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As a U.S.-led international coalition helps local forces recapture most of the territory once seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the two countries face underlying conflicts and sectarian tensions that continue to fuel cycles of violence and extremism. At the same time, as many as 31,000 foreign fighters—from 86 countries on five continents—have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS and other extremist organizations, and some are heading home. Meanwhile, ISIS has gained a foothold in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere. Cementing military gains and curbing extremist violence requires long-term stabilization based on political settlements, social reconciliation, and improved governance.

USIP's Work

The U.S. Institute of Peace has operated on the ground in Iraq since 2003 and in Afghanistan since 2002, as well as in Libya, Nigeria, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. As a small, agile institution, USIP works with local leaders and the U.S. government, including the military, to stabilize areas devastated by ISIS, end cycles of revenge, and address the root causes of radicalization, including corrupt and abusive governance. USIP has had impact in:

Sustaining the Peace. USIP and its local partners provide advice and training to strengthen the ability of community and national leaders to resolve their own conflicts without violence.

  • In Iraq, teams of mediators have facilitated, with cooperation from officials in Baghdad, starting in 2007 during an earlier insurgency in Mahmoudiyah, and more recently in Bartella, Tikrit, Yathrib, and Hawija. A 2015 agreement in Tikrit allowed more than 300,000 people to return to their homes, and the mediation methods developed are being applied elsewhere, including near Mosul.
  • In northeastern Syria, USIP trained tribal, religious, and civil society leaders from the al-Qahtaniya region in analysis and conflict resolution to defuse tensions among ethnic Kurds and Arabs, Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and others. The resulting agreement reopened a vital trade route and returned displaced families to the homes they had fled amid clashes with ISIS.

Improving Security. In Iraqi communities where citizens sometimes turn to militias, vigilantes, or insurgent groups for security, USIP and local partners work with police and citizen groups to jointly improve law enforcement and justice, notably in Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, and Karbala. Results include a permanent crisis-management unit in the capital, mechanisms to prevent recruitment by ISIS, and systems for vetting people fleeing ISIS-controlled areas to ensure some aren’t linked to the extremist group.

Curbing Extremism. From Tunisia to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and across Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central Asia, USIP has intensified its focus, at local and national levels, on reducing the lure of ISIS and other violent extremist groups.

  • In Tunisia, the biggest single source of foreign fighters for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, USIP works to reduce the risks of extremist recruitment among a highly vulnerable population. The Institute and its local partners helped Islamist and secular student unions at a major university agree on a code of conduct for resolving conflicts without violence. USIP-trained mediators have headed off renewed clashes between street vendors and police such as those that sparked the Arab Spring. And the Institute works with local and national security officials, police, and community leaders to build trust and improve professional training, to reduce the kinds of rights abuses that fuel discontent and extremism.
  • In Afghanistan, USIP supports local radio stations that counter extremist messages and works directly with communities in ISIS-infiltrated areas of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, to help young people resist violent interpretations of Islam. At one of three Afghan universities that have established a USIP-backed peace education curriculum, course graduates organized to oppose extremism and violence on a campus where some students had rallied a year earlier in support of ISIS. A USIP-convened working group of Afghans also advises the Afghanistan National Security Council’s team drafting a strategy against extremism.

Bringing ‘Ground Truth’ to Policy. Through research, analysis, publications, and events, USIP feeds its experience—from the field, from offices on the ground such as its new Tunis hub, and from its local partners—into policy thinking on countering ISIS and other strains of violent extremism. Members of Congress, the administration, and international organizations call on USIP experts regularly for briefings or to testify on Capitol Hill on topics such as the causes and consequences of violent extremism.

 

Related Publications

From Nazis to ISIS: Women’s Roles in Violence

From Nazis to ISIS: Women’s Roles in Violence

Thursday, March 2, 2017

By: Fred Strasser

From the Nazi regime of the 1940s through the Islamic State of today’s Middle East, an obscured element of history runs though the phenomenon of violent extremism: the participation of women. Contrary to the classic image of women as victims or, at least more recently, peacemakers, new research shows how women can stoke, support and sometimes directly join in violent action, scholars said in a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

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Panel Urges New View of Middle East Refugees

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Q&A: Will U.S. Strikes on Syria Change Conflict’s Course?

Q&A: Will U.S. Strikes on Syria Change Conflict’s Course?

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By: USIP Staff

The United States launched its first air strikes against forces backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the country’s civil war began six years ago, in retaliation for a chemical-weapons attack that killed more than 80 civilian men, women and children. Elie Abouaoun, who is director of Middle East and North Africa programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace and is based in the region, examines the strategic implications, and USIP President Nancy Lindborg, who has worked for nearly 30 years on humanitarian crises and areas affected by conflict, comments on the factors that prompted the U.S. attack.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Violent Extremism; Global Policy

Returning Foreign Fighters and the Reintegration Imperative

Returning Foreign Fighters and the Reintegration Imperative

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

By: Georgia Holmer; Adrian Shtuni

This report aims to help policymakers and practitioners navigate the challenges of developing effective programs to rehabilitate and reintegrate foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq into their societies. Ultimately, holistic and comprehensive reintegration efforts designed to transition returnees address not only their needs, but also those of the entire society, and are critical in building more resilient and safer communities.

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