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Arming Iraq’s Kurds: Fighting IS and inviting conflict

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Loosely organised in an ad hoc coalition, Western countries rushed military aid to Iraqi Kurds in the face of a lightning assault by the Islamic State (IS) in June 2014. They failed, however, to develop a strategy for dealing with the consequences of arming non-state actors in Iraq, a country whose unity they profess to support. Rather than forging a strong, unified military response to the IS threat, building up Kurdish forces accelerated the Kurdish polity’s fragmentation, increased tensions between these forces and non-Kurds in disputed areas and strengthened Iraq’s centrifugal forces. Delivered this way, military assistance risks prolonging the conflict with IS, worsening other longstanding, unresolved conflicts and creating new ones. A new approach is called for that revives and builds on past

Features | Crisis Group | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 128

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Nigeria: President Buhari vows to crackdown on corruption

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Muhammadu Buhari became Nigeria’s new head of state on 29 May in an unprecedented ceremony after he won the first opposition victory over a sitting president in the nation’s history, writes Franklin Adesegha. The 72-year-old takes charge of Africa’s most populous nation, which is facing crises on several fronts, from severe economic turmoil to Boko Haram’s insurgency. The inauguration, before visiting heads of state and dignitaries, comes 32 years after the former army general seized power in a military coup. He was ousted after 20 months in office. Buhari has described himself as a “converted democrat” and vowed to lead an administration committed to the needs of Nigeria’s 173 million people by cracking down on the scourge of corruption.

Features | Franklin Adesegha | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 138

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Myanmar’s electoral landscape

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Myanmar is preparing to hold national elections in early November 2015; five years after the last full set of polls brought the semi-civilian reformist government to power. The elections, which are constitutionally required within this timeframe, will be a major political inflection point, likely replacing a legislature dominated by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (US DP), established by the former regime, with one more reflective of popular sentiment. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party of Aung San Suu Kyi is well-placed to take the largest bloc of seats. There have been major improvements in election administration since the deeply flawed 2010 elections and the more credible 2012 by-elections. While the election commission is still widely perceived as close to the government

Features | Crisis Group | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 139

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There will be no winners in Syria’s war, but there can be an end

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Whatever the Assad regime and its opponents may think, no side is heading toward military victory in Syria. On its current trajectory the war will worsen, with the already devastating death toll accompanied by increasing transborder radicalization and further destruction of the country’s social and urban fabric. Such continued misery for Syrians will entail rising costs for the conflict’s principal external stakeholders — Iran and Russia in the regime’s camp, the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the side of the opposition.

Features | NorthSouth | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 130

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DR Congo: Is democratic change possible?

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The presidential and legislative polls scheduled for 2016 are a potential watershed for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); they could be the first elections held without an incumbent protecting his position. The prospect of these elections is testing nerves on all sides of the Congolese political spectrum and has already caused deadly violence. There is an urgent need for President Joseph Kabila to commit to the two-term limit contained within the constitution and ready himself to leave power. Consensus is also needed on key electoral decisions, in particular regarding the calendar and the voter roll.

Features | Crisis Group | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 128

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Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen resume as UN-sponsored talks falter

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The military coalition led by S audi Arabia resumed airstrikes in Yemen, hours after the expiration of a five-day humanitarian cease-fire between the coalition and Houthi rebels. International aid agencies, as well as the UN envoy to Yemen, had called for an extension in order to continue delivering relief supplies to Yemen, which has been under an air and sea blockade since the Saudi-led coalition began its offensive against the Houthis in late March. Unicef said it had been able to resupply health care centers, activate mobile medical teams in rural areas affected by the fighting and supply fuel that allowed local authorities to run water systems. The group also delivered solarpowered refrigerators to keep vaccines cold in a country starved of electricity.

Features | Ali Bahaijoub | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 121

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Stress tests for Kazakhstan

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Actions in Ukraine have altered how Kazakhstan views Russian intent in the former Soviet Union and increased its sense of vulnerability. In response, the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev has undertaken measures to strengthen government, protect economic stability and shut down speculation that a Ukrainian scenario could unfold in its northern provinces. A dwindling but still substantial ethnic Russian minority with many grievances faces inward migration in those provinces by ethnic Kazakhs encouraged by official policy to “balance” the region. While it is, for the moment at least, highly unlikely Russia could replicate there what it has done in Ukraine, and Russian diplomats insist it does not want to, Kazakhstan needs to do more to address its internal challenges while its aging president’s prestige and mandate are secure.

Features | Crisis Group | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 133

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Chinese yuan as alternative reserve to dollar

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Inspired by its growing global economic clout, China has stepped forward to openly demand that its currency, the yuan, become an alternative reserve to the US dollar, writes Franklin Adesegha The Chinese claim is further boosted by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, acknowledging that China’s currency is no longer undervalued. Undervaluation has been a problem in the past, says the IMF, but this is no longer the case. Substantial “appreciation over the past year has brought the exchange rate to a level that is no longer undervalued”, it says.

