Top News: Figures Show Surge in Iraq Bloodshed Ahead of Maliki-Obama Talks

Violence in Iraq is at its worst level since 2008, figures showed Friday, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was to appeal for President Barack Obama’s help to combat a spike in militancy. Figures released by the ministries of health, interior and defense showed that violence last month left 964 people dead (855 civilians, sixty-five policemen and forty-four soldiers) and another 1,600 wounded. The United Nations put the figure even higher, with 979 people killed and 1,902 wounded. Maliki is to call for more military equipment and greater security cooperation in talks with Obama later on Friday in Washington, after likening the fight against al-Qaeda-linked militants to a third world war. [Ahram Online, 11/1/2013]


Morsi detained fifteen days pending investigation over espionage charges
The Supreme State Security Prosecution, Thursday, extended the detention of toppled President Mohammed Morsi for another fifteen days pending investigation over charges of espionage. Prosecutors asked Morsi about a phone call with Al Jazeera during the January revolution and about the Hamas leaders’ claims that they contacted Muslim Brotherhood leaders at that time. Morsi refused to answer their questions, saying the interrogation was illegal. Legal spokesperson of the deposed president, Mohamed al-Damaty, claimed his client’s trial and that of other leading Muslim Brotherhood members was politically motivated and lacks evidence. [Egypt Independent, Ahram Online, 11/1/2013]

Constitution committee moves to forbid media censorship, religious parties
Egypt’s fifty-person constitutional amendment committee has adopted an article prohibiting media censorship, according to committee spokesperson Mohamed Salmawy. The new article would forbid censorship or the closure of newspapers and television channels, except in cases of war or national security threats. The article also prohibits the disabling means of communication. Salmawy clarified that foreign media would be guided by different criteria with regards to censorship, confiscation, and closure. Earlier on Thursday, the committee also announced on Twitter that article 54 of the charter would ban parties founded on a religious basis. Younis Makhyoun, head of the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party, condemned the decision. [Egypt Independent, Ahram Online, 11/1/2013]

Army barricades Cairo squares; Thousands of Morsi supporters protest
Egypt’s army forces have tightened security around Cairo and Giza on Friday ahead of protests planned by Islamist supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi whose trial starts next week. Army tanks closed-off all entrances to Cairo’s central Tahrir Square Rabaa al-Adwaiya Square in Cairo’s Nasr City district and al-Nahda Square in Giza. Thousands of supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi have taken to the streets across Egypt on Friday in protest of his upcoming trial, due to begin next week. In Cairo and Giza, marches have begun following Friday prayers in several districts including Gesr al-Suez, Ain Shams, Nasr City, Shobra, Haram, Mohandiseen, Helwan, and al-Warraq. In Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, thousands are marching in neighbourhoods such as eastern Alexandria’s Sidi Beshr and Borg al-Arab, a working-class suburb west of the city. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 11/1/2013]

Kerry to make first trip to Egypt since Morsi’s ouster; Embassy warning to avoid protests
Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Egypt on Sunday for the first time since the army toppled the country’s first freely elected president on July 3, state news agency MENA said. It said the visit to Egypt, whose alliance with the United States has come under strain, would only last several hours. The US Embassy in Cairo advised its citizens and employees to limit their movement to the proximity of their neighbourhoods amid calls for demonstrations by supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi ahead of his trial on Monday. [Embassy of the United States, Reuters, Ahram Online, 11/1/2013]


UNSMIL hosts consultation meeting of Libyan political forces
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) hosted a consultative meeting on Thursday with representatives from Libya’s political forces to discuss the democratic process and its challenges. An UNSMIL press release did not cite the political forces or their representatives but indicated that the meeting focused on what conditions are necessary to ensure the success of the national dialogue and constitution-making processes. [Tripoli Post, 10/31/2013]

SSC head maintains al-Ruqaii seized by Libyans, not Americans
Head of the Supreme Security Committee (SSC) Hashim Bishr says that, according to their information, the operation that led to the apprehension of al-Qaeda figure Nazih al-Ruqaii, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi, was carried out by Libyans and not US Special Forces. Bishr maintained that the SSC had information about the seizure, including the direction of the vehicles involved and the port where al-Ruqaii was ultimately delivered. [Libya Herald, 11/1/2013]

