TIME Iraq

Iraqi Parliament Unanimously Approves Reform Plan

World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa
Salah Malkawi—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament Salim Al-Jabouri participates in the the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in May 22, 2015 at the Dead Sea, Jordan.

The plan would cut spending and eliminate senior positions and expand the powers of the prime minister

(BAGHDAD) — Iraq’s parliament on Tuesday unanimously approved an ambitious reform plan that would cut spending and eliminate senior posts, including the three largely symbolic vice presidencies, following mass protests against corruption and poor services.

Lawmakers approved the plan without a debate — a dramatic departure from the heated arguments and delays that have slowed previous efforts to approve important laws. Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had backed the plan, which was announced Sunday amid mounting public pressure.

The government in Baghdad faces multiple challenges amid a war against the Islamic State group, which blitzed last year to capture a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria. Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes have since managed to retake some areas but clashes between the militants and security forces continue.

Tuesday’s development came after mass protests across Iraq against corruption and poor governance, focused on frequent power outages which have made a recent heat wave even more unbearable.

After the parliament approved the law, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated Iraqis in a message on his Facebook page, promising “to continue in the path of the reform even if it costs me my life with the trust in God and the people’s support.”

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said he hoped that Tuesday’s “move will be the first and not the last to continue in the path of reform with the same spirit and without any hesitation.”

The U.N. mission to Iraq, known as UNAMI, welcomed the plan, saying it will “strengthen national unity and accelerate reconciliation at a time all honest Iraqis need to combine their efforts in the fight against terror.”

The acting chief of UNAMI, Gyorgy Busztin, said in a statement that “corruption and inefficiency create widespread and rightful dissatisfaction, which in turn, can be manipulated by terrorist groups for their own ends.”

The plan, which was unveiled by al-Abadi and approved by his Cabinet on Sunday, would cut spending and eliminate the offices of the three vice presidents and the three deputy prime ministers, largely symbolic positions for which appointments have long been determined by party patronage and sectarian loyalties.

The reforms dismantle parts of the top-heavy government created in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. The tripartite offices were intended to give equal representation to Iraq’s Shiite majority and its Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

The reforms also expand the powers of the prime minister, allowing him to sack provincial governors and the heads of provincial and local councils.

The plan further sidelines Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, al-Abadi’s predecessor who was widely blamed for inflaming sectarian tensions and staffing the military with underqualified supporters, paving the way for the Islamic State group’s rapid advance across northern and western Iraq last year.

Al-Maliki reluctantly stepped aside a year ago, but is widely believed to exert power from behind the scenes. He expressed support for the reform plan.

Saad al-Hadithi, a government spokesman, told The Associated Press that the plan will be implemented over the coming months and that further reforms are in the works.

The plan would also reduce spending on officials’ personal bodyguards and transfer that responsibility to the interior and defense ministries.

In addition, it calls for a review of all corruption cases by a committee of experts, with fresh trials for officials suspected of wrongdoing. It also includes economic reforms aimed at encouraging investment and tax reforms to expand revenue sources beyond the oil industry.

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Associated Press writer Vivian Salama contributed to this report.

TIME Iraq

Twin Bombs by ISIS Kill More Than 40 People in Iraqi Capital

The Sunni militant group has been behind several similar large-scale attacks recently

(BAGHDAD) — Two bombs striking neighborhoods in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province killed at least 42 people Monday night, officials said, less than a month after the region was the scene of one of the deadliest attacks to hit the country in recent years.

The deadlier of Monday’s two attacks happened near the provincial capital, Baquba, located 35 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad. Police said a suicide car bomb tore through a marketplace, killing at least 35 people and wounding 72.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, in a statement distributed on Twitter, saying an Iraqi fighter named Abdullah al-Ansai detonated his explosives-laden vehicle in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Huwaydah.

The second took place in the village of Kanaan, where officials said a suicide bomber blew himself up in a residential area, killing seven people and wounding 15.

