Is ISIS Reviving in Iraq?

Members of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) cheer as they carry upside-down a black flag of the Islamic State (ISIS) group in the Old City of Mosul on July 2, 2017.

On May 13, Iraqi media reported a brutal attack by the notorious Islamic State (ISIS) on a military outpost in eastern Diyala and Salahuddin provinces.

Iraqi authorities did not provide specific details of the deadly incident apart from saying that the attackers killed a commanding officer and four Iraqi soldiers and wounded others. Iraqi forces launched an operation in the al-Aith area of Salahuddin in retaliation.

That the May 13 attack was  perpetrated by Islamic State militants suggests that rural areas remain a hotbed of activity for militant cells despite an earlier declaration of victory over ISIS in Iraq and Syria by a U.S.-led international anti-terrorist coalition in 2017. Other regional threats, including sectarian and proxy wars, appear to have undermined the Iraqi government’s counter-ISIS efforts and facilitated the radical organization’s revival. Continue reading

How pragmatism drives Azerbaijan-Iran shift on regional transit

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi meets with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Nov. 9, 2023. (Photo via Iranian presidency)

After rising confrontation and a war of words in recent years, Azerbaijan and Iran have returned to the diplomatic track—emphasizing regional connectivity and infrastructure projects based on pragmatism.

Having pursued coercive diplomacy to contain the rising influence of Israel and Turkey in Azerbaijan since 2020, Tehran has opted for reversive diplomacy towards Baku to de-escalate tensions. The shift is part of a broader Iranian strategy of seeking rapprochement with neighboring states, including Saudi Arabia.

Transit in focus

Regional infrastructure projects lie at the heart of the current pragmatism in the Azerbaijan-Iran relationship, putting political disputes on the back burner.

In Oct. 2023, Baku and Tehran laid the foundation for a new route connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan exclave through Iranian territory. The ceremony gathered Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev and Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrdad Bazrpash. Per the initial agreement, a road bridge will be constructed between the two countries, followed by new motorway and railway connections. Although there is currently a functioning road connection between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan via Iran, the new highway will significantly reduce travel time. Continue reading

What Does a Recent ISIS-K Terror Attack Mean for Turkey?

On January 28, 2024, masked assailants attacked a Roman Catholic church in Istanbul, killing one person. Shortly afterward, the Islamic State, through its official Amaq News Agency, claimed responsibility. Turkish police detained 47 people, most Central Asian nationals.

The incident shed light on the growing presence in Turkey of a Central Asian offshoot of the Islamic State group known as ISIS-K for Khorasan, once a large portion of the Persian Empire now divided among Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asian states.  The Jan. 28 assault was the group’s first successful attack in Turkey since Jan. 1, 2017, when jihadists invaded an Istanbul nightclub, killing 39 people and wounding nearly 80. Continue reading

Azerbaijan and Serbia Expand Defense Partnership

Presidents of Azerbaijan and Serbia made press statements

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 31

On February 6, Serbian President Alexander Vučić confirmed that Serbia signed a new defense contract worth over $300 million with Azerbaijan for Serbian-produced NORA B-52 (155 millimeter) self-propelled artillery (DefenseMirror.com, December 13, 2023). While Western media was surprised to hear about the new defense contract, it was not a surprise for Azerbaijani society, given the recently deepened strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and Serbia. For example, in November 2023, both countries signed a new energy deal to deliver Azerbaijani natural gas to Serbia (Balkan Insight, November 15, 2023). In the same period, Azerbaijani company AzVirt started the construction of the high-speed highway Slepcevic-Badovinci, which was 15.4 kilometers near Shabac (ABC.az, November 29, 2023). The most recent Serbian-Azerbaijani arms deal is a logical continuation of the earlier agreement regarding military-technical cooperation that consistently asserted mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity as the framework for collaboration between the two ministries in the military-economic and military-technical sphere (The Government of Serbia, October 11, 2021). Continue reading

While Militias Flourish Elsewhere, Iran Struggles to Promote a Shi’ite Proxy in Azerbaijan

A servicemen holds a portrait of Colonel Lieutenant Makhman Ganbarov, who was killed during the fighting in Armenia-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region, during a funeral in the city of Barda, Azerbaijan Oct. 1, 2020. (Reuters Photo)

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have been tense since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991 despite the two countries’ many historical, cultural, and religious ties.

