Fighting in the Middle East continues to have broad implications for the rest of the world, according to a political analyst who studies the violent groups jockeying for control in Iraq.
Ahmed Ali ’08 will give the talk “Iraq’s Crossroads: ISIS and Political Challenges” at noon Tuesday, Nov. 18 in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 209. The talk will include a free lunch. No reservation is required.
Ali is a senior research analyst and Iraq team lead at the Institute for the Study of War. Ali has been researching Iraqi affairs for eight years, and he worked as an analyst on Middle Eastern Affairs at Georgetown University.
Ali shares his insights on the “most dangerous terrorist and military organization in the region and world.”
What does ISIS membership look like? What's its current connection with al Qaeda?
A: The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is now a multinational organization. It is primarily led by Iraqi members who attacked U.S. forces during their presence in Iraq. The presence of Iraqis in ISIS’ upper echelons includes the leader of the group, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and high-ranking members of the ISIS senior leadership council. ISIS also has within its ranks foreign fighters who hail from Middle Eastern, European, and North American countries. ISIS is in a direct competition with al-Qaeda. ISIS conceives itself as the leader of the global Jihadist movement and Baghdadi promotes himself as a reincarnated leader of the Muslim world. ISIS vision, however, is not accepted by the majority of Muslims who view the organization as a brutal group that is intolerant of the social and ethnic diversity that dominates the Middle East.
What other political challenges does Iraq face?
A: Iraq’s challenges are military and political. Politically and socially, Iraq needs a major national reconciliation initiative. The different communities feel aggrieved by governmental behavior and policies throughout Iraq’s history. Therefore, there has to be a mechanism to address those historical grievances in order for the country to move forward. ISIS is a threat to all Iraqis and its defeat in Iraq can signal the beginning of a process that can bring the communities together under an inclusive government and system.
What are differences or similarities of the many groups fighting against ISIS in Iraq?
A: There is a civil war in Iraq. In this civil war, there are different groups fighting. ISIS is the major threat to Iraq given its regional and global ambitions and its indiscriminate use of violence. There are also other Iraqi Sunni insurgency groups that fight the Iraqi government that are either Islamist in nature or have ties to the Ba’ath Party that ruled Iraq for 35 years. But ISIS remains the most dominant anti-government force.
Additionally, there are Iraqi Shi’a militias that are backed by the Iranian government and are countering ISIS while concurrently carrying out sectarian attacks against Iraqi Sunni civilians in addition to conducting criminal activities.
For the Iraqi Kurds, the Peshmerga are a major force countering ISIS. The Peshmerga are trusted by the Iraqi Kurds and since June 2014 when Mosul fell, there has been increased acceptance of their role by the Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Turkrmens in certain areas due to the ISIS threat. The Peshmerga will have to maintain that trust by performing well and treating the population fairly. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), which includes the army and police, are also very important players but they have to be rebuilt after years of mismanagement and challenges.
How many people have died in the violence so far?
A: It is clear that the last 11 years have witnessed continued violence touching every Iraqi family’s life and affecting many American families that have members serving in the U.S. military and other crucial U.S. government agencies.
What is ISIS' endgame?
A: ISIS wants to establish an Islamic state that is transnational and is the leader of the global Jihad. However, ISIS has always overplayed its hand and failed to garner public support. Therefore, the organization can be defeated.
What is the United States’ current anti-ISIS strategy?
A: The U.S. is a significant actor in the effort to counter ISIS. It can mobilize the international community and marshal unparalleled military assets. U.S. current strategy is based on militarily weakening ISIS while also encouraging the Iraqi government to be more inclusive.
The program is sponsored by the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights.