MOGADISHU: A government military base in south Somalia was struck by car bombs and gunfire on Wednesday, residents and military officers said, with the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab group claiming responsibility and saying dozens of soldiers died.One military officer said the bombs exploded outside the base after troops behind sandbags fired at them during the mid-morning attack in Awdheegle, an agricultural district along the Shabelle River, 70 km (43 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu.“There are casualties from Al-Shabab and government forces but we have no exact figure. Al Shabab cut off some of the private telecommunications,” added Captain Hussein Ali, a military officer in another town in the same region.Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had killed 50 soldiers and two of its fighters had died.“Two mujahideen driving two car bombs, one after the other, entered the Somali base in Awdheegle district today. We killed 50 government soldiers and burnt their vehicles,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, Al-Shabab’s military operation spokesman.The jihadist group and government officials tend to give sharply differing casualty figures for attacks.
“HUGE BLASTS“Another military officer, who declined to be named, confirmed the attack but could also not give details on the casualties.Last week, Somali government forces had captured most parts of Awdheegle district.“We heard two huge blasts and gunfire from the direction of the Somali military base. I saw several soldiers running away from the base to escape but we cannot know how many were killed,” elder Aden Abdullahi told Reuters.Al Shabab is fighting the weak, UN-backed Somali government and its international allies in a quest to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law.It was forced out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011 and has since lost most of its other strongholds. But it remains a threat, with fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighboring Kenya, whose troops form part of an African Union-mandated peacekeeping force.Somalia has been riven by civil war since 1992, when clan-based warlords overthrew a dictator, then turned on each other.Shopkeeper and mother-of-four Halima Farah told Reuters from Awdheegle that government troops were in control of the town after the attack. “We have now come out of the houses,” Farah told Reuters by phone. “Today was the worst day for this town.“We believe both the militants and government suffered great losses of lives today but we cannot see their casualties. Stray bullets killed people in their houses,” she added, saying a relative of hers died after being hit in the head.
Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost
DUBAI: The date palm, which was recognized by UNESCO on Wednesday, has for centuries played an important role in the establishment and growth of civilizations in the hot and dry regions of the Arab world.Now date palm-related knowledge, traditions and practices have been inscribed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.The tree, whose…
DUBAI: The date palm, which was recognized by UNESCO on Wednesday, has for centuries played an important role in the establishment and growth of civilizations in the hot and dry regions of the Arab world.Now date palm-related knowledge, traditions and practices have been inscribed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.The tree, whose roots penetrate deep into the soil, allowing it to grow in arid climates, has not only been a source of food but also of economic gain.“Date palms gather in oases of different densities within desert areas indicating the presence of water levels suitable for irrigation,” according to a nomination put forward by 14 countries — Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.“As a result, this aided mankind in settling down despite harsh conditions,” said the document.Until this day, platters of dates adorn tables in homes and businesses across the Arab world, where the symbol of the date palm tree has historically presented prosperity.The offering of the sweet fruit, coupled with a cup of coffee, is a sign of good old-fashioned Arab hospitality.According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the date palm is probably the most ancient cultivated tree.It was grown as early as 4,000 BC and used for the construction of the moon god temple near Ur in southern Iraq — the ancient region of Mesopotamia.“The population of the submitting states has been associated with the date palm tree for centuries as it aided them in the construction of civilization,” they said in the nomination.“Historical research and various antiquities excavations have resulted in the plant’s significant cultural and economic status in numerous regions such as Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt and the Arab Gulf.”The ancient crop also faces some modern challenges. Gulf countries have fought hard to eradicate the red palm weevil, which originally came from Asia and was first detected in the region in the 1980s.The beetle, which is barely a few centimeters (around an inch) long, produces larvae that feed off palm trunks, killing the trees.“In Gulf countries and the Middle East, $8 million is lost each year through removal of severely infested trees alone,” according to the FAO.All parts of the date palm were and are still used in some parts of the region for shelter or to produce a range of products, including handicrafts, mats, rope and furniture.To celebrate and promote their date palm heritage and palm products, some of the submitting countries hold annual date festivals, most notably the annual Liwa Date Festival in the UAE and the Dates Festival in Al-Qassim in Saudi Arabia.Both Gulf countries are among the top date exporters, according to the Geneva-based International Trade Center.
