By late 2013, more than 90 percent of Syria’s cultural sites lay in regions affected by fighting and civil unrest, leaving them open to plunder. In addition, regions of Iraq now under the control of the Islamic State militant group and its allies include roughly 4,500 of Iraq’s 12,000 known archaeological sites.  UNESCO recently reported that the “armed extremists in Iraq” are targeting “cultural heritage, cultural and religious minorities, as well as the documents and written evidence of one of the oldest civilizations in human history” (al-Akhbar [Beirut], February 4). In addition to destroying the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria, there is also evidence that such activities are providing an important revenue stream for the Islamic State. U.S. officials have estimated that up to $100 million worth of antiquities from Syria and Iraq are being sold off each year, a significant portion of which is likely to pass through the hands of the Islamic State (Wall Street Journal, February 10). Similarly, on February 13, a UK Conservative member of parliament, Tim Loughton, told the House of Commons that antique buyers in the West could be unwittingly “feeding insurgencies,” citing Iraqi intelligence claims that the Islamic State “had collected as much as $36 million from the sale of artifacts” (Daily Telegraph, February 13).
In late 2012, the Islamic State dramatically increased its financial income when it secured Syria’s eastern oilfields. However, due to the fall in oil prices and U.S.-led airstrikes on oil facilities in its territories, the antiquities trade has become an increasingly important source of Islamic State funds. In one recent media report, an Iraqi intelligence official was quoted as saying: “They [the Islamic State] had taken $36 million from al-Nabuk alone (an area in the Qalamoun Mountains west of Damascus). Read the rest of this entry »
BAGHDAD— Speaking from a base besieged by Islamic State fighters, a police lieutenant in Anbar province painted a grim picture of the Iraqi government‘s faltering hold on this restive western region. Surrounded on all sides, he expects the jihadi group to be within firing range any day now.
Sitting just to the west of Hit, a small town along a key highway connecting the city of Haditha to Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi, al-Asad is the largest military base in Anbar and one of just two that remain in government control. Last week, after first attacking the eastern edge of Hit with suicide bombers, Islamic State militants overran the town. The United Nations says the ensuing clashes displaced more than 180,000 people. Read the rest of this entry »
Since ISIS fighters took control of two key Iraqi cities last week, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies have blanketed portions of the country with spy satellites and drones, giving them what one senior administration official called “round-the-clock coverage” of locations where ISIS is active. The military personnel headed to Iraq — as many as 300, Obama said — will work alongside Iraqi military forces in special intelligence centers, using drone video feeds and spy satellite photographs to track and attack ISIS fighters. They’ll also be in a prime position to help carry out U.S. airstrikes the moment Obama orders them.
In remarks from the White House Thursday, Obama didn’t say that airstrikes are imminent. He stressed that the only long-term solution to Iraq’s stabilization will come from political reconciliation between the Shiite-led government and the marginalized Sunni minority. But he left no doubt that he’s putting all the pieces in place to launch the first significant military action in Iraq since U.S. forces left there in 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
The 2003 Iraq war was triggered by a carefully orchestrated campaign of disinformation about Saddam Hussein’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. As pressures mount on President Obama to save Iraq’s all-Shia minority government against an onslaught of extremist Sunni guerrillas, past murky history is worth recalling.
It was dinnertime at the Vice President’s house on Massachusetts Avenue eleven months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The discussion centered on the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein‘s Sunni dictatorship in Iraq and replace it with a democratic government. This, in turn, would trigger democratic changes in Israel’s last hostile neighbor — Syria.On March 26, 1979, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and President Jimmy Carter signed the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab nation. And on Oct 26, 1994, the late King Hussein of Jordan became the 2nd Arab leader to sign peace with Israel, putting behind them 46 years of hostility.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction never came up once at VP Cheney’s dinner. An invasion, the participants agreed, would be designed to trigger a democratic process in Iraq, thus completing a peaceful Arab circle around Israel. Read the rest of this entry »
Iraq is on a precipice from which it may never recover. The fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to forces ostensibly from the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), may simply be the tip of the iceberg. What has happened in Iraq increasingly appears not simply to be a binary struggle between government and insurgent, but rather a more complicated problem that may be impossible to fully unravel.
I drove from Tikrit through Beiji to Mosul earlier this year, and into Syria along the same roads ISIS and other insurgents now use. Even then, government control over Mosul was tenuous. Iraqi soldiers at checkpoints on the outskirts of town urged me and my driver to reconsider my trip because Mosul was not safe; they relented only because a local vouched for me. After all, while Tikrit was home to former President Saddam Hussein and his immediate entourage, Mosul was the hometown of much of Saddam Hussein’s officer corps. It still is. As I continued on to the Syrian border, a special security agent at a checkpoint separated me from my taxi driver and another man accompanying us to ensure that I was there of my own free will. A senior security official in Baghdad subsequently told me that was standard protocol. It also reflects, however, the lawlessness of that area. Read the rest of this entry »
Al Qaeda’s ultra-extremist Syrian offshoot known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) is stepping up efforts to recruit Americans and other westerners for jihad in Syria and possibly for future domestic terror attacks, according to U.S. officials.
A new media outlet affiliated with ISIL recently began producing recruiting materials in both English and German that U.S. intelligence analysts say is a sign they are targeting western jihadists for recruitment.
It is the first time ISIL, one of the most prominent ultra-violent jihadists among Syria rebels groups, has set up a western-oriented media arm.
ISIL also is leading the major military operations now under way in Iran that has produced the group’s take over of several Iraqi cities, including Mosul, the second largest. Read the rest of this entry »