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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen

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  • Zafar Khan
    SYRIA As Syrian refugees pour in, sectarian tensions strain Lebanon s brittle peace Beirut faces a crisis, struggling to shelter a vast influx of displaced
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 17, 2013
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      As Syrian refugees pour in, sectarian tensions strain Lebanon's brittle peace
      Beirut faces a crisis, struggling to shelter a vast influx of displaced people
      Martin Chulov
      The Observer, Saturday 16 March 2013 23.38 GMT


      On the edge of Beirut's rebuilt inner core, a Damascus businessman, Abu Ziad, eased himself into his new BMW in the car park of the biggest Sunni mosque in town. His black 7-series saloon was the fanciest car in the lot and was attracting attention from a line of compatriots who waited impatiently to beg for money. All of them had seen Abu Ziad's licence plate and they pressed their case in a dialect distinct to the Syrian rural poor.

      "You are my son," said a stooped lady in a green hijab as she held a photo of a young boy. "Life is cruel here, please help an old woman." For a few minutes, the baron and the beggars stood united; all strangers in a land that not so long ago would hardly have been considered a refuge for anyone fleeing the troubles of the region.

      But with the civil war that is ravaging Syria now into its third year, Lebanon is in the midst of a role reversal that has seen close to a million Syrians seek sanctuary here, around 350,000 of whom are refugees who fled with little more than what they were wearing.

      Others, like Abu Ziad, a member of the wealthy elite, as well as the business and middle classes, have been buying up homes in droves, or paying for 12-month leases in cash. So pronounced is the exodus from Damascus that some Syrian businesses have been able to assemble a full payroll in exile to run affairs back home remotely.

      Lebanon's transformation in many Syrians' eyes from lost cause to last hope is, however, being met with increasing alarm in Beirut, where authorities are warning of both a lack of means to absorb and feed the newcomers, and the frailty of a society in which ethnic, sectarian and proxy regional tensions remain only barely contained.

      "It's not the place we used to know," said Abu Ziad , who has made a home in Beirut for himself and his family. "Who would have thought of coming here for anything else but a holiday?

      "Before all this, we used to make fun of the Lebanese and the way they used to care so much about who was Shia, Sunni, Christian, or Druze. We never thought we had the same thing in us. Now look at us. What is happening is a nightmare. It will take five years at least to settle down."

      The minarets of the giant Ottoman-style mosque reflected in Abu Ziad's mirrored sunglasses. Down the hill past the shrine of the slain former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, whose money built the mosque and renovated the nearby downtown area during the 1990s, two Russian warships were docked at port. Earlier in the day, two Israeli warplanes had circled Beirut for several hours, leaving white wisps against a hazy spring sky.

      Lebanon's civil war may have fizzled out 22 years ago, but the influence of the regional players who take a deep and abiding stake here remains on show for all to see. Six kilometres southeast of downtown, Iran's patronage of Hezbollah and the Shia sector of the city is also on prominent display, with flags and posters of the supreme Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Khamenei. And in northern Lebanon, the Sunni heartland of the country, Turkish and Saudi flags are regularly seen flying alongside the Lebanese banner.

      The enduring dependence on outside interests and the influx of arrivals into an already delicate social fabric has deeply unsettled Lebanon's feudal lords who, for many months now, have tried to maintain a veneer of distance from the crisis in Syria. All the while, Shia fighters linked to Hezbollah and Sunni fighters who support the Hariri bloc have played increasing roles on the country's battlefields.

      "This can no longer be hidden," said former Lebanese president Amin Gemmayel, who leads the Christian Phalange bloc, which has never been far from Lebanon's historical tribulations. "Lebanon used to be a real democracy and a liberal country, and all the countries in the region took advantage of that to build a kind of sanctuary for their own interests. But it's not freedom any more; it's an abuse of liberty. This is the Lebanese paradox."

      Gemmayel is sitting in his old sandstone Ottoman home in the foothills near Beirut – the Christian centre of the country, where fears of what will emerge from the rubble of Syria are now pronounced. Many of those who have fled Damascus in particular belong to the various Christian sects and many among them, like Abu Ziad, have lost fortunes as war and insurgency have crippled the country.

      Gemmayel and other Christian leaders contacted by the Observer say the mood in Lebanon is now eerily familiar. "It is much more dangerous than in 1975 [when the Lebanese civil war started]," Gemmayel said. "Back then, the country was divided. There were borders [between the sects which were largely assembled into communities]. That is not the case any more."

