1. Wrap-up of Military Activity in Iraq Over the Weekend

    September 1, 2014

    Iraq Situation Report

    Institute for the Study of War

    August 31, 2014

    Read this update online

    7 hours ago  /  0 notes

  2. Pentagon Continues Its ‘Mission Creep’ As US Fighter Bomber Attack New Set of Targets in Northern Iraq

    September 1, 2014

    Mission creep in Iraq continues as US launches airstrikes in Amerli

    Bill Roggio

    The Long War Journal

    August 31, 2014

    The US military and humanitarian mission in Iraq continues to suffer from what is known as “mission creep,” which is defined as “a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment.”

    When the Obama administration ordered limited military intervention against the Islamic State beginning on Aug. 7, the objectives were twofold: to halt the Islamic State’s advance on Irbil to protect US personnel based there, and provide humanitarian relief to the Yazidi minority who fled Sinjar and other towns and were trapped on Mount Sinjar.

    Within a week, the objectives were modified, and the US military was now tasked with serving as the air force to Kurdish and Iraqi forces "to protect critical infrastructure" and "support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense forces, who are working together to combat ISIL [the Islamic State].

    Yesterday, the US began launching airstrikes against Islamic State fighters who are besieging the ethnic Turkmen town of Amerli. Note that Amerli is in Salahaddin province and doesn’t constitute a critical threat to US personnel in Irbil, nor does it host critical infrastructure. Below is the full press release that was issued yesterday by US Central Command:

    At the request of the Government of Iraq, the U.S. military conducted airstrikes in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance to address the humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli, Iraq at approximately 8:30 p.m. EDT today.

    Two months ago, hundreds of ISIL terrorists advanced on Amirli cutting off food, water, and medical supplies to thousands of Shia Turkomen living there. ISIL has since blocked many attempts by Iraqi Security Forces and the United Nations from delivering critical supplies to Amirli, threatening the remaining population.

    At the request of the Iraqi government, U.S. forces airdropped 109 bundles of much-needed humanitarian aid to the people of Amirli, including the Shia Turkomen minority ethnic group. Two U.S. C-17s and two U.S. C-130s airdropped supplies, delivering approximately 10,500 gallons of fresh drinking water and approximately 7,000 meals ready to eat. In addition, aircraft from Australia, France, and the United Kingdom also dropped humanitarian aid.

    To support the delivery of this humanitarian assistance, the U.S. military also conducted three airstrikes in coordination with the isolated Iraqi security forces responsible for protecting Amirli.

    Fighter aircraft struck and destroyed three ISIL Humvees, one ISIL armed vehicle, one ISIL checkpoint and one ISIL tank near Amirli. All aircraft safely exited the area.

    The President authorized these airstrikes in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance to civilians in the town of Amirli. These operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to address this emerging humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli.

    U.S Central Command has conducted a total of 118 airstrikes across Iraq.

    It has been clear from the beginning that the Obama administration does not have a strategy to deal with the Islamic State. President Obama admitted as much in a press conference last week.

    But what is clear is that the Obama administration is doing exactly what it said it wouldn’t do: get sucked into Iraq’s civil war and serve as Iraq’s air force.

    If President Obama wants to defeat the Islamic State, a group that he described as a “cancer,” he needs to quickly develop a comprehensive strategy and articulate it to the American public. Otherwise, the administration is employing tactical solutions to the strategic problem that is the Islamic State, and adjusting these tactics on the fly.



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  3. Israel Has Shot Down Drone Over the Golan Heights

    September 1, 2014

    Israeli Military Downs Syrian Drone Over Golan Heights

    RIA Novosti

    August 31, 2014

    MOSCOW, August 31 (RIA Novosti) - Israeli military have shot down a drone that flew into Israeli-controlled airspace near the Quneitra border crossing between the Golan Heights and Syria, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said Sunday.

    “The IDF intercepted a UAV that breached Israeli airspace from Syria near Quneitra. The UAV was targeted by a ‘Patriot’ missile,” the IDF statement said.

    Fighting from the Syrian civil war has occasionally spilled over into Israeli controlled areas of the Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria by the Israelis during the 1967 Middle East War.

    Earlier this week, the IDF hit Syrian targets after an Israeli officer in the Golan Heights was injured by apparent stray fire from Syria as rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad fought for control of the Quneitra crossing.

