Posts Tagged ‘Bahrain’

US defense chief Mattis slams Iran for ‘mucking around’ in Iraq elections

March 17, 2018

An Iraqi supporter of Moqtada Al-Sadr raises a sign showing the colors of the Iraqi flag superimposed on a hand flashing the victory gesture with a caption in Arabic reading at the bottom ‘million-man march, reformist, electoral, walking towards reform,’ during a demonstration in Baghdad against corruption in the Iraqi government on March 2. (AFP)
ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis lambasted Iran on Thursday for “mucking around” in Iraq’s upcoming elections in a bid to sway votes toward pro-Tehran candidates.
Speaking to reporters as he returned from a trip to Oman, Afghanistan and Bahrain, Mattis said officials he met with had expressed frequent concerns about Iranian behavior.
“One thing that came through loud and clear is the suspicion of Iran and the evidence of Iranian destabilizing efforts,” said Mattis, a longtime Iran hawk.
“I heard it when I was up in Afghanistan. You know what’s going on in terms of Iran’s support to Assad. Now Iran is following Russia’s example (and) mucking around in Iraq’s elections,” Mattis said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“It was just brought home to me again that they are not changing their behavior, they are continuing to be a destabilizing influence,” Mattis added.
The Pentagon chief said he would not speculate as to whether Iran’s efforts were having any impact on the Iraqi electorate ahead of the May parliamentary and provincial assembly elections.
“Iran is trying to influence, using money, the Iraqi elections. That money is being used to sway candidates, to sway votes,” he said.
“Iran should leave the Iraqis to determining their own future,” said Mattis.
Despite increased rhetoric from Washington about Iran’s activities in the region and US President Donald Trump’s continual railing against the Iran nuclear deal, Mattis noted that Iranian naval vessels in the Gulf have become less provocative toward US ships.
He said ships from both the regular Iranian navy and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have curtailed the sorts of incidents that had become almost routine over the past few years, and are now staying away from American vessels.
“In the Gulf itself, they are not coming in as close to our ships, the provocative actions in the Gulf seem to have relented somewhat,” Mattis said.
“They are not doing as many bellicose confrontations and that sort of thing.”
Commander Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said there had been no “unsafe or unprofessional” interactions with the Iranians at sea since Aug. 14, 2017, when an Iranian drone with no lights on flew close to US aircraft operating in the Gulf.
Urban told reporters that “a substantial period time” has passed since then, “something that we think is great.”
He said there has been “an across-the-board change in behavior.”
Last year and in 2016, the US Navy frequently complained about the behavior of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels, which would often shadow and steer toward American ships.
In at least one incident, US sailors had to fire flares and warning shots before the Iranians turned away.
Urban said that since then, the Iranians have stopped approaching so closely.
Mattis said that off the Yemen coast around the Bab-El-Mandab strait, Iran is testing a number of offensive capabilities.
“It’s where you find (Iran’s) radars, their ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles,” Mattis said.
“We’ve found their mines, their explosive boats all being tested, increased capability being demonstrated down there.”
The Fifth Fleet and its associated task forces continually patrol the Gulf and inspect some of the ships passing through the region. In 2016, sailors seized weapons apparently headed from Iran to Yemen, including machine guns and rocket launchers.
Urban said task forces this year have confiscated record amounts of heroin, much of which may have been grown in Afghanistan to fund the Taliban.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is a paramilitary force that answers directly to the country’s supreme leader. In January 2016, the Iranians briefly captured the crew of two small US patrol boats that strayed into Iranian waters. The 10 US sailors were released 24 hours later.


Qatar, Cut Off From Neighbors, Remains Defiant

March 15, 2018

Refusing to bow to Saudi-led demands, emirate speeds up reforms and builds new alliances

Image may contain: airplane

DOHA, Qatar—It has been nine months since Qatar turned from a peninsula to a de facto island.

