This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… December 16th-23rd, 2011.

  • On Saturday, the Sunni-backed bloc suspended its participation in Iraq’s Parliament after accusing PM al-Maliki’s Shi’ite led government of concentrating power. On Sunday, the last of the US combat troops in Iraq crossed the border into Kuwait after nearly nine years of war, and handed over the last remaining prisoner in their custody; while a sticky bomb wounded a woman in central Kirkuk; bombs planted near the house of a judge wounded his son and two of his neighbours in southern Kirkuk; gunmen killed a man near his home in western Mosul; and a sticky bomb attached to a car wounded the drive and two others in Mussayab. On Monday, the government issued an arrest warrant  for the country’s Vice President, citing antiterrorism laws; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire at an army checkpoint, killing one soldier in Mosul; gunmen killed a grocer while he was shopping in Mosul; police wounded a wanted man after a foot chase in western Mosul; a roadside bomb went off near a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims, wounding three in Balad; gunmen in a speeding car used silenced weapons to wound two Sunni Sahwa militia members in their vehicle in Kirkuk; and gunmen using silenced weapons opened fire at a police checkpoint, wounding two policemen in Mosul. On Tuesday, two leading members of the largest and most powerful Sunni tribe in Iraq warned of imminent sectarian chaos, claiming that the government is promoting an anti-Sunni agenda.  On Wednesday, PM al-Maliki warned of problems if Kurdish authorities in the north refuse to hand over Vice President Tariq al-Hasimi for trial on terrorism charges, a charge al-Hasimi vehemently denies as he told journalists he will not return to Baghdad to face trial, but would be willing to go before court in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region; a sticky bomb attached to the car carrying a Sunni Sahwa militia member killed him in Abu Ghraib; a gunman carrying a silence weapon opened fire at a local mayor, wounding him in a market in Baquba; two sticky bombs attached to cars carrying a judge and his son killed the judge and his guard and wounded his son and two pedestrians in Kirkuk; and gunmen in a car opened fire at a police checkpoint, wounding two policemen in Samarra.  On Thursday, at least 63 people died and more than 170 people were injured in 12 bombings across Baghdad, leaving some concerned that the pullout of American troops has left massive instability; gunmen using silenced weapons killed a local bodyguard in Baquba; police found the body of a young man with gunshot wounds to the head in western Mosul; a sticky bomb seriously wounded an off-duty policeman in central Mosul; a roadside bomb wounded a woman in western Mosul; gunmen opened fire on a police checkpoint , seriously wounding a policeman in Mosul; gunmen stormed a house, killing a family of five in Baquba; police found the body of a man with a slit throat in Kirkuk; a roadside bomb went off near a crowd of Sunni Sahwa members, wounding three in Jurf al-Sakhar; gunmen attacked a Sunni Sahwa checkpoint, wounding two in Mussayab; and gunmen killed a woman in a market in Mosul. Some analysts mentioned that although the US have officially marked the end to the war in Iraq, it leaves behind the world’s largest embassy, a large mission from the State Department and thousands of armed private military contractors, as well as holds a massive database full of retinal scans, thumb prints and other biometric data identifying millions of Iraqis.
  • On Sunday, the opposition in Syria claimed that at least six army soldiers had been killed in clashes with deserters in Homs, amid heavy shelling by government forces. On Monday, Syria signed an Arab League initiative to allow Arab observers into the country, with an advance team of seven officials arriving on Thursday to lay the groundwork for monitors to implement their peace plan; a move the United States said they were skeptical of, citing past broken promises. On Tuesday, the army was reportedly hunting down deserters near the northern city of Idlib after troops killed over a hundred deserters who had fled the base. On Wednesday, loyalist forces were accused of killing at least 160 defecting soldiers, civilians and anti-government activists over the past three days, while the UN estimated that more than 5,000 people have been killed since March; and five Iranian technicians working on a power plant project in the country were reportedly abducted by an unidentified group of people. On Thursday, a British human rights group Avaaz said it had evidence that more than 6,237 deaths of civilians and security forces had occurred, at least 600 under torture, and 400 of them children; with the government announcing that more than 2,000 of its security forces had been killed in the unrest. On Friday, two explosions rocked Damascus, killing more than 40 people and injuring more than 150. Some analysts were concerned that the US was gearing up to take action in the country after it released an unusually strong statement calling upon al-Assad to step down.
  • On Saturday, a Palestinian was killed and at least two others injured by Israeli gunfire in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, Israel reportedly released 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second stage of a deal with Hamas; while Hamas confirmed it will shift away from violent attacks on Israel as part of a rapprochement with the Palestinian Authority. On Tuesday, all the regional and political groupings on the UN Security Council criticised Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories and pointed their fingers at the US for refusing to condemn the settlement building, saying the continued settlement threaten chances of a future Palestinian state; while a senior UN official warned that the realization of a two-State solution has not advanced. On Wednesday, the UN Security Council agreed to extend the mandate of the peacekeeping force monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights for another six months; while rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a unified government to be sworn in by the end of January.
  • On Thursday, the United Arab Emirates were reported as revoking the citizenship of six men over alleged security concerns, though the men say they are being unjustly targeted for their political views.
  • On Saturday, the Intelligence Ministry of Iran said it had arrested an Iranian-American man working for the American CIA, and later he was seen on a state tv program “confessing” to his alleged “mission” to infiltrate the intelligence ministry. On Tuesday, the government says it invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit for talks and would be ready to discuss concerns over its disputed atomic ambitions, a move the agency welcomed; while the US state department called upon Iran to release the American man arrested in Tehran and accused of being a CIA spy. . On Thursday, Iran reportedly blocked access to a British government website aimed at Iranian audiences, the latest in the escalating tensions between the two countries.
  • On Sunday, a dissident army general in Yemen said he backed a peace accord signed last month to pull the country away from the brink of war, while officials reported the deaths of ten militants in attacks by government forces in the south. On Tuesday, soldiers battled al-Qaeda-linked fighters outside the city of Zinjibar, killing at least sixteen fighters and four soldiers, with intensive artillery shelling took place in the city overnight; while mobile operator Sabafon said that its facilities had come under repeated attack by state forces because of its chairman’s support for anti-government protests. On Wednesday, the UN envoy in the country announced that outgoing President Saleh was in need of medical treatment that will require him to leave the country; while clashes between an ultraconservative group and former Shi’ite rebels in the north reportedly killed nearly 200 people over the last few weeks. On Thursday, thousands of people marched toward the capital to demand President Saleh face trial for killing protesters during the 11 months of demonstrations against him and to denounce the new government for sparing him prosecution. On Friday, loyalists reportedly attacked demonstrators gathered south of the capital, while seven soldiers and three militants were killed near Zinjibar in an ambush by al-Qaeda suspects.
  • On Sunday, security forces in Bahrain dispersed several hundred Shia demonstrators who gathered outside Manama for the fourth day in a row. On Tuesday, Zainab al-Khawaja, daughter of a prominent activist who was detained last week during anti-government demonstrations, was released pending trial.
  • Clashes broke out between armed factions in the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon on Sunday, after the bodyguard of an official was killed. The clash at Ain el-Hilweh resulted in an unknown number of injuries.
  • On Sunday, Kuwait’s ruler called for an early Parliamentary election for February 2nd, nearly two weeks after he dissolved the chamber in a power struggle that had paralyzed the country’s politics. On Monday, riot police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse hundreds of stateless Arabs who staged a protest to pres the government to grant them citizenship rights.
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