Middle East


Viewpoints: Iraq and Syria's Ongoing Conflagration

Iraqi soldiers engage in U.S. training exercises. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

ISIS has terrorized and taken over a large swath of Iraq and Syria. The border between the two countries is effectively non-existent, a line in the sand now scratched out by combat boots. A medley of jihadists, rebel groups and militias has sprung up, each battling for a piece of turf. In Syria, those groups include ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian Islamic Front and the Free Syrian Army as well as other splinter groups and rebel forces. In Iraq, the United States is now sending an additional 450 military advisers to fortify an Iraqi army that has fled from battles and abandoned U.S. tanks and artillery. The United States has formed an unlikely alliance with Iran in battling ISIS, thus infuriating Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Iran has been supporting the Assad regime in Syria, where the United States has avoided involvement, due mainly to Russia backing Assad and blocking U.N. Security Council resolutions. Kurdish forces are fighting against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. Hezbollah is fighting ISIS on the Lebanon-Syria border. And if we zoom out, battles between Sunnis and Shi'ites rage in other pockets of the Middle East and North Africa, such as in Yemen, and terrorist cells are pledging allegiance to ISIS in places like Libya, Egypt and Nigeria. The situation is so complicated, it's difficult to discuss one piece of the conflict without looking at the greater mess.

Worldpress.org has gathered a sampling of recent news coverage from around the globe in an effort to paint a full picture of what's happening in the region, focusing mainly on Iraq and Syria.

France – Euronews, June 8: G7 leaders believe a window of opportunity for a political deal in Syria may be opening up that would eventually see President Bashar al-Assad step down, giving way to a new coalition government, officials familiar with the discussions at a G7 summit in the Bavarian Alps said. The officials cautioned that no breakthrough was imminent and that Russia would need to be on board, but noted that Assad appeared to be increasingly on the defensive after setbacks for his army. "This could be the opportunity to get a political deal. We need Russia for this," one of the sources said, adding that the only way for a transition would be for Assad to leave Syria. … The sources did not say when or how they would advance such a transition, with no obvious alternative to Assad on the government side. The view also conflicts with assessments from sources close to Damascus who see a protracted battle ahead and the crisis linked to broader issues including developments in Iraq and the outcome of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Iran is seen as essential to advancing any settlement to the four-year-old Syrian conflict.

Germany – Deutsche Welle, June 12: The Pentagon is mulling the possibility of new U.S. bases in Iraq similar to a hub planned in Anbar province … to help Iraqi forces to fight against Islamic State (IS). The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, raised the possibility of more bases in Iraq to help Iraqi forces recapture Ramadi and push back advancing IS militants. Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, fell to IS last month. Dempsey's comment came a day after President Barack Obama's administration unveiled plans to send 450 advisers to Iraq. The Pentagon said on Thursday that the United States has spent more than $2.7 billion on the war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria since bombings began last August. The average daily cost of fighting IS is now more than $9 million.

Iraq – Rudaw, June 11: Peshmerga forces launched a pre-dawn assault on Thursday on ISIS elements in the Saddam and Wastana village complex in southern Kirkuk province, a counterterrorism source told Rudaw. "The Peshmerga realized ISIS was gearing up to attack, but we took the initiative and defeated their plans, killing 15 ISIS militants," said the source. He said the Peshmerga and ISIS were locked in an intense hour-long battle that was aided by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition. The source said three Peshmerga were killed in the clash. The Peshmerga have regularly defeated ISIS militants in an ongoing campaign that began in March to push the group out of southern Kirkuk province. The Islamic State, or ISIS, still controls the large mostly Sunni Arab city of Hawija farther to the south in Kirkuk province. 

Israel – Haaretz, June 12: A Saudi-led airstrike this week hit a public bus on a highway in southern Yemen linking the city of Aden with the north, killing at least 20 passengers, witnesses and officials said Thursday. Another set of airstrikes hit a family traveling in a private car, a farmer driving a pick-up truck loaded with potatoes, also near Aden this week, as well as a group of anti-rebel fighters in a southwestern city. The casualties underscore the losses and dangers faced by Yemeni civilians increasingly caught in the crossfire as the Saudi-led coalition targets the country's Shi'ite rebels, known as Houthis, in a bid to stop their advances. The Saudi-led campaign and ground fighting in Yemen have killed 1,037 civilians, including 234 children, between mid-March and May and displaced more than a million people, according to U.N. estimates. In a joint statement Thursday, 13 international aid groups appealed for a permanent ceasefire, saying 80 percent of Yemen's population has been affected by violence and is in need of assistance.

