TIME Vietnam

China Removes Contentious Oil Rig From Waters Claimed by Vietnam

Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea
A Chinese coast-guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam on June 13, 2014. Reuters

But as its deployment led to fierce anti-Chinese rioting across Vietnam, don’t except Hanoi and Beijing to rekindle their once fraternal ties anytime soon

The rig is finally gone, but unlikely to be long forgotten.

On Tuesday, the state-backed China Oilfield Services Limited said the billion-dollar platform, which had been drilling in the heart of highly contested waters claimed by Vietnam, had “precisely extracted the related geological data as planned” and was being redeployed to sea blocks off China’s Hainan Island.

The Vietnamese coast guard confirmed the platform was being towed out of the disputed waters south of the Paracel Islands, claimed by Vietnam but occupied by the Chinese, late Tuesday night.

Since early May, the Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig had been anchored in waters that Vietnam claims fall well within its exclusive economic zone. Hanoi responded to the unannounced arrival by allowing the public to hold the first large-scale demonstrations in recent memory.

However, smoldering nationalist anger exploded into deadly bouts of rioting at industrial parks in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City and in central Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province in mid-May.

Factories were razed, several Chinese workers were killed and relations between the neighbors deteriorated to their lowest ebb since diplomatic ties were renewed in the early 1990s.

Beijing remained unmoved by Hanoi’s objections, despite continued protests from the highest levels of government.

“The relations are certainly damaged and the outlook is not encouraging, particularly as China has indicated it has plans to send out more oil rigs to disputed waters and has made provocative statements with respect to its plans in the Spratly chain,” Jonathan D. London, a professor and Vietnamese scholar at Hong Kong’s City University, tells TIME.

Tensions remain high. A study released by the Pew Research Center on Monday reported that 84% of the Vietnamese polled said they were concerned that conflict could erupt with their northern neighbor.

Professor Bruce Jacobs, an Asia expert at Australia’s Monash University, says the deployment of Haiyang Shiyou 981 must be viewed within the context of Beijing’s brazen maneuvers to consolidate its long-held, albeit highly disputed, grandiose maritime claims across the Asia-Pacific. “The oil rig was just part of that,” he says.

With China unrepentant, the U.S. has attempted to use the episode to strengthen relations with its Asian partnerships and position itself as an arbitrator in the Pacific.

Last week Michael Fuchs, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Strategy and Multilateral Affairs, called on all states claiming a stake in the South China Sea “to clarify and agree to voluntarily freeze certain actions and activities that escalate disputes and cause instability.”

In response, Beijing accused the U.S. of unsolicited meddling.

“We hope that countries outside the region can stay neutral, distinguish right from wrong and truly respect the joint efforts made by regional countries for peace and stability of the region,” said Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, on Tuesday.

TIME China

Many Asian Nations Believe That a War With China Is Looming

Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag in a protest action in Manila,
Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag during a protest in Manila on June 9, 2014. Romeo Ranoco—Reuters

A majority in the Asian countries polled in a new Pew study say they fear a looming military conflict with China

China’s neighbors fear the worst is yet to come.

Strong-arm tactics and tough talk coming from Beijing in the past year have succeeded in convincing neighboring countries that war may just be around the corner, according to a new poll released by the Pew Research Center.

“In all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will lead to a military conflict,” read the report published by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank on Monday.

In Vietnam, where relations with Beijing have been exceptionally tense since a state-owned Chinese drilling platform moved into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands in early May, 84% of participants said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that territorial disputes could lead to war.

In Japan, which is embroiled with Beijing in disputes over vacant outcroppings in the East China Sea, 85% concurred.

Farther south in the Philippines, 93% of those polled feared the possibility of conflict with China. The archipelago nation has a number of ongoing disputes with China in the South China Sea and, much to Beijing’s chagrin, is pursuing international arbitration in a bid to settle those claims.

While many of the territorial disagreements with China have been ongoing for years, a number of incidents initiated by Beijing in the past nine months have led to increasingly strained ties across the region.

