Crisis in Kobane

After the Islamic State’s rapid advances in Iraq, scant attention has been paid to their offensive in Kobane. Today, Aaron Stein speaks with Michael Stephens, Director of RUSI Qatar, about the on-going clashes between the PYD and the Islamic State on the border of Syrian Kurdistan. The two discuss Turkish policy in Iraq and Syria and finish with a more general discussion about the trajectory of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

Aaron and Michael discussed a number of articles during the podcast:

Michael Stephens and Sofia Barbarani, “While Iraq burns, Isis takes advantage in Syria,” BBC News, 18 July 2014,

Syria Kurds impose mandatory military service,” Al Jazeera English, 17 July 2014.

Rojava: Syria’s Unknown War,” VICE News, 13 December 2013.

Aaron Stein, “Turkey’s Response to ISIS and the Crisis in Iraq,” RUSI Analysis, Royal United Services Institute, 16 July 2014.

As always, you can now subscribe to the Turkey Wonk Podcast on iTunes.

PS – If you enjoyed this podcast, check out these other podcasts.

Middle East Week Podcast with Karl Morand.

Brown Moses Podcast with Eliot Higgins. 

The Arms Control Wonk Podcast with me and Jeffrey Lewis. 


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Kurdistan’s Moment?

Do the Kurds benefit from the current chaos in Iraq? Is independence around the corner? What is Turkey’s Kurdistan policy?

Today, I speak with Dov Friedman,  a graduate student at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, who is currently researching foreign policy in emerging energy states with support from the Coca-Cola World Fund, about all things Kurdistan.

We discussed a number of articles during the podcast:

Dov Friedman and Cale Salih, “Kurds to the Rescue,” Foreign Affairs, June 17, 2014.

Dov Friedman, “Yes, the US Can Help Iraq,” Business Insider, June 27, 2014.

Dov Friedman and Gabi Mitchell, “Israel Is Challenging America to Support Kurdish Independence,” The New Republic, July 3, 2014.

Alex Whitcomb, “Why Kurdistan Still Does Not Have it Oil Money,” Rudaw, July 13, 2014.

Ibrahim Kalin, “To Keep the Middle East Together, Dont Let Iraq Split Up,” Daily Sabah, July 17, 2014.

Aaron Stein, “Turkey’s Response to ISIS and Iraq,” RUSI Analysis, Royal United Services Institute, July 16, 2014.

You can subscribe to the Turkey Wonk Podcast on iTunes.

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The Hostage Crisis: Open Source and the Turkish Consulate in Mosul

On June 11, fighters from the Islamic State (IS) stormed the Turkish consulate in Mosul and took 49 consulate staff and their family members hostage. The crisis continues. However, due to a local black out on media coverage, few details about the negotiations with the IS have been released. I have tried to use open source tools to learn more about about the crisis.

To locate the consulate, I used a combination of open source tools. The first thing I did was find the consulate’s address on the Turkish MFA’s website: Dur Al-Dhubat 5/2 Al-Tayaran Mosul, Ninawa, Iraq. The consulate is at the corner of Dur al-Dhubat street. However, the imagery on google earth is from 2004. I had to use Bing Maps to find a more recent picture.

Mosul Consulate

Once I found the building, I then compared it to the pictures the Mosul Consulate posted on its Facebook page. I knew I had the right building when I matched the swimming pool and the tennis court with some of the pictures from Facebook.

The consulate is large. It was built on a lot measuring~270 feet by ~300 feet. This explains the large number of hostages. I then compared this satellite imagery with the pictures used in local media coverage. I then discovered that the picture below – which was taken in 2009 –  was taken inside the consulate compound.

The buildings in the photos above  are these two:


As you can see, they match these images I captured from this youtube video of the consulate:


and from a wider angle:

Cesme 2

I then calculated the distance from Batman airbase to the Mosul consulate. Turkey has three Heron drones at Batman:

ThreeHeronsBatmanThese drones are limited to line of sight navigation, which means that they can only fly 250 km from Batman airbase.

In addition, the US has three unarmed Predator drones based at Incirlik. The US shares the intel collected from these platforms with Turkey in real time.


