Tag Archives: Shiite

Pentagon Proposes Further Expansion of Role in Iraq War

by Jason Ditz

Always on the look out to escalate their involvement in the war against ISIS, Defense Secretary Ash Carter today told reporters that the Pentagon is planning a series of proposals for the Obama Administration to approve more activities for the thousands of US troops on the ground in Iraq.

“We’re talking about more of the things that we did in Ramadi, but we are talking about additional things of the kind that we’ve offered previously,” Carter insisted. Though that seems deliberately vague, he is known to have pushed the idea of US attack helicopters and embedded US troops in Iraqi combat units previously, and those are likely among the proposals.

The administration’s efforts to sell “no boots on the ground” to the American public, at least early in the war, has meant it has taken dozens of small deployments to get the US up to its 5,000 or so ground troops in Iraq, and myriad efforts to get them out of the bases and onto the battlefields.

Selling the White House is likely the easy task, however, as the Iraqi government has repeatedly resisted giving the US ground troops too much direct involvement in the war, and is facing strong pressure from Shi’ite militias to keep the US at arm’s length, at least as far as the ground war is involved.

Soaring Unrest After Saudis Execute Top Shi’ite Cleric

by Jason Ditz

While the United Arab Emirates defended the killings as in keeping with Sharia law, Saudi Arabia’s mass execution of 47, including top Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, has fueled a new round of international condemnation and riled Shi’ites the world over.

Shi’ite political figures in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon all lined up to condemn the killing of Nimr as a deliberate provocation, followed by Shi’ite militias as well as top religious leaders. Hezbollah said it holds Saudi ally the United States responsible for the executions.

In Iran the response was more straightforward, as Shi’ite demonstrators marched on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. The situation got out of hand before long, however, and the embassy was set on fire, leading the Saudis to condemn Iran as “terrorists.”

Another Saudi embassy at risk is the one in Baghdad, which only opened for the first time in decades last week, and which several high-profile Iraqis are demanding be immediately closed in protest. Iraqi politicians warned the execution would benefit ISIS by exacerbating tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Nimr was detained in 2012 for his role in organizing a protest demanding an end to discrimination against the Shi’ite minority in Saudi Arabia. Nimr’s detention was already wildly controversial, and he was reportedly tortured while in custody.

Nimr’s trial centered around charges of “disobeying the ruler” and “inciting sectarian strife,” and the evidence against him was primarily the text of sermons he gave, leading to condemnation from human rights groups. In October of 2014, he was sentenced to death.

In addition to the international fallout, Nimr’s death has fueled new protests among Saudi Shi’ites. Though a small minority in their country, they live predominantly in the coastal, oil-producing regions and their unrest subsequently could be more impactful.

Western nations have by and large not responded to the killing, in keeping with their desire not to upset the Saudis. The European Union’s chief diplomat Federica Mogherini did, however, declare the killing to raise “Serious concerns regarding freedom of expression.”

Yemen’s Houthis Are No Iran Proxy

Shi’ite Militia Has Roots in Domestic Politics

by Jason Ditz, March 31, 2015

Declaring their war against the Houthis of Yemen last week, Saudi Arabia has presented the conflict as a sort of noble intervention, aiming to displace an Iranian proxy from power in favor of the internationally accepted, if not legitimately elected, President Hadi.

Yet the history of the Houthis shows that, far from an invention of Iran, their origins were entirely domestic in nature, a backlash against the political corruption that has defined the nation for decades. WikiLeaks documents from the US State Department underscore this history.

The Houthi movement has its origins in the 1993 parliamentary elections. Longtime dicator Ali Abdullah Saleh’s GPC party won a plurality, but in trying to ensure a weakened opposition Saleh negotiated a deal with Hussein al-Houthi, a powerful member of the opposition al-Haq Party. Houthi was to distance himself from Haq and back the GPC in return for support from the ruling party.

Houthi did as he was asked, and was stabbed in the back in the 1997 election, when Saleh’s office heavily campaigned against him, costing him his seat in parliament. Out of office, Hussein decided to travel abroad to complete his doctorate.