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  4. U.S. Intelligence Community Works Closely With Turkey and Spies On It At the Same Time

    September 1, 2014

    A Two-Faced Friendship: Turkey Is ‘Partner and Target’ for the NSA

    Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Michael Sontheimer and Holger Stark

    Der Spiegel

    September 1, 2014

    On a December night in 2011, a terrible thing happened on Mount Cudi, near the Turkish-Iraqi border. One side described it as a massacre; the other called it an accident.

    Several Turkish F-16 fighter jets bombed a caravan of villagers that night, apparently under the belief that they were guerilla fighters with the separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The group was returning from northern Iraq and their mules were loaded down with fuel canisters and other cargo. They turned out to be smugglers, not PKK fighters. Some 34 people died in the attack.

    An American Predator drone flying overhead had detected the group, prompting US analysts to alert their Turkish partners.

    The reconnaissance flight — which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2012 — and its tragic consequences provided an important insight into the very tight working relationship between American and Turkish intelligence services in the fight against Kurdish separatists. Although the PKK is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, its image has been improved radically by its recent success in fighting the Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq and Syria. PKK fighters, backed by US airstrikes, are on the front lines against the jihadist movement there, and some in the West are now advocating arming the group and lifting its terrorist label.

    Documents from the archive of US whistleblower Edward Snowden that SPIEGEL and The Intercept have seen show just how deeply involved America has become in Turkey’s fight against the Kurds. For a time, the NSA even delivered its Turkish partners with the mobile phone location data of PKK leaders on an hourly basis. The US government also provided the Turks with information about PKK money flows and the whereabouts of some of its leaders living in exile abroad.

    A Leading Target for Spying

    At the same time, the Snowden documents also show that Turkey is one of the United States’ leading targets for spying. Documents show that the political leadership in Washington, DC, has tasked the NSA with divining Turkey’s “leadership intention,” as well as monitoring its operations in 18 other key areas. This means that Germany’s foreign intelligence service, which drew criticism in recent weeks after it was revealed it had been spying on Turkey, isn’t the only secret service interested in keeping tabs on the government in Ankara.

    Turkey’s strategic location at the junction of Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East made the NATO member state an important partner to Western intelligence agencies going back to the very beginning of the Cold War. The Snowden documents show that Turkey is the NSA’s oldest partner in Asia. Even before the NSA’s founding in 1952, the CIA had established a “Sigint,” or signals intelligence, partnership with Turkey dating back to the 1940s.

    During the Cold War, the US used bases in Turkey primarily to conduct surveillance against the “underbelly of the Soviet beast,” as one NSA document puts it. Today, it targets Russia and Georgia from Turkish soil, collecting information in “near real time.” Since the outbreak of its civil war, Turkey’s neighbor Syria has become a central focus of NSA surveillance.

    US secret agents have also provided support to the Turkish government in its battle against the Kurdish separatists with the PKK for years. One top-secret NSA document from January 2007, for example, states that the agency provided Turkey with geographic data and recordings of telephone conversations of PKK members that appear to have helped Turkish agents capture or kill the targets. “Geolocations data and voice cuts from Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK) communications which were passed to Turkey by NSA yielded actionable intelligence that led to the demise or capture of dozens of PKK members in the past year,” the document says.

    The NSA has also infiltrated the Internet communications of PKK leaders living in Europe. Turkish intelligence helped pave the way to the success by providing the email addresses used by the targets.

    The exchange of data went so far that the NSA even gave Turkey the location of the mobile phones of certain PKK leaders inside Turkey, providing updated information every six hours. During one military operation in Turkey in October 2005, the NSA delivered the location data every hour.

    In May 2007, the director of national intelligence at the time signed a “memorandum” pledging deeper intelligence support for Turkey. A report prepared on the occasion of an April 2013 visit by a Turkish delegation to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade indicates that cooperation in targeting the PKK “has increased across the board" since the signing of the memorandum. That partnership has focused overwhelmingly on the PKK — NSA assets in Turkey collected more data on PKK last year than any other target except for Russia.

    It resulted in the creation of a joint working group called the Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell, a team of American and Turkish specialists working together on projects that included finding targets for possible Turkish airstrikes against suspected PKK members. All the data for one entire wave of attacks carried out in December 2007 originated from this intelligence cell, a diplomatic cable from the WikiLeaks archive states.

    Support Continues Under Obama

    The deep working relationship has continued under Barack Obama’s presidency. In January 2012, US officials proposed supporting Turkey in their fight against the PKK with diverse measures, including access to a state-of-the-art speech recognition system that enabled real-time analysis of intercepted conversations. The system can even search for keywords and identify the person speaking if a voice sample of that individual has been stored.

