Category - Arabia

U.S. State Department “Welcomes” News That Saudi Arabia Will Head U.N. Human Rights Panel

The Intercept, By Glenn Greenwald, September 23

Last week’s announcement that Saudi Arabia — easily one of the world’s most brutally repressive regimes — was chosen to head a U.N. Human Rights Council panel provoked indignation around the world. That reaction was triggered for obvious reasons. Not only has Saudi Arabia executed more than 100 people already this year, mostly by beheading (a rate of 1 execution every two days), and not only is it serially flogging dissidents, but it is reaching new levels of tyrannical depravity as it is about to behead and then crucify the 21-year-old son of a prominent regime critic, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was convicted at the age of 17 of engaging in demonstrations against the government.

Most of the world may be horrified at the selection of Saudi Arabia to head a key U.N. human rights panel, but the U.S. State Department most certainly is not. Quite the contrary: its officials seem quite pleased about the news. At a State Department briefing yesterday afternoon, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner was questioned by the invaluable Matt Lee of AP, and this is the exchange that resulted:

QUESTION: Change topic? Saudi Arabia.

MR. TONER: Saudi Arabia.


QUESTION: Well, how about a reaction to them heading the council?

MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have any comment, don’t have any reaction to it. I mean, frankly, it’s — we would welcome it. We’re close allies. If we —

Saudi air raids kill dozens of Yemeni civilians amid humanitarian crisis

RT, September 20

The latest Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen have left dozens of civilians dead and nearly 160 injured at a time that sees medical facilities struggling to provide even the most basic services. The country is suffering from a shortage of vital supplies due to the ongoing blockade.

The coalition air raids against Houthi forces in Sanaa overnight on Friday killed at least 40 civilians and injured at least another 130 people, Yemen News Agency (SABA) reported.

One strike leveled an apartment building in the center of the city killing a family of nine, while another strike killed a man who had been searching for his family in the rubble, AP reported. The coalition has even managed to attack Yemen’s interior ministry in the capital, launching about 10 strikes at the building as well as at a police camp and a military building close to it.

The airstrikes also hit the residence of Oman’s ambassador in Sanaa.

Putin Said to Explore Sidelining Assad Even as He Arms Him

Bloomberg, By Henry Meyer & Donna Abu-Nasr, September 13

Russia is sending signals to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that it may allow Syria’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad to be eased out of power as it seeks to forge a united front against Islamic State and retain influence in the region, officials and Syrian opposition leaders said.

Officials from the three countries, as well as from the opposition, have been negotiating possible terms for sidelining Assad since at least June, when President Vladimir Putin hosted Saudi King Salman’s son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed, they said. Saudi Arabia is Assad’s main regional enemy, while Russia is his longtime ally. Since then, Russia’s whirlwind diplomacy has brought key officials from across the region to Moscow for talks.

Syria’s civil war has traumatized the Middle East, spilling into neighbors and enabling the rise of Islamic State amid the turmoil. The latest Russian-backed efforts to end the conflict come as its fallout spreads westwards, with hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking refuge in the European Union.

Like every other aspect of the war in Syria, though, Russia’s policy isn’t straightforward. U.S. and Russian officials say they’re weighing a transition plan that would strip Assad of power while remaining interim head of state.

Airstrikes Take Toll on Civilians in Yemen War

New York Times, By Kareem Fahim, September 12

Hajja, Yemen — The airstrike slammed into Al-Sham water-bottling plant at the end of the night shift, killing 13 workers who were minutes away from heading home.

Standing among the strewn bottles, smoldering boxes and pulverized machines a few days after the airstrike here, the owner, Ibrahim al-Razoom, searched in vain for any possible reason that warplanes from a Saudi-led military coalition would have attacked the place.

Nothing in the ruins suggested the factory was used for making bombs, as a coalition spokesman had claimed. And it was far from any military facility that would explain the strike as a tragic mistake: For miles around, there was nothing but desert scrub.

“It never occurred to me that this would be hit,” Mr. Razoom said.

Of the many perils Yemen’s civilians have faced during the last six months of war, with starvation looming and their cities crumbling under heavy weapons, none have been as deadly as the coalition airstrikes. What began as a Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthis, the rebel militia movement that forced Yemen’s government from power, has become so broad and vicious that critics accuse the coalition of collectively punishing people living in areas under Houthi control.

