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Analysis and Comment (113)

Female members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) helped patrol the outskirts of Makhmur, a northern Iraqi town that was seized back from Islamic State militants in August. AAP/Eddie Gerald

Our forgotten allies against Islamic State: Iraqi and Syrian women

Women and girls living in Syria and Iraq have been subject to gross sexual violence, economic strife and the psychological trauma of a war that, to them, seems endless. But women in these countries are…
Most media outlets lined up behind the ‘coalition of the willing’ last time around. This time seems no different. The US Army

When governments go to war, the Fourth Estate goes AWOL

A year after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a postmortem of the media coverage of the so-called “Iraq war”. The conference included academics, journalists…
The Ottoman Chief Eunuch was an influential figure. In this and other caliphates, eunuchs supervised the harem, the princes, the financial affairs of the palace and the mosques, as well as controlling access to the ruler. Photo postcard 1912

Islamic State lacks key ingredient to make ‘caliphate’ work: eunuchs

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed Islamic State (IS) as a Muslim caliphate on June 29, 2014, with himself as caliph, a term reserved for a successor to the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). His would be the newest…
Locking up convicted extremists does not prevent marginalised and angry youth from being radicalised. AAP/Julian Smith

Third wave of global ‘jihad’ challenges community as a whole

The dreadful events in Iraq and Syria and counter-terrorism raids in Australia have alarmed Australians, including the 500,000-strong Muslim community. These incidents represent a new episode of the “third…
Religious leaders have come together to promote community harmony, but some political and media agendas have encouraged Islamophobia. AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Politicians and media let us down in fight to curb rising Islamophobia

Many incidents of violence and harassment directed at Australian Muslims have been reported recently. These are visible confirmation of fears expressed by their community, that support for the government’s…
An Australian Super Hornet refuels from a KC30 tanker while flying over Iraq. @VCDF_Australia/Twitter

Why Western boots should stay out of Iraq and Syria

There are two reasons why we should ignore the growing calls in the United States, Canada and Australia for Western “boots on ground” – meaning ground troops – to fight and destroy the Islamic State (IS…
Known as White Rocks, this quartz outcrop was the site of a three-hour gun battle in 1915 between police and two Afghans, who had shot and killed picnickers leaving Broken Hill. Amanda Slater/Flickr

History repeating: from the Battle of Broken Hill to the sands of Syria

It’s another hot Australian New Year’s Day, and 1200 people are aboard a train bound for a picnic when a burst of gunfire shatters the festive atmosphere. Police return fire, killing the attackers – but…
Air strikes in Syria are the latest phase of the war against Islamic State, each stage involving a fresh set of moral judgements. EPA/US Air Force

Moral dilemmas of war against Islamic State lack easy answers

Every generation in recent memory has had seminal historical conflicts which demand that lessons must be learnt. The baby boomers had the Vietnam war. Their parents: the second world war. And our generation…
Displaced Iraqis have found refuge in the Kurdish capital, Erbil, only to be threatened by advancing Islamic State fighters until international military forces intervened. EPA/Mohamed Messara

Taking on the terrorist threat in Iraq: the view from Kurdistan

To those of us living in Australia, conflict can seem surreal and distant. Yes, we see it on the television, but it is hard to imagine the chaos and horror that accompanies war and conflict. It is not…
US President Barack Obama announces the start of a campaign of allied airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Syria. EPA/Win McNamee

Air power won’t finish off Islamic State, so what comes next?

Having secured some sort of tacit agreement with Damascus, the coalition bombing campaign inside Syria proper has begun in earnest. The US, France and an ambiguous array of allies is unleashing the bleeding…
The new laws would make it easier for authorities to prevent people fighting in foreign conflicts, as happened to this man arrested in December for allegedly attempting to travel to Syria. AAP/Australian Federal Police

Bill targets foreign fighters before departure and after return

The Abbott government has today introduced the second tranche of its national security amendments – the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 – into the Senate. As its name…
Hear no evil? Many politicians have labelled Islamic State ‘evil’, but what does that really mean? See-no-hear-no-speak-no-evil monkeys/Shuttterstock

Unique evil, death cults and War on Terror: do these labels help?

