The Middle East Channel

U.S. House Approves Plan to Train and Arm Syrian Rebels

The U.S. House of Representatives approved President Barack Obama’s plan to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against Islamic State militants. The amendment, which does not include funding, is part of a stopgap spending bill that is expected to be passed by the Senate as early as Thursday. Some lawmakers have criticized ...

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. House of Representatives approved President Barack Obama’s plan to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against Islamic State militants. The amendment, which does not include funding, is part of a stopgap spending bill that is expected to be passed by the Senate as early as Thursday. Some lawmakers have criticized the measure over concerns that weapons will get into "the wrong hands" while others claim it doesn’t go far enough, saying the president should consider sending U.S. ground forces into Syria and Iraq. In a speech at the United States Central Command Wednesday, Obama insisted he would not send U.S. troops into direct combat in Iraq. Meanwhile, over a hundred Muslim groups and leaders across Britain signed a letter condemning the killing of British aid worker David Haines by Islamic State militants and calling for the release of another British aid worker, Alan Henning. 

Syria

As President Obama ramps up efforts in the fight against Islamic State militants, the Syrian army appears to be increasing attacks and assassination attempts against opposition forces and the Islamic State group. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a surveillance drone was seen for the first time over Islamic State-held territory in Aleppo province, though it is unclear who was operating the drone. Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Coalition began an investigation into the deaths of at least 15 children finding a muscle relaxant was administered to them rather than measles vaccines.

Headlines

  • Negotiations are set to resume Friday between Iran and six world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, though officials say a breakthrough is unlikely.
  • Authorities have conducted Australia’s largest anti-terror raids after intelligence suggested Australian Islamic State militants, led by Omarjan Azari, were plotting to carry out "demonstration killings."
  • Yemeni officials reported Houthi rebels are fighting Sunni militias in the Sanaa suburb of Shamlan and have surrounded the Sunni-run Iman University.
  • Libya’s parliament based in Tobruk has rejected the new cabinet proposed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni.

Arguments and Analysis 

Turks and Arabs‘ (Tarek Osman, Cairo Review)

"The United States, supported by several European countries, is trying to build an alliance to confront the jihadist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The success of that alliance, and of any chance to address the chaos unfolding in the eastern Mediterranean, rests on the cooperation of the two powers with direct stakes in the region and the ability to influence events on the ground: on one side, Turkey; on the other, the alliance emerging between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt.

The Arab-Turkish relationship has been fraught for centuries, and often the personal has blurred with the public. Now, Turkish positioning in the region seems opposed to the alliance between these three countries. This informal coalition is trying to preserve the regional order of the last four decades, which they see as under attack from various forces including political Islam. Turkey’s ruling party, the Islamist AKP, is sympathetic to the leading forces of that trend."

The Egyptian State and the Religious Sphere‘ (Georges Fahmi, Carnegie Middle East Center)

"Over the past few months, the Egyptian government has tightened its grip on mosques and unlicensed imams as part of a general crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which took power in June 2014, has stressed the need to protect state institutions and has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of seeking to destabilize it to create chaos, as happened in neighboring countries. Public religious activities in particular are seen as a key method of outreach for the Muslim Brotherhood. Under the leadership of Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, head of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the body tasked with overseeing religious affairs, a number of measures have been enacted to end the religious sphere’s political activities and its autonomy from the state.

The aim of these policies is to strengthen state control over the public sphere and religious activities in particular. Yet they could make things more difficult for the regime by leading to the emergence of a parallel religious sphere that escapes the control of state institutions and offers an environment for radical Islamist groups to disseminate their ideas and recruit new members."

— Mary Casey

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