Thursday, December 20, 2007

Saudis biggest group of al Qaeda Iraq fighters: study

Kristin Roberts, Eric Beech, Reuters (UK)

Most al Qaeda fighters in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia and Libya and many are university-aged students, said a study released on Wednesday by researchers at the U.S. Army's West Point military academy. The study was based on 606 personnel records collected by al Qaeda in Iraq and captured by coalition troops in October. It includes data on fighters who entered Iraq, largely through Syria, between August 2006 and August 2007. The researchers at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center found that 41% of the fighters were Saudi nationals. Libyan nationals accounted for the second largest group entering Iraq in that time period with about 19% of the total ... "The apparent surge in Libyan recruits traveling to Iraq may be linked (to) the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group's increasingly cooperative relationship with al-Qa'ida, which culminated in the LIFG officially joining al-Qa'ida on November 3, 2007," wrote authors Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman ... "The incitement of a new generation of jihadis to join the fight in Iraq, or plan operations elsewhere, is one of the most worrisome aspects of the ongoing fight in Iraq," they wrote. "The United States should not confuse gains against al-Qa'ida's Iraqi franchises as fundamental blows against the organization outside of Iraq. So long as al-Qa'ida is able to attract hundreds of young men to join its ranks, it will remain a serious threat to global security."

Radio Mullah vs Gandhara Buddha

Caroline Watson, Asia Times (Hong Kong)

The Swat Valley was famed for its peace, serenity and beauty. But, today, its public image is dominated by another imposing figure. With a taste for the theatric and an eye on his own supremacy, Maulana Fazlullah is holding Swat in an ever-increasing grip ... A beacon of Gandhara heritage, the Buddha of Jehanabad is the only remaining Buddha of its size and quality carved into the rock in the area. Standing at 23 feet, the 7th-century statue is considered the most important carving of its kind. It is unique, the most complete and priceless remains of Gandhara. Recently, the Buddha of Jehanabad come into conflict with another famous personality of the region: the cleric-turned-militant who has led the campaign in the Swat Valley, Maulana Fazlullah - the "Radio Mullah". The Buddha of Jehanabad lost. The statue suffered two attacks by militants led by Maulana Fazlullah. The second attack succeeded in seriously defacing it after explosives were detonated on the Buddha's face. Quiet outrage has been expressed by a few. Others have grown numb to such acts, for they have happened before: this was a copycat attack, mimicking the destruction in 2001 of Afghanistan's Bamyian Buddhas.

Stand By Steyn

Robert Spencer, Human Events (US: Washington DC)

The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal have begun proceedings against Mark Steyn, author of America Alone. They are responding to complaints from the Canadian Islamic Congress about an excerpt from the book that was published in the Canadian journal Maclean’s. “The article,” the CIC claims, “subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt,” and was “flagrantly Islamophobic.” ... It was not Steyn who said that “Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor,” and that “the conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology.” That was Al-Jazeera’s Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi, who is widely hailed as a moderate reformer in the West. Did Steyn say that Muslims “will control the land of the Vatican; we will control Rome and introduce Islam in it”? Nope. That one comes from a Saudi Sheikh, Muhammad bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-‘Arifi, imam of the mosque of King Fahd Defense Academy. The Canadian Human Rights Commission is putting itself in the peculiar position of penalizing those non-Muslims who report on such statements, as if it is somehow an act encouraging “hatred and contempt” to reveal the unpleasant reality that comprises mainstream Islamic rhetoric today.

Gulf arms: Complex motives

Dr Dominic Moran, Spero News (US: Texas)

While Saudis-Iranian tensions are playing out in both the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, the main theater of potential confrontation remains Iraq and the waters of the Gulf itself. "There is a war by proxy going on in Iraq between Saudi-backed groups and Iranian-backed groups. That obviously colors the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran," said Chatham House's Dr Gareth Stansfield. Iran appears increasingly concerned at the progressive Gulf military build-up. Ahmadinejad offered an economic and security alliance with the states at Doha – an offer welcomed by Qatari officials, though the Saudis made no official response ... Nevertheless, Stansfield believes "A very real security liaison is going on regarding the wider security of the Gulf region and, not necessarily a relationship, but more a balance of power is emerging between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and recognition of each other's interests." ... Stanfield believes, "There has been much more of a realization of the level of interaction Iran has with the Gulf states." This "suggests that one of the ways they [Gulf states] may look at regional security is through some sort of regional security network - but they have to bring Iran into it rather than having something opposing it."