Over 1,000 new officers graduate from police academy
More than 1,000 new officers who will take up posts across Libya have graduated from Tripoli’s police academy, completing over seven months of training. The fast-track course has been implemented given the country’s desperate need for increased street security presence. There are an additional 14,000 more waiting to complete basic training, according to Hashim Bishr, head of the Supreme Security Committee. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ali Zidan announced that members of the Libyan army will soon be sent to Italy to start training. [Libya Herald, 10/31/2013]

Libya to reopen Harriga oil terminal by Monday: government
The National Oil Corporation announced that production at al-Harriga oil terminal, which has been disrupted for several months by protests, is expected to resume at the latest on Monday. Citing “improved conditions,” the company declared it is lifting the force majeure of the oil terminal. Al-Harriga terminal has a capacity of 110,000 barrels a day. [AFP/Al Ahram, 10/31/2013]


Army captures strategic northern town; Heavy shelling south of Damascus
The Syrian security forces claimed control over a strategic town in the northwestern province of Aleppo on Thursday after almost a month battling with rebels. Safira, a northern town previously controlled by Islamist rebels, is located on a strategic road that could be used to relieve government-controlled areas of Aleppo. Syrian troops heavily shelled rebel-held areas of southern Damascus Friday as part of a bid to completely cut them off from rear bases in the countryside. Backed by Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah fighters and militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the army advanced on Sbeineh amid widespread flight of civilians from their homes. The reports come a day after army rocket fire killed eight people in Damascus’ southern al-Hajad al-Aswad neighborhood. More than 100 people were killed across Syria yesterday. [Al Arabiya, 11/1/2013]

WFP reaches record 3.3 million Syrians with food; many out of reach
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) delivered rations to a record 3.3 million people in Syria in October, up from 2.7 million the previous month, but voiced deep concern on Friday about civilians in besieged areas that remain inaccessible. “It is a record for WFP operations since starting in 2011. But it is still short of our target of 4 million,” said the WFP spokesperson. Fighting and insecurity had hampered its access in parts of Aleppo and Hassakeh provinces during October. With civil war raging in Syria, WFP has been unable to deliver food supplies to thirty-eight locations, including Mouadamiya on the edge of Damascus, which it has tried nine times unsuccessfully to reach over the past year. [Reuters, 11/1/2013]

Brahimi says no peace talks without Syrian opposition; Opposition says talks may be delayed
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Friday that the proposed international conference aimed to end the Syrian conflict will not take place without the participation of the opposition. “If the opposition does not participate there will be no Geneva conference,” Brahimi said at a news conference in Damascus as part of a regional tour to try to garner support for the US and Russian backed peace initiative. “The participation of the opposition is essential, necessary and important.” Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition’s representative to Washington said on Thursday that the talks will face delays due to Russian failure to convince the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad to accept the outcome of the first round of peace talks, which provide for a transitional period following Assad’s voluntary departure from power. The Russian Prime Minister said on Thursday he hopes that the talks will be held “by the end of the year.” [Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, 11/1/2013]

Turkey, Iran signal thaw in ties amid mutual concern on Syria
Turkey and Iran said on Friday they had common concerns about the increasingly sectarian nature of Syria’s civil war, signalling a thaw in a key Middle Eastern relationship strained by stark differences over the conflict. Iran has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the uprising against him, while Turkey has been one of his fiercest critics, supporting the opposition and giving refuge to rebel fighters. But the election in June of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who says he wants to thaw Iran’s icy relations with the West, and shared concern over the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria, have spurred hopes of a rapprochement. [Reuters, 11/1/2013]


Tunisia parties meet to agree on new premier
Tunisia’s party leaders are meeting Friday to choose a new premier to be tasked with replacing the Ennahda party’s coalition government and steering the country out of a months-long political crisis, mediators said. The parties and local media have said four people are vying for the post of prime minister: veteran politicians Mohamed Ennaceur and Ahmed Mestiri, and prominent economists Mustapha Kamel Nabli and Jalloul Ayed. The Tunisian General Labor Union, mediating between Ennahda and the opposition, said the meeting to choose a new prime minister would also aim to take “a set of decisions to accelerate the adoption of the constitution.”  [AFP/Al Arabiya, 11/1/2013]

UN plea for transitional justice in Tunisia
At a meeting held by the United Nations (UN) Development Program and the office of the high commissioner for human rights, Dimiter Chalev, head of the UN Human Rights Office in Tunisia, affirmed the organization’s commitment to pursuing transitional justice in Tunisia. “The issue of transitional justice is as important as the settlement of the political and economic crisis in Tunisia and the holding of free and transparent elections,” Chalev said. [TAP, 11/1/2013]

Turkey willing to support Tunisia in its war against terrorism
Turkish President Abdullah Gul voiced his country’s will to provide Tunisia with expertise and the necessary logistic means in its war against terrorism, in a phone conversation held on Thursday between Gul and Tunisia’s interim President Moncef Marzouki, according to a statement from Marzouki’s office. The two leaders also discussed means to foster relations and boost cooperation in the economic, trade and security areas. [TAP, 10/31/21013]

Tunisia arrests seventeen more suspected terrorists
Five men and three women were arrested on Friday during a security operation in West Sidi Bouzid, security sources told state media, and nine additional individuals suspected of belonging to the Ansar al-Sharia terrorist group were arrested on Wednesday in Gafsa. The new arrests bring the total to twenty-three arrested for alleged involvement in terrorist groups since Wednesday. [TAP 11/1/2013, TAP 10/31/2013]


At least thirty killed in clashes between Houthis and Salafis; Protests in Sanaa
A spokesman of a Salafi movement in Yemen says at least thirty people have been killed in clashes with Houthis over two days, an escalation of fighting in the country’s restive north. The violence is in breach of a ceasefire brokered by a presidential delegation earlier this month. Serour al-Wadie, a spokesman of the Salafi movement, said Thursday that Houthi rebels have been shelling their district in Damaj, in Saada province. Al-Wadie said the rebels started the attack because they say Salafis are harboring foreign jihadi fighters. He said that his forces responded with gunfire. Hundreds staged a protest outside the home of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi in Sanaa, demanding a ceasefire in Dammaj. A human rights activist, Salman al-Amari, said that this is just one protest in a series that civil society organizations intend to hold in front of the president’s house and the Movenpick Hotel, where the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) convenes. The crowd consisted of human rights activists, NDC members, and writers. [Al Masdar (Arabic), AP, Asharq al-Awsat, 10/31/2013]

Islah accuses former President Saleh of connection with Yemeni militants
The Islah party threatened to try to prosecute former President Ali Abdullah Saleh after recent accusations of his connection with suspected al-Qaeda militants who are targeting security officers and army officials. Islah said in a statement, “This is not the first time the ousted president has resorted to infecting the Yemeni leadership and people with hysteria and undermining the Islah party.” [Al Masdar (Arabic), 10/31/2013]

Nobel prize winner donates funds to ‘martyrs of the revolution’
Yemeni activist and Nobel Prize winner Tawakkol Karman donated her cash winnings to a fund that cares for the wounded and the families of those who died in the revolution. Karman said in a speech that once she was announced as the winner, she knew the money really belonged to the all Yemenis who struggled for change. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Al Tagheer (Arabic), 10/31/2013]


Middle East tensions to dominate new Kerry trip
US Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East as efforts to hold Syria peace talks bog down, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations stumble, and rare tensions with key ally Saudi Arabia flare into the open. With the Obama administration taking fire at home and abroad for what is perceived to be its indecisive Syria policy and Arab unease about its outreach to Iran, Kerry is hitting the road again seeking to ease tensions and soothe allies vital to its Middle East ambitions. [Ahram Online, 10/31/2013]

Kuwait MP asks to question prime minister over housing crisis, graft
A Kuwaiti lawmaker has filed a request to question the prime minister in parliament over housing and graft, in a sign of renewed political discord in the country. The move against Shaikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah, a senior ruling family member, comes just two days after the opening of parliament, where officials have said tackling a shortage of government-funded housing is a priority. [Gulf News, 10/31/2013]