The Middle East Channel

New clashes in Iraq seem to be part of an al Qaeda campaign

Clashes between militants and Iraqi forces killed 19 people, including 11 policemen, and downed an army helicopter. The fighting reportedly began late Tuesday with an attack on a security checkpoint near Hadid, in the predominantly Sunni province of Diyala, and continued through Thursday when militants opened fire on a surveillance helicopter. Blaer Hassan, a Diyala security official, said, "This is a setback because we are worried about the capacity of Iraqi forces in the face of the growing strength of al Qaeda." While the identities of the militants are unknown, the assault appeared to be part of an al Qaeda campaign to reclaim territory lost in the U.S. 2003 invasion. Last week, Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released a statement online about the strategy, called "Breaking the Walls." A day after the announcement al Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq, unleashed a wave of attacks that killed up to 116 people and wounded hundreds.


The Syrian regime has renewed attacks on parts of Damascus as clashes continue in several districts of Aleppo. Assad's forces appear to be preparing to invade the city. The United States expressed fears of the possibility of mass casualties with a regime invasion of Aleppo. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said there is "concern that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that's what the regime appears to be lining up for." She maintained that there would be no U.S. military intervention saying they didn't want to pour "more fuel onto the fire." However, Reuters learned of a presidential directive that would authorize greater covert assistance for the opposition, but still would not supply them with arms. It is not clear if President Barack Obama has signed the document. Meanwhile, Member of Parliament Iklhas Badawi, elected in May to represent Aleppo in what was considered by many to be a sham election, has defected and reportedly crossed into Turkey. She said she defected "from this tyrannical regime ... because of the repression and savage torture against a nation demanding the minimum of rights." If confirmed, Badawi would be the first parliamentarian to defect.


  • Israel's Supreme Court has extended the deadline for the eviction of Migron, the largest unsanctioned West Bank settlement, over protest concerns during Ramadan and because temporary housing is not completed.
  • Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniya, has met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi days after Egypt eased visa requirements for Gazans under 40 years old.

Arguments & Analysis

A vacuum looms' (The Economist)

"Governments in the West and in the Middle East fear the prospect of a power vacuum if Mr Assad were to go soon. Opponents, including the Syrian National Council, a wobbly coalition of Mr Assad's foes, are trying to draw up a plan for a post-Assad Syria. But Western diplomats are taking the council less seriously, since it lacks credibility in Syria, and are shifting their focus to the FSA and internal groups. The idea of a unity government has yet to gain ground; Mr Assad's opponents are split over whether to seek out any figures from the present government. The French are urging a role for Manas Tlass, a Sunni general and childhood friend of Mr Assad who recently defected. Foreign diplomats and FSA commanders are frantically trying to work out how the security forces might be rearranged in the event of the regime's collapse. The UN and the Arab League are flailing. In other words, hand-wringing and head-scratching all round."

Lara Friedman Responds to Dani Dayan' (Lara Friedman, Open Zion)

"Finally, Dayan's over-arching thesis in this op-ed is that "...our four-decade-long settlement endeavor is both [moral and wise]." The truth is that some of the settlers and their rabbis have twisted the whole concept of morality in order to justify an ideology that values land over human life, over security, and over peace. This is an ideology that can justify stealing landdestroying olive trees, and abusing and even killing children of the "enemy", all for the goal of destroying the modern state of Israel-a state that is an imperfect but nonetheless vibrant democracy, with the rule of law and a healthy civil society-and replacing it with the a religious-fascist state characterized by the tyranny of a Jewish minority. In short, the settlement enterprise is patently immoral and spectacularly unwise, from the point of view of anyone who cares about Israel and its survival as a democracy and a Jewish state."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

The Middle East Channel

The Syrian Army and opposition forces ramp up for fierce Aleppo battle

The battle for Aleppo continues as the Syrian government sends reinforcements and the opposition prepares stockpiles of ammunition and medical supplies. Syrian forces have been pounding Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital and largest city, using heavy artillery, helicopter gunfire, and fighter jets, as government troops head toward the city from Hama and the Turkish border. Military experts believe the government is concentrating troops in Aleppo and Damascus, which is still under fire, to quell the rebellion in the two major cities while leaving other areas under opposition control. While opposition forces have held ground, it is unlikely they will be able to match a full assault from government troops. According to opposition activist Talal al-Mayhani, "They lack the strategic support and weaponry." Meanwhile, the United States and some Arab and Western countries are working to use Syria's highest-ranking defector, Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, to help facilitate a political transition in Syria. Tlass said, "I will cooperate with every honorable person who wants to rebuild Syria, be it the National Council or the (rebel) Free Syria Army." Additionally, the United States has convinced Russia to cut back its arms shipments to the Syrian regime, including repaired helicopters.


  • The World Bank reported the recent growth in the Palestinian economy is unsustainable. It had been propped up by foreign assistance, and needs an increase in trade and private investment.
  • Egyptian officials have announced that the make-up of the new government will be finalized by next week.
  • Iran announced new currency restrictions on Wednesday. Meanwhile, an Iranian and Indian shipping joint venture is near collapse due to limitations from international sanctions. 
  • Yemen is on track to join the World Trade Organization as early as the end of 2012 after a deal with Ukraine.

Arguments & Analysis 

Israel's Settlers Are Here to Stay' (Dani Dayan, The New York Times)

"We aim to expand the existing Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and create new ones. This is not - as it is often portrayed - a theological adventure but is rather a combination of inalienable rights and realpolitik... Our presence in all of Judea and Samaria - not just in the so-called settlement blocs - is an irreversible fact. Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile, and neglecting this fact in diplomatic talks will not change the reality on the ground; it only makes the negotiations more likely to fail...If the international community relinquished its vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution, and replaced them with intense efforts to improve and maintain the current reality on the ground, it would be even better. The settlements of Judea and Samaria are not the problem - they are part of the solution."

We Are Fed Up! The power of a new generation of Sudanese youth activists' (Anonymous, OpenDemocracy)

"The movement is representative of today's discontented Sudanese youth, who are "fed up" not only with the NCP's brutal rule but also with the politics of the traditional opposition groups and parties. These parties - such as the National Umma Party, the Communist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party, among others - are highly sectarian in nature and dominated by an older generation of male politicians and activists. It is the failure of these parties to mount viable or effective resistance to the NCP throughout its 23 years of dictatorship that has prompted the rise of Girifna and other youth groups that have also sprung up in its wake."

The ‘day after' in Syria' (David Ignatius, The Washington Post)

"It is time for Washington to emphasize what the United States can do, rather than what it can't, in Syria. U.S. policy is caught between two imperatives: President Bashar al-Assad must go, and the killing must stop. But while Assad's government will probably fall, it is also a near-certainty that the killing will continue - with the United States and its allies trying to limit the collateral damage. The Obama administration should try to prevent the humanitarian crisis from spreading to other countries, even as it helps plan the reconstruction of Syria."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

AFP/Getty Images