The khan visits the tsar 

Brian  M Downing  King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited his counterpart in Russia last week – a further sign that events and alignments move quickly in the world. Such a visit was improbable two years ago when Putin sent his military to Syria against Saudi-backed rebels, and unthinkable thirty years Read More …

The US takes on Iran and the Shia Corridor

Brian M Downing  Candidate Trump promised a tougher stance toward Iran. He deplored the P5+1 deal that required Iran to dismantle critical parts of its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. President Trump has altered many of his positions but remains hostile toward Iran. The position advanced here recently Read More …

Trump and Putin compete for Syria’s Kurds

Brian M Downing The Middle East has few effective militaries. Army after army has shown little fighting spirit when it comes to foreign enemies or ISIL, preferring instead their primary and usually easy mission of internal repression. The Kurds, on the other hand, have demonstrated formidable military effectiveness. They have blunted ISIL Read More …

The battle for Raqqa – and what comes after 

Brian M Downing  The long expected battle for Raqqa, the ISIL capital in north-central Syria, is underway. The Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of several militias, has begun encircling Raqqa. Soon the SDF will take surrounding villages, then prepare to assault the city itself. The battle will be long and Read More …

The Islamic State looks ahead – and to the wasteland

Brian M Downing  ISIL continues to demonstrate not only its brutality but also its determination and effectiveness. Their Salafist-apocalyptic creed supersedes the tribal antagonisms and ill-regard for leaders that weaken other armies of the region, make them less stable, and force them to rely on foreign militaries. Despite a string Read More …

From Syria with vengeance

Brian M Downing This week’s assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey has highlighted the international complexities and domestic consequences of the Syrian civil war. The assassin, a young policeman, denounced Russia’s role in the battle of Aleppo and added praise for jihad, presumably against Russia and its regional partners. Read More …

Can Assad retake Syria?

Brian M Downing Once Aleppo is completely taken and reasonably secure, Assad and Putin will turn their attention to the last rebel city in the west, Idlib. Their tactics of intensive airstrikes followed by ground assaults are effective, if inhumane. The rebels have no protection from Russian aircraft. Their foreign Read More …

Negotiation and escalation in the Syrian civil war after Aleppo

Negotiation and escalation in the Syrian civil war after Aleppo  Brian M Downing  The war in Syria is entering its sixth year. Various rebel groups, backed by Sunni powers, had the upper hand until Hisbollah, Iran, and Russia intervened on the government side. Over the last year government forces developed a tactic Read More …

Russia looks for opportunities in Iraq

  Russia looks for opportunities in Iraq Brian M Downing  Russia and the United States are engaged in Cold War Two – a global contest for influence, trade, military bases, and power. Russia, in conjunction with China, want to establish hegemony in the Eurasian land mass, including the Middle East. Read More …