To Iran’s dismay, Iraq engages Saudi Arabia

Al Monitor reports: Pictures displaying Iran’s Quds Force commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani during the battles with the Islamic State stopped circulating online with the military phase that ended in the liberation of Mosul. The Iranian presence and support for the Iraqi forces were absent in the liberation battles.

Simultaneously, Iraqi officials visited Saudi Arabia and Arab Sunni states that cheer for the Saudi axis. Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Aug. 13-15, with clerics and politicians welcoming him as an Iraqi leader. Prominent Sunni Iraqi cleric Ahmed al-Kubaisi and leading politicians met with Sadr during his visit to the UAE. This was only a few days after his visit at the end of July to Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials had welcomed him.

In the wake of the visit, Saudi Arabia took various measures in favor of Iraq, such as announcing the opening of a Saudi Consulate in Najaf, where Sadr lives. Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, did not object to this proposition, as in the past he had called for openness in relations. [Continue reading…]

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The secret documents that help explain the Qatar crisis

CNN reports: Qatar made a series of secret agreements with its Gulf neighbors in 2013 and 2014 barring support for opposition and hostile groups in those nations, as well as in Egypt and Yemen.

The existence of the agreements has been known, but both the content and the documents themselves were kept secret due to the sensitivity of the issues involved and the fact that they were agreed in private by heads of state. The agreements were exclusively obtained by CNN from a source from the region with access to the documents.

The Gulf countries have accused Qatar of not complying with the two agreements, which helps explain what sparked the worst diplomatic crisis in the Middle East in decades.

Abiding by the agreements was among six principles the Gulf nations set as requirements to mend relations with Qatar in a statement released last week.

In a statement to CNN, Qatar accused Saudi Arabia and UAE of breaking the spirit of the agreement and indulging in an “unprovoked attack on Qatar’s sovereignty.”

The first agreement — handwritten and dated November 23, 2013 — is signed by the King of Saudi Arabia, the Emir of Qatar and the Emir of Kuwait. It lays out commitments to avoid any interference in the internal affairs of other Gulf nations, including barring financial or political support to “deviant” groups, which is used to describe anti-government activist groups.

The agreement, referred to as the Riyadh agreement, specifically mentions not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Gulf allies have repeatedly alleged Qatar supports, as well as not backing opposition groups in Yemen that could threaten neighboring countries.

In justifying their boycott launched last month, Qatar’s Gulf counterparts accuse Doha of financially supporting Hezbollah and other terror groups, in addition to backing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi and allied autocrats demand Qatar shuts down Al Jazeera

Reuters reports: Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said.

The demands aimed at ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years appear designed to quash a two decade-old foreign policy in which Qatar has punched well above its weight, striding the stage as a peace broker, often in conflicts in Muslim lands.

Doha’s independent-minded approach, including a dovish line on Iran and support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, has incensed some of its neighbors who see political Islamism as a threat to their dynastic rule.

The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain, which cut economic, diplomatic and travel ties to Doha on June 5, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters.

Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Isik rejected the demand, saying any call for the base to be shut would represent interference in Ankara’s relations with Doha. He suggested instead that Turkey might bolster its presence.

“Strengthening the Turkish base would be a positive step in terms of the Gulf’s security,” he said. “Re-evaluating the base agreement with Qatar is not on our agenda.” [Continue reading…]

In an editorial, the New York Times says: [B]y attacking Al Jazeera, the Saudis and their neighbors are trying to eliminate a voice that could lead citizens to question their rulers. Al Jazeera was the prime source of news as the Arab Spring rocked the Middle East in 2011.

That uprising ousted the military-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak and led to Egypt’s first free election, which brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. A loose political network founded in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced violence. The real reason it’s been labeled a terrorist group is that autocratic regimes see it as a populist threat. [Continue reading…]

For CNBC, Abid Ali writes: Al-Jazeera has been a constant thorn in the side of its neighbors. The news network was the first independent media network in the Middle East winning plaudits with more than 20 years of broadcasting. But after the Arab Spring, Doha was forced to tone down coverage to maintain stability in neighboring countries, especially in Bahrain.

