Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will not seek a third term in office, he said in an interview with CNBC, adding that he does not intend to change the constitution and its provision of a two-term presidential limit. - Reuters
Iraqi Kurdistan leader resigns
The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, announced Sunday that he is resigning effective Nov. 1 in the latest fallout from last month’s controversial independence referendum. In a televised address, Barzani said he would distribute his powers between Iraqi Kurdistan's parliament, prime minister and judiciary system. Armed supporters stormed meetings of parliament over the weekend and attacked lawmakers from opposition parties.
Barzani’s term was set to end Wednesday and he had previously said he would step down after serving since 2005. He has been under fire since Iraqi forces allied with Iran-backed Shiite militias seized back the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas of northern Iraq earlier this month. Barzani in turn has condemned the United States for failing to back the Kurds. His departure may help lead to a settlement between the KRG and Baghdad.
Iraqi forces backed by Iranian-allied militias began an assault Thursday to reclaim more Kurdish-held territory in Iraq, advancing toward a crossing in the country’s western border region that provides the only access for U.S. military operations in northern Syria. - Washington Post
The Kurdish referendum in Iraq has failed spectacularly, despite predictions of beckoning independence. Many who relied on the trope that “statehood was not a matter of if but when” were shocked and unprepared for the referendum’s outcomes. - War on the Rocks
After [Iraq’s Sunni Arab’s] were ousted from government jobs and from the military by the post-Saddam Hussein government, their powerlessness and rage gave rise to Sunni militant movements like Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State. Now that those militants are being driven from the Sunni heartland, how the government responds to Sunnis trying to rebuild their lives is likely to have long-term consequences for the country’s stability and security. - New York Times
Washington Still Doesn’t Understand Iraq
By Robert Ford, The Atlantic: “The U.S. dream of a democratic and federal Iraq is over. Appointing Iran the next boogeyman won’t help.”
Iraqi Kurds offered to shelve their pursuit of statehood for now as pressure mounts on the leader of the country’s semi-autonomous region to step aside and the U.S. seeks to ease tension between two vital allies in the fight against Islamic State. - Wall Street Journal
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi insisted on Thursday that the Kurdish independence referendum be declared void, in an apparent rejection of an offer by the Kurdistan region to “freeze” its push for independence as part of efforts to resolve the crisis through talks. - Reuters
Earlier this month, the Iraqi army freed the city of Hawija from control by the Islamic State, leading 1,000 militants, who had operated a regime of comprehensive violence in the city, to surrender to Kurdish authorities. Mr. Nordland was able to interview some of the men in detention — an experience he described on Facebook Live on Oct. 24. - New York Times
Iraqi troops and popular mobilization forces began shelling Peshmerga positions from Zummar in northern Nineveh province, the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) said on Thursday. - Reuters
Iran opened a border crossing with the Kurdistan region of Iraq Wednesday after having closed it following last month’s vote in favor of independence in the Kurdish area, Iranian state media reported. - Reuters
A vital force that helped defeat the Islamic State group, or a dangerous tool of Iran? Fighters from Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi are a controversial irregular element battling on the country's frontlines. - Agence-France Presse
JPost's Anna Ahronheim on Hezbollah's new Golan commander
H.R. McMaster on Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Kurdish Issue
By SWJ Editors, Small Wars Journal: “McMaster spoke this week with Alhurra, a U.S.-funded Arabic-language news network, discussing recent developments in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Qatar.”
