Top News: Iraq Forces Launch Anbar Counteroffensive Against ISIS

Iraq on Tuesday announced the launch of a military operation to drive the Islamic State (ISIS and ISIL) out of the Anbar province. A spokesman for Iraq’s Shia militias said the operation will “not last for a long time” and that Iraqi forces have surrounded the provincial capital Ramadi from three sides. Ahmed al-Assadi, who is a member of parliament, said that new weapons are being used in the battle “that will surprise the enemy.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Sunday that Iraqi forces had “vastly outnumbered” the ISIS militants in Ramadi but “showed no will to fight.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday rejected accusations by Secretary Carter and said that he was “fed with the wrong information.” Iranian General Qassem Soleimani accused the US of having “no will” and not doing a “damn thing” to stop ISIS in Ramadi. “Today, there is nobody in confrontation with ISIS except the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as nations who are next to Iran or supported by Iran,” he said. [Al-Jazeera EnglishAPWashington Post, 5/26/2015]



Egypt, US blame each other for failure of consensus at nuclear non-proliferation talks
The United States on Friday blocked a global document aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons, saying Egypt and other states tried to “cynically manipulate” the process by setting a deadline for Israel and its neighbors to meet within months on a nuclear-free Middle East. Egypt accused the United States and other delegations of deliberately trying to “hinder” efforts to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. US concerns were echoed by Canada and Britain. The now-failed final document of a landmark treaty review conference had called on the UN Secretary-General to convene the Middle East conference no later than March 2016, regardless of whether Israel and its neighbors agree on an agenda. [Aswat Masriya, AP, Reuters, 5/24/2015]

Former Muslim Brotherhood MP dies in prison
A former Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarian died in prison, the latest death in a rising tally of fatalities in Egypt’s detention centers. Mohamed al-Falahgy, a former member of parliament for Damietta in the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), died in Gamasa prison. He suffered a hepatic encephalopathy but did not receive appropriate medical treatment, according to the FJP’s website. Security sources refuted those claims, saying that they had transferred Falahgy to the hospital for treatment. Egyptian prosecutors authorized his burial on Monday after confirming that there is “no criminal aspect” to the death. Al-Falahgy’s death comes less than two weeks after leading Brotherhood figure Farid Ismail died in Aqrab Prison after the prison’s administration “refused him necessary medical tests and treatment.” The FJP statement estimates that at least 257 people have died in Egyptian prisons since 2013. [DNE, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, 5/25/2015]

Egypt says will launch ground intervention in Yemen if necessary
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry declared Sunday that Egypt would send ground troops to Yemen if the situation called for such military action. “Egypt is participating in the Yemen coalition through air, sea and ground if necessary, but we have not got to this point now,” the Minister said on Sky News. Egypt is strongly concerned over the humanitarian situation in Yemen, he said, adding that there is no way to resolve the crisis in the country except through national dialogue. A special envoy of Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi expressed appreciation for Egypt’s participation in the coalition leading military operations in Yemen, in a meeting with Egyptian President Sisi on Saturday. Saydi and Sisi addressed recent Yemeni developments, in connection with Hadi’s announcement that he will not participate in talks between Yemeni parties in Geneva, later this month. [DNE, Aswat Masriya, 5/25/2015]

New military company established with wide mandate
The Ministry of Military Production issued a decree this week ordering the establishment of a military company conducting wide-ranging activities in the fields of contracting, construction and development. According to the decree, published in the Official Gazette on May 18, the company, named MP for Engineering Projects, Consultancies, and General Supplies, shall enjoy financial and administrative independence. The decree stipulates that the newly established company serve the Armed Forces and other parties in a wide range of services including development, contracting and construction for housing, sports facilities, schools, hotels, tourist resorts, hospitals, factories, and roads. The company will also engage in urbanization and urban development activities, public relations and advertising, real estate investment, and tourism. [Mada Masr, 5/23/2015]

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Despite boycott, Libyan tribes meet in Cairo as Egypt seeks help in fighting militants
Hundreds of Libyan tribal leaders met in Cairo on Monday with Egyptian authorities hoping to enlist their help in preventing Islamist violence from spilling over their shared border. The three-day conference of Libyan tribes began despite being boycotted by a number of individuals, tribes, and organizations. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry inaugurated the tribal conference, which runs through Thursday, by highlighting the positive role the tribes could play in restoring stability to Libya. He also said that the tribal leaders are the backbone of society and the main guarantor of Libyan stability, security, and territorial integrity. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 5/25/2015]

Libyan power station shuts down after Tanker attack
The Sirte power station was forced to close down for lack of fuel after a supply tanker was hit in a government air raid. Forces allied to the Tobruk-based government said that the vessel ignored instructions to alter course from Sirte and claims it was bringing weapons into the country. The rival Tripoli-based government said that the tanker was delivering fuel to the power station. The Libyan National Oil Corporation said that this attack directly targeted the property of the Libyan people, that the attack would make it difficult to convince foreign shippers to dock at Libyan ports, and would also increase insurance costs for cargoes. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 5/25/2015]

