A suicide car bombing at an army base outside of Baghdad killed an estimated 31 people, most believed to be Iraqi soldiers, and injured another 50 in one of the worst attacks this year on the country's security forces. The attacker drove his explosive-filled car into a group of soldiers and recruits at the Taji base, about 12 miles north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Casualties were high because a large number of soldiers were outside the base for a shift change around midday. Authorities have said they expect the death toll to rise as many of those wounded sustained critical injuries. This was the second attack in Taji in less than 24 hours, as a car bomb targeted a nearby army patrol, wounding eight people. Another bombing hit a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad on Monday, killing four people. Violence has decreased in Iraq since its peak in 2006 and 2007. However insurgent attacks are still frequent and there has been at least one major attack a month since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in December 2011.
Syria saw some of the worst violence in months on Monday as U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called the situation a "big catastrophe." According to the activist Local Coordinating Committees, at least 159 people were killed across Syria on Monday. An Islamist car suicide bomber, reportedly from al-Nusra Front, drove into a center used as a base by Syrian security forces and pro-government militia in Hama province, killing at least 50 people. The attack was among the worst on President Bashar al-Assad's forces since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011. However, Syrian state media said that just two civilians had died. Clashes also raged in Damascus between Palestinian factions in the Yarmouk and Tadamon neighborhoods in rare infighting with the Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine fighting on behalf of the Assad regime. A car bombing claimed by the opposition Free Syria Army hit Mezze 86, a pro-government Damascus neighborhood near Assad's offices, killed at least 11 people and injured more than 30 others. Government airstrikes continued across the country on Monday, many concentrated in Idlib province. On Tuesday, gunmen killed Mohammed Osama Laham, brother of Syria's Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham while he was on his way to work in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan. In another blow to the regime, seven Syrian generals reportedly defected to Turkey.
Five homemade bombs exploded on Monday in the Qudaibiya and Adliya districts of Manama, Bahrain's capital, killing two foreign workers and severely wounding a third. Police have been targeted on several occasions over the past year, but this was a rare attack on civilians, in what appeared to be coordinated explosions. The Bahrain News Agency called the blasts an "act of terrorism," and said an investigation is underway. A representative from the opposition Shiite party al-Wefaq, Matar Matar, said that he doubted opposition activists were responsible for the attack, mentioning that Shiite clerics have come out against escalating the conflict. Bahrain has been plagued by unrest since demonstrations broke out in February 2011, during which at least 60 people were killed and thousands were arrested. Bahrain's government announced a ban on rallies and public gatherings last week, a move that was condemned by human rights groups and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss regional issues, including unrest in Bahrain and Kuwait, which also banned public gatherings and rallies last week.
Amid heavy weekend violence, Syria's fractious opposition began meetings in the Qatari capital of Doha in efforts to form a new unity leadership for a possible transitional government. The talks between over 20 opposition leaders are set to take place over four days and are aimed at overhauling the structure of the opposition after the Syrian National Council (SNC) lost support, specifically from the United States. Abdulbaset Sieda, the current head for the SNC said, "The main aim is to expand the council to include more of the social and political components." The United States is pushing for the group to create stronger ties between commanders in the field and Syrian leaders in exile. To allay fears that the meeting would precede talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the group released a statement saying that the Assad regime leaving power is a precondition of any political dialogue. Meanwhile, opposition fighters reportedly seized an oilfield for the first time on Sunday, over taking al-Ward oilfield in Deir el-Zour province after three days of clashes. Also, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy clashes near a Damascus security building. Syrian television reported a large explosion near the Dama Rose hotel in Damascus, which wounded several people. Additionally, the Syrian army reportedly shelled the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the southern outskirts of Damascus killing at least 20 people. Opposition fighters reportedly pulled back from an attack that began on Saturday on the large Taftanaz military airport in the northern Idlib province due to a shortage of ammunition. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that nearly 200 people died in weekend violence.
Everything about the scene in the white marquee erected in Tripoli's Mina as-Shaab waterside quarter would have been unthinkable until last year. For a start, this was an open political gathering of some 500 Libyans in a country where, in the past, clandestine meetings of five people could land all concerned in jail. Not only that, those assembled under the billowing tent were members of one of Libya's most vilified opposition groups for most of Qaddafi's 42 years in power: the Muslim Brotherhood. All over the Libyan capital billboards emblazoned with the movement's green insignia featuring a Quran over crossed swords and the slogan "Make Ready" advertised the event.
The 10-day program of lectures, seminars, and cultural activities headlined "Arab Spring: Opportunities and Challenges" may have seemed innocuous but for the leadership of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, it was an important step in their efforts to win friends and influence people after decades of demonization under Qaddafi. Many admit to still feeling bruised by the poor performance of their affiliated Justice and Construction Party (JCP) in elections for Libya's 200-strong national congress in July. The JCP, founded in March and led by Mohammed Sawan, a Muslim Brotherhood member who spent years in Qaddafi's jails, garnered just 17 out of the 80 seats allocated for parties. Its lackluster showing bucked the trend which had seen Islamist parties make sweeping electoral gains following the toppling of dictators in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.
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A retired British businessman and millionaire Christopher Tappin has pleaded guilty in a Texas court to charges of attempting to sell batteries to Iran for surface to air missiles. He admitted to aiding and abetting two business associates in attempting to sell "zinc/silver oxide Reserve Batteries" to Iran, which is used in Hawk Air Defense Missiles, defying export regulations. A U.S. federal indictment was filed in 2007 after a sting operation. Tappin was extradited from Britain in February. The case has brought extradition arrangements under scrutiny from opponents who claim harsh sentences force suspects to reach plea deals instead of standing trial. Tappin is expected to be sentenced on January 9, and will likely be sentenced to 33 months. Prosecutors said they would not oppose him serving his sentence in Britain. Had he not pleaded guilty, he could have faced up to 35 years in jail.
Syrian forces have reportedly withdrawn from their last base near the town of Saraqeb. The base is about 30 miles southwest of Aleppo at a junction between two major highways, one linking Damascus to Aleppo, and the other connecting Aleppo with the Mediterranean port of Latakia. After having lost the strategic town of Marret al-Numan to the opposition, the retreat has left the area "completely outside the control of regime forces" according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and will make it increasingly difficult for President Bashar al-Assad's forces to resupply troops in Aleppo. The move came after opposition fighters reportedly killed an estimated 28 soldiers in attacks on three checkpoints on the highway leading from Damascus to Aleppo. The attacks have come under severe scrutiny after a video allegedly showed 10 of the soldiers being summarily executed. The United Nations and Amnesty International have condemned the killings saying the opposition forces could be committing war crimes. Five opposition fighters were also reportedly killed in the associated clashes. Meanwhile, government forces continued air strikes across Syria on Thursday.
The United States is withdrawing support for the Syrian National Council (SNC) and helping form a more representative opposition group. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "There has to be representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom." The SNC is largely comprised of exiles. The Obama administration has been working behind the scenes for several months in negotiations to build a new Syrian opposition leadership. Clinton said she has been heavily involved in planning an Arab League supported meeting for next week in Doha, Qatar, where opposition figures will work to form a new opposition body. U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, pulled form Syria last year due to safety concerns, has also been working to assemble a new group. It is expected to have between 35 and 50 representatives, up to one third of which will likely go to members of the SNC. Former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, who defected in August, is one of the people proposed for the new council. Addressing increasing reports of Islamist extremist involvement in fighting in Syria, Clinton also warned the opposition should "strongly resist the efforts by the extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution." Meeting with U.N. and Arab League envoy on Syria Lakdar Brahimi, China proposed a plan to end violence in Syria including a regionally phased ceasefire and establishment of a transitional government. Meanwhile, violence continued Wednesday with street fights in Aleppo and a bombing in Atarib, 12 miles west of the city, which hit a breadline and killed at least 15 people. Additionally, a bomb exploded at a Shiite shrine in Damascus near a government checkpoint.
Nearly a year after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a transition agreement, Yemen risks significant localized violence and territorial fragmentation. While politicians and the international community in the capital prepare for national dialogue, Zaydi rebels, known as the Houthis, and Salafi fighters associated with the Islamist party, Islah, are positioning for further skirmishes in the North. Already, clashes during the last months have killed dozens of people and inflammatory rhetoric by both sides is a harbinger of violence to come. In the South, separatist sentiment remains high and there is no agreement on how to effectively include the southern movement, a loose and divided coalition calling for immediate southern independence or at a minimum greater autonomy, into the dialogue process. Attacks by al Qaeda and its local affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia, are on the rise, with assassinations of over 60 military-security personnel in 2012 alone. The minister of defense has escaped assassination on at least six different occasions.
Bahrain's Interior Minister, Sheikh Rashid al Khalifah, has banned all demonstrations and rallies citing "repeated abuses" of the rights to freedom of expression by protest organizers. Khalifah has accused the organizers of inciting riots and attacks, as well as calling for the overthrow of "leading national figures." Additionally, he said that participants have failed to adhere to legal regulations. Government spokesman Fahad al-Binali said that the ban would be temporary and mainly intended to "calm things down." Recent clashes between protesters and police officers outside the capital of Manama resulted in the deaths of two policemen. The interior minister said rallies and gatherings would be allowed when security is sufficient to "protect national unity and social fabric to fight extremism." Bahrain's protest movement started in February 2011 after prodemocracy rallies in the since demolished Pearl Roundabout sparked clashes that killed at least 35 people and injured hundreds. A government crackdown followed shortly afterward, and thousands of activists were arrested. While the government has made some efforts toward reform, human rights groups claim abuses have continued, mainly the detainment of peaceful protesters. Sayed Hadi al-Mosawi, a representative from the opposition group Al-Wefaq, said, "They don't want people to express their opinions, their anger." He continued, "This will not take the country to stability." Amnesty International demanded that the ban be immediately lifted saying it violated the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Syrian state television has reported that an air force general has been "killed by rebels" as government air raids pound opposition targets after a largely ignored ceasefire. Syrian state television reported that General Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi was "assassinated" on Monday in the central Damascus district of Rukn al-Din. The opposition Free Syrian Army has taken responsibility for the attack that killed the general adding an air force intelligence official was also killed in the operation. However, contrasting reports state the government killed the general to prevent his defection. Meanwhile, air raids by Syrian forces have escalated on Tuesday, a day after the expiration of the failed Eid al-Adha ceasefire brokered by U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. A fighter jet reportedly dropped four bombs on the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar, which would be the first account of an air strike within the capital city since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011. The British-based Syrian Observatory reported that at least 185 people were killed on across Syria on Tuesday, many in airstrikes in the Damascus suburb of Douma. Heavy air strikes and clashes also hit the opposition held Maaret al-Numan, the strategic town on the highway connecting Aleppo with Damascus. Activists estimated the death toll during the four day ceasefire that began Friday exceeded 500.
