Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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Middle East Matters This Week: Syria Plan Flounders, Iraq’s Kurds Worry

by Robert M. Danin
April 26, 2012

Members of the first UN monitoring team in Syria, together with members of the Syrian Free Army, visit Homs on April 21, 2012 (Khaled Telawi/Courtesy Reuters). Members of the first UN monitoring team in Syria, together with members of the Syrian Free Army, visit Homs on April 21, 2012 (Khaled Telawi/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Middle East Developments

Syria. The United Nations Security Council established the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria on Saturday, increasing the number of ceasefire monitors there from thirty to three hundred. UN special envoy Kofi Annan subsequently urged the Security Council on Tuesday to deploy the expanded unarmed military mission rapidly. However, the head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, said it will take a month to deploy the first one hundred monitors. French foreign minister Alain Juppe announced on Wednesday that he would push for the deployment of the entire three hundred person contingent within two weeks. Juppe also suggested that France would push for Security Council action under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter if Assad’s government does not fully implement the Annan peace plan by early May. Meanwhile, an explosion ripped through a residential building in Hama on Thursday killing at least sixteen Syrian civilians. The opposition blamed government shelling for the deaths while Syrian state media accused terrorists of bombing the building.

Iraq. Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, warned on Wednesday that Kurdish voters may consider secession if Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite bloc do not agree to share power by September. He said that Iraq’s unity is threatened by Maliki’s “dictatorship and authoritarian rule.” Barzani’s comments followed earlier remarks on Sunday in which he expressed his concerns that Maliki might use F-16 warplanes against Iraqi Kurdistan, saying “We must either prevent him from having these weapons, or if he has them, he should not stay in his position.” Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr arrived in Kurdistan on Thursday in an attempt to help resolve the situation.

Noteworthy U.S. Foreign Policy Developments

Yemen. The White House has granted the CIA and the U.S. military greater leeway to target suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen with drones, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. The shift in policy, confirmed by senior officials, is a significant expansion of the drone war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered to be the most active affiliate of the terrorist network. Until now, drone strikes were only allowed against known terrorist leaders whose names were on CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) lists. The expanded authority will allow the CIA and JSOC to target lower-level terrorist operatives whose names may not be known but whose militant activities suggest the presence of an important operative or the intention to attack U.S. interests.

Quotes of the Week

  • “The Sinai is turning into a kind of Wild West which…terror groups from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al-Qaida, with the aid of Iran, are using to smuggle arms, to bring in arms, to mount attacks against Israel.” – Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking on Israel Radio Tuesday
  • “The Russians and Chinese, and the Iranians must understand that this man is finished and they cannot defend him. They must persuade him to leave power and hand over to his deputy.” – Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki quoted by the regional Arab newspaper Al-Hayat Tuesday
  • “Turkey tried to restructure the geopolitics in the region on the basis of getting everybody together to focus on the economy—now we’re at a point where we see major sectarianism and we need to step back.” – Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashemi speaking on Wednesday in Istanbul

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Jordan. Jordan’s prime minister Awn Khasawneh suddenly resigned today after barely six months in office. Khasawneh, an International Court of Justice judge, was appointed by King Abdullah to bring about political reforms. His proposed election law has drawn sharp criticism from the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the IAF, which criticized the limitation on seats that could be won by political parties. In a letter announcing the move, Abdullah said that reforms in Jordan are not moving ahead apace. Meanwhile, press reports indicated that Khasawneh was unhappy at the limitations placed on his authority as prime minister. The king announced the appointment of Fayez Tarawneh, who previously served as prime minister in the 1990s, to once again serve in that post.

Egypt. Egypt’s election commission reversed its decision to ban former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq on Wednesday, allowing him to be included in the finalized list of thirteen candidates that was released today. Shafiq had been disqualified on Tuesday after the military council approved a new law passed by parliament that banned from public office anyone who had served as vice president or prime minister in the last ten years of Mubarak’s rule. Campaigning for the presidency will formally begin on April 30, and the first round of elections will take place on May 23 and 24.

Bahrain. Riot police employed tear gas against protesters on Tuesday, dispersing the crowd before it could reach Pearl Square in Manama. The protests came a day after the funeral of a young man who had been found dead on Saturday night after clashes between demonstrators and security forces on the eve of Bahrain’s Formula One race. The unrest intensified in the week leading up to the race, and has continued to escalate over the worsening condition of imprisoned activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja who has been on a hunger strike. A bomb explosion in the village of Diraz wounded four police officers on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland issued a statement condemning all violence and urging restraint.

UAE-Iran. In the latest round of tension between the UAE and Iran over the disputed island of Abu Musa, the Iranian parliament announced plans on Monday to establish a new province with Abu Musa as its capital. Vali Esmayeeli, a member of the Iranian parliament’s Councils and Interior Policy Commission told Fars News Agency that the new province would be named the Persian Gulf Province. Abu Musa, in addition to the Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, are at the center of a UAE-Iranian territorial dispute. On Tuesday, Sharjah ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi pledged to provide a ship to provide safe and reliable transportation between the UAE and Abu Musa.

This Week in History

This week marks the nineteenth anniversary of the first parliamentary elections to take place in a unified Yemen. The election resulted in a three-part coalition composed of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s People’s General Congress (GPC), the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), which had previously governed southern Yemen, and Islah, the Islamist opposition party. The election was hailed at the time by the National Democratic Institute for establishing Yemen as “the most democratically developed and stable Arab state…worthy of study and emulation.” However, the coalition broke apart less than a year later and the country was consumed by a short civil war that resulted in the defeat of the southern forces and the consolidation of power in the hands of Saleh and some of his supporters.

Statistic of the Week

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on Tuesday that over six thousand Syrians have registered with the agency in Jordan over the last month. The total number of Syrians registered as refugees has exceeded twelve thousand, and UNHCR expects that figure to rise to fifteen thousand by the end of April. A spokesperson for UNHCR said that the agency has only received $15.6 million out of the eighty-four million dollars it requested for support services for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.


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