A conversation with archaeologists Mark Altaweel and Jaafar Jotheri.
In June 2014, the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) launched an assault on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Within days, the Iraqi army collapsed and ISIS proclaimed its sovereignty over the city. An anonymous blog named Mosul Eyebegan reporting on life under ISIS rule. With details about daily life alongside social and historical analysis, Mosul Eye documented the transformations that ISIS imposed on Mosul—including the expulsion of Shiites and Christians, the enslavement of Yazidis, strict gender segregation, rape, torture and executions—as well as the impact of air strikes by the US, Turkish, and Iraqi militaries.
Understanding the course of events and identifying the participants in the battle of Mosul is a difficult task. What is certain is that all parties neglected the fate of civilians and were unable to provide proper emergency medical relief. An examination of the battle is crucial to understanding the evolution of international humanitarian law in conflict zones.
The removal of the ISIS files from Iraq is only the latest episode in a long history of seizures of Iraqi archives and artifacts by Europeans and Americans. Rather than dismiss Iraqi critics as unreasonable, everyone with a stake in the study of Iraq—including all journalists, historians, and archivists—must reckon with the enduring legacies of two centuries of Western removal of Iraqi heritage.
The US-led global war on terrorism in the Middle East is entering a post-ideological phase, in which everyone is allegedly united in the fight against an Islamic pandemic of violence, regardless of religious creed, political persuasion or ideological conviction. Throughout the Islamic world during Ramadan, the site of the struggle against this fundamentalist violence in general, and ISIS terrorism in particular, shifts from the battlefield to popular culture.
Phyllis Bennis, Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2015).
The amalgamation of Iraqi ex-Baathists, Iraqi and Syrian jihadis, disgruntled locals and outside recruits known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, continues to cast a long shadow over the Middle East and the world. The grip of the would-be caliphate upon its “home” territory in Iraq and Syria is slipping, but groups raising the ISIS banner are winning battles in Afghanistan and Libya. Meanwhile, the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California on December 2, 2015 has kept the specter of ISIS-inspired attacks hovering over political debate in the West.
In representative democracies, elections allow the peaceful replacement of leaders, infuse government with new blood, legitimize both winners and losers, and restore public faith in democracy. More importantly, “the people’s voice” is cast as the ultimate check on national leaders whose power has grown too strong. In practice, there are a number of problems with this ideal—“the people’s voice” is identified with the majority, perhaps at the expense of minorities; it is inarticulate; and often it actually channels rather than challenges the wishes of rulers.  Do the twin general elections held in Turkey over the course of five months in 2015 confirm or rebut these key assumptions about representative democracy?
The mood in Tunisia was tense after Ramadan, a month after 38 tourists were killed in the beach resort of Sousse at the end of June. Key buildings on the capital’s main boulevard, Habib Bourguiba Avenue, including the Ministry of Interior, were surrounded with barbed wire and conspicuous police protection. Parliament had just passed a counter-terrorism law criticized by local and international human rights associations for granting extraordinary powers to security agencies.
Yifat Susskind is executive director of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization based in New York. Jillian Schwedler spoke with her on October 28, 2015, the week after Yanar Mohammed, head of MADRE’s partner group the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), testified before the UN Security Council about women’s vital role in sustainable peacebuilding and about the task of sheltering women fleeing sexual violence, including from areas controlled by ISIS.
What are the basic challenges for your work in Iraq, where the state does not fully function?
Regional responses to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have varied depending on regime perceptions of threat, not only from ISIS itself, but also from other potential rivals, challengers or enemies. Despite the jihadi group’s extensive use of violence in Syria and Iraq and its claims of responsibility for bombings and attacks in Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen—as well as France in mid-November—it was not necessarily the top security priority for any of these states.
The US national security state has for the past quarter-century been preoccupied with something it has called “jihadism.” From the aftermath of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan through the September 11, 2001 attacks to the rise of the self-declared Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, or ISIS, the specter of mobile Muslim multitudes wreaking global havoc has given rise to an equally vast body of commentary.
In early June 2014 the world was shocked by news of the fall of Mosul, the third largest city in Iraq, to jihadi militants loyal to something called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The conquest was rapid—soldiers of the Iraqi army dropped their weapons and fled rather than resist the ISIS advance. It was alarming—the jihadis captured tanks, artillery and other heavy weaponry supplied to the Iraqis by the United States. And it was unmistakably consequential—it sounded a clarion call that the conquerors not only aspired to build the “state” under whose banner they fought but also were executing a plan for doing so.