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Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting to discuss the attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue, outside Moscow, Russia, March 25, 2024.

Mikhail Metzel/REUTERS

Why did ISIS-K attack Russia?

Islamic State-Khorasan Province, an associate of the Islamic State group based in Central Asia, claimed responsibility for the attack that left 137 dead in a Moscow nightclub on Friday. Try as he might to baselessly cast Ukraine as the responsible party, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reign has seen him plunge deep into the politics of Islamic extremism.

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Pakistan-Iran attacks: Another Middle East conflict heats up
Pakistan-Iran conflict: Fear of another Middle East war | Ian Bremmer | World In: 60

Pakistan-Iran attacks: Another Middle East conflict heats up

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week from Davos on World In :60.

How was White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s statement on a two state solution received in Davos?

Well, I mean, people like the idea of a two-state solution. They have absolutely no idea how to get there. And even if you say you could link it to Saudi normalization with Israel, by the way, the Israelis still want, and behind the scenes the Saudis still want. You still have to find a way to govern Palestine, both Gaza and the West Bank. And we are very, very far, I should say Israel is very, very far from having that as a possibility. So are the Palestinians.

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaking during a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the killing of Gen. Qassim Soleimani, at the Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in downtown Tehran, Iran, on January 3, 2024.

Morteza Nikoubazl/REUTERS

Islamic State group spoils efforts to blame Israel for deadly Iran blasts

Just as Iranian hardliners sought to pin blame on Israel for Wednesday’s deadly attack in the Islamic Republic, the worst since 1979, the Islamic State group swooped in and claimed responsibility.

On Thursday, the militant group said two of its suicide bombers carried out the Kerman attack, which killed at least 89 people and injured roughly 280 near the grave of Qassim Soleimani, the Iranian general killed by a US drone strike four years ago. Islamic State group, a Sunni terror organization, has also been linked to past terror attacks in Iran, a Shiite-majority country.

Security gaps. The attack was a “massive security failure” for Tehran, and it will be “under intense pressure to respond” to restore faith in its ability to protect the public, says Gregory Brew, an expert on Iran at Eurasia Group.

“There is likely to be a thorough national investigation and a wave of arrests, coupled with action against terrorist groups active inside Iran, with potential spillover into Afghanistan or Syria, where ISIS and its affiliates are known to be active,” Brew adds.

A region on edge. The fatal explosions in Kerman couldn’t have come at a more precarious time. The brutal Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has ratcheted up tensions across the region – particularly between the Jewish state and other Iranian proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon. There are growing concerns that the Middle East will soon face a broader, messier conflict.

But the Iranian government’s top priority is survival, so it isn’t particularly interested in becoming entangled in such a fight. And though Islamic State claiming responsibility for the attack “likely won’t stop figures in Iran’s political spectrum from implying an Israeli connection,” Tehran’s desire to avoid a regional conflict means it’s unlikely to formally blame Israel, says Brew.

“Escalation, when it comes, is likely to come through conflict between Israel and the US and Iran's proxies, rather than against Iran itself,” says Brew.

People attend a ceremony commemorating the death of late Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 3, 2024.

Majid Asgaripour/WANA/REUTERS

Who will Iran blame for deadly explosions near Soleimani’s grave?

Just when you thought tensions in the Middle East couldn’t get much worse … a pair of explosions rocked the Iranian city of Kerman on Wednesday, killing scores of people.

Wednesday’s explosions in Iran hit near the grave of Qassim Soleimani, the prominent Iranian general killed in 2020 by a US drone strike, as people gathered to commemorate the anniversary of his assassination. At least 84 people were killed.

Iranian officials described the incident as a terrorist attack, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi appeared to blame Israel.

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People protesting in Parliament Square in London

The Islamic State’s rise in Afghanistan

In 2017, the Trump administration declared that the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq had been defeated. But a new UN report released this week claims that there are between 5,000-7,000 fighters across the Levant. And many more – around 11,000 – are ready to fight but remain locked up in northern Syria, according to the UN.

At the group’s peak around 2015, it’s estimated that there were around 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria. Still, the latest report suggests that the group has been able to regroup and recruit.

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Ian Explains: 20 years since the Iraq War: Lessons learned, questions raised
Ian Explains: Mistakes & mixed legacy of US “shock & awe” in Iraq | GZERO World

Ian Explains: 20 years since the Iraq War: Lessons learned, questions raised

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, dubbed "Operation Iraqi Freedom," began 20 years ago. The Bush Administration told the world that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction and the war would last weeks, but none of that was true.

In fact, almost nothing in the Iraq War went as planned. The US wasn't prepared for a violent insurgency that lasted years, killing thousands of US troops and hundreds of thousands of civilians. And two decades from its start, the war still casts a long shadow––the rise of ISIS, a civil war, ongoing violence and political turmoil.

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US President Joe Biden delivers a speech in Warsaw, Poland on February 21, 2023.

Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: Fiery rhetoric and a Ukraine “peace plan,” Israel’s economy v. judicial reforms, SCOTUS social media cases

Dueling speeches on Ukraine

A lot of players (and potential players) in the war on Ukraine have used the looming one-year anniversary of the invasion to position themselves for the months ahead. On Monday, President Vladimir Putin used his annual state of the nation address to insist that Russia would continue to fight a war he blames on Western aggression, and he announced that Russia would suspend participation in the New START nuclear arms control treaty, which binds Russia and the United States to limit their strategic nuclear stockpiles and to share information and access to weapons facilities. (Note: Inspections have already been suspended for more than a year, and Russia is in no position to finance a new arms race.) President Joe Biden, meanwhile, followed up his surprise visit with Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv by meeting in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda and asserting during a speech that “Appetites of the autocrat cannot be appeased. They must be opposed. Autocrats only understand one word: no, no, no.” In listing what he called Russia’s “atrocities,” he said its forces have “targeted civilians with death and destruction; used rape as a weapon of war… stolen Ukrainian children in an attempt to steal Ukraine's future, bombed train stations, maternity hospitals, schools and orphanages.” Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to make news on Friday with a speech of his own in which he’ll lay out the specifics of a peace plan which, given the distance between the Russian and Ukrainian positions, has virtually no chance of success. The war grinds on.

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French President Emmanuel Macron at a polling booth during the first round of French parliamentary elections

Ludovic Marin via Reuters

What We're Watching: France's final round, ISIS leaders caught

Voters decide Macron’s future

On Sunday, France’s election season comes to a close with the final round of parliamentary elections. The big question: Can President Macron’s Ensemble! Party win a majority of the National Assembly’s 577 seats? If so, or if it gets close enough that a few willing partners from other parties can lend votes on individual pieces of legislation, then he’ll have a chance to advance his ambitious reform agenda. If not, his second-term plans will quickly stall. Macron’s best hope is that a few right-wing voters fearful of potential victory for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s leftist coalition will limit the number of seats it’s able to win, and that a few leftist voters who adamantly oppose far-right opposition leader Marine Le Pen will back Macron’s centrists for control of seats since there’s no left-wing candidate. Macron has long pledged to boost the government’s financial health by pushing the standard retirement age from 62 to 65. But without at least a near-majority, Macron and his prime minister will struggle even to pass basic reforms meant to cut government spending and help businesses weather tough economic times.
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