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January 07 2014


News On The Ground From Baghdad

It can be hard to find a reporter in Baghdad these days. Long gone are the days of the American-led war, when every important international news source had a well-staffed Baghdad bureau, filled with on the scene reporters, local fixers and translators.

So we were very fortunate to have Reuters’ Suadad Al-Salhyan experienced Iraqi reporter, join us during our Jan. 7 hour on the growing crisis in that country’s Anbar province. She gave us a clear-eyed view of the situation in Fallujah.

“We are facing different situations in Ramadi and Fallujah in whole at this time. We have jihadist militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), we have tribal fighters and and at Fallujah, we have a small group from other insurgents, like Ansar al Dine and other small groups. They were breaking into other small groups outside Anbar, but they joined the groups together in Fallujah.”

Al-Salhy also noted that it’s hard to tell just where many of these militant groups in Anbar came from — or if they spilled over from the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria.

“We cannot say specifically, they just came a few days ago. This part has witnessed many operations and attacks during the last few weeks. ISIS was trying to build its own state on the ground this time by launching high profile attacks on the border towns which belong to Iraq. So we have no idea how many specifically, but we are talking about hundreds of high profile, well-trained militants who cross the border from Syria.”

That surge of militants has fully occupied the city of Fallujah, al-Salhy said.

“Fallujah is still under siege today. The central government kept sending forces to reign in the attacks in Anbar province. There’s fighting in Ramadi, and in Fallujah they’re expecting a big battle will erupt any minute. But there’s no fighting in Fallujah — and even the shelling that was launched by the Iraqi army into the northern part of Fallujah was stopped this morning, when the tribal leaders in Ramadi and Fallujah made a deal with the central government to try to convince the militants to leave the city. In return, the army has not been allowed to enter the city and attack the militants inside the city. There will be talks in the next few days. Right now, they are not planning on launching any attacks targeting Fallujah.”

Reports that some of the weapons used by the Iraqi government have come from Iran, traditionally an enemy, can’t be verified, al-Salhy said.

“We have no evidence that Iranians are involved. But we know that for sure, the Russians are involved for sure. They came out of purchases that Iraq made in the last year — helicopters, Russain helicopters are definitely taking part at this time and because of this it seems like Iraqi are making great progress in Anbar at this time.  Against ISI, they destroyed many big camps that Iraqi troops couldn’t reach since the US troops left Iraq.”

And although the fighting and armed conflict is a mere 40 miles away from the capital in Baghdad, the central government and the people who work for it in the city aren’t worried, al-Salhy said.

“To be honest, no [people in Baghdad are not worried]. Already, it’s as thought it was known and it was expected. Already in the last few months Al Qaeda was showing up every time and planning high profile attacks against the local government in Anbar, in Ramadi and Fallujah and the towns along the Iraqi-Syrian border. And everybody was expecting it was a matter of time, the government hadn’t done anything to treat it. So it wasn’t a big surprise when they took control over the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. They were just waiting for a suitable time to announce their control over these cities.”

During a chaotic and important time in Iraq, we’re grateful to reporters like Suadad Al-Salhy for helping to keep us and our listeners informed on what’s going on.


Bloody Iraq: Syrian Spillover, Regional Fear

Iraq in trouble again. Al Qaeda spillover from Syria, now in Fallujah, Ramadi, Anbar Province. We’ll look at Iraq’s return to turmoil and the threat of regional upheaval.