    The NSA offered to install two such systems for Turkey’s intelligence service. In exchange, the Turks would provide voice samples for a number of Kurdish activists. Given its close and enduring relationship with the NSA, agency authorities wrote that they saw little risk in providing the technology. The only thing NSA experts didn’t feel comfortable entrusting to Turkey was the automatic keyword search function.

    The partnership is managed through the NSA’s Special Liaison Activity Turkey (SUSLAT) office, which is based in Ankara. In addition to data, the Americans provide their Turkish partners with complete interception systems, decryption assistance and training.

    Using its internal “Follow the money" reconnaissance unit, the NSA also tracks PKK’s cash flows in Europe. The Turks reciprocate by providing the US agents with written transcripts of telephone calls made by PKK leaders as well as intelligence insights about Russia and Ukraine.

    At the same time, however, Turkey is itself the target of intense surveillance even as it cooperates closely with the US. One NSA document describes the country bluntly as both a “partner and target.” The very politicians, military officials and intelligence agency officials with whom US officials work closely when conducting actions against the PKK are also considered legitimate spying targets by the NSA. To that end, in addition to the official SUSLAT liaison office and the intelligence workers it has cleared with the Turkish authorities, the US has two secret branch offices, operating Special Collection Service listening stations in both Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara.

    The degree to which the NSA surveils its partner is made clear in the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), a document establishing US intelligence priorities. Updated and presented to the president every six months, the NIPF shows a country’s “standing” from the perspective of the US. In the April 2013 edition, Turkey is listed as one of the countries most frequently targeted by Washington for surveillance, with US intelligence services tasked with collecting data in 19 different areas of interest.

    Surveilling Turkish Political Leaders

    The document places Turkey at the level of Venezuela — and even ahead of Cuba — in terms of US interest in intelligence collection. Information about the “leadership intention” of the Turkish government is given the second-highest priority rating, and information about the military and its infrastructure, foreign policy goals, and energy security are given the third-highest priority rating. The same framework also lists the PKK as an intelligence target, but it is given a much lower priority ranking.

    Beginning in 2006, the NSA began a broad surveillance operation — a joint effort by several NSA units — aimed at infiltrating the computers of Turkey’s top political leaders. Internally, officials called the effort the “Turkish Surge Project Plan.” It took six months for the team to achieve its goal. One document celebrates the discovery of the “winning combination” and reports that collection had begun: “They achieved their first-ever computer network exploitation success against Turkish leadership!”

    It goes without saying that the US intelligence services also had Turkish diplomats in their sights, particularly those stationed in the United States. A classified document from 2010 states that the NSA surveilled the Turkish Embassy in Washington under a program codenamed “Powder.” A similar project for monitoring Turkey’s representation to the United Nations carried the name “Blackhawk.”

    Analysts had access to the telephone system in the Turkish Embassy and could tap content directly from computers. In addition, they infected computer systems used by the diplomats with spyware. The NSA also installed Trojan software at Turkey’s UN representation in New York. According to the NSA document, it even has the capability of copying entire hard drives at the UN mission.

    The NSA shared many of its spies’ insights with its “Five Eyes” partners — the British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand intelligence services. Within that group, the British had already developed their own access to Turkey, with its GCHQ spy agency monitoring political targets in Turkey as well as elements in the energy sector.

    Targeting Turkey’s Energy Minister

    One classified British document states that in October 2008, GCHQ tasked agents with improving access to the Turkish Energy Ministry (MENR) as well as enterprises including the Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS), the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) and the energy company Calik Enerji. The assignment also included a list of the names of 13 targets, including then Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Güler.

    In 2008, GCHQ analysts began reviewing satellite images of the rooftops of ministries and companies to assess what types of communications systems they were using and the possibilities for infiltrating them. The documents do not indicate whether those efforts bore fruit.

    Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek is also explicitly named as a GCHQ “target,” despite the fact that he is a dual Turkish-British citizen. Nevertheless, a surveillance order against him includes, among other things, two mobile phone numbers as well as his private Gmail address. When questioned by SPIEGEL reporters, GCHQ officials said they do not comment on the details of operations.

    When The Guardian newspaper ran a short story last summer about a planned spying operation against the Turkish finance minister on the occasion of his visit to London in the run-up to the G-20 summit in 2009, officials in Ankara were so angered that the Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador and criticized the “scandalous” and “unacceptable” operation. Contacted for a response to the surveillance operations conducted by the NSA and GCHQ, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry said “such things” would only be discussed at the diplomatic level.