For decades, "human rights in the Middle East" was a subject of scrutiny, debate, and mobilizations spearheaded from outside of the region. Western governments including successive U.S. administrations frequently took up the region's dire human rights conditions and funded a variety of human rights initiatives to remedy them, in many ways as a substitute for forgoing economic and military alliances with highly repressive regimes. These foreign governments' human rights talk was heavy in its emphasis on women's rights and other violations for which backward cultural and religious belief were designated as the key culprits and light on its emphasis on civil and political rights violations. During the post-9/11 era, as highlighting the Middle East's deplorable human rights conditions added a veneer of moral purpose to military interventions in the region, the "human rights in the Middle East" line of inquiry took on a life of its own and created a cottage industry of Western-driven human rights assessments and prescriptions. All the while, local voices promoting human rights were largely silenced by authoritarian rulers simultaneously paying lip service to human rights and undermining it by arguing that it served foreign, Western, imperialist agendas. Cumulatively, there dynamics resulted in minimal Middle Eastern agency in defining the nature and scope of its own predicament vis-à-vis the human rights paradigm.
Today, the region's myriad of human rights mobilizations and contests are increasingly being spurred from within the Middle East, not abroad.
The Eid al-Adha truce has largely fallen in Syria with both sides violating the ceasefire brokered by U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. According to the opposition activist Local Coordination Committees, Syrian government air raids have killed 14 civilians in the northern Idlib province town of Bara. Opposition activists and residents have reported government air raids over the Damascus suburbs of Zamalka, Irbin, Harasta, and Barzah. Syrian warplanes also attacked opposition held areas in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, and the northern province of Aleppo. Meanwhile, Free Syrian Army fighters reportedly attacked Syrian military roadblocks in the Damascus suburb of Douma and in Aleppo. Fighting was also reported between opposition fighters and Kurdish militiamen in the mainly Christian and Kurdish Aleppo neighborhood of Ashrafieh killing at least 22 people. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 110 people were killed across Syria on Sunday. On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep disappointment over the collapse of the ceasefire and called for greater assistance from the United Nations and the international community to end the violence in Syria, which has now spanned over 19 months.
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During his recent visit to the United States, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen expressed his concerns that if the National Dialogue -- a forum supposedly representing the major political players in Yemen -- fails, Yemen could slide into a civil war that will be worse than those in Somalia or Afghanistan. Part of this rhetoric was strategic, intended to nudge the so-called "Friends of Yemen" to commit to much needed (although potentially pernicious) aid. Nevertheless, Hadi is only slightly exaggerating the dangers Yemen could face, and recent developments -- such as the delay of the National Dialogue -- make his predictions more worrisome.
Hadi, who ran unopposed in February, was elected after a prolonged stalemate since January 2011. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-engineered compromise that ensured the transfer of power from then President Ali Abdullah Saleh to Hadi helped avert the civil war that Yemen was dangerously skirting at that time. Many groups in Yemen, however, view the GCC deal as a failure and an imposition that ensured that formal and informal power remain in the hands of old elites. As the International Crisis Group (ICG) reports, Yemeni elites have kept their hold on power as they continue to play musical chairs with government positions. Meanwhile, the Houthi rebels in the North, the Hiraaki separatists in the South, as well as various youth groups who were the backbone of the early days of the revolution, are left out of the deal.
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The Bahraini government seems to understand freedom of expression a bit like Lance Armstrong understands clean cycling. Like Lance, it prefers to play by its own rules and attack critics rather than accept normal standards. The Kingdom has invented a curious definition of free expression where criticizing members of the ruling family on Twitter can land you in court. The Bahraini regime's credibility is as damaged as that of world cycling -- the government needs to implement drastic measures that go beyond public relations to restore international trust.
Bahrainis can't say they weren't warned. On September 9, Bahrain's Ministry of the Interior announced it would "soon tackle crimes related to defamation and abuse on social media networks." A senior official in the ministry noted that "some people were using the communication technology to abuse national and public figures through the Internet," and that the ministry "had received many complaints from public figures affected by such acts who have demanded action against this."
A ceasefire has come into effect for Eid al-Adha on Friday, although several accounts of fighting have been reported. Late Thursday the Syrian government agreed to a four-day truce proposed by U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, but said it reserved the right to retaliate against opposition attacks. The opposition Free Syrian Army said it would comply as long as the government adheres to it. However, other opposition factions said they would not stop fighting. Syria has appeared much calmer although clashes have broken out in several locations. Protesters have taken to the streets across the country calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. Clashes broke out Friday morning at an army base near Maaret al-Numan, where opposition fighters have been trying to overtake the military installation along a strategic highway connecting Damascus and Aleppo. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian army fired six rockets at the Khalidiya district of Homs. According to other reports, Syrian troops have hit Hajar al-Aswad, a poor district of Damascus, and violence was reported in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. In Aleppo, opposition forces were reported to have made significant gains. An earlier ceasefire negotiated by Brahimi's predecessor, Kofi Annan, failed to take hold, but did reduce the casualty count for several days. Brahimi has said he hopes that the temporary truce will allow for a sustainable political process.
