TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Warns of Extended Campaign Against ISIS

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks about veterans issues at the American Legion’s 96th National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

The President makes his first public comments on the U.S. military campaign in Iraq since returning from vacation

President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday that the United States would not rest until it brought to justice the killer of American journalist James Foley at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” Obama told an audience of veterans and their families at the American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. a week after the extremist group released a video showing the graphic execution of Foley by an ISIS fighter. These were Obama’s first public comments on the conflict since returning from vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

“Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple. America does not forget, our reach is long, we are patient, justice will be done,” Obama said, referencing Foley’s killing. “We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans to go after those who harm Americans. And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland.”

As he weighs expanding the fight against ISIS into Syria, Obama warned that “history teaches us of the dangers of overreaching and spreading ourselves too thin and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama has yet to decide whether to authorize the expansion of the weeks-long American air campaign in Iraq against the group.

Obama said that the strikes against ISIS have been limited to protecting U.S. forces and diplomats in Iraq, reaffirming that U.S. troops would not be sent back on the ground beyond an advisory capacity.

“Let me say it again: American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq,” he said. “We’ll not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq because, ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 26

1. “This is a reflection of long-standing and growing inequalities of access to basic systems of healthcare delivery.” –Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer on the Ebola outbreak.

By Democracy Now!

2. Despite commitments to the contrary, elite colleges are still failing to bring poorer students into the fold.

By Richard Pérez-Peña in the New York Times

3. #ISISMediaBlackout: Tuning out Islamist rhetoric and taking out their powerful propaganda weapon.

By Nancy Messieh at the Atlantic Council

4. What makes income inequality so pernicious? The shocking odds against moving up the income ladder for some Americans.

By Richard Reeves at the Brookings Institution

5. The specter of Iraq’s looming collapse is inflaming concerns about Afghanistan’s electoral crisis. But the two countries are very different.

By The Editors of Bloomberg View

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Syria

White House: ISIS Not Planning to Attack U.S. Homeland — Yet

Josh Earnest
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Hundreds of Westerners are joining the fight in Iraq and Syria, but the U.S. has found no evidence of a plot against the homeland over SIS

The U.S. government has no evidence of a current plot by fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) to attack the U.S. homeland, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

“We are concerned about the threat that is posed by [ISIS], but it is the assessment, as stated by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the intelligence community, that there currently is not an active plot under way to attack the U.S. homeland,” Earnest told reporters.

Nonetheless, concerns that ISIS fighters with the passports of Western countries could attack Europe or the U.S. has Western governments on heightened alert. Some U.S. lawmakers are calling for a revision of the visa-waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries — mostly Europeans and other Western allies — to enter the U.S. and stay for 90 days without a visa. “They can bring … what they’ve learned about bombmaking and about assassinations with them here at home,” said House Armed Services Committee vice chairman Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican, on CNN on Sunday.

Approximately 12,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria from at least 50 countries, said Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department. Several dozen are suspected to hold U.S. passports, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in July.

Britain estimates that more than 500 people linked to the U.K. have traveled to Syria since the uprising began. “Obviously, it’s very difficult to give precise numbers on this,” said Jessica Jennings, a spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. The French Ministry of Interior has estimated that roughly 900 French citizens are currently waging jihad in Syria, Iraq and Libya. And German intelligence fears nearly 300 German nationals have traveled to Syria.

“One of the concerns is that we want to make sure that we confront this threat before it gets worse, before they’re able to establish a safe haven in which they could build a larger international network and conceive of a broader conspiracy that would allow them to carry out a more — a broader, more violent catastrophic attack,” Earnest said.

ISIS extremists “are one plane ticket away from U.S. shores,” House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, adding that an attack against the U.S. “is a very real threat.” The violence in Syria has already spread to Europe. In May, a shooting at a Jewish museum in Brussels left three dead. Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Frenchman who traveled to Syria in 2013 to join the fighting, allegedly carried out that attack.

Also in May, 22-year-old Moner Mohammad Abusalha, from West Palm Beach, Fla., drove a truck laden with explosives into a government position in northern Syria, becoming the first American suicide bomber in the three-year-old war.

