Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts

24 April 2019

SECRET REPORT REVEALS SAUDI INCOMPETENCE AND WIDESPREAD USE OF U.S. WEAPONS IN YEMEN

Alex Emmons

SINCE THE BRUTAL murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi last October, Congress has increasingly pressured the Trump administration to stop backing the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen and halt U.S. arms sales to Riyadh. In response, President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that if the U.S. does not sell weapons to the Saudis, they will turn to U.S. adversaries to supply their arsenals.

“I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” Trump told reporters in October, referring to a collection of intent letters signed with the Saudis in the early months of his presidency. “You know what they are going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else.”

The Dangerous Dregs of ISIS

By Robin Wright

Afew days before the collapse of the Islamic State’s caliphate, I visited one of the new “pop-up prisons” that had been hastily converted to hold thousands of surrendering isis fighters in Syria. The numbers wildly exceeded all expectations, including estimates by U.S. intelligence. The most striking sight at the prison entrance was a mound of human hair lying on the raw concrete floor. Clumps of it—some brown, some graying, most of it greasy or matted—had been shaved off the heads and faces of fighters before they were taken to group cells. “Lice,” one of the guards told me.

The prison at Dashisha, in eastern Deir Ezzor province, had been an oil-storage facility. In just four days, the compound of modest brick and stucco buildings had been filled with fifteen hundred fighters from countries on four continents, including France, Libya, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iraq, and the United States, the warden told me. Average-sized rooms had been fitted with metal doors; each cell had a small barred window that I had to stand on my tiptoes to peer through. Each one was crammed, wall to wall, with dozens of men squatting on the floor. The isis fighters wore new T-shirts, in army green, and whatever trousers they had on when they were captured.

23 April 2019

ISIS Isn’t Defeated, and Trump Doesn’t Have a Plan for What’s to Come

Steven Metz 

During his presidential bid, Donald Trump hammered on about the threat posed to America by the self-styled Islamic State, and how he would defeat it. As an issue, it was perfect for him, since the Islamic State’s sociopathic brutality fueled fear and anger among his core supporters—emotions that candidate Trump was able to harness and use to his benefit. Although the Islamic State emerged from the insurgency in Iraq that was unleashed by the American invasion in 2003, the extremist group grew more powerful during President Barack Obama’s administration, so Trump could wield it as a political weapon against Obama and Hillary Clinton. Trump went so far as to label Obama “the founder of ISIS” and Clinton “the co-founder.” However absurd the claim, it drew cheers.

Trump talked about the Islamic State constantly on the campaign trail, asserting that he would “knock the hell out of it.” As president, he has done just that, easing the rules of engagement and expanding the U.S. bombing campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. By February, Trump was able to announce that “the ISIS caliphate has been decimated.” But the key word is “caliphate.” ...

22 April 2019

Beyond Incirlik

The Turkish air base has become a point of contention in negotiations between Washington and Ankara.

U.S.-Turkish relations are strained. Turkey is frustrated over U.S. support for Kurdish groups in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is still incensed that Fethullah Gulen, the cleric who Erdogan believes orchestrated the 2016 coup attempt, remains ensconced in the Poconos. The two countries are currently at an impasse over Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missile defense systems. None of these issues are likely to fundamentally alter the strategic alliance between Washington and Ankara, but there could be short-term ramifications if the two can’t compromise where it matters most.

Turkey has a key point of leverage over the United States: Incirlik Air Base. The U.S. has had a permanent military presence there since 1954 (it still has as many as 50 B61 gravity bombs, a tactical nuclear weapon, at Incirlik). The base has been critical for U.S. operations in the Middle East, though it has always been a point of contention. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, the U.S. put an arms embargo on Turkey, and Ankara retaliated by blocking U.S. access to Incirlik for five years (though it allowed NATO forces to continue using the base). Over the years, Turkey has tried to limit U.S. activity on the base in other ways. Most recently, in 2003, Turkey blocked the U.S. from using Incirlik to support its invasion of Iraq.

21 April 2019

The Dangerous Dregs of ISIS

By Robin Wright

Afew days before the collapse of the Islamic State’s caliphate, I visited one of the new “pop-up prisons” that had been hastily converted to hold thousands of surrendering isis fighters in Syria. The numbers wildly exceeded all expectations, including estimates by U.S. intelligence. The most striking sight at the prison entrance was a mound of human hair lying on the raw concrete floor. Clumps of it—some brown, some graying, most of it greasy or matted—had been shaved off the heads and faces of fighters before they were taken to group cells. “Lice,” one of the guards told me.