Friendlier hands across the Gulf

The Economist (UK)

On the same day on which a new American National Intelligence Estimate overturned previous assertions that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons, President Ahmadinejad made a first-ever appearance as a guest at the annual summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), a body created in 1981 largely with the goal of containing revolutionary Iran. Soon after the summit meeting, Saudi Arabia, the biggest by far of the GCC's six member states and long the most hostile to Iran, invited Mr Ahmadinejad to take part in the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca ... However much they dislike Iran's mullahs, Gulf Arabs dislike more the idea of getting caught up in a war between Iran and America. In recent months they have not been especially happy with their erstwhile American ally, despite the Bush administration's belated effort to address Arab concerns over Palestine and to disentangle itself from Iraq ... Cross-Gulf trade is growing fast. Bahrain itself recently signed a deal to import Iranian natural gas. And this link pales by comparison with the flourishing trade between Iran and Dubai, the most mercantile of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.

The Powers of Petrocracy

Fouad Ajami, U.S. News & World Report (US: Washington DC)

The great democratic wave of the last quarter century has bypassed the oil lands. The oil lands are distributive states. Wealth comes to the rulers, they dispose of it, they distribute it to cronies, they punish and overwhelm their would-be challengers at home, and they use it to sustain adventures abroad way beyond the limits of their societies ... In Saudi Arabia, an antimodernist cultural and religious ban on women driving cars persists because, at the very least, oil grants that society waiver from the imperatives of economic rationality. Younger, more educated people agitate against this ban, but the caravan proceeds, as a desert expression might put it. Over the past five years, the Saudi kingdom took in more that $800 billion of oil wealth: The arguments of modernity and economic rationality can be swept aside. Saudi Arabia today is the largest consumer, per capita, of energy, exceeding the United States. In that desert realm, oil consumption is an annual 33 barrels per person, versus 26 barrels per person in the United States. Liberty can wait—the need for air conditioning is more pressing.

Opec income to swell by $75bn

Emirates Business 24/7 (UAE)

From a record $506bn in 2006, Opec’s oil export earnings are forecast to surge to nearly $536bn this year and gain a staggering $75bn to hit an all-time high of nearly $611bn in 2008, according to estimates by the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES). Saudi Arabia, the world’s oil powerhouse, netted nearly a third of Opec’s income in 2007, while the UAE emerged as the second largest earner although its crude production was far lower than Iran’s output. “This year, Opec is expected to achieve its highest oil export revenues in nominal terms because crude prices are heading for their highest average and production is still high,” said Leo Drollas, deputy director of CGES, which is owned by former Saudi oil minister, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Al Yamani. A breakdown showed Saudi Arabia’s income is expected to climb from $165bn in 2006 to $170bn in 2007 and a record $190bn in 2008.

Saudi firm eyes Islamic debt to fund $2.9 bln project

Reuters (UK)

Saudi Arabia's Jabal Omar Development Co. awarded Binladin, the country's largest contractor, and Saudi Oger, owned by the family of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the contract to build a $2.9 billion project in Mecca. In addition to a prayer area accommodating 65,000 people, the development will have 39 buildings including hotels, residences and retail facilities. Jabal Omar raised $537 million by selling a 30% stake in a November initial public offering (IPO) that valued the company at around $1.79 billion. The remaining 70% of the company is held by the owners of a 23 hectare (56.8 acre) plot of land in Mecca near the Grand Mosque. The cost of land in Mecca, Islam's holiest city, has surged, with land selling for as much $50,000 per square metre, according to government statistics. That compares with $14,522 per square metre in London and $24,900 per square metre in Monaco, according to the Global Property Guide.