According to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, on the eve of an Arab League ministerial meeting "several Arab officials" said that Qatar is "expanding its support, 'both financial and in intelligence,' to I.S. [the Islamic State, a.k.a. ISIS or ISIL], 'essentially with the purpose of challenging Saudi Arabia.'"[1]  --  But Qatar also has close political, economic, and military relations with the U.S. (which sold it Apache helicopters, Patriot defense systems, and other arms worth $11 billion in 2014) and with the European Union (where it has invested more than $65 billion).  --  Qatar also shelters a radical Sunni cleric from Egypt and gives him air time on Al Jazeera, which has caused tensions between Doha and other Arab states.  --  That cleric, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, on Saturday criticized Arab states who are cooperating with U.S. plans to wage war on the Islamic State, Reuters reported.[2]  --  "I totally disagree with Da’ish [i.e. the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL] in ideology and means, but I don’t at all accept that the one to fight it is America, which does not act in the name of Islam but rather in its own interests, even if blood is shed," he said.  --  The statement by the cleric, who this summer declared its caliphate to be "null and void," "may increase the fears of a backlash against Arab governments that publicly join the campaign" led by the United States, the New York Times reported Sunday.[3]  --  Michael Gordon illustrated the extreme nervousness of these governments when he reported the assertion of a U.S. official that while "several" Arab countries have offered to conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State, none of them could be named specifically....


By Dina Ezzat

** The elimination of the Islamic State and company topped the agenda of the Arab League ministerial meeting this week **

Al-Ahram (Egypt)
September 11, 2014

Thirteen years after Al-Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks, regional and international attention is again directed at the threat of radical militant Islamism.  This time, Islamic State (IS) is the focus.

As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, reports coming from the U.S. capital indicated that a deal is in the making between the White House and Congress over military action against I.S.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan, set for announcement Wednesday afternoon EST, is expected, according to Arab diplomats in Cairo and Washington, to include clear cooperation with top Arab capitals, particularly those of the Arab Gulf, to combat the Islamist group.

In parallel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to arrive in the region for talks.  I.S., according to some intelligence assessments, is much smaller but much more advanced in its techniques, and enjoys wider support, than Al-Qaeda, the West’s main bogeyman since 2001.

In preparation for his trip, and on the eve of the Arab foreign ministers meeting at the Cairo headquarters of the Arab League, Kerry spoke to the chief of the pan-Arab organization, Nabil Al-Arabi.

The talks, according to informed sources on both sides, focused on combating I.S. and anticipated U.S. plans (which could later be sponsored by NATO or the U.N.) to militarily intervene.  The plan is already finding support in direct high-level talks in the most influential Arab capitals, especially Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.  Egypt, too, despite its uneasy relations with the U.S., is onboard with the U.S. scheme.

Ahead of the Arab League ministerial meeting, top Saudi, UAE, and Egyptian military officials have, in direct contact with their U.S. counterparts, examined the options of the upcoming military operation.  A parallel political operation is under way in the same concerned capitals, with considerable assistance from Moscow and Tehran.

This political operation includes the adoption of an Arab League resolution on Sunday, the second day of the Arab foreign ministers meeting, to give the green light to launch an offensive against I.S. under the umbrella of the pan-Arab organization.

It also includes Arab contact with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whose participation in the Arab League has been suspended for two years in the wake of gross atrocities it committed against popular demonstrations calling for democracy in Syria, back in the early days of the Arab Spring.

Said a veteran Arab diplomat, “Let’s face it, at the beginning those were real civilians demonstrating and calling for democracy -- there is no denying to this.  But over the months, it turned into a war between the Syrian army and radical militants that are not there to establish democracy in Syria, but to establish an Islamic state that they want to link to parts of Iraq that have already fallen under the control of I.S.”

He added:  “The Saudis, who have generously supported the arming of the Syrian opposition and worked towards facilitating the movement of militants to Syria, are alright with contacts with the Syrian regime.”

On the fringe of the Arab League meeting, according to one Arab League source, the issue of “finding an exit to the complexity of Syria” was explored.

“There are ideas, let us say, on how to announce that the Assad regime is being approached, and these ideas include what could be roughly qualified as a political package,” the source said.

Arab officials are to discuss these ideas further with Secretary of State Kerry when he arrives in the region, and in New York next week, when they meet for the U.N. General Assembly.

“We are currently exploring.  Nothing is decided.  One thing is clear:  if we have to choose between Assad and I.S., it will not be I.S. -- nor for that matter, Al-Nusra Front.”

Arab officials are expected to soon decide how far each member state will go in the fight against radical Islamic groups -- not just I.S., but also the militant groups operating in Libya, which were the subject of an Arab League resolution that warned against continued fighting and its impact on the stability and territorial integrity of the oil-rich North African state.

