Archive for November 26, 2014


By Salam Faraj and Ammar Karim – BAGHDAD

An Iraqi court sentenced former Sunni MP Ahmed al-Alwani to death on Sunday for murder, a verdict that could damage Baghdad’s ties with a powerful tribe that is battling jihadists.

“The central criminal court sentenced Ahmed al-Alwani to death… for his killing of two soldiers,” judicial spokesman Abdelsattar Bayraqdar said, without saying when the murders took place.

He has a month to appeal the decision, Bayraqdar said.

Alwani is a member of the Albu Alwan tribe, members of which are fighting against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in the Ramadi area of Anbar province, a key front in the war against IS, which has seized key parts of Iraq since June.

Sheikh Omar al-Alwani, a leader of the Albu Alwan, said that any decision about Alwani should be put on hold and that the verdict could harm the fight against IS.

“All the Albu Alwan tribe is standing against (IS) on the side of the government,” but “half of the Albu Alwan fighters will withdraw if they actually executed Alwani in these circumstances,” the sheikh said, adding that even the former MP’s guards were fighting against IS.

He said the government should wait until the fighting is over and IS defeated, then “take any decision it considers appropriate.”

Illustrating their importance, the US Department of Defense has requested that Congress authorize $18.5 million in arms, ammunition and other equipment for tribes in Anbar and a further $5.5 million in contingency funding.

The gear includes 5,000 assault rifles, 12,000 grenades, 150 heavy machineguns, 50 82mm mortars and other items, according to a document outlining the request.

“Failure to equip these forces mean a less effective armed opposition to counter the Islamic State,” it said.

“Engagement from Sunni tribes is critical to the long-term defeat” of IS, the document said.

The arrest of Alwani, a prominent supporter of a now-collapsed Sunni Arab anti-government protest movement, was one of the factors that sent Anbar province spiraling into chaos.

He was detained during a raid on his house in late December 2013 that killed his brother Ali and five guards, inflaming Sunni Arab anger with the Shiite-led government, which many Sunnis view as having marginalized and unjustly targeted their community.

The defense ministry said at the time that one security forces member was also killed and five were wounded in the raid.

It said Ali was the target of the raid, but that both brothers and the guards opened fire when security forces arrived.

Ahmed had parliamentary immunity, but the constitution permits MPs to be arrested without their immunity being waived in cases of serious crime.

Just days after the raid, security forces demolished the country’s main Sunni anti-government protest camp near Anbar capital Ramadi, setting off a series of events that led to the government losing control of parts of that city and all of Fallujah, farther east.

Almost 11 months later, Fallujah is still entirely out of Baghdad’s control and is now a stronghold of the IS, while security forces and allied tribesmen are still battling for control of Ramadi.

Source: Middle East Online.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Washington Post recently highlighted the growing tensions between Israel and Jordan and commented on King Abdullah II and the Jordanian people’s anger over Israel’s actions in occupied Jerusalem. The current situation in the Holy City poses a threat to the peace agreement currently in effect between the two countries.

The American newspaper also noted in on its website on Monday, that a feud between Jordan and Israel could undermine the efforts of the US-led fight against Islamic extremists and it also threatens the natural gas deal worth billions of dollars for both countries.

It was also noted that Jordan had made an unusual decision by choosing to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv as a form of protest to Israel’s actions in the Holy City and the escalation of conflict due to Israel’s mistreatment of Muslim worshipers at the Aqsa Mosque. The Jordanian ambassador has yet to return to his post.

Jordanian officials emphasized that King Abdullah’s inability to protect the Aqsa mosque is something that could undermine his credibility in his own country as his legitimacy or claim to the throne stems from the idea that he is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad and a member of the Hashemite tribes. Jordan’s inability to act in defense of al Aqsa would also undermine its image within the Muslim community as well as hinder any progress in the fight against Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tunisia’s Popular Front, a coalition of democratic and left-wing forces, announced it would not support the presidential candidate Moncef Marzouki, Al-Arab Al-Yawm reported today.

The announcement came in the wake of reports that Marzouki and the leader of Nidaa Tunis Party Beji Caid El-Sebsi are going for a second round of elections.

Mohamed Al-Jamour, a senior leader of the Popular Front who made the surprise announcement, said that the Front had not yet decided on its final position. He said that the group is to meet soon and would study what it would do in light of the results of the elections. Adding that the group would take the decision that is in the country’s best interests.

The Front had its own nominee in the presidential elections, Hamma Hammami, who did not have any support from the other political groups in Tunisia.

Hammami obtained nine per cent of the votes in the elections, according to the Anadolu Agency, which Al-Jamour described as an okay result.

Marzouki obtained 34 per cent of the votes in the first round of elections, while El-Sebsi attained 42 per cent.

Source: Middle East Monitor.