A month earlier, 19-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley was arrested at the Denver airport en route to Adana, Turkey, less than 100 miles from the Syrian border. Conley was detained after she told Colorado police she planned to go overseas and wage jihad. She was hoping to marry a 32-year-old Tunisian man in Syria whom she met on the Internet, according to the charges filed against her.

In June, Texan Michael Wolfe, was arrested at the Houston airport preparing to fly to Turkey. He told agents he planned to use a $5,000 federal tax refund to move his wife and two kids to Turkey and then join the fighting in Syria.

In July, a 20-year-old man was stopped by FBI agents at the Orange County airport in California as he tried to board a flight to Turkey en route to Syria. Adam Dandach, also known as Fadi Fadi Dandach, told agents that he would kill U.S. soldiers if ISIS asked him. Dandach had applied for an expedited passport replacement after his mother had hidden his original in December to prevent him from joining ISIS.

Holder in July called on other Western countries to join the U.S. in criminalizing “preparatory acts of terrorism” like providing “material support” to terrorist groups, the legal justification that the U.S. has used to detain suspected American ISIS followers. Holder also called for greater use of undercover agents to infiltrate Western ISIS groups, asked that allies do a better job of sharing traveler information and recommended that governments invest more in counterradicalization programs.

Some countries have already taken steps to stem the flow. The British Parliament passed a law in May that tightened punishments for joining or helping terrorist groups. Since then, 20 British citizens have been stripped of their citizenship and at least 40 people have been arrested on charges of helping Syrian militant groups.

France, which has passed a legislation banning “preparatory acts of terrorism,” is considering blocking websites that recruit jihadists, and a legislation that empowers the police to stop French citizens from traveling abroad. Norway, which estimates that 40 to 50 of its citizens have traveled to Syria, has also passed a “preparatory act of terrorism” law and made the first arrest under that law in February.

— With reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME Iraq

ISIS Lays Siege to Iraqi Turkmen Village

IRAQ-UNREST-AMERLI
An Iraqi Turkmen Shi‘ite fighter holds a position on Aug. 4, 2014 in Amirli, Iraq Ali Al-Bayati—AFP/Getty Images

The Turkmen of Amirli, Iraq, have been fending off Islamist fighters for months

In June, when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) attacked the Iraqi village of Amirli, 45-year-old teacher Qasim Jawad Hussein was one of hundreds of villagers who rushed to pick up their weapons to fight alongside police and other Shi’ite Turkmen villagers as they clashed with the Sunni extremists.

“We tried to leave the village and we saw [ISIS’] Hummers and their black flags. We were taken by surprise,” said Hussein on a crackly cell phone from Amirli, which remains under siege. “Then I heard fire from the next village over. They were fighting with ISIS. So we went back to get our guns.”

But their collection of aging Soviet rifles has been no match for ISIS’ looted arsenal of American weapons and armored vehicles. Amirli has been under siege for more than two months, and supplies are dwindling.

“We are asking Muslims, Christians, anyone — what we really need is milk for the children,” said Hussein.

Hussein said the militants are just few kilometers from the village, and the residents have organized watches of 200 men each working in shifts, fearing that the militants will storm Amirli.

“The situation of the people in Amirli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement Saturday.

The Turkmen, who have linguistic and cultural ties to Turkey, have lived in northern Iraq for centuries and are both Shi‘ite and Sunni Muslims. They stake claim to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and populate villages throughout the Kirkuk governorate and further south. In June, many of those villages came under attack by ISIS. Residents told troubling stories of their own Arab neighbors turning on them.

“For two months, ISIS has targeted the Turkmen areas, starting with Tal Afar, Mosul, Tuz Khormato and now Amirli. So I’m worried for the future of the Turkmen people,” said Ali Mehdi, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Turkmen Front, a political organization that seeks to represent the interests of the Turkmen minority in Iraq.

The fear now is that Turkmen residents of Amirli will suffer the same fate as the Yezidis of Sinjar, a minority religious group in Iraq who recently fled to a mountaintop in fear of ISIS fighters, creating a potential humanitarian catastrophe before international efforts were launched to come to their aid. As Shi‘ite Muslims, Amirli’s Turkmen are seen as apostates by ISIS militants, who practice a strict — some say distorted — version of Sunni Islam. Like all those who don’t practice ISIS’ version of the faith, the Shi‘ite Turkmen are a target, and as a small and unique minority, they are particularly vulnerable. Some Iraqi Shi‘ite militias have said they will mobilize to help Amirli, but if the militias do try to rescue the residents of Amirli, they will likely be no match for ISIS. On top of that, most of the Shi‘ite militias are Arab, not Turkmen, and are organized to protect their own neighborhoods, leaving the Turkmen largely on their own.