Qatar has been forging an independent foreign policy since the discovery of gas and a palace coup where the former Emir ousted his pro-Saudi leaning father. Since 1995 the country has been on a tear with a construction boom reshaping the desert state. While Qataris are the world’s richest per capita ($130,000), in neighboring Saudi Arabia more than 35 percent live under the national poverty line.

“The State of Qatar recognizes that a decision to close Al-Jazeera will infringe on their sovereignty,” Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of Al-Jazeera, told CNBC in a phone interview. “The independence of the state is at risk. If they move against Al-Jazeera what next? They will stand firm.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s business ties in Persian Gulf raise questions about his allegiances

The New York Times reports: President Trump has done business with royals from Saudi Arabia for at least 20 years, since he sold the Plaza Hotel to a partnership formed by a Saudi prince. Mr. Trump has earned millions of dollars from the United Arab Emirates for putting his name on a golf course, with a second soon to open.

He has never entered the booming market in neighboring Qatar, however, despite years of trying.

Now a feud has broken out among these three crucial American allies, and Mr. Trump has thrown his weight firmly behind the two countries where he has business ties, raising new concerns about the appearance of a conflict between his public role and his financial incentives.

Mr. Trump has said he is backing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because Qatar is “a funder of terror at a very high level.” But his stance toward Qatar, which is host to the largest American air base in the region, has differed sharply from the positions of the Pentagon and State Department. The secretaries of defense and state have stayed neutral, urging unity against the common enemy of the Islamic State.

Mr. Trump is the first president in 40 years to retain his personal business interests after entering the White House. Other senior officials in the executive branch are required to divest their assets. Critics say his singular decision to hold on to his global business empire inevitably casts a doubt on his motives, especially when his public actions dovetail with his business interests. [Continue reading…]

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How Trump’s alignment with Saudi Arabia and the UAE is inflaming the Middle East

Marc Lynch writes: President Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to offer a full-throated endorsement of this week’s surprisingly aggressive moves by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against Qatar. Trump cast the moves against Qatar as the realization of his visit to Saudi Arabia: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar.”

Trump’s tweets may not have been coordinated with the rest of his administration, or he may not have thought through the implications of promoting a blockade of a country hosting America’s most important military base for the campaign against the Islamic State. But his position builds naturally upon the full embrace of the Saudi-UAE position on regional issues articulated during his visit to Saudi Arabia. During that visit, he prioritized confrontation with Iran and an escalated campaign against “radical Islamist terrorism,” while removing questions of human rights and democracy from the agenda.

This embrace of the Saudi-Emirati axis was likely intended to rebuild American leadership of its regional alliance structure. But the focus on Iran and on Islamism misses several other critical lines of conflict in the region. As I outline in my recent book, the intra-Sunni political battle between the Saudi/UAE axis and Qatar has long been as central to regional politics as has the conflict with Iran. The campaign against the Islamic State has relied upon de facto cooperation with Iran. The focus on the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist extremism has often been a cover for a more general campaign against any form of democratic change or popular activism. [Continue reading…]

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Qatar’s isolation only makes sense in Trump’s world

Jonathan Cristol writes: In the last 24 hours, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Maldives and Yemen have all cut ties with Qatar. It has been expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. In addition, Emirates, Etihad and FlyDubai have announced the imminent cancellation of flights to Doha.

While President Trump’s role in this unfolding Gulf drama may not seem immediately obvious, his vision of a Saudi-led Arab world, united against Iran, is indeed responsible for the diplomatic hullabaloo.

Two weeks ago, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani allegedly criticized Donald Trump’s Iran policy and called Iran a “regional and Islamic power.” The remarks were posted online, but Doha has argued its official news agency website was hacked and that the (generally innocuous) quotes are not real. The FBI is assisting in the investigation of the alleged hack.

Ostensibly, in response to this statement, the Saudi Press Agency said, “(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al Qaeda” as well as “rebel militias” in Yemen.

