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January 2, 2016

Saudi Arabia executes 47 people as \’terrorists\’

Saudi Arabia executes 47 people as ‘terrorists’

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Yesterday, Saudi Arabian officials said they have executed 47 people whom courts convicted as terrorists.

Officials said the executions were not done in public. Saudi cleric Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh in justifying the executions cited Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Sharia Law and said the executions prevented the accused from committing further crime, calling it a form of “mercy”.

File photo of Dira Square, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where public executions are carried out under Sharia Law; Saudi officials said the 47 people executed were not executed publicly, but rather within prisons.
Image: Luke Richard Thompson.

Some of those executed were reportedly Al-Qaeda militants behind terrorist attacks. Before the executions, an Al-Qaeda branch from Yemen threatened Saudi authorities with violence if they executed their members.

Among those executed was a Shia Muslim cleric who criticized both the royal family of Saudi Arabia and that of Bahrain; he condemned Bahrain‘s suppression of protests with Saudi aid. He reportedly avoided advocating violence. He was convicted of causing violence against authorities, and a Saudi court rejected his appeal of his conviction this past year. His execution led to condemnation from Iranian officials, who had previously said it “would cost Saudi Arabia dearly”.

When news broke the 47 were to be executed, in November, regional Amnesty International director James Lynch said Saudi Arabia was settling “political scores” under “the guise of counter-terrorism.”

The organization said at least 150 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia in 2015, while only 90 were executed a year ago in 2014.



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November 27, 2015

At least 52, including six Shia Muslim activists, to be executed in Saudi Arabia

At least 52, including six Shia Muslim activists, to be executed in Saudi Arabia

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Friday, November 27, 2015

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In Saudi Arabia, six Shia Muslim activists, along with at least 46 other people, are to be executed for terrorism on an unspecified date, according to reports on Thursday.

Varying local media reports said at least 52 people will be executed. Saudi Arabian newspaper Okaz said some of the people convicted of terrorism were members of the militant group Al-Qaeda, and were convicted of attempting to overthrow the government and planning terrorist attacks. The 52 have allegedly killed at least a hundred civilians and seventy security personnel.

Amnesty International said others who are also to be executed were people from the city of Awamiya, where most of the population consists of Shia Muslims, a minority within Saudi Arabia. Protests have been held there, across the past several years, over alleged mistreatment of Shias by the government. Among those convicted of terrorism were the six Shia Muslim activists, at least two of whom reportedly were minors when they allegedly committed their crimes. Amnesty International has said the trials leading up to their conviction were clearly “unfair”.

File photo of Dira Square, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where public executions are carried out under Sharia Law.
Image: Luke Richard Thompson.

James Lynch, Middle East and North Africa deputy director of Amnesty International, said Saudi Arabia was settling “political scores” under “the guise of counter-terrorism.”

The three Shias, Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher, and Hussein al-Marhoon, said they have confessed to their supposed criminal acts under torture, according to Lynch.

More than 150 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia in 2015, while only 90 were executed a year ago in 2014, said Amnesty International.

This news came after Saudi-born Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death by a court in Saudi Arabia, which Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle called an example of Saudi Arabia’s “complete intolerance for anyone who may not share government-mandated religious, political, and social views.”



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October 18, 2015

ISIS militant shoots, kills five at Saudi Arabia Shia mosque

ISIS militant shoots, kills five at Saudi Arabia Shia mosque

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

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A gunman from a previously unknown branch of the extremist Islamist militant group ISIS calling itself the “Bahrain Province” has killed five people at a Shia muslim mosque in Saihat, Saudi Arabia, during an Islamic observance preceding the Islamic Holy Day of Ashura.

File photo of Shia Muslims on a pilgrimage in observance of the holy day of Ashura.
Image: SFC Larry E. Johns, U.S. Federal Government.

The gunman, who ISIS has identified as a “soldier of the caliphate, Shuja al-Dosari”, approached the mosque in a taxi before volunteers stopped him at a checkpoint, according to a witness who contacted Reuters by phone. The gunman then opened fire indiscriminately, before police arrived and fatally shot him in a firefight that also injured nine other people.

