Archive for January, 2013

Saudi silence on Israeli-seized islands

Wed Oct 5, 2011

Saudi Arabia and the Western states have kept silent for decades regarding the occupation of two Saudi western islands by the Israeli regime.

Israeli forces reportedly occupied Saudi Arabia’s Tiran and Sanafir Islands in 1967.

The two islands are located at the southern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, leading to the Red Sea.

Tiran Island, which has an area of about 80 square kilometers, is located at the inflow of the Straits of Tiran. Sanafir Island, with an area of 33 square kilometers, also lies to the east of Tiran.

The two islands were given to the former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser for logistics use in the Six Day War of 1967 against Israeli forces.

However, the islands have been occupied by Tel Aviv since Egypt’s defeat.

The Straits of Tiran, which has remained under the control of Tel Aviv, has strategic significance since it serves as Israel’s only direct access to the Red Sea.

Regional observers say while Saudi Arabia has maintained a total silence on its own Israeli-occupied islands, it vigorously pursues baseless claims by the United Arab Emirates against three tiny Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf.

Source: PressTV.

Link: http://www.presstv.com/detail/202842.html.

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Saudi police ‘open fire on civilians’ as protests gain momentum

BY PATRICK COCKBURN

WEDNESDAY 05 OCTOBER 2011

Pro-democracy protests which swept the Arab world earlier in the year have erupted in eastern Saudi Arabia over the past three days, with police opening fire with live rounds and many people injured, opposition activists say.

Saudi Arabia last night confirmed there had been fighting in the region and that 11 security personnel and three civilians had been injured in al-Qatif, a large Shia city on the coast of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. The opposition say that 24 men and three women were wounded on Monday night and taken to al-Qatif hospital.

The Independent has been given exclusive details of how the protests developed by local activists. They say unrest began on Sunday in al-Awamiyah, a Shia town of about 25,000 people, when Saudi security forces arrested a 60-year-old man to force his son – an activist – to give himself up.

Ahmad Al-Rayah, a spokesman for the Society for Development and Change, which is based in the area, said that most of the civilians hit were wounded in heavy firing by the security forces after 8 pm on Monday. “A crowd was throwing stones at a police station and when a local human rights activist named Fadel al-Mansaf went into the station to talk to them and was arrested,” he said.

Mr Rayah added that “there have been protests for democracy and civil rights since February, but in the past the police fired into the air. This is the first time they have fired live rounds directly into a crowd.” He could not confirm if anybody had been killed.

The Shia of Saudi Arabia, mostly concentrated in the Eastern Province, have long complained of discrimination against them by the fundamentalist Sunni Saudi monarchy. The Wahhabi variant of Islam, the dominant faith in Saudi Arabia, holds Shia to be heretics who are not real Muslims.

The US, as the main ally of Saudi Arabia, is likely to be alarmed by the spread of pro-democracy protests to the Kingdom and particularly to that part of it which contains the largest oil reserves in the world. The Saudi Shia have been angered at the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain since March, with many protesters jailed, tortured or killed, according Western human rights organisations.

Hamza al-Hassan, an opponent of the Saudi government from Eastern Province living in Britain, predicted that protests would spread to more cities. “I am frightened when I see video film of events because most people in this region have guns brought in over the years from Iraq and Yemen and will use them [against government security men],” he said. He gave a slightly different account of the start of the riots in al-Awamiyah, saying that two elderly men had been arrested by the security forces, one of whom had a heart attack.

“Since September there has been a huge presence of Saudi security forces in al-Qatif and all other Shia centers ” he said. Al-Qatif was the scene of similar protests in March, which were swiftly quashed by security forces.

The Saudi statement alleges that the recent protests were stirred up by an unnamed foreign power, by which it invariably means Iran. The interior ministry was quoted on Saudi television as saying that “a foreign country is trying to undermine national security by inciting strife in al-Qatif”. Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchies of the western Gulf have traditionally blamed Iran for any unrest by local Shia, but have never produced any evidence other than to point at sympathetic treatment of the demonstrations on Iranian television.

The 20 doctors in Bahrain sentenced to up to 15 years in prison last week say their interrogators tortured them repeatedly to force them to make false confessions that Iran was behind the protests. The counter-revolution in Bahrain was heralded by the arrival of a 1,500-strong Saudi-led military force, which is still there.

