Iranian-backed Terrorist Group Assassinates Bahraini Officer


Manama – Bahraini police officer was shot dead in an attack claimed as a “terrorist attack” by authorities.

Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said Sunday that First Lt. Hisham al-Hammadi was killed in the Bilad al-Qadeem village near the capital Manama, and a preliminary investigation indicated he died as a result of a “terrorist attack.”

The Ashtar Brigade, a militant group that has claimed a number of bombings and attacks in the tiny Gulf nation, claimed responsibility in a statement on social media.

Notably, the Ashtar Brigade is classified buy Bahrain as a terrorist group that receives support and training from the Iranian National Guards.

“Police responded to the crime scene and took the necessary legal steps and the Public Prosecution was notified. Initial details indicate that it was a terrorist act,” a statement from Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior read.

“The deceased was not on-duty at the time of the shooting.”

“The Interior Ministry mourns with great sadness and sorrow the martyr Lt. Hisham Hassan Mohammed Al-Hammadi, who was shot and killed in the Bilad Al-Qadeem area, southwest of the capital Manama,” the Interior Ministry said.

On the other hand, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court issued Sunday life sentences against six suspects and bound them to pay 1551 BD.

The court issued the verdicts against the suspects over the alleged charges of “attempted murder, carrying out a blast, using explosives and possessing ammunition without authorization for terror purposes, illegal gathering and rioting.”

According to Chief Prosecutor of the Terror Crimes Prosecution Mishaal al-Mannai, three other suspects stood trail over same charges, of whom one defendant received three years sentence in prison and the remaining two were acquitted.

The suspects, however, can challenge the court ruling at the country’s High Court of Appeals and might also protest against the verdict of the Court of Appeals at the Court of Cassation.

The Public Prosecution accused the suspects of taking part in an assembly on February 12, 2016, attacking policemen and luring them to the site of an explosive device that they had already placed.

They then detonated the explosive device as soon as the security personnel drew near for the purpose of murdering policemen.

The prosecution said that it relied on hearsay evidence, the attesting witnesses as well as confessions of one suspect.

(Source / 30.01.2017)

Bahrain Lifts Ban on Online Edition of Al-Wasat Daily

Al-Wasat Bahraini newspaper

Bahraini authorities on Thursday lifted a ban on the electronic edition of the only independent daily in the Gulf Kingdom,  Al-Wasat.

The information ministry said in a statement that it has decided to allow the daily to use electronic media, after it had banned the daily on Monday from posting online as a part of amid wide-scale crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The ban that was open-ended did not affect the paper edition, and was “due to the newspaper’s repeated publishing of and spreading (material) that sows sedition in society and harms national unity”, the ministry said at the time.

The suspension of Al-Wasat’s online operations followed a brutal crackdown on dissents by the authorities in Bahrain.

On Sunday, Al-Khalifa regime announced the execution of three activists over their alleged role in killing a member of Emirati forces assisting Manama in its clampdown on Bahraini demonstrators in the northern village of al-Daih back in March 2014.

The execution of Ali Al-Singace, Abbas Al-Samee and Sami Mushaima sparked public anger, with protesters taking to streets to voice rejection to the crackdown, stressing that the trial of the trio relied on forced confessions.

Al-Wasat was suspended for two days in August 2015 after being accused of “violating the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the kingdom’s relationship with other countries”.

(Source / 21.01.2017)

Bahraini, Yemeni Officials: Iran Is the One to Change Its Policies

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (Reuters)

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

Manama –Iran should change its policies in the region and Saudi Arabia plays an important role in fighting terrorism, two Bahraini and Yemeni officials confirmed.

The officials’ statement came in response to President Hassan Rouhani’s announcement asking Saudi Arabia to “take the right decision”, end its military intervention in Yemen and stop what he called its meddling in Bahraini affairs.

Bahraini Minister of Information Affairs Ali al-Rumaihi told Asharq al-Awsat that it’s about time Iran change its policies in the region so that everyone can cooperate with it. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia has never interfered in the domestic Bahraini affairs, and is rather a supporter of what is best for the Bahraini kingdom.

