Week of July 20
On Tuesday, July 21st, Iraq’s new prime minister paid his first official visit abroad since taking office in May, meeting with top Iranian officials. Both Mustafa al-Kadhimi (read more about him here) and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khameini said that they hoped for deepened relations between the two countries. As a sign of even stronger relations, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently visited Baghdad, the first time an Iranian official had visited Iran since General Qassim Soleimani’s death in January. The Iraqi prime minister has earned American approval, which has caused many Iraqis to see him as a puppet for Washington. Iran hopes to work with Iraq to bypass crippling U.S. economic sanctions. The majority of Iraqis are Shia, linking it culturally and religiously to the Islamic republic, while Iran also maintains an extensive military network in Iraq, to the great consternation of the current – and previoius – White House administration.
On Wednesday, Qatar Airways announced its intent to sue Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt for their economic blockade. The company claimed that the four countries’ economic blockade and severing of economic ties violated agreements stated in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Investment Agreement, the Arab Investment Agreement, and the bilateral investment treaty between the State of Qatar and Egypt. The four countries began their blockade of Qatar in 2017. The company’s ability to compete with other airways, such as the UAE-based airlines Etihad Airways and Emirates, has decreased significantly since the beginning of the blockade. Qatar Airways is suing the countries for a total of five billion dollars. None of the four countries have yet commented on the matter.
Also on Wednesday, House Democrats were able to secure the passage of a bill that would repeal the travel ban on citizens of 13 countries and limit President Trump’s authority to issue such sweeping bans in the future. The bill — the NO BAN Act, an acronym for National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants – passed 233-183, but is unlikely to go any further in the Republican-led Senate, where several preveious, Democrat-led immigration bills have languished. The current ban – the third iteration of Trump’s Executive Order – was upheld by the Supreme Court in June 2018. The travel ban bars citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and more, from obtaining any kind of visas, largely preventing them from entering the United States. The NO BAN Act would vacate that existing travel bans on countries his administration deems to be threats to national security and “would require that any travel ban be temporary, based on credible evidence, subject to congressional oversight, and be created only in response to specific actions foreign entities have taken to threaten the U.S.”
On Thursday, an American F-15 fighter jet came within 1,000 meters of an Iranian civilian airliner flying over southern Syria on Thursday, ABC reported. U.S. military that the reason for the close encounter was to carry out a visual identification of the aircraft, which was completed but resulted in a rapid descent into Beirut that caused several passengers to suffer injuries, according to Iranian state media as well as passengers. Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, stated that “Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft. The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards.” A 55-mile area around the At Tanf Garrison, where U.S. troops are stationed in southern Syria, is considered a deconfliction zone, where Russian and Syrian government ground forces are not allowed to operate and any aircraft flying through that airspace which must identify themselves via radio.
On Sunday, Jordan security officials detained leaders of the Teacher Syndicate in order to prevent them from staging anti-government demonstrations. Thirteen members of the opposition union were arrested on charges of incitement, corruption, criminal activities and financial irregularities in a surprise crackdown on one of the country’s largest grassroots movements that has become a leading source of dissent. Last year, after a series of massive public worker strikes, the 100,000-strong union negotiated a 50% pay raise with the government to go into effect this year but all pay hikes for the public sector have been postponed by the government, which claims state finances are under severe strain due to the pandemic. Activists argue that emergency laws enacted in March that prohibited protests – ostensibly to curb the spread of the virus – have been used as an excuse to suppress civic and political rights; several activists have been arrested for their criticism of the government on social media.