PGI’s Weekly Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Briefing provides an overview of key developments from across the region in the past seven days.
PGI’s Risk Portal Weekly MENA Briefing – 23 September 2016
Posted on 23rd September 2016 by PGI Risk Portal
PGI’s Weekly Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Briefing provides an overview of key developments from across the region in the past seven days. To receive PGI’s daily briefing, containing a comprehensive update of developments in the region, register now for free Risk Portal access or follow us: @PGIIntelligence
Court to try 11 people over attack on policeman, terrorism – 21 September
A court will try 11 suspects, arrested in Sitra in May, over an attack on a policeman and membership of a terrorist group on 25 October. A further six suspects remained at large. Since 2011, courts in Bahrain have frequently jailed members of the Shi’a population on terrorist charges over their roles in anti-government protests and attacks on security forces.
US clears major Boeing, Airbus deals – 22 September
Washington announced it would grant licenses to European airplane manufacturer Airbus and its US-based rival Boeing to sell aircraft to Iran. The deals, potentially worth some USD 50 bn, were a key part of the landmark nuclear deal agreed between world powers and Iran in 2015. US approval is required because at least 10 percent of the components used by Airbus are of American origin. The deals, among the largest to be agreed since nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted in January, have faced criticism from some American lawmakers amid continued tensions between the US and Tehran.
Tehran presses US for agreement on banking rules – 18 September
Deputy Roads and Urban Development Minister Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan said that President Hassan Rouhani is due to discuss measures to ease banking restrictions imposed on Iran during a visit to the US. US banks are still blocked from doing business with Iran, which has played a major factor in discouraging global trade with and investment in Iran since the majority of international sanctions against Tehran were lifted in January 2016.
Army reaches strategic town south of Mosul – 22 September
The Iraqi armed forces announced they have reached the centre of the town of Shirqat, a key town 100 km south of Mosul. Clashes with Islamist militants are ongoing, although forces have taken the mayor’s office, municipal buildings and the hospital. The town is seen as a key stepping stone in order to take Mosul from Islamic State.
Export dispute halts payments to oil producers – 22 September
According to industry media, crude export payments to Gulf Keystone Petroleum and other producers in the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan stalled following a dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraq over oil exports. Gulf Keystone Petroleum said that it had not received payments for deliveries from the Shaikan oilfield in July and August. The developments come despite KRG pledges to make regular monthly export payments to regional producers who have faced repeated uncertainty over an export agreement between Baghdad and the KRG.
Parliament ousts finance minister over corruption probe – 21 September
Lawmakers removed Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari from office over corruption allegations. The vote risks further economic instability in Iraq, whose economy has been damaged by weak oil prices and conflict. Zebari had faced questions from lawmakers in August over alleged corruption and abuse of public funds however the ousted minister later accused former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a divisive figure, of orchestrating his removal from office.
Rival gunmen clash in Ain el-Hilweh – 22 September
Renewed clashes between gunmen from the Fatah Movement and members of an Islamist group led by Bilal Badr were reported in the southern Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh, near Sidon. It was unclear if the latest clashes, which involved machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, resulted in any casualties. Fighting between the rival groups has persisted intermittently since 19 September and there were reports that Badr had attempted to mobilise his supporters to attack an army post in the area.
Mortar attack wounds civilian at Benghazi airport – 22 September
An employee of Benghazi’s Benina airport was wounded when two mortars landed outside the airport perimeter. Militants in Benghazi have repeatedly targeted the airport, which serves both civilian and military flights, however the civilian airport remains closed due to ongoing conflict in the eastern city.
State Council moves against eastern parliament – 21 September
Libya’s State Council announced it was assuming legislative powers form the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR), the country’s eastern parliament and recognised legislature. The State Council, an advisory formed from the Libya Dawn backed General National Congress, accused the HoR of failing to abide by the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) and said it would retain power until eastern lawmakers endorsed the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. The move, which was criticised by UN special envoy to Libya, further underscored deep divisions between political authorities in the east and west.
For further analysis of the outlook for political stability in Libya see PGI’s Insight on the topic.
Armed group closes key coastal road near Tripoli – 19 September
The coastal highway that links Tripoli with the west of the country was shut by the Forsan Janzour Brigade of Tripoli. The militia said it closed the highway after one of its fighters was abducted at Checkpoint 27 in Wirshiffana. The perpetrators in the abduction were reportedly an armed Wirshiffana group demanding the release of their supporters. In August, armed groups from Janzour, Wirshiffana, and Zawiya agreed to reopen the key highway after it was closed for nearly two years by Wirshiffana kidnap groups.
Clashes halt oil cargo loading in Ras Lanuf – 18 September
Forces loyal to the UN-backed unity government launched a failed bid to retake eastern ports, halting the loading of what would have been the first oil shipment from Ras Lunuf in almost two years. The incident comes after Khalifa Haftar led an offensive to take the key oil ports of Ras Lanuf, Al-Sidra, Zuwaytina and Brega in the eastern Gulf of Sidra.
Interior ministry reports arrest of three suspected militants – 21 September
The interior ministry said that Central Bureau for Judiciary Investigations arrested three people in the city of M’diq and Tangiers on 16 September suspected of planning a militant attack. Officials said that the individuals were linked to the Islamic State (IS) militant group. Though arrests of suspected militants are common in Morocco, there have been no IS-claimed attacks.
URT plans 4 October general strike in Tataouine – 19 September
The Regional Union of Labour (URT) announced plans for a general strike in Tataouine governorate on 4 October. Officials said the strike was organised after the dismissal of several workers of the Bouchamaoui Company. There is a precedent for general strikes to cause severe disruption in Tunisia, which faces persistently high levels of unrest linked to both political and economic grievances.
Government extends state of emergency for one month – 19 September
President Beji Caid Essebsi announced that the current state of emergency would be extended for one month until 9 October. The decree allows for the imposition of a ban on strikes and meetings that may provoke disorder. The measure is the third time the state of emergency has been extended since coming into force in November 2015, when an Islamic State-claimed attack killed 12 presidential guards in Tunis.
Police arrest former investment authority chief in Jeddah – 20 September
Police arrested the former chief executive of Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority, Khater Massaad, at Jeddah airport in connection with charges of embezzling USD 1.5 bn and other charges of fraud and diversion of public funds over a seaport project in Georgia. Massaad, who was convicted in absentia in 2015, denies all charges.
Coalition intercepts, downs ballistic missile near Khamees Mushait – 19 September
Saudi forces intercepted a Houthi-launched ballistic missile fired towards King Khalid Air Base in the southern city of Khamees Mushait, around 60 km from the Yemeni border. The missile was downed before it could cause any damage according to Saudi officials. Pro-Houthi forces in Yemen have launched repeated ballistic missile attacks against Saudi territory since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in the Yemen conflict in March 2015.
Security forces arrest 17, prevent Islamic State attacks – 19 September
The interior ministry said that 17 people from three cells linked to the Islamic State group had been arrested. The majority of the suspects were Saudi nationals, but an Egyptian, a Yemeni and a Palestinian were also among those arrested. The cells had reportedly planned to target security officials, military facilities – including the defence ministry in Riyadh – and economic sites.
Warplanes launch intense attack on Aleppo – 23 September
Pro-regime warplanes conducted intense air strikes against rebel-controlled territory in eastern Aleppo, hours after the Syrian army announced a new offensive in the city. According to one report, there were at least 100 separate air strikes in 15 rebel-held parts of the city from 0000 hrs local time 23 September. The fighting in Aleppo comes after efforts to restore a US-Russia brokered ceasefire failed, contributing to higher levels of violence across the country.
UN suspends aid after convoy attack – 20 September
The UN has suspended all aid shipments to Syria after a convoy of aid trucks was attacked by air strikes blamed on the Syrian armed forces. The Syrian Red Crescent aid group said one of its leaders and some 20 volunteers were killed in the attack. The development comes after a ceasefire brokered by Russia and the US broke down on 19 September.
Ceasefire ends, rebel leader labels it a failure – 19 September
The US and Russia brokered ceasefire has ended, with no sign of talks for a renewal of the deal, as the head of the Aleppo-based opposition Fastaqim group Zakaria Malahifji said the truce had failed. Malahifji said aid had yet to be delivered to rebel-held areas of eastern Aleppo and indicated that armed anti-government groups were preparing for further military action. The 20-truck convoy destined for Aleppo is still at the Turkish border, according to a UN aid chief, as it has not received permission and safety guarantees from the Syrian government.
Houthis accuse US national in Sana’a of spying – 22 September
Shi’a Houthi rebels who control Yemen accused an American national in their custody of providing coordinates for air strikes to the Saudi-led coalition. The US national was detained by Houthi gunmen on 20 September from a language centre in Sana’a that he runs. Houthi rebels have detained a number of US nationals on charges of spying since they seized the capital in September 2014.
Coalition air strike kills 20 in Hodeidah – 21 September
An official from the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi said that Saudi-led coalition air strikes killed 20 civilians in the Suq al-Hunod district of the Houthi-held city of Hodeidah. NGOs have repeatedly criticised the Saudi-led coalition due to the deaths of civilians during its air strike campaign since it began in March 2015.
President relocates central bank to Aden, sacks governor – 18 September
Exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi announced that he has fired the governor of Yemen’s Central Bank and relocated the institution to Aden from the Houthi-held city of Sana’a, after a dispute over the control of state finances. Hadi appointed finance minister Munser al-Quaiti to the post, replacing Mohamed Bin Humam who was accused of funnelling large sums of money to Houthi rebels. The move is expected to increase pressure on Houthi rebels, but also increase economic hardship for the Yemenis living under their rule.