Tag Archives: ISIS

Iraqi Christians forgotten as ISIS threat grows

WASHINGTON—Amid the furor currently surrounding the Islamic State group, the US has remained more or less on the sidelines. There are no coalition boots on the ground, Western, Gulf Arab or otherwise. Barrel bombs and chlorine gas have been used to call President Barack Obama’s “red line” bluff. Perhaps, as some American officials have argued, this is an Arab war, to be fought and won by Arabs. It must be this way, they say, lest ISIS and its extremist brethren use American soldiers on Arab ground as a recruiting tool.

And while all of this rhetoric plays well with non-interventionists and probably is the wisest policy route, that doesn’t mean that the decision to stand by is easy, especially when one considers the probable fate of one of the region’s oldest peoples, the Christians. Also known as Assyrians or, in some contexts, Chaldeans, many of them have been expelled from their homes in Mosul and northern Iraq.

Assyrians are a Semitic Christian people whose ancient homeland reaches from Turkey to Iran. Their mother tongue is Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. Because their presence in the Near East predates the Arab settlement of the region, most Assyrians will, with irrepressible pride, tell you that they are the indigenous people of ancient Mesopotamia.

“It goes back a very long time. Assyrians were at the very center of the cradle of civilization,” said Peter Bityou, director of the Assyrian Aid Society of America.

Bityou was born in Iraq and left for the United States in 1982 to look for work as an engineer. Many of his relatives —including his brother— remain in Iraq to this day and have been displaced by ISIS’s ongoing campaign. Since early 2014, Bityou and the AASA have been instrumental in delivering food, water, kerosene, clothing, medicine, gas stoves, generators, mattresses, blankets and other essentials to the refugees struggling to rebuild their lives.

The AASA and other aid groups must help, Bityou said, because no one else will. Assyrians in Iraq have been abandoned by the central Iraqi government and, in general, are not treated well by the Kurdish Regional Government in the north, he said. While the Kurdish peshmerga, or military force, allows Assyrian refugees to cross into their territory, those fleeing violence are not provided with food or other essentials.

“No one is looking out for the Assyrians. That’s why we have to do for ourselves,” Bityou said.

Martin Youmaran, an executive director of the Assyrian American National Federation, sees ISIS’s persecution of Assyrians as part of a larger pattern of racist oppression and disenfranchisement that goes back many hundreds of years.

“In Iraq, the Assyrian people have faced continuous persecution,” Youmaran said.

Historical fact largely supports that narrative. While Assyrians have peacefully coexisted with their Muslim Arab neighbors for centuries, to say that they were treated well would be a conceptual stretch. Under the Seljuqs and the Ottomans, Assyrians were given three options: convert to Sunni Islam, pay a tax (known as jizia) or face expulsion and possible death. Ottoman discrimination against Christians became so severe that, during World War I, the nationalist government killed 1.5 million Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians —all Christian subjects of the empire.

The treatment of Assyrians during the 1960s and 1970s under the Iraqi Ba’ath Party varied widely. Ba’athist ideology stressed secularism and sought to brush aside religious differences in the service of national unity; Islamic extremism was largely kept at bay. Many Assyrians ascended to high levels of power within the Iraqi government, including Tariq Aziz, a former deputy prime minister who was also one of Saddam Hussein’s closest advisors.

Assyrian expressions of ethnic pride however, met with severe repression.

“People will say that under Saddam, Assyrians were not persecuted. But Saddam hanged three Assyrian nationalists,” said Bityou, referring to the executions of Youbert Shlimon, Youkhana Esho Jajo and Yousip Hermis, who were put to death without trials in 1985.

“What can you call that other than persecution?” Bityou asked.

Saddam’s relationship with Iraq’s many ethnic and religious minorities worsened in the late 1980s, when Kurdish peshmerga forces rebelled against the government. Faced with a secession campaign, the government used conventional weapons alongside unidentified chemical agents —most likely the nerve gas sarin mixed with mustard gas— to eradicate entire villages; according to Human Rights Watch, nearly 2,000 Assyrians perished from gas alone.

