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Why We Should Expect US Airstrikes in Iraq

For the past two days ethnic Yazidi in Iraq have emptied towns and villages ahead of an unrelenting advance by sunni extremist militants. The ISIS group espouses a hateful, extremist and supremacist ideology. In towns they have captured they have killed civilians based solely on their religion and ethnicity, including Christians and Shia muslims.

This second hand account told to George Packer of the New Yorker gives some indication of the threats faced by the Yadizi, not because of anything they have done–but because of who they are.

Karim heard that one young man had been executed by ISIS for no reason other than being Yazidi. A friend of Karim’s was hiding in the mountains, running low on supplies, and out of battery power in his phone. Another friend, an Arab (“He is not a religion guy, he’s open-minded, it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or Yazidi,” Karim said), had stayed in Sinjar and was trapped in his home. Now ISIS was going house to house, with information provided by locals, looking for Iraqi soldiers and police, for people with money, for Kurds. They had already taken away the friend’s brother, a police officer. No one knows for sure how many people ISIS has killed since the attack on Sinjar. Karim heard that it is many hundreds.

Now, there are about 40,000 Yazidi who have fled to a mountain in Sinjar, Iraq. They are running out of food and water, but are trapped on all sides by ISIS militants. This has all the potential to be sudden and catastrophic mass atrocity event.  The White House said today that President Obama is considering authorizing military force to prevent this slaughter.

The administration official said that “the president is weighing both passive and active options,” defining passive action as dropping humanitarian supplies. He added, using an alternative name for ISIS, “More active, we could target the ISIL elements that are besieging the base of the mountain.”

If I had to guess, I would think that President Obama will decide to use military force to strike at ISIS targets besieging this civilian population. The precedent here is Libya. You will recall that in February of 2011, Gaddafi’s soldiers had surrounded the city of Benghazi as the Libyan leader broadcast his intention to commit a mass slaughter of the residents therein.  President Obama famously “led from behind” to advance a Security Council resolution authorizing strikes against Gadaffi’s forces. Benghazi never fell to Gaddafi.

 I think it’s fair to say that President Obama is deeply wary of the value and utility of military intervention in most circumstances (see: Syria). But his actions in Libya suggest that he is willing to use American military power to prevent the imminent and sudden mass slaughter of civilians, at least when such intervention comports with international law. In this case, the decision is even easier because the Security Council would not need to approve this intervention for it to be formally legal, as Iraq has requested assistance.  So, I would expect that US airpower will be summoned in the very near future to strike at ISIS targets in Iraq. The key question though is how limited will those strikes be? Will they simply target the ISIS forces in Sinjar, or be more of a decisive blow against ISIS elsewhere in Iraq?

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Middle East; Iraq; Ebola

Middle East: During the last 48 hours of the continued ceasefire, humanitarian workers have delivered food to hundreds of thousands of people, repaired water and sanitation infrastructure, re-stocked medical supplies, and some of the 520,000 displaced Palestinians have returned to their homes. However, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator remarked the scale of needs remains “unprecedented in the Gaza Strip.” The UN held a moment of silence outside the Secretariat building today in remembrance of the colleagues killed in Gaza including eleven UNRWA personnel.

Iraq: A small religious sect in Iraq known as Yazidi came under attack from the Islamic State today and forced 50,000 people to climb nearby Mount Sinjar to escape the violence. UN agencies are providing those displaced with emergency assistance and the situation in Iraq will be further discussed by the Security Council this afternoon.

Ebola: WHO will convene a panel of experts to explore the use of experimental treatment in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa next week. Two health workers have already been treated with experimental medicine, but Assistant Director-General of WHO noted that guidance from medical ethicists is necessary.

Cambodia: The Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) found two former Khmer Rouge leaders guilty of crimes against humanity today and sentenced them to life in prison. The sentence comes 30 years after the incident and is in accordance with the SG’s commitment to accountability for those who perpetrate such crimes as it sends a message to all those considering committing such crimes in the future.

