TIME Iraq

Iraqi Kurds to Vote on Independence

Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on June 17, 2014.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on June 17, 2014. Onur Coban—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

President of Iraq's Kurdish region, already largely autonomous, says the country is already partitioned

The partition of Iraq lurched closer to reality on Tuesday when the head of the country’s already quasi-autonomous Kurdish region publicly declared he would schedule a referendum on independence. Polls and previous votes indicate that the measure is certain to pass, leading, in all likelihood, to an independent Kurdistan on the northern and northeastern borders of Iraq.

“From now on, we won’t hide that that’s our goal,” Massoud Barzani, president of the Regional Kurdistan Government, told the BBC in an interview. “Iraq is effectively partitioned now. Are we supposed to stay in this tragic situation the country’s living? It’s not me who will decide on independence. It’s the people.”

The referendum will come in “a matter of months,” Barzani said. He said the Kurdistan parliament must first establish an independent electoral authority, then establish the date for the referendum that Barzani made clear will end with the creation of a state.

“We hope that this state will have the best of relations with all of its neighbors, and we will not be a threat to anyone at all, I’m sure.”

The announcement was a body blow to the frantic political effort to hold the country together after Sunni extremists allied with local tribes took control of much of the country’s west and north, including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Their advance was driven by both the military daring of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, and angry frustration of Iraq’s more moderate Sunni Muslims rebelling against the frankly sectarian rule of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki, who openly favors the country’s previously oppressed Shiite majority.

Efforts to discard Maliki and form a more inclusive new government based on April election results have so far failed to produce a result. The new parliament adjourned on Tuesday in its first session when Sunni and Kurd lawmakers failed to return from a brief recess.

The Kurds, an ethnic group with its own language and heritage, account for about 17 percent of Iraq’s population of 32 million, and have wanted an independent state for generations. Apart from an empty promise from Woodrow Wilson in the aftermath of World War I, they have come closest in the last 20 years, beginning in 1991, when the United States enforced a no-fly zone over their territory to protect them from Saddam Hussein’s forces in the aftermath of the First Gulf War. Kurdish parties exploited the autonomy to set up their own quasi-state, which became more formal after U.S.-led forces deposed Hussein in 2003. The KRG “regional government” boasts a parliament, military, foreign minister, oil wells and border guards who challenge non-Kurds at roads leading from the rest of Iraq.

Actual independence came within reach when ISIS and its local Sunni allies swept across the country’s north in June. Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, or “those who face death,” swarmed into Kirkuk, an oil-rich city that Kurds regard as their historic capital, and refused to leave. They did the same in 2003, but departed under pressure led by nearby Turkey, which has since become a formidable ally, giving it crucial assistance exporting oil.

In the BBC interview, Barzani appeared prepared to hold Baghdad hostage to Kurdish aspirations. While he did not rule out using Kurdish forces to help repel ISIS, he said they were currently prepared to engage the extremists only if they only if they threaten Kurdish territory. Going beyond that, he said would first require concessions from Baghdad: “If you mean a comprehensive solution in all Iraq, there has to be a political solution and real participation, involving all components of Iraqi society. In that case, we’ll have no hesitation in playing a part.”

“Of course we’ll help all our Arab and Sunni brothers to get out of our crisis,” Barzani said. “But that doesn’t mean we will abandon our goal and our basic project, which is the independence of Kurdistan.”

 

TIME Israel

Israel Hammers Gaza Strip Over Kidnapped Teens’ Deaths

Launches 34 airstrikes, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows that "Hamas will pay" for killing of abducted teenagers

Israel launched 34 airstrikes over the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that “Hamas will pay” for the abduction and deaths of three Israeli teenagers.

Israeli officials said the airstrikes were in retaliation for 18 rockets fired into Israel from Gaza, and targeted assets belonging to militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, CNN reports. The exchange of fire comes amid soaring tensions in the region, as Israeli officials held an emergency cabinet meeting to plan a response to the deaths of the teenagers.

Netanyahu said the teenagers were “abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals.” Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frankel, a 16-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, disappeared 19 days ago while hitchhiking in the southern West Bank. Their bodies were found Monday afternoon beneath a pile of rocks in an open field a short drive from where they were last seen.

“Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay,” Netanyahu said. Israeli troops have also raided the West Bank homes of two leading suspects in the case, Marwan Qawasmeh, 29, and Amar Abu-Isa, 32.

Hamas denied any involvement in the teenagers’ disappearance, but has endorsed abductions as a battle tactic against Israel and vowed to open “the gates of hell” should Israeli troops invade Gaza. The Palestinian Authority has called on the international community to restrain Israel’s response.

Further complicating events, a Palestinian news agency reports that a little-known group calling itself Ansar as-Dawla al-Islamiya (Supporters of the Islamic State) has claimed responsibility for the killings and vowed to “slaughter” Palestinian Authority officials, but those reports have not been independently verified, according to CNN.

[CNN]

TIME France

France Can Keep Burqa Ban, European Court Rules

Europe's top rights court has said a ban on wearing Islamic veils doesn't breach any rights

Europe’s main human rights court ruled Tuesday that France’s ban on wearing a full-face veil is permissible, reports CNN.

The European Court of Human Rights said the French ban of garments worn by some Muslim women—the burqa, a garment that envelops the body with a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a veil that covers the face—didn’t breach the European Convention of Human Rights.

A 24-year-old French woman took the case to the court in November because she felt the law restricted her ability to live according to her religion, culture and personal beliefs.

France’s ban of the burqa and the niqab went into effect in April 2011. The law has sparked fierce debate between believers of religious freedom and those who think the veil is both restrictive and contravenes France’s secularism.

The woman, who hasn’t been named, drew upon several articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, which the court was set up to protect. The defendant cited the right to private and family life as well as freedoms of thought, conscience and religion.

She added that no one has required her to wear the burqa and the niqab, nor does she wear them all the time. France charges a fine of 150 euros or $205 for anyone wearing the garments. This fine can be substituted for community service.

[CNN]

TIME Photos

34 Most Surprising Photos of the Month

From naked bike rides to twin tornadoes, each photograph will surprise you, as TIME shares the most outrageous images from June 2014

TIME France

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy Held for Questioning

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives with police by car at the financial investigation unit in Paris to be presented to a judge
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives with police by car at the financial investigation unit in Paris to be presented to a judge late July 1, 2014. Former French President Sarkozy was held for questioning for 15 hours on Tuesday over suspicions he used his influence to secure leaked details of an inquiry into alleged irregularities in his 2007 election campaign. Pascal Rossignol—Reuters

The unprecedented move could slash Sarkozy's chances of being re-elected in 2017

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been detained in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, for alleged corruption. The 59-year-old turned himself in for questioning on Tuesday — the day after investigators held Patrick Sassoust and Gilbert Azibert, two magistrates, and Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, reports the BBC. Sarkozy may be held for up to 24 hours.

Investigators suspect that Sarkozy, with the help of Herzog, solicited information about a case pending against him by promising one of the magistrates a top post in Monaco, the Guardian reports.

This would appear to be the first time a former French President has been held in police custody, even though Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was convicted in 2011 on embezzlement charges incurred when he was the mayor of Paris years earlier. Sarkozy’s detention also slashes his chances of returning to the post he held from 2007 until 2012 in elections slated for 2017.

TIME Iraq

What is the Caliphate?

Silhouetted behind the Arabic word "cali
The Arabic word for "caliphate" ABBAS MOMANI—AFP/Getty Images

For centuries, the Caliphate claimed dominion over all the world's Muslims. It was abolished in 1924. Now Sunni extremists say it's back.

Most Westerners have only the dimmest idea of what the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) claims to have set up on the desert flats and cities it controls.

Just what is the Caliphate?

At its most basic, the Caliphate is how Muslims organized themselves for centuries after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. In life, Mohammed led the faith that Muslims believe he channeled directly from God, serving as both religious leader and temporal ruler of the legions drawn to his teachings.

But when the Prophet died in 632 A.D., he left no heir, and the search was on for a successor—which is what caliph means. The caliphate (or succession) is what he rules, the governing body that claims dominion over all believers.

The competition for caliph would split the faith. After Mohammed died, some thought his favorite son-in-law, Ali, should serve. A supporter of Ali was rendered as Shiaat Ali, which became “Shia.”

Others said the caliph should be drawn from those who were especially close to the Prophet, and followed his teachings and example, or Sunnah. They formed Islam’s Sunni tradition.

Shiites stopped selecting caliphs fairly early on, but in the dominant Sunni tradition, the office held ultimate religious and political authority. The combined powers held together empires based wherever the Caliph chose: Baghdad, Damascus or, finally, Istanbul, from which Ottoman sultans governed an empire stretching across three continents for more than 500 years.

But the Ottoman Empire collapsed in World War I, and its remaining land was divided up into the form preferred by the European victors: nation-states. And as it happened, perhaps the most emphatic nation-state in the world, the Republic of Turkey, emerged on its own in the Anatolian peninsula that had been the heart of the empire. Its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, viewed Islam as a rival to the power of the secular state, and literally packed the last caliph out of town on the Orient Express—Abdulmecid Efendi, an urbane scholar who by some accounts was reading the essays of Montaigne when the police came for him. He retired to Paris and Nice.

Decades passed, and the West largely forgot that there ever was a caliphate. But Muslims did not. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 on the desire to re-establish it. Other groups followed, all of them radical in the sense that they sought to upend the world order by ending what one scholar called “the division of Muslim lands into measly pieces which call themselves nations.”

But many moderate Muslims like the idea as well. Some cite the dysfunction of the Arab world as defined by colonial borders, especially compared to Ottoman times. Others note that Catholics have their pope. “The concept of the caliphate is very much alive in the collective memory of society,” a Turkish author, Ali Bulac, once told me. “There is absolutely nothing to keep Muslim society together at the moment.”

Dignity, or its loss, plays a significant role. Osama bin Laden called the attacks of 9/11 “a very small thing compared to this humiliation and contempt for more than 80 years,” counting from the 1924 elimination of the caliphate. And in its statement asserting a restored caliphate on the lands it holds between Syria and Iraq, ISIS appealed to “generations that were drowning in oceans of disgrace, being nursed on the milk of humiliation.”

Even before the caliphate was officially declared June 29, ISIS, which uses social media masterfully, promoted the Twitter hashtag #sykespicotover. (Mark Sykes and Georges Picot being, as Arabs know only too well, the British and French officials who secretly divided up the Middle East in the waning days of WWI.) ISIS supporters also gleefully posted videos of captured earth movers breaching the berm separating Syria and Iraq.

But the group is radical in more ways than one. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS founder who now claims the mantle of the Prophet, calls for a war on the 10 percent of the world’s Muslims who follow the Shia tradition. His foundational screed calls for his soldiers to “greedily drink the blood” of non-believers.

“This is something that is characteristic of our time, to reestablish an ideological empire,” a Turkish scholar named Serif Mardin once told me, a look of distaste crossing his face. “A sweet caliph of ancient times is overwhelmed by this modern military idea. I mean, the caliph is supposed to be a nice guy.” That is one thing the new self-declared caliph does not appear to be.

TIME indonesia

Indonesia Now Has the Highest Rate of Deforestation in the World

Indonesia Forest Fires
Firemen spray water to extinguish wildfires in Dumai, Indonesia, on June 18, 2014 Rony Muharrman—AP

The Southeast Asian nation's forests are now being decimated quicker than those in Brazil

Indonesia now has the highest rate of deforestation in the world, releasing Brazil from its former title, according to a new report published in the Nature Climate Change journal.

Led by researchers at the University of Maryland, the study found that the Southeast Asian nation lost over 6 million hectares of forest between 2000 and 2012. Despite government attempts to ban logging nationwide, the deforestation rate has increased in recent years. During the final year of the study, in 2012, Indonesia lost a whopping 840,000 hectares of forest while Brazil only lost 460,000 hectares.

Yuyun Indradi, forest campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement that the findings should serve as a “wake-up call” for greater government action to protect vulnerable wildlife and curtail greenhouse emissions. “While it was a welcome step, it’s clear that Indonesia’s forest moratorium has not worked,” he said. “Law enforcement is weak, and even the country’s national parks are being logged — but now is a critical time for action.”

The findings will likely be a recurring topic of conversation during this month’s presidential election. Rival candidates Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto will discuss the environment later this week during a televised debate, and Greenpeace urges both to propose viable solutions to deforestation and to encourage sustainable practices.

