance in the Old City as allied militias cut off ISIS forces near Tal Afar. In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces ...

If you take Defense Secretary James Mattis at his word, the United States in coming years will be doing nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, once the ISIS and Taliban forces are defeated. That was the repeated message Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford gave last week to House ...

Russia’s Defense Ministry released a statement Friday that it is investigating whether it had killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, along with several other senior ISIS officials, in a May 28 airstrike that targeted a senior ISIS leadership meeting in a suburb of the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, ...

After eight months of grinding conflict, Iraqi commanders are now confident that the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS is in its final phase. Pushing across the Tigris River, Iraqi Security Forces have liberated nearly all of western Mosul and, although defeating ISIS’ last stand in the densely packed urban ...

The battle for the strategic Iraqi city of Mosul has reached its final stage as Iraqi forces close in on the Islamic State’s last stronghold in Mosul’s Old City. The liberation of Mosul, the second-largest Iraqi city and the capital of oil-rich Nineveh province, would mark a watershed moment in ...

After almost eight months of fighting, the battle to liberate Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, from ISIS is nearing its end. The Iraqi army has taken over 90 percent of the city and, although resistance will be fierce in the last remaining pocket of ISIS resistance in the Old City, the ...

It is likely that Iraqi security forces and international partners will soon liberate Mosul from ISIS’ three-year hold. However, without proper governance over the city, security gains will be fleeting. In 2014, before ISIS’ takeover of Mosul, security in the city was divided amongst several competing political loyalties: Shiite-led Baghdad ...

On March 17, an airstrike allegedly carried out by coalition troops in Mosul, Iraq, killed a large number of civilians, with some reports putting the number of civilian deaths around 200. Officials at U.S. Central Command acknowledged it had opened a formal Civilian Casualty Credibility Assessment into the matter. The ...

It is probably not a bad thing that U.S. President Donald Trump recently dispatched Jared Kusher, his son-in-law and his Administration’s jack-of-all-issues, to Iraq. As one of the few White House advisers implicitly trusted by the president, Kushner may be the person to quickly get the President’s ear about what ...

Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America is a firsthand account of the CIA’s controversial interrogation program – which most famously included such techniques as waterboarding – by one of its architects, psychologist James Mitchell, who also served as an interrogator, and ...

This week, The Cipher Brief’s Executive Producer and Reporter Leone Lakhani speaks to John Nixon, author of “Debriefing The President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein.” John was the first CIA analyst to question the Iraqi leader after his capture. He specialized in profiling world leaders for the CIA and spent ...

President Donald Trump signed a revised executive order on Monday, temporarily halting entry into the country for people without valid visas from six predominantly Muslim countries and suspending the United States’ refugee program. This is a somewhat narrower version of the travel ban the President signed just a week after ...

This week The Cipher Brief’s Executive Producer and Reporter Leone Lakhani speaks to John Nixon, author of “Debriefing The President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein.” John, who spent much of his career profiling Saddam, was the first CIA analyst to question the Iraqi leader after his capture. In the first ...

On January 28, President Donald Trump signed an order for the U.S. military to review the campaign against ISIS and develop a decisive plan to defeat it within 30 days. Given the threats that ISIS poses to our homeland, our allies, and partners, we argue this is the right approach. However, destruction of the ISIS “state” in Iraq and ...

President Trump wanted a military plan from his generals to “totally obliterate ISIS.” Instead, he is getting a series of political-military options put together not just by the Defense Department, but with input from the departments of State and Treasury, plus the Intelligence Community. “We’re in the business of providing ...

Last Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi appeared on Iraqi television to announce “a new phase in the operation” to retake Mosul. “We are coming to Nineveh,” he said, “to liberate [the] western side of Mosul” from the grasp of ISIS. This is welcome news. The fight to liberate ...

Last October, I published a summary of the coalition battle to liberate Mosul from ISIS in The Cipher Brief, stressing that inside the one battle there were six “campaigns” – military or political in nature – that would shape Middle Eastern and counter-terrorism developments. This piece updates that analysis in ...

The Trump Administration has inherited a complex set of problems in Iraq. Most pressing among them is the ongoing campaign to recapture Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, from ISIS. The operation to liberate Mosul has met fierce resistance, but Iraqi forces – with coalition aid – control the eastern half of ...

Syrian opposition officials are meeting in the Kazakh capital of Astana to begin talks on a final peace agreement. Representatives from Russia and Turkey are expected to lead the negotiations with support from Iranian diplomats. A ceasefire deal – brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran – went into effect Dec. ...

Islamic State (ISIS) has engaged in weapon manufacturing on an industrial scale, with output running into the tens of thousands, according to a new report from Conflict Armament Research (CAR).   It operates a highly bureaucratic, centrally controlled manufacturing process, which integrates quality control, inventory management, and production forecasting systems. A ...

MOSUL, IRAQ — Ahmed Salam received a printed citation signed by an Islamic State fighter for shaving his beard and wearing tight-fitting, Western-style clothes. Considering how others were treated for similar infractions under the extremist group’s rule in Mosul, Iraq, Salam got off extremely light. “If Daesh (what Iraqis call ...

Should we think of Iraq as a solution rather than a problem? For most Americans, Iraq is immediately associated with words like:  disaster, problem, mess, intractable, resource drain, incubator for ISIS, and worse.  For the Obama Administration, it was a place to disengage from militarily and politically.  And, above all, ...

As Iraqi Army forces enter Mosul proper and anti-ISIS coalition forces encircle the city, the complex and bloody operation to safely wrest a city of approximately one million people from the grip of ISIS militants will continue to dominate headlines. However, for the region’s power players, the question of what ...

Over the past month, the exchange of words between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has reached a bitter crescendo. Focused primarily on the Turkish military base at Bashiqa in northern Iraq, which Abadi says is an unsanctioned violation of Iraqi territory, the diplomatic ...

The Mosul operation, launched on October 17, has once again highlighted the complicated nature of Turkey’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). Ahead of the offensive, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made repeated appeals for Turkish troops to partake in the operation, warning against the liberation of ...

In the coming months, and possibly weeks, the Iraqi Security Forces, with the help of a diverse group of fighters spanning the Iraqi political spectrum, will raise the Iraqi flag atop the Ninevah Provincial Government Center in Mosul. This symbolic gesture will signal to Iraq, and to the world, that ...

The good news: all signs point to a final attack on ISIS in Mosul by Iraqi forces and the American-led coalition. This struggle has received much media attention, and even presidential campaign play, and for good reason. Both quantitatively (size of coalition forces, size of the city and population) and ...

From victories in Ramadi, Fallujah, and towns and principalities in between, the Iraqi army and its coalition allies have steadily rolled back the territorial gains made by the terrorist group ISIS over the past two years. On Sunday, the Iraqi Prime Minister announced the beginning of the campaign to wrest ...

With the Islamic State (ISIS) having lost more than 40 percent of its territory in Iraq since its height of control in January 2015, all attention has turned to ousting the group from its stronghold in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced in a televised ...

Forces on all sides of the sectarian divide are aligning against the Islamic State in Iraq ahead of the much anticipated and well-telegraphed effort to retake the northern city of Mosul. Last week Iraqi forces, with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, retook the northern district of Shirqat, bringing an Iraqi ...

Turkey is claiming its forces, along with Western-backed Syrian rebels, have completely cut off the Islamic State’s access to the 500-mile long Turkish/Syrian border. Though professing complete control of the border is somewhat specious, they have seemingly shut a fair number of previous access points to Syrian territory from Turkey, ...

ISIS’ Amaq News Agency reported that Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, one of the group’s most prominent and longest-tenured leaders, was killed in an air strike on Tuesday while surveying military operations in Aleppo, Syria. Adnani was ISIS’ second in command, behind leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and also served as the group’s ...

The history of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is a tale of 1001 nights that catalogues every dimension of frustration in combatting terrorism: an impoverished failing state, a heavily armed society with a warrior subculture, persistent and resilient adversaries, corrupt and duplicitous governors, shifting tribal loyalties, sectarian divisions ...

The long-awaited report detailing Britain's role in the Iraq War was finally published on Wednesday, with the seven-year inquiry finding the United Kingdom relied "on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments” and turned to military action before “the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.” “It is now clear ...

More than two years after fighters from the Islamic State  (ISIS) captured the city of Fallujah, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) liberated the embattled city last Sunday, paving the way for the long-awaited march against the group’s largest stronghold in Mosul. Although welcome news, the war is far from over. Even ...

The beginning of the end of ISIS’s dominance over the Sunni Arab region of Iraq is at hand, following the Iraqi security forces’ clearance of ISIS from most of Fallujah, the first Iraqi city to fall to the terrorist group. Only one major Iraqi city remains in ISIS’ hands: Mosul. While ...

Last Sunday, Iraqi forces announced that Fallujah, the first major city captured by the Islamic State (ISIS) has been fully liberated. This is a significant win for the coalition fighting ISIS, allowing plans for the campaign to regain control of Mosul to begin. However, victory in Fallujah masks deeper problems. ...

An assortment of Iraqi forces will drive Islamic State from Fallujah. Then the real trouble will start. In addition to army and police, a number of extremist Shia militias are on the scene. They are controlled by Iran, and to underscore that point, Iranian Quds Force commander Qasim Soleimani made ...

Vice President Joe Biden touched down in Iraq on Thursday for a surprise visit to the country as it faces a deepening political crisis that threatens the fight against ISIS. This was Biden’s first trip to Iraq since 2011, and the vice president is the third and highest-level U.S. official ...

More than 200 additional U.S. troops will be deployed to Iraq to help support and intensify the fight against ISIS, a move retired four-star General Jack Keane told The Cipher Brief is an “incremental step in the right direction.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the new troop deployment on Monday, ...

With Iraq’s political crisis worsening as chaos erupted in parliament on Wednesday over Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi plan to reshuffle his cabinet and combat corruption, The Cipher Brief sat down with John Hannah, a senior counselor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former national security advisor to Vice ...

President Barack Obama is meeting today with his National Security Council at CIA headquarters to discuss efforts to combat the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). This comes as the administration debates ways to fight recent ISIS gains. On the table: an increase in the number of U.S. ...

Well into its sixth year, it is easy to conclude that there is no end in sight to the devastating Syrian civil war. Warring parties still have plenty of fight, indirect talks among Syrian political factions have made no visible progress, and regional players have shown little willingness to compromise.  ...