Our time, this decade even, has shown us that man’s capacity for evil knows no limits. – Then United Nations' Secretary-General Kofi Annan, 1997 Over the past few weeks leading up to the US-led bombing…
Australian women of different faiths gathered at Sydney’s Lakemba Mosque last month in a show of community solidarity. AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

Terrorists can be defeated by fighting fear with co-operation

From anarchists in the 1920s and radical leftists in the 1960s, to fringe, extreme-right Christian bombers or gunmen in the United States in recent decades, or radical Islamists such as Islamic State today…
A suspected IS convert is arrested in Indonesia. EPA/Sakhiy Rifano

The fight against Islamic State is a battle for young minds

Governments around the world are trying to come to terms with the fact that their nationals – and young people in particular – are leaving to join extremist groups such as Islamic State. In response, ministers…
Since Defence Force chief Mark Binskin and Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the deployment of Australian warplanes, the confused ‘mission creep’ seen in the last Iraq war has begun. AAP/Lukas Coch

Blurred battlelines: our mission to ‘destroy’ Islamic State won’t work

Before committing more troops, the Australian government should be certain about the type of threat Islamic State (IS) poses and whether the Australian Defence Force has a clear and justified objective…
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with Air Chief Marshal Mark Binski, announces Australia will send 600 military personnel to the Middle East. AAP

Q&A: How Australia has moved faster to fight Islamic State

How much has Australia committed to fighting Islamic State? Australia has pledged 600 military personnel and up to eight Super Hornets, which is expected to cost up to $500 million per year. There has…
Barack Obama’s speech to announce a strategy to destroy Islamic State had a familiar ring to it because it followed the script of the past half-century. EPA/Saul Loeb/pool

My fellow Americans: the familiar sound of American belligerence

A few years back, an honours student in linguistics at Macquarie University did a small study of American presidential oratory. The student chose four speeches, in which four different American presidents…
This is as far as you go: refugees arrive in Jordan. EPA/STR

Jordan has become the West’s warehouse for Iraqi refugees

Swamped as we are with media outrage and political rhetoric about asylum seekers “invading” Europe, we tend to forget that the vast majority of displaced people find refuge in countries far beyond EU borders…
Tony Abbott has deployed his senior ministers, including Julie Bishop and George Brandis, to get out the government’s anti-terrorism message. AAP/Lukas Coch

First rule of fighting terrorists: don’t do their job for them

It appears that Australia might be put on a higher threat alert level. ASIO director-general David Irvine’s comments on a possible increase in the terrorism threat level (which came into force in 2003…
US President Barack Obama outlines his new four-point strategy to defeat Islamic State in a televised address from the White House. EPA/SAUL LOEB / POOL

Obama’s new strategy still misses Islamic State’s weakest link

US President Barack Obama has announced a more aggressive strategy against Islamic State, including air strikes against its fighters “wherever they are”, even inside Syria – which he had previously ruled…
US President Barack Obama will today outline his strategy to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State in a televised address. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

Obama’s Iraq and Syria strategy risks a global radical backlash

UPDATED AT 4:30PM AEST: The most interesting part of US President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated televised address today was not the unsurprising news of increased allied strikes against Islamic State…
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and US Secretary of State John Kerry after the annual Australia-US security talks in Sydney last month. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Ghosts of 2003: US, Australia and allies face tough choices in Iraq

Australia has announced that it will take its place among the US-led coalition of states in military operations against Islamic State in Iraq. Responding to a request from the US President, Australia has…
Barack Obama is reluctant to jump in with both feet with a major military intervention in Iraq and Syria. EPA/Valda Kalnina

Why ‘fools rush in’ is Obama’s watchword in Iraq and Syria

US president Barack Obama has yet to work out exactly what America’s strategy is in confronting Islamic State (IS), and has been foolish enough to say so in public. Cue the foreseeable torrent of point-scoring…
Running out of options, fast, Cameron prepares for his COBRA meet. EPA/Will Oliver

As IS killings mount, what are Cameron’s options in Iraq?