South Sudan: The SG condemned the killing of five South Sudanese employees of NGOs and called for an investigation into the incident. He urged parties to cease their military operations and seek peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Afghanistan: US Secretary Kerry arrived in Kabul today to meet with Afghan leaders and encouraged the presidential candidates to help accelerate the audit process and work together to ensure national unity.

Russia: In response to the sanctions placed on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, Moscow banned Western food imports for one year beginning today.

CAR: OCHA expressed concern over the looming food security crisis in CAR. Despite WFP’s assistance to 372,000 people in emergency food insecure areas over the last month, UNICEF  has reported 10,000 cases of child malnutrition across the country.

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The International Criminal Court’s Palestine Problem

The Palestinian Authority may ask to join the International Criminal Court, potentially paving the way for war crimes charges to be brought against both Israelis and Palestinians. Mark speaks with international law expert Kevin Jon Heller about the legal and political consequences of a potential ICC investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza.



Previous episodes

Episode 28: Nancy Birsdall, founder of the Center for Global Development

Why this Ebola Outbreak is So Hard to Contain

Episode 27: Daniel Drezner, counter-intuitive wonk

How to Negotiate a Gaza Ceasefire

Episode 25: Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE, USA. Long-time AIDS-Fighter

How Humanity is Winning the Fight Against AIDS

Episode 24: Joseph Cirincione, Nuclear Policy Wonk 

A Migrant’s Story: Why are So Many Children Fleeing to the USA?

Episode 23: Live from the UN 2014 (Volume 2); A special edition with a slew of UN officials.

Inside the Iran Nuke Talks

Episode 23: Jillian York, Digital Free Speech defender

Turkey’s Strategic Interests in Iraq

Episode 22: Live from the UN, 2014 (Vol 1); A special edition, featuring the President of the General Assembly,  the UN Ambassadors from Vietnam and Jamaica, the head of the UN Association, and more!

The UN’s View of the Iraq Crisis

Episode 21: Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN, Israel, Jordan, Russia, India and more.

Dying for the World Cup

Episode 20: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, foreign policy trendsetter

Egypt After the Counter Revolution 

Episode 19: Louise Arbour, human rights pioneer.

What Obama Left Out of His Big Foreign Policy Speech

Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

The Foreign Policy Implications of India’s Elections

Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

What Boko Haram Wants

Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watcher

Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk


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A Genocide in Iraq?

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The Kurdish Yazidi ethnic group is under extreme assault by ISIS. In the New Yorker, George Packer relays the harrowing tale of entire villages of Yazidis being emptied as ISIS militants make their advance. “Yesterday, a senior U.S. official told me that the Obama Administration is contemplating an airlift, coördinated with the United Nations, of humanitarian supplies by C-130 transport planes to the Yazidis hiding in the Sinjar mountains. There are at least twenty thousand and perhaps as many as a hundred thousand of them, including some peshmerga militiamen providing a thin cover of protection.  The U.N. has reported that dozens of children have died of thirst in the heat. ISIS controls the entrance to the mountains. Iraqi helicopters have dropped some supplies, including food and water, but the refugees are hard to find and hard to reach.” (New Yorker

Ebola Outbreak

Liberia shut a major hospital in the capital Monrovia on Wednesday after a Spanish priest and six other staff contracted Ebola, as the death toll from the worst outbreak of the disease hit 932 in West Africa. (Reuters

The death toll from the world’s worst Ebola outbreak has risen to 932 after 45 patients died between Aug. 2 and Aug. 4, the World Health Organization said in a statement on Wednesday. (Reuters

Nigerian nurse infected with the Ebola virus has died, the second confirmed fatality from the disease in Africa’s most populous nation and leading oil producer, the country’s health minister said on Wednesday. (Reuters

Relatives of Ebola victims in Liberia defied government quarantine orders and dumped infected bodies in the streets as West African governments struggled to enforce tough measures to curb an outbreak. (Reuters

A team of medical ethicists are weighing the implications of making an experimental drug to treat ebola available to west Africans. (ABC


The UN Mission in South Sudan condemned the killing of five Sudanese aid workers, apparently on the basis of their ethnicity. (UNMISS

Uganda’s parliament will try to re-introduce an anti-homosexuality law that was thrown out by a court, a lawmaker leading the effort said on Wednesday, a move that could once again damage relations with the West. (Reuters

The government of the Central African Republic has stepped down. The resignation comes as part of a peace deal aimed at ending months of sectarian violence in which thousands have died. (Deutsche Welle

Rains and insecurity caused by Nigerian Islamist militants are aggravating a cholera outbreak in northern Cameroon which has killed at least 75 people and infected some 1,400 others since April. (IRIN

Thousands of people displaced by floods and a mudslide in the Burundian capital Bujumbura and surrounding areas in February 2014 need more help to reconstruct their homes and livelihoods, aid workers say. (IRIN

Human Rights Watch is calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to ensure that human rights concerns are a major focus of this week’s U.S. African Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. HRW says at least a dozen of the 50 African heads of state attending the event lead repressive governments that have imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders, and anti-corruption campaigners. (VOA


An Egyptian court upheld death sentences on Wednesday against 12 Muslim Brotherhood supporters convicted of killing a police officer last year, judicial sources said. (Reuters


The most effective drug we have against malaria is losing its potency in Southeast Asia. Doctors can still cure most forms of the disease, but it takes longer and more medications. (NPR

Innovation in the fields of renewable energy, food production, water conservation, education and health will be crucial for the developing economies of Asia to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. (IPS

A landslide in Nepal on 2 August killed 33 and 122 are still missing as search and rescue continues. Experts say this event, one of the deadliest in the country’s recent history, is a wake-up call for hazard mapping, early warning, and disaster management. (IRIN

China says the death toll from Sunday’s powerful earthquake in the southwestern province of Yunnan has risen sharply to 589. (VOA

The Americas

Medicare is paying for HIV drugs for hundreds of patients who may not have the disease, an inspector general’s investigation finds. A 77-year-old woman with no record of HIV got $33,500 of medication. (NPR

Three emergency shelters housing an influx of children from Central America who entered the US illegally will be closed because numbers are falling. (BBC


Will these sustainable development goals do the job? (Guardian

Africa is More Organised (SAPA

‘Land Grabs’ and Responsible Agricultural Investment (OSISA

It Is About the Money, Stupid – U.S.-Africa Summit Comes to Life (Daily Maverick

Global Health blog: Is PrEP Cost-Effective? (CGD

An Elusive Peace for the Central African Republic (UN Dispatch

Is the $200 million World Bank pledge toward the $73 million WHO request in fighting Ebola enough? (Haba na Haba

The Saddest PDF in the Whole Internet (Campaign for Boring Development

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Middle East; Ebola; South Sudan

Middle East: At today’s informal session of the General Assembly on Gaza the SG remarked that the most recent ceasefire has held since yesterday at 8 a.m. local time. He noted that a durable ceasefire is necessary and UN shelters must continue to remain safe zones. The SG thanked UN staff in Gaza and will fly the UN flag at half-mast tomorrow in memory of those who died in the conflict. Ambassador Power stated the US position of continued support for parties to engage in dialogue to resolve the entrenched differences as well as the US commitment to UN and humanitarian actors as they have already provided $50 million to address humanitarian needs.

Ebola: WHO updated statistics on the Ebola virus in West Africa reporting that the total number of cases has now reached 1,711 with 932 deaths. The Organization meets today in an Emergency Committee of international experts to review the outbreak.

South Sudan: The ASG for Peacekeeping Operations briefed the Security Council on South Sudan this morning remarking that the country is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. The ASG urged parties to promptly reach an agreement on how to end the conflict. UNMISS  reported that 110 peacekeepers arrived in Bunj today to protect UN and humanitarian personnel as 220 NGO and UN international staff were flown out of the region for their safety and security.

