Top News: US General Wins Assurance Iraq Will Not Seek Russia Air Strikes

The United States won assurances from Iraq on Tuesday that it would not seek Russian air strikes against ISIS, said US Marine General Joseph Dunford. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, under pressure to show progress in his war against the extremist group, said on October 1 that he would welcome Russian air strikes in his country. Iraq’s ruling National Alliance and powerful Shia militias have also urged Abadi to request Russian air strikes on the militants. Dunford, on his first visit to Iraq since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Abadi and Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi both told him they were not seeking Russia’s help. Dunford pledged to seek new ways to build momentum against ISIS and challenged descriptions of the conflict as a stalemate, after an advance, which secured most of the strategic Baiji oil refinery. [ReutersAP, 10/20/2015]



Widespread runoff expected for independent seats; Nour Party reportedly sees significant defeat
Preliminary results from the first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections showed on Tuesday that the majority of the individual seats would witness a run-off round. Only four out of 226 independent seats contested in the first phase were reportedly secured in the first round. According to unofficial tallies the four candidates are TV presenter Abdel Rehim Ali (Giza), Mohamed Hamdy al-Desouky (Assiut), Mohamed Eid Abdel Gawad (Assiut), and Gamal Adam (New Valley). Meanwhile, the Free Egyptians Party says it will have sixty-five candidates in the run-off, while the Wafd Party will reportedly have twenty-five. The Mostaqbal Watan Party said it is contesting forty-eight seats. The Nour Party has said it has up to thirty out of 160 independent candidates in the run-off, but some media reports say almost none of its candidates qualified. Semi-official results also show that the Fi Hob Misr coalition won the party list seats, over the Salafist Nour Party in the West Delta. The Nour Party is meeting Thursday to discuss the results, with some media reports claiming the party is considering withdrawing from the second phase of elections. Researcher of Islamic movements Kamal Habib said campaigns organized by the Muslim Brotherhood against Nour had a negative effect on the party’s popularity. Fi Hob Misr meanwhile reportedly secured most of the expat vote. The Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP) announced Tuesday none of its candidates won or made it to the run-offs in the first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections. Run-offs will take place on October 27 and 28. [Ahram Online, 10/20/2015]

Sixteen alleged Brotherhood members referred to military trial
The Military Prosecution in Tanta referred Monday sixteen alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood members to military court on charges of killing three military academy students in Kafr al-Sheikh last April. Salah Attia, a Brotherhood official in Kafr al-Sheikh, is among the defendants. The defendants face charges of murder, committing acts of terror, and belonging to a banned group. They are accused of the murder of three military academy students who died of injuries sustained from an IED explosion targeting a bus carrying military academy students near Kafr al-Sheikh Stadium. [DNE, 10/20/2015]

Sisi’s visit to London tops agenda of Prime Minister’s talks with UK Ambassador
President Abdel Fattah al Sisi’s upcoming visit to London topped the agenda of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s talks with UK Ambassador in Cairo John Casson, according to a statement by State Information Service. Cabinet Spokesman Hossam Qawish said Egypt-UK ties were also discussed during the meeting. Sisi’s visit to the United Kingdom will focus on political, economic, and cultural cooperation. Casson also held a separate meeting with Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr to discuss Sisi’s upcoming visit. [SIS, 10/21/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


UN Envoy says talks continue with Libya’s parliaments
The UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon said in a press conference Wednesday morning that consultations would continue with both the House of Representatives (HOR) and the General National Congress despite the HOR’s rejection of the UN political accord. On Monday, the head of the HOR said the congress rejected the UN proposal, although there were conflicting reports on whether lawmakers had officially voted on the deal. “In the coming days I will be conducting meetings with the Libyans,” Leon told reporters in Tunis. “We hope to see the majority of the members in Tripoli and in Tobruk approving this accord.” [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

EU mulls mission to disarm Libyan factions if unity government in place
The European Union is considering helping Libya strengthen its borders and disarm militias if a Government of National Accord (GNA) is formed, according to a document seen by news agencies. The document, produced by officials working for the EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini, was sent to European capitals on Monday, the same day Libya’s internationally recognized parliament rejected a UN plan for such a government. EU diplomats discussed the paper in a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday in preparation for the next regular EU foreign affairs meeting scheduled on November 16. Six options are listed to strengthen security in Libya, ranging from actions possible “regardless of the political situation” and others that would require approval from Libyan authorities once a GNA is formed. [Reuters, 10/20/2015]

HOR president visits Cairo and UAE seeking support
In bid to build support for the House of Representatives’ (HOR) rejection of the current version of the UNSMIL political accord, HOR President Ageela Saleh left for Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. In an unannounced trip, he arrived in Cairo on Tuesday and met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The HOR Defense Committee Chairman, Investment Committee Chairman, and the Africa advisor to the HOR accompanied Saleh. [Libya Herald, 10/20/2015]

Clashes continue in Sabratha as Libya Dawn claims advances
Clashes between Libya Dawn forces, mainly from Sabratha, and local units linked to the Libyan National Army (LNA) continued intermittently on Tuesday in the Ajilat area west of Tripoli. There are reports that at least ten people, including civilians, have been killed since the clashes started on Saturday. Sabratha Media Center is claiming that pro-Dawn forces have now taken control of Ras Yusuf and west Ajilat, the focus of much of the fighting in the past four days and viewed as strongly pro-Qaddafi regime. [Libya Herald, 10/20/2015]

Tunisia dismisses Justice Minister, reasons unclear
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid sacked Justice Minister Mohamed Saleh Ben Aissa on Thursday after he reportedly criticized the US Ambassador for meddling in the country’s internal affairs. The statement from the premier’s office did not give a reason for the minister’s dismissal, but said that Defense Minister Farhat Horchani would assume his duties for now. Ben Aissa told local newspapers he believed he had been fired because he refused to go to parliament for the approval of a new justice law. He previously found himself at odds with the administration when he spoke of his desire to cancel the controversial Article 230, which criminalizes homosexuality. [Reuters, Tunisia Live, Mosaique FM (French), 10/20/2015]


Assad meets with Putin in Moscow
President Bashar al-Assad has traveled to Moscow in his first known trip abroad since war broke out in Syria in 2011, meeting his strongest ally Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The two leaders stressed that military operations in Syria, in which Moscow is the latest and most powerful addition, must lead to a political process. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu commented on the trip saying, “If only he could stay in Moscow longer, to give the people of Syria some relief; in fact, he should stay there so the transition can begin.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Putin on Wednesday, expressing his concerns over the Syrian military’s recent strikes in Aleppo. Erdogan also stressed the importance of “fighting all terrorist groups,” underlining the link between the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Kurdish PYD in northern Syria, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). [AP, Reuters, 10/21/2015]

Russia to continue military assistance to Syria; Syrian army denies Russian ground forces fighting
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed on Wednesday that Russia will continue to provide military support to Syria’s government in its fight against ISIS militants. “We plan to continue to provide help to the lawful authorities in Syria and create the preconditions for a resolution of this conflict.” The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday its planes had flown forty-six sorties and struck eighty-three militant targets in Syria in the last 24 hours. The Syrian army denied Russian ground troops are fighting alongside its forces, saying Moscow was only deploying air power in Syria. In a statement issued late on Tuesday on the Syrian news agency SANA, a military source said that Russia’s three-week-old military operations were limited to aerial bombing of terrorist hideouts, command centers, and weapons depots. Russia also denies that Russian soldiers have died recently in Syria, though a senior pro-government military source said that at least three Russians had been killed fighting alongside Syrian government forces in the coastal province of Latakia. [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

Canada pulls out support for coalition bombing in Syria
Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that he had spoken with President Barack Obama and told him he will remove Canada’s six fighter jets from the US-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. [AP, 10/21/2015]

Syrian Kurds formalize control over area near Turkish border
Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria have formalized control over an area at the Turkish border captured from ISIS in June, a Kurdish official said. The area includes the town of Tel Abyad, captured by the Kurdish YPG militia with help from US-led air strikes. An official in the Syrian Kurdish administration Delil Osman said the area had been declared a new province—or “canton”—the fourth such area declared by the Kurds in northern Syria since the eruption of the country’s war. Syria’s Kurds deny they want to establish their own state, but Turkey is alarmed by their territorial gains, which it fears could stir separatism among its own Kurdish minority. [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Yemen PM meets US Ambassador to discuss conflict
Yemen’s Vice-President and Prime Minister Khalid Bahah said yesterday that his government is committed to ending the war and stopping the killings and damage to property being committed by the Houthi rebels and Saleh groups against the Yemeni people. Prime Minister Bahah, during a meeting with the US Ambassador to Yemen, Matthew H. Tueller, yesterday, said his government is prepared to restore stability to Yemen and end the sufferings of its people. He added that the government and local authorities are on the ground in all the liberated areas and work is underway to restore security, bring relief aid and start rebuilding process. Despite the Houthi rebels and Saudi led-coalition agreeing to peace talks, General Ahmed Asiri announced on Wednesday that military operations would continue you as usual. Human Rights Watch released a detailed report on the Houthi rebels’ indiscriminate shelling in Taiz. The city’s residents have also had medical and food supplies confiscated by the rebels. At least forty-two civilians were killed in second half of August, according to the report. [Gulf News, HRW, Al Masdar (Arabic), 10/21/2015]

Bahrain defends crackdown in Shia area that sparked clash
A top Bahraini police official is defending his force’s decision to remove decorations marking Shia religious commemorations and to crack down on those who confronted police over the move. The Shia opposition group al-Wefaq said several people were injured in the clashes outside the capital, Manama, on Tuesday after authorities took down banners and flags marking the commemoration of Ashoura. Public security chief Major General Tariq al-Hassan said Wednesday that authorities respect religious occasions, including Ashoura, but that authorities will remove obstacles to traffic and unrelated “political signs and decorations.” He defended police actions saying that they had the right to respond against “lawbreakers.” [AP, 10/21/2015]

US urges fair judicial proceedings from the UAE
The State Department is urging the United Arab Emirates to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings amid reports that the country has held a prominent activist for the last two months. US Department of State Spokesman Edgar Vasquez says these standards should be upheld in “all cases.” He had no details on the case of Nasser bin Ghaith, an academic whom rights groups say was arrested on August 18. UAE authorities have not revealed his whereabouts since. Human Rights Watch said Mr. bin Ghaith’s situation is consistent with past cases of arbitrary detention by UAE. [AP, 10/21/2015]


IMF says low oil prices, regional turmoil will keep Mideast growth subdued
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says a fall in oil prices and deepening turmoil in parts of the Middle East will keep real gross domestic product (GDP) growth subdued this year at 2.5 percent. The IMF’s Middle East economic outlook report, which was launched on Wednesday, says the region’s oil exporters have lost $360 billion in revenues this year due to the fall in prices. The report called on Gulf economies to adjust to the “new reality” of low oil prices and emphasized the importance of reforms that will create more jobs and diversify oil-dependent economies. IMF Middle East and Central Asia Chief Masood Ahmed said, “Not only this year, but for the years to come, these countries will need to make an adjustment to better balance their spending to the new reality of the oil prices.” He told Bloombergthat Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman have the most crucial long-term challenges that need to be addressed. “It is very clear that Saudi Arabia needs a sizeable, structured, multi-year fiscal adjustment,” Ahmed told Reuters. He said that Saudi authorities are “evaluating all areas” but that it is not yet clear how they will decide to balance the tradeoffs involved in fiscal reforms. Ahmed told the Wall Street Journal that while oil-rich countries have the capacity to borrow more to cover their deficits, time is running out because most countries in the region will have burned through their reserves within five years. [AFP, AP, Bloomberg, FT, 10/21/2015]

IMF may offer major loan to Iraq in 2016
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) may provide a large loan to Iraq in 2016 to help stabilize the country’s finances, Director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department Masood Ahmed said. An IMF team will meet with Iraqi officials early next month to discuss how to create a Staff-Monitored Program for Baghdad, an arrangement under which the IMF would monitor Iraq’s economic policies. Ahmed said the loan would be a “multiple” of the $1.24 billion in emergency funding that the IMF agreed to provide to Iraq in July. He noted that said Baghdad is not in immediate danger of running out of money because it could postpone investment projects and, if necessary, rely more on financing from the central bank. However, he said the government needs to come up with a clear, comprehensive plan to repair its finances and that an IMF monitoring program could help. Ahmed also said the IMF would soon send a team to Jordan to discuss a loan program. [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

Egypt appoints new Central Bank governor
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has appointed Tarek Amer as the new governor of Egypt’s Central Bank, following the resignation of Hisham Ramez. Amer, who previously served as First Deputy Governor of the Bank, will take charge of the Central Bank after the end of Ramez’s term ends on November 26, the presidency said. From 2008 to 2013, Amer served as chairman of the state-owned National Bank of Egypt, where the presidency said he undertook reforms that were “applauded by regional and international financial institutions.” The decision comes less than a week after multiple depreciations of the Egyptian pound. Ramez has faced increasing criticism in recent months as the Egyptian pound has come under pressure and reserves have tumbled. London based Capital Economics said that the announcement suggests a further devaluation of the Egyptian pound. On Tuesday, the Central Bank decided to hold the pound steady. Egypt’s Finance Ministry said Tuesday that Egypt’s budget deficit in the first two months of the fiscal year stands at 24 percent. [Reuters, Ahram Online, Bloomberg, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 10/21/2015]

Turkish Central Bank keeps rates steady but signals tighter policy ahead
Turkey’s Central Bank left interest rates unchanged on Wednesday but signaled a tighter policy ahead. Economists expect Turkey will raise rates at some point to bolster the weak lira and fight high inflation. The Central Bank has signaled that wants to wait to see the impact of an expected US Federal Reserve move before adjusting its own policy. It said that it would maintain tight monetary policy in line with inflation expectations and that exchange rate movements were delaying an improvement in core indicators. “Taking into account inflation expectations, pricing behavior and the course of other factors affecting inflation, the tight monetary policy stance will be maintained,” the bank said in a statement. [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

Morocco subsidy spending to fall to $1.6 billion in 2016
The Moroccan government plans to spend 15.5 billion dirhams ($1.61 billion) on subsidies, down from 23 billion dirhams budgeted for this year, as a result of low energy prices, according to a 2016 draft national budget. The government is also planning to liberalize gasoline and diesel prices starting on December 1. The government said gross domestic product would grow by 3 percent in 2016, down from an estimated 5 percent in 2015. The forecast is more ambitious than that of Morocco’s Planning Agency, which projected growth of 2.6 percent in 2016. Morocco has done more than most North African countries to make painful changes required by international lenders to curb deficits, such as ending fuel subsidies and freezing public sector hiring. [Reuters, 10/20/2015]