Unable to halt migrant flow, Tripoli demands help; Five Tunisian migrants die in shipwreck
The Tripoli-based government said that Europe cannot halt the deadly traffic of African migrants across the Mediterranean unless it ends a boycott on the government and helps authorities cope. Libya has rounded up thousands of Europe-bound African migrants in makeshift detention centers, but they have no room to hold the migrants, no way of fighting smugglers, and no hope of guarding vast desert frontiers to prevent thousands more people trying to reach the sea. Meanwhile, at least five Tunisians died when their boat sailing to Italy capsized off the Tunisian coast. Human traffickers make use of Tunisia’s proximity to the Italian island of Lampedusa, however, most prefer to operate out of neighboring Libya to exploit a security vacuum in the country. [Reuters, 5/24/2015]

Seven killed as soldier opens fire in Tunisian barracks; Government denies terror links
A Tunisian soldier opened fire on fellow troops at Bouchoucha military barracks in Tunis Monday, killing seven people and wounding ten before he was himself killed. The incident is being described as an isolated act, not a terrorist act, and the defense ministry said that the soldier had family problems prior to the shooting. Yet, the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) released a statement praising the shooting and claiming it radicalized the soldier in the weeks before the incident. [AP, Tunisia Live, 5/25/2015]

Tunisia recognizes first LGBT association; Move criticized by mufti
Tunisia’s gay community is finally out and proud following a week, which saw the announcement of government recognition for a leading anti-homophobia group. Outspoken campaign group, Shams, received recognition from the ministry of interior on Monday. However, Tunisian mufti Hamda Sad criticized the official recognition of the first Tunisian association for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. A statement from the mufti claims that the association promotes a dangerous deviation of values and human nature and that he thus considers the association a danger to Islamic values and principles of Tunisian society. The mufti called on the authorities to reconsider the authorization of the association. [Tunisia Live, ANSAmed, 5/25/2015]


Turkey says deal reached with United States on air support for Syrian rebels
The United States and Turkey have agreed “in principle” to give air support to some forces from Syria’s mainstream opposition, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. There was no immediate comment from US officials on the assertion—though Washington has so far refrained from committing to enforcing a “safe zone” for Syrian rebels. The air support would protect Syrian rebel forces who have been trained by a US-led program on Turkish territory, said Cavusoglu. He did not go into details on what “in principle” meant or what kind of air power would be provided or by whom. “They have to be supported via air. If you do not protect them or provide air support, what is the point? … There is a principle agreement on providing air support. How it is going to be provided is in the responsibility of the army,” he said. [AP, Reuters, IB Times, 5/25/2015]

Iraq forces launch Anbar counteroffensive against ISIS
Iraq on Tuesday announced the launch of a military operation to drive the Islamic State (ISIS and ISIL) out of the Anbar province. A spokesman for Iraq’s Shia militias said the operation will “not last for a long time” and that Iraqi forces have surrounded the provincial capital Ramadi from three sides. Ahmed al-Assadi, who is a member of parliament, said that new weapons are being used in the battle “that will surprise the enemy.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Sunday that Iraqi forces had “vastly outnumbered” the ISIS militants in Ramadi but “showed no will to fight.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday rejected accusations by Secretary Carter and said that he was “fed with the wrong information.” Iranian General Qassem Soleimani accused the US of having “no will” and not doing a “damn thing” to stop ISIS in Ramadi. “Today, there is nobody in confrontation with ISIS except the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as nations who are next to Iran or supported by Iran,” he said. [Al-Jazeera English, AP, Washington Post, 5/26/2015]

Hezbollah says it will step up presence in Syria as needed
Hezbollah is fighting across all of Syria alongside the army of President Bashar al-Assad and is willing to increase its presence there when needed, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday. Nasrallah said that the fight was part of a wider strategy to prevent groups like the Nusra Front and ISIS from taking over the region. “Our presence will increase whenever it should… Yes, we are not present in one place in Syria and not the other. We will be everywhere in Syria,” he said. Nasrallah also said that the offensive in Qalamoun would last “until the [Lebanese] borders are secured.” On Tuesday, Syrian National Coalition Vice President Nagham al-Ghaderi said Syrian militants will not allow Hezbollah fighters or the Syrian army to control Qalamoun, saying they “will die” in the border region. [Reuters, AP, 5/24/2015]

UK and Russia to resume Syria talks
David Cameron and Vladimir Putin have agreed to restart talks on finding a solution to the crisis in Syria. The Russian president phoned Cameron to congratulate him on his reelection as prime minister and the two agreed that Syria talks should resume. “Both leaders agreed that it is in the interest of both the UK and Russia to help find a solution to the civil war in Syria and particularly to stop the rise of ISIS,” a spokeswoman from Cameron’s office said. [The Guardian, AFP, 5/25/2015]

WFP urges Syrian humanitarian pause for crop harvest
The UN food agency is calling for a humanitarian pause in fighting in Syria to let farmers harvest their crops and get them to market. The World Food Programme expects the 2015 harvest to exceed last year’s. WFP’s Executive Director Ertharin Cousin says it is critical that the food reach parts of the country where people need it, given the huge numbers of Syrians who have been forced to flee their homes because of fighting. Cousins said Tuesday, “Without a humanitarian pause by both sides, providing unhindered access to Syrian food and opening up corridors for transport, people will still go hungry, despite a good harvest, and prices for food will remain high.” [AP, 5/26/2015]


UN talks on Yemen conflict postponed
Sultan al-Atwani, an aide to exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, said the UN-brokered talks scheduled for May 28 had been “indefinitely postponed” after the Houthis refused to indicate their commitment to implement a Security Council resolution. “The attacks on Aden, Taiz, Ad-Dali’ and Shabwa make it difficult to go to Geneva,” Atwani said, naming southern provinces that have become war zones. UN Security Council resolution 2216 calls on the Houthis to relinquish territory they seized and surrender weapons they took from the army and other state institutions. [Al Jazeera, AFP, 5/26/2015]

Houthis suffer first serious setback in the south
Local Sunni Muslim militias ejected Shia Houthi rebels from much of the southern Yemeni city of Dalea on Monday, residents and combatants said, inflicting the first significant setback on the rebels in two months of civil war. Dalea had been a bastion of southern secessionists in Yemen before the Houthis took widespread control of the city, after having seized the capital Sanaa in the north in September, toppling President Abdrabbo Mansour, and then thrust into the center and south of the country. [Reuters, 5/26/2015]

Iran foreign minister discusses Yemen conflict in neutral Oman
Iran’s Foreign Minister held talks in neutral Oman Tuesday about ending the conflict in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition is waging a bombing campaign against Tehran-backed rebels, Iranian media reported. “We discussed ways to send humanitarian aid, establish a ceasefire and start dialogues between the Yemeni groups,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian state television from Muscat. During his visit, Zarif also signed an agreement demarcating the two country’s maritime border in the strategic entrance to the Gulf. [AFP, 5/26/2015]

Houthi delegation arrives in Oman to discuss Yemen crisis
A Houthi delegation, led by head of the Houthi political council, Saleh al-Samad, arrived in Oman on Saturday evening, according to media reports. Spokesman Mohammad Abdul Salam said before leaving Sana’a that the delegation will discuss the crisis with Omani officials and get to know the Omani point of view on the conflict in Yemen. Yemen’s government spokesman Rajeh Badi, however, said on Saturday that President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi will not attend the talks in Geneva. Badi says Hadi will not attend due to the security situation and because the Houthis have not satisfied a government precondition to pull out of towns and cities they occupy—including the capital, Sana’a. [Gulf News, 5/25/2015]


Tobruk airplanes set oil tanker ablaze amid political strife in Libya
Warplanes belonging to Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tobruk have bombed an oil tanker at a port controlled by its rival government in Tripoli. The Anwaar Afriqya, a tanker carrying 30,000 metric tons of oil from Motor Oil Hellas’s refinery in Greece, was attacked while anchored off Sirte in central Libya. The ship’s cargo was meant to supply the electricity in Sirte. The air strike caused a fire on the tanker which was later extinguished. One person was killed and another wounded in the attack. The Tripoli based government condemned the incident, saying it will have “serious consequences” on the country’s economy and the livelihood of its people by making it more difficult to find tankers willing to operate in Libyan waters. [Bloomberg, 5/24/2015]

IMF says Egypt tax delay means rich pay less to cut deficit
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticized Egypt’s decision to delay imposing a capital gains tax on stocks, saying it means that the cost of reducing the budget deficit will be paid by those less able to afford it. The capital gains tax was one measure the government had been pursuing to shore up public
finances and restore investor confidence. The government has struggled to raise more money from wealthier Egyptians. In March, officials canceled a 5 percent surcharge on the highest earners, just nine months after it went into effect. Chris Jarvis, the Egypt Mission Chief for the IMF, added that Egypt’s central bank must adopt a more flexible exchange rate policy in order to strengthen competitiveness and attract investment. [Bloomberg, 5/24/2015]

Moody’s lifts economic outlook for Tunisia
Moody’s has lifted Tunisia’s outlook from negative to stable, citing an improved political situation following the successful democratic transition to a secular-Islamist coalition government in February, better market access, and improved fiscal imbalances. Moody’s maintained the country’s rating at Ba3. Moody’s said the key factors boosting Tunisia’s outlook are a significant decline in domestic political risk and reduced external funding challenges following the resumption of official financing and access to international capital markets. [Financial Times, 5/26/2015]

ISIS fighters set Iraq’s Beiji oil refinery ablaze
Fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) set fire to large parts of Iraq’s largest oil refinery on Monday, in an effort to thwart advances by Iraqi security forces. Black plumes of smoke could be seen coming from parts of the Baiji refinery as the Iraqi army backed by Shia militias advanced towards the facility. Baiji produces a third of the Iraq’s oil output. The government would lose a large slice of revenue if the refinery was destroyed. [Al Jazeera, 5/25/2015]