“Shi‘ite militias are organized as local defense forces. Not like ISIS, which is one coherent military organization. There’s one guy at the top” of ISIS, says Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst with the Washington, D.C.–based Institute for the Study of War, who served several tours with the U.S. Army in Iraq.

“Is it possible that the Shi’ite militia could go up there and try a rescue operation, yeah, sure, but the fact is that if the Shi‘ite militia went head-to-head with ISIS, they would get crushed. And I think they know that,” said Harmer.

Both Mehdi and Hussein are calling on the U.S. to intervene. However, as of yet, there have been no air strikes like those carried out by American warplanes in Sinjar. Those strikes allowed local Kurdish forces to open a corridor, allowing many Yezidis to escape.

“Why didn’t the U.S. do anything for this village? Why does the U.S. Air Force go to [the] Mosul Dam, Erbil, but they don’t come here?,” asked Mehdi. “That makes us think the U.S. doesn’t care about the Turkmen.”

But the Americans also have a long-standing relationship with the Kurdish forces, which operated around Sinjar, and it would be difficult for U.S. Special Forces to coordinate with Shi‘ite militias, some of which were sometimes lined up against American forces during the U.S. occupation of Iraq. On top of that, the plight of the Shi‘ite Turkmen may simply not have the appeal of the Yezidis, whose little-known faith and desperate isolation on a besieged mountaintop sparked broad sympathy and interest. Harmer says that could change with the U.N.’s recent statements, but it would be a tough decision for Washington to make.

“America took quite a while to decide to intervene [with ISIS]. And once we decided to intervene, we decided to intervene in Sinjar. I think there was sort of this feeling that these are such a unique religious minority,” said Harmer. The U.S. has now hit ISIS across northern Iraq, focusing on the area around the Mosul Dam. “With the Shi‘ites, it just gets lost in the Sunni-Shi‘ite conflict. There’s nothing unique about ISIS targeting a Shi‘ite village.”

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Weighs Military Action Against ISIS in Syria

"If you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are"

The U.S. is open to the possibility of military action against Islamist militants in Syria, a top Obama Administration official said Friday, warning that the U.S. will “do what is necessary to protect Americans.”

“We’ve made very clear time and again that if you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters. “And that’s what’s going to guide our planning in the days to come.”

President Barack Obama has resisted pressure from both outside and inside his Administration to take a more muscular approach in Syria, where a bloody civil war has claimed 191,000 lives in recent years, according to a new U.N. estimate Friday. But the emergence of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which released a graphic video on Tuesday depicting the beheading of American journalist James Foley, has raised the stakes — and has seemingly made American officials, already engaged in targeted military action in Iraq, more willing to consider doing so on the other side of the border.

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that any strategy against ISIS would have to include action against militants in Syria, and Rhodes didn’t disagree with that assertion Friday.

“Well, we certainly agree that any strategy to deal with the [ISIS] organization has to deal with both sides of the border, Iraq and Syria,” Rhodes said. “The strategy that we are already undertaking does address that in the sense that we are providing training and equipping and assistance to the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish security forces who are fighting them on the ground in Iraq.

“We are also providing support and military assistance to the moderate Syrian opposition,” he added. “What we would like to see is those efforts squeeze the space where [ISIS] operates.”

Rhodes cautioned that no decisions have been made.

“I don’t want to get ahead of decisions the President hasn’t been presented with, specific military options outside of those carrying out the current missions in Iraq,” he said. “But we would certainly look at what is necessary in the long term to make sure we’re protecting Americans.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 22

1. A stacked deck: reform the modern fee-based system of criminal justice that has pushed poor communities to the brink.

By Alex Tabarrok in Marginal Revolution

2. Real political change in Iraq – and a strong regional partnership – is the only way to defeat ISIS.

By Michael Breen in US News and World Report

3. To avoid the next Ferguson and address the nation’s systemic racism, America needs black leaders to take a stand together.