South Asia diplomacy: It stretches credulity that Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishments were in the dark about the US-Canadian couple held hostage (apparently by Islamist militants) for five long years before being freed on October 11 by the Pakistani military, ostensibly acting on a tip-off from US intelligence, MK Bhadrakumar writes. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has, perhaps inadvertently, put a big hole through the Pakistani version of events by disclosing that the hostages were kept all along in Pakistan rather than Afghanistan. At the very least, there is much more to the rescue act by the Pakistani military than meets the eye. Political machinations are afoot in the episode, which is obvious from the fact that US President Donald Trump himself lauded the Pakistani military. However, the Americans, typically, are not pressing the point or asking uncomfortable questions and instead prefer to move on. READ THE STORY HERE
The U.S. pressed Pakistan for the elimination of havens for militants within its territory, according to American and Pakistani officials, in a meeting Tuesday between Pakistani leadership and the visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. - Wall Street Journal
The U.S. will address terrorist threats in Pakistan on its own if the country doesn’t cooperate with American requests to do so, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated on Thursday after meetings with officials in Islamabad who bristled over that approach. - Wall Street Journal
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cut a sharp swath through the region this week — doubling down on charges that Pakistan is sheltering militants, warmly embracing its archrival India and sympathizing with officials in war-torn Afghanistan — some Pakistani officials have reacted with outrage and anger. But Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi seems to be taking a longer, cooler view. - Washington Post
Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince vowed on Tuesday to return his country to a more tolerant form of Islam as he pledged to build a futuristic city that would push the country into the 21st century. - Wall Street Journal
Saudi Arabia changes or perishes. @elalusa Report w/Malcolm Hoenlein @conf_of_pres. Simon Henderson @washinstitute
King Salman has two other titles as well: "Custodian of the Two Holy Places" and prime minister. This broadens the range of possibilities for transferring responsibilities to MbS. The scenarios could unfold as follows:
Salman abdicates and MbS becomes king. "Abdication" is probably not a favored option in the kingdom. It was last used in 1964 when the spendthrift King Saud was forced to give up after six years of tension with his half-brother Faisal, who replaced him. More recently, in 2013, Emir Hamad al-Thani of Qatar abdicated in favor of his son Tamim but retains much influence, along with the official title of "Father Emir." Given Riyadh's current bad blood with Qatar, the chances of Salman emulating the "Father King" model are likely zero, but a different slice of history could make full abdication more acceptable.
In 1902, Ibn Saud (only twenty-two at the time) led a group of fighters from exile to recapture his family's ancestral village of Dariyah in central Arabia. In response, his father Abdulrahman ceded leadership of the House of Saud to him. Today, King Salman is said to see Ibn Saud's character in his son, and the Wall Street Journal reports that he has already made a video announcing that MbS will be king.
Salman gives up the throne but remains Custodian. Since Ibn Saud captured the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in 1925, successive rulers have taken responsibility for the Islamic shrines. King Fahd formalized this role in 1986, changing his title from "majesty" to "Custodian of the Two Holy Places." Retaining the religious title but relinquishing political leadership would be consistent with the sense that the former is more important -- a key ingredient in Saudi Arabia's claim to leadership of the wider Arab and Muslim worlds.
Salman appoints MbS prime minister. At present, the king is prime minister and the crown prince is deputy prime minister. Yet the weekly meetings of the Council of Ministers, which are chaired by the prime minister, are not the country's most crucial decisionmaking forums. That honor goes to the Council of Political and Security Affairs and the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, two bodies that were created in 2015 and are now chaired by MbS. Administratively, naming MbS as prime minister would arguably be tidier than the current arrangement. But this may be a delicate issue: Faisal and King Saud engaged in a long tug-of-war over bureaucratic control before the former's accession, so Salman would have to be truly willing to give up the job if this division of labor is to work today.
MbS becomes regent. When Salman travels abroad, as he did to Moscow earlier this month, he "deputizes" MbS "to administer the state's affairs and take care of the interests of the people during his absence," according to the Saudi Press Agency. A version of this option -- regency -- is available in circumstances of illness or lengthy medical treatment abroad. Yet a protracted regency could be contentious. After King Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke in late 1995, Crown Prince Abdullah was appointed regent, but he held the title for only a few weeks -- apparently because Fahd's powerful full brothers (Sultan, Nayef, and Salman) were anxious to deny Abdullah complete authority. Despite the king's poor physical condition thereafter, Abdullah did not assume full formal power until his own accession in 2005.
Salman dies. As crown prince, MbS would become king provided his leadership is acknowledged by senior members of the House of Saud, who must give him the oath of allegiance. Yet reported schisms in the royal family could lead some figures to contest his new authority. When Salman made MbS crown prince four months ago, three of the thirty-four princes on the A...
At least 43 Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on an army base in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, officials said, as the resurgent militant group stepped up its assaults on the country’s beleaguered security forces. - Wall Street Journal
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was indicted Thursday over allegations of corruption, the latest setback for the deposed leader who remains one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan. - Washington Post
The leader of a Pakistani militant group whose suicide bombings killed more than 250 people died on Thursday of injuries from a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan, a spokesman for the militants said. - Reuters
Kurdish Peshmerga forces have retreated to positions they held in northern Iraq in June 2014 in response to an Iraqi army advance into the region after a Kurdish independence referendum, a senior Iraqi commander said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Tantalizing bits of news began to stream into the social media feeds of Kurdish news organizations late Wednesday: Kurds angry with an Iraqi military takeover of their towns and cities were rising up and chasing the troops away. - Washington Post
The Kurdish independence vote championed by their leader Masoud Barzani was a gamble that may have made his quest for a homeland more elusive than ever. - Reuters
U.S. GETS KILL SHOT AGAIN IN AFGHANISTAN AGAINST AL-QAEDA LEADERSHIP & THE IRANIANS PUSH FORWARD REGARDLESS OF CONSEQUENCES
US kills influential al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban leader in Afghanistan
Omar Khalid al Khurasani was closely allied with al Qaeda and its emir, Ayman al Zawahiri. In the past Khurasani has called for the imposition of sharia law, the establishment of a global caliphate, and the seizure of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. He was killed in a drone strike in Paktia province.
Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said on Thursday its ballistic missile programme would accelerate despite U.S. and European Union pressure to suspend it, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. - Reuters
Iran’s military chief met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday during a visit to Damascus to set out a joint military strategy, Syria’s state news agency reported, a sign of deepening Iranian influence that has alarmed Israel. - Reuters
THE CIPHER BRIEF
Michael Knights believes ethnic and sectarian reconciliation are "emerging as a motif in Iraq’s next general elections," and as a result the U.S. should work diplomatically to keep the country unified.
Michael Knights has worked in every Iraqi province and most of the hundred districts. He's currently the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute.
COMMENTARY FROM ISRAEL'S RUBIN CENTER
Iraq's Ulama and Arab Clerics on the Kurdish Referendum
By Alex Grinberg
The reactions of Iraq’s ulama and some Arab clerics to the recent Kurdish referendum have been mostly negative, a clear reflection of their political sympathies. However--aside from Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s speech--the reactions have been nuanced. This has allowed for more fine-tuned gauging of political tendencies among the various religious communities of Iraq and the neighboring countries. Shi’i Ulama Ayatollah Ali Sistani strongly criticized the referendum. Sist ...
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The Fall of Kirkuk: An IRGC Production
By Jonathan Spyer
Iraqi forces took Kirkuk city from the Kurds this week with hardly a shot fired. Twenty-two Kurdish fighters were killed in the sporadic and disorganized resistance, while seven Iraqi soldiers also lost their lives. It is a remarkable setback for the Kurds, who just a few weeks ago held an independence referendum. The loss of Kirkuk especially, given the city’s vast oil resources, lessens the likelihood that an independent state will emerge from the Kurdish Regional Government area in northe ...
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Iran's Hand and Iraq's Kirkuk Offensive
By Seth J. Frantzman
With ISIS out of the way, underlying tensions have come to the surface. On Sunday October 15, the Pentagon encouraged Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Peshmerga to “avoid escalatory actions,” as Iraq gave the Kurds an ultimatum to withdraw from areas around the city of Kirkuk. The United States said it opposed “violence from any party,” and that any action could risk destabilizing Iraq and distracting from the war on Islamic State. The Pentagon st ...
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YEMENI ENCIRCLEMENT OF SAUDI ARABIA, THE EXPLODING AFRICAN HORN & LIBYA: AEI'S CRITICAL THREAT PROJECT
The latest Threat Update slide deck is available here.
Below are the top three takeaways from the week: