Deborah Amos

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The State Department has approved a $1.29 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which includes as many as 13,000 precision guided weapons or smart bombs. The sale comes as Human Rights Watch charges that Saudi airstrikes in Yemen "have indiscriminately killed and injured civilians."

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Syrian medical student Hazem Halabi has become an expert on chlorine as a weapon of war. He made his first investigation in April 2014, after an alleged attack on the village of Kafr Zeta in northern Syria.

Villagers reported waking up before dawn to the buzz of helicopters and an overpowering smell of bleach. A video recorded at a local clinic shows doctors struggling to treat panicked victims struggling for breath.

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Photos from inside Syria's brutal security state will be shown in Congress tomorrow. It's an exhibit by the Syrian opposition and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The photos are graphic. They were smuggled out of Syria by a regime photographer - a military officer - who had the job of documenting the deaths of some 11,000 detainees. Activists put the photos online, and Syrians are searching them for missing loved ones. NPR's Deborah Amos reports on the effort from Istanbul.

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The graying city mayor agrees to meet a few hours before he heads to the battlefront. He is haggard after living in exile since June, when the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, swept into his city — al-Sharqat, Iraq, a hour's drive north of Tikrit.

Ali Dodah al-Jabouri has a reason to fight: Islamic State militants killed his brother and 18 other relatives. But as part of a prominent Sunni Arab tribe, he is joining an unusual alliance with Iraqi Shiite militias backed and armed by Iran.

The United Arab Emirates has been building its military strength for decades, but in 2014 it came out in the open as an ambitious regional power — and one that's openly allied with the United States.

The tiny country, perched on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf, has a reputation for flashy displays — usually of wealth and commerce from shopping hub Dubai. But lately it has taken to showing off its military strength.

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 Kurds are involved in several Middle East dramas at the moment. Yet they live in multiple countries across the region and are playing different roles in different places.

In Iraq, Kurdish fighters are working closely with the U.S. to battle the Islamic State.

In Syria, the Kurds are also fighting the Islamic State, but until U.S. air drops this week, the U.S. had been reluctant to work directly with the Syrian Kurds.

Then there are the Turkish Kurds, who have been seeking to join the battle, but have been blocked from doing so by 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.

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Not all Sunnis are on board with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, even if they oppose the Iraqi government. One ranking Sunni cleric in northern Iraq calls ISIS "scum" and hints at limits to the group's influence.

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