The Middle East Channel

U.N. Reports At Least 191,369 People Killed in Syrian Conflict

The United Nations has released a report finding that at least 191,369 people have been killed since the start of Syria's conflict in March 2011 through April. Data from four groups, including human rights organizations, and the Syrian government was used to determine the estimate, which was more than double the number of deaths documented in 2013. Though, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the count is likely an underestimate. Meanwhile, the Syrian army has sent reinforcements to its airbase at Tabqa, about 25 miles east of the northeastern city of Raqqa, to counter an attack by Islamic State fighters. The base is the government's last major position in the area, which is mostly held by Islamic State militants.

Iraq

Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched attacks Friday in efforts to reclaim two northern towns from Islamic State militants. Kurdish pesh merga fighters, supported by U.S. air forces, over took a district near Jalawla while Iraqi troops and fighter planes advanced toward Saadiya, both areas near the Kurdish region. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are suggesting the possibility of wider operations against the Islamic State. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, said Thursday that the Islamic State could not be defeated without dealing with its militants in Syria. However, he said he was not predicting the United States would conduct airstrikes in Syria, as the military has carried out recently in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel described the Islamic State as an imminent threat and did not rule out military action noting, "We're looking at all options."

Headlines

  • Two tourist buses crashed near a Red Sea resort about 31 miles from the Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh killing at least 33 people and wounding 41 others Friday.
  • The United States, Britain, France, and Germany are discussing drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution on the Gaza conflict calling for a cease-fire meanwhile Hamas has executed 18 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel.
  • Iranian authorities have released an Iranian-American photojournalist who was arrested in July alongside Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and his wife, journalist Yeganeh Salehi.

Arguments and Analysis

'Iran: Dried out' (Najmeh Bozorgmehr, The Financial Times)

"The drying out of the river means about 2m people - 40 per cent of the population - in the Zayandeh Roud basin who depend on agriculture have lost their income, says Mostafa Hajjeh-Foroush, head of the agriculture committee of the Isfahan Chamber of Commerce. 'If this situation continues they should think of changing jobs,' he adds.

The water that disappeared - a result largely of mismanagement and overuse rather than drought - is stored at the Zayandeh Roud dam and diverted for domestic and industrial consumption, leaving the city's 11 river bridges standing as symbols of what is missing."

'Sisi Victorious (with apologies to the late Ossie Davis)' (Ellis Goldberg, nisralnasr)

"While the most common optic used to view events in the region remains that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it has also become increasingly fashionable to think in terms of a struggle for influence between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (aided by its friends in the United Arab Emirates) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (with an occasional assist from Qatar).   Through these lenses Egypt is no longer an independent player in the Arab world but merely a dependent supplicant for favor in a conflict between far more powerful forces.  While this may be true to some degree, it ignores how rapidly Egyptian diplomacy has used the assets-meager as they may be-at its disposal to reverse the negative impact of the criminal violence through which the current regime came to power.  Whether this is due to remarkable skill or dumb luck remains to be seen, but the new government has done a superb job of taking advantage of opportunities."

-- Mary Casey

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Israeli Airstrike on Gaza Kills Three Hamas Commanders

An Israeli airstrike Thursday killed three senior commanders of Hamas's military wing in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. The killing of Mohammed Abu Shamalah, Raed al-Attar, and Mohammed Barhoum followed an apparent assassination attempt on Tuesday night on the group's chief commander, Mohammed Deif. Israeli officials confirmed they targeted Shamalah and Attar, the most senior members of Hamas confirmed killed since 2012, and Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner noted they "have been in our sights for the last 15 years." The men were among at least 19 Palestinians killed on Thursday in the Gaza Strip, according to medics. In a televised address Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue would not stop the military campaign "until we secure full security and quiet." Israel reported 243 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza since a temporary cease-fire collapsed on Tuesday.

Syria-Iraq

Pentagon officials said Wednesday that U.S. forces attempted, but failed, to rescue hostages including journalist James Foley, whose beheading was shown in a video released Tuesday, in a secret mission in Syria earlier this summer. U.S. Special Forces and other military personnel, supported by helicopters and planes, dropped into Syria and exchanged fire with Islamic State militants and killed a number of fighters, however they found that the hostages were not there. Officials did not specify exactly when or where the mission took place, but it was the first confirmation of U.S. military operations into Syria. As U.S. airstrikes continue in Iraq, the Obama administration is weighing options to combat Islamic State militants, though U.S. officials say Obama is unlikely to deepen military involvement in Iraq or Syria.

Headlines

  • Forces loyal to former General Khalifa Heftar clashed with Islamist militias in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi Wednesday killing at least five people.
  • In a blow to President Hassan Rouhani, Iran's parliament voted to dismiss Reza Faraji-Dana, the country's science, research, and technology minister accused of reinstating reformist students and professors.
  • Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will meet Thursday to select Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's successor, with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appearing to be the favorite. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria's Disarmament Mirage' (The Wall Street Journal)

"The OPCW is the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague -based outfit that has overseen the removal of 1,300 tons of chemical agents from Syria. The organization complained for months that Damascus was slow-rolling the disarmament process as it continued to starve and bomb its enemies into submission. In April the Assad regime began dropping chlorine bombs against civilian targets. Chlorine violates the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined last year as part of the deal that Mr. Obama used to celebrate.

Then there are those 'omissions and discrepancies' cited by the President. We are not privy to the intelligence, but every source we talk to says the Syrians have surely not declared everything in their possession. It's also hard to believe the Administration would underline the defects in its own purported achievement if there weren't serious doubts among U.S. spooks about the completeness of the Syrian declaration."

'Iran is not making a U-turn in Iraq' (Ellie Geranmayeh, European Council on Foreign Relations)

"Iran's policy in Iraq has never been about specific personalities. Iran has generally been open to a more inclusive central government in Iraq, as long as the administration remained Shia-dominated and Tehran-friendly. Unlike in Syria, where it sees Bashar al-Assad as an essential figure, Iran believed that viable alternative candidates existed in Iraq who could both keep the Iraqi state apparatus under control and remain allied to Iran.

Besides the formation of IS, two events particularly influenced Iran's decision to abandon Maliki. First, there was the 'Sistani factor' and the general Shia discontent. Iraq's foremost Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, gave strong warnings that Maliki had lost legitimacy among all Iraqi factions, and Tehran took note of his message. Iran's leaders also paid close attention to the large numbers of defections from Maliki's Shia Dawa party. As long as Maliki had the loyalty of the majority in his own party, Iran remained loyal to him as well. But as this loyalty withered over the last month, so too did Iran's."

'Three things to know about Iraq's Mosul Dam' (Lydia Tomkiw, The Christian Science Monitor)

With the aid of US airstrikes, Kurdish peshmerga fighters seized control Monday of Mosul Dam, which had been held by the Sunni militant Islamic State (IS). Control of the dam is essential to Iraq's energy and water resources; the United Nations considers it the 'most important hydropower station' in the country.

As the Monitor reported, IS has targeted key energy infrastructure in Iraq, including oil fields and water resources, as it expands its territory in Iraq and Syria.

In April, IS fighters captured the Nuaimiyah Dam in Fallujah and cut off water supplies flowing south to a primarily Shiite population. But a UN news agency reported that 'the shutdown also triggered a surge into the Abu Ghraib irrigation channel, causing widespread flooding in an area that is mostly inhabited by Sunnis.' The UN's special representative for Iraq said the damage included the displacement of more than 12,000 families and the flooding of 'hundreds of houses and at least four schools.'" 

-- Mary Casey

SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images