The Middle East Channel

Syrian refugees top one million according to the United Nations

The United Nations has reported that at least one million Syrian refugees, about five percent of Syria's population, have fled the two-year long conflict. The figure includes people who have registered, or are waiting to register; the total is much higher. About half of the refugees are children. Most have entered Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. According to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, the number of people fleeing Syria has dramatically increased since the beginning of the year. About 400,000 people have left the country since January 1. He said, "Syria is spiraling towards full-scale disaster." Additionally, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) released a report Tuesday depicting the collapse of Syria's education system. About one-fifth of the country's schools have been damaged from fighting, while others are being used as shelters for civilians who have been displaced by the conflict. About 2 million people are estimated to be internally displaced. Schools holding classes are severely overcrowded, and many teachers have not been reporting to work. The study was conducted in December 2012, and with the increase in violence over recent months, the conditions are likely to be much more severe. Meanwhile, fighting has continued in the northern city of Raqqa, where opposition fighters reportedly control most of the city. Syrian warplanes have bombarded the city, according to activists, and the government has sent in reinforcements attempting to regain control.


  • A Kurdish commander said the PKK will release around a dozen Turkish soldiers and police officials, forwarding a peace process aimed to end the 28-year insurgency.
  • A UNICEF report released Wednesday concluded that Palestinian minors in Israeli custody have been subjected to widespread and systematic mistreatment and has called for reform of detention policies
  • The United States and European Union have warned Iran that it faces further isolation if it continues blocking an IAEA investigation into its nuclear activities.
  • A report commissioned by the U.S. Congress, "Learning From Iraq," to be released Wednesday, highlights mistakes made by the United States in Iraqi reconstruction projects.
  • Australia confirmed "Prisoner X," Australian-Israeli national Ben Zygier, worked for Israel in a report released Wednesday. 

Arguments and Analysis

A Blank Check for Israel? Bad Idea (Matthew Duss, The American Prospect)

"Meanwhile, some in Congress seem determined to play an unconstructive role in the negotiations. One particular measure, co-sponsored by Senators Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham-and backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee coming out of its big annual policy conference last weekend, as reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's Ron Kampeas- could both undermine diplomacy and green-light an attack by Israel.

The resolution, after listing in some detail the Islamic Republic's offenses (which, let's be clear, are quite serious), "Urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence."

In an interview with The Washington Post's neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, Graham explained the resolution in layman's terms: "If Israel acts in its own defense-even preemptively-we will support Israel economically, diplomatically, and politically."

While it's true that the resolution is non-binding and does not create policy, it's important to recognize the ratcheting effect these sorts of measures have in terms of framing the debate, and slowly acclimating Americans to the idea that war is inevitable. The American Conservative's Daniel Larison recently addressed this dynamic in a piece looking back at the run-up to the Iraq war. "The poor, limited quality of debate over Iraq policy from the '90s is happening all over again with Iran, as the ‘debate' tends to focus on whether U.S. policy should give priority to impoverishing Iranians or to killing them more quickly," Larison wrote. "The foundations for terrible policy decisions are often laid years before the final decision is taken, and if we don't pay attention to how those foundations are laid we won't be prepared to stop the next awful policy in the future."

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, we should keep that in mind."

A veteran's remorse: what have we done to Iraq? (James Jeffrey, The Guardian)

"I don't think many of us ever understood how bad it actually was - or still is - with the sectarian strife that continues in the wake of our failed intervention. Was it a social experiment on an international scale? Or an adventure of the romantic, imperial kind, to see if we still had it in us? Really, could someone explain that to me, please? More importantly, though, explain it to the Iraqis.

All of which makes our present conduct even more intolerable. Past failures are being compounded by what may be the UK's biggest crime: doing its best impression of Pontius Pilate and having little if nothing to do with rebuilding the country it helped dismember. The British consulate in Basra, scene of my futile 2006 tour and the British Army's ignominious withdrawal in 2007, closed at the end of 2012. We're not exactly going out of our ways to make amends.

Add to that how talk of a 10th anniversary is somewhat disingenuous, really, considering the creation of Iraq as a British mandate in 1920. That's a long period of British meddling and bungling. Though the funny thing, and possibly the only funny thing left, is that the Iraqis probably wouldn't begrudge working with the likes of UK business interests, for example, in going forward. It's that hospitable streak of theirs."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey


The Middle East Channel

Raqqa falls to Syrian rebels while regime soldiers are ambushed in Iraq

Syrian opposition forces have reportedly overtaken most of Raqqa, a northern province. They have captured Hassan Jalili, Raqqa's governor and Baath party secretary general and toppled a statue of the late former President Hafez al-Assad. If verified, this would be a major gain for the opposition, and Governor Jalili would be one of the highest regime official captured since the beginning of the conflict nearly two years ago. However, fighting has continued between opposition fighters and pro-regime forces in some areas in Raqqa as well as at the provincial airport, about 40 miles from the city. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported government airstrikes on two targets in Raqqa. Meanwhile, about 39 Syrian soldiers and eight Iraqis were killed Monday in Iraq in an attack by unidentified gunmen in the western Anbar province, in the most serious spillover yet of the Syrian conflict into a neighboring country. The soldiers were among 65 Syrians who had crossed into Iraq after opposition fighters captured the Yaaroubiyah border post. Iraqi soldiers were transporting them to another border crossing when they were ambushed. Also on Monday, a group of Syrians announced the formation of a provincial council for Aleppo after elections were held on Sunday in Gaziantep, a Turkish city. While small governing bodies have been organized in opposition held territories before, this is the first attempt at establishing a province-wide civilian authority. The first priority for the 29-member Aleppo council will be to restore services such as water, utilities, healthcare, and bread.


Arguments and Analysis

Syria's Many Militias: Inside the Chaos of the Anti-Assad Rebellion (Rania Abouzeid, Time Magazine)

Syria‘s rebels have been locked in a bloody war with the regime of President Bashar Assad for nearly two years. But for 27 days after it was formed last December, the Free Syrian Army's Military Command-elected by some 550 rebel delegates and tasked with commanding and controlling the myriad groups on the ground-did not receive so much as a bullet from its Arab and Western supporters. That lack of aid threatened to crush the nascent Military Command's credibility with the fighting men inside Syria.

The body, headed by chief of staff Brigadier General Salim Idris, replaced the Joint Command of the Revolutionary Military Councils (which was formed less than three months prior), and shunted aside the dueling, Turkey-based so-called leaders of the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riad al-As'aad and General Mustafa al-Sheikh, who were never more than figureheads.

New routes to racism (Haaretz)

"It's clear that the bus segregation is part of a more principled separation between the populations that is expressed in almost every area: In the allocation of areas for residential construction, in the different legal systems, in the unequitable distribution of resources and in discriminatory travel regulations.

Occupied territory is meant to be managed by the occupying state as a temporary trust for the benefit of the local population. There are clear rules aimed at preventing the evolution of a colonial or apartheid regime. The way the State of Israel is managing the territories is a far cry from the way occupied lands are meant to be managed.

Rather than express "concern" for the Palestinians by excluding them from Jewish bus lines, it would behoove the prime minister to immediately put a stop to this racist segregation."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images