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Issue 981 - 13 November 2014

Qatar: Security pact signed with UK

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Qatar and the UK signed a security agreement during Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani’s recent visit to London, which will see greater co-operation between their security agencies, including more sharing of information. The memorandum of understanding, signed by Qatari foreign minister Khalid Bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah and British home secretary Theresa May on 28 October, has been in negotiation since March, when May made a visit to Doha. Costs will be covered by Qatar.The Home Office said the agreement was part of the government plan to develop relationships with countries that bring strategic and economic benefits to the UK. “We are pleased to be working in partnership with the Qatari government,” it said.

Qatar
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Shiite Houthi militias have continued their advance against Al-Qaeda-linked militants in central Yemen, as newly appointed Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah struggles to form a government in Sanaa. Employing a strategy that relies largely on treaties with local tribes, the Houthis have been able to push hard against Ansar Al-Sharia (AAS), an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in areas like the city of Radaa in Al-Bayda and Al-Odain and Al-Sadda in Ibb. Recruiting locals to man checkpoints vastly expands Houthi capacity, and also enables the group to bridge the sectarian divide in some Sunni areas (though this remains a challenge).

Yemen
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In the very early hours of 23 September, Gulf Arab nations joined the United States in a series of bombing raids on jihadist targets in Syria. The raids were intended as much to show regional accord as to inflict damage on the so-called Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS). Fighter planes from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain took part, along with Jordan, while Qatar played a “supporting role”, understood to have involved its Mirage jets conducting damage assessments after the event.

Iraq | Syria
Issue 976 - 05 September 2014

Saudi Arabia: Counter-terrorism donation

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Saudi Arabia has donated $100m to the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCTT), as it did in August 2013 (GSN 953/13). Riyadh gave $10m towards setting up the New York-based UNCCT in 2011; the centre has held conferences – including one in Riyadh in partnership with the Saudi government in February 2013 – but has not delivered much in the way of practical improvements to global security.

Saudi Arabia
Issue 976 - 05 September 2014

Saudi Arabia: $1bn to Lebanon

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Riyadh has given $1bn to the Lebanese armed forces, to help them fight Islamist militants launching attacks from Syria. News of the donation was delivered by former Lebanese prime minister Saad Al-Hariri, who is close to the Saudi leadership, at a news conference at King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz’s palace in Jeddah on 6 August. Hariri said King Abdullah had told him he had issued the order to give the money, at a time when Lebanese security forces were engaged in a battle with Sunni Islamists for the town of Arsal.

Saudi Arabia
Issue 974 - 18 July 2014

Saudi Arabia: Al-Qaeda attack

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Six Saudi members of Al-Qaeda launched an attack in the southern province of Najran on 4 July, and at least ten people – including five of the attackers – were killed in subsequent fighting. Accounts of the incident vary, but according to the Saudi interior ministry, the assailants attacked a security patrol at the Wadiah border post with Yemen, killing its commander. They then stole a car and drove north towards Sharurah, where they were confronted by security forces who killed three of them and captured a fourth.

Saudi Arabia
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Iraqis used to point to electricity supply problems as an endemic issue under Saddam Hussein, but they did not go away with the US-led invasion. Shortfalls in power services have added to disillusionment with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s government, and are now challenging the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which – along with Sunni allies – has seized large swathes of Iraq, renaming itself the Islamic State, and triumphantly claiming its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is the caliph of Muslims everywhere.

Iraq
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The fall of Mosul to jihadists from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) on 10 June has sent shockwaves through the region and beyond. As the Sunni insurgents advanced from their strongholds in Al-Anbar, the Iraqi army seemed to melt away, allowing ISIL to extend its gains in the north, the Kurds to step into the vacuum in their coveted Kirkuk, and militias to proliferate on both sides of the Sunni/Shiite divide. Within days, the US said it was contemplating air strikes, as Iraq lunged back into deep sectarian conflict. At the time of writing, militants from ISIL controlled a significant number of towns in Nineveh, Salahaddin and northern Diyala, including Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit and Tal Afar, between Mosul and the border with Syria, where ISIL also controls a swathe of territory. Iraq’s biggest oil refinery at Bayji had been shut down and was under attack by militants, and there was fighting in Baquba, just 60km north of Baghdad

Iraq
Issue 972 - 20 June 2014

Iranian assistance?