      Such fears are echoed on the other side of the political fence. Mohammed Obeid, a former director general of the Lebanese information ministry, who is close to Hezbollah and maintains links with Syrian regime figures, said: "The intermixing between the Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon is huge. There are at least 200,000 cases of inter-marriage and many families have melted among each other in many places.

      "In 1975 the war started along a Christian-Muslim faultline. This time the deep worry is Sunni-Shia. Whenever you have a regional clash, Lebanon pays the price. Last time, largely because of Yasser Arafat's ambitions [for the Palestinians], we entered a long war for 17 years and we didn't get back Palestine and we lost Lebanon. Now what I am afraid of is that the same governments are committing the same mistakes. [French Foreign Minister Laurent] Fabius and the Europeans for example want part of the cake."

      French foreign minister Laurent Fabius last week indicated that France and the UK may ignore European Union opposition to arming elements of Syria's rebel movement that are not aligned to jihadist groups. EU member states, among them Austria, which leads a peace-keeping force on the Golan Heights, between Syria and Israel, later reiterated their opposition.

      Lebanon's ability to absorb the shocks of the region continues to be called into question by everyone from the United Nations to protagonists of past wars. The UN's Humanitarian Rights chief, António Guterres, warned on Friday of an "existential threat" to Lebanon caused by the Syrian crisis and urged international support for the brittle state.

      "We've been down this path in years gone by," said Palestinian Liberation Organisation leader, Munir Maqda, from the Ain al-Halwe refugee camp in Sidon, the biggest of 12 such camps in Lebanon. "And now we're doing it again." Maqda told a story of a recent meeting in Damascus between Syrian and Palestinian officials that underscored just how far relations had plummeted since the crisis intensified.

      "The chief of the PLO's intelligence service in Ramallah went with a delegation to see [deputy foreign minister Faisal] Meqdad in February," he said. "We told him we wanted to insulate the Palestinians through political neutrality." The meeting was arranged after large numbers of Syrian Palestinians fled Damascus in December following the eruption of fighting in the main Yarmouk camp – adding another dimension to Lebanon's refugee crisis.

      "He told us, 'You're with us or against us'," said Maqda. "Our decision is made."

      Syrian general defects from army
      YouTube video purports to show logistics chief planning his defection from Bashar al-Assad's forces.
      Last Modified: 17 Mar 2013 05:45


      Report details dire plight of Syrian children
      Rights group finds at least two million children have suffered malnutrition, disease and severe trauma during conflict.
      Last Modified: 13 Mar 2013 21:42


      Syria: the story behind one of the most shocking images of the war
      Why did the bodies of 110 men suddenly wash up in the river running through Aleppo city six weeks ago? A Guardian investigation found out
      Martin Chulov with photographs and video by Ben Solomon and Noah Payne-Frank
      The Guardian, Monday 11 March 2013


      UN peacekeepers freed after Syria captivity
      Filipino troops captured in the Golan Heights have crossed into Jordan after being set free, officials say.
      Last Modified: 10 Mar 2013 05:27


      Fleeing Syria for their lives
      Al Jazeera showcases the most important object that the refugees fled with, on a day their numbers touched one million.
      Brian Sokol Last Modified: 06 Mar 2013 23:41


      Syrians tear down statue of Bashar al-Assad's father after rebel advance
      Footage shows protesters beating gold statue of Hafez al-Assad with shoes in city of Raqqa near Turkish border
      Luke Harding and agencies
      The Guardian, Monday 4 March 2013 18.20 GMT


      Syrian rebels on Monday made a significant military gain when they seized the northern city of Raqqa, tearing down a giant poster of the president, Bashar al-Assad, and toppling a statue of his late father.

      The rebels' advances in Raqqa came amid reports that unidentified gunmen on Monday shot dead at least 40 Syrian soldiers, together with several Iraqis, in Iraq's western Anbar province.

      Dramatic video footage shows cheering protesters ripping down the gold statue of Hafez al-Assad in Raqqa's main square. In scenes reminiscent of the fall of previous Arab dictators, the protesters beat the statue's head with their shoes, shouting: "God is great." One man clobbers it with an axe.

      The euphoria, however, is brief. A second video taken by activists soon afterwards captures a government mortar bomb landing in the square, followed by thick black smoke. Several dead and injured lie on the ground. Rebels frantically load the wounded, including a woman, into cars as a second mortar drops nearby.