The prison at Dashisha, in eastern Deir Ezzor province, had been an oil-storage facility. In just four days, the compound of modest brick and stucco buildings had been filled with fifteen hundred fighters from countries on four continents, including France, Libya, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iraq, and the United States, the warden told me. Average-sized rooms had been fitted with metal doors; each cell had a small barred window that I had to stand on my tiptoes to peer through. Each one was crammed, wall to wall, with dozens of men squatting on the floor. The isis fighters wore new T-shirts, in army green, and whatever trousers they had on when they were captured.

Hard Truths in Syria: America Can’t Do More With Less, and It Shouldn’t Try

by Brett McGurk

Over the last four years, I helped lead the global response to the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS)—an effort that succeeded in destroying an ISIS “caliphate” in the heart of the Middle East that had served as a magnet for foreign jihadists and a base for launching terrorist attacks around the world. Working as a special envoy for U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, I helped establish a coalition that was the largest of its kind in history: 75 countries and four international organizations, their cooperation built on a foundation of U.S. leadership and consistency across U.S. administrations. Indeed, the strategy to destroy the ISIS caliphate was developed under Obama and then carried forward, with minor modifications, under Trump; throughout, it focused on enabling local fighters to reclaim their cities from ISIS and then establish the conditions for displaced people to return.

Doing the Haka

By George Friedman

Despite the furor that rages, the world appears to be quietly moving along.

In New Zealand, the Maoris have a ceremonial dance called the haka. Today it’s performed at rugby matches and consists of the New Zealanders making stylized threatening gestures, including sticking out their tongues at their competitors, crouching, jumping and chanting. It is deeply rooted in Maori history, but for all its energy and passion, it does not do what it is intended to do, which is frighten their opponents, and the rugby match goes on.

The political history of humankind is filled with the haka and the violence that was meant to come next. Yet even at the great turning points, the deepest agonies of humanity, life went on. This was no comfort to those caught in the moment. They died but, in the end, so did everyone. That is of course too Olympian a perspective for most of us, and certainly for those of us with children and grandchildren, but there is a terrible truth to it.

On a lesser level, there are moments when the haka goes on, when all sides are determined to frighten each other and frighten the world, yet it means no more than at a rugby match. Coming back down to earth, we seem to be at a moment like that. The furor rages, but the world appears to be quietly moving along.

20 April 2019

Iraq's Place in the Saudi Arabian-Iranian Rivalry

by Geneive Abdo

The skeptics questioning whether Saudi Arabia’s conspicuous overtures during the last year and a half to improve bilateral relations with Iraq will bear fruits, after twenty-five years of estrangement, may now have to reconsider their doubts.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq are engaging in a flurry of activity that is proof both sides are now fully on board efforts to establish stronger ties. Saudi Arabia opened a consulate in Baghdad April 4th. Perhaps the most geopolitically significant gift to date from the Saudis is a promise, reportedly made on April 4, to hook Iraq up to the Saudi electrical grid as part of a Saudi investment project.

19 April 2019

Jihadism May Be Waning, but New Forms of Violent Extremism Are Emerging

Steven Metz 

Since 9/11, any mention of violent extremism usually referred to Salafi jihadism and the likes of al-Qaida and, more recently, the self-styled Islamic State. While not the only type of extremism plaguing the world, the sociopathic brutality and morbid self-publicity of these jihadist groups put them in the spotlight. There had never been anything like them, or so it seemed. In the minds of many people, al-Qaida and its offshoots were the paradigm of violent extremism.

Jihadism is far from defeated today, even if the Islamic State has been rolled back in Syria and Iraq. From Boko Haram in Nigeria to the Taliban in Afghanistan, jihadist groups continue to draw recruits and find new ways to kill. But jihadism’s ability to intimidate its enemies is waning. As an extremist movement, it will persist for many years, but only as a spent force fading away.

The New Islamist Lobby

By Oren Litwin

On April 1st and 2nd, the United States Coalition of Muslim Organizations(USCMO) descended on Congress for its fifth annual National Muslim Advocacy Day. USCMO is a national umbrella group for a veritable Who’s Who of Islamist organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim-American Society (MAS), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and the Muslim-Brotherhood think tank International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). USCMO describes its mission as facilitating communication and coordination between all these groups, “to create and sustain an urgent, collective sense of direction.”

USCMO is led by Oussama Jammal, a longtime Islamist who raised money for terror financer Sami al-Arian and has close ties with the Islamist party of Turkish ruler Recep Erdogan, and with the government of Qatar and the MuslimBrotherhood -- as do many of the other USCMO leaders. USCMO nevertheless presents itself as the spokesman for the entire American Muslim community (most members of which want nothing to do with the Brotherhood). And it is thatmessage, more than any other, that USCMO wants to convey to our elected representatives: that Islamists speak for all Muslims in America.