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  5. ISIS Siege of Shi’ite City of Amerli in Northern Iraq Broken

    September 1, 2014

    U.S. airstrikes help Iraqi forces break Islamic State’s siege

    Abigail Hauslohner and Erin Cunningham

    Washington Post

    September 1, 2014

    — Iraqi troops and militias aided by U.S. airstrikes broke through a two-month siege of the town of Amerli on Sunday, opening up a humanitarian corridor to thousands of Shiite Turkmen who had been trapped by Sunni militants and deprived of food, water, and medicine.

    “Amerli has been liberated,” said Mahdi Taqi, a local official who spoke by phone from inside the town after the army had entered. “There is so much joy and people are cheering in the streets.”

    Sunni militants from the Islamic State group, which seized much of northern Iraq in June, had surrounded Amerli, cutting off access to supplies and electricity.

    Residents struggled to fight off the militants, but were beginning to die of hunger and disease.

    The United Nations Special Representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, last week warned of an impending “massacre” should Islamic State fighters breach the town.

    The Iraqi military deliver aid and evacuate vulnerable residents from the town of Amerli in northern Iraq, which has been besieged by Islamic State militants for the past two months. The U.N.’s representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, expressed alarm on the situation and warned of a possible massacre should the Islamist militants overrun the town. (Iraqi MOD via YouTube)

    But a short series of U.S. air strikes on Saturday night appeared to quickly tilt the balance in favor of Iraqi government forces.

    The three strikes, plus two more on Sunday, were accompanied by humanitarian aid drops by American, British, French and Australian aircraft, the Pentagon said in a statement.

    “These operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to address this emerging humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli,” the Pentagon said.

    The United States has carried out 120 strikes in northern Iraq since early August. But the Amerli strikes marked the second time this month that the Pentagon has intervened militarily to prevent a jihadist attack on thousands of trapped civilians.

    Earlier in August, the U.S. military carried out limited airstrikes and humanitarian aid drops to help Kurdish pesh merga forces open a humanitarian corridor to thousands of members of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, who were trapped by the militants on a mountain range in western Iraq.

    The long-suffering residents of Amerli, an impoverished farming hamlet, and members of the country’s Shiite majority, had accused Washington of employing a double standard in helping the Yazidis, while Amerli’s siege dragged on for more than two months.

    The Pentagon said Saturday night that the U.S. air strikes had destroyed three Humvees, an armed vehicle, a tank and a checkpoint belonging to the jihadists.

    This video released by U.S. Central Command shows a U.S. airstrike against an Islamic State armed truck near Irbil, Iraq, on Aug. 26. (U.S. Central Command)

    Iraqi government officials, Shiite militia leaders, and Kurdish pesh merga forces said a coordinated ground assault to break through Islamic State-held territory around the town began several hours before that, after nightfall in Iraq on Saturday.

    On Sunday, an Iraqi television channel belonging to a Shiite militia broadcast footage of its fighters and Amerli residents embracing and crying.

    “Our morale is very high. We resisted these people and we won,” said Taqi, the local official. “Now all we need is food and water.”

    Fighting continued to rage in neighboring Sunni towns on Sunday night. Residents said the road out of Amerli was still too dangerous for them to evacuate.

    Mehdi al-Bayati, an activist in Amerli, said his nephew had been killed by a sniper earlier in the day when he tried to flee by way of a neighboring Sunni village, Suleiman Beg.

    But the presence of Shiite militias battling their way through nearby Sunni towns also underscored the potential for revenge attacks, Sunni political leaders and local residents said Sunday.

    At least three of Iraq’s most notorious Shiite militias, which fought U.S. forces and killed thousands Sunni civilians during the eight-year U.S. occupation of Iraq, are playing a lead role in the ground offensive.

    “I’m happy that the siege has been broken, but I would have been happier if it was achieved by the military alone, and not by the militias,” said Emtashar al-
    Samarra, a Sunni member of parliament from Salahuddin, the province where Amerli is located.

    “Our main concern now is that these militias, empowered, will punish innocent Sunni people for crimes committed by daaish,” said Samarra, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

    One Shiite militia commander reached by phone on Sunday said his men were fighting their way into Suleiman Beg amid booby-trapped houses.

