The Middle East Channel

Second in command of Yemen’s al Qaeda operation has reportedly been killed

Yemeni officials have reported that the second in command of the country's branch of al Qaeda, Saeed al-Shihri, has been killed, although details have not been confirmed. Shihri, a Saudi Arabian national, fought in Afghanistan and had been detained for six years at the U.S. military prison at Guatanamo Bay until his release in 2007. At that point, he was returned to Saudi Arabia for a "rehabilitation" program aimed at extinguishing militant ideology. Upon his release, he joined al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, serving as deputy to branch leader Nasser al-Wahishi. According to Yemen's ministry of defense, Shihri, along with six others traveling together in a car, was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Monday. However, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she couldn't confirm Shihri's death, who has been reported dead in the past. However, two senior U.S. officials did confirm he had been killed, but could not confirm U.S. involvement. If accounts are verified, Shihri's death could be a major breakthrough for U.S. backed efforts against the militant group. Meanwhile, coinciding with the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a 42-minute video confirming the death of his deputy, Abu Yahya al-Libi. He was believed to have been killed by a U.S. drone strike in June, but questions arose after a video featuring him was released a week after the strike.

Syria

The United Nations' refugee agency has reported more than 250,000 Syrians have flooded into neighboring countries seeking assistance. The estimate includes all of those who have registered as Syrian refugees, or are awaiting registration; the total number of people who have fled the conflict is likely far higher as tens of thousands are believed not to have registered. Refugee flows have increased to an average 2,000 in Jordan where authorities are concerned about their capacity for humanitarian relief efforts. Additionally, World Health Organization officials have reported that over 500,000 people in the Syrian city of Homs need aid, including health care, food, and water. They said the biggest hospital in Homs was destroyed in fighting, while only six of the 12 public hospitals and eight of the 32 private hospitals are still operating, but at a dramatically reduced capacity. Meanwhile, Syrian forces continued their assault on Aleppo and shelling was reported in Hama province. Clashes were reported in the Barzeh neighborhood of Damascus, and outside the capital in Douma. The Syrian Observatory for human rights said 25 civilians were killed in Tuesday's violence.

Headlines  

  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to extradite Iraqi Vice President Tareq Hashemi insisting he was not involved in the crimes he was convicted of on Sunday.
  • After a week of West Bank demonstrations spurred by the economic crisis, Palestinian taxi, truck, and bus drivers went on strike and protests turned violent in Hebron.
  • A suicide bomber outside a police station in the Sultangazi district of Istanbul killed one policeman and injured at least seven people, including police officers and civilians.
  • Yemen's Defense Minister Major General Mohamed Nasir Ahmad has survived an assassination attempt in Sanaa that reportedly killed at least seven of his bodyguards.
  • According to the United States and other diplomats, the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has new intelligence that Iran has advanced nuclear weapons research

Arguments & Analysis 

Palestinians take to streets in call for Fayyad to step down' (Aziz Abu Sarah, +972 Magazine)

"In the past few days, protesters have filled the Palestinian streets. This time, their protest is not against Israel, but rather against the Palestinian Authority and specifically Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The Palestinians are coming out to protest the rising prices in the West Bank, which have increased at a time when the Palestinian Authority has been unable to pay its employees their full salaries on time.

However, what is more important than whether or not Prime Minister Fayyad holds onto his job is the role of the Palestinian Authority. Since it's inception, the Palestinian Authority failed to deliver on its promises. No statehood, no freedom, and no dignity for the Palestinian people. Its sole justification for existence has become providing services, creating government jobs, facilitating modest business growth, fundraising, providing some internal law and security services, and - some say - enabling the Israeli occupation. If the Palestinian Authority is unable to provide basic services, then its role and purpose are unclear. The Palestinian Authority's reason for existence is going become an increasingly tough sell to the Palestinian people, who might turn against it when they are done with Fayyad."

Turkey: The PKK and a Kurdish Settlement' (International Crisis Group)

"Turkey's Kurdish conflict is becoming more violent, with more than 700 dead in fourteen months, the highest casualties in thirteen years. Prolonged clashes with militants in the south east, kidnappings and attacks on civilians suggest hardliners are gaining the upper hand in the insurgent PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). The government and mainstream media should resist the impulse to call for all-out anti-terrorist war and focus instead, together with Kurds, on long-term conflict resolution. There is need to reform oppressive laws that jail legitimate Kurdish politicians and make amends for security forces' excess. The Kurdish move­ment, including PKK leaders, must abjure terrorist attacks and publicly commit to realistic political goals. Above all, politicians on all sides must legalise the rights most of Turkey's Kurds seek, including mother-language education; an end to discriminatory laws; fair political representation; and more decentralisation. Turkey's Kurds would then have full equality and rights, support for PKK violence would drop, and the government would be better placed to negotiate insurgent disarmament and demobilisation."

Follow the money to measure Iraq's move away from Iran' (Ashfin Molavi, The National)

"Iraqi politics remains muddled. Its sectarian divisions have sharpened. Violence clearly remains a threat. And yet, amid these problems, Iraq is pushing oil production uphill, while Iran's is falling.

As Iraq's coffers fill and Iran's empty, a balance will emerge. Tehran will lose the ability to decisively influence Iraqi politics. Meanwhile, Iraq will improve relations with Arab powers who are hostile to Tehran's influence. China and other Asian buyers will look more to Iraq as a major new source of oil. And Baghdad will re-emerge in its traditional role as a regional power, alongside Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

As Iraq grows richer, it will be able to play "rial-politik" on its own and, more importantly, be less swayed by outsiders waving wads of cash. As Iraq stabilises over the next decade, its geopolitical influence will grow.

