Iranian-Backed Rebels in Yemen Launch Missiles at US Navy

Airstrikes on a funeral in Yemen on Saturday have inflamed local opinion, and Washington’s support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign against Houthi rebels has implicated the United States in civilian deaths, according to human rights groups. But there’s another potential side effect: It may have prompted the rebels to turn their weapons against U.S. forces.

The strikes killed more than 140 people and wounded hundreds more. Saudi officials have denied they carried out the attack, but two U.S. defense officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there is little reason to believe that.

The attacks on a funeral for a Houthi rebel commander in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa are the latest in a long line of strikes that have killed more than 4,000 civilians since the Saudis began launching airstrikes against the rebels in March 2015.

Within hours of the airstrike on the funeral, a missile was launched from Houthi-controlled territory over Yemen’s northern border into Saudi Arabia and two more were fired at the USS Mason, a Navy destroyer, and the USS Ponce, an amphibious staging base, that were in the Red Sea.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Tuesday that the first missile was launched Sunday about 7 p.m. from a coastal area while the Mason was at least 12 miles offshore in international waters. The ship took undisclosed defensive measures while the first missile was incoming, and the projectile splashed in the sea before causing any damage, he said.

“We want very much to get to the bottom of what happened,” Davis said. “Anybody who fires on U.S. Navy ships does so at peril to themselves.”

One U.S. defense official said the second missile was fired at the Mason about an hour after the first, and it traveled at least 24 miles as the ship was moving away from the shore. Like the first missile, it landed in the water, although in the second case no defensive measures were taken.

The Houthis took credit for firing the missile north into Saudi Arabia on Saturday night but denied they were involved in firing on U.S. ships. Davis said that the “facts certainly seem to point” to the Houthis being involved but that the U.S. is still assessing what happened. The Houthis regularly characterize military operations against their forces as “U.S.-Saudi aggression.”

A report from USNI News published Monday said the Mason fired at least three missiles in its own defense: two Standard Missile-2s and an Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile to intercept the missile. The outcome of those launches was not clear. The Mason also fired a Nulka anti-ship missile decoy, the report said. The decoys are designed to fool incoming missiles into believing there is another, larger ship to hit than the one targeted.


Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warn Saudis over Gulf war games

Straight of HormuzSaudi Arabia began live-fire drills on October 4, with manoeuvers also taking place in the sea of Oman and the narrow Strait of Hormuz

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards warned regional rival Saudi Arabia to stay away from Iranian waters during its military exercises in the Gulf.

“The naval forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps believe this military exercise is a clear instance of creating tensions and undermining the stable security of the Persian Gulf,” it said in a statement published by Iranian newspapers on Thursday.

“None of the naval vessels participating in this drill are permitted to trespass into Iranian waters and under no circumstances should they approach Iranian territorial waters,” it added.

“Any such trespassing will not be considered a harmless aberration.”

saudi-arabia-vs-iran-flag-on-mapSaudi Arabia began live-fire drills in the Gulf on Tuesday, with manoeuvers also taking place in the Sea of Oman and the narrow Strait of Hormuz that links the two — the primary route for oil exports from the region.

The Guards’ naval forces “will take proportionate and immediate action against any kind of movement, attempt or action to disrupt the peace and security of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman,” the statement added.

Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran — which lie on opposite sides of the Gulf — severed diplomatic relations earlier this year and back opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

In the past, Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz during periods of tension with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies.

In recent months, Washington has repeatedly accused Tehran of dangerous encounters with US naval forces in and around the strategic waterway.

Iraqi Militia Finds Horrifying Pic of Saudi Slave Market

A young Yazidi woman for sale in a slave market
A young Yazidi woman for sale in a slave market

Fighters of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) seized a jihadi’s phone after he was killed fighting in the Iraqi town of Al-Shirqat. On it they found a picture of a young woman, believed to be a Yazidi, kneeling on the floor in front of a crowd of men.

Using location tracking data from the phone the militia identified the event as a slave auction in Saudi Arabia.

“Our investigation officer was appalled at the set of images involving what we believe to be an Iraqi Yazidi woman taken as a sex slave,” a spokesperson from the PMU told the Sun Online.

The Yazidis are an Iraqi ethnic group with their own religion, who have been persecuted by the Islamic State who regard them as devil worshippers. Many Yazidi women and girls were kidnapped in 2014 and taken into sex-slavery.

There were “images were of the auction in Saudi Arabia of the woman and sexually explicit materials of the fighter and the woman in a hotel. Location data was observed on the image file as enabled by default on many smart phones,” he added.

“Further images involved ISIS members in Iraqi-areas occupied by ISIS including Mosul and Baiji, which indicates this fighter has been with ISIS for a long period of time as Baiji was liberated by us months ago,” he said.

The unit has announced it will attempt to find and rescue the woman in the photo.

‘”We are engaging with our Yazidi members to find the family of the woman, location and health status,” the spokesman added. “We hope to liberate her and all Iraqi women taken as sexual slaves by ISIS within Iraq or outside of Iraq as their basic human rights are being denied.”

This is not the first time revelations about the brutal sex trade have surfaced. In 2015, a Yazidi woman named Jinan escaped ISIS slavery and wrote a book chronicling her three months in captivity.

She spoke of slave markets taking place in large halls, where the women were displayed like “livestock” for the inspection of male buyers from Iraq and Syria but also Westerners and Saudi and Gulf Arabs.

She reports an owner as saying “a man cannot buy more than three women unless he is from Syria, Turkey or the Gulf.” Another man reportedly responded, “It’s good for business… A Saudi buyer has transport and food costs that a member of the Islamic State does not. He has a higher quota to make his purchases profitable.It is a good deal. the Islamic State increases its profits to support the mujahideen and our foreign brothers are satisfied.”

Jinan also said she was tortured and abused, including being forced to drink mice infested water and chained up outside in the hot sun.

She said: “These men are not human. They only think of death. They take drugs constantly. They seek vengeance against everyone. They say that one day Islamic State will rule over the whole world.”

Saudi Arabia and Iran accuse each other of not really being Muslim


Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Sept. 7
Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Sept. 7

The Middle East’s two great geopolitical adversaries entered into a war of words ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which starts this weekend. Their rivalry, shaped by sectarian Sunni-Shia divisions, can be seen in numerous bloody proxy conflicts across the region. But it also flares up in heated rhetorical broadsides.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The latest round began with comments from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who in full bluster condemned the Saudis for prohibiting Iranian pilgrims from joining the hajj after talks about security and logistics collapsed. Last year’s pilgrimage was marred by the deaths of hundreds of pilgrims caught in a stampede with more than 2,000 killed, according to one unofficial tally, although the Saudis say the death toll is lower.

Khamenei ventured that the slain devotees, including many Iranian nationals, lost their lives either because of Saudi complicity or incompetence. (He errs toward the former.)

“Saudi rulers … who have blocked the proud and faithful Iranian pilgrims’ path to the Beloved’s House, are disgraced and misguided people who think their survival on the throne of oppression is dependent on defending the arrogant powers of the world, on alliances with Zionism and the U.S.,” Khamenei said in a statement posted on his official website Monday.

“The world of Islam, including Muslim governments and peoples, must familiarize themselves with the Saudi rulers and correctly understand their blasphemous, faithless, dependent and materialistic nature,” the statement went on, asserting that the kingdom’s rulers were unfit to be the custodians of Islam’s holiest sites: “Because of these rulers’ oppressive behavior towards God’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of hajj.”

Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh
Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh

A day later, Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, fired back, dismissing Khamenei’s criticism as a feature of supposed Iranian hatred toward Sunnis. Iran’s theocratic regime sees itself as the vanguard of Shia Islam, similar to how the Saudis, practitioners of a particular orthodox Wahabist brand of the faith, style themselves as the leaders of the Sunni world.

The grand mufti pointed to the pre-Islamic history of what’s now Iran, where the bulk of population were once monotheistic Zoroastrians, and suggested that this ancient legacy still shadowed the present.

“We must understand they are not Muslims, for they are the descendants of Majuws” — a term for Zoroastrians — “and their enmity toward Muslims, especially the Sunnis, is very old,” he said.

Such language has dangerous echoes. So much of the recent bloodletting in the Middle East has been justified on arguments of apostasy and treachery to the faith. Iran and Saudi Arabia’s governments find themselves on opposite ends of wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen — battles where the most aggressive actors frame their campaigns in sectarian terms.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to Al Sheikh’s remarks with a tweet, linking Saudi Wahabism to the fundamentalist terrorism of the moment.

saudi-arabia-vs-iran-flag-on-mapBut the Saudis themselves cast the Iranians as international pariahs, bent on fomenting armed struggle and terrorist plots around the world. Zarif’s Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir, said in a speech last week that the regime in Tehran “is behind some of the operations threatening national security of the region.”

He added: “We wish from Iran, a great nation with great history and great people, to be able to change its policies which it built in 1979 so it can be a new member in the international community, weaving new policies with it.”

Saudi Arabia Slams Maliki’s ‘Irresponsible’ Comments

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Malikiaccused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of “inciting and encouraging the terrorist movements.”

Saudi Arabia flag map 1“The Saudi response came two days after the exclusive interview with Maliki was aired on FRANCE 24.  Responding to the accusations, an unidentified Saudi official told the state SPA news agency that, “The kingdom condemns the aggressive and irresponsible statements made by the Iraqi prime minister”.

In his interview, Maliki said Saudi Arabia and Qatar were seeking to destabilise Iraq by supporting terrorist groups and providing them with financial support.

Nuri al-Maliki, Iraqi Prime Minister
Nuri al-Maliki, Iraqi Prime Minister

Maliki, an Iraqi Shiite politician, said the two Sunni majority Gulf countries were also “supporting terrorism” in Syria and “around the world”.

The Iraqi PM’s comments come at a time of an increasingly acrimonious divide between Shiites and Sunnis, fueled by the three-year Syrian conflict, where forces loyal to Syria’s Shiite President Bashar al-Assad have been battling a largely Sunni opposition.

Iraq is also home to a fault-line between the country’s majority Shiites and the Sunni community, which has been politically marginalised since the 2003 US invasion.

More than a decade after the Iraq war, the country is witnessing a resurgence of deadly violence with 8,868 people killed in attacks in 2013, according to the UN.

In the past, Maliki has blamed regional countries for destabilising Iraq. But he did not specifically name the countries.

Qatar Prepares For Sanctions If Brotherhood Dispute Escalates

Qatar map 2Qatar is preparing contingencies to ward off economic pressure threatened by its Gulf neighbors amid a continued diplomatic stand-off over the role of political Islam in the region.

Executives in Doha say official planning is under way to deal with any potential sanctions, despite officials’ belief that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain will refrain from raising tensions further after last week’s withdrawal of ambassadors.

The dispute erupted at a stormy meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council this month as Saudi officials threatened to close air space or its land border to Qatar unless Doha reins in support for the pan-Arab Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are concerned that Doha’s close relations with the Brotherhood — banned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — is dividing the six members of the GCC.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading backers of Egypt’s interim military-led regime under Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, which last year ousted Mohammad Mursi, the elected Islamist president and one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading figures.

UAE and Saudi leaders met Field Marshal Al Sissi last week after Egyptian troops arrived in the UAE for military exercises.

Of the other GCC members, Kuwait is acting as mediator while Oman usually avoids involvement in intra-Arab disputes, although observers say that Muscat is concerned at the aggressive measures being taken against Qatar.

Iraq’s Maliki Accuses Saudi Arabia of Supporting ‘Terrorism’

Nuri al-Maliki
Nuri al-Maliki

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting global “terrorism” and seeking to destabilise Iraq.

“I accuse them of inciting and encouraging the terrorist movements. I accuse them of supporting them politically and in the media, of supporting them with money and by buying weapons for them,” Maliki told FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman. “I accuse them of leading an open war against the Iraqi government.”

Maliki went on to say that not only did Saudi Arabia support terrorism in countries such as Iraq and Syria, but around the world.

The prime minister said, however, that Iraq did not intend to retaliate against Saudi Arabia and Qatar, citing concern over the region’s stability.

“We don’t wish to widen the arena of confrontation,” Maliki said. “But, we’re telling those countries, be aware, be careful, because the support of terrorism will turn against you.”

Maliki also discussed Iraq’s security situation during the interview, as well as the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections in April and the impact of neighbouring Syria’s nearly three-year crisis.