    “God willing it will be fully liberated soon, too,” said Kadhem al-Essawi, a high ranking commander in the Peace Brigades, a militia formerly known as the Mahdi Army.

    Since the rise of the Islamic State, rights groups have accused the Shiite militias of reviving old tactics of killing and kidnapping Sunnis, a practice that defined Iraq’s worst period of sectarian bloodletting in 2006 and 2007.

    The Islamic State, which has used car bombs and suicide bombers in attacks on Shiite civilians and security forces, has claimed to have executed thousands of Shiites since seizing control of the northern city of Mosul and other territory in June.

    On Sunday night a Humvee packed with explosives rammed into a construction site housing Iraqi security personnel in the western city of Ramadi, Reuters reported. The attack killed 37 people.

    In Germany, officials said they will send high-end rifles, tank-busting weapons and armored vehicles to help equip a brigade of Kurdish fighters, the Associated Press reported.

    Cunningham reported from Irbil, Iraq. Karen DeYoung in Washington and Mustafa Salim in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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  6. China Says ‘No’ to Democracy in Hong Kong; Big Protests Expected

    September 1, 2014

    Disruptive Hong Kong Protests Loom After China Rules Out Democracy

    Reuters

    September 1, 2014

    HONG KONG — Hong Kong police used pepper spray to disperse pro-democracy activists on Monday as the Asian financial center braces for a wave of disruptive protests against China’s decision to rule out full democracy.

    China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee set the stage for a political showdown on Sunday when it rejected democrats’ demands for the right to freely choose Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017, leading scores of protesters to take to the streets.

    Scuffles broke out on Monday during a tense stand-off at the entrance to a center where a senior Chinese official was explaining Beijing’s decision, prompting police to use pepper spray amid chaotic scenes inside and outside the venue.

    Activists from a movement called Occupy Central have threatened to lock down Hong Kong’s financial district on an unspecified date unless Beijing grants full democracy.

    "Occupy Central is an illegal activity. If we give in, it will trigger more illegal activities," said Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the NPC Standing Committee, who flew to Hong Kong to explain Beijing’s decision.

    Pro-democracy activists inside the building heckled Li, shouting slogans and interrupting his speech.

    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a policy of “one country, two systems”.

    The activists want universal suffrage, but Communist Party rulers in Beijing say any candidate for the territory’s chief executive has to be first approved by a nominating panel - likely to be stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists and making it almost impossible for an opposition democrat to get on the ballot.

    "ROOM FOR DISCUSSION"

    If Hong Kong lawmakers voted down the package, governing Hong Kong would become much more difficult, Li said. The next leader would again be chosen by a small committee without any form of popular vote.

    But Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying tried to cast the NPC decision in a good light.

    "There is still room for discussion in regards to the issue in Hong Kong legislation," he said.

    Dressed in black and wearing yellow ribbons, members of the democratic camp were escorted out of the auditorium after they shouted and held up signs reading “shameful” and saying Beijing had lost credibility. Pro-establishment people in the crowd clapped as the democrats were led out.

    Alex Chow, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, was also removed as he criticized the NPC’s Li.

    "Hong Kong is our turf," Chow shouted. "The NPC doesn’t represent us. Stop insulting us. Hong Kong people won’t be insulted by you again."

    Student activists said they would begin boycotting classes in mid-September.

    Prominent pro-establishment figure and former Hong Kong security chief Regina Ip said she expected six months of unrest in the lead-up to Hong Kong lawmakers’ vote on the NPC proposal, media reported.

    About 100 activists had gathered for Li’s speech, some waving British colonial flags and banners with an “X” over the Chinese characters for “communism” amid a heavy police presence.

    A group of Beijing loyalists stood nearby waving China’s flag.

    The NPC Standing Committee endorsed a framework to let only two or three candidates run in Hong Kong’s 2017 leadership vote. All candidates must first obtain majority backing from the nominating committee.

    TAIWAN EXPRESSES REGRET

    Political reform has been a major source of tension in Hong Kong, with China party leaders fearful of calls for democracy spreading to other cities.

    The Mainland Affairs Council in self-ruled Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province, expressed “regret” at the NPC’s decision while activist groups posted messages of support for the democracy movement online. China has held out the “one country, two systems” formula as a solution for Taiwan, an idea ridiculed by Taipei.

    Following the publication by Beijing of a white paper outlining China’s authority over Hong Kong in June, democracy activists held an unofficial referendum on voting in the “special administrative region”, and hundreds of thousands marched to the city’s business district and staged a sit-in.

