August 21, 2014

Anyone with a brain or a heart cannot help but be deeply disturbed by the unending and seemingly accelerating torrent of grim -- sometimes horrifying -- stories emanating from the Middle East. This week's gruesome, heartbreaking news of the beheading of American photojournalist James Foley is shocking evidence to this effect. 

In addition to pictures of mass executions and beheading videos, the Islamic State also puts out propaganda magazines containing stories about stoning adulterers and joining the jihad — all wrapped in a package with high production values.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group that has seized large parts of Iraq and drawn the first American air strikes since the end of the occupation in 2011 has warned the United States it will attack Americans “in any place” if the raids hit its militants.

Australia will reserve more than 2,000 places in its refugee program for Syrians, at the same time as it tries to return Syrians held in offshore detention to the country the immigration minister describes as “in the midst of a terrible conflict”. Syrian refugees will have 2,200 places set aside within the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP), which takes in refugees who can prove they already have a connection to Australia.

The Middle East is in turmoil and increasingly there is a need for the two regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to mend their differences in an effort to address urgent regional security matters. There is no denying that the Arab-Persian rivalry and sectarian divide is deep-rooted and will require serious dialogue and engagement to be rectified. 

European Union foreign ministers met in a emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq. EU leaders welcomed the resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saying it paved the way for a potential political solution in that country. The Czech Republic and the Netherlands joined France in agreeing to send military equipment to aid Kurdish forces.

The Arts and Healing Network awarded Ballet Theatre Company’s Artistic Director and General Manager Roman Baca for his efforts creating war related dance pieces, combining military veterans with dance, and seeking artistic and cultural diplomacy in Iraq. Baca, a U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran, cofounded the Exit12 Dance Company in 2007 upon his return from Iraq and subsequently embarked on a soothing journey to help fellow veterans and to visualize inspiring conversations regarding worldly differences.

The US, UK and other states have pledged aid and humanitarian assistance to help rescue refugees fleeing Isis in northern Iraq.  The US has launched two airstrikes against the Islamic State. The defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, announced on Tuesday that 130 troops were being sent to Iraq as "assessors", joining 450 troops already there.