Archive for February, 2014
Oct. 5, 2011
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 5 (UPI) — Violence in Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-dominated Eastern province, center of the kingdom’s oil industry, has intensified the political jitters as the monarchy frantically tries to fend off the Arab Spring, settle a thorny succession problem and confront old rival Iran.
There have been flare-ups involving disgruntled minority Shiites, who number around 2 million, in the past in the overwhelmingly Sunni kingdom.
But Monday’s violence involved gunmen on motorcycles and firebombs, an unusual occurrence that could signal trouble yet to come.
The Saudis don’t usually publicize such disturbances but the Interior Ministry vowed Tuesday to use “an iron fist” against any further trouble and claimed Monday’s clashes were instigated by “a foreign country.”
That’s a clear reference to Iran, which is locked in a struggle for supremacy in the Persian Gulf region with Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil producer and the birthplace of Islam.
This rivalry swelled into outright confrontation in March when Riyadh sent tanks and troops of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council into the neighboring Sunni kingdom of Bahrain to crush protests led by the Shiite majority. These were widely deemed to have been instigated by Tehran.
Riyadh fears Bahrain’s Shiite unrest will spread to the Eastern Province.
The unprecedented turmoil of the so-called Arab Spring over the last eight months hit Saudi Arabia at a bad time.
The U.S. abandonment of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a longtime ally forced to step down Feb. 11, stirred fears among the Saudi royals that the Americans couldn’t be trusted to stand by them.
King Abdallah, believed to be 86, is in poor health after being hospitalized in New York earlier this year for what was reported to be a back injury. His designated successor, Crown Prince Sultan, the longtime defense minister, is slightly younger, but he too is in bad shape. He was treated in the United States for cancer and is so infirm he rarely appears in public and isn’t considered fit to rule.
The third in line, the powerful Interior Minister Prince Nayef, is believed to be 76.
The leading clans within the extended royal family — at least 4,000 princes, though few are contenders for the throne — are locked in a Byzantine struggle for supremacy.
But the time is clearly close when the crown will have to pass from the sons of King Abdel Aziz, founder of the modern state, who have ruled since his death in 1953 to his grandsons.
In the past, the House of Saud has been able to overcome family feuds to find a compromise when it comes to the succession. But now it’s facing uncharted territory.
Other issues also divide the royal family. There’s growing concern in Riyadh over the worsening violence in neighboring Yemen, where the Saudis have long called the shots.
Efforts by the Saudis, the key mediator in Yemen’s crisis, to end the bloodletting that began in January with street protests demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh have failed.
As Yemen lurches toward all-out civil war, the Saudi leadership is increasingly split over how to deal with Saleh, who refuses to step down. Abdallah favors backing Saleh, who over the years has been the recipient of Saudi largesse, while Nayef wants Saleh gone.
This, U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor observed, “has prolonged the political stalemate in Yemen.”
Nayef “has been advocating moves to undercut Saleh’s support, and Prince Mayef’s faction has financially supported leading opposition members and tribesmen against Saleh loyalists,” Stratfor noted.
“King Abdallah’s faction, however, has had a much higher tolerance for the Yemeni president and has argued for a much more moderate Saudi policy in managing the Yemeni crisis.”
The Saudis are alarmed that a political vacuum in Yemen and the splintering of the country’s military forces will allow the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to unleash a terror campaign against the monarchy as it did in 2003-06.
That failed through a ruthless Saudi counterinsurgency operation. But a new campaign amid the political turmoil of the Arab Spring and the deepening confrontation with Iran could be more successful.
If the trouble in the Eastern Province grows, encouraged and inspired by Tehran, the threat to the Saudi oil fields would be magnified, sparking an international crisis of confidence in the world’s largest family business.
Source: United Press International (UPI).
Wed Feb 26, 2014
An anti-government protester in Bahrain has died at the hands of the regime forces as deadly crackdown on peaceful demonstrations continues in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.
Bahrain’s main opposition group, al-Wefaq, said on Wednesday that Jafar Sadiq al-Dirazi has died in jail due to torture and lack of medical treatment.
Reports say the man, from the town of Daih near the capital Manama, was suffering from anemia. He spent more than a month in prison.
Al-Wefaq earlier this week urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as the Red Cross to look into the situation in the Dry Dock prison, located on the island of Muharraq.
Around 500 prisoners are on hunger strike in the notorious prison protesting against the mistreatment of the inmates. At least 3,000 detainees including women and children are being reportedly held in the Dry Dock prison.
The Bahraini regime’s human rights record has come under scrutiny over its handling of anti-regime protests that erupted across the country in early 2011.
Bahraini people initially demanded political reform and a constitutional monarchy, a demand that later changed to an outright call for the ouster of the ruling Al Khalifa family following its brutal crackdown on popular protests.
Manama also called in Saudi-led Arab forces from neighboring states. Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others arrested in the clampdown.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International censured Bahrain’s “relentless repression” of anti-regime protesters, saying the regime’s security forces have “repeatedly” used “excessive force to quash anti-government protests.”
On February 14, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called on the Manama regime to respect its “international human rights obligations” in dealing with peaceful protests in the country.
Feb 21, 2014
A prominent hardline cleric in Iran warned on Friday against the Islamic republic resuming ties with the United States, and said any attempt to do so would prove futile.
“Some people have created an underground network for establishing relations with the America,” Ayatollah Ahmad Janati told crowds at Friday prayers in Tehran, in comments broadcast by state media.
“Our people are anti-American — you should be anti-American as well. Why did you go a different way from the people?” Janati asked, addressing those alleged to be behind the move.
“As long as our people and our supreme leader do not want it, your efforts will not bear any fruit,” added Janati, who heads the powerful Guardians Council electoral watchdog.
His comments sparked chants of “Death to the America!” and “Death to Israel!” from the thousands of Friday worshipers.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all Iranian state matters including foreign policy and the nuclear issue.
Icy ties between Tehran and world powers have thawed since President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, defeated a pool of conservatives in last June’s presidential election after vowing to engage constructively with the West.
The most remarkable development to date was a 15-minute telephone conversation between Rouhani and his US counterpart Barack Obama in New York in September.
It was the first direct contact between the leaders of the two nations since diplomatic ties were severed after the US embassy hostage crisis in Tehran from 1979-1981.
But Khamenei later said he deemed part of Rouhani’s New York trip as inappropriate, but without referring directly to the phone call.
The two countries’ foreign ministers, Mohammad Javad Zarif and John Kerry, have also met several times, most recently at the Munich International Security Conference.
Zarif has gone so far as to tell Russian television that Washington could one day reopen its embassy in Tehran.
Iran’s hardliners and many lawmakers are also critical of a landmark nuclear agreement agreed in November.
They question what Tehran stands to gain from the deal, under which it agreed to roll back parts of its controversial nuclear drive for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief.
Western nations and the country’s arch-enemy Israel have long suspected Iran of covertly seeking nuclear weapons alongside its civilian program, an allegation denied by Tehran.
The conservative-dominated parliament has frequently summoned Zarif and other ministers for questioning on a variety of issues, including the Zarif-Kerry meetings…
Source: Space War.
February 22, 2014
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi election officials began handing out new, computerized voter identification cards Saturday across the capital as the country prepares for its first nationwide election since the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
But the more than $100 million push to modernize voting comes as officials can’t distribute cards in embattled Anbar province, where the ISIS fighters seized control of parts of two cities, and as militant attacks rage on unabated, killing at least 14 people alone Saturday and wounding nearly two dozen.
The new voter cards, which include a computer chip, will allow election officials to check a voter’s identity and try to halt fraud. Several Iraqi political blocs alleged that some people voted multiple times in the last vote in 2010, although the results of the election were not widely disputed.
In previous elections, voters had to go through lists glued outside balloting centers to find their names before going inside. Spanish technology firm Indra signed a five-year deal with Iraq to supply the new system and train election officials.
Nearly 22 million Iraqis are eligible to cast their ballots in coming April 30 parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is eyeing a third term in office despite objections from political rivals who accuse him of marginalizing partners and seizing control of state institutions to consolidate power.
In a televised speech Wednesday, al-Maliki reiterated a pledge to not delay elections because of the violence, calling on people to overcome any reluctance to pick up cards “because their vote will be decisive this time.”
Voters in 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces began to receive cards three weeks ago, Independent High Electoral Commission official Aziz al-Kheikani said. Distribution began Saturday in four new provinces, including the capital, Baghdad, he said.
Saddam Raheem Jassim, a resident of Baghdad, received his card Saturday and praised the effort. “This identity chip for voters, looking at its form and shape, is good,” Jassim said. “It looks like they made big effort for it, for the sake of Iraqi people. This will ensure our rights and prevent any means of forgery in the election.”
Meanwhile Saturday, two bombs targeted a four-vehicle patrol in the town of al-Saadiyah, 140 kilometers (90 miles) northeast of Baghdad, a police officer said. Militants opened fire on the troops after the bombing in an attack that killed nine and wounded four, he said.
The attack came hours after three car bombs exploded in the city of Tikrit, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, another police officer said. The officer said the blasts near the homes of local security and civilian officials killed five people and wounded 18.
Two medical officials confirmed figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information to journalists. Fierce clashes pitting government security forces and allied Sunni tribal militias against a coalition of insurgents also have been raging in western Iraq’s Anbar province since late December. ISIS and other insurgent groups have taken control of the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi. Thousands have fled the violence.
On Saturday, al-Maliki announced a three-day halt of military operations in Fallujah as a “goodwill” gesture. In a statement read on state television, al-Maliki said the halt began Friday and will last through Monday after requests from clerics and tribal sheiks to halt the bloodletting.
Al-Maliki’s statement did not say whether military operations would resume after the halt. Government officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report.
Sun Feb 16, 2014
Iraq’s prominent cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, has announced his exit from the political arena.
“I announce my non-intervention in all political affairs,” the leader of Sadr Shia movement said in a handwritten note posted on his website on Sunday.
He added that “there is no bloc that represents us from now on, nor any position inside or outside the government, nor parliament.”
The 40-year-old Shia cleric also said the Sadr movement will shut down all of its offices except for some charities.
Sadr movement currently holds six cabinet posts as well as 40 seats in the 325-member Iraqi parliament.
Sadr and his Mehdi Army were against the US-led military presence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein eleven years ago.
Thursday, 20 February 2014
Saudi Arabia has threatened to close its border and airspace with Qatar if Doha doesn’t stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Arab newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The London-based newspaper, which is considered to be very close to the decision-makers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, said a Saudi official had delivered the urgent message from the Saudi government to the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. The message included a “threat” that Riyadh is reviewing its relations with Doha. This could cause a significant change that may lead to the freezing of the relationship.
Saudi Arabia issued the warning saying it is running out of patience towards Qatar’s policies with regards supporting the Muslim Brotherhood movement and breaching the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)’s guidelines for the policies and positions, particularly towards Egypt.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia believes that the Emir of Qatar did not abide by the agreement he signed in a summit in Riyadh in the presence of the Emir of Kuwait two months ago, to stop the use of the Qatari soil in actions that harm the Kingdom.
Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, King of Saudi Arabia, had the emir of Qatar write the vow and sign it in the presence of the Emir of Kuwait because he had doubts about the Qatari’s commitment to the agreement, as had happened in previous agreements conducted with him and his father, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani .
Saudi accuses its neighbor of supporting the Houthis in Yemen with money and weapons through one of the Sheikhs of the Qatari royal family, as well as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in the Kingdom through the Qatari Sheikh himself.
This Saudi threat coincides with a similar Egyptian threat that was expressed by the Egyptian Foreign Minister Dr Nabil Fahmy, who said, “We reject the Qatari stance, in form and content, and there should not be any intervention in internal Egyptian affairs.”
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt have participated in supporting a coup attempt in Qatar in 1996 which did not succeed. Qatari forces loyal to the ousted Prince crept, under the supervision of Egyptian and Saudi officers, in to Qatari land in order to oust Prince Hamad Bin Khalifa and return his father Sheikh Khalifa to power.
Saudi has threatened to shut its land border with Qatar, which means controlling Qatar entirely, because it does not have any territorial access to the world except through the Saudi port, preventing it from using Saudi airspace and withdrawing the licenses of Qatar Airways to operate flights between Saudi Arabian cities.
Al-Arab newspaper said Mosaed Al-Ayban, Saudi Arabia’s Secretary of State, has made several trips to Gulf capitals to inform their leaders about the measures his government expect to take against Qatar.
Observers noted that Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, joined the meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Kuwait beside the Emir of Kuwait, in an unprecedented step, which confirms Qatar seeks the help of Kuwait.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
Sunday, 16 February
The Libyan “Revolutionaries Operations Room” (ROR) said on Sunday that it acquired “documented information” regarding plots by the UAE and Egyptian military-led authorities to meddle in the Libyan affairs and to abort the Libyan revolution.
In a Facebook statement, the ROR claimed that UAE’s security agencies has recently formed two “cells” to circumvent the Libyan revolution and to stop Libyan oil exports.
The statement read: “We received information that UAE’s security apparatus has formed two high level cells. The first aims at overthrowing the new Libyan regime, the Libyan National Congress, and confronting the rise of Islamists. The second cell is a specialized media one based in Amman, Jordan.”
According to the statement, the “media cell” is primarily tasked with disseminating news that would serve the agenda of the “security cell”. Part of its agenda is to distort the image of Islamists, particularly with their rising popularity in Libya, the statement claims.
The ROR claimed that it obtained all information related to the “security cell” in Libya, and that it is led and funded by the UAE. It claimed that the cell has been operating in Libya since January 26, 2013.
“A high level Libyan source told ROR that a group affiliated with Mahmoud Gebril abducted Abu Anas Al-Libi based on a request from the UAE which immediately handed him over to the American CIA.”
The statement claimed that Sheikh Tahnoun Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan leads the security cell, while the members of the cell are counter-revolutionary figures in Libya, including Al-Saadi Al-Ghadhafi who managed to escape from the rebels, and a Libyan close to the Egyptian coup leader Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
The ROR affirmed that the “security cell” is based in Abu Dhabi, and convenes regularly with the protection of UAE security.
The cell, claims ROR, has intensified its operations lately with the purpose of overthrowing the Libyan National Congress (LNC) and spreading chaos in the country, with February 2014 as a deadline for the end of the LNC.
Concerning the media cell, the statement added, its main goal is to denigrate the Islamists in Libya. It is led by the Libyan businessman Gomaa Al-Osta, a close aide to Seif Al-Islam Al-Ghadhafi who owns a television channel called “Al-Asema” [the Capital]. Al-Osta has been tasked with the supervision of Libyan news broadcast in a number of UAE-funded channels, including Sky News (Arabia) and Libya Al-Ahrar channel.
The UAE, according to ROR statement, aims at overthrowing the LNC and then assigning the president of the higher court Al-Dahan Zawary to lead a transitional phase. Al-Zawary has visited the UAE recently. After his UAE visit, he has been promoted in the press which indicates that he is being prepared for a specific mission, the ROR claimed.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
February 16, 2014
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahraini activist Zainab al-Khawaja was released from prison on Sunday after nearly a year behind bars for multiple convictions including participation in an illegal gathering.
Friends and supporters greeted her in a coffee shop in a main mall hours after her release. The cafe has served as a gathering point for activists since the small island-nation’s Arab Spring-inspired uprising.
“One year of prison is nothing,” she told journalists defiantly after her release. “We have a cause… This will not stop us.” Bahrain’s majority Shiites have led a three-year uprising seeking a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom, which is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Al-Khawaja, who is popular online and on Twitter, said international attention should focus on an estimated 3,000 prisoners believed to be behind bars in Bahrain on politically related charges. Her father is prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is among several opposition figures who are serving life sentences. He drew attention to his imprisonment with a lengthy hunger strike in 2012.
Her lawyer Mohammed al-Attiyah said she still faces two trials, one this month and one next month, on charges that include damaging police property, defacing a picture of Bahrain’s king and insulting a police officer.
February 15, 2014
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahraini anti-government activists clashed with security forces as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on Saturday, sending tear gas into a major shopping mall and bringing the capital’s streets to a standstill on the same day that authorities said a police officer died of injuries sustained from an earlier bombing.
The Interior Ministry said that the officer was one of two injured in what it called a “terrorist blast” on Friday in the village of Dair, near the country’s main airport. It did not identify the officer. In a second statement, the ministry characterized recent attacks against security forces as “urban guerrilla warfare.”
Chaos in the small Gulf-island nation highlights deeper regional sectarian tensions that continue to roil Bahrain three years after the country’s majority Shiites began an Arab Spring-inspired uprising to demand greater political rights from the Sunni-led monarchy.
Neighboring Sunni-ruled Gulf countries with smaller Shiite populations, led by Saudi Arabia, sent troops to Bahrain in an effort to stem the uprising in 2011. More than 65 people have died in the unrest, but rights groups and others put the death toll higher.
Heeding calls by Bahrain’s main Shiite coalition al-Wefaq, around 15,000 Bahrainis marched in the capital Manama’s streets a day after the three-year anniversary of the start of the anti-government uprising.
The protesters marched for several miles (kilometers) before clashes erupted. Police fired tear gas at the crowd, which included women and children. The protesters carried the red and white Bahraini flag and signs that read “Democracy is the only solution”.
“I came to say that I refuse the way that my government treats people like me with discrimination,” prominent human rights activist Azhar Jaafar said. He was carrying the picture of a 22 year-old protester Nabeel Rajab, who is one of around 3,000 people believed to be behind bars for politically-related charges.
“Allahu Akbar!” or God is great, the crowd chanted as youth protesters erected makeshift barriers to keep police back. They burnt tires to block the effects of the tear gas and threw rocks back at the security forces. Some protesters were seen carrying Molotov cocktails.
Efforts to restart on-and-off reconciliation talks between the Shiite-dominated opposition and the Sunni monarchy and its allies have so far failed to bring an end to simmering unrest in the country, an American ally that hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Activists frequently clash with police. Anti-government factions have been increasingly using small-scale bombs targeting government forces. Al-Wefaq said the protests Saturday were called to demand a democratic transition “in which the people are the source of all powers.” The group said the protest was also called to denounce the “free reign” given to security forces to exercise “heinous violations” against citizens.
The Interior Ministry says police have shown “incredible restraint in their use of force in dealing with violent rioters.” Former member of parliament and opposition figure Abdul-Jalil Khalil told The Associated Press that a “serious dialogue” is necessary, but that it cannot happen so long activists are imprisoned.
“Today’s events come as a result of a culture of denial by authorities who insist on security solutions and refuse to enter into meaningful dialogue,” he said.
February 14, 2014
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Explosions targeted police in Bahrain on Friday as clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters on the third anniversary of the Gulf nation’s uprising left dozens wounded, authorities and activists said.
