Iraqis don't want their country broken up
July 16th, 2014
10:57 AM ET

Iraqis don't want their country broken up

By Amal Mudallali, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Amal Mudallali is a senior scholar at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are her own.

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Iraq is heading for partition. The argument is that Iraq is on the cusp of being broken into three states: a Sunni, a Shiite, and a Kurdish state to replace the current state of Iraq. But while many of the proponents of this view contend that the Iraqis themselves want this because they simply cannot live together, I believe nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunni Iraqis do not want to be separate, they want to be equal. And for the Shiite Iraqis, the definition of equal is for Iraq to remain whole, but under a Shiite-dominated government. These views may appear somewhat inconsistent, but a regional and international coalition that sees the dangers of dismembering Iraq two sides should be able to help them walk back from their positions.

I know this is possible because Lebanon, another Arab country that suffered a bloody 15 year civil war, managed to step back from the abyss through a political settlement. Thirty years after the end of that civil war, and despite the suicide bombings that have blighted the country in recent months, Lebanon is still united.

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Topics: Iraq • Middle East • Syria
Time to rethink approach to Iraq's displacement crisis
July 11th, 2014
12:09 PM ET

Time to rethink approach to Iraq's displacement crisis

By Elizabeth Ferris and Vittoria Federici, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Ferris is the co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. Vittoria Federici is a senior research assistant at the Brookings Doha Center. The views expressed are their own.

In a scene reminiscent of Iraq’s 2006-2008 displacement crisis, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are again fleeing violent conflict for perceived safer areas. Indeed, more than 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced since fighting erupted in Anbar Province between Sunni insurgents and the Iraqi army at the start of this year, a situation dramatically worsened by the lightning advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Sadly, this mass displacement looks like it will be even more complicated than the previous one.

For a start, ISIS fighters have quickly and brutally taken over large swathes of territory in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq. Taking advantage of widespread discontent among the local Sunni population, the group is fighting an open sectarian war against the Shia-led government in Baghdad. As it consolidates its powerbase, ISIS is demanding that Muslims pledge allegiance to its movement, live according to its harsh interpretation of Islam, and wage international jihad. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria
July 9th, 2014
12:39 PM ET

Al-Maliki’s media war

By Fred Abrahams, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Fred Abrahams is a special adviser at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

How Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki plans to defeat the horribly abusive Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and other Sunni groups that have seized control of large swathes of Iraq remains unclear. And under his government’s new media regulations, the Iraqi public isn’t likely to find out.

The new guidelines, issued on June 18 by the state media commission to remain in effect “during the war on terror,” in effect require local and international media to cheer on the government. For example, the rules forbid media from reporting information from insurgent forces and compel coverage of government forces in only glowing terms.

As one Iraqi journalist put it, the guidelines “basically ban journalists from covering war activities, because whatever you report about terrorists could be considered support for them.”

Some Iraqi media are known for their harsh sectarian lines, including outlets that out-and-out incite violence. But the new restrictions go far beyond what international law allows. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says governments may limit some rights, including on media, but only when strictly required by the situation. The restrictions must be specified by law, demonstrably necessary to protect a legitimate aim, in a manner that is proportionate to protect that aim, and subject to judicial review. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Media
Social media poisoning Middle East politics
July 3rd, 2014
01:54 PM ET

Social media poisoning Middle East politics

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the killing of three Israeli teens and a Palestinian youth, the role of social media in the Middle East, and the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. This is an edited version of the transcript.

The violence and the tension between Israelis and Palestinians is nothing new. When did it get to the point that killing innocent teenagers is part of this?

Unfortunately, there’s a long history of terrorism. Palestinians regarded it as a resistance to what they see as an illegitimate occupation. Of course, Israelis regarded it as terrorism. What I think is new here, which is very troubling, is that people are using the new tools of technology, social media, and you're beginning to see radical fringe elements that are able to organize, galvanize support. So what happens after the horrific murder of these three Israelis is you see Israeli right wing extremist groups go on Facebook and create sites that basically say, let's kill Arabs.

On the Arab side, on the Palestinian side, you've had similar kinds of incitement. It's as if we sometimes think that these technologies are somehow going to make everybody get along and cooperate. And instead what's happening is that it's creating a poison within the body politics of both sides, and it's going to be very difficult to walk this down because it's out there now.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for calm. Everyone on both sides is calling for calm on this. But can they keep a handle on this, especially when you talk about how now you have this social media element? FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Israel • Palestinian Authority • Technology
We've seen this Iraq movie before
July 2nd, 2014
11:48 PM ET

We've seen this Iraq movie before

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the latest developments in Iraq, and what role the United States might play. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Has the conflict basically come down to just holding Baghdad? Is it all won or lost in that city?