He returned in 2001, and quickly became an influential religious leader, aiming to unite the various independent clerics of Zaidi Shi’ism under a single banner. Successful in this, he began publicly condemning Saleh as a US puppet, while harshly condemning the US invasion of Iraq.

By 2004, the Yemeni military was moving against Houthi and his followers, and Hussein was killed on September 10, 2004, putting a temporary end to hostilities.

Hussein’s father, Badr al-Din Houthi started an uprising in 2005, and his brother Abdul Malik Houthi started an even bigger one in 2007. Their demands centered around equal treatment for their homeland, around Sadaa, which always got the short end of infrastructure investment.

By 2009 the region was in full-scale war, with Saleh vowing to defund public schools and all other basic social spending to pay for weapons to wipe the Houthis out.

Saleh often accused the Houthis of being an Iran proxy, though the US State Department confirmed that this was not the case, and indeed that the Houthis were arming themselves almost entirely through the black market, and purchase of arms from the Yemeni military itself.

With interests largely domestic (and often not even nationwide) and religion never more than tangentially related to their ideology, the Houthis never made sense as allies to Iran. The Zaidi brand of Shi’a Islam isn’t even particularly close to Iran’s own version, and Hussein Houthi’s opposition to the Iraq War, which benefited Iran greatly, reflects how very different the two are.

The Houthis were largely defeated in 2009, though they began to reassert themselves in 2011 during the Arab Spring. This was temporarily calmed by the 2012 ouster of Saleh and his replacement, in a single candidate “vote,” by General Hadi.

Hadi followed through on attempts to weaken the Houthis by implanting Sunni Islamist factions into the Sadaa area, which led to another war in 2014. This time, the Houthis won outright, and marched on the capital city of Sanaa. Here too, they were victorious.

The takeover of the capital set the stage for on-again, off-again battles with Hadi, and the Houthis were pushing heavily for constitutional reforms and free elections, a point on which Hadi resigned in January of 2015.

His resignation lasted a few weeks, then Hadi declared himself unresigned, moving to Aden and vowing to take the country. When the Houthis routed him yet again, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, and courted their military intervention to ensure his rule.

Never has serious evidence of Iranian involvement been seen, and the new claims that loyalists to Saleh are fighting alongside the Houthis are strange indeed, given their history of acrimony.

If Iran gets involved in the Houthi-Saudi war at all, it is because of their regional rivalry with the Saudis, as both sides are keen to wound the other when the opportunity presents itself. To this day, however, the Houthis maintain they have no ties with Iran, and intend to defend the country by themselves.

New York man being accused of aiding ISIS

An upstate New York man is  being accused of attempting to provide material support for ISIS and plotting to kill current and former members of the US military.

Mufid A. Elfgeeh, 30, from Rochester, New York, has been indicted by a grand jury on three counts of trying to provide various resources and material support for ISIS.  He is also being charged with attempted murder for plotting to kill various personnel connected to the military.

Court documents are saying Elfgeeh tried to provide three people here in the US with the resources to travel to the Middle East to become fighters for ISIS.  However, according to Al-Jazeera, two of the people trying to travel to the Middle East were cooperating with the FBI and informed the authorities on Elfgeeh’s plans.

“Disrupting and holding accountable those who seek to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin according to Politico, “is and shall remain a critical national security priority.”

The three charges for assisting ISIS carry a maximum sentence of 15-years, while the attempted murder charge carries a potential 20-year sentence.

This is not the first time this year Elfgeeh has been picked up by the FBI.  Earlier this year, members of the FBI’s Rochester Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Elfgeeh after he purchased two handguns with silencers outfitted for each.  The task force said Elfgeeh planned on killing US soldiers returning from war as well as Shiites in the Rochester area.

“We will remain aggressive in identifying and disrupting those who seek to provide support to ISIL and other terrorist groups that are bent on inflicting harm upon Americans,” said Attorney General Eric Holder according to CBS in New York.  “As this case shows, our agents and prosecutors are using all the investigative tools at our disposal to break up these plots before individuals can put their plans into action. We are focused on breaking up these activities on the front end, before supporters of ISIL can make good on plans to travel to the region or recruit sympathizers to this cause.”

Elfgeeh was made a US citizen last year.