Date palm, Arab region symbol of prosperity, listed by UNESCO
SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high…
SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high financial and environmental cost.In Sur, south of the capital Muscat, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant that serves some 600,000 people.“Before, life was very difficult. We had wells, and water was delivered by trucks,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “Since the 1990s, water has come through pipes and we’ve had no cuts.”But these benefits — relying on energy intensive processes that produce carbon emissions — do not come without a cost, particularly as global temperatures rise.The United Nations says 2019 is on course to be one of the hottest three years on record.And there is another impact: the desalination plants produce highly concentrated salt water, or brine, that is often dumped back into the ocean.Researchers say more than 16,000 desalination plants around the globe produce more toxic sludge than freshwater.For every liter of freshwater extracted from the sea or brackish water, a liter-and-a-half of salty slurry is deposed at sea or on land, according to a 2019 study in the journal Science.All that extra salt raises the temperature of coastal waters and decreases the level of oxygen, which can conspire to create biological “dead zones.”The super-salty substance is made even more toxic by the chemicals used in the desalination process.Oman’s bigger neighbors produce the bulk of the brine.More than half comes from just four countries — Saudi Arabia, at 22 percent, United Arab Emirates with 20 percent, and smaller shares by Kuwait and Qatar, according to UN data.“Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55 percent of the total global share,” according to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.It said new strategies are needed “to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.”This would help “to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.”At the Sur plant, “almost no chemicals” are used during the pre-treatment phase, as the water is naturally filtered through the cracks of karst rocks, said Mahendran Senapathy, operations manager at French company Veolia which runs the plant along with an Omani firm.There are other ways to safeguard freshwater supplies, from encouraging savings and efficiently to recycling wastewater.Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia, said wastewater recycling will help resolve the problem of water scarcity.He also pointed out that “reused water is less costly,” nearly one third less than that won through desalination.Omani authorities continue to mount campaigns urging people to use water wisely, mindful that other demands — especially the energy sector — also guzzle up large amounts.Across the Gulf, huge amounts of water are used not just for homes, gardens and golf courses, but also for the energy sector that is the source of the region’s often spectacular wealth.On the edge of the Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” the world’s largest expanse of sand, lies the Khazzan gas field, operated by BP and the Oman Oil Company.The method used to extract the gas here is hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — said Stewart Robertson, operations manager at the site.The method requires huge amounts of water. The site is supplied by a facility that provides 6,000 cubic meters of water a day, extracted from an underground aquifer 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.Fracking involves directional drilling and then pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock and release the hydrocarbons.The rock formations that hold the gas are “like a big sponge with lots of little holes in it,” said Robertson, explaining that fracking is the process “to open those holes slightly to take the gas out.”So the more the region extracts oil and natural or shale gas, “the more they need water,” said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute.“The Middle East is projected to need more and more energy,” he said. “So that means the situation is going to get worse.”“On the other hand,” he said, “if they can produce power using solar photovoltaic technologies, which are getting reasonably priced in the Middle East, that would take care of a lot of the problem because solar PV doesn’t need much water.“You need just some water to clean the solar panels.”
SALT conference: Saudi Arabia, UAE ‘promoting US engagement’ in the Middle East
ABU DHABI: The transformations taking place in Saudi Arabia and the model adopted by the UAE will be crucial to moving US-Arab relations forward. This was one of the many insights offered by Norman T. Roule, chief executive officer at Pharos Strategic Consulting LLC, a GCC- and Iran-focused company, during a panel discussion at the…
ABU DHABI: The transformations taking place in Saudi Arabia and the model adopted by the UAE will be crucial to moving US-Arab relations forward.
This was one of the many insights offered by Norman T. Roule, chief executive officer at Pharos Strategic Consulting LLC, a GCC- and Iran-focused company, during a panel discussion at the first SALT Conference in Abu Dhabi.
He said what Saudi Arabia is doing, and given what the UAE has done so well, will promote engagement between entrepreneurs and academics, adding that the people who actually move societies “are more efficient, in many ways, than governments.”
Roule was one of three speakers in the discussion on the “Future of US-Arab relations”, moderated by Editor-in-chief of Arab News Faisal J. Abbas. The other two were Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Dania Koleilat, affiliated scholar at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs.
“Governments will deal with the big, heavy, perhaps unsolvable issues, but I have great hopes for this region,” Roule said, referring to the Gulf countries.
“There has never been so much education. (It is) a young region aspiring beyond sectarianism, corruption and the old ways of thinking – and we should be part of that evolution.”
According to him, entrepreneurs will be the future of engagement between the US and the Middle East. To this end, he suggested, bringing more Americans to the Middle East – something the three-day SALT Conference has done – will prove vital.
Roule said “there has never been so much people-to-people engagement between the US and the region as we have today.” Additionally, there is social media, which “ties together the US and the region in a way that has not happened before.”
In the context of Saudi-US relations, Roule said there has been a shift in US public opinion due to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. At the same time, he said, “former or current policymakers say,‘We have a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia.’ But they will never explain what that means, or where we should take it.”