Iran this week marked "Ten Years of Nuclear Resistance," a celebration at the University of Tehran to commemorate Iran's nuclear program, despite international efforts to limit it. The central message that emerged from this event was articulated by Iran's Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council, who said that the "dual strategy based on pressure and diplomacy the West insists on is failed and illogical."
It is time for the United States and its Western allies to realize, as the official, Ali Bagheri, stated, that the policy of more sanctions, intimidation, and pressure is counter-productive to the stated goal of changing the regime's behavior on the nuclear issue. Not only is the Iranian government becoming more belligerent, but according to polling data collected in recent weeks, the Iranian public overwhelming supports many of the government's positions on the nuclear program and related issues.
After two days of fighting, Egypt has brokered a tentative ceasefire between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza. According to Israel, no rockets have been fired since Wednesday night and the unofficial truce is appearing to hold. Fighting began on Tuesday after a landmark visit from Qatar's emir to Gaza, when Hamas militants fired rockets into Israel drawing retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, which killed four Palestinians including three militants. Israeli officials said around 80 rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel injuring six people, including two Thai workers who were critically wounded. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he hoped the truce would stand, but said over 600 rockets had been fired into Israel since the beginning of 2012 and that the struggle was far from over. Meanwhile, EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton is visiting with Israelis and Palestinians in attempts to revive stalled peace talks.
The Syrian government is expected to give its decision Thursday on a ceasefire for the Eid al-Adha holiday brokered by U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakdar Brahimi. Brahimi announced Wednesday that President Bashar al-Assad agreed to the temporary truce beginning Friday, but that was immediately thrown into question when Syria's foreign ministry said the military was still studying the proposal. In a meeting with the U.N. Security Council, Russia said it had "indications" that the Syrian government would approve the plan, and the Security Council members expressed their support for Brahimi's proposal. The opposition Free Syrian Army said it would adhere to a ceasefire if the government does, but expressed doubts. Other groups within the opposition said that no one is taking the ceasefire proposal seriously. Meanwhile, a day ahead of the truce deadline, violent clashes have broken out in the Sunni dominated Damascus suburb of Harasta. Fighting began when opposition fighters overran a roadblock on a highway connecting Damascus to the north. Syrian forces have retaliated with fierce tank and rocket fire, killing five people. Fighting also continued in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the town of Maarat al-Numan, along the highway between Damascus and Aleppo, and in the city of Homs near the Lebanese border with over 100 people reported killed across the country on Wednesday.
Arguments and Analysis
Meet the Israelis (Gideon Levy, Haaretz)
"Nice to make your acquaintance, we're racist and pro-apartheid. The poll whose results were published in Haaretz on Tuesday, conducted by Dialog and commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund, proved what we always knew, if not so bluntly. It's important to recognize the truth that has been thrown in our faces and those of the world (where the survey is making waves ). But it's even more important to draw the necessary conclusions from it.
Given the current reality, making peace would be an almost anti-democratic act: Most Israelis don't want it. A just, egalitarian society would also violate the wishes of most Israelis: That, too, is something they don't want. They're satisfied with the racism, comfortable with the occupation, pleased with the apartheid; things are very good for them in this country. That's what they told the pollsters."
Hezbollah uses its military power in a contradictory manner (David Hirst, The Daily Star)
"Nobody, neither its friends nor its foes, ever questions Hezbollah's military prowess. During its last major engagement, the July war of 2006, an Israeli general ruefully called it "the greatest guerilla organization in the world today," and the entire Arab world thrilled at its exploits, not only in classical guerilla warfare, but in higher-tech forms of combat, such as the sea-borne missile which very nearly sank the Israeli navy's flagship.
The really contentious question is: What does it use its prowess, and its weapons, for? In the past two weeks, it has given two dramatic, and profoundly contradictory, answers.
One came in the shape of the drone that Hezbollah launched over Israel on Oct. 6. In a subsequent speech, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called it an "Iranian-built," "Hezbollah-assembled" device which, during its three-hour, 300 km mission, conducted reconnaissance of sensitive sites, including that "holy of holies," the ultra-secret nuclear facility at Dimona."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
The Syrian government said its military is still studying a proposal for a ceasefire over the Eid al-Adha holiday beginning Friday. The statement has contradicted an earlier announcement by U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi that the Syrian government agreed to a ceasefire but would make a final decision on Thursday. Brahimi also said that most opposition groups said they would also adhere to a temporary truce. Brahimi hopes that a lull in fighting will "allow a political process to develop." The statement came shortly after a massacre at a bakery in an opposition held neighborhood of Aleppo. The bakery was filled with customers and employees at the time of the bombing and at least 20 people were killed and 30 others injured. Syrian forces have continued bombing the strategic opposition controlled town of Maarat al-Numan on the highway connecting Aleppo to Damascus. Opposition fighters have been fighting in efforts to overtake the nearby military base Wadi al-Daif in hopes of establishing a "safe zone." Russia said on Wednesday that opposition forces have surface-to-air missiles, some of which they claim are United States-made Stingers. However, the reports have not been verified.
