CrisisWatch N°134 - 1 October 2014

Report
from International Crisis Group
Published on 01 Oct 2014 View Original

The U.S. expanded its aerial campaign against Islamic State (IS) militants in late September with strikes in Syria’s north and east. The operation, which targets both IS and fighters linked to al-Qaeda’s central leadership and the affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra, risks alienating other rebel groups in Syria and strengthening support for IS. The mainstream armed opposition faced another serious blow when most of the senior leadership of the influential group Ahrar as-Sham was killed in an unexplained bomb blast in early September. Meanwhile, IS continued its advance on the ground, including around the predominantly Kurdish city Kobani near the Turkish border causing some 160,000 Kurds to flee. (See our recent report and commentary on the possible fall of greater Aleppo and the impact this could have on the wider Syrian rebellion).

In Iraq, the beheading of captive U.S. journalists and a British aid worker by IS militants drew strong condemnations. U.S. President Obama vowed to dismantle the group’s “network of death” and several countries, including France and the UK, joined the U.S.-led aerial campaign against IS. Adding to the sectarian divides that aided IS’s initial rise, Iran continued to support Shiite militias in central Iraq, while Western and Iranian support for the Kurdish Regional Government provoked additional tensions by bypassing Baghdad. (See our recent commentary on the rise of the Islamic State, alternatively known as ISIL, ISIS or Daesh.)

The Syrian conflict continued to spill over into Lebanon. In September jihadi groups executed three Lebanese soldiers captured the previous month in the eastern city of Arsal, exacerbating ethnic and communal tensions, and sparking attacks on Syrian refugees. Clashes between the Lebanese army and Syrian rebels also continued in the east leaving several soldiers, Sunni militants and Hizbollah members dead.

Weeks of anti-government protests led by Yemen’s Huthis degenerated into several days of fighting in the capital Sanaa in mid-September. Over two hundred were killed as the Huthis clashed with rival forces loyal to General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and, to a much lesser extent, Sunni Islamist fighters around Iman University. Large parts of the security forces sided with the Huthis who seized key parts of Sanaa, including government buildings, and were allowed to control security in the city. A new peace deal and power sharing agreement signed on 21 September called for the implementation of national dialogue outcomes and the government to be replaced, but the balance of power on the ground has shifted solidly towards the Huthis. Prospects for a Huthi withdrawal from the capital remain uncertain: a new prime minister has yet to be appointed, and since the agreement Huthis have surrounded and entered the homes of political enemies as well as attacking the home of Yemen’s national security chief Ali al-Ahmadi in late September. (See our most recent report on Yemen’s Huthis.)

After months of deadlock, Sudan’s armed and political oppositions signed a statement on principles for a national dialogue process that would include them both. The government, the SPLM-N and Darfur rebels agreed to meet in October – under the auspices of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel – to discuss a possible cessation of hostilities in all conflict areas. The African Union Peace and Security Council welcomed the planned talks.

September 2014 – Trends

  • Deteriorated situations Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen
  • Improved situations

October 2014 – Watchlist

  • Conflict risk alerts Syria
  • Conflict resolution opportunities Sudan