Top News: United States Prepares Plans for More Troops and New Base in Iraq

The United States is expected on Wednesday to announce plans for a new military base in Iraq’s Anbar province and the deployment of around 400 additional US trainers to help Iraqi forces fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and help plan a counterattack to retake Ramadi. This adjustment in President Barack Obama’s Iraq strategy would add to the 3,000 US trainers and advisers currently in the country. The additional US troops will arrive as early as this summer and will focus on training Sunni fighters with the Iraqi Army. Doctors Without Borders said yesterday that help is not reaching the most dangerous areas in Iraq, as the humanitarian response has been mostly concentrated on safer areas such as the Kurdistan region. [ReutersAFP, 6/10/2015]



Egypt rejects opposition’s suggested amendments to ‎election laws
A government-appointed committee charged with ‎drafting three laws necessary to pave the way for Egypt’s ‎long-delayed parliamentary elections has rejected suggestions of ‎amendments to these laws put forward by opposition political parties. ‎Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice ‎Ibrahim al-Heneidy told parliamentary reporters that three ‎copies of a semi-final draft of the three election laws were ‎delivered on Monday to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, and chairman of the State ‎Council’s department of legislation and fatwas. ‎The three laws determine the workings of the House of ‎Representatives, the Division of Electoral Constituencies, ‎and the Exercise of Political Rights. [Ahram Online, 6/10/2015]

Government investigating CIHRS group says in statement
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies issued a statement Wednesday saying that the organization has been referred to investigation by Egyptian authorities. According to the CIHRS statement, signed by multiple organizations, a Ministry of Social Solidarity committee visited CIHRS’s Cairo office on Tuesday as part of the investigation. According to a judicial order shown to CIHRS staff, the committee had been “tasked with examining whether CIHRS engages in the activities of civic associations under the provisions of Law 84/2002.” The statement added, “This is the practical application of the government warning issued to non-governmental organizations prior to November 10, 2014, although the government claimed it would not follow up on that warning.” CIHRS accused the government of investigating the organization in retaliation for a speech delivered by CIHRS Director Bahey al-Din Hassan at a hearing of the Human Rights Committee of the European Parliament in which he was critical of the human rights situation in Egypt. [CIHRS, 6/10/2015]

Police foil terrorist attack at Karnak temple in Luxor
Egypt’s security forces said they foiled a suicide bomb attack at the ancient Karnak temple in the southern city of Luxor on Wednesday. Police said officers opened fire on three men after they had refused to undergo security screening at a checkpoint near the site. Police shot two attackers as they pulled out weapons concealed in their bags, killing one and seriously wounding another, according to officers at the scene. A third attacker managed to detonate a bomb he was carrying and died. Four people, including two policemen, were wounded in the exchange, according to the Health Ministry. Luxor Governor Mohammed Sayed Badr said tha no tourists were hurt in the bombing. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Egypt’s Antiquities Minister issued orders to intensify security at antiquities sites across the country in coordination with the interior ministry. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, AP, Reuters, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, The Guardian, 6/10/2015]

US officials not meeting with Muslim Brotherhood, US embassy staffer arrested
The State Department said on Tuesday it will not meet a Muslim Brotherhood group visiting Washington for a private conference but said its policy remained to engage Egypt’s entire political spectrum. The department announced the decision a day after sources said that the US Ambassador to Egypt had been summoned by Egyptian authorities over the visit of Brotherhood figures to Washington. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke gave no detailed explanation for the decision not to meet the delegation. Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities have reportedly arrested a staff member at the US embassy in Cairo. An embassy spokesperson said Tuesday, “We are in touch with Egyptian authorities regarding the charges and the next steps in the legal process.” Local Egyptian media reports published Monday claim that the employee was arrested on charges of belonging to an Islamist terrorist group. [Reuters, 6/10/2015]

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Libyan parliament suspends involvement in UN talks
Libya’s parliament on Tuesday suspended its participation in UN-brokered talks over a proposed power-sharing scheme with the rival government in Tripoli. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives has banned its delegates from traveling to Germany for a meeting of European and North African leaders to discuss UN Envoy Bernardino Leon’s proposal, according to one Libyan lawmaker. However, negotiators have reportedly arrived in Berlin for the discussions. The decision deals a blow to efforts by Leon, who presented the draft proposal on Monday after hosting months of talks between the rival sides. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 6/9/2015]

ISIS al-Qaeda militants clash in Libya after leader killed
Al-Qaeda-linked militants in eastern Libya declared a holy war on a local Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate Wednesday after one of their senior leaders was shot dead by masked gunmen, setting off clashes between the rival jihadist groups that left eleven people dead on both sides. In addition, four Misratan militiamen were killed and several wounded when ISIS forces overran Sirte’s Gulf Power station this morning, taking the last key point in the coastal town that was still held by the Libya Dawn faction. It appears that a large ISIS force, numbering as many as 200, assaulted the power plant to the west of the town early today. [AP, Libya Herald, 6/10/2015]

