The Middle East Channel

IAEA Says Iranian Promise to Reveal Detonator Data is First Step

The Iranian government committed to reveal information on its detonators for the first time on Sunday as one of seven steps aimed at allaying fears over its nuclear program. Iran will provide greater access to and more information about its Arak heavy-water reactor, the Saghand uranium mine, and a facility close to the city of Ardakan, but did not include access to the Parchin military site in the deal. The Iranian government reached the agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over two days of negotiations in the Iranian capital of Tehran. All of the seven measures promised by Iran are expected to be completed by May 15. IAEA Deputy Director General Tero Varjoranta said there had been good progress over talks but that this is just "the first step" to address concerns over possible military links to Iran's nuclear program. Varjoranta continued saying "there are still a lot of outstanding issues." Iran has rejected Western accusations that it is seeking the capability to develop nuclear weapons.

Syria

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will meet with Syrian government and opposition delegations as a second round of Syrian peace talks begin Monday in Geneva. Brahimi wrote a document distributed to the opposing parties over the weekend asking them to make a commitment at the start to address two main issues: halting fighting and working out discussion of a transitional government. The talks have resumed after a three-day cease-fire was broken in Homs by shelling and sniper attacks on humanitarian convoys. The Syrian government and opposition have exchanged blame over the attacks. The United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent evacuated around 600 people, mainly women, children, and elderly men from Old Homs, where an estimated 2,500 people have been trapped by the conflict. The governor of Homs and the opposition are discussing a three-day extension to the cease-fire for additional evacuations and delivery of more aid. Meanwhile, Islamist fighters seized the Alawite village of Maan in central Hama province Sunday killing at least 40 people. The attack was reportedly part of an offensive aiming to cut off supply routes from Damascus to northern Syria. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have reportedly almost completely withdrawn from the eastern province of Deir Al-Zour after days of heavy clashes with rival factions for control of towns and oil fields. 

Headlines

  • A senior Iranian naval commander has said warships in the Atlantic Ocean are for the first time set to sail close to U.S. maritime borders in a response to U.S. vessels in the Gulf.
  • At least 21 Iraqi militants were killed north of Baghdad Monday when a car bomb mistakenly detonated as they were making a propaganda video.
  • Leftwing Egyptian politician Hamdeen Sabahi announced he will run for president, likely pitting him against Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has yet to declare a bid but is largely expected to win.
  • The Israeli military carried out an airstrike on Sunday targeting a Palestinian militant in Gaza, injuring the man as well as a bystander.

Arguments and Analysis

'Process Lessons Learned in Yemen's National Dialogue' (Erica Gaston, United States Institute of Peace)

"One of the key expectations of the NDC was that it could work through the major political roadblocks facing the country. Most important of these roadblocks are the southern issue, the Houthi issue, and the balance of power between Yemen's diverse political parties and stakeholders. Although less overtly discussed than North-South negotiations, striking a more sustainable power-sharing agreement between Yemen's diverse political parties and stakeholders is critical. With Saleh gone (though many in his government remain in power), the fragile balance between Yemen's main political parties, tribal entities and leaders, and other regional power brokers was broken. Given that all sides are armed and relatively well matched, Yemen risks further protracted violence if this transition period does not end with a sustainable balance of power. In the meantime, absent a more functional and stable governing structure, no Yemeni administration can effectively tackle the enormous challenges the country faces.

Although these political negotiations were perceived as one of the main objectives for the NDC, in reality, the NDC was likely never going to be the main forum of political negotiation -- for reasons largely not its fault. The issues were complex and likely would have required a longer timeline than the six months allotted, as the extension of the NDC and the post-NDC implementation phase proved to be the case. They also likely needed different participants or type of negotiating forum."

'Rein in the Saudi Religious Police' (Manal Al-Sharif, New York Times)

"Long considered one of the country's taboo subjects (along with any criticism of King Abdullah), the commission [Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice], also known as the mutaween, is now one of Saudi Arabia's most controversial issues. Tapped to lead the force in 2012, Mr. Sheikh today finds himself facing both scathing public attacks and worsening internal conflict.