As gunfights have continued to flare, primarily in Beirut and Tripoli, the Lebanese Army is working to restore order. At least six people have been killed, 27 wounded, and 50 arrested since clashes rooted in the Syrian crisis began on Sunday. Most of the people reported dead were killed in the northern city of Tripoli in fighting between the Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawite district of Jebel Mohsen. Additionally a resident of a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut was killed after he reportedly fired at Lebanese forces. Violence was sparked on Sunday after a funeral for slain intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan. The U.S. State Department confirmed that it is sending a team from the F.B.I. to assist in investigating the bombing that killed Hassan Friday. Jordan is also working to contain spillover from Syria; authorities reported they have seized a group of Jordanian extremists who obtained arms from Syria. The Jordanian military saw its first casualty in related violence when a corporal was killed in clashes with suspected Islamist militants traveling along the Syrian and Jordanian border. Meanwhile, the U.N. Refugee agency has reported that Lebanon has registered over 100,000 Syrian refugees, joining Jordan and Turkey.
The United Nations is putting together a peacekeeping force for Syria, hoping the regime and opposition fighters will implement a proposed ceasefire for the holiday Eid al-Adha beginning Friday. U.N. peacekeeping head Herve Ladsous stated, "We are getting ourselves ready to act if it is necessary and a mandate is approved." However, the prospects for a temporary truce appear slim as deadly clashes continue across Syria. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, over 115 people were killed across Syria on Monday. Aleppo saw fighting in several districts with warplanes bombing the Katergi quarter. Clashes were also reported in Damascus, Daraa, and Deir el-Zour. Government forces and opposition fighter have continued the battle over the strategic town of Maaret al-Numan, which is on a strategic supply route between Damascus and Aleppo. On Tuesday, Syrian warplanes reportedly bombed the town as fighters clashed over a nearby Syrian military camp.
The February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will always be remembered as a seminal event that changed the course of Lebanon's history. It expelled Syrian troops from Lebanon after occupying the country for three decades and freed Beirut from the shackles of Damascus. While the killing of Lebanese intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan last Friday is not likely to create the political tsunami that Hariri's murder did seven years ago, it certainly has the potential to cause some powerful shocks to an already shaky Lebanese system. Specifically, Hassan's assassination could lead to the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the explosion of Sunni-Shiite tensions, the violent mobilization of Lebanon's Salafists, and if things snowball, the country's return to civil war. Nobody can speak with confidence to the direction Lebanon will go following this massive security incident but all bets are that things in Lebanon will get much worse before they get any better.
When a presidential campaign is in full swing, we probably should not be surprised that the challenger's team throws everything and the kitchen sink at the incumbent. Still, it seems strange that Republicans want to remind voters that President Barack Obama extricated the United States from a difficult and unpopular war in Iraq. But that is just what Peter Feaver did in the Foreign Policy blog Shadow Government on October 12. He said that the president had opened up a "civil-military problem" for himself, because "significant portions of the military believe the administration abandoned them on Iraq." He went on to accuse the administration, and Vice President Joe Biden specifically, of blowing the chance to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, either through incompetence or a lack of serious commitment, that would have permitted the United States to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq. Those are some pretty stiff charges. (Full disclosure: Feaver and I went to graduate school together. He is a great guy, but just plain wrong here.)
We can set aside, for this discussion, the big question about whether keeping that many U.S. troops in Iraq would have been a good thing. It is pretty clear what the American people think the answer is. The interesting thing about Feaver's thumbnail account of the supposed failure of the administration on this issue is the utter absence of Iraqis from the story. When the United States fails to achieve a goal, it must be either because we really were not committed to it, or we messed up. The other guys just are not that important. It really is all about us.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Lebanon's religious and political leaders have called for calm as protests and clashes have continued into Monday in the capital of Beirut and northern city of Tripoli. Fighting was sparked after the funeral of the Internal Security Forces intelligence chief Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, killed Friday in a car bombing. The car bombing is widely believed to be tied to the conflict in Syria and has ignited Lebanese sectarian tensions. Hassan was an outspoken critic of President Bashar al-Assad and had links to the opposition March 14 coalition of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Protesters attempted to storm the Grand Serail's offices of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, allied with Hezbollah's governing bloc, calling for Mikati to resign. Mikati said he would resign, but rescinded after a request from Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman to wait until there is time for political talks. Sporadic clashes in Beirut's southern and western regions between Sunni and Shiite districts continue to flare up, particularly on the edge of the Tariq al-Jadida neighborhood, which borders the Shiite dominated southern suburbs. The Lebanese Armed Forces have deployed troops backed by armed personnel carriers to restore calm and have begun raiding suspected militant hideouts in the outskirts of Beirut. Violent clashes in the northern city of Tripoli, which has frequently seen the spillover from the Syrian crisis, broke out killing at least four people, including two children.
