The Middle East Channel

Militants Seize Iraqi City of Mosul

After several days of fierce clashes, militants believed to be from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have taken control of most of Iraq's second largest city, Mosul. Hundreds of fighters destroyed several police stations and seized the Nineveh province's government headquarters. Iraq's parliamentary speaker, Osama Nujaifi, said that Iraqi forces had "abandoned their posts" and that "terrorists" are in control of Mosul. Nujaifi called for troop reinforcements. According to Nujaifi, the militants had additionally seized the airport and the jails, reportedly releasing about 1,400 prisoners. Militants have launched attacks in Nineveh and four other provinces in recent days. Iraq's deputy migration and displacement minister stated that fighting in Mosul had already forced over 4,800 families to flee their homes. Meanwhile, the Turkish government is investigating reports that 28 Turkish truck drivers have been abducted in Nineveh province while transporting diesel to Mosul.

Syria

Fighting between Islamist brigades, including al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria's Deir al-Zour province has killed 634 people since April 30, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The six-week ISIL offensive has killed an estimated 39 civilians and driven 130,000 people from their homes. ISIL is battling for control of eastern Syrian and western Iraq, and has taken control of most of the northeast bank of the Euphrates River from close to the Turkish border to around 200 miles southeast to the town of Busayra.  

Headlines

  • Egypt has arrested seven men after a video appeared to show a mob sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in Tahrir Square during celebrations marking President Sisi's inauguration.
  • Libyan Prime Minister Ahmed Maitiq said he would step down after the Supreme Court ruled his election unconstitutional.
  • During a two-day visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Ankara, Iran and Turkey signed 10 energy and trade deals and agreed to cooperate on regional security issues.
  • Members of Israel's Knesset are voting on finalists Reuven Rivlin and Meir Sheetrit in the second round of presidential elections to determine a successor to Shimon Peres.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Latest Iranian Distractions' (Norma Claire Moruzzi, MERIP)

"While senior Iranian and US officials are planning bilateral talks over Iran's nuclear research program, the Iranian and world media are distracted by other issues: young women who post images of themselves without hejab on Facebook, and a video of six well-heeled youths dancing to Pharrell Williams' song 'Happy.' The gyrating youngsters were arrested and compelled to issue an apology on state television for what authorities said was a 'vulgar clip' that had 'hurt public chastity.' Meanwhile, an anonymous Facebook page popped up demanding that the women who had photographed themselves with uncovered heads be lashed and imprisoned. The woman who runs the 'My Stealthy Freedoms' Iranian-women-without-hejab Facebook project, journalist Masih Alinejad, has been subjected to relentless blackballing in the state-run media.

The confluence of events is no accident. While parts of the Iranian government seem to be inching closer to resolving the long-standing tensions with the United States, other parts of the regime are energetically targeting symbolic representatives of 'Western' cultural corruption. How better to sabotage political rapprochement than by confirming everyone's worst fear -- that the Iranian state is a rogue actor rather than a rational one?"

'Iraqi election results expose dramatic shifts in power' (Kirk H. Sowell, The National)

"Iraq's parliamentary elections, held at the end of April, exhibited a tectonic shift in the demographic balance of power and sectarian polarisation.

Due to a low Sunni Arab turnout in mixed provinces, Iraq's parliament has an outright Shia Islamist majority, having increased to 181 seats out of 328 for 2014. Whereas 2010 saw a high-water mark for the Sunni Arab-secular Shia coalition, winning 101 seats - 91 of those under the Iraqiya coalition headed by former (secular Shia) prime minister Iyad Allawi - those two groups have been reduced to just 76. The Kurdish parties managed to add five seats, increasing to 62.

The results left Sunni Arab factions both weaker and divided. Speaker Osama Al-Nujayfi's Mutahidun won 27 seats, a clear Sunni plurality, but a pyrrhic victory since his factions held 45 seats in the outgoing parliament."

-- Mary Casey

HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi Sworn In as Egypt’s New President

Former General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was sworn in as Egypt's new president Sunday. In a speech at a Cairo presidential palace, Sisi vowed to fight "terrorism" and bring security to Egypt. He said, "It is time for our great people to reap the fruits of two revolutions." The former army chief, who led the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, did not mention the Muslim Brotherhood directly, but said there would be no reconciliation with those with "blood on their hands." Sisi has kept Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb in his post, requesting him to form a new government, which is expected to retain several key ministers.

