The Middle East Channel

Suspected al Qaeda attacks on army targets in southern Yemen kill 40 people

Suspected al Qaeda linked militants launched simultaneous attacks on army targets in southern Yemen Friday killing at least 40 people. An estimated 30 soldiers were killed and many others wounded when two car bombs exploded at a military base in the town of al-Nashama in Shabwa province. In the town of Maifaa, gunmen killed 10 soldiers. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, military officials believe they were carried out by Yemen's al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Islamist militants have taken advantage of political instability in Yemen since the 2011 uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and have carried out numerous attacks against Yemeni security and military officers in the southern provinces. Friday's attacks were among the largest attacks against the Yemeni military and came after a recent statement by authorities warning of an expected increase in al Qaeda attacks and suicide bombings.

Syria

After days of fighting in the northern town of Azaz, near the Turkish border, the Free Syrian Army's Northern Storm Brigade and fighters from the al Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have negotiated a cease-fire. The Islamist Tawheed Brigade, based about 20 miles south in Aleppo, brokered the truce. The deal included the installation of a checkpoint between the two sides and an agreement that future disputes would be taken before an Islamic council. As the groups negotiated the cease-fire, Syria's main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, issued a statement criticizing the al Qaeda linked militants saying they are undermining the rebels' struggle for a free Syria. In an interview with the Guardian, Syria's Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said that the Syrian war had reached a stalemate, with neither side strong enough to win. Additionally, he said that the Syrian government would call for a cease-fire after a long-delayed peace conference in Geneva. However, Jamil insists that he was misquoted. Meanwhile, the United States is pushing for a U.N. resolution on Syria ahead of Saturday's deadline for the Assad regime to provide a list of its chemical weapons facilities.

Headlines  

  • Two bombs hidden inside air conditioning units at a Sunni mosque south of the Iraqi city of Samarra killed an estimated 15 people when they exploded during Friday prayers.
  • The U.S. administration has hinted at a possible meeting between President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani as a top Iranian advisor said Iran's leaders are willing to negotiate in order to end sanctions. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Why Iran seeks constructive engagement' (Hassan Rouhani, The Washington Post)

"I am committed to confronting our common challenges via a two-pronged approach.

First, we must join hands to constructively work toward national dialogue, whether in Syria or Bahrain. We must create an atmosphere where peoples of the region can decide their own fates. As part of this, I announce my government's readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Second, we must address the broader, overarching injustices and rivalries that fuel violence and tensions. A key aspect of my commitment to constructive interaction entails a sincere effort to engage with neighbors and other nations to identify and secure win-win solutions.

We and our international counterparts have spent a lot of time -- perhaps too much time -- discussing what we don't want rather than what we do want. This is not unique to Iran's international relations. In a climate where much of foreign policy is a direct function of domestic politics, focusing on what one doesn't want is an easy way out of difficult conundrums for many world leaders. Expressing what one does want requires more courage."

'Diplomacy may make Bashar disposable' (Michael Young, The Daily Star)

"Within a week, one story -- punishing Bashar Assad for his probable use of chemical weapons against civilians in the Ghouta region -- has been pushed aside by another: the possibility of a rapprochement between Iran and the United States, even as Washington is coordinating its policies toward Syria with another adversary, Russia.

It's best in these cases not to get carried away by optimism. Diplomacy and dialogue are not ends in themselves. Yet the potential opportunities are great, whether for Syria or the rest of the Middle East, if broader understandings can be reached between the main regional and global actors. And tectonic shifts, if they occur, may ultimately ensure that Assad is politically disposable.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made normalization with the West a central plank of his political program. Critically, he seems to have the support of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. On Tuesday, Khamenei endorsed Rouhani's position, saying Iran should embrace diplomacy over militarism and that it was time for ‘heroic leniency.'

In remarks to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Khamenei said, ‘[I]t is not necessary for the IRGC to be active in the political field, but defending the revolution requires that they understand political realities.' This appeared to be Khamenei's way of legitimizing Rouhani's opening in front of an institution that, potentially, may pose problems for the president down the road."

'Yemen: Corruption, Capital Flight and Global Drivers of Conflict' (Ginny Hill, Peter Salisbury, Léonie Northedge and Jane Kinninmont, Chatham House)

"Before the 2011 uprising, Yemen was better known as the target of two distinct -- and sometimes conflicting -- Western narrative frameworks for foreign policy. For more than a decade, it has been classified as a front-line state in the US-led 'war on terror', with Western and regional governments providing military aid to an increasingly sclerotic regime aligned with their counter-terrorism objectives. It is also routinely cited as a 'fragile state'. Western (as well as Arab) aid efforts to alleviate poverty and hunger are designed partly to mitigate the risk of an eventual full-scale state collapse. But as the report argues, policies which effectively helped to sustain the Saleh regime may well have hastened the arrival of such a collapse. Moreover, following more than three decades as a military republic dominated by an authoritarian leader, Yemen also belongs to the broader regional narrative of the ‘Arab Spring' that accompanied the downfall of Tunisia's President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Libya's leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

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