ISIS follows a radical version of Sunni Islam which regards Shias as “apostates“. The “Bahrain Province” branch of ISIS said online that the gunman “set his Kalashnikov upon one of the apostate polytheists’ temples,” and also warned that Shia Muslims, whom they call infdels, “will not be safe in the island of Mohammed.”

Most citizens, as well as the government officials, of Saudi Arabia follow Sunni Islam, and Shias are a minority except in the eastern area of Saudi Arabia. The oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdom—where, according to a report issued by the U.S. Department of State in 2013, the Shia minority is being discriminated against through restrictions on public celebrations and other such government-imposed measures —is currently leading a coalition against Shia rebels in Yemen.

This attack came after an August suicide bombing killed 15 people in a Shia mosque.



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September 16, 2015

Kuwaiti court sentences seven to death for June mosque bombing

Kuwaiti court sentences seven to death for June mosque bombing

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

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A file photo of the mosque.
Image: Abza.

A court in Kuwait yesterday sentenced fifteen people for involvement in June’s bombing of the Imam Sadiq Mosque. Seven were sentenced to death.

The suicide attack in Kuwait City killed 26 and injured 227. The trial of seven women and 22 men before Judge Mohammad al-Duaij produced fourteen acquittals. All those sentenced to death were men; prison terms from two to fifteen years were imposed on the remaining convicts. A number were tried in absentia.

Sunni militants Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack. IS view Shi’ites as enemies. Conducted in the Shi’ite mosque during Friday prayers, the attack came during Ramadan. IS hold a large swathe of Iraq and Syria. Sunnis and Shi’ites live together peacefully in Kuwait. It was amongst the worst attacks to hit the nation in decades.

The accused include Kuwaiti, Saudi, and Pakistani citizens, as well as stateless individuals. Abdul Rahman Sabah Saud, stateless, admitted driving bomber Fahad Suleiman Abdulmohsen al-Gabbaa, Saudi, to the mosque. Saud, also accused of handling explosives, denied intending to harm any people.

Cquote1.svg The court draws attention to the dangers of this extremist ideology Cquote2.svg

—Judge Mohammad al-Duaij

Judge al-Duaij found Fahad Farraj Muhareb to be an IS leader and sentenced him to death. Muhareb and Saud are in Kuwaiti custody. Saudi brothers Mohammad and Majed al-Zahrani, who have been detained in their homeland but were tried in absentia, were held to have transported the explosives used out of Saudi Arabia. Two stateless men convicted of being IS soldiers and a man whose identity is unclear were also sentenced to death in their absence.

Of the eight given prison terms, three were men and five women. They were convicted of offences such as assisting the attack, training IS fighters, and withholding knowledge about the bombing. The death row convicts faced more serious charges such as premeditated murder.

Appeals are possible. The prosecution had sought death sentences for eleven defendents.

Amnesty International acknowledged the bombing was “an utterly heinous and callous criminal act” but said the death sentences are “misguided” and “must be overturned”. The group, which is categorically opposed to the death penalty, said Kuwait conducted five executions in 2013 and none at all last year.

Judge al-Duaij said in delivering his judgement “The court draws attention to the dangers of this extremist ideology that resorts to terrorism for its implementation.”



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May 27, 2015

Pro-government forces in Iraq launch operation to reclaim Ramadi from Islamic State

Pro-government forces in Iraq launch operation to reclaim Ramadi from Islamic State

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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An aerial view of Ramadi and the Euphrates River.
Image: Cpl. Jeremy M. Giacomino, USMC.

Iraq has started a new military operation to push back Islamic State by reclaiming the city of Ramadi, according to an Iraqi paramilitary spokesperson yesterday. Ramadi, which is the capital of the province of Anbar, fell to Islamic State earlier this month.

The new offensive includes both government troops and paramilitary forces — Hashed al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilisation Brigades, which largely consists of Shiite militias.

The operation in the Anbar province seeks to cut off Islamic State supply routes to prepare the way for the recapture of Ramadi. There has so far been fighting reported to the south and west of Ramadi as pro-government forces make their advance.

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq stated it is carrying out airstrikes near Ramadi to support the Iraqi advance. The U.S. is also supplying the Iraqi forces with military equipment, including anti-tank weaponry.

