Middle East

Viewpoints: Iraq Battles Multiple Crises

ISIS in Iraq.

ISIS continues to terrorize and control broad swaths of Iraq, deepening the security crisis. The country's Yazidis have been driven from their homes and face extremely perilous conditions, prompting Western humanitarian and military intervention. And now in the capital, Nouri al-Maliki is refusing to leave his post as prime minister, making many inside and outside Iraq nervous about the country's political state as well. Worldpress.org presents a sampling of recent coverage of these events from around the world.

Canada – National Post, Aug. 12: The lights of their towns, controlled by jihadists, twinkle beneath them in the moonlight. The people of the mountain can see their villages, and the headlights of the jihadi patrols snaking through the streets they have abandoned, and know they cannot return. Small campfires light up the side of the mountain, stretching towards the Syrian border just visible in the distance, where the Yazidis eke out their lives in a desperate search for sleep, food and water. Nights are spent trying to get some uncomfortable rest, as preparation for the next day's search for water. The heat and exposure means you cannot survive 24 hours if you cannot find any, and will fall sick after 12. … The Yazidis' ordeal began on Aug. 4, when Islamic State descended on the city of Sinjar and the surrounding towns and villages. … Tens of thousands are now streaming into Syria, then back into the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq, a journey of 95 kilometers. There are now said to be up to 100,000 Yazidi refugees in the border area.

China – Xinhua, Aug. 13: Iraq's embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has rejected his successor, appointed by newly elected President Fouad Massoum, in his last attempt to cling to power, a move that analysts say is plunging the war-torn country into political chaos. The rejection of Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi's appointment has come just as some elite Iraqi security forces were seen deployed in various Baghdad streets, blocking off main avenues, while hundreds of Maliki's supporters also held rally in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, raising fears that Maliki may resort to force by using loyalists within the security forces to stay in power. Given that Maliki is still commander-in-chief of Iraq's armed forces and holds many security posts, some worry that Maliki and his allies could lead a coup to stay in office. However, Sabah al-Sheikh, a professor of politics at Baghdad University, says that fears of a coup are overblown, pointing out that many of Maliki's officers are from the former security forces of Saddam Hussein, and these officers would most likely change their allegiances to new leaders.

France – Euronews, Aug. 12: The Iraqi capital Baghdad appeared calm on Tuesday despite the political upheaval, which saw President Fuad Masum call on Haider al-Abadi to form a new cabinet as prime minister. The incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki, called the move a "violation of the constitution." However, Maliki directed security services not to intervene and focus energy on defending the country against Islamic State militants. The U.S. is continuing to bombard IS positions from the air, and reports suggest Washington is now supplying arms to Kurdish forces, known as Peshmergas. Kurdish fighters assisted thousands of trapped Yazidis escape the clutches of IS rebels on Mount Sinjar. Aid drops from the U.K., France and the U.S. continued for a fifth night. U.K. and U.S. aircrews have dropped over 70,000 liters of water and 75,000 meals to Yazidis displaced by IS violence. An estimated 700,000 Yazidis have been displaced since Islamic State fighters took control of large parts of northern Iraq and Syria.

Germany – Deutsche Welle, Aug. 12: U.S. President Obama said he called to congratulate Shiite politician Haider al-Abadi after he was nominated prime minister-designate and urged him to name a new cabinet "that is inclusive of all Iraqis" as quickly as possible. Al-Abadi's appointment by President Fouad Massoum was also welcomed by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who called on al-Abadi to "form a broad-based government acceptable to all components of Iraqi society." Incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, the long-time Iraqi leader who had for years enjoyed support from Washington, has remained defiant and rejected the appointment of al-Abadi as unconstitutional. Al-Maliki vowed to take his case for a third prime ministerial term to Iraq's Supreme Court. Earlier on Monday, Iraqi special forces said to be loyal to al-Maliki had deployed at strategic locations in Baghdad. Iraqi media said more than half of al-Maliki's State of Law bloc had joined the rebellion against the two-time Shiite premier. Al-Maliki was widely blamed for long alienating Iraq's Sunni minority—a trend exploited during the advance of Islamic State extremists. Al-Abadi, described as a more conciliatory figure, has 30 days to form a new Iraqi government.

