Iraqis are heading to the polls amid heavy security in the first parliamentary elections since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops. Iraq has seen the worst violence since 2008, with 160 people killed in attacks within the last week. As polls opened Wednesday, two roadside bombs exploded near Kirkuk killing two women and a bombing at a market northeast of Baghdad killed at least 11 people. The capital is under lockdown, and cars have been banned during the voting in efforts to prevent suicide attacks and car bombers. Polling stations in much of Anbar province were closed on Wednesday. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking a third term and his Shiite State of Law list is expected to win the most seats in parliament. However, growing unrest will pose a challenge to Maliki and he is unlikely to take enough seats to avoid needing to establish a coalition.
Jordan and the United Nations have opened up a new camp for refugees fleeing Syria's civil war. The Azraq camp has the infrastructure to house 50,000 people, but has been designed to expand to hold 130,000 refugees. Zaatari camp is currently Jordan's biggest and has reached capacity at a population of 100,000. Zaatari has been strongly criticized for its poor conditions, and Jack Byrne from the International Rescue Committee said Azraq was built taking into account lessons from Zaatari. Meanwhile the death toll has risen from bomb, mortar, and rocket attacks on government-held areas of Damascus and Homs on Tuesday, with estimates ranging from 50 to 100 people killed. In a statement at The Hague Tuesday the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced it will send a team to investigate claims that chlorine gas has been used in attacks in Syria at least nine times since February.
- U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy has blocked military aid to Egypt criticizing the administration's intention to release $650 million in assistance considering an Egyptian court's recent issuing of 720 death sentences.
- With the end of peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is considering unilateral moves such as annexing parts of the West Bank while the PLO may seek to join the ICC.
- Lebanese speaker Nabih Berri adjourned the second round of the presidential election after lawmakers boycotted and scheduled the third round for May 7.
- Gunmen attacked Libya's parliament Tuesday causing several injuries and forcing lawmakers to suspend a vote on a new prime minister.
Arguments and Analysis
'Palestinian-Israeli Talks: Time for a "Time Out"' (Shai Feldman, The National Interest)
"What are the key mistakes that should be discussed at the retreat? First, Kerry should not have permitted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to engage him in endless discussions regarding the conditions for negotiations. Kerry should have told the two leaders:
Gentlemen, if you want peace, the United States is prepared to facilitate. If you reach an agreement, issues like a settlement-construction freeze and release of prisoners will be taken care of. Prisoners will be released and construction will cease in whatever settlements will find themselves located on the Palestinian side of the negotiated boundary. But the world presents the United States with too many important challenges for us to be engaged in negotiating precursors to negotiations. So make up your mind: If you want peace, we need to focus on border demarcation, security, Jerusalem, refugees, and water resources. Not on your conditions for negotiating these issues."
'Syria: Pull Together Resources, Rationalize the Response' (Frederic C. Hof, Atlantic Council)
"The key obstacle, therefore, to the proposition that the United States should pull together the resources and rationalize the response to the depredations of the Assad regime may be entirely internal. How, after all, would such a labor-intensive, complicated, contentious, and lengthy process be managed and controlled by the president and his staff? When the inevitable problems arise and reverses occur, who-with everything else going on-will massage and manage the media message? Who would have the requisite combination of leadership skills, area expertise, operational experience, and presidential trust to lead such a complex and difficult effort? Where would the White House inner circle find the time to review everything down to punctuation in planning documentation that would first be required to run a gauntlet of skeptical lawyers primed to find fault and eliminate risk? Is there, in short, anything about Syria worth the political risks and managerial burdens of doing something big?"
-- Mary Casey
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