Just a day after overunning Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, militants from the al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gained nearly complete control of the northern city of Tikrit. How should the Iraqi government and United States respond? And what are their chances for success? Leading analysts offer their take on what to look for. The views expressed are their own.
U.S. should deal with Iraq and Syria together
By Brian Katulis, Special to CNN
The astonishing advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) across parts of northern and central Iraq has reignited a debate about what the Obama administration should do in Iraq and Syria. For now, the centerpiece of the struggle is sharply focused on how Iraq’s government responds and how countries in the region react.
The first key question is how Iraq’s government, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, responds to this assault. Al-Maliki, a leader from a Shia party who has led Iraq for the past eight years, has been accused by his opponents of becoming increasingly authoritarian and not inclusive when it comes to reaching out to people in the Sunni minority community. Some have gone so far to say that his neglect of the Sunnis created the opening for extremist groups like ISIS to achieve the rapid gains over the past few days.
If al-Maliki can put together a cohesive response that cuts across the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide and the Arab-Kurd split, this would go a long way toward building a more stable political foundation to address Iraq’s dangerous security problems. These events come just as Iraqi leaders are negotiating a new governing coalition after national elections on April 30.
By Jay Cohen and Barry Blechman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jay Cohen (RADM, USN, Ret.) is a principal at Chertoff Group. Barry Blechman is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center. They are chair and vice chair, respectively, of Stimson’s Partners in Prevention Task Force, which released its final recommendations on May 29. The views expressed are their own.
On October 29, 2010, airplanes carrying two unremarkable packages left Yemen. Were it not for an eleventh-hour intelligence tip, the bomb inside each parcel, disguised by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as a printer cartridge, likely would have continued to evade standard security checks and detonated over the eastern United States.
Despite its frantic search for a quick fix to prevent similar incidents in the future, the U.S. government surprised many by foregoing immediate regulatory action. Instead, it collaborated with the major express air delivery companies to enhance sharing of security information without hampering legitimate trade.
The result of those discussions – the Air Cargo Advance Screening regime – highlights one of the many ways government and industry can work together to create a successful solution to the challenge of maintaining security in a global economy. At once, globalization has opened opportunities for billions of people, but it has also empowered criminals and terrorists on a worldwide scale. Unfortunately, nearly four years after the cargo plane plot, many critical security gaps that take root in modern global trade remain.
By Imam Mohamed Magid and Ritu Sharma, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Imam Mohamed Magid is the Executive Religious Director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and president of the Islamic Society of North America. Ritu Sharma is co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide and author of the forthcoming book ‘Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe.’ The views expressed are their own.
More than a month has passed since some 300 Nigerian girls were abducted from their boarding school in the dead of night by Boko Haram militants, and the world is still left hoping that somehow, some way, the girls will return home safe.
The attack in Chibok was, unfortunately, just a single recent example of Boko Haram’s ongoing assault on the people of northern Nigeria. Indeed, what we have witnessed over the last several weeks is part of a long running and deadly dance between Nigeria’s largely unresponsive central government and Boko Haram’s relatively small faction of extraordinarily violent men.
But whatever Boko Haram says, the group’s actions do not reflect Islam’s teachings, and Muslim organizations have rightly condemned its terrorist actions. These are militants bent on political and economic gain at the expense of the freedom and dignity of women and girls in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon – for years, we have seen how poverty and hopelessness can catalyze religious extremism and violence against women.
Fareed speaks with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof about the recent abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram.
You talk about this in your last book. How do you make sense of – would it be fair to call this Islamic fundamentalism? What is behind this?
You know, I think we have this misperception that the great divide is between different faiths, between Christianity and Islam, for example. And I think actually Eliza [Griswold] was one of the first people I know to really make the point that it's not so much between different faiths – it's between moderates and extremists generally. And, you know, moderate Muslims and moderate Christians have a great deal in common. Extremist Muslims and extremist Christians have in common the willingness to resort to violence, oppression. And that is what we're seeing with Boko Haram.
But this does seem specifically Muslim these days, which is whenever you see these young men, they always have this incredibly brutal attitude towards women. And it does seem like it's across many parts – though, of course, a minority – of the Islamic world.
It's true that if you look at places where women and girls are least likely to get educated, where they're most likely to be oppressed, then those are disproportionately countries with conservative Muslim populations. But they're also places where the culture itself, quite aside from religion, is deeply oppressive of women. I mean, Afghanistan, for example.
And I think that what we're seeing here is, unfortunately, a spiral. So in northern Nigeria, there’s very little education. Women are marginalized, partly for cultural and historic reasons. Often, people cite Islam as the reason. Female literacy in this region is less than 50 percent. And then that leads people to think girls shouldn't get educated... FULL POST
By Orji Uzor Kalu, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Orji Uzor Kalu is a former governor of Nigeria’s Abia State and 2007 presidential candidate. The views expressed are his own.
The announcement last month that Nigeria’s economy had finally surpassed South Africa’s to become the largest in Africa should have been a cause for celebration – a shift that recognized the significant progress this country has made. Sadly, what was to have been a landmark announcement was overshadowed by an all too familiar problem.
On April 14, a bomb ripped through a crowded bus station in Abuja, claiming dozens of lives. The scene was described by some as post-apocalyptic, with body parts strewn across the area. The Islamic militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack, with one alleged representative issuing a chilling warning that “this was but a minor incident” and that “we [continue to] walk among you, yet you do not know who we are.”
The group didn’t take long to act on its threat. Less than 48 hours later, the group abducted almost 200 girls from their boarding school in the northeast of the country, with gunmen storming the school as they slept. Reports this week suggest many of the girls may since have been sold into marriage.
By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can follow him @michaelkugelman. The views expressed are his own.
Shireen Mazari is a prominent Pakistani politician who many say is as feisty as she is conservative. In 2011, for example, Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported an incident at an Islamabad restaurant in which Mazari allegedly cursed out a Westerner after his chair bumped into hers. One of the printable portions of the polemic was “Who do you think you are, you bloody CIA agent?”
These days, Mazari is strongly supporting Islamabad’s preliminary peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). It’s a little ironic, because if these talks succeed, Mazari may no longer have the same kind of freedom to pick fights at restaurants – or even many freedoms at all. After all, the TTP vows to impose extreme forms of Sharia law throughout Pakistan – just as it once did in Swat, a region it briefly controlled in 2009. Girls’ schools were shuttered or blown up, and women were whipped. The region gained international notoriety when gunmen boarded a bus and shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.
In reality, the current talks will likely go nowhere. The TTP’s demands – which go well beyond Sharia – are hopelessly unrealistic. They reportedly require Pakistan to sever all ties with Washington, and to withdraw all its troops from the tribal belt.
By Brian Michael Jenkins, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Brian Michael Jenkins is senior adviser to the RAND president and the author of Al Qaeda in Its Third Decade: Irreversible Decline or Imminent Victory? The views expressed are his own.
The investment Russia has made in security to protect athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics in Sochi is unprecedented – but so is the threat.
Doku Umarov, the leader of a shadowy group responsible for a number of recent terrorist bombings in Russia, has vowed to attack the Olympics – no holds barred. He has described the games as a “satanic dance on the bones of our ancestors.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is staking a vast amount of political capital on a successful Olympics, has vowed to surround Sochi with a protective “ring of steel.”
Behind the public terrorist threats and visible security measures, though, lies a secretive contest that pits Russian counterterrorism strategists against a determined terrorist foe. The world can only guess at what capabilities or plans the terrorists may already have in place. Equally invisible are the dark strategizing and intelligence efforts of Russian counterterrorism authorities, who already may have penetrated terrorist plots.
With just days until the lighting of the Olympic flame, Russian authorities have vowed to make the Sochi Games the most secure ever. They have established a wide perimeter around the city and the venues, manned by an overwhelming force of tens of thousands of police and military. Vehicles from outside Sochi are banned. Police are going door to door searching for terrorist suspects. For the first time in Olympic history, spectators are being vetted and credentialed. Equally important, though less visible, is the intelligence gathering and analysis, the plots uncovered and arrests made. This is where Sochi security will rise or fall.
By Ben Connable, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ben Connable is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. The views expressed are his own.
Over the past month, al Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has made a concerted effort to seize the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Images of armed militants roaming the streets have generated widespread concern that Anbar Province – the heart of Sunni Iraq – is once again sliding into chaos. But while the danger in Anbar and Iraq more generally is real, understanding the threat there requires historical context and objective analysis. Indeed, both Iraqi and U.S. policy leaders should see opportunity as well as danger in the reported chaos in Anbar.
The danger, while sensationalized, is nonetheless a reality. An ISIS victory in Anbar against Nuri al-Maliki’s government, and its increasing power in rebel-held Syria, raises the specter of a resurgent al Qaeda in the heart of the Middle East. Some believe that al Qaeda’s actions might fan the flames of a burgeoning regional sectarian war between Sunni and Shia. Under this view, sectarian conflict in Iraq – fueled in Syria – might widen and lead to greater instability in much of the Middle East.
By Richard Wike, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Richard Wike is Director of Global Attitudes Research at the Pew Research Center. You can follow him @RichardWike. The views expressed are his own.
