Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

Tillerson heads back to deal with Gulf crisis — Meetings in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan

October 20, 2017


© AFP / by Francesco FONTEMAGGI | Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not expecting a breakthrough in the stand-off between Qatar and Saudi Arabia as he travels to the region
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States will again try to resolve a Gulf crisis that Washington has alternatively fueled or tried to soothe, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads back to the region.The top US diplomat did not himself hold out much hope of an immediate breakthrough in the stand-off between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but the trip may clarify the issues at stake.

“I do not have a lot of expectations for it being resolved anytime soon,” Tillerson admitted on Thursday, in an interview with the Bloomberg news agency.

“There seems to be a real unwillingness on the part of some of the parties to want to engage.”

Nevertheless, President Donald Trump’s chief envoy is to leave Washington this weekend for Saudi Arabia and from there head on to Qatar, to talk through a breakdown in ties.

Trump, having initially exacerbated the split by siding with Riyadh and denouncing Qatar for supporting terrorism at a “high level,” has predicted the conflict will be resolved.

Tillerson, a former chief executive of energy giant ExxonMobil, knows the region well, having dealt with its royal rulers while negotiating oil and gas deals.

But the latest diplomatic spat is a tricky one, pitching US allies against one another even as Washington is trying to coordinate opposition to Iran and to Islamist violence.

– Major air base –

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran.

The sides have been at an impasse since then, despite efforts by Kuwait — and a previous unsuccessful trip by Tillerson in July — to mediate the crisis.

The blockade has had an impact on Qatar’s gas-rich economy, and created a new rift in an already unstable Middle East, with Turkey siding with Qatar and Egypt with the Gulf.

Iran, Washington’s foe, only stands to benefit from a split in the otherwise pro-Western camp, and US military leaders are quietly concerned about the long-term effects.

Trump, after initially vocally support the effort to isolate Qatar despite its role as a military ally and host of a major US airbase, has not called for a negotiated resolution.

Tillerson says there has been little movement.

“It’s up to the leadership of the quartet when they want to engage with Qatar because Qatar has been very clear — they’re ready to engage,” he said.

“Our role is to try to ensure lines of communication are as open as we can help them be, that messages not be misunderstood,” he said.

“We’re ready to play any role we can to bring them together but at this point it really is now up to the leadership of those countries.”

Simon Henderson, a veteran of the region now at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, said the parties may humor US mediate but won’t want to lose face to each other.

“Tillerson will say: ‘Come on kids, grow up and wind down your absurd demands. And let’s work on a compromise on your basic differences’,” he said.

Riyadh’s demands of Qatar are not entirely clear, but it has demanded Qatar cool its ties with Iran, end militant financing and rein in Doha-based Arabic media like Al-Jazeera.

“I haven’t seen Qatar make any concession at all other than to say negotiation is the way out of this,” Henderson said.

“The problem is that people, mainly the Saudis and the Emiratis, don’t want to loose face. It needs America to step in, but to save face, they should try to make this a Gulf-mediated enterprise with American support.”

Kuwait has tried to serve at a mediator, with US support, but the parties have yet to sit down face-to-face.

After his visit to Riyadh and Doha, Tillerson is to fly on to New Delhi in order to build what he said in a speech this week could be a 100-year “strategic partnership” with India.

Tillerson will stop in Islamabad to try to sooth Pakistani fears about this Indian outreach, but also pressure the government to crack down harder on Islamist militant groups.

by Francesco FONTEMAGGI

Saudi Arabia supports any action against Iranian aggression

October 20, 2017

Khaled Manzlawiy
NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia announced its full support for any action or sanction that can limit Iranian aggression and intervention in the regions’ countries.

The Kingdom expressed regret that Iran has used the economic returns from the lifting of sanctions after compliance with the nuclear deal, to destabilize the region, develop its ballistic missiles and support terrorism in the region, including Hezbollah, Houthi militias in Yemen and armed militias in Syria.

