The Middle East Channel

Jordan Acquits Radical Cleric Abu Qatada of Terror Charges

Jordan's state security court has acquitted radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada of conspiring to carry out terrorist acts in 1998. A Jordanian court previously sentenced the cleric, whose real name is Omar Othman, in absentia to life in prison, though the convictions were dismissed because they were based on evidence that may have been extracted under torture from other defendants. Thursday's session was a retrial, and the court found Abu Qatada not guilty due to insufficient evidence. However, he will remain in prison awaiting a trial set for September when Abu Qatada will face separate charges of involvement in a plot to attack tourists in Jordan during the 2000 New Year's celebrations. The cleric was granted asylum in Britain in 1994, but was extradited to Jordan in July 2013.

Iraq-Syria

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has confirmed that Syrian warplanes had carried out airstrikes against militants near the border town of al-Qaim. Maliki said he did not request the strikes, but welcomed any attack against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Syrian state media denied the government had conducted airstrikes in Iraqi territory. According to U.S. officials, Iran has been secretly sending military equipment and supplies to Iraqi forces, and has been directing surveillance drones over the country. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has traveled to Baghdad to push Iraqi politicians to form an inclusive government across sectarian lines. Iraq's parliament is set to meet Monday to work to form a new government.

Headlines  

  • A Saudi suicide bomber blew himself up Wednesday in a Beirut hotel as Lebanese security forces raided the building in a "pre-emptive strike" on a terrorist cell.
  • Libya saw low turnout for its parliamentary elections, which were overshadowed by violence, including the killing of prominent lawyer and human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis.
  • About 40,000 Hamas-hired workers have gone on strike in Gaza over a wage dispute while workers on the Palestinian Authority payroll have continued to receive checks.
  • Yemeni officials reported al Qaeda fighters attacked an airport in the southern Hadramawt province and bombed its air control tower.

Arguments and Analysis

'Libya: the Dangers of Inconclusive Elections' (Mattia Toaldo, Istituto Per Gli Studi Di Politica Internazionale)

"Ultimately, these elections may not solve the crisis of legitimacy affecting Libya's main institutions. Results will be hard to understand immediately for foreigners since the electoral law forbade party lists and candidates formally all independents and elected in single-seat constituencies with a simple majority system. In the absence of clearly defined political blocs, this may result in the elections of notables and local leaders without clear affiliation. Although existing national parties have already fielded their candidates, existing fragmentation coupled with the single-seat constituencies may again produce members of parliament who represent only around 10% of the voters in their district. This could mean an extremely narrow base of support if turnout is low among the already low number of registered voters.

Most factions have guaranteed to international envoys that they will recognize the results but it is hard to say whether elections will put an end to the fighting. The last attempt at reconciliation was organized by the UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for June 18 but it was aborted because of opposition from Hiftar's front. The new parliament, which will change its denomination into "House of representatives", will need to elect soon a new Prime Minister if government authority is to be restored. Not an easy task given the fragmentation resulting from the electoral law which will add to the existing territorial rifts between cities that played different roles in the revolution and the ensuing civil war." 

'The Lebanese Army and the Confessional Trap' (Mona Alami, Sada)

"Facing greater threats from the escalating war in neighboring Syria, the army sought aid from Hezbollah, especially over the past few months. By 2013, the Lebanese army was exchanging valuable security information with Hezbollah that allowed it to respond effectively to a number of threats. According to an army source, the shared intelligence contributed to the army's successful dismantling of a terror ring responsible for dozens of attacks in February and March. However, Sunni fears of the LAF's bias toward Hezbollah were made worse by the latter's statement that its involvement in Syria is to protect Lebanon against the takfiri threat from jihadis (a foe that the army had fought for several years). This narrative has allowed both the party and the army to identify Lebanese and Syrian jihadis as a common enemy."

