TIME Foreign Policy

White House Doesn’t Rule Out Iraq Partition

Spokesman doesn't close the door on possible partition

The White House declined to rule out an eventual breakup of Iraq on Monday, as Sunni extremists in the war-torn country continue to make gains on the road to Baghdad.

With fighters from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seizing more territory, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it’s up to the Iraqi people to decide how their maps should be drawn, adding that the Obama Administration believes the best course would be for Iraq’s political leaders to come together to find a political solution.

“I’m not going to be in a position to offer a proposal for how they should draw up their map,” Earnest said Monday when asked about a 2006 proposal by then-Senator Joe Biden to partition Iraq into Sunni, Shi‘ite and Kurdish states. “The most direct way for — in the view of this Administration — for Iraq to confront the threat that they face from [ISIS] is to unite that country around a political agenda that gives every single citizen a stake in that country’s future and that country’s success.”

When asked about this week’s TIME cover story, “The End of Iraq,” Earnest acknowledged that partition is hardly a new concept. “But I think that we have also seen the danger of trying to impose solutions from the outside about what anyone thinks is in the best interests of the Iraqi people,” he said.

“It is the view of this Administration that the best way for us to confront this challenge is to empower the Iraqi people to make the kinds of decisions that demonstrate their vested interest in the success of that country, and that starts by having political leadership, elected political leadership, that ensures that the rights and interests and aspirations of every Iraqi citizen is incorporated into their governing agenda,” Earnest added. “That’s not an easy thing to do. I don’t want to paper over that. But it is critical to the success of that country.”

TIME Foreign Policy

A ‘Chilling’ Verdict in Egypt After U.S. Floats More Aid

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry hold a joint press conference regarding developments in Syria and Iraq on June 22, 2014 in Cairo.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry hold a joint press conference regarding developments in Syria and Iraq on June 22, 2014 in Cairo. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Cairo was quickly followed by the conviction of 3 Al Jazeera journalists, prompting Kerry to denounce the "chilling, draconian" just after he looked forward to a resumption of military aid

You’ll be hearing a lot in the coming days about John Kerry’s visit to Baghdad Monday, where the Secretary of State held meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other leaders in an effort to prevent the country’s explosion into a new sectarian civil war. But Washington has limited influence in Baghdad, and it’s not clear what Kerry’s visit can accomplish.

That’s why it’s worth focusing on Kerry’s earlier stop in Cairo, which was more revealing about U.S. policy in the region. After his Sunday meeting with Egypt’s military ruler Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, he signaled the Obama Administration wants to fully restore U.S. military aid to Cairo—choosing the priorities of influence and stability in Egypt over a principled defense of human rights under a government that a top U.S. Senator recently branded “a dictatorship run amok.”

That’s a retreat from Obama’s earlier, and half-hearted, punishment of al-Sisi’s repressive regime, which has showed no signs of moderation. To the contrary: Hours after Kerry left Cairo, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others people for alleged collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood. That prompted Kerry to issue a statement from Iraq denouncing the “chilling, draconian” sentences.

“Egyptian society is stronger and sustainable when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success,” Kerry said in a statement. “Today’s verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law.”

Kerry’s trip to Egypt was the clearest statement yet that President Barack Obama would rather work with al-Sisi than punish him, and his conciliatory words in Cairo before the verdict were not surprising, says Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official and Egypt expert now with the Brookings Institution. “I think the trajectory has been clear for a while.”

Meeting with reporters in Cairo, Kerry said he and al-Sisi discussed their “mutual determination for our countries to work together in partnership in order to deal with the challenges that we face.” Kerry also noted America’s support for political freedoms and “a vibrant civil society.” But his overall tone was supportive of the military general who led the July 2013 coup against Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood government and was elected the country’s president this month.

Put an asterisk after “elected,” though. Sisi won in a phony “campaign” carefully restricted by his military regime with a comical 97 percent of the vote. That tells you a lot about the nature of Egypt today: a politically repressive dictatorship which has banned its main political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, and wantonly imprisons its critics. Once home to the stirring mass protests on Tahrir Square, Egypt now quashes virtually all political dissent.

Last fall, the White House announced a partial suspension of the $1.5 billion in U.S. military aid Egypt receives each year, an enduring legacy of the country’s 1979 peace deal with Israel. Even at the time, an Obama official explained that the suspension “is not meant to be permanent; this is meant to be the opposite.” (The Obama Administration never officially recognized al-Sisi’s seizure of power as a coup; doing so would have automatically triggered a full aid cutoff under U.S. law.)

That move didn’t exactly prompt moderation from al-Sisi. His crackdown against Islamists continued, punctuated by a court’s recent death sentences for a Muslim Brotherhood cleric and 182 of his supporters who were accused of inciting violence that killed a single police officer.

But Obama wants to maintain a strong relationship with Cairo, not least for strategic reasons like access to the Suez Canal, and U.S. officials believe that continued military aid buys us influence over the country’s future. The U.S. also has little love for the Muslim Brotherhood, which, although it governed peacefully, has radical Islamist elements and allies.

And so, speaking to reporters in Cairo, Kerry explained that the Obama Administration supports fully restoring U.S. aid to Egypt—despite a recent move by Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy oto chop $650 million from America’s annual aid package and halt the shipment of 10 Apache attack helicopters the Egyptians say are vital to battling militants in their Sinai region, a goal very much shared by Washington.

“We will work that out, and I am confident that we will be able to ultimately get the full amount of aid for precisely the reasons that I describe—because it is strategic and it is important for us to be able to work together,” Kerry said, adding that he had spoken to Leahy from Cairo. “I am confident… that the Apaches will come and that they will come very, very soon.”

Unfortunately, the same probably can’t be said for political reform in Egypt, which Wittes calls essential to reforming Egypt’s shattered economy, currently propped up by billions in aid from Gulf Arab states, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“It’s very hard to see how with [al-Sisi] could make the really painful economic choices needed to revitalize Egypt’s economic growth, and address the needs of Egypt’s young men without broader political support,” says Wittes. “You cannot separate the economics from the politics.”

And with the U.S. aid spigot likely to reopen in full, it’s also hard to see what might make al-Sisi seek that broader support.

TIME The Brief

Former Baylor Star Isaiah Austin Reveals Career-Ending Diagnosis

Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME

+ READ ARTICLE

Here are the stories TIME is watching this Monday, June 23.

Secretary of State John Kerry met with top political leaders in Iraq after fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria captured key crossings at the Syria-Iraq border over the weekend.

More auto recalls, but this time they’re not from GM, as Honda, Mazda and Nissan are calling back vehicles due to defective airbags.

Sunday’s dramatic World Cup tie game between the U.S. and Portugal means that all Group G teams have a chance to advance after Thursday’s matches.

And finally, a career-ending diagnosis for former Baylor player Isaiah Austin, who will no longer pursue a career in the NBA.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: June 23

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Iraq's struggling army; Domestic drones; Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's views on Ex-Im and immigration; Chris Christie's compassionate conservatism; Scott Walker's "unelectable whiteness"; New Yorker's 9,000 word profile of Ted Cruz

  • “As Iraqi Army forces try to rally on the outskirts of Baghdad after two weeks of retreat, it has become increasingly clear to Western officials that the army will continue to suffer losses in its fight with Sunni militants and will not soon retake the ground it has ceded.” [NYT]
    • “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad on Monday to push for a more inclusive government, even as Baghdad’s forces abandoned the border with Jordan, leaving the entire Western frontier outside government control.” [Reuters]
    • What’s the Pentagon’s endgame in Iraq? [TIME]
  • Crashes mount as as military flies more drones in U.S. [WashPost]
  • “Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Sunday he wouldn’t support reauthorizing the charter of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, placing in doubt the future of a major agency that facilitates U.S. exports.” [WSJ]
    • McCarthy’s role is debated in his land of immigrants [NYT]
  • How Rep. Steve Scalise smoked Rep. Peter Roskam in the House Whip race [Breitbart]
  • Paul Ryan Hammers the IRS [Slate]
  • Inside the Vast Liberal Conspiracy [Politico]
  • The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker [New Republic]
  • Ted Cruz, The Far Right’s Most Formidable Advocate [New Yorker]
  • “New Jersey governor Chris Christie has a new cause: treatment, not prison, for nonviolent drug addicts. Can it soften his image—and the Republican Party’s?” [Atlantic]
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 Australia

You’ll Never Guess Which Country Is the Biggest Per Capita Contributor of Foreign Jihadists to ISIS

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) celebrate on vehicles taken from Iraqi security forces, at a street in city of Mosul
Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) celebrate on vehicles taken from Iraqi security forces, at a street in city of Mosul, June 12, 2014. © STRINGER Iraq / Reuters—REUTERS

It isn't in the Middle East or Central Asia or even in Europe. It's Down Under

A startling number of Australian citizens and residents have left the country to join jihadist factions in the ongoing crises in the Middle East, prompting the Australian government to launch a statewide effort to crack down on “home-grown terrorism” fostered within its borders.

“This is one of the most disturbing developments in our domestic security in quite some time,” Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Service. “There’s a real danger that these extremists also come back home as trained terrorists and pose a threat to our security.”

Authorities believe that around 150 Australians are currently fighting alongside ISIS in Iraq and Syria, making the country the highest foreign per capita contributor to the violence. Many more have left the country for the Middle East in recent weeks, though their intent in doing so has not yet been determined.

“We will do everything we humanly can to stop jihadist terrorists coming into this country and if they do return to this country, we will do everything we reasonably can to ensure that they are not moving amongst the Australian community,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the Australian press on Monday.

Abbott’s government has thus far canceled a number of passports held by those Australians who have joined the conflict, and is working to fortify a border security system that has a history of being more permeable than desired. It was a “customs failure” last year that permitted convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf to escape the country with his brother’s passport and head to Syria and then Iraq, where he has had a hand in the recent mass executions of Iraqi soldiers.

As for the suspected or confirmed terrorists still at large within the Australian borders, the government has mulled over the idea of providing national intelligence agencies greater access to the country’s internet traffic — a potentially controversial move, considering the outcry over the government’s mobile data surveillance plan in 2012.

This is not the first time that Australia has taken note of the extremist diaspora out of the country. Last summer, TIME reported that over 200 Australians had joined militant groups fighting to unseat Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s ongoing civil war, and that Australian counterterrorism operatives had consequently begun collecting evidence against suspected combatants.

Still, the exodus persists, from Australia and elsewhere: the Economist reported earlier this month that as many as 3,000 foreigners may have joined ISIS forces. The organization and its satellite groups seem intent on making their chaos an international issue, actively soliciting support from Muslims across the world.

In a 13-minute propagandist recruitment video released last week, purported ISIS extremists stated that their fellow jihadists in Iraq and Syria hailed from countries as far afield as Bangladesh and even Cambodia, although some Cambodian officials have disputed the claim.

 

TIME Iraq

Kerry Arrives in Baghdad to Confront Threat of New War

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry speaks during a joint news conference in Cairo
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint news conference in Cairo June 22, 2014. Kerry said on Sunday the United States wanted Iraqis to find an inclusive leadership to contain a sweeping Islamist insurgency but Washington would not pick or choose who rules in Baghdad. Brendan Smialowski—Reuters

The meeting scheduled between Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was not expected to be friendly, given that officials in Washington have floated suggestions that the Iraqi premier should resign as a necessary first step toward quelling the vicious uprising.

(BAGHDAD) — Confronting the threat of civil war in Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Baghdad on Monday to personally urge the Shiite-led government to give more power to political opponents before a Sunni insurgency seizes more control across the country and sweeps away hopes for lasting peace.

The meeting scheduled between Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was not expected to be friendly, given that officials in Washington have floated suggestions that the Iraqi premier should resign as a necessary first step toward quelling the vicious uprising. Nor will it likely bring any immediate, tangible results, as al-Maliki has shown no sign of leaving and Iraqi officials have long listened to — but ultimately ignored — U.S. advice to avoid appearing controlled by the decade-old specter of an American occupation in Baghdad.

Still, having suffered together through more than eight years of war — which killed nearly 4,500 American troops and more than 100,000 Iraqis — the two wary allies are unwilling to turn away from the very real prospect of the Mideast nation falling into a fresh bout of sectarian strife.

“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 said a day earlier in Cairo. He was there in part to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to and discuss a regional solution to end the bloodshed by the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIL.

“No country is safe from that kind of spread of terror, and none of us can afford to leave that entity with a safe haven which would become a base for terror against anyone and all, not only in the region but outside of the region as well,” Kerry said in Cairo.

Even before U.S. troops left Iraq for good at the end of 2011, a merciless Sunni insurgency was pounding the country with car bombs, roadside explosions, suicide bombings and drive-by assassinations, mainly targeting the Shiite government, its security forces and Shiite pilgrims. Since the start of this year, and peaking this month, ISIS has overtaken several cities in Iraq’s west and north, and over the past weekend was controlling several main border crossings between Iraq and Syria.

The three-year civil war in Syria — where Sunni rebels are fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiism — emboldened Iraqi insurgents who regularly traverse the porous border to gain recruits, funding and weapons, and battlefield confidence. Years of political instability in Baghdad fueled anger against the Shiite-led government from Sunnis who felt powerless and saw their leaders targeted by al-Maliki’s security forces.

A senior State Department official said the insurgents’ recent march on Baghdad has been slowed, although concerns remain that ISIS will attack the golden-domed Shiite shrine to the Imam al-Askari in Samarra. That city, in Sunni territory in north-central Iraq, was the site of a 2006 bombing that triggered the worst of the war’s sectarian fighting. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that Iraq is currently in a civil war.

The official said Kerry on Monday will not ask al-Maliki to resign, as some in the U.S. and Sunni Arab states in Mideast have demanded, because “it’s not up to us.” However, Kerry is expected to urge al-Maliki to quickly create a new government that is far more sensitive to Sunni and Kurdish demands for jobs, power and a fair legal system.

Currently, Baghdad is operating under a lame-duck government, as a new parliament that was elected in April has not yet selected its Cabinet ministers. It took more than nine months to seat a new government the last time Iraq underwent the process, in 2010. This time around, the State Department official said, al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials cannot risk exacerbating the political instability, and further inflaming the insurgency, by stalling a new and more inclusive government.

Both President Barack Obama and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, also have urged al-Maliki to quickly form an inclusive government that promotes the interests of all of Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups.

The State Department official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be named in discussing the negotiations. He described al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials as anxious about what, if any, additional help the U.S. might provide to help curb ISIS after Obama this week said he would send about 300 special forces troops to Baghdad to advise and train local security forces.

Obama did not rule out the possibility of also launching airstrikes against the insurgents, but that is not expected anytime soon, if ever, and he has adamantly said he will not send combat forces back to Iraq.

Kerry is scheduled to meet first with al-Maliki in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses the prime minister’s office and parliament building as well as the U.S. Embassy. He then will talk to the influential Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, who heads a leading rival Shiite political party; Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, one of Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunnis; and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd.

TIME Iraq

Dick Cheney Fires Back at Rand Paul Over Iraq Criticism

The former vice president called Paul an "isolationist" and argued for a more active role in the current Iraq conflict

Dick Cheney bit back at Sen. Rand Paul’s criticism of his foreign policy stance on Sunday, after Paul responded to the former vice president’s recent editorial accusing President Barack Obama of mishandling Iraq.

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Paul criticized Cheney’s support of the Iraq war and accused its supporters of “emboldening Iran.” On CNN’s State of the Union, Paul also said intervention in Iraq is to blame for its current conflict, the Washington Post reports.

During an appearance on ABC’s This Week, Cheney defended himself.

“If we spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago, we’re going to miss the threat that is growing and that we do face,” Cheney said. “Rand Paul, with all due respect, is basically an isolationist. He doesn’t believe we ought to be involved in that part of the world. I think it’s absolutely essential.”

Cheney said “there are no good, easy answers in Iraq,” but he argued for an increased military presence in the wake of the expansion of extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which Obama has called a “destabilizing” force in the region.

