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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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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