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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Will US budget cuts lead to splendid isolation?

(By Deutsche Welle) With defense cuts looming in the US, Secretary of State John Kerry has warned against growing isolationist sentiment. But experts say that Washington is simply adopting a more restrained foreign policy.

US President Barack Obama published his budget on Tuesday, a week after Secretary of State Kerry had warned that cuts in military spending potentially signaled a “new isolationism” among the American public and its elected representatives.

“This not a budget we want,” Kerry told reporters last Wednesday. “It’s not a budget that does what we need. It was the best the president could get. It’s not what he wanted.”

“Look at our efforts to get the president’s military force decision on Syria backed up on (Capitol Hill),” the secretary of state said. “Look at the House of Representatives with respect to the military and the budget.”

“All of those diminish our ability to do things,” Kerry said, adding that the US was “acting like a poor nation.”

But according to Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, accusations of “isolationism” are little more than a political tactic used to delegitimize critics.

“This is standard American politics,” Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran and former army colonel, told DW. “There seems to be a belief in Washington that if you can portray your critics as isolationists, that doing so will then strengthen one’s own claim to wisdom. The United States is not an isolationist country – quite frankly it’s never been. Certainly it’s not today.”

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US foreign policy looms over German election

(By Deutsche Welle) In Germany’s election, controversial US policies on surveillance and Syria have forced the candidates to walk a fine line on relations with Washington. But the US wants Berlin to play a bigger global leadership role.

At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg this month, major European nations such as France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain all signed a joint statement supporting the United States’ position on Syria. The document pointed the finger at the Assad regime as the likely culprit behind the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack in eastern Damascus and called for a “strong international response.”

But the signature of Europe’s largest economy and arguably most important political power, Germany, was noticeably absent from the joint statement.

Berlin hesitated and then ultimately signed the communiqué one day later. It’s an election year, and with the campaign now in its final leg before the vote on September 22, the center-left opposition is trying to breach Chancellor Angela Merkel’s seemingly impregnable position in the polls. Even foreign policy, often a back-burner issue in elections, has become a point of campaign contention.

The issue of military strikes against Syria is not the first time that US policy has stirred up partisan recriminations in Germany’s election campaign. Reporting by newsmagazine Der Spiegel on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about US surveillance programs, and Berlin’s alleged involvement in them, has dogged Merkel for months now.

“It’s a fine line – the candidates can’t get too close to the US, especially on the NSA issue,” Stephen Szabo, executive director of the Transatlantic Academy, told DW. “On the other hand they can’t be seen as being too distant either, because the US is still one of German’s biggest economic partners. It’s still its major security partner.”

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US, Russia seek to bridge divide over Syria

(By Deutsche Welle) For more than two years, Washington and Moscow have been at loggerheads over Syria, as the civil war there continued to escalate. But now, the former Cold War foes are promising to bridge the diplomatic divide.

If one were to take US Secretary of State John Kerry at his word, then the diplomatic stalemate between America and Russia over the Syrian civil war seems to have been a miscommunication. During talks in Moscow, Kerry told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the US and Russia have “very significant common interests” in pushing for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria.

“The alternative is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos,” Kerry told a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday.

“The alternative is that the humanitarian crisis will grow,” Kerry said. “The alternative is that there may be even a break up of Syria.”

The secretary of state’s push for Russian cooperation comes as the civil war in Syria has taken on troubling new regional and international dimensions in recent days.

Israel twice bombed targets outside of Damascus last weekend, reportedly in an attempt to prevent Iranian guided missiles from falling into the hands of the Shiite Islamist militant group, Hezbollah.

The Israeli airstrikes came after the United States and its British and French allies claimed to have mounting evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria. The three Western powers have accused President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of deploying the chemical agent sarin against rebel forces and civilians. Damascus, on the other hand, has accused the rebels of using deadly chemical agents.

“Kerry is following up the US administration’s stated goal of leading a diplomatic effort that was to include unifying the opposition and coordinating an international response,” Waleed Hazbun, director of the Center for Arab and Middle East Studies at the American University of Beirut, told DW via email.

“But even on the humanitarian level, the US effort is viewed regionally as lacking,” Hazbun said.

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UN takes proactive role in world politics after Arab Spring

(Deutsche Welle) After fading from the international limelight when the US unilaterally invaded Iraq in 2003, the UN Security Council has returned to center stage by demonstrating a renewed willingness to use force to protect civilians.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has adopted a more proactive role in international politics in recent months as the world has been rapidly confronted with one crisis after another. In the civil wars in both Libya and Ivory Coast, the UN mandated the use of “all necessary means” to protect civilian life.

This willingness to decisively confront international crises comes after years of a post-Iraq malaise in which the Security Council largely took a back seat as the United States unilaterally pursued its national interests around the world.

But as popular uprisings have rapidly spread from one Arab country to another, the Security Council has become the focal point of international efforts to adopt common positions on crises that impact global stability.

The council has demonstrated itself willing and capable – under the right political circumstances – of using military force and economic sanctions in order to enforce international law and human rights.

“In many ways the [Security] Council has become more active on all those fronts in terms of coercive instruments,” Edward Luck, Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told Deutsche Welle.

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