The perennially taut relationship between Tokyo and Beijing reached a flash point late last year when China unilaterally declared the establishment of an air-defense zone that covered the skies over disputed isles in the East China Sea.

Both Manila and Hanoi have meanwhile accused China of maintaining a large presence of paramilitary vessels, coast-guard ships and fishing boats in disputed maritime areas in a bid to edge rival nations out of contested waters. Experts following the region say the tactic must have had clearance from the upper echelons of power in Beijing.

“Xi Jinping and the central military commission as well as key figures in Zhongnanhai — they took a calculated risk,” Alexander Neill, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia office, tells TIME. “China is testing the tensile strength of the sort of hub-and-spokes alliance system in the region.”

A majority of the Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese and South Koreans surveyed considered China as their nation’s top threat and the U.S. as their nation’s most important ally, according to Pew.

Only Pakistani and Malaysian respondents named the U.S. as their top foe and saw China as their biggest ally. (Indonesia was the lone country where respondents named the U.S. as both their biggest threat and No. 1 partner.)

The publication of the Pew poll comes after Washington has upped both economic and military cooperation with its Asian allies and fostered relations with former foe Vietnam to counter China’s increasingly brazen moves in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has not responded kindly.

“What we seem to be seeing is increasing polarization in Washington and in Beijing,” says Neill. “The Sino-U.S. relationship is going through a rocky period.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on China to avoid engaging in behavior that would “destabilize the Asia-Pacific region” and to refrain from enforcing its air-defense zone.

But Beijing does not appear to be interested in backing down. An editorial published in the state-linked Global Times on Monday fired back at Washington.

“[China] has the right to safeguard its sovereignty and it has no intention to go to war,” read the editorial. “China will not make trouble, but equally is unafraid of any trouble.”

TIME Burma

Burmese Journalists Sentenced to a Decade in Prison With Hard Labor

Myanmar Journalist Protest
Burmese journalists hold banners as they protest for press freedom outside the office of the Daily Eleven newspaper in Rangoon on Jan. 7, 2014. Khin Maung Win—AP

Five journalists were handed astonishingly harsh sentences for reporting about an alleged chemical-weapons plant in the central part of the country

Burma may no longer be a pariah state, but its courts have shown that the government’s authoritarian tendencies are alive and well.

On Thursday, a court in Pakokku Township sentenced the CEO of the Unity Weekly current-affairs magazine, and four of its reporters, to a decade in prison with hard labor for publishing an article earlier this year about the possible existence of a chemical-weapons factory in central Burma.

“This is blatant bullying of media workers by the government’s judicial and executive sectors,” Unity reporter Lu Maw Naing told Burmese broadcaster DVB Multimedia as policemen hustled him out of the courthouse.

Following the publication of the article in January, the government cracked down hard on the periodical. It was hit with a lawsuit by the President’s Office, issues of the magazine were seized and reporters were arrested. The journal was soon shuttered as financial pressures mounted.

While the government has confirmed the existence of the factory, Naypyidaw says it is for standard munitions and denies allegations that chemical weapons are being produced on the grounds. The claims are impossible to independently verify because Burma is a not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The former generals at the country’s helm remain sensitive about reporting on weapons programs launched by the former junta. Despite the easing of a smattering of sanctions against Burma in the past two years, several nations, including the U.S., have refused to drop sanctions that target members of the country’s shady military.

Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a series of developments that belie Burma’s reformist narrative. Opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi remains barred from holding the country’s highest office, the internal peace process is stagnating and the rise of Buddhist nationalism has ripped massive holes in the diverse country’s delicate social fabric.

In addition, the fourth estate now appears to be firmly in the government’s crosshairs. In the past year, reporters from DVB and Eleven Media have been jailed, and in May the government deported a foreign journalist for covering a press-freedom rally. The palpable optimism that wafted over the nation three years ago is waning rapidly.

“I think [this case] shows the true colors of this government,” Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy news magazine, tells TIME. “It’s a real reminder of the old days under the previous repressive regime.”

