TIME conflict

3 More Countries Join the Coalition Against ISIS

Parliament debates military action against ISIS at the House of Commons, London on Sept. 26, 2014.
Parliament debates military action against ISIS at the House of Commons, London on Sept. 26, 2014. PA Wire/Press Association Images/Reuters

British Parliament did not vote on whether to allow strikes in Syria as well

The United Kingdom became the latest country to join the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Friday, after the British parliament voted decisively to allow air combat missions to bomb the militant group in Iraq.

“This is going to be a long campaign—weeks and probably months—to push [ISIS] back and to see it defeated in Iraq,” U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said, according to the Guardian.

Belgium and Denmark also joined the growing coalition, which includes France and Australia, along with Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

While British support in Iraq bolsters American efforts, the U.K. has not voted on taking the additional step of joining air strikes against ISIS in Syria, which some leaders argue would be an infringement on its sovereignty. Nonetheless, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that he supports U.S. strikes there, regardless of whether the U.K. joins.

“[ISIS] needs to be destroyed in Syria as well as Iraq,” he said. “We support the action the U.S. and five Arab states are taking. I believe there is a strong case for us to do more, but I did not want to bring a motion to the House today which I could not get consensus on.”

[The Guardian]

TIME energy

Oil: A Blessing And A Curse For The Middle East

Erbil refinery in Iraq, seen in June 2014.
Erbil refinery in Iraq, seen in June 2014. Onur Coban—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The region's supplies of crude have their downside

Originally appeared at OilPrice.com

What exactly is at stake in the battle for control of the Middle East, other than the obvious — the region’s abundant oil and natural gas? And why is it coming to a head now?

There are two aspects to what is currently transpiring in the Middle East: the battle for the region’s natural resources and the battle for the region’s human resources.

The region’s natural resource wealth has long been both a blessing and a curse. It has helped countries like the United Arab Emirates and Oman achieve amazing progress in a relatively short time and make the leap from societies that not long ago were comparable to medieval times into the 21st century.

But as one learns in the study of conflict resolution, change – any change – brings with it a certain amount of conflict. And the changes that oil and gas money brought to the Middle East were phenomenal. In turn, they upset more conservative elements of society who were unhappy to see the “natural order” of things – i.e., the old ways – disrupted and replaced with modern ways.

At the same time, the region’s resources have been a curse because it gave dictators like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad the ability to squander billions of dollars on arms and weapons systems, to wage wars on its neighbors, and to threaten regional security. Syria, for example, with far less revenue from oil than Iraq, invested its modest revenues on increasing internal oppression rather than investing in the country’s future — its people.

Just how rewarding is it for Assad to look at his country today, utterly destroyed, more than 190,000 killed according to the United Nations, many more maimed both physically and psychologically, the infrastructure totally devastated? Yet he remains at the reins. He is now president of parcels of territory eroded by war.

Oil wealth has also allowed tiny counties, like Qatar, to assume an outsized role in the region and meddle in its neighbor’s politics, certain that its money can buy it anything, including influence. But what money cannot buy is critical thinking, which is what appears to be lacking most in the region.

Related: Oil Companies Turning Away From The Middle East

The second aspect of why the Middle East is going bonkers today is that the existing borders are based on Western colonial thinking. In many places, one country ends and another begins at a line in the sand drawn by a Frenchman and a Brit who divided up the spoils of the Ottoman Empire at the close of World War I.

This is why, for example, the Islamic State (IS) became so powerful in Syria and in Iraq — for them and the fighters who join them, there are no borders, no demarcation lines and no frontiers.

Why is IS so powerful, yet so little is known about who they are? From the little we know about them is that that the core of the officers corps comes from the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s army that went underground when the U.S. invaded in 2003.

Professor Amazia Baram, chair of Arab studies at Haifa University and an expert on Iraq under Hussein, explains that when the late dictator was still a lower echelon thug working for his cousin — who took power in a military coup – the family was overthrown but managed a comeback.

Once back in power, Saddam was given the task of setting up an underground system of operations from which the regime could recover in the event of a future coup. Saddam, according to Baram, excelled in securing back-up plans and in the process got rid of the top man and placed himself at the head of the state and party. Saddam never forgot the importance of maintaining the emergency fallback protocol and although he is now gone, his former generals have, by all appearances, taken over the network and placed it at the disposal of IS.

As the United States and its Western allies again get drawn into a Middle East war, this time it might be more constructive if they went in with something more than shock and awe.

Related: Does UAE Conscription Law Signal the End of the Dream?

Eliminating the IS threat militarily alone will not suffice. What is needed here is a viable “Marshall Plan” adapted for the Middle East where reforms are made in the education sector, where democratic principles are gradually introduced, and where the people are given voice in participating in the affairs of state and invited to join in governance, rather than being locked out of any decision making process.

