The announcement that the United States will withdraw its remaining troops from Syria has clear implications for many players with interests at stake in the ongoing civil war. Attention has focused on what the U.S. withdrawal will mean for the Kurds, and whether Turkey will be less restrained, or how Iran and Russia might try to project influence farther east in rebel-held territories retaken from the Islamic State. Noticeably absent from these analyses has been how the withdrawal would affect another great power with vested interests in the Middle East—China.
For more than a year, Saudi Arabia and its allies—especially the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, collectively referred to as the Quartet—have led a relentless, and seemingly counterproductive campaign against Qatar in a feckless attempt to bully and intimidate Doha. In addition to a blockade, the Saudis are allegedly moving forward with a plan to dig a canal on their border to turn Qatar into an island.
As the Islamic State continues to hemorrhage territory in Syria, Iran is extending its influence throughout the country as it works to establish a contiguous land corridor or “bridge” stretching from Tehran to Damascus and on to Beirut.
Editor’s Note: As the Islamic State's territorial control shrinks and its prestige declines, many volunteers will try to find their way home—perhaps to conduct terrorist attacks there on the group's behalf. Colin Clarke of the RAND Corporation argues that one of the most productive ways to identify and disrupt returning fighters is to focus on the criminal underworld. Many foreign fighters began as criminals, and many might turn to crime on their return.
Editor’s Note: The Islamic State's control of territory and zealous fighters vaulted it to the top ranks of the world's most formidable terrorist groups. Less noticed, but tremendously important to the group's success, were its impressive financial resources gained from its control of territory in Iraq and Syria. As the Islamic State has lost ground in both countries, however, its financial future is also in flux. Patrick Johnston and Colin Clarke of RAND present several scenarios for the Islamic State's future operations, finances, and overall sustainability.