During a radio address to the nation earlier this month, President Thein Sein boasted that Burma’s media environment was one of the freest in Southeast Asia. However, he added the caveat that journalists who undermine “national security” would be punished.

“[If] media freedom threatens national security instead of helping the nation, I want to warn all that we will take effective action under existing laws,” said Thein Sein, according to a state-run publication.

Just a week later, the threat became reality for the reporters of Unity Weekly. The administration relied on the colonial-era Official Secrets Act to wallop the journalists rather than prosecuting them through newly passed media legislation.

“The authorities are clearly shifting from rule of law to rule by law,” says Benjamin Ismail, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.

“They are just trying to justify their censorship and repression of the press by showing the international community that legal procedures are followed and everything is normal.”

Editors on the ground say the financially ruinous lawsuit launched against Unity is part of the government’s elaborate strategy to silence dissent. With myriad publications struggling to keep their head above the water in the impoverished country, any legal action could prove disastrous.

“There’s a clear glass ceiling from the owners or the business side,” says Toe Zaw Latt, DVB’s Burma bureau chief. “Once there is trouble, of course you lose money.”

Harassment of editors also appears to be on the rise. In the past two weeks, numerous press offices have reportedly been party to unannounced visits from officers from the military’s special branch.

“They come to our office and other media offices asking petty questions: ‘How are you making money?’ ‘Are you making a lot of business?’ ‘Are you making a profit?’” says Aung Zaw. “It’s clearly intimidation.”

TIME Crime

Prosecutors: Houston Shooting Suspect First Bound His 6 Victims

Houston Suburban Shooting
Law enforcement officers surround a shooting suspect Wednesday, July 9, 2014, in Spring, Texas. Brett Coomer—Houston Chronicle/AP

Updated 12 p.m. E.T. on July 10

Six people died in a shooting Wednesday when a gunman opened fire at a home in suburban Houston, authorities said. Four children were among the victims, who prosecutors said had been tied up and shot in the back of the head.

Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, surrendered after a three-hour standoff with police Wednesday night and was booked Thursday for murder charges.

“It appears this stems from a domestic issue with a breakup in the family from what our witness has told us,” assistant chief deputy constable Mark Herman of the Harris County Precinct 4 constable’s office told reporters.

Constable Ron Hickman corrected an earlier report that Haskell was the children’s father, but confirmed he was a relative of the homeowners.

“He came to this location yesterday afternoon … and came under the guise of a FedEx driver wearing a FedEx shirt,” Hickman said in a news conference. “[He] gathered up the children that were here and awaited the arrival of the parents. Sometime later the victims were shot in this residence, and we now learned that Mr. Haskell was married to a relative of the residents of this home.”

Two adults and three children were found dead at the crime scene in the suburb of Spring, authorities told TIME. Another child died after being airlifted to a nearby hospital, officials said. A 15-year-old girl survived the melee with bullet fracture to the skull by playing dead. She told police that the shooter planned to target her grandparents next.

The suspect led law enforcement officers and SWAT team members a car chase late Wednesday. They later cornered the suspect before he surrendered several miles away from the scene of the initial shooting. Members of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office high-risk operations unit and hostage negotiation team spoke to the man prior to his surrender.

One resident who lives close to the scene of the crime said he was shocked by the tragedy. “I’ve lived here 20 years. It’s a very quiet neighborhood,” Wesley Carr told the Houston Chronicle.

TIME Thailand

Thailand’s Junta Arrests an Editor Over a Facebook Comment

Thailand's Military Coup Continues As General Prayuth Receives Royal Endorsement
A man shows his mobile phone while riding the Bangkok sky train on May 28, 2014. A widespread Facebook outage occurred in Thailand one afternoon while the ruling military junta who staged a coup denied causing it. Paula Bronstein—Getty Images

The military continues to silence critics of the May 22 coup

Thailand’s ruling junta set another disturbing precedent over the weekend after arresting a magazine editor in retaliation for comments he published on his Facebook page on July 4.