Iraqi Assyrians fared even worse after the 2003 American invasion. By 2004, Islamic terrorist groups like Ansar al-Islam and al-Qaeda in Iraq were blowing up Assyrian churches and enforcing hardline sharia law on Assyrian Christian communities. Many Assyrians sought refuge in Turkey, Europe, Syria and the United States.

“In 2003, there were 1.2 million Assyrians in Iraq. Today, less than 300,000,” Bityou said.

ISIS has continued the violence instigated by its predecessors, expelling and in some cases kidnapping Assyrians along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Due to the escalating violence, Youmaran and the AANF are more insistent than ever. Among their most pressing concerns: military intervention against ISIS.

“We want intervention not only from the US but from the UN under Chapter Seven,” Youmaran said, referring to the section of the United Nations Charter that gives the UN Security Council the power to intervene to stop crimes against humanity.

Beyond a foreign offensive against ISIS, Assyrian groups have renewed calls for an autonomous Christian homeland in Iraq’s Nineveh Governorate, known as Nīnwē to the Assyrians.

“We need an internationally protected homeland,” Youmaran said. “We demand that the international community preserve it [the Assyrian homeland in Nineveh], because the Iraqi government cannot.”

Al Qaida a bigger threat than ISIS, ex-CIA honcho warns

Michael Morell (on left) says al Qaida is a greater threat than ISIS. (Tanni Deb/MEDILL NSJI)

Michael Morell (on left) says al Qaida is a greater threat than ISIS. (Tanni Deb/MEDILL NSJI)

WASHINGTON — The Islamic State group has attracted foreign recruits for its war in Iraq and Syria because the extremist network has what it sees as a compelling story to share with them, according to the CIA’s former deputy director.

“Their narrative is that the West, the United States, the modern world is a significant threat to their religion [and] that they have an answer to that threat to their religion, which is the establishment of this caliphate,” said Michael Morell, who held the post from 2010 to 2013. They say “they are being attacked by the United States … and because they are being attacked as they try to set up this caliphate to protect their religion, they need support.”

Morell is the author of “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism, From al Qa’ida to ISIS,” published this month. Indeed, ISIS presents a clear threat, he said Monday at the National Press Club in Washington. But it’s al Qaida, which perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and continues to have widespread influence abroad, that remains a greater danger, he added.

“The most significant threat to the homeland today,” Morell said, “still comes from al Qaida.”

ISIS seeks support in two ways, he said. It wants fighters to carry out its war in the Middle East, and it urges people to attack Americans and other coalition nations in their homelands.

The U.S., on the other hand, doesn’t really have a strong counter narrative, he said.

“Not because we’re not doing our job, but because it’s really hard to have a counter narrative in a conversation about a religion where we have absolutely no credibility,” he said.

Morell was an intelligence analyst who delivered daily briefings to then-President George W. Bush in 2001. He also assisted with planning the 2011 raid in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. His new book includes his assessment of the CIA’s counterterrorism successes and failures of the past two decades, and highlights growing threats from terrorist groups that could impact the U.S.

Three al Qaida groups in particular pose the greatest threat to the U.S., he said.

Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, remains the most dangerous, Morell said. The international terrorist organization was responsible for the last three attempted attacks against the U.S.: the would-be Christmas Day underwear bomber in 2009, the printer cartridge plot in 2010 and the nonmetallic bomb plot on an airliner in 2012.

“They have the capability to bring down an airline in the United States of America tomorrow,” Morell said.

The second most dangerous, he said, is the Khorasan Group, which has operatives from Pakistan. It was formed to assist the jihadist organization Jabhat al-Nusra in its fight against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with the goal of using Syria as a base of operations to attack the West.

Finally, the third group is al Qaida’s senior leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said.

But Morell did not downplay the ISIS threat — either on the battlefield or in its attempts to radicalize young men and young women around the world.

“The first and probably the most important right now is the stability of the entire Middle East. ISIS threatens the territorial integrity of Syria, the territorial integrity of Iraq and the potential for spillover to the rest of the region,” Morell said.

ISIS killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians and security forces and caused thousands to flee their homes as it captured the city of Ramadi in central Iraq on Sunday, according to multiple news reports.

Morell said that Islamic educators are needed to inform people who may consider joining terrorist groups.

“We really need the leaders of Muslim countries, we need leading Muslim clerics [and] we need Muslim teachers to have this dialogue in those countries themselves.”

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Experts: Terrorism groups find new revenue sources

From left, witnesses Seth G. Jones, Jonathan Schanzer and Juan C. Zarate testify before the Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, part of the House Committee on Financial Services. (Tobias Burns/MEDILL)

From left, witnesses Seth G. Jones, Jonathan Schanzer and Juan C. Zarate testify before the Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, part of the House Committee on Financial Services. (Tobias Burns/MEDILL)

As the number of terrorist groups around the world increases, so do the ways in which they’re raising money to fund their activities, experts say.

“The funding is more global and more diversified than ever before, and it’s interacting less with the financial system,” said Juan C. Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who spoke Wednesday at the first meeting of Congress’ Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing.

Funding for groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Houthi in Yemen traditionally has come from wealthy donors and charitable organizations based in the Persian Gulf. U.S. counterterrorism officials within law enforcement and the Treasury Department have long had safeguards in place to identify those paper trails and trace their sources.

But with groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria openly controlling large swaths of land, counterterrorism efforts in the U.S. now must account for a host of new revenue streams that are augmenting the more entrenched sources.

These include the oil trade, farming, taxation and antiquities smuggling in addition to the more established illicit trades of drug trafficking, bank robbery, and kidnapping and ransom.

As a result, counterterrorism experts are looking to the military for strategic and operational assistance in choking off terrorist funding.

“The military and counterterrorism are closer than ever before,” Zarate told the panel of about 20 members of the House Financial Services Committee. “These groups have grown more local in their ability to raise funds, so we have to dislodge them from territory if we want to starve them of funds.”

Also casting doubt on some of traditional U.S. allies within the region is the involvement of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in the oil trade, which accounts for around 30 percent of the militant group’s estimated $2 billion net worth.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said there are “trust issues” with Turkey in particular, which is thought to be one of the main consumers of the Islamic State’s stolen oil.

Speaking of a recent trip to the region, Lynch said, “When we confronted senior members of the Turkish government with aerial and satellite imagery of trucks crossing the border and selling oil in Turkey, there was serious denial.”

While oil and other territory-based revenue streams pose serious tactical questions for both lawmakers and the military, the task force acknowledged that they actually may be an indication of progress in the fight against terrorism.

“To an extent, we’re a victim of our own success,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the task force. “We’ve been so effective at driving these groups out of the financial sector that they’re working more local and more underground.”

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Iraqi leader: ISIS still ‘frightening’

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi speaks Thursday morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. (Tobias Burns/MEDILL)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi speaks Thursday morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. (Tobias Burns/MEDILL)

WASHINGTON — Despite a recent series of military losses, the self-proclaimed Islamic State is still more than capable of concerning Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi.

“They are frightening their enemies,” he said this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “and they’re very good at using the media to achieve this end.”

Al-Abadi is making his first official visit to Washington this week, meeting with President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders to drum up support for his campaign against the insurgent group, which still controls significant portions of the country including major cities Mosul and Anbar, as well as to seek foreign investment in Iraq’s flagging economy.

To combat “the psychological force” of ISIS, Al-Abadi stressed the need for his own government to “remain visible.”

“People want to see the restitution of their government,” he said. “The state must actually be there.”

Last month Iraqi forces were able to recapture the city of Tikrit from ISIS, which had initially taken the city in June of 2014 as part of a major offensive in the north of the country.

Increasing the presence of government in both the minds and day-to-day lives of Iraqis is one of the new administration’s primary objectives. Iraq’s last president, Nouri Al-Maliki, who left office only after threatening what looked like a coup, garnered a reputation for exploiting sectarian rifts within the country and diminishing public services.

Creating a unified perception of government will require international cooperation, Al-Abadi said. This week he meets with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to secure development loans that will fund a host of different economic and security initiatives, including investment in petrochemicals, agriculture and police.

This evening the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will host the prime minister at a reception as he attempts to woo the American business community.

