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Monday, January 04, 2016

Saudi execution aimed at provoking regional bloodbath Finian Cunningham

Saudi execution aimed at provoking regional bloodbath Finian Cunningham Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV. Published time: 3 Jan, 2016 14:19 Get short URL Protesters hold placards as they demonstrate against the execution of prominent Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, Britain January 2, 2016 © Neil Hall Protesters hold placards as they demonstrate against the execution of prominent Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, Britain January 2, 2016 © Neil Hall / Reuters 3.1K The furious reaction across the Middle East to the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric strongly suggests that the killing is a deliberate provocation by the ruling House of Saud. That provocation would appear to be aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions and fomenting conflict in various regional countries – already near flashpoint – in order to further Saudi geopolitical interests. Central to those interests is, as always, the bitter rivalry with the region’s Shiite powerhouse, Iran. Following the announcement at the weekend by the Saudi Interior Ministry that Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been executed, along with 46 other prisoners, there was predictable outrage from across the region, especially among countries where there is a large Shiite following, such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain. Iran denounced the radical Sunni Saudi rulers as “criminal” and accused them of carrying out an act that is “the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility.” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, compared the House of Saud with Daesh, the extremist terror group (also known as Islamic State, and previously ISIS/ISIL). Of note is the way that the kingdom executes opponents by beheading according to a similar stringent interpretation of Islamic Sharia law known as Wahhabism – shared by both the Saudi regime and the cadres of Daesh. Former Iraqi Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki said that the imposition of capital punishment would lead to the downfall of the Saudi rulers, with other Iraqi politicians saying that it would “open the gates of hell” across the volatile and religiously fraught region. The United States and European Union also responded with alarm at the execution of al-Nimr, both warning of deepening sectarian tensions being exacerbated by the Saudi death penalty. Sheikh al-Nimr was executed on Saturday, along with 46 other prisoners in what is believed to have been the biggest mass execution in Saudi Arabia for over three decades. The death sentences were carried out in 12 prison locations by decapitation or firing squad, according to reports. Most of those sentenced were alleged members of the Al-Qaeda terror group, who had been accused of carrying out deadly attacks against Western interests in Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2006. Nimr al-Nimr was among four Shiite activists who were executed at the weekend. They were convicted on several charges of subversion and terrorism in trials that were dismissed by international rights groups as a travesty of judicial process. Sheikh al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 and accused of inciting violent protests, but supporters point out that the respected cleric always publicly endorsed peaceful protest. One of his best-known statements was: “The power of the word is mightier than the roar of bullets.” In October, al-Nimr lost a judicial appeal against his death sentence. There then followed several international appeals for clemency. The Iranian government in particular issued several statements calling for the cleric’s life to be spared. The widely seen miscarriage of justice against al-Nimr and the chilling determination to carry out his execution in spite of appeals for clemency is what makes the case so incendiary. Lebanese Shiite resistance movement Hezbollah condemned Saudi Arabia’s conduct as “an assassination,” while Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps vowed that the Saudi rulers would meet with “harsh vengeance.” Protesters holding a banner saying "Death is normal to us and our dignity from God is martyrdom" take part in a protest against the execution of Saudi Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, in the village of Sanabis, west of Manama, Bahrain January 2, 2016 © Hamad I Mohammed Protesters holding a banner saying "Death is normal to us and our dignity from God is martyrdom" take part in a protest against the execution of Saudi Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, in the village of Sanabis, west of Manama, Bahrain January 2, 2016 © Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters In Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and a coalition of other Sunni Arab states have been carrying out airstrikes for the past nine months, the mainly Shiite Houthi rebels also condemned the execution of al-Nimr and promised retribution for his death. At the weekend, it was reported that 24 Saudi troops were killed in a Houthi rocket attack on the Saudi border province of Jizan. It is not clear if the attack preceded the announced execution of al-Nimr. The Saudi regime has previously accused Iran and Hezbollah of fueling the Houthi rebellion in Yemen. Tehran has rejected claims of militarily supporting the insurgents. But it would be a fair assumption that Iran and Hezbollah will henceforth step up military intervention in Yemen as a way of striking