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.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

Iraq contemplates US troop presence beyond withdrawal deadline

(By Deutsche Welle) Both Washington and Baghdad are hinting at the continued deployment of American troops in Iraq beyond the December withdrawal deadline. Eight years after the invasion, foreign troops may still be necessary for stability.

After battling a bloody insurgency for years, the United States is set to turn the page on the Iraq War and withdraw its remaining 45,000 troops by December, 2011. The withdrawal from Iraq is part of US President Barack Obama’s stated strategy of refocusing American military power on the fight against al Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

But as the officially fixed deadline nears, political leaders in both Washington and Baghdad are equivocating on whether or not a full withdrawal should actually occur. The US has placed growing pressure on the Iraqi government to decide whether or not they want a residual American troop presence to remain in the country beyond 2011 to ensure security.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who oversaw the 2007 surge of US troops credited with stabilizing Iraq, has signaled to Baghdad that Washington would be willing to support a continued military presence in the country.

“We are open to that possibility,” Gates said during a surprise visit to Iraq in April. “But they have to ask and time is running out.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while claiming that Iraqi forces can maintain internal stability, has also called for stronger military ties with Washington and has stated that he will leave the question of a US troop presence up to the Iraqi parliament.

Over the course of the past eight years, the United States has become deeply embedded in Iraqi society, acting as a critical mediator between the country’s fractious religious and ethnic groups. Although domestic pressure in the US and Iraq forced both sides to agree on the December deadline, political realities on the ground may demand a continued American military presence.

Continue reading