Tag Archives: Syria

IRAQ: Needed – An international strategy in Iraq

by David Cortwright, God’s Politics Blog

IraqCrisis-smallThe crisis in Iraq poses two challenges — a humanitarian effort to rescue persecuted minorities, and a security mission to suppress the extremist threat posed by the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The U.S. is right to play a leading role in aiding the Yazidis, Christians, and other threatened minorities in Iraq. The immediate threat against the Yazidis has eased, but minority groups in the region remain endangered by violent extremism. The Obama administration should work through the United Nations to turn this into a genuine international rescue effort. The greater the degree of international participation and support for the aid mission, the more beneficial and legitimate it will be for the recipients.

The U.S. is also right to call attention to the threat posed by ISIS, but we need to do more to mobilize international pressure against the group. The Islamic State is in many respects more dangerous than al Qaeda. It has conquered Mosul and other major cities, taken control of dams and oil facilities, and is steadily expanding its sphere of influence in Syria and Iraq. It has formed a terrorist army with an estimated 10,000 fighters and is now armed with tanks and advanced U.S. weapons stolen from the Iraqi army. The group poses a significant threat to the security of the region and the world.

The Obama administration does not appear to have a coherent strategy for countering the Islamic State and has made no effort to organize effective international cooperation in this effort through the United Nations…

Click here to read this entire article.

REFLECTION: Making bad situations worse in the Middle East

Tony Maglianoby Tony Magliano

The heart wrenching tragedies throughout the Middle East are not the United States’ fault, that is, at least not entirely.

The fact that many Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims distrust each other, that the Allies established artificial national boundaries to suite their interests after World War I, and that ruthless dictators past and present have often oppressed their people are major reasons why much of the Middle East is broken and bleeding.  

But the U.S. has made several bad situations in the Middle East far worse.

Iraqi sisters look over the damage at a church in northern Iraq.

Iraqi sisters look over the damage at a church in northern Iraq.

In Egypt, according to the Congressional Research Service, since 1987 the U.S. has given that nation $1.3 billion per year in military aid despite the fact that it was long ruled by the dictator Hosni Mubarak.  

Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, its refusal to allow subjugated Palestinians to form an independent nation, and the strangling blockade and brutal invasion of Gaza would not be possible without the approximate $3 billion in annual American aid and the United States’ refusal to demand that Israel reverse course here.

While it is a sad truth that under the dictator Saddam Hussein many Iraqis suffered, it is an even sadder truth that the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq, caused even greater suffering to countless Iraqis.

After nearly nine years of war, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi children, women and men are dead, over 4,480 American troops were killed, and Iraq overall is in a far worse state.

Furthermore, the U.S. war with Iraq unleashed deadly Islamist attacks upon thousands of Iraqi Christians.

In a CBS 60 Minutes segment, Rev. Andrew White, an Anglican priest who has a long history of ministry in Iraq, said the situation there was clearly worse for Christians than under the Saddam Hussein regime.

And according to a Fox News report earlier this year, Fr. White said that in the past five years 1,096 of his own parishioners were killed.

He said that out of the 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq in 2003, only around 200,000 remain.

And now with the Islamic State controlling a large part of Iraq, the remaining Christian population is suffering even worse.

There can be no doubt that the U.S. invasion of Iraq made a bad situation far worse. 

Please help our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ by giving a generous donation to Catholic Near East Welfare Association (www.cnewa.org).  

And urge your congressional delegation and President Obama (www.whitehouse.gov) to grant emergency asylum to at least 300,000 Christians and other minorities fleeing the barbarism of the Islamic State. Yes, this would be a major undertaking, but the U.S. is capable of doing it. It’s mostly just a matter of will – good will.

To its credit, tiny Lebanon, with a population of approximately 6 million people, has according the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, taken in well over 1 million mostly Syrian and Iraqi refugees and asylum-seekers – with over 500,000 more expected by year’s end. That would be equivalent to the U.S. taking in over 50 million refugees and asylum-seekers.

Three years ago, the U.S. led an aerial attack against the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi leaving that nation awash in weapons which continue to help fuel the warring militias that have since been unleashed.

While U.S. bombing helped end Gaddafi’s brutal reign, it didn’t stop the suffering of the Libyan people.

Bombs kill. They do not address the root-causes of conflict. Rather, they perpetuate the cycle of violence. Knowing that full well, and in response to President Barack Obama’s threats to bomb Syria last year, Pope Francis called on people of faith to observe Sept. 7, 2013 as a day of prayer and fasting.

On that day the Holy Father said to over 100,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and to all of us, “Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world!”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column. Tony is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.

