Here are the most notable news updates from overnight events in Iraq.
- Syrian, Iraqi Al-Qaeda Groups Merge
As we noted previously, Iraq scourge ISIS is well-versed in the ways of corporate marketing, branding and etiquette, having released annual reports for at least the past two years. As it turns out, in what may be the most stunning update overnight from Iraq, ISIS is also proficient in corporate finance, namely mergers and acquisitions, after what Reuters reports was an effective merger of unequals after Syria's al Qaeda, aka the Nusra Front, pledged allegiance to the formerly rival group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in a Syrian border town, a monitoring group said, strengthening ISIS's control of both sides of the Syria-Iraq frontier.
Fighters from Nusra Front, the Syrian wing of al Qaeda, took an oath of loyalty to ISIL in the town of Albu Kamal, close to the Iraqi border, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an Islamist website said on Wednesday.
The central leadership of al Qaeda has disowned ISIL and proclaimed the Nusra Front as its official Syrian affiliate.
ISIL, which seized Iraq's main northern city Mosul on June 10, has since marched virtually unopposed towards Baghdad and is in control of major border posts on the frontier with Syria.
The group also controls large parts of eastern Syria, where it has both clashed with rival rebels groups and occasionally fought alongside them, complicating the three-year-old insurgncy against President Bashar al-Assad.
Twitter users posted a photo they said showed the Nusra Front leader of Albu Kamal, Abu Yusuf al-Masri, swearing loyalty to one of ISIL's prominent fighters. "It is very important because Nusra is strong in Albu Kamal," the Observatory's Rami Abdurrahman said. "We cannot say (ISIL) controls Albu Kamal but we can say they are now in Albu Kamal."
So now that Al Qaeda has mastered mergers, can they please already hire Goldman for the IPO as well? There is a lot of other people's money burning a hole in the pockets of the 1%, and it will find its way to ISIS. One way or another.
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- Maliki defies Kerry agreement, rules out national emergency government
According to AFP, as if John Kerry wasn't humiliated enough in Egypt already, today his "accomplishment" to get Maliki to agree to a emergency government, is also up in flames.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday ruled out forming a national emergency government to confront a Sunni militant offensive that has overrun large parts of the country.
“The call to form a national emergency government is a coup against the constitution and the political process,” Maliki said in a televised address. “The dangerous goals of forming a national emergency government are not hidden... It is an attempt by those who are against the constitution to eliminate the young democratic process and steal the votes of the voters,” said the Iraqi leader.
Maliki’s electoral bloc won by far the most seats in April 30 parliamentary elections with 92, nearly three times as many as the next biggest party, and the incumbent himself tallied 720,000 personal votes, also far and away the most. But he fell short of a majority in Iraq’s Council of Representatives, and has had to court the support of rivals in order to form a government.
A recent militant offensive led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has put pressure on Maliki from both domestic opponents and overseas, with critics alleging his policies are sectarian.
So with the democratic route out of the picture, it means the US flipflops on the ground will have to be activated.
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- US Troops Arrive In Baghdad On ISIS Mission
According to SkyNews, about 40 US special operations personnel have arrived in the Middle East to assess the Iraqi response to the invasion of ISIS.
The first team of American military advisers has arrived in Iraq to help the country tackle the threat from Islamist insurgents. About 40 of the 300 expected to be deployed to the Middle Eastern country were described by the Pentagon as having "started their mission".
Admiral John Kirby told reporters that two "initial assessment teams" have been deployed in Baghdad.
He said their role would be to assess the Iraqi army and not to engage in attacks on militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who have seized several towns north of Baghdad.
Admiral Kirby said: "This isn't about rushing to the rescue.
"These teams will assess the cohesiveness and readiness of the Iraqi security forces ... and examine the most effective and efficient way to introduce follow-on advisers."
Scratch flipflops, make that boots.
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- Syrian Warplanes Strike in Western Iraq, Killing at Least 50 People
So now the US is allied with Iraq, Iran, Saudi, and, drumroll, Syria in chasing the same band of Jihadist extremist it itself was cultivating and funding over the years in Syria. Brilliant. From the WSJ:
Syrian warplanes carried out airstrikes in western Iraq, stepping up the military role of the U.S. adversary in helping Baghdad's Shiite-dominated government fight Sunni insurgents.
The strikes on Tuesday came as the Pentagon announced that the first 130 members of a potential 300 U.S. military advisers were in place in Baghdad to start assessing and improving the Iraqi army's ability to counter the gains of rebels led by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.
At least 50 people were killed and more than 132 others wounded Tuesday when missiles fired from what appeared to be Syrian government planes hit a municipal building, a market and a bank in the district of Al Rutba, according to an Anbar provincial official and Mohammed Al Qubaisi, a doctor in the district's main hospital.
Those people said Tuesday was the second consecutive day of airstrikes by Syria, which has joined Iran in aiding the embattled Baghdad government against the ISIS-led rebels. Tehran has deployed special forces to help protect the capital and the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala, which Shiites revere.
U.S. State Department and military officials weren't able to confirm the reports of the Syrian attack either. Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said the U.S. was trying to do so. "It wouldn't be surprising," she said. "The Syrian regime has bombed marketplaces and civilians many, many times." [ZH: as has the US regime, although mostly via drones]
U.S. officials have previously confirmed strikes by Syrian fighter planes and helicopters on Iraqi border crossings controlled by ISIS on multiple occasions in recent weeks. Tuesday's strikes, if confirmed, would be the first to incur a large number of civilian casualties.
Syria denied the report. In other news, Jordan helicopters are now patrolling the Iraq border too as every country in the region is terrified it could be next to fall to ISIS.
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- Militants attack Iraq air base, seize control of small fields
The finaly update from Reuters, shows that any hopes to contain ISIS for now are in vein. Militants attacked one of Iraq's largest air bases and seized control of several small oilfields on Wednesday as U.S. military experts arrived to set up an operations centre to help Iraqi security forces counter a mounting Sunni insurgency.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is fighting for his job and is under international pressure to create a more inclusive government, said he supported starting the process of forming a new government within a week.
In northern Iraq the Sunni militants extended a two-week advance that has been led by the hardline Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) but also includes an amalgam of other Sunni groups angered by Maliki's rule.
They blame him for marginalising their sect during eight years in power. The fighting threatens to rupture the country two and a half years after the end of U.S. occupation.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraqi officials to form an "inclusive" government during a visit this week and urged leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region to stand with Baghdad against the onslaught. [ID:nL6N0P51PO]
A parliament session is planned within a week that will start the process of forming a new government based on the results of elections held in April.
"We will attend the first session of parliament," Maliki said on state television, adding the commitment stemmed from "loyalty to our people" and respect for a call by Iraq's foremost Shi'ite clergy.
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In conclusion, here is the latest event map from the Institute for the Study of War: