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Eurasia Security Watch - No. 216
Edited by Jeff M. Smith
January 22, 2010
A surging civil war and a direct connection to failed Christmas-day airline bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab have focused world attention on the impoverished Gulf country of Yemen in recent weeks. The international community, however, is discovering a far more troubling situation than it originally imagined, particularly in the economic realm. Much of Yemen’s national income is derived from oil exports and the taxes they generate (70 percent of general budget resources, 92 percent of exports and 30 percent of GDP). Already desperately poor with an unemployment rate of 35 percent, Yemen can nary afford any decrease in oil production or revenues, let alone a dramatic drop off. Yet that is precisely what is coming down the pike. During the period of January-October 2009, crude oil export revenue dropped over 60 percent from the same period a year earlier, from $4.2 billion to $1.5 billion. Part of the decline was due to the collapse in oil prices during that period, but production also took a heavy downturn, decreasing from 38.8 million barrels to 24.5. Even more foreboding, however, is that analysts now predict Yemen’s petroleum output could be entirely exhausted in just seven years. (Los Angeles Times, January 5, 2010; Sana’a Yemen Observer, December 26, 2009)
…WHILE WASHINGTON MOVES AGAINST AQAP
Meanwhile, one year after the formation of the group, the State Department has formally designated Yemeni-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) a foreign terrorist organization. In practice, the designation permits the U.S. to prosecute individuals associated with -- or providing assistance to -- AQAP. The decision was followed almost immediately by the announcement that a United Nations sanctions committee had added AQAP and its senior leaders to a UN blacklist that permits the body to issue travel bans and freeze assets.
The welcome news comes amid reports that ten non-Yemeni Americans (“blonde-haired, blue-eyed types”) traveled to Yemen where they converted to Islam and radicalized. The Administration has responded to the heightened concern over Yemen and AQAP by applying consistent pressure to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to crack down harder on the terrorist group. The effort appears to have borne at least some fruit: on January 15th, AQAP’s military commander was reportedly killed in an airstrike along with six senior members of the group. It is the third airstrike on AQAP targets since December 17th, and despite official denials, the U.S. is believed to have been directly involved in at least one of those strikes. (Long War Journal, January 17, 2010; Washington Post, January 19, 2010)
COMMISSION UPENDS IRAQI POLITICS
A surprise decision by a controversial Iraqi commission has thrown that country’s political landscape into chaos only weeks before Iraq’s first national election in five years. Iraq’s Justice and Accountability Commission, formerly known as the De-Baathification Committee, is charged with politically blacklisting former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling party That list was produced this month, and it contained over 500 names, including several prominent Sunni MPs. A sizable number of Shi’ites were also on the list, but the unifying feature was that nearly all the candidates were from secular parties. The accused have been given 72 hours to appeal.
The announcement caught Washington off-guard, and Administration officials have sought to tactfully intervene, fearing that the decision will suppress voter turnout and alienate a Sunni minority that has already charged the Shi’ite-led government with a sectarian agenda. Vice President Joe Biden has offered up a compromise solution, in which the disqualifications would be put on hold until after the election [Editor’s note: Biden arrived in Iraq Friday, January 22 on a surprise visit]. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Kurdish president, Jalal Talibani, is “not satisfied with the banning decision” and has announced the formation of a high-level committee to investigate the legality of the commission itself – a body whose members were never approved by Parliament. Whereas Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki seems content with the decision, Talabani has additionally asked Iraq’s Supreme Court to take up the case. Speculation has also centered on Iran’s influence over the decision, with a focus on the close links between prominent Commission members such as Ahmed Chalabi and Tehran. (London BBC, January 21, 2010)
CENTRAL ASIAN YOUTH SEEK MADRASSAS ABROAD
Central Asia’s youth are increasingly being educated at unsanctioned madrassas, circumventing government attempts to regulate religious training and stoking fears about exposure to extremist ideas. While most governments in the region have regulated the number of religious schools – forcing them to register with the government and accept government guidance on curriculum – Central Asian students are, illegally and by the thousands, seeking out education abroad -- in Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and the Arab Gulf. Tajik officials are particularly worried about the flow of students into radical Pakistani madrassas, where the Tajik Embassy in Islamabad estimates there are hundreds of Tajik students studying at “underground” religious schools. Zubaidullo Zubaidov, the Tajik ambassador to Pakistan, calls the trend “alarming”: “When you speak to these young men, you notice quickly that their views of their own country and society have completely changed.” (Radio Free Europe, January 21, 2010)