By now, the tiny but wealthy emirate has gotten used to this new reality, developing fresh trade routes and alliances that may affect the Middle East’s balance for years to come.


Last June’s sudden decision by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Emirates to cut ties with Qatar over the country’s alleged support for terrorism was meant to be a knockout blow. It included a prohibition on Qataris visiting those neighboring nations, a ban on overflights and port use for Qatari trade, and the closure of the nation’s only land border.

Qatar, however, has managed to withstand this pressure—and the country’s government says it won’t capitulate to its bigger Gulf neighbors.

Qatar has reached out to Turkey for new trade routes. Here, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, left, welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an honor guard review in Doha, Qatar, in November.
Qatar has reached out to Turkey for new trade routes. Here, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, left, welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an honor guard review in Doha, Qatar, in November. PHOTO:YASIN BILBUL, PRESS POOL

“They don’t want us to make our decisions, they want to make decisions for us, they think our decisions are for sale and that we will simply give up and do what they tell us. That will never happen,” said Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al-Thani, the director of the emirate’s government communications office and a prominent member of Qatar’s ruling family.

“What happened to us is something that we don’t want to happen to another country,” he said. “It will be very dangerous for the region if aggressive acts like this become the new norm.”

Qatar has responded to the embargo by establishing new trade routes via Turkey and Iran, the two countries that provide an alternative to Saudi Arabia’s airspace and road access.

The Al-Wakrah Stadium, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, as seen in February during construction in advance of the 2022 soccer World Cup outside the Qatari capital.
The Al-Wakrah Stadium, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, as seen in February during construction in advance of the 2022 soccer World Cup outside the Qatari capital. PHOTO: KARIM JAAFAR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS

For the Saudis, enmeshed in their own regional effort to contain Iran, this shift by Qatar represents “an own goal,” said Nader Kabbani, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “These trade links sooner rather than later will become stable and normal, and this may affect the geopolitics of the region in the future.”

The U.S.—which maintains a critical military facility in Qatar and is wary of growing Iranian influence in the Gulf—has been trying to mediate this increasingly inconvenient dispute between its allies. President Donald Trump spoke to Qatar’s emir and the crown princes (and de facto rulers) of Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in late February. All three Gulf leaders are slated to visit him in Washington in coming weeks.

So far, these efforts—as well as mediation by Kuwait and entreaties by European governments to all sides—have proved largely fruitless.

“Right now we have not seen any sign from the blockading countries that they are willing to meet us at the same table to discuss our differences,” Qatar’s Sheikh Saif said.

Indeed, Saudi-led foes of Qatar—whose governments have wheeled out potential pretenders to the Qatari throne in an effort to put pressure on Doha and possibly spark regime change—seem in no mood to compromise.

“It’s not like we think much about Qatar. This can go on for another seven years if need be,” said a senior Saudi official. He also quipped that Qataris—who follow the same Wahhabi school of Islam as Saudi Arabia, albeit in a much more liberal interpretation—are “basically Saudis.”

Key objections that Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and their ally Egypt have about Qatar include the emirate’s friendly relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and coverage by Qatar’s Al Jazeera pan-Arab network that is critical of regional countries.

While Saudi-led sanctions on Qatar have caused pain, they also had the unexpected effect of accelerating some reforms. Since June, the emirate has abolished visa requirements for 80 nationalities, moved to establish permanent-residency rights for foreigners, and is setting up free economic zones. There are even plans for holding elections to a new legislature.

“All of these reforms would have taken a lot longer of it were not for the blockade,” said Yousuf Mohamed al-Jaida, chief executive of the Qatar Financial Centre, a body that hosts some 485 local and foreign companies. “It’s been a blessing in disguise when it comes to business.”

Because of severed air links, multinational companies can no longer fly executives on daytrips to Doha from the Gulf’s regional hub of Dubai, and many Qatari clients prefer dealing with offices that aren’t based in cities they can no longer visit. This has led many international companies to establish branches in Doha, leading to a 70% rise in the number of firms operating under QFC licenses, Mr. al-Jaida said.

