Militants Advance Toward Baghdad as Kurdish Forces Seize Kirkuk

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have overtaken a number of towns and major cities in Iraq and said they are moving toward the capital of Baghdad. On Wednesday, ISIL fighters over took Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit as well as small towns north of Baghdad. Government forces, however, slowed ...

MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images
MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images
MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have overtaken a number of towns and major cities in Iraq and said they are moving toward the capital of Baghdad. On Wednesday, ISIL fighters over took Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit as well as small towns north of Baghdad. Government forces, however, slowed the militants' advance outside Samarra and appear to be preparing for a counter-strike. ISIL forces reportedly now hold between 10 and 15 percent of Iraqi territory, excluding the autonomous Kurdistan region. On Thursday, Kurdish forces took control of Kirkuk after the Iraqi army abandoned its posts there. The Iraqi government has signaled it would allow U.S. airstrikes to stop the advance, and in May Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reportedly secretly requested the Obama administration consider carrying out airstrikes against militant staging areas. A National Security Council spokeswoman said the current U.S. focus is to bolster Iraqi capacity. However, an anonymous U.S. official said the administration is considering several options, including drone strikes.

Syria

According to aid organization CARE, at least 50,000 Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon and 60,000 in Jordan are working to pay for food and shelter for their families. Children are working in harsh conditions as street vendors or in cafes and markets, or on farms and construction sites. An estimated 50 percent of Syrian refugee children living in the region attend school. Meanwhile, Syrian state media and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a car bomb exploded in the central city of Homs killing at least seven people.

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have overtaken a number of towns and major cities in Iraq and said they are moving toward the capital of Baghdad. On Wednesday, ISIL fighters over took Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit as well as small towns north of Baghdad. Government forces, however, slowed the militants’ advance outside Samarra and appear to be preparing for a counter-strike. ISIL forces reportedly now hold between 10 and 15 percent of Iraqi territory, excluding the autonomous Kurdistan region. On Thursday, Kurdish forces took control of Kirkuk after the Iraqi army abandoned its posts there. The Iraqi government has signaled it would allow U.S. airstrikes to stop the advance, and in May Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reportedly secretly requested the Obama administration consider carrying out airstrikes against militant staging areas. A National Security Council spokeswoman said the current U.S. focus is to bolster Iraqi capacity. However, an anonymous U.S. official said the administration is considering several options, including drone strikes.

Syria

According to aid organization CARE, at least 50,000 Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon and 60,000 in Jordan are working to pay for food and shelter for their families. Children are working in harsh conditions as street vendors or in cafes and markets, or on farms and construction sites. An estimated 50 percent of Syrian refugee children living in the region attend school. Meanwhile, Syrian state media and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a car bomb exploded in the central city of Homs killing at least seven people.

Headlines

  • A suicide car bomber hit a checkpoint run by former General Heftar’s forces in the Libyan city of Benghazi injuring at least six people.
  • An estimated 6,000 Kuwaitis gathered Tuesday night to protest government corruption in the largest demonstrations in the kingdom since 2012.
  • An Israeli airstrike hit Gaza killing one person a day after militants in Gaza launched a rocket into southern Israel in the first violent exchange since the formation of a Palestinian unity government.
  • Iran said it is redesigning its Arak heavy-water reactor to scale down plutonium production in part of a nuclear deal Tehran is negotiating with world powers.

Arguments and Analysis

Political reform in Iraq will stem the rise of Islamists‘ (Hassan Hassan, The National)

"So the pressing question is: how can this numerically small group control large areas in two countries? Three main reasons can be identified for its resilience and expansion.

The first is the inconsistency of its opponents. In Iraq, the revival of the group since it was essentially wiped out in the wake of the country’s civil war in 2006 and 2007 was made possible in large part due the imprudent policies of prime minister Nouri Al Maliki. The biased anti-terror laws as well as the tendency to employ sectarian rhetoric in military campaigns against militancy in Sunni areas, as he did in his speech in December, have estranged the Sunni population, which has played into ISIL’s hands.

These policies lead Sunnis, even while they dislike ISIL, to feel they have no stake in fighting ISIL or resisting its presence because the government is just as bad. Additionally, there is a growing sense among Shiites that they have no stake in fighting in Sunni areas and leaving their areas exposed to danger. That leaves the Iraqi government forces with little appetite to face a brutal and resilient militia."

Renewed Conflict in Lebanon‘ (Mona Yacoubian, Council on Foreign Relations)

"The potential for renewed conflict in Lebanon hinges directly on the trajectory of the civil war in Syria. Over the next twelve to eighteen months, the security situation inside Lebanon could deteriorate due to three interrelated spillover effects stemming from Syria’s ongoing civil war: growing sectarian violence, a rising influx of refugees, and the increasing paralysis of state institutions. The Syrian conflict will likely remain a protracted stalemate over this timeframe because neither the regime nor the rebels have the capacity to prevail militarily. Though the Syrian regime is consolidating military gains on the ground, an outright regime victory remains unlikely. However, should the regime emerge victorious, the prospect of widespread renewed conflict in Lebanon could diminish, particularly if Hezbollah withdraws from Syria, removing a major impetus of sectarian violence in Lebanon. Meanwhile, in an even less probable scenario for Syria, if armed rebel groups either overthrow the Assad regime or force its retreat from Damascus, the contingency would not only be more likely, but possibly worse than depicted. Major refugee flows from Damascus would be expected. Rising Sunni power in Syria and, by extension, Lebanon, would check Hezbollah’s dominance and necessitate a reformulation of Lebanon’s power equation, typically achieved by force of arms."

— Mary Casey

<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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