But the truth is there is likely something else at play here. Trump’s continued hard line against Iran, his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, his refusal to reaffirm NATO’s Article Five and his administration’s statement that “the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage,” is an effective declaration that the age of negotiation and nuance is over and the era of confrontation and collision has begun. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi-led rupture with Qatar pushes isolated Gulf nation into Iran’s embrace

Bloomberg reports: The Saudi-led rupture with Qatar is backfiring where Iran is concerned — at least for now.

If the severing of ties was intended to force the Gulf nation back into Saudi Arabia’s fold and further isolate its key rival, Shiite Iran, then the opposite is happening. Qatar responded to the blockade by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt by rerouting flights to Africa and Europe via Iran, which has rallied to its ally’s defense.

“In terms of Realpolitik, this is good for Iran,” said Foad Izadi, a member of the Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran. Qatar is “blocked from all sides except the side that looks at Iran.”

Saudi Arabia accuses its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member of supporting a range of militant groups, from Iranian proxies to the Sunni militants of Islamic State. Qatar, which has long vexed the kingdom with its maverick alliances, has dismissed the charges as baseless, and accused the Saudis of seeking to dominate the region. [Continue reading…]

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The $1bn hostage deal with Al Qaeda and Iran that enraged Qatar’s Gulf rivals

Financial Times reports: Qatar paid up to $1bn to release members of the Gulf state’s royal family who were kidnapped in Iraq while on a hunting trip, according to people involved in the hostage deal — one of the triggers behind Gulf states’ dramatic decision to cut ties with Doha.

Commanders of militant groups and government officials in the region told the Financial Times that Doha spent the money in a transaction that secured the release of 26 members of a Qatari falconry party in southern Iraq and about 50 militants captured by jihadis in Syria. By their telling, Qatar paid off two of the most frequently blacklisted forces of the Middle East in one fell swoop: an al-Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria and Iranian security officials.

The deal, which was concluded in April, heightened concerns among Qatar’s neighbours about the small gas-rich state’s role in a region plagued by conflict and bitter rivalries. And on Monday, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain took the extraordinary step of cutting off diplomatic ties and transport links to Qatar, alleging the country fuels extremism and terrorism.

“The ransom payments are the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said one Gulf observer.

Doha denies it backs terrorist groups and dismissed the blockade by its neighbours as “founded on allegations that have no basis in fact”. It said it could not immediately respond to a request for comment on the hostage deal. But a person close to the Qatari government acknowledged that “payments” were made. The person was unaware of the amounts or where the money went. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi, Egypt lead Arab states cutting Qatar ties, Iran blames Trump

Reuters reports: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed their ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting terrorism and opening up the worst rift in years among some of the most powerful states in the Arab world.

Iran — long at odds with Saudi Arabia and a behind-the-scenes target of the move — immediately blamed U.S. President Donald Trump for setting the stage during his recent trip to Riyadh.

Gulf Arab states and Egypt have already long resented Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.

The coordinated move, with Yemen and Libya’s eastern-based government joining in later, created a dramatic rift among the Arab nations, many of which are in OPEC.

Announcing the closure of transport ties with Qatar, the three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave. Qatar was also expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups — some backed by regional arch-rival Iran — and broadcasting their ideology, an apparent reference to Qatar’s influential state-owned satellite channel al Jazeera.

“(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,” Saudi state news agency SPA said.

It accused Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi’ite Muslim-populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.

Qatar said it was facing a campaign aimed at weakening it, denying it was interfering in the affairs of other countries.

“The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications,” the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement.

“What is happening is the preliminary result of the sword dance,” Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted in a reference to Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]

On May 24, BBC News reported: Qatar has blamed hackers for a story on its state news agency website that quoted the emir as criticising US “hostility” towards Iran.

On Tuesday, the Qatar News Agency (QNA) quoted Sheikh Tamim Al Thani as telling a military ceremony that Iran was an “Islamic power that cannot be ignored”.

The government said the agency had been hacked by an “unknown entity” and that the story had “no basis whatsoever”.

However, the quotes were reported across the region and caused a stir.

Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper accused Qatar of “breaking ranks” and choosing to “side with the enemies of the nation”, while the website of the Doha-based Al Jazeera network was blocked in the United Arab Emirates.