Rumaihi pointed out that Saudi Arabia is fighting terrorism and has a vital role in the stability and security of the region.

The Bahraini minister added that Rouhani’s statement should be directed at Iran, because it should change its strategies.

Yemeni government spokesperson Rajeh Badi said that Iran ignited the war in Yemen, adding that Rouhani’s announcement is the biggest evidence of its involvement in the ongoing struggle.

The spokesperson confirmed that Riyadh didn’t intervene in Yemeni affairs and is fighting terrorism.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Badi said that Saudi Arabia backed the legitimacy in Yemen and led an Arab coalition to support Yemen. He added that Iran and its militias, Houthi and Saleh, have been defeated in Saada, Maerib, and other districts.

According to Badi, what Rouhani said reflects Iran’s suffer due to its failure.

The spokesperson wondered who initiated the war, stressing that if Tehran seriously intended to stop the war, it should have suspended Houthi and Saleh’s militias. He added that both Houthi and Saleh formed a coalition sponsored by Iran.

(Source / 18.01.2017)

Iran: After Aleppo, we will intervene in Bahrain, Yemen

The leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched provocative statements against the Gulf states threatening to intervene in Bahrain and Yemen

The leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched provocative statements against the Gulf states threatening to intervene in Bahrain and Yemen.

The comments were reported by Iranian media after what they described as a “victory in Aleppo,” upon the massacres, starvation and displacement against civilians. Aleppo was considered as one of the strongholds of the opposition; however, the Syrian regime took a hold of it with the help and support of Iranian and Russian military troops.

In this context, the deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami told the official Iranian news agency Islamic Republic News Agency that “The victory in Aleppo will pave the way for liberating Bahrain,” pointing out that Iran has an expansion project that will extend to Bahrain, Yemen and Mosul after the fall of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Salami said that “the people of Bahrain will achieve their wishes, the Yemeni people will be delighted, and the residents of Mosul will taste victory, these are all divine promises,” as he put it.

He also pointed out that Iran is still providing unlimited support for the Houthi group, highlighting that Iranian missile could destroy the enemy targets in any area.

Salami described the control of the Syrian regime forces on the Syrian city of Aleppo, which have claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians as “a conquest.”

The comments of the spokesman for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Ramadan Sharif reveal the intentions of Tehran to expand geographically through bloody wars and military interventions in the Arab World.

Sharif noted that the Iranian forces and its sectarian militia from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Hezbollah with the support of Russia played a “fateful and very influential role” in the battles of Aleppo.

It is noteworthy that Iran’s hostility against Bahrain and the Gulf states has escalated since the Prime Minister of Britain, Theresa May, vowed her country’s support for the Gulf States in the face of Iranian terrorism.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador in Tehran in protest against Theresa May’s remarks during her speech on the 7th of December, at the Summit of Gulf Cooperation Council, where she declared: “We need to work together to address Iranian regional hostilities whether it is in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, or in the Gulf itself.”

(Source / 16.12.2016)

Bahrain Court Overturns Jail Term of Opposition Chief


Protesters have continued regular protests in Bahrain since a 2011 uprising

Manama – Bahraini Court of Cassation overturned a nine-year jail term against opposition chief cleric Ali Salman, convicted of inciting hatred and calling for forceful regime change.

The court also overturned three death sentences and seven life imprisonment sentences against a group convicted of killing three police, including an Emirati officer, in a bomb attack more than two years ago.

On May 30, the appeals court reversed an earlier acquittal on four charges against Salman and sentenced him to nine years in jail. Earlier in June 2015, Salman was sentenced to four years in jail after being convicted of inciting hatred against the regime and calling for its change by force.

He was charged with “publicly insulting the Interior Ministry” and “publicly inciting others to disobey the law” through his speeches.

Salman’s case dates back to December 28, 2014 where he was detained and interrogated for the charges against him.

