The Middle East Channel

Obama Offers Military Advisors as Clashes Continue at the Baiji Oil Refinery

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama committed assistance to the Iraqi government to deal with threats from fighters linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), however he maintained he would not deploy ground troops. Obama said he is sending up to 300 military advisors to Iraq. He did not commit to airstrikes, but said that the United States is prepared for "targeted and precise military action, if and when" necessary. However, Obama stressed the need for a political solution to the crisis in Iraq and said, "this is something that is going to have to be solved by the Iraqis." In meetings with Iraqi officials, U.S. officials indicated that they would like to see a replacement for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and a few candidates for a successor have begun to emerge. Meanwhile, clashes have continued between pro-government forces and ISIL-allied militants at the country's largest oil refinery, in Baiji, as well as in Tal Afar, where militants have said they have taken control of most of the airport. They have additionally seized a disused chemical weapons facility in Muthanna, about 45 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Syria

A car bomb in the Alawite village of Horrah in Syria's Hama province killed at least 34 people and wounded over 50 others Friday, according to Syria's state news agency, SANA. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 38 people, mainly civilians, were killed. Al-Nusra Front reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. Meanwhile, Danish photographer Daniel Rye Ottosen has been released after being held captive since May 2013 in Syria.

Headlines

  • An Egyptian court has recommended death sentences for several Muslim Brotherhood leaders including Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie.
  • Israeli troops killed a Palestinian youth amid clashes as the army conducted West Bank raids in part of a search for three missing Israeli teenagers, during which 330 Palestinians have been arrested.
  • A suicide car bomber killed a Lebanese police officer and wounded 32 people at a checkpoint on the road from Beirut to Damascus Friday morning.
  • The Kurdistan Regional Government appears ready to unload its first delivery of crude oil, from its new pipeline, to Israel, despite lack of approval from the Iraqi government.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Rise of ISIS, a Golden Opportunity for Iraq's Kurds' (Sirwan Kajjo, Sada)

"The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham's (ISIS) seizures of cities and towns in northern Iraq signals a growing influence of the radical Islamic organization and threatens wider violence and instability. But as Baghdad's hold on the country weakens, the Kurds are able to make a stronger case for an independent Kurdistan. 

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has been more successful in its defense against ISIS than the central government. Kurdish forces, numbering well over 100,000, appear better equipped and trained than the militant groups attempting to confront them. Responding to ISIS's rapid advances, the Kurdish forces, or Peshmerga, deployed large numbers on June 10, to areas that have been long been contested by the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad, particularly Kirkuk. The status of Kirkuk has put a perpetual strain on the relationship between Baghdad and the KRG. The status quo under which Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen have governed the city-an agreement enforced by the American forces in Iraq since 2003-has remained in place for over a decade." 

'Whose Palestine?' (Nathan Thrall, The New York Review of Books)

"Meanwhile, many Gazans complain they haven't seen any benefits from the deal. Electricity outages still average twelve hours per day. The crossing with Egypt remains almost entirely shut. Israeli bans on the import of crucial building materials have not been relaxed. Israel and the US still oppose true reunification of the government ministries in Ramallah and Gaza, as well as the convening of a functioning Palestinian parliament. If Israel, Egypt, the US, and Europe hoped to weaken Hamas and strengthen Fatah by demonstrating to Gaza's residents the benefits of replacing Hamas rule with that of Fatah's pro-Western leaders, they were doing a very poor job of it. A common refrain in Gaza was that the cause of the siege had been lifted, but the siege had not.

Then came last week's abduction of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. With the help of Abbas's security forces, Israel has taken the opportunity to arrest some three hundred West Bank Palestinians and counting, most of them Hamas members, and it has threatened to deport some to Gaza. This is Israel's largest operation against Hamas in the West Bank since the second intifada. Residents of Hebron, the West Bank's largest governorate, describe themselves as besieged. For several years Hamas has spoken of the need to stir up resistance among the largely docile residents of the West Bank. In this sense, at least, Israel's reaction to the kidnappings seems likely to advance Hamas's goal."

-- Mary Casey

McNamee/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Forces Battle Over Oil Refinery as Iraqi Government Requests U.S. Airstrikes

Iraqi government forces battled militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and allied fighters over control of Iraq's largest oil refinery in Baiji. ISIL-led militants launched an attack on the Baiji refinery early on Wednesday and some workers said the militants had seized control of most of the facility. On Thursday, a government spokesman said its forces were in "complete control" of the refinery, however a witness noted ISIL fighters were still in the area and that clashes were continuing. On Wednesday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshya Zebari appealed to the United States "to launch air strikes against militants." General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said incomplete intelligence in Iraq would make "an air campaign more difficult" meanwhile Gen. David Petraeus, who served as the top commander in Iraq, said, "This cannot be the United States being the air force of Shia militias or a Shia on Sunni Arab fight." Washington is indicating that it wants Iraq to form a new inclusive government without Maliki, however a spokesman for the prime minister said he would not resign as a condition for U.S. airstrikes.

Syria

Human Rights Watch has reported Kurds in parts of northern Syria have committed rights abuses. According to the activist group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has maintained authority over three Kurdish enclaves in northern Syrian since 2012, has carried out arbitrary arrests and unfair trails, and allegedly abused detainees. Human Rights Watch said, while the abuses are "far less egregious and widespread" than those it has attributed to the Syrian government and other opposition groups, "they are nonetheless serious." Meanwhile, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay announced on Thursday that the number of Syrians in Turkey has reached 1.05 million. Turkey has more than 20 refugee camps along the border with Syria hosting over 220,000 people, though the majority have moved to Turkey's cities.

Headlines

  • Clashes erupted overnight in the West Bank as Palestinians increasingly resist an Israeli search for three missing teenagers meanwhile soldiers arrested 30 more Palestinians.
  • Libya has condemned a U.S. operation to capture Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspect in the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, while the U.S. claims Abu Khattala was planning more attacks.
  • Turkey sentenced 97-year-old former President Kenan Evren to life in prison as well as General Tahsin Sahinkaya for a 1980 coup.

Arguments and Analysis

'ISIS advance in Iraq forces Gulf donors to rethink their patronage' (Elizabeth Dickinson, The Christian Science Monitor)

"The official position of governments like Saudi Arabia is one thing. But some of the same donors who once decried ISIS in Syria are celebrating their Iraqi victory.

'What is happening in Iraq is a people's revolution against oppression and tyranny,' Kuwaiti donor Hajjaj Al Ajmi, wrote on Twitter on June 16. A young Sunni cleric, Mr. Ajmi has spent much of the last two years traveling in and out of Syria to visit the brigades he has funded.

One reason why donors are reconsidering is the success ISIS has had in Iraq. They see the group's rapid advance in northern and western Iraq as a broader and legitimate Sunni revolt against Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's Shiite Islamist ruling circle. Numerous tribal groups and other militias have joined ISIS to drive out Iraqi government troops from Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities."

'The law is failing the women of Libya' (Hanan Salah, Los Angeles Times)

"It's been well over two years since the end of the uprising against Moammar Kadafi, and Libya's security landscape is as fragmented as its politics are polarized and its elected legislature is dysfunctional. More than two years of militias operating with impunity have left their mark, and violence continues to spiral out of control.

These increasingly worrying restrictions interfere with a woman's right to freedom of education and movement. They also come on top of existing discriminatory laws and practices that Libyan women face. Libyan authorities need to make clear to educational institutions and their own state officials, as well as non-state actors, that discrimination against women will not be tolerated. And they need to reform discriminatory laws and practices."

-- Mary Casey

HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images