The Middle East Channel

Iraqi Pro-Government Forces Battle Militants as U.S. Considers Support

U.S. President Barack Obama met with top advisors to deliberate options on Iraq, but he made no decision on U.S. action. The United States and Iran held talks on the security situation in Iraq Monday, though they ruled out military cooperation. Obama said 275 military personnel would be sent to Iraq to provide security for the U.S. Embassy, though the forces would be "equipped for combat." About 170 of those forces have arrived in Iraq, and the remainder are on standby. Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and allied forces temporarily overtook several districts on the western outskirts of Baquba Monday, however after heavy clashes Iraqi government forces and Shiite militia fighters regained control. Government forces are also working to reclaim the city of Tal Afar, which was seized by militants Monday, and have reportedly been carrying out airstrikes.

Syria

In a report Tuesday, U.N. human rights investigators said the Middle East appears on the "cusp of a regional war" with violence expanding in Syria and Iraq. According to the report, rebel factions, including ISIS having been abusing civilians in territory they control and ISIS fighters abducted nearly 200 Kurdish civilians while attacking Aleppo at the end of May. On Monday, U.N. chief humanitarian aid coordinator Valerie Amos said the Syrian government has been making the delivery of aid to civilians more difficult since the re-election of President Bashar al-Assad. The United Nations estimates 9.3 million people in Syria need humanitarian aid, and that 241,000 people are completely cut off from assistance.

Headlines  

  • Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain will reopen its embassy in Iran, which has been closed for two and a half years, in a mending of ties amid the security deterioration in Iraq.
  • Egypt's public prosecutor has ordered the release on medical grounds of Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy who has been on hunger strike since January protesting being held without charge.
  • Israel arrested 41 additional members of Hamas in overnight raids, as the military continues to search for three missing teenagers and works to weaken Hamas.
  • Egypt's new cabinet was sworn in Tuesday with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb heading the third government since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Arguments and Analysis

'ISIS a fanatical force -- with a weakness' (Charles Lister, CNN)

"But this is not all about ISIS. Many other armed Sunni actors are involved in what has become, in effect, a Sunni uprising -- groups such as the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, Al-Jaish al-Islami fil Iraq and various tribal military councils.

ISIS may be the largest force involved (with about 8,000 fighters in Iraq), but it is far from sufficient to take and hold multiple urban centers. It is still totally reliant on an interdependent relationship with what remains a tacitly sympathetic and facilitating Sunni population. But this "relationship" is by no means stable and should not be taken for granted. The militant group has consistently failed to retain popular support, or at minimum, acceptance."

'How ISIS Games Twitter' (J.M. Berger, The Atlantic)

"The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Sunni militant group that seized Iraq's second-largest city last week and is now pledging to take Baghdad, has honed this new technique-most recently posting photos on Twitter of an alleged mass killing of Iraqi soldiers. But what's often overlooked in press coverage is that ISIS doesn't just have strong, organic support online. It also employs social-media strategies that inflate and control its message. Extremists of all stripes are increasingly using social media to recruit, radicalize and raise funds, and ISIS is one of the most adept practitioners of this approach.

One of ISIS's more successful ventures is an Arabic-language Twitter app called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, or just Dawn. The app, an official ISIS product promoted by its top users, is advertised as a way to keep up on the latest news about the jihadi group."

-- Mary Casey

STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

The U.S. Considers Talks with Iran on Iraq as Militants Seize Tal Afar

The United States is considering holding talks with Iran on how to counter militants in Iraq. The talks could take place this week during negotiations scheduled in Vienna over Tehran's nuclear program. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran is open to collaborating if the United States is willing to confront "terrorist groups," though an Iranian government advisor rejected cooperating with Washington. The USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier and two additional warships have been deployed to the Gulf, however the U.S. administration said it would not deploy ground troops to Iraq. On Sunday, the State Department announced it is relocating a substantial number of its embassy staff currently in Baghdad and adding security personnel. Meanwhile, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) overtook the northwestern Iraq city of Tal Afar after two days of heavy fighting. ISIS has posted photos online claiming the mass execution of 1,700 Shiite members of Iraq's security forces in Tikrit. However, the photos and claims have not been independently verified.