It isn’t all good news, of course. One of the reasons why Qatar managed to survive an embargo by its key trading partners and food suppliers was because the country owns Qatar Airways, a passenger airline that seeks to become the world’s second-largest cargo carrier by next year.

With much of its capacity diverted to provide emergency supplies following the June embargo, and several lucrative regional routes lost, Qatar Airways said last week that it will announce “a very large loss” and may need a government bailout in the future.

Still, the way Qatar’s officials see it, it’s an acceptable price for maintaining independence. All the main development projects, including preparations for hosting the 2022 soccer World Cup, remain on schedule or have been accelerated, they say.

The International Monetary Fund, in a March statement on Qatar in which it projected GDP growth of 2.6% this year, said “the direct economic and financial impact of the diplomatic rift between Qatar and some countries in the region is fading.”

“While economic activity was affected, this has been mostly transitory,” it added.

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at


Qatar Airways responds to blockade by Middle Eastern neighbors by adding new routes


Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, has never shied away from a fight.

When Delta, United and American Airlines accused the Doha-based carrier in 2016 of competing unfairly by accepting subsidies from its oil-rich government owners, Al Baker responded by promising to add dozens of new U.S. destinations.

The new destinations included Atlanta, the biggest hub for Delta Air Lines.

“I like to rub a little salt on the wound of Delta when I announce these flights,” Al Baker joked at a news conference.


 Image result for Akbar Al Baker, Qatar, photos
Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways

Al Baker remains defiant. Last week, he announced that Qatar Airways plans to add 16 international destinations and expand service to eight other cities in response to a blockade launched this summer by several Middle Eastern countries.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt accused the country of Qatar of harboring, funding and championing Islamist terrorists. The countries cut air, sea and land links with Qatar, among other punitive measures.

During a news conference, Al Baker dismissed suggestions that the blockade will hurt his carrier.

“These destinations are not the whole world,” he said in response to a reporter’s questionabout access to neighboring countries. “There are so many other nice places in the world. So, we have not lost anything.”

Over the next two years, he said Qatar will add new flights to airports in Germany, London, Portugal, Estonia, Malta, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Turkey, Greece and Spain.

“We are very defiant, and Qatar Airways will keep on expanding and keep on raising the flag for my country all over the globe,” Al Baker said.

By adding these routes, Al Baker’s carrier is flying to some destinations already served by airlines from the blockade countries, including Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline, both based in the United Arab Emirates.

US agrees to upgrade Qatari air defences despite Gulf crisis

March 9, 2018



© Nicholas Kamm, AFP | US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis shakes hands with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulraham al-Thani at the State Department in Washington, DC, on January 30.


Latest update : 2018-03-09

The United States has approved a request from Qatar to upgrade the emirate’s air force operations center, officials said Thursday, despite the Gulf diplomatic crisis.

Qatar has fallen out with fellow US allies in the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Araba Emirates, over its alleged support for militant groups and ties with Iran.

The United States is trying to broker an end to a Saudi-led diplomatic and economic embargo on gas-rich Qatar, and still maintains a huge air base of its own on its territory.

On Thursday, the State Department approved a plan for Qatar to spend $197 million upgrading the technology and logistics capabilities of the Qatari Emiri Air Force operations center.

A statement said the sale would help “the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country.”

Qatar, it said, “has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region.

“Our mutual defense interests anchor our relationship and the Qatar Emiri Air Force plays a predominant role in Qatar’s defense,” it said.

The deal underlines the balancing act that Washington is performing in the Gulf as it tries to end in-fighting between Arab monarchies while maintaining a common front against Iran.

Three minutes after issuing a statement approving the Qatar deal, the State Department also approved a $270 million deal to sell Sidewinder air-to-air missiles to the United Arab Emirates.