With Islamic State atrocities mounting – and an explicit threat made to a British citizen being held there – UK prime minister David Cameron is under pressure from some to act. But how? After all, recent…
US troops have made gains against IS. EPA/Armin Weigel

The time has come for decisive action against Islamic State

With an unmistakable British accent, the now-infamous Islamic State (IS) fighter thought to have killed journalist James Foley has addressed his second message to US president Barack Obama. IS is trying…
Does Tony Abbott’s justification for Australian involvement in Iraq amount to a legal basis for our commitment? AAP/Dave Hunt

Australia’s military involvement in Iraq is legal – for now

The humanitarian missions by the Royal Australian Air Force in Iraq are in accordance with international law, despite a confusing statement by Iraq’s ambassador to Australia, Mouayed Saleh. But continued…
Andrew Wilkie argues that parliamentary debate and authorisation should be necessary for Australia to go to war. AAP/Gary Schafer

Explainer: Australia’s war powers and the role of parliament

With the announcement of Australia’s involvement in dropping aid to Kurdish fighters engaged against Islamic State extremists in northern Iraq, questions have again arisen about who should control Australia’s…
A powerful weapon in the fight against terrorism? Shutterstock passport

Removing citizenship will only encourage UK jihadists

In the aftermath of James Foley’s killing and the concern that his killer may be from the UK, the right to British citizenship has been placed firmly at the centre of the debate about modern terrorism…
Where are you going? It doesn’t matter why. miskan

Public backs removing citizenship from Britons fighting abroad – even for a good cause

The UK government is making noises about potentially stripping British people of their citizenship if they join conflicts abroad. But while the proposal is aimed at deterring people from joining Islamic…
History tells us that it is certain criteria and not democratic niceties, secularism or a moderate hand that will make or break Islamic State. EPA/STR

Going the distance: does Islamic State have staying power?

The rise of Islamic State (IS) across parts of the Middle East has galvanised the international community in a way not seen since September 11. But before a military response is considered, western nations…
The silent majority of Muslims shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of Islam’s radical followers – they are victims of radical Islam. EPA/Ali Abbas

Islam’s silent majority: moderate voices drowned out by extremists

Stretching from north Africa to east Asia, many Muslims are engaged in a life-and-death tussle with extremists who are bent on extinguishing the diversity of opinions within the Muslim community. Atrocities…
A screengrab from Islamic State’s execution video of American journalist James Foley. Liveleak

James Foley, Islamic State and the media’s treatment of terrorism

The US government has confirmed the veracity of a video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley by Islamic State (IS) militants. US president Barack Obama condemned the act overnight…
James Foley: highly respected and professional journalist. EPA/Nicole Tung

James Foley murder: inside the mind of Britain’s jihadis

The chilling video showing the apparent murder of the journalist James Foley by the Islamic State has reinforced the terrible risks involved in the brave and important role that journalists play in reporting…
Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Shiite volunteers take position in the fight against the Islamic State. EPA/STR

Kurds face challenge of unity in face of Islamic State assault

As the Islamic State (IS) continues to gain ground, it is largely Kurdish territory that they are taking in northwestern Iraq. One result of the conflict has been to bring close military co-operation between…
Members of the Yasidi religious minority refugees boarding an aid flight in Sinjar, August 10. EPA/Michel Reimon

Britain mounts belated rescue in Iraq but also reveals limitations

The immediate crisis to which the British government is now scrambling to find an appropriate response is the desperate plight of hundreds of refugees stranded on a mountain ridge and surrounded by forces…
Political crisis in Iraq: “Al-Maliki is our choice” insist supporters of the ousted PM. EPA/Ali Abbas

Iraq needs a new, more inclusive leader to fight the Islamic State

One of the defining moments in the growth of the Islamic State (IS) was when its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced in a mosque in Mosul at the end of June that an Islamic Caliphate was being established…
Impressive - but only as back-up to ground forces. EPA/Cpl. Jamean Berry

What Obama is telling the world by bombing Islamic State in Iraq

As the Islamic State (IS) continues its seemingly unstoppable march across Iraq it advertises its unique anti-Christian, anti-Shia, anti-everybody brand of Islam on social media as medieval barbarism meets…
Facing destruction: Iraq’s Yazidi kurds. EPA/Mohammed Jalil

Explainer: who are the Yazidis?

In 1918, the Yazidis of Sinjar mountain received an ultimatum from Ottoman forces – to hand over their weaponry and the Christian refugees they were sheltering, or face the consequences. They tore it up…
Iraq is rapidly spiralling into a humanitarian catastrophe, with the persecuted Yazidi religious minority facing genocide. EPA/Mohammed Jalil

Iraq’s Yazidis are on the brink of genocide – who will save them?

US president Barack Obama has confirmed that the US military made targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in Iraq, marking the deepest US engagement in the country since US troops…
The government wants to toughen laws to prosecute and deter Australians, such as alleged Syria suicide bomber ‘Abu Asma al-Australi’, from fighting in foreign conflicts. Twitter/@AbuSiqr

Foreign fighter passports and prosecutions in government’s sights

The Abbott government will soon unveil the legislative details of its second tranche of revamped anti-terrorism measures. The government introduced the first set of reforms into the Senate in July. One…
Islamic State militants have destroyed sites of great cultural and historical significance in Iraq, such as the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul. EPA/Stringer

Diversity and religious pluralism are disappearing amid Iraq’s crisis

Iraq previously had one of the most multicultural societies in the Middle East. A broad diversity of religions, races and cultures flourished in Iraq, united by common heritage, culture and traditions…
Kurdish Peshmerga forces now control their long dreamt-of capital, Kirkut, but the euphoria at the prospect of independence ignores the real practical challenges of statehood. AAP/Newzulu/Guillaume Briquet

‘Independent’ Kurds need Baghdad more than they’d like

Iraqi Kurds are in a unique position to declare independence in defiance of a seemingly powerless central government in Baghdad following the rapid disintegration of Iraq in the face of the Islamic State…
Tony Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu speak the same language when distancing themselves from the killing of civilians in military operations. EPA/Haim Zach/Israeli government press office

MH17, Iraq, Gaza and the deadly verbal dance around killing people

Some years back, award-winning British journalist Robert Fisk wrote an article in which he stated the apparent tautology that “murder is murder”. Fisk was writing on Israel’s policy of “targeted killing…
Peace Brigade may be a somewhat misleading name for this militia. EPA/Ali Abbas

Modern conflict blurs the line between soldiers and civilians

As I write this, the people of Gaza hopes for an end to the week-long Israeli bombardment which has killed more than 180 Palestinians – many of them civilians have been dashed after Hamas rejected the…
Kurdish soldiers have been forced to defend parts of Iraq from jihadi fighters. What are their chances of gaining independent statehood? AAP/Guillaume Briquet

As crisis grips Iraq, could a Kurdish state be in the offing?

Without the bloodshed and destruction associated with the Islamic state jihadis, one of Iraq’s constituent pieces is moving quietly towards establishing itself as a free-standing political entity. Massoud…
This Assyrian winged bull is safe in Chicago, if far from home. How much else is safe? Trjames

Fears grow for safety of Iraq’s cultural heritage under ISIS

Iraq has a long and rich heritage, home for thousands of years to mighty empires – Assyria and Babylon, the Abbasid caliphate – that ruled the region once known as Mesopotamia, widely held as the cradle…
Smoke pours from the Baiji oil refinery, the largest in Iraq, by some reports under the control of ISIS forces. EPA/STR

Iraq crisis threatens global oil supplies and a stable Middle East

The mid-June penetration of northwestern Iraq by the extreme Islamist movement ISIS has prompted major concerns about the world’s oil supply and energy security. The group’s incursion threatens Iraq’s…
The jihadi fighters in Iraq and Syria include hundreds of Australians. EPA/Mohammed Jalil

Why hundreds of westerners are taking up arms in global jihad

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are attracting many westerners, including young Australians, as jihadi fighters. Last December, Australian intelligence agencies reported that they were aware of at least…
Kurdish peshmerga brigades, which have emerged as the only viable military counterweight to ISIL in Iraq, prepare defences at Kirkuk. EPA/Khalil al-A'nei

Kurds find a way forward through the chaos of a fracturing Iraq

The Kurds have no friends but the mountains, runs the adage. Marginalised, dispossessed and oppressed in their historic homelands, Kurds have long lamented a lack of powerful allies willing and able to…
ISIL fighters patrol the newly captured provincial capital Tikrit, former home of Saddam Hussein. EPA/Stringer

How has Iraq lost a third of its territory to ISIS in three days?

The extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, has captured a third of Iraq’s territory within a few days. Iraq’s third-biggest city, Mosul, fell within hours of being attacked…
Iraqis fleeing from Mosul after ISIS took control. EPA/Kamal Akrayi

Explainer: what is ISIS and where did it come from?