“What I would do now is, among other things, be realistic about the nature of the threat,” Cheney said. “I’m not sure we’ve really addressed the problem. I would definitely be helping the resistance up in Syria, in ISIS’s back yard, with training and weapons and so forth, in order to be able to do a more effective job on that end of the party.”

[Washington Post]

TIME Iraq

Sunni Militants Push for Control of Iraq’s Western Border

IRAQ-UNREST
Members of Kurdish forces hold their position in the Iraqi village of Basheer on June 21, 2014 Karim Sahib—AFP/Getty Images

Sunni militants in Iraq have captured major border posts connected to Syria and Jordan and a string of towns in a western province

Sunni militants in Iraq have captured major border posts connected to Syria and Jordan and a string of towns in a western province, as they tighten their grip on key areas of the country, Iraq’s military authorities announced on Sunday.

The takeover of the Walid crossing to Syria and the Turaibil crossing to Jordan follow the recent captures of a number of towns in Anbar province, which has been controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Associated Press reports. ISIS, a militant extremist group once allied with al-Qaeda, has been pressing on toward Baghdad in recent weeks.

The capture of Rutba, a town located approximately 150 km east of the Iraqi-Jordanian border, gives insurgents major control over a key route to Jordan. The control of border posts and towns like Rutba will allow insurgent forces to more easily move weapons and soldiers between countries.

The seizure of Rawah and Anah suggest movement toward the city of Haditha, where a major dam lies — which, if destroyed, could wreak havoc on the country’s electrical systems and cause major flooding. Iraqi authorities speaking to the AP on the condition of anonymity say 2,000 troops have been dispatched to protect the dam.

Iraqi military spokesman General Qassim Atta commented on the captures, saying security forces in Rawah, Anah and Qaim had previously been pulled to support other troops elsewhere, the New York Times reports.

During a Sunday appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, U.S. President Barack Obama called ISIS a “medium- and long-term threat.” While ISIS is one of several groups the U.S. should continue to monitor, he said, the organization poses a “destabilizing” threat to Iraq and neighboring countries that makes it a particular concern in the region.

Obama said while the U.S. needed to address unrest in the region, action needed to be a “more focused, more targeted strategy” done in partnership with local law and military officials. Obama’s remarks follow both Iraq’s request for air-strike support and comments from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, who accused the U.S. of stirring up unrest in the region to advance its own interests.

During a visit to Egypt, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called ISIS a threat to “all the countries in the region,” Reuters reports.

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Official: Sunni Insurgents, Baathists Fighting One Another

IRAQ-UNREST
Iraqi Turkmen forces patrol a checkpoint on June 21, 2014, close to locations of jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters. Karim Sahib—AFP/Getty Images

In-fighting could destabilize an unlikely partnership between enemies of Iraq's Prime Minister

Sunni insurgents who are making their way across Iraq in a drive towards the nation’s capital clashed with their Baathist allies this week, Iraq security officials said Saturday.

Citing unnamed Iraqi security officials, the New York Times reports that the Sunni forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and their Baathist allies fought one another in western Kirkuk late this week. An unnamed witness said the two factions fought over gas and oil trucks.

An Iraqi security official told the Times that ISIS tried to disarm the Baathists before eight Baathists and nine ISIS militants were killed in subsequent fighting.

ISIS has formed an unlikely alliance with the Baathists, the party of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The Baathists’ cooperation has helped the insurgents take over wide swaths of the country, but the two groups are ideologically opposed: the Sunni extremists are deeply religious and want to impose strict Islamic law across the region, while the Baathists are more secular. Their apparently fragile alliance is rooted in a mutual distrust of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government.

This week’s fighting could be taken as a sign that alliance is cracking. However, the Iraqi government has reason to make claims of in-fighting among the groups: such news could destabilize the partnership, giving Maliki’s forces an edge as ISIS and its allies continue marching towards Baghdad.

“We will not let them take any foot of our earth,” Iraq’s head military spokesperson, Gen. Qassim Atta said in a briefing while discussing the fate of an oil refinery captured for a time by insurgents this week. “We are the ones who are making the attacks.”

[NYT]

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