As the map of the Middle East is being redrawn, so too must change be introduced into the very core of the region’s socio-political system.

Read more at OilPrice.com

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TIME

Vanishing Marine Will Be Tried on Desertion Charge

(RALEIGH, N.C.) — A U.S. Marine who vanished in Iraq and later wound up in Lebanon will be on trial in military court on desertion and other charges.

A news release Friday says a Marine general has referred 34-year-old Cpl. Wassef Hassoun for a general court-martial. No date has been set.

The case began in June 2004 when Hassoun disappeared from a base in Fallujah, Iraq. He later appeared in as a captive in a photo purported to be taken by insurgents. A few days later, he wound up in Lebanon and was brought home to the U.S. before disappearing a second time.

His defense attorney has said that during the second disappearance he was prevented from leaving Lebanon during court proceedings there. Civilian attorney Haytham Faraj has said the case against Hassoun is almost entirely circumstantial.

TIME Iraq

Britain Joins Fight Against Islamic State Group

Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street before heading to The Houses of Parliament on Sept. 26, 2014 in London.
Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street before heading to The Houses of Parliament on Sept. 26, 2014 in London. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

(LONDON) — British lawmakers have voted to join the U.S.-led coalition of nations launching airstrikes on Islamic State group militants in Iraq, committing warplanes to the struggle against the extremists.

Prime Minister David Cameron described the moves as critical to national security, arguing that facing down terrorists has become a matter of urgency.

He made a passionate plea that spelled out the consequences of inaction in drastic terms — noting that the militants had beheaded their victims, gouged out eyes and carried out crucifixions to promote goals from the “Dark Ages.”

The vote was 524-43.

Earlier in the day, Belgium and Denmark also voted to join the coalition.

Britain is expected to deploy Tornado fighters, which are in Cyprus — within striking distance of northern Iraq.

TIME

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TIME

U.K. Parliament Debates Joining U.S. Air Strikes Against ISIS

Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street before heading to The Houses of Parliament on Sept. 26, 2014 in London.
Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street before heading to The Houses of Parliament on Sept. 26, 2014 in London. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

British MPs last year delivered a surprise rebuff to plans to intervene militarily in Syria, derailing not only U.K. policy but U.S. plans. Today they are weighing another intervention — and their decision matters more than you might think

What a difference a year makes. Friday, the U.K. Parliament has been recalled to debate joining a U.S.-led military intervention, the same topic that convened Members of Parliament for an emergency session on Aug. 29, 2013. Back then, everyone expected a majority of MPs to rubberstamp the action, just as the MPs gathered Friday in the House of Commons are predicted to approve today’s motion.

These scenarios may appear near-identical, but they differ in one glaring respect. When British parliamentarians served up a surprise and rejected involvement in the planned U.S. air strikes against the Syrian regime last year, they triggered a chain of events that saw U.S. President Barack Obama abandon his mission at the 11th hour in favor of a new round of diplomacy. The consequences of that swerve are still being assessed, leaving Syrian President Bashar Assad in power and, according to proponents of the intervention, allowing jihadist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) to grow. Others maintain that the aborted campaign would have simply fueled the jihadists’ rise. Another, wide strain of opinion in Westminster and among the British public looks back at Britain’s 2003 decision to join the U.S. in toppling Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as a profound error that must never be repeated.

These arguments are even now being rehashed. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron had barely begun his speech when he was interrupted by veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner who asked, scornfully, “How long will this war last and how soon will mission creep start?”

There are other such skeptics in the chamber — their numbers will become clear at around 5 p.m. London time, when MPs vote. But here’s one reason why that vote, irrespective of outcome, looks very different to the one that took place 56 weeks ago in the same chamber: the result won’t make a significant difference to American policy.

The U.S. Air Force has been running missions into Syria and Iraq since Monday alongside jets from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, targeting ISIS militants as well as infrastructure and supply routes used by the group now occupying extensive territory on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border. If British MPs go against predictions again to vote against joining in, these missions will continue. Moreover, the motion under discussion is limited in scope, committing the U.K. to air strikes in Iraq and specifically ruling out extending any action into Syria or deploying combat troops on the ground. Britain has received a direct request for assistance from the Iraqi government that proponents of the motion argue gives the proposed action legitimacy under international law that the strikes in Syria do not necessarily share.

Even so, what Britain decides matters—perhaps not as much as Britons reared on tales of Empire and World War victories are inclined to think, but enough that the U.S. has worked with the U.K. to ease the passage of the motion, accepting its limited nature and careful to say nothing that might make it more difficult for Cameron to unite his own Conservative Party on the issue, coax his Liberal Democrat coalition partners on board and, most importantly, to secure sufficient Labour Party support. It was Labour opposition that torpedoed the 2013 vote. This time around, Labour leader Ed Miliband issued a call to support the motion, partly on the basis that in asking countries in the region to engage, Britain needed to show a moral lead. He added that in helping to oust Hussein, “the Iraqi state that emerged is partly our responsibility.”

