The independent resource on global security

6. Armed conflict and peace processes in the Middle East and North Africa


Overview, Ian Davis

I. Key general developments in the region, Ian Davis

II. Armed conflict and peace processes in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, Shivan Fazil

III. The Israeli–Palestinian conflict and peace process, Ian Davis

IV. Armed conflict and peace processes in North Africa, Ian Davis

V. Armed conflict and peace processes in Yemen, Ian Davis

There were eight states with active armed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in 2021 (the same number as in 2020): Egypt, Iraq, Israel (Palestine), Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. The total conflict-related fatalities in the region fell for the fourth consecutive year, down about 75 per cent since 2017. Yemen was the region’s only major armed conflict, with annual fatalities greater than 10 000, and, aside from Iraq and Syria (high-intensity armed conflicts), the remaining armed conflicts were low intensity. Many of the conflicts were interconnected, involving regional and international powers, as well as numerous non-state actors. There were 14 multilateral peace operations in MENA in 2021, the same number as in the previous year.


Complex and interlinked armed conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Turkey

The situation in Syria remained volatile in 2021. Turkey and its aligned Syrian militias intensified their attacks in the Kurdish-controlled territory in the north-east of Syria. The Idlib ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey in 2020 remained in force. Iraq continued to be a fragile state, with weak institutions and a growing rift between the government and some militias. Turkey continued its military operations in northern Iraq, while the protracted conflict with Kurdish rebels in the south-east of Turkey also persisted.


North Africa

Egypt’s low-level Sinai insurgency continued in 2021, while the 40-year territorial dispute over Western Sahara between Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front) began to re-escalate and contributed to a rise in Algeria–Morocco tensions. In Libya an internationally backed ceasefire agreed in October 2020 largely held during 2021. However, despite the establishment of a new interim unity government for the first time since 2014, postponement of the December 2021 elections provoked heightened levels of uncertainty in the peacebuilding road map.



The civil war in Yemen continued throughout the year, further exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with over half a million people on the brink of famine. At the end of 2021, following seven years of territorial fragmentation and proliferating armed groups and sub-conflicts, the conflict was escalating again, and the prospects of a political settlement remained remote. 

Dr Ian Davis and Shivan Fazil