And, using near identical language as before, it described the UAE as “a friendly country” and “an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar last June, closing its only land border and banning all flights to and from the emirate.

Qatar denies claims that it supports Islamist extremist groups, but fellow Gulf monarchies remain annoyed that it hosts the outspoken Al-Jazeera satellite network and has warmer ties with Iran.

President Donald Trump initially took the Saudi side in the dispute, but the US military relies on Qatar for its biggest base in the region and American diplomats have sought to reconcile the parties.


Qatar must end support for terror if it wants boycott lifted, UN council told

March 1, 2018

File Photo of Ambassador Obaid Salem Saeed Al Zaabi, Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the U.N. Geneva. (Reuters)
LONDON: The boycott on Qatar by its Middle East neighbors has been dismissed as a regional issue not worthy of debate at the UN Human Rights Council.
The UAE’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Obaid Salim Al-Zaabi, delivered a statement to the council on Wednesday on behalf of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. The four countries have maintained a boycott on Qatar since April last year over Doha’s alleged support for terrorism.
Earlier, Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, urged the UN to take action to halt the blockade on the Gulf state.
Al-Zaabi told the council that the Qatari minister’s speech included a lot of “fallacies.”
“(Doha’s) efforts to promote this secondary crisis as a major international issue should not be acknowledged,” the UAE ambassador said.
“We believe this small political crisis between our countries and Qatar should be resolved within the framework of the existing Kuwaiti mediation efforts, led by Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.”
A delegation from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Qatar in November, 2017, and two months later issued a report on the impact of the boycott on human rights.
“The Qataris must choose between being a state that is good to its neighbors and seeks to engage in a positive relationship with its surroundings like the rest of the civilized world, or continue to violate international law and regional conventions involved in the fight against terrorism, its supporters and those financing it,” Al-Zaabi said.

Russia is Using Syria as a Military Proving Ground — Battle-Tested Hardware; And Its For Sale — Moscow has tested over 600 new weapons and other military equipment in Syria

February 28, 2018

High-ranking Russian officials claim countries are lining up to purchase battle-tested hardware.

 FEBRUARY 28, 2018 11:27


Russian military jets are seen at Hmeymim air base in Syria

Russian military jets are seen at Hmeymim air base in Syria. (photo credit: REUTERS/VADIM SAVITSKY/RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY VIA REUTERS)

“It’s not an accident that today they are coming to us from many directions to purchase our weapons, including countries that are not our allies,” Vladimir Shamanov declared. “Today, our military industry made our army look in a way we can be proud of.”

According to Mathieu Boulegue, a Research Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the London-based Chatham House think-tank, “many analysts in Moscow view the Syria campaign as a ‘Revolution in Military Affairs,’ which is an American term that derives from the US experience mostly during the First Gulf War. Russia sees Syria as a theater for learning how to use [cutting-edge] technology and command and control techniques in modern warfare.

“They are also getting similar experience in Ukraine,” he elaborated to The Media Line, “and it is impossible to separate between the two campaigns as the lessons gained in both arenas are fed into the same beast.”

The Russian hardware being tested reportedly includes advanced aircraft, cruise missiles and precision-guided munitions in addition to armory, battlefield drones and electronic warfare systems, among many others.

 Image may contain: airplane
Russia’s Su-57 — New stealth fighter

 The comments came on the same day that the head of the powerful defense committee in Russia’s Duma, the lower house of parliament, contended that 200 of the items were next-generation systems.

One prominent example is the introduction into Syria of the Sukhoi Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets, twelve of the former reportedly having soon thereafter been sold to Algeria. Other countries such as Indonesia, India and Nigeria have likewise expressed interest in the plane since it became battle-tested, allowing for tangible evaluation of its performance.

Similarly, purchase agreements for the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system have been forged with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Overall, Middle East and North African countries from Egypt to Qatar to Bahrain, Morocco and Tunisia are lining up to purchase Russian-made equipment; this, as Moscow has renewed its regional influence through the projection of its military after years of US domination.