Iran has ironically been closer to Christian Armenia – Azerbaijan’s rival – than to a fellow Shi’ite majority state. The regional status quo and balance of power shifted in the South Caucasus as a result of the second Karabakh War in 2020, dramatically heightening diplomatic tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran. Indeed, Azerbaijan’s victory in the war and regaining of control over Armenian ethnic enclaves signaled Iran’s diminishing influence and leverage. For many years, Azerbaijan has maintained a close strategic partnership with Israel, Iran’s arch-foe, particularly in the defense field, as it sought to deter radical Shi’ite influence stemming from Iran. Azerbaijan has also drawn closer to Turkey. Continue reading

Increased Russian-Iranian Defense Cooperation Poses Threat to Ukraine and the West

Putin Meets Ali Khamenei, Tehran, Iran - 19 Jul 2022

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 189

On November 28, Iranian state media reported that Tehran had finalized a long-awaited deal with Russia to procure Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, attack helicopters, and military trainer aircraft. Although some sources dubbed the announcement as another round of government speculation, Iranian Deputy Defense Minister General Mahdi Farahi confirmed the reports to semi-official news agency Tasnim (Tasnim News Agency, November 28). For its part, the Kremlin has yet to publicly confirm the reported agreement. Over the past year, Iran has made strides in the modernization and development of its air and naval forces. Intensified cooperation with Russia has largely facilitated that progress, with both sides signing agreements to boost their trade, energy, and military ties. The recent expansion of that partnership threatens Western interests in the wider region and could pose future risks to global stability. Continue reading

How the Hamas-Israel war impacts the South Caucasus?

Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Baku, Azerbaijan on May 30, 2023. (Photo via Azerbaijani presidency)

The war between Hamas and Israel war has triggered strong anti-Israel sentiments in the region and heightened fears of a broader conflict engulfing actors such as Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Worried that the conflict in Gaza could escalate into a regional confrontation, the US has dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups within range, including additional troops and military advisors.

But alongside tough rhetoric, the violence in Gaza has renewed apparent pragmatism by important regional states such as Iran and Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly slammed Israel’s bombings of the Palestinian coastal enclave. On the other hand, Ankara has avoided issuing direct threats against Tel Aviv and, in an apparent unusual move, allegedly distanced itself from Hamas in the aftermath of the Palestinian movement’s surprise attack on Israel last month. Continue reading

Strategic Abstention: The ‘Axis of Resistance’ Deliberate Inaction in the Gaza War

Amid the escalating Gaza war, a striking absence marks the regional conflict landscape: the non-involvement of the ‘Axis of Resistance,’ including Iran and its proxies. Nearly six weeks into the war, these forces have consistently communicated their decision to remain on the sidelines. This inaction comes into sharp focus against the backdrop of Iran’s strategy to leverage non-state actors like Hezbollah and Hamas in its proxy warfare. While Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, clarified their stance in a much-anticipated speech a month into the conflict, the impact of this abstention is profound. Israel, grappling with internal divisions and security vulnerabilities heightened by Hamas’s attacks, finds itself in a precarious position not seen in decades. This situation stems from both the far-right Israeli policies and Iran’s concerted efforts to fortify groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, aiming to undermine its adversaries. Despite Hamas’s inability to secure territory in southern Israel, their assaults have instilled widespread panic, exposing deep fissures in the Israeli society and igniting debates over the nation’s security resilience. Continue reading

The new Iran – Azerbaijan transit route reflects shifting geopolitical realities

Azerbaijan begins construction of corridor to Nakhchivan through Iran

Azerbaijan and Iran laid the foundation on October 6 for a transit route connecting western Azerbaijan to its exclave of Nakhchivan through Iran. The road bridge is being built in line with the memorandum of mutual understanding between the governments of Azerbaijan and Iran on developing new transport links. According to the Azerbaijani media, the bridge will span the Araz River to connect to the Iranian province of Eastern Azerbaijan.

The new transit project announcement came amid the ongoing normalisation of ties between Azerbaijan and Iran after months of harsh diplomatic confrontation. From the Iranian perspective, there are several reasons behind the shift in diplomatic relations, but the most important is the changed regional balance of power in the South Caucasus following the war in 2020 between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Among the broader impacts of the war were the declining influence of Iran and the strengthening axis of Baku-Ankara and Baku-Tel Aviv in the region. Continue reading

Unseen Tensions: The Undercurrents of Iran-Turkey Relations in the South Caucasus

In a region of the world marked by dramatic, high-profile rivalries and conflicts—Israel and Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and the struggles for power within Syria and Yemen—the age-old rivalry between Iran and Turkey has largely gone unnoticed, even as it has sharply escalated in recent months. While the precise nature of the rivalry has changed as the two nations’ regimes have experienced some changes, and the degree to which Tehran and Ankara opposed one another in regional matters has waxed and waned, the two countries’ policies toward each other have displayed a remarkable degree of consistency—making the oldest rivalry in the Middle East one of the most relevant in the current era. Continue reading