Between the lead-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and around 2008, I read extensively on what was happening in the country. I wrote several articles and chapters on the territorial, legal and constitutional issues, many of which were re-edited to form parts of my 2009 book Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty. (Most of the articles are available open access here.)
Due to other projects, I’ve only kept a partial eye on things since that time, with most of my reading coming from news-sites, good blogs (Juan Cole’s Informed Comment in particular), and some of the academic literature. (For one exception, see this 2010 analysis of a then-newly available document.) But I’ve not been reading in the same way I was before I finished the ‘war on terror’ book manuscript. Other contemporary topics – such as Boko Haram – have taken up more of my attention, alongside more historical and conceptual projects.
In recent days I’ve been trying to make more sense of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham – often rendered as ‘the Levant’, though the area meant is considerably larger, and sometimes translated as ‘Syria’, hence the use of two acronyms, of ISIS or ISIL. The group has become a major topic because of its rapid takeover of parts of Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, major cities such as Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah have been taken over. Kurdish peshmerga forces have gained a long-wished for control of Kirkuk. The US is debating another round of intervention; Tony Blair is back on the news suggesting that the current situation is not the fault of the 2003 invasion and that it is rather due to lack of intervention in Syria; John McCain continues to add countries and causes to his wish-list of interventions.
These are some of the better things I’ve read – not that I agree with all in them, but they are useful guides to different positions being taken. Additions welcome in comments.
- The BBC has some useful maps – the one to the right and a crude one of ethnic groupings and a better one on oil supplies. They also have a good map of Syria’s civil war here.
- The Guardian – Who are Isis? – in this I appreciate the stress on the ‘state’ element of the name, and the attention paid to what else the group does beyond military action. Like Boko Haram and Hezbollah, for example, they provide many of the services traditionally associated with states. There is also a piece at Slate by Daniel Byman on the state-actions of ISIS – suggesting it is already a quasi-state.
- On the quasi-state idea, there is a good piece at the Stanford University Press blog, with a link to a Google Map from the Long War Journal showing cities under ISIS control.
- A discussion of the challenges to national borders at Terri-Stories
- Three good pieces at Informed Comment – one on Iran’s involvement; one on the US’s role; and a critical examination of prevalent media myths. If you have any interest in this topic, or Middle-East politics generally, this site is a must-read.
- The Brian Lehrer Show discussion (plus another map) – thanks to dmfant for this link.
- A commentary by Toby Dodge on what Iraq can do to reform and survive
- Lindsey Germain at Counterfire – the Stop the War perspective
Update: thanks for these additional links.
- Examining the Causes of the Islamic State’s Resurgence in Iraq – @TahrirSy
- Explainer: what is ISIS and where did it come from? – Peter Shirlow at The Conversation
- Paul Rogers at Oxford Research Group – fifteen points on the advances and possible intervention
- New piece at The Guardian - answering common questions