In a follow-up to their talks in Cairo earlier this week, Arab officials are to convene Thursday for a special meeting in Jeddah, including Kerry, to discuss the war on terror.  Turkey will also be represented.

“Obviously, the Saudis are the ones who are worried most with I.S. having a field day on the borders in Iraq,” said the Arab diplomat.  He added that ahead of the Jeddah meeting, Arab intelligence officials are coordinating information to decide the nature of the involvement required to quell I.S. first and other, similar, groups later.

“It is rather tricky, however, because there are some regional capitals that find it purposeful to support the operation of these radical militant groups,” the Arab diplomat added.

The top “suspect” in this respect is Doha, which is said by several Arab officials to be expanding its support, “both financial and in intelligence,” to I.S., “essentially with the purpose of challenging Saudi Arabia,” according to the same diplomat.

He added that Saudi intelligence presented Qatari officials “repeatedly” with evidence of the intervention of Doha in Yemen, the immediate backyard of Saudi Arabia, where “no one is allowed to intervene without Saudi consent.”

He continued, “There is this dissent within the Gulf Cooperation Council [which brings together the six Arab Gulf countries] against Saudi hegemony there, and if Qatar is taking the lead role in this dissent it is not necessarily all alone.”

The political pressure and diplomatic threats that have been directed at Qatar over the past few weeks, essentially by Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain, have prompted some amendments in the choices of the small but wealthy state, though it is not clear to concerned quarters whether this change of tack will be sustained.

“The decision is taken.  There will be military operations against I.S. and all the other radical militant groups across the region.  The question now is how, when, and in what sequence,” the Arab diplomat asserted.



** Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric based in Doha, said Washington was acting in its own interests. **

September 14, 2014

A Sunni Muslim cleric at the center of a diplomatic rift among Gulf Arab states has criticized Washington’s role in the campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria as purely self-interested.

Ties between Qatar and its neighbors have periodically come under strain following sermons by Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric based in Doha, criticizing the military-based Egyptian government and conservative Gulf Arab dynasties.

Qaradawi’s outspoken support for Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood earlier this year contributed to an unprecedented diplomatic rift between Qatar and several of its Gulf Arab allies, who consider the Islamist movement a security threat.

Commenting on ultra-hardline Islamic State, an armed group Gulf Arab states pledged to fight at a meeting on Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Jeddah, Qaradawi criticized Washington’s planned campaign against it.

Using a widely used term for Islamic State in a Twitter message, he wrote on Saturday:  “I totally disagree with Da’ish in ideology and means, but I don’t at all accept that the one to fight it is America, which does not act in the name of Islam but rather in its own interests, even if blood is shed.”

Gulf Arab states have been unhappy with Doha for sheltering Qaradawi and for giving him air time on its pan-Arab satellite and state television channels.  His religious shows on Al Jazeera television have been watched by millions.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain were especially angry over Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood, whose ideology challenges the principle of conservative dynastic rule that dominates the Gulf.

Eventually the three states recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in March, accusing Doha of failing to abide by an accord not to interfere in each others’ affairs.  Qatar denies the charge.

In a sign that that pressure may be having some effect, the Brotherhood said on Saturday that Qatar had asked seven senior Brotherhood figures to leave the country.

Qatari officials were not immediately available for comment.

Qatar and Turkey were the only regional countries to back the Brotherhood after Egypt’s army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last year after mass protests against his rule.


Middle East


By Michael R. Gordon

New York Times
September 14, 2014

PARIS -- Several Arab countries have offered to carry out airstrikes against militants from the Islamic State, senior State Department officials said Sunday.

The offer was disclosed by U.S. officials traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry, who is approaching the end of a weeklong trip that was intended to mobilize international support for the campaign against the group.

“There have been offers both to CENTCOM and to the Iraqis of Arab countries taking more aggressive kinetic action,” said one of the officials, who used the acronym for the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East.

Kerry, who is in Paris to attend an international conference hosted by France on Monday on providing aid to the new Iraqi government, has already visited Baghdad; Amman, Jordan; Jidda, Saudi Arabia; Ankara, Turkey; and Cairo.

During Kerry’s stop in Jidda on Thursday, ten Arab countries joined the United States in issuing a communiqué that endorsed efforts to confront and ultimately “destroy” the Islamic State, including military action to which nations would contribute “as appropriate.”

U.S. officials said the communiqué should be interpreted as meaning that some, but not all, of the 10 Arab countries would play a role in the military effort.

The United States has a broad definition of what it would mean to contribute to the military campaign.

“Providing arms could be contributing to the military campaign,” said a second State Department official.  “Any sort of training activity would be contributing to the military campaign.”

Still, while the United States would clearly have the dominant role in an air campaign to roll back the Islamic State’s gains in Iraq, it is clear that other nations may also participate.

President François Hollande of France told Iraqi officials that his country would be willing to carry out airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq, senior Iraqi officials said.

“We need aerial support from our allies,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq said during a joint news conference with Hollande on Friday.  “The French president promised me today that France will participate in this effort, hitting the positions of the terrorists in Iraq.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia has also said that his country will join the air campaign and is sending as many as eight FA-18 attack planes, as well as an early warning aircraft and a refueling plane.

The Australian aircraft will operate from the United Arab Emirates.  Australia is also sending 200 troops, including commandos, to serve as advisers to Iraqi soldiers and the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

The State Department officials, who asked not to be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters, did not say which Arab nations had offered to carry out airstrikes.

There are other ways Arab nations could participate in an air campaign against the Islamic State without dropping bombs, such as flying arms to Irbil in the Kurdistan region or Baghdad, conducting reconnaissance flights or providing logistical support and refueling.

The officials said the Arab offers were under discussion.

“I don’t want to leave you with the impression that these Arab members haven’t offered to do airstrikes, because several of them have,” the first State Department official said.  “The Iraqis would have to be a major participant in that decision,” the official added.  “It has to be well structured and organized.”

Iraqi officials have already offered some thoughts about what the next step should be.  In recent weeks, the United States has focused its airstrikes on the defense of Irbil, securing the Mosul Dam and protecting the Haditha Dam.

But al-Abadi has asked the United States to take action on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian border to deprive the Islamic State of the safe havens it enjoys in that area.  Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish autonomous region, made a similar request in telephone call with Kerry on Saturday night, State Department officials said.

“The Iraqis have asked for assistance in the border regions, and that’s something we’re looking at,” the first State Department official said.

Iraqi officials have long experience working with the United States military and had appealed for U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq months before the Obama administration decided to conduct them.

But the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has no experience in working with militaries from Sunni states in the Persian Gulf.

Arab nations have the capability to conduct air operations.  Saudi Arabian planes participated in the American-led coalition that evicted Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991.

And the United Arab Emirates sent F-16s and Mirage fighters to join the 2011 international military intervention in Libya that eventually led to the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi.

Last month, the United Arab Emirates carried out airstrikes against Islamist allied militias in Libya, operating out of bases in Egypt.  The Obama administration was not consulted in advance of that operation, U.S. officials have acknowledged.

While indicating a willingness to carry out airstrikes inside Iraq, France appears to have reservations about bombing targets inside Syria.  But some Arab states appear to have no such inhibitions.

“Some have indicated for quite a while to do them elsewhere,” the first State Department official said.  “But, again, we’ve got to sort through all that, because you can’t just go and bomb something.”

Iraq has a small air force and a limited capacity to deliver accurate airstrikes.  The civilian casualties from some Iraqi attacks have been exploited by the Islamic State to try to mobilize popular support against the Iraqi government.

On Saturday, al-Abadi sought to reassure Sunnis that Iraqi forces would not risk civilian casualties by using artillery or conducting airstrikes against Islamic State targets in heavily populated areas.

“They have a very new air force,” a third State Department official said, referring to the Iraqi military.  “Their targeting is not nearly as precise as ours, and they have made some real mistakes.”

Much of the air campaign is intended to support Iraqi armed forces that are still in the process of being reconstituted and new Iraqi National Guard units, which will include Sunni tribal fighters but which still need to be established.  A Pentagon program to train and equip the moderate Syrian resistance also has yet to be carried out.

The time-consuming mission to train these ground forces is essential because they are needed to control territory after Islamic State fighters are pushed out, and the Obama administration has ruled out sending U.S. ground troops.  But it will slow the pace of the campaign to contain, degrade and eventually destroy the group, a process that officials said last week could take three years.

“This is not the ’91 gulf war,” the first State Department official said Sunday.  “It’s just a different type of campaign.”

Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide bases for training moderate Syrian rebels.  U.S. officials say there have been similar efforts by other Arab countries, but declined to identify them.

Iraq’s foreign minister announced Sunday that the new Iraqi government had received a political lift when Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, promised that his country would open an embassy in Baghdad.  But no date for opening an embassy was given and the announcement noted that “security issues” would first need to be resolved.

But in a setback for the effort to portray the campaign as a partnership with Muslim-majority states rather than a Western intervention, an influential Muslim scholar on Sunday declared his opposition to the American action even though he said he was also against the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS.

“I disagree completely with ISIS in thought and means, but I do not accept that America fights them,” said the scholar, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, leader of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, in a Twitter message reported around the region. The United States, he said, “is not moved by Islamic values but by its own interests, even if it spills blood.”

Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric based in Doha, Qatar, who is a popular television preacher and close to the Muslim Brotherhood, has been a vocal opponent of the Islamic State for months.  In July, his scholars’ union declared the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate “null and void,” arguing that its extremism stigmatized more mainstream Islamists and undermined broader Sunni opposition movements in Syria and Iraq.

Now his criticism of the American role may increase the fears of a backlash against Arab governments that publicly join the campaign.