The Messy Fight to Come in Northern Iraq and Syria

By Aaron Stein

Aaron Stein is a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. His research interests include US-Turkey relations, Turkish foreign policy, the Syrian conflict, nonproliferation, and the Iranian nuclear program. Dr. Stein was previously a doctoral fellow at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, an associate fellow for the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), and a researcher with the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM). He also worked as a consultant for the International Crisis Group in Istanbul and has published articles and reports on Turkey's nuclear capabilities and Turkish elections. Dr. Stein holds a BA in politics from the University of San Francisco and an MA in international policy studies from Monterey Institute of International Studies. Dr. Stein received his PhD in Middle East and Mediterranean studies at Kings College, London. He is proficient in Turkish and has elementary knowledge of Arabic and French.

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 perhaps more dangerous battles await. The Cipher Brief’s Fritz Lodge spoke with Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center, about competing claims to the Iraqi-Syrian border – especially in northern Iraq – and what new conflicts could follow ISIS’ fall.

The Cipher Brief: What is the current status of forces in northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq? Who are the major military players and how well are they positioned to compete, particularly in the area surrounding Sinjar in northern Iraq?

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