Report

Assad Defiant after Capture of Palmyra

Following the Assad regime’s capture of Palmyra from the Islamic State, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Russian media ruling out the prospects for a political transition in which he would leave office. “There is nothing, neither in the Syrian constitution nor in any other constitution in the world, called a transitional body,” ...

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Following the Assad regime’s capture of Palmyra from the Islamic State, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Russian media ruling out the prospects for a political transition in which he would leave office. “There is nothing, neither in the Syrian constitution nor in any other constitution in the world, called a transitional body,” he said, suggesting instead the formation of a unity government that would incorporate some opposition members into the current government. Despite his intransigence, Assad committed to continuing to participate in U.N.-sponsored peace talks set to resume in April. Separately, a spokesman for the Kremlin denied a report in Arab newspaper Al-Hayat that the United States and Russia had reached an arrangement to remove Assad from power, saying that the report “does not correspond to reality.” Russia is continuing to ship military supplies into Syria despite a partial drawdown in its forces there earlier this month.

A new report from the United Nations concludes that the partial ceasefire initiated in February has been a marked humanitarian improvement. The arrangement has allowed the delivery of aid to 150,000 people so far in 10 of 18 besieged cities, as well as other remote areas of the country. Despite the improvements, some aid deliveries were still blocked by troops and 470 civilians were killed in the reporting period, which primarily covered February and early March.

U.S. Airstrikes Hit AQAP Targets in Yemen

Four al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula militants were killed when an apparent U.S. airstrike hit an entrance to the city of Azan, which is currently occupied by AQAP. Another strike targeted al-Rayyan air base, a Yemeni military facility captured by AQAP, near Mukalla. Earlier this week, local reports suggested that the head of AQAP, Qassim al-Raymi, was killed in a recent strike, but those reports have not been confirmed. The strikes come as pro-government forces in Aden try to push back AQAP positions in Aden, where the country’s internationally-recognized government is currently based.

Headlines

  • Prime Minister Fayez Seraj and six other members of the Libyan unity government arrived yesterday at Tripoli’s Abusita naval base by boat to install the new government in the capital; some militias, which clashed with pro-government groups on Wednesday, still oppose the new government and tried to prevent its arrival in Tripoli.

 

  • The Iraqi government is doing little to advise the people who would be affected by the potential collapse of the Mosul Dam, which could include as many as 1.5 million citizens, and does not seem to have a plan should the dam fail.

 

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in Washington, DC, this week for the Nuclear Security Summit but will not be meeting with President Obama, met with senior regional experts at a private dinner on Tuesday where he tried to polish his image after months of new repressive measures, Foreign Policy reports.

 

  • Egypt’s balance of payments and current account deficits more than doubled in the first half of the fiscal year due to declines in tourism revenue, according to the Central Bank of Egypt.

 

  • Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz says that a new Turkish military base being built in Qatar, Turkey’s first foreign base in the Gulf, could be ready in two years; Qatar and Turkey agreed on the base’s construction in 2014.

Arguments and Analysis

On the American Front Line against ISIS” (Robin Wright, The New Yorker)

“In a rare breakthrough, the United States, in February, negotiated safe passage for two brigades of Iraqi Army troops, after they were retrained and rearmed, to deploy in Kurdish territory — at the Peshmerga base in Makhmour. They arrived, with new uniforms, advanced American rifles and matériel, and shiny Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks mounted with machine guns. ‘People said it’d never be done,’ [Colonel Scott M.] Naumann told me. ‘The Iraqis said, “We’ll never get through,” and the Kurds said, “We’ll never allow them through.” But there were no issues. There’s a lot of right going on here, too.’ The Iraqis now have their own quarters, on the other side of Makhmour base. The Americans convene commanders from the Kurdish militia and the Iraqi Army daily. Sometimes they meet in the Peshmerga’s command center, sometimes on the Iraqi Army side. ‘It’s a complicated place, no doubt,’ Naumann told me. But he went on, ‘I’m not a parent. These are all adults. We sit around a table, lay out a map. They say, ‘We want to hit over here.’ We say, “This is what we know.” Then we ask, “How do we work together?” From what I’ve seen, it works really well. I know politically there may be challenges, but that’s not my issue. Local commanders are getting along.’”

 

The French connection: Explaining Sunni militancy around the world” (William McCants and Christopher Meserole, Order from Chaos)

“What we found surprised us, particularly when it came to foreign fighter radicalization. It turns out that the best predictor of foreign fighter radicalization was not a country’s wealth. Nor was it how well-educated its citizens were, how healthy they were, or even how much Internet access they enjoyed. Instead, the top predictor was whether a country was Francophone; that is, whether it currently lists (or previously listed) French as a national language. As strange as it may seem, four of the five countries with the highest rates of radicalization in the world are Francophone, including the top two in Europe (France and Belgium). Knowledgeable readers will immediately object that the raw numbers tell a different story. The English-speaking United Kingdom, for example, has produced far more foreign fighters than French-speaking Belgium. And fighters from Saudi Arabia number in the several thousands. But the raw numbers are misleading. If you view the foreign fighters as a percentage of the overall Muslim population, you see a different picture. Per Muslim resident, Belgium produces far more foreign fighters than either the United Kingdom or Saudi Arabia. So what could the language of love possibly have to do with Islamist violence? We suspect that it is really a proxy for something else: French political culture.”

-J. Dana Stuster

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