This was announced by the deputy head of the Saudi permanent representative to the UN, Khaled Manzlawiy, as a reply to the report of the special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, at the UN session held on Wednesday.
Manzlawiy said: “I reaffirm the Kingdom’s concern to cooperate with the UN and offer all information that can be helpful to the rapporteurs. We have taken note of the report of the special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights and we would like to make some comments.”
Concerning Gaza Strip, Manzlawi stressed the Kingdom’s firm and unwavering position, condemning all forms of Israeli occupation of Palestine and Arab territories.
“Concerning the US sanctions against Iran, I confirm the Kingdom’s full support to any action or sanction that may help decrease Iranian aggression and intervention in the region, and reduce the spread of weapons of mass destruction in our region and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Iran has abused the economic returns after sanctions were lifted. Instead of using it to achieve development, Iran used it to continue destabilizing the region and support terrorist organizations. We stress the urgent need to find a solution to the international threat of Iranian policies.”
On the Qatari issue, Manzlawiy said: “We urge Qatar to cooperate in eradicating the scourge of extremism and terrorism instead of supporting and financing it, abide by the Riyadh agreement of 2013-2014 and stop destabilizing the security of the neighboring countries. Qatar’s attempt to internationalize the crisis will not help find a solution, but will complicate things more. Qatar should know that such policies are rejected. We hope that Qatar will do the right thing and listen to the international community.”
Manzlawiy said: “The Kingdom welcomes the US initiative to lift the economic sanctions that were imposed on Sudan, and we hope that this will boost the country’s development and prosperity.”
“Regarding the Yemeni crisis, the Kingdom grants its full support to the solution of the UN envoy to Yemen that requires the formation of two committees (administrative-financial and technical) to supervise Hodeidah Port, transfer the profits to the government, and ensure that Houthi militias do not use it to smuggle and transport weapons and arms,” said Manzlawiy.

Kuwait, Qatar Hold talks in Doha

October 19, 2017

Meeting reviews efforts to resolve Gulf crisis

Image Credit: Kuna
Qatari Emir Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani and Shaikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah, Kuwaiti First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Published: 18:21 October 19, 2017

Manama: Qatari Emir Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani and Kuwaiti First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Shaikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah discussed in Doha the latest developments regarding the Kuwaiti mediation to resolve the Gulf crisis, the official news agencies of both countries said.

According to the reports, Shaikh Sabah and the delegation accompanying him on the hours-long trip also reviewed with Shaikh Tamim “the close and brotherly relations between the two countries as well as regional and international issues”.

The talks were held a few days after Kuwait’s Emir went to the Saudi capital Riyadh where he met King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud to discuss the Qatar crisis and the latest developments in the region.

Kuwait has been mediating since Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt in June 5 severed their diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar after they accused it of supporting extremists and funding terrorism. The Quarter issued 13 demands that they wanted Qatar to meet, but Doha has rejected them resulting in the prolonged stalemate.

Despite the international support for the mediation, no breakthrough has been achieved yet.

Kuwait has resumed its mediation ahead of a major decision related to the annual summit held by the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of which Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are members. Oman is the sixth member country.

The summit is scheduled for December in Kuwait, but following the fissure within the GCC, the chances of holding it are dimming although Kuwait has said that it was ready to host the annual gathering of the only vigorous Arab alliance.

Reports said the summit could be delayed, cancelled or shifted to Riyadh, the headquarters of the GCC, but without the participation of Qatar.

Is There a Way To Get Tough on Iran Without Leaving The Nuclear Deal?

October 19, 2017
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 15:30
There are important elements in the administration’s new policy that may reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations.

Getting tough on Iran without leaving the nuclear deal

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump speaks about Iran and the nuclear accord at the White House on Friday. (photo credit:REUTERS)

On October 13, US President Donald Trump announced his decision not to certify the JCPOA, in contrast to his previous two decisions to certify the deal. Instead, he declared, the administration would work with Congress and US global and Middle East allies to address the flaws surrounding the deal, as well as other aspects of Iran’s behavior, widely perceived to be threatening and destabilizing. This position was reached following the administration’s policy review on Iran, underway over the past nine months, and outlines a new approach that began to emerge already with the statement in April 2017 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – delivered the day after Trump certified the JCPOA for the first time – which sketched in broad strokes the direction of US policy on Iran.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the new policy is that it covers the entirety of Iran’s behavior that is viewed negatively by the US, beyond the nuclear program: Iran’s missile program, support for terror, and regional aspirations that threaten the national security interests of the US and its allies in the Middle East. In so doing, the administration has ended the approach of the Obama administration that sought to create a divide between the nuclear and regional manifestations of Iran’s conduct, claiming that the nuclear deal “was working,” and that it was never meant to address other issues. In contrast, the Trump administration has emphasized that the JCPOA did not achieve its objective of a non-nuclear Iran, and that the deal is only one component of overall US policy toward Iran. The message is that there is a connection between the different manifestations of Tehran’s nuclear and foreign policies, and that all must be dealt with in tandem in order to confront effectively the threats and regional challenges posed by Iran.

