The Middle East Channel

Iraq’s President Asks Abadi to Form Government as Maliki Pushes for Third Term

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pushing to remain in power for a third term stoking political tensions in Iraq. Maliki has accused the country's new president, Fouad Massoum, of staging a "coup against the constitution and the political process" for refusing to designate him prime minister. On Monday, Massoum asked Deputy Speaker Haider al-Abadi to form a government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States supports Massoum and warned Maliki not to interfere with the constitutional process and the formation of a new government. However, an Iraqi court ruled that Maliki's State of Law coalition is the largest bloc in parliament and should be given the first opportunity to form a new government. Meanwhile, the United States has begun to directly provide arms to the Kurdish pesh merga forces who are battling Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq. The U.S. administration had previously sold weapons only to the Iraqi government in Baghdad. U.S. airstrikes over the weekend have helped the pesh merga to retake the towns of Gwer and Mahmour.


  • Israeli and Palestinian delegates resumed indirect negotiations Monday after agreeing to a new 72-hour cease-fire after exchanging attacks over the weekend.
  • Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received about 52 percent of the vote winning Turkey's first direct presidential election, and is expected to increase powers for what had been a largely ceremonial post.
  • Egypt has denied entry to two Human Rights Watch staff members who were planning to release a report on the mass killings of protesters by security forces in 2013.
  • An Iranian passenger airplane crashed Sunday morning killing 39 people.

Arguments and Analysis

'Iraq's Rot Starts at the Top' (Zaid Al-Ali, The New York Times)

"Sadly, none of the men being considered as possible replacements for Mr. Maliki would necessarily do any better than he has. Their records, from their time in exile in the 1990s, are dubious at best. Ibrahim al-Jafari, a front-runner, did nothing to curb militia activity when he was prime minister in 2005-6, and refused to impose a curfew that might have prevented the bloody civil war that erupted. Ahmad Chalabi's name is frequently floated, but his family banking business was a failure, his opposition group in exile was accused of mismanaging American funds, he has failed to win a single seat in Parliament in his own right in each of Iraq's elections, and he has no executive experience of note. A third candidate, Tariq Najm, is a virtual unknown - as Mr. Maliki was when he was picked in 2006. The main advantage of Adel Abdul Mahdi, the final candidate, is that he alone probably realizes that he is not capable of governing the country on his own and would therefore rely on assistance from outside his immediate circle. That may be reason enough for him to occupy the position."

'Isis, the jihadists who turned the tables' (Hassan Hassan, The Guardian)

"Yet these advances appear to be only the tip of the iceberg. Away from the publicised gains, Isis is quietly making progress on other fronts. Perhaps the most worrying is the fact that armed groups backed by the US have been co-opted by Isis.

After its sweeping military success in Iraq in June, Isis moved to take over the strategic province in Deir Ezzor, where the rebels controlled lucrative oil and gas resources. To the surprise of many, the group quickly controlled towns and villages that were home to some of the group's most powerful adversaries, including Jabhat al-Nusra and locally rooted tribal militias."

'Airstrikes in Iraq, But Why Not Syria' (Frederic C. Hof, Atlantic Council)

"For this administration, however, legal mandate is important. Whether its importance reflects a disciplined adherence to constitutional and international law or a tactic employed to justify some actions while avoiding others is, perhaps, debatable. What is clear, however, is that a 'mandate' emanating from a government headed by a person-Nouri al-Maliki-whose gross incompetence and sectarianism have brought Iraq back to ruin seems to facilitate doing something. On the other hand, the abysmal combination of Russian and Chinese vetoes in the United Nations Security Council and the continued recognition by Washington of Bashar al-Assad as the President of the Syrian Arab Republic seem to provide the requisite excuse for doing next to nothing."

-- Mary Casey


The Middle East Channel

Obama Authorizes Airstrikes and Aid Drops in Iraq

U.S. President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he has authorized targeted airstrikes and humanitarian aid drops in Iraq. Obama said he has directed the U.S. military to conduct strikes if fighters from the Islamic State advance toward the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil, where U.S. diplomats, military advisors, and other citizens are based. Over the past week, Islamic State fighters have overtaken about six towns in northern Iraq, as well as the Mosul dam, in an offensive that has brought the militants about 30 miles from Erbil. Fighters led by the Islamic State seized the town of Sinjar over the weekend, forcing about 200,000 civilians to flee, trapping about 40,000 members of the minority Yazidi community in the mountains nearby. On Thursday, U.S. planes began dropping food and water on Mount Sinjar, and Obama said he had authorized airstrikes, if necessary, to break the siege. No airstrikes had been conducted by late Thursday, but they would mark the first significant battlefield role for the United States in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011. Obama maintained, however, "As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq."


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Islamic State fighters seized a Syrian army base in Raqqa, one of the government's last outposts in the northern province, Thursday night. Most of the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front fighters have pulled out from the Lebanese town of Arsal, on the border with Syria, after Sunni Muslim clerics brokered a truce following days of fighting between the militant groups and the Lebanese army. The Lebanese government said it is deploying an additional 12,000 troops to the area. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon for the first time in three years saying he intended to oversee a $1 billion Saudi grant to aid the army in addressing security concerns. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reported that while Jordan has allowed over 607,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict to enter the country, it has denied entrance to Palestinians from Syria, returning over 100 since the beginning of 2013.


  • Israel has resumed strikes on Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket fire after parties failed to negotiate an extension to a 72-hour cease-fire.
  • Libya's new parliament has called for a U.N. supervised cease-fire and has increased its powers to act against warring militias.

Arguments and Analysis

'Not Just Iraq: The Islamic State Is Also on the March in Syria' (Charles Lister, The Huffington Post)

"But the Islamic State is not only making such gains in Iraq. After approximately a year of extremely minimal confrontation with the Syrian government, the Islamic State is now also in the midst of a major offensive against Syrian Arab Army (SAA) facilities in northeastern Syria.

Beginning in mid-July, the Islamic State re-initiated offensive operations against Syrian government targets, beginning with an attack on the Al-Shaer gas field in Homs governorate, which was captured on 17 July, resulting in the death of at least 270 people -- soldiers, security guards, and civilian staff. As well as being a major source of natural gas, the facility was a large military base and the Islamic State is thought to have captured 15 tanks and a vast arsenal of additional light and heavy weaponry from the facility before withdrawing on 26 July."

'Israel: Worlds apart' (John Reed, Financial Times)

"Israel's Operation Protective Edge has stoked a conformist, conservative and frenetically patriotic atmosphere that brooks little dissent. Leftist Israelis liken it to the anticommunist 'red-baiting' of McCarthyism in the US in the early 1950s.

Protests are accepted grudgingly, and in some cases suppressed. Anti-war activists have held demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities over the past month in which they say police failed to protect them from violent or abusive pro-war demonstrators, and in some case were abusive themselves.

Some have been punched, threatened or taunted with shouts of 'Traitors!' or 'Go to Gaza!' Israeli police arrested 14 protesters last Saturday for staging a demonstration they said was illegal, an assertion the protesters vigorously dispute."

'(In)discriminate language on Gaza' (Evgeny Finkel and Sarah E. Parkinson, The Washington Post)

"Though Marc Lynch recently lamented that political scientists are having ‘the same arguments in the same terms' when it comes to Israel-Palestine, other discourses have evolved. We have spent the weeks since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza tracing shifts in the employment of three related concepts: The distinction between combatants and noncombatants; the difference between discriminate and indiscriminate violence; and genocide. All of these terms have been deployed for years in human rights and activist circles, as well as in the daily lives of millions of Palestinians and Israelis. What is new is the increasingly commonplace usage of these terms in media, political, academic and lay discourse."

-- Mary Casey