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CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the advances made by militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over the past week, what role the United States can play in assisting Iraq's government, and whether the latest violence was inevitable. This is an edited version of the transcript.
What can the U.S. do?
I think that what the president is trying to do is to force the Iraqis, particularly Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to make some political overtures to the Sunnis. Because I think he recognizes at the heart of this problem what you have is a disaffected population – about 20 percent of Iraq that is fueling and supporting the insurgency.
Remember, the problem is not arms or men. The Iraqi army is about three-quarters of a million men strong. They have been trained in equipment supplied by the United States for ten years. The insurgents are about 2,000 or 3,000 people. So the fact that the insurgents [are] taking this down tells you that the basic problem is not a military one, it’s a political one. The army won't fight. The Sunnis in the area are providing support for the insurgency. FULL POST
Just a day after overunning Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, militants from the al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gained nearly complete control of the northern city of Tikrit. How should the Iraqi government and United States respond? And what are their chances for success? Leading analysts offer their take on what to look for. The views expressed are their own.
U.S. should deal with Iraq and Syria together
By Brian Katulis, Special to CNN
The astonishing advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) across parts of northern and central Iraq has reignited a debate about what the Obama administration should do in Iraq and Syria. For now, the centerpiece of the struggle is sharply focused on how Iraq’s government responds and how countries in the region react.
The first key question is how Iraq’s government, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, responds to this assault. Al-Maliki, a leader from a Shia party who has led Iraq for the past eight years, has been accused by his opponents of becoming increasingly authoritarian and not inclusive when it comes to reaching out to people in the Sunni minority community. Some have gone so far to say that his neglect of the Sunnis created the opening for extremist groups like ISIS to achieve the rapid gains over the past few days.
If al-Maliki can put together a cohesive response that cuts across the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide and the Arab-Kurd split, this would go a long way toward building a more stable political foundation to address Iraq’s dangerous security problems. These events come just as Iraqi leaders are negotiating a new governing coalition after national elections on April 30.
“The Syrian crisis crashed onto neighboring Turkey’s doorstep three years ago and the humanitarian, policy and security costs continue to rise,” the International Crisis Group notes in a new report. “Ankara needs to find a sustainable, long-term arrangement with the international community to care for the Syrians who arrive daily.”
But what could a long-term solution look like? Didem Akyel Collinsworth, Turkey and Cyprus analyst for International Crisis Group's Turkey/Cyprus Project, answers readers’ questions on the issue.
What are the conditions like for Syrian refugees?
According to official numbers, Turkey has already received nearly one third of all the Syrian refugees in the region. Around 220,000 of these 720,000 people are in 22 refugee camps in Turkey. The camps have high standards compared to similar shelters around the world; some international experts refer to them as the world’s best refugee camps. In addition to food and shelter, they provide healthcare, schools and other types of assistance. Nonetheless, they are an emergency response, expensive to build and run, and simply not enough to host the continuous inflow. Most of the new arrivals therefore add to a growing “urban Syrian” population inside Turkey; these are officially around 500,000 but unofficial estimates reach one million. Some of them have the means to support themselves financially but most are destitute and in need of assistance.
There are ad-hoc efforts by Turkey’s government and other countries as well as several international and local agencies and NGOs to help them, but these are currently not enough. In the southeastern Turkish provinces along the border, Syrians have a hard time finding accommodation and access to sustained aid. In February, we met new arrivals who had fled the barrel bombings in Aleppo and who were now living out in the open in makeshift tents in Turkey’s border Kilis Province because they couldn’t afford or find housing. Even for people with accommodation, conditions are difficult – we talked to a group of around 20 people living in a bare, one-bedroom apartment with no furniture or heating.
“The Syrian crisis crashed onto neighboring Turkey’s doorstep three years ago and the humanitarian, policy and security costs continue to rise,” the International Crisis Group notes in a new report. And, with some 720,000 Syrian refugees and nearly $3 billion in spending, frustration and fatigue are growing. “Ankara needs to find a sustainable, long-term arrangement with the international community to care for the Syrians who arrive daily.”
