The Middle East Channel

Militants Attack Iraqi Military Base Killing 20 Soldiers

Militants stormed an Iraqi military base near the northern city of Mosul killing an estimated 20 soldiers. Reports conflict over when and how the soldiers were killed, with some reports saying the attack came Saturday night, and others earlier in the week. Also, medical officials said some soldiers were executed, some with their hands tied, while a police major contradicted those reports. Some officials also said the soldiers had been kidnapped from the base. The forces were responsible for protecting an oil pipeline and a highway in the area. Meanwhile, civilians and hospital sources have accused the Iraqi government of shelling civilian areas of Fallujah with barrel bombs in its fight to drive out Islamist militants. Fighting in Iraq's western Anbar province has continued into a fifth month, forcing thousands of civilians from their homes and dramatically impacting the economy.


Campaigning began Sunday ahead of Syria's June 3 presidential election, in which President Bashar al-Assad is widely expected to win a third seven-year term. The vote will be Syria's first multi-candidate presidential election with two relatively unknown candidates challenging Assad: Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar and Hassan Abdullah Nouri. Meanwhile, residents returned to Homs after the last busloads of rebel fighters left the Old City on Friday in part of an evacuation deal negotiated with the government. Though the deal appeared successful, U.N. officials cautioned there is no solution in sight to end the Syrian civil war or ameliorate the severe humanitarian crisis.


  • A suspected U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen killed up to six alleged al Qaeda militants Monday a day after a suicide bomber killed 11 police officers near a police station in the city of Mukalla.
  • At least 36 people have died and 42 remain missing after a boat carrying mostly African migrants capsized last week off the coast of Libya.
  • A U.N. report has noted that Iran's attempts to illegally procure materials for its nuclear and missile program have decreased ahead of a new round of talks this week between Tehran and World Powers.
  • Presidential frontrunner and former General Sisi said Egypt would see an improvement in two years, "if things go according to plan," and that he would resign from office if his presidency provokes mass protests.

Arguments and Analysis

'The ICC in Syria: Three Red Lines' (Mark Kersten, Justice in Conflict)

"Still, unlike Darfur and Libya, the Office of the Prosecutor now has the time to develop a coherent and rigorous position regarding a Syria referral. And if the Prosecutor can't be proactive in ascertaining the political risks in accepting certain referrals, perhaps it is time that an independent referral review panel be set up advise the Court.

While it is extremely unlikely that the ICC would reject a referral of Syria, the ICC has a problem when it comes to its relationship with the Security Council. A potential Syria referral offers the opportunity to think critically and clearly about what, exactly, the Court wants that relationship to look like."

'Lebanon union strike not helping the economy' (Sami Nader, Al-Monitor)

"The crisis of the ranks and salaries scale, which is pushing the country toward an economic and social explosion, has revealed the depth of the structural problem, represented by the size of the public sector relative to the Lebanese economy. It should be noted that the total salaries and wages in the public sector, if the budget is approved as is, represents 15.5% of the gross domestic product and 54.2% of state expenses. The rate in Europe is 20% of state expenses. For example, if we look at the number of teachers in the public sector - the ranks and salaries scale primarily concerns them - we find that the student-teacher ratio is 7-to-1, while the global average is about 20-to-1.

This shows how much the public sector has grown. Successive governments have avoided facing the problem despite the recommendations of international institutions, from the World Bank to the International Monetary Fund, which called for reducing the size of the administration.

This is the bitter reality, which should be blamed neither on the workers nor the employers, but on political clientelism, corruption and the absence of good governance."

