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Jordan’s Abdullah claims Iran exporting weapons to Africa

Jordan’s foreign minister lauded Saudi for ‘clipping the wings’ of Iran in a meeting with congressmen in the United States


Jordan’s King Abdullah has accused Iran of exporting weapons to Africa and lauded efforts by Saudi Arabia to curtail the influence of the Islamic Republic, Middle East Eye can reveal.

The Jordanian king made the accusations in a meeting with US congressional leaders, a source close to the meeting told MEE on the condition of anonymity.

In the meeting one unnamed congressman reportedly noted that “Iran is also exporting weapons to Asia and Africa, and there is a need for a strategy to draw the line”. The King said he “agrees” and said that Jordan had also “noted this in Africa,” without mentioning specific countries.

He added that “this is also happening in Afghanistan” warning that if the Islamic State (IS) was degraded in these countries, “Iran will come in to fill the gap,” according to MEE’s source.

Jordan has backed Saudi Arabia in its long-running rivalry with Iran that was recently enflamed by the burning and looting of the Saudi embassy in Tehran in January.

The Kingdom withdrew its ambassador to Iran and complained of “Iranian interference” in Arab affairs, according to the Jordanian state news agency Petra.

The destruction of the embassy had come as an angry response to a decision by Saudi to execute a prominent Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr along with 46 other people on 2 January.

In the congressional meeting, Abdullah said that Shia Muslims had been “lumped in” with the executions carried out that day. To purely kill Sunnis would have “looked bad domestically,” he said.

He added, however, that it was unfortunate that Nimr had been included among those executed, saying that as a result, the “action took [on a life of] its own and there is a potential that this could become a bigger problem”.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh added that Saudi Arabia had been “very good at clipping the wings of Iran’s foreign activities, including Africa” and noted that the Saudis had “reengaged in Azerbaijan and in Asia so they can stand up against Iran”.

He also said that Saudi Arabia had “put up with a lot” from Iran.

Last week, Jordan endorsed a statement by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that condemned Iran for the “terrorist” attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and affirmed the sovereignty of three islands contested by the UAE and Iran in the Gulf.

The relationship between Iran and Jordan has historically been lukewarm at best, particularly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah, a Jordanian ally.

Source: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/jordans-abdullah-says-1249947869#sthash.PEFAlXOg.dpuf

Human rights in Iran are still atrocious

DESPITE a lessening of tension between Iran’s government and the West since last year’s agreement over the country’s nuclear programme, draconian punishments of criminals and dissidents persist, according to a report by the UN’s Human Rights Council. At least 966 executions are said to have been carried out in 2015, one of the highest rates in the world, up from 750 in 2014. Some sources, according to the report, put the figure above 1,000. It notes that 25 people were executed in one day last year in a prison close to Tehran, the capital. It particularly laments the execution of juveniles; at least 16 have been hanged in the past two years for crimes committed when they were under 18; at least 160 young offenders are on death row.

The report also criticises Iran for inflicting corporal punishment on alleged miscreants, with amputations of limbs, floggings (often in public), stoning and blinding. At least 47 executions were carried out in public, says the UN council, often with children present. The report says that “no improvement was observed regarding the situation of religious and ethnic minorities.”

The authorities point out that most of the executions were for drug-related crimes, including armed drug-smuggling. But the council’s report, presented by Ahmed Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives who is the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, notes that the death penalty can be imposed for minor drug-related offences, such as possession of only 30 grams of amphetamines. Moreover, a large number of those executed are foreigners, who sometimes have little chance to defend themselves in court, for instance because they lack proper facilities for translation. Around 1,200 Afghans are said to be on death row, many for drug offences.

At least five instances of amputations were cited and three of blinding; in one instance, a left eye and a right ear were surgically removed under the law of qisas, whereby a person can insist that a tit-for-tat punishment be imposed on a wrongdoer to match the original crime. Under the Islamic Penal Code that came into force in June 2013, the right of the aggrieved to insist on such retribution cannot be overruled by the judiciary.

At least 47 political journalists and social-media activists are said to be behind bars, as of January 2016. Mehdi Mousavi, a poet, was sentenced to 11 years in prison and 99 lashes for “insulting the sacred” in his verses. More than 272 internet cafes were reportedly closed in 2015 for being a “threat to societal norms and values”. Mir Hosein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two leaders of the Green Movement who led the street protests in 2009 after what they said was a stolen election, have been under house arrest for more than five years.

