International cooperation

  • ISIS militants kill 500 Yezidis, burying women and children alive, forcing 300 women into slavery

    Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Iraq’s human rights minister, on Sunday said that Islamic State (ISIS) militants have killed 500 members of the Yazidi ethnic minority, including some women and children who were buried alive. Another 300 women were kidnapped and forced into slavery. U.S. bombing of ISIS forward units allowed Kurdish forces to recapture two towns taken by ISIS early last week. U.S. is dropping supplies to 40,000 Yezidis stranded on Sinjar Mountain. ISIS leaders announced that Yezidi “devil worshippers” faced a choice: convert to Islam or die on the mountain.

  • Iraq’s Yazidis are on the brink of genocide – who will save them?

    U.S. president Barack Obama has confirmed that the U.S. military made targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in Iraq, marking the deepest U.S. engagement in the country since U.S. troops withdrew in 2011. There will be no troop presence on the ground. This means that the IS [Islamic State, which is the new name adopted by ISIS] threat won’t be removed from Iraq — at least in the short term. The IS fighters will continue their massacres after the limited U.S. operation has finished. Iraq needs immediate, comprehensive and unlimited military and political assistance to eradicate IS fighters from the country. IS is not just a normal terrorist group and it is not a political opposition. Rather, it has become a professional irregular army with more than 20,000 well-trained soldiers and a very strong ideology, operating in a region from Iraq to Lebanon with many sleeper cells worldwide.

  • Opportunities for regional realignment not likely to be seized

    After the first twenty-four hours, the 72-hour Egypt-sponsored Gaza cease-fire appears to be holding – something which could not be said for the previous five cease-fires, which were violated by Hamas within minutes of supposedly going into effect. The Israeli delegation yesterday flew to Cairo to begin negotiations on a longer-term arrangement. The reason why this cease-fire is likely to hold has to do with the realization by Hamas Gaza leaders of their isolation and the growing destruction Israel’s attacks were inflicting on Hamas’s war machine and Gaza’s already-dilapidated infrastructure. A militarily weakened Hamas, a moderate Arab block hostile to militant Islam, and a convergence of interests between Israel and the moderate Arab states provide the foundation for profound strategic transformation in the region. It is doubtful, however, that the Netanyahu government will seize the opportunity for a breakthrough in Israel-Palestinian relations, on which such a transformation depends. During the month-long war, Netanyahu has given no indication that he sees this round of Israel-Hamas war in anything other than tactical terms, and has offered nothing to show that he plans to exploit the military results of the war, together with the changing political context in the region, for a bold and creative initiative which would change Israel’s relations with the PA, transform Israel’s strategic position, and realign regional politics.

  • Ukrainian military urged Donetsk residents to leave city ahead of attack on rebel stronghold

    The Ukrainian military earlier today (Monday) urged residents of Donetsk to evacuate, with more reports of increased rebel attacks on civilians and the Ukrainian military’s plan to clear the way for government troops to advance on one of the insurgency’s biggest strongholds. The military said it has opened extra humanitarian corridors out of eastern Ukraine’s regional capital, and the government will help evacuees to find temporary shelter. Over the weekend, government troops cut off a northern route that had been used by the pro-Russian separatists who control the city to bring in reinforcements of fighters and supplies. The military now has the city, ruled by the rebels’ self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, encircled.

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  • “Independent” Kurds need Baghdad more than they’d like

    Iraqi Kurds are in a unique position to declare independence in defiance of a seemingly powerless central government in Baghdad following the rapid disintegration of Iraq in the face of the Islamic State in Iraq and As-Sham (ISIS) onslaught. But is independence as simple as that, a fait accompli resulting from a series of unpredictable events? Unpalatable as it may sound to Iraqi Kurds, the KRG needs Baghdad far more than it is prepared to admit. By all means, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) should seek to leverage a better deal out of Baghdad — the Kurdish armed forces, or peshmerga, are vital to the fight against ISIS. In terms of full independence, though, the costs seem to outweigh the benefits at present.

  • Israel destroys al-Wafa hospital in Gaza City; cabinet considering expansion of Gaza operations

    One of the first targets on the first day of the current round of war between Israel and Hamas was al-Wafa hospital in eastern Gaza City. As is the case with other hospitals in Gaza, Hamas used the facility to store rockets and other arms and shelter Hamas fighters, who also use the hospitals’ upper floors for snipers to shoot at IDF soldiers and for rocket launching – some witnessed by a Financial Times reporter. In the case of al-Wafa, the hospital also served Hamas as a command-and-control center. Yesterday (Wednesday), Israel decided that enough was enough, and that allowing Hamas fighters the freedom to operate behind the patients and staff at the hospital, located in central Gaza City, posed too much of a risk for Israeli forces, and Israel Air Force (IAF) planes finished the destruction of the hospital — after the staff heeded IDF warnings and vacated the facility with the remaining patients. A series of powerful secondary explosions proved that the hospital served Hamas for arms storage. The Israeli cabinet is meeting this morning to consider the expansion of the ground war.

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  • After eight years under siege, Hamas is fighting to stave off a slow death

    Hamas and Egypt are currently testing each other’s nerve. Hamas wants to engage the Egyptian government and press the point that they have nothing to do with the Islamist insurgency there, in an effort to get the border crossings open and re-engage with the new al-Sissi administration. But regardless of whether this round of conflict is resolved sooner rather than later, or whether Egypt softens its stance on Hamas, the fundamental challenge facing both Palestinians and Israelis remains the same: to reach a political settlement for a viable Palestinian state where both Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace and security.

