CNN’s Becky Anderson spoke with Issandr El Amrani, Crisis Group’s North Africa Project Director, about the domestic limitations that the Sisi government in Egypt is facing when formulating policy in Gaza.
Kurdish Independence: Harder Than It Looks | Joost Hilterman
Joost Hilterman is the Chief Operating Officer at the International Crisis Group
The jihadist blitz through northwestern Iraq has ended the fragile peace that was established after the 2007-2008 US surge. It has cast grave doubt on the basic capacity of the Iraqi army—reconstituted, trained and equipped at great expense by Washington—to control the country, and it could bring down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose eight-year reign has been marred by mismanagement and sectarian polarization. But for Iraqi Kurds, the offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and other groups has offered a dramatic opportunity: a chance to expand their own influence beyond Iraqi Kurdistan and take possession of other parts of northern Iraq they’ve long claimed as theirs.
At the heart of these “disputed areas” is the strategic city of Kirkuk, which the disciplined and highly motivated Kurdish Peshmerga took over in mid-June, after Iraqi soldiers stationed there fled in fear of advancing jihadists. A charmless city of slightly less than one million people, Kirkuk betrays little of its past as an important Ottoman garrison town. The desolate ruin of an ancient citadel, sitting on a mound overlooking the dried-out Khasa River, is one of the few hints of the city’s earlier glory. Yet Kirkuk lies on top of one of Iraq’s largest oil fields, and with its crucial location directly adjacent to the Kurdish region, the city is the prize in the Kurds’ long journey to independence, a town they call their Jerusalem. When their Peshmerga fighters easily took over a few weeks ago, there was loud rejoicing throughout the Kurdish land.
But while the Kurds believe Kirkuk’s riches give them crucial economic foundations for a sustainable independent state, the city’s ethnic heterogeneity raises serious questions about their claims to it. Not only is Kirkuk’s population—as with that of many other Iraqi cities, including Baghdad itself—deeply intermixed. The disputed status of its vast oil field also stands as a major obstacle to any attempt to divide the country’s oil revenues equitably. To anyone who advocates dividing Iraq into neat ethnic and sectarian groups, Kirkuk shows just how challenging that would be in practice.
The definitive loss of Kirkuk and the giant oil field surrounding it could precipitate the breakup of Iraq, and while the present government in Baghdad is in no position to resist Kurdish control, a restrengthened leadership might, in the future, seek to retake the city by force. For the Kurds, the sudden territorial gains may also not be the panacea they seem to think they are. The Kurdish oil industry is still much in development, and if the Kurdish region loses access to Baghdad’s annual budget allocations without a ready alternative, it is likely to face a severe economic crisis. Moreover, the same jihadist insurgency that has enabled Kurdish advances in the disputed territories is also a potent new threat to the Kurds themselves. So the taking of Kirkuk poses an urgent question: how important is Iraq’s stability to the Kurds’ own security and long-term aims?
I first visited Kirkuk some twenty-three years ago, driving from Baghdad and entering from the west. Coming up from the capital in those days one had little doubt that one was in Arab areas all the way to the outskirts of Kirkuk, while the city itself, like many urban conglomerations in the wider region, was home to many different ethnic and religious groups, none of them dominant. There were Shia mixed in with Sunnis, and along with three major ethnicities—Arab, Kurdish, and Turkic—the city contained a smaller population of Chaldo-Assyrian Christians, who claimed to be original inhabitants of what was known in ancient times as Arrapha. In fact, despite the Kurds’ strong presence in Kirkuk today, they were relatively late arrivals, having settled mostly in the years since the oil industry first took hold in the 1930s.
FULL ARTICLE (New York Times Review of Books)
Photo: Jorgen Nijman/flickr
Egypt Silent as Neighbors Wage Battles | Kareem Fahim
Again and again over decades, Egypt has leapt in to play the role of mediator during hostilities between the Palestinians and the Israelis, including the time two years ago when Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, helped broker a cease-fire after eight days of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.
But in the latest battle, the Egyptians appear to be barely lifting a finger, leaving the combatants without a go-between as the Palestinian death toll mounts.
Officials with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement in Gaza, said on Wednesday they had seen almost no sign of an Egyptian effort to defuse the crisis, in sharp contrast to previous conflicts under Mr. Morsi and President Hosni Mubarak. Making matters worse, according to Palestinian officials, Egypt continued to keep its side of the border all but sealed on Wednesday, barring even humanitarian aid.
FULL ARTICLE (New York Times)
Sarajevo/Brussels | 10 Jul 2014
While the physical scars of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war have healed, political agony and ethnic tension persist. Real peace requires a new constitution and bottom-up political change.
Protests in February that led to the fall of four canton governments revealed deep popular disaffection and an urgent need for reform. But the Bosnian political elite’s lack of vision goes along with ineffective institutions and a constitution that impedes political change. A suffocating system of ethnic quotas contributes to bad governance and no longer meets any of the three communities’ interests. In its latest report, Bosnia’s Future, the International Crisis Group examines factors pushing the country toward disintegration and outlines alternative scenarios based on democratic reform from within.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
- Bosnia’s constitution (Annex 4 to the Dayton Peace Agreement) defines two state entities for three constituent peoples: Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. It is based on a mix of ethnic and civic identity that is open to abuse and has led to paralysis in political and administrative institutions. The state’s political communities – self-defined groups of like-minded citizens that overlap but are not identical with the ethnically-based constituent peoples – are left without effective representation.