Tunisian court annuls confiscation of Ben Ali’s assets
A Tunisian court has annulled a 2011 decree to confiscate the assets of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his circle, the government announced Tuesday, vowing to appeal the ruling. The court ruled the decree was invalid because it was not formally endorsed, either by the National Constituent Assembly elected in October 2011 nor the parliament elected last fall. [AFP, 6/9/2015]

Tunisian President calls for countering terrorism by addressing root causes
President Beji Caid Essebsi held a press briefing following meetings as part of the G7 Summit and his talk with Italian Prime Minister Mattéo Renzi, which focused on the fight against illegal migration. President Essebsi said to reporters that he had briefed the G7 members about Tunisia’s long and difficult journey at the economic, social, and security levels. President Essebsi underscored that the root causes of terrorism, which Tunisia is working to fight, include unemployment, poverty, and regional marginalization. [TAP/All Africa, 6/9/2015]

Algeria tightens border security at south Libyan crossing
Algeria has moved border security forces to twenty-three points along its border with Libya, following security alerts. The announcement came from an unnamed Algerian security official who also explained that the country would intensify air traffic control over border airspace and increase ground security. It is unclear whether the Algerian-Libyan border crossings in the southwest of Libya are currently open. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 6/10/2015]


Rebels seize Syrian Army base in a blow to Assad
Commanders of the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, a Syrian opposition coalition including elements trained and armed by the United States, claim to have seized a major army base in the southern Syrian province of Dara’a on Tuesday. If it holds, the advance could boost morale for Syrian insurgent groups. Iran insisted on Wednesday that it has not deployed troops in Syria to strengthen regime forces, denying reports that thousands of foreign fighters have been flown in to help defend Damascus. [NYT, Washington Post, NOW, 6/9/2015]

United States prepares plans for more troops and new base in Iraq
The United States is expected on Wednesday to announce plans for a new military base in Iraq’s Anbar province and the deployment of around 400 additional US trainers to help Iraqi forces fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and help plan a counterattack to retake Ramadi. This adjustment in President Barack Obama’s Iraq strategy would add to the 3,000 US trainers and advisers currently in the country. The additional US troops will arrive as early as this summer and will focus on training Sunni fighters with the Iraqi Army. Doctors Without Borders said yesterday that help is not reaching the most dangerous areas in Iraq, as the humanitarian response has been mostly concentrated on safer areas such as the Kurdistan region. [Reuters, AFP, 6/10/2015]

ISIS blows up Syria gas pipeline serving capital
ISIS militants blew up a pipeline feeding natural gas from eastern Syria to the suburbs of Damascus early Wednesday morning. These gas fields were key to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which relied on them to provide heat and electricity in the areas under its control in Damascus and Homs. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved a bill that calls on the State Department to report to Congress on war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. The bill denounces the use of chemical weapons, the targeting of civilian populations with barrel and cluster bomb and missiles, and “gross human rights violations” carried out by Assad’s forces and violent extremist groups. [AFP, 6/10/2015]

US strategy in Lebanon stirs fears
The United States cut funding for a civil society program in Lebanon that seeks to develop alternative Shia political voices to Hezbollah. Critics claim the move was an Obama administration attempt to avoid confrontation with Iran as nuclear talks are set to end this month. State Department officials said “the [United States] continues to support groups and individuals who share our goal of a democratic, peaceful, pluralistic, and prosperous Lebanon,” but this program was not succeeding in its objectives. The Lebanese army on Wednesday conducted a live-fire demonstration of advanced missiles supplied by the United States and Saudi Arabia to help combat extremists along the country’s volatile border with Syria. [WSJ, 6/9/2015]

European Parliament voices concerns over democracy and fundamental rights in Turkey
Members of the European Parliament urged Turkey during a plenary session Wednesday to welcome the recent parliamentary elections and to respect media freedom, free expression, and judicial independence. EU Rapporteur for Turkey Kati Piri said, “Turkish voters have indicated they want change. Our reaction should not be to shut the door.” The members of the European Parliament also called on the European Commission to review the conduct of the EU accession negotiations with Turkey and consider how EU-Turkey relations could be improved. [Hurriyet, 6/10/2015]


Airstrikes target Sana’a as fighting continues throughout Yemen
Saudi-led air strikes targeted a defense compound in Sana’a late Tuesday night. The attack damaged historic houses, causing Yemenis to call on UNESCO and other culturally concerned organizations to shoulder their responsibilities in this time of crisis. Also Tuesday, fighting between forces loyal to President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi clashed with Houthi fighters in the Marib province, resulting in at least forty-three deaths and over one dozen injured. In addition, fighting continued in Taiz and Saada, with both sides using heavy artillery and weapons. The clashes erupted ahead of UN-sponsored talks in Geneva next week aimed at ending a conflict. [SABA, Yemen Post, Reuters, AP, 6/9/2015]

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis worsens
More than 1 million people have been displaced across all governorates in Yemen since the Saudi-led coalition started their campaign on March 26, according to the United Nations. Reports indicate that that more than 2,288 people have been killed and at least 10,000 others have been injured. The number of Yemenis affected by conflict who are now in dire need of emergency aid has increased to 20 million, local administrator and Chairman of the High Relief Committee Abdulraqeeb Fatah said on Tuesday. Yemen’s total population is around 24 million. Oxfam said the recent escalation left around two thirds of Yemenis without drinking water. [Yemen Post, Yemen Times, 6/10/2015]

Saudi summons Iranian Envoy after poisoning incident
Saudi Arabia summoned on Tuesday the Iranian ambassador over a recent hotel incident that left four of Saudi children dead, and twenty-eight others poisoned in Mash’had. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had summoned the ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran and expressed its deep concern over the incident and the importance of a swift investigation by Iranian authorities,” said Foreign Ministry Press Chief Osama Nakly. The deaths are believed to have been caused by a chemical leak into the room where the four children were staying, through the central air ducts. The judiciary says so far there is no evidence to suggest the incident was a deliberate act. [Al-Arabiya, SPA, AP, 6/9/2015]

Jail sentence for Saudis involved in Yemen terrorism activities
Two Saudi men were imprisoned and banned from travel for being involved in terrorist activities in Yemen. The penal court said one man was sentenced to two years and six months in prison and banned from travel for five years after his release for entering and exiting Yemen illegally without telling authorities that his brother and sister’s husband had entered the neighboring country to be trained by al-Qaeda. The other man, who was the brother-in-law, was sentenced to three years in prison and banned from travel for five years for entering and exiting Yemen illegally and contacting a Yemeni al-Qaeda operative. The court also reported that the first defendant has filed an appeal but the second has accepted his sentence. [Al-Arabiya, 6/10/2015]


World Bank says GCC countries need to slash public spending
The World Bank’s chief economist for the Middle East and North Africa, Shanta Devarajan, said Tuesday that while falling oil prices have led to welcome subsidy reforms in Gulf countries, they urgently need to develop new ways to distribute oil wealth and shrink the public sector. In April, the World Bank estimated the decline in crude oil prices could cost the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries 14 percent of their combined gross domestic product (GDP) this year. Consequently, the region may record a fiscal deficit for the first time in four years. Devarajan said GCC countries should think about giving the funds used to keep fuel prices artificially low directly to local people. Devarajan added that the region needed to tackle its bloated public sector. He estimated that some 80-90 percent of the male domestic labor force is employed in public sector jobs. [Reuters, 6/9/2015]

Egypt signs African FTA agreement, ratification awaits parliament
Egypt signed on Wednesday, along with twenty-five African nations, an agreement to form the continent’s largest free trade area (FTA). The agreement, part of a larger-scale African agenda for 2063, will integrate the three existing economic zones: the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Southern African Development Community, and the East African Community. The FTA accounts for over half of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) and aims to create free trade zones for goods, with the eventual introduction of services and investor opportunities. An FTA covering the entire African continent is expected to be formed by 2017. However, Egypt’s final ratification of the agreement depends on approval from the parliament, which is yet to be elected. [Ahram Online, 6/10/2015]

Iraq slashes oil output targets to ‘more realistic’ levels
Iraq on Tuesday again reduced its ambitious oil output growth targets, saying it would raise production by almost 60 percent by 2020 at best, an indication that the country is bringing its production targets in line with lower oil prices. Iraq has repeatedly revised the target due to delayed investments, red tape, infrastructure bottlenecks, and a fight against Islamist militants. On Tuesday, Falah Alamri, head of Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO), told an industry conference in London that the country was now aspiring to produce 5.5-6.0 million bpd by 2020, down from the previous target of 8.4-9.0 million bpd. Baghdad has asked oil majors such as LUKOIL, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, and Eni to revise development plans by considering postponing new projects and delaying already committed investments. [Reuters, 6/9/2015]

ISIS expands near Libya’s largest oil terminal
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has strengthened its hold over territory west of Libya’s largest oil terminal after seizing Sirte. Its claim to have finally succeeded in taking the town was made in statements on social media late on Tuesday, just after it overran a nearby power station. ISIS already controls the desert town of Naufaliya, about thirty miles from Libya’s largest export terminal of Es Sider and neighboring Ras Lanuf, the third-largest terminal. Controlling Sirte helps cement those positions on the west side of the so-called Sirte Basin, which is home to about 70 percent of the country’s crude reserves. [Bloomberg, 6/10/2015]