TIME Asia

In Hong Kong, Tens of Thousands March for Democracy

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
Demonstrators walk on their way to join a pro-democracy rally seeking greater democracy in Hong Kong on July 1, 2014 Philippe Lopez—AFP/Getty Images

July 1 marks 17 years since the former British colony became a Chinese Special Administrative Region. Calls for popular representation are growing ever fiercer in the freewheeling metropolis

When typhoons begin to lash along Asia’s coastlines each midsummer, Hong Kong usually manages to escape serious damage, since storms in the South China Sea tend to lose their muster over the Philippines and Taiwan by the time they make landfall. Some locals will cheekily boast that the city, constructed across an archipelago and on a peninsula extending south of the Chinese mainland, is protected by an invisible dome that blocks out these tempests.

But weathering political storms may be a different story for the former British colony, now a semiautonomous territory under the controversial domain of the Beijing government. On one hand, inside this proverbial dome a vibrant society enjoying free press and rule of law has flourished alongside — or rather, within — the last superpower on earth to describe itself as a communist state. On the other, some conflicting visions of this duality have spurred a more existential political unhappiness in Hong Kong, one that some believe is approaching boiling point.

On Tuesday, up to 500,000 people are slated to march on the city’s central financial district, in what in years past has encompassed myriad domestic grievances while commemorating the official end of British rule 17 years ago. This year’s protest, however, forms the loudest testament yet to mounting opposition to just one thing: China.

“We have waited for democracy for so long, but year after year it’s been bad news,” 21-year-old Lee Kan-tat, a liberal student activist, said on Tuesday morning in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, where the march starts.

The call of the day — and, for some political dissenters, of the past five years — is for “universal suffrage.” Beijing has agreed to enact electoral reforms, most importantly the direct election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive — the territory’s highest office — by 2017, but only from a list of preapproved candidates who must be “patriotic.” Nearly 800,000 Hong Kongers voted in an unofficial plebiscite that ended on Sunday and instead called for open nominations. Beijing deemed that referendum illegal.

“The message from Hong Kong is very clear after the referendum,” added Lee, “800,000 people have spoken, and an overwhelming majority believe that the legislature should veto any reform proposal that doesn’t meet international standards.”

At present, there are 3.5 million registered voters in this Special Administrative Region, but virtually none of them have ever cast their ballot in the quinquennial elections for the Chief Executive. The position is instead appointed by a 1,200-seat election committee, whose decision ostensibly reflects both the wishes and interests of the people of Hong Kong.

Critics of the system — and there are increasingly many — scoff at this presumption. Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s hundred-plus-page de facto constitution, the majority of seats on the election committee are occupied by individuals hailing from Big Business and various professional sectors, with only a small fraction reserved for legislators directly represented by the people. Some point to this as a plainly and conspiratorially pro-China endeavor.

“The government created a system that is deliberately complicated,” says Emily Lau, the chairwoman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, with marked bitterness. “The corporations don’t want to upset Beijing — they need China to do business. So they elect pro-Chinese candidates. It’s all ‘money, money, money.’”

Within Hong Kong’s ideologically popular but politically fragmented pro-democracy camp, Lau and her party represent the moderate minority that believes some tapered form of “universal suffrage” is compatible with the current electoral system structured by the Basic Law. In other words, the existence of the election committee needn’t necessarily inhibit popular choice; what, Lau wondered aloud, if the latter had a role in determining the makeup of the former?

This isn’t to say Lau and her fellow moderates have sympathy with the pro-Beijing side. Lau, whose seat in Hong Kong’s legislature gives her an ex officio position on the election committee, has chosen to abstain from voting in past Chief Executive elections.

“It’s pointless to take part,” she says. “If you take part, you legitimize it.”

Given Beijing’s trademark stubbornness when it comes to amending Hong Kong’s constitution, Lau’s moderate stance may encourage the most pragmatic course of action. Say what you will about the Chinese government in Hong Kong, but it’s there to stay: Lau made a point to gesture outside her window to the 28-story headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army, just across the road from her office in the Legislative Council Complex.

But pragmatism doesn’t always prevail, and reactionism tends to be radical. The past five years have seen the rise of pro-democracy student groups that view a complete upheaval of the current election system as the only option, and any who oppose such a solution as traitorous to the cause of building a democratic Hong Kong.

For many of these activists, any gesture of political compromise with the Chinese government is a further sacrifice of Hong Kong’s autonomy. A civil-disobedience movement called Occupy Central threatens to paralyze the city’s main business district later this month, naturally incurring Beijing’s wrath. (Immediately after the July 1 march, a prominent students’ group is planning a rehearsal sit-in.)

“More and more young people are aware of the disappointments and failures of the Chinese central government,” says 22-year-old Johnson Yeung, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organizes the July 1 protests. “We believe that civil disobedience is the best means of fighting for democracy.”

This sentiment of extremism has all but hijacked the pro-democracy stage in Hong Kong, with mixed results. While the “civil disobedience” endorsed by Yeung and the thousands marching through downtown Hong Kong on Tuesday has given an unprecedented voice to the city’s discontent with Chinese rule, it also threatens to intensify the political hostility coming from Beijing that prompted the discontent in the first place.

Last month, China released a white paper condemning the intensified push for democracy in Hong Kong, calling the understanding of the “one country, two systems” policy here “confused or lopsided,” as by definition it only operates at the behest of Beijing. On Tuesday morning, a pro-democracy group burned a copy of this document in protest.

“The radical [pro-democracy] choice is loud, and potentially destabilizing,” says David Zweig, a professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “China feels its sovereignty has been infringed upon. But it has all the authority it wants — there’s nothing to stop it. It’s their territory, and they know that.”

TIME World Cup

These Are the Best Places to Watch the World Cup (Besides Brazil)

Plenty of places to choose from here

Can’t make the ten-hour flight to Brazil in time for the U.S. vs Belgium World Cup match on Tuesday? TIME offers the following list to help you figure out where to catch the action:

Best Place to Hang Out with a World Cup Star: Las Vegas
If you’re looking for a place to escape the sweltering Vegas heat, let the air conditioning in the Wynn Encore Resort and Casino cool you down. The sports book at the Wynn is known for its luxurious appointments. As with any good sports book, it has dozens of television screens and also two large 12-foot by 12-foot screens. More importantly, maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of Wayne Rooney, the English forward who’s reportedly vacationing there after his team was eliminated from the World Cup.

Biggest Crowd: Chicago
Looking for a place to hang out with 20,000 of your closest friends? Officials in Chicago moved the viewing party on Tuesday to the 61,500-seat Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears during football season, after recent parties drew unexpectedly large crowds.

Most Cultured Venue: Washington D.C.
On the calendar of the Goethe-Institut in Washington D.C., a World Cup viewing party is listed between a theatrical production of a work by Franz Kafka and an exhibition of German prints. If you catch the game here maybe you’ll absorb some of the culture as well. Just know in advance that the crowd at this organization dedicated to German culture probably wants Germany to win the whole thing.

Best Beach Scene: Redondo Beach, Calif.
Los Angeles’ hometown soccer team, the Galaxy, is hosting this gathering beachside at Veteran’s Park. After the game, you can go for a quick drive down the coast to Newport Beach, home of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Most Soccer-Devoted Sports Bar: New York City
Bars all over New York City are showing soccer. But if you’re looking for a place that has been dedicated to the beautiful game before everyone started jumping on the bandwagon, check out Nevada Smiths. Its website describes it as a place “Where Football is Religion.”

Best Place To Hang Out With A Big City Mayor: Boston
Marty Walsh, Boston’s new mayor, is hosting his second World Cup viewing party outside of City Hall. The New England Revolution mascot and cheerleaders will be on hand to keep people in good spirits.

And if you still can’t make it to any of these places, you can stream the games live via ESPN. Just make sure your boss doesn’t see, or try recycling Klinsmann’s note to get out of work for a bit.

TIME Iraq

Iraq Warplanes: When Subsonic is Faster than Supersonic

Russian soldiers unload Russian Sukhoi SU-25 plane in al-Muthanna Iraqi military base at Baghdad airport in Baghdad
Russian troops unload a Russian Su-25 attack plane in Baghdad on Saturday. REUTERS

Baghdad pivots to Russia for aircraft to fight Islamic terrorists

The lone acknowledged confrontation between a U.S.-made F-16 jet fighter and a Soviet Su-25 warplane took place over Pakistan near the Afghan border on August 4, 1988. The Pakistani F-16 destroyed the Su-25 with a missile, reportedly after it had strayed into Pakistani air space during Moscow’s occupation of Afghanistan.

