Top News: US Soldier Killed Freeing ISIS Prisoners in Iraq

A US soldier was killed on Thursday morning as American and Kurdish commandos raided an ISIS outpost near the northern Iraqi town of Hawija, freeing prisoners and capturing some of the militants, Iraqi and American officials said. The commando became the first US soldier killed in action in Iraq since the withdrawal in 2011. US military officials declined to comment on the details of the classified operation, some of which remained unclear. But as described by Iraqi officials in the area, the mission appeared to be a significant joint strike against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, at a time when Iraqi and American officials are trying to mount a wider counteroffensive against the militants. [NYT, 10/22/2015]



Official parliamentary elections results announced
The Fi Hob Misr electoral list won the party-based list seats in the first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, while only four candidates won individual seats, the head of the High Elections Committee (HEC), Ayman Abbas, announced Wednesday evening. Abbas announced that turnout in the first stage reached 26.56 percent with 7,270,594 out of 27,402,353 registered voters. According to Abbas, the valid votes reached 6,584,128 (90.46 percent), while the void votes reached 694,466 (9.54 percent). New Valley governorate scored the highest turnout with 37 percent of registered voters participating in the elections, while Giza had the lowest turnout with 21 percent. An Egyptian administrative court meanwhile halted the elections process in Alexandria’s Raml constituency late Wednesday, ruling that the results are invalid due to the presence of a disqualified candidate in the elections. The court ordered that re-elections take place within sixty days. Preliminary findings by the African Union (AU) observation mission on Wednesday said there were no barriers to affect the integrity of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, while the Arab League (AL) mission said it did not identify any violations. Nour Party Chairman Younes Makhyoun said Thursday, “I believe this election is one of the worst in the history of the Egyptian Parliament and will be a dark mark for this era.” [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya, SIS, Mada Masr, 10/22/2015]

Armed Forces spokesperson says Egypt gains ‘full control’ of North Sinai
Egypt’s armed forces have gained full control over the North Sinai areas of Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuwaid after successful raids on terrorist strongholds and weapons caches, the Egyptian army spokesman announced on Thursday. Egypt has killed twenty militants in North Sinai, wounded twelve and detained seventy-eight more in joint police and army raids, he said, without specifying when they occurred. His statement also mentions that Egyptian forces dismantled fifty-one explosive devices and destroyed motorcycles used to monitor troops’ movements and six SUV vehicles fitted with machine guns. The Egyptian military also stated that it has destroyed eight hideouts containing some 1000 kilograms of explosives, 4000 liters of gas, three tons of cannabis, and seized a large collection of jihadist literature. Twenty underground shelters used for hiding individuals and vehicles were also destroyed. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 10/22/2015]

Rights group says Egypt police storm journalist training center
Amnesty International said in a statement on Wednesday, masked and armed Egyptian security forces raided the office of an organization in Cairo that trains and aides journalists, the latest assault on press freedoms in Egypt. They say the forces detained all staff members present in the office of the Mada Foundation for Media Development on Wednesday, later releasing females but keeping some twenty male staff members on the premises. A statement issued by the Giza security directorate confirmed that police arrested the foundation’s chairman Hesham Gaafar, without mentioning the reason for his arrest. Gaafar is a journalist and a member of Egypt’s Press Syndicate. Among the foundation’s main projects is website which was launched in 2011 and is run by journalists who formerly worked for IslamOnline website which had to shut down its Egypt office the previous year. [AP, Aswat Masriya, 10/21/2015]

Sisi meets UN envoy to Syria
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met Wednesday with United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. The meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and the presidential National Security Adviser. During the meeting, De Mistura reviewed the latest developments related to reaching a political settlement to the Syrian crisis, Presidential Spokesman Alaa Youssef said. [SIS, 10/22/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Libya’s constitution-drafting body cuts staff to a minimum
The body responsible for writing the new Libyan constitution has reduced its staff to the “minimum level required” to carry out its duties. Staff were informed about the planned cuts in a letter sent on October 20. The letter, signed by the head of the body Said Bourjai, said the cuts will come into effect at the end of the month. According to Bourjai’s letter, staff bonuses totaled LD6.5 million ($5.2 million) this year, in addition to salaries and other operating costs. No further details about the body’s expenses were given. It is unclear how much it plans to save by cutting employees. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 10/22/2015]

Libya’s eastern government signs contract to train security personnel, plans new court buildings
Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni’s cabinet says it has reached an agreement with a firm to train 3,000 members of the interior ministry and 333 forensic investigators. At the same cabinet meeting, permission was granted to construct four new court buildings in Benghazi, Bayda, Tobruk, and Sebha. No details about the timescale, budget, or source of funding for the contracts were announced. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 10/22/2015]

Italy’s Gentiloni says international community cannot impose Libyan accord
Speaking before the Foreign Policy and Defense Commissions of the Italian parliament, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that the international community “cannot impose” an accord in Libya. There is “strong pressure” against the agreement on the new Libyan government, added the minister, who emphasized the military pressure facing delegates. He went on to add that an intervention in Libyan territorial waters within the framework of the EU naval mission against human trafficking is not possible without a specific request by the Libyan government. [ANSAmed, 10/22/2015]

Ex-Guantanamo inmate facing hearing in Morocco
A former Guantanamo detainee released last month after thirteen years is now facing a hearing in his native Morocco, two days after the US government said evidence against him was unreliable. Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri has been imprisoned near Rabat since he was transferred in September. His lawyers at the human rights organization Reprieve released a letter on Thursday from the US Justice Department confirming that federal attorneys no longer relied on claims that Chekkouri founded a Moroccan Islamist extremist group known as GICM. Chekkouri’s lawyers say Thursday’s hearing is to determine whether to free or charge him. They have not been allowed inside. [Reuters, 10/22/2015]


Syrian Kurdish leaders hold talks in Moscow
Leaders from Syria’s Kurdish community on Wednesday held talks in Moscow with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov over the conflict in Syria. Bogdanov hosted the co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Asya Abdullah and the head of the administration in the town of Kobani Anwar Muslim, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Turkey last week warned Russia and the United States against supplying arms and support for Syrian Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). [AFP, 10/22/2015]

United States slams Assad’s welcome in Moscow; Kerry and Lavrov to meet in Vienna
The White House issued a remark on Russia’s “red carpet” welcome for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday, accusing Moscow of impeding progress towards a political transition by propping up the president. White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told journalists the United States viewed “the red carpet welcome for Assad, who has used chemical weapons against his own people, as at odds with the stated goal by the Russians for a political transition in Syria.” He added that Moscow’s actions in Syria were “counterproductive.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry have agreed to meet in Vienna Friday along with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia and Turkey to discuss the Syria crisis, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced. According to Moscow, Lavrov proposed that a meeting of the Middle East Quartet (Russia, the United States, the European Union, and United Nations) be held the same day given the “extremely tense situation” in the Middle East. [AFP, AP, Syrian Observer, 10/22/2015]

Turkey’s top security body calls for designating Syrian PYD a terrorist organization
Late Wednesday, Turkey’s top national security body, The National Security Council (MGK), called on the international community to designate affiliations of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria as terrorist organizations. Turkey considers the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) a Syrian extension of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) organization. The call is made shortly after Ankara warned Russia and the United States of supplying arms and support for Syrian Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. In its bi-monthly meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, MGK vowed to fight against all organizations involved in “terrorist activities” aimed at “the nation’s will for living together.” [Hurriyet, Anadolu Agency, 10/22/2015]

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


Qatar says it could intervene militarily in Syria
As a major supporter of rebels in Syria’s civil war, Qatar suggested it could intervene militarily following Russia’s intervention in support of President Bashar al-Assad, but said it still preferred a political solution to the crisis. “If a military intervention will protect the Syrian people from the brutality of the regime, we will do it,” he added. Comments by Qatar’s Foreign Minister drew a swift reply from Assad’s government, with a senior official warning that Damascus would respond harshly to such “direct aggression.” [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

Bahrain charges twenty-four ISIS cell members
Bahrain has charged twenty-four people with forming a cell of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), plotting suicide attacks, and recruiting fighters for the extremist organization. Eight of the twenty-four accused have been arrested and the rest remain at large, according to a statement by public prosecutor Ahmed al-Hammadi. Other charges included weapons possession and conducting training in the use of explosives. The statement said that one of the accused had recruited two others to join ISIS and travel to Syria for training. These two new recruits then used social media to convince others to also join the terrorist group. Gulf Arab states have grown increasingly worried about blowback from ISIS, especially concerning the return of their own nationals who have fought in wars in Iraq and Syria, parts of which are under ISIS control. A group calling itself Islamic State-Bahrain State recently claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shia gathering hall in eastern Saudi Arabia, killing five people. [Reuters, Gulf News, 10/22/2015]

Former investment chief is new Saudi ambassador to Washington
Saudi Arabia appointed Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki Al Saud as its new Ambassador to the United States on Wednesday. Prince Abdullah has not directly served in a senior government post before. Between 2000 and 2004, he headed the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority, which seeks to promote investment in the kingdom. The new ambassador is not seen as part of the inner circle of the royal family and is not a direct grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz. However, he is the nephew of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. His predecessor in Washington was Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, who was promoted to foreign minister in April. [Al Arabiya, ABC News, Reuters, 10/21/2015]

