Tag Archives: karzai

Ghani wins Afghan presidency, agrees to dubious power-sharing agreement

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Afghanistan’s election recount is over, but no one knows anything about the extent of the vote totals.afghanistan flag

That’s because Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former UN official and former finance minister, was summarily declared the winner only after agreeing a power-sharing deal with challenger Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and the runner-up to Hamid Karzai in the fraud-riddled presidential election of 2009. Afghanistan’s election commission didn’t even release the purported election results, in part because after three months of post-election limbo, we might not ever know who really won the June 14 runoff.

Ghani will be sworn in as president within the next two weeks, and Abdullah will serve as ‘chief executive officer’ in the new government.

If that sounds vague, it’s because it is.  Continue reading Ghani wins Afghan presidency, agrees to dubious power-sharing agreement

Afghanistan’s election becomes a farce — and a US policy disaster

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It’s hard, exactly, to pinpoint the exact moment when Afghanistan’s presidential election became a complete absurdity.afghanistan flag

With a US-brokered audit process of the election already behind schedule, and with outgoing president Hamid Karzai declaring September 2 as the swearing-in day for the country’s next leader, the election process suffered yet another blow on Wednesday when Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and the winner of the election’s first round, angrily pulled out of a UN-led audit process that’s designed to validate the results of Afghanistan’s June presidential election. 

As next week’s deadline approaches and the United Nations continues the vote audit, Abdullah is expected to meet with his rival, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (pictured above, center, with Kerry, left, and Abdullah, right) as well as US officials who are desperate to bring the two candidates into a national unity government.

Despite the last-minute talks, it’s hard to think of a recent national election that has been so thoroughly botched — with such dire consequences for the country’s future.  

In 2014 alone, Egypt and Syria held non-credible presidential votes and parliamentary elections in Iraq and Libya were overshadowed by the breakdown of any semblance of national order. 

It’s been a difficult summer for US president Barack Obama and US foreign policy interests — the ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia threaten Europe’s security, the rise of the Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL) in Sunni Iraq and Syria goaded US military strikes in retaliation, and Israel’s summer war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip destroyed two years of efforts by US secretary of state John Kerry to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. 

But Afghanistan’s growing political and security crisis represents a fourth major foreign policy headache for Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration.

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RELATED: Afghanistan hopes for calm as key presidential election approaches

RELATED: Is Ghani’s Afghan preliminary electoral victory a fraud?

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presidential contenders work?

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Though the audit is only slightly more than two-thirds complete, a premature inauguration of either candidate next week could splinter Afghanistan on ethnic lines, giving the next presidential administration virtually no hope of uniting a country already struggling to combat a Taliban-led insurgency.

Months of post-election accusations between the Ghani and Abdullah camps have polarized Afghanistan more than ever. What’s so staggering is that Afghanistan’s election season started off on such promising terms.  Continue reading Afghanistan’s election becomes a farce — and a US policy disaster

Will Kerry’s deal with Afghanistan’s presidential contenders work?

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Over the weekend, US secretary of state John Kerry brokered a promising deal between the two candidates in Afghanistan’s botched, contested June 14 presidential runoff between former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashram Ghani Ahmadzai, both of whom have alleged fraud in the runoff. afghanistan flag

It’s not an incredibly bad deal, and if it sticks, it will provide Afghanistan with a strong government, acceptable to supporters of both Ghani and Abdullah, that brings to power the largest and, historically dominant, ethnic group, the Pashtun, with a significant role for the second-largest group, the Tajiks, which dominate northern Afghanistan and form the plurality in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Under the terms agreed among Kerry, Ghani and Abdullah, every single runoff vote will be audited centrally in Kabul by international observers, with representatives of both the Ghani and Abdullah campaigns present. The winner will thereupon form a national unity government that, presumably, will include supporters of both campaigns.

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RELATED: Is Ghani’s Afghan preliminary electoral victory a fraud?

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Abdullah won the first round on April 5, by a wide margin of 45.00% to just 31.56% for Ghani, on the basis of 6.6 million voters. In the second round, preliminary results show that Ghani won 56.44% to just 43.56% for Abdullah, on the basis of 7.9 million votes — a significant increase in turnout.

It marks an astounding turn of events for Ghani. It’s especially astounding in light of the endorsement of the first round’s third-placed candidate, Zalmai Rassoul, a former foreign minister who is close to outgoing president Hamid Karzai, and who endorsed Abdullah before even all the votes of the first round had been counted. Rassoul’s support was meant to bring along key Pashtun tribal leaders, close to Karzai and Rassoul, in the southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

But the deal doesn’t tell us exactly what the auditing process will  entail, and whether the Independent Election Commission, whose director resigned in the wake of the second round after Abdullah lodged credible, serious complaints, will play a significant role in the audit. It doesn’t obligate the eventual winner to including the failed candidate in the eventual ‘unity’ government, nor does it detail what happens if, after six months, the unity government unravels.

More fundamentally, the audit may still not tell us which candidate actually won the second round of the election.  Continue reading Will Kerry’s deal with Afghanistan’s presidential contenders work?

Is Ghani’s Afghan preliminary electoral victory a fraud?

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Afghanistan’s election officials have announced the results of the country’s June 14 presidential election, and the surprising winner seems to be former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who trailed widely after the results of the April 5 first roundafghanistan flag

The provisional result gives Ghani (pictured above) 56.44% of the vote, while rival Abdullah Abdullah won 43.56%.

It’s actually not so incredibly surprising in light of Abdullah’s denunciation over the past weeks of the vote-counting process, a sure sign that Abdullah realized he was in danger of losing the race.

On June 18, just four days after the election, Abdullah called for a suspension in the vote count by the Independent Election Commission, arguing that votes were counted in areas where voting hadn’t even taken place due to security problems.

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key presidential election approaches

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about the Afghan troop drawdown

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Five days later, on June 23, Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail, the secretary-general of the IEC, resigned, an implicit admission that there’s at least some substantive basis to the fraud charges. The IEC delayed the original announcement of preliminary results, due on July 2, for five more days to investigate further the charges of voter fraud. As the BBC reports, votes are being re-checked at more than 7,000 polling stations, amounting to nearly one-third of all voting stations, and the commission will check nearly 4 million votes in an election that drew just 6.6 million voters in the first round:

Chief election commissioner Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani stressed that the results were not final and acknowledged that there had been “some mistakes in the overall process”.

“It is only initial results,” he told a news conference in Kabul. “There is a chance of change in the overall figure…. The announcement of preliminary results does not mean that the leading candidate is the winner.

“We announced preliminary results today and it is now the complaints commission’s duty to inspect this case.”

The next hurdle comes on July 22, when final results are due to be announced. In the next 15 days, supporters of both candidates are likely to amplify their calls of fraud and other recriminations in a country that’s still facing a Taliban insurgency that, even in the most optimistic scenario, will present a challenging obstacle to Afghanistan’s next government when most US forces leave at the end of this year. US officials largely believe that either Ghani or Abdullah would be acceptable successors to outgoing president Hamid Karzai, who has become increasingly disenchanted with the administration of US president Barack Obama. Both Ghani and Abdullah, for example, have pledged to enact a status-of-forces agreement with the United States that envisions a security presence beyond 2014.

So what’s going on in Afghanistan? After the first round of voting in the spring appeared largely to avoid the mistakes of the disastrous 2009 presidential election, the country now faces a protracted battle between Ghani’s chiefly Pashtun supporters and Abdullah’s chiefly Tajik supporters.

Continue reading Is Ghani’s Afghan preliminary electoral victory a fraud?

Why there’s reason for optimism about the Afghan troop drawdown

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US president Barack Obama earlier today announced that while most of the US military forces in Afghanistan, which currently number around 35,000, will leave the country later this year, a force of 9,800 will remain — and could remain through 2016.afghanistan flagUSflag

It’s still possible that under a new bilateral security agreement, which US officials hope to conclude later this year with the administration of Afghanistan’s next president, small numbers of US forces will remain even longer. But Obama’s remarks make it clear that US hostilities, by and large, will be over by the time his successor is elected in November 2016:

“Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them,” he said. “Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century.” 

