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World Global hot spots challenging the Obama administration

Since coming to power, President Barack Obama has tried to disentangle the United States from foreign wars and interventions, but a succession of international crises continues to trouble many parts of the globe.

OMAR SANADIKI / REUTERS

Syria: civil war

As Syria enters the fourth year of a civil war that has displaced millions and left more than 160,000 dead, the United States continues to stay out of the conflict.

Sparked by the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the unrest in Syria, which started out as peaceful demonstrations across the country against President Bashar al-Assad, quickly turned violent after the government responded by killing protesters and radicalizing the movement: The opposition is now dominated by foreign-led jihadis who commit their own brutalities against civilians while claiming to be their saviours, while government attacks add to the rising death toll.

As recently as last weekend, Syrian government warplanes bombed a militant stronghold as well as towns controlled by the jihadis, conducting more than a dozen air strikes and killing at least 11 people, activists said.

Amer Alfaj / Reuters

Syria: chemical weapons

The Obama administration threatened military action against Syria last year after a nerve-agent attack in August, 2013, killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb, in what was believed to be the largest chemical-weapons assault since Saddam Hussein’s gas attack on the Kurds in 1988.

U.S. President Barack Obama laid blame for the attack directly on Mr. al-Assad, declaring that the Syrian government had violated international law and crossed a “red line.” He demanded a handover of the government’s stockpiles of banned chemical munitions, including sarin gas.

Last week, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced that nearly 75 per cent of Syria’s known chemical weapons, which were exported from Syria in June after repeated delays, has been destroyed.

HAMAD I MOHAMMED / REUTERS

Iraq

Three years after Americans withdrew forces from Iraq, the United States has involved itself in the latest escalation of the country’s current crisis with a series of air strikes on militant positions in the country.

Although declaring victory last week in a rescue mission of Yazidi refugees from a remote mountaintop, Mr. Obama said the situation remains “dire” for many Iraqis in the northern part of the country and suggested that U.S. support in the form of air strikes could continue for months.

On the weekend, officials said U.S. military forces conducted at least 30 strikes across Iraq – many of them focused on helping Iraqi forces retake the Mosul Dam, which militants captured after routing the Kurdish forces 10 days ago.

Sergei Grits / AP

Ukraine/Crimea

What started out as a series of political demonstrations in Kiev in support of European integration in November escalated into the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych, whose government rejected political and free-trade agreements with the EU in favour of economic ties with Russia.

Russia’s controversial annexation of Crimea brought tensions to a head in March, starting an armed insurrection in the east.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said during an address in Crimea last week that Russia was monitoring what he called a “major humanitarian catastrophe” in eastern Ukraine.

A Russian aid convoy heading toward rebel-held territory remained stalled near the Ukrainian border Monday as foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany reported that talks in Berlin had yielded no sign of a ceasefire or long-term political agreement.

Bullit Marquez / AP

South China Sea

Rival countries including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have fought over territory in the ocean areas and islands of the South China Sea for centuries, and now renewed tensions in the area might test the United States’ commitment to its “pivot to the east” policy.

Since 2009, the Obama administration has said that it is refocusing U.S. foreign policy to give more emphasis to Asia, and last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the President had asked him to strengthen his diplomatic efforts in Asia and the Pacific for the rest of his administration.

The sea is a major shipping route and fishing ground for the region and islands such as the Paracels and the Spratlys are believed to be resource-rich.

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