Mr Rayah, who flew from Saudi Arabia to Beirut to be free to talk about the protests, said: “People want a change and a new way of living.” He said that, in particular, they were demanding a constitution and a free assembly for the Eastern Province. He also wanted the Society for Development and Change legally registered.

Mr Hassan blamed the protests on the fact “that there has been no political breakthrough”.

“I am from the city of al-Safwa, which is very close to al-Awamiyah, and there is very high unemployment in both,” he said. Some 70 per cent of the Saudi population is believed to be under 30 and many do not have jobs. “We were hoping for municipal reforms and regional elections for years but we got nothing.”

He said reforms reported in the Western media were meaningless and that only a few Saudis had bothered to vote in the most recent local elections because local councils had no power.

Source: The Independent.

Link: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-police-open-fire-on-civilians-as-protests-gain-momentum-2365614.html.

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Iranians in Iraqi Camp to Seek Refugee Status

By Barbara Slavin

WASHINGTON, Sep 28 2011 (IPS) – In a development that could help resolve an eight-year-old diplomatic and humanitarian standoff, the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that has several thousand adherents at a military camp in Iraq, has agreed to allow residents to apply for refugee status and be interviewed individually by U.N. officials.

Vincent Cochetel, Washington representative for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told IPS Wednesday that an agreement was reached about 10 days ago through the MEK’s legal counsel in London.

“They have agreed to individual screening,” he said. “We have offered an alternative location near Ashraf,” the camp north of Baghdad where the MEK members reside.

The decision by the MEK could help resolve a crisis that has weighed heavily on the United States as it prepares to withdraw most of its remaining troops from Iraq. Iraqi officials are considering allowing a few thousand U.S. troops to stay in the country but only to provide training and other military assistance.

Mark Toner, deputy State Department spokesman, told IPS, “We fully support the international community’s efforts to resolve the situation at Ashraf.”

There are about 3,300 Iranians left in the camp.

In the past, the MEK leadership has refused to allow most residents of Camp Ashraf to apply for refugee status or to speak with UNHCR representatives without MEK officials present.

Former members of the group, who contend that the MEK is a cult that fosters blind obedience to its leaders, say that many Ashraf inhabitants have been held against their will and would eagerly leave the camp if they could. There have been fears that the leaders would order members to commit suicide en masse rather than let them go.

The agreement with UNHCR is a necessary first step to close the camp – something the Iraqi government has long sought – but does not resolve the problem of where the residents find refuge.

“The challenge for us is to find countries to receive them,” Cochetel said. “The likelihood that they can remain in Iraq is very limited.”

The current Iraqi government, dominated by Shiites and Kurds, has tolerated the MEK camp only under U.S. and international pressure. The Iraqi leadership blames the MEK for allying with Saddam Hussein and participating in brutal crackdowns against Iraqi Kurds and Shiites following the 1991 Gulf War.

The George W. Bush administration initially promised to declare residents of Ashraf enemy combatants following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam’s regime. Instead, however, U.S. forces put the camp under their protection. Since 2008, when Iraq regained sovereignty over the camp, Iraqi troops have entered Ashraf several times in a futile effort to convince residents to leave. A few dozen people have been killed in skirmishes between the Iraqis and the Iranians.

Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, told IPS the agreement with UNHCR “could potentially be a breakthrough”, but that it remained unclear whether the MEK leadership would allow everyone in the camp to be interviewed.

“Hopefully, if given enough protection, camp residents will be able to be truthful about conditions in Ashraf and where they want to go,” Parsi said.

Several hundred camp residents have managed to return to Iran since 2003 through the auspices of the International Red Cross. Many of those who remain would fear to go to Iran now in light of the widespread crackdown on Iranian opposition groups that followed disputed 2009 presidential elections.

Originally a Marxist-Islamist group that helped overthrow the Shah of Iran, the MEK lost a power struggle with more Islamic-oriented factions following the 1979 revolution. The group has very little support within Iran because of its siding with Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. During the following decade, while Saddam remained in power, the MEK carried out assassinations of prominent officials and other attacks within Iran.

The U.S. State Department put the MEK on its list of foreign terrorist organisations in 1997 because of the group’s bloody record, which includes the assassination of six U.S. citizens in Iran during the 1970s.

MEK leaders insist that they have renounced terrorism and now advocate a democratic government for Iran. But their literature continues to treat their leader, Mariam Rajavi, who lives outside Paris, as the object of a personality cult. The whereabouts of Mrs. Rajavi’s husband, Massoud, who led the group into exile, are unknown.

