White House under pressure amid double crises in Middle East

US President Barack Obama is under pressure as the Middle East erupts in chaos, with twin crises blowing up in both Iraq and Israel. The militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has overrun parts of northern Iraq, steamrolling through vast swaths of territory and allegedly beheading victims in an orgy of violence nearly three years after U.S. troops pulled out of the embattled nation.At the same time, violence has suddenly erupted in Israel, with Hamas firing rockets into civilian areas in southern Israel from its base in the Gaza Strip and Israeli forces responding by attacking terrorist strongholds in Gaza, developments that threaten to spark a ground war there. The double crises have put pressure on the White House, as Washington has an interest in preventing both conflicts from escalating.Indeed, Israel is Washington’s No. 1 Middle East ally and the two countries have frequently been targets of Islamist terrorists. And as for the turmoil in Iraq, a number of U.S. foreign policy circles, pundits and a recently published U.S. Congressional report hold that ISIL could establish a safe haven from which to strike the U.S. In a phone call earlier this week with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama urged Israel and Hamas to protect civilians and cease hostilities, adding that the White House was willing to broker a ceasefire, possibly one similar to a U.S.-negotiated deal in 2012.The U.S. and other world leaders fear the conflict’s escalation could embroil the entire region, and experts said the only country with the clout to negotiate a ceasefire is the U.S. Meanwhile, Iraq threatens to spin out of control after recent weeks saw ISIL make territorial gains amid fear over whether Iraq will face partition. That would put further pressure on Washington, experts said.“The likelihood of the country to fall apart exists, if the country stays on the current course,” Sarhang Hamasaeed, U.S. Institute of Peace senior program officer for the Middle East, told Xinhua. He was referring to the possibility of political leaders of Iraq’s main three ethno-religious groups — the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis — not being able to reach a political agreement on what the next government should look like. Much still rests on the international community and neighboring countries, and there is an active effort to prevent a partition by trying to ensure a government is quickly formed based on the results of the April 30 elections, Hamasaeed said.That would provide a legitimate political avenue for Iraq and the international community to confront the violence and prevent a breakup, Hamasaeed said. Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department’s Middle East Intelligence Office, told Xinhua that a partition would cause Iraq’s Shiite south to be shunned by all U.S. Arab allies in the region and to possibly become even more aligned with Iran. The Sunni Arab zone, with no real economic base, seething with territorial grievances and saddled with a huge refugee population, could become a continuing hotbed of extremist ferment, he said.A Kurdish state would be easiest for Washington to engage, but the Kurds’ likely retention of disputed territory would involve subsequent confrontations with Iraqi Arabs, probably generating Kurdish pleas for U.S. military aid, White said. Still, White emphasized that any talk of a partitioned Iraq is premature.

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