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Also of significance is that Trump signaled that the US administration will no longer refrain from pushing back against Iran’s aggressions and provocations for fear of Iran exiting the nuclear deal. In fact – in a somewhat surprising move – Trump included his own threat of leaving the deal. He stated that if in cooperation with Congress and US allies the administration cannot reach a satisfactory solution to the problems he delineated, he would cancel US participation in the deal. The specific context seems to direct the threat primarily to Congress and US allies in an effort to urge them to work with the administration to amend the deal. However, it is also clearly a message to Iran that the administration is no longer deterred by Iran’s threats of leaving the deal.

What are the main problems that Trump raised, and how will the administration attempt to fix them? The leading problems raised by the president have to do with the regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, continued regional aggression, and use of proxies, and the radical nature of the regime and its Supreme Leader. He mentioned Iran’s ballistic missile program, hostility to the US and Israel, and its threat to navigation in the Gulf. While the opening of Trump’s speech reviewed Iran’s deadly actions since 1979 and was unnecessarily detailed, this might have been aimed to underscore that Iran has targeted the US repeatedly, rendering dealing with Iran a clear US national security interest.

As for the nuclear deal, Trump warned that in a few years Iran will be able to “sprint” to nuclear weapons. What, he asked, is the purpose of a deal that at best only delays Iran’s nuclear plans? He noted multiple violations of the deal, although most points on his list were not violations per se, but rather problems with the deal. In addition to twice exceeding the limit on the stockpile of heavy water, he pointed out that Iran failed to meet US expectations with regard to research and development of advanced centrifuges. To be sure, the precise nature of Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges is an issue that independent analysts can only study from such official statements due to the problematic lack of transparency in IAEA reports since implementation of the deal, and the confidentiality that was granted to deliberations of the Joint Commission (that oversees the JCPOA). Trump also accused Iran of intimidating IAEA inspectors, and highlighted Iran’s repeated statements that it would refuse entry of IAEA inspectors into its military sites. Of particular note was Trump’s mention of suspicions regarding cooperation between Iran and North Korea; he said that he will instruct intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough analysis of these connections.

In dealing with these problems, Trump’s major constraint is lack of leverage to compel Iran to agree to a strengthened nuclear deal. The administration’s hands are tied given that it has partners to the JCPOA that are not on the same page, and that the biting sanctions that had pressured Iran to negotiate in the first place were lifted when implementation of the deal began. Clearly it will be difficult for the US to change matters directly related to the deal without the help of Congress and European allies, and Trump stated repeatedly that he will seek their cooperation.

In Europe there is fierce opposition to Trump’s decision not to certify the deal, and it is questionable whether and to what degree Europe will be willing to cooperate with the US. It is noteworthy, however, that before the speech was delivered, some European leaders – including France’s Macron – signaled a new willingness to address issues outside the JCPOA, in particular Iran’s missile program and regional aggression. Trump hopes they will go along with new sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There is currently no basis for expecting cooperation from Russia and China.

The administration is also pinning hopes on Congress. With decertification, decision making on the JCPOA moves to Congress, and this is where the Trump administration hopes to introduce changes. Tillerson has explained that the administration will not be asking Congress to move to sanctions at this stage, a step that could lead to the collapse of the deal. Rather, the hope is to pass new legislation that will amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). The White House would like to establish a series of benchmarks that would automatically restore sanctions if Iran crosses one of the red lines – or “trigger points”; these would likely relate to Iran’s missile program and the sunset clauses in the JCPOA.

The area where the administration can most easily move forward on its own relates to its approach to the Iranian regime, particularly the regime’s support for terror and other destabilizing regional activities. This explains the strong emphasis in Trump’s speech – and in the document released in parallel entitled “President Donald J. Trump’s New Strategy on Iran” – on the IRGC, and on the need to confront it squarely for its support of terror, fanning of sectarianism, and perpetuation of regional conflict. Trump announced that he was authorizing the Treasury Department to sanction the IRGC as an entity, and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.

Overall, there are important elements in the administration’s new policy that have the potential to reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations and aggression. Much will depend on the ability to cooperate with allies and with Congress in advancing these goals. Tillerson’s clarifications were important in explaining that contrary to much media analysis, Trump is not seeking to do away with the deal, at least in the short term, or to go to war. The stated aim is to strengthen the deal, and restore US deterrence vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and the IRGC. The outcome, however, is far from guaranteed. This is due to inherent constraints, and the fact that while the policy makes sense, it is nevertheless a huge undertaking for a very controversial administration, and this in turn can further weaken Trump’s hand.

The author is a senior research fellow at INSS and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program. This article first appeared in INSS Insight.


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Iran warned on blatant interference in the internal security of the kingdom of Bahrain — Iran holds 160 terrorist Bahraini fugitives wanted by Bahrain

October 19, 2017

Trump’s tough stance on Iran will end its political privileges that it has exploited for years, says minister

Published: 15:38 October 18, 2017Gulf News

Manama: Iran is harbouring 160 fugitives wanted by Bahrain for carrying out acts of terror targeting security and stability, the kingdom’s interior minister has said.

At least 25 police officers have been killed in the terrorist acts while up to 3,000 have been wounded, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdullah Al Khalifa told Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat.

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“There is a direct link between the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and terrorist acts in Bahrain,” he said.

“Intelligence revealed that the IRGC had trained terrorist elements in its camps to make explosive devices, use automatic weapons and hand grenades, and contribute to smuggling them into Bahrain. They also provided support and funds and trained, formed and recruited terrorist groups targeting the security of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, including the so-called terrorist organisation Saraya Al Ashtar. “

Some of the arrested suspects confessed they had received weapons training from the IRGC.

More than 24 kilogrammes of explosive material has been seized by authorities, Shaikh Rashid said.

Iran has released 254 “hostile” statements against Bahrain since 2011, he added.

Bahrain has repeatedly warned of the seriousness of Iran’s blatant interference in the internal security of the kingdom and the region through supporting extremist and sectarian cells and organisations.

“Iran’s dangerous interference focuses on the export of intellectual and sectarian extremism, which calls for intensifying regional and international efforts to address all areas of terrorism, particularly combating Iran’s funding of extremist militias and supplying them with weapons.”

Shaikh Rashid told the daily that strategy announced by US President Donald Trump against Iran has put an end to the political privileges that have been exploited by Tehran to interfere in the internal affairs of countries and to continue exporting its terrorist activities through its various branches, including the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.

“This strategy undoubtedly leads to the establishment of international peace and security in general and the protection of the security of the Gulf region in particular.

Bahrain supports regional and international efforts, particularly the US position, which contributes to reinforcing the fight against terrorism, its extremist ideological and sectarian motives and its funding.

The minister also praised the US stance in tackling the flow of explosives into Bahrain.

Iran supreme leader dismisses Trump’s ‘rants and whoppers’

October 18, 2017


Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website/AFP | Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Wednesday dismissed US President Donald Trump’s “wants and whoppers”

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed US President Donald Trump’s aggressive criticism as the “rants and whoppers” of a “brute”, in a speech on Wednesday.”I don’t want to waste my time on answering the rants and whoppers of the brute US president,” Khamenei said in a speech to students in Tehran, published on his Telegram channel.

It was his first response to Trump’s bellicose speech last Friday in which he called for tougher sanctions to curb Iran’s “destabilising activities” in the Middle East.

“They are angry as today the Islamic republic of Iran has disrupted their plans in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq,” Khamenei said.

“Everyone be assured that this time, too, America will be slapped and defeated by the nation of Iran.”

Saudi Shoura Council passes bill ensuring care for the elderly

October 18, 2017

The Shoura Council passed a bill that would penalize those who harm the elderly. (SPA)
RIYADH: “Warning, jail time and fines” are the terms included in new legislation passed on Tuesday by the Shoura Council in its meeting.
The new legislation concerns the rights of older persons and caring for them.
The Shoura Council passed a bill that would penalize those who harm the elderly, starting with a written warning from the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, and ending with up with three years of imprisonment.
The bill, which consists of 21 articles, aims to improve the status and well-being of older persons, ensure their safety, protect their rights and make sure they are being cared for by their families and communities.
According to the bill, older persons have the right to live with their families, who must protect them, care for them, ensure their needs are met, and guarantee their physical, psychological and social welfare.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development is responsible for older persons who have no families, through taking care of them in nursing homes. Nonetheless, the bill emphasizes that older persons should not be admitted to nursing homes — nor remain in any — without their consent or the host’s consent, or the adjudication of a court of competent jurisdiction.

