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IS ‘not America’s fight alone’

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

President Obama hails the support of Arab nations in air strikes which reportedly killed dozens of Islamic State and jihadist militants in Syria.
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Arabic Diglossia Again (and Again, and Again)

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

People keep rediscovering what we all know:  a SOAS Ph.D. candidate enlightens Slate on a subject we’ve talked about extensively: “Is Arabic Just One Language?”

Since this will be the 43rd blogpost here with the tag “diglossia,” it won’t be that big a piece of news to most of you. It’s mostly well-enough informed (we can all find quibbles) and perhaps some will learn from it.
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Joint Chiefs chair: ‘No safe haven’ for militants

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

In this image made from video released by the U.S. Navy on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, missiles bound for Syrian Islamic State group targets are launched off of a U.S. Navy ship. U.S. officials said the airstrikes began around 8:30 p.m. EDT (0030 GMT) Monday, and were conducted by the U.S., Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy via AP video)WASHINGTON (AP) — Combined U.S.-Arab airstrikes on the Islamic State group's military strongholds in Syria achieved their aim of showing the extremists that their savage attacks will not go unanswered, the top American military officer said Tuesday. Separately, the U.S. launched strikes against a group said to be plotting to attack the U.S. and Western interests.

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Syrian opposition says air strikes will help fight against Assad

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

By Dasha Afanasieva ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Syria’s Western-backed opposition welcomed U.S.-led air strikes on Islamic State strongholds in Syria on Tuesday, saying they would strengthen its struggle against President Bashar al-Assad. The targets of the air and missile strikes included Raqqa city in northern Syria, the headquarters of Islamic State, an extremist Sunni Muslim force that has seized large expanses of territory in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a caliphate erasing borders in the heart of the Middle East. A significant part of U.S. …
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Israel murder suspects shot dead

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

Two Palestinians suspected of the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June have been killed by Israeli forces, Israel’s military says.
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US strikes Islamic State in Syria

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

US and other nations begin air strikes against Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon says.
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The Huthis, Zaydis,and Trying to Get the Yemen Story Right

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

Though overshadowed by events elsewhere, major developments have taken place in Yemen. TheHouthi or huthis movement, after years of resistance to the Transitional Government in Sana‘a’, has signed a peace agreement, and now seem to have fully occupied the Yemen capital.

For general background, see my MEI Colleague Charles Schmitz’ “The Huthi Asccnt to Power,” which covers the basics. But I also want to revisit a point I made over five years ago in a post about he Huthis and Zaydism in August 2009: If you insist on interpreting Yemen in dualist Sunni/Shi‘ite terms,ou’re going to mislead. For years media analysis interpreted the struggle between the Huthis and President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih’s regime in precisely those terms, though like the Huthis, Dalih was a Zaydi. He was a republican Zaydi but a Zaydi nonetheless.

And Zaydis are Shi‘ites in the sene that traditional Zaydis insist on rule by the Sada, the descendants of the Prophet (they are called “Fiver” Shi‘ites by some, but generslly do not restrict the Imamate to a single line), but they are not Twelver Shi‘ites like Iranians, Iraqis, and Lebanese and Bahrainis. I’m not a Yemen specialist and have never even set foot in the country, but the tendency to identify the Huthi struggle as a simple Sunni versus Shi‘ite dichotomy is just wrong. Saudi Arabia has long had a somewhat excessive focus on Yemen, and separately and for different reasons on Twelver Shi‘ism, and I suspect the Saudi perspective has influenced much of the media commentary.

Now that the Huthis seem to have taken over the capital, we’ll see what comes next, but Yemen is a mix of Zaydi revivalists (the Huthis), Zaydi traditionalists, Sunni Salafis, Sunni secular republicans, and even jihadis like AQAP. It doesn’t resolve itself into neat sectarian dichotomies.
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Refugee Tsunami and Mysteries of Hostage Release Focus World Attenrtion on Turkish Border

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

The huge tide of over 130,000 Syrian refugees crossing the Turkish border, combined with other rapidly shifting developments, is focusing the world’s attention on the Turkish border, Where the US and other Western countries are also seeking to stem the flow of arms and recruits to ISIS and other radical groups, with the bulk of such recruits believed to be entering via Turkey.

Adding to the sheer size of the refugee flow is the fact that most of the refugees are Syrian Kurds, with longstanding ties to the Turkish PKK and thus seen by Turkey as a potential threat, while at the same time thre have been clashes with PKK supporters seeking to enter Syria to relieve the siege  of Kobanê.

Despite Western pressure, Turkey’s government remains aloof from the US-led coalition, for a varity of reasons, well-stated by Henri Barkey at Foreign Policy in “How the Islamic State Took Turkey Hostage.”

One bit of mystery was the sudden freeing of the 49 hostages (43 Turks and three Iraqis) held by ISIS since the fall of Mosul in June. When released a few days ago, the Turkish government credited a “rescue operation” conceived by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), with some ill-defined “diplomatic” role and a staunch denial that any ransom had been paid. A lot of eyebrows were justifiably raised. The Turkish military also claimed  role.

An article at Al-Monitor by Metin Turcan, “How and Why were 46 Turkish Hostages Freed?”  I obviously cant testify to its accuracy, but among the assertions is this:

Three plans were developed for the rescue of the hostages: a military operation, persuasion through contacts with IS or paying ransom. Turkish intelligence officials were in close contact with IS in Mosul, with the Army of Naqshbandi dominated by former Baath cadres and with the Council of Mosul Tribes. The plan for a military operation was shelved after establishing close contacts with influential Sunni Arab tribes in Mosul who have been friendly to Turkey for many years. Turkey’s close liaison with the Mosul tribes was never a secret.

 On the curious alliance between ex-Baathists, the Naqshbandi Order, and ISIS, see my earlier post, “Strange Bedfellows: ‘Izzat Ibrahim, the Naqshbandi Order, and ISIS.” I have no idea how accurate the report is, but clearly it’s these sort of links between Turkey and rather sketchy elements inside Syria and that bothers many in the West.
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French national taken in Algeria, group claims kidnapping

September 23rd, 2014 No comments

France's President Hollande attends a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in ParisBy John Irish and Lamine Chikhi PARIS/ALGIERS (Reuters) – A French national was kidnapped in eastern Algeria on Sunday, France's foreign ministry said, and his kidnappers issued a video threatening to kill him if Paris did not halt its intervention in Iraq. The Caliphate Soldiers, a group linked to Islamic State militants, published a video on the Internet soon after the French ministry's announcement on Monday, claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and showing a man who identified himself as Herve Gourdel, 55, from Nice in southern France. …

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Islamist group kidnaps Frenchman in Algeria

September 22nd, 2014 No comments

In this still image from video published on the Internet on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, by a group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate, a captive Frenchman appeals to French President Francois Hollande to help free him. The Frenchman, whom the ministry described as a 55-year-old mountain guide, said he was taken hostage by the group on Sunday and reiterated its demands that the French military end its airstrikes in Iraq. The group said it was answering a call by Islamic State group spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani to attack Americans and Europeans. (AP Photo)ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — A splinter group from al-Qaida's North African branch kidnapped a French citizen and said Monday that it would kill him unless France halts it airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq.

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