Hospital officials corroborated the casualty figures. All spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

Residents in Diyala have been calling for greater protection from security forces after ISIS bombed a crowded marketplace last month, killing 115 people, including women and children. The mostly Shiite victims were gathered to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The Sunni-extremist Islamic State group considers Shiites to be apostates.

The government in Baghdad vowed to apprehend the culprits and better secure Diyala. But anger is rife in the volatile province, where a number of towns were captured by ISIS last year. Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters since have retaken those areas, but clashes between the militants and security forces continue.

The Sunni militant group has been behind several similar large-scale attacks on civilians or military checkpoints as it seeks to expand its territory. The group currently controls about a third of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared “caliphate.”

TIME Iraq

Iraq’s Prime Minister Plans to Shrink Criticized Government

Haider al-Abadi Iraqi Prime Minister
Karim Kadim—AP Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announces the arrest of Abdel Baqi al-Sadun, a senior official in the disbanded Baath Party, during a press conference in Baghdad on June 27, 2015.

The cuts come among protests and ongoing struggles with ISIS

(BAGHDAD) — Iraq’s prime minister unveiled a bold plan Sunday to abolish three vice presidential posts and the offices of three deputy premiers, hoping to cut spending amid mass protests against his government as the Islamic State group still holds a third of his nation.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Cabinet backed the plan, which still needs parliamentary approval, but it’s unclear whether it could end the endemic corruption in Iraq’s political system, where many senior appointments are determined by party patronage and sectarian loyalties.

The plan also effectively would push out of government former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, widely criticized for inflaming sectarian tensions and appointing loyal, less-qualified senior officers to Iraq’s military ahead of the Islamic State group’s advance last year. While al-Maliki issued a short statement approving of the proposed plan, he previously criticized al-Abadi’s rise to power last year and repeatedly has urged the current government to address the country’s corruption and sectarian crises.

Al-Abadi’s seven-point plan would dismantle portions of the top-heavy government created in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. It would reduce spending on personal bodyguards for officials and transfer the responsibility to the interior and defense ministries. The plan also calls for the review of all corruption cases by a committee of experts, with fresh trials for officials suspected of wrongdoing.

About a thousand demonstrators gathered late Sunday in support of al-Abadi in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. Despite near-daily bombings and attacks in Baghdad, the square has been the scene of peaceful protests in recent days over frequent power cuts during a heat wave that has seen temperatures reach as high as 52 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit).

The mass demonstrations even include Iraq’s Shiite majority, from which the government draws most of its support. That shows the level of anger among Iraqis in a country ranked 170 out of 175 on Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Index. A 2013 United Nations report found that half a million Iraqi citizens paid 1.9 million bribes to civil servants over the course of a year, mostly for power and water services.

But the anti-corruption drive received a push two days ago when Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on al-Abadi to quickly address internal issues in the government, including corruption. Through his spokesman, Ahmed al-Safi, al-Sistani said the prime minister must be more “daring and courageous” in his steps to reform the government, urging him to strike “with an iron fist anyone who is tampering with the people’s money.”

That’s similar to the pledge al-Abadi made Aug. 10, 2014, when he was named premier-elect. The Islamic State group already seized control of a third of Iraq and the U.S. had just begun targeting the extremists with airstrikes.

But despite seizing Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and some areas, the advance of Iraqi forces has waned. Efforts to win back the western cities of Fallujah and Ramadi have stalled. Operations to recapture Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, have been postponed indefinitely. Kurdish forces, meanwhile, have made modest advances in Iraq.

“The winners from those airstrikes are the Kurds, not the Iraqi fighters who are battling the Islamic State group militants in Salahuddin and Anbar provinces,” said Hadi Jalu, an analyst who is also president of the Journalistic Freedom Observatory.

Iraq, which holds the world’s fifth largest oil reserves and significant amounts of gas, has struggled to finance its war with the Islamic State group due to lower oil prices and high military spending. The consequences have manifested over al-Abadi’s year in office, with the fallout ranging from worsening electricity problems to the government’s failure to keep up with budget payments to the semi-autonomous Kurdish government.