Qatar accuses Saudi Arabia of promoting ‘regime change’

October 18, 2017

Al Jazeera

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says the blockading nations' plan is to 'disrespect and bully' [Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says the blockading nations’ plan is to ‘disrespect and bully’ [Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]

Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of trying to engineer “regime change” during its four-month blockade of its Gulf neighbour.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told CNBC on Tuesday that Riyadh is attempting to destabilise Qatar’s leadership.

“We see [Saudi] government officials talking about regime change… We see a country that is bringing back the dark ages of tribes and putting them together in order to create a pressure on connected tribes in Qatar,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade links with Qatar on June 5, accusing Doha of supporting “extremism and terrorism” and cozying up to Iran – a regional nemesis.

Qatar has vehemently denied all allegations.

Sheikh Mohammed said the plan of the blockading countries was not to thwart terrorism but to “disrespect and bully”.

“It is nothing to do with stopping financing terrorism or hate speech while they are doing the same by promoting incitement against my country, promoting a regime change in my country,” he told the US broadcaster.

Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and also houses the region’s biggest US military base with more than 11,000 American troops.

READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

Sheikh Mohammed said the blockade has impeded the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region.

The airspace blockade meant that Qatari aircraft providing logistical support for the American military base have been diverted, and Qatari officers participating in operations against ISIL were expelled from the Bahrain-based US military headquarters.

“So there are a lot of things which undermine … the global efforts in countering … Daesh,” Sheikh Mohammed said, referring to ISIL by an Arabic acronym.

U.S.-Backed Forces Say They Have Taken Raqqa, Islamic State’s Last Urban Stronghold

October 18, 2017
U.S.-backed forces said they have captured Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, wrenching away the terror group’s last major urban stronghold in the Middle East.

By Maria Abi-Habib
The Wall Street Journal

Updated Oct. 17, 2017 6:46 p.m. ET

BEIRUT—U.S.-backed forces said they have captured Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, driving the extremists from a Syrian city that became synonymous with their reign of terror and was used as a nerve center to stage attacks on the West.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes and American special forces on the ground, on Tuesday said they had captured Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa.Photo: Erik De Castro/Reuters

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes and American special forces on the ground, on Tuesday said they had secured a sports stadium in the city the group had converted into a fortified compound for its final stand.

“The military operations within the city are completely over,” said Talal Silo, a spokesman for the SDF, which led the monthslong battle against Islamic State in Raqqa. “We are combing through the city to make sure there are no sleeper cells and to defuse the mines.”

Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State, said the extremist group is “on the verge of a devastating defeat,” adding that 90% of Raqqa has been cleared.

Islamic State hasn’t commented.

With the fall of Raqqa—Islamic State’s last major urban stronghold in the Middle East—the self-declared caliphate is meeting an inglorious end.

The first significant city to come under Islamic State’s control, in 2014, Raqqa became a template for the group’s brutality. Militants in the city carried out public beheadings for blasphemy and crucifixions for murder. Child soldiers were radicalized and taught to kill. The city also held some of the most important assets and institutions for the group’s statelike operations in Syria, such as its highest courts.

Raqqa became a funnel for thousands of people from places as disparate as the U.K., China and Saudi Arabia to join the group. The recruits were processed and given their marching orders in the city, and some were given explosives training before being shuttled back to Europe to plan attacks there, Western officials said.

But Islamic State’s empire is now largely destroyed. At the height of its power in 2014, the group ruled a contiguous territory in Iraq and Syria the size of Belgium, while affiliates have sprung up from Nigeria to the Philippines. Now many of the cities it occupied have been reduced to rubble.

At the same time, Islamic State leaves in its wake radicalized youth and an extensive internet network still actively recruiting new jihadists and proselytizing an extremist ideology. The group’s initial rise showcased its strategy of preying on weak nations.

For months, U.S. war planners have warned the insurgency is seeking to exploit a power vacuum in Libya. Islamic State in the Sahara, a new affiliate, killed four U.S. Green Berets in an ambush in Niger this month.

