Top News: France Launches Air Strikes in Iraq as Militants Overrun Kurdish Towns in Syria

The office of French President Francois Hollande announced Friday that French jets have carried out their first strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants in Iraq. A statement from the president’s office confirmed strikes on ISIS depots in north-east Iraq, signaling more raids in the coming days. The announcement comes on the heels of ISIS gains in northern Syria where militants have besieged the mainly Kurdish town Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish, on the Turkish border. The French government indicated that its air campaign will be restricted to ISIS targets in Iraq and that no French troops will be involved in fighting on the ground.




Head of Free Egyptians Party resigns
The head of the Free Egyptians Party, Ahmed Saeed, has resigned for unspecified personal and professional reasons, the party said in a statement on Friday. The liberal party’s board of trustees delegated Osama Talaat Harb to act as a charge d’affaires until a new party head is elected. A new head should be elected within three months of the former leader’s resignation. The party’s secretary-general is preoccupied with preparations for the party’s bid for the upcoming parliamentary elections. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), EGYNews (Arabic), Gateway (Arabic), 9/19/2014]

Egypt must cut red tape to win investors in second Suez canal, says law firm
Egypt must strip back bureaucracy to attract investment in its planned second Suez canal and bring in new laws making it easier for companies to get licenses and land, a legal firm linked to the project said. Hani Sarie-Eldin, head of Sarie-Eldin & Partners, part of a consortium advising the government on the Suez Canal project, said, “If we want this project to work, and attract investors, we need to escape bureaucracy and make the licensing process easier.” [Reuters, 9/18/2014]

Azhar launches inquiry into Islamic scholar’s visit to Iran
Islamic scholar Ahmed Kerima will be referred to investigations following his visit to a Shia seminary in Iran, Al-Azhar University said in a strongly worded statement issued Thursday. The Islamic university refuted media reports that Kerima went to Iran heading an official delegation from Al-Azhar. The university has sent no delegations to Iran, the statement declared, expressing its “deep dissatisfaction” with Kerima’s actions, which it called “a stark infringement of Al-Azhar and a violation of its bylaws.” The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs will suspend Kerima’s membership until the results of the investigation are released, the council said in an official statement, as per Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyib’s orders. [Mada Masr, 9/18/2014]

Ninth decapitated body found in Sinai
Residents in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula said they found a beheaded corpse of a young man on Friday. The prosecution started its investigation after the corpse was moved to Arish’s Public Hospital, a security source from the police said. The residents from a village south of the town of Sheikh Zuweid in northern Sinai recognized the body and said it belonged young tribesman who disappeared over a week ago. [Aswat Masriya, 9/19/2014]


Situation in Tripoli ‘improving’
Overall conditions in the capital Tripoli are reportedly improving, although power cuts and fuel shortages remain problematic. Traffic has increased in recent days, with most shops and banks open for business, though electricity shortages remain a problem. Clashes have ceased for the most part, with the Islamist-leaning Operation Dawn in control of most key locations. However, unidentified warplanes carried out further airstrikes against Dawn forces just outside of Tripoli. In more targeted violence, the brother of Farida Allaghi, nominated for foreign affairs minister by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, survived an assassination attempt. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 9/18/2014]

GNC-appointed government says Libyan-Egyptian treaty violates national sovereignty
The Tripoli-based Omar al-Hassi government appointed by the revived General National Congress has condemned a military agreement with Egypt agreed to by the elected House of Representatives. The so-called Government of National Salvation views the agreement as a threat to national sovereignty, opening the door for foreign interference. The House had already denied having made any such treaty. Meanwhile, the Egyptian foreign ministry has decided to withdraw its consular staff from Libya after having repatriated more than 16,000 citizens. [Libya Herald, 9/18/2014]

Audit bureau places spending restrictions
Libya’s audit bureau has placed restrictions on the funds that the country’s Central Bank (CBL) can transfer to ministries and public companies, restricting spending to salaries and running expenses below 200,000 Libyan dinars (LD). Transactions beyond that now require explicit permission from the bureau. The new regulations are in response to a crisis over CBL assets, with the rival assemblies—the House and revived General National Congress—vying for control. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 9/19/2014]

Chief of staff declares national state of emergency
Libya is in a state of emergency, the general chief of staff in Tobruk has declared. Colonel Abdul Razzaq Nazhuri, called on all troops and officers to report for duty as the army prepares for war against “extremist groups,” adding that that those who did not comply with orders would receive strong sanctions. The call to arms has been viewed as a response to an uptick in violence in the west of the country. Nazhuri’s appointment was a sign of the increasingly close alliance between Operation Dignity and the House of Representatives, but has caused a split within the armed forces. Nazhuri’s relations with Operation Dignity leader Khalifa Haftar are unclear. [Libya Herald, 9/18/2014]


US Congress approves arming rebels
Congress gave final approval on Thursday to President Obama’s plan to make Syrian rebels viable in their fight against ISIS, a major part of his military campaign to “degrade and destroy” the militant group. The Senate voted 78-22, in a rare bipartisan show of support for one of Obama’s high-profile initiatives. Ten Democrats and twelve Republicans voted no. The House approved the legislation on Wednesday so the measure now goes to Obama to sign into law. Obama said that the vote demonstrates US unity against ISIS. [Reuters, Washington Post, The National, 9/19/2014]

Syrian Kurds fleeing ISIS cross border into Turkey
Several thousand Syrian Kurds began crossing into Turkey on Friday, fleeing ISIS fighters who advanced into their villages and prompting warnings of massacres from Kurdish leaders. ISIS fighters have seized twenty-four villages during the recent campaign, and are besieging the predominantly Kurdish town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish. Turkey is trying to persuade the United States of the need to create a “buffer zone” inside Syria, Turkish officials said, a safe haven on the border likely to require a foreign-patrolled no-fly zone where displaced civilians could be given aid. [Reuters, 9/19/2014]

Helicopter gunships drop barrel bomb on bakery in Aleppo province
Activists say government helicopter gunships have attacked a northern town held by Islamist militants, killing at least a dozen people. The Local Coordination Committees say a barrel bomb dropped by a helicopter targeted a bakery Thursday morning in the town of al-Bab, in Aleppo Province, killing twelve and wounding dozens more. [Al Jazeera, 9/18/2014]

Kerry says Assad has violated chemical arms pact by using chlorine gas
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of breaking the terms of a global pact on chemical weapons by unleashing chlorine gas this year. Despite having promised to hand over all of Syria’s chemical arms to be destroyed, “we believe there is evidence of Assad’s use of chlorine,” which is banned from being used as a weapon, Kerry told US lawmakers, adding “So he’s in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.” [AFP, 9/18/2014]


Tunisia reaffirms commitment to peaceful resolution of the Libyan crisis
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Fayçal Gouia, reaffirmed Tunisia’s commitment to a peaceful solution of the Libyan crisis and its opposition to any foreign intervention in the country’s affairs. Gouia, who led the Tunisian delegation to the ministerial meeting on Libya’s stability and development, in Madrid, Spain, called for aggressive initiatives to ensure reconciliation between Libyan stakeholders and the restoration of peace and stability in Libya and the entire region. [TAP, 9/19/2014]

Interior ministry confirms terrorist plots to attack polls
A spokesman for the ministry of interior announced Thursday that security officials had reliable information to suspect a possible attack on elections by the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade. The spokesman explained that the organization and its leader, Khaled Chaieb, also known as Lokman Abou Sakhr, had secured weapons and intended to smuggle them into the country through Mt.Chaambi on the Tunisia-Algeria border. The spokesman praised efforts by army, police, and national guard units that have apprehended and disrupted recent terrorist plots to smuggle weapons and equipment into the country. [TAP, All Africa, 9/19/2014]

Decentralization campaign begins in five municipalities
Tunisian authorities announced, Thursday, the start of a project to support decentralization and financial governance of local authorities in five pilot municipalities of Sfax, Bizerte, Kasserine, Kef and Tozeur. The decentralization project is supported by a 600 thousand euro (1.3 MTD) budget donated by the French Republic and its implementation is expected to last through 2015. Secretary of State for Regional and Local Affairs Abderrazak Ben Khalifa explained that the objective of the pilot program is to prepare local authorities for decentralization while building their management capacity. [TAP, 9/19/2014]


Intense fighting in the capital continues
The Houthi forces that moved into the Shamlan district of Sana’a on Thursday reportedly shelled a state television building and the headquarters of Islah, a Sunni Islamist group. The shelling resulted in a twenty-four hour suspension of all international flights to Sana’a’s main airport on Friday. Reports allege that Houthi forces have gained control of the Shamlan and Wadi Dhahr districts on Sana’a’s outskirts and are moving toward the center of the city, though security officials denied these claims. Other reports stated that Houthi advances along the major Thirtieth Street route into west Sana’a had been contained. Thursday’s clashes continued into Friday morning, with a military source reporting seventy Houthi militants killed and fifty captured overnight. At least two soldiers died. Internet and mobile phone access in the capital appeared cut off on Friday, and residents seeking to flee the area lined up at gas stations to fill their cars. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Marib Press (Arabic), 9/19/2014]