An empty street shows burned vehicles as buildings including a provincial government building, center in the background, are seen damaged in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Provincial spokesman Dhari al-Rishawi said Iraqi security forces and allied tribesmen are pressing their campaign to rout al-Qaida from Fallujah and Ramadi, two main cities in the western Anbar province. (AP)

An empty street shows burned vehicles as buildings including a provincial government building, center in the background, are seen damaged in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Provincial spokesman Dhari al-Rishawi said Iraqi security forces and allied tribesmen are pressing their campaign to rout al-Qaida from Fallujah and Ramadi, two main cities in the western Anbar province. (AP)


Suadad Alsalhy, Baghdad correspondent for Reuters. (@suadadalsalhy)

Ned Parker, independent foreign affairs reporter. Former Baghdad bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times. (@nedmparker1)

Roger Cohen, op-ed columnist for The New York Times. (@NYTimesCohen)

From Tom’s Reading List

Wall Street Journal: Scores Dead in Iraqi Battle With Al Qaeda-Linked Fighters – “The three days of fighting have left at least 21 people dead in Fallujah, including women and children, and an additional 11 dead in Ramadi, according to the Anbar Health Directorate. Many more have been injured. The assault on Fallujah, using helicopters, tanks and mortars, marks the government’s fourth attempt to retake the city since Thursday evening, when fighters loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, seized most of the town, according to the security official.”

New York Times: Power Vacuum in Middle East Lifts Militants — “The bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq, Lebanon and Syria in the past two weeks exposes something new and destabilizing: the emergence of a post-American Middle East in which no broker has the power, or the will, to contain the region’s sectarian hatreds. Amid this vacuum, fanatical Islamists have flourished in both Iraq and Syria under the banner of Al Qaeda, as the two countries’ conflicts amplify each other and foster ever-deeper radicalism. Behind much of it is the bitter rivalry of two great oil powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rulers — claiming to represent Shiite and Sunni Islam, respectively — cynically deploy a sectarian agenda that makes almost any sort of accommodation a heresy.”

Foreign Affairs: The Iraq We Left Behind — “Both Maliki and his rivals are responsible for the slow slide toward chaos, prisoners of their own history under Saddam. Iraq today is divided between once-persecuted Shiite religious parties, such as Maliki’s Dawa Party, still hungry for revenge, and secular and Sunni parties that long for a less bloody version of Saddam’s Baath Party, with its nationalist ideology and intolerance of religious and ethnic politics. Meanwhile, the Kurds maneuver gingerly around the divisions in Baghdad. Their priority is to preserve their near autonomy in northern Iraq and ward off the resurrection of a powerful central government that could one day besiege their cities and bombard their villages, as Baghdad did throughout the twentieth century.”

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December 16 2013


In Syria, Rebel Movement Continues To Fracture

Has the moderate, Western-backed rebel force collapsed in Syria? And what if it’s an Islamist rebellion now?


Noah Bonsey, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. Lead author of the recent report, “Anything But Politics: The State of Syria’s Political Opposition.” (@NoahBonsey)

Leila Hilal, director the Middle East Task Force at the New American Foundation. (@LeilaHilal)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Daily Telegraph: The good guys have lost in Syria – only the bad guys are left fighting — “This week, the US and Britain suspended non-lethal aid – such as communications equipment and trucks – to rebels in northern Syria, after bases belonging to the largely moderate, Western-backed Free Syrian Army were ransacked and their equipment seized by the Islamic Front. This rebel-on-rebel fratricidal orgy sums up so much that has gone wrong with Syria’s revolution.”

The Washington Post: U.S. may be open to Islamists joining Syrian rebel coalition — “The SMC, whose Free Syrian Army is the only opposition armed force the United States backs in Syria, has lost both strength and influence to anti-Assad Islamic groups. Among them is the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the al-Nusra Front, both of which have been labeled terrorist groups by Washington. But the increasingly powerful Islamic Front, while it includes many Salafists seeking an Islamic state in Syria, is not affiliated with al-Qaeda. Talks between U.S. envoy Robert Ford and Islamic Front figures held in Turkey last month were inconclusive, said the senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the developing policy.”

Buzzfeed: The End of the Free Syrian Army? – “FSA officials have suggested that the struggle with the Islamic Front might be resolved through negotiations, and that U.S. shipments might eventually resume. But speculation is already swirling that the FSA and its leadership under Gen. Salim Idriss — officially called the Supreme Military Command, or SMC, the political opposition’s military wing — might be at its end. One source close to the SMC called the Islamic Front’s recent aggression in Atimeh ‘an attack and overthrow, basically.’”