By Antoine Lambroschini – TUNIS

Tunisia’s incumbent President Moncef Marzouki on Monday appeared set for a runoff vote against an anti-Islamist party ex-premier after the first free leadership vote since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring.

The election is a milestone in the North African country where a popular uprising set off a chain of revolts that saw several Arab dictators toppled by citizens demanding democratic reform.

The campaign manager for Marzouki said he is neck and neck with former premier Beji Caid Essebsi, the pre-polling favorite among 27 candidates vying for the top job.

“At the worst we are even but at best we’re between two and four percent ahead,” Adnene Mancer told reporters after polling closed.

“Our chances are good as we go into a runoff” next month, he said.

But the camp of Essebsi, the 87-year-old political veteran whose anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party won October’s parliamentary polls, said he had come out ahead in Sunday’s vote.

Essebsi, “according to preliminary estimates, is ahead and has a large lead”, his campaign manager Mohsen Marzouk told journalists.

But with Essebsi “not far short” of the absolute majority needed to win outright, a second round was likely, Marzouk added.

Marzouki’s campaign manager said he was concerned that “fraud” had been committed by the Essebsi camp, and urged election monitors to stay vigilant.

– Exit polls –

Exit polls conducted by a private organisation gave Essebsi between 42.7 percent and 47.8 percent of the vote with Marzouki trailing at between 26.9 percent and 32.6 percent, a state television report said.

Official results from what Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa called a “historic day” will be known by Wednesday and a runoff second round vote will be held in late December if there is no outright winner.

Marzouki called on “all democratic forces” to back him in a second round against his rival.

Another presidential hopeful, Hamma Hammami, who according to exit polls came in third, told the media that his political group will meet “as soon as possible” to examine how they should vote in case of a runoff.

Though Tunisia’s march towards democracy has been fraught by crisis, it has won international plaudits for not slipping into the post-revolution chaos seen by other Arab Spring states, such as neighbor Libya.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini called the election a further step in Tunisia’s “democratic transition” and said it was up to the people to “complete the electoral process with transparency and respect”.

Whatever the outcome, Tunisians hailed the election as a landmark which they hoped would lead to economic and political stability.

“This election is very important. It’s the culmination of the revolution and something that we really should not pass up,” said one observer who gave his name only as Moez.

Bechir Yahyaoui could hardly control his emotions as he voted in Tunis, saying that for once he was “voting for who I want, with no pressure, no bribes”.

“Before (under Ben Ali) you had to go and vote, regardless of the outcome. This time the election is free and transparent,” he said.

Turnout was around 64.6 percent, authorities said, with some 5.3 million people eligible to vote.

Tens of thousands of police and troops were deployed to guarantee security amid fears that Islamist militants might seek to disrupt the polling.

Other candidates included ministers who served under ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, leftwinger Hammami, business magnate Slim Riahi and a lone woman, magistrate Kalthoum Kannou.

– Powers restricted –

Until the revolution, Tunisia knew only two presidents — Habib Bourguiba, the “father of independence” from France in 1956, and Ben Ali, who deposed him in a 1987 coup.

To prevent another dictatorship, presidential powers have been restricted under a new constitution, with executive prerogatives transferred to a premier from parliament’s top party.

Essebsi’s campaign focused on “state prestige”, with a wide appeal to Tunisians dissatisfied with Islamist rule in the post-revolution era.

But his critics have warned that Essebsi is out to restore the old regime, having served under both former presidents.

Marzouki argues that only he can preserve the gains of the uprising, while his critics say he hijacked the spirit of the revolution by allying himself with the moderate Islamist party Ennahda in 2011.

The rule of Ennahda, which came second in the October parliamentary election, was marred by a surge of radical Islamism and the assassination of two leftist politicians by jihadist suspects.

If Essebsi wins he will have to form a coalition government, even with Ennahda, because Nidaa Tounes fell short of securing an absolute majority in October.

Whoever wins, the economy will be a priority, with unemployment, a leading cause of the revolution, running at 15 percent.

Source: Middle East Online.



By Antoine Lambroschini – TUNIS

Tunisians voted Sunday in their first presidential election since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring, in a ballot set to round off an often fraught transition to democracy.

Among the 27 candidates the favorite is former premier Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old veteran whose anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party won a parliamentary election last month.

Others vying for the presidency include outgoing President Moncef Marzouki, several ministers who served under ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, leftwinger Hamma Hammami, business magnate Slim Riahi and a lone woman, magistrate Kalthoum Kannou.

Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa hailed the vote.

“It’s a historic day, the first presidential election in Tunisia held under advanced democratic norms,” Jomaa said. “God willing, it will be a great festival of democracy.”

Some 5.3 million people are eligible to vote, with tens of thousands of police and troops deployed to guarantee security amid fears Islamist militants might seek to disrupt polling day.