The recent news from Fallujah and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa must be pretty encouraging for al Qaeda sympathizers. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al Qaeda affiliated group, has a significant presence in the city where the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War took place nearly a decade ago. ISIS and other al Qaeda inspired groups have also met with success on the battlefield in Syria, while extremist groups who embrace both violence and a severe, distorted version of Islam are on the offensive not just in Iraq and Syria, but in Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and elsewhere.
Yet if recent history is any guide, extremists’ current momentum will likely be followed by a strong backlash. After all, when it comes to hearts and minds, al Qaeda and its ilk have repeatedly demonstrated that they have very limited appeal. Indeed, generally speaking, the more people are exposed to extremist violence and al-Qaeda-style rule, the less they like it.
Take Pakistan, a country that generates lots of headlines in the U.S., few of them positive. But a major trend over the last decade has been underreported: declining Pakistani support for extremism. Pakistanis have seen violent extremism up close, and they have rejected it. For example, in 2004, 41 percent of Pakistani Muslims said suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets could often or sometimes be justified. However, by 2013 a Pew Research Center poll found that number had fallen to 3 percent.
By Mark Galeotti, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mark Galeotti is professor of global affairs at New York University’s SCPS Center for Global Affairs. You can follow him @MarkGaleotti or on his blog, ‘In Moscow’s Shadows.’ The views expressed are his own.
News potential female terrorists – so-called “black widows” – may be loose inside or around the Sochi Winter Olympics security zone has inevitably stirred up fresh concerns about the Games. Athletes and prospective visitors are wondering if they will be safe. The United States is preparing plans in case its citizens need to be evacuated. The more the conversation about Sochi is about the threat, though, the more the terrorists have won – and a cheap victory at that.
The Games have become a symbolic test for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and what matters to Putin gets top priority. The security effort is unprecedented. There will be up to 40,000 police and security officers there, including Interior Ministry troops, and an anti-terrorist commando force: that’s the equivalent of one for every nine inhabitants of the town of Sochi, and more than were on duty at peak times during the much larger London Olympics in 2012. There will also be regular soldiers on duty, including divers will also be divers watching the Black Sea coast and surface-to-air missile batteries that could claw a 747 out of the skies. And those skies will also be patrolled by drones, while elite Spetsnaz commandos scour the surrounding mountains, just in case terrorists try to get into the zone cross-country.
By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is associate professor at Texas A&M University School of Law where she teaches national security, civil rights, and Middle East law. She serves as president of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association and is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed are her own.
Egyptian society, once teeming with calls for freedom, justice and dignity, has been replaced with an atmosphere of vengeance. Instead of calls to preserve fundamental human rights, Egyptians now praise their internal security forces for killing and arresting en mass those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood – the newly declared enemy of the state.
That these are the same people who won Egypt’s first freely contested parliamentary and presidential elections is apparently of no consequence. What is consequential, however, is the transformation of a grassroots revolution into an indefinite War on Terror. Rather than challenge police abuses, Egyptians compete to be the most patriotic in supporting the army and security forces’ violent crackdown of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the crackdown's expansion to secular youth groups is met with equal support.
When criticized by the international community for violating international norms, the Egyptian state points to the language of the U.S. government as its exemplar. And, sadly, it is true that the United States’ War on Terror effectively legitimized practices that were once only associated with pariah states.
By Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Andrew Liepman is a former principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center and a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. Philip Mudd, former Senior Intelligence Advisor at the FBI and Deputy Director of the CIA Counterterrorist Center, is the director of Global Risk at SouthernSun Asset Management. The views expressed are their own.
The recent New York Times investigation into the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi has reignited the debate over the nature and trajectory of al Qaeda. The conclusion of the report – that there was no evidence of an al Qaeda role in the attack – reinforces our view that the organization that attacked the United States more than 12 years ago is in decline. But it also serves as a reminder that the threat has not disappeared. Rather, it is morphing into a new, more dispersed, less predictable, but still lethal enemy.
The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon showed al Qaeda at its deadliest. At the same time, though, 9/11 also represented the beginning of al Qaeda’s decline as an organized terror enterprise that would ultimately lead to its emergence as a decentralized, factious amalgam of freelance groups, each with its own methods and agenda. This new organization may lack the infrastructure to plan and carry out attacks like the one that occurred in Benghazi (and certainly attacks like 9/11), but today’s al Qaeda remains a threat to strike where and when it can and to fan the flames of extremism.
The decade that followed the 9/11 attack saw the gradual decline of bin Laden’s core al Qaeda. The architects of 9/11 were largely killed or detained, the remnants were in hiding in Pakistan, and the revolutionary message had lost ground globally in the face of relentless al Qaeda killings of Muslims across the Islamic world. Some of its most promising potential successors experienced similar declines, from Jemaah Islamiyya in Indonesia to al-Shabaab in Somalia, along with al Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia and Europe.