Bombing people to save them? Western states line up to intervene in Syria

(Deutsche Welle) France, Australia and the UK are considering joining a US-led coalition flying air strikes in Syria. They cite the refugee crisis as justification for military intervention, but can bombing put an end to the conflict?

For British Prime Minister David Cameron, it’s not enough to act as a “moral humanitarian nation taking people, spending money on aid and helping in refugee camps.”

“Assad has to go, ISIL has to go. Some of that will require not just spending money, not just aid, not just diplomacy but it will on occasion require hard military force,” Cameron said, using an alternative acronym for “Islamic State.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has already announced plans for his country to join the US-led air campaign in Syria and he has not even ruled out the possibility of sending ground troops. France is already flying reconnaissance missions over Syria to gather information for potential air strike targets as President Francois Hollande announced his intention to join the US-led campaign in Syria on Monday.

‘Bombing people to save them’

But air strikes aimed at protecting civilians are rarely effective, according to Taylor Seybolt. Air strikes have a chance of success only at the start of a conflict – before the warring sides are entrenched – or at the end when they are exhausted. The strikes also have to defend a focused area for a limited amount of time, Seybolt told DW. None of these conditions are currently present in Syria.

“Bombing people to save them isn’t really a good practice,” said Seybolt, the author of “Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Conditions for Success or Failure.”

“The talk about humanitarian bombing is not focused on a particular safe area or population,” Seybolt said. “It’s just sort of a broad statement that we’re going to try to help people so that they stay were they are rather than come across to Europe.”

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US-Saudi alliance stays strong after Iran nuclear deal

Will the Iran nuclear deal strain ties between Saudi Arabia and the US? Hardly. The alliance between the world’s largest absolute monarchy and its oldest constitutional republic remains strong, Spencer Kimball reports.

One is an officially Islamic nation ruled by the same family for 83 years, where religion dictates who drives (men) and what women may wear (abayas, or full-body cloaks); the other is a mostly, but not officially, Christian country where voters pick their leaders and often even enact local laws.

Enemies and interests may be the only two things Saudi Arabia and the United States do have in common, and these have proved the basis for a long and largely loyal strategic partnership.

“It has survived every possible provocation that might have brought it down, including [US President] Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948,” Thomas Lippman, a former Middle East bureau chief for the Washington Post, told DW.

Lippman believes that the relationship will also survive its latest test: the deal world powers signed in July to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for international monitoring of the country’s nuclear program.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry left for Qatar, part of his first trip to the Middle East since he and fellow negotiators reached the historic agreement with Saudi Arabia’s main rival for regional influence.

Before and after the deal, Kerry repeatedly reaffirmed the US’s commitment to the security of its Gulf partners. Just last week, the State Department approved the sale of 600 Patriot missiles, worth $5.4 billion (4.9 billion euros), to Riyadh.

The Patriots will help counter Iran’s missile program, Lippman said, though he doesn’t believe that the sale is necessarily related to the nuclear deal.

“I have no doubt that the Saudis despise Shiites and are nervous about the Iranians and are unhappy about Iran’s activity around the region – that’s no secret,” Lippman said.

“They also understand perfectly which side their bread is buttered on, and that’s the US side,” he continued. “Nobody else is going to sell them 600 patriot missiles.”

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US caught between Turkey, Kurd rivalry in war against ‘IS’

They’re both key to US goals in the Middle East, but they’re bitterly opposed to one another. Turkey has bombed Kurdish positions in Iraq. The airstrikes could hamper Washington’s war against ‘IS.’

According to the Turkish government, there’s no difference between “Islamic State” and the Kurdish militant group PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). They’re both terrorist organizations.

“Whichever terrorist organization poses a threat to the borders of the Turkish Republic, measures will be taken without hesitation,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after Turkey launched operations against both groups. “No-one should have any doubt.”

But the secular PKK has proven one of the most effective adversaries of the “Islamic State” group, according to Michael Gunter, who’s written several books on the Kurds. So effective, that there have been calls in the US to remove the PKK from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

“The US should do it,” Gunter, a professor at Tennessee Tech University, told DW. “The US has been in effect supporting the PKK by supporting the affiliate of the PKK, the PYD [Kurdish Democratic Union Party], in Syria.”

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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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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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