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As Sunni militants extended their control in Iraq, Iran moved quickly to reinforce its Shiite powerbase. According to an Iraqi source in Baghdad, Major General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, arrived in the Iraqi capital on the morning of 12 June, together with a team of senior IRGC officials. “He brought 45 of the officers who are running the war in Syria,” the source told GSN. “He was fuming. They have few options.” Suleimani – a regular visitor to Baghdad whom the Kurds have described as Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s “number one adviser” (GSN 931/3), is reported to have personally inspected defensive positions to the north of Baghdad. This fits with his reputation as being a hands-on tactical commander as well as the chief strategist of Iran’s policy in Iraq and Syria.

Iran | Iraq
Issue 969 - 13 May 2014

Saudi Arabia: Multiple arrests

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The interior ministry said on 7 May that it had uncovered a terrorist organisation with links to extremists in Yemen and Syria, and arrested 62 people – a Palestinian, a Yemeni, a Pakistani, and the rest Saudi. The ministry said it had raided a laboratory making electronic devices used for bombing. It said the organisation was involved in smuggling weapons and people – including known terrorists Arwa Baghdadi and Rima Al-Jarish ­– across the southern border.

Saudi Arabia
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In late March, the media arm of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Malahim, posted a video online of a large gathering of AQAP leaders and members, a bold show of numbers and force which included Nasir Al-Wahayshi, who is the head of AQAP and widely seen as the Al-Qaeda number two. The video, entitled ‘First of the Heavy Rain’, is thought to have been shot in Marib province. It shows a reception for the 29 convicted members of AQAP who escaped from Sanaa Central Prison on 13 February, their prison break apparently the fulfilment, in part at least, of Al-Wahayshi’s August 2013 promise to release brothers imprisoned in Yemen, made around the time of mass prison breaks in Iraq, Pakistan and Libya.

Yemen
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Security is deteriorating in the southern province of Lahij, which stretches from Bab Al-Mandab almost to the port of Aden. Southern Movement (Al-Hirak) activists in Aden tell GSN that Lahij is rapidly falling into lawlessness as conflict increases between residents and government security forces. Towns such as the provincial capital Al-Houta, formerly known as Lahij, are also suffering spillover from the neighbouring province of Abyan, as elements of Ansar Al-Sharia (AAS), an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), move west into Lahij.

Yemen
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The Saudi Ministry of Interior said on 23 March that it had arrested two men in connection with an attack on two German diplomats who were driving near Awamiyah, in Eastern Province, on 14 January. The diplomats were unharmed, but their car caught fire. A security spokesman for the ministry was quoted on state news agency SPA as saying Ahmad Bin Hussain Bin Ali Al-Aradi had been arrested on 3 February, and that Hadi Bin Yousef Radhi Al-Hezaim had been arrested on 16 March, accused of involvement in the shooting attack on the diplomatic car “and other terrorist operations in Awamiyah”.

Saudi Arabia
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As Iraq readies itself for elections just six weeks away, there is still no improvement in the security situation. At the time of writing, more than 250 people had been killed in March, according to a tally by the French news agency AFP. On 9 March, 45 people were killed and 157 injured in a bomb attack on a security checkpoint in the city of Al-Hilla, while another series of bomb attacks on 15 March killed 19 people in Baghdad. Parliamentary candidate Mohammed Hussein Hamid, who was going to stand in the coming elections with Saleh Al-Mutlaq’s Al-Arabiya list (GSN 965/5), was shot dead by gunmen in Baghdad on 8 March. He was the second candidate to be assassinated this year, and the security situation for parliamentary candidates is expected to deteriorate; 14 candidates were killed ahead of provincial elections in April 2013 (GSN 952/6).

Iraq
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Iraq’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been hostile for some time, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s 9 March interview with France 24 upped the ante. In a 20-minute interview filmed at the opulent presidential residence in Baghdad, Maliki – with the 30 April general election in his sights – unequivocally accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting terrorism in Syria and Iraq, going so far as to say that “Iraq’s sectarian and terrorist crisis is primarily the responsibility of these two countries”. “I accuse them of inciting and encouraging the terrorist movements. I accuse them of supporting them politically and through the media, of supporting them with money and buying arms for them,” Maliki told journalist Marc Perelman in a measured tone. “I accuse them of declaring an open war against the Iraqi government. I also accuse them of sheltering the leaders of Al-Qaeda and takfiris...”

Saudi Arabia | Iraq | Qatar