Deborah Amos

Northern Iraq is a lot more diverse than just Arabs and Kurds or Sunni and Shiite. For centuries, it has been home to multiple religious groups with ancient roots in the region.

But more than a decade of turmoil has driven many religious minorities out, with the most recent example being the onslaught of the self-proclaimed Islamic State militants, or ISIS.

Soon after Kurdish peshmerga fighters broke a siege by Islamic State extremists around Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, Kurdish television reporters arrived to broadcast the riotous celebrations.

This was the largest gain by the Kurds against Islamist militants since August, when Islamic State fighters, also known as ISIS, threatened Irbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When Mohammed Taha Yaseen recalls the day that Islamic militants swept through Iraq's northern city of Mosul this past summer, he chokes up.

"The army ran away," he says, and pauses to gain control of his voice. "We didn't run — the police stayed and fought ISIS."

Yaseen, an officer in the Mosul police force, tells his story at an isolated training camp in northern Iraq, less than 20 miles from the front lines with ISIS, also known as the Islamic State.

The man at the eye of the storm in Saudi Arabia is Ahmad Aziz Al Ghamdi. He's a religious scholar, the former head of the religious police in Mecca, a group officially known as the Committee for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Alarmed over rising threats in the Middle East and North Africa, the Gulf Cooperation Council is set to launch an unprecedented joint military command, according to regional officials and military analysts.

"At the moment, we are witnessing a new spirit," says Abdulaziz Sager, head of the Gulf Research Center, a think tank that focuses on the GCC, a six-member group of Arab monarchies.

The stabbing death of an American schoolteacher in a bathroom at an upscale mall in Abu Dhabi this week has shocked the United Arab Emirates, citizens and international residents alike. Violent crime is rare in the Emirates, a place where glitzy shopping centers are the hub of social life.

When Ronaldo Mouchawar was working in a Boston engineering firm he dreamed of moving back to the Arab world. Born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, he had come to the U.S. to study, then got a high-paying job, but he believed he "owed something" to his home region.

It turned out his ticket back was a smart idea at the right time.

Can Iran and six world powers reach a historic deal over Iran's nuclear program by Monday? The negotiations are at a crucial phase. As the deadline nears, regional hopes and fears are rising in equal measure.

A successful nuclear deal to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions could finally defuse one of the most dangerous crises in the Middle East. But a deal could also lead to more instability as regional powers react to what would be a historic re-set in relations in the Middle East.

Imagine this: You have a great idea for an Internet startup. You're sure it will work. You are ready to be part of the global market. There's one big problem: You live in Iran, a country facing some of the most extensive financial sanctions imposed on any country in the world.

That was the challenge for a team of young Iranian entrepreneurs competing in the recent Startup Istanbul, where aspiring entrepreneurs got to pitch ideas to the founders of successful tech companies and venture capitalists at a conference in Turkey.

The Syrian smuggler agrees to meet at an outdoor cafe in Kilis, a town on the edge of Syria-Turkey frontier. As waiters deliver glasses of hot, sweet tea and Turks play dominoes at nearby tables, he talks about his role in the "Jihadi Highway" and why he finally decided to quit.

The smuggler, in his mid-20s, is open about every aspect of the lucrative enterprise, except for revealing his name. He is well-known to the militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, who paid him well for his skills, and who certainly would kill him for speaking to a journalist.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Obama has long been reluctant to provide substantial aid to Syria's so-called moderate rebels, often dismissed as weak and disorganized. But the rapid rise of the group that calls itself the Islamic State has changed many calculations.

The CIA has been running a small-scale covert weapons program since early this year, according to rebels who have been trained and are now receiving arms shipments. The modest program has strengthened moderate battalions, according to Western and regional analysts, even as rebel commanders complain about the meager arms flow.

Editor's Note: This story was published on Sept. 9. In light of the U.S.-led airstrikes on the Islamic State's oil production facilities, we wanted to showcase it once again.

Thousands of Syrian infants born to refugee parents are now stateless. Their births are unregistered and will pose many difficult challenges in this long-term conflict.

The exact numbers are far from certain. A recent report by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, suggests that 75 percent of Syrians born in Lebanon since 2011 have not been properly registered. Many families don't have any identification documents, which were destroyed in the fighting or left behind in a panicked escape.

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