The government, for its part, is wary of clamping down on the mutaween for fear of inciting a conservative backlash and is walking a fine line between the religious police and an increasingly angry populace. While dismantling of the force is unrealistic, this delicate moment opens a window of opportunity for Saudis. By continuing to voice anger and disapproval, the public may provide Riyadh with the leverage it needs to demand police adherence to regulations already in place, and slowly weaken the commission's influence."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

AMIR POURMAND/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

UN Begins Evacuation of Civilians from the Syrian City of Homs

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, an agreement has been reached for a three-day cease-fire in order to evacuate civilians from the Syrian city of Homs and for the delivery of humanitarian aid to people who remain. The deal came after multiple days of negotiations between a regional U.N. humanitarian coordinator and the local governor. About 2,500 people are believed to be trapped in Homs, between 500 and 700 of whom want to be evacuated, including 80 people reported to be wounded. A U.N. convoy entered the city Friday in order to begin the initial evacuation of 200 people, including women, children, and elderly. Men between the ages of 15 and 55 in the opposition held area of Old Homs will be required to register and "regularize their status," which is similar to surrender. The United Nations said that humanitarian supplies are ready outside Homs, however the expected delivery has been delayed until Saturday. Russia said the agreement on Homs should improve the atmosphere for peace talks set to resume in Geneva on Monday. On Friday, the Syrian government announced it will participate in the second round of talks. The opposition also said its delegation will attend. Meanwhile, rebel forces claimed they have seized a large part of Aleppo's central prison freeing hundreds of inmates. They have additionally overtaken the Kweiras air base east of Aleppo. Fighting has escalated in the strategic city in the past week, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the regime's "ongoing aerial attacks and the use of ‘barrel bombs' to brutal, devastating effect in populated areas."

Headlines

  • Two bombs exploded near a police checkpoint on a bridge in Giza, on the outskirts of Egypt's capital of Cairo, Friday injuring six people.
  • An Egyptian court has ordered the retrial of 62 people, 21 of whom were sentenced to death, in connection with the 2012 Port Said football riot in which 74 people were killed.
  • Libya's interim parliament has voted to extend its mandate, set to expire Friday, to give time to a special committee to draft a new constitution.
  • Israeli demolitions of Palestinian property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have hit a five-year high with 663 structures torn down in 2013.
  • The Iranian government has offered a surprise donation to Tehran's only Jewish hospital saying it "intends to unite all ethnic groups and religions."

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria's low-tech WMD: Starvation' (Anne Applebaum, Washington Post)

"In the 20th century, dictators used starvation not just as a battle tactic but also to murder people who did not fit into their vision of an ideal society. Before resorting to more ‘industrial' methods, Hitler used starvation to kill Jews: Nazi soldiers shut them in ghettos, closed the doors and shot children who tried to smuggle food in through the sewers. Stalin used starvation to kill Ukrainian peasants: Soviet soldiers confiscated their grain, forcibly removed food from their larders and blocked roads so nothing could reach them. As in the Middle Ages, the Jews of the Lodz ghetto and the peasants of Kharkiv district grew weak, lost their hair and teeth, and then died. Millions of people were thus murdered, without a whiff of sarin gas or a drop of plutonium.

Nowadays, 'death by forced starvation' sounds like something from an old newsreel. But it is not. Right now, in the 21st century, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is once again making use of it. While the international community is haggling over his chemical weapons, the stuff of modern nightmares, Assad is following the example of his medieval and his 20th-century predecessors and deliberately starving thousands of people to death."

'Inside Baseball on Syrian Rebel Infighting' (Aaron Zelin, War on the Rocks)

"While fighting continues between the Islamic Front and ISIS, it is a lot more complex than reported in the media; though, as the fighting heads into a second month, positions are becoming hardened (more on this below). Further, the bulk of the anti-ISIS fighting has been conducted by the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and Jaysh al-Mujahidin. While it appears that there is a unified backlash against ISIS, there are two different dynamics going on with the bulk of the infighting occurring between the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, in coalition with Jaysh al-Mujahidin, and ISIS. The Syrian Revolutionaries Front-Jaysh al-Mujahidin alliance is more based on differences in ideology and potentially a demonstration to outside backers that they can fight against jihadis, whereas the Islamic Front offensive is more a response to abuses perpetrated by ISIS against it along with an attempt to act as a sovereign state in liberated areas. Although in the first few days of infighting ISIS was dealt blows and kicked out of a number of areas, the group has not been defeated. In fact, it has been able to recover in spite of its isolation among the rebels.

Many within the jihadi camp have framed any fighting between ISIS and the Islamic Front as merely fitna (discord), while the fight with the Syrian Revolutionaries Front-Jaysh al-Mujahidin is seen as more akin to a second sahwa movement (similar to what occurred in Iraq last decade). Though, some diehard ISIS activists view Islamic Front as part of the sahwat as well. Originally, when the fighting first began, there were hopes within the jihadi movement that the more complicated dynamics between the Islamic Front and ISIS could to be resolved through mediation, especially with Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda's preferred branch in Syria) as a potential interlocker. In addition to Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, calling for a cease-fire, key global jihadi ideologues such as Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Shaykh Abu Qatadah al-Filistini, Shaykh Abu Basir al-Tartusi, Iyad Qunaybi, and Shaykh Sulayman al-Ulwan have criticized ISIS' excessive use of force. It should be noted that there have also been small skirmishes between Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, but in a very limited capacity."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

STR/AFP/Getty Images