Despite Mr. Obama’s attempt to draw to a close more than a decade of American military engagement in Afghanistan, the United States will continue to have thousands of troops engaged in lethal counterterrorism operations for at least two more years. He also acknowledged that the United States will leave behind a mixed legacy. “We have to recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one,” he said. “The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans.”

In a June 14 runoff, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, who is half Pashtun and half Tajik, will face Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official, who is Pashtun. After the first round of the election, Abdullah led with 44.94% to just 31.47% for Ghani. The outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, who has held the office since late 2001, has had increasingly difficult relations with the Obama administration, and he has refused to sign a status-of-forces agreement regarding future US security arrangements. Both Abdullah and Ghani, however, have rushed to assure Afghans that they will prioritize a US-Afghan security agreement.

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RELATED: Afghanistan hopes for calm as key presidential election approaches

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Abdullah, who recently won the support of the third-place candidate, Zalmai Rassoul, until recently Karzai’s foreign minister. Rassoul was widely seen as Karzai’s unofficial candidate, due to his recent role in the Karzai administration and the endorsement he won from Karzai’s brother. Rassoul won strong heavy in Kandahar province, Karzai’s home power base.

That makes that Abdullah has the ethnic and tribal arithmetic on his side, making his the strong favorite to win the June 14 runoff. Pashtuns, which comprise around 42% of Afghanistan’s population, have traditionally held political power in Afghanistan, including Karzai, within the Taliban and the Afghan monarchy that ruled the country for nearly three centuries until its overthrow in 1973.

Tajiks, which comprise around 27% of the population, are predominant throughout northeastern Afghanistan, and are the largest ethnic group in Kabul. They played a predominant role in the Northern Alliance that assisted US forces topple the Taliban government in 2001.

Not everyone, however, is sanguine about Afghanistan’s post-US future. Max Fisher, writing at Vox, takes a pessimistic line over the eventual drawdown:

The bad news is that the administration is tacitly confirming what everybody already knew: the war against the Taliban is not one that the US believes it can win, so we’re going to stop trying. That war, Afghanistan’s war, is going to continue….

The Afghan military has been problematic from the beginning: it runs on US funding and is plagued with desertions. Another year of US help is not likely to turn them into a victory force. President Obama’s declaration that this will help the Afghan military “stand on its own” is just not very likely.

But the Taliban was never likely to strike a peace deal with the United States, and despite attempts at peace talks, it’s hard to imagine that there’s any cultural or political space for the Taliban and its insurgent allies to engage in seriously negotiations with the United States. 

That’s not the same, however, as an Abdullah administration or a Ghani administration striking a deal with the Taliban.  Continue reading Why there’s reason for optimism about the Afghan troop drawdown

Did Abdullah just win the Afghan presidency?

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Earlier this week, leading Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah secured the endorsement of Zalmai Rassoul, the third-place finisher in the April 5 first-round election. That brings Abdullah, a former foreign minister and the runner-up to outgoing president Hamid Karzai in the flawed 2009 presidential election, the strong frontrunner in an anticipated runoff likely to be held on June 14. afghanistan flag

Although results are due to be finalized Thursday (delayed for a day due to the high volume of serious complaints about the voting), Abdullah leads in the preliminary results with 44.94% of the vote, and if he wins the presidency, it will give the country’s Tajik ethnic minority a key role in policymaking in the years ahead.

Abdullah (pictured above, center, with Rassoul, right), who is half-Pashtun and half-Tajik, served as a chief aide to the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, a top Tajik commander of the Northern Alliance, which helped sweep the Taliban out of power in 2001-02. That gives Abdullah credibility among Afghanistan’s two most important ethnic groups. His running mate, Mohammad Khan, is a former leader of Hezb-i-Islami, a Pashtun insurgent group not incredibly unlike today’s Taliban insurgency.