By Bob Herbert in Jacobin

4. With their educations on the line, smartphones for teenagers are a critical tool for success.

By John Doerr in the Wall Street Journal

5. To solve the riddle of women turning to extremist violence, we must address the security issues that deeply impact their lives.

By Jane Harman in CNN

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Pictures of the Week

Pictures of the Week: Aug. 15 – Aug. 22

From ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and the killing of Hamas leaders in Gaza to Pope Francis’ visit to South Korea and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME Iraq

Can Iraq’s New Prime Minister Keep the Sunnis on Side?

Iraq's new prime minister Haidar Al-Abadi in Bagdad, Aug. 16, 2014.
Iraq's new prime minister Haidar Al-Abadi in Bagdad, Aug. 16, 2014. Michael Kappeler—EPA

Haider Al-Abadi must regain the trust of Sunni politicians and tribal leaders if he's going to unite Iraq against the ISIS threat

Even this Iraqi refugee camp is divided by sect. Displaced Kurds shelter in a large warehouse here in Bahirka, the members of the Shia Shabak minority have their UN tents in a line outside and the Sunni Arabs are gathered by the back fence. There is even a corner for the seven Palestinian families that fled Mosul.

Ibrahim, who gave only his first name, is living in the back row of Sunni tents with his wife and four children.

“Of course I blame the Iraqi government for this,” said Ibrahim, who worked as a day laborer and rented a small apartment for his family in Mosul before they fled June 10. “During Prime Minister Maliki’s time, Mosul was like a fortress. There were check-points everywhere.”

This heavy security in Sunni areas like Mosul created resentment against the central government, as many felt the regions had been occupied by security forces loyal to then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who announced he would step down from the premiership on Aug. 15.

Maliki fostered a sharp sectarian split in Iraq, parceling out resources and ministerial roles to his Shiite allies and alienating the Sunnis who populate much of the northern territory taken by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier this summer. Having been estranged by Maliki’s government, the well-armed Sunni tribes of the Nineveh Province put up little resistance to the militants, allowing the group to expand quickly in the region. The militants now control one-third of Iraq and the organization is easily recruiting from the disenfranchised Sunni population. ISIS is believed to have enlisted thousands of new fighters in recent months.

“People don’t like ISIS, but they just hated al-Maliki. And ISIS was the only alternative,” said Ibrahim.

Now, there is a new alternative — Iraq’s new prime minister Haider al-Abadi, a veteran Shiite lawmaker also from al-Maliki’s Dawa Party. He has promised a more inclusive national government, and compromise with the Kurds. But to beat back the spread of ISIS, he’ll need to win over Sunnis bruised by years of Maliki’s leadership—not just the political leadership, but also the Sunni tribal chiefs.

“We are optimistic about participating in the new government,” says Hamed al-Mutlaq, a member of the Iraqi parliament and an influential Sunni politician. “But first we want a real change, not just a change of faces in the government.”

Real change, says al-Mutlaq, would mean ending the division of powers along sectarian lines, and a rebuilding of Iraq’s armed forces, which many say al-Maliki attempted to mould into his own personal militia. If these changes are met, he says, Sunnis might unite against ISIS. “We want safety and security in Iraq and want to get rid of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the all the militias in Iraq.”

But while politicians are showing optimism, or at very least willingness, so far the Sunni tribes of the Nineveh Province have shown no signs of pivoting toward the central government from the leadership offered by ISIS — and some analysts are losing hope that they might. “The situation has reached such a level that I’m not sure it’s reversible. I’m not sure we can solve it,” says Maria Fantappie, an Iraq analyst with International Crisis Group.

Bringing tribal leaders back into the fold would require al-Abadi to decentralize authority from Baghdad to empower Sunni provincial leaders, said Fantappie. “But again, to tell you the truth, from the contacts I have with the Sunni tribes even this project is unlikely to succeed. Unfortunately, I think we reached the point where the ISIS project has become very attractive for many Sunnis,” says Fantappie.

Some, but not all. Maysar, a Sunni from Mosul living in the refugee camp in Bahirka, voiced worries that everyone who remained in the city will be accused of siding with ISIS when they are simply attempting to live under the new regime. The 35-year-old, who would only give his first name, says he was one of the few police who tried to fight back against the militants when they entered the city three months ago, and now feels like an outcast.

