Islamism

By Gideon Rachman
The people who prepare President Barack Obama’s national security briefing must be wondering what to put at the top of the pile. Should it be the Russian assault on Ukraine, or the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) in Iraq and Syria? And what items should go just below that?

The UK decision to send ground attack aircraft to perform reconnaissance missions over Iraq has led to mounting speculation that it could soon join the US in conducting bombing missions against Islamist extremists terrorising the local population.

The British government has so far resisted calls from some politicians and former officers to join the US in launching air strikes against insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis). But the type of aircraft it has sent to the region – the Tornado GR4 – leaves the option open. Read more

David Gardner

Recep Tayyip Erdogan just won his ninth straight popular vote in just over a decade, to become the first directly elected president of Turkey, in what is supposed to be his apotheosis, raising him to the historic height of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey. As his opponents have recurring reason to know, Mr Erdogan has established an almost preternatural grip on the electorate that not even prima facie evidence of corruption, willful policy decisions, and creeping authoritarianism seem able to loosen. Now Turkey and the world will see if he is truly a statesman.

Nobody can gainsay Mr Erdogan his victory which, despite a comparatively low turnout, has given him a comfortable first round win. But after more than a decade as prime minister of a nation he has helped transform – not least by spreading wealth and giving a voice to those whom Ataturk’s secular republic kept at the margins of society – Mr Erdogan must now decide where to take a great and pivotal country he increasingly treats as his personal patrimony. Read more

David Gardner

The call this weekend by bishops of the Church of England for the UK to grant asylum to the Christians driven out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by the jihadi fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, seems instinctively right. As the Right Reverend David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, observed: “this is, in part, our mess”.

“We have created the space in which Isis have moved in and have expelled Christians from northern Iraq and would like to expel them from the whole of that country,” he told the BBC. Read more

When the already opaque language of diplomacy turns to allegories, you know you are on even thornier ground than usual.

In this case, it is the UK trying desperately to convince Kenya they are after all the greatest of friends – if mistrusting, sparring ones.

Addressing a crowd in a televised speech, Christian Turner, the UK High Commissioner to Kenya, likened the pair – once former colony and colonial power – to a lion and buffalo “locked in combat”.

He went on: “On stopping to gather their strength for a final assault, they saw some vultures circling up above. They at once stopped their quarrel, saying: ‘It is better for us to work together than to become a meal for vultures.’” Read more

Isis pushes Iraq to the brink
Isis’ lightning offensive has pushed Iraq to the brink of outright civil war and a return to the murderous sectarian bloodshed that nearly tore it apart in 2006. President Obama is considering limited military intervention to take on the terrorists but only if there are signs that Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shia prime minister does more to reach out to moderate Sunnis and Kurds. Geoff Dyer,USdiplomatic correspondent, Roula Khalaf, foreign editor, and Guy Chazan, energy editor, join Ben Hall

Roula Khalaf

 

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Getty)

Has Qatar’s luck run out? Just a year ago the small, rich Gulf state was at the top of its game, well on its way to establishing itself as a regional political and global financial force.

Splashing its gas-fuelled wealth across the globe it accumulated a multibillion-dollar portfolio of assets, and spread its influence in an Arab world in turmoil, setting itself as the champion of rising Islamist powers.

So confident was its emir of his own standing that in June 2013 he abdicated in favour of his son, in an attempt to demonstrate that Qatar is the most progressive among Gulf states stubbornly attached to the status quo.

 Read more

 

Nigerian teachers at a rally in Lagos protesting against the abduction of 200 schoolgirls and the killing of 173 of their colleagues by the Islamist Boko Haram group. Getty

Osama Bin Laden must be chuckling from his grave on the ocean floor. In the wake of 9/11 he explicitly targeted Nigeria as a new front-line in his global jihad. When the UN Security Council on Thursday blacklisted Boko Haram alongside al-Qaeda and its other affiliates, Nigeria had formally arrived.

It is the latest in a series of international gestures intended to isolate the group, which provoked international outrage for a series of atrocities including abducting more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and threatening to sell them into slavery. But its value is little more than symbolic.

 Read more

Gideon Rachman

 

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks on on the Middle East in London on April 23, 2014. (Getty)

There are plenty of people who will simply refuse to listen to anything that Tony Blair has to say about the Middle East – on the grounds that he is an idiot or a war criminal, or some combination of the two. I am not one of them. On the contrary, I think that the speech that Blair has just given on the Middle East is worth reading. He is intelligent, passionate and well-informed. But I still think he is wrong or, at the least, unconvincing, on a number of crucial points. Read more

The aftermath of a barrel bombing by Bashar al-Assad’s government in Aleppo on March 18 (Getty)

Earlier this week the famous-for-being-famous celebrity Kim Kardashian regurgitated Syrian regime disinformation about a rebel massacre of Armenians in the town of Kasab in the country’s northeast on her Twitter feed after it was captured by rebels.

The Tweet – Please let’s not let history repeat itself!!!!!! Let’s get this trending!!!! #SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide – went viral, further damaging the reputation of Syria’s opposition, a ragtag rebellion struggling to make inroads against Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who continues to massacre hundreds of people daily in bombing raids and inside his dark dungeons. Unlike in Kasab, these murders have been meticulously documented by independent human rights groups and the UN. Read more