To U.S. allies, Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria becomes the lesser evil

The Wall Street Journal reports: In the three-way war ravaging Syria, should the local al Qaeda branch be seen as the lesser evil to be wooed rather than bombed?

This is increasingly the view of some of America’s regional allies and even some Western officials. In a war now in its fifth year, in which 230,000 people have been killed and another 7.6 million uprooted, few good options remain for how to tackle the crisis.

The three main forces left on the ground today are the Assad regime, Islamic State and an Islamist rebel alliance in which the Nusra Front — an al Qaeda affiliate designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and the United Nations — plays a major role.

Outnumbered and outgunned, the more secular, Western-backed rebels have found themselves fighting shoulder to shoulder with Nusra in key battlefields. As the Assad regime wobbles and Islamic State, or ISIS, gains ground in both Syria and Iraq, reaching out to the more pragmatic Nusra is the only rational choice left for the international community, supporters of this approach argue. [Continue reading…]

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The human toll of FIFA’s corruption

The Washington Post reports: In the end, it only took a $150 million scandal to make Americans care about soccer.

FIFA, the notoriously corrupt and yet seemingly invincible governing body of world soccer, has finally landed itself an indictment that some would say is worthy of its reputation. The charges against a handful of senior FIFA officials include money laundering, racketeering, bribery and fraud. In short, the federal lawsuit alleges what millions of soccer fans have suspected all along: that FIFA officials have been using the organization’s massive influence to line their pocketbooks.

On the surface, it’s just another white collar crime story: rich, powerful men making themselves richer and more powerful. But a closer look suggests that there is a lot of real-world suffering happening as a direct result of FIFA’s decisions. [Continue reading…]

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Qatar refuses to let Nepalese workers return to attend funerals after quake

The Observer reports: Nepalese workers building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar have been denied leave to attend funerals or visit relatives following the earthquakes in the Himalayan country that have killed more than 8,000 people, its government has revealed.

The government in Kathmandu has also for the first time publicly criticised Fifa, world football’s governing body, and its commercial partners. It insists that they must put more pressure on Qatar to improve conditions for the 1.5 million migrants employed in the Gulf state as part of the World Cup construction boom.

About 400,000 of the workers on the project are from Nepal, with the rest mainly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Tek Bahadur Gurung, Nepal’s labour minister, said: “After the earthquake of 25 April, we requested all companies in Qatar to give their Nepalese workers special leave and pay for their air fare home. While workers in some sectors of the economy have been given this, those on World Cup construction sites are not being allowed to leave because of the pressure to complete projects on time. [Continue reading…]

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Arrested for reporting on Qatar’s World Cup labourers

Mark Lobel reports for BBC News: We were invited to Qatar by the prime minister’s office to see new flagship accommodation for low-paid migrant workers in early May – but while gathering additional material for our report, we ended up being thrown into prison for doing our jobs.

Our arrest was dramatic.

We were on a quiet stretch of road in the capital, Doha, on our way to film a group of workers from Nepal.

The working and housing conditions of migrant workers constructing new buildings in Qatar ahead of the World Cup have been heavily criticised and we wanted to see them for ourselves.

Suddenly, eight white cars surrounded our vehicle and directed us on to a side road at speed. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia, Turkey discussing unlikely alliance to oust Syria’s Assad

Huffington Post reports: Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two nations with a long history of rivalry, are in high-level talks with the goal of forming a military alliance to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The talks are being brokered by Qatar. As the partnership is currently envisioned, Turkey would provide ground troops, supported by Saudi Arabian airstrikes, to assist moderate Syrian opposition fighters against Assad’s regime, according to one of the sources.

President Barack Obama was made aware of the talks in February by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani, during the emir’s visit to the White House, one source said. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

The administration has generally encouraged Persian Gulf countries to step up and do more on their own to promote regional security, particularly in Syria, but such talk has largely remained just talk. It’s unclear whether this case will be different, but Saudi Arabia’s recent intervention in Yemen indicates the nation is becoming bolder with its own forces, rather than relying on proxies.

Following his meeting with the emir of Qatar, Obama said that the two leaders had “shared ideas” for how to remove Assad.

“We both are deeply concerned about the situation in Syria,” Obama said. “We’ll continue to support the moderate opposition there and continue to believe that it will not be possible to fully stabilize that country until Mr. Assad, who has lost legitimacy in the country, is transitioned out.”

“How we get there obviously is a source of extraordinary challenge, and we shared ideas in terms of how that can be accomplished,” he added.

Since those remarks, the United States has continued daily airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and modest training programs for vetted members of the Syrian opposition — but has not publicly offered any strategy for how to negotiate an end to Assad’s rule. [Continue reading…]

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Syria’s Nusra Front may leave Qaeda to form new entity

Reuters reports: Leaders of Syria’s Nusra Front are considering cutting their links with al Qaeda to form a new entity backed by some Gulf states trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad, sources said.

