Kerry Arrives in Iraq to Build Support Against the Islamic State

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in part of a Middle East tour to garner support for a coalition to confront Islamic State militants. Kerry met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said the threat from Islamic State fighters is increasing and appealed for more international ...

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in part of a Middle East tour to garner support for a coalition to confront Islamic State militants. Kerry met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said the threat from Islamic State fighters is increasing and appealed for more international help. The trip comes ahead of an address to be delivered by U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday evening outlining his strategy to combat the militant group. On Tuesday, Obama said he had the authority to expand military action against the Islamic State, though he would ask Congress to endorse the arming and training of Syrian opposition fighters. A senior administration official additionally said that the president is prepared to authorize airstrikes in Syria.

Syria

An explosion killed a number of senior figures of one of the largest and most powerful Islamist rebel groups in Syria late Tuesday. The blast hit a basement headquarters where an estimated 50 Ahrar al-Sham leaders were meeting in the town of Ram Hamdan in the northwestern Idlib province. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 28 of the group's commanders were killed in the attack, including Hassan Abboud, Ahrar al-Sham leader and political chief of the coalition group, the Islamic Front. It is unclear what caused the blast and who carried out the attack. On Wednesday, an Ahrar al-Sham spokesman announced that Hashem al-Sheikh, known as Abu Jaber, would fill the leadership post, while Abu Saleh Tahan would become the group's new military chief.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in part of a Middle East tour to garner support for a coalition to confront Islamic State militants. Kerry met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said the threat from Islamic State fighters is increasing and appealed for more international help. The trip comes ahead of an address to be delivered by U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday evening outlining his strategy to combat the militant group. On Tuesday, Obama said he had the authority to expand military action against the Islamic State, though he would ask Congress to endorse the arming and training of Syrian opposition fighters. A senior administration official additionally said that the president is prepared to authorize airstrikes in Syria.

Syria

An explosion killed a number of senior figures of one of the largest and most powerful Islamist rebel groups in Syria late Tuesday. The blast hit a basement headquarters where an estimated 50 Ahrar al-Sham leaders were meeting in the town of Ram Hamdan in the northwestern Idlib province. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 28 of the group’s commanders were killed in the attack, including Hassan Abboud, Ahrar al-Sham leader and political chief of the coalition group, the Islamic Front. It is unclear what caused the blast and who carried out the attack. On Wednesday, an Ahrar al-Sham spokesman announced that Hashem al-Sheikh, known as Abu Jaber, would fill the leadership post, while Abu Saleh Tahan would become the group’s new military chief.

Headlines

  • Fiji’s military on Wednesday said 45 U.N. peacekeepers held hostage by al-Nusra Front fighters in Syria would be released this week, however Fiji’s government quickly retracted the claim.
  • In the first legislative package since Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the presidential office, Turkey’s parliament passed a new law tightening control of the Internet, reversing a compromise made by the former president, Abdullah Gul.
  • Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian man during a West Bank raid Wednesday that was met with protests.

Arguments and Analysis

How the US should tackle ISIS‘ (Marc Lynch, Center for a New American Security)

"Obama did very well by acting to prevent the fall of Erbil or Baghdad, while conditioning additional U.S. military support on political change. He correctly understood that military aid prior to Maliki’s departure would simply enable his destructive, sectarian style of rule which played a key role in both the revival of the Iraqi Sunni insurgency, with ISIS as its vanguard, and the stunning collapse of the Iraqi army. His replacement by Haider al-Abadi, a similar Shia Islamist that has nevertheless committed to forming a more representative polity in Baghdad, was a necessary, but not sufficient, step to begin the engagement of deeply alienated Sunnis. U.S. diplomats must be prepared for the real risk that Iraqi politicians will revert to their destructive, self-interested and sectarian ways once the existential threat recedes.

In Syria, by contrast, U.S. airstrikes offer no plausible path to political or strategic success. A strategy predicated on the existence of an effective moderate Syrian rebel force is doomed to fail. Instead, the focus should be on shaping the environment in ways which will encourage the emergence of a politically legitimate and more effectively unified opposition. The destructive and radicalizing effects of uncoordinated flows of aid to competing rebel groups from outside states and private actors have long been obvious. The emerging regional strategy offers perhaps the first opportunity to unify these efforts to build rather than divide the Syrian opposition. The new coalition should expand on efforts to shut off funding and support not only for ISIS but also for the other powerful Islamist trends within the Syrian rebellion.

Syria’s evolving Salafists suffer a crippling blow‘ (Charles Lister, The Huffington Post)

"While actual conflict dynamics against the government and ISIS are unlikely to be negatively affected (except perhaps for operations in Aleppo), the most significant consequence is that the fate of the Islamic Front now looks desperate. Other than Ahrar al-Sham, the Islamic Front’s three largest member factions, Jaish al-Islam, Suqor al-Sham, and Liwa al-Tawhid, have all begun swaying closer towards the moderate semi-establishment camp in recent weeks, thereby putting pressure on the durability of an Islamist alliance that was founded in November 2013 as an explicit expression of opposition to moderate opposition bodies linked to Syria’s exiled opposition leadership. Should it occur, the dissolution of the Islamic Front will likely be a long and drawn-out process, but it would offer an invaluable opportunity for moderate opposition structures to co-opt what have long been Syria’s most powerful rebel factions."

— 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

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.