Even if Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed in the near term, U.S. officials say the group will continue, much as al Qaeda did after Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011. The U.S. and its allies, as well as other countries that have fought Islamic State and other militant groups in recent decades, have been unable to kill off the extremist ideology that feeds the groups.

“The communist party didn’t die with the death of Stalin. Our ideology will persist,” one Islamic State supporter said recently in an online forum.

In a defiant speech in September, Mr. Baghdadi said that although his fighters were being uprooted across the Middle East, his organization’s ideology and appeal will live on.

“We will remain steadfast, patient,” he vowed, and laid out the group’s strategy for defeating the U.S. and its allies by drawing them into costly, asymmetrical warfare to wear them down.

U.S. and European officials predict that Islamic State will prioritize attacking Western capitals to stay in the headlines and remain relevant as the group is pushed out of the last patches of territory it holds in eastern Syria and western Iraq.


  • Iraqis Push Deeper Into Kurdish Areas
  • Middle East Crossroads: Simmering Conflicts Flare Up as Islamic State Fades
  • Europe Doesn’t Expect Influx of Returning ISIS Fighters

In Washington, Pentagon officials have long expected a defeated Islamic State to evolve into an general insurgency, potentially aligning with al Qaeda in Syria and fueling sectarian tensions by presenting itself as a Sunni vanguard against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian backers.

Newly uprooted fighters also are likely to pose a persisting threat by moving about the region, hovering in border areas or even trying to exploit the territorial struggle in Iraq between Iraqi forces and Kurdish units, experts said on Tuesday. The departure of Kurdish fighters from areas such as Kirkuk, Sinjar and Khanaqin in the east could create security gaps, said Jennifer Cafarella, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

“ISIS has the intent and likely the capability to penetrate behind defensive lines of anti-ISIS forces and could choose to exploit the disruption caused by recent massive troop movements in Iraq,” Ms. Cafarella said. “How does the Iraqi government intend to govern all the territory it jus t took?”

The U.S. military estimates there are roughly 100 Islamic State fighters remaining in Raqqa, from a peak of 2,500. Some of those fighters have resettled in other parts of Syria and Iraq where about 6,500 militants remain, said Col. Dillon, the coalition spokesman. About 400 have surrendered over the past month, he added. By comparison, a Defense Intelligence analysis concluded there are as many as 1,500 Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, 1,000 in Egypt and 500 in Libya.

On Tuesday, Col. Dillon stressed that the fight against the extremists isn’t over and there are still swaths of territory on the Iraqi-Syrian border still under militant control.

A Syrian Democratic Forces fighter gestures the “V” sign at the frontline in Raqqa on Oct. 16.Photo: rodi said/Reuters

“Yes, ISIS will be defeated militarily, but we know that there still is going to be the ideology and the continued insurgent activity as they devolve into that,” he said.

The U.S. military trained roughly 1,000 local residents to conduct security in Raqqa after Islamic State’s demise. But the challenges before such a force already have emerged. Col. Dillon said the head of that force was killed on Monday by an explosive.

The head of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5 chief Andrew Parker, said on Tuesday in a rare public speech that there has been a dramatic uptick in the threat of Islamist extremism to the U.K. He said the types of threats are changing rapidly and sometimes accelerate from inception to action in days, leaving authorities with a smaller window to intervene.

A U.S. official specializing in European security said that while intelligence experts had predicted a flow of foreign fighters returning to Europe, so far it hasn’t happened. The U.S. official cautioned the trend could reverse, but for now European officials have told their counterparts they don’t expect the fall of Raqqa to trigger a migration of militants to Europe to launch attacks.

Western counterterrorism officials say they worry Islamic State will try to take advantage of the crisis facing Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

A Syrian Democratic Forces commander walks with her group’s flag at Al-Naim square in Raqqa on Tuesday.Photo: BULENT KILIC/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

“They’re already messaging that the Rohingya are the new Palestinians, using it to recruit,” one U.S. counterterrorism official said. “Southeast Asia is the new concern.”

Islamic State’s rise and fall has divided and reshaped Syria.

Many Syrians and top American officials blame Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the rise of Islamic State. In the first years of the Syrian uprising, which began in 2011, Mr. Assad emptied Syrian prisons of those convicted of terrorism, filling the cells with more-liberal activists—many of whom had peacefully demonstrated to demand political change.