Syria

Former U.N. and Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Syria is descending into a Somalia-style failed state. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Brahimi asserted, if there is no effort to achieve a political solution for Syria's civil war, "there is a serious risk that the entire region will blog up." Brahimi's comments came as a Norwegian vessel set sail from Syria with the first part of the country's chemical weapons arsenal. The ship will travel to Finland and the United States. Meanwhile, Syrian state media reported Monday that President Bashar al-Assad has granted amnesty to the country's prisoners. The report suggested that sentences would be reduced but prisoners would not be freed. It is unclear if the amnesty would include opposition supporters and their families, of which activists say tens of thousands have been detained.

Headlines

  • Pope Francis hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Vatican for a prayer ceremony and called for dialogue and an end to the conflict.
  • Libya's Supreme Court ruled the parliament's appointment of Prime Minister Ahmed Maitiq unconstitutional.
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is meeting with senior Turkish officials in the first visit to Turkey by an Iranian president since 1996 to discuss Syria and to boost ties.
  • Senior U.S. officials, who held back-channel talks with Iran in 2013, are meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva for bilateral talks to accelerate nuclear negotiations.

Arguments and Analysis

'Iran's plan for Syria aims to woo Saudi Arabia and the west' (Ibrahim Hamidi, Financial Times)

"Iran's diplomacy over Syria is reminiscent of the role that the Syrian regime played in Lebanon after the 15-year civil war ended in 1990. The Islamic republic wants to seduce Saudi Arabia and the west with a grand deal on Syria. This would entail a Saudi-Iranian understanding over Syria, similar to the one reached by late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and Saudi Arabia over Lebanon in the 1990s. Like Lebanon, this solution would be based on power sharing between the Alawite minority and Sunni majority. Mr Assad would remain as president but he would have to rule with a strong Sunni prime minister, presumably drawn from the domestic opposition, who would hold executive powers, held by the presidency itself since 1970. The speaker of the parliament would be a Kurd. Christians and Druze would also be represented.

The sticking point is that Saudi leaders, like many Syrians and opposition leaders, are loath to see Mr Assad keep a role in government after a conflict that has seen 162,000 Syrians killed and 9.3m displaced. Iran wants to translate a military balance that currently favours its ally in Damascus into a lasting structure for sharing power."

'Do Americans really love drone strikes' (Sarah Kreps, The Washington Post)

"Upon first glance, the high levels of support appear to fall in line with the arguments that have been in their favor. The Obama administration has asserted that drones 'relentlessly target al-Qaeda leadership' and are legally sanctioned both in terms of international humanitarian law - in particular, the principles of distinction and proportionality dealing with the protection of civilians in the context of conflict - and, the recourse to force. The administration has also claimed that the recourse to force is authorized under both domestic and international law.

But are these high levels of support an artifact of how the polls are structured? As political science professors Donald R. Kinder and Lynn M. Sanders argue, 'policy descriptions actually used within the survey affect the expression of opinion.' The policy features they highlight or minimize can affect how individuals think about the policy. Polls about drone strikes tend to sideline two main sources of contention surrounding the policy."

'The Banality of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi' (Steven A. Cook, Foreign Affairs)

"For one, he can recognize that the world has changed, that Sisi-mania was a chimera, that the establishment of a new version of the old political order will be more difficult as a result of the elections, and that he needs to promote inclusion to improve his chances of putting Egypt back together. Without the overwhelming popular support that Sisi was expecting, it will be harder to rule without regard for those who disagree with him. President Mohamed Morsi tried to do this, which began the end of his short tenure at the Ittihadiya Palace.

Or, Sisi can avoid the truth and try to rule as a strongman, relying on coercion and force to maintain order. This is what Sidqi did in the 1930s. And it is, in part, what prompted the Free Officers coup in 1952, when Nasser and his collaborators sought to bring an end to political instability and, in the process, built the archetypal Middle Eastern security state. It is also what Sadat attempted in the year before his assassination, and what Mubarak both accomplished and failed to do; he shrewdly employed the authoritarian tools that Nasser and Sadat bequeathed to him, ruling virtually unchallenged for almost 30 years until it became expedient for the military to remove him as millions poured into the streets in early 2011."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images