In March of last year Russia’s top defense official, Sergei Shoigu, told parliament that ninety percent of the weapons tested up to that point had met the Kremlin’s expectations. Months later, Dmitry Shugayev, head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, revealed that foreign orders for Russian weapons amount to almost $50 billion. Notably, he claimed that Moscow is poised to acquire about thirty percent of the global military aircraft market, surpassing the US’ share.

“Russia has come up with the ‘Combat-proven Label,’ which is used by officials and businesses to enhance military sales,” Boulegue explained to The Media Line. “It is very hard to quantify how much this will speed up the commercial prospects but it does go hand-in-hand with a very aggressive policy from the state-owned Rosoboronexport. [Other private companies are also] really reaching out to foreign buyers and so far they have had some good returns.

“This also applies to Latin America and Africa,” he concluded, “because a lot of the contracts that have been signed recently could have originated up to five years ago. There is a focus on countries that could buy some of the older models of Russian systems in bulk—those that can be [incorporated] into the militaries of less wealthy nations.”

Nevertheless, the timing and nature of the statements by high-ranking Russian officials suggests that they may also be intended for domestic consumption, amid a growing realization that Moscow may not easily be able to extricate itself from the Syrian quagmire.

“This sounds like propaganda as six hundred weapons is very high,” Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Russia and an expert on its Middle East foreign policy, explained to The Media Line.

In this respect, it is noteworthy that Moscow last week deployed to Syria two fifth-generation Su-57 stealth fighters, Russia’s answer to the US’ F-22 Raptor and F-35. That the jets are non-operational, however, supports the notion that their transfer abroad is at least partially a “show” mimicking strength.

“They are stuck over there and that is why they need excuses,” Magen expounded. “The Russians need to finish this war and they have not been able to arrive at an agreement to end it. Instead,” he continued, “Moscow declared victory [prematurely] and Putin visited Syria. But since then there have been battles and the Russians have suffered casualties. This leads to domestic pressure.”

Indeed Moscow’s beating of the military drums come on the heels of a major clash between Russian “contractors” and US forces on February 7, in which up to 300 mercenaries—employed by the shadowy Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) whose owner is a Putin associate—were killed or injured by American airstrikes and artillery fire during a failed attack on a Kurdish-controlled base in the Deir ez-Zor region.

While Russia publicly denied any involvement in the incident, it is well-known that Moscow has agreed to the deployment to Syria of as many as 2,500 for-hire fighters in order to avoid casualties among its official troops. As such, the Kremlin at the very least has a public relations problem back home, especially given its less-than-satisfactory explanation of the event which was described by US Defense Secretary James Mattis as “perplexing.”

Redirecting the focus to supposed successes in Syria—by hyping its military achievements, real or imagined—might therefore constitute a concerted effort to downplay the loss of its citizens while appealing to a largely nationalistic Russian populace. This, in turn, ties into the second possible explanation for the seemingly coordinated comments; namely, that they come just weeks ahead of the Russian presidential election and it may be that Putin is fending off legitimate criticism of Russia’s entanglement in Syria by rallying the support of his patriotic, if not militaristic, voter base.

The revelations that Russia is effectively using Syria as a testing ground for military hardware also raises moral questions, especially as they come on the background of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Eastern Ghouta.

More than 500 locals have been killed and some 2,500 others wounded over the past week, as Syrian forces allied with Moscow pounded the rebel-held area from the air and ground in the one of the fiercest offensives in the seven-years-long war. An estimated 400,000 civilians remain trapped in area, with rights groups warning of a major humanitarian catastrophe unless aid is allowed to reach the enclave.

Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad has once again brought into stark focus its paramount role in prolonging the war, to the detriment of an already devastated civilian population. That Russian leaders are concurrently trumpeting Moscow’s advancement of its military-industrial complex by using Syria as a “guinea pig” sheds light on their underlying intentions and priorities.


Qatar could be stripped of 2022 World Cup, Saudi minister claims

February 25, 2018

Turki al-Sheikh suggests England or US host soccer tournament if FIFA decides to take away hosting duties from Gulf state

Qatari Minister of Municipality and Environment Mohammad Bin Abdullah Mitaab Al-Rumaihi, right, Secretary-General of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee Hassan al-Thawadi, center, and Saad bin Ahmad Al Muhannadi President of the Public Works Authority 'Ashghal attend the inauguration of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy's Tree Nursery in Doha, on February 22, 2018. (AFP/KARIM JAAFAR)

Qatari Minister of Municipality and Environment Mohammad Bin Abdullah Mitaab Al-Rumaihi, right, Secretary-General of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee Hassan al-Thawadi, center, and Saad bin Ahmad Al Muhannadi President of the Public Works Authority ‘Ashghal attend the inauguration of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s Tree Nursery in Doha, on February 22, 2018. (AFP/KARIM JAAFAR)

Qatar could be stripped of its hosting rights of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with the global soccer federation set to announce its decision next September, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister Turki al-Sheikh claimed Saturday, suggesting the US and UK as alternate hosts.

Sources close to al-Sheikh were quoted earlier by a German news outlet as saying it has already been decided that Qatar would indeed lose the hosting rights for the games, which have been mired in controversy.

Al-Sheikh, whose country has been involved in a major diplomatic spat with Qatar, publicly endorsed England and the United States as alternative hosts of the major sports event if indeed the controversial bid by the Middle Eastern country is reversed.

However, there was no official signal from FIFA that Qatar was actually in danger of losing hosting rights for the worldwide soccer tourney.

In 2010, the 22-member FIFA executive committee voted for Russia as hosts of the 2018 World Cup installation, and for Qatar as home of the 2022 contest — two highly contentious picks that have been widely criticized ever since, with allegations of corruption and vote-buying surrounding the vote.

FIFA President Joseph Blatter as he is is flanked by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov (R), and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar (L), after the announcement December 2, 2010, that Russia and Qatar will host the soccer World Cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022 respectively. (photo credit: AP/Michael Probst, File)

Along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties and began a boycott of Qatar in June 2017, in part over allegations that Doha supports extremists and has overly warm ties to Iran.

Qatar has long denied funding extremists and restored full diplomatic ties to Iran amid the dispute. Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Iran that makes its citizens incredibly wealthy.

The Gulf crisis forced organizers to move the eight-nation Gulf Cup from host Qatar to Kuwait. Doha agreed on condition that it would host the next Gulf tournament, in 2019.

The fact that Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain would only play after the tournament was switched from Qatar has raised fears over a potential boycott of 2022.

Qatar has said they expect up to 1.5 million fans to attend the World Cup, the majority coming from the region, mainly from Saudi Arabia.

Construction at the Khalifa Staium in the Qatari capital Doha, August 17, 2016. (AFP/Karim JAAFAR)

Last month, the country’s most senior World Cup organizer, Hassan al-Thawadi publicly urged the boycotting countries to allow their nationals to attend 2022.

Some have claimed the crisis with Qatar was caused by its selection to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, saying the impasse could end if Doha gave up that right.

On Friday, German online magazine Focus reported FIFA has recently “changed” the procedure for choosing World Cup hosts following the controversy, and that in the future all 211 member states would participate in the deciding vote rather than the relatively small panel used thus far, quoting information provided by the Saudi sports ministry.

The report quoted ministry sources as saying FIFA has made the decision to strip World Cup hosting rights from Qatar due to “clear evidence of a vote buy,” and will formally announce the decision in the late summer of 2018.

Al-Sheikh appeared to confirm part of the report a day later, saying that “September 2018 will be an intense month” in FIFA corridors.

“If found guilty of any ethical violations, the Qatari government must accept the consequences of their actions,” he said on Twitter.

