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Top Picks: Jihadis, bombs, and a Taliban riddle

Welcome to IRIN’s reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.

Five to read:

Climate change, migration and the Syria war

Much has been said about the role climate change did or didn’t play in precipitating Syria’s descent into war. Research published last year drew a link between climate change and a drought that pushed many Syrians living in rural areas into cities where they clashed with residents over scarce resources and played an important role in the 2011 uprising. The research was seized on by many media reports looking for ways to frame Europe’s migration “crisis” as an example of how climate change could spark future conflicts and migration on a massive and chaotic scale. In this in-depth, multimedia report, Alex Randall explains why the reporting of the links between climate change, the Syrian war and migration was often misleading. He argues that, far from fighting over scarce resources, new arrivals from rural areas joined forces with city residents to launch protests against the regime. He also takes issue with the media narrative on future, climate-linked mass migration. While climate change is likely to have an impact on human movement, incremental disasters like drought and sea-level rise won’t cause people to move en masse, but in small groups, often within their own countries or regions. For the most part, these “climate change refugees” will be indistinguishable from so-called economic migrants.

Bombs, bombs and more bombs

Action on Armed Violence’s report on the worldwide use of explosive weapons in 2015 is chock full of important and disturbing data. The group recorded 43,786 deaths and injuries as a result of the use of explosive weapons in 2015, and three-quarters of those harmed were civilians. This is the fourth year in a row that the group has found an increase in civilian deaths and injuries from these types of weapons, which include airstrikes, shells, missiles, rockets, and more – all the morbid stats are broken down here. This week, IRIN took a look at pressure on Britain to halt arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition, which AOAV reports was responsible for 21 percent of the use of explosive weapons in 2015. It’s bad in Yemen, but noncombatants are suffering around the world: Syria was the most dangerous place to be a civilian last year, and across the world the group says an average of 30 civilians a day were killed by explosive weaponry. That’s a number that shouldn’t be ignored.

South Sudan’s new cabinet

The arrival in Juba this week (finally) of Riek Machar and his swearing in as vice-president has cleared the way for a new government of national unity in South Sudan. Radio Tamazuj provides a handy breakdown of the new power-sharing cabinet for the confused observer.

Boko Haram, Islamic State, and the underlying concerns for West Africa

When Boko Haram last year pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State, we mused that one upshot could be that Nigeria becomes a mini-magnet for West African jihadists. Now, there is some evidence at least that this is actually happening: a small Senegalese contingent of jihadists has been found to contain active members of Boko Haram. As transnational links evolve, Boko Haram fighters are also turning up in Libya to join IS militants there, according to this African Arguments report.

The riddle of the Taliban peace talks

What is going on with peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban? This week, President Ashraf Ghani tried to clear up his government’s position in a speech during an unprecedented joint session of both houses of parliament. At the beginning of a detailed analysis of the speech, the Afghanistan Analysts Network summed it up as taking “a hardening stance” against militants, while allowing that “the door to peace was still ajar”. To be fair, the situation is even more confusing on the other side of the bargaining table. A Taliban delegation arrived in Pakistan but it wasn’t clear who it was supposed to be meeting. Afghan officials then said they wouldn’t attend any meeting in Pakistan unless that country stopped harbouring the Taliban. The Taliban, for its part, said it didn’t care if Afghanistan showed up or not because its fighters were already making gains in their “spring offensive” against Afghan government forces. All clear now?

One to listen to:

What makes a violent jihadi?

The honest answer is nobody seems to know. What’s fascinating in this BBC podcast is the evolution in thinking as academics and security specialists (at times in competition) try to understand the militant mindset. The initial idea – without any evidence – was that these men and women must be psychopaths. But that is not at all the case. Neither is it a problem of religious zealotry – some jihadis barely know their Quran. And it’s not poverty either – the wealthy and the poor rub shoulders in militant ranks. So the answer to the question of what makes a violent jihadi is that it can be anyone. And if that’s the case, then the more important line of inquiry is “how” people are radicalized – but you need to tune in to find out.

One from IRIN:

Forgotten Conflicts V: The Philippines

Many conflicts around the globe don’t get the media or policy attention of the wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Ukraine, and they may not have the same geopolitical or economic importance. But the toll of decades-long forgotten conflicts – from Colombia to the Ogaden, from Kashmir to Western Sahara – is just as devastating for the people who live there. That’s why IRIN embarked in 2015 on a mission to report on as many of the world’s forgotten conflicts as we have the time and the budget to cover. We began with Casamance in Senegal, Sudan’s South Kordofan, and the insurgency in southern Thailand. A little later, we reported on the resource-fuelled conflict in Myanmar. This week, Asia Editor Jared Ferrie brings you the 5th instalment from the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Indigenous people find themselves trapped in the middle as communists battle the army and paramilitaries, while peace talks have stalled. Civilians are also caught up in fighting between the military and Islamist militants, who have adopted an extremist ideology as successive peace processes have failed. It may not get much play in Europe or the United States, but more than 150,000 people have been killed in 47 years of conflict.

Coming up:

The Middle East in Crisis: How the World Should Respond

Tuesday, 10 May 6pm BST at the ODI in London

The Overseas Development Institute and The Elders (a Nelson Mandela-founded group working for peace and human rights) invite you to a discussion on how the international community should response to crises across the Middle East. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan will introduce panelists including former UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and Pakistani lawyer and democracy campaigner Hina Jilani. Tickets are free, and if you can’t make it watch the livestream. Details here.

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