Amid alarmingly sketchy accounts of Iranian attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, which are said to have caused damage but no casualties, Trump has dispatched the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf, and ordered a partial evacuation of US diplomatic staff from Iraq. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was also hit by drones, according to the kingdom's energy ministry. Meanwhile, Iran-backed war crimes and "sectarian cleansing" in Syria and Iraq are safely invisible to the outside world. Well, oil matters; people do not. We already knew that. But adding to the Orwellian nature of it all—the US and Iran are on the same side in Syria and Iraq. De facto in the former (where the US has tilted to Assad, rhetoric notwithstanding), de jure in the latter (where Washington and Tehran alike openly back the Baghdad regime). Let's hope that Trump's mutuality of interest with the ayatollahs (however sinister) will compel both sides to retreat from the brink before they blunder into total disaster. As always, US war moves put the civil opposition in Iran in a more difficult position, making it easier for the regime to paint them as pawns of Washington. Any anti-war position must be clear on solidarity with the people of Iran, including in their democracy struggle—emphatically not with the regime.
Baghdad's irregular Hashd al-Shaabi militia has joined with the National Defense Forces, one of the Assad regime's paramilitary militias, to conduct "sweeps" along the Iraqi-Syrian border for remnant ISIS cells. "The Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces in Deir Ezzor in cooperation with the Iraqi Army and [other Iraqi] forces, are participating in combing the border strip between Syria and Iraq, departing from the city of Al-Bukamal towards the outskirts of the Tanf oil field," an NDF statement read. These are both sectarian Shi'ite formations backed by Iran, which has a massive military presence in Syria and has also been backing Iraqi pro-government forces against ISIS. (Defense Post)
At least 10 people were killed and 25 others injured in a suicide blast that targeted security forces guarding a famous Sufi shrine in the Pakistani city of Lahore May 8. The attack, which came during the holy month of Ramadan, was apparently aimed at a police vehicle, and five officers are among the dead. The Data Darbar shrine, where Sufi saint Ali Hajveri is buried, was the target of a 2010 suicide attack that killed more than 40 worshipers, and has since been under heavy security. The new attack was claimed by Hizbul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban. (RFE/RL, Pakistan Today) Hizbul Ahrar appears to itself be an offshoot of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, which has particularly targeted Sufis. (TRT World)
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed 37 men on April 23 for terrorism-related crimes. Among those killed, 11 were accused of spying on behalf of Iran. Fourteen were convicted for offenses pertaining to anti-government protests. Most of the convicts identified as Shi'ite, and were predominantly from the country's Shia-majority eastern province. Most of the defendants were arrested between 2011-2. One was arrested when he was 16 years old.
Bahrain's High Criminal Court on April 16 sentenced 139 terror suspects to prison terms ranging from three years to life in prison. The court also revoked the citizenship of all but one of those convicted. The accused were sad to be part of a network organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), an arm of the Iranian state recently designated by the US Treasury Department as a "terrorist organization." Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni and most of those sentenced are believed to be Shia.
In Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, at least 16 people were killed and over two dozen injured in a blast that targeted members of the Shi'ite Hazara community April 12. Eight of those killed in the blast at a crowded vegetable market were Hazara. "Members of the Hazara community go to the market every day to shop, and we provide them with a security escort," Quetta police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema told Al Jazeera. This was the latest in a relentless wave of terror against the Hazara people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. On March 7, three were killed and some 20 injured when a mortar attack struck a gathering in Kabul commemorating the 24th anniversary of the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, leader of the Hazaras' Hizb-e-Wahdat Party and a key figure in the Mujahedeen resistance movement of the 1980s. Assassinated in 1995 by the Taliban, he was recently awarded the title of "Martyr of National Unity." The Kabul ceremony was attended by high officials and billed as a step toward national reconciliation. ISIS took credit for the attack, but the ongoing terror campaign leaves many Afghan Hazaras concerned about the current peace talks with the Taliban. (Dawn, Pakistan, TOLO, Afghanistan, The National, UAE)
In an amusingly grim development April 8, Donald Trump formally designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a "foreign terrorist organization," and Tehran's Supreme National Security Council immediately retaliated by issuing a statement declaring the Pentagon's Central Command a "terrorist organization." Both moves mark a first, in applying the designation to actual government entities. Trump's signing statement charged that the IRGC "actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft." Iran's state news agency IRNA said in a statement that the Islamic Republic "declares that it considers the regime of the US a 'state sponsor of terrorism' and 'the Central Command of America, known as CENTCOM' and all forces related to it 'terrorist groups.'"
Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities have charged hundreds of children with terrorism for alleged Islamic State (ISIS) affiliation based on dubious accusations and forced confessions obtained through torture, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported March 6. The 53-page report claims that Iraqi and KRG authorities often arrest children with "any perceived" connection to ISIS, use torture to coerce confessions and prosecute them in "hasty and unfair trials." International law observes children recruited by armed groups as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.