Efforts to restart on-and-off reconciliation talks between the Shiite-dominated opposition and the Sunni monarchy and its allies have so far failed to bring an end to simmering unrest in the country, an American ally that hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Activists frequently clash with police in mainly Shiite villages just beyond the modern skyscrapers and shopping malls of the capital, Manama. Tensions intensified as the anniversary of the Arab Spring-inspired uprising approached, with government forces tightening security and activists blocking roads to Shiite communities with oil slicks and smoldering debris.
Mohammed al-Maskati, the president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said his group recorded 38 protesters injured in clashes since Thursday evening. The injuries were caused by birdshot fire, tear gas and beatings, he said.
Government forces also reported casualties. An explosion struck a minibus carrying police Friday evening in Dih, the Ministry of Interior said on its official Twitter feed. Dih is a mainly Shiite village just west of the capital, Manama.
Photos released on the ministry’s Twitter feed showed the side panels of the white bus torn from the chassis and twisted upward near the wheel wells. A ministry official near the scene of the blast told reporters that three police officers were injured in the explosion. He insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Another explosion injured two police officers in Dair, near the country’s main airport, according to the Interior Ministry. Anti-government factions have been increasingly using bombs targeting government forces, though they typically do not have the force of explosives used by insurgents in places such as Iraq or Syria. Authorities in late December announced the seizure of large amounts of explosives, automatic rifles and ammunition.
Earlier in the day, protesters were turned back by tear gas and stun grenades as they tried to make their way to the former site of Manama’s Pearl Square, the focal point for the protest movement that started on February 14, 2011. The square was cleared by police raids and later razed in the early weeks of the unrest and is now sealed off by security forces.
Some of the youths marching Friday were seen carrying Bahraini flags, while others were masked and held unlit Molotov cocktails or metal rods. Police used tear gas to prevent them from approaching the former protest grounds.
Opposition groups dominated by the country’s majority Shiites began protesting in 2011 to seek greater political rights from the country’s rulers. More than 65 people have died in the unrest, but rights groups and others place the death toll higher.
Neighboring Sunni-ruled Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, sent troops to Bahrain to help quell the uprising. Many activists remain frustrated that too little has been done to meet their demands. “After three years the government did not achieve anything, only besieging Pearl Square,” said Wajiha Ali, a 23-year-old mother of two. “I really want to live in a country that respects me and gives me my full rights. … The government is not looking for long-term solutions, just security measures.”
On Thursday, the eve of the anniversary, 29 were arrested over “rioting and vandalism” in villages outside Manama, the Interior Ministry said. Roads were blocked, a car was burned by protesters and a school bus carrying children was attacked by “Molotov-throwing thugs,” the ministry alleged.
Repeated rounds of political talks have failed to significantly close the rifts between the two sides and the opposition is demanding amnesty for what they claim are more than 3,000 political prisoners held in Bahraini prisons.
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa met with top opposition leaders last month to once again revive the talks. “The government is serious about dialogue and hope all others are also serious,” government spokeswoman Sameera Rajab told The Associated Press.
The main Shiite bloc al-Wefaq and other opposition groups see the negotiations as a positive step but have said their success depends on steps toward greater power sharing in the kingdom. But many activists in the streets have taken a harder line, calling for the toppling of the government and at times clashing violently with police.
“We have nothing to lose. They treat us like animals,” said protester Ali Jaber, 19, next to a makeshift roadblock set up using a downed lamp post in Dih earlier this week. Al-Wefaq head Ali Salman and other opposition leaders have urged followers to rally to an anti-government demonstration scheduled to be held Saturday east of the capital.
The United Nations expressed concern at Bahrain’s persistent violence, urging both sides to exercise restraint and authorities to act in strict accordance with their international human rights obligations.
“All Bahrainis should work toward creating a conducive atmosphere for a genuine dialogue in the interest of peace, stability, reform and prosperity for all Bahrainis,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said through a spokesman.
Associated Press writer Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Edith Lederer in New York contributed reporting.