Bombings hit Damascus and Aleppo over the weekend. Sunday morning, a bomb reportedly set in a parked vehicle exploded in Damascus's Old City in the Bab Touma, or St. Thomas Gate, predominantly Christian neighborhood killing at least 13 people and wounding 29 others. The strike was near a police station and took place while nearby churches were holding Sunday services. Syrian troops stormed the opposition held Damascus suburb of Harasta, sparking deadly clashes. In Aleppo, a suicide bombing exploded outside a private Franco-Syrian hospital in a primarily Christian district according to government officials. There were no casualties other than the bomber. Additionally, clashes continued in the districts of Salaheddin and Izaa as well as in the Old City. Meanwhile, U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus appealing for a ceasefire over the Eid al-Ahda holiday that begins Friday. According to the Syrian foreign ministry, Assad and Brahimi discussed "objective and rational circumstances to stop the violence from any side in order to prepare for a comprehensive dialogue among the Syrians." Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ben Hellli said that after Brahimi's meeting with Assad and opposition representatives a temporary truce for the holiday is unlikely.
Oman's Basic Law (Implemented November 6, 1996)
Article 18: Personal freedom is guaranteed according to the Law, and it is unlawful to arrest, search, detain, or imprison any person or have his place of residence or freedom of movement or residence restricted except in accordance with the provisions of the Law.
Article 29: The freedom of opinion and expression thereof through speech, writing or other forms of expression is guaranteed within the limits of the Law.
Article 32: The citizens have the right to assemble within the limits of the Law.
It started with a road trip.
On May 31, two Omani human rights activists, Ismail al-Muqbali and Habeeba al-Hina'i, and a prominent local lawyer, Yaqoub al-Kharousi, drive to Fahud, a major oil facility about 217 miles southwest of Muscat.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of oil workers had taken part in strikes across the country demanding better working conditions and pay over the previous few days, and they were keen to see for themselves how the strikers were being treated by the police.
Syrian government airstrikes hit the opposition controlled town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province killing at least 44 people and leaving massive destruction on Thursday. The opposition secured the town last week after intense fighting, and had begun providing basic services for residents. Maaret al-Numan is located on a strategic highway and supply route connecting Damascus and Aleppo. A missile hit a residential area, damaging four buildings, four homes, and a mosque. Over 20 children were reported to have been killed in the attack. The strike on Maaret al-Numan signals a shift of government tactics according to some analysts. Rather than trying to win back territory gained by the opposition and the "hearts of the people," the regime is merely destroying and abandoning towns so that the population will resent the opposition. Over 200 people were reported killed across Syria on Thursday. Meanwhile, after a regional tour seeking international support for implementing a ceasefire over the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, U.N. and Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi is scheduled to arrive in Damascus on Saturday. Turkey and Germany have backed the ceasefire. The BBC has reported several of its channels have been deliberately jammed in Syria in what the network has described as a "blatant violation of international TV regulations."
Long in the making, the embers of a dormant showdown between President Mohamed Morsi and the Egyptian judiciary have started glowing hotter in the past few weeks. Observers smelled traces of smoke when Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud failed to convict 24 prime suspects in the Battle of the Camel, the February 2011 attack on anti-government protesters in Cairo. More recently, members of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), the court responsible for the Supreme Council of the Armed Force's (SCAF) legal cover to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament, held a press conference rejecting all articles of the draft constitution concerning the powers of the court. Lastly, the administrative court set to rule on the validity of the second constituent assembly, elected by the disbanded parliament, postponed the case yet again before issuing a verdict, which is planned for next week. These events could be taken at face value -- insufficient evidence, an ambiguous constitutional framework, and more time needed to deliberate, respectively -- but the political implications behind each step suggest an institution issuing subtle warnings to restore its clout on the Egyptian stage or suffer the chaotic mess of a renewed constitutional process.
Libyan authorities have said they suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala, the leader of Libya's Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia, to have led the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Witnesses have reported seeing Abu Khattala at the site, but his exact role is unclear, as is whether or not he shared leadership with others. But, the allegations provide the most direct link yet between Ansar al-Sharia and the assault. The F.B.I. has been investigating the attack from Tripoli, almost 400 miles from Benghazi, and a U.S. official said they had been tracking Abu Khattala who remains at large. Having not yet established central control of security since last year's revolution, Libyan authorities rely on local militias for law enforcement. The government-allied militias say that haven't been directed to arrest Abu Khattala, and the government is concerned about exacerbating tensions between rival militia groups.
Syrian human rights groups say that at least 28,000 people have "disappeared" in Syria since the beginning of the 19-month long uprising, and some estimate the number of missing to be as high as 80,000. According to a director at the online activist group Avazza, "Syrians are being plucked off the street by Syrian security forces and paramilitaries and being ‘disappeared' into torture cells. Whether it is women buying groceries or farmers going for fuel, nobody is safe." The group plans to request an investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council. Damascus has started to feel the strain of the country's civil war, from which it had been relatively isolated until recently. Meanwhile, U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lahkdar Brahimi, has warned of regional spillover of the conflict. After meeting with Lebanese officials seeking international support for a ceasefire over an upcoming holiday, which Turkey and Iran have backed, he said, "The crisis cannot remain within Syrian borders indefinitely. Either it will be addressed or it will increase ... and be all-consuming." Brahimi's remarks came shortly before reports of Syrian and Lebanese border clashes.