He also addressed questions surrounding his critical comments about Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against Houthi insurgents in Yemen, which prompted a harsh rejoinder from a top Saudi official and astonishment in the press.

“We are very sensitive to wars,” Al-Abadi said in a tone that was markedly more conciliatory. “The end to this war must be soon.”

Iraqi official: Decentralization key to nation’s survival

With smoke still clearing from Iraq’s victory over the Islamic State group in Tikrit, Iraq’s prime minister is busy selling his post-conflict vision of his nation.

“If we don’t decentralize, the country will disintegrate,” Haider al-Abadi bluntly declared in a speech Wednesday to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“To me, there are no limitations to decentralization.”

Al-Abadi’s comments came at the end of his first visit to Washington since his appointment as prime minister last summer. He is seeking to secure sustained American support in the struggle against the Islamic State and beyond.

On Tuesday, President Obama pledged $200 million in humanitarian aid for Iraqis displaced by fighting with the Islamic State.

Only eight months in office, al-Abadi is keen to distance himself from his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, whose preferential sectarian policies, many believe, helped precipitate the current crisis with the Islamic State.

“This is not a Shiite government, it just happens to have a Shiite prime minister,” al-Abadi told the audience at the Washington think tank.

Reconciliation of fractious ethnic and sectarian divisions is key to rebuilding Iraq, reviving economic growth and attracting long-term investment, he said.

This can be achieved only by decentralizing power to the local level and transitioning from a state-dominated economy to a mixed economy, according to al-Abadi.

Al-Abadi wants to create a more federal political system, granting greater autonomy to provincial governments, in order to reverse al-Maliki’s centralization of power in Baghdad.

“We must not only win the war, but win the peace,” al-Abadi said. “Our goal is not only to liberate but also to restore a level of civilization worthy of all our people.”

The Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and pro-Iranian militias have been battling the Islamic State, also called ISIS, since June, when its fighters swept through parts of Iraq with the assistance of local tribes disaffected with Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein’s home city of Tikrit was recaptured by Iraqi forces March 31.

“Al-Abadi has to be a cosmetic surgeon now to put the parts back together,” former Iraqi Brig. Gen. Ismael Alsodani told Medill News Service. “He has a long road ahead.”

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ISIS beheading videos used as clickbait to draw ‘frustrated achievers’ to its ranks

Medill Professor Josh Meyer (left), moderates a discussion between Richard Andres (center) and Omer Taspinar, both professors at the National War College in Washington D.C. (Mary Cirincione/MEDILL)

Medill Professor Josh Meyer (left), moderates a discussion between Richard Andres (center) and Omer Taspinar, both professors at the National War College in Washington D.C. (Mary Cirincione/MEDILL)

Gap between aspirations and expectations leaves Western Muslim youth open to radicalization

WASHINGTON—The global reach of ISIS has left an indelible mark on the media worldwide, providing cautionary tales on the susceptibility of western Muslim youth as some young people leave their homes to join terrorist ranks abroad. Drawn by a savvy use of social media and digital propaganda, their shared story is becoming more common.

“Social media has spread radicalism globally to people who normally wouldn’t be exposed to it,” according to Richard Andres, a professor of national security strategy at the National War College. The ease of access made possible by 140-character tweets, messages and videos has created a new playing field, he said, enabling terrorist organizations to penetrate groups of dissatisfied people in mass.

Authorities picked up three Denver teens en route to Syria last fall, while another three fled East London in February. All six were active online, maintaining Facebook and Twitter accounts where they interacted with extremist points of view.

“Social media click-washes you over time,” something Andres likens to brainwashing. This process pulls readers and viewers “further and further toward the extreme” with every click, he said.

Speaking at a National Press Club event Monday sponsored by the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative, Andres said those initial clicks are fueled by innate prejudices: “We’re attracted to things that confirm our biases.” It’s a slippery slope from there as social media users access more content aligned with a single view point, he said. “Like a cult, it will isolate you … making you more and more extreme.”

That’s all part of its strategic approach, he said. Those brutal beheading and execution videos regularly released by ISIS were never part of the endgame. They’re clickbait.

“We like sensation. Human beings are attracted by sensation and so people tend to click on the more sensational link,” Andres said. Once they do that, ISIS can further its primary mission by “linking those social media users with major headlines and gain legitimacy.” That means linking to real stories describing the group’s presence, violence and aims.

According to a study released late January by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, one-fifth of all foreign fighters joining ISIS are westerners. Of an estimated 20,000 worldwide, more than 4,000 recruits have come from Europe, while 100 have come from the U.S. Young Internet users appear to account for the majority.

Speaking at the same event, Brookings fellow Omer Taspinar described a crisis of identity, as some young Western Muslims appear integrated into their communities, but in reality suffer degrees of alienation. “They don’t feel that they belong to their immigrant groups,’ or their parents’ generation … They have an identity problem and in that sense they feel uprooted, that they don’t belong anywhere.”

At that point it becomes an issue of relative deprivation, Taspinar explained. These radical teens aren’t uneducated or down-trodden. Most are bilingual, even trilingual. “The evidence that we have from profiling terrorist groups is that most of the time, masterminds [and] people who are successful terrorists … are not really poor. They’re middle class and they’re educated,” Taspinar said.

But their grievances are real and they’re wildly discontented, he added. Many are either unemployed or underemployed, leaving them vulnerable to clickbait propaganda. “There’s a growing gap between expectations and opportunities,” Taspinar said. Increasing rates of education in Europe coupled with unemployment problems have resulted in broad dissatisfaction.

“So they’re looking for something bigger than themselves. [They’re] looking for a cause to attach themselves to.” And that cause is the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Taspinar said, as youths embrace the rise of a caliphate as their reason for being.

Retired officer: US let ISIS gain foothold in Iraq

David Gregory (left) moderates a discussion concerning the rise of ISIS with retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor at American University on Wednesday, April 8. Mansoor said that the takeover of ISIS is a direct result of the U.S. decision to invade, and then leave Iraq in the 2000s: “Al-Qaida was defeated during the surge in 2007-2008 – not destroyed.” (Mary Cirincione/MEDILL)

David Gregory (left) moderates a discussion concerning the rise of ISIS with retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor at American University on Wednesday, April 8. Mansoor said that the takeover of ISIS is a direct result of the U.S. decision to invade, and then leave Iraq in the 2000s: “Al-Qaida was defeated during the surge in 2007-2008 – not destroyed.” (Mary Cirincione/MEDILL)

Whatever headway the U.S. gained in Iraq following the 2007 surge has for the most part come undone — paving the way for the rise of the self-described Islamic State.

That’s the assessment of retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who had a front-row seat for the surge in his capacity as executive officer to retired Army Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq from 2007 to 2008, the culmination of Mansoor’s 26-year Army career.

When the last U.S. troops left Iraq on Dec. 18, 2011, following several years of drawdowns, al-Qaida was defeated, but was not irrevocably destroyed.

“We had al-Qaida down on the 10-count, and we let it off the mat,” Mansoor said.

And, he added, from those not-quite-extinguished ashes rose the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

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Understanding the Islamic State: A Medill NSJI Event

WASHINGTON – The Medill National Security Journalism Initiative will host “Understanding the Islamic State,” a lunch and panel discussion featuring National War College Professors of Strategy & Policy Dr. Omer Taspinar and Dr. Richard B. Andres, at the National Press Club on Monday, April 6 at 12:15 p.m.

The event is aimed at increasing the media’s knowledge of the Islamic State terrorist group. Taspinar is a leading expert on Islamic radicalization and the author of two books: “Political Islam and Kurdish Nationalism in Turkey” and “Fighting Radicalism with Human Development: Education, Employment, and Freedom in the Islamic World.” Andres is a former Defense Department official who specialized in defense planning, especially related to Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Andres is also a leading thinker on the role of cyber across the national security realm.

The February story of four teenage girls leaving Britain to join the Islamic State in Syria caught the world unaware but they were not unique. Young men and women have been joining ISIS, apparently after significant exposure to its message on social media. Andres and Taspinar are experts who will help the audience understand how this is developing. They will focus on how the Islamic radical movement in 2015 is using technology to appeal to youth to uproot themselves from relatively secure environments to join a radical movement in a distant land full of conflict.

Lunch will be served, but reservations are required.

The Medill National Security Journalism Initiative, begun in January 2009 with the support of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, offers a sequence of courses that equip graduate and
undergraduate journalism students with the knowledge and skills to report on national security issues, undertakes an annual student investigative project with a media partner and sponsors an annual conference for journalists featuring briefings on the most pressing national security issues. It also provides training and background materials on nationalsecurityzone.org as well as webinars for working reporters around the country.

The National War College, founded in 1946, educates future leaders of the armed forces, State Department and other civilian agencies for high-level policy, command and staff responsibilities. The national security policy curriculum emphasizes the joint, interagency, and the multinational perspectives. NWC is located on Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington.


Rouhani: Fewer nuclear sanctions would strengthen Iran in fight against Islamic State

NEW YORK — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said this week in his first public speech before he went to the United Nations that he opposed Western intervention in Mideast violence and touted Iran’s potential to be a regional diplomatic leader.

The talk Wednesday was part of a New America Foundation event that featured a keynote address by Rouhani and a subsequent conversation between him and journalist Fareed Zakaria. The event was billed as Rouhani’s first public speaking engagement before his Thursday United Nations General Assembly address. It came on the heels of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s announcement that the Iranian government would not align itself with the United States in its war on the Islamic State.

Asserting that extra-regional Mideast involvement “feeds and strengthens terrorism,” Rouhani said lifting nuclear sanctions would let Iran truly step up to the diplomatic plate.

“If the Islamic Republic of Iran could reach a comprehensive agreement on its nuclear program and leave sanctions behind, it will be able to assume a more active role in the process of intra-regional dialogue in the Islamic world,” he said during his speech.

Rouhani said Iran is the regional nation capable of battling the Islamic State in Iraq, citing its defense of Irbil and provision of military advisers to assist the Iraqis and Kurds as examples of efforts it has undertaken.

He insisted that the past 12 months’ worth of nuclear-adherence efforts by Iran were proof of goodwill and a willingness to build international trust in Iran’s nuclear program.

Protesters at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's talk in New York City in September 2014.

Protesters at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s talk in New York City in September 2014.

“The precise measures implemented by us during the past year were geared towards showing the serious and firm commitment at the highest levels, meaning that under no conditions we will try to build, stockpile or use any type of nuclear weapons,” Rouhani said.

Though Rouhani said timely action against the Islamic State was needed, he called it “nothing more than a terrorist group” that “typifies a violent extremism.” He said the 2003 American attack on Iraq and subsequent invasions birthed terrorist groups and suggested the unrest following the American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan “nurtured” the extremism.
But he was careful to note that this sentiment wasn’t meant as an attack on the U.S.

“My intent here is not to assign blame or to rehash history,” Rouhani said. “I only seek to show that the imposition of one’s will on societies and other nations with the use of violent and extremist methods is not possible, is not successful, nor is it useful.”

“Even though it may yield the desired results over the short term, over the long term, it will only create tragedies,” he explained.

In the same vein, during his conversation with Zakaria, Rouhani expressed fears that American training of Free Syrian Army fighters to fight the Islamic State in Syria could inadvertently lead to the creation of a new terrorist group. He also said he supports the empowerment of Syria to make its own decisions.
National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi said Rouhani’s pushback against extra-regional Mideast intervention was consistent with an Iranian desire for the presence of “major foreign powers” in the Mideast to be greatly limited.

“That’s a longstanding Iranian position that precedes this regime because at the end of the day, it leads to a scenario in which Iran winds up becoming one of the key players in the region,” Parsi said in an interview.

Parsi also said that American interventions in Syria that could be perceived as being aimed at displacing Assad – whether or not that is the government’s actual intent – could make Iran dubious of American involvement in the fight against ISIS because it “affects the context” of U.S.-Iran negotiations.

“It’s not necessarily affecting the negotiation variables, but that context does impact the negotiations.”

New America Foundation Senior Fellow and Iran Initiative Director Suzanne DiMaggio, who delivered the event’s welcoming remarks, said that it was intended to try and bridge the communication gap between the U.S. and Iran in the midst of a 35-year halt in official diplomatic relations.

“Here at New America, we’re really dedicated to generating ideas [about] how to solve problems, and the only way you can do that is through dialogue and through debate,” DiMaggio said.

However, she warned that “a sobering approach” was needed to improving U.S.-Iranian relations due to “profound differences” between the two nations.

“I think what we’re seeing is maybe not the normalization of relations, but maybe we’re getting to a point where Americans and Iranian officials can sit down together on a regular basis and talk about issues,” she said.

Could non-violent counterterrorism tactics have prevented IS gain in Iraq?

WASHINGTON – The Islamic State, also known as IS, is working to carve out a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, or an Islamic state led by a religious leader.

According to an article on vox.com, IS split from al-Qaida in early February of this year. Now, looking back at the way IS was able to gain strength in Iraq, it is easy to see where America’s counterterrorism strategy only gave IS an opportunity to expand. An article from The Hill says Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pointed out how President Obama’s inaction in Syria led to further gains by ISIS in Iraq. His comments came just before reports of ISIS gaining control of a major military base in Syria, The Hill reported.

Washington’s failure to intervene in the humanitarian crisis in Syria under President Bashar al-Assad’s regime created a destabilized area, a perfect breeding ground for IS to gain support.

Peter Knoope, director of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in the Hague, Netherlands, explained that using non-violent counterterrorism tactics can actually be more beneficial than the way the U.S. looks to diminish the strength of terrorist groups. The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, which is funded through the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a partnership of three institutions, focuses on preventing and countering violent extremism.

“Trying to understand why people feel attracted to violent extremist narratives and violent political action is an important strategic approach to counterterrorism,” Knoope said.

He explained that preventing the organization from gaining new members can reduce the size of the organization.

Knoope, a career diplomat who was posted as the head of mission to Afghanistan, said terrorist organizations can be looked at as a triangle, with the tip of the triangle being the main leadership. The “baseline” is where new people join, and by focusing counterterrorism efforts on understanding why young people join terrorist organizations, Knoope said, you can effectively shrink the triangle.

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For example, the death of Osama bin-Laden in 2011 did not lead to the end of al-Qaida. Instead, it only provided the opportunity for a top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to rise up and take his place.

“In some cases decapitation of the triangle will only bring new leadership that is more aggressive, more military focused and more violent focused than the former leadership,” Knoope said.

He explained that we can see something similar happening in Nigeria with the Islamic group, Boko Haram. The death of leader, Mohammed Yusuf, only led to the rise of his more aggressive counterpart, Abubakar Shekau. With Shekau’s leadership, more Nigerians have been attracted to the organization.

IS growth in Iraq

In his book, “Globalization & Terrorism: The Migration of Dreams and Nightmares,” Jamal Nassar explained terrorism is often a reaction to injustice. Nassar, a political science professor at Illinois State University and authority on the Middle East, further explained that, “the terrorist often feels deprived of some rights or maltreated…”

Iraq was controlled on and off by a Sunni regime until Saddam Hussein’s government fell in 2003. In 2006, Nouri al-Maliki was appointed as prime minister – meaning a formerly Sunni-led state transitioned to a Shiite-led state.

A 2011 Pew Research poll found 51 percent of Iraqi Muslims identify as Shia and 42 percent identify as Sunni.

The transition left many Sunnis dissatisfied with the central government in Baghdad. In June, Iraqi pollster, Munqith al-Dagher, said IS is benefiting from Sunni dissatisfaction because they see the government depriving them of their rights and aligning too closely with the Shia-led state of Iran.

This goes along with Knoope’s explanation of why people join terrorist groups:

• Feeling like an outsider
• Being unaccepted in their environment
• A collective search for identity
• Lack of political influence

“Somebody comes along and tells that person you can be a somebody and have an important impact on a very important environment,” by joining a terrorist group, Knoope said.

Non-violent counter terrorism strategies, Knoope said, begin with knowing what’s going on in the community and who’s framing the dialogue to attract new members in religious or political terms.

From there, states can respond by helping to offer solutions for meeting those needs.