What the war on terror looks like

THE GAP could not be greater between the war on the Islamic State as it is narrated, on one side, and how it is experienced by ordinary people trapped in the crossfire, on the other. In Iraq, the story pushed by the various anti-Daesh protagonists is a consensual and simple one: as progress is made…

Obama’s Iraq policy: That curious feeling of deja-vu

ONE OF THE GREATEST IRONIES of Barack Obama’s presidency is the extent to which he is repeating, rather than correcting, his predecessor’s mistakes in Iraq. Obama originally defined himself as the anti-Bush, chastising reckless foreign policy, vowing to bring the US’ military adventures overseas to a close. In general, he framed his international posture as…

The reinvention of Jihadism in the Middle East

THE FUTURE OF JIHADISM in the Middle East is looking bright. Indeed, a threshold appears to have been crossed whereby the response to the mounting jihadist threat perpetuates and exacerbates the very causes of the phenomenon in a self-reinforcing loop. The ever-expanding recourse to airstrikes has been destroying more and more of the region’s urban…

Tuer les autres, se tuer soi-même Attentats de Paris

L’ASPECT LE PLUS TROUBLANT des massacres commis à Paris est qu’ils ressortent d’une violence intime. C’est ce que nous peinons à cerner et qui nous travaille. La recherche d’une explication qui reposerait sur l’altérité des commanditaires ou des exécutants, suggérant un changement de stratégie de la part de l’organisation de l’État islamique (OEI) ou un…

Erosion and resilience of the Iraqi-Syrian border

THE ONGOING WARS in Syria and Iraq have triggered a spate of commentary and counter-commentary debating “the end of Sykes-Picot,” shorthand for the collapse of the century-old state system imposed on the Middle East by European powers after World War I. (1) One class of commentators has warned of the erasure of the post-Ottoman order—in…

The Islamic State through the looking-glass

ONE OF THE PARTICULARITIES of the movement calling itself the Islamic State is its investment in the phantasmagorical. It has an instinctive understanding of the value of taking its struggle to the realm of the imagination as the best way to compensate for its real-world limits. Even as it faces setbacks on the battlefield, it has made forays into our collective psyche

IS back in business

THE SO-CALLED ISLAMIC STATE (IS) — the jihadist movement also known as ISIL or ISIS and by the derogatory acronym Da’ish in Arabic — now controls much of northeast Syria and northwest Iraq (1). In a region beset with so much confusion, it appears uniquely determined and self-assured. Despite its name, it is in no sense…

Taking Iraq apart

THE RECENT SURGE in power of a Sunni jihadist force in northwest Iraq has been spectacular. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s protestations of shock and horror are both theatrical and disingenuous, for it was his own actions that paved the way for this surge. His friends, especially those in Iran, know this but are playing…