Iraq is facing its most alarming crisis in years. The second city of Mosul and the major city of Tikrit have been seized by a violent jihadist group, ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, formerly…
Tony Blair says Egypt was ‘rescued’ from extremism by military intervention. EPA/Khaled Elfiqi

Blair’s anti-Islamist crusade could play into al-Qaeda’s hands

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the strongest external support for a forceful response from the United States came from Tony Blair, the man who now again describes the struggle against…
Comprehensive sanctions on Iraq started the modern debate on targeted measures. Adrian Dennis/EPA

Explainer: do sanctions work?

There seems to be a near-consensus that the West must “do something” to prevent instability in Ukraine and Russia’s other neighbours. But should that something include wider sanctions, targeting not just…
Iraq now faces an assault on its sovereign integrity from Islamic extremists that is testing the organs of the state. EPA/Mohammed Jalil

Iraq and its extremist problem: what now for the troubled state?

The number of deaths in Iraq from attacks by extremist groups operating under the banner of Islam has been growing steadily since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011. In 2013, nearly 8900 people…
Debris is cleared from a car bombing in Bagdad last month. Karim Kadim/AP/Press Association Images

Back towards the brink in Iraq as old tensions are renewed

Things have not been going well in Iraq for a while. Sectarian violence is on the increase, having reached levels last seen in 2008. As a consequence, the government of Nouri al-Maliki is in dire straits…
Millions of people are being displaced across the region. Freedom House

Middle East map blurs as old order breaks down

It is about 100 years since the then-imperial powers of Britain and France first demarcated the boundaries between Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Mandate Palestine. Now, it looks like those borders are…
Mobile coffins: dozens of British service personnel have been killed in the army’s Snatch Landrovers. Wikimedia Commons

Explainer: how are soldiers' rights protected in a war zone?

The recent Supreme Court decision to allow families of British personnel killed in Iraq to sue the government for negligence set up a barrage of cries about the judgment making it impossible for our armed…
The grim cost of conflict. Freedom House via Creative Commons

Syria casts its shadow as G8 leaders gather

President Obama’s confirmation that the United States would begin arming Syrian rebels has prompted an urgent debate about both the legality and the effectiveness of the decision. The announcement, ahead…
The aftermath of a bombing in Kirkuk in March 2013. The Iraq War may be officially over, but the violence continues. EPA/Khalil Al'a Nei

War that never ended: ten years on, Iraq remains bloodied

In the 10th anniversary analysis of the invasion of Iraq a lot of the focus will be on what we paid. Lives, dollars, influence and squandered reputation will be totted up against the lack of WMDs and the…
We need to learn from lessons of the past when it comes to veterans' mental health. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Vietnam and Iraq: lessons to be learned about mental health and war

Physical injury and death in war is expected. But we also now know the stories of large numbers of veterans suffering major psychological trauma. These involve Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety…
Residents inspect their damaged house after a bomb explosion in Baquba, Iraq. EPA/Ali Mohammed

Bombings in Iraq a sign of deep domestic problems

When US President Obama announced the end of America’s involvement in Iraq, he deliberately did not claim victory. But he did say, when welcoming the last contingent of combat troops home in October last…
On the ninth anniversary of the US-led Iraqi invasion, suicide attacks were used against civilians in Iraq. EPA/Mohammed Jalil

Good and bad deaths: why we react to suicide bombers the way we do

Suicide attacks and car bombings across Iraq this week have killed at least 43 people and left 255 wounded. We are sadly now very familiar with the phenomenon of the suicide bomber, but the particular…
Iraqi security forces inspect a taxi in the wake of a deadly attack on the city of Kirkuk last month. EPA/Khalil Al A Nei

Iraqi-Australians on life after the American war

Last week in Baghdad, 17 men were executed. Nothing special to note here in the conflict ridden, post-US withdrawal landscape of Iraq, except that this time they were executed by an Iraqi court. This was…

Columnists (7)

Play it again, Sam

Like him or loathe him, the late Samuel Huntington was one of the towering figures in political science and international relations. Even those who disagreed with his ideas were forced to engage with them…

Welcome to the middle ages

Was it only 20 years or so ago that Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the ‘end of history’? Fukuyama may have one of the biggest brains on the planet, but he was spectacularly wrong about the idea that Western-style…

Research and News (5)