The Sunni-Shia conflict: the aims of belligerents

Brian M Downing  The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran did not begin by the happenstance of a border dispute or the sinking of a passenger liner. It came about by international diplomacy as surely as a multinational trade agreement. As murderous and chaotic as wars are, they have a Read More …

The Sunni-Shia conflict: cohesion and disintegration at home 

Brian M Downing  See also my “The Sunni-Shia conflict: correlation of power.” Total war sets into motion certain forces tending to unify the nation under the stress of external threat to its existence, although their total net effect is probably less important than those forces making for the interruption of Read More …

The Sunni-Shia conflict: correlation of power

Brian M Downing  Hostility between the Sunni and Shia sects began in the seventh century as a fight over succession to leadership of the Islamic world. Was it to be descendants of the Prophet or his generals? The issue was settled, more or less, when the generals defeated Ali’s forces Read More …

The coming struggle for Iraq

Brian M Downing  The Entente of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States is determined to weaken Iranian-Shia influence. The effort has theaters in Syria, Yemen, Qatar, and Iraq. At times it will entail diplomacy and sanctions, other times military operations will be the rule. Both will be used in Read More …

The call of ISIL after Mosul and Raqqa

Brian M Downing Mosul and Raqqa will soon fall, leaving ISIL with no major cities, only a few towns in the thinly-populated expanses of eastern Syria and western Iraq. Its bold claim to be an ever-victorious army conquering vast lands across the Middle East for the new caliphate is becoming Read More …

Can Trump and Putin ease the Syrian civil war? (Will they be condemned for doing so?)

Brian M Downing Presidents Trump and Putin met privately last week at the G20 conference in Hamburg. Talks lasted well over two hours, far longer than expected. Details are unknown but there is hope that the two leaders see little good coming from sharper confrontation in the Levant and prefer to reduce the fighting. Read More …

The Entente faces down the Muslim Brotherhood

Brian M Downing  The Muslim Brotherhood began in 1920s Egypt and over the years has spread throughout the Islamic world. In places it operates as an underground network, elsewhere as an open part of government. Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States have formed an Entente which opposes terrorism and Read More …

The potential for escalation in eastern Syria

Brian M Downing The war in Syria seemed to settle after Damascus’s troops retook Aleppo early this year. Backed by Russian air power, government forces overwhelmed the determined but overmatched rebels and fighting declined. Meaningful negotiations did not follow. The war is now shifting to the east where the American-backed Read More …

The rise of West Kurdistan

Brian M Downing  History has not been kind to the Kurds. Living in what is now (or was) Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, they have fought to retain their language and customs while subjugated by Safavid, Ottoman, British, French, and other empires. The breakup of Syria and Iraq brings opportunity Read More …

American risks and rewards in the anti-Iran coalition

Brian M Downing The United States has entered into a portentous strategic partnership with Israel and a host of Sunni powers led by Saudi Arabia. The new Triple Entente was nominally formed to fight terrorism but actually to weaken Iranian-Shia influence from Lebanon and Syria to Iran. An initial move was Read More …