“He had a good six months,” said Sajad Jiyad, a senior researcher at al-Bayan Center for Studies and Planning in Baghdad. “He struck the deal with the (Kurdish Regional Government), got an austerity budget passed within a short amount of time, … took back Tikrit, lifted the curfew from Baghdad, made some changes from the defense and interior ministry, got some guys kicked out.

“The six months after have been downhill,” Jiyad added. “They lost Ramadi, austerities really started to bite, electricity got worse and worse, oil prices have taken another tumble and people in (oil-rich) Basra are asking, ‘What are we getting out of all of this?'”

While people publicly may support reform, al-Abadi’s plan noticeably pushes his predecessor, al-Maliki, out of office, as well as Ayad Allawi, a former member of Saddam’s Baathist government who was named prime minister following the 2003 invasion.

Al-Maliki, who served as prime minister from 2006 until the middle of last year, was widely accused of monopolizing power. He also was seen as a sectarian leader who did much to alienate the country’s Sunni minority, including using security forces to break up their protests. When the Islamic State group captured Mosul and other cities last summer, many Sunnis there initially welcomed the extremists as liberators.

Al-Maliki expressed initial support for the proposed reforms in a brief statement on his website, without addressing losing his own position in power. When Iraqi President Fouad Massoum named al-Abadi as premier-elect last year, al-Malik described it as a “dangerous violation” of the constitution, demanding a third term since his political bloc received the most votes.

While al-Maliki’s influence has waned, he remains a powerful figure in Iraqi political life, as was evident from the significant showing of his own supporters in Tahrir Square on Friday, joining in the call for change.

TIME Iraq

Iraq Digitizes National Library in Face of ISIS Threat

Mideast Iraq Digitizing History
Karim Kadim—AP A member of the library restoration staff works on a damaged document at the Baghdad National Library in Iraq, July 28, 2015

The country fears that ISIS will destroy its historical and cultural archives

(BAGHDAD) — The dimly lit, dust-caked stacks of the Baghdad National Library hide a treasure of the ages: crinkled, yellowing papers holding the true stories of sultans and kings; imperialists and socialists; occupation and liberation; war and peace.

These are the original chronicles of Iraq’s rich and tumultuous history — and now librarians and academics in Baghdad are working feverishly to preserve what’s left after thousands of documents were lost or damaged at the height of the U.S.-led invasion.

As Islamic State militants set out to destroy Iraq’s history and culture, including irreplaceable books and manuscripts kept in the militant-held city of Mosul, a major preservation and digitization project is underway in the capital to safeguard a millennium worth of history.

In darkrooms in the library’s back offices, employees use specialized lighting to photograph some of the most-precious manuscripts. Mazin Ibrahim Ismail, the head of the microfilm department, said they’re testing the process with documents from the Interior Ministry under Iraq’s last monarch, Faisal II, who ruled from 1939 to 1958.

“Once restoration for some of the older documents from the Ottoman era, 200 to 250 years ago, is completed, we will begin to photograph those onto microfilm,” Ismail said. He said the digital archives, which will not be made available immediately to the public, is more to ensure their contents survive any future threat.

The restoration process is nothing short of microsurgery, and the type of damage to each document is a story — and a puzzle — on its own. Some manuscripts are torn from overuse and aging; others are burned or stained from attack or sabotage. And then there are some that were completely fossilized over time — the combined result of moisture and scorching temperatures — looking instead like large rocks dug up from the earth.

“Those are the most difficult books to restore,” said Fatma Khudair, the senior employee in the restoration department. “We apply steam using a specialized tool to try to loosen and separate the pages.

“Sometimes, we are able to save those books and then apply other restoration techniques, but with others, the damage is irreversible,” she added.