But what could a long-term solution look like? And how effective has Turkey’s response been? Didem Akyel Collinsworth, Turkey and Cyprus analyst for International Crisis Group's Turkey/Cyprus Project, will be taking readers’ questions on the issue. For more background, watch ICG in the field here.
Please leave your questions in the comment section below.
By David Schenker, Special to CNN
Editor’s note:David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The views expressed are his own.
The self-immolation of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon last month is a harrowing reminder of the desperate circumstances of those who have fled the war. But the hardship extends beyond just Syrians. Today, Lebanon and Jordan provide sanctuary to one million and some 600,000 Syrian refugees, respectively – about 20 and 10 percent of their respective populations – and the social and economic stresses are taking a heavy toll. Worse, the prospect that many of these refugees might never return home threatens the long-term stability of these states.
Demography is a central problem for Lebanon. Syrian exiles are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, and the influx has skewed Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. Adding to the religious strains are the ubiquitous complaints about Syrian workers driving down wages, and the burden refugees place on Lebanon’s already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. According to a recent World Bank report, over the next three years, Lebanon – which had a $4 billion budget deficit in 2013 – will require an additional $2 billion just to provide basic services to its new residents and to “address the expected additional impoverishment of the Lebanese people generated from the Syrian crisis.”
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This month marks William Shakespeare's 450th birthday, and people around the world are celebrating – from Stratfordians to Syrians.
Yes, Syrians. One hundred Syrian children have just performed an adaptation of King Lear…in one of the world's largest refugee camps. Located in Jordan, the Zaatari camp is home to over 100,000 Syrian refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
Many of the children are not educated and have never read or seen any of Shakespeare's work. But they are no strangers, of course, to the tragedy of the human condition. And this particular play – a story of exile, a ruler losing grip with reality, a land divided by rival groups, a tale of human cruelty – seems especially relevant.
While a refugee camp may seem like the unlikeliest of places to discover Shakespeare, the playwright himself might not have thought so. After all, mentioning faraway places was common in his plays. In both Macbeth and Othello, in fact, Shakespeare mentions the Syrian city of Aleppo. Another reminder that Syria is one of the oldest centers of human civilization – which makes the current violence there seem even more tragic.
By Faysal Itani, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Faysal Itani is a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Three years into Syria’s civil war, the United States has demanded the regime shut down its U.S. embassy. But this month’s long overdue gesture is just the latest low-cost substitute for a meaningful U.S. policy in Syria, and is symptomatic of the U.S. approach to Syria’s tragedy, which prioritizes diplomatic posturing over engaging with realities on the ground. Indeed, as the United States focuses on international summits such as the recent Geneva II conference, it is ignoring the nature of the opposition in Syria itself.
It isn’t too late to change this approach, and to transform the U.S. goal of political transition in Syria from wishful fantasy to realistic goal. But to do this, American thinking needs to move from Geneva to the villages, towns, and cities of Syria
Early last year, Syrian rebels captured the northern city of Raqqa. After bickering with local councils over how to run the province, the U.S.-backed opposition coalition in exile (the Etilaf) named Abdullah Khalil, a human rights lawyer, to head an interim authority. On May 19, 2013, masked men reportedly kidnapped Khalil, and he has not been heard from since. His disappearance shows how the opposition, backed by the United States and its allies, has failed to build on its early successes in liberated territory, allowing the regime to survive.
By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya is a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. You can follow her @annaborsh. The views expressed are her own.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has captured the attention of the world, including the Middle East, where many see parallels between the struggle for democracy in Kiev and their own countries. But the unrest in Ukraine has a particularly special meaning for Syria, where peaceful protests against Bashar al-Assad eventually turned violent in the absence of Western support. Ukrainian protesters in Kiev last month, for their part, flew the Syrian revolutionary flag alongside the Ukrainian flag. The big question, though, is whether the West will see the connections that the protesters see – and draw some vital lessons.
