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…]

Facebooktwittermail

Yemen cholera epidemic: Cases exceed 500,000 in four months

BBC News reports: The number of suspected cases of cholera resulting from an epidemic in war-torn Yemen has reached 500,000, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

At least 1,975 people have died since the waterborne disease began to spread rapidly at the end of April.

The WHO said the overall caseload had declined since July, but that 5,000 people a day were still being infected.

The disease spread due to deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions and disruptions to the water supply.

More than 14 million people are cut off from regular access to clean water and sanitation in Yemen, and waste collection has ceased in major cities. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

14 Saudi Shiites accused of staging protests now face execution

The Washington Post reports: Munir al-Adam spends his hours alone in a Saudi prison, his mother says. He doesn’t know if it is day or night because he is kept mostly in a dark cell. Partially blind and partially deaf, he has experienced different forms of torture in the five years since his arrest.

“He has been ordered to stand for long intervals of time,” said his mother, Zahraa Abdullah. “He was beaten with sticks and cables. He was electrocuted and prevented from eating or going to the bathroom.”

Adam and 13 other Saudi men are facing execution any day now for allegedly staging protests in the kingdom. All from the country’s Shiite minority, they include a teenager who was arrested just before he was to board a flight to visit a U.S. college where he planned to study English and finance.

The men were charged with terrorism-related offenses. But human rights activists and American academics say confessions from the defendants were extracted under torture and that the death sentences breach international law. Activists have launched a public appeal to Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to dismiss the sentences. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The crisis of regional order in the Gulf

Ahmet Davutoglu, the former prime minister of Turkey, writes: At a time when the Middle East is in dire need of a positive agenda and a plan to overcome division, ominous new developments are dominating the scene and the forces of disintegration appear to have been unleashed.

The current “Gulf” crisis is just the latest manifestation of this trend. Before considering the way out of this crisis, it is important to accurately depict it, its root causes, and its regional implications.

There have been many depictions of the Qatari crisis, and several different names have been used to describe the nature of the issue.

“The Qatari crisis”, “the Gulf crisis”, “the contest to define a new regional order”, and “the latest chapter of the Arab Spring showdown” have all been employed on various occasions to describe the crisis.

These are all valid descriptions contingent upon observers’ own operational logic. In fact, the politics of naming a crisis is no frivolous endeavour. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Human Rights Watch: Saudi terrorism is killing people in Yemen

Al Jazeera reports: The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) has questioned Saudi Arabia’s accusation of Qatar funding terrorism while the Kingdom itself continues to carry out “terrorism that is killing people in Yemen”.

The conflict in Yemen has escalated dramatically since March 2015, when the Saudi-led forces launched a military operation against the rebels.

Since the conflict began, more than 10,000 people have been killed and millions have been driven from their homes.

“We don’t talk about government terrorism such as the Saudi-led coalition that is killing people in Yemen,” HRW’s Kenneth Roth said at the Freedom of Expression, Facing up to the Threat conference in Qatar’s capital Doha on Monday.

“I am not aware of Qatar financing terrorist groups, but I am aware of the long-term Saudi promotion of an extreme version of Islam that is often adopted by terrorist groups.”

Yemen is also facing a health crisis, with the charity Oxfam reporting 360,000 suspected cases of cholera in the three months since the outbreak started in April. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Saudi King’s son plotted effort to oust his rival

The New York Times reports: As next in line to be king of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef was unaccustomed to being told what to do. Then, one night in June, he was summoned to a palace in Mecca, held against his will and pressured for hours to give up his claim to the throne.

By dawn, he had given in, and Saudi Arabia woke to the news that it had a new crown prince: the king’s 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman.

The young prince’s supporters have lauded his elevation as the seamless empowerment of an ambitious leader. But since he was promoted on June 21, indications have emerged that Mohammed bin Salman plotted the ouster and that the transition was rockier than has been publicly portrayed, according to current and former United States officials and associates of the royal family.

To strengthen support for the sudden change in the line of succession, some senior princes were told that Mohammed bin Nayef was unfit to be king because of a drug problem, according to an associate of the royal family.

The decision to oust Mohammed bin Nayef and some of his closest colleagues has spread concern among counterterrorism officials in the United States who saw their most trusted Saudi contacts disappear and have struggled to build new relationships.

And the collection of so much power by one young royal, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has unsettled a royal family long guided by consensus and deference to elders. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

More than 20 million people are at risk of starving to death. Will the world step up?

In an editorial, the Washington Post says: More than 20 million people in four countries are at risk of starvation in the coming months, in what the United Nations has called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. But the global response to the emergency has been lacking, both from governments and from private citizens. As of Monday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was reporting that only 43 percent of the $6.27 billion needed to head off famine this year in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria had been raised. A poll by the International Rescue Committee showed that 85 percent of Americans are largely uninformed about the food shortages. The IRC calls it “likely the least reported but most important major issue of our time.”

Accounts by the United Nations, the U.S. government and private aid groups more than back up that claim. More than half the populations of Somalia and South Sudan are in need of emergency food assistance, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Civil wars in those countries have combined with meager spring rains to drastically reduce food supplies. In Nigeria, some 5 million people are at risk in the northeastern provinces where the terrorist group Boko Haram is active.

The most harrowing reports come from Yemen, where the United Nations says a staggering 20 million people need humanitarian aid. In addition to millions who lack food, more than 330,000 people have been afflcited by a cholera epidemic since late April, with one person dying nearly every hour on average. Donors have supplied less than 40 percent of the aid Yemen needs to prevent starvation, and officials have recently been forced to divert some of that assistance to fight cholera. In all four countries, children are disproportionately affected: Aid groups say 1.4 million severely malnourished children could die in the next few months if more help is not forthcoming. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump’s gift to Putin in the Mideast

Vali Nasr writes: Over the past two months, even as American-trained forces were driving Islamic State insurgents out of the major Iraqi city of Mosul, the war next door in Syria was taking a dangerous but little-remarked turn — one far more favorable for Russia’s ambitions to regain a position of broad influence in the Middle East.

First, a major gaffe by President Trump helped Saudi Arabia split a Sunni Muslim alliance that was supposed to fight against the Islamic State — so much so that Qatar and Turkey moved closer together and became open to cooperation with Iran and Russia. Later, when Mr. Trump sat down with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Germany, the American president virtually handed the keys to the region to his adversary by agreeing to a cease-fire in Syria that assumed a lasting presence of Russian influence in that conflict — which only consolidated the likelihood of wider regional influence.

With Mr. Trump’s inner circle often at odds with one another and the president going his own unpredictable way, Mr. Putin seems never to miss an opportunity to expand Russia’s presence in the region. That has helped to blur even the longstanding lines of sectarian division between Sunni and Shiite states and to complicate America’s strategic position.

To be sure, Mr. Trump sent his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to the region to sort out the mess. But among the monarchs of the Middle East, an underling’s voice stood no chance of undoing the damage already done by his master’s tweets. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Decimated Muslim Brotherhood still inspires fear. Its members wonder why

The New York Times reports: For Magdy Shalash, an Egyptian exile living here in Turkey, there is a certain irony to a recent diplomatic spat that has divided the Middle East.

Several Arab countries — led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt — are enmeshed in a standoff with Qatar and, to a lesser extent, Turkey. One major reason? Qatari and Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that Mr. Shalash helps lead.

To its enemies, the Brotherhood is a terrorist group that seeks to unravel the established Arab order, and not just in Egypt, where the group was founded in 1928, but in countries like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, where the group has inspired similar movements.

Yet, members like Mr. Shalash, many of whom are either in jail in Egypt or in exile in countries like Turkey, say the group is not only democratic, but decimated and divided. They say it has little ability to exert control over even its own members, let alone the governments of the Middle East.

“Us sitting here,” said Mr. Shalash, in reference to the exiled Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Turkey, “we can’t really do anything.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Three big lessons of the Qatar crisis

Marc Lynch writes: While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is currently in the Gulf attempting to broker an end to the crisis between Qatar and four Arab countries, the conflict shows no signs of a resolution. The crisis broke on June 5, shortly following President Trump’s visit to the region. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain declared a blockade of Qatar with no evident immediate cause. The anti-Qatar quartet released an extreme list of 13 demands which seemed intended to be rejected.

After Qatar brushed aside the Quartet’s July 3 deadline, the list of 13 demands was whittled down to six. Secret agreements from the resolution of the last round of the crisis were leaked in an effort to increase pressure on Doha by demonstrating its failure to abide by previous agreements. Despite Tillerson’s active diplomacy, the spat seems no closer to resolution. What began with the expectation of Qatar’s rapid capitulation, with the threat of regime change or war raised by influential columnists, has instead settled down into a “long estrangement.”

Should this have been a surprise? Here are a few big things we have learned about the international relations of the Middle East from the crisis: [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘Cholera is everywhere’: Yemen epidemic spiralling out of control

The Guardian reports: Ali Muhammad’s entire family are sick. In the months since his home district of Abs in northern Yemen was hit by a cholera outbreak, he has lost both parents and all six of his children have fallen ill.

“Cholera is everywhere,” he said, according to a testimony provided by Médecins Sans Frontières, who are caring for his eldest daughter at a cholera treatment centre in Abs. “The water is contaminated and I don’t drink it. We have tanks, but we don’t get water regularly. The situation cannot be worse.”

As the area grapples with both the cholera epidemic, which began to spread in April, and the impact of the country’s civil war, the life of the qat harvester has become harder and harder. “Everybody is sick and in rough shape, and their poor financial condition does not enable them to move from one health centre to another.

“My father got sick and although we hospitalised him, he passed away. My mother died as well. And I am just like many others.”

The Abs district was the scene of a deadly airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition last August that demolished a hospital supported by MSF, killing 19 people, including one of the aid agency’s staff members, and injuring 24.

Less than a year later, as the ongoing conflict hits an stalemate, creating the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, the MSF cholera treatment centre in Abs town alone is receiving more than 460 patients daily, which is more than anywhere else in the country. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

Jared Kushner tried and failed to get a half-billion-dollar bailout from Qatar

The Intercept reports: Not long before a major crisis ripped through the Middle East, pitting the United States and a bloc of Gulf countries against Qatar, Jared Kushner’s real estate company had unsuccessfully sought a critical half-billion-dollar investment from one of the richest and most influential men in the tiny nation, according to three well-placed sources with knowledge of the near transaction.