In recent months, wealthy supporters of the MEK have waged an aggressive lobbying campaign to be removed from the U.S. terrorist list, paying tens of thousands of dollars apiece to prominent former U.S. officials to speak on the group’s behalf.

One argument advanced by MEK adherents has been that removal from the list would allow Ashraf residents to come to the United States. However, a State Department official told IPS last month that U.S. law forbids immigration to anyone with ties to a foreign terrorist organisation. He said this includes “those who provided material support to, or received military-type training from the group, as many MEK members have”.

Asked if UNHCR was looking to Europe – where many Ashraf residents have relatives – to give refuge to camp residents, Cochetel said, “I can’t say at this point that their response has been overwhelming.”

Source: Inter-Press Service.

Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/09/iranians-in-iraqi-camp-to-seek-refugee-status/.

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Iran: Revolutionary Guards’ power grows

Beirut, Lebanon (UPI)

Oct 4, 2011

The recent appointment of a top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as oil minister underlines the growing political and economic power of that elite force at a time when U.S. influence in the region is waning and U.S. forces are quitting Iraq.

“The Revolutionary Guards Corps is seizing control of all branches of government,” declared Ali Alfoneh of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a leading expert on the organization known in Farsi as the Pasdaran.

And there’s no sign of this ongoing accumulation of power slowing down.

One of the possible candidates to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former IRGC officer himself, in the 2013 elections is Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, shadowy commander of the al-Quds Force, the covert action arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Suleimani’s clandestine force formed “Special Groups” of Shiite militiamen who fought the Americans in Iraq and it effectively runs Hezbollah, Iran’s most prized proxy in the Arab world, in its conflict with Israel.

Two other potential candidates in the presidential elections, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, are former Revolutionary Guards officers.

The IRGC’s tentacles are spreading amid political upheaval that has been roiling Iran since Ahmadinejad’s widely disputed election for a second four-year term in June 2009.

The organization, formed by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the ideological guardians on the Islamic revolution that toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in January 1979, has become the most powerful force in Iran.

It has accelerated its rise during Ahmadinejad’s tenure as president that began in 2005.

The appointment of Rostam Qassemi as oil minister in August, giving the Pasdaran control of the government’s key economic position, underlined just how powerful the 120,000-strong IRGC has become.

Before his appointment, Qassemi was head of the IRGC’s economic arm, the Khatam ol-Anbia, which has become the leading engineering and construction group in Iran and has been accumulating an ever-greater share of oil and gas revenues.

Securing the Oil Ministry consolidated the Pasdaran’s hold on Iran’s economic lifeline and with it immense political influence.

This is causing growing unease in many quarters, leading critics to talk darkly of a “state within a state” and the possibility of a military takeover by the Pasdaran, who constitutionally are answerable only to Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The IRGC’s growing involvement in politics, not to mention the economy, has thrust it into the vortex of the current political turmoil in which Ahmadinejad is locked in a power struggle with the deeply entrenched conservatives of the clerical leadership led by Khamenei.

In recent months, the Pasdaran has come down firmly on the side of the supreme leader, who is seeking to clip the presidential powers that Ahmadinejad appears bent on expanding.

Ahmadinejad’s appointment of Qassemi as oil minister is widely seen as a stratagem to woo the IRGC on his side in what could be a looming showdown between the two main political power centers.

Iran’s constitution limits any president to two consecutive terms so the fiery Ahmadinejad cannot run again in 2013.

But if he can secure the presidency for one of his allies, such as a key figure in the Pasdaran, the IRGC could become even more powerful.

Parliamentary elections next March could indicate how the presidential poll will play out.

In recent weeks, Khamenei has warned that next spring’s legislative ballot could pose serious security risks and has called for national unity.

The last thing the leadership wants is a rerun of the 2009 unrest, when huge protests by an electorate increasingly disenchanted with clerical rule, injustice and corruption erupted across the country.

The protests were ruthlessly crushed by the IRGC and other security forces.

But the biggest test will be who will succeed Khamenei, who is 72 and not in the best of health.

The Middle East Economic Digest observed that Iran “is facing the most turbulent time in its history since the 1979 Islamic revolution, as the authorities struggle to contain protests and political divisions.”

If Khamenei dies in office, it said, “there is a real chance previously suppressed protesters will use the resulting vacuum to rise up against the regime.”

There seems little doubt that if that happens, the Pasdaran will be the deciding factor.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Iran_Revolutionary_Guards_power_grows_999.html.

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