from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

This Week: Turkey’s Acquiescence and Iran Sanctions

October 23, 2014

Blog Post

Significant Developments

ISIS-Turkey. Turkey announced on Monday that it would allow Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces to cross its border to come to Kobani’s defense, five weeks after the start of ISIS’s assault on the town. U.S. military planes airdropped ammunition, small arms, and medical supplies over Kobani on Sunday to resupply depleted Kurdish fighters. However, the Daily Beast reported on Tuesday that ISIS had posted a video online in which it claimed to have intercepted some of the munitions dropped by the United States.

Iran. The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Obama administration would not seek Congressional approval if a deal is struck with Iran over its nuclear program. Any such deal would most certainly include the lifting of sanctions imposed by the United States. While only Congress can permanently lift the sanctions, the president is likely to choose not to “seek congressional legislation in any comprehensive agreement for years,” according to a senior official. The suspension of the current economic sanctions against Iran would only be authorized once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) determines that Iran has complied with the conditions imposed by the United States and other Western powers. However, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano announced on Monday that Iran had not yet complied with an agreement to disclose information about its nuclear activity approximately two months after the August 25 deadline to do so.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Syria. New evidence has emerged that the Assad regime is using chlorine on civilians in northern Syria, less than a month after the joint OPCW-UN mission announced that it had completed removing Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation, Simon Limage, said on Monday that “It is virtually impossible to account for, eliminate and ban its [chlorine] use, because it has so many legitimate commercial uses.”

Iraq. Four former Blackwater security guards were convicted yesterday in a U.S. federal court for their roles in killing seventeen Iraqi civilians during the 2007 Nisour Square shooting in Iraq. The jury convicted them on charges of murder, manslaughter, and possession of weapons.

Saudi Arabia. The Periodic Review Board approved Muhammed Murdi Issa al Zahrani, the Saudi detainee and al-Qaeda affiliate, for release from Guantanamo Bay on Monday. The Board, which was established in March 2011 by President Barack Obama’s executive order, also determined that al Zahrani could be repatriated provided that security concerns in the host country were addressed.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi traveled to Iran on Tuesday for his first foreign visit since being appointed in September. Al-Abadi announced that “choosing Iran as [his] first destination after taking office indicates the depth of ties.” Meanwhile, the Iraqi Parliament filled the important Interior and Defense minister posts. Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, a member of the Badr Organization, a Shiite political group and militia, was appointed interior minister. Badr officials had threatened to withdraw from government if one of their members was not nominated for the post. The defense minister is Khalid al-Obeidi, a Sunni engineer for the Iraqi air force.

Libya. Libya’s internationally recognized government, led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, announced on Tuesday that its troops are prepared to recapture the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Renewed clashes between pro-government militias led by General Haftar and rival armed groups in the past five days have resulted in seventy-five casualties.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Abu Khattala, the man charged with orchestrating last year’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four U.S. officials, including the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, pleaded not guilty on Monday. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper has ordered Khattala to be held without bond until his next hearing on December 9. Khattala was captured by U.S. Special Forces in Libya in June.

Lebanon. UNHCR country representative Ninette Kelley told the Daily Star that Lebanon’s borders would remain open to Syrian refugees, although in reduced numbers. Her remarks came in response to comments by Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas on Monday that implied Lebanon would not accept any more refugees.

Syria. The European Union officially named sixteen individuals and two companies to be targeted in sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The companies include Pangates International Corporation Ltd, based in the United Arab Emirates, which acts as an intermediary in the supply of oil to the regime, and its Syrian parent company, Abdulkarim Group. The individuals targeted were twelve ministers from Assad’s new government who were appointed in late August, two energy company executives, and two military officers responsible for “violent repression against civilian population in Syria.”

Israel-Palestine. A three-month old baby was killed and several other civilians were injured yesterday evening after a Palestinian man ran over passengers disembarking from a light rail train in Jerusalem. The suspect, Abdel Rahman Al-Shaludi, is a resident of the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem and is reportedly affiliated with Hamas. Israeli police have confirmed he was shot while trying to run away from the scene and later died in the hospital. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered extra police patrols in Jerusalem and declared that he is holding PA President Mahmoud Abbas accountable for the attack. On Monday, Palestinians attacked a building with Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs in protest against Israelis moving into Silwan. The housing purchases were facilitated by Ateret Cohanim, an NGO working to settle Jewish Israelis into Arab area of Jerusalem.

Yemen. According to Al Jazeera, a UN panel of experts is preparing to impose sanctions on five prominent political figures accused of undermining Yemen’s democratic transition. This is the first time specific individuals have been targeted since the UN Security Council authorized sanctions against anyone attempting to “obstruct Yemen’s political transition or commit human rights violations” in February. The accused include Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former Yemeni president, and his son, Ahmed Ali, who is currently the Yemeni ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. The United Nations also plans to sanction three leading members of the Houthi rebel group: Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the leader, Abdulkhaleq al-Houthi, and military chief Abu Ali al-Hakem.

Saudi Arabia. Thirteen people were sentenced to prison by a Saudi court on Tuesday for plotting an Al-Qaeda attack against U.S. forces stationed in Qatar and Kuwait. The accused were convicted of planning to target the forces with hand grenades and rockets. Their sentences ranged from eighteen months to thirty years. Meanwhile, a special Saudi court sentenced two people to death for their role in the Shiite protests that began three years ago. A third defendant was imprisoned for twelve years. The sentences are meant to have a “deterrent” effect, according to the Saudi Press Agency.