Iraq’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Baghdad over accusations of meddling in Iraq’s domestic affairs, a statement by the ministry said.
The Saudi ambassador, who was recently installed, had said that the presence of Iranian-backed Shia militias in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group was exacerbating sectarian tensions in Iraq.
Enmity between Sunnis and Shias in the Middle East has flared recently as regional conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen deepen long-standing rifts.
Saudi Arabia executed a Shia religious leader this month, infuriating Shias around the region and arch foe Iran.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has praised China for standing by Tehran while it was under international sanctions, saying the Islamic Republic never trusted the West.
Khamenei’s comments on Saturday came as the two countries agreed to increase bilateral trade to $600bn over the next decade after a visit to Tehran by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Iran was keen to expand ties with “more independent countries”, Khamenei told Xi, adding the US was “not honest” in the fight against armed groups in the region.
“The Islamic Republic will never forget China’s cooperation during the sanctions era,” he said.
“Westerners have never obtained the trust of the Iranian nation. The government and nation of Iran have always sought expanding relations with independent and trustful countries like China.”
Russian and Iranian intervention has turned the military balance in Syria’s civil war, and rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime are struggling to cope. Facing an overwhelming Russian assault from the air and an offensive on multiple fronts by the Syrian military and its allied foreign militia, some rebels have decided they urgently need more men — Syrian or not.
As a consequence, the most powerful rebel coalition in northern Syria and an association of mostly jihadist religious scholars have both issued calls to arms not just to able-bodied Syrians, but to the entire Muslim world.
But while Syrians in the opposition agree the military situation is dire, they disagree on whether they want more muhajireen (“migrants,” or foreign fighters) — and whether those fighters are even interested in joining factions other than the Islamic State (IS).
“Ha, as if we need more al Qaeda,” said a Syrian journalist who moves between Aleppo and Turkey, and requested anonymity for his safety.
On December 26, the military council of Jaysh al-Fatah, a rebel coalition whose name translates to “Army of Conquest,” announced on social media a “general call to arms” for Muslims around the world, urging the Islamic nation’s scholars to rally Muslim youth to stand against what it called an Iranian expansionist design.
The scale of state repression in Egypt is greater today than it has been for generations, one of the country’s most prominent journalists and human rights advocates has told the Guardian.
Hossam Bahgat, an investigative reporter who was recently detained by Egypt’s military intelligence agency, spoke out ahead of the fifth anniversary of the start of Egypt’s revolution on Monday – the run-up to which has seen an unprecedented crackdown by security forces against opposition and dissent.
“This is without doubt the worst we’ve ever seen,” said Bahgat, citing restrictions on media outlets, a spike in the number of political prisoners, forced disappearances, and alleged extrajudicial killings of Islamists by the state.
“The level of repression now is significantly higher than it was under the Mubarak regime, and people from older generations say it is worse than even the worst periods of the 1950s and 1960s [under the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser].”
In an effort to ward off any protests half a decade on from the uprising that toppled the former president Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian authorities have raided thousands of homes in Cairo and installed new surveillance infrastructure around Tahrir Square.
Officials have decided to drop investigations into almost 60 claims of unlawful killings by soldiers who served in Iraq.
The Iraq historic allegations team (Ihat), set up by the last Labour government in 2010 to examine claims of murder, abuse and torture during the Iraq war, has decided not to proceed in 57 cases, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed. A further case was stopped by the military’s service prosecuting authority.
Earlier this month, nearly 300 Britons who served in Iraq were contacted by investigators looking into allegations of war crimes, with some being interrogated on their doorsteps, officials said.
The national security council was told to draw up options to end “spurious claims”, including measures to curb the use of “no win, no fee” arrangements and the requirement that legal aid claimants must have lived in the UK for 12 months.
The prime minister’s determination comes after the law firm Leigh Day was referred to the solicitors disciplinary tribunal over complaints about its handling of legal claims brought by Iraqi detainees against the MoD.
The claims, which crumbled when it emerged that some of the Iraqis weremembers of the rebel Mahdi army, centred on allegations that detainees had been abused and murdered by British soldiers. The chairman of the Al-Sweady inquiry, which was set up to look into the claims, called the most serious of them “deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.
However, the army’s former chief legal adviser in Iraq has criticised the crackdown on legal claims against Iraq veterans. Lt Col Nicholas Mercer, now an Anglican priest, said the prime minister was wrong to characterise those raising concerns about military abuse as “money-grabbing lawyers”.
Mercer said the claims were not false and raised issues of “very high importance”, including the abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan and the beating to death by soldiers of the Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa.
Mercer pointed out that the government has paid out £20m for 326 cases. “Anyone who has fought the MoD knows they don’t pay out for nothing. So there are 326 substantiated claims at a cost of £20m, and almost no criminal proceedings to accompany it. You have to ask why,” he told the BBC.