Well, that's a hugely important issue – whether you lose the capital or not. But Baghdad is now essentially a Shia city. It used to be mixed, but Sunnis have been driven out. Of course, there are still many, many Sunnis, but it's mostly a Shia city and has become part of the Shia-dominated government's stronghold.

So, the reason that the Iraqi government lost lots of territory is that locals were, if not sympathetic to the insurgents and sympathetic to ISIS, then they were pretty anti-government. That's not true in Baghdad, and the army will fight it – a Shiite core that will fight there. But it only reinforces what is the central element here, which has now turned into a sectarian civil war.

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Topics: Iraq
Repression no cure for challenge of political Islam
July 2nd, 2014
12:28 PM ET

Repression no cure for challenge of political Islam

By Dalibor Rohac, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Dalibor Rohac is a policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute. You can follow him @daliborrohac. The views expressed are his own.

The events in Iraq, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been mounting an offensive against the ill-prepared Iraqi army, raises important questions about political Islam and about the response to it by both Middle Eastern governments and the West.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the increased perception of political Islam as a major security threat led Western governments to boost support to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East as long as they were secular and therefore seen as superior to their theocratic alternatives. When the Egyptian military brought down President Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, there was a sense of relief among many observers in Washington.

Some of them may be willing to give Egypt's current military regime a pass even after its judiciary convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists for seven years for "aiding terrorists" – not to mention recently upholding death sentences for 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who allegedly organized an attack on a Cairo police station last year. Yet the repression of Islamic political movements, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, often backfires, with consequences that could be as dire as the current bloodbath in Iraq.

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Topics: Egypt • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Syria
Iraq: It’s not about us
July 2nd, 2014
12:17 PM ET

Iraq: It’s not about us

By Will Marshall, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Will Marshall is the president of the Progressive Policy Institute. The views expressed are his own.

The debate over how to keep Iraq from falling apart reveals a peculiarly American kind of self-centeredness. When things blow up abroad, we often spend more time arguing about the U.S. reaction to the crisis than what triggered it in the first place.

So it is with the stunning rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which styles itself as a resurrected “caliphate” to which all Muslims owe allegiance. Instead of focusing on how to protect Americans and our regional partners from a new jihadist malignancy, much of Washington’s political class is consumed by recriminations over who is to blame for resurgent Sunni terrorism in the Middle East.

Is it George W. Bush’s fault for invading Iraq in 2003 and cluelessly stirring up a sectarian hornet’s nest? Or did Barack Obama squander America’s costly success in stabilizing Iraq in his haste to “end” an unpopular war?

Both indictments contain a large grain of truth. But is this really the time to be pointing fingers and rehearsing bitter debates about the wisdom of the invasion, the “surge” or the U.S. exit? U.S. leaders should leave such questions to historians and concentrate instead on mustering a coherent response to the present predicament. This isn’t a naïve plea to take the “politics” out of national security – which is both impossible and potentially dangerous – or to ignore the lessons of past mistakes. But we shouldn’t let the interminable argument over whose “lessons of Iraq” should prevail get in the way of a clear assessment of the new threat.

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Topics: Foreign Policy • Iraq • Middle East
July 2nd, 2014
08:39 AM ET

The return of Muqtada al-Sadr?

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

It seems that everyone – President Obama, John Kerry, NATO, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, even the Iranian government – has the same advice for the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki: Form a broad-based, inclusive government that reaches out to the Sunnis. That would take away some of the sense of grievance that fuels their support for radical Sunni groups like ISIS that are threatening Iraq's existence as a nation.

So why in the world is al-Maliki flatly refusing to do this?

Partly it's because he’s a hard line Shiite politician himself whose party draws its support from the Shiites, who are not particularly well disposed to the notion of being nice to the Sunnis, their former overlords.

But it's probably at least as much because al-Maliki needs to worry about radical Shiites as much as radical Sunnis. You see, he has his own Tea Party. And this one has an army of its own.

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Topics: Iraq • What in the World?
How to stop Libya becoming another Iraq
June 26th, 2014
02:53 PM ET

How to stop Libya becoming another Iraq

By Michael Shank and Najla Elmangoush, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Najla Elmangoush is the dean of Centre of Gender Studies at the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies in Tripoli. Michael Shank is the associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and adjunct faculty at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. The views expressed are their own.

With violence in Iraq dominating the news, there’s little attention paid to the similar implosion in Libya, aside from the usual periodic Benghazi rhetoric. Yet U.S. interventions in both countries have clearly backfired, leaving them all the messier because the U.S. didn’t carefully plan reconciliation processes in either country. And, without Washington’s willingness to engage in some self-reflection on what it did wrong with Libya, we risk seeing the same chaos that is unfolding in Iraq.