SYRIA: Pax Christi International calls for action to stop arms deliveries to Syria

pcilogonewfrom Pax Christi International

The tragedy of war and the horrendous suffering of the Syrian people continue without respite. In a recent statement, Pax Christi International expressed its belief that this armed confrontation – which continues to destabilize the region affecting mostly civilians – can be stopped if the international community focuses on promoting serious political negotiations and discourages violence in all its forms.

International actors – including governments – are fuelling the armed conflict by supplying or financing weapons and ammunitions, training combatants and even sending military contingents to one or more sides. Some think-tanks have made efforts to document arms transfers but, in general, there is a serious lack of accountability in this regard. The European Union imposed an arms embargo on the Syrian government that lasted for only a few months. Arms transfers have continued throughout the war with levels of international involvement that suggest a “proxy war” in Syria. This international involvement has also created frequent deadlocks in UN Security Council debates on issues regarding Syria.

Pax Christi International does not believe that there is a military solution to the Syrian conflict – on the contrary, its ramifications are becoming more and more deadly for the region. The international community, especially state actors directly or indirectly providing military support to the parties in conflict, should redirect their efforts and launch immediately a bold diplomatic initiative to facilitate a negotiated solution. The international engagement that led to the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons was a positive effort and shows that effective collaborative action is possible…

Click here to read the call for action.

REFLECTION: Refugees and Christians in Middle East need our help and support


by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

The news around the world is tragic and depressing.

The fanatical fighters of the ​Islamic State are gobbling up land and murdering those who believe differently than they do. They are now armed with the American weapons left behind by the Iraqi army, which turned tail when Islamic State fighters arrived in Mosul. So much for years of American training and advice.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad appears incapable of making the compromises that could forge a government of national unity. And will the Iranians make matters worse by intervening to protect their allies and co-religious?


Russian President Vladimir Putin appears poised to invade eastern Ukraine. Neither the downing of MH17 nor Western sanctions have slowed him down. This will not be the walk in the park like his takeover of Crimea, but he does not seem to care if thousands die.

Israel and Hamas have worn each other down with fighting that has caused thousands of deaths and injuries but did not move the region any closer toward sustainable peace….

Read the entire article by clicking here.

TAKE ACTION: Urge U.S. officials to end the delivery of arms to all fighting parties in Syria

pcilogonewfrom Pax Christi International

The U.S. has signed the Arms Trade Tray, but has not ratified it and continues to send arms into war torn countries, including Syria. Light weapons, machine guns and munitions continue to be sent to the Syrian opposition. Vehicles and other equipment have also been sent. As of May 2014 the US has allotted over $287 million to support the unarmed opposition. Over half has been delivered as of March 2014. The continuation of sending arms to Syria is part of the problem  and not the solution to resolving age-old disputes.


With over 160,000 deaths and six million people displaced, the Syrian conflict continues to destroy the population, the land and its rich culture by inflicting tremendous suffering on all Syrians.

Pax Christi USA members can make a difference by being in touch with our elected officials; all of whom are in their home states for the month of August asking that the U.S. government stop the flow of arms into Syria.

From the Pax Christi International document on the ATT and where each country stands:

The USA has signed the ATT but has not ratified the treaty.

In fall 2012, United States of America put pressure on Iraq to prevent Iranian transport of weapons to Syria through Iraqi airspace, voicing the formal concern that the UN embargo on Iranian arms exports was violated.

Barack Obama was initially opposed to arms transfer to opposition groups, fearing that the USA may be pulled in to a proxy war and that US-supplied weapons may proliferate within and beyond Syrian borders to unintended parties. The USA sent non-lethal military aid, including communications equipment and night-vision goggles, to Syrian rebels. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton claimed that this equipment would “help activists organize, evade attacks by the regime, and connect to the outside world.”

In July 2013, the House and Senate intelligence committees voiced their support for CIA shipment of weapons to opposition forces. From mid-2013, the CIA delivered light machine guns, as well as other small arms, light weapons, and munitions, to the Syrian opposition. Beyond this, there is little specific information available in the public domain about covert American support for the Syrian opposition, although the political debate about this support in general is open.

Reportedly, the USA has arranged for anti-tank weaponry, such as rocket-propelled grenades, to be supplied to opposition forces through a third party. In 2013, 50 Red Arrow-8 anti-tank missiles were provide to the Syrian rebels by an unknown country, according to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database. The database contains no speculation about the country of origin.

As of November 2013, about 600 tons of weapons had been delivered to Syrian rebels since the beginning of the year by the CIA together with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

In June 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA had begun transferring weapons to Jordan via “a network of secret warehouses” in order to arm groups of Syrian opposition forces. The article also reports that before President Obama’s decision to arm opposition forces, the CIA had begun to stockpile “Soviet-era weapons, including ammunition for Kalashnikov rifles and armour-piercing antitank missiles.”