      Despite the shelling, rebels on Monday said they were now in "near total control" of the city, which is located towards the Turkish border on the Euphrates river. They have been advancing across Raqqa province for several weeks, capturing the country's largest dam. On Sunday anti-Assad fighters stormed Raqqa's central prison. They include units from the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra.

      This is the first time that Syria's armed opposition has secured an entire provincial city. The rebels control much of Syria's rural north, and have partial control of several major urban centres including Aleppo, Homs, the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, and some suburbs of Damascus. Government soldiers in Raqqa remain in control of the Ba'ath party HQ and military base, activists said.

      The regime, meanwhile, has launched a major offensive in Homs, in an attempt to recapture entrenched rebel positions in the centre of the town including the old city. Dozens from both sides have been killed in the assault in recent days, amid massive destruction and civilian casualties.

      The Syrian soldiers killed in Iraq fled there late last week after they came under rebel fire.

      They were returning to Syria under Iraqi escort when they were ambushed near the town of Akashat, not far from the Syrian border, Iraqi authorities said. The incident could inflame Syria's already simmering sectarian tensions. The uprising, which began two years ago, has pitted the country's predominantly Sunni majority against Assad's minority Alawite community, a Shia sect.

      Shia Iraqis, as well as volunteers from Shia Iran, have fought with the regime against the rebels, sometimes openly. Tens of thousands of Iraqis died in sectarian warfare in Iraq between 2006-2007. Anbar's Sunnis have been venting frustrations that have built up since the US-led invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, and handed power to Iraq's majority Shias.

      "The incident took place in Akashat when the convoy carrying the Syrian soldiers and employees was on its way to the al-Waleed border crossing," Reuters reported, quoting a senior Iraqi official. The official added: "Gunmen set up an ambush and killed 40 of them, plus some Iraqi soldiers who were protecting the convoy."

      The Iraqi officials said some 65 Syrian soldiers and government employees had handed themselves over to Iraq on Friday after anti-government rebels seized the Syrian side of the Yaarabiya frontier crossing.

      Dozens of Syrian troops killed in Iraq ambush
      At least 48 Syrians and nine Iraqis are killed in Anbar by an attack on a convoy carrying troops who crossed into Iraq.
      Last Modified: 04 Mar 2013 21:22


      Armed men from Syria have carried out an ambush in western Iraq killing 48 unarmed Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi guards, the Iraqi defence ministry said.

      The soldiers crossed into Iraq from the Yaarabiya border crossing, the scene of heavy fighting on Saturday between rebels and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, said Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Khalaf al-Dulaimi of the border protection forces on Monday.

      Ali Mussawi, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's spokesman, said the ambush "confirms our fears of the attempt of some to move the conflict to Iraq, but we will face these attempts by all sides with all of our power".

      The defence ministry said in an online statement that the ambush was carried out "by a terrorist group that infiltrated into Iraqi territory coming from Syria," and put the death toll at 48 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi guards.

      It said a number of unarmed Syrian soldiers wounded in fighting had fled to Iraq for medical treatment and were being transferred to Al-Walid border crossing to be returned to Syria through "official channels".

      But they were ambushed on the way, in what the ministry termed "an attack against the sovereignty of Iraq, its land, and its dignity, and a clear violation of human rights, as [the soldiers] were wounded and unarmed".

      The ministry also issued a warning to all sides in the conflict in Syria, where Assad is locked in a bloody, prolonged civil war with rebels, "against moving their armed conflict to Iraqi territory and violating Iraq's borders".

      The past week has seen clashes between the Syrian army and rebels at the borders, which have brought the conflict close to Iraq.

      Opposition fighters seized control of half of the northeastern Syrian border town of Yaarabiya, including a shared crossing with Iraq, in a battle with forces loyal to Assad on Saturday.

      Earlier on Friday, A Scud missile fired from Syrian territory landed near a village opposite Yaarabiya, causing no damage but terrifying locals, according to the mayor of Telefar.

      The conflict in Syria has previously spilled into Iraq. In September, a five-year-old girl was killed when three rockets struck a border town in the al Qaim area.

      Iraq's precarious sectarian and ethnic balance has also come under strain from the conflict next door, where mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents are fighting to overthrow Assad, who is backed by Shia Iran.

      Earlier this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, warned that a victory for rebels in the Syrian civil war will spark a sectarian war in his own country, a civil war in Lebanon and a division in Jordan.

