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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Kremlin's Campaign in Egypt

By Nataliya Bugayova with Jack Ulses

Key Takeaway: The Kremlin has successfully expanded its influence in Egypt – a historic partner of the U.S. and the West. Russia has secured approval to establish an industrial zone in Port Said; concluded major energy deals, including the construction of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant; increased weapons sales; and obtained Egypt’s diplomatic backing on a number of regional initiatives. The Kremlin is likely attempting to secure a naval base in Egypt in order to expand its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and contest U.S. freedom of maneuver through the Suez Canal. Russia cannot compete in the long-term with the U.S., which provides nearly $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. The Kremlin will therefore focus on offering to support Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in areas of core concern for his constituencies, such as security, food, and energy. Russian activity in Egypt is part of the Kremlin’s regional campaign to expand its influence in the Middle East and Africa. The U.S. must use its leverage with Egypt not only to sustain its partnership with a key regional actor and guarantee its freedom of maneuver in the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal, but also to curb Sisi’s continued use of oppressive measures against his own population.

Read the full version of this article on the ISW website.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Russia Challenges Ukraine in the Sea of Azov

By Catherine Harris and Jack Ulses

Key Takeaway: The Kremlin is conducting hybrid operations to secure a combined land and sea arc spanning from the occupied Crimean Peninsula through the Sea of Azov to Eastern Ukraine. Russia’s Caspian Sea Flotilla deployed naval vessels to the Sea of Azov in late May 2018. The ships ostensibly will defend a new bridge connecting Russia to Crimea. The Kremlin also used signature irregular warfare methods including information operations and snap military exercises to sow confusion and instability in port cities held by Ukraine along the Sea of Azov. The Kremlin holds a long-standing interest in obtaining de facto control over the region in order to secure economic resources and block Ukraine’s access to maritime industries. Russia may also intend to use these operations as a venue to destabilize Ukraine ahead of the scheduled 2019 Ukrainian Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. The Kremlin could also leverage a long-term consolidation around the Sea of Azov as a base from which to intensify military pressure on NATO in the Black Sea.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Contours of Anti-U.S. Iraqi Government Emerge

By Jessa Rose Dury-Agri, Patrick Hamon, and Omer Kassim 

Key Takeaway: Key Iraqi Shi’a and Kurdish leaders have signaled their support for a new Iran-backed political alliance, setting up a potential coalition with enough parliamentary seats to form the next Iraqi government. Such a governing coalition would further strengthen Iran’s position in Iraq and undermine the U.S. ability to secure its own interests in Iraq.

Iraqi nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Iranian proxy and Badr Organization head Hadi al-Ameri formed an alliance on June 12, 2018. Their respective electoral lists represent the two winningest alliances in Iraq’s federal legislative elections that occurred on May 12, 2018. Former Iraqi Prime Minister and current Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, Shi’a cleric Ammar al-Hakim, and two major Kurdish parties have signaled their support for the Sadr-Ameri alliance. A formal coalition emerging among these actors and the electoral lists they lead would clear the 165-seat majority threshold required to form a government. A Sadr-Ameri alliance under this scenario would not need support from blocs led by current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and secularist Ayad Allawi.


Al-Hakim’s Tayar al-Hikma al-Watani (National Wisdom Trend, NWT) is likely to join the Sadr-Ameri alliance. The NWT had previously announced its intention to ally with Sadr. An NWT leader indicated the group is a “cornerstone” of the Sadr-Ameri alliance, although the NWT has not yet formally announced its participation in the alliance. Maliki - the leader of the Itilaf Dawlat al-Qanoun (State of Law Alliance) – maintains an antagonistic relationship with Sadr but close ties to Iran and is positioning himself to join the alliance. Maliki seeks to leverage his electoral weight and strong ties with Ameri to secure a key position in the Iraqi government by overcoming a potential Sadr veto against his participation. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan are likely setting conditions to join the Sadr-Ameri alliance following a joint statement declaring the Sadr-alliance “a positive step.”

This emerging coalition may encounter obstacles before it can proceed to form the next Iraqi government. Disagreements over the position of Prime Minister and key ministerial posts may drive the different factions within the coalition apart. There will likely be a partial manual recount of votes following allegations of widespread electoral fraud that may change the final election results.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Iran-Backed Political Alliance Forms in Iraq

By Jessa Rose Dury-Agri, Patrick Hamon, and Omer Kassim

Key Takeaway: Iraq may form a government that undermines U.S. interests, tries to eject the U.S. from the region, and supports Iran. Nationalist Iraqi Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has allied with Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the coalition of Iranian-backed militias and their political wings. Sadr and Ameri lead the two winningest alliances in Iraq’s federal legislative elections and are nearing the 165-seat threshold necessary to form a government if Shi’a cleric Ammar al-Hakim (19 seats) and secularist Ayad Allawi (21 seats) follow through on their previously announced intention to ally with Sadr.

Sadr and Ameri will likely attempt to woo current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi or former Prime Minister and current Vice President Nouri al-Maliki to gain support of one of their coalitions, or alternatively seek to fragment both leaders’ respective coalitions to form a government. They may also seek to gain support from some or all Kurdish parties and Iran friendly Sunni parties in order to reach the government formation threshold. Both Sadr and Ameri may push for the full expulsion of U.S. forces from Iraq and will further the entrenchment of Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces in the Iraqi security apparatus.


For the full Iraq Council of Representatives seat allocation figures, see ISW's election results graphic.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Syria Situation Report: May 2-29, 2018

By ISW's Syria Team and Syria Direct

This graphic mark the latest installment of the Syria Situation Report (SITREP) Map made possible through a partnership between the Institute for the Study of War and Syria Direct. The map depicts significant developments in the war in Syria during the period May 2-29, 2018. The control of terrain represented on the map is accurate as of May 25, 2018.