The Middle East Channel

U.S. Says Rescue Mission Less Likely in Northern Iraq

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that a rescue mission for members of Iraq's minority Yazidi community is "far less likely now" after an assessment by Marines and Special Operations forces found that far fewer people are trapped on Mount Sinjar than expected. The Pentagon said U.S. airstrikes, humanitarian airdrops, and efforts by the Kurdish forces had enabled thousands of Yazidis to escape from the mountain where they had trapped after fleeing an advance by militants led by the Islamic State. However, Kurdish officials and Yazidi refugees reported that thousands of people still remain stranded on the mountain, mostly elderly, very young, or sick people. The United Nations has declared its highest level of emergency in Iraq hoping to mobilize resources to address the needs of the estimated 1.2 million Iraqis who have been internally displaced by recent violence. Meanwhile, in a dramatic shift from Germany's position of not sending weapons to conflict zones, a German official said if the current threat level persists in northern Iraq, Germany is prepared to supply arms to Kurdish forces.

Syria

The Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters have seized control of most of the Damascus suburb of Mleiha. Pro-government forces have waged an offensive over recent months against rebel fighters who were holding the strategic town, less than six miles from downtown Damascus located near the highway to the capital's airport. Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported that all of the precursors for sarin gas that were removed from Syria have been destroyed on the U.S. ship, the Cape Ray. According to the OPCW, the vessel will now begin neutralizing 22 tons of sulphur mustard.

Headlines

  • Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have agreed to a renewed five-day cease-fire in order to continue Egyptian-mediated talks despite rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes Wednesday.
  • Giving his first televised court statement, ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak denied ordering the killings of protesters in 2011 in a retrial hearing Wednesday.
  • Egyptian security forces are breaking up protests of supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi who are marking the one-year anniversary of security forces' killings of hundreds of demonstrators.
  • Saudi Arabia has donated $100 million to the United Nations to help combat terrorism, which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said was timely with the emergence of the Islamic State. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Maliki's Search for Legitimacy' (Sajad Jiyad, Muftah)

"Even though the Federal Supreme Court reaffirmed its 2010 decree (on July 23 and August 11), there is still no legal or parliamentary procedure laying out how to definitively establish the largest political bloc. Technically, both SoL and the NA can claim to be the largest faction, since both have made statements to this effect. The issue is not resolved by counting MPs since SoL has already affirmed it is part of the NA and has not renounced its membership.

Maliki's supporters have focused on the fact that they officially notified the temporary speaker during the first session of parliament that SoL is the largest bloc. According to them, Maliki is the proper head of this faction and therefore the only possible candidate for PM. In his televised comments on August 11, as well as in a letter to the president issued on the same day, Maliki argued that Masum had violated the constitution by nominating Abadi as prime minster. Describing the move as invalid and illegal, Maliki said, 'the mistakes will be corrected,' making clear he was unlikely to back down from his claim to the prime minister's post."

'Egypt Braces for Anniversary of Rabaa and Nahda Bloodshed' (Khaled Dawoud, Middle East Institute)

One key reason why Thursday's demonstrations are likely to be more violent, compared to recent similar demonstrations marking significant 1st anniversary occasions for Brotherhood supporters, such as Morsi's arrest on July 3, is not just the large number of deaths in Rabaa and Nahda a year ago, but the deep division that continues to mark the debate on what exactly happened on that day. For supporters of Sisi, the police attack against demonstrators was justified, considering that some of them were armed. And while some Brotherhood supporters exaggerate the number of their dead on that day, claiming between 3,000 to 6,000, their opponents insist that the number is around 600. Human Rights Watch reported that up to 1,000 were killed at both sit-ins in what it described as 'the worse incident of mass unlawful killing in Egypt's modern history.'

'Obama mises the mark on Netanyahu' (Ben Caspit, Al Monitor)

"The fact that the president uses Netanyahu's 'high poll numbers' to drive his point home highlights this lack of understanding. For an Israeli prime minister not to enjoy high approval ratings during war is unheard of, just like in the United States. The thing is that you need to gauge the prime minister's approval ratings at the end of the war, not at its beginning or even in the middle. It is only when the dust settles and the outcome becomes apparent that the public starts digesting what went on and who won. Only then can the effects of the war be talked about.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert started the Second Lebanon War in 2006 with an 88% approval rating in the polls, ending it, however, with merely 8%. Furthermore, sometimes it takes weeks or even months to determine whether the war was 'good' or 'bad.' So Netanyahu's approval rating might be boosted by the polls at this stage, but these figures have no real validity."

-- Mary Casey

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Maliki Loses Support as U.S. Deploys Advisors to Northern Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is becoming increasing isolated losing the support of Iran, militia and army commanders, and politicians, including members of his own party. On Tuesday, Iran endorsed Iraqi President Fouad Massoum's nominee for prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. Meanwhile, the United States has sent an additional 130 military advisors to assist in humanitarian relief operations in northern Iraq where militants led by the Islamic State have seized large portions of territory. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel indicated the military may expand the mission, however he maintained that U.S. troops were not being deployed to fight asserting that this "is not a combat-boots-on-the-ground operation." Additionally, France has announced it will supply arms to Kurdish forces battling Islamic State fighters. Britain said its focus remains on humanitarian aid drops, though it plans to also send a "small number" of helicopters and will transport military equipment provided by other countries to the Kurdish forces.

Syria

Islamic State fighters have seized several towns and villages in Syria's northern province of Aleppo province. The towns, including Turkmen Bareh and Akhtarin, 30 miles northeast of Aleppo, had been under the control of opposition forces. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the gains have opened the way for the group to advance toward the west. Additionally, clashes were reported between Islamic State militants and Syrian government forces near a military airport in Raqqa over the government's last held position. Meanwhile, government forces have surrounded the city of Aleppo on three sides forcing rebel fighters to prepare for a siege on the country's largest city.  

Headlines

  • Up to six people were killed in Gaza as a bomb disposal team attempted to dismantle an Israeli missile meanwhile Palestinian negotiators are considering an Egyptian truce proposal as a 72-hour cease-fire is set to expire.
  • The Egyptian government justified blocking entry to Human Rights Watch staff and accused the group of violating the law and Egypt's sovereignty and trying to imfringe upon the independence of the judiciary.
  • Fighting erupted Tuesday night between Houthi rebels and fighters loyal to the Islamist Islah party killing an estimated 15 people in Yemen's northeastern al-Jouf province.
  • A Bahrain court has sentenced 14 Shiites to life in prison over the death of a police officer during a July 2013 anti-regime protest.

Arguments and Analysis

'A Big Mistake: A Rush for Kurdistan's Independence' (Matthew M. Reed, The National Interest)

"The Kurds are naturally excited by the prospect of independence. A long history of marginalization and victimization makes their case for statehood especially moving. But there can be no independent Kurdistan without steady revenue. Selling oil in spite of Baghdad is already proving to be extremely difficult. Should Erbil commit to a nasty divorce, what was difficult might become impossible."

'The Amputation of Egypt's Islamist Political Arm' (Tarek Radwan, Atlantic Council)

"As the court extinguishes the final vestige of the Muslim Brotherhood's official political influence, Egyptian authorities will sooner or later have to answer the question: will repressive stability bring about the security and prosperity that Sisi recently promised? While some critics might say that Egypt has suffered a blow to political plurality, the court's decision to dissolve the FJP represents more of a housekeeping directive-one that formally implements and provides legal cover for a preexisting policy that aims to eliminate dissent (some may even believe that the judiciary had already disbanded the party). But as avenues to express opposing political views dwindle, fewer peaceful options remain and contribute to a growing radicalization of the marginalized. Echoes of jihadist voices that ridicule the Muslim Brotherhood for trying to pursue democratic means, claiming that only violence can achieve their desired goals, begin to ring louder. With no guidance from a decapitated movement, hatred from a bitter majority, and brutality from a determined police force, rage begins to build. While impossible to link the Muslim Brotherhood directly to extremist violence, such rage has undoubtedly burst forth in militant attacks."

-- Mary Casey

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images