    Charles Rivkin, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, said in Singapore the United States backed “free and fair elections and transparency”.

    "We believe, in the case of Hong Kong, in one country and two systems," he said.

    British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said in July that Britain “would not shy away from defending” one country, two systems.

    Britain made no mention of democracy for Hong Kong until the dying days of about 150 years of colonial rule.

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  7. Ukrainian Forces Battling for Control of Airport in Eastern Ukraine; Ukrainian Coast Guard Ship Sunk by Rebels

    September 1, 2014

    Fighting Goes on Near Big Ukrainian City, Poroshenko Slams Russia

    Reuters

    September 1, 2014

    KIEV — Ukraine’s military said on Monday its forces were battling a Russian tank battalion for control of a vital airport in the east of the country as President Petro Poroshenko accused Moscow of “direct and open aggression” against his country.

    Ukrainian coastguards meanwhile searched for two seamen missing after one of their patrol boats was sunk in the Sea of Azov by artillery fire from pro-Russian separatists on the shore.

    Eight other seamen survived Sunday’s attack and were being treated for wounds and burns, a border guard official said.

    Several hundred Ukrainian forces are bogged down near Ilovaysk, east of the region’s main city of Donetsk, and have been trying to break out of encirclement by Russian-backed separatists for several days.

    Poroshenko, speaking at a military academy in Kiev, said Russia’s direct involvement in the war against the separatists in eastern Ukraine had tipped the balance on the battlefield and was the main reason for recent reversals.

    "Direct and open aggression has been launched against Ukraine from a neighboring state. This has changed the situation in the zone of conflict in a radical way," he said.

    Poroshenko said there would be changes in the military top brass because of the events of last week.

    Last week separatists who Kiev says were backed by a Russian armored column took the town of Novoazovsk in the southeast and are now threatening the strategic port city of Mariupol.

    Despite growing concerns, Kiev’s military has imposed an information clampdown on what is happening in Ilovaysk until its forces have been successfully withdrawn.

    But Anton Gerashchenko, an interior ministry adviser, told Ukraine TV’s 112 channel: “The tragedy near Ilovaysk became possible after (Russian President Vladimir) Putin brought regular troops into Ukraine.”

    "In all there were 500 men deployed in Ilovaysk. The Russians came with superior forces, fresh, healthy and with a full ammunition set," he said.

    "Our people surrendered only when they had run out of ammunition, when they no longer had anything to fire with," he said. In the past 24 hours, 69 more pro-government fighters had managed to break out and rejoin Ukrainian forces, adding to a few dozen others over the weekend.

    AIRPORT FIGHT

    Fighting continued to rage near Luhansk, the region’s other main city, for control of the main civilian airport just to its south, the military said in a statement.

    "Ukrainian paratroopers are fighting a tank battalion of the Russian armed forces to hold the airport," it said.

    In the past 24 hours, the separatists had lost 80 fighters, some armored vehicles and a missile system. The military gave no figures for Ukrainian losses.

    Ukrainian border guards said search operations were still going on for the two missing coastguards whose patrol boat was hit by a rebel shell, in what pro-Russian rebels claimed was the first sea victory of their five-month separatist war.

    The boat was hit in the Sea of Azov, the area where rebels are now threatening the main port of Mariupol.

    "The cutter has sunk. We managed to save eight sailors, thanks to other cutters coming to their rescue. Seven of them are injured or burned. Two sailors have gone missing. We are continuing rescue operations," the official, Serhiy Astakhov, told Reuters.

    "After analyzing the situation, we believe that this attack was from an artillery system but we don’t know yet where it was fired from," he said.

    A top United Nations human rights official said last week that the total death toll in the five-month conflict - including civilians, Ukrainian forces and separatists - was nearly 2,600.

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  8. North Korea Conducts Another Weapons Test Off Its East Coast

    September 1, 2014

    S. Korea Says N. Korea Fires Projectile Into Sea

    Associated Press

    September 1, 2014

    SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired another short-range projectile into the sea Monday, a Seoul official said, in the country’s latest weapons test made three days after it cancelled a plan to send cheerleaders to the upcoming Asian Games in the South.

    The projectile flew about 220 kilometers (135 miles) before landing in waters off the North’s east coast, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said speaking on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

    North Korea routinely test-fires missiles and rockets but it has conducted an unusually large number of weapons tests this year. The country has sent a mixed signal by repeatedly making a set of proposals that it said would lower tensions, such as halting mutual slandering. South Korea has rebuffed those overtures saying the North must first take steps toward nuclear disarmament.