Now a second dogfight between this pair of 20th Century war birds is underway. But the Su-25 appears to be winning. This time, it’s not in the sky, but on the ground: Iraq wants those warplanes on its runways and in its inventory as soon as possible so they can be flown into the fight against the rebels of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, who are threatening to topple the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

The U.S. has sold Iraq 36 speedy F-16s for $3 billion, but the first pair isn’t slated to arrive in Iraq until September. So Iraq has turned to a pair of former Soviet republics, Russia and Belarus, and is buying used Su-25s, lumbering “low and slow” aircraft like the U.S. Air Force’s A-10 Warthog, from them. Moscow apparently has accelerated delivery of the already-ordered planes at Baghdad’s urgent request.

Think of it as the military equivalent of the half-a-loaf argument: when your nation is in danger of collapsing, aging Su-25s beat brand-new F-16s every time.

“The United States remains committed to delivering the F-16s to Iraq as quickly as possible,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday, blaming some of the delay on the “completion of required financial and administrative details, which the Iraqi government has been slow to complete.” The U.S. plans to deliver two F-16s to Iraq monthly beginning in the fall, with all 36 delivered by 2016.

Amid all the geo-politicking over Iraq’s future, its choice of airplanes now that it’s in extremis highlights what’s good and bad about U.S. military hardware. It is, by most accounts, the best in the world—but the ponderous bureaucracy associated with its delivery, financing, training and logistics means that while it may be suited for tomorrow’s conflicts, it isn’t much help in today’s.

Iraq took delivery of its first F-16 June 5 at the Lockheed factory in Fort Worth where it was built (it still needs more work before they’re ready for delivery). Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, expressed delight. “It gives us the confidence that we can have enough capability of our own that we can protect the borders, to be able to protect our pipelines, and more importantly to deal with any threat of terrorism,” he said at the handover ceremony.

Five days later, ISIS took Mosul, and Iraq no longer seemed satisfied with Washington’s F-16 delivery schedule. “I’ll be frank and say that we were deluded when we signed the contract” for the F-16s, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the BBC last week, complaining that the process was “long-winded.” He said Iraq would have been better off trying “to buy other jet fighters like British, French and Russian to secure the air cover for our forces; if we had air cover we would have averted what had happened.”

Certainly, the Su-25 (NATO nickname: Frogfoot; Russian nickname: Grach, Russian for Rook) is better-suited for plinking terrorists down below than the F-16. An initial batch of five reportedly arrived in Iraq on Saturday, part of a bigger package totaling 12 aircraft and the personnel needed to keep them flying. “The Sukhoi Su-25 is an air-ground support and anti-terrorism mission aircraft,” Iraqi Army Lieut. General Anwar Hamad Amen Ahmed told Russia’s RT news service. “In these difficult times, we are in great need of such aircraft.”

Iraq flew Su-25 attack planes during the 1980-1988 war with Iran. That means there’s an aging cohort of Iraqi pilots who could be flying the planes pretty quickly, Pentagon officials say. Iraq hopes to have the planes attacking ISIS targets within days. “God willing within one week this force will be effective and will destroy the terrorists’ dens,” Maliki said.

ITAR-TASS, the Russian news service, has repeatedly jabbed at the slowness of the U.S. deliveries in recent days. “Iraq has requested Russia to urgently supply Su-25 (Frogfoot) ground attack aircraft over Washington’s delay in delivering F-16 fighters,” one dispatch said.

But that’s not quite correct. The F-16 deliveries haven’t been delayed. “There’s been no slow-rolling,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Friday. “I’ve said it from here for the last several months that the first deliveries, the first two were scheduled to be delivered in the fall… I don’t know how one can make the case that we’re slow-rolling it when they weren’t even supposed to be delivered for another few months.”

But Army Colonel Steven Warren said Monday that the insurgency has forced the evacuation of contractors from the base north of Baghdad readying for the F-16s’ arrival. “I don’t have a specific timeline for how the relocation of contractors from Balad will affect the delivery of the F-16s,” he said. “It certainly will.”

 

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