Recent developments in Jerusalem pose a threat to the stability of the city and to the region. The world saw a preview over the recent Jewish holidays, when activists challenged the Israeli-imposed ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif. Sensitivities at the site tend to peak during any holiday season; however, these latest challenges cannot be dismissed as routine or benign. The radicalization in the political discourse in Israel and the growing power of an emboldened group of Israeli activists focused on the Temple Mount are today coalescing into concrete initiatives that aspire to alter the status quo at the site for the first time since 1967. With Israeli elections approaching, the temptation of right-wing politicians to pander to Temple Mount activists will grow. In parallel, as the radicalization trend within Israel continues a settler-inspired "price tag" incident at the site becomes increasingly likely.
The site at the center of this brewing crisis is revered in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. For Jews, it is the Temple Mount, site of the ancient first and second Jewish Temples. For Muslims, since 705 AD the same spot has been home to the third holiest site in Islam, al Aqsa Mosque. For some dispensationalist Christians, restoration of Jewish contol over the site is an essential component in bringing about the "end of days."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has overturned the conviction of Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan. Hamdan had been held on charges of "material support for terrorism." He was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, sentenced to seven years in prison, and held at a contested U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He was returned to Yemen in November 2008 and released in January 2009, given credit for time served. The appeals court found that providing support for terrorism was not a war crime at the time when Hamdan worked for bin Laden from 1996 to 2001, and could not be charged retroactively. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 was passed by Congress delineating various acts as war crimes, including providing support for terrorism. Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote, "If the government wanted to charge Hamdan with aiding and abetting terrorism or some other war crime that was sufficiently rooted in international law at the time of Hamdan's conduct, it should have done so." Despite that Hamdan has already been released, the decision sets an important precedent as many others detainees at Guantanamo are held on similar charges, and were captured prior to 2006.
The Syrian government and opposition are considering a ceasefire for the Eid al-Adha holiday, beginning on October 26, that has been proposed by U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. However, on Wednesday the government said a ceasefire would likely fail because there is no unified opposition leadership with which to negotiate. The opposition is divided among various brigades fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brand. But, in practice, the brigades compete for power and operate independently. On Tuesday, two rebel sources said groups have agreed to set up a united opposition leadership, after much international pressure. The leadership will include FSA leaders Riad al-Asaad, Mustafa Sheikh, and General Mohammad Haj Ali, as well as heads of provincial military councils inside Syria such as Qassem Saadeddine in Homs province. A main opposition group, the Syrian National Council has scheduled a unity conference in Qatar for November 4. Meanwhile, Syrian forces bombarded several areas in the north. Warplanes hit an opposition blockade on the strategic highway that connects Damascus with Aleppo, which has cut off government reinforces into the embattled city. Additionally, Syrian forces targeted the opposition controlled town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province. After traveling to Iran and Iraq seeking regional help to broker a Syrian truce, Brahimi arrived in Lebanon to speak with President Michel Suleiman, and is expected to stop in Damascus later on Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken responsibility for security failures in the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans. In an interview with CNN on Monday, Clinton said that she is in charge of over 60,000 people working for the State Department across the world. The statement came as President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have come under increasing criticism over the Benghazi attack by the Mitt Romney campaign coming into the November 6 presidential election. Republicans have questioned the handling of security prior to the attack, and have accused the Obama administration of shifting explanations afterward. Clinton said, "The president and the vice president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision." Her remarks came the day before the second presidential debate, during which Romney is likely to use the Benghazi attack against Obama's foreign policy. Earlier this week, the father of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack, said it would be "abhorrent" for his son's death to be politicized.
The U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said he welcomes "ideas from all sides" as he appealed to Iran and Iraq for help in negotiating a Syrian ceasefire for the Eid al-Adha holiday. As tensions with its neighbor have recently escalated, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss the situation in Syria. Additionally, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Luxembourg with EU ministers. Russia has traditionally been an ally of Syria, and along with China, has repeatedly blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions against the government of Bashar al-Assad. British Foreign Minister William Hague said, "I can't say that we made any progress." Meanwhile, clashes continue in Aleppo. According to the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces bombarded two opposition controlled districts in northeast Aleppo, al-Shaar and Karm al-Habal. Additionally, opposition fighters and Syrian troops clashed in Jdeideh, north of the ancient citadel. Syrian warplanes reportedly bombed several towns in the northwestern Idlib province. As violence progresses, the United States has expressed concern over weapons flows into Syria after the New York Times reported that arms sent through Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the Syrian opposition are going to jihadist groups. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told the U.N. Security Council that Lebanon's militant group, Hezbollah, has been increasingly involved in the Syrian conflict and actively supporting the Assad regime.
The boy wears a white headband, Rambo-style, and an undershirt that shows off his muscled arms. He says he's 17, and looks it. He should be hanging out on a corner in some Syrian village, sneaking smiles at the passing girls, not standing amid the swirling dust of a refugee camp boasting about his time as a fighter.
"I was with the Free Army, and I brought my family here," he says -- to Jordan, to the Zaatari camp, near the northern city of Mafraq. "I stayed for one week, then went back to Syria. The bad situation had got worse, and people were being slaughtered with knives. The people I was working with had fled to Lejja [in the mountains, to regroup].... I saw that there was nothing for me to do there, and so I came back."