'Sidestepping Sanctions' (Nikolay Kozhanov, Majalla)

"After the implementation of the EU oil embargo in 2012, Iran offered the remaining buyers of its hydrocarbons substantial discounts to guarantee their custom. The counter-measure worked: India's then-oil minister, Veerappa Moily, confessed in June 2013 that cheap prices meant the Indian state-owned oil companies continued to trade with Iran in spite of the sanctions.

In certain cases, the very conditions under which the sanctions can and cannot be applied created a number of opportunities to bypass them: the punitive measures are mostly related to sea and air transport, but road haulage is left unchecked. Iran's impressive road infrastructure, with multiple intersections with the transportation systems of neighboring countries, allowed Tehran to deliver goods to every point in Eurasia without using sea or air routes. Following the sanctions in 2010, there were reports of increased numbers of petrol trucks crossing the Turkish and Iraqi borders with Iran, as well as Iranian hydrocarbons being ferried across the Caspian Sea to some Central Asian countries."

-- Mary Casey

STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Maliki Rejects Calls to Form 'National Salvation Government' in Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has rejected calls from the United States and other countries to form an emergency government. In a televised address, Maliki said calls to form "a national salvation government" represented a "coup against the constitution and the political process." Maliki's bloc won parliamentary elections held in April and he said he is committed to forming a new government based on those results by July 1. Meanwhile, about 130 of the special forces and military advisors the United States said it would deploy to Iraq have arrived in Baghdad to aid Iraqi troops in fighting Sunni militants. According to Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby, another four teams of military experts would arrive in the capital in the coming days for what he said would be "a limited, short-term mission." On Wednesday, militants took control of multiple small oilfields and attacked and surrounded one of Iraq's largest airbases, north of Baghdad.  

Syria

Syrian warplanes conducted airstrikes in western Iraq Tuesday killing at least 50 people and wounding over 132 others. The strikes hit a municipal building, a market, and a bank in the Anbar province district of al Rutba, according to a provincial official as well as a local doctor. However, U.S. officials were not able to confirm the reports. While the attacks were widely reported in Iraqi media, Iraqi air force officials did not report a breach of its airspace. Iraqi state media initially reported that U.S. drones were responsible for the strikes, though this was strongly denied by the Pentagon.

Headlines

  • Libyans began voting Wednesday in parliamentary elections, to fill 200 seats in a new House of Representatives, amid insecurity compounded by former General Heftar's campaign against Islamist militias in the east.
  • Three small explosions hit subway stations in the Egyptian capital of Cairo Wednesday morning wounding three people and another bomb was detonated outside a court.
  • A Bahrain court has cleared Khalil al-Marzouq, a senior member of the opposition al-Wefaq party, of terrorism charges.

Arguments and Analysis

'Who Lost Iraq?' (Emma Sky, Foreign Affairs)

"But it is not the borders that are the root of the problems of these countries. It is the political leadership, which has failed to develop inclusive and robust states. Grievances against the governments of Maliki and Bashar al-Assad in Syria have created the environment in which ISIS can prosper. And, ironically, although the ISIS has railed against national divisions, the tensions between its international jihadist agenda and the nationalist agendas of most Sunni groups will inevitably create friction and infighting. For now, though, ISIS will find plenty of Sunnis willing to join the fray."

'Gaza's unemployed graduates: between Google and falafel' (Asmaa al-Ghoul, Al-Monitor)

"According to a report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 30,000 students graduate each year from Palestinian institutions of higher learning. The bureau and a Sharek Youth Forum report indicate that people between 15 and 29 years of age constitute 29.9% of the total population of 4.42 million in Palestine. The unemployment rate among graduates was 52.5% in the first quarter of 2013, and 37% of graduates are economically active. The report also showed a positive correlation between the rise in education levels and the increase in the unemployment rate.

As shown here, a number of graduates have turned to alternatives to cope with unemployment, which is spreading among Gaza's youth. For instance, media and sociology activist Alaa al-Malfouh created the blog Opportunities, which launched in 2011 to facilitate job searches for youths by compiling trusted job offerings from various resources such as youth institutions, official websites, companies and local newspapers. The offerings are published for free and are easily accessible, Malfouh said."

-- Mary Casey

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images