The imagery suggests that Turkey has the ISR platforms needed to monitor the consulate. If the hostages are being held on site, they could, in theory, be monitored from the air. However, available media reports suggest that the Turkish hostages are being held in multiple places. There is no specific information about where the hostages are being held; however, in the case of the 49 Turkish truck drivers who were taken hostage – and then released – they were reportedly held at a power plant where they had gone to deliver diesel. As best as I can tell, the only power plant Mosul is the Mansour Gas Power Plant.


Here is a better quality image from Bing Maps:


In the case of the consulate hostages, it appears as if they have been moved off-site. Ceylan Yenginsu wrote in the New York Times:

The hostages were taken to an improvised ISIS headquarters in Mosul

Unfortunately, this small piece of information  does not allow for the use of satellite imagery to identify any candidate buildings.

In any case, I think the more pressing issue has to do with Ankara’s handling of the days leading up to the crisis. The consulate is 8.2 km from the Mosul airport.


Turkish Airlines flies from Istanbul to Mosul four times per week. (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday). Hindsight is always 20/20, but it seems as if Ankara should have had a rescue plan in place for the consulate. The plan need not have involved military helicopters, but rather could have used a charter bus and a commercial flight.

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After the Caliphate: The Current State of Affairs in Iraq and Syria

What is the current state of affairs in Iraq and Syria? How has Iran responded to the crisis in Iraq? Have things changed all that much after the declaration of the Caliphate? Are the countries of the region adopting a borders-out policy to contain the ISIS threat?

Today, I speak with Michael Stephens, Deputy Director at RUSI Qatar, and Shashank Joshi, a Research Fellow at RUSI, about all things Iraq and Syria.

We discussed the following articles during the podcast:

Shashank Joshi, “‘Islamist terror is little threat to the West, and Saudis are backing Iraqi jihad’: is this former spy chief right?,” The Telegraph, 8 July 2014.

Thomas Hegghammer, “The Foreign Policy Essay: Calculated Caliphate,” Lawarfare, 6 July 2014.

Hugh Tomlinson, “Saudis send 30,000 troops to border as Isis advances,” The Times, 4 July 2014.

And make sure to read Michael Stephens’ blog for his analysis about Iraq from Kurdistan.

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The Crisis in Iraq and Regional Responses

What is happening in Iraq? What are the regional implications of the ISIS offensive? How have the GCC states reacted to the ISIS offensive? What options does the United States have to affect change on the ground? Will airstrikes help? Can Maliki be convinced to make much needed reforms? What role can Iran play?

Today, I speak with Michael Stephens, the Deputy Director of RUSI Qatar, and Shashank Joshi, a Research Fellow at RUSI, about the situation in Iraq and the future of the country.

We discussed a number of articles during the podcast:

Aaron Stein, “The ISIS Operation in Mosul and the Implications for Turkish Foreign Policy,” Turkey Wonk, June 10, 2014.

Michael Stephens is keeping a live blog, “Iraq Crisis: Dispatch from the North,” during his time spent in Iraq.

Michael Stephens, “Breaking point: Iraq is now in the grip of civil war,”  CITY A.M., June 18, 2014.

Shashank Joshi. “Iran and America in Iraq: a Great Rapprochement, or Hot Air?,”,  June 17, 2014

Shashank Joshi and Aaron Stein, “Iraq, ISIL and the region’s choices,” Al Jazeera, June 12, 2014.

Iraq’s Jihadi Jack-in-the-Box,” The International Crisis Group, June 20, 2014.

Martin Chulov and Spencer Ackerman, “How Nouri al-Maliki fell out of favour with the US,” The Guardian, June 19, 2014.

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Podcast: Turkey and ISIS in Iraq and Syria

Does Turkey support ISIS? What is Turkey’s relationship with Ahrar al Sham, the Islamic Front, and Jabhat al Nusra? Did Turkey’s open door policy strengthen the Jihadist movement in Iraq and Syria?

Today, I discuss these questions with Aaron Zelin, the Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as well as the the Rena and Sami David Fellow at ICSR.

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Podcast: The Crisis in Iraq

What is happening in Iraq? What are the implications for the region? 

Michael Stephens and I discuss the current state of affairs in Iraq, ISIS’ take over of Mosul, Ayatollah Sistani’s Fatwah, Kurdistan, and the possibility of a sectarian civil war. 

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