18 April 2019

Branding IRGC Terrorist Is Game Changer Escalating US-Iran Showdown – Analysis

By Riad Kahwaji*

The U.S. Administration decision to brand the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist organization appears to be a pre-determined step in line with the ongoing escalatory policy of the White House aimed as subjecting Tehran to unprecedented pressure that would prompt it to either concede to Washington’s demands or to react in a violent manner that would ignite a war sought by hardliners on both sides. Tehran’s reaction by regarding U.S. troops as terrorists indicates that Tehran is keeping all options on the table, including a military option of targeting American forces in the region either directly or via its proxy groups operating in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Although the timing of the U.S. action might have been to give a push to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s general elections on April 9, nevertheless it seemed in sync with President Donald Trump’s policy towards Iran, which has been marked by steady escalation for the past year. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heightened his rhetoric against Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in his visit to Beirut in late March 2019. He repeated his threats to Hezbollah and the IRGC in his press conference April 8 announcing the latest actions by his administration against Iran.

Russia’s Repatriation Of ISIS Members – Analysis

By Carl Lampe*

(FPRI) — On March 25, the Kurdish-led and American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) transferred three Russian orphans, aged five to seven, to a Russian government delegation in northeast Syria. The transfer marked the beginning of the repatriation process for children of ISIS members. This is just one event in a string of sporadic repatriations to Russia. In January 2019, the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Russia, Anna Kuznetsova, helped repatriate thirty Russian minors from a prison in Baghdad. Processes like these may occur more frequently in the coming months as the U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian fighters has defeated ISIS territorially. Moscow now must decide what to do with Russian female ISIS members and children who remain in Iraq and Syria.

Leading up to its intervention in Syria in 2015, Russia reportedly allowed its citizens to leave the country to join ISIS. Reuters reported that Russian government officials allowed radicalized Muslims to cross the border to join ISIS before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Estimates reveal that thousands of Russian citizens, predominately from Chechnya and Dagestan, joined ISIS.

What Will Happen When Governments Disagree Over Who Is A Terrorist Organization... And Who Needs To Be Blocked Online?

Mike Masnick

You may have heard the recent news that President Trump has decided to label the the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a "foreign terrorist organization." The IRGC is Iran's powerful military/security/law enforcement apparatus -- that also owns a ton of businesses. As the White House itself admits, this is the first time a foreign governmentagency has been referred to as a foreign terrorist organization. This is big news in a huge variety of ways -- in large part because it could end up criminalizing lots of people and businesses who unwittingly do business with the IRGC including (checks notes) a firm called The Trump Organization.

But, leaving that aside, it raises some other issues as well. We've been talking about the impact of the terrible EU Terrorist Content Regulation that the EU Parliament will soon be voting on. But, as we've discussed in the past, there are lots of questions about who decides just what is "terrorist" content. Daphne Keller tweeted about the IRGC decision, wondering what happens when one country's laws demand the removal of content from another country's government and suggests (accurately) this is going to lead to a huge mess.

Lost Malaysian Hopes And The Pakatan Catch 22 – Analysis

By Murray Hunter

Asia’s experiment in democracy deeply threatened

It took the Malaysian opposition more than a generation to topple the Barisan Nasional government, led by the now-discredited United Malays National Organization. Throughout mosques, coffee shops and markets in Malaysia, there has been an atmosphere of hope and anticipation by many for change that goes all the way back to when Mahathir Mohamed dismissed Anwar Ibrahim as deputy prime minister back in 1998 and jailed him in a trial regarded universally as trumped up.

From that day on Anwar Ibrahim became synonymous for reform in Malaysia. The charismatic opposition leader, from jail and out, managed to unite a wide diversity of NGOs and most of the opposition parties against the Barisan. But it took 20 years and reports by the Sarawak Report, the Wall Street Journal, Asia Sentinel and others to expose what is now known as the 1Malaysia Development Bud scandal which tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak as a complete crook and his wife as a grasping harridan. Najib shut down critical parts of the local media and sacked the Attorney General before charges could be laid against him.

17 April 2019

Indonesia’s Jokowi Seeks a Second Chance to Live Up to His Reformist Brand

Joshua Kurlantzick 

Indonesians go to the polls this week to elect their president and a new parliament. It is the first time in Indonesia’s modern history that both elections will be held on the same day. But most of the focus is on the presidential race and incumbent Joko Widodo, widely known as Jokowi, who remains the strong favorite against challenger Prabowo Subianto, a former lieutenant general whom he defeated in a tight election five years ago. Most polls show Jokowi with a wide lead, although Prabowo’s campaign could be picking up steamin its final days.

The Shores of Lake Balkhash

Russia has offered to help Kazakhstan build a nuclear power plant near Lake Balkhash.

During Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s recent visit to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed using “Russian technology” (a possible reference to Russian nuclear firm Rosatom) to construct a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. Tokayev’s deputy energy minister said that while no such plans have been finalized, the plant could be built in Ulken, a town on the shores of Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan’s Almaty province.

Kazakhstan needs a new power station. Approximately 69 percent of its electricity is produced from coal, 20 percent from natural gas, 9 percent from hydropower, less than 2 percent from oil and less than 1 percent from other renewable sources. Almaty province is located in an area rich in oil and gas, and yet, it’s at risk for severe power shortages.

This isn’t the first time Russia has offered its help in constructing a nuclear power plant for Kazakhstan; Moscow has proposed a handful of projects since the 1990s, but these have routinely sparked public criticism in Kazakhstan and ultimately have been scrapped. This time around, Russia’s offer could be seen as a play to maintain influence in Central Asia as China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects proliferate across the region. Rosatom is also helping Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan’s regional power rival, to construct its own nuclear station.

15 April 2019

Keep Those Iraq War Notes Handy: Small Wars, Not Great Power Battles, Still the Most Likely Future Fight

by Kyle Rempfer 

Great power competition has been the primary driver of the Pentagon over the past few years, but the Defense Department doesn’t get to pick the next war.

It is more likely that the U.S. military will be drawn into another conflict against an insurgent or proxy force, than it will end up fighting naval battles in the South China Sea or halting Russian armor in the Fulda Gap.

“While you’re going to have the larger force-on-force kind of engagements, at the same time, there’s going to be action in ‘gray zone’ ... the space in between war and peace,” said retired Col. Frank Sobchak, co-author of the long-delayed Iraq War Study and a former Army Special Forces officer.

“We see this through proxies, we see militias, we see the involvement in democratic elections," Sobchak said Tuesday at a Foundation for Defense of Democracies event in Washington.

Terrorist Use of Cryptocurrencies Technical and Organizational Barriers and Future Threats

by Cynthia Dion-Schwarz, David Manheim, Patrick B. Johnston

Are terrorist groups currently using cryptocurrencies to support their activities? If not, why?
What properties of new and potential future cryptocurrencies would make them more viable for terrorist use?

Given the key role of funding in supporting terrorist operations, counterterrorism finance (CTF) efforts often focus on tracking money and preventing financial transactions that might be used to support attacks and other terrorist activities. However, the success of these strategies in reducing terrorist access to official currencies has raised concerns that terrorist organizations might increase their use of such digital cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin to support their activities.

Current cryptocurrencies are not well matched with the totality of features that would be needed and desirable to terrorist groups but might be employed for selected financial activities. The authors' research shows that, should a single cryptocurrency emerge that provides widespread adoption, better anonymity, improved security, and that is subject to lax or inconsistent regulation, then the potential utility of this cryptocurrency, as well as the potential for its use by terrorist organizations, would increase. Regulation and oversight of cryptocurrencies, along with international cooperation between law enforcement and the intelligence community, would be important steps to prevent terrorist organizations from using cryptocurrencies to support their activities.

13 April 2019

King Salman is back in the saddle

Bruce Riedel
Source Link

After avoiding foreign travels for over a year, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has been very active in the last 60 days, traveling across the Arab world. The toxic shadow over his favorite son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, is undoubtedly a factor in the king’s higher profile. The Saudis are struggling to regain control of their international image.

In his first years on the throne after his 2015 ascension, the king was a typical royal traveler. He made state visits to many countries in the Middle East as well as to the United States, Britain, Japan, China, Indonesia and Russia. He also typically took an extended summer vacation in France or Morocco. His schedule was never hectic, but it was thorough.

The pattern stopped in late 2017, when several hundred prominent Saudis were forcefully incarcerated in the Ritz Carlton hotel. This was part of a self-proclaimed anti-corruption campaign, yet many have said it was more like a mafia shakedown. For more than a year (and all of 2018) the king did not travel outside the kingdom. The crown prince was the driver behind the Ritz Carlton affair, which alienated many prominent Saudis, including important members of the House of Saud.

12 April 2019

Maldives’ Crucial Ballot to Elect New Parliament


People in the Maldives voted in a crucial parliamentary election on Saturday that many hope will help President Ibrahim Mohammed Solih overcome a coalition split that has hampered his efforts to restore political freedoms and tackle corruption.

Some voters who had lined up earlier were allowed to cast their vote well after balloting officially ended at 6 p.m. in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation known for its luxury resorts, said Ahmed Akram, an election official. He said voter turnout was over 78 percent.

Officials were planning to announce results later Saturday night.

Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party is seeking at least 44 seats in the 87-member parliament for a majority to pass legislation needed to implement pledges from last year’s presidential campaign. His coalition currently has 52 seats, but one partner with 22 seats is now aligned with former strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom.