Category Archives: Middle East

Iraq will be hit harder by the oil price drop than by coronavirus or Isis

The shadowy figures of well-armed Isis gunmen can be seen making an attack in the plains of northern Iraq on an outpost held by paramilitary fighters loyal to the Iraqi government.

Some four of the latter are killed by a roadside bomb. Isis specialises in publicising its successful military actions online to show that it remains a force to be feared, despite the destruction of the so-called caliphate and the killing last year of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The appalling atrocities committed by Isis at the height of its power ensure that any sign that the movement is back in business creates a thrill of horror at home and abroad. But, while it is true that Isis has been launching an increased number of pin-prick guerrilla actions in Iraq and Syria in recent months, the effect of these can be exaggerated. The assaults are still very limited compared to what happened in the years leading up to Isis’s capture of Mosul in 2014, along with much of western Iraq and eastern Syria. Without the advantage of surprise this time around and with no military vacuum to fill, it is unlikely that Isis can resurrect itself.

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Posted by on May 12, 2020 in Middle East



How Saudi Arabia’s religious project transformed Indonesia

Half a million people, all dressed in white, radiated from the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in central Jakarta. Protesters clogged the streets for a mile in every direction; they went all the way up to the National Monument and beyond it to the presidential palace. It was 4 November 2016, and they had come on buses, planes and on foot, from all across Java and even from some other islands, to participate in the largest Islamist demonstration in Indonesian history.

“We came to the palace to enforce the law,” said the cleric Rizieq Shihab, to rapt silence. “Desecrators of the Qur’an must be punished. We must reject the leaders of infidels,” he said, referring to Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Chinese-Christian governor of Indonesia’s capital city, who is known as Ahok. “If our demands are not heard, are you ready to turn this into a revolution?” “We’re ready!” screamed the crowd, breaking into huge applause. “God is great!”, they shouted. There were cries of “Kill Ahok!”

It was an odd scene in Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country but is not really a “Muslim nation”. Officially, it is a multifaith country that protects six religions equally, where race and ethnicity have been tacitly elided from political discourse. An overtly Islamist political protest like this had no precedent.

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Posted by on May 11, 2020 in Asia, Middle East, Reportages


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Benny Gantz betrayed his voters — and killed off the two-state solution

Michael Richard Pompeo is becoming almost as hypnotic as Donald Trump. What he lacks in lunacy, he makes up for in wilful ignorance or just good old plain hypocrisy.

You might blame Trump for mental incapacity when he hands over the Middle East to his dumbo son-in-law; Pompeo, however, knows what he’s doing. So there he was again this week, suggesting the Iranians were breaking a solemn UN resolution by launching a ballistic missile — while himself ignoring a far more historic but equally solemn UN resolution which calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied Palestinian territory. Watching his dry-as-dust performance as chancer-in-chief, you knew Pompeo would get away with it.

Not a single journalist gave the slightest indication that there might be a little double standard in the US secretary of state’s sudden concern for adherence to UN rules within hours of blithely declaring that it’s “an Israeli decision” if it wants to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank. Besides, UN Resolution 2231, calling upon Iran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons, is only five years old. UN resolution 242, passed immediately after the 1967 Middle East war – in which Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai peninsula – is well over half a century old. Dust. Cobwebs.

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Posted by on April 23, 2020 in Middle East


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Joe Biden says he ‘doesn’t have enough information’ about Iran to have a view. How odd

So, while we continue to be mesmerised by Covid-19, here are a few Middle East tales that should be going viral this week.

Let’s start with a little divestment story. Microsoft has said it’s going to sell its stake in AnyVision, an Israeli facial recognition startup, after civil liberties groups in the US complained that the technology could, in police hands, lead to arbitrary arrests and limit freedom of expression. NBC news – praise where praise is due – broke the original story of Microsoft’s funding for the Israeli company last October, pointing out that it used facial recognition to observe Palestinians throughout the occupied West Bank, in spite of Microsoft’s promise to avoid using the technology if it encroached on democratic freedoms.

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Posted by on April 2, 2020 in Middle East


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Syria’s war in chilling figures

The Syrian war is proof of the collective failure of diplomacy, the UN envoy to the country, Geir Pedersen, said on the eve of the conflict’s ninth anniversary of the conflict.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in Britain said it had identified 384,000 deaths since protesters first took to the streets in 2011 demanding the resignation of President Bashar Al Assad.

The observatory said that did not include the nearly 88,000 civilians tortured to death in Mr Al Assad’s detention centres and prisons.

It did not include the 4,100 missing loyalist fighters, or the more than 3,200 civilians and fighters abducted by ISIS, and the 1,800 people taken by other extremist groups.

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Posted by on March 23, 2020 in Middle East



Trump should have the guts to call his troop movements in Iraq a retreat

Few can forget the words of Tony Blair’s government aide hours after the World Trade Center was destroyed on 9/11. “It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury,” wrote Jo Moore. Donald Trump obviously thought the same thing.