That history has made both Labour and Conservatives wary of appearing to yield too easily to pressure from Washington. Cameron acknowledged Obama had “made clear” he wants British support, but based the core argument for British participation on a humanitarian imperative and on British national interest. “If we allow [ISIS] to grow and thrive there’s no doubt in my mind that the level of threat to the country would increase,” he said.

U.S. officials have denied claims made this week by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of a specific threat by ISIS to attack subway systems in New York and Paris, but the U.S. and the U.K. are both worried about the possibility of blowback. Last month, Britain raised its terror threat level to “severe.” As Matthew Barzun, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, pointed out in an article in the London Evening Standard, published on the eve of the debate, as many as 12,000 citizens from 74 different countries are estimated to have gone to fight with rebels in Syria alone. British security chiefs believe at least 500 Britons have made the journey, including the ISIS member dubbed “Jihadi John,” shown in videos murdering U.S. and British hostages. Those murders and the threat to further hostages still held by the group have strengthened the appetite to tackle ISIS.

In case that appetite falters, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour have all ordered their MPs to support today’s motion, deploying the so-called whip. Rebels can expect reprimands and will certainly be marked down as troublemakers by party officials. This, together with the restricted scope of the motion, should be enough to secure a positive outcome but will also add to the resonance if there is still a rebellion of any size.

Because another reason today’s vote matters is that it marks the beginning of a longer and more difficult decision-making process in a country that has lost faith in military interventions but is also alarmed by appeal of jihadism to its own citizenry. There is little agreement among the political parties about how to counter that trend, and they are divided over the possibility of any action in Syria. There will be a brief moment of clarity later today and, most likely, an announcement of British jets roaring into action. The bigger issue of the role Britain will play in the Middle East will remain urgent and unresolved.

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TIME Iraq

Denmark Joins Fight Against Islamic State Group

(COPENHAGEN, Denmark) — The Danish government says it is joining the coalition to strike at the Islamic State extremist group, sending seven F-16 fighter jets to take part in airstrikes against the group in Iraq.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt says her left-leaning government has a parliamentary majority backing the deployment of four operational planes and three reserve jets along with 250 pilots and support staff.

She said Friday a vote in Parliament is planned and is considered a formality. However, no date was immediately set for the vote.

The Netherlands has already agreed to join the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Neither country plans to deploy in Syria.

Denmark has already contributed a transport plane to a U.S.-led humanitarian operation in northern Iraq.

TIME United Kingdom

U.K. Lawmakers Debate Air Strikes on Militants

(LONDON) — British lawmakers have opened debate on whether to join the United States and a coalition of Western and Arab nations in airstrikes meant to thwart Islamic State group militants in Iraq.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the motion, which is supported by all three main parties and comes only days after Iraq’s prime minister requested help. The motion does not address any action in Syria. Critics say that would be illegal because Syrian President Bashar Assad has not invited outsiders to help.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond refused to speculate Friday on how long the military campaign could last, but lawmakers envision a long-term action.

“We are going into this with our eyes open,” Hammond told Sky News, that adding the Islamic State group is a threat to national security.

TIME Syria

Watch What Life Is Like for Ordinary People in an ISIS-Controlled Town

The student hid a camera under her niqab to film what life is like under militant extremism

A Syrian woman has secretly filmed what life is like in the town of Raqqa, in northern Syria, which is under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

The woman, a student, walks through the streets recording the daily life of local residents and ISIS militants with a hidden camera under her niqab, reports France 24.

Filmed between February and April this year, the footage was first broadcast on France 2 and translated into English by France 24.

The filmmaker, whose identity has not been revealed, walks past many men with guns but not all are ISIS militants. One woman dressed head to foot in a black niqab can be seen taking her son to a playground, an AK-47 slung over her shoulder.

At one point the filmmaker is stopped by a man in a car and told to cover her face properly. “You have to behave better when you are in public,” he says. “You have to pay attention by covering up. God loves women who are covered.”

Later she walks into an Internet café and overhears a French woman speaking to her relatives back home, reports France 24.

“I don’t want to come back because I feel good here,” says the woman, “I didn’t take the risk of coming here just so I could come back to France.”

She then tells her mother to stop crying and claims that life is not what is portrayed on TV. “There’s no point to you crying or being scared. What you see on TV is wrong, do you understand? They exaggerate everything on TV.”

An estimated 150 French women have left France and are living in Syria; many left to get married or join their militant husbands fighting in the country, reports France 24.

[France 24]

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