Week of January 6

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Hassan Rouhani pray near the coffins of Qassem Soleimani. Credit: Official President’s Website/Reuters

On Monday, revolutionary songs rang out on Tehran’s streets as hundreds of thousands of Iranians gathered to mourn the country’s top general, Qassem Suleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on January 3rd. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni, wept as his voice cracked while he delivered prayers over the caskets of Suleimani and others killed in the attack in Baghdad on Friday, which has heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington dramatically. Dozens of people were killed in a crush during the burial ceremony on Tuesday in his home city of Kerman. The mood on the streets swung between mourning, anger and a desire for retribution, The Guardian reported. In Iraq, mass public gatherings took place in Baghdad as well as heavily Shiite areas of such as the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf. 

A satellite photo from the commercial company Planet shows damage to at least five structures at the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq. Credit: Planet/MIIS

On Wednesday, satellite photos showed that an Iranian missile strike had caused extensive damage at the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq, which hosts U.S. and coalition troops. The photos, taken by the commercial company Planet and shared with NPR via the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, show hangars and buildings hit hard by a barrage of Iranian missiles that were fired early Wednesday morning local time. At least five structures were damaged in the attack on the base in Anbar province, which apparently was precise enough to hit individual buildings. “Some of the locations struck look like the missiles hit dead center,” says David Schmerler, an analyst with the Middlebury Institute. Shortly afterward, President Trump said in an optimistic tweet: “All is well!” Speaking at the White House later that day, Trump sought to portray the missile attacks as the end of Iran’s military response to the killing of Soleimani: “All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.” On Friday, the Trump administration on imposed new sanctions on Iran; the latest round of penalties will target multiple sectors of the Islamic Republic’s economy, including construction, manufacturing, textiles and mining.

On Friday, the State Department dismissed the Iraqi government’s request to begin discussions on removing American troops, saying that any American officials going to Baghdad during a state of heightened tensions would not discuss a “troop withdrawal.” Instead, discussions would be about the “appropriate force posture in the Middle East.” The statement from Washington was a direct rejoinder to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq, and was certain to add to the friction between the two nations, according to the New York Times. Earlier on Friday, Mahdi stated that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to send a delegation from the United States to discuss steps for the withdrawal of the approximately 5,200 American troops from his country, in the aftermath of the January 3rd American military strike that killed Iranian general Soleimani and was ordered by President Trump. Many Iraqis say the strike violated their country’s sovereignty.

Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said, seen during a 2010 ceremony in Muscat, died at the age of 79 after suffering for years from an undisclosed illness. After a half-century reign, he has been succeeded by Haitham bin Tariq Al Said. Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The longest-serving monarch of the Arab world, Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, died Friday at the age of 79, ceding the country to his cousin and former culture minister Haitham bin Tariq al-Said. The latter was sworn in as sultan Saturday, assuming the reins of state in a ceremony attended by high-ranking military and government officials. “The trust in us is great and the responsibilities are great,” the new sultan told those assembled for the occasion, according to the state-run Oman News Agency. He focused on maintaining Oman’s long-standing role as a neutral party for peace in the troubled region. Oman has been recognized for a foreign policy predicated on peaceful coexistence and “good neighborly behavior of non-interference in the affairs of others.” The speech ushered in a new and unfamiliar era for the country, which had been governed by just one man since Qaboos overthrew his father in a bloodless palace coup in 1970. Qaboos led the Gulf state in its development from an isolated loner to active member in the Arab League, the United Nations and eventually the World Trade Organization, as well.

On Saturday, Iran acknowledged that in a “terrible catastrophe,” it had mistakenly shot missiles at a Ukrainian civilian jetliner minutes after takeoff on Wednesday. The plane crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, killing 176 people. “Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people,” President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter early Saturday. “Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake,” he added. The announcement was a reversal from earlier statements by Iranian officials, who had repeatedly denied that their own missile system shot down the plane. The country’s military stated the plane was shot down because it was thought to be a hostile object that was approaching a sensitive location of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

To demonstrate there is life beyond the Gulf, Morocco shared last week that it will spend 115 billion dirhams ($12 billion) on water supply between 2020 and 2027 to meet increasing demand, according to its state news agency. Morocco was ranked as the 22nd-most water stressed country in a report last August by the World Resources Institute, a watchdog of global resources. Farm income is volatile in semi-arid Morocco where climate change has caused droughts and summer flash floods in some areas. The seven-year program will include dam building, improving water consumption, preserving water resources and increasing supply in rural areas. Water demand has surged in recent years especially in the north because of an expansion of urban centers and industrial activity. Twelve of the top seventeen most water-stressed countries in 2019 were located in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

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