Technicians sterilize manuscripts and documents for 48 hours, washing them of dust and other impurities that accumulated over time. Then, they go page by page using Japanese tissue, specialized paper for book conservation and restoration, to either fill in torn edges or layer the more-delicate documents with a sheer coating to make them more durable.

The Baghdad National Library, established by the British in 1920 on donations and first overseen by a Catholic priest, has weathered violent upheaval before. At the start of the 2003 U.S.-led occupation, when chaos gripped the capital, arsonists set fire to the library, destroying 25 percent of its books and some 60 percent of its archives, including priceless Ottoman records. Archives from 1977 to 2003 burned to ashes. Earlier archives from 1920 to 1977, including sensitive Interior Ministry documents, had been stored in rice bags and survived the blaze.

During the invasion of Iraq, “we had an alternative site for the most important books and documents at the Department of Tourism,” said Jamal Abdel-Majeed Abdulkareem, acting director of Baghdad libraries and archives. “Then books and the important documents were exposed to water because the American tanks destroyed the water pipes and water leaked onto these important cultural materials.”

Around 400,000 pages of documents — some dating back to the Ottoman period — and 4,000 rare books were damaged when the pipes broke. They included the library’s precious Hebrew archives, most of which later were moved to Washington.

A team of experts from the Library of Congress visited Baghdad to help assess the damage and recommended building a new national library. More than a decade later, a state-of-the-art, 45,000-square-meter (484,380-square-foot) replacement by London-based AMBS Architects is scheduled to open next year.

Until then, the Baghdad National Library is looking to help those in conflict-ridden areas enjoy and appreciate Iraqi culture. Library officials say that sharing Iraqi art and literature is key to combatting terrorism. In recent months, the library donated some 2,500 books to libraries in Iraq’s Diyala province after Iraqi forces recaptured towns there from Islamic State militants.

The militants “want history to reflect their own views instead of the way it actually happened,” Abdulkareem said. “So when an area is liberated, we send them books to replenish whatever was stolen or destroyed, but also, so that Iraqis in this area have access to these materials so they can always feel proud of their rich history.”

 

TIME Syria

U.S. Strikes in Syria and Iraq Killed 459 Civilians, Says Report

Mideast Islamic State
AP ISIS fighters parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 23, 2014

The strikes have killed more than 15,000 ISIS militants

(BAGHDAD) — U.S.-led airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria have likely killed at least 459 civilians over the past year, a report by an independent monitoring group said Monday.

The report by Airwars, a project aimed at tracking the international airstrikes targeting the extremists, said it believed 57 specific strikes killed civilians and caused 48 suspected “friendly fire” deaths. It said the strikes have killed more than 15,000 Islamic State militants.

While Airwars noted the difficulty of verifying information in territory held by the IS group, which has kidnapped and killed journalists and activists, other groups have reported similar casualties from the U.S.-led airstrikes.

“Almost all claims of noncombatant deaths from alleged coalition strikes emerge within 24 hours — with graphic images of reported victims often widely disseminated,” the report said.

“In this context, the present coalition policy of downplaying or denying all claims of noncombatant fatalities makes little sense, and risks handing (the) Islamic State (group) and other forces a powerful propaganda tool.”

The U.S. launched airstrikes in Iraq on Aug. 8 and in Syria on Sept. 23 to target the Islamic State group. A coalition of countries later joined to help allied ground forces combat the extremists. To date, the coalition has launched more than 5,800 airstrikes in both countries.

The U.S. has only acknowledged killing two civilians in its strikes: two children who were likely slain during an American airstrike targeting al-Qaida-linked militants in Syria last year. That same strike also wounded two adults, according to an investigation released in May by the U.S. military.

That strike is the subject of one of at least four ongoing U.S. military investigations into allegations of civilian casualties resulting from the airstrikes. Another probe into an airstrike in Syria and two investigations into airstrikes in Iraq are still pending.

U.S. Army Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the coalition, did not address the report directly, but said “there is no other military in the world that works as hard as we do to be precise.”