Ties between Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbours have been strained in recent years by the emirate’s support of Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and its funding of Al Jazeera, which they see as being overly critical.

The report on the QNA’s website said Sheikh Tamim had told the military ceremony that Qatar had “tensions” with the administration of US President Donald Trump, who on Sunday urged Arab and Muslim leaders to “work together to isolate Iran”.

The emir was quoted as saying that there was “no wisdom in harbouring hostility toward Iran” and that it was a “big power in the stabilisation of the region”.

Deleted tweets from the Qatar News Agency saying quoting Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani as saying a plot to
He was also reported to have described relations with Israel as “good” and called Hamas the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

State television’s nightly news bulletin showed pictures of the ceremony and included lines from the QNA report in the ticker at the bottom of the screen.

On Wednesday, Government Communications Office director said the QNA website “has been hacked by an unknown entity” and “a false statement attributed to His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has been published”. [Continue reading…]

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As the end of the oil era approaches, Saudi Arabia is lining up a US$2 trillion sovereign wealth fund

By Shabbir Dastgir, University of Huddersfield

The falling price of oil is beginning to have a real impact on the energy-fuelled economies of the Gulf. In 2014, after almost a decade of record highs, the price of a barrel of Brent crude began to collapse from a peak of US$140 to less than US$30.

Saudi Arabia is lining up a US$2 trillion sovereign wealth fund to see it through the twilight years of the oil era. But not all the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council, or GCC, have this kind of cash. Indeed, even for Saudi Arabia, the new era of low oil prices spells increasing budget deficits, reductions in state subsidies and a slowdown of the energy and construction sectors, which the region’s economies have been built on.

Both private and state-owned firms are starting to restructure to reduce costs and increase efficiency now that the boom is over. They are merging divisions or outsourcing certain functions, introducing performance-related earnings, offering redundancies or smaller pay increases to staff. Qatar ought to be able to continue awarding annual salary increases given the continued investment in areas such as construction thanks to the 2022 football World Cup. But others, such as Saudi Arabia – most exposed to oil price fluctuations and subject to wide-ranging public sector cuts – will likely see redundancies at a time when the rate of inflation is high and subsidies are declining.

[Read more…]

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U.S. sold $33 billion of weapons to Gulf states in 11 months

Defense News reports: The US State Department has facilitated $33 billion worth of weapons sales to its Arab Gulf allies since May 2015, according to department figures.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have received weapons including ballistic missile defense capabilities, attack helicopters, advanced frigates and anti-armor missiles, according to David McKeeby, a spokesman the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

“Consistent with the commitments we made to our Gulf partners at the Camp David summit last May, we have made every effort to expedite sales. Since then, the State and Defense departments have authorized more than $33 billion in defense sales to the 6 Gulf Coordination Council countries,” McKeeby told Defense News. [Continue reading…]

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Gulf states guarding their interests in Saudi-Iran rift

iran-saudi

The New York Times reports: For all the diplomatic dominoes that have fallen across the Middle East in recent days, with ambassadors from different countries flying home as a result of the explosive rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the map of allegiances has not significantly altered.

Certainly, several countries offered muscular shows of solidarity to Saudi Arabia after an Iranian mob attacked its embassy in Tehran over the weekend, prompting a crisis that has put the United States in a bind and has threatened to set back the prospects for a resolution to the conflict in Syria.

By Tuesday, Kuwait had recalled its ambassador to Iran, the United Arab Emirates had downgraded its diplomatic relationship, and Bahrain and Sudan had joined Saudi Arabia in severing its relationship with Tehran entirely.

Yet many other Sunni Muslim countries signaled that they intended to take a more measured approach to the argument — sympathizing with Saudi Arabia, a rich and powerful ally, but also determined to avoid getting sucked into a harmful conflict with Iran, a country governed by Shiite clerics, with potentially grave costs.

“The smaller Gulf states are worried they will get caught in the middle,” said Michael Stephens, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “It worries them greatly that things could go badly.”

Some countries, like Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan, are already battling their own domestic insurgencies. Others are keen to guard their strategic interests or to keep the door open to trade with Iran while there is a prospect of American sanctions being lifted.