“England is the birthplace of modern football,” explained al-Sheikh, using the sport’s British name. “Its history and pedigree would make it a great host.”

“The USA has tremendous experience in hosting global sporting events,” he added. “I would extremely enjoy watching the World Cup if hosted in England or the USA.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

Fugitive Bahrain militants die at sea en route to Iran — Fugitives wanted for serious acts of terrorism fleeing to Iran are “lost at sea”

February 22, 2018

Image result for Bahrain, photos


DUBAI (Reuters) – Three suspected Bahraini militants wanted on terrorism charges died at sea in unexplained circumstances this month and another is missing, activists said, after they appear to have fled the country by boat headed for Iran.

The incident shines a light on alleged links between a small, armed fringe of Bahrain’s Shi‘ite Muslim opposition and Iran, which authorities in the Western-allied Gulf kingdom accuse of helping stoke years of attacks against its police.

An activist group in their home village called Youth of Karbabad hailed the four men as “holy warriors” in a statement, saying they sought to flee authorities by sea.

“They were martyred…in a sinking in regional waters near Iran on February 7 in hazy circumstances which remain unclear”.

A Bahraini security official, however, denied any involvement by its forces in the incident.

“It’s the latest in a pattern of fugitives wanted for serious acts of terrorism fleeing to Iran in coordination with authorities in Tehran and other exiles there,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Map of Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf)

Iranian authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and Tehran has denied any support for Bahraini militancy.

Bahrain, ruled by a Sunni monarchy, has cracked down on perceived threats since pro-democracy Arab Spring protests in 2011 led mainly by the island kingdom’s Shi‘ite majority were quashed with help from Gulf Arab neighbors.

It has shut down the main opposition parties, jailed or stripped the citizenship of prominent dissidents and put the top Shi‘ite spiritual leader under de facto house arrest.

According to Bahraini security dossiers on the men lost at sea reviewed by Reuters, all had been convicted in absentia for attacking police and taking part in riots and were on the run inside Bahrain.

One, Maytham Ali Ibrahim, was wanted for killing a police officer with a fire bomb last April.


Under pressure from authorities, many activists, clerics and some militants appear have moved to Iran and other countries in recent years.

A militant commander was killed in a Bahraini commando raid last year along with several comrades headed to Iran on a speedboat after they staged a prison break.

Three wanted militants who also took part in the escape did arrive in Iran. They appeared at a lecture in the Iranian holy city of Qom praising their slain fellows, according to a video filmed and distributed by activists.

At a wake held in Qom for the three militants lost at sea on Tuesday, an exiled Bahraini leader mourned their death in a videotaped statement.

“We heard about their departure but they were missing for a long time at sea and the boat was found after three days … from the first moments the Iranian authorities were looking for them,” Sheikh Abdullah al-Duqaq said.

The Iranian coast guard had no role in their deaths, he said. Calls by Reuters to Duqaq’s telephone went unanswered.

Reporting by Noah Browning; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson


Bahrain activist Rajab sentenced to 5 years for tweets

February 21, 2018


Image may contain: 2 people, closeup

© AFP/File | High-profile Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab, who has been sentenced to a further five years in jail over tweets critical of the war in Yemen, is seen here in 2015 with his daughter Malak

DUBAI (AFP) – High-profile Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to a further five years in jail on Wednesday over tweets critical of the war in Yemen, a judicial source and human rights groups said.Rajab, a leading figure in 2011 protests against the Gulf state’s Sunni minority rulers, was already serving a two-year sentence handed down last July for “disseminating rumours and false information” in television interviews critical of the government.

In the latest case, Rajab was found guilty of insulting a neighbouring country and spreading false news and rumours, a judicial source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The charges are linked to tweets and retweets, made via Rajab’s account and critical of a Saudi-led coalition, including Bahrain, that has been fighting in Yemen in support of its beleaguered government since 2015.