-- Mary Casey

Sadam el-Mehmedy/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Breakdown in Deal Keeps Syrian Rebels Trapped in Homs

Syrian government forces have retaken control over the Old City of Homs as a breakdown in a deal for the withdrawal of opposition fighter has left about 270 rebels stuck in the city. In the deal struck between opposition fighters and government forces, over 1,200 rebels as well as civilians were to be evacuated while rebel forces agreed to release about 70 hostages and allow aid deliveries into the northern Shiite towns of Nubul and Zahraa. According to Syrian officials, an aid convoy has been blocked from entering the towns. They said the remaining rebels would only be allowed to leave Homs after aid has reached the areas. Meanwhile, Sigrid Kaag, head of the join United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons operation for the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons, said the remaining eight percent of the regime's stockpile is at a government airfield near Damascus, but cannot be transferred yet because rebel forces control the local roads. The nearly 100 tons of remaining chemical substances declared by the regime reportedly contain the precursors to produce the lethal sarin nerve gas.


  • The United States agreed to continuing investing in the Iron Dome meanwhile Israel is seeking increased military assistance ahead of the 2017 expiration of a 10-year $30 billion defense aid deal.
  • Gunmen assassinated Ibrahim Senussi, Libya's head of intelligence for the country's eastern sector, on Thursday as he was driving in Benghazi.
  • The United States closed its embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Thursday citing recent attacks meanwhile an American journalist was deported without explanation.
  • Egypt's ministry of tourism has launched a new advertising campaign as the loss of travelers amidst the political turmoil has taken a severe toll on the economy.

Arguments and Analysis

'Flight of Icarus? The PYD's Precarious Rise in Syria' (International Crisis Group)

"With the Syrian regime and opposition locked in a see-saw battle, Kurdish forces have consolidated control over large portions of the country's north. Their principal players, the Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, PYD) and its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG), now dominate three large, non-contiguous enclaves of Kurdish-majority territory along the Turkish border, over which the PYD proclaimed in November 2013 the transitional administration of Rojava (Western Kurdistan). Kurdish governance is unprecedented in Syria and for the PYD, an offshoot of the Turkish Kurdish insurgent movement PKK, from which it draws ideological, organisational and military support. But it is unclear whether this is a first step toward stability and the Kurdish aspiration for national recognition, or merely a respite while the civil war focuses elsewhere. The PYD alone will not determine the fate of Syria's north, but it could greatly increase its chances by broadening its popular appeal and cooperating with other local forces."

'The Consequences of NATO's Good War in Libya' (Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, War on the Rocks)

"Rapid as Qaddafi's fall was, the intervention is widely regarded as a success, as no allied lives were lost, and the price tag stood at just $1.1 billion. But though the mission was superb in its execution, it was more problematic than is commonly acknowledged. The intervention produced significant ripples, and in fact, one rationale for intervention advanced at the time was that doing so would have second-order consequences: As several commentators noted, there was a real feeling at the time that the changes sweeping the region might be reversed if Qaddafi's advance on Benghazi weren't stopped.

Though the desire to see the spread of democracy and the fall of dictators is noble, decisions of state should be judged by results rather than intent. NATO's intervention came when there had already been wrenching changes in the region, and there were further revolutionary rumblings. The choice to intervene represented not just a decision to stop Qaddafi's advance on Benghazi, but also to speed up the pace of change. This made it more difficult subsequently for the United States to secure its interests, and to influence events in the region in a way that could save further lives. The intervention in Libya left behind a country beset by instability, and has had a destabilizing effect on Libya's neighbors. Taking these consequences into account, it is not clear that lives were saved on the whole by NATO's intervention."

'Taking sides in Egypt's troubled revolution: but which?' (Haifaa G. Khalafallah, Open Democracy)

"Revolutions or coups seeking to change modern Egypt, whether in 1919 or 1952, never challenged the familiar patterns of power relations, that is to say, their political culture.  

The triumph of a home grown, new political discourse is the real and most significant Egyptian revolution that took place early in 2011. Unexpected and leaderless, Tahrir Square became its central point, where many of its advocates first appeared as a group. Ever since, Tahrir also served as the address of the significant shifts that this vision brings. 

After their initial shock at the success of the Tahrir demonstrators, the subscribers to Egypt's old narrative of power recovered ground and began to reassert the authority of the familiar ways of running their country. A war between the old and new ways became inevitable. That summarises the story of Egypt today, where daily battles continue to rage in its streets, workplaces, media, prisons, and even in its morgues."

-- Mary Casey