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps over America, he has ordered US troops to abandon three vital military bases in Iraq – to spare them further attacks from Iranian-supported Iraqi Shia fighters.

Trump has always boasted of the need for withdrawals – but this was a retreat. The official line – that the US was “repositioning [sic] troops from a few smaller bases” – was almost as laughable as the final US marine abandonment of Beirut in 1984 after months under fire from Shia militias. Almost four decades ago, the Americans said they were “redeploying to ships offshore”.


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We can’t overlook the raging Saudi throne fight – even if it is overshadowed by the coronavirus

The fear caused by the coronavirus outbreak is greater than that provoked by a serious war because everybody is in the front line and everybody knows that they are a potential casualty. The best parallel is the terror felt by people facing occupation by a hostile foreign army; even if, in the present case, the invader comes in the form of a minuscule virus.

The political consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic are already vast because its advance, and the desperate measures taken to combat it, entirely dominate the news agenda and will go on doing so for the foreseeable future, although it is in the nature of this unprecedented event that nothing can be foreseen.

History has not come to a full stop because of the virus, however: crucial events go on happening, even if they are being ignored by people wholly absorbed by the struggle for survival in the face of a new disease. Many of these unrecognised but very real crises are taking place in the Middle East, the arena where great powers traditionally stage confrontations fought out by their local proxies.

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Posted by on March 17, 2020 in Middle East



The Saudi royal family appear unaware of the dangers of settling scores among themselves

Purges, interrogation, claims of torture, accusations of treason, suspicion of murder, an insane war in Yemen and ruinous plans for a “reformed” kingdom, all supported by the US and the west and an often fawning media. So what’s new?

Poor Mohammed bin Salman is surely getting a bum rap. Far from being a frightening and uncontrollable new autocrat in the Gulf – purging his closest relatives, locking up his rivals, and embarking on a ruinous conflict in Yemen – he is following a familiar path in the history of his country. Saudi Arabia was ever a place of coup and counter-coup, of Islamist fury and fear of assassination. Come on, folks, let’s give MbS a break.

Sure, he’s just banged up his uncle, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, and the cousin he deposed as crown prince in 2017 and put under house arrest, Mohammed bin Nayef, along with Mohammed’s half-brother Nawaf and a clutch of other family members and supposedly loyal retainers. The current interior minister, Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, was also detained but then released after questioning over the weekend.

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Posted by on March 13, 2020 in Middle East



Cómo Turquía convierte en armas a los refugiados

En las últimas dos décadas, la Unión Europea ha endurecido su política migratoria. Los países del sur han levantado alambradas y vallas para reforzar sus fronteras, se han dificultado las peticiones de asilo, se han suspendido derechos fundamentales. El Viejo Continente se ha convertido en lo que los activistas de derechos humanos definen como la Europa Fortaleza. Y, en consecuencia, el presidente turco, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ha decidido trasladar la presión a la frontera europea como en las batallas antiguas: asediando la muralla por diversos puntos. La diferencia es que quienes se hallan al pie del muro no son soldados sino pobres desharrapados ―los refugiados y migrantes más humildes que quedan en Turquía ― y su munición son las esperanzas de quienes desean huir de la guerra en busca de una vida mejor.

“Erdogan nos dijo que la frontera estaba abierta. Vinimos a Edirne pero la policía [turca] nos paró. Nos dijo que no podíamos ir al paso fronterizo de Pazarkule, y nos dirigió hacia el río, donde hay botes para pasar al otro lado. Pero del otro lado los griegos te roban todo y te devuelven a Turquía”, explica Muhammed Hussein, un refugiado afgano. La frontera terrestre entre Turquía y Grecia se extiende a lo largo de 212 kilómetros, en la mayoría de los cuales es el río Evros el que hace de límite natural de ambos países.

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Posted by on March 10, 2020 in Middle East



Putin saves Erdogan from himself

At the start of their discussion marathon in Moscow on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with arguably the most extraordinary diplomatic gambit of the young 21st century.

Putin said: “At the beginning of our meeting, I would like to once again express my sincere condolences over the death of your servicemen in Syria. Unfortunately, as I have already told you during our phone call, nobody, including Syrian troops, had known their whereabouts.”

This is how a true world leader tells a regional leader, to his face, to please refrain from positioning his forces as jihadi supporters – incognito, in the middle of an explosive theater of war.

The Putin-Erdogan face-to-face discussion, with only interpreters allowed in the room, lasted three hours, before another hour with the respective delegations. In the end, it all came down to Putin selling an elegant way for Erdogan to save face – in the form of, what else, yet another ceasefire in Idlib, which started at midnight on Thursday, signed in Turkish, Russian and English – “all texts having equal legal force.”

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Posted by on March 10, 2020 in Europe, Middle East


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