President Obama’s unauthorized, incomplete Iraq war strategy

(By Deutsche Welle) More than nine months, 2,000 airstrikes and 3,000 military advisers later, Congress still has not authorized the US war against the “Islamic State.” The White House now wants to deploy 450 advisers closer to the front.

The American bombs falling on Iraq and Syria barely make headlines anymore. Over the past four days alone, the US and its allies have launched at least 70 airstrikes against “Islamic State” (IS) targets.

The public and Congress have largely backed Washington’s third Iraq war. According to the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of Americans support the US military campaign against IS.

Forty-seven percent of the country would even support sending ground troops back to the Middle East. That’s an eight-point increase over last year, according to Pew.

Though the president has ruled out sending combat troops back to the Middle East, he has deployed a growing number of advisers. On Wednesday, the White House announced plans to send 450 additional US troops to train Iraqi forces, bringing the total number to more than 3,500.

The advisers will be stationed at Taqaddum airbase in Anbar province near the city of Habbaniyah, which is just 33 kilometers (20 miles) from two cities controlled by IS.

“Habbaniyah is sandwiched between Ramadi and Fallujah, now both Islamic State strongholds,” Wayne White, a former senior Iraq analyst at the State Department, told DW. “The Islamic State has made several efforts to move against Habbaniyah.”

“The personnel in Habbaniyah will be in greater danger,” White said.

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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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Iraq powder keg could ignite broader conflict

(By Deutsche Welle) Sitting at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq shares a border with virtually every major power in the region. The rapid advance of Sunni Islamist militants in Iraq could spark a broader regional conflict.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned a meeting of Arab and Muslim leaders in Jeddah on Wednesday that “this grave situation that is storming Iraq carries with it the signs of civil war whose implications for the region we cannot fathom.”

Al-Faisal called on Iraq’s Shiite-led government to address the grievances of the country’s Sunni community. He also warned against “foreign interference” in Iraq, a veiled jibe at Saudi Arabia’s archrival, Iran.

Tehran has said that it would intervene on behalf of Iraq, if Baghdad asked for assistance in its fight against the Sunni extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Wall Street Journal has reported that Iranian units have already been deployed to protect Shia holy sites in Karbala and Najaf and to stabilize the situation in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the former UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has drawn a connection between the current crisis in Iraq and the civil war in neighboring Syria. Brahimi said that the international community had “unfortunately neglected the Syrian problem and did not help resolve it,” which has fanned the flames of sectarianism in Iraq.

“The jihadists’ action in Iraq is taking place against a backdrop of a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis,” Brahimi told the AFP news agency last weekend.

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Experts: Iraq needs reconciliation, not weapons, to defeat ISIS

(By Deutsche Welle) Washington has promised to support the Iraqi government in its drive to defeat rapidly advancing ISIS militants. But experts say that more US weapons are unlikely to stabilize the situation.

Facing perhaps the greatest security challenge in Iraq since the US troop withdrawal in 2011, Washington has promised Baghdad additional assistance to beat back the advancing surprise offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

After capturing Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, ISIS continued to push south on Wednesday. According to Iraqi security officials, the Islamist militants have seized control of the central city of Tikrit and attacked the outskirts of Samarra, which lies 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of Baghdad.

The State Department said on Tuesday that the US “supports a strong, coordinated response to push back against this aggression.” Washington is working closely with Iraq’s central government and authorities in the autonomous Kurdistan Region, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“The United States will provide all appropriate assistance to the Government of Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement to help ensure that these efforts succeed,” Psaki said.

According to Ben Connable, Iraq expert at the RAND Corporation, that assistance will likely include additional arms and intelligence. Earlier in the year, Washington sent weapons to help Baghdad retake the western city of Fallujah, which fell under ISIS control in January.

Those weapons included hellfire missiles and surveillance drones. Despite the additional firepower, the Iraqi government failed to wrest Fallujah from ISIS control, and Fallujah is much smaller than Mosul, which has a population of more than 1.4 million.

“Sending weapons and advisors is a long-term policy – that’s something that requires many years of development, training and support to make an army or police force more effective,” Connable told DW. “We don’t have that kind of time anymore.”

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Haunted by Halabja, US seeks Syrian solution

(By Deutsche Welle) In 1988, the US turned a blind eye to the gassing of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam Hussein. Decades after the attack at Halabja, Washington now seeks to enforce the global prohibition on chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.

UN chemical weapons inspectors have confirmed that the nerve agent sarin was used “on a relatively large scale” in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta last month, in what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the worst attack of its kind since Iraq deployed poison gas against the Kurds in the late 1980s.

“This is a war crime and a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other rules of customary international law,” Ban told reporters in New York on Monday. “It is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988 – and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century.”

But a quarter century ago, Washington turned a blind eye to what happened at Halabja. On March 16, 1988, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein unleashed poison gas against the Kurdish city, killing more than 3,200 people, according to a 1993 Human Rights Watch report.

“The lesson of Halabja is unfortunately that the condemnation came to late – two months later – but also it came six years too late,” Joost Hiltermann, the author of Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq and the Gassing of Halabja, told DW.

“Because Halabja was the culmination, the climax of a steady increase in the use of chemical weapons in quantity and in quality, meaning more lethal agents over time,” said Hiltermann, also the chief operating officer at the International Crisis Group in Brussels.

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Escalating Iraq violence tied to Syria civil war

(By Deutsche Welle) Iraq has been shaken by its worst wave of violence in the last five years. The United Nations has warned that the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq and the civil war in neighboring Syria are merging into one conflict.

The outgoing UN envoy to Iraq has warned the Security Council that Syria’s civil war has spilled over into Iraq, saying that “the battlefields are merging” into one conflict, which could destabilize the broader Middle East.

“These countries are interrelated,” UN Iraq envoy Martin Kobler said. “Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

According to UN figures, nearly 3,000 Iraqis have died in sectarian bloodshed in the past four months, the highest death toll since 2008. Another 7,000 have been injured. And increasingly, Iraqi jihadists and weapons are moving across the border to fight against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, UN envoy Kobler said.

“You have the Islamic State of Iraq, that’s launching most of the attacks, now operating on both sides of the border and getting stronger and stronger in Syria,” Patrick Cockburn, a veteran Iraq reporter for Britain’s The Independent, told DW.

“It has bases in eastern Syria right over to the Mediterranean, so that has made the organization much stronger – given it strength and depth,” Cockburn said. “It has access to arms depots that it’s captured in Syria.”

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Growing US war-weariness defies traditional partisan divide

(By Deutsche Welle) Conservatives and progressives in the US have become odd bedfellows as they begin to question America’s costly military interventions in the Muslim world. But Congress remains unlikely to force an end to the conflicts.

For 10 years, the United States has waged war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq without a conclusive victory. The military interventions in Central Asia and the Middle East have cost America nearly $4 trillion (2.8 trillion euros) and the lives of over 6,000 troops. Around 225,000 people have died directly from the wars, according to a recent study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

The high cost and low return on these conflicts has worn down the political will among many members of Congress who represent an increasingly war-weary public. In May, a congressional resolution calling for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan narrowly failed in the House of Representatives in a 204 – 215 vote.

The House also recently refused to authorize President Obama’s intervention in Libya for one year, although representatives shied away from defunding the operation. The vote was the first such congressional rebuff of a president since the House refused to authorize the military action in Kosovo in 1999.

And for the first time since the Vietnam War, the US Conference of Mayors – which represents more than 1,000 cities with populations over 30,000 – passed a resolution calling on Washington to “end the wars as soon as strategically possible and bring war dollars home to meet vital human needs.”

A war skepticism originally anchored in the respective poles of the American political spectrum is increasingly gaining ground in the moderate center.

“Support for the war is strongest in the middle and weakest on either extreme,” Stephen Biddle, an expert on US national security policy with the Council on Foreign Relatins, told Deutsche Welle.

“Left-wing Democrats are strongly against the war and so are right-wing Republicans. What’s taking shape is a left-right coalition against the center on the war.”

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