Via The Intercept: Two Short Paragraphs that Summarize the US Approach to Human Rights Advocacy

Heavy air raids pound Yemen capital after rebel attack

AFP, By Jamal al-Jabiri, September 6

Sana’a – A Saudi-led coalition pounded the rebel-held Yemeni capital with air strikes on Sunday in retaliation for the killing of 60 Gulf soldiers in a rebel missile attack.

The United Arab Emirates had pledged to quickly avenge its heaviest ever military loss after 45 of its soldiers were killed in Friday’s strike, along with 10 Saudis and five Bahrainis as well as four Yemeni troops.

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led Arab coalition formed in March to try to reverse the gains of Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels and restore the rule of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Sunday’s air raids, coinciding with funerals in the Emirates, pounded positions of the rebels and renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Coalition warplanes hit military bases on the capital’s Nahdain and Fajj Attan hills and the neighbouring presidential complex, south of Sanaa, as well as a special forces headquarters.

Yemen crisis: UAE launches fresh Yemen attacks

BBC, September 5

Warplanes from the United Arab Emirates have launched air strikes on several targets across Yemen.

The strikes came a day after 45 Emirati soldiers died in Yemen in a missile strike claimed by Houthi rebels.

Ten Saudi troops fighting the rebels were also killed in the Houthi attack, Saudi officials said on Saturday.

A Saudi-led coalition is trying to restore the exiled president, who left as the Houthis gained control over much of the country.

U.S. Official: Saudis Have Used Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Deployment of the weapons comes as the U.S. has taken a more hands-off approach to conflicts in the region.

US News & World Report, By Paul D. Shinkman, August 19

The U.S. knows the Saudi government has employed cluster bombs in its ongoing war against Shiite Muslim rebels in neighboring Yemen, but has done little if anything to stop the use of the indiscriminate and deadly weapons during what has become a human rights catastrophe in one of the Arab world’s poorest countries.

With watchdog groups warning of war crimes and attacks striking civilians in Yemen, the Pentagon declined to comment publicly on whether it has discussed cluster bombs with Saudi Arabia or encouraged its military to cease using them, deferring all such questions to the State Department. But a Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells U.S. News “the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen.”

Deferrals by the Pentagon on the topic are nothing new, though the use of the weapons by the Saudis – some of which were reportedly supplied by the U.S. – appears to be only a recent tactic. Former spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters in May the Defense Department was looking into claims the Saudis were using cluster munitions and called on all sides to “comply with international humanitarian law, including the obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians.” Warren’s successor, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, was asked about similar reports in July and did not at that time have any new information.

Multiple groups are fighting in Yemen, but the heart of the conflict lies between forces loyal to U.S.- and Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled from Yemen to Saudi Arabia earlier this year. They’re fighting against Shiite Houthi rebels aligned with, if not directly backed by, chief Saudi rival Iran. Deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has also re-emerged and allied himself with the Houthis.

Via Anti-War: US Confirms Saudis Using Cluster Bombs in Yemen

The CIA Just Released Declassified Documents Related to the 9/11 Attacks

VICE News, June 12

The CIA has released declassified versions of five internal documents dealing with the 9/11 terror attacks, according to a press release sent to reporters on Friday afternoon. The documents are described as being “related to the Agency’s performance in the lead-up to the attacks.”

The release comes just before the weekend, a time when many organizations tend to “dump” news in an attempt to minimize coverage. VICE News is currently reviewing the documents in detail. The CIA describes them as including “a redacted version of the 2005 CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report on Central Intelligence Agency Accountability Regarding Findings and Conclusions of the Report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.”

The executive summary of the OIG report was released in 2007, and the CIA says it released the full report in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. The 500-page document reportedly underwent “an extensive review… in order to release information that no longer needed to be protected in the interests of national security.”


PDF versions of the documents can be found at the CIA’s online reading room.

CIA Report Says No Evidence Saudi Arabia ‘Willingly Supported’ al Qaeda Leading up to 9/11

Vice News, By Jason Leopold & Samuel Oakford, June 12

A newly declassified CIA watchdog report that probed the agency’s intelligence failures leading up to the 9/11 attacks reveals that investigators on the CIA’s 9/11 review team “encountered no evidence” that the government of Saudi Arabia “knowingly and willingly supported” al Qaeda terrorists.