In his message, Thanapol Eawsakul, the editor of Fah Diew Khan magazine, said that military authorities had instructed him to refrain from making critical remarks about the junta. He was taken into custody the following day by soldiers clothed in civilian attire.

This is the second time Thanapol has been taken into custody since the army seized power from the country’s caretaker government in late May. He is expected to be held in “administrative detention” for at least seven days.

“Arresting an editor for a Facebook criticism of military rule shows just how far the junta will go to silence critics,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The military can neither arrest all critics nor wish them out of existence.”

Fah Diew Khan is largely associated with the country’s Red Shirt movement, which supports the popularly elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra that was removed from power during the coup.

In a barely disguised display of media favoritism, the junta appointed the chairman of Post Publishing, which owns several periodicals that reportedly have strong ties to Thailand’s ruling class, to the 10-member advisory board it set up days after the coup.

Since seizing the reins of power, the military has relied on the interment of protest leaders, politicians, analysts and journalists critical of their policies to smother dissent.

On May 28, the junta briefly suspended access to Facebook before quickly reinstating the connection. While the military later denied blocking Facebook, a spokesperson from Norwegian telecommunications firm Telenor, which operates the second largest network in Thailand, admitted that the firm did so for one hour after being instructed by Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.

TIME Pakistan

Unbelievably, There Are Now Refugees Fleeing to Afghanistan

The Pakistani military’s offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan has sparked a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of Pakistanis concluding that Afghanistan is just a far safer place to be right now.

+ READ ARTICLE

The Pakistani military has begun operations against Islamic insurgents in the North Waziristan region, delivering the offensive that Washington has been requesting for a decade, and sparking a massive exodus of refugees — some of whom are fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan to escape the fighting.

Militants, who have long inhabited the mountainous tribal area, have found themselves the target of heavy artillery bombardment and airstrikes for the past fortnight, in what the military’s PR chief Major-General Asim Bajwa termed “the beginning of the end of terrorism in Pakistan.”

Reports began to surface on Thursday in the Pakistani press that ground troops had started moving into North Waziristan to clear out the insurgent forces.

Washington says militants have been using North Waziristan for years as a base from which to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan and to wage a terrorist insurgency against the Pakistani state.

Senior members of the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan), the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda’s central command — along with a smattering of militants from as far away as western China’s Xinjiang province and Chechnya — are believed to be holed up in the area. All are on Islamabad’s kill list.

“For the military, there’ll be no discrimination among Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Haqqani network or any other militant group,” Major-General Bajwa told reporters during a press conference in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

The mountainous border dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan has been home to martial tribes for centuries. However, the presence of heavily armed insurgents and foreign jihadis is the notorious legacy of American and Saudi intelligence agencies, who used the fighters as proxy forces during the clandestine war with Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“This is famously the powder keg, which has led to everything going wrong in the region and the beginning of heavily armed militant Islam,” William Dalrymple, the historian and author of nine books on South Asia, tells TIME. “Obviously in retrospect [it’s] one of the great mistakes of American foreign policy.”

The Pakistani secret service (ISI) is alleged to have helped insurgent elements fleeing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, using those militant groups to maintain pressure on the newly formed government in Kabul, which they believed harbored pro-Indian sensibilities.

“The Pakistan Army, or elements within ISI, always continued to support the Taliban as a way of getting rid of the Karzai government and a way of installing a pro-Pakistani Taliban regime in Kabul,” says Dalrymple.

That policy appears to have backfired. In 2007, the Pakistani Taliban launched a fresh insurgency against Islamabad that to date has been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistanis and at least 15,000 security personnel.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif campaigned last year on the promise of peace talks with the Taliban, but any hope of negotiations has been extinguished by a recent string of humiliating attacks, including a brazen assault on Karachi airport, deep in the country’s commercial hub.

The perennially stretched Pakistani state is now attempting to deal with the massive humanitarian fallout from the new offensive. In the less than two weeks of fighting, more than 450,000 people have been internally displaced. Officials estimate that the number will surpass 500,000 soon.

