The Middle East Channel

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki meets President Obama seeking U.S. aid

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in Washington set to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama Friday, appealing for military aid to counter an insurgency that has sparked the worst violence since 2008. Maliki is expected to request Apache helicopter gunships as well as additional U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism support, including U.S. operated reconnaissance drones. The request is coming as the United Nations reported 979 people killed in Iraq in October, the same estimate as September, and the highest death tolls seen in the country since April 2008. The Iraqi government estimated 855 civilians, 65 police officers, and 67 soldiers were killed in October, and an additional 1,600 people were wounded. In a speech Thursday at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Maliki blamed Iraq's increasing violence on the Syrian civil war and the vacuum caused by the region's uprisings that started in 2010. He said, "a vacuum was created, and al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations were able to exploit it and to gain ground." However, many U.S. officials are blaming missteps of Maliki's government for the rising insecurity.

Syria

Israeli aircraft struck a military base near Syria's port city of Latakia overnight from Wednesday to Thursday, according to U.S. officials. There have be no official statements from Syria or Israel, however an explosion was reported at a missile storage site in the area. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, "Several explosions were heard in an air defense base in the Snubar Jableh area." According to a U.S. official, Israel targeted Russian-made missiles that were to be transferred to Hezbollah. While Israel does not comment on military operations, it has been accused of several strikes on Syrian territory this year. Meanwhile, the Syrian army has reportedly gained control over the northwestern town of Safira believed to be near a chemical weapons facility, one of the two sites the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been unable to visit due to security concerns. Government forces overtook the town, which is on a strategic road near Aleppo, after about three weeks of fierce clashes with rebel fighters, who have held the area for over a year.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

'Overcoming the Gulf in the Gulf' (Colin Kahl and Jacob Stokes, Defense One)

"In any strong partnership, both sides need to be frank with the other, and the Saudis and other Gulf states have certainly been increasingly frank about voicing their displeasure with U.S. policy. But threatening a strategic shift is shortsighted, unrealistic, and highly counterproductive.

First, no plausible alternative patrons will offer Gulf states the depth and commitment of the relationship they enjoy with the United States -- not the Chinese, not the Russians, not the Europeans and not fellow Arab states. No other military can ensure the free flow of Gulf oil, and no other state can provide the quality and military support network that comes with American armaments. And whatever disagreements Gulf states have with the Obama administration pale in comparison to the disagreements they have with alternative patrons like Russia and China, two states that have repeatedly shielded Assad at the UN and historically have had much closer ties to Iran. In short, a ‘major shift' away from the United States would likely be, to paraphrase a saying from American politics, a major shift to nowhere.

Second, the Saudis and other Gulf states will enjoy much more influence by advocating their policy preferences through established mechanisms and institutions, including at the UN and through the Geneva process on Syria, rather than abandoning these channels in a fit of anger because they dislike U.S. policy. Spurning these processes to demonstrate displeasure may feel good in the moment, but it is incredibly shortsighted."

'The Saudis Are Mad? Tough!' (Fareed Zakaria, Time)

"America's middle east policies are failing, we are told, and the best evidence is that Saudi Arabia is furious. Dick Cheney, John McCain and Lindsey Graham have all sounded the alarm about Riyadh's recent rejection of a seat on the U.N. Security Council. But whatever one thinks of the Obama Administration's handling of the region, surely the last measure of American foreign policy should be how it is received by the House of Saud.

If there were a prize for Most Irresponsible Foreign Policy it would surely be awarded to Saudi Arabia. It is the nation most responsible for the rise of Islamic radicalism and militancy around the world. Over the past four decades, the kingdom's immense oil wealth has been used to underwrite the export of an extreme, intolerant and violent version of Islam preached by its Wahhabi clerics.

Go anywhere in the world -- from Germany to Indonesia -- and you'll find Islamic centers flush with Saudi money, spouting intolerance and hate. In 2007, Stuart Levey, then a top Treasury official, told ABC News, 'If I could snap my fingers and cut off the funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia.' When confronted with the evidence, Saudi officials often claim these funds flow from private individuals and foundations and the government has no control over them. But many of the foundations were set up by the government or key members of the royal family, and none could operate in defiance of national policy; the country is an absolute monarchy."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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