News / Middle East

    Iraq Launches Airstrikes Against Islamist Forces

    A militant standing in front of a burning Iraqi Army Humvee in Tikrit, Iraq, June 12, 2014.
    A militant standing in front of a burning Iraqi Army Humvee in Tikrit, Iraq, June 12, 2014.
    Henry Ridgwell
    Iraqi government forces carried out airstrikes Thursday against fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The militant group seized several cities from the Iraqi army this week in a move that has caused alarm across the world. Analysts say the militants' advance has called into question the future of the Iraqi state.
     
    Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are within 100 kilometers of Baghdad, having taken control of several towns and cities in northern Iraq in recent days.  Iraqi army units have abandoned their posts and fled ahead of the militants’ advance.

    But speaking Thursday, Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, insisted that ISIL forces had been halted north of the capital.

    "The situation started to be reversed and the Iraqi security forces have managed to re-organize and to push them back," said Zebari.

    ISIL grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq.  Their stated aim is to create a single Sunni Islamic state across the region.

    In an audio recording Thursday, ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called for fighters to continue the march to Baghdad.

    They are a battle-hardened force, says Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College London.

    “It’s really their experience in Syria that has allowed them to generate this head of steam.  Foreign fighters came from all over the world to join that conflict. Overwhelmingly they joined ISIL. Now that group has enjoyed a revival in terms of men, money and munitions," said Maher.

    Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops abandoned their posts and fled.  Loyalty to Baghdad and to the Iraqi state is weak, says Shiraz Maher.

    “The resistance that we should expect to see that will come about in Iraq is going to be from other local militias, other sectarian groupings, the Shias for example,"he said.

    There was no shortage of civilian volunteers in Baghdad and other cities Thursday, heeding the government’s call to fight ISIL and chanting "death to terrorists."

    Kurdish troops known as Peshmerga from the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan have taken up positions abandoned by the regular Iraqi army. But the Kurds face a dilemma, says Ranj Alaaldin, of the London School of Economics.

    “Do they want to be dragged in to a conflict which, at the moment, isn’t really theirs? This is more an Arab conflict, a Sunni-Shia conflict. We still haven’t seen a response from the Iraqi state.  Once that response happens, then I think the Kurds could assess whether they really do need to get involved," said Alaaldin.

    The prospect of a Sunni-Shia regional war is growing, says Professor Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute in London.

    “An arc of conflict engaging Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, pitting Sunni against Shia Muslims with a proxy war financed by Saudi Arabia and Iran on both sides.  It is just about the worst specter that can haunt the Middle East," said Eyal.

    Government forces carried out airstrikes against ISIL positions Thursday.  Baghdad’s hope is that the militants’ advance can be quickly halted.  If it fails, the consequences could be felt across the region.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.