The Middle East Channel

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry Urges Kurds to Join Unity Iraqi Government

After meeting in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled north to the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil to urge Kurdish leaders to join a new unity government. In an interview Monday, Kurdish President Masoud Barzani suggested the autonomous region would seek formal independence from Iraq, noting, "Iraq is obviously falling apart." After militants led by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized Mosul earlier in June, Kurdish security forces took control over the oil rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds consider their historic capital. On Monday, militants claimed to have overtaken Iraq's largest oil refinery in Baiji. Local tribal leaders said they had negotiated a deal for the surrender of the remaining Iraqi forces at the facility. However, government officials said troop reinforcements had blocked the assault. According to the United Nations, violence has killed at least 1,075 people, primarily civilians, in Iraq in June.

Syria

The director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, has reported the remainder of Syria's chemical weapons materials have been removed for destruction. According to Uzumcu, the final portion, about eight percent, of the Syrian regime's declared stockpile was loaded onto ships in the port of Latakia Monday. The materials will be delivered to the U.S. ship Cape Ray and commercial facilities for destruction. However, the OPCW did not declare Syria free of chemical weapons, saying verification work had not been completed. Additionally, the organization said Syrian officials had not yet destroyed several facilities used to produce and mix munitions.

Headlines

  • Egyptian President Sisi said he would not "interfere" with judicial verdicts following international condemnation over lengthy sentences issued to three Al Jazeera journalists.
  • A suicide car bombing killed a security officer and wounded an estimated 25 people outside a café near an army checkpoint in the Lebanese capital of Beirut late Monday.

Arguments and Analysis

'Beware Libya's 'Fair Dictator'' (Ibrahim Sharqieh, The New York Times)

"Regardless of General Hifter's motives, Libya needs an inclusive national dialogue, not the formation of an additional militia or a coup.

General Hifter's aligning with militias is likely to trigger the formation of other alliances among Libya's 250,000 militants and deepen Libya's divisions, possibly even pushing the country into outright civil war. Only around 30,000 fighters fought against Colonel Qaddafi's army; the rest took up arms later.

Over the past two years many of them have profited from - and developed an interest in maintaining - the chaos that engulfs the country. Warlords, Islamist groups and other committed revolutionaries who truly fought against the Qaddafi government will not surrender to General Hifter's movement - and that poses a grave threat to Libya's prospects for stability."

'Oil and the Iraqi Civil War: How Security Dynamics May Affect Oil Production' (Kenneth M. Pollack, The Brookings Institution)

"We should always remember that war is highly unpredictable, and it is exceptionally difficult to assess a dynamic balance of combat forces with such limited information. Nevertheless, the evidence we have suggests that it is more likely that the Iraqi civil war will settle into a vicious stalemate roughly along current lines for the foreseeable future than it is that the Sunni militant fighters will be able to swiftly overrun Baghdad and drive south into Iraq's main oil fields."

-- Mary Casey

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Egyptian Court Sentences Al Jazeera Journalists

An Egyptian court has convicted three Al Jazeera English journalists on charges including helping a "terrorist organization" and airing false news. Australian Peter Greste and Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years. The journalists have been detained since December 2013 when they were arrested in part of a crackdown on Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood. They had been covering protests held by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. They denied the charges, and the prosecution provided little evidence, showing mostly irrelevant video footage. The three journalists were tried along with 17 others, two of whom were acquitted. One of the defense lawyers, Shaaban Saeed, said "We were expecting innocence but there is no justice in this country." Greste, Fahmy, and Mohamed are expected to appeal. The verdict came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo saying President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi "gave me a very strong sense of his commitment" to a re-evaluation of the judicial process and human rights legislation. On Sunday, U.S. State Department officials said about $575 million in military aid that had been suspended after the removal of Morsi had been released.

Syria

Israel launched strikes on nine Syrian army positions early Monday in response to an attack on Sunday that killed an Israeli teenager in the occupied Golan Heights. An Israeli military spokeswoman said an anti-tank missile fired from Syria struck a vehicle driven by a civilian military contractor, injuring two people, and killing Mohammed Qaraqara. It is not clear who was responsible for the attack. Meanwhile, the Syrian government and rebel groups have reportedly agreed to a cease-fire at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp. An estimated 18,000 people have been trapped in Yarmouk since July 2013. The deal would open the camp's main entrances and restore basic services, though it is unclear when the truce is expected to begin. On Monday, Human Rights Watch released a report saying Islamist militant groups as well as the Free Syrian Army are mobilizing children to fight in the Syrian conflict.

Headlines

  • U.S. Secretary of State Kerry has arrived in Baghdad to discuss assistance for Iraq and urge Prime Minister Maliki to form an inclusive government meanwhile militants have overtaken an airport in Tal Afar and border crossings to Syria and Jordan.
  • Israeli troops detained an additional 37 Palestinians overnight in part of a search for three missing teenagers.

Arguments and Analysis

'In Iraq, Obama Has Two Terrible Choices' (Meghan L. O'Sullivan, Politico Magazine)

"As a result, the Obama administration faces a difficult conundrum-one that presents the president with only two very poor policy approaches. Obama can either pursue an incremental, conditional approach that will satisfy his desire to put maximum pressure on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and minimize America's return to Iraq-but will likely fail to address the severity of the crisis. Or Obama can set aside his understandable caution and provide more robust military assistance before he can be confident of getting the political changes that are needed to turn any Iraqi government military gains into strategic successes.

Obama was wise to send 300 U.S. military advisers to Iraq, and he is correct to think that, without political changes, the Iraqi state will struggle to overcome its current security challenges given that it will be unable to win the support of either the Sunnis or the Kurds. But the political outcome that will bring all Iraqis back into a power-sharing government has become much more complicated just in the last week."

'Refugee Need and Resilience in Zaatari' (Curtis Ryan, Middle East Research and Information Project)

"Despite the dire circumstances, there are signs of human resilience in Zaatari as well. It is inspiring to see how Syrians have attempted to recreate their former lives, or forge new ones, creating something like a community in the camp. Many observers -- and some refugees themselves -- casually ascribe this phenomenon to a natural entrepreneurial trait of the Syrian nation. But similar statements abound with regard to Lebanese, Palestinian and Iraqi emigrants and refugees, as well as just about every other group of displaced people everywhere. Resilience doesn't come from some timeless, immutable national character. It's simply a matter of ordinary people in horrible and decidedly extraordinary circumstances doing whatever they can to improve the lives of their families."

'Why did Morocco's prime minister call for a boycott of Dannon yogurt?' (Anny Wainscott, The Washington Post)

"But even if the boycott makes sense as an exercise of power, the question remains: Why use the power of the bully pulpit to target Dannon? A 10-day boycott by a small North African kingdom likely will not have much effect on the mega-corporation. Rather than an actual effort to influence Dannon's pricing policies, then, the call appears to be an attempt by the prime minister to demonstrate his own sympathy for the everyday struggles of the Moroccan people in the absence of the ability to enact reforms that actually address these challenges. Under this interpretation, the boycott is an effort to shore up the base of the party, known for its populist sympathies. The lighthearted way that Benkirane called for the boycott with a joke about Moroccan cooking further supports the interpretation that it is more about building support for Benkirane's Justice and Development Party (PJD) than actually harming Dannon."

-- Mary Casey

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images