back at the Saudis. The same response is envisaged for Iranian and Hezbollah involvement in Syria, where the Saudis have bankrolled and armed various anti-government militia, primarily so-called radical Islamist groups with a shared Wahhabi fundamentalist ideology. These groups include Jaish al Islam (Army of Islam), whose leader Zahran Alloush was killed in a Syrian airstrike near Damascus on December 25. The Saudi regime publicly rebuked the killing of Alloush, saying that it jeopardized the forthcoming UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva on Syria. Read more A poster of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. © Khaled Abdullah Ali Al MahdiSaudi Arabia executes 47 people, incl prominent Shiite cleric, on terror charges The House of Saud, led by King Salman, is known to be not in favor of the Geneva talks, which Washington and Moscow have both endorsed. The Saudis are dismayed by the seeming compromise made by Washington towards the Russian position, which is that the political future of Syria must be decided by the Syrian people through elections. The erstwhile demand by Washington that Syria’s President Bashar Assad must stand down as a precondition for peace talks has been abandoned – leaving the Saudis, Turkey and the extremist militia groups in Syria as the only parties persisting with the call for Assad to go. It is perhaps significant that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a “strategic summit” with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh only days before the execution of Nimr al-Nimr. Russia’s military intervention in Syria, from the end of September, has been a resounding success in terms of stabilizing the Syrian government of Bashar Assad. Even the Obama administration has recently acknowledged the strategic success for Russian President Vladimir Putin in Syria. That military success can also be attributed to Iran and Hezbollah, as well as to Iraq, which have all contributed to the gains made by the Syrian Arab Army on the ground. The biggest loser is the axis for covert regime change in Syria, led by Washington, London and Paris, together with their regional allies in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. While Washington and the other Western powers have the nous to switch tactics from backing a covert insurgency to belatedly trying a political process for eventual regime change in Syria, it would appear that the Saudis and Turks are still committed to the covert war agenda. Read more Members of the Shi'ite ulema council hold a sign for Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr who was executed along with others in Saudi Arabia, during a protest demonstration in Karachi, Pakistan, January 2, 2016 © Akhtar SoomroUproar in Middle East after Saudi Arabia executes top Shiite cleric In that way, the Russian-backed military alliance in Syria is a particularly damaging broadside to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. From the Saudi point of view, one way of trying to salvage their losses in Syria and ongoing setbacks in Yemen would be to blow up the region with an explosion in sectarian conflicts. For many people, of course, such a gambit is insane. But if the House of Saud can provoke a firestorm between Sunnis and Shiites, that would in turn polarize relations between Washington and Moscow, leading to a wider war across the region. Having lost in their Machiavellian schemes for regime change in Syria, the House of Saud seems to want to inflict a plague of chaos and bloodshed on everyone else’s house. The execution of renowned Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr is such a gratuitous barbaric killing, one is left with the conclusion: the unadulterated madness of the slaying betrays an altogether pathological calculation aimed at inciting mayhem in the region. Saudi Arabia is on such a losing streak over Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere that its autocratic rulers probably figure that they don’t have much else to lose by going for broke – and thus provoking a regional bloodbath. The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT. Yahoo News Search Mail 6 Iran-Saudi crisis deepens as diplomatic ties cut AFP By Abdul Hadi Habtor with Arthur MacMillan in Tehran 1 hour ago  Bahraini women shout slogans during clashes with riot police in the village of Daih, west of the capital Manama, on January 4, 2016 . . . . . Riyadh (AFP) - Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran erupted into a full-blown diplomatic crisis on Monday as Riyadh and its Sunni Arab allies cut or reduced ties with Tehran, sparking global concern. Following angry exchanges over Saudi Arabia's execution Saturday of prominent Shiite cleric and activist Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Riyadh and then Bahrain and Sudan severed their relations with Tehran, the main Shiite power. As international worries grew, US Secretary of State John Kerry called his Iranian and Saudi Arabian counterparts, US officials said. "We are urging calm and de-escalation. The situation needs to be calmed," one official told AFP. London, Paris and Berlin also expressed concerns, amid fears the dispute could derail efforts to resolve conflicts across the Middle East, from Syria to Yemen. The Sunni-Shiite divide in the Middle East Map of the Middle East showing countries by the dominant religion of the government. 180 x 161 mm (A … Moscow offered to act as an intermediary and the UN envoy for Syria was headed to Riyadh and Tehran in a bid to defuse tensions. The crisis has also raised fears of an increase in sectarian violence, including in Iraq where two Sunni mosques were blown up overnight and two people killed. Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran late on Sunday, giving diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, after protesters set fire to its embassy in Tehran and a consulate in second city Mashhad. Bahrain and Sudan followed suit on Monday, and the United Arab Emirates also downgraded its ties, recalling its envoy from Tehran. Sunni Arab nations accused Tehran of repeatedly meddling in their affairs, with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir saying "Iran's history is full of negative interference and hostility in Arab issues". Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says Riyadh … Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says Riyadh asked Tehran to ensure security at the embassy but … Bahrain accused Iran of "increasing flagrant and dangerous meddling" in Gulf and Arab states, while the UAE said Iranian interference had reached "unprecedented levels". Some 80 Saudis, including diplomats and their families, had already left Iran and arrived in Dubai on Monday, diplomatic sources said. The Saudi civil aviation authority said that as part of the cut in ties all flights to and from Iran were being suspended. - 'Hugely concerning' - Iranian officials denounced the Saudi moves as tactics that would inflame regional tensions. Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr … Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (portrait-top) hold posters of prominent Shiite cl … "Saudi Arabia sees not only its interests but also its existence in pursuing crises and confrontations and (it) attempts to resolve its internal problems by exporting them to the outside," foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said. Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposing ends of a range of crucial issues in the Middle East, including the war in Syria -- where Tehran backs President Bashar al-Assad's regime and Riyadh supports rebel forces -- and Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Shiite insurgents. The UN peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was due in Riyadh later Monday for talks aimed at defusing tensions, ahead of a visit to Iran, the UN spokesman said. The spike in tensions comes after Iran last year secured a historic nuclear deal with world powers led by the United States, sparking major concern in Riyadh, a longtime US ally. The Cairo-based Arab League said it would hold an emergency meeting at Riyadh's request on Sunday to discuss the attacks on Saudi diplomatic premises and alleged Iranian interference. Iraqi Shiites burn a effigy of a member of the Saudi ruling family as others hold posters of promine … British Prime Minister David Cameron said the tensions were "hugely concerning", Germany expressed its "dismay" and called for the restoration of diplomatic ties, and France urged a "de-escalation of tensions". Oil prices rose on fears of Middle East instability, with US benchmark West Texas Intermediate climbing 30 cents to $37.34 a barrel. Gulf stocks tumbled, with six of the region's seven exchanges down and the Saudi Tadaul All-Shares Index falling by 2.36 percent. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, on Sunday criticised those who attacked the diplomatic buildings, calling them radicals, and 50 suspects were arrested. But the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Riyadh its rulers would face "quick consequences" for executing Nimr. Iranian women at the rally in Tehran's Imam Hossein Square on January 4, 2016 (AFP Photo/Atta Ke … Some 3,000 demonstrators gathered for a new rally in Tehran on Monday, chanting anti-Saudi slogans and burning US and Israeli flags. - Blasts, protests in Iraq - In Shiite-majority Iraq, top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called Nimr's execution "an unjust act of aggression", and on Monday blasts rocked two Sunni mosques in the centre of the country, wounding at least three people. A man living at one of the mosques in the town of Hilla was shot dead by unidentified gunmen and a Sunni muezzin -- who recites the Muslim call to prayer -- was shot dead near his home in the city of Iskandariyah, security sources said. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said security forces were tracking down the perpetrators "who targeted mosques to sow sedition and undermine national unity". Thousands of protesters rallied against Saudi Arabia in the Iraqi capital, demanding that Baghdad sever relations with Riyadh. The 56-year-old Nimr was a force behind 2011 anti-government protests in eastern Saudi Arabia, where Shiites have long complained of marginalisation. He was among 47 men executed on Saturday, including other Shiite activists and Sunni militants the Saudi interior ministry said were involved in Al-Qaeda attacks that killed dozens in 2003 and 2004. Executions have soared in Saudi Arabia since King Salman ascended the throne a year ago with 153 people put to death in 2015, nearly twice as many as in 2014, for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and apostasy. ================================================================================================================================================================================== Tue Jan 5, 2016 | 6:22 AM EST New Saudi-Iran crisis threatens wider escalation Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against the execution of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a demonstration in Najaf, Iraq January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against the execution of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a demonstration