Mideast Weekly Roundup

By Saturday, August 12, 2017

Iraq has sentenced to death 27 men who are accused of participating in the 2014 Camp Speicher massacre. That mass murder – committed by members of the Islamic State – resulted in the deaths of at least 1,566 Shia Iraqi Air Force cadets at Camp Speicher in Tikrit. The militants threw dozens of the deceased cadets’ bodies into the nearby Tigris River and buried hundreds more in mass graves. This week, the Central Criminal Court issued a verdict that the 27 convicts be hanged for their crimes. This is the second time Iraq has ordered a mass execution in response to the Speicher massacres; 36 participants were executed last August.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this week appointed three female vice presidents following widespread criticism of his all-male cabinet. Masoumeh Ebtekar will be the country’s vice president for family and women’s affairs, Laya Joneydi was named the vice president for legal affairs, and Shahindokht Mowlaverdi is the president’s assistant for civil rights. The selections were made with the approval of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and are not expected to be challenged by Iranian lawmakers. Despite the fact that his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had one female cabinet member, Rouhani presented his list of all-male cabinet members to parliament on August 8.

Ryan Lock

A British man is being called a hero this week after it was recently revealed that he shot himself to avoid being captured by the Islamic State. Ryan Lock, 20, died in late December while fighting alongside the Kurdish militia in Syria. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) said that Lock sustained a leg injury while participating in a bid to retake Raqqa and was soon surrounded by ISIS members. Rather than face torture at their hands, he “turned the gun on himself.” According to a report issued by coroner David Horsley, a trace of a gunshot wound was found under Lock’s chin. Horsley added, “He used his own weapon to avoid capture. That can only be viewed as a brave action. He died doing something he quite clearly believed passionately in.”

Police have confirmed that the Islamic State was behind a foiled plot to bomb an Australian airplane on July 15. Australian police said that a man was instructed by ISIS to smuggle a homemade bomb disguised as a meat-mincer on board an Etihad Airways aircraft. When he and his unsuspecting brother were unable to get through airport security, the ISIS-inspired Australian returned home, dismantled the bomb and used its parts for other purposes. His brother later boarded a plane and left the country. The plot was uncovered during a counterterrorism raid that took place in Sydney last weekend. Officials have called the thwarted plan “one of the most sophisticated terrorism plots that has ever been attempted on Australian soil.”

Israel has announced plans to build a new $850 million, anti-tunnel wall on the Gazan border. Most of the subterranean structure will be invisible from above the ground, as its main purpose is to deter Hamas militants from digging tunnels between Israel and Gaza. The “smart wall” is expected to span the 32-mile border and will include technology to detect underground activity. “We are progressing according to plan, and in the upcoming months we will be accelerating and expanding the building of the barrier,” an Israeli military official reported. “The work is expected to be complete within two years. We hope that our work will not be disrupted or challenged, and that quiet will be preserved in the region.” According to Israeli Defense Forces, construction will begin on the wall in October.

Iranian authorities executed Alireza Tajiki six years after he was sentenced to death for rape and murder at the age of 15. The International Campaign for Human Rights accused Iran of violating its “international obligations” by hanging Tajiki despite its commitment to stop executing juveniles. Amnesty International repeatedly called for Iran to overturn Tajiki’s sentence, but the execution went on as planned on August 10. According to AI, the now-21-year-old’s confession was “extracted through torture, including severe beatings, floggings and suspension by arms and feet.” AI Deputy Director Magdalena Mughrabi called the execution “an utterly shameless act by the Iranian authorities [who] are keenly aware that using the death penalty against someone who was under 18 years of age at the time of crime is in flagrant breach of Iran’s obligations under international human rights law, including the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

The Taliban has denied reports that it collaborated with the Islamic State in murdering 50 people in the northern Afghan province of Sar-e Pul. According to provincial governor spokesman Zabihullah Amani, a group of ISIS and local Taliban fighters took control of the area last weekend during a 48-hour period in which dozens of Shia Muslim civilians “were killed in a brutal, inhumane way.” Seven local security forces members and also died in the attack. If the Taliban was involved in this incident, it would be a rare collaboration between the two militant groups. Sayid District Gov. Sharif Aminyar said in a statement that “the Taliban were led by Mullah Nader and Daesh was led by Sher Muhammad Ghazanfar.”

Rana al-Matari

Muhammad al-Maghrabi, who was sentenced to death earlier this year for the rape and murder of a toddler, was publicly executed this week in Yemen. The 41-year-old was handcuffed while lying on the ground in Sanaa’s Tahrir Square as a judge read out the death sentence. Thousands of people – including the victim’s father – were in attendance to witness Yemen’s first public and televised execution since 2009. After al-Maghrabi was shot in the back point-blank with an AK-47, Yahya al-Matari, the father of 3-year-old Rana, said, “I feel as if I have been reborn. This is the first day in my life. I am relieved now.”

Iran signed its largest-ever car deal with French company Renault despite new United States sanctions against Tehran. Under the terms of the $780 million agreement, French automobile manufacturer Groupe Renault will put approximately 150,000 cars into production in Iran every year. “This joint venture will enable an acceleration of our growth in this country,” said Groupe Renault Chief Competitive Officer Thierry Bolloré. Chief Performance Officer Stefan Mueller added, “The development of a commercial network specific to our brand will reinforce Groupe Renault’s position in Iran and [the] signing of this new joint venture reinforces the strategic choices we have made in Iran.” It is as yet unclear if this deal violates the new U.S. sanctions against Tehran that were signed into law this week.

The Islamic State and climate change are globally considered to be the top international threats, according to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. The poll results list a total of eight major threats culled from 41,953 respondents in 38 countries; the survey was conducted between February 16 and May 8 of this year. ISIS tops the list of the greatest threats to national security, with 62 percent of participants listing it as their top-ranked concern. Climate change follows, with 61 percent, and then cyberattacks, the condition of the global economy, the refugee crisis, U.S. power and influence, Russia’s power and influence, and China’s power and influence. According to Pew, the majority of Americans listed the Islamic State militant group as their greatest concern.

Iran has banned two soccer players from its national team for life as a punishment for playing against Israeli competitors. Last week, Masoud Shojaei, 33, and Ehsan Haji Safi, 27, played against Maccabi Tel Aviv in a Europa League qualifier despite the fact that Iran prohibits its athletes from facing any Israeli opponents. “Hajsafi and Shojaie have no place in Iran’s national football team any more,” said Iranian Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani. “They crossed Iran’s red line. Playing against the representative of a loathsome regime … is unacceptable for our nation.” Global soccer body FIFA has asked the Iran National Football Federation to further explain its decision to ban the Iranian athletes, who are both members of the Greek club team Panionios.

The Iraqi government announced a mandatory official holiday on Thursday due to a heat wave that caused temperatures to soar into the 120s. The required public holiday applied to all government workers and was the first such heat advisory issued in Iraq this summer. According to Chief Weather Forecaster Haider Habib, the high in southern Iraq was 122 Fahrenheit on August 10 and the heat index (the “feels-like” temperature) reached 164. The highest recorded actual temperature so far this year in Iraq was 125 degrees; last year’s recorded high was 127.4 in Basra.

Jessie Owen Payne

Jessie Owen Payne is the Media Director of The Philos Project. Jessie graduated from Bob Jones University in 2008 with a BA in Radio and Television Broadcasting and a minor in Public Relations Journalism. She interned with Entercom Communications while in college, did freelance writing for The Greenville News in South Carolina, and worked as a staff reporter and editor for The Springville Journal and, later, The Sun News outside Buffalo, NY. Jessie’s passions include fashion, photography and travel. She currently lives with her husband Drew and two children, Logan and Ashtyn, in Greenville, S.C.