The Middle East Channel

A new wave of car bombings hits Baghdad

A wave of car bombings across the Iraqi capital of Baghdad during the Monday morning rush hour has killed an estimated 54 people and injured dozens more. An estimated 14 seemingly coordinated bombings hit markets and parking lots targeting mainly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad. The most severe attack hit a vegetable market near a gathering point for day laborers in the eastern district of Sadr City. The car bombing killed seven people, including two soldiers, and wounded 75 others. Monday's attacks came after a suicide bomber killed at least 40 people Sunday at a Shiite funeral at a mosque in the town of Mussayab, about 40 miles south of Baghdad. Also on Sunday, a double suicide car bombing targeted the security forces headquarters and interior ministry in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region, killing at least 11 people. While there has been a dramatic recent surge of violence across Iraq, Sunday's attack in Erbil was the first to hit the autonomous Kurdish region since a truck bombing in 2007 targeted the same security complex.

Syria

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Syria Friday night, launching an international effort at containing and destroying Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. The resolution includes two legally binding demands, namely that the Syrian government relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile and that international chemical weapons inspectors be given unrestricted access. The Security Council vote came after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) agreed on a plan to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons by the middle of 2014. The OPCW said it will begin inspecting sites in Syria by Tuesday. Additionally, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a tentative date in mid-November for a long-delayed peace conference in Geneva. However, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syrian government officials would not participate in talks with the main opposition Syrian National Coalition because it supported a proposed U.S. military strike on Syria. Meanwhile, Syria's neighboring countries have requested international assistance for dealing with the soaring refugee crisis. Representatives from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq met with the UN refugee agency Monday in Geneva seeking financial support and searching for other countries to host some of the most vulnerable refugees.

Headlines

  • A Bahrain court has sentenced 50 Shiite Muslim activists for up to 15 years in prison accusing them of involvement in the February 14 Coalition that worked to overthrow the government.
  • In efforts to end Tunisia's political crisis, the Islamist-led government has agreed to resign after negotiations expected to begin next week, which will be mediated by the UGTT labor union.
  • Suspected al Qaeda gunmen dressed as security officers reportedly seized an army base Monday in the port city of al-Mukalla killing an estimated three Yemeni soldiers and possibly capturing an army commander.

Arguments & Analysis

'The American-Iraqi Encounter' (Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy)

"The absence of Iraqi voices from American discussions about Iraq over the last decade has long been a major shortcoming. The bookshelf of English-language books about the decade of war with Iraq overflows with accounts of Washington inter-agency battles, General David Petraeus, American soldiers in the field, General David Petraeus, and General David Petraeus. Some are excellent, some less excellent. But very few of them seriously incorporate the experiences, views, or memories of Iraqis themselves -- a problem of American-centric analysis which I termed 'strategic narcissism.'

And so, on Thursday, October 3, I'm proud to be hosting a really fascinating and hopefully important conference at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University called 'The Encounter.' Each panel at the full-day event will include both Iraqi students who lived in Iraq during some of the years of the war and American students who served those same years in the U.S. military in Iraq (including several Tillman Military Scholars). The keynote lunch session will feature a discussion about American policy and the Iraqi experience between me, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl and the Iraqi historian Abbas Kadhim. The agenda is open-ended, and the discussions about how Americans and Iraqis viewed one another should be extremely frank and direct."

'The Shadow Commander' (Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker)

"Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and in that time he has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran's favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned Suleimani for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism. And yet he has remained mostly invisible to the outside world, even as he runs agents and directs operations. 'Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today,' John Maguire, a former C.I.A. officer in Iraq, told me, ‘and no one's ever heard of him.'

When Suleimani appears in public -- often to speak at veterans' events or to meet with Khamenei -- he carries himself inconspicuously and rarely raises his voice, exhibiting a trait that Arabs call khilib, or understated charisma. 'He is so short, but he has this presence,' a former senior Iraqi official told me. 'There will be ten people in a room, and when Suleimani walks in he doesn't come and sit with you. He sits over there on the other side of room, by himself, in a very quiet way. Doesn't speak, doesn't comment, just sits and listens. And so of course everyone is thinking only about him.' "

'Imagining a Remapped Middle East' (Robin Wright, International Herald Tribune)

"The map of the modern Middle East, a political and economic pivot in the international order, is in tatters. Syria's ruinous war is the turning point. But the centrifugal forces of rival beliefs, tribes and ethnicities -- empowered by unintended consequences of the Arab Spring -- are also pulling apart a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago and defended by Arab autocrats ever since.

A different map would be a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.

Syria's prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East. But it is a complex country, rich in religious and ethnic variety, and therefore fragile. After independence, Syria reeled from more than a half-dozen coups between 1949 and 1970, when the Assad dynasty seized full control. Now, after 30 months of bloodletting, diversity has turned deadly, killing both people and country. Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads' minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.

Syria's unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

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