- Bosnia needs to break from its system based on constituent peoples and implement a constitution based on a territorially defined federation, without a special role for constituent peoples but responsive to the interests of its three communities and the rights of all citizens.
- The head of state should reflect Bosnia’s diversity, something a collective does better than an individual, and should be directly elected. Ethnic quotas should be abolished. Instead, representation should reflect self-defined regions and all their voters.
- The ten cantons in the larger state entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, are an under-performing, superfluous layer. They should be removed, together with a number of inefficient state-level agencies and institutions. The cantons should be replaced by a new form of autonomy for Croat regions, while the state will need new capacities as it prepares for European integration.
- The European Union (EU) and the wider international community should support Bosnia without high-handed interventions. The UN should close the Office of the High Representative and dissolve the Peace Implementation Council. The EU should welcome a Bosnian membership application as a first step towards eventual accession.
“Bosnia is torn between an outmoded ethnic model and an easily-abused civic model. It needs to find a new approach incorporating parts of both and based on federalism” says Marko Prelec, Executive Director of the Balkans Policy Research Group and former Crisis Group Balkans Project Director. “To survive as one state, Bosnia must conceive new foundations. Agreement may take years and much experimentation, but the search should begin”.
“Dayton acts as a mirror of the past, not a roadmap for the future. It keeps the country trapped in ill thought-out, internationally-imposed tasks”, says Hugh Pope, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Program Director. “It is time to treat Bosnia normally, without extraneous tests or High Representatives”.
Sri Lanka tells NGOs to keep quiet | Philip J. Victor
The government of Sri Lanka has issued a directive to NGOs operating in the country, telling them not to hold press conferences or conduct workshops and trainings for journalists, deeming such activities by organizations to be “beyond their mandate.”
The notice, issued by the National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organizations, which operates under the Ministry of Defense & Urban Development, stated that all NGOs should steer clear of “such unauthorized activities with immediate effect,” a warning that was quickly condemned by NGOs as unconstitutional.
“All governments that respect democratic values respect the rights of citizens to engage in such lawful activities,” anti-corruption watchdog group Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) said in a release. “Only authoritarian regimes prevent such democratic engagements.”
Alan Keenan, senior Sri Lanka analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera that it’s a bit unclear what the directive, which was distributed to organizations Monday, was really intended to do.
FULL ARTICLE (Al Jazeera)
Photo: Hash Milhan/flickr
Iran’s Supreme Leader calls for more enrichment capacity | Michelle Moghtader and Fredrik Dahl
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Iran would need to significantly increase its uranium enrichment capacity, underlining a gap in positions between Tehran and world powers as they hold talks aimed at clinching a nuclear accord.
Iran and six major powers - the United States, Russia, France, Germany, China and Britain - have less than two weeks to bridge wide differences on the future scope of Iran’s enrichment program and other issues if they are to meet a self-imposed July 20 deadline for a deal.
They resumed talks in Vienna last week and their negotiators continued meetings in the Austrian capital on Tuesday; but there was no immediate sign of any substantive progress.
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)
Photo: Aslan Media/flickr
Ghani’s win is ‘only a partial victory’ | Gabriel Dominguez
Aghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Monday, July 7, that former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai won the June 14 presidential election runoff poll with 56.4 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. His rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, came second with 43.5 percent of the vote. The turnout was reportedly more than eight million out of an estimated electorate of 13.5 million voters, much higher than expected.
The numbers and outcome might still change, however, when final numbers come out on July 22. The runoff vote had been widely regarded as a major step in the country’s democratic transition, as it comes at a critical time in the country as foreign troops prepare to leave in the coming months. But the vote has been marred by allegations of massive fraud.
In a DW interview, Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group, says any significant delay in the electoral calendar will it make it harder for the US and NATO to reach a deal to keep troops in the country after the end of the year. It remains unclear whether both the candidates will accept the final election results.
FULL ARTICLE (Deutsche Welle)
Photo: World Economic Forum/flickr
‘Signal’ to Egypt courts over jailed Jazeera trio | AFP
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s stated regret over the trial that imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists was a strong signal to a judiciary whose harsh rulings have prompted international outrage, analysts said.
Sisi, who had previously said it would be inappropriate to remark on court rulings, conceded on Sunday that the lengthy prison sentences in June for the three reporters, including Australian Peter Greste, had had a “negative effect”.
The former army general told Egyptian newspaper editors during a roundtable that he wished the reporters had been deported after their arrest, rather than put on trial.
FULL ARTICLE (Agence France-Presse)
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy/flickr
Afghan Election Results Due Today as Abdullah Seeking Delay | Eltaf Najafizada
Afghan election authorities are due to unveil preliminary results of a presidential runoff after a five-day delay as Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai rejected a coalition with his main rival, a move that may spark protests.
Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who won the first round of voting in April, is boycotting the results after accusing the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan of stuffing ballot boxes in favor of Ghani, a former World Bank economist. His camp wants today’s announcement delayed again.
“We will not accept the preliminary results until clean votes are separated from fraudulent votes,” Abdullah told reporters in Kabul yesterday. “The international community wants a government based on legitimate votes.”
FULL ARTICLE (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Photo: Canada in Afghanistan/flickr