Syria

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported government forces dropped barrel bombs on opposition-held neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo Monday killing as least 27 people, including a number of children. On Sunday, regime forces regained control over the majority Armenian Christian village of Kasab, near the Turkish border. In March, rebel forces seized control of Kasab, which is located in Syria's coastal region, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority sect.

Headlines

  • Israeli troops have arrested at least 150 Palestinians, including the parliamentary speaker, in their search for three Israeli teenagers who Prime Minister Netanyahu said were abducted by Hamas.
  • Forces loyal to former Libyan General Khalifa Heftar launched new attacks against Islamist militias in Benghazi Sunday sparking fresh clashes that killed up to 12 people.
  • Tunisia's election commission is proposing to hold parliamentary elections on Oct. 26 and the first round of presidential polling on Nov. 23.
  • Egyptian police have confiscated a human rights group's newsletter, arrested two activists, and closed two grocery store chains in a crackdown on dissent continuing into Sisi's presidency.

Arguments and Analysis

'Collateral Damage in Iraq' (Barak Mendelsohn, Foreign Affairs)

"The differences between ISIS, on the one side, and al Qaeda and JN, on the other, are not merely about power and control of the jihadi movement. As important as these aspects are, the groups have serious differences when it comes to strategy, tactics, and Islamic authority. They differ on issues such as the implementation of harsh Islamist laws, the killing of Shia civilians, and the right of one group to impose its authority over all others. The groups don't disagree about the legitimacy of all of these things, but al Qaeda is more patient and ISIS is generally more radical and uncompromising. For that reason, its traipse through Iraq represents a serious organizational, strategic, and ideological blow to al Qaeda.

ISIS' display of power will likely strengthen its hand over al Qaeda in Syria and beyond. First, the military successes brought the group substantial spoils: ISIS looted bank deposits worth close to $500 million, captured large quantities of military equipment, and liberated hundreds of fighters from prisons in territory now under its control. All of that will prove very useful in Iraq and in Syria. As money and manpower breed success, success will breed more success. ISIS' popularity will likely rise among radicals, and that will translate into more funding and volunteers for the group. ISIS could rapidly mobilize those forces along the vanishing border between Iraq and Syria, which it now increasingly controls, and launch even more ambitious campaigns while it fends off attacks in Syria."

'No, Obama Didn't Lose Iraq' (Colin H. Kahl, Politico Magazine)

"What if U.S. troops had remained, with or without protections? Would it have proven decisive in shielding Iraq against the current onslaught? There is little doubt that the presence of American counterterrorism advisers, providing intelligence to assist Iraqi forces in targeting al Qaeda in Iraq (which became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS), would have helped keep pressure on the network. Air support and more robust training assistance would also have improved the capabilities of the Iraqi army - or, at the very least, slowed the degradation of these capabilities. It was precisely for these reasons that Obama was willing to consider leaving some U.S. forces in Iraq.

But the idea that such a force would have completely stopped the jihadists is a fantasy. In 2011, when the Syrian protest movement was only just beginning to morph into a nationwide insurgency, few analysts anticipated the sheer scale of the spillover into neighboring Iraq. The enormous boon this created for ISIS could have overwhelmed Iraqi counterterrorism capabilities even if U.S. advisers had remained."

'Whispers in the Wind: Marking 47 Years of the Occupation in Tel Aviv' (Alex Cocotas, Muftah)

"Within the borders of pre-1967 Israel, the occupation is a nightmare-in the sense that it occupies your mind for a few seconds after one of its rare incursions into your life, and then you can happily go about your day like nothing happened, without dragging its implications around your conscious like a chain. As a foreigner, this is surprising. Reading the international news, it is easy to get the impression that political life here-hell, maybe even Life with a capital L here-revolves around the occupation's existence; that you would hear it hotly debated in cafes; that you would hear it fill the lulls of idle conversation; that you would hear it on the news; that you would, well, hear about it at all. This, however, is not the case. In Israel, the occupation, the issue that defines this country in the eyes of the international community, has the poignant acuity in daily currency of a distant memory. This point was especially driven home for me after attending a demonstration marking the occupation's anniversary on Saturday."

-- Mary Casey

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images