Moreover, the June 2005 CIA Inspector General report’s, released Friday, said the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 “‘had made no final determinations as to the reliability or sufficiency’ regarding Saudi issues raised by its inquiry.” (A separate report released in 2004 by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly known as the 9/11 Commission, found no evidence that the government of Saudi Arabia or Saudi officials individually provided funding to al-Qaeda.)

The conclusions the CIA inspector general reached in the unredacted portion of the report, and the reference to the Joint Inquiry’s own finding, appears to contrast with longstanding claims of Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Suspicions about Saudi Arabia’s role have centered on a 28-page section of the Joint Inquiry, which was ordered classified by President George W. Bush prior to its release in 2002. For years, victims’ families, members of Congress, and former Senator Bob Graham, the co-chair of the inquiry, have called for the release of the pages, which are said to refer to FBI investigations into the attacks. Those investigations, according to individuals who have seen the pages, highlight elements of the financing that went into the orchestration of the attacks.

Amid the ruins of Syria, is Bashar al-Assad now finally facing the end?

As Isis surges ahead and the Syrian regime teeters on the brink of collapse, our Middle East correspondent, winner of the 2015 Orwell prize for journalism, reports on the deadly struggle for dominance in the region.

The Guardian, By Martin Chulov, May 23

One evening at the end of March, a Syrian rebel leader returned from a meeting across the border in Turkey and called an urgent gathering of his commanders. The five men turned up at their boss’s house in Idlib province expecting to receive the same pleas for patience that they had always heard and more grim news about cash and weapons being hard to find. This time, though, they were in for a shock.

“He arrived looking eager,” said one of the commanders. “That caught our attention straight away. But when he started to speak, we were all stunned.”

The leader, who asked that his unit not be identified, said he told his men that the grinding war of attrition they had fought against the Syrian government since early 2012 was about to turn in their favour.

“And the reason for that was that I could now get nearly all the weapons I wanted,” he told the Observer. “For the first time they were not holding anything from us – except anti-aircraft missiles. The Turks and their friends wanted this over with.”

U.S. President Barack Obama in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya

Al Arabiya, By Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, May 15

The White House Map Room – Q Mr. President, thank you very much for your time.

THE PRESIDENT: It’s great to be with you. Thank you.

Q You concluded the summit. Was it successful? Were there any sticking points that either you or your government did not achieve?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it was very successful. And the intentions here were to deepen and broaden what is already an excellent relationship between the GCC countries and the United States.

Obviously, we have a whole range of bilateral security arrangements with the various GCC countries. We’ve consulted and worked with them on a range of regional challenges. But I thought the time was ripe for us to be able to come together as a group, to talk face-to-face about a wide range of these issues, and then to put forward very specific plans in terms of how we can address them.

So the joint statement that we issued I think reflected the wide range of topics that were discussed. We discussed the important security assurances that I had delivered publicly in venues like the United Nations and had discussed privately, but I think it was important for them, at a time when there’s so much chaos in the region, for the GCC members to hear that the United States is committed, if they are subject to external attack or the threat of attack, to work with the GCC to deter such attacks and to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the GCC countries.

We also talked about the joint work that we have to do to counter violent extremism in a whole range of areas, from ending the financing of terrorist organizations to improving intelligence, to what kinds of capabilities — for example, maritime security or cybersecurity — that are needed. And some of these areas are ones where it’s better if we do them together in integrated fashion.

Aspen Cabin, Camp David: Remarks by President Obama in Press Conference after GCC Summit

Saudi Arabia Promises to Match Iran in Nuclear Capability

New York Times, By David E. Sanger, May 13

Washington — When President Obama began making the case for a deal with Iran that would delay its ability to assemble an atomic weapon, his first argument was that a nuclear-armed Iran would set off a “free-for-all” of proliferation in the Arab world. “It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons,” he said in 2012.

Now, as he gathered Arab leaders over dinner at the White House on Wednesday and prepared to meet with them at Camp David on Thursday, he faced a perverse consequence: Saudi Arabia and many of the smaller Arab states are now vowing to match whatever nuclear enrichment capability Iran is permitted to retain.

“We can’t sit back and be nowhere as Iran is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research,” one of the Arab leaders preparing to meet Mr. Obama said on Monday, declining to be named until he made his case directly to the president. Prince Turki bin Faisal, the 70-year-old former Saudi intelligence chief, has been touring the world with the same message.