The charges also relate to tweets critical of Bahrain’s treatment of inmates at the notorious Jaw prison, south of the capital Manama.

The kingdom’s leading human rights groups, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, confirmed the charges and sentence.

Gulf crisis harms regional security: Tillerson

February 13, 2018

13 Feb 2018 – 18:34

Gulf crisis harms regional security: Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Kuwait’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al Khalid Al Sabah attend a joint news conference, in Bayan, Kuwait February 13, 2018. Reuters/Stephanie McGehee


Kuwait City:  US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday called for an end to the more than seven-month dispute between a Saudi-led bloc and Qatar, warning it is harming regional security.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt broke off ties with Qatar in June.

Tillerson, in Kuwait for a meeting of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, said the United States was working to settle the Gulf dispute.

“This type of division is counterproductive to the security of the region,” the top US diplomat said, speaking alongside his Kuwaiti counterpart at the meeting.

Qatar is home to the largest US airbase in the Middle East, Al-Udeid, which houses some 10,000 American troops and has been key in the war against IS.

Defence minister: Saudi, UAE intended to invade Qatar

February 3, 2018

Al Jazeera

Qatar's defence minister stressed the need for open dialogue as a means to end the ongoing GCC crisis [Reuters]
Qatar’s defence minister stressed the need for open dialogue as a means to end the ongoing GCC crisis [Reuters]

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had intentions to invade Qatar at the beginning of a diplomatic crisis that erupted in June, according to Qatar’s defence minister.

In an interview with the Washington Post on Friday, Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah said his Gulf neighbours have “tried everything” to destabilise the country, but their intentions to invade were “diffused” by Qatar.

“They have intentions to intervene militarily,” said Attiyah.

When asked to confirm whether he thought such a threat still existed today, he responded: “We have diffused this intention. But at the beginning of the crisis, they had this intention.

“They tried to provoke the tribes. They used mosques against us. Then they tried to get some puppets to bring in and replace our leaders.”


Q: You have Turkish troops in your country. Were you actually afraid that Saudi Arabia or the UAE might invade?

A: I wouldn’t say afraid. They have intentions to intervene militarily.

Q: Saudi and UAE?

A: Yes, for sure. They have this intention. But our relations with Turkey go way back before the crisis.

Q: But you seriously think the UAE and Saudi Arabia have intentions to invade? Today?

A: We have diffused this intention. But at the beginning of the crisis, they had this intention. They have tried everything. They tried to provoke the tribes. They used mosques against us. Then they tried to get some puppets to bring in and replace our leaders.

Source: Washington Post

Attiyah, who met US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week during a visit to Washington, DC, described the beginning of the crisis by the Saudi-led bloc as an “ambush” that was “miscalculated”.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt and Bahrain cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air blockade after accusing it of supporting “terrorism” and “extremism”.

Qatar has strongly denied the allegations.

Attiyah said Qatar is the only country that has signed a memorandum of understanding with the US to counter terrorism in the region – namely in IraqAfghanistan, and Syria.

He stressed the need for open dialogue as a means to end the ongoing crisis.

Asked about Doha’s relations with Saudi’s rival, Iran, Attiyah noted that Qatar maintains “friendly relations with everyone”.

“We are responsible for the supply of [an enormous amount] of the world’s energy. We have to have a smooth flow of energy, and that means we have to eliminate having enemies,” he said, referring to the country’s shared oilfield with Iran.

According to Attiyah, the Saudi-led bloc had planned to replace Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani with a new leader.

“They put their puppet, [Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani, a relative of a former Qatari emir], on TV,” he said of the “failed” attempt.

“They can’t do anything. The Qatari people love their emir.”

On January 14, Sheikh Abdullah released a video statement, saying he was a “prisoner” in the UAE, and that if anything happened to him, “Sheikh Mohammed” is responsible.

While he did not specify, Abdullah appeared to be referring to Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Days later, he was hospitalised in Kuwait. Later, reports emerged he threatened suicide.