Qatar, which shares with Iran access to the world’s largest natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, has yet to declare its hand. Oman has also been quiet, sticking to its longstanding position of neutrality on Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In Turkey, where senior officials have warned about the impact of the crisis on a “powder keg” region, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu offered his country’s services to help resolve the conflict peacefully. [Continue reading…]

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The politics animating Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict

Nader Hashemi writes: The response by most Arab regimes, principally those of the GCC, to the Arab Spring is revealing. It serves to highlight the salience of authoritarianism over theology in understanding the dynamics of Sunni-Shi‘i relations today. Fearing that the demand for political change would sweep across the Arab world and destabilize their own societies, several of these regimes relied on a strategy of exploiting sectarianism to deflect demands for democratization. The response from these governments can be situated within the framework of Joel Migdal’s thesis [discussed earlier in this article] on the nature of “weak states” and the “strategies of survival” that shape their politics.

In writing about the House of Saud’s reaction to the Arab Spring, Madawi al-Rasheed observes that:

Sectarianism became a Saudi pre-emptive counter-revolutionary strategy that exaggerates religious difference and hatred and prevents the development of national non-sectarian politics. Through religious discourse and practices, sectarianism in the Saudi context involves not only politicizing religious differences, but also creating a rift between the majority Sunnis and the Shia minority.

This was made easier when only Shi‘as in the Eastern province came out to demonstrate during the Arab Spring, while similar protests in the rest of Saudi Arabia failed to materialize. The specter of an Iranian Shi‘i/Savafid threat was invoked, and the usual Wahhabi court (Ulema) were given air time to issue fatwas against public demonstrations and to warn people of the wrath of God that would fall upon those who defied their rulers. The security forces were then brought in as backup to restore order via the usual tactics of repression that are common in non-democratic regimes.

Al-Rasheed, however, notes that it is wrong to characterize relations between the Saudi regime and its Shi‘i population as a one-way street that relies exclusively on repression. The House of Saud “deploys multiple strategies when it comes to its religious minorities and their leadership,” she observes. “Wholesale systematic discrimination against the Shia may be a characteristic of one particular historical moment, but this can be reversed. A political situation may require alternatives to repression. Sometimes repression is combined with co-optation and even promotion of minority interests and rights.”

For example, when ISIS bombed Shi‘i worshippers on two occasions in May 2015, the Saudi regime strongly condemned the attacks and vowed to hunt down the perpetrators. Expressions of solidarity with the Shi‘a soon followed and were widely disseminated on official state media. Summarizing this strategy, al-Rasheed concludes that:

It is important to note that there is no regular and predictable strategy deployed by Saudi authoritarianism against the Shia. Each historical moment requires a particular response towards this community, ranging from straightforward repression to co-optation and concession. The Arab Spring and its potential impact on the country pushed the regime to reinvigorate sectarian discourse against the Shia in order to renew the loyalty of the Sunni majority.

[Continue reading…]

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The cost of the suppression of the Arab Spring

How many mass movements in search of political rights would have been pronounced failures if success had to be established in just five years?

The quest for women’s rights has continued throughout human history and continues today.

Palestinians, Kurds, Tibetans, Kashmiris, and numerous other groups of indigenous peoples have for many decades campaigned and fought for their rights, often with very limited success.

But when it comes to the Arab Spring, those who stand to lose most from the expansion of political rights across the region, are now — not surprisingly — only too eager to pronounce it an expensive failure.

The idea that it might have been better to stay home and stay quiet, will all too easily resonate among the millions of people who have suffered the effects of the suppression of the Arab Spring.

As some of the region’s autocratic rulers and their advisers gathered in Dubai this week and soberly measured the “cost of the Arab Spring,” they should also — had they been honest — have been celebrating the rise of ISIS.

From Dubai to Tehran and from Riyadh to Cairo, it has been ISIS that has saved the day. The Arab Strategy Forum should have invited Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their guest of honor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting any of the conspiracy theories about ISIS being the creation of a foreign government (be that the Saudis, the Turks, the Israelis, or the Americans — which of those being the culprit would depend merely on who the proponent such a theory sees as the worst enemy).