Features | Franklin Adesegha | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 126

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Colombia peace process: Lurching backwards

Colombia’s peace process faces its most serious crisis yet, after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) suspended a five month old unilateral ceasefire. Instead of more measures to deescalate the conflict ahead of a final peace agreement, there are now new risks that the confrontation will escalate, causing fresh humanitarian damage, crippling trust between the parties and further weakening public support for the process. FARC´s decision came on the heels of a military air and ground operation against a guerrilla camp in the southwestern municipality of Guapí (Cauca), which killed at least 26 fighters. Details have remained scarce, but according to official information, the attack was part of ongoing operations against drug-trafficking and illegal mining activities in which the FARC’s 29th front has long been involved. This event came only five weeks after a FARC ambush in the same region, which killed eleven soldiers and prompted President Santos to revoke an earlier suspension of aerial bombardments.

Features | Crisis Group | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 121

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Saudi king’s changes make policy less predictable

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Changes in Saudi Arabia’s leadership have concentrated power in an inner circle of the Al Saud dynasty, removing constraints on the monarch and making the conservative kingdom’s strategic positions less predictable. The world’s top oil exporter has always prized stability, developing policies slowly and altering them rarely, partly because of the need to balance rivalries among ruling family members and their conflicting interests. That may now be changing. Since inheriting the throne from his brother in January, King Salman has embarked on a war in neighboring Yemen, restructured the oil sector and shaken up domestic governance, including the line of succession.

Features | NorthSouth | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 124

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Mali: An imposed peace?

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After eight months of negotiations between Malian parties, the government and some armed groups signed an agreement on 15 May 2015 in Bamako. Fighting has resumed, however, in the north and centre of Mali. Crucially, the Azawad Movements Coalition (CMA) has still not signed the agreement. It initialled the text on the eve of the ceremony but demands further discussion before fully accepting it. An agreement without the signature of the main coalition opposing the government is of little value and will likely make disarmament impossible. The mediation team should establish a framework that would allow for further talks and Malian parties should return to the negotiating table at the earliest opportunity.

Features | Crisis Group | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 134

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Stirring up the South China Sea: A fleeting opportunity for calm

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The South China Sea is the cockpit of geopolitics in East Asia. Five countries – Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – plus Taiwan have substantial and competing territorial and maritime claims in a body of water that is both an important source of hydrocarbons and fisheries and a vital trade corridor. The recent history has been scarred by cycles of confrontation. Today, the clashes are becoming more heated, and the lulls between periods of tension are growing shorter. As the region continues to

Cover Stories | Crisis Group | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 132

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Tension in South China Sea

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The South China Sea is the subject of numerous, rival and often messy territorial declarations over an area that includes fertile fishing grounds and potentially rich reserves of undersea natural resources, writes Franklin Adesegha In addition to China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim at least parts of the South China Sea. The United States does not recognize China’s territorial claims, and other claimants including several U.S. allies are alarmed by China’s recent move to reclaim and militarize islands in the region. In just two years, China has expanded these islands by 2,000 acres the equivalent of 1,500 football fields, an engineering marvel in deep waters.

Cover Stories | Franklin Adesegha | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 132

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Island Wars: China asserts its power

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Disputes over the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea concern oil and gas resources that lie beneath them, but more important, is the question of strategic control. The Paracel Islands lie to the south of China’s Hainan Island to the east of Vietnam and to the West of the Philippines and all three countries as well as Taiwan, advance claims for them. The Spratly Islands, much farther south, lie to the east of Vietnam, the north of Malaysia and Brunei and to the west of the Philippines. Ultimately, more important than any of their claims is the fact that the South China Sea is one of the most important international

Cover Stories | Guy Arnold | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 129

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China will surpass the US as world’s superpower

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Many around the globe believe that China will surpass the US by the turn of the decade as the world’s superpower, a shift that would dismay to the American Administration especially as the US has dominated the global economic, political and military arena since the end of the Second World War. While China’s increasing military power generates concerns among some in Asia and around the globe, its economic growth also presents opportunities for many in the region and beyond. In 2008, global public opinion in 20 nations was divided on the question of China’s growing economic power, with 41% saying it will eventually replace or has already replaced the U.S. as the dominant superpower, and 39% saying China will never supplant the U.S.

Cover Stories | Ali Bahaijoub | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 131

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China: The coming new superpower

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power interface that includes China, the United States, Japan and Russia is centered upon the South China Sea and already has reached explosive proportions. The huge growth of China’s economy has pushed Beijing into the foreground of Asian politics as it steadily spreads its hegemony outwards. China’s impact is being felt in Myanmar, Vietnam,the two Koreas, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and a fearful Australia. A recent China-Russia agreement under which Russia willsupply China with $400 billion worth of gas over three decades is trade but also a statement of political purpose, part of a n alliance. Meanwhile, the United States is coming to accept that a new, fast mobbing world power structure is being built.

Cover Stories | Guy Arnold | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 124

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US strategy in Iraq not working

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The fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the Syrian city of Palmyra last month, constitutes a big gain for the Islamic State despite over ten months of heavy air raids by the U.S. and a small network of allies who have carried out more than 4,100 strikes in Iraq and Syria in an attempt to weaken the Islamic State. The U.S. strategy to combat the self-proclaimed Islamic State is not working and the stunning resilience of this radical group continues to pose a serious threat to the region and the West. In taking Palmyra, the group has

Features | Guy Arnold | 1 June 2015 | Hits: 123

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