Sources within and close to Nusra said that Qatar, which enjoys good relations with the group, is encouraging the group to go ahead with the move, which would give Nusra a boost in funding.

The exercise could transform Nusra from a weakened militia group into a force capable of taking on Islamic State at a time when it is under pressure from bombing raids and advances by Kurdish and Iraqi military forces.

It could also boost the influence of Qatar and its allies in the campaign to oust Assad, in line with the Gulf state’s growing diplomatic ambitions in the region. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas said concerned by Egypt-Qatar thaw

The Times of Israel reports: Hamas fears its ties with Qatar will be hindered by the reported reconciliation efforts between Doha and Egypt, London-based Arab paper Rai al-Youm reported Saturday, according to Israel Radio.

According to the report, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who has been hosted by Qatar since leaving war-torn Syria in 2012, has reached out to Qatari leaders to receive clarifications on the matter, and has been assured that the amended ties with Cairo would not affect Doha’s relations with Hamas. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian Authority forces take control of Gaza crossings as donors pledge millions for reconstruction

Ma’an reports: The Palestinian Authority is set to assume responsibility for the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings in Gaza on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa said.

Mustafa, who is also head of a reconstruction committee for Gaza, told Ma’an Friday that the PA will take charge of building materials entering Gaza and the movement of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank.

Representatives in the health, agriculture, housing and civil affairs ministries will be in charge of monitoring materials for their respective sector.

The Associated Press reports: Qatar pledged $1 billion Sunday toward the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after this year’s devastating Israel-Hamas war, once again using its vast wealth to reinforce its role as a regional player as Gulf Arab rival the United Arab Emirates promised $200 million.

The pledges followed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier announcing immediate American assistance of $212 million, though Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Gaza needs $4 billion to rebuild.

Human Rights Watch says: Donor countries at the October 12, 2014 conference on assistance to Palestine should press Israel to lift sweeping, unjustified restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said today. The United Nations Security Council should reinforce previous resolutions ignored by Israel calling for the removal of unjustified restrictions.

Blanket Israeli restrictions unconnected or disproportionate to security considerations unnecessarily harm people’s access to food, water, education, and other fundamental rights in Gaza. Israel’s unwillingness to lift such restrictions will seriously hinder a sustainable recovery after a seven-year blockade and the July-August fighting that damaged much of Gaza, Human Rights Watch said.

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Obama’s ill-conceived coalition against ISIS

Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.

While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies” — what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).

The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs — and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:

If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.

In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived — in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria — not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.

And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region — many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt. [Continue reading…]

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Map of U.S. airstrikes across Syria

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U.S. and allies launch airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria

The New York Times reports: The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.

American fighter jets and armed Predator and Reaper drones, flying alongside warplanes from several Arab allies, struck a broad array of targets in territory controlled by the militants, known as the Islamic State. American defense officials said the targets included weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings the militants use for command and control. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from United States Navy ships in the region.

“I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

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Qatar expels Egypt Muslim Brotherhood leaders

The Associated Press reports: Leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group and allied clerics said on Saturday that they are departing Qatar, where they had sought refuge following the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown on his supporters.

Their presence in Qatar had severely strained Doha’s relations with Egypt as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which view the more than 85-year-old Islamist movement as a threat. The expulsion threatens to further isolate the group, which rose to power in Egypt through a string of post-Arab Spring elections but suffered a dramatic fall from grace during Morsi’s divisive year in office.

Former minister Amr Darrag, who was also the top foreign affairs official in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and fiery cleric Wagdi Ghoneim said they are leaving Qatar following a request to do so by the Gulf monarchy. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. mobilizes allies to widen assault on ISIS

The New York Times reports: The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential American military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said on Tuesday.

President Obama, the officials said, was broadening his campaign against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and nearing a decision to authorize airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. The town of 12,000 has been under siege for more than two months by the militants.

“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on Tuesday to the American Legion in Charlotte, N.C., using an alternative name for ISIS. He said that the United States was building a coalition to “take the fight to these barbaric terrorists,” and that the militants would be “no match” for a united international community.

Administration officials characterized the dangers facing the Turkmen, who are Shiite Muslims considered infidels by ISIS, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants. The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement three days ago that the situation in Amerli “demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”

As Mr. Obama considered new strikes, the White House began its diplomatic campaign to enlist allies and neighbors in the region to increase their support for Syria’s moderate opposition and, in some cases, to provide support for possible American military operations. The countries likely to be enlisted include Australia, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, officials said. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza ceasefire hopes switch to Qatar as Arabs divided over Israeli offensive

The Guardian reports: International efforts to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip are focusing on the Gulf state of Qatar, whose close links to Hamas make it uniquely placed to try to mediate in a conflict that has highlighted Arab divisions in the face of Israeli attacks.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, was flying to Doha at the start of a round of emergency talks to try to halt the escalating carnage. Ban was due to meet the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and head of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. It was unclear whether Ban would also see the Hamas leader, Khaled Mishal, who lives in Doha.

