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Eurasia Security Watch - No. 278

Edited by Jeff Smith & Sirena Dib
February 14, 2013

Sunni protesters in Iraq are taking to the streets by the tens of thousands in weekly protests that have so far remained peaceful, but carry the risk of deteriorating into violence at any time. The protests began in the Sunni-dominated town of Fallujah, a hotbed of insurgency during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Protesters have demanded the resignation of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. When the U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq over a year ago, Iraq’s Sunnis were disenchanted with what they saw as an inequitable distribution of power in Baghdad in favor of the country’s Shi’ite majority, which had been repressed under the reign of Saddam Hussein. The Islamic State of Iraq, the Sunni extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, is now aiming to exploit the political instability and sow discord between the sects, hoping to replicate its “success” in stoking a sectarian civil war in 2006 and 2007. It has called on Sunni protesters to take up arms against the Shi’ite-dominated government and bomb attacks this month killed 36 people in predominantly Shi’ite neighborhoods. (Washington Post, February 8, 2013)
Approaching the two-year anniversary of the first Arab Spring-inspired political protests in Bahrain, the government has organized a new round of talks between political parties allied to Bahrain’s government and dozens of members of the political opposition, including Al-Wefaq, the largest opposition group. The talks were focused on “building the bridges of trust” between parties though the government was not directly involved in the talks. The negotiations are the continuation of earlier talks that were halted in July 2011 after opposition groups decided to boycott the negotiations, insisting the government was not about addressing their grievances. Since then, the opposition has continued to press for political reforms, including the transformation of Bahrain into a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister. (Al Jazeera, February 11, 2013)

French and Malian troops have re-taken control of the northern city of Gao after Islamist militants returned to the city just two weeks after they were chased away by an initial joint offensive by French and Malian forces. The fighting that ensued on Sunday is considered the “most serious escalation in the fighting since the French ended over six months of brutal Islamist occupation in Gao.” The Islamist attack was said to have begun with a suicide bombing which was used as a ruse to allow an Islamist commando unit to enter the city. However, by Sunday afternoon, the French troops had encircled and subdued the militants after several gunbattles. The majority of the Islamist fighters are said to have fled to the Adrar des Ifoghas mountain range, and cities in northern Mali remain vulnerable to additional attacks. (New York Times, February 11, 2013)

The Syrian government is now bombing its own capital with fighter jets. Rebels are taking their fight against the Syrian government from outskirts of Damascus to the city proper, prompting the Syrian government to launch airstrikes in the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar. “New lines, psychological as much as geographical, had been crossed” since rebels took a railway station in Qadam two weeks ago . The rebels are making their strongest push into Damascus since last July, when they gained a temporary foothold in the capital. Rebels took control of a Palestinian refugee camp in December, and the government is said to be pressing the Palestinian residents to retake the camp from the rebels. Although residents of Damascus continue to function in their daily lives “electric service grows sporadic and groceries dwindle, even as the road ot the airport is often cut off by fighting outside the city, and even as smoke from artillery and airstrikes in suburbs becomes a regular feature on the horizon.” (New York Times, February 10, 2013)

A document containing information about al-Qaeda was found in the rubble of a destroyed building that was previously used as an al-Qaeda training center by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Foreign correspondent David Blair discovered them to be a record of a meeting of AQIM leaders on March 18, 2012. The first page had the meeting agenda and goals on it, and stated that Abu Musab Abdul Wadoud, the leader of AQIM, decided to take “command and control” of all jihadist activities in the Sahara. The document, however, was incomplete and did not contain any detailed information about the whereabouts and specific plans of the group. (The Telegraph, Feb. 13, 2013)

Related Categories: Middle East; Iraq

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