From the U.S.-Russia reset, to Syria, to Iran, there has been ample opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to perceive weakness from the West. And in the absence of decisive Western leadership, the post-Soviet space and the Middle East have seen a resurgent Russia, under Putin’s leadership, work to create what amounts to a Soviet Union 2.0, propping up authoritarian regimes, creating areas of influence, and stifling freedom and democracy.
Such moves have prompted some analysts to note what they see as a revival of the Cold War struggle between Russia and the U.S., whether it be the ongoing crisis in Ukraine or the Middle East/North Africa region.
By Nader Hashemi, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Nader Hashemi is director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. His latest book is The Syria Dilemma. The views expressed are his own.
The moral case for why Syria matters is easy to make. The killing fields of Syria are now reminiscent of those in Bosnia. Over the past three years, we have witnessed state-sanctioned war crimes and crimes against humanity replete with chemical weapons, barrel bombs, the targeting of children, mass rape, a refugee crisis and according to a new report “industrial-scale” torture and killings. Indeed, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has described Syria as “a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.”
But a new dimension to this conflict has emerged: Syria is now a global security problem.
The Syrian conflict is destabilizing the Middle East. Lebanon has been convulsed, Iraq has been shaken and Jordan’s fourth largest city today is a Syrian refugee camp. To a lesser extent, Turkey has also been adversely affected – some 600,000 refugees are said to be currently living on the Turkish-Syrian border, and Turkey’s role in the conflict has become a major bone of contention in domestic Turkish politics.
By Tom Perriello, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Tom Perriello is Center for American Progress Action president. He recently returned from the Turkish side of the Syria boarder, where he conducted interviews with Syrian leaders and refugees. The views expressed are his own.
Expectations were low for the Syrian peace talks that started in Geneva late last month. Indeed, during dozens of interviews with Syrian leaders before talks began, the two words I heard most in reference to the conference were “trap” and “fake.” And I was among the skeptics, concerned that the Geneva process reflected more of a desire by the international community to look like it cared than an actual strategy.
Yet while the initial talks produced no major breakthroughs, they have faltered in surprisingly constructive ways that clarify and advance the difficult choices the international community must face to address the crisis in Syria. And, with the announcement today that Syria will join a second round of peace talks next week, consideration of a course correction on U.S.-Syria policy could prove to be one of the outcomes.
By Bessma Momani, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bessma Momani is a professor at the University of Waterloo and Balsillie School of International Affairs, and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Brookings Institution. The views expressed are the writers’ own.
Yes, Syria is a mess. When the uprisings started, things seemed clear – an authoritarian regime, run by the same cronies for some four decades, was suppressing the rights and freedoms of its citizens. The Syrian people, like their brethren in the Arab world, were longing for a more accountable government.
Simply put: Syrian government, bad. Syrian people, good.
For Westerners, moral clarity for a conflict zone is necessary. Like a Lonely Planet guide book to “the other,” we want mental shortcuts. “Just tell me who the good guys are in this fight,” is the perennial request that political analysts are asked.
It’s not that easy, and our Western palate may not like the dish being offered. Make no mistake, the Syrian regime has blood on its hands as it continues to ruthlessly suppress its people. Generations of Syrians will remember the Assad family for the years of death and destruction it has caused on its people.
By Barry M. Blechman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Barry M. Blechman is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan international security think tank. The views expressed are his own.
The world will be a safer place if the surprising agreement that led to the promised destruction of Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemical weapons can pave the way for the banning of such weapons from the entire Middle East and eventually the world.
The next move is up to Israel and Egypt.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surprised the world in September when he agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention barring the use of such weapons and to permit the supervised destruction of all his chemical weapon stocks. The move was designed to halt an expected U.S. bombing campaign against his country after al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in the Syrian civil war.
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
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Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
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