"Most of the young people here, they are with the Free Army, and there are no weapons for them, no weapons at all."
The boy's conversation follows a script that has become quickly familiar: He is asked about what brought him here, and answers with a plea for weapons. He wants anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles, and foreign troops enforcing a no-fly zone over his home in southern Syria.
The European Union is set to increase sanctions on Iran on Monday after failed negotiations over Iran's contested nuclear development program. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said they will continue to increase pressure on Iran until negotiations succeed. EU Foreign Policy head Catherine Ashton said sanctions that were imposed in July are "quite clearly having an effect" and the heightened sanctions are "to persuade Iran to come to the table." Riots broke out earlier this month due to the dramatic fall of Iran's currency, the rial, which is down by about 80 percent since the beginning of the year. The new sanctions are expected to target Iran's banks, as well as trade and gas imports. Additionally, 30 more companies will be subject to an EU assets freeze. Meanwhile, the United States and EU are working to close loopholes in sanctions on Iran after discovering that Tehran has been covertly using offshore tax havens in order to maintain crude oil shipments. The National Iranian Tanker Co. (NITC), Iran's largest oil-vessel operator, has reportedly registered ownership of some of its tankers in Central America. The NITC claims it is privatized but the United States classifies it as a government entity. Despite severe sanctions, U.S. exports to Iran have risen by 32 percent this year up to $199.5 million. Exports were comprised primarily of wheat and other grains, dairy products, and medical, dental, and surgical products. However, some humanitarian goods have declined including medicinal and pharmaceutical products.
Tensions between Turkey and Syria have increased with both banning all respective aircraft from their air space. The escalation was prompted by Turkey's forcing down a Syrian jet last week that Syria maintained was a passenger aircraft headed to Russia, while Turkey said there was illegal cargo on the plane. Armenia agreed to land a cargo plane carrying humanitarian aid to Syria for investigation in Turkey. Meanwhile, according to the Turkish disaster management agency (AFAD), the number of Syrians taking refuge in camps in southern Turkey has exceeded 100,000. Turkey has said it would struggle to accommodate over 100,000 refugees, and has been calling for the United Nations to build camps in a "safe zone" within Syria's borders. Over 348,000 people have been registered as refugees in Syria's neighboring countries, and many more have fled and remained unregistered. Human Rights Watch has accused Syrian government air forces of dropping cluster bombs in the past week, primarily in fighting over a highly contested highway running from Aleppo to Damascus, and the strategic town of Maarat al-Numan, which was recently captured by opposition forces. Cluster bombs, indiscriminate scattershot munitions, have been banned by most countries because of the severe threat they pose on civilians. As the conflict in Syria rages on, U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with Iranian officials appealing for help to implement a ceasefire for the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Brahimi hopes a ceasefire would open up space for a political settlement to the conflict.
The United States must shift the paradigm on Syria. Escalating tensions between Syria and Turkey are the latest indicator that Syria's crisis is spiraling out of control. With Russia now pulled into the fray, the conflict has the potential to escalate significantly. Horrific violence inside Syria has dramatically increased civilian death tolls and sparked an exponential rise in refugee flows. The current policy debate largely focuses on the relative merits of providing (directly or indirectly) more sophisticated weapons to the opposition versus the establishment of a protected safe zone in northern Syria. Yet, these tactical military interventions carry significant downside risks. The deepening crisis between Syria and Turkey amid Syria's worsening civil conflict presents an important opportunity for U.S. leadership and diplomacy. Washington should seize on these latest developments to build a coalition for bringing an end to the violence and establishing a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
Further militarization of the Syrian conflict would exacerbate an already volatile situation on the ground, deepening and protracting Syria's sectarian civil war. Far from providing relief for innocent civilians, fueling the conflict with more arms risks further endangering civilians. The armed opposition's inability to unify and its continued radicalization as well as enduring divisions between key patrons, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, underscore the inherent risks of this option. Differences among Syria's various armed opposition groups, not to mention between Arabs and Kurds, could erupt into open hostilities in Syria's mounting chaos. Meanwhile, jihadist elements, while still a distinct minority, appear to be gaining influence.
Salafis, or Sunni puritans, have been much in the news since they sparked riots at U.S. embassies throughout the Arab world protesting film clips lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. A television personality on a Saudi Arabian-funded Salafi satellite channel in Egypt first fanned the flames, and Salafis ranging from the militant Mohamed al-Zawahiri (the brother of al Qaeda's chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri) to the mainstream Salafi political party al-Nour fueled the blaze when they blamed the U.S. government and called for protests against U.S. embassies. Salafis in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and elsewhere took up the torch, resulting in attacks on U.S. and other Western diplomatic installations across the Middle East.
Others were involved, of course, and the protests were small compared to the protests over the Muhammad cartoons several years ago. Nevertheless, the Salafi-driven protests are one more sign the ultra-religious right is asserting itself as the guardian of the moral order in Sunni-majority countries revolting against the ancien régime. Their noisy performance on the public stage poses a major challenge to emerging democratic systems, fueling polarization inside and fears abroad. But the new political realm also poses challenges to the Salafis who are on unfamiliar ground politically and ideologically.
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