Top News: Kerry Calls for New War Powers, Urges Flexibility in anti-ISIS Fight

US Secretary of State John Kerry testified before congress Tuesday where he urged lawmakers to authorize new war powers for the ongoing campaign against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Kerry also implored congressional leaders to not limit US military action in Iraq and Syria or prevent President Obama from authorizing ground troops if he later deems them necessary.

Facing resistance from congressional leaders, Kerry asked members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to not “preemptively bind the hands of the commander-in-chief” and to provide the president enough leeway to adapt his strategy to meet future demands of the campaign. Kerry’s plea follows congressional approval of a $1.1 trillion spending bill that will provide a $3.3 billion budget increase to the Defense budget and allow military leaders to maintain current funding levels for the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.




Cabinet preliminarily passes law regulating electoral districts
Egypt’s cabinet approved on Wednesday a draft law regulating electoral districts, in preparation for the coming parliamentary elections. The law is yet to be issued by the president to come into effect, and the draft was referred to the State Council and the Supreme Electoral Commission for revision. Egypt’s coming parliament will be made up of 567 seats, as per the draft law; 420 members will be individually elected, 120 will join the parliament through electoral lists, and twenty-seven members will be appointed by the president. The draft divides Egypt into 232 electoral districts. The State Council’s legislative body said it would finish reviewing the draft law within two days. [Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, EGYNews (Arabic), Shorouk (Arabic), 12/10/2014]

Security approval required for Egyptian travelers to Turkey and Iraq, says interior ministry
Egyptians wishing to travel to Turkey or Iraq are now required to get security approval from passport control authorities. General Ayman Hamed, chief of the media bureau for the interior ministry told Ahram Online that the decision came earlier this week during “exceptional timing” for the region. Hamed mentioned that the decision only affects travelers between 18 and 40 years of age. The new decision does not affect Libya, which has only recently stipulated that Egyptians acquire a visa to cross the border after decades of unrestricted border movement. The decision is likely an attempt to stop Egyptians from joining the militant group ISIS, with Turkey currently being the easiest country to cross into Northern Syria, where the group controls large swathes of land. [Ahram Online, 12/10/2014]

Protest law amendment a necessity, says Egypt’s state human rights body
Egypt’s state body for human rights has reiterated calls to amend the controversial protest law, under which hundreds have been arrested, including key icons of the 2011 uprising. The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) said that amending the law was a “necessity.” It also called on authorities to set a maximum period for preventive detention, which critics say is increasingly used as a punishment. In a statement marking the international day for human rights, the NCHR also stressed the role of the NGOs in supporting human rights advocacy. [Ahram Online, 12/10/2014]

Five militants killed in North Sinai army raid; Curfew scaled back
Security forces killed five members of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis during a raid in North Sinai on Wednesday. The operation was part of the Egyptian military’s ongoing counter-insurgency operations in the region. Two people were also arrested during the raid in Sheikh Zuweid, an anonymous security said. The raid destroyed fifteen hideouts and two vehicles without license plates, which authorities say are used in militant attacks. Meanwhile, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announced Tuesday decreasing the curfew hours in North Sinai areas to eleven hours a day. After a meeting between the president, prime minister and local development minister with representatives of Sinai tribes, the president announced scaling curfew hours down “to make things easier for Sinai’s locals and helping them to earn their livings.” [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, EGYNews (Arabic), 12/10/2014]

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Gulf States and West insist on support for House of Representatives and al-Thinni government
Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, issued a unanimous statement of support for the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni at their summit in Doha yesterday, explicitly calling on everyone in Libya to “support the legitimacy” of the House. The statement condemned the militias and called for an immediate end to the violence. The unequivocal support came as a surprise, as Qatar has been accused of backing the rival government in Tripoli. In a separate meeting convened in Abu Dhabi, envoys from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy expressed their continued support for Prime Minister al-Thinni and the Tobruk parliament and insisted they do not recognize any other entity as the legitimate government in the country. [Libya Herald, 12/10/2014]

Al-Thinni says UN peace talks are futile; Haftar lays out conditions for dialogue
The Tobruk government’s Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said in a recent interview that UN efforts to broker a political settlement in Libya are “futile” and that negotiations will only take place with those who recognize the legitimacy of the House of Representatives. He asserted that Libya’s so-called national army would take control of Benghazi soon and is preparing to retake Tripoli. General Khalifa Haftar of Operation Dignity, which the Tobruk government has formally recognized as part of Libya’s army, has also spoken up about the negotiations. Although there is no indication that he or the army are invited to the talks, Haftar demanded that participants agree to the disarmament and dissolution of militias and the turning over of all key installations to the government. He also called on UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon to take a stronger stance against terrorism. [Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 12/10/2014]

Interim Prime Minister Jomaa meets with ISIE President to finalize runoff preparations
Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, on Tuesday, held consultations with the President of Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) Chafik Sarsar and members of the National Dialogue to lay out preparations for the presidential runoff scheduled for December 21. The prime minister confirmed that all measures have been taken to ensure the safe conduct of the second round of the presidential election, with emphasis on the distribution of electoral supplies and deployment of additional security personnel to secure all polling locations. [All Africa, 12/10/2014]

Tunisian official links drop in country’s corruption ranking to tumultuous transition
A Tunisian official on Tuesday attributed the country’s downgraded rank in a recently released corruption perception index to the country’s turbulent transition and stressed that the government had taken aggressive measures to curb rampant corruption. The official told reporters, during a conference in Tunis, that a series of draft laws targeting corruption in the public sector and within government institutions had been developed and would be implemented. The report released Monday ranked Tunisia 79th out of 115 countries evaluated and gave it a score of 40 out of 100 in the overall corruption index. [All Africa, 12/10/2014]

Tunisia’s truth and dignity commission lays out ambitious five-year agenda
Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) will hold its inaugural opening ceremony on Wednesday and lay out an aggressive agenda aimed at uncovering crimes and human rights violations since the country gained independence in 1956. The commission will have its main headquarters located in Tunis and will work out of regional offices set up throughout the country. Though the commission will not be responsible for bringing those who have offended to justice, cases that do involve human rights abuses will be handed over to specialized courts. [Tunisia Live, 12/10/2014]


Kerry calls for news war powers, urges flexibility in anti-ISIS fight
US Secretary of State John Kerry testified before congress Tuesday where he urged lawmakers to authorize new war powers for the ongoing campaign against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Kerry also implored congressional leaders to not limit US military action in Iraq and Syria or prevent President Obama from authorizing ground troops if he later deems them necessary. Facing resistance from congressional leaders, Kerry asked members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to not “preemptively bind the hands of the commander-in-chief” and to provide the president enough leeway to adapt his strategy to meet future demands of the campaign. Kerry’s plea follows congressional approval of a $1.1 trillion spending bill that will provide a $3.3 billion budget increase to the Defense budget and allow military leaders to maintain current funding levels for the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. [AP, Naharnet, Stars and Stripes, 12/10/2014]

Twenty-eight countries pledge to resettle over 100,000 Syrian refugees
The head of the UNHCR on Tuesday confirmed that at least twenty-eight countries have agreed to resettle over 100,000 Syrian refugees. The UN agency chief did not identify which countries had agreed to the new pledge but lauded the leading role taken by Germany and Sweden in the resettlement program. Both countries have so far made commitments to resettle 80,000 and 20,000 Syrian refugees, respectively. UNHCR has called on its international partners to assist with the resettlement of at least 130,000 of the more than 3.2 million registered refugees amassed in Syria’s neighbors by 2016. [Naharnet, 12/10/2014]

At least 700 Iraqi Kurds killed in ISIS clashes since June
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials announced Wednesday that at least 700 kurdish fighters had been killed in battles with Islamic State militants since the radical militant group launched an aggressive offensive into Iraq in June. A statement released by the KRG indicated that 3,564 of its fighters had been injured in skirmishes with ISIS fighters and thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting. Official figures released by the United Nations and the KRG government show that 946,266 displaced Iraqis have found refuge in Kurdistan since the beginning of the year. [Naharnet, 12/10/2014]

Iraqi security forces prepare for Mosul offensive, send weapon shipments to Erbil
Baghdad has transferred its first shipment of arms to the forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, in preparation for a military offensive to liberate the city of Mosul, the Nineveh Provincial Council announced on Tuesday. Nineveh Provincial Council member Ghazwan Hamed confirmed that more than sixty armored vehicles, in addition to shipments of light and medium arms, had reached Erbil International Airport as part of preparations for a push to recapture Iraq’s second city, which has been under ISIS control since June. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 12/10/2014]

Iraqi Kurdish officials calls autonomous Sunni rule in Northern Iraq
Iraq’s central government in Baghdad must give up much of its authority to local power centers–and potentially permit the creation of an autonomous Sunni Muslim region–if the nation is to survive the fight against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official said Tuesday. Kurdistan regional Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani said giving Sunnis broad political control within their own population might be the one way to keep them from joining or supporting ISIS. Talabani acknowledged that partitioning Iraq now would require “a major culture shift” and was unsure himself if it would ever happen. But the idea has been pushed by Sunnis since US combat troops left Iraq in 2011, and has recently picked up support among military and diplomatic experts. “It seems counterintuitive, but the only way you’re going to keep Iraq together is to give up power from Baghdad,” Talabani said during the interview at the Kurdish diplomatic mission in Washington. [AP, 12/10/2014]

Iran, Iraq, Syria officials meet in Tehran, discuss cooperation in anti-ISIS campaign
The foreign ministers of Iran, Syria, and Iraq met in Tehran on Tuesday, pledging to continue working together to battle radical Sunni Muslim militants, Syrian and Iranian state media reported. The Iraqi and Syrian foreign ministers attended a conference in Tehran on violence and extremism, and took advantage of the occasion to hold rare, three-way talks with their Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. “At the end of the meeting… it was confirmed that communication and coordination would continue, especially in fighting… terrorist organizations,” Syrian state TV said, referring directly to the Islamic State and Syria’s al-Qaeda offshoot, the Nusra Front. [Reuters, 12/9/2014]


Governor of Yemen’s al-Hudaydah province resigns in protest at Houthi demands
The governor of Yemen’s al-Hudaydah province, Sakhr al-Wajih, slammed the country’s Houthi insurgents on Tuesday, accusing them of breaching their agreement with the Yemeni government and denouncing the measures they forced him to implement after seizing his office. The governor said, “I have sent my resignation to President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi in protest to the Houthi raid on my office a few days ago after they forced me to implement nine illegal and impossible demands.” Demands included paying the expenses of Houthi group members, which al-Wajih says he agreed to do under duress. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/10/2014]

Al-Qaeda claims to have killed twenty Houthi fighters in Rida
An al-Qaeda official said that the group killed twenty Houthi fighters during clashes in the central Bayda province’s town of Rida. Al-Qaeda and Houthi forces, as well as anti-Houthi tribesmen, have been fighting in the town since early October. Reporters were unable to confirm this report with a Houthi source. The clashes took place in the Dar plateau near the town and two nearby hillside areas. Yemeni sources say al-Qaeda has regularly over-reported Houthi casualties during their fighting in Yemen’s center. Elsewhere, a bomb targeted a Houthi house in Dhamar, though there were no casualties. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/10/2014]

Houthi group announces withdrawal from Sana’a University after massive protest
Sources said Wednesday that the Houthi group will withdraw from Sana’a University and also end its control of the interior ministry. Hundreds of students gathered to protest on Wednesday, the latest in a string of student demonstrations that have spoken out against the Houthis and the school’s administration since the group occupied the campus in mid-September. The Houthis have frustrated Sana’a residents by maintaining checkpoints throughout the city and controlling state institutions in the capital. [Al Masdar, Al Arabiya (Arabic), 12/10/2014]

Gulf leaders announce joint naval and police forces
Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states concluded the thirty-fifth session of the GCC Supreme Council summit in the Qatari capital of Doha on Tuesday, agreeing to the formation of joint naval and police forces. After affirming the GCC’s commitment to fighting counterterrorism jointly, the GCC states agreed to create a unified naval force based in Bahrain. To boost cross-border security coordination, the communique also announced the launch of a joint Gulf police force, GCC-POL, dubbed a “Gulf Interpol,” to be headquartered in Abu Dhabi. In addition to tackling terrorism, the new police organization will also be tasked with handling drug trafficking, money laundering and cyber-crime. The ministers also addressed security situations in Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/10/2014]

Omani Shura Council votes to ban alcohol
Eighty-four percent of Oman’s elected consultative council members voted on Tuesday for a ban in the trade and consumption of alcohol. Zayed al-Rashdi, a member of the council, said that amendments in Article 228 of the penal law to ban consumption of alcohol and trade were “due to the severe health and social impact on the community.” He added that the council received thousands of appeals from citizens to free the country from alcohol. While citizens spoke out on social media for and against the ban, larger concerns loom over how ridding Oman of alcohol might affect the country’s tourism industry in light of declining oil reserves. [Gulf News, 12/9/2014]


Iraq economy to shrink 0.5 percent in 2014
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iraq’s oil-dominated economy is expected to shrink 0.5 percent this year, a significantly smaller contraction than the 2.7 percent fall forecast two months ago. While the first forecast was attributed to the oil production drop caused by the Islamic State insurgency, the renewed figures reflect recent higher figures in oil production and exports. Oil production is expected to reach 3.3 million bpd in 2014, up from 3.1 million bpd in 2013, with exports remaining at 2013 levels. [Reuters, 12/10/2014]

World Bank offers $90 million grant to support poor in Yemen
The World Bank approved a $90 million grant to prop up the Yemeni government’s program protecting the most vulnerable elements of society. The grant will ensure government disbursement of cash transfers to more than one million poor families through the Social Welfare Fund (SWF), the main social security network program in Yemen. This critical support comes at a time in which the country faces a set of economic difficulties worsened by recent measures taken by the government in regards to fuel subsidies. An additional amount of $ 28.47 million was provided by the United States in support of the cash transfer program. [SABA, 12/10/2014]

Tunisia debates 2015 state budget
A plenary session devoted to the examination of the budget law and the state budget for the year 2015, started in Tunis today. In his opening speech, the chairman of the Assembly declared the economic situation in Tunisia as critical, referring to the interior of the country where economic indicators show low purchasing power and high unemployment. Further reforms are needed according to the chairman and have to focus mainly on stimulating the economy, social development and stability while ensuring social equity and fight tax evasion. [La Presse (french), 12/10/2014]

Egypt has only begun to tackle subsidy problem, says World Bank
According to a World Bank chief economist, Egypt still has “a long way to go” in the overhaul of its economy before it can regain the confidence of foreign investors. Steps by the government in July to reduce energy subsidies were “tremendous,” Shantayanan Devarajan said in an interview in Cairo yesterday. “But keep in mind that the gasoline price in Cairo today is one quarter of the world price.”
Egypt will hold an economic conference in March in an attempt to attract more funds. Investors who attend will be looking for signs of the government’s commitment to restoring economic stability, such as lower subsidies, Devarajan said. [Businessweek, 12/9/2014]