Afghanistan: US to groom Taliban to fight ISIS?

Taliban leaders confirmed that long-planned direct talks with the US took place in Doha, capital of Qatar. The Taliban said in a statement that their delegation met with US special adviser for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. The statement said the two sides discussed the prospects for an end to the presence of the foreign forces in Afghanistan, and the return of "true peace" to the country. These overtures come as the US is stepping up operations against ISIS in Afghanistan. In an August air-strike in Nangarhar province, the US claimed to have killed Abu Sayed Orakzai, top ISIS commander in Afghanistan. Earlier in August, more than 200 ISIS fighters and their two top commanders surrendered to Afghan government forces in Jowzjan province to avoid capture by Taliban insurgents, after a two-day battle that was a decisive victory for the Taliban. (Photo: Khaama Press)


Wave of femicide in Iraq, vocal women targeted

Four prominent Iraqi women had been assassinated over the past weeks, including Tara Fares, a model and social media star, and Souad al-Ali, a feminist and leader of the recent popular protests in Basra. Other outspoken women are receiving threats and have been forced to flee the country—including Yanar Mohammed, leader of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into the killings, but Mohammed is skeptical, saying, "The police are collaborating with the murderers and covering up. for them. We never get the exact story." (Image via Gulf News)


Iran: demand release of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Amnesty International called for the release of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, detained since June, and her husband Reza Khandan, who was arrested this week. Reza Khandan was charged with spreading propaganda against the system, colluding to commit crimes against national security, and promoting the practice of appearing in public without a veil. Her actual crime was representing women facing prison time for peacefully protesting against the Islamic Republic's compulsory hijab law. Khandan had raised concerns on Facebook about rights violations in Iran, and publicly campaigned for the release of his wife. Amnesty International director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther said, "These callous actions illustrate the lengths to which Iranian authorities will go to silence human rights lawyers, even targeting their families." (Photo: Center for Human Rights in Iran)

Greater Middle East

Woman activist faces execution in Saudi Arabia

Saudi rights advocates are warning of the possible imminent beheading of detained activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who has been provisionally sentenced to death by a Riyadh court. At a hearing before the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital, the Public Prosecutor recommended the death penalty for six defendants, including Ghomgham and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, who have been held for nearly three years on charges related to anti-government protests in the Shi'ite-majority eastern region of Qatif. The charges include "participating in protests," "incitement to protest," "chanting slogans hostile to the regime," "attempting to inflame public opinion," "filming protests and publishing on social media," and "providing moral support to rioters." The prosecutor called for their execution based on the Islamic law principle of ta'zir, in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime. A judge is expected to either confirm or reverse the death penalty recommendation at Ghomgham's next hearing in October. (Photo of Israa al-Ghomgham as a child, with her co-defendants, via Middle East Eye)


Iran: Sufi bus driver executed after ‘unfair trial’

Amnesty International issued a statement protesting the execution of Mohammad Salas, a 51-year-old man from Iran’s largest Sufi order, the Gonabadi Dervishes, saying it "was carried out despite serious unfair trial concerns." Salas was arrested outside a police station where thousands of Gonabadi followers had gathered to protest persecution of the dervish community. He was convicted of killing two police officers during the protest—on the basis of a "confession" coerced through torture and threats, and despite the fact that he had already been detained when the killings took place. Witnesses in his defense were barred from testifying. Gonabadi dervishes consider themselves to be Shi'ite Muslims, but are rejected as heretical by Iran's orthodox establishment. (Photo: Amnesty International


Ayatollahs blame Iran unrest on US —surprise!

In a perfectly predictable response, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US of fomenting the latest irruption in the wave of popular protests that has swept the country since the start of the year. Just as predictable was US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's transparently bogus statement of support for the Iranian protesters. Somewhat more surreal was the spectacle of Rudolph Giuliani, addressing a Paris rally staged by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), political wing of the cultish armed opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq—once listed as a terrorist organization by both the US and EU. Giuliani of course had to invoke the dreaded "regime change" phrase at the NCRI rally. This kind of US "support" hurts more than it helps, allowing the ayatollahs to more easily portray protesters as pawns, dupes or agents of the West.  (Photo: Center for Human Rights in Iran)

Greater Middle East

Saudi Arabia: new attack on human rights activists

Saudi Arabia won applause around the world last year when women were finally allowed to drive in the conservative kingdom. But now, just as this reform is about to take effect, some of the activists who campaigned for it have been arrested—and may face the death penalty. A Saudi government statement said that the seven activists had been detained for "contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric." The statement also accused them of working "to violate religious and national values." An online "smear campaign" has also been launched against them, wth social media posts portraying them are "traitors." Prominent among the detained is Loujain al-Hathloul, well known for her work campaigning against the driving ban. (Image: social media post with the word "traitor" stamped on the faces of those detained. Via Middle East Eye.)

North Africa

Libya: protest against siege of Derna

Protesters marched in Libya's capital Tripoli demanding that renegade general Khalifa Haftar lift his siege of the eastern city of Derna. Demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the UN mission to demand an international response. Protesters demanded UN pressure on Haftar to open a corridor at Derna to allow evacuation of the wounded and ill. Derna has been under siege for nearly two years, but the situation has worsened since Haftar launched a new offensive this month against the Islamist factions that control the city. (Map: IRIN)

South Asia

Pakistan: death penalty in slaying of Sufi singer

Pakistan's army high command approved the death penalty for 10 condemned jihadists who were convicted by a military tribunal of attacks that claimed over 60 lives—including the assassination of Amjad Sabri, one of the country's most revered singers of qawwalii, traditional Sufi devotional music. Sabri was on his way to a televised Ramadan performance in Karachi when his car was attacked by gunmen, and his many followers hailed justice in the case. But in the two years since Sabri's death, attacks on Sufis in Pakistan have continued, with suicide blasts and horrific massacres at shrines and mosques. (Photo via PTI)

North Africa

ICC takes Mali war crimes suspect into custody

The International Criminal Court announced that al-Hassan ag-Abdoul Aziz was surrendered to the court's detention center in the Netherlands by Malian authorities. He is accused of crimes against humanity in Timbuktu  as de facto leader of the "Islamic police" force after the city was taken over by jihadists in 2012. He allegedly took part in the destruction of the mausoleums of Muslim saints. He is also accused  of participating in forced marriages involving Fulani women, which resulted in the reduction of women and girls to sexual slavery. (Photo: WikiMedia Commons)


ISIS claims latest Kabul attack

A coordinated attack on a compound of the Afghan army in capital Kabul left at least 11 soldiers dead. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the barracks of the army's 111th division in Qargha district before a small team of gunmen moved in. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency. This was the third large attack in Kabul since Taliban insurgents launched an assault on Intercontinental Hotel that left over 20 dead. The second attack came when presumed Taliban militants denoted an ambulance packed with explosives near an Interior Ministry compound, killing over 100. Another six people were killed in an assault claimed by ISIS on the office of aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad. (Photo: Khaama Press)


Social progress in ‘unrecognized’ Somaliland

The unrecognized but de facto independent republic of Somaliland made rare headlines when its parliament voted to instate criminal penalties for rape—actually a groundbreaking move in the region. The "official" government of Somalia still has no law against rape. And while Somaliland just elected a new president by popular vote, Somalila's president was chosen by parliament. Regular elections are impossible in Somalia due to the fact that the government has no effective control of its own territory—despite military support of an Ethiopia-led "peacekeeping" force.