The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State -DER SPIEGEL (Updated)


Based on the files of Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi (also known as Haji Bakr), a colonel in the intelligence service under Saddam Hussein, this article examines the institutional structure and strategy behind the Islamic State. It is a little on the sensationalist side, and it really only covers the internal security side of the political equation, but it is one of the most detailed descriptions of the IS’ internal workings to emerge so far. It is also interesting because it paints IS as a rational and calculating organization. This is a different picture than we are used to seeing in the press, which has emphasized the group’s fanaticism. It is worth considering that IS may be both rational and irrational at the same time. The group’s strategies and tactics may be entirely rational though its goals uncompromising and fanatical. The fanatical violence may also help with the implementation of rational goals and strategies by mobilizing support among those who sympathize and intimidating/terrorizing the opposition. The mix, in all likelihood is complex. We will not know more until we have a better understanding of the politics among the group’s elite -which is not really addressed in the article.

Here is a follow up article from the blog “War on the Rocks” providing a fairly detailed discussion of IS’s strategy and tactics during its initial period of growth. While has some elements in common with the Der Spiegel article, it downplays the role of ex-Bath’ists arguing that much of the planning and expertise behind the IS emerged from Al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist Salafi movements.

Why Palestine Has No Chance at the International Criminal Court -The Daily Beast


An interesting look at the Palestinian Authority and the International Criminal Court. Not only does it point out the limitations of the Palestinian Authority’s position if it tries to have Israel prosecuted for war crimes relating to the 2014 Gaza war. It also has some interesting things to say about how the ICC works in general and its limited ability to confront powerful states.

Nevertheless, the ICC does provide the PA with some political leverage:
“Palestine’s membership in the ICC likely has political motivations designed to extract concessions from Israel. If the threat of the ICC action spurs Israeli investigations of its own alleged misconduct, that alone could be a success from the Palestinian perspective. If a similar threat slows settlement activity or deters future Israeli military operations, these too could be successes.

Finally, Palestinian membership may be part of a domestic political chess game between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank. Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, made the ICC referral, but Hamas was primarily responsible for the alleged Palestinian war crimes. Although Fatah would be loathe to admit it publicly, an ICC investigation into the Palestinian situation could be an effort by Fatah to strengthen its position against Hamas.”

Would New Borders Mean Less Conflict in the Middle East? -Wall Street Journal


Since the Islamic State seized Mosul last summer, there has been a great deal of time spent discussing the dysfunctional nature of the Sykes-Picot border system drawn up after WW1. While there is no denying the borders did not reflect the political and social reality on the ground, the problem should not be over simplified. No matter where the borders were drawn they would have been disputed. That is not meant to minimize the mistakes made by the British and the French. Rather it means there was no simple neat way to establish a state system in the middle east even if the borders were drawn up with the best intentions. This continues to be true. There is no simple neat way to fix the mistakes of the past. Any attempt to redraw the current borders will be contested, violently in all likelihood. The states involved will object, of course, and the various political and social communities are too intertwined to be divided cleanly.

Brazil’s coming recession: The crash of a titan -The Economist


A gloomy look at Brazil’s economic woes and the state’s increasingly ineffective economic policy instruments:

“Faced with (two) poisonous options, a middle path is most likely. Interest rates will be too high for households and firms, so subsidised funding will grow. But they will be too low to protect the real, so swap costs will rise, too. Both subsidies put extra pressure on the government’s finances. By mixing monetary and fiscal policy in this way, Brazil is slowly rendering both ineffective.”

Reducing Yemen’s Houthis to ‘Iranian proxies’ is a mistake -CSMonitor


A good critique of the standard argument that the Houthis are controlled by Iran. The religious connections between Iran and the Houthis is thin. While the Houthis are Shi’a, they are Zeidis:

“There does not exist a natural affinity between the Yemeni Zeidis and the 12er [i.e. follower of the 12th imam] Shia of southern Iraq and Iran. The zaidiya follows a system of religious law (sharia) that more closely resembles that of the Hanafi Sunni “school” of law than that of the Shia of Iran or Iraq. The Zaidi scholars profess no allegiance to the 12er Shia scholarship of the Iranian teachers… In short there is little religious connection with Iran. For a Zaydi to “convert” to 12er Shiism is as big and alienating a step as “conversion” to Sunnism.”

and the politics are local:

“It began with a rivalry between Houthi summer camps and the Saudi-financed salafi institute in the small, historically Zaydi town of Dammaj, which is a story rather more precise and interlaced with contemporary state power than the implied frame of “age-old” dispute between the two main branches of Islam allows.”

Iran is backing the Houthis and the Saudis are backing President Hadi among others. This is a domestic conflict which has drawn in the regional power. Sadly, this has been a common pattern in the region.