Netanyahu alienates Democratic allies with US Congress address

(By Deutsche Welle) Unyielding support for Israel has long been a bipartisan pillar of US foreign policy. But Prime Minister Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress has further strained his already tense relationship with the White House.

Israeli leaders normally receive a glowing bipartisan welcome in Washington. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress in 2011, he received 29 standing ovations from both Democrats and Republicans.

But this time around it will be different. More than two dozen lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have vowed to boycott Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday. Vice President Joe Biden will be skipping town for an impromptu trip to South America, and President Obama has declined to meet with Netanyahu during the Israeli leader’s visit to Washington.

The controversy started in January when House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress on “the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life.” Boehner, a Republican, did not consult the White House before extending the invitation. He criticized President Obama for devoting too little attention to Islamic fundamentalism in his state of the union speech. Netanyahu would fill in the gaps for the American people, according to Boehner.

“I frankly didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity,” America’s third most senior elected official told Fox News, referring to the Obama administration.

Leading Democrats were outraged. Not only had the president been rebuffed, but Netanyahu was scheduled to address Congress just two weeks before parliamentary elections in Israel. Susan Rice, the White House national security adviser, suggested that the invitation was motivated by political partisanship, calling the move potentially “destructive” to the “fabric” of the US-Israel relationship.

“Much of the controversy has been over whether this was a deliberate political maneuver by Boehner to put the Democrats in a defensive position of either appearing to be critical of Israel by not coming to the speech, or showing up and giving legitimacy to what will certainly be a critique of the Obama administration,” William Quandt, who served on the National Security Council in the Nixon and Carter administrations, told DW.

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US and Iran: ‘More cooperation than meets the eye’

(By Deutsche Welle) Bitter adversaries for a generation, the US and Iran now face a common enemy: the “Islamic State.” But Dr. Roham Alvandi tells DW that politics prevent Tehran and Washington from cooperating publicly.

DW: What are the US and Iran’s respective interests in fighting the “Islamic State”? Are they opposed to IS for the same reasons?

Roham Alvandi: They’re not quite the same reasons. They each have their own interests in Iraq, and they each have an interest in containing and eventually defeating the Islamic State. From the US point of view, what they’re trying to do is defeat the IS threat but also create some sort of inclusive government in Iraq where you have some sort of balance between the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds.

Whereas from the Iranian perspective, that’s much less their priority. They’re very much backing their allies in Iraq. But on the whole, there’s probably more cooperation going on than meets the eye. I suspect that there was a great deal of cooperation behind the scenes that has to do with the creation of the new government in Iraq, and I suspect that there’s also some cooperation in terms of the military operations that are going on. But neither side has an interest in acknowledging that openly, so they’re going to keep that very quiet.

Ayatollah Khamenei said that he rejected an offer from the US to cooperate against the Islamic State. Why would Iran oppose cooperating with Washington against a common enemy?

Iran assisted the United States in Afghanistan back in 2001. They helped defeat the Taliban; they helped create the Bonn process [to rebuild Afghanistan’s political institutions]; they helped create the Karzai government. And what they got in exchange for that was “axis of evil” and more sanctions. Nothing came out of it and that was quite a gamble for President Khatami who had convinced the leadership that this was the right thing to do. So you can’t really blame them for being skeptical as to whether the US will really come through on any sort of quid pro quo as far as Iraq is concerned.

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German weapons deliveries to Iraq’s Kurdish region

(By Deutsche Welle) The German government has decided to deliver weapons and munitions worth a total of 70 million euros ($91 million) to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. DW provides an overview of the weapons systems in question.

The weapons will be delivered in three tranches to a secure region of Iraq that has not been affected by the civil war, according to the German Defense Ministry. An initial partial delivery will leave Germany in the next two weeks and arrive in Irbil via Baghdad. The entire first delivery to northern Iraq will be completed by the end of September. The second and third deliveries will depend on the situation on the ground.

Berlin will send enough weapons to equip a brigade of 4,000 soldiers, according to Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Von der Leyen said parliamentary approval is not required for the weapons deliveries.

Training, if necessary, will take place in Germany. If that’s not possible, training will occur either in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region, or a third country. The deployment of German soldiers for the purpose of training Kurdish forces to use the weapons does not require a parliamentary mandate, according to the Defense Ministry.

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Calls for ‘IS’ media blackout after reported execution of US journalist

(By Deutsche Welle) US freelance journalist James Foley has reportedly been executed by “Islamist State” (IS) militants. In response, a Twitter campaign has been started to stop the spread of violent postings by the IS.