Polling hours were restricted to just five in some 50 localities close to the Algerian border, where armed groups are active. Everywhere else, polls were due to close at 1700 GMT.

A run-off vote will be held at the end of December if no one secures an absolute majority.

Jomaa, who heads a caretaker government of independents charged with overseeing the completion of Tunisia’s transition, has repeatedly contrasted its relative peacefulness with the violence rocking other Arab Spring countries.

The election represents “hope, a big hope for the region,” Jomaa said during a last-minute inspection of polling stations late on Saturday.

“We were the first to enter into this cycle of change which they have called the Arab Spring. We will be the first (to make the transition) but others will follow,” he said.

Tunisia has won international plaudits for largely steering clear of the violence, repression and lawlessness of other Arab Spring countries such as neighboring Libya.

Until the revolution, Tunisia knew only two presidents — Habib Bourguiba, the “father of independence” from France in 1956, and Ben Ali, who deposed him in a 1987 coup.

To prevent the emergence of another dictatorship, presidential powers have been restricted under a new constitution, with executive prerogatives transferred to a premier drawn from parliament’s top party.

Frontrunner Essebsi has run on a campaign of “state prestige”, a slogan with wide appeal to Tunisians anxious for an end to instability.

Supporters argue only he can stand up to the Islamists who first held power in the post-Ben Ali era, but critics charge he is out to restore the old regime, having served under both former presidents.

“Long live Tunisia,” Essebsi said as he cast his ballot at polling station in a Tunis suburb, where he was among the first to vote.

A driver in his 30s who gave his name only as Moez said that he had volunteered as an electoral observer because of the importance of the vote.

“This election is very important. It’s the culmination of the revolution and something that we really should not pass up,” he said.

Outgoing president Marzouki has been hammering home the argument that he is the only leader capable of preserving the gains of the uprising, and has said Sunday’s vote is the “last stand” for the old guard.

Islamist party Ennahda, which came second in the parliamentary election, has not put up a candidate and has invited its members “to elect a president who will guarantee democracy”.

Speculation has been rife on the make-up of a new government and the possibility of a coalition between Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda despite their fundamental differences.

Whoever wins, tackling the faltering economy will be a top priority, with unemployment, a leading cause of the revolution, running at 15 percent.

Source: Middle East Online.



MANAMA – Bahrain went to the polls Saturday for its first legislative elections since a failed uprising in 2011, with the opposition boycotting the vote.

Bahrain’s electorate of almost 350,000 is being called to choose 40 deputies. Most of the 266 candidates are Sunnis.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) and are due to close at 8:00 pm. Municipal elections are being held at the same time.

In Rifaa, a Sunni-dominated district south of Manama, dozens of people, mostly men dressed in traditional long white robes, lined up ahead of the start of voting.

“This election will help the development of the country under the leadership of the king,” said Naima El-Heddi, a civil servant in her 30s.

Voters were scarcer further north in the Shiite village of Jidhafs, where a witness reported seeing just 100 people casting ballots in the first two hours.

The boycott means turnout will be a key marker of the validity of the vote.

Information Minister Samira Rajab stressed ahead of the polls that the government would not tolerate “chaos, unrest and foreign meddling” — a reference to Shiite Iran.

Attacks that cause death or injuries can now be met with capital punishment or life imprisonment.

Source: Middle East Online.


November 24, 2014

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — More than 200 Syrian civil war refugees started a hunger strike Monday in front of Greece’s Parliament, urging the government to grant them temporary working and residence rights.

The protesters began gathering last week at Athens’ main square, complaining that refugees are being forced to pay exorbitant black-market rates to live in squalid apartments in Athens. “People are living in bad conditions. We get (temporary) travel documents, but we can’t go anywhere. We can’t work, or go to hospital, or rent a place to live,” said Khaldoon Fadel, a 31-year-old former resident of Damascus, who joined the hunger strike.

The hunger strikers said they were only eating sugar. Several dozen of them sat on the marble-paved sidewalk with strips of box tape covering their mouths, and packages of flatbread placed in front of them.

“For an (apartment) that would cost 250 euros ($310) to rent per month, we have to pay 1,000 euros ($1,245),” Fadel said. Fadel, who had worked as a chain store manager and fashion designer for women’s clothing before fleeing Syria, made the hazardous journey across Turkey and by boat illegally to the Greek island of Kos.

Greece is a busy entry point for immigrants and refugees seeking entry to the European Union. The financial crisis-hit country has seen a spike in the number of Syrians crossing by boat illegally from nearby Turkey.

Authorities expect a three-fold increase in illegal immigration this year, compared with 2013, with nearly two-thirds of the illegal traffic now coming from Syria. On Sunday, the regional governor of greater Athens, Rena Dourou, visited the protesters and said she had contacted the Greek Orthodox Church and the government to try and make arrangements to provide temporary shelter for Syrian refugees.