Iraq – Rudaw, Aug. 10: Peshmerga officials said this morning they have retaken the town of Gwer in an all-out assault, after two days of air strikes by U.S. jets on Islamic State (IS/ISIS) positions. Meanwhile, Kurdish military leaders said that on all fronts in Nineveh province the Islamists were in retreat, while in Kirkuk and northern Diyala their numbers and activities had dropped. A Rudaw reporter returning from the frontlines quoted Peshmerga officers as saying that the Islamist armies were suffering from serious fuel shortages, hampering operations that rely mainly on vehicles and mobile units. But on the Jalawla frontline in northern Diyala, Peshmerga commanders said their forces were locked in some of the fiercest fighting of the day since dawn, killing some 25 militants. Deputy Peshmerga Minister Anwar Haji Osman confirmed the retaking of Gwer, saying earlier in the day that a massive offensive was building against the IS militants.

Lebanon – The Daily Star, Aug. 13: Little of the impassioned debate that fractured U.S. lawmakers last year over possible military intervention in Syria is happening now as American warplanes strike extremist targets in Iraq. Almost a week into the Obama administration's emergency action in northern Iraq, the campaign is attracting surprisingly broad bipartisan support. Republicans have issued several I-told-you-so statements and called for stronger action, and dovish Democrats say they're concerned about slipping into a new war. But outright opposition has been muted.

Turkey – World Bulletin, Aug. 12: Germany's foreign minister has raised the possibility of sending military assistance to the Iraqi government, saying he would discuss further steps with European partners following a dramatic push by militants through northern Iraq. His comments, combined with similar statements from two other ministers, mark a shift in tone from the German government, which on Monday said it did not send arms to conflict zones. In the last few months Berlin has announced a more restrictive policy on arms exports and a more muscular foreign policy. "Humanitarian aid for everyone that needs protection is a matter of course ... but we must look whether we can and must do more," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. ISIL militants have swept across northern Iraq in recent weeks, pushing back Kurdish regional forces and driving tens of thousands of minority Yazidis and Christians from their homes.

United Kingdom – Reuters, Aug. 12: Iraq's new prime minister-designate won swift endorsements from uneasy mutual allies the United States and Iran on Tuesday as he called on political leaders to end crippling feuds that have let jihadists seize a third of the country. Haider al-Abadi still faces opposition closer to home, where his Shi'ite party colleague Nuri al-Maliki has refused to step aside after eight years as premier that have alienated Iraq's once dominant Sunni minority and irked Washington and Tehran. However, Shi'ite militia and army commanders long loyal to Maliki signaled their backing for the change, as did many people on the streets of Baghdad, eager for an end to fears of a further descent into sectarian and ethnic bloodletting. Sunni neighbors Turkey and Saudi Arabia also welcomed Abadi's appointment.

United States – The New York Times, Aug. 12: Iraq is in mortal danger from a band of Islamist fanatics rapidly overrunning the country, and it desperately and urgently needs a unifying hand at the helm. Maliki is emphatically not that leader. On the contrary, he bears heavy responsibility for the current crisis by alienating Sunni, Kurdish and other minority groups and undermining the Army and other national institutions through cronyism and corruption. One result was that the demoralized Iraqi Army fled in disarray in January when challenged by the radical jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, leaving behind vast arsenals of American-supplied heavy armaments that the Islamists are now using in their relentless advance. Yet, now, when the Iraqi president has finally named a candidate from Maliki's own party who is more acceptable to other factions, Maliki has angrily refused to step aside and has ordered Army and police units still loyal to him—many trained by the United States—into the streets of Baghdad. … The Obama administration began limited airstrikes against ISIS last week when the jihadists threatened the semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish region. But it has made clear that the United States would be reluctant to provide further aid—including, presumably, military assistance—if Maliki used his powers as commander in chief to thwart the political process. Secretary of State John Kerry said so Monday, declaring, "There will be little international support of any kind whatsoever for anything that deviates from the legitimate constitutional process that is in place and being worked on now."