In the other ruling, the court of cassation ordered a retrial of the case of 10 defendants found guilty of planting a bomb in March 2014 in Deih Shiite village, which killed an Emirati police officer and two Bahraini policemen. The Emirati officer was part of the Saudi-led Gulf force.

(Source / 18.10.2016)

Bahrain: Journalist Faces Prosecution, Travel Ban

(Beirut) – A Bahrain prosecutor on July 17, 2016, charged a correspondent for a French media outlet with violating the country’s licensing law for journalists, Human Rights Watch said today. The criminal charges against the journalist, Nazeeha Saeed, who has covered Bahrain’s domestic unrest for France 24 since 2009, violate her right to free expression and further undermines media freedom in Bahrain.

Bahraini journalist Nazeeha Saeed conducts an interview in Manama, Bahrain, August 26, 2014. © 2014 EPA

Bahraini journalist Nazeeha Saeed conducts an interview in Manama, Bahrain, August 26, 2014

The authorities charged Saeed with working for foreign media without a license. United Nations human rights experts have stated that state licensing of journalists inherently violates freedom of expression. Saeed is also one of 23 people subjected to travel bans since the start of June. They include human rights lawyers and activists, trade union leaders, teachers’ and nurses’ representatives, and the president of the Bahrain chapter of Transparency International.

“Bahrain is making criminals of anyone who criticizes the government’s increasingly repressive policies,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Any government that claims to support press freedom needs to speak out loud and clear in support of Nazeeha Saeed.”

Saeed was only informed of the travel ban at the airport on June 29, when she attempted to leave Bahrain. She told Human Rights Watch that she has been unable to challenge the ban because she has not been able to find out the reason for it or by which ministry it was imposed. That would make the travel ban arbitrary.

A public prosecutor charged Saeed, on July 17, with violating article 88 of Bahrain’s press law, which states that correspondents for foreign media can only operate with a license from the Information Affairs Authority. The law requires renewing the license every year, and provides for a fine of 1,000 Bahraini dinars (US$2,650) for non-compliance.

On July 20, the Information Affairs Authority issued a statement saying it had warned Saeed several times that her license had expired, but failed to say that it had refused her attempt to renew it. Human Rights Watch has seen a copy of a letter that the agency sent to one of Saeed’s employers on June 16, 2016, which cites “the unsatisfactory evaluation of her performance by our specialists” as the reason for not renewing the license. Another journalist based in Bahrain, who requested anonymity, told Human Rights Watch that the agency has refused during 2016 to renew the licenses of at least two other journalists who had been working for foreign media.

Bahrain is making criminals of anyone who criticizes the government’s increasingly repressive policies. Any government that claims to support press freedom needs to speak out loud and clear in support of Nazeeha Saeed.

Joe Stork

Deputy Middle East Director

Saeed, a Bahraini citizen, has worked as a journalist for foreign media in Bahrain since 2004. In 2011 she told investigators from the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry, an international panel appointed by the king to review the government’s response to widespread protests that year, that she had witnessed security forces fatally shooting a 61-year old protestor at close range during anti-government demonstrations.

Security forces subsequently detained her and, she told Human Rights Watch, accused her of working with Iranian television as part of a terrorist cell that sought to overthrow the ruling regime and of filing false media stories. Saeed testified in court that during this interrogation she was subjected to serious physical abuse, including being slapped, hit with fists, kicked, and struck with a hose. She filed a criminal complaint against the security officers she said were responsible but, in November 2015, the Justice Ministry said there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute them.

On June 29, when Saeed arrived at Manama airport to travel to Berlin, Interior Ministry officials told her that she was subject to a travel ban and could not leave Bahrain. She told Human Rights Watch that the officials were not able to give her any reason for the ban or tell her who imposed it or on what basis. She tried later that day to leave the country via the causeway that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, but Interior Ministry officials there told her the same thing. In the days that followed, officials from the Criminal Investigations Directorate and the Office of the Public Prosecutor told her that there were no open cases against her.

Other Bahrainis facing similar arbitrary travel bans since the beginning of June include Mohamed al-Tajer, a human rights lawyer; Abdulnabi al-Ekry, a rights activist; Jalila al-Salman, the former vice-president of the dissolved Bahrain Teacher’s Society; Rula al-Saffar, a nurse and human rights activist; and Mohamed Sharaf, the president of the Bahraini chapter of Transparency International.

Article 12(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, states that the right of any person to leave their country, provided for in article 12(2), can only be restricted if necessary to protect “national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others,” or if the restriction is “consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.” The Human Rights Committee, the UN body of experts that interprets the covenant, has stated that state licensing or registration of individual journalists violates freedom of expression.

“Bahrain’s repressive tendencies clearly illustrate why governments should have no role in saying who should be allowed to practice journalism,” Stork said.

(Source / 25.07.2016)

Bahrain Arrests Terrorist Cell Trained by IRGC, Iraqi Hezbollah


Manama – Bahraini authorities said they have detained five members of a terrorist cell linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and the so-called Iraqi Hezbollah.

Security forces said that the suspects had received intensive military training in making bombs and carrying out terrorist activities at the camps of IRGC and Iraqi Hezbollah.

Bahraini Security Forces captured the terrorist network two weeks ago in a preemptive strike.

A source at the Ministry of Interior confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper the news that the cell is linked to people in Iran and the suspects arrested in Bahrain.

“A secret terrorist plot aided by the so-called Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Hezbollah terrorist organization was foiled,” said the ministry.

“It targeted the security of the kingdom of Bahrain by plotting to carry out a series of dangerous bombings,” it added.

The ministry announced that its security forces had collected items suspected to be explosives and moved them to a safe location, away from the residential area where they were being stored.

The security forces discovered a number of weapons, communication devices and equipment used in detonating bombs. The police also seized daggers, knives covered with polyurethane bags and various currencies.

Investigations and testimonies of the five members of the cell revealed a series of important security information.

The five members are:

Mohammed Abduljalil Mahdi Jassim Abdullah (28, a private company employee) received military training in Iran that included the use of pistol and automatic weapons, such as Kalashnikov and PKG. He also received training in bomb-making and assembly and in the use of explosives such as TNT and C4. Ali Ahmed al-Musawi, living in Iran, coordinated the training and provided Mohammed with logistical support.

The investigations revealed that when Mohammed returned to Bahrain, he decided with others to use a car repair workshop in Hamad Town to store bomb-making materials and weapons. The group built a hidden room to conceal the contraband. In addition to the weapons and explosives training he received abroad in 2013, the suspect also watched films of bombings conducted by the Hezbollah brigades in Iraq.

Mahmood Jassim Marhoon Mohammed Marhoom (26, a private company employee) received military training in Iran by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and in Iraq by the Hezbollah brigades.

Jassim Mansoor Jassim Shamloh (25, a private company employee) confessed receiving batteries from the first suspect to be used in bomb-making and remote control devices. He hid the items in his father’s home in Hamad Town until the first suspect asked for them.

Ahmed Mohammed Ali Yousif, 23, confessed providing assistance to the third suspect by transferring the batteries, remote controls and wires for making bombs to his flat with full knowledge of their nature and purpose.

Khalil Hassan Khalil Ibrahim Saeed (20, a student) received a number of batteries and remote controlled bomb detonators from the first suspect who asked him to hide them at his home. He had full knowledge of the nature and purpose of the items.

The Interior Ministry’s counterterrorism investigations continue as part of the ongoing national security operations. The ministry called any citizen who has information about suspicious activity to inform the authorities.

(Source / 22.07.2016)

Bahrain Says US, UK Criticism ‘Unacceptable Interference’

An anti-government protester stands in front of riot police while photographing other demonstrators in Manama, Bahrain. On Tuesday, June, 14, 2016, Bahrain said it has suspended all activities by Al-Wefaq, the largest Shiite opposition political group, and frozen its assets amid a widening crackdown on dissent, five years after the country’s Arab Spring protests.

An anti-government protester stands in front of riot police while photographing other demonstrators in Manama, Bahrain. On Tuesday, June, 14, 2016, Bahrain said it has suspended all activities by Al-Wefaq, the largest Shiite opposition political group, and frozen its assets amid a widening crackdown on dissent, five years after the country’s Arab Spring protests

The Bahraini government has issued a statement angrily condemning the US and Britain for their “unacceptable interference” in internal policy, after the two nations criticized the government’s ban on the largest opposition group in the nation.

The tiny nation of Bahrain has struggled with its treatment of their opposition since the Arab Spring. The royal family and by extension the government are Sunnis, but a majority of the population are Shi’ites. This has sparked repeated protests, with the Shi’ites claiming they are discriminated against in top positions around the country.

The banning of al-Wefaq, a Shi’ite group, continues that, with the US State Department calling the group a “nonviolent opposition,” and warning that banning them was undermining regional stability in the Persian Gulf.

A joint statement was issued today by several top Shi’ite clerics, saying they believe that the ban of Wefaq is part of a larger attack on their existence and identity.

Bahraini officials denied that, accusing the Shi’ites of being in league with “forces abroad,” and insisting that the banning of Wefaq was “just” and “transparent.” Bahrain typically accuses opposition politicians of being secretly directed by Iran.

(Source / 19.07.2016)

What Bahrain’s opposition crackdown means for country’s Brotherhood

Shiite Bahraini men sit on a wall with graffiti that reads ”People want self-determination” as they attend a rally held by the Al-Wefaq opposition party, in the village of Boori, south of Manama, Oct. 14, 2011, to mark the eight-month anniversary of the February 14 uprising

On the heels of a Bahraini court suspending Al-Wefaq for the Shiite society’s alleged role in creating “an environment for terrorism, extremism and violence,” Bahrain’s rulers delivered a powerful message June 20 by annulling Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim’s Bahraini citizenship.

Following five years of stalemate, the Bahraini leadership sees no purpose in engaging the Shiite opposition and instead favors eliminating Shiites who call for the government’s dissolution from political life in the island. By excluding popular political groups from Bahrain’s political arena amid a wider crackdown, however, there are risks of militancy gaining broader power and appeal within the Shiite opposition.

Throughout the past five years, Manama has grown increasingly reliant on Gulf Arab and Western allies. The Shiite-led Arab Spring uprising unsettled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders fearful of Bahrain aligning with Tehran following a popular Shiite revolution. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were quick to deploy ground forces to the island by March 2011 to help Bahrain’s rulers quash the uprising.

Manama’s participation in the US-led military campaign against the Islamic State (IS) and the kingdom’s “pricey PR push” on K Street seem to have further consolidated Bahrain’s alliance with Washington, despite some diplomatic spats over the past five years. Despite the Department of Defense’s congressionally mandated contingency plans for relocating the Navy’s 5th Fleet, Washington is unlikely to undergo the massive undertaking of moving the Persian Gulf’s most powerful naval force to another facility. The United Kingdom’s plans for a permanent base in Mina Salman, Bahrain, announced in 2014, underscore Manama’s important role in London’s strategic return “East of Suez” 40 years after the Royal Navy’s official departure from the Gulf.

Unquestionably, allies in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Washington and London have prevented the Al Khalifa rulers from being pressured into negotiating a resolution to the kingdom’s crisis.

The king’s Sunni Islamist support networks

The ruling family’s ties with the Bahraini Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, Minbar, and the more conservative Salafi society, Asala, to counterbalance the Shiite opposition has been another pillar of the regime’s strategy for standing strong since 2011.

Formed in 1984, Minbar’s platform reflects Bahrain’s liberal (by GCC standards) social environment, particularly with respect to women’s rights, although the group has close connections with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Kuwaiti branch. Many of Minbar’s members belong to the Hawala tribe, Sunni Arabs who migrated to Persia before returning to the Arabian Peninsula’s eastern shore. The Bahraini Muslim Brothers are middle-class professionals, many of whom are teachers and police officers.

Despite pressure from other GCC states, Manama has not designated Minbar a “terrorist” organization. The Sunni Islamist society not only continues operating publicly, but Bahrain’s Royal Court and Islamic banking sector reportedly fund Minbar. In exchange, Bahrain’s Muslim Brothers have backed the government’s post-2011 crackdown. In February 2013, for example, Minbar boycotted the national dialogue to protest what the island’s Muslim Brothers saw as unacceptable Shiite “silence” on violence plaguing the uprising’s two-year anniversary. At times, Minbar has even criticized the ruling family for responding too softly to Shiite dissent.

Despite Bahrain’s politically active Sunni Islamists supporting the regime during 2011, a growing number have made their own demands since that crisis erupted. In fact, Shiite protesters shared some of these demands such as releasing political prisoners and liberalizing Bahrain politically. Concerned about the possibility of Sunni opposition materializing, the state implemented electoral reforms to redraw boundaries before the 2014 elections. Consequently, Minbar and Asala only retained a combined three seats in the National Assembly’s Council of Representatives — down from five. Additionally, although Al-Wefaq was the main target of legislation passed last month to ban mixing religion with politics, the law also bodes poorly for Minbar and Asala — Bahrain’s second- and third-largest Islamist factions, respectively, after Al-Wefaq.

The influence of extremist ideologies in the kingdom’s Sunni communities is unsettling, particularly in light of numerous Bahraini Sunnis pledging allegiance to IS. As of January 2015, at least a dozen Bahrainis had joined Sunni militant organizations in Syria and Iraq. After King Hamad revoked Omar Bozboun’s Bahraini citizenship for joining IS, he responded by threatening to “enter Bahrain with blazing guns and behead the king.”

Turki al-Binali, a Salafi cleric hailing from a wealthy Sunni family allied with the Al Khalifas, is now IS’ leading preacher. Prior to leaving Bahrain in 2013, he held a rally in front of the US Embassy in Manama with his followers holding pictures of Osama bin Laden while waving al-Qaeda flags. Two and a half years after Binali left the kingdom, a Bahraini courttried him in absentia and nearly two dozen other Bahrainis on charges of seeking to topple the Manama regime and create an IS branch in the island. One family member, Mohamed Isa al-Binali, was an officer in the Interior Ministry overseeing Shiite inmates in Jaw Prison before defecting to IS in 2014.

There are several other reasons why Bahrain appears to be a logical destination for the group’s agenda. These include IS offshoots waging acts of terrorism in neighboring Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the presence of many Shiite Muslims and non-Muslim expatriates, the 5th Fleet being stationed in Bahrain, Manama’s role in the Washington-led military campaign against the group in Syria and the island’s reputation as the “brothel of the Gulf.”

Another threat to the nation’s stability stems from Manama granting Bahraini citizenship to Jordanian, Pakistani and Yemeni Sunnis to alter the country’s sectarian balance. Opposition voices in Bahrain maintain that these “naturalized Bahrainis” are Sunni “fundamentalists” who harbor anti-Shiite sentiments. As these non-Bahrainis earn their citizenship through service in Bahrain’s security apparatus, IS infiltration into the state’s military and police is a risk.

As underscored by the past several months of violent attacks targeting Bahrain’s security forces with improvised explosive devices and Molotov cocktails, the crackdown is failing to resolve the kingdom’s crisis. If the cancellation of Qassim’s citizenship and the court’s suspension of Al-Wefaq lead to the exacerbation of violence, the government will be forced to address an increasingly dire security crisis on top of managing social risks stemming from austerity measures amid an era of cheap oil — itself a contributing factor to the island’s sectarian issues.

As sectarian temperatures rise in the Gulf with Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah officials harshly condemning Manama’s annulment of Qassim’s citizenship and Iraqi Shiite forces retaking Fallujah from IS, the regime’s relationship with Minbar will be an important variable to observe as the Saudi-aligned monarchy seeks to maintain Sunni rule in a Shiite-majority island.

Looking ahead, will Minbar remain loyal to the Al Khalifas and continue viewing the crackdown as a safeguard against a Shiite takeover? Or will discontent over the Sunni Islamist society’s declining political influence cost the regime a key domestic ally? Will the regime continue seeing Minbar as a domestic ally against the Shiite opposition or as a gateway to IS?

(Source / 28.06.2016)

Soleimani issues rare political statement on Bahrain

Anti-government protesters hold posters of Shiite cleric Ayatollah Isa Qassim during an anti-government protest organized by Bahrain’s main opposition group Al-Wefaq, in Budaiya, west of Manama, May 17, 2013

Iranian politicians and military commanders have condemned the Sunni ruling family in Bahrain for revoking the citizenship of the country’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim.

No statement surprised and gained more traction in Iranian and regional media than that of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force. “They certainly know that trespassing the sanctuary of Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim is a red line whose crossing will set fire to Bahrain and the region and will leave people with no path but armed resistance,” the statement by Soleimani read.

It continued, “The Al Khalifa [Bahrain’s rulers] will pay the price of their actions, and its result will be nothing but the annihilation of this bloodthirsty regime.” Soleimani also had a warning to Bahrain’s allies, saying, “The supporters of Al Khalifa should know insulting Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim and the continuation of pressure on the people of Bahrain is the beginning of a bloody uprising.” Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, and the United States, which has stationed its 5th Fleet in Bahrain, are the country’s two most important allies and have helped the country weather the storm of protests led by the country’s Shiites, who make up the majority of the country.

Soleimani’s issuance of an extremely harsh political statement is a rare move for the general, who is currently in Syria and fighting alongside forces aligned with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Russia against mostly forces aligned with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States and Turkey. Reformist newspaper Etemaad called the statement an “unprecedented warning of Gen. Soleimani to Bahrain.” Conservative Vatan-e Emrooz referred to the statement as an “ultimatum to Bahrain’s rulers.” The statement made the front page of half a dozen Iranian newspapers.

Qassim is known as the spiritual father of the country’s now-banned opposition group Al-Wefaq, whose leader — Sheikh Ali Salman — is serving a nine-year jail sentence. Qassim was born in Bahrain in 1937 and conducted his clerical studies in Najaf, Iraq, and Qom, Iran.

Two advisers to President Hassan Rouhani, who has been reportedly trying to mend fences between Iran and regional neighbors, took a softer position with respect to Qassim. Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff for political affairs, while critical of crushing dissent, tweeted that the path to resolving the crisis in Bahrain is through “peaceful” means, which both the people of Bahrain and Qassim had advocated and spoken of. Hesamodin Ashna, presidential aide for cultural affairs, wrote on Facebook that the newly appointed deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, has his “first serious challenge” in part from Soleimani’s statement.

Conservative analysts praised Soleimani’s statement. Mehdi Mohammadi, who was an adviser to Saeed Jalili, wrote that “Soleimani’s statement was the beginning of a movement in Iran’s strategy in the region.” Mohammadi said he would write more on the topic later, but he viewed this new “geopolitical movement” as the “finishing of military operations in Syria and Iraq, creation of a resistance army in the region, development of intelligence infrastructure against the Saudi-Israel alliance and the removal of the moderate Western-inclined.”

Conservative analyst Sa’adollah Zaeri said it was natural for Soleimani to oppose the decision by Bahrain to revoke Qassim’s citizenship. He added, “Until now, we have spoken with a soft position toward the Al Khalifa regime, and this regime has shown that it does not the ears to listen to peaceful speech.”

Also condemning Bahrain’s decision to revoke Qassim’s citizenship are the IRGC, Iran’s parliament, Iran’s allies in the region, including Hezbollah, and Iraq’s Hadi al-Amiri and Qais Khazali.

(Source / 22.06.2016)