There is no abrupt shift in the balance of power today, but the tectonic plates are moving. Iraq and Iran are moving towards equilibrium again, and that will benefit Iraq's long-term stability."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Iraq’s vice president rejects guilty verdict amid a deadly wave of attacks

Iraq's Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, tried in absentia while in Turkey, has been found guilty of orchestrating death squads. Although, he rejected the verdict, saying it was "politically motivated." A Baghdad criminal court delivered the verdict on Sunday, and sentenced Hashemi to death. Hashemi has been charged with involvement in over 150 attacks on Iraqi officials and security forces between 2005 and 2011, and is accused of directly ordering several assassinations. A warrant was delivered for his arrest on December 19, 2011, the day after the U.S. troop withdrew their forces. Afterwards, he fled to Iraq's northern autonomous Kurdish region. In Iraq, he was the most senior Sunni Muslim official and accused the government run by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of "pushing for" increased sectarian strife. Sunni leaders have accused Maliki and the Shiite dominated government of attempting to sideline them from a power-sharing arrangement. The verdict coincided with a wave of over 20 attacks, mainly targeting Shiite neighborhoods across Iraq, during which an estimated 100 people were killed and more than 350 wounded, in one of the deadliest days since the U.S. departure.

Syria

Two simultaneous car bombings late Sunday in Syria's northern city of Aleppo killed up to 27 people and injured dozens. The bombings targeted makeshift army barracks and the military police headquarters in central Aleppo where the military had taken over two adjacent districts from residents to house soldiers. The Noble Aleppo brigade of the opposition Free Syrian Army took responsibility for the attack saying it cooperated with a loyalist sympathizer to plant the bombs inside the buildings. Syrian state television blamed the assault on "terrorists." Meanwhile, air raids by Syrian forces in Aleppo damaged a main water pipeline, cutting off drinking water to several neighborhoods. Additionally, shelling has continued in south Damascus, striking the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk and the adjacent neighborhood of Hajar al-Aswad. As the humanitarian crisis in Syria escalates, Turkey has shifted its policy on refugees, demanding they either enter camps or move deeper into the country away from the tense border region. According to the United Nations and Turkey, about 80,000 Syrian refugees are housed in camps along the Turkish border, and 40,000 others are living within Turkey's cities. Turkish officials say the policy is meant to disperse the Syrians to separate them from possible antagonists. However, it will create added stress for Syrians injured in the conflict or those working from Turkey to aid the opposition. Turkey has criticized the United Nations, United States, and Europe for abandoning the country on the front line of Syria's civil war. The United Nations' Human Rights Council has convened in Geneva on Monday, where U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said both the Syrian government and opposition are responsible for human rights abuses. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for all war criminals in Syria to be "brought to justice."

Headlines

  • Two Palestinian children were injured from Israeli air strikes in Gaza in a series of attacks after rockets launched by Gazan militants injured at least seven Israelis on Sunday.
  • Bahrain's government is seeking to sue the opposition Al Wefaq party for holding a "non-sanctioned" anti-government march.
  • The Palestinian Authority asked Israel on Sunday to amend an economic agreement after a week of street protests against high prices have prompted Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to say he is willing to resign.
  • The Egyptian army has announced that 32 suspected militants have been killed in Sinai in an operation launched after an August 5 attack killed 16 Egyptian soldiers near the Israeli border.

Arguments & Analysis 

Nuclear Mullahs' (Bill Keller, The New York Times)

"This strikes me as a good time to address an unnerving question that confronts any concerned student of this subject: Can we live with a nuclear Iran? Given a choice of raining bunker-busting munitions on Iran's underground enrichment facilities, or, alternatively, containing a nuclear-armed Iran with the sobering threat of annihilation, which is the less bad option? As the slogan goes in Israel: "Bomb? Or The Bomb?""

Dissent Among the Alawites: Syria's Ruling Sect Does Not Speak with One Voice' (Steven Sotloff, Time Magazine)

"The Alawites, also known as the Alawis, appeared to coalesce around the new regime, which promoted members of the sect to positions of influence and power in the government and, more importantly, the military. When Hafez Assad died in 2000, his son Bashar Assad succeeded him as President. Since March 2011, Bashar Assad has been trying to suppress an uprising that has become a civil war. For the most part, his fellow Alawites have stuck by him in the increasingly bloody fighting. But not all.

Sect members are increasingly breaking rank, as defections swell along with mounting uneasiness about the government's crackdown against what started as a peaceful protest movement."

Online trafficking of Syrian women shames all involved' (Hassan Hassan, The National)

"Women and girls continue to be the worst affected by Syria's conflict, but their suffering rarely makes the headlines. Among the men who have died in the conflict, many will be honoured as martyrs. Those who have survived suffering at the hands of the regime will return to their homes as heroes. But women, including victims of sexual assault and refugees, will remain permanently stigmatised in conservative societies that simply do not see their suffering as equal.

In a column in July, I wrote that Syria's war, like every conflict, would have profound and long-lasting effects for women and girls, even for those who have escaped the battlefield. It is very clear that this is already happening. In recent weeks, Arabic media have reported that women in refugee camps, mostly minors, are being sexually exploited under the pretext of marriage."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

AFP/Getty Images