Benomar, presidential delegation allegedly reach tentative agreement with Al-Houthi
Reports out of Saada from late Thursday alleged that UN special adviser on Yemen Jamal Benomar and a presidential delegation from Sana’a had reached a tentative political agreement with Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi. While some issues remain, sources reported that a new government would be formed forty-eight hours after signing the agreement. The government allegedly agreed to increase assistance on petroleum products by 500 rials, partially walking back recent subsidy reforms. Remaining points of contention include the exact dates for removing Houthi protest camps in Sana’a and the cessation of weapons shipments to conflict areas like the Amran and Jawf provinces. Al-Houthi reportedly opposed the inclusion of language on ending clashes in the Amran and Jawf in the tentative agreement, while government negotiators viewed this language as necessary. The impact of these talks on the fighting in the capital remains unclear. [Marib Press (Arabic), 9/18/2014]

President Hadi claims Houthis are attempting to overthrow the state
In a meeting of the Supreme Military and Security Committee convened Thursday, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi discussed the violent clashes in Sana’a and informed the committee on the state of negotiations between Benomar and al-Houthi in Saada. They discussed how the Houthi’s use of violence was counterproductive to peace negotiations and obfuscated its political goals. The committee stressed that while it would take all necessary steps to protect Yemeni citizens, it would exercise self-restraint in the use of violence. President Hadi called Houthi attacks in Sana’a a “coup d’etat” during a meeting with ambassadors from ten countries on Friday, and President Hadi said that the group’s political demands have only served to mask their ultimate goal of seizing power, which the violence of the past week has uncovered. The president questioned Houthi commitment to the implementation of the National Dialogue Committee outcomes. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Marib Press (Arabic), 9/19/2014]


France launches air strikes in Iraq as militants overrun Kurdish towns in Syria
The office of French President Francois Hollande announced Friday that French jets have carried out their first strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants in Iraq. A statement from the president’s office confirmed strikes on ISIS depots in north-east Iraq, signaling more raids in the coming days. The announcement comes on the heels of ISIS gains in northern Syria where militants have besieged the mainly Kurdish town Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish, on the Turkish border. The French government indicated that its air campaign will be restricted to ISIS targets in Iraq and that no French troops will be involved in fighting on the ground. [Reuters, BBC, 9/19/2014]

Islamic State creates police force in northwest Iraq
Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants have created a police force to implement the orders of the religious judiciary in Iraq’s northwest Nineveh province. Photos on a well-known islamist website showed armed men in black clothing with “Islamic Police Nineveh State” printed on the arm. The police forces were in freshly painted police cars and one photo showed militiamen on a riverboat. Residents in Nineveh, however, told reporters that the police’s main duty appears to be to detain people they consider opposed to their cause. [Reuters, 9/19/2014]

Car bomb kills twenty in Baghdad
A series of car bombings targeting a Shia mosque and markets in the Iraqi capital killed at least twenty people Friday, in the second straight day of attacks in Baghdad blamed on Islamic State in Iraq and al-sham (ISIS) militants. Friday’s attacks came a day after a series of deadly attacks in mainly Shia areas in and around Baghdad left dozens killed. [Washington Post, 9/19/2014]

Two soldiers killed in roadside bombing in Arsal
Attackers detonated a roadside bomb against a passing army truck near the Syrian border Friday, killing two soldiers and wounding three in the latest spillover from the civil war next door. The explosion occurred as the unit made its way to Wadi Hmeid on the outskirts of the Arsal, near the border with Syria. Arsal has been the scene of bloody clashes between the Lebanese Army and militants from the Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). [Naharnet, Washington Post, 9/19/2014]

Morocco introduces draft law to combat foreign fighters
With hundreds of Moroccans heading to Syria and Iraq to fight with extremists groups, Morocco has presented a new law criminalizing training with extremists or attempting to reach their camps. The new law, which will go before parliament in October, comes as Morocco is expressing increasing concern about the number of its citizens fighting with groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). With at least 1,200 of its citizens fighting abroad, Morocco is second only to Tunisia with the largest group of fighters from North Africa that have joined ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria. [AP, 9/19/2014]