Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Iran has become ever more powerful in the region. But now a new Saudi-led alliance is fighting back. Are we heading for a catastrophe?

Iranian guards By Sir John Jenkins, Executive Director, IISS-Middle East 

Something is happening in the Middle East, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, but we don’t know what it is. Perhaps this is because in a region where we expect properly plotted political explosions – civil wars, assassinations, stolen elections and coups – the variety of incidents, their timing and their mysterious linkages are blowing our epistemological circuits.

In September, there was the referendum in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region. The outcome was an overwhelming victory for those who wanted independence. The after­math was a disaster for the Kurds and has thrown them back on the mercy of their enemies – and their friends. The Iraqi security forces, supported by the Iranian-backed Shia militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi, pushed into many of the areas that the Kurds had held since beating back the Islamic State assaults of 2014, and sometimes beyond. The Kurds’ peshmerga military forces were simply expelled. There was more fighting than many admitted at the time. But without any unified political leadership, the Kurds could not withstand the military assault.

Read the full article in the New Statesman.

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IISS Research Programme

Middle East and the Gulf

The IISS Middle East and the Gulf programme is based at the IISS–Middle East Office and provides analysis of regional geopolitics and security, including the Iran nuclear accord, the ongoing civil war in Syria, and enduring instability in Iraq.