Middle East update: November 7 2017

This is going to be our only update tonight. I’ll double up on the rest of the world tomorrow.


Per Musings on Iraq, Turkmen forces responsible for looting and violence in Tuz Kharmato during the Iraqi advance on Kirkuk last month are trying to claim that it was the retreating Kurds who damaged and destroyed dozens of their own homes and looting thousands of houses and businesses. There’s some question as to whether the town’s displaced Kurdish residents will return home–if not, then Tuz Kharmato will become a predominantly Turkmen town, and the demographics of Kirkuk will be permanently affected.

Reuters looks at the efforts by Iranian Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi to position himself as a potential successor to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani as the top Shiʿa cleric in Iraq. Shahroudi, who was born in Najaf, is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and if he were to succeed Sistani it would pull Iraqi Shiʿa deeper into Iran’s orbit. In fact, that may actually work against his chances, as there are mixed feelings in Iraq’s Shiʿa community about how close they should be to Iran.


During a meeting with Iranian national security adviser Ali Akbar Velayati in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad sounded like a guy who’s not going to be satisfied just controlling part of Syria. He reportedly told Velayati that the war will continue “until the recovery of security and stability to all Syrian lands,” which is not too far off from “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Remember how Syria and the US were the only two countries who wouldn’t sign the Paris Climate Agreement and how embarrassing that was for the US? Well, no need to worry anymore: Syria has now signed it.


As the Lebanese people try to figure out whether or not Saad al-Hariri has been arrested in Saudi Arabia (see below), the Yemeni people can rest assured that their president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, has definitely been arrested in Saudi Arabia:

Speaking on condition of anonymity, Yemeni officials confirmed that Hadi, his sons and several ministers with him have been prevented from going to Yemen, reported AP.


“The Saudis have imposed a form of house arrest on them,” the commander said. “When Hadi asks to go, they respond it’s not safe for him to return as there are plotters who want to take his life and Saudis fear for his life.”

Hadi has famously had a falling out several months ago with pro-Hadi coalition partner the United Arab Emirates, and since the UAE exerts significant influence on Saudi foreign policy (via Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s personal influence on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman), Hadi’s position is fairly precarious.

Meanwhile, more Saudi airstrikes on definite military targets reportedly killed 30 Yemeni civilians in Hajjah province on Tuesday, women and children included.


As noted above, a lot of people in Lebanon are starting to wonder just exactly where their former (?) prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, is. Hezbollah-affiliated media is naturally claiming that he’s a Saudi prisoner, but on Tuesday he was allowed to leave Riyadh and go, uh, to the UAE. Call me crazy, but you’d think Hariri would want to get back to Lebanon and start working to counter Hezbollah’s influence on Lebanese politics–you know, the thing he complained about on Saturday. You’d particularly think he’d want to get back to Beirut and make his resignation official, seeing as how Lebanese President Michel Aoun says he won’t accept it until Hariri submits it in person. So the fact that he still hasn’t returned is a little bit odd, to say the least.


Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi says he will honor the Egyptian constitution and not seek a third term in office. Of course, he’s only about to run for his second term next year, so there’s plenty of time for him to change his mind before the 2022 election.


Suddenly when they’re not being arrested, Saudi princes are dropping like flies. Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd, son of the former King Fahd and someone who interestingly had some financial ties to Saad al-Hariri’s Saudi Oger construction firm, was apparently killed on Monday in a gunfight while being arrested as part of the kingdom’s ongoing corruption investigation/purge/whatever. He’d coincidentally (?) been an outspoken critic of the ouster of former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef back in June. He’s the second Saudi prince to die in just the past couple of days, after Prince Mansour bin Muqrin tragic and I’m sure totally accidental helicopter crash on Sunday. A short time Abdulaziz’s death, his nephew, Prince Turki bin Mohamed bin Fahd, managed to flee Saudi Arabia in favor of, um, Iran. Go figure.

Harvard’s Hala al-Dosari describes the increasingly stifling atmosphere in Mohammad bin Salman’s kingdom:

For example, an earlier wave of arrests in September targeted more than 70 intellectuals, academics, writers, and key Islamist figures. The Presidency of State Security, an intelligence body directly overseen by the king, claimed they were inciting violence against the state and working to destabilize it. While the state has yet to provide evidence and those arrested have yet to face trial, it is likely that these arrests are partially tied to their online opinions regarding such sensitive issues as domestic economic reform—as was likely the case for Essam al-Zamil and Jamil Farsi. A small portion of the arrests is also likely tied to criticism of the conflict with Qatar. In August, Saud al-Qahtani, an advisor to the royal court, suggested crowdsourcing the creation of a blacklist—defended by Anwar Gargash, the Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs—to identify individuals who did not back the state’s campaign against Qatar. Yet the wider pattern of arrests reveals the state’s attempt to tighten its grip on dissent, regardless of the topic, and to promote its own narrative on domestic and foreign affairs. For instance, many of those arrested were public employees and academics in influential positions, such as seven of the judges on the Specialized Criminal Court, which handles terrorism cases. These judges may have been specifically targeted for their relationship with former Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, who had once directly supervised the court.


The European Union’s foreign policy chief says she believes Congress is unlikely to do anything that would wreck the Iran nuclear deal:

“I got clear indications that the intention is to keep the United States compliant with the agreement,” the EU’s Federica Mogherini said at a press conference on a visit to Washington.

Nevertheless, Tehran is demanding some clarification from European leaders as to what they plan to do if Congress and/or Donald Trump decide to rip the deal up after all.

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