His nearest challenger is Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank official and former Afghan finance minister. Ghani was trailing with 31.47% in the latest count, enough to power him to a runoff against Abdullah — but perhaps too deep a deficit to defeat Abdullah in the second round, given that Abdullah’s first-round total suggests he’s only 5.06% away from securing an outright majority.

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RELATED: Afghanistan hopes for calm as key presidential election approaches

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Rassoul, who won just 11.48% of the vote served until very recently as Afghanistan’s foreign minister, and he ran with the support of  Karzai’s brother, Quayum Karzai, who dropped out of the presidential race earlier this spring. Though Rassoul didn’t win Karzai’s official endorsement, he’s widely seen as the candidate of the outgoing administration, and his support drew mainly from Pashtun tribes loyal to Karzai in southern Afghanistan.

In the country’s politics, building a presidential majority is less about winning over individual voters on the basis of ideology, but about cobbling together a majority from among the country’s ethnic groups. Pashtuns, largely dominating the south and east of the country, constitute around 42% of the population, and as the most populous group, have typically dominated politics — in the royal era, the Soviet era, the Taliban era and the Karzai era since 2001.

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Tajiks, however, are the most dominant group in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan’s northeast, constituting 27% of the population. Uzbeks, 9% of the population, predominate in the north-central part of the country and Hazaras, which constitute another 9% of the population, live in the central highlands of Afghanistan.

Ghani’s running mate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, is a leading Uzbek warlord, and Ghani had hoped to build a coalition based on winning the largest share of the Pashtun vote and bringing along the Uzbek vote as well.

You can see how ethnic ties play a role in the preliminary election results in this map from the indispensable website Electoral GeographyGhani was the top candidate in much of the Pashtun and Uzbek heartlands. Rassoul was the top candidate in the southern province of Kandahar, the home of the Karzais. Abdullah dominated the rest of the country, including the Hazara highlands, Kabul and the Tajik northeast.

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Continue reading Did Abdullah just win the Afghan presidency?

Afghan election results: Abdullah lead grows

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In what must be one of the world’s slowest vote-counting exercises, most of the results of Afghanistan’s April 5 election have now been tallied, and frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah’s lead is growing in his bid to succeed outgoing president Hamid Karzai.afghanistan flag

With around 82% of the votes now counted, Abdullah leads with 43.8%, followed by Ashram Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank official and finance minister, who is winning 32.9%. Zalmai Rassoul, until recently Karzai’s foreign minister, was in third place with 11.1%.

Though Abdullah’s lead has grown steadily throughout the vote count, he won’t achieve the absolute majority he would otherwise need to avoid a runoff against Ghani, which would take place after May 28 — likely in June. 

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RELATED: Afghanistan hopes for calm as key presidential election approaches

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A report in The New York Times over the weekend indicated, however, that Abdullah (pictured above with Karzai in 2004) is already on the verge of winning Rassoul’s support, which could power Abdullah to a convincing runoff victory against Ghani by bringing southern Pashtun tribes close to Karzai into his ethnic and political coalition. Though the outgoing president hasn’t endorsed a candidate in the race, Rassoul is widely seen as the candidate of the Karzai administration, and Karzai’s brother, Quayum Karzai, dropped out of the race in March and endorsed Rassoul. 

In the meanwhile, despite some horrific violence in the weeks leading up to the election, the Taliban, which is boycotting the vote, has been remarkably quiet, notwithstanding expectations that it would be working hard to undermine safety during the election campaign. Some analysts believe that the Taliban is waiting until the runoff vote to achieve maximum disruption, but the lull might actually mean that Abdullah and Ghani and their supporters are negotiating behind the scenes with key Taliban leaders. 

So what does this mean for Afghanistan — and for the US military presence there? Continue reading Afghan election results: Abdullah lead grows

Abdullah leads in early Afghan vote count

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It’s early yet, but with just 10% of the vote counted in Afghanistan’s presidential election, the runner-up from the 2009 race, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly leads the initial counting from the April 5 election.afghanistan flag

The results point to a tight race between Abdullah  (pictured above), a former foreign minister between 2001 and 2005, and Ashram Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official.

While there’s reason to believe that the remaining 90% to be counted could vary significantly from the first 10%, the initial results come from 26 of 34 provinces, so there’s a compelling basis to believe that Abdullah and Ghani will proceed to a runoff later this year.

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RELATED: Afghanistan hopes for calm as key presidential election approaches

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Abdullah led with 41.9% of the vote, followed closely by Ghani with 37.6%. Far behind in third place with 9.8%, is Zalmai Rassoul, who served as Afghanistan’s foreign minister from 2010 until late last year, when he stepped down to run for the presidency. Though outgoing president Hamid Karzai is neutral, Rassoul is widely seen as the candidate of the Karzai administration, and Karzai’s brother, Quayum Karzai, endorsed Rassoul when he dropped out of the race on March 6.

What to make of the initial results?

With the caveat that the final preliminary count isn’t due until April 24 and, the definitively final results won’t be announced until May 14, it seems almost certain that Abdullah and Ghani will face each other in a runoff — and Abdullah is apparently already reaching out to Rassoul, anticipating a second round.

Though Karzai has increasingly distanced himself from the US government under the presidency of Barack Obama, both candidates would improve ties with the United States, and both candidates support instituting a status-of-forces agreement that contemplates a small security role for the US military after most US troops largely withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of this year.

Ghani has spent much more time living and working in the United States, and accordingly, most US and European diplomats are quietly rooting for his success, though either Ghani or Abdullah would likely represent an improvement in US-Afghan relations. He taught at Johns Hopkins University, worked at the World Bank, was a finalist to become secretary-general of the United Nations in 2006, and worked with UN special representative Lakhdar Brahimi on the Bonn Agreement that served as a framework to transition from US military forces to an Afghan-led government in the early years after the 2001 military action to remove the Taliban from power.

In contrast to the 2009 vote, which drew turnout of around 30% to 33%, the 2014 election recorded turnout more like 60%. That vote was widely marred by fraud and political violence. After strong pressure from the United States and other international voices, Karzai’s government agreed to a runoff against Abdullah, though Abdullah ultimately refused to take part in the runoff, given the evidence of fraud from the previous round.

Both US and Afghan officials hope to avoid a similarly farcical result in 2014, which could undermine the election’s ultimate winner.

Though most of Afghanistan’s leaders in the past three centuries have belonged to the dominant Pashtun ethnic group, Abdullah claims dual Pashtun and Tajik ethnicity. Ghani, for his part, has recruited one of the most notorious warlords in Afghanistan, Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is Uzbek, as one of his running mates.

Photo credit to Hashmatullah/AFP.

Spring 2014 voting blitz: five days, six elections

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We’re beginning to hit the peak of what’s perhaps the busiest world election season of the past few years.

What began as a slow year with boycotted votes in Bangladesh and Thailand in the first two months of 2014 snowballed into a busier March, with important parliamentary elections in Colombia, the final presidential vote in El Salvador, parliamentary elections in Serbia, a key presidential election in Slovakia, and municipal elections that upended national politics in France, The Netherlands and Turkey.

But the pace only gets more frenetic from here.

Between today and Wednesday, five countries (and one very important province) on three continents will go to to the polls: Continue reading Spring 2014 voting blitz: five days, six elections

Afghanistan hopes for calm as key presidential election approaches

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Though there’s a long list of world elections approaching between now and the end of May — from Europe to India to South Africa — none of them will have nearly as direct an influence on US foreign policy as the presidential election in a small central Asian country of just 31 million people. afghanistan flag

On April 5, Afghanistan will hold only its third presidential election to select a successor to Hamid Karzai, who’s held the office since December 2001 and who is barred from seeking a third term under the country’s new constitution. By far, the largest challenge for Afghanistan’s new president secure will be to secure the country upon the US troop drawdown that’s expected to be complete by the end of 2014. Continue reading Afghanistan hopes for calm as key presidential election approaches

What is happening in Iraq, Fallujah and al-Anbar province?