Jordan – Al Bawaba, June 12: The Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, which has played a key role in recent rebel victories, has killed 20 villagers from the Druze religious minority in a northwestern Syrian village, local residents and activists said Thursday. … The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Director Rami Abdel-Rahman said the clash took place after the Tunisian commander ordered the confiscation of houses belonging to residents who supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Al-Nusra controls a string of Druze villages in the Jabal al-Sumaq area. It is reported to have required the minority, an Islamic sect whose full teachings are a secret among initiates, to conform to Sunni Islam and abandon their traditional shrines. … Despite its affiliation with al-Qaeda, al-Nusra has generally collaborated with other Syrian rebel groups and played a key role in the recent rebel capture of the main cities in Idlib province, the biggest military setback for the government in months. Al-Nusra has joined rebel forces battling the expansion of the Islamic State extremist group, which split in 2013 from al-Qaeda and has monopolized control of areas captured from the regime in eastern and northeastern Syria.

Qatar – Al Jazeera, June 11: Hundreds of people have fled from Syria into Turkey as moderate fighters and Kurdish forces battle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group holding the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad. Activists on the Turkish border said that Turkish authorities allowed Syrian refugees in Raqqa province to cross into Turkey on Wednesday after another group of hundreds crossed over to Turkey on June 4. Since last week, thousands of civilians from northern Raqqa countryside have fled their homes and gathered on the Turkish border because of the ongoing clashes in the area. Most of refugees sleep in deserted houses or public utilities in the Turkish border town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province because Syrian refugees camps in Turkey cannot accommodate more refugees, according to activists.

Turkey – Daily Sabah, June 12: Thousands of people fled from Syria to Turkey on Wednesday as moderate rebels and Kurdish forces fought Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) insurgents holding the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad. … ISIS last week launched an offensive on the provincial capital, the city of Hasaka, which is divided into zones run separately by the government of President Bashar al-Assad and a Kurdish administration. But Syria's Kurds have also sought to take advantage of Syria's complex war to expand their control over a region, stretching from Kobani to Qamishli, that they see as part of a future Kurdish state. Backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria have successfully pushed back ISIS militants from Kobani and scores of nearby villages. More recently, they have closed in on the ISIS-held town of Tal Abyad near the Turkish border. The town is ISIS's main access point to Turkey from Raqqa, the group's de facto capital in Syria.

United Kingdom – Reuters, June 12: Seven people were shot dead on Friday at a protest against Islamic State in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, residents said. Demonstrators, angered at the amount of foreign fighters coming in to join the militant group, started marching toward its main base in the coastal settlement when gunmen opened fire into the crowd, several residents told Reuters. … Islamic State has thrived in Libya since two rival governments began fighting for control, leaving a security vacuum four years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. Western nations have grown particularly alarmed at Islamic State's expansion beyond its strongholds in Iraq and Syria to the increasingly chaotic country just over the Mediterranean. But the hardline Sunni Muslim movement has also faced substantial local opposition and competition from other militants and Islamist groups vying for power, territory and resources in Libya. … Islamic State has attacked oilfields and embassies and also claimed the killing of dozens of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians. It has also attacked both governments, neither of which controls Derna.

United States – International Business Times, May 31: Members of the Syrian opposition said Sunday as many as 100 Russian advisers have left the country, sending a worrying signal to President Bashar Assad: One of his top financial and military backers in the four-year-old civil war may be backing out, leaving the teetering Syrian Army to fight almost entirely on its own. Regime forces are facing the Islamic State group and the increasingly powerful umbrella group known as Jaysh al-Fatah, which scored a major victory last week when it took over the northern province of Idlib, routing Assad's soldiers. The Russians left Syria … on orders from their government, Saudi-backed newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Sunday, citing sources with the Syrian opposition. That happened, the sources said, as Russia started meetings with Gulf countries, seeking to boost economic ties to offset the impact of the sanctions the U.S. and European Union imposed on Russia for its intervention in the war in Ukraine.