In a video originally posted on YouTube called “A Message to America,” militants claiming to represent the “Islamic State” (IS) appeared to execute a man identified as James Foley, supposedly in retaliation for Washington launching a campaign of airstrikes against the radical group in northern Iraq.

They then threaten to take the life of a man identified in the video as Steven Joe Sotloff, an American who has freelanced for Time Magazine, if US President Barack Obama doesn’t end the airstrikes in Iraq. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating the authenticity of the video, which was removed from social media sites on Tuesday.

Shortly after the video went online, a social media campaign called #ISISMediaBlackout was started on Twitter, aiming to stop the footage and other violent videos from being shared. ISIS refers to the radical Sunni group’s previous name, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

So far, the Twitter campaign has been shared more than 7,000 times since Tuesday. Twitter user @LibyaLiberty kicked off the campaign.

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‘IS’ is ‘the greatest threat to journalists’

(By Deutsche Welle) Syria is the most dangerous country for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Middle East program coordinator Sherif Mansour estimates about 20 foreign reporters are being held hostage.

DW: How much do we know about the journalists who have been abducted in Syria?

Sherif Mansour: We have reported on many of those cases. We actually believe that as many as 80 and more were kidnapped since the civil war started. That includes 65 who were kidnapped last year alone – that’s more than one journalist every week. And we at the time said this is an unprecedented number.

We are trying to keep track, but it’s very difficult, because some of these cases go unreported, and in other cases it’s the family or the media organization that employs the journalist who ask that there will be a blackout on the case. That’s why we couldn’t reveal a lot of information.

We also know that a lot of foreign journalists have been kidnapped. We estimate that currently 20 foreign journalists are [being held].

Who is targeting these journalists?

At the beginning, the [Syrian] regime was doing all these violations against journalists. It wasn’t until 2012 that we saw the opposition then, or IS [the “Islamic State”] – which was ISIS back then – starting those violations. By the end of 2012, ISIS became the greatest threat to journalists – they’ve killed journalists, they’ve kidnapped more journalists than anyone else. And they were very brutal about it. They’ve also targeted foreign journalists to serve as leverage in negotiations with other parties, including foreign governments.

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Evolution of the ‘Islamic State’

(By Deutsche Welle) The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now simply the “Islamic State,” continues to advance in northern Iraq, prompting US airstrikes against the Sunni extremist group. DW looks at the group’s origins and goals.

The “Islamic State” is a militant Sunni Muslim extremist group that emerged out of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

In 2003, the United States overthrew Iraq’s secular dictator Saddam Hussein, outlawed his Arab nationalist Baath party and dissolved the country’s military. Feeling marginalized as Iraq’s majority Shiites rose to power, Hussein’s Sunni co-confessionalists launched a bloody insurgency against the US-led coalition beginning in summer of that year.

Although initially made up predominantly of ex-soldiers and Hussein loyalists, the insurgency grew increasingly radical as Islamist militants led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi infiltrated its ranks. Originally a petty criminal, Zarqawi was radicalized in a Jordanian prison and fought in Afghanistan against the communist government in Kabul – which was abandoned by the Soviet Union – from 1989 to 1992.

Zarqawi was arrested again by the Jordanians in 1994 for plotting against the country’s monarchy, but was subsequently released in 1999 as part of a general amnesty granted after King Hussein’s death.

Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan, but was forced to flee for northern Iraq after the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban in 2001. Once in Iraq, Zarqawi reportedly led the Arab faction within the Kurdish militant group Ansar al-Islam. He subsequently founded al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

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No US airstrikes in Iraq without national unity government

(By Deutsche Welle) The United States has refused to launch airstrikes against Sunni Islamist militants in Iraq, if Baghdad does not form an inclusive government. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s days could be numbered.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has ruled out airstrikes against the rapidly advancing Islamist State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unless Baghdad forms a more inclusive government, upping the political pressure on Nouri al-Maliki to work with the Sunnis and Kurds, or step aside as prime minister.

“It would be a complete and total act of irresponsibility for the president to just order a few strikes,” Kerry told CBS News on Tuesday. “But there’s no government, there’s no backup, there’s no military – there’s nothing there that provides the capacity for success.”

“The president reserves the right to use force as he does anywhere in the world, if it is necessary,” Kerry said. “But he wants to do so … with knowledge that there’s a government in place that can actually follow through and guarantee that what the United States is working toward can actually be achieved.”

But Prime Minister al-Maliki, a Shiite, rejected calls on Wednesday for a national unity government with Sunnis and Kurds, saying such a step would amount to a coup. Maliki’s State of Law alliance won the most seats in parliamentary elections last April, but fell short of the majority needed to form a government without help from rival parties.

“The call to form a national salvation government constitutes a coup against the constitution and the political process,” Maliki said in a televised address.

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