    North Korea had said it wanted to send both athletes and cheerleaders to the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. But the North said Friday it decided not to send cheerleaders because of what it called South Korea’s hostility. Analysts say the North’s decision suggests that the country may not continue an earlier push to improve ties with South Korea.

    The North said it still plans to send athletes to the games set for Sept. 19-Oct. 4.

    The two Koreas remain divided along a heavily armed border since their war in the 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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  9. Turkey Issues Arrest Warrants for 33 Police Officials Accused of Plotting Against the Government

    September 1, 2014

    Turkey Issues Warrants for Police in Alleged Plot

    Associated Press

    September 1, 2014

    ISTANBUL — Turkish authorities have issued arrest warrants for 33 police officers accused of plotting against the government.

    Turkey’s private Dogan news agency says the warrants were filed Monday for the officers, including the former head of a financial unit, on charges that include espionage.

    Monday’s move is part of a wave of arrests since July stemming from allegations by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that police conspired against him. It comes days after former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu succeeded Erdogan as prime minister.

    Erdogan has accused a U.S.-based spiritual leader, Fetullah Gulen, of infiltrating the police and judiciary and using powers to undermine the government, a charge that Gulen denies. Davutoglu has said he will continue Erdogan’s efforts to root out what the government calls a parallel state.

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  10. A Marriage of Convenience: US Warplanes and Iranian-Backed Militias Working Together in Northern Iraq

    September 1, 2014

    U.S. and Iran Unlikely Allies in Iraq Battle

    Tim Arango and Azam Ahmed

    New York Times

    September 1, 2014

    Photo
    Kurdish pesh merga fighters fire toward positions held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during heavy clashes in Tuz Khurmatu, in northern Iraq, on Sunday. Credit JM Lopez/European Pressphoto Agency

    BAGHDAD — With American bombs raining down from the sky, Shiite militia fighters aligned with Iran battled Sunni extremists over the weekend, punching through their defenses to break the weekslong siege of Amerli, a cluster of farming villages whose Shiite residents faced possible slaughter.

    The fight in northern Iraq appeared to be the first time American warplanes and militias backed by Iran had worked with a common purpose on a battlefield against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, even though the Obama administration said there was no direct coordination with the militias.

    Should such military actions continue, they could signal a dramatic shift for the United States and Iran, which have long vied for control in Iraq. They could also align the interests of the Americans with their longtime sworn enemies in the Shiite militias, whose fighters killed many United States soldiers during the long occupation of Iraq.

    The latest expansion of American military operations reflects how seriously Iraq has deteriorated since the withdrawal of American forces in 2011. But any decision to support the Shiite militias, who have proven more adept than the American-trained Iraqi Army, would come with its own set of challenges.

    The militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were able to storm into Iraq in recent months in part because Sunnis felt so disenfranchised by the Shiite-led government of former Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. If the United States is seen to be strengthening the hand of militias that terrorized Sunnis during the sectarian war of 2006 and 2007, the minority Sunnis might balk at participating in America’s long-term goal of a unity government.

    Or, in a worst-case scenario, more Sunnis could align with ISIS fighters.

    David Petraeus, a former top American military commander in Iraq who led the United States troop surge in 2007, months ago warned against such possibilities as the Obama administration, reeling from the fall of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, weighed military action against ISIS.

    “This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shia militias or a Shia-on-Sunni Arab fight,” he said at a security conference in London in June. “It has to be a fight of all of Iraq against extremists, who do happen to be Sunni Arabs.”

    The United States was careful to note on Sunday that it was working on Amerli with its allies: regular Iraqi Army units and Kurdish security forces, which the United States has been supporting with air power since President Obama authorized airstrikes several weeks ago.

    “Any coordinating with the Shiite militias was not done by us — it would have been done by the ISF,” a senior administration official said on Sunday, referring to the Iraqi Security Forces. But it is well known that the Shiite militias have been fighting alongside the army in recent months as the threat from ISIS became clear.

    Photo

    A woman and children in a military helicopter after being evacuated by Iraqi forces from Amerli, north of Baghdad, on Friday. Credit Reuters

    A second administration official, meanwhile, said the United States is not working directly with Tehran. “We are working with the Iraqi government and with the Kurdish pesh merga in Iraq,” the official said. “That’s it.”