October 09 2013


The Interview: Saleyha Ahsan - Sunday Nights NLR - (ABC)

Saleyha Ahsan is an emergency medicine doctor who's just returned from Syria, where she was volunteering in makeshift hospitals in the north of the country. http://www.abc.net.au/sundaynights/stories/s3864483.htm

September 20 2013


Week in the News: Navy Yard Shooting, Congressional Infighting, Syria

The Navy Yard massacre.  Brazil and NSA spying. Chemical weapons negotiation and Syria. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.


Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review, author of “Lincoln Unbound: How An Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream — And How We Can Do It Again.” (@RichLowry)

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation Magazine, author of “The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama.” (@KatrinaNation)

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst.

From Tom’s Reading List

USA Today: Obama Reportedly To Meet Abbas Next Week — “In addition to chemical weapons in Syria, a military takeover in Egypt, and the nuclear challenge in Iran, President Obama is also dealing this month with the long-standing Middle East dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

National Journal: A September to Surrender: Syria and Summers Spell Second-Term Slump — “There are no ‘obstructionist’ Republican fingerprints on the conspicuous and power-depleting defeats for Obama. He never sought a vote on Syria and therefore was not humiliated. The same is true for Summers. But Obama lost ground on both fronts and ultimately surrendered to political realities that, for the first time in his presidency, were determined by his own obdurate party.”

Washington Post: NSA Spying Spoils Dinner at the White House for Brazil’s President – “Rousseff, who had a 36 percent approval rating last month in the wake of nationwide protests against substandard public services, has been under pressure from leftists in her Workers’ Party movement to stay home. Canceling the trip is seen as politically expedient here, partly because she faces a tough reelection campaign next year. But Brazil’s decision will in the short term be damaging for the country, which has a struggling economy that is seeking American investment and a greater opening to Brazilian products.”

September 10 2013


David Bromwich on Democracy and War with Syria | Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon

With David Bromwich, close-reader of the history unfolding before our eyes, I am looking for a bright side. We are having a national conversation, after all, about war, war powers, presidential authority, intervention. It could be a democratic moment to rejoice in. President Obama has asked the people through the Congress and the Constitution to join in a freighted decision on war and peace, and the country is responding. At the same time the president indicates he is ready to override the people’s skepticism and maybe a Congressional vote for restraint. The Nobel Peace Prize president is “Pleading for War,” in one Huffington Post headline. Mr. Obama is disappointed but not yet persuaded or moved by the anti-war consensus of the G-20 leaders, the almost-unanimous European Union, the United Nations Secretary General and the Pope. Professor Bromwich wonders, not alone and not for the first time, whether Americans have ever heard from President Obama a “consistent view” of his or our international role. “There’s something unhinged about the quality of the different voices we are hearing around the White House,” Bromwich is telling me. “I think the least you can say against President Obama right now is that he does not seem to be in control.” [...] Source: http://www.radioopensource.org/david-bromwich-on-democracy-and-war-with-syria/

Rewriting the Revolution

Shaimaa Khalil looks at the Arab Spring through the eyes of prominent writers Egypt's Sara Khorshid, Libyan author Ghazi Gheblawi, Tunisia's Samar Samir Mezghanni, Farea Al-Muslimi from Yemen and Syrian author Samar Yazbek.

Damascus Diary

In this intimate, revealing programme, Lina Sinjab combines dramatic scenes and interview material with a personal audio diary as she reports on the Syrian conflict.

September 09 2013


Sep 9, 2013 — Heather Hurlburt & Daniel Drezner

August 21 2013


Aug 20, 2013 — Matthew Duss & Michael Hanna

June 25 2013


August 12 2012


January 10 2012


Iran's Hand in the Levant | Atlantic Council

"Panelists examined Iran’s changing role in the Levant, challenges posed to local armed forces, and the political future of the region. They also discussed how Iran's relations with Syria and Lebanon have been impacted by the Arab Spring."
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