Islamic State Attack Displaces New Wave of Refugees
An Islamic State counteroffensive in northern Syria overran 10 camps for internally-displaced people on Thursday. Rebels have reportedly recaptured the camps, but the attacks sent a new wave of thousands of refugees north toward the Turkish border. Large stretches of the Syria-Turkey border remain closed despite Turkey’s nominal open-border policy for refugees, and some Turkish ...
An Islamic State counteroffensive in northern Syria overran 10 camps for internally-displaced people on Thursday. Rebels have reportedly recaptured the camps, but the attacks sent a new wave of thousands of refugees north toward the Turkish border. Large stretches of the Syria-Turkey border remain closed despite Turkey’s nominal open-border policy for refugees, and some Turkish troops reportedly shot at oncoming refugees. The Islamic State’s advances come amid a push by U.S.- and Turkish-backed rebels to retake a key Islamic State-held corridor along the border between Kurdish-controlled regions to the west and east. That offensive saw some initial gains, retaking the city of Al-Rai, but has been pushed back in the past few days.
Elsewhere in Syria, the partial ceasefire between regime forces and some rebel groups appears to be in collapse. Regime forces are continuing their efforts to take control of a main corridor for rebel access to Aleppo, and rebels have reported new airstrikes in Latakia and Homs. U.S. officials say they have proposed measures to de-escalate the situation to their Russian counterparts. Assad regime delegates arrived in Geneva today to participate in peace talks despite the escalating violence.
Middle East Nations Figure Prominently in U.S. Human Rights Report
The U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report on Wednesday, singling out several Middle Eastern nations for criticism and noting instances of state-sponsored violence and the repression of civil society groups. “The most widespread and dramatic violations in 2015 were those in the Middle East, where the confluence of terrorism and the Syrian conflict caused enormous suffering,” Secretary of State John Kerry said. Egypt is also sharply criticized in the new report for its recent crackdowns on political dissent, as are Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The report also noted progress on human rights, singling out Tunisia for its advances.
- The Iraqi parliament voted to remove its speaker, Salim al-Juburi, who had threatened to dissolve the parliament if it remained intransigent on the issue of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s proposed cabinet reform; it is unclear whether the parliament had a quorum to vote on Juburi’s removal and the act may be invalidated.
- Saudi-backed Yemeni forces have shifted gears and began an offensive against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula forces occupying large swaths of the country; this morning, Yemeni troops with close air support seized the AQAP-occupied city of Houta, the capital of Lahj province.
- Scattered protests are being reported on social media in Egypt today despite warnings from the Egyptian Interior Ministry yesterday that there would be consequences for people participating in demonstrations against the government’s cession of two islands to Saudi Arabia.
- Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force who is subject to a U.N. international travel ban, is reportedly in Moscow to meet with Russian officials about the delivery of S-300 air-defense systems to Iran and other matters.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her government would allow the prosecution of a late-night comedian who read a crude poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; under German law, now that the government has determined it would allow a case, the decision proceeds to prosecutors to determine whether or not they will file charges.
Arguments and Analysis
“The Hell After ISIS” (Anand Gopal, The Atlantic)
“Six months earlier, isis had seized their village, in Anbar province, the Sunni heartland of Iraq, blowing up houses and executing civilians as they fled. A few hundred families had managed to escape and were now scattered across Iraq. Many had wound up in squalid refugee camps near the front lines. The Sabars considered themselves lucky to have landed in Baghdad, a city solidly under the control of anti-isis forces. But they soon realized that their new home offered little shelter from the conflicts erupting on distant battlefields. As the Islamic State spread its brand of Sunni extremism, their new Shiite neighbors seemed to cast blame on all Sunnis, even those who had lost homes or loved ones to isis. By March, when isis was battling Iraqi forces in Tikrit, 120 miles north, Falah could feel the city changing. In the market, neighbors began to look away from him. At police checkpoints, the family’s IDs were examined more closely. Sometimes, beige pickup trucks with burly Shiite militiamen in the back circled the block. Black banners proclaiming Oh Hussein! — the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, revered by Shias — began appearing on the storefronts of Sunni-owned businesses. Falah wondered whether the flags were taunts, or had been placed there for protection by the shopkeepers themselves.”
“Dictators don’t stabilize the Middle East. They Just Create More Terrorists.“ (Lauren Kosa, Washington Post)
“Mubarak’s fierce restriction of Egypt’s political scene set the stage for Egypt’s 2011 revolution. The November 2010 elections that preceded the revolution were considered to be among the most fraudulent in Egypt’s modern history. Egyptians became convinced that the Mubarak government was willing to take any measure to preserve its power, even brutality against its own citizens. The beating to death by police of 28-year-old Egyptian Khaled Said in 2010, whose image was widely circulated, was a trigger for Egyptians’ discontent to boil over into a demand for change. Or as one Egyptian friend put it to me, ‘we couldn’t get that picture out of our heads.’ With little prospect for reform, the government’s legitimacy crumbled. In other words: Mubarak created the chaos that ensued when he was ousted. With the increased concern about terrorism, this lesson is more important than ever. Allying ourselves with regional strongmen may make things stable in the short run, but it hurts us in the long run. Terrorism flourishes in places where the government is no longer seen as being on the side of the people. Human rights play an important role in that equation.”
-J. Dana Stuster
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images