The regime’s military focused on attacking rebel groups while allowing Islamic State to grow, launching its first major assault against the extremist group in 2015, four years after the uprising began.

“Assad wanted Islamic State to rise so the world would have to choose between terrorism and him,” said one Arab diplomat, echoing a sentiment expressed by Western counterparts.

Now, nearly seven years into Syria’s civil war, the U.S. and its allies, from the U.K. to Saudi Arabia, have largely stopped funding the Syrian rebels and have begun preparing for Mr. Assad to remain in power.

The rebels are deeply fractured, with many living in exile, while Mr. Assad has slowly regained control over the country with the help of Iran, Russia and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Syrian Kurds, who have made up the bulk of the U.S.-backed forces fighting Islamic State, have, meanwhile, used the conflict to carve out their own autonomous region across northern Syria. But with the long-term presence of the U.S. in Syria in serious doubt, the Kurds fear they will become the regime’s next target as Mr. Assad tries to consolidate control over the entire country.

Raqqa residents have borne much of the consequences of Islamic State’s rise. As foreign fighters flocked to the city to join Islamic State, some residents sought to defy the terror group and expose the atrocities they committed against fellow Muslims to dissuade potential recruits from joining. An underground resistance emerged, including the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

They secretly filmed Islamic State brutality against ordinary Syrians and posted it online, countering the extremists’ narrative of a glorious caliphate ruling over millions of adoring and loyal Syrian Muslims.

Mohamad al-Mosari, an activist with Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, said recently, “One thousand four hundred years of this city’s history is wiped out.”

— Nazih Osseiran and Raja Abdulrahim in Beirut, Nour Alakraa in Berlin, Julian E. Barnes in Brussels, Jenny Gross in London and Nancy A. Youssef in Washington contributed to this article.

Write to Maria Abi-Habib at

Corrections & Amplifications Four U.S. Green Berets were killed in an ambush in Niger earlier this month. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated three Green Berets were killed. Oct. 17, 2017

Malaysia: PM confident Saudi Arabia understands Malaysia-Qatar ties

October 17, 2017

| October 16, 2017

Najib Razak says although Malaysia enjoys special relationship with Saudi Arabia, it has good cooperation with all countries.

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PUTRAJAYA: Bilateral relations between Malaysia and Qatar, specifically in the trade sector, is strong despite the Middle Eastern nation facing a crisis with other Gulf countries.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said this was so as relations between the two countries had been well established for the past 43 years.

He said Malaysia was known as a country that enjoyed good cooperation with all others, as well as with Muslim nations, as it practiced the principle of ‘wasatiyyah’ (moderation).

Najib said although Malaysia had a special relationship with Saudi Arabia, which cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in June, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani’s visit to Malaysia has not raised any problem.

Najib said he was confident the Saudi government understood Malaysia’s stand.

Image result for Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani, in Malaysia, photos

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, right, speaks with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, and Malaysian King Sultan Muhammad V, after inspecting an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at parliament house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.

“We will continue to maintain the relationship (with Saudi Arabia) at its best, but this does not prevent us from having ties, especially economic relations, with Qatar,” he said in a press conference after meeting Sheikh Tamim Hamad at Seri Perdana here, today.

Also present were Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Minister with Special Functions in the Prime Minister’s Department Hishammuddin Hussein.

On June 5, five Gulf nations, namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Yemen announced the decision to break ties with Qatar, on grounds that the country supported terrorism.

Asked whether the Emir of Qatar wanted Malaysia as mediator between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Najib said, “It may be beyond Malaysia’s capacity to become a mediator or offer itself as a mediator.

“But they (Qatar) know Malaysia is a country that they can rely on to play a positive part in the conflict’s resolution, in matters of principle.”

Najib said during the meeting, the two leaders also discussed cooperation on anti-terrorism and security.

He said the Emir of Qatar was serious about fighting terrorism, and hoped for continued cooperation with Malaysia to address the issue.

“The Rohingya issue was also discussed, in which Qatar is aware that Malaysia is at the forefront of helping the Rohingyas, as well as in the construction of a ‘field hospital’ at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

“I also raised Qatar’s promise to contribute US$50 million (for the Rohingya) during the Deputy Prime Minister’s (Zahid Hamidi) visit to Qatar. The mechanism on how the donation can be channelled, will now be determined,” he said.