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


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.



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]


Sunni Militants Push for Control of Iraq’s Western Border

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.


Iraqi Official: Sunni Insurgents, Baathists Fighting One Another

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.”



On Iraq, Leaders Should Listen to Ghosts of Dead Soldiers

The leaders who will decide how American will handle instability in Iraq would do well to look around their own haunted city

Iraq is not my war. But I spent 14 months in Afghanistan, and am one of the only combat veterans known by my circle of DC friends. I receive many questions of what I think about ISIS steamrolling their way towards Baghdad.

The next time one of them raises the prospect of America involving itself in a third conflict in Iraq, I’m going to tell them about Dan Whitten.

Last week, I was headed to my air-conditioned office building in downtown Washington in the already scalding 9am heat. The humidity was so thick I practically waded through it.

Just before my sweat forced me into a foul mood, I spotted him in the crosswalk. I hadn’t seen Captain Daniel Whitten since we were in Afghanistan in 2008. He had been an officer in my company, but got called up to be an aide to one of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Generals. We weren’t close, but we were friendly. We shared a cigar together at Musa Qala. Just before the deployment, we ran into each other at a Fayetteville CarMax, each there with our wife, trying to sell the vehicles we wouldn’t need for the next fifteen months. We spent a couple hours talking baseball, and discussing a mutual friend from West Point who had washed out and now worked as an enlisted man in the same office I did.

The corners of my mouth lifted as I prepared to ask Cpt. Whitten—whom I could now just call “Dan”—what he was doing in a suit in DC, still wearing a pair of sporty Oakleys like he had back then.

Then I remembered it couldn’t be Dan Whitten. Because Dan Whitten is dead. He was killed by an IED when he came back to our battalion to take a company command for the next deployment. I passed shoulders with this man who looked like Dan and went on my way.

I’ve had a handful of these moments since 2008. I’ve seen Drak and Frazier and Cleaver at various times in different parts of the country. No matter the distance between me and my time in Afghanistan, their ghosts drag me back.

Washington, D.C., is more haunted than most places. When I first moved inside the Beltway to a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington that I shared with my daughter, my bus took me by Arlington National Cemetery every morning. If I strained, I could see section 60, where Charlie and Slip and Frazier rest.

And there are the monuments to Korea, Vietnam, and World War II. From in front of the Capitol building that was burnt by British troops in 1812, General Grant gazes at General Washington, and beyond him the Commander-in-Chief of the War of the Rebellion. Admiral Farragut looks over the square where my bus arrives each morning. The African-American Civil War veterans keep watch on the street where I drink. More heroes and remembrances and former installations dot the District than I know.

For all those ghosts that haunt This Town, the city that sends American men and women into harm’s way never seems to heed—forget remember—their warnings. We cast the specters in bronze and put their spirits on our lapels and car bumpers. We neglect to consider why they haunt us in the first place. These walls and figures and marble temples are placed for the deliberate purpose of remembering the awful brutality of war. How many tourists or even residents can point to Peace Circle on a map? Or can tell you what FDR says about war in his monument (he hates it)? Or know that the MLK, Jr., monument engraves opposition to war in stone?

Every day, those of us who live and work here walk by these ghosts without a second thought. We come home and turn on our televisions and watch other (usually) men who work in This Town argue over whether we’re leaving a war too fast, or if the third time would be a charm for Iraq. If we paused for a moment and listened to our ghosts, even those of the just wars, they would tell us that war is horrible, and that no matter how righteous the justification many will die needlessly. And yet, men and women who now wear the same uniform I did and took the same oath have pledged to go anywhere in the world in the name of their county, and are willing to die for it. They pledged, as Dan and Charlie and Drak and Slip and Frazier did, to do this without asking whether such a sacrifice would be worth it.

The least we can do, as a nation, is ask that question for them.


Richard Allen Smith is a former Army sergeant. He served five years on active duty, including a deployment to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division from February of 2007 to April of 2008. Smith is currently a graduate student in writing at Johns Hopkins University.


Top Iraqi Cleric Calls for New Government

Mideast Iraq
Iraqi Shiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant below a portrait of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Baghdad's Sadr City, Iraq, June 18, 2014. On Friday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, called for a new effective government in Iraq. Khalid Mohammed—AP

Pressure on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

Iraq’s top Shi’ite spiritual leader called Friday for a new “effective” government, increasing the pressure on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he tries to beat back an assault by Sunni militants in northern Iraq.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani made the comments at Friday prayers a day after President Barack Obama said he would deploy military advisers and called on Maliki, a Shi‘ite in office since 2006, to create a more inclusive leadership. The Prime Minister’s critics say his favoritism toward Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, long oppressed under Saddam Hussein, has given rise to the renewed insurgency by the Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Al-Sistani’s comments, delivered by a representative in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala, all but blamed Maliki for the crisis that began last week when militants seized Iraq’s second largest city and much of the north, the Associated Press reports.

“It is necessary for the winning political blocs to start a dialogue that yields an effective government that enjoys broad national support, avoids past mistakes and opens new horizons toward a better future for all Iraq,” said the Grand Ayatollah, who is deeply revered in Iraq. His call to arms last week prompted thousands to volunteer to fight ISIS, a group that split off from al-Qaeda, AP reports.

Al-Maliki’s bloc won parliamentary elections on April 30. The new parliament is supposed to meet by June 30 to pick a new speaker and president; they in turn would ask the leader of the largest bloc to form a new government. But it’s unclear if al-Maliki will be willing to step aside.

On Thursday, Obama said he would deploy up to 300 Green Berets to advise and train Iraqi troops, but he said “only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together.”

Iraqi officials have called for U.S. airstrikes against the militants, but Obama has so far declined.



Kurdish Fighters Mull Whether to Defend Iraq

The Peshmerga fighters are waiting to see what comes next


Jabar Yawar runs his pointer along a map of Iraq, indicating the territory now controlled by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“We are sharing a thousand-kilometer border with the terrorists,” said Yawar, General Secretary of the Ministry of Peshmerga, the Kurdish armed forces alarmed by the ISIS gains. “Right now the Peshmerga just want to defend and strengthen this line and stop the terrorists from entering Kurdistan.”

As ISIS militants advanced, Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts, and the Peshmerga quickly moved in, filling the security vacuum and laying easy claim to contested lands. So far ISIS has made no threats on the Kurdish territory, but it’s not clear if that’s a recognition of the Kurdish claim, or an unwillingness to open new front in their offensive, particularly against the capable Peshmerga fighters. The Peshmerga battled Baghdad and Ankara for national recognition and territory for decades. Many in the West recognize the Peshmerga from images of their female recruits with military fatigues, long braids and Kalashnikovs training in the mountainous region between Iraq and Turkey.

Years of combat against large, if not well-trained armies, and ingrained nationalism fueled by decades of oppression, left the Kurds with a strong fighting force.

“There is great national soul inside our fighters,” Yawar said, adding that retired soldiers have been asking to reenlist to fight against ISIS.

Today, there are many young recruits lingering outside Yawar’s office at the Peshmerga ministry building. Most have never seen combat, as the Kurdish fighters haven’t been in a proper war since they fought the Iraqi army more than a decade ago.

Still the 200,000-strong force might be the best chance to fight ISIS, as the U.S.-built Iraqi army remains ineffective.

Even with internal political dissent, the Peshmerga are a source of national pride among the Kurdish population. In a shop in Erbil, a group of men watch their forces maneuver in the desert against ISIS on a Kurdish TV channel. The soldiers in camouflage fly their sun-crested Kurdish flag against a patriotic soundtrack.

“I’m Peshmerga,” said Wali Mustafa, smiling. Like many here, he fought with the Peshmerga when they were a less formal force. “The Iraqi government needs the Kurds now,” he said. “We don’t have to prove anything, but this is definitely an opportunity.”

But officials in the Kurdish administrative center of Erbil say they won’t be quick to join Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s fight. Erbil warned Baghdad about the impending assault on Mosul and the northern province, according to sources in the Kurdish government, but there was no action from the capital. Once ISIS entered the city, there was a call from Baghdad requesting Peshmerga assistance, but at that point it was declined. So far, there has been no official request for Kurdish forces to cross their newly-held border.

“We are not a force that takes requests,” said Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir. He is the Head of the Department of Foreign Relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)—essentially a complicated title for a man who heads-up foreign affairs for an entity which is not a formal state, but looks and acts like one. “How could al-Maliki ask for this when he has not respected the Peshmerga forces. … They were supposed to be paid, trained and equipped by the federal [Iraqi] government as part of the national defense system, but they have been ignored.”