“When an allegation of civilian casualties caused by Coalition forces is determined to be credible, we investigate it fully and strive to learn from it so as to avoid recurrence,” he said in a statement emailed to the Associated Press.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the department has seen the press reports on the additional civilian casualties but said the Pentagon will have nothing to say until the reports are reviewed.

U.S. Central Command has finished four investigations into alleged civilian casualties, concluding that three were unfounded and that two innocent civilians were killed and two other people wounded in the fourth case.

There are six other investigations still ongoing.

Airwars said it identified the 57 strikes through reporting from “two or more generally credible sources, often with biographical, photographic or video evidence.” The incidents also corresponded to confirmed coalition strikes conducted in the area at that time, it said.

The group is staffed by journalists and describes itself as a “collaborative, not-for-profit transparency project.” It does not offer policy prescriptions.

“The coalition’s war against ISIL has inevitably caused civilian casualties, certainly far more than the two deaths Centcom presently admits to,” the group says on its website.

“Yet it’s also clear that in this same period, many more civilians have been killed by Syrian and Iraqi government forces, by Islamic State and by various rebel and militia groups operating on both sides of the border.”

In Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition includes France, Britain, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, Denmark and Canada. Jordan has also carried out airstrikes in Iraq as well as in Syria, although it has released no further information about the dates or locations of its attacks.

The coalition conducting airstrikes in Syria include the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Canada began its own strikes in April, while Britain carries out routine reconnaissance-only drone missions above Syria, and British pilots have carried out airstrikes while embedded with U.S. forces.

Airwars called for greater transparency and accountability from coalition members, since each is individually liable for any civilian deaths or injuries it causes.

“Only one of twelve coalition partners – Canada – has consistently stated in a timely fashion both where and when it carries out airstrikes,” the report said.

Other groups also have reported on major casualties suspected of being caused by the U.S.-led airstrikes. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of on-the-ground activists, said 173 Syrian civilians have been killed since airstrikes began, including 53 children under the age of 18. Most of the civilians were killed in airstrikes near oil refineries and oil fields in the northern provinces of Hassakeh, Raqqa, Aleppo and Deir el-Zour.

The Observatory said the deadliest incident was on May 4, when a U.S.-led airstrike on the northern Islamic State-controlled village of Bir Mahli killed 64 people, including 31 children. A Pentagon spokesman at the time said there was no information to indicate there were civilians in the village. The death toll was confirmed by other opposition groups in Syria.

Two videos and several photos released by a media arm of the IS group purport to show the aftermath of the strikes in the mixed Arab and Kurdish village showed children allegedly wounded in the airstrikes.

In another incident on June 8, an airstrike likely conducted by the U.S.-led coalition on the Islamic State-held village of Dali Hassan, also in northern Syria, killed a family of seven, the Observatory said.

Turkey, which recently began carrying out its own airstrikes against the IS group in Syria and Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, said it would investigate accusations by the Iraqi Kurdish regional government and activists with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that its airstrikes caused civilian casualties in the northern Iraqi town of Zargel.

The United Nations said Monday that it is concerned about reports that 40 civilians may have been killed and over 30 wounded in an airstrike west of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province, and called on the Iraqi government to investigate the incident.

Also on Monday, the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region, President Massoud Barzani, said Iraqi Kurds must maintain control of areas in northwestern Iraq, including the city of Sinjar, after they are recaptured from IS militants.

His speech marked the anniversary of the fall of Sinjar to the Islamic State group, which forced tens of thousands of people from Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority to flee into the mountains, prompting the U.S. to begin the airstrikes targeting the militant group.

Other Kurdish groups, including the PKK and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, claim Sinjar as part of their territory. All three groups are battling to retake Sinjar.

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Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME weather

This Is the World’s Hottest City Today

Displaced Iraqis carry donated food at al-Takia refugee camp in Baghdad on July 30, 2015.
Khalid Mohammed—AP Displaced Iraqis carry donated food at al-Takia refugee camp in Baghdad on July 30, 2015.

The mercury hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Baghdad, and it feels even hotter

Tens of millions of Americans have been suffering under a blistering heatwave this week, with temperatures reaching into the high 90s. But they won’t get any sympathy from the people of Baghdad.

The Iraqi capital was the hottest city on the planet Friday — with the mercury hitting an unbearable 120 degrees Fahrenheit, according to The Weather Channel. And it has felt as hot as 159 degrees.

While many in the U.S. would not tolerate the summer season without air conditioning, people in the Iraqi capital say they have to put up with as little as six hours of electricity per day…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Military

U.S. Prepares to Fly Deeper into Syrian Civil War

Operation Northern Watch Enforces No-Fly Zone
Air Force / Getty Images A U.S. Air Force F-16 leaves a Turkish base in 2002 for a mission over Iraq. Soon they are likely to be flying similar assignments over Syria.

ISIS is the target, but U.S. pilots could also be at risk

The U.S. flew “no-fly zones” over northern and southern Iraq for more than a decade before the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. U.S. warplanes kept Iraqi aircraft out of the sky, and targeted Iraqi air-defense systems that threatened to shoot. Now, along with neighboring Turkey, the U.S. is planning to launch something similar over a stretch of northern Syria.

Eliminating Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria along a strip of the Syrian-Turkish border is the key goal, opening up a safe haven for tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by the country’s four-year-old civil war that has killed more than 200,000. Whether the move hastens the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad—or leads to the shootdown and possible capture or death of an American pilot—remains unknowable.

Institute for the Study of WarThe striped section of the map is the proposed “no-ISIS zone.”

U.S. officials stressed Monday that Washington and Ankara are planning to step up bombing of ISIS targets on the ground, and not create a formal no-fly zone, which would bar Syrian warplanes from bombing runs. “It’s not a no-fly zone—it’s a bombing campaign,” says retired Marine general Anthony Zinni, who oversaw the Iraqi no-fly zones as chief of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000. He doesn’t think such a bombing campaign will have much effect. “We see how well a year of bombing has worked in Iraq,” where ISIS remains in control of much of the western part of the nation.

The chance of clashes between Syria and U.S. and Turkish aircraft will be more likely once details of the new zone are hammered out and stepped-up U.S.-Turkish attacks on ISIS targets begin. “I think they’ll tell the Syrians to just stay out of the air space,” Zinni says of U.S. and Turkish commanders. “They’ll issue a demarche: ‘If you shoot any air defense weapons at us, we’ll nail you.’ That’s what we did to the Iraqis.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the Syrians aren’t challenging U.S. warplanes. “There is no opposition in the air when coalition aircraft are flying in that part of Syria,” he said. “The Assad regime is not challenging us; [ISIS] doesn’t have airplanes … they’re not being shot at.”

But that’s hardly a guarantee. U.S. commanders will ensure their flight crew fly high and well clear of any known Syrian air-defense threats to minimize the chance of a U.S. pilot being shot down and—in the worst case—falling into ISIS’s hands and murdered. But accidents and snafus can occasionally happen. “We never even had a plane scratched,” Zinni says of the more than 200,000 U.S. flights in the Iraqi no-fly zones from 1992 to 2003. “It was absolutely remarkable.” (Unfortunately, this record was marred by the 1994 shootdown of two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters, killing all 26 aboard, by a pair of U.S. Air Force F-15s.)

Conflicting loyalties and priorities complicate the more aggressive campaign. Last week, after a suicide bombing blamed on ISIS killed 30 in a Turkish border town, Turkey began flying air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, and gave the U.S. long-sought permission to launch air strikes from Turkish bases. Turkey, a NATO ally, is growing increasingly concerned with ISIS on its doorstep, the growing refugee problem, and military successes by its Kurdish minority, some elements of which are seeking their own state.

