The Middle East Channel

Iraq Signs $195 Million Arms Deal With Iran

Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq $195 million worth of arms and ammunition, according to a report by Reuters, in a move that would violate a U.N. weapons embargo on Iran. Reuters said documents showed that Iraq signed eight arms contracts with Iranian state-owned companies in November, just weeks after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with U.S. President Barack Obama requesting additional weapons to fight al Qaeda-linked militants. Maliki would neither confirm nor deny the reports, and the Iranian government denied any knowledge of an arms deal with Iraq. The United States said it is "seeking clarification" over the report, and State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said "If true, this would raise serious concerns." A U.S. official said such a deal could complicate ongoing nuclear talks with Iran.

Syria

Israeli jets launched two raids on the Syrian-Lebanese border late Monday, according to Lebanon's National News Agency. Reports conflict over whether the strikes hit Lebanese or Syrian territory, though Lebanese sources said the raids took place near the village of Nabi Sheet in the eastern Bekaa Valley. The Lebanese army said four Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace at 9:50 p.m. According to a security source, the warplanes hit a suspected Hezbollah weapons convoy. The source added that there is a Hezbollah training site in the area. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Israeli planes bombed a Hezbollah "missile base." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would neither confirm nor deny the strikes, but said, "we do all that is necessary in order to defend our citizens." According to U.S. officials, Israel has conducted three strikes on Syria in the past year in efforts to prevent arms deliveries from reaching Hezbollah. Hezbollah's television channel, Al Manar, said there was "no raid on Lebanese territory." Meanwhile, Filippo Grandi, commissioner general of the U.N. relief agency supporting Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on a visit to the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus, said he is "deeply disturbed and shaken" by the despair and destruction. The United Nations estimates over 100 people have died since mid-2013 from starvation and illness in the rebel enclave that has been blockaded by pro-regime forces.

Headlines

  • A Turkish opposition party leader has called for an investigation into Recep Tayyip Erdogan for alleged corruption after the prime minister accused his rivals of fabricating an audio recording of him telling his son to dispose of large amounts of money.
  • Seven Egyptian men have been found shot dead on a beach near the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi and authorities said they could not yet "speculate on the motive of the crime."
  • Egyptian interim President Adly Mansour has asked Ibrahim Mehleb, who resigned as housing minister Monday, to succeed Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister and form a new government.
  • British police have arrested a woman and three men, including former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg, on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offenses.

Arguments and Analysis

'Bouteflika's Fourth Mandate: The Cartel's Gamble' (Thomas Serres, Jadaliyya)

"In short, the cartel's gamble regards the reaction of the Algerian population. It regards the capacity of the ruling elite to know the opinions and interests of the people. It is, after all, in the name of these people that they pretend to rule. But one would need to be a soothsayer to be able to claim such knowledge. In fact, there are a number of factors that influence the reception of this announcement: certain material interests, the fear of a much-cited potential chaos, political mobilization (or lack there of), and the senses of priority and honor. Also, even if this choice was one between stability and loyalty, as claimed by the servants of the Impotent Prince, it also implies a period of uncertainty. The uncertainty does not concern the relationships of power within the cartel as much as the reaction of those who may see this non-event as one insult too many. 

In the coming weeks, it is not the cries of outrage coming from the editorialists that deserve our scrutiny. Indeed, they have been indignant for many years, and their criticisms have never managed to shake the cartel. However, it would be much more worrisome for the supporters of the status quo should Bouteflika's fourth term become a common theme in the multiple forms of protests that express the persistent and profound nature of popular discontentment. We certainly have not reached this point yet, and there is hardly any doubt that the Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale (DGSN) will do whatever is necessary to prevent cross-sector mobilizations, tracking each slogan that exceeds the habitual socio-economic demands. And still, all forms of control have their limits. One should not prematurely judge the quantity of insults that people can stomach without reacting."

'Illicit Trafficking and Libya's Transition: Profits and Losses' (Mark Shaw and Fiona Mangan, United States Institute of Peace)

"Observers often focus on the engagement of the militias in the political process. For many of these groups, however, resources from trafficking and smuggling empowers them and undercuts commitment to peaceful, democratic processes. They may at present not have an interest in outright secession, but the funding from illicit activities is a centrifugal force that encourages armed groups to continue to recuse themselves from the central statebuilding process. Several factors, not least of which is Libya's location along some of the oldest trans-Saharan trade and trafficking routes to Europe, have made the fledging political order particularly vulnerable to organized criminal activity. The very logic of trafficking and smuggling, which relies on tenuous controls of the state's periphery, is an incentive for armed groups to maintain a weak state rather than allow a strong one to be rebuilt. Furthermore, the protection of trafficking routes -- which entails access to arms and maintenance of militias -- not only ensures that these groups are unlikely to be interested in a formal demobilization or disarmament process but also serves to proliferate arms, maintain instability, and promote violence.

The geography of Libya is such that most of the population lives along the northern coastal belt and temperate western highlands, and far fewer people are in the south, where the reach of the state is noticeably weaker, particularly around Sebha in the southwest and Kufrah in the southeast. The coastal belt is divided: On the one hand is the pull of the central state from Tripoli and the urban concentrations in the mountains between Tripoli and the Tunisian border; on the other is the Barqa region to the east with its distinctive political history and culture centered on the city of Benghazi."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

AZHAR SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images

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