Multiple bombings struck the Iraqi capital of Baghdad during rush-hour Wednesday, mainly near the heavily-fortified "Green Zone," killing at least 22 people and wounding an estimated 30 others. The Green Zone houses Iraq's Parliament, the prime minister's office, and Western embassies. According to security sources, two parked cars exploded across from the ministry of foreign affairs. The interior ministry said a suicide bomber detonated explosives as he was being searched. Another suicide bomber blew himself up outside a restaurant one street away from the Green Zone, according to security sources. Additionally, a car bomb exploded in the commercial area of Khilani Square. The attacks came a day after two rockets exploded in the Green Zone and a series of bombings around Baghdad killed at least seven people.
The United Nations has released a report assessing the impact of the nearly three-year war in Syria on children. U.N. investigators found that all parties in the conflict had committed "grave violations against children" and that at least 10,000 children had been killed between March 2011 and November 2013. According to the report, children have been tortured and raped in government detention, used as human shields, and recruited to fight with the opposition. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned the Syrian government forces' use of barrel bombs in attacks on the northern city of Aleppo saying it was the "latest barbaric act of the Syrian regime." According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights over 150 people have been killed by barrel bombings in the past four days. Meanwhile, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) signed a truce with the rival Islamist faction Suqour al-Sham on Tuesday. Suqour al-Sham had linked with a coalition of rebel groups fighting ISIL because of alleged abuses against civilians and rival opposition groups. Clashes between the rival groups since January 3 have killed over 1,700 people. The U.S. representative to the Syrian opposition, Ambassador Robert S. Ford, has notified the State Department that he plans to retire at the end of February. Ford was ambassador to Syria at the onset of the conflict and was active against President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on the opposition. U.S. officials have not released information on a successor.
- A suspect in the killings of two Tunisian opposition politicians was among seven militants killed in a police raid on Monday in the suburbs of Tunis.
- A grenade hit a school in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi Wednesday causing an explosion that injured an estimated 12 children.
- Saudi Arabia issued a decree threatening three to 20 year prison terms for citizens who fight in conflicts abroad in apparent efforts to stem the flow of Saudis to the Syrian conflict.
- The United States has called on Egypt to release three Al Jazeera journalists stating that the "restrictions on freedom of expression" are a concern.
- The king of Bahrain has approved a law increasing penalties for anyone who publicly insults him imposing a jail term of up to seven years and a $26,500 fine.
Arguments and Analysis
'Zamzam and the Jordanian Brotherhood' (Tareq Al-Naimat, Sada)
"The Zamzam founders say that they are trying to break down the duopoly of the regime versus the Brotherhood, which has dominated both local and regional politics, and create a third way toward achieving political reform in a country exhausted by economic crises. Likewise, the sweeping scope of the initiative is reminiscent of the Brotherhood's style of presenting itself as simultaneously expert in economics, politics, social policy, and moral guidance. Zamzam has not convinced observers that it is a new political project able to effect change in the political arena -- particularly given the experience of the Wasat Party, a group that broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood in the mid-1990s and which saw little success in attracting Brotherhood supporters.
The political atmosphere and public mood in Jordan hardly create a friendly environment for fostering new political parties. After decades of deterrence and intimidation of political engagement, as well as the failure on the part of parties themselves to gain broad popular support, Zamzam's chances of convincing the masses that it is a worthwhile entity appear remote. It is also noteworthy that the regime welcomed the Zamzam Initiative with significant state-run media coverage of the launch announcement, attended by government officials. This suggests that the regime wants to portray Zamzam as an alternative to the Brotherhood, which it claims is splintering and weakening. This reception has also raised doubts about the initiative's neutrality and whether it is being used by the regime to weaken its staunchest political opponents."
'Saudi Arabia's anti-terror law not enough' (Madawi Al-Rasheed, Al-Monitor)
"The Saudi regime wants the world to see those Saudi jihadists as independent non-state actors over which the government exercises no control, thus absolving it of any responsibility. This raises an important question with regard to the government's ability to control the flow of its own citizens to overseas destinations, where they assist other rebels. However, such an explanation does not seem appropriate in the Saudi context for one simple reason: Saudi Arabia is not one of the countries where religion, believed to be a source of inspiration for jihadists, is the realm of the individual and part of an independent civil society. In Saudi Arabia, the state and religion are fused and tend to support one another. The former provides institutions and funding to regulate religious activities and education, while the latter enjoys those benefits in return for supporting government decisions. The two may occasionally collide over specific policies, especially those that touch on social life, but in general, the relationship is harmonious.
Yet, the problem in Saudi Arabia started when a dogmatic Wahhabi tradition struggled to maintain control over the dissenting voices that emerged from within its rank and file. The more this tradition insisted on obeying political leaders, the more it fragmented and mutated, producing lethal outcomes that came to haunt not only Saudi Arabia but also the world. The government called upon its most trusted clerics to eliminate the challenge of a fragmenting religious tradition, but it was too late. It was difficult to debate religion in a country where monolithic interpretations, conformity and obedience are the norm. Top-down religion proved to be detrimental not only to society but also to religion itself. The more the religious tradition fragmented, the more the Saudi government felt it needed to control it to mitigate further dissent. It promoted debate to absolve itself from responsibility and put the full perceived burden on society. Supported by a large media empire, the state wanted everyone to believe that society is radical, while it is in fact progressive. In this way, the government protected itself from being seen as an accomplice in providing an institutional niche for radicals."
--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr
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