Kurdish forces control most of the Syrian-Turkish frontier, and the Turkish government views them as a threat much like ISIS. Ankara is also more interested in toppling Assad than battling ISIS. “If there is one person who is responsible for all these terrorist crimes and humanitarian tragedies in Syria, it is Assad’s approach, using chemical weapons, barrel bombs against civilians,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told CNN. His government has called for a NATO meeting Tuesday to discuss the ISIS fight.

U.S. and Turkish air power are expected to be used to reinforce Syrian rebels on the ground who are battling ISIS, creating a 68-mile “no-ISIS zone” along the Syrian-Turkish border. “Moderate forces like the Free Syrian Army will be strengthened…so they can take control of areas freed from [ISIS], air cover will be provided,” Davutoglu told Turkey’s A Haber television news channel.. “It would be impossible for them to take control of the area without it.”

U.S. officials have been complaining since the Pentagon began bombing ISIS targets a year ago of a dearth of reliable partners on the ground, in both Iraq and Syria. ISIS drove the U.S.-trained Iraqi army out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, a year ago, and the U.S. has trained only about 60 Syrian rebels to fight ISIS’s 30,000-strong force.

TIME Military

Unmanned Aerial Vengeance: Drone Takes Out Terrorist Linked to Marine’s Killing

Marines Mourn Fallen Comrade
David McNew / Getty Images Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the home base of Tony Sledd, honor him three days after he was killed in Kuwait in 2002.

Thirteen years after Kuwaiti ambush, Lance Corporal Sledd’s death is avenged

“If you target Americans,” President Obama warned terrorists during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Tuesday, “you will find no safe haven.” Like an explosive exclamation point, the Pentagon confirmed his pledge hours later, announcing that the U.S. military had killed Muhsin al-Fadhli. Thirteen years earlier, the military said, al-Fadhli played a role in the killing of Marine Lance Corporal Antonio “Tony” Sledd.

It was a lengthy wait, and one that may not bring much comfort to Sledd’s family, who complained he never should have died. But the nature of both killings—and the 4,656 days between them—highlights the unusual complications of a religion-fueled war, where traditional norms of warfare often don’t apply.

Sledd was 20 when he died on Oct. 8, 2002, on Faylaka Island, 20 miles east of Kuwait City in the Persian Gulf. He was killed by a pair of Kuwaitis who had infiltrated a U.S. military training exercise in a white truck and opened fire with their AK-47s.

USMCLance Corporal Antonio Sledd

Sledd’s killing has been described by some as the first American casualty of the second Iraq war. While the invasion was five months away, the Marines were practicing urban warfare on the island, readying for the conflict. The killers gunned down Sledd during a break in the training as he readied a makeshift baseball diamond, echoing the sport he played as a youngster in Hillsborough, Fla.

As bizarre as Sheed’s death was, so was the way the U.S. military killed al-Fadhli, 34: with a drone strike July 8 as he traveled by vehicle near Sarmada in northwestern Syria. It took the Pentagon two weeks to confirm his death. “Al-Fadhli was the leader of a network of veteran al-Qaeda operatives, sometimes called the Khorasan Group, who are plotting external attacks against the United States and our allies,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. He added that al-Fadhli also was “involved” in the 2002 attack “against U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait.”

While the Pentagon said al-Fadhli was “among the few” al Qaeda leaders who “received advance notification” of the 9/11 attacks before they happened, the attack on the Marines on Faylaka Island was the only U.S. death the Pentagon cited in the statement detailing al-Fadhli’s killing in which he was alleged to have played an active role.

U.S. GovernmentMuhsin al-Fadhli

Sledd was one of about 150 Marines on the island, from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard a flotilla led by the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood.

The day before the attack, some leathernecks had spotted the two Kuwaitis who they believed killed Sledd and wounded a second Marine. “We weren’t expecting trouble,” one Marine recalled. “I thought they were probably just curious about Marines.”

The next day, the Marines began their training using blanks, with armed sentries standing guard. But when there was a break in the action, Sledd’s platoon turned in their live ammo, according to Marines who were there. After shooting Sledd and wounding Lance Corporal George Simpson, 21, of Dayton, Ohio, Anas al-Kandari, 21, and his cousin, Jassem al-Hajiri, 26, suspected Islamic militants, were killed by a second group of Marines after firing on them.

An Army medevac helicopter picked up Sledd, who had been shot in the chin and stomach, within 10 minutes. “Marines can be as tough as woodpecker lips, and I thought he was going to live,” his first sergeant said after seeing him just before the rescue chopper lifted off, bound for a military hospital in Kuwait City. “He squeezed my hand as hard as any healthy Marine could do.” But he died during surgery.

“Till this day I don’t think I did enough and I want to apologize to Sledd’s family and friends,” a Marine comrade posted on a memorial website in 2009, more than six years after his death. “It was my job to bring him back and I didn’t, I’m so sorry!”

Sledd’s parents were upset that their son died amid armed Marines in an allied nation. “There’s no way civilians should have been in that area where Tony was,” Tom Sledd told the Orlando Sentinel shortly after his son’s death. “They should have been challenged and shot before they got close enough to shoot Tony…he was a good boy. He didn’t have to die so young.” His mother, Norma, agreed. “Security perimeters were not set up, and that is why he lost his life,” she said. “They murdered my son.”

Ten months later, a corps probe agreed that proper security would most likely have prevented the young Marine’s death. Sledd’s parents couldn’t be reached for comment on the Pentagon announcement of al-Fadhli’s death.

Sledd, whose fraternal twin, Mike, was serving in the corps when his brother died, sent his mother an email shortly before the attack. “Tell everyone I love them and we are doing the best we can to protect y’all’s country,” it read. “Love, Big T.”

Earlier this month, his government did its best to return the favor.

U.S. Government
TIME Iraq

A Series of Bombings Has Claimed 35 Lives in the Iraqi Capital

More than 100 people were also wounded

A string of car bombs and suicide attacks tore through the Iraqi capital on Sunday, killing 35 people and wounding more than 100.

The bombings occurred in Baghdad’s mainly Shi‘ite Muslim neighborhoods of Shaab, Bunouk and Kadhumuya, reports Reuters. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is believed responsible. The Sunni extremist group often sends militants into the capital.

The northern neighborhood of Shaab was hit worst when two bombs were set off near a market. A suicide attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body shortly after crowds gathered to see the aftermath of a car bomb. The combined blasts killed 19 people.

Nine other people died in a car bombing in Bunouk. Shortly afterward, security personnel with sniffer dogs swept the capital’s northeastern district when they received information about two more bomb threats.

As the daily Ramadan fast drew to a close, just before dusk, another suicide bomb killed five people in Kadhimiya. The district is home to one of Shi‘ism’s holiest shrines, the al-Kadhimiya Mosque. A separate bomb in the Iskan district to the city’s west killed another two people.

TIME Military

U.S. Army Plans to Cut Troop Numbers to Pre–World War II Levels

The decision has prompted the ire of conservative lawmakers

The U.S. Army has announced plans to cut 40,000 troops and 17,000 civilian employees over the next two and a half years in accordance with Pentagon budget reductions.

The plan will decrease the size of the army to 450,000 troops — the lowest it has been since 1940, the year before the U.S. entered World War II. Prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, there were around 480,000 active-duty service members, USA Today reports.

Some of the cuts are the anticipated deflation of the troop surge witnessed in 2012, when the armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were at their peaks. The remainder reflects an ongoing shrinking of the military budget in the wake of two expensive wars.

Conservative pundits and politicians have openly disparaged the plan, citing mounting tensions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“One person who’s going to be very pleased with this is Vladimir Putin,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska.

On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama remarked that his administration has no current plans to escalate the military presence in areas of ongoing conflict. There are currently 3,500 stationed in Iraq, a point of frustration for those who view Washington’s response to militant Islamic group ISIS as lukewarm.

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