The Middle East Channel

ISIL Declares Caliphate as Iraqi Forces Battle for Control of Tikrit

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has declared the establishment of a caliphate and declared its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of a new Islamic state in territory it holds across Iraq and Syria. ISIL spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani delivered an audio statement online Sunday, at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, saying "He is the imam and caliph for Muslims everywhere." Adnani said ISIL would now be known simply as "the Islamic State" in recognition of the group's conquests in breaking down international borders. Iraqi army spokesman Qassim Atta appealed for international help saying the declaration poses a regional and global threat. The move is also a challenge to the leadership of al Qaeda, which disowned the militant group. Meanwhile, clashes continued Monday in the Iraqi city of Tikrit as the army worked to dislodge militants who seized control over two weeks ago. On Saturday, the army reportedly drove ISIL-led fighters from the center of the city, however militants said they had repelled the government counteroffensive on Sunday, and residents reported the militants maintained control over the city center. 

Syria

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is leveraging its gains in Iraq to expand control in Syria, intensify clashes against rival Islamist factions, including al-Nusra Front. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting between ISIL militants and rival groups in the town of Boukamal on the border between Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, Syrian state media reported mortar shells hit government controlled areas of the northern city of Idlib Monday, killing 14 people and wounding at least 50 others. Opposition Syrian National Council President Ahmad Jarba is working to gain support from within the council to withdraw confidence from Prime Minister Ahmad Tohme. On Friday, Jarba annulled a decision by Tohme to disband the Supreme Military Council.  

Headlines  

  • Three explosions killed two Egyptian police officers near the presidential palace after the militant group Ajnad Misr said it planted bombs in Cairo to target security forces.
  • A Tunisian diplomat and an embassy worker abducted earlier this year in Libya were released Sunday and have returned to Tunis.
  • The Israeli army reported at least 15 rockets were fired from Gaza Monday morning after Israel carried out airstrikes on 12 targets in Gaza Sunday morning. 
  • Health experts are citing flaws in the way Saudi Arabian authorities have handled the spread of the MERS virus as the number of cases and deaths have more than tripled since the end of 2013.

Arguments and Analysis 

'Isis: What will militant group do next?' (Charles Lister, BBC)

"In Iraq, instead of insisting on a swift and dramatic attack on Baghdad, Isis has patiently targeted government weak-points and sought to control territory which could serve to facilitate a multi-pronged assault on the capital city.

In Syria, Isis has consolidated control over the financially lucrative north-east and sought to re-establish dominance along the Iraqi border in Deir al-Zour and Hassakeh. A move back west, into territory it ceded in February and March in western Aleppo province, Idlib, northern Hama, and Latakia looks almost inevitable later this year.

Isis thrives off instability and will consistently seek to create it. In so doing, perfecting an alternative mode of governance has proven similarly important."

'Iraq's Problem Is Power Politics, Not "Ancient Hatreds"' (Daniel Benajmin The Wall Street Journal)

"There is indeed plenty of bad blood between Sunnis and Shiites. But today's sectarian rifts in Iraq and the wider region are the result of calculated efforts over many years by modern states-above all, Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Both countries have long jostled for regional dominance, and despite their bitter harvest, neither seems particularly willing to change."

'So What About the Southern Question?: The Future Prospects for Unity in Yemen' (Mareike Transfeld, Muftah)

"While the north refers to the grievances of the southern people as legitimate, political elites view Hirak as a threat to national security rather than a legitimate political movement. In a statement on May 22, the current Minister of Interior referred to Hirak, along with al-Qaeda and the northern Houthi movement, as rebel groups endangering Yemen. Government forces continue to violently repress protests in the south."

-- Mary Casey

KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Obama Requests $500 Million to Train and Equip Syrian Rebels

U.S. President Barack Obama requested $500 million from Congress to train and equip "moderate" and "appropriately vetted" members of the Syrian opposition as concerns grow over the spillover of the Syrian conflict into Iraq. According to Obama, arming the opposition would "help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement." Previous U.S. assistance to the Syrian rebels has been focused on non-lethal aid. Though, Obama suggested a plan to increase help for the opposition in May during a speech at the West Point military academy. The request for funding has come as the head of the opposition government, Ahmad Tohme, disbanded the Supreme Military Council over allegations of corruption within the ranks of the Western and Arab supported Free Syrian Army.

Iraq

Iraq's top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on political blocs to reach a deal on the country's next prime minister before the new parliament convenes on July 1. Prominent Shiite leaders are considering alternatives to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki due to growing concerns that he cannot lead an inclusive government. Iraqi forces have launched an attack on the city of Tikrit attempting to regain control from ISIL-led militants. Helicopters fired on a university campus, where one was reportedly downed after coming under fire. Human Rights Watch reported it has evidence from satellite images and photos from militants that ISIL fighters executed up to 190 captive soldiers after seizing Tikrit on June 11. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are continuing to evaluate intelligence on the ISIL offensive in Iraq from up to 35 surveillance planes and drones. Noting that it could take weeks to get a detailed picture of the situation, officials said that U.S. airstrikes do not appear imminent.

Headlines  

  • Israel has named two members of Hamas as suspects in the alleged kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.
  • Libya's new parliament will convene in the eastern city of Benghazi in efforts to rebuild state authority where institutions have largely collapsed under increasing insecurity.
  • Saudi Arabian authorities have reported over 100 more MERS cases dating back to February after analyzing hospital records.
  • The Turkish government has submitted a reform package to parliament to revive stalled peace negotiations with Kurdish militants ahead of the August presidential election.

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria Faces an Imminent Food and Water Crisis' (Nouar Shamout, Chatham House)

"The deliberate targeting of water supply networks and related structures is now a daily occurrence in the conflict. The water pumping station in Al-Khafsah, Aleppo stopped working on 10 May, cutting off water supply to half of the city. It is unclear who was responsible; both the regime and opposition forces blame each other, but unsurprisingly in a city home to almost three million people the incident caused panic and chaos. Some people even resorted to drinking from puddles in the streets. 

Attacks and counter-attacks have destroyed several waste water treatment and sewage facilities in the country. Damage to the sewage system in Aleppo, for example, has resulted in the contamination of drinking water. Warnings to citizens to boil all tap water were issued in the city this month. But, with the rising prices of black-market fuel, boiled water is itself a luxury that most of the besieged population cannot afford. Disinfection of the water supply system now needs a two-day fresh water flush, during which time the water supply would be inaccessible - making it a an unpalatable action, given the current water shortage."

'Maliki has only himself to blame for Iraq's crisis' (Zaid Al-Ali, The Washington Post)

"The second issue is that Iraq's system of government is parliamentary and not presidential. Personal popularity of specific politicians is in fact totally irrelevant to the question of who should become prime minister. The only legitimate criterion in parliamentary systems is in fact the ability to obtain parliament's confidence. In other words, the parliament and the entire political system must have sufficient trust in the prime minister to allow him to negotiate agreements and offer concessions. Without that reservoir of trust, a parliamentary system cannot function.

Based on that criterion (which is the only one that is applicable), Maliki is perhaps the worst candidate possible to occupy the prime minister's position, precisely because he will not be able to successfully negotiate any further agreements or convince anyone of his good faith. He only has himself to blame: In November 2010, Maliki entered into the Irbil Agreement, which allowed him to start a new term in office in exchange for a number of concessions and reforms, none of which he delivered. His unending series of broken promises have transformed him into the lamest of ducks, unable to convince anyone of his good intentions, even when he genuinely does promise reform. The hostility that he has engendered from those who do not support him will make it impossible for him to lead an effective administration."

-- Mary Casey

Mark Wilson/Getty Images