In a bizarre reversal of the norm, tens of thousands of Pakistanis have reportedly flooded into war-torn eastern Afghanistan to escape the fighting on the Pakistan side of the border.

“The [Afghan] government estimates there are over 60,000 thousand for now,” says Babar Baloch from U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

The exodus has also ignited fears that the polio epidemic rampant in North Waziristan for two years could spread to other parts of the region.

Meanwhile, analysts have already begun to criticize the new military campaign for not being part of a broader vision of Pakistan’s future.

“There isn’t yet a clear national strategy,” says Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. That means “operations are going to be tactical at best.” He adds: “The civilians were not brought in at the planning stage. And they’re not prepared in any way to take over from the military once the clearing has taken place.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Kerry Presses for Iraq Peace but Warns Militants Could Force U.S. Action

Secretary of State John Kerry met with top Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish political leaders in Baghdad on Monday. He warned that the threat from militants storming across Iraq could force the U.S. to take military action, even as he pressed the country's leaders to cede more power to opponents and forge a political solution to the crisis

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated 3:18 p.m. E.T.

Secretary of State John Kerry warned Monday that the threat from militants storming across Iraq could force the U.S. to take military action, even as he pressed the country’s leaders to cede more power to opponents and forge a political solution to the crisis.

“They do pose a threat,” Kerry said of fighters from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “They cannot be given safe haven anywhere.

“That’s why, again, I reiterate the President will not be hampered if he deems it necessary if [political reconciliation] is not complete,” Kerry added.

Kerry’s comments came during an unannounced visit to Baghdad, during which he met with the country’s top officials and urged Shi‘ite leaders to cede more power to their rivals as Sunni insurgents plunge the country into chaos.

Kerry had a 90-minute closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom U.S. officials pushed to be more inclusive in his government to bridge the country’s sectarian divide, worsened by years of policymaking that slighted Sunnis and the Kurdish minority in the north. Kerry said afterward that al-Maliki, along with other government officials, had committed to meet a July 1 deadline to build a new power-sharing government.

He also met with top Shi‘ite cleric Ammar al-Hakim and one of Iraq’s most senior Sunnis, parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. “These are difficult times,” he said in the meeting with al-Nujaifi, while reaffirming the Obama Administration’s commitment to stabilizing Iraq’s security. “But the principal concern is for the Iraqi people — for the integrity of the country, its borders, for its sovereignty.”

Kerry spoke about the unrest playing out in Iraq the day before while in Cairo. “This is a critical moment where together we must urge Iraq’s leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people,” Kerry told reporters.

The Middle East trip comes days after President Barack Obama confirmed the U.S. would send 300 military advisers to assist in the training of the Iraqi military as it attempts to beat back the ferocious assault spearheaded by ISIS extremists. Those troops, Obama said, would not engage in combat missions.

— Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller and Michael Crowley

TIME World Cup

Michael Bradley Has ‘No Regrets’ After Blunder in 2-2 Draw With Portugal

Brazil Soccer WCup US Portugal
United States' Michael Bradley reacts after his shot on an open goal was blocked by Portugal's Ricardo Costa during the group G World Cup soccer match between the USA and Portugal in Manaus, Brazil on June 22, 2014. Martin Mejia—AP

Team USA's midfielder says he left everything on the field after drawing with Portugal late on Sunday night

Michael Bradley managed to accurately echo the disappointment of a nation. “Soccer can be a cruel game sometimes,” the 26-year-old admitted following Team USA’s exasperating 2-2 draw with Portugal on Sunday.

The American midfielder found himself uncomfortably in the limelight after his last-minute blunder allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to gain possession and swing in an inch-perfect cross to Silvestre Varela who headed in an equalizing goal.

If the World Cup can turn relative unknowns like John Brooks into a national hero in a matter of seconds, a pivotal error can just as easily turn a lauded player into a scapegoat — no matter how unfair the indictment.

“The ball popped up, and I was able to make a few quick steps and get there. It was tight and unfortunately I wasn’t able to make a good enough play to keep it for us or get a foul,” explained Bradley. “At that point the ball turns over and it’s up to us to deal with the situation.”

Despite the flub, Bradley insisted during a postgame interview that he was satisfied with his performance against the star-studded Portuguese squad.

“I put my heart and soul into every game, every time I step on the field,” said Bradley in response to a question from an ESPN correspondent. “I’m proud of that and proud every time I play, and there are certainly no regrets in my book.”

The American squad will face off against Germany in their final group match Thursday. A win or draw will guarantee them a place in the knockout stage of the World Cup, though they can still get through with a loss if the Portugal-Ghana game breaks their way.

TIME Congress

House Approves Amendment That Would Curb Spying on Americans

Proposed legislation would bar the NSA from secretly browsing search histories, emails and chat histories without warrants

The House of Representatives called for the imposition of new safeguards that would curtail the U.S. government’s wide-reaching ability to spy on American citizens with a striking bipartisan majority during a vote late on Thursday night.

The proposed curbs on the government’s domestic spying apparatus were included in an amendment attached to the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. The House approved the amendment by 293 votes to 123.

The legislation, if passed, will put an end to searches of “government databases for information pertaining to U.S. citizens, without a warrant” and prohibit the NSA from using budget it receives under the act to access “commercial tech products”— presumably computers, phones, phone networks and Internet-based services — through “back doors.”

House Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin, California legislator Zoe Lofgren and Kentucky’s Thomas Massie sponsored the amendment.

“By adopting this amendment, Congress can take a sure step toward shutting the back door on mass surveillance,” said the legislators in a joint statement. “Congress has an ongoing obligation to conduct oversight of the intelligence community and its surveillance authorities.”

However, not everyone in the House was supportive. House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte asserted that curbs on surveillance would play in the hands of terrorists.

“This amendment would create a blind spot for the intelligence community tracking terrorists with direct connections to the U.S. homeland,” Goodlatte told Roll Call. “Such an impediment would put American lives at risk of another terrorist attack.”

TIME Iraq

Iraq Asks the U.S. to Launch Air Strikes Against Sunni Militants

Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish their weapons as they gather to show their willingness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities, on June 17 2014, in the southern Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf.
Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish their weapons as they gather to show their willingness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities, on June 17 2014, in the southern Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf. Haidar Hamdani—AFP/Getty Images

Baghdad has officially asked the U.S. to consider deploying air support to the country's languishing ground troops

Iraq’s embattled government is clamoring for U.S. air strikes against Sunni militias that continue to capture large swaths of territory north of the capital, Baghdad, including portions of the country’s largest oil refinery.

During an official visit to Saudi Arabia this week, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari confirmed the U.S. has been officially asked to supply air support to help halt a massive rebel offensive that is being led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“Iraq has officially asked Washington to help … and to conduct air strikes against terrorist groups,” Zebari told reporters, according to the AFP.

“A military approach will not be enough. We acknowledge the need for drastic political solutions.”

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama met with his National Security Council earlier this week before sitting down with top legislators in the Oval Office on Wednesday.

“The President directed his national security team to develop a range of options, and that work is ongoing,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told a pool of reporters Tuesday.

“But there is no military solution that will solve Iraq’s problems, which is why we’ve been urgently pressing Iraq’s leaders across the political spectrum to govern in a non-sectarian manner.”

A car bomb exploded inside a parking lot in the Iraqi capital’s southeastern Shi‘ite neighborhood of New Baghdad on Thursday, killing three and leaving seven people injured, reports the AP.

On Wednesday, reports circulated that ISIS fighters had seized significant swaths of Iraq’s largest oil refinery in Baiji, despite coming up against stiff resistance from government forces comprising elite Iraqi commandos who had the support of helicopter gunships.

Iraqi officials have continued to deny that the battle for the facility has been lost to ISIS.

Brigadier General Arras Abdul Qadir, who is commanding the battle against the insurgent forces at the refinery, reportedly told the New York Times by phone that his men were still inside the facility and fighting.

However, when asked how long his troops could hold out against the enemy, Qadir replied, “We will see.”

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