The Middle East Channel

Maliki Cedes Power Meanwhile EU Ministers Discuss Arming Kurds

Succumbing to U.S., Iranian, and internal pressure, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced he would cede power in a televised address Thursday night. Maliki said that he was withdrawing his candidacy and endorsing Haider al-Abadi, in order "to ease the movement of the political process and the formation of the new government." U.S. and U.N. officials lauded the move opening the way for the formation of a new government in Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is ready to work with a new Iraqi government to counter the threat posed by Islamic State militants. EU ministers are holding an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to discuss supplying arms to Kurdish forces battling militants led by the Islamic State in northern Iraq. Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain is prepared to join France and the United States in sending weapons to the Kurdish pesh merga.

Syria-Lebanon

Lebanon has charged 43 Syrians, 10 of whom are currently in custody, with belonging to armed terrorist groups and seeking to establish an Islamist caliphate. The arrest of one of the Syrians in custody, Emad Gomaa, who had been a commander with al-Nusra Front but joined the Islamic State, sparked five days of fighting in the Lebanese town of Arsal, near the border with Syria. Meanwhile, facing increasing threats from militant groups, Druze politician Walid Jumblatt has called on Christian leaders in Lebanon to agree on a nominee for president. The post has remained vacant since Michel Suleiman's term ended in May.

Headlines  

  • A five-day Gaza cease-fire has continued to hold as protests and violence increase in Jerusalem meanwhile Israel is opposing the United Nations' appointee to head an investigation into possible war crimes.
  • The United Nations is set to vote on a draft resolution Friday targeting the Islamic State and al Qaeda linked groups in Iraq and Syria punishing the recruitment and financing of foreign fighters.
  • At least three people were killed Thursday as Egyptian security forces broke up demonstrations marking the one-year anniversary of the killings of hundreds protesters supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

Arguments and Analysis

'Gaza demilitarization won't solve Israeli-Palestinian conflict' (Daniel Levy, Al Monitor)

"The 'reconstruction for demilitarization' formula proposed by numerous Israeli officials and commentators is an illegitimate equation that continues to impose collective punishment on Gaza's civilian population. The Gaza Strip is in a dire state, facing severe risk of being uninhabitable by 2020 according to a UN report - and that was before this latest devastation that has destroyed some 16,000 homes and much critical infrastructure. Making the realization of Gaza population's most basic humanitarian needs - the rebuilding of homes, water and electricity networks, hospitals and schools - conditional on Hamas being disarmed should be condemned as a shockingly indecent and inhuman proposition. Instead, Israeli, Egyptian and Western governments appear to be endorsing it.

Third, pursuing demilitarization is more likely to make the security situation worse, rather than stabilizing it and building on a cease-fire. Everyone knows the demand can't be realized, yet failure to achieve it will be cited as Israel's reason for keeping the siege in place. During previous periods of security quiet (January 2009-November 2012 and December 2012-July 2014) ordinary Gazans - let alone Hamas - were given very little incentive to maintain quiet. Quite the contrary. What for Israel were periods of quiet and normalcy, were for Gazans periods of not only blockade but also international indifference to their plight. Over the nine months of the most recent round of US-sponsored peace talks, for instance, Gaza was entirely ignored. Should Gaza remain under siege, a new round of violence is guaranteed."

'This is Not a Horror Movie. This Is a Public Hospital in Syria' (Zaher Sahloul, New Republic)

"According to Doctors Without Borders and other human rights organizations, the Syrian regime and some of the military groups have systematically targeted health care professionals, facilities, and ambulances. Physicians for Human Rights said government forces were responsible for 90 percent of the confirmed 150 attacks on 124 facilities between March 2011 and March 2014, which have devastated the country's health care system. Of the more than 460 civilian health professionals killed across Syria, at least 157 were doctors, followed by 94 nurses, 84 medics, and 45 pharmacists. Approximately 41 percent of the deaths occurred during shelling and bombings, 31 percent were the result of shootings, and 13 percent were due to torture."

'Isis: Armed and dangerous' (Financial Times)

"The al-Qaeda precursor of Isis self-destructed in Iraq after prioritising the slaughter of Shia and brutalising the Sunni tribes into revolt. Isis could yet over-reach, uniting regional actors against it. But it is moving with irresistible speed - much faster than deliberations in Baghdad to regroup behind a more inclusive government, or dithering in Washington about how and how hard to hit it. The Islamic State's chilling timing, as the heart of the Middle East goes up in flames, will make it hard to dislodge." 

-- Mary Casey

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

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