Ukraine: At yesterday’s Security Council meeting on Ukraine, John Ging of UNRWA spoke for UN Humanitarian Chief Amos relaying the deteriorating humanitarian situation as 3.9 million people live in areas directly affected by violence. Ging remarked that immediate action is required to prevent the crisis from worsening as 1,367 people have already been killed in Ukraine since April. Ambassador Power echoed the call for immediate action and noted that “Russia can stop all of this. The surest way to end violence is for Russia to stop the flow of fighters, weapons and money from Russia into eastern Ukraine.”

Iraq: The Security Council condemned the attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and called upon all Iraqi communities to respond to the threat against the country’s unity. UNHCR reported that 200,000 have fled Sinjar to escape the conflict.

Africa Summit: At the US-Africa Business Forum yesterday, Obama pledged $33 billion in US private and public assistance to Africa. The pledge demonstrates the US commitment to long-term investments in Africa’s future.

Hiroshima Anniversary: Marking the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the SG sent a message to the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Japan remarking that today’s commemoration “connects memories of a tragic past with the vision of a future free of nuclear weapons.” He called for immediate action so survivors of the bombing and the world can witness the destruction of the last nuclear weapon.

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An Elusive Peace for the Central African Republic

Mere days after the Forum for National Reconciliation and Political Dialogue for the Central African Republic in Brazzaville, the frail cease-fire agreement between Seleka and anti-balaka has already been shattered. Over 22 people were killed last week in Batangafo, a town near the border with Chad (which also happens to be former CAR president Francois Bozizé’s hometown), while some members of the Seleka were killed during a clash with French troops yesterday. Meanwhile, the interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, asked for Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke and his cabinet’s resignation on August 5. The PM and his government resigned, but no new Prime Minister has been appointed yet, leaving an undesirable political vacuum during a critical time.  

The PM and cabinet’s resignation is supposed to fulfill the promise made during the Brazzaville negotiations to make the government more inclusive and representative. But,  given the timing of the resignation – in the wake of a new cycle of violence and a broken cease-fire – the move appears weak and scrambled. Samba-Panza, whose sterling business and political reputation prior to becoming her country’s president has not translated into a strong presidency, seems to be influenced by events, rather than the other way around. The Associated Press is speculating that a Muslim Prime Minister will be selected to replace Nzapayeke, a move that would potentially appease the Seleka movement, but may also anger the Christian majority and the anti-balaka.

But to try and predict what the reaction will be is almost a futile exercise – as we alluded to in our last piece about the cease-fire agreement, the official negotiators representing the Seleka and anti-balaka movements are not speaking on behalf of homogeneous groups. Whatever was agreed to in the comfortable conference center in Brazzaville was not necessarily going translate into a direct improvement on the ground. And, indeed, as the events of the past 10 days have shown, it did not. Symbolizing the rift between the various strands of the broad Seleka movement and the factional nature of the violent groups in the CAR, earlier last week, Seleka military chief Joseph Zoundeiko told the BBC that his forces would ignore the cease-fire, which did not take into account the views of the movement’s military wing. Another Seleka representative, Ahmat Nedjad, told Reuters that the agreement was broken right after it was signed.

As the conflict continues to kill, wound, displace and disrupt people’s lives in the CAR, a long-term, sustainable peaceful resolution appears difficult to reach. With highly divided and factionalized actors in the conflict, negotiations will continue to be challenging at best, and ineffectual at worst. In addition, as many analysts and human rights defenders have noted, there has been no serious discussions about bringing perpetrators to account, and nothing was included in the most recent agreement about prosecuting for war crimes or crimes against humanity. The interrelated questions of impunity, immunity and accountability loom large, and will need to be addressed for any sort of sustainable – and just – peace. 

Photo credit: Catherine Samba-Panza at a meeting in the CAR – May 2014. UN Women Flickr Photo Stream.


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