For the last six months, Baghdad held the purse strings of the KRG, failing to transfer the 17 percent of the Iraqi budget Erbil is mandated under the constitution. Further, Baghdad objected to independent Kurdish oil sales.

“Before June 10 there was already an atmosphere of mistrust between Erbil and Baghdad,” said Hoshang Waziri, an Iraqi political analyst. “You can’t reduce it to one issue, but a big part was the Kurdish acting like there was no central Iraqi government, but still saying ‘give us our 17 percent’.”

Wazir said both sides have resorted to finger pointing in the current crisis, with the Kurds blaming Baghdad and Baghdad claiming the Kurds are using the instability to their advantage.

But Kurdish affection for Washington is strong—even on Kurdish military compounds, young fighters wear “US Army” shirts bought in a local market. Still, while the U.S. has been a longtime ally, Kurdish leadership has been burned before, supporting American objectives and getting little in return. In 2003, the Peshmerga fought alongside American forces, running Saddam Hussein’s army out of the north and taking important cities including their aspirational capital, Kirkuk. But the Kurds left Kirkuk shortly after, at the Americans’ request.

Bakir says he feels Washington sides with Baghdad over Erbil.

“We did everything to support the political process in Iraq that was initiated by the Americans, but unfortunately in return we were not rewarded,” Bakir said.

Beyond security and American let-downs, Bakir said his people are not willing to support tyrannical rule from Baghdad. He said American airstrikes alone will not solve Iraq’s crisis. “The point is we don’t have democrats in the country,” he said, “we don’t have democracy yet in Baghdad.”

TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul Doesn’t Blame Obama For Iraq Crisis

Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during an event at the University of Chicago's Ida Noyes Hall in Chicago on April 22, 2014. Andrew Nelles—AP

Paul also took a shot at former Vice President Dick Cheney for his pro-Iraq War stance

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul is firing back at his party’s interventionist wing, saying those who supported the Iraq war “emboldened Iran,” while freeing President Barack Obama of blame for the current crisis in Iraq.

In a Meet the Press interview airing this Sunday, the 2016 presidential hopeful and libertarian icon responded to an op-ed by former Vice President Dick Cheney criticizing Obama’s handling of the situation in Iraq.

“I think the same questions could be asked of those who supported the Iraq War,” Paul said. “You know, were they right in their predictions? Were there weapons of mass destruction there? That’s what the war was sold on. Was democracy easily achievable? Was the war won in 2005, when many of these people said it was won? They didn’t really, I think, understand the civil war that would break out.”

Paul added that he doesn’t blame Obama for the ongoing turmoil in Iraq, but he questions whether the President has a solution to the crisis, during which Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have seized vast territory and pushed the Iraqi military back to the outskirts of Baghdad.

“And what’s going on now—I don’t blame on President Obama,” Paul said. “Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution. But I do blame the Iraq War on the chaos that is in the Middle East. I also blame those who wer for the Iraq War for emboldening Iran. These are the same people now who are petrified of what Iran may become, and I understand some of their worry.”

Cheney this week launched the Alliance for a Strong America, a group dedicated to pushing back against Obama’s foreign policy as well as the GOP’s libertarian wing. Paul’s critique could apply equally well to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who apologized for her vote for the Iraq War in hew new book, “Hard Choices.”

Meet the Press Moderator David Gregory noted that Paul is not a “Dick Cheney Republican” when it comes to American power in the Middle East.

“What I would say is that the war emboldened Iran,” Paul replied. “Iran is much more of a threat because of the Iraq War than they were before—before there was a standoff between Sunnis and Shiites. Now there is Iranian hegemony throughout the region.”

Watch the video of the exchange above.

TIME The Brief

Pope vs. Pot: The Holy Father Says ‘No’ to Marijuana Legalization

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


Here are the stories TIME is watching this Friday, June 20.

President Barack Obama announced the U.S. will be deploying special troops to Iraq to advise Iraqis on fighting against militants.

The House of Representatives approved an amendment that would curb NSA ‘backdoor’ spying on Americans, primarily regarding Internet search histories, emails and chats.

Supporters of marijuana legalization now have a powerful opponent: the Pope.

And finally, what happens when you put a man covered in Mentos and drop him in a tub of Coke? Thanks to these guys, now we know.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

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