      Robert Fisk: Alawite history reveals the complexities of Syria that West does not understand
      The maps long favoured in the West partition off Arab countries into ethnic divisions, but all these make clear is our own ignorance
      Monday 4 March 2013


      In Syria these days, we are resorting to our racist little maps. The Alawite mountains and the town of Qardaha, home of the Assad family – colour it dark red. Will this be the last redoubt of the 12 per cent Alawite minority, to which the President belongs, when the rebels “liberate” Damascus? We always like these divisive charts in the Middle East. Remember how Iraq was always Shias at the bottom, Sunnis in the middle, Kurds at the top? We used to do this with Lebanon: Shias at the bottom (as usual), Shias in the east, Sunnis in Sidon and Tripoli, Christians east and north of Beirut. Never once has a Western newspaper shown a map of Bradford with Muslim and non-Muslim areas marked off, or a map of Washington divided into black and white people. No, that would suggest that our Western civilisation could be divvied up between tribes or races. Only the Arab world merits our ethnic distinctions.
      The problem, of course, is that Syria – as secular and assimilated as any Arab nation before its current tragedy – doesn’t lend itself to this neat distribution of religious minorities. Aleppo was always a home to Christians, Sunnis and Alawites. The Alawites were “citified” many years ago – hence their presence in Damascus – and many of them came not from the mountains but from Alexandretta, which is now in the Turkish province of Hatay. Yet even if we know where they live, there has been precious little research into this community – save, perhaps, in France.

      For now Sabrina Mervin, the French author and researcher, has put together a remarkable document in which she traces the history of a people who used to call themselves “Nusayris” – after the founder of their faith, Muhammad Ibn Nusayr – and whose religion was founded “in the bosom of Shiism” in the 9th and 10th centuries. Mervin’s work, published now in that splendid French institution Le Monde Diplomatique, should be essential reading for every Syria “ expert”, for it suggests that the Alawites are victims of a long history of religious dissidents, persecution and repression.

      As long ago as 1903, the Belgian-born Jesuit and Orientalist, Henri Lammens, was identifying the Alawites as former Christians – until he met a Sheikh who insisted he belonged to Shia Islam. Lammens, a typical imperialist, suggested that the Alawites – who appeared to believe in the transmigration of souls and a trinity (the Prophet Muhammad, his cousin and son-in-law Ali, and Salman, a companion) – might become Christians “which would allow France to interfere in your favour”. Indeed, France did indeed show favour to the Alawites in later years.

      The Ottomans had tried to integrate the Alawites who, according to Ms Mervin, were exploited by Sunni landowners and often illiterate. By 1910, their religious dignitaries were opening relations with the Shias of southern Lebanon and Iraq, calling themselves “Alawites” after Ali and distancing themselves from Nusayr. The French mandate authorities in Syria went along with this, not least because they wished to divide them from the Sunnis. Popular myth would have it that the Alawites collaborated with the French while the Sunnis fought for independence. In fact, one prominent Alawite, Saleh al-Ali, fought the French army in the mountains between December of 1918 and 1921 – and was subsequently recognised as a national hero by the first independent Syrian government in 1946. Another prominent Alawite, a would-be shepherd-saint called Sulieman al-Mourchid, met a less happy end, hanged in 1946 for treason.

      Banished Syrians keep low profile in Beirut
      Tens of thousands of refugees fled to Lebanon over past two years, but many of them still hope to return back.
      Last Modified: 02 Mar 2013 11:18


      Syria 'vacuum bombs' kill civilians in Douma
      Witnesses report Damascus suburb shelled by brutal military explosive designed to decimate urban areas.
      Last Modified: 25 Feb 2013 19:30


      Syrians pay to retrieve fallen relatives
      Government forces taking undisclosed sums for releasing bodies of dead fighters in Raqqa province.
      Last Modified: 23 Feb 2013 15:43


      As the conflict in Syria nears two full years, many families in the country are spending their time searching for their loved ones killed in fighting the security forces of Bashar al-Assad's government.

      Some families who have lost children among the opposition forces say they are not able to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones because they have been seized by security forces.

      In Raqqa, some families say they have had to pay government forces undisclosed amounts of money to collect the bodies of their children.

      Al Jazeera's Casey Kaufman reports from the northern Syrian province.

      Brothers in arms: the 10 brothers fighting for the Syrian uprising
      From peasant sons of the northern plains to rebels at the heart of the Syrian uprising: a family at war
      Martin Chulov
      The Guardian, Friday 22 February 2013 22.00 GMT


      Syria opposition to boycott upcoming talks
      Syrian National Coalition pulls out of Friends of Syria meeting in Rome over "shameful" international silence on Aleppo.
      Last Modified: 23 Feb 2013 12:18


      The most prominent Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), has announced it is pulling out of the upcoming Friends of Syria meeting in Rome and scheduled talks in Russia and the United States.

