Report

Kurdish Forces Advance Against Islamic State Militants in Northeastern Syria

Kurdish forces cut off a supply route from Iraq on Wednesday as part of an offensive against Islamic State militants in northeastern Syria.

SYRIA-CONFLICT-KURDS
A fighter of the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) looks through his binoculars behind sand bags on August 28, 2013 about 30 kms south of the Kurdish town of Derik (aka al-Malikiyah in Arabic), in northeastern Hasakeh governorate, on the border with Turkey and Iraq. In recent weeks dozens of militants were killed as Kurdish and Arab rebels clashed in Syria's northeastern Hasaka province. AFP PHOTO ALICE MARTINS (Photo credit should read ALICE Martins/AFP/Getty Images)

Kurdish forces cut off a supply route from Iraq on Wednesday as part of an offensive against Islamic State militants in northeastern Syria. The Kurdish forces, supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, are challenging Islamic State militants in Syria’s Hassakeh province, seizing more than 100 villages from the fighters and threatening to divide territory they control in Iraq and Syria. Amidst the Kurdish advances, Islamic State militants abducted dozens of Assyrian Christians from villages in the province. The Syriac National Council of Syria said 150 people were kidnapped, though estimates range, and some sources reported both civilians and fighters were seized. The violence forced hundreds of residents to flee to Hassakeh province’s two main cities. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released a report Tuesday saying Syrian government forces had dropped barrel bombs on at least 1,000 sites in Aleppo and 450 sites in and around Daraa in the past year, despite a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning their use.

Iraq

The Pentagon reported about $17.9 million worth of weapons, ammunition, and military supplies arrived in Iraq this week. The shipment came after the U.S. Central Command announced last week details of an operation to retake Mosul to be launched with U.S.-trained Iraqi and Kurdish forces, which could begin in April or May. Meanwhile, a series of explosions in and around the Iraqi capital Baghdad Tuesday killed 37 people, with the worst attack twin bombings in the southeastern Jisr Diyala district.

Headlines

  • Houthi fighters seized a special forces army base in the Yemeni capital Sanaa Wednesday after several hours of clashes with the troops, who had been trained and armed by the United States.
  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guards conducted drills Wednesday near the strategic Strait of Hormuz targeting a mock U.S. aircraft carrier.
  • FIFA has recommended moving the 2022 World Cup, to be held in Qatar, from the summer to November and December.
  • Turkey has launched new raids against suspects accused of wiretapping officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, issuing arrest warrants for 54 people.

Arguments and Analysis

Undivided Tehran’ (Reza Marashi, Foreign Affairs)

“Although many observers have pointed to rifts between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian leaders have made a concerted effort to appear united on policy issues—whether there is a nuclear deal or not. Neither Khamenei nor Rouhani wants disputes between them to go public because it would almost certainly encourage hard-line pressure groups, which have used violence and intimidation to fight the talks. These same groups were instrumental in digging the ditch that the Islamic Republic currently finds itself in. Between 2005 and 2013, they were responsible for propagating offensive rhetoric about the United States and Israel; launching cyberattacks against the West and Israel; supporting terrorist groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah; and advancing the technical aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. The fruits of their labor are clear: an Islamic Republic that was isolated diplomatically, severed from global financial institutions, and whose legitimacy was further eroded in the eyes of its own people.

There are more practical reasons for the two men to cooperate as well. It is well understood that Rouhani needs Khamenei’s support to govern effectively, but Westerners drastically underestimate the degree to which Khamenei also needs Rouhani.”

Social Medial in the Era of ISIS’ (Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, PS21)

“The once liberal and secular activist-dominated social media landscape has made way for conservative clerics or extremist groups. The once popular Twitter account of Egyptian pro-democracy activist Wael Ghonim (1.4 million followers) has fallen silent and has chosen to stay away “as Egypt no longer welcomes those who are me” while the account of conservative Saudi Arabian cleric Mohamed Al Arefe flourishes with over 10 million followers. Popular Saudi clerics such as Salman Al Odah and Ayedh Al Qarnee have reached astronomical figures and outreach that liberal activists and even governments can only dream of. On the other hand, secular activists with a strong social media presence such as Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Maher and Ahmed Douma who have chosen to stay in Egypt have been locked up in jail.”

In Libya, will Misrata be the kingmaker?’ (Brian McQuinn, The Washington Post)

“In my discussions with Misratan commanders, many felt they had been drawn into the conflict against their will. The commanders explained, however, that once Misratan groups started taking heavy casualties from airstrikes, the bond between revolutionaries trumped these concerns. Some even went so far as to suggest that the leaders of the initial attack had hoped for such a response when so many of the commanders did not agree to join the initial operation. Emulating the example above, even when commanders are not involved in decision-making, they will still join an operation when it is seen as a common threat or they would lose face by sitting on the sidelines. The commanders also explained that while they had misgivings about the operation, this paled in comparison to their extreme mistrust of the growing influence of Khalifa Haftar – with whom the Zintani groups holding the airport were aligned.”

Mary Casey-Baker

ALICE Martins/AFP/Getty Images

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