Information on the arms transfer to Syrian rebels is not readily available, due to the covert nature of the CIA operations. Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, in September 2013, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that steps were being taken covertly to arm some Syrian opposition forces. In Hagel’s words, “it was June of this year that the president made the decision to support lethal assistance to the opposition. As you all know, we have been very supportive with hundreds of millions of dollars of non-lethal assistance. The vetting process that Secretary Kerry noted has been significant, but—I’ll ask General Dempsey if he wants to add anything—but we, the Department of Defence, have not been directly involved in this. This is, as you know, a covert action. And, as Secretary Kerry noted, probably to [go] into much more detail would—would require a closed or classified hearing.” That same month, The Washington Post reported on CIA delivery of light weapons and other traceable munitions. These shipments, according to the Post, “are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces.” The State Department also delivered vehicles and other equipment.

Mark S. Ward, the senior advisor on assistance to Syria in the State Department, told The Washington Post in September 2013 that “[lethal aid] doesn’t only lead to a more effective force, but it increases its ability to hold coalition groups together. They see their leadership is having some impact.” Later in the article, Ward expressed his hopes for strong US-Syrian relationships after the civil war comes to a close: “When you finally have a free Syrian government, you will know them and they will know us. We will have been working with them week after week, month after month. These won’t be strangers.”

In April 2014, Reuters reported that the US government was planning to increase training and transfer of small arms to opposition forces. The weapons would be sent to moderate rebel groups located in Jordan. The shipments will not include surface-to-air missiles. Despite pressure from rebel groups, the Obama administration has expressed concern that such advanced weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

Also in April 2014, a writer for the website War on the Rocks expresses the general uncertainty over whether the US is providing weapons or simply allowing arms transfers from other states to flow unimpeded. The author, with many others on the internet, looks through YouTube videos of the conflict in order to identify weapons’ origins. For example, Oryx Blog has pointed out a US-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile.

As of May 2014, the USA has allotted over $287 million to support the unarmed opposition. Over half of this has been delivered as of March 2014.

IRAQ: Engage the UN to counter the ISIL terrorist threat

by David Cortwright

The violent extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have seized major cities and swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq and are seeking to create a caliphate over the entire Muslim world. The group poses a threat not only to the region but to global security. The battle-hardened forces of ISIL include hundreds of fighters from Europe and Chechnya and even some from the United States. Some of these fighters will likely take their warped ideology and violent skills with them when they return home.

ISIL has fought across two countries in its quest for an Islamic state.

ISIL has fought across two countries in its quest for an Islamic state.

Why then, in the face of this clear and present danger to global security, has the United States not joined with other countries in bringing this matter to the UN Security Council? Isn’t that why the UN was created, to mobilize cooperative action in response to international security threats? The failure to work through the UN diminishes the prospects for building an effective international coalition against ISIL. It reduces the repertroire of potential responses to the crisis and contributes to the atrophy of the UN and of multilateralism in general.

Thirteen years ago, in response to the 9/11 attacks, the response was very different. The Security Council met immediately and adopted a wide range of measures to harness international action against al-Qaeda. Most significant was Security Council Resolution 1373, which required every country to freeze the financial assets of al-Qaeda terrorists and their supporters, deny them travel or safe haven, prevent terrorist recruitment and weapons supply, and cooperate with other countries in information sharing and criminal prosecution. In its response to 9/11, the Council also expanded existing sanctions on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, created new bodies to monitor and assist compliance with counterterrorism measures, and established a wide range of counterterrorism programs that have helped, along with U.S. military pressures, to diminish the global threat from al-Qaeda…

Click here to read this entire article.

IRAQ: Diplomacy, not more arms, needed in Iraq and Syria

by David Cortwright

The unrest in Iraq is displacing thousands.

The unrest in Iraq is displacing thousands.

The capture of Mosul by militant Sunni extremist groups is a body blow to the Shia-dominated government of Iraq and marks a significant escalation of the sectarian war that is tearing apart the region. The Iraqi Army, which the United States created as an intended bulwark of security, has crumbled in the face of attacks by the increasingly powerful forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), with U.S. weapons and equipment sent to bolster the Iraqi Army now falling into extremist hands.

In the United States, some on the right have used the occasion to criticize the Obama administration for not doing enough to bolster the Baghdad government and for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 (overlooking the fact that the President was elected on a pledge to do precisely that). On the left, critics blame the Bush administration’s 2003 U.S. invasion and emphasize its unintended consequences.

Debates about the past are important but do not address the problem of what can be done now to stem the spread of violence and instability. The United States and other external actors have very few options. Here are some considerations to keep in mind as the debate unfolds…

Click here to read this entire article.