Iraqi Forces Free Hostages After Firefight at Ministry Building

Iraqi security forces have freed all hostages taken after gunmen attacked a transportation ministry building in the capital of Baghdad Thursday. Up to eight militants were involved in the assault, all of whom were killed according to the Interior Ministry. A senior security source said the militants had taken a number of hostages, killing four ...

AZHAR SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images
AZHAR SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images
AZHAR SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi security forces have freed all hostages taken after gunmen attacked a transportation ministry building in the capital of Baghdad Thursday. Up to eight militants were involved in the assault, all of whom were killed according to the Interior Ministry. A senior security source said the militants had taken a number of hostages, killing four of them inside the building. There were an estimated eight additional victims, though it is unclear how they died. No group has claimed responsibility for the assault, however Sunni militants in the past have targeted government facilities. The attack has come as January's death toll in Iraq exceeded 900.

Syria

Human Rights Watch has released a report accusing the Syrian regime of "deliberately and unlawfully" razing thousands of homes in Damascus and Hama between July 2012 and July 2013. According to the report, the Syrian government used bulldozers and explosives "wiping entire neighborhoods off the map" as a means of "collective punishment" of communities supporting the opposition. The report has come as negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition delegations appear to have hit an impasse ahead of the end of the first round of talks set for Friday. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said he didn't expect to achieve "anything substantive" with the initial round, and that he was "not disappointed." Brahimi expressed satisfaction with the opposing parties' willingness to talk to each other. Opposition spokesman Louay Safi said it was a "positive step forward" because the government for the first time agreed to a framework for the Geneva I communiqué. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is holding a meeting of its executive council Thursday to discuss the slow pace of the process of removing Syria's most toxic chemical weapons. Only 4.1 percent of the estimated 1,300 tons of chemical agents reported by the Syrian government were transferred from the port of Latakia in two shipments in January. All of the most dangerous materials were slated to be removed by February 5 for destruction and with the mission six to eight weeks behind schedule, the deadline will be missed. According to a senior Western diplomat there are indications that the Syrian government has been stalling the implementation of an agreement for the elimination of its chemical weapons arsenal.

Iraqi security forces have freed all hostages taken after gunmen attacked a transportation ministry building in the capital of Baghdad Thursday. Up to eight militants were involved in the assault, all of whom were killed according to the Interior Ministry. A senior security source said the militants had taken a number of hostages, killing four of them inside the building. There were an estimated eight additional victims, though it is unclear how they died. No group has claimed responsibility for the assault, however Sunni militants in the past have targeted government facilities. The attack has come as January’s death toll in Iraq exceeded 900.

Syria

Human Rights Watch has released a report accusing the Syrian regime of "deliberately and unlawfully" razing thousands of homes in Damascus and Hama between July 2012 and July 2013. According to the report, the Syrian government used bulldozers and explosives "wiping entire neighborhoods off the map" as a means of "collective punishment" of communities supporting the opposition. The report has come as negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition delegations appear to have hit an impasse ahead of the end of the first round of talks set for Friday. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said he didn’t expect to achieve "anything substantive" with the initial round, and that he was "not disappointed." Brahimi expressed satisfaction with the opposing parties’ willingness to talk to each other. Opposition spokesman Louay Safi said it was a "positive step forward" because the government for the first time agreed to a framework for the Geneva I communiqué. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is holding a meeting of its executive council Thursday to discuss the slow pace of the process of removing Syria’s most toxic chemical weapons. Only 4.1 percent of the estimated 1,300 tons of chemical agents reported by the Syrian government were transferred from the port of Latakia in two shipments in January. All of the most dangerous materials were slated to be removed by February 5 for destruction and with the mission six to eight weeks behind schedule, the deadline will be missed. According to a senior Western diplomat there are indications that the Syrian government has been stalling the implementation of an agreement for the elimination of its chemical weapons arsenal.

Headlines

  • Egypt has rejected U.S. criticism over prosecutors charging 20 Al Jazeera journalists with conspiring with a terrorist group, broadcasting false news, and endangering national security.
  • Turkish troops opened fire into northern Syria on an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) convoy Tuesday apparently in retaliation for cross border fire.
  • Several U.S. Senators pushing for new sanctions on Iran appear to have pulled back saying now is not the time as "long as there’s visible and meaningful progress" in negotiations.
  • Actress Scarlett Johansson has ended her relationship with Oxfam after coming under criticism by pro-Palestinian activists for her sponsorship of the Israeli company SodaStream, which operates in a West Bank settlement.

Arguments and Analysis

Egypt’s Missing Political Middle‘ (Alfred Raouf, Al-Monitor)

"Even today, after the revolution against the regime and the emergence of the role of the middle class in the popular movement, many believe that the middle class had performed its role by taking to the streets for a few days to protest once against the Mubarak regime, and another time against the Muslim Brotherhood regime. However, this is absolutely not true and not sufficient. And even those from the upper and middle classes who were doing their societal duty have shied away from these efforts in a political framework or through a political party, using as a pretext the corruption of the political elite and the stances of political parties. The majority of the middle and upper classes persist in criticizing political parties and all that they do merely from behind their iPads and on their mobile phones. Everyone is waiting for the other to do something, and everyone is ready to criticize any act, but who wants to actually do anything?

Those who have busied themselves with public work since the January 25 Revolution as well as those affiliated with the revolution have entered into many battles with opponents and enemies of the revolution. And the revolution did in fact succeed in toppling Mubarak and his National Democratic Party, and then the Military Council, and then the Brotherhood regime. However, every time the revolution did not reach the seat of power, the latter was always usurped by a third party. The worst thing about all of this — until now — is that a lot of the ‘revolutionaries’ did not learn the most important lesson on these three occasions — that is, what is more important than toppling the regime is what kind of regime comes after it. I argue that the primary battle facing the revolution, and which the revolutionary forces did not focus on sufficiently, is how to establish a political alternative that is outside the control of the state and the regime. All battles — without building an alternative — against one party to topple it, will lead to the same result: Power will fall in the hands of a third party that is more radical and violent. This is a vicious and terrifying circle."

Egypt’s Post-Mubarak Predicament‘ (Ashraf El-Sherif, Carnegie Endowment)

"In many ways, Egypt is now back where it was nearly three years ago. The popular mobilization against Morsi, which reached its crescendo in the mass demonstrations of June 2013, signaled a reorientation. Following the long parentheses of Muslim Brotherhood rule, society is returning to the revolutionary battle lines against the old state’s authoritarianism. Some optimists believe that after the old state finishes off the Brothers, it will establish a democracy. At the root of this hope, however, lies either naïveté or dishonesty.

The current political process, framed by the military’s announcement of a political road map after Morsi’s overthrow, is no less authoritarian than that led by the military and the Muslim Brotherhood together after Mubarak’s ouster. Furthermore, the new political process does not position the interim government to better handle Egypt’s current crisis of democratic legitimacy, much less create a better political future for Egyptians. A political battle rages on between the old state and the Islamists, immobilizing all political actors in the country." 

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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