ISIS saved the day through its savagery by convincing nearly everyone else that political stability is worth more than any kind of political freedom.

Much as it will often be repeated that the need to destroy ISIS has never been more urgent, those whose rule is currently being legitimized by ISIS’s existence will be quite content for this war to be a valiant fight that sees no end.

And those blinkered by the conviction that the U.S. government is the architect of all the world’s afflictions, need to recognize that conflict in the Middle East is now being driven from many engine rooms — in Damascus, Moscow, Tehran, Jerusalem, Ankara, Riyadh, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Beirut, Raqqa and elsewhere — in pursuit of incompatible agendas.

Among those costs, the greatest are not measured in dollars — the numbers of casualties and refugees. And these are not costs of the Arab Spring; they are, above all, the cost of the Assad regime’s refusal to respect the rights of the Syrian people.

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U.S.-led air war on ISIS in Syria has little allied support

The New York Times reports: As the United States prepares to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, the Arab allies who with great fanfare sent warplanes on the initial missions there a year ago have largely vanished from the campaign.

The Obama administration heralded the Arab air forces flying side by side with American fighter jets in the campaign’s early days as an important show of solidarity against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh. Top commanders like Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who oversees operations in Syria and Iraq, still laud the Arab countries’ contributions to the fight. But as the United States enters a critical phase of the war in Syria, ordering Special Operations troops to support rebel forces and sending two dozen attack planes to Turkey, the air campaign has evolved into a largely American effort.

Administration officials had sought to avoid the appearance of another American-dominated war, even as most leaders in the Persian Gulf seem more preoccupied with supporting rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Now, some of those officials note with resignation, the Arab partners have quietly left the United States to run the bulk of the air war in Syria — not the first time Washington has found allies wanting.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shifted most of their aircraft to their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Jordan, reacting to the grisly execution of one of its pilots by the Islamic State, and in a show of solidarity with the Saudis, has also diverted combat flights to Yemen. Jets from Bahrain last struck targets in Syria in February, coalition officials said. Qatar is flying patrols over Syria, but its role has been modest. [Continue reading…]

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Extreme heatwaves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance, study shows

The Guardian reports: The Gulf in the Middle East, the heartland of the global oil industry, will suffer heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival if climate change is unchecked, according to a new scientific study.

The extreme heatwaves will affect Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and coastal cities in Iran as well as posing a deadly threat to millions of Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, when the religious festival falls in the summer. The study shows the extreme heatwaves, more intense than anything ever experienced on Earth, would kick in after 2070 and that the hottest days of today would by then be a near-daily occurrence.

“Our results expose a specific regional hotspot where climate change, in the absence of significant [carbon cuts], is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future,” said Prof Jeremy Pal and Prof Elfatih Eltahir, both at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writing in the journal Nature Climate Change.

They said the future climate for many locations in the Gulf would be like today’s extreme climate in the desert of Northern Afar, on the African side of the Red Sea, where there are no permanent human settlements at all. But the research also showed that cutting greenhouse gas emissions now could avoid this fate. [Continue reading…]

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Why are the Gulf states so reluctant to take in refugees?

By Rana Jawad, University of Bath

Europe’s reaction to the refugee crisis has hardly been a calm and considered one; with fences erected and border controls reinstated, the continent’s governments are struggling to agree on a response.

But at least Europe’s governments are acting. In the Middle East, things are rather different. In particular, the Arab Gulf States are catching serious flack for their response to the crisis – or rather, their failure to respond.

One big question is reverberating in the minds of the general public, expert observers and policy-makers; why have the Gulf states, who are among the richest countries in the world, not taken in any Syrian refugees? There’s no need to rewrite the commentary that’s already out there: many articles have provided useful statistics and background information on the international conventions and treaties the Persian Gulf countries are signed up to, and their failure to honour them.

What all this misses, though, is the general lack of social justice and a social welfare ethos in the Persian Gulf and Middle East in general. This is a complex story about the mindset of a region in disunity and disarray.

[Read more…]

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