A meeting is scheduled for June 2 in Paris between representatives of countries fighting Islamic State. John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, is amongst some 20 or more foreign ministers to attend; the meeting is to focus on strategy.



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September 11, 2014

John Kerry visits Iraq to build regional support against Islamic State

John Kerry visits Iraq to build regional support against Islamic State

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Baghdad yesterday to meet Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister of the new Iraqi government. The visit came as Kerry toured seeking support in the region — military, political, and financial — against the Islamic State.

File:Haidar Al-Abadi.jpg

Haider Al-Abadi.
Image: RedWolf343.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Kerry and al-Abadi were to discuss international efforts to build a coalition, in a regional approach to the security issue posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The meeting came ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s televised address, to air later in the day in the U.S. and set to announce expanded military efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the organisation.

They were to “discuss how the United States can increase its support to Iraq’s new government in our common effort to defeat Isil [Islamic State] and the threat it poses to Iraq, the region, and the world”, said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. The Shia Iraqi prime minister has, according to U.S. officials, promised to create regional national guards, avoiding security enforcement by the mostly Shia Iraqi army in Sunni regions. The policy, if enacted, would provide valuable employment in areas where Islamic State has recruited successfully following economic neglect during the eight years of Nouri al-Maliki‘s government.

Following the Iraq visit Kerry is to visit Saudi Arabia as part of the broad U.S. strategy of regional resistance against the militants. President Obama has said the U.S. would not use ground combat troops, but some senior military figures have suggested Islamic State may not be stopped by air strikes alone — of which the U.S. have used 150 over the past month. The regional strategy to address the security crisis does not rely on the support of Congress. The U.S. administration has been urging representatives to approve $500m to support rebels in Syrian opposing Islamic State, but the legislation has been immobile since it was first proposed in May.



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September 23, 2013

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Over the past week, diplomatic actions have averted — or, at least delayed — military strikes on Syria by the United States. Wikinews sought input from a range of international experts on the situation; and, the tensions caused by Russia’s support for the al-Assad regime despite its apparent use of chemical weapons.

File:Ghouta chemical attack map.svg

Map of areas affected by chemical weapons in Ghouta, Syria.
Image: FutureTrillionaire.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Tensions in the country increased dramatically, late August when it was reported between 100 and 1,300 people were killed in an alleged chemical attack. Many of those killed appeared to be children, with some of the pictures and video coming out of the country showing — according to witnesses — those who died from apparent suffocation; some foaming at the mouth, others having convulsions.

Amongst Syria’s few remaining allies, Iran, China, and Russia continue to oppose calls for military intervention. In an effort to provide a better-understanding of the reasoning behind their ongoing support, the following people were posed a range of questions.

Interviewees

  • Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.
  • Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Politics from the University of Sydney, Australia
  • Farideh Farhi, an Affiliate with the Graduate Faculty of Political Science, and lecturer, at the ̣̣University of Hawai’i, Honolulu
  • Mehran Kamrava, Professor and Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
  • William Martel, Professor of International Security Studies at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts
  • Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, England
  • Walter Posch, an Iran expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, Germany; and,
  • Sam Roggeveen, a fellow of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia

Wikinews Q&A

Iran, China, and Russia have remained as allies to the al-Assad government despite the alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta on August 21, 2013. Wikinews queried the listed subject-matter experts regarding the diplomatic relations between these nations, and the reasoning behind such.

China

File photo of United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York.
Image: Patrick Gruban.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png There are suggestions China wants to maintain its financial ties with Syria as its third largest importer in 2010. Would you agree with this?

  • Brown: I don’t think that is China’s key priority. China has a massive economy, and Syria is a very minor player in this. It has some, but not much, energy from Syria. Its real concerns in the current conflict are for stability, and geopolitical.
  • Farhi: China’s conduct in Syria has been similar to its conduct elsewhere. It has given support to Russia in international forum such as the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] and has acted opportunistically wherever its economic interest could be pursued. But, Syria is really not an area of interest for China. Its actions and support for the Russian position is derived from its general concerns regarding American imperialism and unilateralism.
  • Mitter: China will want, in general, to maintain financial ties with Syria as it does with many countries. China’s general position is that internal politics of countries should not interfere with economic ties.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think China is talking from experience when it says that foreign countries shouldn’t get involved with Syria’s internal affairs?