    Security officials on Sunday said that Amerli, a town about 105 miles north of Baghdad whose estimated 15,000 residents are mostly Shiite Turkmen considered infidels by ISIS, was not fully liberated but that the combined forces had cleared several villages from the militants.

    Last year ISIS exploited the chaos of the Syrian civil war to take control of large expanses of territory there, before sweeping into Iraq, its birthplace, as a greater force and erasing the border between the two countries. Its explosion onto a turbulent region has threatened the breakup of Iraq and forced a reluctant President Obama to re-engage more fully in the Middle East.

    For overwhelmingly Shiite Iran, the rise of ISIS — and its aim of creating a Sunni caliphate in the region — was alarming because of the possible threat to Iran itself. The militants’ sudden successes also posed a more immediate threat of further destabilizing two countries — Iraq and Syria — that have been close to Tehran and helped it extend its power in the region.

    In a reflection of the region’s increasingly tangled politics, the Obama administration is considering taking the fight against ISIS to Syria.

    The United States and Iran have opposite goals there: Iran has been an important supporter of President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States has sought his ouster by supporting moderate rebels. But any American military action against ISIS in Syria could end up bolstering Mr. Assad — and furthering Iran’s regional agenda.

    Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, at one point went so far as to suggest the United States and Iran might work together to stem the chaos in Iraq, but Iran’s supreme leader seemed unenthusiastic about the idea, and on Saturday, Mr. Rouhani said it would not be possible to cooperate in the fight against regional terror groups. It was unclear if his unexpectedly harsh criticism of the United States on Saturday was a sign of a change in attitude, or a political maneuver to either quiet domestic critics or to give Tehran wiggle room in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

    When President Obama first authorized airstrikes in Iraq several weeks ago, the justification was to protect American civilians in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, which was being threatened by ISIS fighters, and to support humanitarian aid drops on Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis, members of an ancient minority sect, had sought refuge from the advancing militants.

    More recently, pressure had increased to help the besieged residents of Amerli, as officials worried that ISIS would carry out a mass killing of civilians. Besides the airstrikes, the United States also provided airdrops of food and water to the thousands of besieged civilians there.

    The Obama administration has tried to avoid being seen as taking sides in a sectarian war, because the Shiite militias are especially feared by Iraq’s Sunnis.

    But for the weekend at least, the realities on the ground appeared to override any concerns of effectively supporting the militias.

    ISIS has been rampaging through Iraq, beheading prisoners, carrying out massacres of Shiites and expelling hundreds of thousands of residents. The Shiite militias have been accused of some recent abuses against Sunnis, but so far have avoided large-scale revenge killings.

    Among the militias fighting for Amerli are Asaib Ahl al-Haq, considered the most fearsome of Iraq’s Shiite militias, and a group linked to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, one of the Americans’ most unyielding enemies during the occupation. Those groups are supported by Iran.

    Asaib, a militia that was a particularly fierce opponent of the United States as it was winding down its military role in Iraq, was said to have taken on the most prominent role in the fighting for Amerli, in Salahuddin Province.

    “I would like to thank the jihadists from Asaib Ahl al-Haq, as they are sacrificing their lives to save Amerli,” said Mahdi Taqi, a member of the provincial council in Salahuddin.

    Naeem al-Aboudi, the spokesman for Asaib, said, “today is a great happiness and victory for all Iraqis. Iraqi security forces, volunteers and resistance brigades have proved their ability to defeat ISIS.”

    He played down the American role and said, “We don’t trust Americans at all. They had already let down the Iraqi Army.” He added, of the Americans, “We don’t need them.”

    As night fell Sunday, the fighting was still raging in Qaryat Salam, a village to the north of Amerli. At a makeshift forward base, set up amid half-constructed homes and the hulk of a new soccer stadium, Kurdish pesh merga forces fired a barrage of artillery, mortars and rockets. A line of trucks roared into the area, their headlights smeared with mud to dull the brightness. An assortment of Kurdish fighters, Iraqi Army soldiers and Shiite militia members, who seemed to be working together in a highly coordinated way, passed by.

    Several Iranian military advisers were also seen, according to a pesh merga fighter.

    “We are cooperating with the pesh merga and other military forces,” said Abd Kadum al-Mousaw, a militia fighter. “From each force there is a commander who is a member of a higher committee that makes decisions.”

    Pesh merga commanders said they had cleared about half of the village, but were facing stiff resistance from the militants, “who were fighting like madmen.”

    8 hours ago  /  1 note