MENA Week in Review - June 13, 2014

Middle East and North Africa

This week, Iraq lost control of its second largest city, Mosul to ISIS, which has seen Iran and the United States prepare for potential military responses to help the Iraqi security forces. Meanwhile, an Egyptian court sentences 25 activists for 15 years in prison for violating the country's protest law leading to a strong response by the U.S. State Department.

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) celebrate on vehicles taken from Iraqi security forces in Mosul

  • An insurgency in Iraq, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), continues to gain territory, in addition to capturing U.S. military equipment. The insurgents have conquered most of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and have begun moving southeast seizing towns Saadiyah and Jalawla, edging closer to Baghdad.

    • The Iraqi government asked for the expedited delivery of promised equipment to contain the growing insurgency and signals an openness to U.S. airstrikes with either drones or manned aircraft according to senior U.S. officials.

    • The U.S. continues to consider an array of potential military responses, but has ruled out ground troops according to White House spokesperson Jay Carney. However, the U.S. will provide an additional $12.8 million in humanitarian aid raising the total assistance to $136 million for Fiscal Year 2014, amid a new United Nations report that 300,000 just this week have been displaced by the fighting and 800,000 this year.

    • Democrat and Republican members of Congress are divided on whether to conduct air strikes in Iraq. Here a few of their comments:

      • Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “There is no scenario where we can stop the bleeding in Iraq without American air power.”

      • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL): “We’ve got to get involved with airstrikes, stiffening the spines of Iraqis.”

      • Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA): “We lost a lot of blood and a lot of treasure there, and gave them an opportunity and they wouldn’t sign an agreement, they didn’t want us there. Now they want us there.”

      • Rep Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): “No appetite in our country to be engaged in any military activity in Iraq. I don’t think this is our responsibility.”

      • Senator Carl Levin (D-MI): “While all options should be considered, the problem in Iraq has not been so much a lack of direct U.S. involvement, but a lack of reconciliation on the part of Iraqi leaders.”

      • Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD): “I think we ought to use the same formula that we used when we took out Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.”

    • Iraqi Kurds forces took control of Kirkuk, the northern oil city, as the Iraqi military fled from the ISIS-driven offensive.

    • Iran has also sent 500 Revolutionary Guard troops to support the Iraqi forces and has signaled a potential for U.S.-Iranian cooperation to contain the Sunni insurgents.

  • ISIS is also still fighting a months-long offensive in northern Syria, where more than 630 individuals have been killed.  ISIS now controls a significant stretch of territory spanning northern Syria into western Iraq.

  • The House Appropriations Committee approved the $491 billion defense bill for 2015. The measure includes an amendment by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) that would cut funding for arms sales with Russian corporation Rosoboronexport until Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel certifies that the company has stopped transferring weapons to the Syrian government.An Egyptian court sentenced leading activist Alaa Abdel Fattah to 15 years in prison for violating the protest law instituted last fall along with 24 other activists raising further questions about U.S. military aid to Egypt.

    • State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki noted that the “United States is deeply troubled by the harsh prison sentence issued yesterday against 25 Egyptian activists for organizing an authorized protest.” And added, “The defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison under Egypt’s highly restrictive demonstrations law following very irregular court proceedings. This marks at least the third court verdict in the last six months sentencing peaceful protesters to prison under the new demonstration law.”

  • In Libya, a suicide bomber targeted a police station, a week following the attempted assassination of former general Khalifa Haftar as the security situation in Libya continues to deteriorate.