Houthi-fired rockets kills fourteen in Taiz, as humanitarian situation worsens
Houthi rebels fired mortars and rockets into the central city of Taiz on Wednesday, killing at least seventeen civilians and wounding over seventy. Taiz is besieged by the rebels who are fighting the Saudi-led coalition. The fighting and Saudi air strikes have caused significant casualties and forced thousands to flee, while the Houthi rebels are also blocking deliveries of food, water, and medicine. At least 5,400 people have been killed in the fighting in Yemen since March. The United Nations says the humanitarian situation, exacerbated by a Saudi blockade of Yemen’s ports, is “critical.” In a statement released yesterday, UN health official Dr. Ahmed Shadoul appealed for unrestricted access to Taiz, where “innocent lives are at risk” in the city as more than 3.3 million people are in critical need of health assistance, safe drinking water, food, and fuel. The Saudi-led coalition has gained ground in southern Yemen, but Houthi forces remain in control of much of the country despite the almost daily air strikes. [AP, Reuters, UN News Center, 10/21/2015]

Al-Qaeda’s growing Yemen presence sparks fear
Al-Qaeda’s black flag has been seen flying over several official buildings in Yemen’s second largest city, Aden, as the militants have made inroads in the absence of state authority, and with the country mired in conflict. Resident say that in Tawahi, the flag has been hoisted over the police station and is flown on cars ferrying men across one of the largest districts of the port city. There has been increasing concern over the security situation in Aden since the Saudi-led coalition and pro-government forces managed to expel the Houthi rebels from the area in July. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and the Yemeni cabinet returned to the city in September. The Yemeni government has struggled to restore stability in the city by implementing an effective and organized security force. [Gulf News, Reuters, 10/22/2015]


Fitch says stable Turkish government could help reforms, growth
Fitch Ratings said in a statement on Thursday that the formation of a stable government following Turkey’s parliamentary election on November 1 could benefit the implementation of structural reforms. Noting that commitment to fiscal discipline has received broad political support at a time of heightened political uncertainty, Fitch said, “If November’s election led to the formation of a stable government, structural reform and growth could benefit.” The ratings agency warned that large external financing requirements expose Turkey to shifting investor sentiment and remain a potential source of risk. “Turkey’s sovereign credit profile continues to mix high exposure to global financial market conditions and other structural weaknesses with strong public finances and a record of resilience to recent external shocks,” Fitch said, reflected in the stable outlook on Turkey’s ‘BBB-’ rating that was affirmed last month. Moody’s noted, “Turkey stands out as most vulnerable to external risks because of its high reliance on external capital and large stock of external debt due annually, combined with heightened political risks.” [Reuters, 10/22/2015]

Iraq budget deficit seen at 11.9 percent of GDP in 2016
Iraq’s fiscal deficit is expected to hit 11.9 percent of economic activity in 2016, Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Wednesday. The government’s budget proposal, which awaits parliamentary approval, projects 106.9 trillion dinars ($95 billion) of expenditures and a 23.5 trillion dinar shortfall. More than 70 percent of expenditures will be used to pay salaries and pensions to the country’s public sector. Oil is expected to account for more than 80 percent of Iraq’s fiscal revenues in 2016, even as crude prices have more than halved in the past year. “Next year will not be an easy year. According to the estimates … and [given] the current price of oil, we expect it to be a difficult year for us,” Zebari said at the ministry’s headquarters. Moments before he spoke, ministry employees demonstrated inside the building against changes to the compensation system for public workers. Zebari said the revisions aimed at reducing inequities. He also said that Baghdad has started negotiating with the Qatar National Bank for a loan that could be used to help plug Iraq’s fiscal gap. [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

BP to invest in three new exploration blocks in Egypt
British Petroleum (BP) said on Wednesday it had been awarded three new offshore exploration blocks in Egypt and that it and its partners had committed to invest $229 million. BP said it would have 100 percent equity and operate the North al-Tabya block, located in deep waters north of its recent Salamat and Atoll discoveries. The North Ras al-Esh Block, located in shallow waters to the east of the Notus discovery, will also be operated by BP, with 50 percent equity. The third block at North al-Hammad, in which BP will have 37.5 percent equity, will be held by a subsidiary of Italy’s Eni. Eni will also hold 37.5 percent equity in the third block, while France’s Total will hold 25 percent. BP North Africa Regional President Hesham Mekawi said of the investments, “BP will deploy its expertise and latest technologies to exploit the resources in these new blocks. This investment confirms our commitment to meet Egypt’s energy needs.” [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

Libya’s Tripoli government specifies eligibility for subsidy payments
Libya’s Tripoli government has issued some guidelines regarding eligibility for direct cash payments that are planned to replace subsidies for basic goods and fuel. Officials in Tripoli previously said that each adult Libyan citizen would receive LD50 ($40) per month once subsidies are removed. A direct subsidy paid to individuals would keep the cost of fuel and basic foodstuffs closer to market price and help curb smuggling across Libya’s borders. The government issued a decision on October 19 outlining details of eligibility for the monthly payment. The cash payments apply to those over eighteen years old, but with exceptions. For example, single Libyan mothers can claim the benefit for non-Libyan children, as long as they are permanent residents in the country. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 10/22/2015]