Assad Defiant as Coalition Caught in Turkey-Iraq Spat

President Obama made a rare address from the White House’s Oval Office on Sunday night, stressing the actions the United States is taking to confront the Islamic State and calling once again on Congress to pass legislation to authorize the conflict. A new internal conflict within the U.S.-led coalition emerged over the weekend when the ...


President Obama made a rare address from the White House’s Oval Office on Sunday night, stressing the actions the United States is taking to confront the Islamic State and calling once again on Congress to pass legislation to authorize the conflict. A new internal conflict within the U.S.-led coalition emerged over the weekend when the Iraqi government threatened to go to the United Nations to compel Turkey to withdraw a deployment of Turkish troops to the town of Bashiqa, near Mosul, to train Iraqi Kurdish forces. The Iraqi government said they had not authorized the deployment of Turkish forces to Iraq and that the troops violated Iraqi sovereignty. Turkey has not withdrawn the troops but said that they would not send more.

The Assad regime accused U.S. coalition forces of attacking a regime military position in Deir al-Zour province, where the coalition has been bombing Islamic State targets. A coalition spokesperson denied that coalition jets had attacked the camp. In an interview with the Sunday Times over the weekend, Assad criticized British involvement in the air campaign against the Islamic State, saying that they efforts to destroy the Islamic State “are going to fail again.” Assad also dismissed assertions that there are 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria. Those comments come as Saudi Arabia convenes a conference to choose representatives from the Syrian opposition to represent rebel groups in international negotiations.

Conflict in Yemen from Saada to Aden

Saudi forces along Yemen’s northern border pushed back a Houthi offensive on Sunday. Houthi fighters have been trying to seize Saudi territory for the past week, but at least 20 fighters were killed over the weekend when the Saudi military responded with airstrikes and close air support from helicopters. Yesterday, in Aden, the governor of Aden, Jaafar Saad, was assassinated by the Islamic State in a car bomb attack. Six bodyguards were also killed in the attack. The government of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi operates from Aden, and an official said Monday that a ceasefire with the Houthis could take effect in the coming days in advance of U.N. talks set to begin on December 15.


  • Libya’s two feuding governments rejected a U.N. plan for reconciliation and signed a separate agreement that would form two committees to select a new prime minister and cabinet; the agreement has only partial support within the rival governments, but advocates of the arrangement stress that it “is a step on the right track away from intervention of foreign entities and manipulation.”


  • Turkish-Russian tensions remain high, with Turkish officials today complaining about an incident over the weekend in which a Russian serviceman aboard a naval ship brandished a rocket launcher while the ship transited the Bosporus.


  • Israel may have trained against Russian S-300 air defense systems — which Russia has sold and plans to deliver to Iran — during military exercises in Greece earlier this year.


  • A spat between Israel and Sweden worsened this weekend when Israel said the Swedish minister of foreign affairs accused Israel of extrajudicial executions, which the Swedish government says is an exaggeration that has been “blown out of reasonable proportion.”


  • The Egyptian government says that it has found and destroyed 20 new tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border.

Arguments and Analysis

Islamic State vs. Al-Qaeda: Strategic Dimensions of a Patricidal Conflict” (Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Jason Fritz, Bridget Moreng, and Nathaniel Barr)

“Examining the implications of the two groups’ approaches to revolutionary warfare, al-Qaeda’s use of Maoist strategy is designed to be low-risk and to yield long-term results. This is consistent with al-Qaeda’s conception of its conflict with the West as both existential and also generational in nature. The group has taken steps to ingratiate itself with local populations and reduce its exposure to counterrevolutionary forces. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, has even convinced some U.S. allies — including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — that it should be viewed as a partner in the fight against both IS and also Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime. The hardline coalition of which it is a part, Jaysh al-Fatah, openly receives support from several states in the region. Indeed, the idea that ‘moderate’ elements within Nusra — or even al-Qaeda itself — could be a bulwark against IS’s further growth has even made its way into discourse in the West, though it has not driven U.S. policy. IS’s use of a Focoist strategy is more high risk, and the group’s extreme violence and imposition of repressive governance is certain to alienate populations under its control. The Islamic State’s method of dealing with this problem is to try to crush all opposition while it is still in its nascent stage, making an example of would-be opponents. The riskiness of this approach is the primary reason that Focoist revolutions have experienced very limited success other than the Cuban revolution: Focoism inherently exposes revolutionary forces to counterrevolutionaries, who are often better equipped. IS’s challenge is further bolstered by the fact that it is locked in combat with at least three nation-states (Iran, Syria, and Iraq) and four parastates (the YPG, the Kurdish Regional Government, Jabhat al-Nusra, and Hizballah) with state equivalent power that only lack state status as a matter of international legitimacy. But despite the Focoist approach’s history of failure, this use of violence to inspire an uprising is important to IS both ideologically and strategically.”


Isis is expanding its international reach. That’s hardly a sign of weakness.” (Hassan Hassan, The Guardian)

“Isis seems to be taking steps that indicate it is stable, rather than being under pressure and looking for alternative bases. For example, an Isis defector who spoke to the Daily Beast last month claimed that the organisation had recently begun to dismantle brigades formed almost exclusively along ethnic or regional lines, which could be a disruptive move at such a critical time. On the ground, the group has minimised its presence in towns under its control, sometimes even leaving whole areas altogether. Despite the air campaign and ground offensives in some areas, the group is in fact facing less pressure than before. Clashes between Iraqi forces and Isis have been relatively rare in recent months, as a result of a political crisis in Baghdad over the reforms promised by the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and a dwindling appetite to fight Isis outside Shia areas. Even the Kurds’ takeover of Sinjar last month, widely hailed as a sign of the group’s weakness, was a final push in a losing battle for Isis, which had lost around 70% of the town a few months prior.”

-J. Dana Stuster


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