Roule thinks Saudi Arabia has an enormous role to play in such areas as moderating Islam worldwide, enhancing the role of women throughout the region, improving the economies of the Middle East, including Jordan and Israel, as well as rebuilding broken states, including Libya and Yemen.
“America needs to be behind that,” Roule said. “It’s unfortunate that policymakers don’t spend a lot of time talking about where we should go with the Kingdom, but I agree that the Kingdom doesn’t have a great reputation right now in the election.”
Nevertheless, he said he has seen US policymakers make requests to the Saudi leadership to support a number of regional initiatives.
Left to right: Faisal J. Abbas, Dania Koleilat Khatib, Richard Haass and Norman T. Roule discuss the relationship between the Middle East and the US at the first SALT conference in Abu Dhabi. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Overall the Iraq war and the Afghan conflict were “anomalies” in how America has handled the Middle East since 1945. “And in many ways, America’s position in the Middle East is generally to try to avoid another conflict, to try to empower our allies to defend themselves, and to work to resolve regional problems,” he said.
Fluctuating Middle East oil prices are still felt in such places as Ohio, Roule noted, but added: “There is fatigue in the US over endless peace process efforts that seem to go nowhere, endless wars in the Middle East, which consume budgets, armies, calendars and reputations and which never seem to end for anybody. There’s not a lot of interest in doing that.”
In a similar vein, Dr. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, one of Washington’s most influential foreign-policy think tanks, said that when the Cold War ended 30 years ago, nobody would have predicted that such a large percentage of American foreign policy would be consumed in the Middle East, beginning with the Gulf War, which was “thrust” on the US by “Saddam (Hussein’s) aggression”.
“But then we ultimately had what I would call wars of choice, in places like Iraq in 2003, and some other issues that we’re dealing with now,” he said.
“There’s a general sense that the Middle East absorbed too high a percentage of America’s national security resources. Our energy interests in the Middle East and our direct interests are down.”
Haass said there is disillusionment among Americans who think that the return on investment of the resources the US devoted to the Middle East has not been particularly good. “We have a domestic society that is more divided,” he said, “and, internationally, there are several big developments, one of which is the rise of US-Chinese competition.”
He said what is emerging for many as the defining feature of US foreign policy is a much worse relationship with Russia, a much less certain Europe, problems in Asia, including China’s rise and North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and global issues such as climate change.
“The Middle East has to compete with other regions of the world, other relationships and other challenges at the global level,” Haass said. “So it’s not surprising that there’s a dialing down, or a re-evaluation, of how much we are involved in the region and how we are involved.”
This regional “dialing down” by the US was called out by Koleilat, particularly in the context of the ongoing protests in Iraq and Lebanon. She said “the two countries have reached a boiling point” as an opinion poll shows strong majorities supporting a separation of politics and religion.
As a Lebanese who specializes in US-Arab relations, Koleilat spoke of a personal feeling of betrayal over the US administration’s position.
“Lebanese people have realized that sectarianism has led to clientelism, which has led to corruption, which in turn, had led to state failure,” she said. “Today, we have gone from 30 to 50 percent of Lebanese below the poverty level and the state is unable to provide services.”
Although she said the US could not be expected to engage with protesters, it could still put pressure on the Lebanese government to reform and change, adding that such pressure could include withholding of support unless such reforms were implemented.
“The demands of the Lebanese people are very clear,” she said. “We want a non-political government of technocrats.”
According to Koleilat, the US is less interested in the Middle East these days because of three factors, one of which is American isolationism.
“It started after the Iraq war. People in the US want to disengage from the region,” she said.
“The second factor you have to look at is Trump’s way of conducting foreign policy in a transactional manner, so you don’t see engagement for the long haul.”
The third factor is the strategic value of oil, she said. “I don’t see the doctrine where the US would say it is ready to use military force to keep the security of the Gulf,” she said.
“So, if you take these three factors into consideration, there is less American interest and less engagement, and this (approach) will continue in the future.”
For his part, Haass cited Iran as a case where the present US administration has succeeded in exerting tremendous pressure – more than what analysts had predicted was possible – through unilateral sanctions.
The question is to what end, he said.
“Sanctions are a means, they’re a foreign policy instrument,” he said. “The question then is what our definition of success and our goal are here.”
Haass said it is unlikely the government in Tehran can be brought down as the system has proved resilient for four decades now. Rather, the US needs to signal to Iran and have a conversation about its requirements in the realms of nuclear technology and missiles, as well as regional and local issues, in order to have a degree of sanctions removed.
“That, to me is what we used to call diplomacy,” Haass said. “The question is whether there is a place for diplomacy.
The answer is “potentially yes. If not, the danger is we drift towards war because Iran has shown it is simply not going to absorb economic pressure or warfare from us. We need to have a diplomatic initiative.”