U.S. Discusses Larger Role in Iraq as Political Crisis Continues

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is in Iraq today to discuss ongoing operations against the Islamic State as Iraqi forces with coalition support continue to isolate the Islamic State-occupied city of Mosul. He will meet with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi to discuss additional capabilities the United States is willing ...

GettyImages-481753686
GettyImages-481753686

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is in Iraq today to discuss ongoing operations against the Islamic State as Iraqi forces with coalition support continue to isolate the Islamic State-occupied city of Mosul. He will meet with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi to discuss additional capabilities the United States is willing to bring to the fight. "We are looking to do more," Carter told reporters at an airbase near Abu Dhabi before departing to Iraq. "That ranges from in the air to on the ground. You should expect to see us doing more."

Carter’s visit coincides with an ongoing political crisis. Hundreds of protesters rallied in Baghdad over the weekend in support of a proposed slate of non-partisan cabinet officials proposed by Abadi that the parliament has refused to confirm. The new government has the support of influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has called for pro-reform protests and says he will mobilize much larger protests if the parliament fails to approve the cabinet by tomorrow.

Start of Yemen Peace Talks Delayed by Ceasefire Violations

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is in Iraq today to discuss ongoing operations against the Islamic State as Iraqi forces with coalition support continue to isolate the Islamic State-occupied city of Mosul. He will meet with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi to discuss additional capabilities the United States is willing to bring to the fight. “We are looking to do more,” Carter told reporters at an airbase near Abu Dhabi before departing to Iraq. “That ranges from in the air to on the ground. You should expect to see us doing more.”

Carter’s visit coincides with an ongoing political crisis. Hundreds of protesters rallied in Baghdad over the weekend in support of a proposed slate of non-partisan cabinet officials proposed by Abadi that the parliament has refused to confirm. The new government has the support of influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has called for pro-reform protests and says he will mobilize much larger protests if the parliament fails to approve the cabinet by tomorrow.

Start of Yemen Peace Talks Delayed by Ceasefire Violations

Peace talks between the warring factions in Yemen that were scheduled to start today in Kuwait have been delayed because the delegation representing the Houthi rebels and loyalists to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh has not departed Sanaa. They’ve cited violations of the ceasefire that went into effect last week as the reason for the delay. “There’s no point in going to Kuwait if there’s no respect for the ceasefire,” on opposition politician told Reuters. The delegation from the internationally-recognized government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which is already in Kuwait, expects the Houthi delegation to arrive tomorrow. Despite two previous rounds of talks last year that made little progress, expectations are high for the new talks. “If they fail…it will be a repetition of the cycle of violence,” one Hadi government official said. Saudi-backed pro-government troops consolidated their control of the city of Houta, recently captured from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and rounded up militants in the surrounding area. Police in Aden thwarted two car bombings, but a suicide bomber killed four soldiers at a checkpoint near the airport.

Headlines

  • The U.N.-backed Libyan unity government is expected to take control of three ministries today — social affairs, youth and sports, and housing and public works; British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is visiting Tripoli, Libya, today to meet with and show support for Prime Minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj.

 

  • The Saudi government threatened to dump $750 billion in treasury securities and other dollar assets if the U.S. Congress passes a law that would allow families of Sept. 11th victims to sue the Saudi government for its involvement in the attacks, which has long been suspected but never proven; the move would likely create blowback as the rapid sale of the assets could destabilize the dollar, to which Saudi riyal is pegged.

 

  • The Israeli military has discovered and destroyed a tunnel built by Hamas from the Gaza Strip into Israel; it is the first new tunnel found by Israeli forces since the 2014 conflict with Hamas.

 

  • Egyptians took to the streets on Friday to protest the government’s cession of two islands to Saudi control, including approximately 1,500 in Tahrir Square; the agreement is expected to be raised in parliament “soon.”

 

  • At a cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel will never give up the territory; the region was annexed in 1981 but the move was not recognized by most countries and has been the subject of negotiations since.

Arguments and Analysis

Saving Syria’s ceasefire” (Julian Barnes, European Council on Foreign Relations)

“To this backdrop outside powers urgently need to refocus their efforts on saving the ceasefire, moving away from the forlorn hope that intra-Syrian talks set to begin again in Geneva this week can deliver the political breakthrough needed to sustain the truce. While everyone wants Syrian ownership of a peace process – and recognises that without Syrian buy-in no deal can ultimately hold – these talks are almost certainly doomed to failure given the zero-sum ambitions still motivating both sides, namely over the fate of Bashar al-Assad. It was international diplomatic efforts that delivered the unlikely ceasefire in the first place and these efforts should now explore a process of devolution, offering increased local empowerment as the way around the Assad impasse. Any hope of sustaining the ceasefire rests on the need for a meaningful political horizon but the reality is that there is next to no chance of a desired near term transition away from Assad given the ongoing commitment of the regime, Iran – and, in all likelihood, Russia – to his position. The priority of maintaining the ceasefire should not be undermined by efforts to micromanage this unattainable goal. Instead, external powers should press Syrian actors to focus on a geographical power-sharing agreement based on existing facts on the ground. Cementing enhanced localised autonomy would aim to incentivise ongoing local buy in to the ceasefire.”

 

Can the Kuwait Peace Talks Break Yemen’s Deadlock?” (Fakhri al-Arashi interviewing April Longley Alley, National Yemen)

“Making a ceasefire hold is a critical part of the peace process but difficult to implement. Neither side controls all combatants that come under their overall umbrellas and there are spoilers on both sides. On the Houthi side, for example, it is not clear how committed their military commanders really are to implementing a ceasefire or how committed the group is to making significant compromises and implementing them in political negotiations. The Houthis are aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but so far he has been left out of some of the talks between Houthis and Saudi Arabia that had led to the current ceasefire and the opportunity to relaunch the political process. As long as he is left out, he has the incentive to be a spoiler — a dangerous one. On the government side, things are not any easier. President Hadi said last week that he will go to Kuwait to achieve peace. But his insistence that a political process can proceed only if the Houthis fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 2216, including disarming and withdrawing their forces from seized territory, is unrealistic. Hadi’s government and the various groups loosely fighting under its umbrella have few incentives to end combat as long as Saudi Arabia is willing to support their war effort. The government’s willingness to compromise in the UN talks in Kuwait is directly linked to how much pressure Saudi Arabia is willing to apply towards a negotiated settlement.”

-J. Dana Stuster

Carolyn Kaster – Pool/Getty Images

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