Among those discriminated against for holding heterodox religious views, the Bahai community continues particularly to suffer. Bahai cemeteries were desecrated and the state-owned media spread false statements about Bahai beliefs and practices. At the end of last year, 80 Bahais were reported to be in prison “solely for their religious beliefs”, including seven leaders arrested in 2008 who are serving ten-year sentences on such charges as espionage, “propaganda against the regime” and “spreading corruption on earth”. For the same supposed crime, the death penalty was imposed on Muhammad Ali Taheri, the founder of a spiritual movement that promotes alternative medical theories, for establishing a “diversionary cult”.

The UN report also bemoans restrictions on women. It cites the head of Tehran’s traffic police saying in December last year that in the previous eight months there had been 40,000 cases of women being stopped for “bad hijab”—driving without the required covering of hair. Offenders’ vehicles are often seized and their owners taken to court.

On the broad front of women’s rights, the document notes that only 3.1% of parliamentarians are women; there are apparently no female judges or members of the two highest bodies in the land, the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council. It laments that the minimum age of marriage is still 13; a bride can be younger if her father or a court gives permission.

Mr Shaheed holds out some hope that the new parliament elected last month will improve Iran’s human rights record and “re-examine laws that have contributed to a staggering execution rate”. He also applauds “recent amendments to the country’s criminal procedure code that expand rights for the accused”. But his report notes warily that ten Iranians who helped research the previous Human Rights Council’s report suffered reprisals as a consequence.


Source: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21695716-while-iran-reopens-west-repression-still-prevails-home-human-rights

US charges Iran in cybertattacks against banks, New York dam

U.S. General Attorney Loretta Lynch holds a press conference

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday charged seven Iranians for what it said was a coordinated campaign of cyberattacks from 2011 to 2013 on several US banks and a New York dam.
At a news conference, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the seven Iranians indicted inflicted tens of millions of dollars in damages. The alleged attack against the dam by Iranians could have imposed a clear and present danger to Americans, she said.
Justice Department officials released the indictment at a news conference in Washington in what is one of the highest-profile US indictments against a foreign nation on hacking charges.


Source: http://www.arabnews.com/news/900136

Fears in Iraqi government, army over Shiite militias’ power

It was a tense confrontation between two forces supposed to be on the same side in Iraq.

First, heavily armed police, led by the interior minister, waded into a Shiite militia base south of Baghdad and arrested its deputy commander, accused of organizing attacks on Sunni mosques. They loaded the man, Ali Reda, into an armored SUV.

Then militia reinforcements descended, surrounded the police and demanded Reda be freed. Weapons were drawn. The minister, Mohammed al-Ghabban, the highest figure in Iraq’s police force, frantically called Baghdad from inside his SUV.

In the end, al-Ghabban surrendered his prisoner and left empty-handed, angry and humiliated.

The standoff in mid-January, described to The Associated Press by six different officials and militia leaders, was a stark example of the power that Shiite militias have accrued in Iraq and their boldness in wielding it.

These militias, many of them backed by Iran, mobilized in 2014 to fight Sunni extremists from the Islamic State group. However, they are now showing no intention of standing down after the battle, demanding instead to be a major force shaping Iraq. That prospect worries not only Iraq’s Sunni minority but also officials in the military and the Shiite-led government, who fear the militias will dominate Iraq the way the Revolutionary Guard does Iran and the guerrilla group Hezbollah does Lebanon.

Two top generals warned that the army could eventually come to blows with the militias, known collectively as the “Hashd,” Arabic for “mobilization.”

“They (the militias) have now infiltrated the government and are meddling in politics,” said Ali Omran, commander of the army’s 5th Infantry Division and a veteran of numerous battles against IS. “I told the Hashd people that one day I and my men may fight them.”

The more than 50 Shiite militias in Iraq have between 60,000 and 140,000 fighters, according to estimates from the government and the Hashd itself. They are backed by tanks and weapons, and have their own intelligence agency, operations rooms and court of law.

The larger militias, like Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Hezbollah Brigades, Badr and the Peace Brigades, have been in place since soon after the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein. They are linked to political parties, effectively forming armed branches for politicians.

But the ranks of the militias swelled dramatically after IS overran nearly a third of Iraq in the summer of 2014 and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, called on able-bodied males to fight IS. At the time, tens of thousands turned out.

Those same militias now want to remain a permanent, independent armed force and are resisting attempts to integrate them into the military or police, the AP found from interviews with more than 15 government officials, army generals and militia leaders and visits to Tikrit and Samarra, Sunni-majority areas where the militias now hold power. The militias insist they have earned a special status, pointing to the 5,000 militiamen killed and 16,000 wounded fighting IS.

“Those who sacrificed more are entitled to more,” said Hamed al-Jazaeery, head of the al-Khorasani Brigades militia. “What is written with blood cannot be removed. It is not ink on paper.”

Al-Jazaeery wears the black turban of a cleric and the camouflage fatigues of a fighter. The walls of his office are adorned with photos of the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and its current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other photos show al-Jazaeery posing with Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the powerful Revolutionary Guard figure who helped organize the Iraqi militias against IS.

“We want to be a third power in Iraq,” alongside the army and police, al-Jazaeery said. “Why can’t the Hashd be like the Revolutionary Guard in Iran?”

The model of the Revolutionary Guard, often cited by militia leaders, would be a dramatic change for Iraq’s militias. In Iran, the Guard is an elite force independent of — and better armed than — the military, tasked with “protecting” the Shiite cleric-led power structure. It is effectively a state within a state, rivaling the political strength of Iran’s supreme leader.

Sunnis fear such militia power would enforce Shiite domination of Iraq. Sunnis already accuse militias of targeting them with abuses. Hundreds of green and red Shiite banners and images of imams — historic religious leaders revered by the Shiites — are posted all over Sunni areas under militia control north and east of Baghdad, in a blatant challenge to sectarian sensitivities.

The militias call themselves “holy” or “glorious,” and often talk of their battle as a fight for Shiism rather than Iraq. They give Shiite names to major offensives, only for the government to ban their use.

“I joined the Hashd for the imams, not for the government,” said one militiaman, Mohammed al-Azghar, in the central city of Samarra.

The official agency created to oversee the fighters, the Popular Mobilization Commission, has instead become the militias’ political lever in the machinery of power. The government now funds the militias, but some of them refuse to even give officials the names of their fighters, citing security concerns.

“People fear and trust us more than they fear and trust the government,” boasted Ahmed al-Assady, a Shiite lawmaker and spokesman for the Mobilization Commission. “They fear us because we act, not just talk.”

Advisers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have helped Iraq’s militias in the battle against IS. Billboards around Baghdad announce the “martyrdom” of fighters, alongside images of Iran’s Khamenei and Khomeini and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Militia TV channels and newspapers also accuse the government of corruption and cast the militias as the true protectors of Iraqis.

In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown north of Baghdad, the extent of the militias’ prestige is on display: The headquarters of a senior militiaman, Jassim al-Husseini, is located at one of the late dictator’s opulent palaces along the Tigris River.

The chain-smoking al-Husseini wears a military brown jacket and walks with a cane because of a leg injury sustained while fighting IS last year. He confidently spoke of the flaws of Iraq’s government and said the militias cannot be integrated into its security forces.

“Integrating us in the security forces and the military is not an idea that will help build our nation,” he said.

Now the militias demand to participate in a long-expected offensive to retake largely Sunni Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the main stronghold of IS rule in Iraq — something the military and armed Sunni groups oppose.

“The Hashd will take part in the battle to liberate Mosul no matter what,” said senior Shiite politician Hadi al-Amry, who is also commander of the Iranian-backed Badr militia. “No one can stop us from entering Mosul.”

In Samarra, Sunnis say they already experience what is feared could happen if the militias enter Mosul. The city has a Sunni majority but is home to one of the most revered Shiite shrines, blown up by al-Qaida 10 years ago. In 2014, Shiite militias successfully prevented IS from taking Samarra and have kept their grip on the city since.

Local dignitaries and officials air a flood of grievances blamed on militias, including killings of Sunnis, takeovers of schools and the forcing of Sunnis to sell property in the prime real estate area close to the shrine. To the thud of artillery shelling in the distance, the city council’s deputy chairman, Muzher Fleih, said 650 Sunnis have disappeared, believed abducted and killed by the militias. Among them was his brother, who disappeared last year and was found dead soon after.

“The city is oppressed,” he said.

Militia leaders insist any abuses are isolated incidents. “We are not angels,” said al-Assady, the Mobilization spokesman. “It is only natural that we make mistakes.”

Some in the government and military are beginning to see the militias as a danger to the state itself. In a sign of wariness over the militias’ autonomy, Shiite Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi charged recently that government funds to the Hashd were being mismanaged. One of his close aides told the AP that the comments were directed at Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the Hashd’s most powerful figure, who is wanted by the United States in connection with the 1983 bombing of the American and French embassies in Kuwait.

There has also been friction with the military. Last month, militiamen refused orders to vacate a building in a military base north of Baghdad, and the army sent troops to take it over. They found the militiamen ready for a fight, with snipers stationed on the roof and in sandbagged positions around it. The dispute was resolved when a substitute building was found for the militiamen.

Since its 2014 collapse, the military has been slowly recovering. But Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, deputy commander of the army’s elite counterterrorism force, said the militias don’t want the military to regain its strength.

“They may be tempted to take on the army if they don’t have their way,” he said.


Source: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/mar/20/fears-in-iraqi-government-army-over-shiite/all/?print

Clinton: Iran ‘Remains an Extremist Regime That Threatens to Annihilate Israel’

Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed to the “existential danger” that would occur if Iran had a nuclear weapon and warned that Iran “remains an extremist regime that threatens to annihilate Israel.”

Clinton said this in explaining her support for the nuclear deal that the Obama administration made with the Iranian regime.

“For many years, we’ve all been rightly focused on the existential danger of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Clinton said. “After all, this remains an extremist regime that threatens to annihilate Israel. That’s why I led the diplomacy to impose crippling sanctions and force Iran to the negotiating table, and why I ultimately supported the agreement that has put a lid on its nuclear program.”

Here is an excerpt from Clinton’s speech:

“For many years, we’ve all been rightly focused on the existential danger of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. After all, this remains an extremist regime that threatens to annihilate Israel. That’s why I led the diplomacy to impose crippling sanctions and force Iran to the negotiating table, and why I ultimately supported the agreement that has put a lid on its nuclear program.

“Today, Iran’s enriched uranium is all but gone, thousands of centrifuges have stopped spinning, Iran’s potential breakout time has increased and new verification measures are in place to help us deter and detect any cheating. I really believe the United States, Israel and the world are safer as a result.

“But still, as I laid out at a speech at the Brookings Institution last year, it’s not good enough to trust and verify. Our approach must be distrust and verify.

“This deal must come with vigorous enforcement, strong monitoring, clear consequences for any violations and a broader strategy to confront Iran’s aggression across the region. We cannot forget that Tehran’s fingerprints are on nearly every conflict across the Middle East, from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen.

“The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies are attempting to establish a position on the Golan from which to threaten Israel, and they continue to fund Palestinian terrorists. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is amassing an arsenal of increasingly sophisticated rockets and artillery that well may be able to hit every city in Israel.

“Tonight, you will hear a lot of rhetoric from the other candidates about Iran, but there’s a big difference between talking about holding Tehran accountable and actually doing it. Our next president has to be able to hold together our global coalition and impose real consequences for even the smallest violations of this agreement.

“We must maintain the legal and diplomatic architecture to turn all the sanctions back on if needed. If I’m elected the leaders of Iran will have no doubt that if we see any indication that they are violating their commitments not to seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons, the United States will act to stop it, and that we will do so with force if necessary.

“Iranian provocations, like the recent ballistic missile tests, are also unacceptable and should be answered firmly and quickly including with more sanctions.

“Those missiles were stamped with words declaring, and I quote, ‘Israel should be wiped from the pages of history.’ We know they could reach Israel or hit the tens of thousands of American troops stationed in the Middle East. This is a serious danger and it demands a serious response.

“The United States must also continue to enforce existing sanctions and impose additional sanctions as needed on Iran and the Revolutionary Guard for their sponsorship of terrorism, illegal arms transfers, human rights violations and other illicit behaviors like cyber attacks. We should continue to demand the safe return of Robert Levinson and all American citizens unjustly held in Iranian prisons.”