      After missiles killed dozens in Aleppo on Friday, the SNC released a statement saying the move was to protest the lack of international condemnation of the "crimes committed against the Syrian people".

      "Hundreds of civilians have been killed by Scud missile strikes. Aleppo, the city and the civilisation, is being destroyed systematically," the statement said.

      "The Russian leadership especially bears moral and political responsibility for supplying the regime with weapons," it added, referring to Moscow's status as a leading ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

      "In protest of this shameful international stand, the coalition has decided to suspend its participation in the Rome
      conference for the Friends of Syria and decline the invitations to visit Russia and the United States."

      The Friends of Syria is a collection of dozens of countries trying to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.

      Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayley, reporting from Antakya in Turkey, said that the SNC felt promises of help from international community has been very slow and that international community was not keeping the promises it made three months ago.

      "It is not really turning its back on the international community. It is still calling on the international community to help it with negotiations it wants to start with the Syrian government, she said.

      Syria's internally displaced grow desperate
      Civilians stranded in Bab-al-Salam camp in the north are living amid crippling shortages and constant fear of attacks.
      Saad Basir Last Modified: 22 Feb 2013 11:21


      Bab-al-Salam camp, Syria - As darkness descends on the dreary refugee camp bordering Turkey, hungry residents queue for the daily distribution of meagre rations.

      Displaced Syrians wait in the long line with tin and plastic containers, hoping those dishing out food will provide enough to feed their families.

      Shortages of all kinds of supplies, particularly food and fuel, are common throughout Syria and in this muddy camp near the city of Azaz - 400 kilometres directly north of Damascus - it is no different. The situation at Bab-al-Salam has steadily deteriorated.

      Immersed in a bitter winter cold, the people have become increasingly destitute, desperate and impatient as the nearly two-year-old civil war rages on. Syrians in the north have been largely cut off from international aid. The United Nations refugee agency only reached rebel-held Azaz for the first time in the past few weeks.

      About four million people in Syria need assistance, including some two million who are internally displaced, the United Nations said this week. An estimated 70,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011. The conflict has become a bloody stalemate, with no end in sight to the suffering.

      "We are watching a humanitarian tragedy unfold before our eyes," the UN's humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters this week in Geneva. "We are not reaching enough of those who require our help. Limited access in the north is a problem that can only solved using alternative methods of aid delivery."

      Relying on rebels

      Muhammad, who asked that his real name not be used for fear of government reprisal, is a representative of A'asif al-Shamal, or The North Storm rebel militia that operates the camp outside of Azaz. He said while the cold weather has intensified, fuel prices have quadrupled in northern areas in just one month.

      "Supplies such as flour, milk, diapers, blankets are required … People in this camp are having to buy wood or cut down trees just to stay warm," Muhammad said.

      Aid donors such as Turkish NGO IHH and the Qatari government have provided food and tents to the camp. Better off Syrian citizens are also donating money, allowing the rebel militia to buy supplies from Turkey, but the funding is inadequate, camp leaders say.

      Internally displaced Syrians trudge through the muddy ground amid the round white tents that house the 2,500 residents here in the crude, improvised village.

      Rubbish is littered across the peripheries, and children vigorously try to sell chocolate biscuits and cigarette lighters to help their families financially. Men collect firewood to fend off the nightly sub-zero temperatures.

      The sound of the afternoon call to prayer echoes through the camp, as the smoke from dozens of cherished fires hangs in the air, stinging the eyes.

      The camp is less than 100 metres from the Syrian border with Turkey, and is home to residents of the main financial city Aleppo, Azaz and northern rural areas. Most have been denied entry into Turkey or are financially unable to make the journey and sustain their families there.

      "People keep coming here because of the bombings and shelling in Azaz by [President Bashar] al-Assad," said Muhammad. "The regime has bombed hospitals in Azaz, which is very near here. They said they wanted to target a rebel commander, but he was in Turkey and many civilians were killed instead."

      An UN-mandated commission released a report on Monday that found both sides of the conflict were committing war crimes, though it said government forces carried more blame.

      Assad's regime has labeled its opponents "terrorists" who are funded and backed by the West, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

      The threat of attack by Assad's forces is a constant reality as fighter jets and helicopter gunships fly overhead, plunging the camp into chaos.