Mishal and Abbas were due to meet separately.

Ban is also due in Cairo on Monday to see President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, author of a rival ceasefire plan that has already been rejected by Hamas. Hamas said Mishal had also been invited to the Egyptian capital.

Khaled al-Attiyeh, Qatar’s foreign minister, has emerged as a key figure in the ceasefire effort, not least because he is close to John Kerry, the US secretary of state. The Qataris say they are simply providing a “channel of communication” to discuss an agreement that contains the key Hamas demands: an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, an opening of the border with Egypt and a release of scores of recently re-arrested prisoners by Israel.

Qatar’s role as mediator is being enhanced because of the deep hostility of the Egyptian government to Hamas, which has close links to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, a key element of the Egyptian initiative – rejected by Hamas – is the return of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to Gaza, for the first time since the 2007 takeover of the territory by the Palestinian Islamist movement. [Continue reading…]

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Qatar accused of working 1,200 people to death in £39 billion building bonanza for 2022 World Cup

The Mirror reports: Qatar is accused of working 1,200 people to death in its £39billion building bonanza for the 2022 World Cup.

An investigation by the Mirror into the oil-rich Emirate revealed horrific and deadly exploitation of migrant workers, who are forced to live in squalor, drink salt water and get paid just 57p an hour.

Campaigners fear the death toll could reach 4,000 before the Finals kick off. One worker told us: “We are treated like slaves and our deaths are cheap.”

FIFA faces renewed pressure to show Qatar a World Cup red card following the exposure of mass deaths and vile exploitation of construction workers in the region.

A team of British trade union leaders and MPs warned that the 2022 tournament is being built “on the blood and misery of an army of slave labour”, after uncovering appalling abuse during a visit to the Gulf monarchy.

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Qatar’s foreign domestic workers subjected to slave-like conditions

n13-iconThe Guardian reports: Foreign maids, cleaners and other domestic workers are being subjected to slave-like labour conditions in Qatar, with many complaining they have been deprived of passports, wages, days off, holidays and freedom to move jobs, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Hundreds of Filipino maids have fled to their embassy in recent months because conditions are so harsh. Many complain of physical and sexual abuse, harassment, long periods without pay and the confiscation of mobile phones.

The exploitation raises further concerns about labour practices in Qatar in advance of the World Cup, after Guardian reports about the treatment of construction workers. The maids are not directly connected to Qatar’s preparations for the football tournament, but domestic workers will play a big role in staffing the hotels, stadiums and other infrastructure that will underpin the 2022 tournament. [Continue reading…]

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Qatar World Cup: 400 Nepalese die on nation’s building sites since bid won

n13-iconThe Observer reports: More than 400 Nepalese migrant workers have died on Qatar’s building sites as the Gulf state prepares to host the World Cup in 2022, a report will reveal this week.

The grim statistic comes from the Pravasi Nepali Co-ordination Committee, a respected human rights organisation which compiles lists of the dead using official sources in Doha. It will pile new pressure on the Qatari authorities – and on football’s world governing body, Fifa – to curb a mounting death toll that some are warning could hit 4,000 by the time the 2022 finals take place.

It also raises the question of how many migrant workers in total have died on construction sites since Qatar won the bid in 2010. Nepalese workers comprise 20% of Qatar’s migrant workforce, and many others are drafted in from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. [Continue reading…]

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Arab states show cautious optimism on nuclear deal

The Wall Street Journal reports: Saudi Arabia maintained a pointed silence Sunday on the new nuclear pact between world powers and Saudi Arabia’s top rival, Iran, while other Gulf and Arab states gave a cautious welcome to a deal hoped to ease tensions in a region bloodied by proxy battles between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arab states.

Saudi political commentators voiced persistent fears that Iran would now see itself as freed to advance on other, non-nuclear fronts against its Middle East rivals.

By early Monday in the Middle East, most of the region’s Muslim powers — Turkey, Egypt, and at least four of the six wealthy Arab Gulf countries — had issued statements expressing support for the deal. The United Arab Emirates., a commerce-minded nation that traditionally has thrived on doing business with both Iran and Arab states, welcomed the deal as one it hoped would protect the region “from the tension and danger of nuclear proliferation,” the emirates’ council of ministers said.

Saudi Arabia, the most powerful of the Arab states and the most intensely suspicious rival of Shiite Iran, made no public comment on the pact Sunday, and its foreign ministry didn’t return requests for comment. [Continue reading…]

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