File photo of interviewee Sam Roggeveen.
Image: Sam Roggeveen.

  • Roggeveen: That stance reflects China’s history as a weak, developing country with a host of territorial disputes with its neighbours. Beijing does not want to set international precedents that will allow third parties to interfere with, for example, the Taiwan issue, Tibet, the East China Sea or the South China Sea.
But increasingly, China’s stance will conflict with its growing strength and growing responsibilities on the world stage. China is already the world’s second biggest economy and a major strategic power in the Asia Pacific [region]; and, it will increasingly be expected to take up responsibilities that come with such power. Also, as we saw in the case of Libya — where China sent a fleet of ships and aircraft to evacuate its nationals — China has interests and citizens all over the world, both of which need to be protected.
  • Brown: It [China] has always stood by non interference of other counties in the internal affairs of sovereign states; though, this position has changed over time since it was formulated on the back of China’s experience of colonisation in the early part of the twentieth-century. Its main priority now is to not see the escalation of issues, as was seen in Iraq and Afghanistan; where it runs the risk of being sucked into lengthy conflicts with no real gameplan, and no clear outcome that is relevant to it. It does not see the Syria[n] conflict [as] one where there is a an easy, viable, alternative option waiting to govern the country. And, it is very sceptical about US and others’ claims that they can control this problem.
  • Farhi: Yes, rejection of interference in the internal affairs of other countries — particularly of a military kind — is a principled Chinese position in areas where China doesn’t have an over-riding interest.
  • Mitter: China has been a hardline advocate of strong territorial sovereignty for decades. This is, in part, a product of its own history of being invaded and occupied by other countries.

File photo of interviewee Rana Mitter.
Image: Rana Mitter.


Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png China abstained from a UN Security Council resolution on Libya — do you think they are trying to reprise what happened in Libya in terms of regime change?

  • Roggeveen: China and Russia suspect the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine, which was used by Western powers to justify the Libya intervention, was a smokescreen for regime change. So, they are wary of seeing something similar happen in Syria. China also prefers not to be on its own in the Security Council; so, if the Russians come down against a Libya-like resolution, [the] chances are that China will join them.
  • Brown: They felt there was clear mission-creep with Libya. What, however, has most emboldened them in opposing action in Syria is the position of Russia; which they have been able to stand behind. Diplomatically they dislike isolation, so this has proved the issue they have taken cover from.
  • Farhi: Libya has set a bad precedent for many countries who supported, or did not object to, NATO action. So, yes, the Libya example is a precedent; but, in any case, the Syrian dynamics are much more complex than Libya and both Russia and China — as well as Iran — genuinely see the attempt to resolve the imbroglio in Syria through military means as truly dangerous. In other words, they see the conduct of Western powers in the past two years as spawning policies that are tactically geared to weaken the Assad regime without a clear sense or strategy regarding what the end game should be. Particularly since at least part of the opposition to Assad has also elicited support from Islamic radicals.
  • Mitter: In general China is reluctant to take decisive action in international society, and [at] the UN. It prefers its partners, such as Russia, to take on confrontational roles while it tries to remain more neutral and passive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think a political solution is the only realistic means to resolve the Syrian issue?

File photo of interviewee Kerry Brown.
Image: Kerry Brown.

  • Roggeveen: At the moment, both sides [in Syria] evidently feel they can still obtain their objectives through force. Perhaps one of them will be proved right; or, perhaps there will be a long-term stalemate with Syria split between regime and opposition forces.
One important change is the chemical weapons agreement; which now makes it much more difficult for the US or Israel to intervene militarily. The deal also gives the regime some degree of status as a legal authority with which outside powers must negotiate. That weakens the hand of the opposition; but, it could open a door for an international diplomatic intervention to achieve — firstly — a cease fire. and perhaps then something more substantive.
  • Brown: There is no appetite for the kinds of expensive and very hard interventions [undertaken] in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, in any case, the US and its allies don’t have the money to fund this, and their publics evidently feel no case has been made yet for getting involved. People are weary of the endless arguments in the Middle-East, and feel that they should now be left to deal with their own issues. China, in particular, has tried to maintain as strong a […] network of benign support in the region as possible, while avoiding getting sucked into problems. There is no viable opposition in Syria that would make it easier to justify intervention; and, no easy way of seeing how this tragic civil war is going to be easily ended.
  • Farhi: Syria has become the arena for a proxy war among regional and extra-regional players and yes its civil war will not end until all key players and their external supporters develop a political will to end the conflict. For the conflict to end, the bankers feeding the conflict should agree to stop funding it.
  • Mitter: Yes. But, it will depend on Russia, China, and the US, being able to come up with a compromise solution. That looks [to be] a long way off.