  • Iran wants to expand its uranium enrichment capacity

    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Iran would need significantly to increase its uranium enrichment capacity for future energy needs, dealing a setback to negotiations between the country and world powers.

  • Historic proportions of Iraq’s military collapse raise questions about Iraq’s viability

    “The scale of Iraq’s military collapse is of historic proportions,” one military analyst said. A recent assessment of the Iraqi military found that 60 out of 243 Iraqi Army combat battalions “cannot be accounted for, and all of their equipment is lost.” American military officials said an evaluation of the state of Iraq’s military revealed that five of the Iraqi Army’s fourteen divisions were “combat ineffective,” including the two that were overrun in Mosul. The United States has spent $1.7 trillion in Iraq since 2003, of which $25 billion were used to equip and train the post-Saddam Iraqi military. The United States received no return on its huge investment in Iraq, but it was hoped that at least the Iraqi military, U.S.-trained and U.S.-equipped, would provide a solid, professional foundation for a new Iraq. Developments in Iraq last week proved that this hope was illusory.

  • China creates artificial lands in disputed waters to boost sovereignty claims

    The Chinese government has been implementing a policy of creating new islands on the reefs and shoals of the South China Sea in order to further Chinese territorial claims to the area and increase sea-based infrastructure. By moving sand and other building materials onto these very shallow reefs, such as the Spratly archipelago, new islands are formed which officials say will eventually support buildings, humans, and surveillance equipment. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, by creating the lands, China will have economic rights within a 200 mile zone of each location.

  • Obama orders 300 U.S. military advisers to Iraq (updated)

    President Barack Obama yesterday announced he had authorized sending up to 300 U.S. troops to Iraq to help the Iraqi military cope with a rapidly advancing attack by Islamist fighters from the fundamentalist group ISIS. “It is in our national security interest not to see an all-out civil war in Iraq,” Obama said. While reiterating that he would not send combat troops to Iraq, the president said the United States would help the Iraqis “take the fight” to the militants, who he said pose a threat to Iraq’s stability and to American interests.

  • Maliki says he will not step down to facilitate U.S. air strikes against ISIS

    A spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has said Maliki will not stand down in order to make it politically easier for the United States to launch air strikes against ISIS Sunni militants who have made rapid advances across Iraq, culminating yesterday (Wednesday) with taking control over Iraq’s largest oil refinery, located in Baiji, 130 miles north of Baghdad. The Islamists now control a third of Iraq’s territory. Many U.S. lawmakers, and many analysts of Iraq, consider the failed leadership Maliki — a Shi’a politician who, at Iran’s urging, has pursued a narrow sectarian policies which has alienated Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds — as the reason for the willingness of the Sunni population in Iraq to welcome ISIS as a protector of Sunni interests, and the indifference shown so far by the Kurds in the face of ISIS gains.

  • If Nouri al-Maliki stays in office, Iraq faces destructive descent into a long civil war

    Throughout his two previous terms, Nouri al-Maliki managed to create various problems but failed to solve any of them. Instead of winning over the population of the heavily Sunni provinces, and through them Iraq’s wider Sunni community, al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government persistently alienated and discriminated against them. Before long, Sunni areas started to see protests, sit-ins and demonstrations against the policies of al-Maliki and his government. The prime minister’s response was to increase the presence of security and military forces, which were mainly staffed and headed by Shiite personnel. Thanks to his unwillingness to concede to the demands of the Sunni-majority provinces, instead resorting to the use of force, his struggle against the leaders of these provinces (and indeed most opposition Sunni leaders) reached the point of no return. Al-Maliki’s departure, and the formation of a government of national unity of technocrats that could put an end to corruption and at least restore basic services, could perhaps offer a chance for some stability. It would also help end the many disputes and problems al-Maliki has created with the Kurdish regional government, the Sunni provinces, and especially with his own Shiite coalition partners. His insistence on remaining in office will only hasten the start of a destructive and prolonged civil conflict — all too reminiscent of the catastrophe still unfolding across his country’s north-eastern border.

  • How has Iraq lost a third of its territory to ISIS in three days?

    The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, has about 12,000 fighters in its ranks. About 8,000 needed only forty-eight hours to take Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, although it was defended by more than 27,000 government troops. It took ISIL another twenty-four hours to gain control of about one-third of Iraq – facing little, if any, resistance from Iraq’s one-million-strong security apparatus. The reasons: After the U.S. occupation force, in 2003, dismantled Iraq’s professional military, a new Iraqi army was re-established from militia members and low-ranking members of the Ba’ath army. Senior officers in Saddam Hussein’s forces were dismissed, which gave rise to at least two security issues. Firstly, military officers of the previous army were steered toward terrorist groups. Secondly, Iraq’s new military suffered from the loss of expertise and military discipline instilled by their former officers. In addition, poor governance has led to widespread corruption in both political and military spheres. Military personnel are routinely reported to be soliciting bribes, especially in Sunni areas of Iraq.

  • U.S. begins evacuation of Baghdad embassy; Iranian general coordinating the defense of Baghdad

    The State Department yesterday (Sunday) that non-essential employees at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad were being evacuated, but that the United States would remain “fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.” The Pentagon has ordered an aircraft carrier and two missile-carrying ships to the Persian Gulf, hinting at the possibility of imminent U.S. air strikes against the advancing Sunni insurgents. The Sunni insurgents who now control about a third of Iraq said Sunday that they had executed 1,700 Iraqi soldiers, stressing that all those who killed were Shi’as. Iran had sent 2,000 advance troops to Baghdad, and General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Qods Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, is coordinating the defense of Baghdad.