in Najaf, Iraq January 4, 2016. Reuters/Alaa al-Marjani New Saudi-Iran crisis threatens wider escalation By Angus McDowall RIYADH (Reuters) - The last time Saudi Arabia broke off ties with Iran, after its embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters in 1988, it took a swing in the regional power balance in the form of Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait to heal the rift. It is hard to see how any lesser development could resolve the region's most bitter rivalry, which has underpinned wars and political tussles across the Middle East as Riyadh and Tehran backed opposing sides. Riyadh's expulsion of Iran's envoy after another storming of its Tehran embassy, this time in response to the Saudi execution of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, raised the heat again, making the region's underlying conflict even harder to resolve. At the heart of the new crisis is Saudi Arabia's growing willingness to confront Iran and its allies militarily since King Salman took power a year ago, say diplomats, choosing with his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to abandon years of backroom politics. Last year, Riyadh began a war in Yemen to stop an Iran-allied militia seizing power in its southern neighbor and boosted support to Syrian rebels against Tehran's ally President Bashar al-Assad. Its execution of Nimr, while mainly driven by domestic politics, was also part of that open confrontation with Iran, according to political analysts. The interventions followed years of Riyadh complaining about what it regarded as unchecked Iranian aggression in the region. It has pointed to Iran's support for Shi'ite militias and accused the country of smuggling arms to groups in Gulf countries - which Iran denies. "We will not allow Iran to destabilize our region. We will not allow Iran to do harm to our citizens or those of our allies and so we will react," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters on Monday, signaling Riyadh would not back down. The Saudi decisions in Syria and Yemen were also partly a response to Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, which lifted sanctions on Tehran, theoretically giving it more money and political room to pursue its regional activities. The new crisis has had the effect of hardening a wider confrontation between the loose-knit coalitions of allies each can call upon in the region; some of Riyadh's allies also cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after the embassy attack, while Iran's warned of repercussions. That chain reaction may now complicate complex political talks over the formation of a government in Lebanon, efforts to bring Syria's warring parties to talks, stalled negotiations to end Yemen's civil war and Riyadh's rapprochement with Baghdad. SIMMERING MISTRUST Until the 1960s and 70s, Saudi Arabia and Iran were uneasy allies regarded as the "twin pillars" of Washington's strategy to curb Soviet influence in the Gulf. Sectarianism was muted. Turkish PM urges diplomacy, offers help in Saudi-Iran crisis But rich on its new oil wealth, Saudi Arabia began to propagate its rigid Salafi interpretation of Sunni Islam which regards Shi'ism as heretical, in mosques around the region. And, after its 1979 revolution, Iran adopted - and exported - the doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih, which says ultimate temporal power among Shi'ites should reside with its own supreme leader. That growing ideological divide set up a simmering mistrust that was soon matched by a geopolitical rivalry that has driven their fractious relations for the subsequent 37 years. After Iran's 1980-88 war with Iraq, when Saddam invaded, it developed a strategy of "forward defense", seeking to use ties with Arab Shi'ites to build militias and political parties that could stop new enemies emerging and give it deterrent capability through proxy forces. Riyadh regarded Tehran's cultivation of Shi'ite groups with intense suspicion, fearing it would foment revolution in Saudi-allied states and destabilize the region. It broke ties in 1988 when a diplomat died in the storming of its Tehran embassy following tensions over the death of hundreds of Iranian pilgrims in clashes with Saudi police during the haj. But when Saddam invaded Kuwait, Tehran and Riyadh set aside their hostility to make common cause against a shared enemy. The toppling of Saddam in 2003 upturned the regional power balance, however, as Iran used its ties to the country's large Shi'ite community to gain sway in Baghdad, pitting Riyadh and Tehran more openly against each other - a pattern repeated in Yemen and Syria after the "Arab Spring" uprisings. Meanwhile, Iraq's civil war had poured fuel on growing sectarian tensions as al Qaeda, which follows an extreme form of Salafism, sent suicide bombers against Shi'ite civilians, prompting murderous retaliation from Iran-linked militias. FURTHER ESCALATION Now there is some scope for further escalation, both in the various Middle East theaters where Iran and Saudi Arabia back opposing forces, and diplomatically as Riyadh taps Arab and Muslim channels to try to isolate Tehran, according to analysts. "Since 1979 the two countries have fought numerous proxy conflicts throughout the Middle East and often exchange threats and insults. But they've stopped short of direct conflict and eventually agreed to a cold reconciliation," said Karim Sadjadpour, senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Middle East program. But he said that Iran might seek to stoke unrest among Saudi Arabia and Bahrain's Shi'ite communities.

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