Sadly, the West’s neglect has allowed Libyan renegades like Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a former Gadhafi supporter who has recruited other ex-Gadhafi loyalists, to take charge. Haftar, whose is supposed to be fighting the extremists, has been behind the bombing of areas around Benghazi, and leads a powerful militia once part of the national army. He is also using the same language as the West regarding his refusal to “negotiate with terrorists.”

But none of this is helping Libya become more stable. Indeed, the security situation is deteriorating, and this summer witnessed the worst violence in Benghazi since 2011, when Gadhafi’s militia attacked the city. The latest example of violence – between Ansar al-sharia, the most dangerous armed Islamist militia group in Libya, and Haftar’s forces – claimed the lives of 19 civilians, with dozens more hurt.

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Topics: Iraq • Libya • United States
Zakaria: U.S. position on Iraq incoherent
June 26th, 2014
02:45 AM ET

Zakaria: U.S. position on Iraq incoherent

CNN speaks with Fareed about the prospects for a unity government in Iraq, the roles of Iran and Syria, and what the United States can and should do.

With the U.S. saying we're not going get involved with air strikes right now, that our response is going to be very, very limited, does that create a vacuum where Syria and Iran were bound to get involved?

Well, I think that they were bound to get involved anyway and they’ve been involved for the last several years. The thing we’ve got to remember is that we think of the Middle East in terms of borders that are real and hard. And we think of it in terms of dictators and democrats. What's really happening in that part of the world is a sectarian war between the Shias and the Sunnis.

This crosses all borders, so that ISIS is battling the Shia government in Baghdad. It's battling what it regards as essentially a Shia government in Syria. It's an Alawite regime, but it's basically considered a heretical regime. So they’ve got the same enemy. The Iranians, the Syrians and the Iraqi government all see ISIS as their enemy. We are the ones who come in with the complication. We say, well, we sort of like the Iraqi government because it's sort of democratic, but we don't like the Syrian government because it's a dictatorship, and we don't like the Iranians.

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Topics: Iraq
June 24th, 2014
02:31 PM ET

Iraq’s minorities left between scorpions and a hard place

By Letta Tayler, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Letta Tayler is a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. You can follow her Follow @LettaTayler. The views expressed are her own.

Sunday wasn’t a good day in northern Iraq’s al-Hamdaniyah district. The previous night, Sunni extremist militants had snatched 26 Shia Turkmen from their homes.  For the second week, residents had no running water and almost no electricity. The local hospital was almost out of medicine, and the doctor running the emergency room was fretting about scorpions.

“We still have anti-venom for the snake bites, but nothing left for the scorpions,” said the doctor, Zakar Bayati.  “The scorpions here can kill small children.”

Bayati, a pediatrician, had stepped in as emergency room chief because most of the hospital’s doctors were huddled in their homes 25 kilometers northwest in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, too scared to travel to work. The hospital usually had 15 doctors, Bayati said. During my visit to the hospital on Tuesday in Bakhdid, the district’s largest town, they had four.

Mosul fell June 10 to the armed militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Thousands of Iraqi government troops and civilians fled east across al-Hamdaniyah and other parts of the Nineveh Plains, a religiously diverse region that includes Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Turkmen, Shabaks, and predominantly Kurdish Yazidis. ISIS followed, coming within 100 meters of Bakhdida, a local police official and two generals from the area said in interviews there.

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Topics: Iraq
Why Saudi Arabia  needs a new defense doctrine
June 23rd, 2014
02:08 PM ET

Why Saudi Arabia needs a new defense doctrine

By Nawaf Obaid, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Nawaf Obaid is a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, and author of A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine. The views expressed are his own.

It’s hard to overstate the implications of the unfolding violence in Iraq for the prospects of stability in the Arab world. As tribal and Baathist opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s regime have joined with the jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to seize major Sunni urban centers such as Mosul, the Iraqi army has simply melted away, consistently failing to offer even nominal resistance.

The problem for Iraq’s neighbors is that the current turmoil looks set to evolve into something even more destabilizing – a sectarian conflict and perhaps civil war that pits Sunnis against Shias. Indeed, the possibility of this only increased with al-Maliki’s apparent willingness to once again turn to Iran for support. But in his efforts to bolster his own Shia-led government, al-Maliki has stoked broader tensions in the Muslim world between the overwhelming majority Sunnis and minority Shias.

And Saudi Arabia is unlikely to sit idly by as all this unfolds.

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Topics: Iraq • Middle East • Military • Saudi Arabia
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