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Showing posts from September 9, 2013

Syria: A Renewed Focus on Arming the Rebels


With the U.S. military preparing for a possible intervention in Syria, most of the debate around whether the U.S. Congress should authorize military action against the Syrian regime has focused on a potential strike. However, some lawmakers and White House officials are pushing to dramatically increase the supply of weapons to Syrian rebels as well. The United States already has such a program in place through the CIA, but the Obama administration has proposed shifting responsibility for arming and training the rebels to the Pentagon, which has units specifically designed for this type of operation and the logistical capability to pull it off in a timely manner.

While such a program would likely put the rebels on more equal footing with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, it could have long-term repercussions. A rapid, massive increase in the flow of weapons into Syria would inevitably result in guns falling into the hands of fighters who Washington fears would us…

Russia's Trade Bloc

After Armenia's decision Sept. 3 to join the Customs Union, a Russian-led trade bloc, a number of European politicians said Armenia will not be able to have a free trade agreement with the European Union because the two blocs are incompatible. Lithuania, which currently holds the EU presidency, is leading efforts to bring six former Soviet states -- Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus and Azerbaijan -- closer to the European Union through political and trade agreements under the European Union's Eastern Partnership program, initiated by Poland and Sweden in 2008.

Russia has been using its strong economic and energy ties to these countries to block Brussels' efforts, with varying degrees of success. As Armenia's largest trade partner and foreign investor and as owner of many of the country's strategic assets, Russia is crucial to Armenia's stability. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently indicated that Russian Railways would invest heavily in Armenia&…

Rising Violence in Iraq

On Aug. 28, some 12 devices reportedly detonated simultaneously in mostly Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing 30 people and wounding another 160. Such coordinated, high-casualty attacks have become common in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country at the end of 2011. The majority of operations, which are carried out by groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have been concentrated in certain geographic regions against similar targets by insurgents using a standard set of tactics.

The violence has occurred primarily in regions around Baghdad, Tikrit, Kirkuk and Mosul. Less frequently, militants have also attacked national security forces stationed in Sunni regions and targets deeper into areas traditionally controlled by Shia. The geographic focus of the attacks indicates that the reach of militants is limited to areas in which they can routinely operate freely, typically where the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish spheres of influence intersect.


French Peacekeeping Operations in the Central African Republic

Insecurity has persisted in the Central African Republic since current President Michel Djotodia and his Seleka rebel alliance overthrew the government of former President Francois Bozize in March. In the capital of Bangui, recent confrontations between Bozize loyalists and rebel factions still seeking government control have forced thousands of displaced civilians to congregate around French peacekeeping troops at the international airport in search of protection.

On Aug. 27, fighting broke out in the Boy-Rabe neighborhood in northern Bangui, a district inhabited primarily by Bozize supporters. According to reports, gunfire was heard and houses were burned, forcing several thousand residents to flee to the French-protected Bangui M'Poko International Airport in search of refuge or in hopes of leaving the country altogether. Eventually, civilians fleeing clashes in the nearby Boeing neighborhood began flocking to the airport as well. However, while France's troops have been dep…

Syria strike: White House starts 'flood the zone' strategy

WASHINGTON, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- The case that Assad regime forces gassed civilians is made, a top White House aide said, as officials pushed hard to win support for a U.S. strike on Syria.

"Nobody now debates the intelligence, which makes clear -- and we have high confidence about this -- that in August, the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough maintained on CNN's "State of the Union," part of a blitz of interviews he did Sunday on every major TV network.

"Congress has an opportunity this week to answer a simple question -- should there be consequences for him for having used that material?"

Syrian President Bashar Assad denied in a CBS and Public Broadcasting Service interview airing Monday he had anything to do with the Aug. 21 attack in suburban Damascus, which the Obama administration alleges killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children.

Assad said he didn't even know…

Mubarak figure heads Egyptian Constitution-amending panel

CAIRO, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Egypt's Amr Moussa, a Mubarak regime figure, will head the panel amending the Constitution enacted during Mohamed Morsi's Islamist presidency, officials said.

Moussa, a 10-year Mubarak-era foreign minister and 10-year Arab League secretary-general who ran for president of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak's 2011 ouster, defeated influential lawyer Sameh Ashour to lead the 50-person Constitution-drafting committee, the officials said.

The vote by committee members was 30 for Moussa and 16 for Ashour, with two abstentions and two members absent, they said.

Ashour had the support of the revolutionary grassroots Tamarod youth movement, which helped spur the massive nationwide protests that led to Morsi's July 3 ouster by the military, the privately owned Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm reported.

Moussa said he ran for the post after consulting various political powers, the newspaper said.

Moussa heads the anti-Islamist National Salvation Front with ex-U.N. n…