Iran

Free Syrian Army soldiers involved in the civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png For many years, Syria has been considered Iran’s “closest ally”. What vested interest does the Iranian government have in keeping Bashar al-Assad in power?

  • Kamrava: These interests are primarily strategic, with both countries sharing common interests in relation to Lebanon — particularly the Hezbollah group — and [as] deterrence against Israel[i intervention].
  • Martel: Iran’s interests align very closely with that of Russia in supporting Syria and opposing the United States. Further, during this last week, President Putin offered to help Iran build a second nuclear reactor. The policies of Russia, Iran, and Syria align quite closely; thus leading some — such as myself — to argue that we are seeing the rise of an “authoritarian axis” of states, whose policies are coordinated.
  • Posch: First, Syria was Iran’s only ally against Saddam Hussein and [an] indispensable partner in Lebanon since the early 1980s.

Kurdish supporters of Syria’s Democratic Union Party in Afrin.
Image: Scott Bobb.

Even before the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iran reinterpreted the basically pragmatic cooperation in the field of intelligence and security. Ever since Syria was part of a so called “axis of resistance” consisting of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the sole common strategic denominator of these different actors is hostility against Israel, which is always depicted as an aggressor against whom the Muslims should resist — hence, the [designation as an] “axis of resistance”. Of course, forming an alliance ‘officially against Israel’ serves another purpose too: to take a stand against Saudi Arabia without naming it. Much of the current crisis in Syria has to do with this scheme.
  • Farhi: Syria supported Iran during the Iran–Iraq war; and, that dynamic forged a long-standing relationship between the two countries that includes economic, political, and military cooperation. In more recent years, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have self-identified as [an] axis of resistance against Israeli–American involvement in the region. Despite this, Iran initially mostly followed the Russian lead in the Syria. However as other regional players — such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as extra-regional players such as the United States — began to see, and articulate the weakening of, the Assad regime as a first step to the weakening of Iran, this enhanced Iran’s threat perception, and gave it [an] incentive for further involvement in support of Assad.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Do you think Iranian support for the Syrian government is a way of standing up against UN sanctions imposed on them, and opposing American imperialism?

  • Kamrava: No. Iranian–Syrian relations are rooted in common strategic interests rather than in assumptions about US imperialism, or the role of the UN sanctions.
  • Martel: Both Iran and Syria share a strategic interest in undermining the influence of the US and the West.
  • Posch: Definitely not. The sanctions track is a different one, checking American “imperialism” — as you call it — is, of course. one aim.
  • Farhi: As has become evident in the past few weeks, the primary interactive dynamic regarding the Syrian imbroglio is being played out mostly in terms of US–Russian rivalry; and, Iran is following the Russian lead.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png The UN has “overwhelmingly” confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria. Do you think both sides have used chemical weapons?

File photo of interviewee Mehran Kamrava.
Image: Mehran Kamrava.

  • Kamrava: It is undeniable that chemical weapons were used in Syria. But, I have not yet seen conclusive evidence for the responsibility of the use of chemical gas by one side or another. Until valid evidence is made available — proving who used chemical weapons — affixing blame to either the government forces, or to one of the fractious rebel groups, is only a matter of speculation.
  • Martel: I remain skeptical that anyone other than the Syrian government used chemical weapons. It is widely accepted that the Syrian government was behind the use of chemical weapons.
  • Posch: I think the Report is quite clear on that.
  • Farhi: I —as an academic, with no access to on the ground information — am in no position to know whether both sides have used chemical weapons.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that part of Iran’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: religion and strategy?

Former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who stepped down earlier this year.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

  • Kamrava: No, I do not agree. Iran’s “vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad” is [a] product only of Iran’s strategic calculations.
While foreign policies anywhere may be expressed — and justified — through slogans and ideological rhetoric, they are based on strategic considerations and calculations. Despite common, journalistic misconceptions, religion has not played a role in Iranian foreign policy; whether in relation to Syria or anywhere else.
  • Martel: Iran’s vested interest in Syria is entirely geo-strategic. Iran’s support [for] Syria is designed to undermine US power and influence. For Iran, no policy objective is more important than to possess nuclear weapons. When the U.S. declared a “redline” if Syria “used or moved” chemical weapons, and then backed away from that redline, it is likely that Iran’s leadership drew one principal conclusion:
the US redline on Iran’s nuclear program is in doubt, the US commitment to preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons is in doubt,
and that Iran likely will test US resolve.
In strategic terms, doubts about the credibility of the US redline on Iran dwarfs any concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons.
The belief in Iran — that the US may not be willing to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons — could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is difficult to exaggerate just how dangerous a nuclear-armed Iran is for regional and global security.
  • Posch: No, it is strategy, and perhaps ideology. Religion doesn’t play too much [of] a role, even though the conflict has been thoroughly “sectarianised”. This happened a few years back when the Saudis baptised (if that term is appropriate) the “axis of resistance” to “shiite crescent”. The domination of the Syrian Baath Party by members of one sect plays no role in Iran’s security equation. Attempts to convert Syrian Alevites to Mainstream Shiites are initiatives of some individual Ayatollahs. I have already mentioned the strategic aspect, [an] axis of resistance against Israel and Saudi Arabia simultaneously; to this I would add Iranian concern over the Kurdish issue.
  • Farhi: The Assad government is a secular government, and Iran’s relationship with it has nothing to do with religion or religious affinities. The relationship is a complex one — and, as mentioned before — forged as a strategic bond during the Iran–Iraq War, when Saddam’s regime was deemed aggressively expansionist by both regimes.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Iran is home to the world’s most populous Shiite Muslim nation. The Syrian rebels are Sunni. Could this be a Sunni vs. Shiite alignment in the Middle East?

File photo of interviewee Farideh Farhi.
Image: Farideh Farhi.

  • Kamrava: No. While sectarianism may be the lens through which some of the Syrian rebels see their fight against the government, ultimately the contest is over state power and capitalizing on opportunities created by the Arab uprisings in general; and, the Syrian civil war in particular. Sunni–Shia ‘alignments’ have nothing to do with it.
  • Posch: Usually, the Sunni–Shia divide is something Iranians and Saudis play up in order to put pressure on one another; usually, they were also able to deescalate. Syria, however, is the game-changer — for the simple reason that nobody believes the Saudis would control the post Al-Qaeda Networks in Syria. What Iran fears is an increase of the most-radical Sunni anti-shiism, the so called takfiris, spilling over onto Iranian territory.
  • Farhi: The Sunni governments in the region are working hard to use sectarian tensions as an instrument to fan popular resentments, in the region, towards Shi’ite Iran. But, the rivalry is actually political; and, has to do with the fears rivals have of what they consider — I think wrongly — to be Iran’s hegemonic aspirations in the region.
Sectarianism is an instrument for shaping regional rivalries, and not the source of problems, in the region.

Russia

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, meeting Syrianan president Bashar al-Assad, on a visit to Syria in 2010.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Russia is one of Syria’s biggest arms suppliers. Do you think this means Russia’s interest lies in economic benefit, as opposed to the humanitarian crisis?

  • Blank: Although Russia sells Syria weapons, Russia’s main interest has nothing to do with humanitarianism or economics.
Rather, its main interests are to force the US to accept Russia as an equal — so that Moscow has an effective veto power over any further American actions of a strategic nature there and elsewhere — and second, to restore Russia’s standing as an indispensable great power in the Middle East without whom nothing strategic can be resolved.
It should be noted that in neither case is Russia actively interested in finding solutions to existing problems. Rather, it seeks to create a bloc of pro-Russian, anti-American states and maintain simmering conflicts at their present level while weakening US power.

File photo of interviewee William Martel.
Image: William Martel.

  • Martel: Russia’s principal interests in Syria are twofold. First, Moscow’s support is geopolitical in design. It is designed precisely to undermine and weaken American influence in the Middle East and globally. The extent to which Russia can undermine American influence directly helps to bolster Russia’s influence. For now, Russia is such a vastly diminished power — both politically, economically, militarily, and technologically — that Russian policymakers are pursuing policies they believe will help to reverse Russia’s strategic decline.
Second, Syria is Russia’s strongest ally in the region, if not the world, while Syria is the home to Russia’s only foreign naval base.
  • Farhi: Syria is Russia’s only solid strategic ally in the Middle East. Syria, in effect, is a Russian client. Russia’s interests lie in maintaining that foothold, and perhaps extending it.
It also has a concern regarding the civil war in Syria spawning what it considers to be extremist Islamist activities, which it has had to contend with within its own borders.

File photo of interviewee Stephen Blank.
Image: Stephen Blank.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you believe Russia distrusts US intentions in the region — in the sense of countering the West on regime change?

  • Blank: It is clear that Russia not only does not trust US interests and judgment in the Middle East, it regards Washington as too-ready to use force to unseat regimes it does not like and believes these could lead to wars; more importantly, to the attempt to overthrow the present Russian government. That is critical to understanding Moscow’s staunch support for Assad.
  • Martel: Russia’s policymakers understand that American and Russia interests directly diverge. Russia seeks to undermine US geopolitical influence, and increase its own. It is using its support of the Syrian regime to accomplish that objective. American interests, by contrast, are largely to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.
Appallingly, Russia is supporting Syria despite the fact that all evidence points to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
One would think that American policymakers would be more critical of Russia; which is directly supporting a regime that used poison gas to slaughter its own men, women, and children.
  • Farhi: It is less about trust and more about protection of geopolitical interests and prevention of even more dire consequences if Assad goes. It is true that Russia feels that the United States and NATO went beyond the mandate afforded to them by the UN Security Council in going after regime change in Libya.
However, Russia’s geopolitical, and economic, interests in Syria are much more important; and, the relationship between the two countries [is] much deeper.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The Russian Government accepts that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. How does it come to claim that the rebels are behind the attacks even though it is widely accepted that the al-Assad government has stocks of weapons?

A BM-14 multiple rocket launcher, similar to the type likely to have launched the M-14 munitions found by UN Inspectors on August 26.
Image: Vlad.

  • Blank: It [Russia] simply intends to defend Assad to the hilt; and is hardly unwilling to lie — especially as its intelligence service is notorious for fabricating mendacious and biased threat assessments, and is not under any form of effective democratic control.
  • Martel: Russia’s claims that Syrian rebels were behind the chemical weapon attacks is, frankly, inexplicable. Worse, Russia’s basic credibility is undermined by such statements.
  • Farhi: Russia claims Syria has presented it [with] evidence that the rebels have used chemical weapons; and Russia, in turn, has given the evidence to the UNSC. It has also called the UN report one-sided and biased. The bottom line is — the claim that the opposition to the Assad regime is at least as culpable in the violence being committed in Syria, opens the path for Russia to continue calling for a political solution [which] brings to the table all parties to the conflict in Syria, including Assad and his supporters; something the multi-voiced opposition has so far refused.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that Russia’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: economics and ideology?

  • Blank: As I said above, Russia’s interest in Assad is bound to two geopolitical factors: maintaining the security of its regime; and, equally important, weakening America in the Middle-East — if not globally — and ensuring that Russia’s great power status is thereby ensured.
  • Martel: Russia’s vested interest in protecting Syria’s al-Assad is driven by geopolitics.
To support Assad, is to counter US policy and influence; which is precisely what Putin’s government seeks to accomplish. In many senses, Russia’s support for Syria is entirely secondary to Russia’s strategy of reversing its two-decade long decline in every measure of power. With its weak economy, dependence on petroleum for half of its national income, and increasingly authoritarian government, Russia has relatively little to offer the world — other than to oppose the United States as part of its strategy of reversing its decline.
While Russia’s geopolitical influence clearly increased as a result of its support for Syria, its long-term economic prospects remain quite dim.
  • Farhi: It is economic as well as political.
Syria is a customer of Russian arms and goods; hosting a naval supply base in Tartus. But, as mentioned above, Russia has serious concerns regarding what comes after Assad. For Russia, the current regime is better than chaos or control by Islamists.
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August 20, 2013

Pakistani Prime Minister agrees to put all state executions on hold

Pakistani Prime Minister agrees to put all state executions on hold

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

File photo of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1998.
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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif put all state executions on hold on Sunday, having been urged to do so by President Asif Ali Zardari.

“In due deference to the wish of the president, it has been desired that all executions of death sentences may be held in abeyance till the discussion takes place,” a statement from the government said.

Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed on Sunday said Sharif and Zardari will meet when the President returns to Pakistan from a trip, to discuss state execution in Pakistan. More than 8000 Pakistani prisoners are on death row according to Amnesty International.

Zardari and Sharif differ in their position on capital punishment. President Zardari banned state executions in Pakistan in 2008, a policy Prime Minister Sharif reversed in June this year, when his government came into office. Sharif had planned to re-introduce executions by the end of this month.

Although Zardari as President put a temporary hold on state executions, he will step down from office in September this year. Mamnoon Hussain is to take his place as President of Pakistan, a firm supporter of Prime Minister Sharif.

The stay on state executions may conflict with the scheduled hangings of two Islamist extremists, Attaullah and Muhammad Azam, who were originally to be hung between August 20 and 22. The men are members of Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and were found guilty in 2004 of the 2001 murder of a Shia doctor named Ali Raza Peerani.



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August 31, 2012

Egyptian President Morsi backs Syrian rebels in speech

Egyptian President Morsi backs Syrian rebels in speech

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Mohamed Morsi (left) pictured in June.
Image: Jonathan Rashad.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi strongly backed the Syrian rebels Thursday in a speech at the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Iran. Morsi, a Sunni Muslim and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is the first Egyptian leader in 30 years to visit Iran – an ally of Syrian Prime Minister Bashar al-Assad’s Shi’ite dominated regime.

In a strongly worded speech, which caused Syrian foreign minister Walid al Muallem to walk out in protest, Morsi called the Syrian regime “oppressive”, saying that it has lost legitimacy. Delegates were told, “[t]he bloodshed in Syria is our responsibility on all our shoulders and we have to know that the bloodshed cannot stop without effective interference from all of us.”

Morsi called on delegates to “[…] announce our full solidarity with the struggle of those seeking freedom and justice in Syria, and translate this sympathy into a clear political vision that supports a peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom.”

For the Syrian government, foreign minister al Muallem subsequently told state media that President Morsi was interfering in Syrian domestic affairs and inciting further violence in the conflict.

Morsi’s speech was viewed by commentators as a direct rebuke to Iran and a message that they had chosen the wrong side in the Syrian conflict. The speech also allayed fears in the west that his attendance at a meeting of non-aligned countries indicated a change in Egyptian foreign policy to a less pro-Western stance.



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March 13, 2012

Imam dead in Shia mosque attack in Belgium

Imam dead in Shia mosque attack in Belgium

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The area around Anderlecht (marked in red) is home to a large number of Muslim immigrants

An imam in the Belgian municipality of Anderlecht, near the capital, Brussels, has died following a suspected arson attack at a Shia mosque.

It is thought the mosque was attacked by a man wielding an axe, petrol and Molotov cocktails on Monday evening. The imam, in his mid-forties, reportedly died of smoke inhalation while trying to put out the resulting blaze. Another person was injured during the attack.

Police spokeswoman Marie Verbeck confirmed the death, and said a suspect has been arrested in connection with the fire. Police are not seeking anyone else in relation to the incident.

Belgium’s interior minister Joëlle Milquet said: “This person went in [to the mosque] hurling statements linked to the Syrian conflict. It appears to be a problem between Sunnis and Shias … Belgium will not tolerate this type of act and the importing of this type of conflict on its territory”.

She stressed that details on the motive for the crime are unclear. The area around Anderlecht is home to a large number of Muslim immigrants. The last imam to have been killed in an attack in Belgium’s capital was Saudi Abdullah Muhammad al Ahdal, who was shot in 1989.



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