Kushner is a senior adviser to President Trump, and also his son-in-law, and also the scion of a New York real estate empire that faces an extreme risk from an investment made by Kushner in the building at 666 Fifth Avenue, where the family is now severely underwater.

Qatar is facing an ongoing blockade led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and joined by Egypt and Bahrain, which President Trump has taken credit for sparking. Kushner, meanwhile, has reportedly played a key behind-the-scenes role in hardening the U.S. posture toward the embattled nation.

That hard line comes in the wake of the previously unreported half-billion-dollar deal that was never consummated. Throughout 2015 and 2016, Jared Kushner and his father, Charles, negotiated directly with a major investor in Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, known as HBJ for short, in an effort to refinance the property on Fifth Avenue, the sources said.

Trump himself has unsuccessfully sought financing in recent years from the Qataris, but it is difficult to overstate just how important the investment at 666 Fifth Avenue is for Kushner, his company, and his family’s legacy in real estate. Without some outside intervention or unforeseen turnaround in the market, the investment could become an embarrassing half-billion-dollar loss. It’s unclear precisely how much peril such a loss would put Jared’s or his family’s finances in, given the opacity of their private holdings. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Cholera spreads as war and poverty batter Yemen

The New York Times reports: The Yemeni farm laborer was picking crops in a hot field when the call came. His children, all seven of them, had fallen gravely ill.

Some were vomiting, others had diarrhea, and all were listless, indicating that they had fallen victim to the latest disaster to afflict this impoverished corner of the Arabian Peninsula: one of the worst outbreaks of cholera infection in recent times.

The laborer, Abdulla Siraa, set about frantically trying to raise money to treat the children — $240, or about six times what he typically earns in a month — and raced as fast as he could on the 30 miles home over roads virtually destroyed in Yemen’s civil war.

“I spent the whole journey reciting Quranic verses and praying for the survival of my children,” he said.

But when he arrived, he learned that his 4-year-old daughter, Ghadeer, had already died, after hours of calling out for him, though the rest of his children would survive.

For much of the world, cholera, a bacterial infection spread by water contaminated with feces, has been relegated to the history books. In the 19th century, it claimed tens of millions of lives across the world, mainly through dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

That ended with modern sanitation and water systems. When it pops up now, it is usually treated easily with rehydration solutions and, if severe, with antibiotics.

But the war currently battering Yemen has damaged infrastructure and deepened poverty, allowing the disease to come roaring back. Cholera is also on the rise in the Horn of Africa because of long-simmering conflicts there. Yemen’s African neighbors, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, have had a total of about 96,000 cholera cases since 2014, international aid groups say.

The crises in Africa, however, pale in comparison to the one in Yemen. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Report calls for public inquiry into Gulf funding of British extremism

The Guardian reports: Foreign funding for extremism in Britain primarily comes from Saudi Arabia, but the UK government should set up a public inquiry into all Gulf funding sources, a report has said.

The report by the Henry Jackson Society also calls for the government to consider requiring UK religious institutions, including mosques, to be required to reveal sources of overseas funding.

The findings come as Theresa May faces pressure to publish the government’s own report into foreign funding of terrorism. The Home Office-led report was completed six months ago, and No 10 says ministers are still deciding whether to publish. MPs nervous of upsetting strategic relations in the Gulf have also decided not to publish a separate Foreign Office strategy paper on the region. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Qatar rejects deadline demands, saying it does not fear military action

The Associated Press reports: Qatar said on Saturday it does not fear any military retaliation for refusing to meet a Monday deadline to comply with a list of demands from four Arab states that have imposed a de-facto blockade on the Gulf nation.

During a visit to Rome, foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani again rejected the demands as an infringement on Qatar’s sovereignty. He said any country is free to raise grievances with Qatar, provided they have proof, but said any such conflicts should be worked out through negotiation, not by imposing ultimatums.

“We believe that the world is governed by international laws, that don’t allow big countries to bully small countries,” he told a press conference in Italy. “No one has the right to issue to a sovereign country an ultimatum.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Deposed Saudi prince is said to be confined to palace

The New York Times reports: The recently deposed crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef, has been barred from leaving the kingdom and confined to his palace in the coastal city of Jidda, according to four current and former American officials and Saudis close to the royal family.

The new restrictions on the man who until last week was next in line to the throne and ran the kingdom’s powerful internal security services sought to limit any potential opposition for the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize relationships with Saudi royals.

It was unclear how long the restrictions would remain in place. An adviser to the Saudi royal court referred queries to the Information Ministry, whose officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday. A senior official in the Saudi Foreign Ministry reached by telephone on Wednesday night described the account as “baseless and false.”

The Saudi monarch, King Salman, shook up the line of succession last week with a string of royal decrees that promoted his favorite son, Mohammed bin Salman, to crown prince and removed Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, from the line of succession. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail