If Iraqi forces have their way, it’s going to be a bad week for the Islamic State

GlobalPost

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NEED TO KNOW:

The Islamic State has had a couple of really good weeks, but this week will be a bad one, if Iraqi forces have their way.

Iraq state media announced on Tuesday that the Iraqi army and an allied Shia militia were launching a major military offensive aimed to retake Anbar and Salaheddin provinces from the Islamic State. The Shia militia in question, Hashd al-Shaabi, played a key role in liberating the IS-held city of Tikrit in March. They’re looking for a repeat of that success.

The mobilization comes after several Islamic State victories in May, as the militants took control of the Iraqi city of Ramadi on May 17 and then overran Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra. The Islamic State now holds around half of all Syrian territory and controls the Syria-Iraq border.

The loss of Ramadi, the capital city of Anbar province, was painful for Iraq and the United States, and it threw into question the current plan of relying on Iraqi ground forces with support from US airstrikes.

Iraqi and US officials pointed fingers at each other.

After seeing the Islamic State overrun a city where 1,300 US soldiers died during the most recent Iraq War, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter accused Iraqis of lacking the will to fight. "What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight," he said in an interview with CNN after Ramadi fell. "They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight. They withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves."

Iraqis didn’t take that accusation lightly. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the BBC that he was sure Carter had been “fed with the wrong information.” And Maj. Muhammed al-Dulaimi, an Iraqi military officer, suggested that Carter had the situation totally backward. It was the US, he told The New York Times, that wasn’t doing its part.

“The international alliance is not providing enough support compared with ISIS’ capabilities on the ground in Anbar,” al-Dulaim said. (The Islamic State is commonly known as ISIS, IS or ISIL.) “We lost large territories in Anbar because of the inefficiency of the US-led coalition airstrikes.”

Liberating Ramadi and Anbar from the Islamic State would go a long way toward proving Carter wrong.

WANT TO KNOW:

Since the coup that swept Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi from power, hundreds of his supporters have been handed death sentences in a rash of mass trials. But until this month, only one had been carried out — against a man convicted of throwing another man off a roof.

A little over a week ago, however, six men were executed on charges of belonging to a militant group and attacking security forces. The day before, a Cairo court sentenced ousted president Morsi and 120 others to death on charges related to the 2011 uprisings.

The executions mark the first overtly political killings ordered under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s leadership, and follow a trial that rights groups and foreign observers say was flawed from the start. The civilian defendants were held in unofficial detention, then tried in a military court. A lawyer for several of the men says the judge ignored evidence that proved his clients had an alibi.

“The defendants told me not to bother [defending them],” Ahmed Helmy told GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Laura Dean. “They said, ‘We know we will get the death penalty, don’t trouble yourself.’ They knew this would happen.”

The precedent set by the court-ordered killings is already worrying monitors. If they continue — and particularly, if Morsi does end up being executed — the Western governments who have supported the Sisi regime will have some explaining to do.

In Iran, there’s another court case underway that human rights groups and diplomats describe as fundamentally flawed. After more than 10 months in detention, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian went to trial in Tehran today on espionage charges. The proceedings were kept secret, with no observers allowed in.

“There is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it, and yet the fate of a good, innocent man hangs in the balance,” Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron said Monday.

Rezaian is a dual US-Iranian citizen, which has seemed to hurt him more than help. During months of nuclear negotiations, the State Department has attempted to secure his release, to no avail. The charges against him may be spurious, but Rezaian's detention is an extra bit of leverage for Iran's hardliners.

STRANGE BUT TRUE:

The International Monetary Fund says the numbers are “shocking.” There’s a pretty good chance you’ll agree.

The world’s governments are going to hand fossil fuel companies a $5.3 trillion “subsidy” this year, which is way more than their combined spending on health care, IMF experts reported last week.

By subsidy, they mean a whole lot of things. It's not only the direct funds for coal, oil and gas companies. The IMF analysts are also gauging what consumers pay versus the actual cost of fuel — environmental and health side effects included. Hence the trillions.

When you dig a little deeper, it becomes clear that these costs differ by country. Per capita, subsidies for fossil fuels vastly outweigh what countries like Russia and China pay for their citizens' health. In countries like the US and Japan, however, public health spending is much higher.

But on average, fossil fuels get a lot more global subsidies than public health does. Here's how much, in 4 charts.

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