News / Middle East

    Syria, Iran Join Fight Against Iraq's Militants

    Iraqi federal policemen patrol in the town of Taji, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Baghdad, June 26, 2014.
    Iraqi federal policemen patrol in the town of Taji, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Baghdad, June 26, 2014.
    VOA News

    Syria and Iran have joined the fight against militant Sunni insurgents attempting to take over Iraq.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday that Syrian warplanes targeted militants earlier this week on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

    The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has used the border area as a gateway to take over large areas in northern and western Iraq. Maliki said he welcomed but did not request the Syrian air attacks, which occurred Tuesday.

    Other news accounts reported that the Syrian air assault was carried out over Iraqi air space.

    Also, Iran is supporting the Shi’ite-led Baghdad government, supplying tons of military equipment and deploying surveillance drones in the Iraqi skies from an airfield in Baghdad.

    The Syrian and Iranian fight against the militants linked to ISIL has produced an extraordinary confluence of interests with the United States, which otherwise is staunchly opposed to the Damascus regime of President Bashar al-Assad and is engaged in contentious negotiations with Iran over its nuclear development program.

    President Barack Obama has dispatched up to 300 military advisers to Baghdad to assist Iraqi officials, with more of them arriving Thursday. The U.S. is now flying 30 to 35 manned and unmanned daily surveillance flights over Iraq.

    Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, who met with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq, June 26, 2014.Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, who met with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq, June 26, 2014.
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    Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, who met with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq, June 26, 2014.
    Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, who met with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq, June 26, 2014.

    Political measure needed

    British Foreign Secretary William Hague flew Thursday to Baghdad, where he met with Maliki and planned to hold talks with Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

    In his meeting with Hague, Maliki also conceded that political measures were needed alongside military action to repel a Sunni insurgent offensive that threatens to tear the country apart, the French news agency AFP reported.

    "We should proceed in two parallel tracks," Maliki's office said he told Hague, who was on a surprise visit to Iraq.

    Along with military operations, the authorities must continue "following up on the political process and holding a meeting of the parliament (on time) and electing a head of parliament and a president and forming the government,” Maliki said, according to AFP.

    Maliki has thus far publicly focused on a military response to the two-week crisis, and his latest comments were his clearest yet regarding finding a political solution.

    Alex Vatanka, senior fellow at both the Middle East Institute and the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School, said the rise of ISIL in neighboring Iraq is rattling Tehran.

    For the first time since the Arab Spring began, Iran has “seen the need to come out publicly and assure the Iranian population that they shouldn’t worry about ISIS fighters coming across the border from Iraq into Iran and basically do what they have done in Iraq in the last few weeks,” Vatanka said, using another common acronym for the militant group.

    “The fact that the Iranians see a need to make such public assurances in itself I think is very telling,” Vatanka added. “It goes to show you how nervous the Iranian authorities are about what is happening next door in Iraq.”

    From left, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discuss the crisis in Paris, France, June 26, 20From left, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discuss the crisis in Paris, France, June 26, 20
    x
    From left, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discuss the crisis in Paris, France, June 26, 20
    From left, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discuss the crisis in Paris, France, June 26, 20

    Kerry meets with Mideast allies

    In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

    Fabius said Iraq is facing a "difficult situation" but that they expect Iraqis to unite.

    "It’s a necessity not only for Iraq but for the whole region, because it’s a menace for Iraq for the region, for Europe and for the U.S., as well,” Fabius said.

    Kerry, who met with Maliki and Barzani earlier this week, said he and Fabius agree on the desire for Iraq to quickly form a government "that represents unity for the country."

    Kerry also met Thursday with America’s top Sunni state allies in the Middle East to weigh how to confront growing regional turmoil spawned by the Sunni Muslim insurgency group.

    Kerry briefed his counterparts from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on his recent talks with Iraq's prime minister.

    “Iraq, obviously, is one of the predominant points, the move of ISIL concerns every single country here," Kerry told reporters before the meeting at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Paris.

    "In addition to that, we have an ongoing crisis in Syria, where ISIL is also involved,” Kerry said.

    Two other Sunni states in the Mideast - Qatar and Kuwait - were not at Thursday's meeting.

    Saudi Arabia, Kurds prepare

    While in Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah ordered "all necessary measures" to protect the kingdom against potential "terrorist threats", state news agency SPA reported Thursday.

    The agency said the monarch ordered the unspecified measures after he chaired a meeting of the country's national security council to discuss fallout from security developments in the region - an apparent reference to the crisis in neighboring Iraq.

    Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region is prepared to commit all of its forces to defend Kirkuk, as well, said President Barzani on Thursday.

    If required, "we will bring all of our forces to preserve Kirkuk," Barzani said during his first visit to Kirkuk since Iraqi forces withdrew in the face of a major offensive by ISIL. The Iraqi move allowed Kurdish forces already there to take control.

    The offensive has cleared the way for Iraqi Kurds to begin realizing long-held territorial dreams, moving their forces into disputed areas that the federal government has long opposed them adding to their autonomous northern region.

    Deadline to form government

    Khudair al-Khuzai, Iraq's acting vice president and a close ally of Maliki, said parliament would convene on July 1 to start the process of forming a new government.

    Under the official schedule, Iraq’s parliament will have 30 days from its first meeting Tuesday to name a president and 15 days after that to name a prime minister.

    Meeting the July 1 deadline is likely to be welcomed by the United States.

    A broader government, bringing together Iraqi Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims as well as Kurds, would offer more credibility in the fight against Sunni radicals, U.S. officials have said.

    Mansoor Moaddel, who directs the Middle Eastern Values Study at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, said the United States should pursue a three-pronged strategy in trying to resolve the current crisis in Iraq.

    Moaddel said the United States must work to weaken ties between ISIL and more moderate Sunnis; weaken links between Iraq Shi’ites and Iran’s sectarian Islamic regime; and strengthen ties between moderate Sunnis and Shi’ites.

    “Without an inclusive government, I’m afraid that the political instability in Iraq will continue,” Moaddel said.

    One thing the United States “can do is to bring in other players," he added, "including the Jordanians, the Qataris, the Saudis and basically Sunni-Arab regimes into some type of a coalition whose basic objective is to maintain the stability and territorial integrity of Iraq.”

    US involvement

    Pentagon spokesman Colonel  Steve Warren told VOA Thursday that four additional teams of advisers are now in Baghdad, bringing the total to six teams and 180 personnel.

    Including Marine security teams and other personnel with the Office of Strategic Cooperation, there are about 500 U.S. military personnel in Iraq, Warren said.

    The U.S.-Iraq operations are being headed by Major General Dana Pittard.

    Warren said the advisers will need two to three weeks to assess Iraqi troops. The U.S. is also flying 30 to 35 manned and unmanned daily surveillance flights over Iraq.

    The militants' push toward Baghdad seems to have slowed in recent days, with the Iraqi military reporting that it retook the country's biggest oil refinery at Beiji from the insurgents on Wednesday.

    “Yesterday, we repelled an attempt to attack Beiji refinery and we killed all the militants who approached the perimeter of Beiji refinery. Beiji refinery has turned into a graveyard for the coward militants,” Lieutenant General Qassim al-Moussawi said.

    Fight for Tikrit

    Iraqi forces launched an airborne assault on rebel-held Tikrit on Thursday, landing three helicopters with commandos in a stadium for what appeared to be their boldest counter-attack yet against Sunni insurgents who have rampaged through the north.

    Eyewitnesses said battles were raging in the city, hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein, which fell to Sunni Islamist fighters two weeks ago on the third day of a lightning offensive that has given them control of most majority Sunni regions.

    The helicopters were shot at as they flew low over the city and landed in a stadium at the city's university, a security source at the scene said. The government did not immediately respond to requests for comment and by evening the assault was still not being reported on state media, Reuters reported.

    Meanwhile, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr vowed to "shake the ground" under the feet of the advancing Sunni militants, risking ratcheting up already-high sectarian tensions.

    Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from the Pentagon. Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.


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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with representatives of Middle Eastern and Gulf states to discuss security challenges in the wake of a quick advance of an Islamist insurgency. Zlatica Hoke reports the group's ambitions may not be limited to Iraq.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    June 28, 2014 12:58 AM
    This article does not address the fact that Iran’s covert and overt activities are at the heart of most of the destabilization currently going on. It’s support of pro-Assad forces with weapons and men through supply routes in Iraq is a primary reason why Iraq is going up in flames with Sunni militias. Iran’s stated preference for a Shiite arc of influence is forcing Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia to step up their efforts to oppose Iran. All of which leads to destabilizing arms races and manipulations. Having the US join Iran would be even more disastrous in that it would sow even greater confusion and instability. What we need now are precise articulations of policy that set boundaries for parties to disengage from one another. Iran needs to get out of Iraq as much as the US wants to get out of the region as well. But history has proven that Iran cannot be trusted to leave well enough alone and is committed to a path of deeper involvement.

    by: Igor from: Russia
    June 27, 2014 12:39 AM
    Shame to the US and its allies. They meddled in other nations' affairs, created chaos and disorder. And then they let countries such as Iran, Syria, Iraq deal with those terrorists. The Western countries are showing their incompetence and irresponsibility.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    June 27, 2014 11:58 AM
    There are only (3) ShiaMuslim led governments in the Middle East..... and the US arms and trains Sunni Muslims in Jordan and Turkey to wage war on (2) of the (3) Shia Muslim led countries of Syria, and now Iraq..... and had the UN place sanctions and embargos on the (3ed) Shia Muslim country of Iran..... (YOU be the Judge?) .... Who's side is America on?

    by: Not Again from: Canada
    June 26, 2014 7:45 PM
    Unfortunately it appears that Maliki has chosen the same path that Assad chose, by getting Iran and Syria to enter the war on his side; this is now a tremendously high risk situation; it has the potential to unite all Sunnis, extreme and secular, in Iraq and Syria, and even beyond, and support the ISIL's terrorists, because it leaves them no way out, but to engage in this now very sectarian war.
    A new darker dawn is on the horrizon for the ME. All you need now is for the West to close ranks behind the Shia sectarian alliance, and the ME will be on fire for a decade or more years. Very bad sit all around, for all, especially for the millions of refugees, that this newly expanded war has the potential to generate. Peace is not even a mirrage now, a cathastrophic failure is in its begining; it has the makings of a mega conflict!

    by: Anonymous
    June 26, 2014 6:59 PM
    Saudi Arabia is ready to face the ISIL militants that the Kingdom has created itself. So funny. Who are you trying to fool?

    by: Ripon from: Bangladesh, South Asia.
    June 26, 2014 5:51 PM
    What Iran did, it did the right thing at the right moment. Why shouldn't that ISIL/ISIS be knocked down? They're committing crime at random against humanity in Iraq. Theirs isn't any movement of people for freedom. They are mercenary armed hooligans, committing crime in the name of religion.

    by: lee from: USA
    June 26, 2014 3:59 PM
    time for the us to stop spending Money. in other countries ad this nation is falling. apart. let. their. neighbors. join. I'm their. defence. as the Congress keeps bickering. our enemy are working. together. to destroy us. it's. time for. a new congress

    by: Stephen Real from: Columbia USA
    June 26, 2014 10:56 AM
    I refuse to watch the good families of Anbar and northern Syria "go it alone". We have to build anew Sunni nation. They want it and we're gonna make it happen. (...again)

    by: meanbill from: USA
    June 26, 2014 10:32 AM
    MY OPINION? -- The arrogance, ignorance and stupidity, of the US and NATO countries in their interference in the Islamic countries politics, is beyond any logical comprehension.. First of all, the US and NATO countries interfered in the politics of the Islamic countries of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, bringing nothing but violence, killings, destruction and wars, that continue on to this day... (and displacing millions of homeless innocent civilians, with hundreds of thousands of injured and wounded, and hundreds of thousands of innocents killed, and their homes, towns, cities and countries destroyed),

    NEXT? -- the US and NATO countries armed and trained the Sunni Muslim extremists/terrorists in the countries of Jordan and Turkey, to fight the Shia Muslim led governments in Syria, and now Iraq, and they now say, they don't take sides in this Iraq war, with the Sunni Muslim (ISIL) "Emir of the Believers" al-Baghdadi, who swore to Allah that he would re-established the (black flags and banners) of the Sunni Muslim Abbasid Bagdad Caliphate, and kill all the Shia Muslims, who he calls the "Filthy Ones" and believes they should be wiped off the earth..

    FACT? -- In every town or city the (ISIL) captures, they make the Sunni Muslim population swear an oath (Bay'ah) of allegiance to al-Baghdadi "the Emir of the Believers" in the name of Allah, (to obey him, and submit to him, and not make war on him, as long as it does not disobey the laws of Allah)...

    NEXT? -- The (ISIL) "Emir of the Believers" al-Baghdadi appoints leaders, and Judges (Qadis), who's qualifications are, they must be free, sane, adult, trustworthy, and a Muslim, who mete out instant Islamic Justice on the infidels, the impure Muslims, and others.. And the "The decisions by the Judge (Qadi), is final, and irrevocable" -- (Some call the (ISIL) Judges (Qadis) decisions terrorists acts, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, but in reality, the Sunni Muslim Judge (Qadi) decisions, are legal under Sunni Muslim Islamic law). ---- IF ONLY the US and NATO countries hadn't interfered?

    by: Stephen Real
    June 26, 2014 10:23 AM
    The King of Jordan and his peoples are under enormous social pressures because of Iraq/Syrian revolution. From where I sit? The Sunni Iraqis want their stuff back and I can't say I blame them after being held hostage to the Maliki government. They want their own country. We should help these people make this happen.

    It's worth to see what the region is discussing as it's a mystery wrapped in a riddle that I barely understand the extremely complex history of the region.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    June 26, 2014 11:17 AM
    Hey Stephen, The US is arming and training the Sunni Muslim extremists/terrorists in JORDAN and Turkey, to fight the Shia Muslim country of Syria, and now, they are fighting the Shia Muslim led government of Iraq..... NOW, how innocent is JORDAN in this Jihad (Holy War) war between Sunni and Shia in Iraq? .... REALLY?

    by: Mr. Id from: Middle East
    June 26, 2014 8:17 AM
    Funny the CIA had no idea ISIS even existed, and now they have taken over much of Iraq, apparently permanently.

    Obviously the CIA needs to read even more emails every day! I suggest a TV camera in the house of every man, woman and child in the world...

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