Middle East Updates / U.S. sends 130 more troops to Iraq


EU allows states to arm Iraqi Kurds; suicide bomber attacks checkpoint near new Iraqi PM’s home; Obama praises ‘promising step forward’ in Iraq in addressing the needs of all Iraqis.

2:28 A.M. A suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint near the Baghdad home of new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday, two police sources and local media said.

“The suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint that leads to the prime minister’s house,” said one of the police sources.

There was no word on casualties. Officials in Abadi’s office were not immediately available for comment.  (Reuters)

2:10 A.M. The Obama administration has sent about 130 additional military personnel to Iraq, U.S Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Tuesday, as Washington seeks to help Iraq contain the threat posed by hardline militants from the Islamic State.

Hagel, speaking to troops in California, said the soldiers had arrived in the area around Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital, Arbil, earlier in the day on Tuesday.

A U.S. defense official, in a statement issued as Hagel was speaking, said the soldiers sent to northern Iraq would “assess the scope of the humanitarian mission and develop additional humanitarian assistance options beyond the current airdrop effort in support of displaced Iraqi civilians trapped on Sinjar Mountain by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” (Reuters)

1:24 A.M. The European Union failed on Tuesday to agree on a joint position on supplying weapons to Iraqi Kurds battling Islamic State militants, but said individual members could send arms in coordination with Baghdad. (Reuters) 

9:32 P.M. Britain will send Chinook helicopters to help refugees trapped in northern Iraq, particularly on Mount Sinjar, the government said on Tuesday. “As part of our efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Iraq, we are sending a small number of Chinook helicopters to the region for use if we decide we need further humanitarian relief options,” a spokesman from Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said following a meeting of the government’s emergency response committee.

Britain has also agreed to transport critical military re-supplies being provided by other contributing nations to the Kurdish forces, so that they could protect refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan from militants of the Islamic State (IS), the spokesman said. The Chinook helicopters, which have a 500-mile operational range, have the capability to land on rough terrain and can be used to deliver heavy loads as well as for evacuations. 

Britain is already conducting aid drops in the region from C-130 cargo planes and on Tuesday sent Tornado jets to help guide the humanitarian effort. The government said three UK aid drops had already taken place, with two C-130s having delivered 3180 re-usable water containers, filled with a total of 15,900 liters of clean water, and 816 solar lanterns overnight. 

Cameron’s office has so far dismissed calls from politicians and other commentators to recall parliament from its summer break and debate whether the country should join the United States in intervening militarily against IS. (Reuters)

7:31 P.M. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged countries around the world to do more for Iraqi civilians who have fled the advance of Islamist militants in Iraq and sought refuge in remote mountain areas. “The plight of Yazidis and others on Mount Sinjar is especially harrowing,” Ban told reporters, adding that the “situation on the mountain is dire.” “I urge the international community to do even more to provide the protection they need,” he said. (Reuters)

6:56 P.M. Iraq’s military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi has told state television that an Iraqi helicopter delivering aid to displaced Yazidis on Sinjar mountain has crashed.

Tens of thousands from the minority Yazidi sect have fled their homes after invading militants from the Islamic State group gave them an ultimatum to convert to Islam or be killed.

The displaced have been stranded on the Sinjar mountain range near the Syrian border with little food and water.

The Iraqi military as well as the U.S. and its allies have been flying supplies to help the people.

Al-Moussawi said Tuesday it was a Russian-made helicopter but gave no details on casualties. (AP) 

3:37 P.M. The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council on Tuesday congratulated Haider al-Ibadi for his nomination as the new Iraqi prime minister, state-run al-Alam television’s website reported.

Iraq’s president named Ibadi as the new prime minister to end Nouri al-Maliki’s eight-year rule on Monday, but the veteran leader refused to go after deploying militias and special forces on the streets, creating a dangerous political showdown in Baghdad.

Iranian officials had said recently that Iran believed Maliki was no longer able to hold his country together and that it was looking for an alternative leader to combat a Sunni Islamist insurgency. (AP) 

3:17 P.M. Europe is stepping up support for thousands fleeing advancing Islamic militant forces in northern Iraq, pledging more air drops, aid money and non-lethal equipment to ease suffering and bolster fighters battling the Sunni insurgency.

Britain and France dropped water, food and solar lamps to afflicted Yazidis sheltering on Mount Sinjar amid fears of a massive humanitarian catastrophe. Britain fast-tracked some 3 million pounds ($5 million) more to help aid groups in northern Iraq deal with the disaster.

France plans a second delivery of humanitarian aid in the next two days and was pressing to arm outgunned Kurdish fighters.
Germany said Tuesday it planned to send non-lethal equipment such as vehicles, night vision gear and bomb detectors, and said it might review its decision not to send arms. (AP)

3:09 P.M. Libya’s new parliament agreed on Tuesday that the next president would be elected by a popular vote as lawmakers sought to overcome a confrontation between two armed factions.

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly for the new president to be directly elected by the Libyan people as it seeks to put the country back on track towards democracy, three years after Muammar Gadhafi’s fall in an uprising. 

No date has been set for the election, but Libya is caught in its worst violence since the civil war ousted Gadhafi, with armed factions clashing in the capital Tripoli with rockets, artillery and mortars.

“We have made the decision on electing the president directly, but we have not set a date for the vote until we discuss the current crisis and see how stable the situation is,” Fatthallah Saiti, a lawmaker, told Reuters.

Three years after Gadhafi’s autocratic rule ended, Libya’s fragile government has been caught in political infighting that paralyzed the last parliament and empowered rival brigades of heavily armed ex-rebels.  Those factions clashed in the past, but last month their rivalries erupted into heavy street battles that are part of a wider struggle over the spoils of post-Gadhafi Libya.

Since the fighting began, most Western diplomats have pulled out of the country and closed their embassies, fearing the North African oil-producing state is edging closer to another war.  Tripoli was calmer on Tuesday with none of the shelling and rocket fire of recent days. A UN delegation has been holding talks with the two factions in an attempt to broker a cease-fire.

On one side are former rebels from the western town of Zintan, and their anti-Islamist Qaaqaa and al-Sawaiq militias, including some ex-Gadhafi forces. Against them are more Islamist-leaning brigades allied to the town of Misrata who are closer to the Islamist political factions. (Reuters) 

12:32 P.M. The New-York based Human Rights Watch called Tuesday for an international commission of inquiry into mass killings in Egypt last summer that left hundreds dead, saying they likely amount to crimes against humanity.

Based on a year-long investigation into the incidents that followed the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013, Human Rights Watch called specifically for an inquiry in to the role of country’s current President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, and at least 10 senior military and security chiefs in the killing of 1,150 protesters in the span of six weeks.

The group said it found that authorities had used excessive and deliberate force against protesters on political grounds in successive attacks on their gatherings.

The worst incident of mass killings occurred on Aug. 14, when authorities opened fire on a massive pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaah al-Adawiyah square, leaving at least 817 dead after 12 hours, Human Rights Watch said. The group called it the “world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” (AP)

12:30 P.M. The British government is “terrified” of intervening militarily in Iraq ahead of elections due next year and is happy to posture rather than take real action, an ex-senior general who previously helped lead NATO missions said on Tuesday.

Islamic State insurgents – radical Islamists who want to re-create a mediaeval-style caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria – have swept across northern Iraq in recent weeks, pushing back Kurdish regional forces despite coming under U.S. air strikes.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has so far refused to back the United States militarily, with Britain instead dropping relief aid onto Sinjar mountain, where thousands of people of the Yazidi minority sect have taken refuge from Islamic State.

Former general Richard Shirreff, who retired from the British army last week and was NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe until March 2014, told the Times of London that British action was insufficient and he chided policymakers.

“We have politicians who want to posture, who make a lot of noise but do not have any stick,” said Shirreff.

“This government is terrified of any form of intervention involving boots on the ground before an election next year.” (Reuters)

9:34 A.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is urging Iraq’s new leaders to work quickly to form an inclusive government and says the U.S. is prepared to offer additional aid in the fight against Islamic State militants.

Kerry says the U.S. “stands ready to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government.”

Iraq’s new president on Monday announced his choice to replace incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But al-Maliki isn’t stepping aside quietly and has accused President Fouad Massoum of violating Iraq’s constitution.

Kerry says he hopes new Iraqi leaders will work quickly to resolve “outstanding issues that have been frozen for years.”

Kerry spoke during a press conference in Sydney Tuesday with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and their Australian counterparts. (AP)

9:07 A.M. NATO says one of its service members has been killed in an attack in eastern Afghanistan.

The international military coalition says the attack happened on Tuesday but gave no other details. Coalition policy is for home countries to identify their military dead.

The death brings to 51 the number of NATO service members who have died in Afghanistan so far this year, including 38 Americans.

Casualties have been falling in the U.S.-led military alliance as its forces pull back to allow the Afghan army and police to fight the Taliban insurgency. All foreign combat troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from the country by the end of this year. (AP)

00:35 A.M. United States President Barack Obama has welcomed the nomination of Iraqi politician Haider al-Ibadi as prime minister-elect, describing it as a “promising step forward” in addressing the needs of all Iraqis.

Speaking to reporters from Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, where he is vacationing with his family, Obama said that both he and Vice-President Joe Biden had spoken on the phone with Al-Ibadi and urged the timely creation of an inclusive Iraqi government.

The president also said that U.S. forces had successfully carried out airstrikes against Islamist militants in northern Iraq and had stepped up military advice to Iraqis and Kurds.

The U.S. launched an air campaign this week to block the advance of jihadist Islamic State rebels who have taken over much of the north of Iraq and are advancing on Kurdish positions in the east.

The U.S. is working with international partners to bring refugees from the Islamic advance to safety, the president said. Thousands of refugees have been stranded on a mountain in the far north of the country for the past week. He promised American assistance in helping Iraq cope with its enormous humanitarian challenges.


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