Aftershocks have continued in southwest Iran after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday killed an estimated 37 people and injured over 850. There were over 80 aftershocks reported into Wednesday morning and the largest reached a magnitude of 5.4. According to Iran's Fars news agency, over 700 homes were destroyed, and two villages were devastated. Rescue efforts ended Wednesday, and Iran has declared a three-day mourning period. The epicenter of the earthquake was near the town of Kaki and it was felt in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain. It hit just south of the Persian Gulf city of Bushehr, where Iran's only nuclear power plant is located. According to Iranian officials as well as the Russian company that built facility, it has not sustained any damage and "is operating as usual." Iran sits on major faultlines and has been hit by several devastating earthquakes, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 in the southeastern city of Bam that killed over 25,000 people. After Tuesday's quake, Iranian media reported Wednesday that Iran is planning to build additional nuclear power reactors in the southeastern Gulf region.
Syria's opposition Islamist militant group al-Nusra Front has formally pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, a day after the Iraqi al Qaeda wing announced the merger of the two groups. The leader of al-Nusra Front, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, said in an audio tape posted online Wednesday, "The sons of Nusra Front renew their pledge (of allegiance) to the Sheikh of Jihad Ayman al-Zawahri and declare obedience." Golani, however said he was not consulted prior to the announcement by the head of Iraq's Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who said the two groups were joining under the name the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. It is unclear, however, if Golani is denying the merger. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said that Syria will be on the top of the agenda when the G8 foreign ministers gather today in Britain. He said he is pushing for "the urgent need for a political and diplomatic breakthrough on Syria." Hague will additionally hold a lunch meeting with representatives from the Syrian opposition. On the eve of the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States is weighing "stepped-up" efforts to aid the opposition forces.
Arguments and Analysis
Now is Not the Time for an Independent Kurdistan (Ranj Alaaldin, Asharq Al-Awsat)
"But whilst turmoil in Iraq (which includes the Anbar protests and Sunni demands for federalism) as well as the regional changes taking place might undermine national unity and undermine the stability of Iraq, an independent Kurdistan is still not a viable outcome. Kurdish autonomy in recent years has increased, thanks to its oil wealth and effective management of Kurdistan's oil and gas resources. Kurdistan is now considered the oil exploration capital of the world.
Geostrategically, it has and will continue to play an important role in the Syria conflict, where the KRG has assisted Syrian Kurds and could soon be playing a role in developing an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan. As a result of the Syrian conflict, Turkey too has had to modify its policies toward its Kurdish population, who number more than 14 million. Domestic politics, along with Prime Minister Erdo?an's ambitions to become president and exercise effective power, require Kurdish support.
The Kurds, therefore, have lots to gain. But, at the same time, they may have a lot more to lose.
Fundamentally, an independent Kurdistan is not a likely possibility in the near or distant future because it lacks sufficient resources and allies."
"Syria Behind The Lines" (PBS, Frontline Documentary)
"An unprecedented film documents the new and perilous reality of everyday life for both Syria's rebels and its regime."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.