“When Haidar Al-Abadi chooses his government he must be very careful. He must deal very carefully with people of Mosul,” he says. Many in these areas are sitting quietly because they fear ISIS as long as the group remain in control, he says. “Yes, some people there are with ISIS. But he can’t just consider everyone who remains in Mosul to be a terrorist.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Says ‘Entire World Is Appalled’ by ISIS Beheading of Journalist

"No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day"

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the “entire world is appalled” by the death of American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria more than 18 months ago and whose death was depicted in a video Tuesday.

The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) posted the graphic video of the execution on Tuesday, calling it retribution for American airstrikes against Sunni extremist forces in Iraq. The U.S. intelligence community has authenticated the video, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said.

“Today the entire world is appalled by the murder of journalist Jim Foley,” Obama said Wednesday in an emotional statement from Martha’s Vineyard.

Obama said the Middle East must work to “extract this cancer” that threatens the stability of Iraq and the region. “[ISIS] speaks for no religion,” Obama said. “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim.”

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” he added.

Obama called Foley’s family on Wednesday morning to express his condolences on the loss of their son.

“Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocked the conscience of the entire world,” Obama said.

The video also includes a threat to kill Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist who has written for TIME and other outlets, and has been missing since August 2013. “We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families,” Obama said. “We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.”

Obama said the United States would continue its efforts to confront ISIS. “The United States of America will do what we must to protect our people,” he said. “We will be vigilant, and we will be relentless.”

A Facebook page affiliated with the Foley family’s campaign for his release posted a message Tuesday evening from his mother, Diane Foley.

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim,” she wrote. “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. …We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”

Foley “was taken by an organized gang after departing from an internet café in Binesh, Syria,” near the Turkish border, the FBI said in an alert following the Nov. 22, 2012, kidnapping. He was in Binesh covering the Syrian civil war for the GlobalPost website and AFP.

Foley, 40, grew up in New Hampshire, where his parents live.

-Additional reporting by Mark Thompson.

TIME faith

Pope Promotes Peace, Not Pacifism, in Iraq

Pope Francis
Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall, at the Vatican on Aug. 20, 2014. Riccardo De Luca—AP

Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are not pacifists

Many were surprised with Pope Francis’s remarks earlier this week suggesting that he was open to military intervention to stop the ISIS’s potentially genocidal campaign in Iraq.

While it’s important to note that he didn’t outright endorse the recent American airstrikes in Iraq, Francis’s remarks that “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor” do seem to mark a shift from the pope’s response to the Syrian crisis last September. On that occasion, he held a worldwide vigil in the hopes of stopping the violence and postponing American intervention in the region. He then famously joined his words with those of Pope Paul VI: “war never again! Never again war!”

But for those who know the intricacies of Catholic moral teaching, Francis’s openness to military intervention in Iraq makes perfect sense. For 1500 years, the Church has promoted the teaching of St. Augustine: that there can be no true peace without justice. This ancient teaching has crystallized into the Church’s modern day just war principle, which holds that nations only ought to enter into military campaigns against unjust aggressors as a last resort and only in limited scope and circumstances.

Under that paradigm, does the current situation in Iraq merit such a military response? Pope Francis isn’t ruling it out. Now contrary to the absurd claim by Vox’s Max Fisher, Pope Francis isn’t calling for the tenth crusade against the Middle Eastern people. Instead, he’s proposing a clear-eyed response to a critical crisis.

Despite what some might think, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are not pacifists. To promote some kind of laissez-faire pacifism in Iraq is to be quiet and indifferent to the victims of the ISIS’s campaign of violence. To the contrary, the peace that Francis and the Church are calling for at times requires military intervention.

This nuance has played out interestingly over the past fifty years. Though the Vatican unequivocally opposed President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was skeptical of American involvement in Vietnam, the Church did support American intervention in Iraq in 1991.

As President Obama and the United States contemplate the road forward in this current crisis, Pope Francis and the Church cannot offer American political and military leaders specific strategic solutions, but only broad stroke moral principles. What the Church does know is that authentic peace isn’t easy and is only reserved for societies who actively work for justice.

Despite the differences that will likely emerge in the details of President Obama’s and Pope Francis’s vision for American involvement in Iraq, both men will likely agree that peace—not pacifism—is the way forward in the region.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.

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