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So is it 2004 or 2014?  Iraq is once again making headlines, and second-guessing over both George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s performance with respect to the US occupation of Iraq is in the news with the publication of former defense secretary Robert Gates. iraq flag icon

What do you need to know about Iraq these days?  Here’s a list of the top 10 question you probably have about the current turn of events there — and probably more than you wanted to know about the state of governance in Iraq today.

So did terrorists take control of Iraq last weekend?

Not quite.  A group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL, الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام, ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-‘Irāq wa-sh-Shām‎), which formerly styled itself as Iraq’s local branch of al-Qaeda, took control last Friday of parts of Fallujah and Ramadi, the two largest cities in al-Anbar province.  There are signs, however, that ISIS may already be retreating from Fallujah, with Sunni tribesmen (particularly loyal to neither the government nor ISIS) now wresting back control of both cities.  Iraq’s Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki signaled earlier this week that he planned on launching a military offensive to retake the city using Iraqi national forces, a move that seems surely to cause even more sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis.  For those of you who’ve forgotten, al-Anbar, at over 53,000 square miles, is the largest of 19 governorates in Iraq, by far the largest province.  Its population is just 1.56 million of Iraq’s 31 million people, but it forms part of the heart of Iraq’s Sunni population — about 97% of Iraq’s population is Muslim and about one-third of them are Sunni.  Al-Anbar’s geography is even more strategically vital, because it borders much of eastern Syria, northern Saudi Arabia and the northeastern tip of Jordan.

What is ISIS? I thought that was the spy agency in the animated Archer series.

ISIS formed in 2003 as a conglomerate of diverse Sunni groups, largely as a response against the US invasion.  It fairly quickly pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and soon even became as al-Qaeda in Iraq, and it had its heyday between 2004 and 2006, when US forces killed its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  But ISIS’s modern iteration only really emerged in spring 2013, when it started making mischief in northern Syria, and the Syrian cities of Homs and Aleppo.  ISIS, like most hardcore Salafist groups, wants to institute sharia law throughout the Middle East, and ISIS’s leaders dream of creating a new caliphate that stretches from Arabia to central Africa.  More realistically, it’s now fighting for dominance in northern Syria and Sunni-dominated western Iraq.  Western media outlets are quick to proclaim this weekend’s turn of events as ‘al-Qaeda regains ground,’ but ISIS is really more interested in holding power in Iraq and Syria than in exploding planes into buildings in New York City.  Its current leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is still sympathetic to al-Qaeda’s wider anti-American goals, though, and that’s earned him a $10 million bounty, courtesy of the US state department.

Why is Fallujah such a big deal, anyway? 

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Fallujah holds an important symbolic value because it was the hub of the Sunni counterinsurgency early in the US occupation of Iraq and, in 2004, it became the site of some of the heaviest fighting during the US occupation.  One story about Fallujah in National Journal this week managed to quote seven Americans (and not a single Iraqi citizen) about the costs of Fallujah’s recent tumult, and an NPR piece noted that many US veterans are crestfallen that their sacrifices a decade ago may have been for naught.  That tells you just how important Fallujah is in the narrative of the US involvement in Iraq.

After the first battle of Fallujah in April 2004, US forces were actually forced by insurgents to withdraw, though in the second battle in November 2004, US troops finally took the city, but not without a year or two of further guerrilla attacks.  The two battles of Fallujah were responsible for some of the highest casualties of the Iraq War, though many more Iraqis died (some by the controversial use of white phosphorus) than US or allied troops.

The city, which lies on the banks of the Euphrates River, is just 69 kilometers away from Baghdad and, taken together with Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar governorate, comprises one of the chief Sunni-majority cities in Iraq.  Deposed president Saddam Hussein took extra special care to keep Fallujah in his good graces between 1979 and 2003.

So that means Iraq is moving back toward civil war?  Continue reading What is happening in Iraq, Fallujah and al-Anbar province?