      Abu Bahar - who also asked that his real name not be used for fear of retaliation - fled from Aleppo. He sits on a plastic chair outside his tent, pensively counting prayer beads.

      "My brother and father were taken by Bashar paramilitary groups five months ago, so we had to leave our home," said Bahar. "They also took 50,000 Syrian pounds [US$700]. My father has come back, but my brother is still with them."

      He said peace between the warring factions is the only thing that will end the suffering. "We have no electricity, no food but I don't want these things. I want peace. With peace our problems will go away. We don't have to worry."

      Bahar said he does not know when or how political reconciliation would play out. He only wants to reclaim his life and have some control over the future of his family.

      The young exposed

      Another camp resident, who identified himself as Saif, prepares firewood by smashing a boulder into tree branches he's collected. His eight-month-old son died in October amid the biting cold and lack of food.

      "He was my only child. What was his crime?" he asked.

      When the Assad regime is mentioned, Saif thrusts his chin to the sky and sharply pulls his index finger across his throat and curses.

      Saif claimed to be a fighter in the insurgency, but that's impossible to verify. Many young men from Syria's north have joined the ranks of the Free Syrian Army rebels, even though lots volunteer for non-combat roles.

      The Syrians gathered at the Bab-al-Salam camp are surviving as best they can, like thousands of others languishing along the northern border. Assad's government has refused permission for the UN to bring aid supplies across the Turkish border, because northern Syria is largely controlled by rebel fighters.

      However, three more international aid agencies - Mercy Corps, NRC and Merlyn - were recently given the green light by the Syrian government to start relief operations in the country, bringing the total to 11.

      But Amos, the UN's humanitarian aid official, said that's not enough. She again this week asked Assad's regime to allow UN aid workers access through Turkey.

      "I have spoken to the [Syrian] government on a number of occasions about allowing us to bring in supplies across that border. My last conversation with them was yesterday [Monday]. The answer remains 'no'," Amos said.

      Peace in Syria looks a vain hope as 53 die in car bomb
      Children among the casualties after 1.5 tonnes of explosives are detonated in Damascus


      Dozens dead in central Damascus bombing
      State media says 53 people are killed in car bombing near headquarters of ruling Baath Party and Russian embassy.
      Last Modified: 22 Feb 2013 07:02


      UN warns of 'humanitarian tragedy' in Syria
      Humanitarian chief says rebel-held north largely out of reach for aid operations while WHO reports typhoid outbreak.
      Last Modified: 20 Feb 2013 10:00


      Yahya Hawwa, voice of the Syrian revolution
      Seventeen members of his family have been arrested, but Yahya Hawwa still sings – and Syrian protesters have made his voice their own. Omar Shahid talks to the irrepressible voice of a revolution
      Omar Shahid
      The Guardian, Sunday 17 February 2013 19.00 GMT


      Revealed: Russia's double dealing on arms to Assad regime leaves UK isolated over Syria
      Continuing sales to regime leave UK isolated over its strategy for Syria


      Why Assad will fight to the end
      From Bashar al-Assad's perspective, he really has no option other than to fight to the death.
      Last Modified: 10 Feb 2013 14:03



      Iraqi prisons leave women doubly vulnerable
      Wives of suspects are held as 'hostages', while others are jailed over family grudges or on specious charges to extract bribes
      Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 15 March 2013 19.17 GMT


      Sabah Hassan Hussein is still not certain which powerful person or interest she offended. An Iraqi journalist and human rights activist, she says she had been investigating the serious abuse of female prisoners in Tikrit. Although she had not published her allegations she did raise them with Iraqi ministries.

      Last year, in events she believes may be connected, Hussein found herself incarcerated in the same jail and suffering similar abuse to the other women.

      Tricked into visiting an army barracks in Baghdad, she was arrested and transferred to Tikrit on a trumped-up charge involving the murder of the brother of an Iraqi MP and one of her colleagues who had been kidnapped and killed.

      The 12-month ordeal that followed, by her account, involved physical and psychological abuse, and included sexual assault.

      She says she finally cracked when she was told her 20-year-old daughter, who was brought to speak to her in Tikrit, would be raped if she did not "confess".

      At one point a judge accused Hussein of a completely different crime – of delivering suicide vests for an attack on a government building, a capital offence.

      Hussein, who leaves her hair uncovered, smokes cigarettes and wears trousers, is still incredulous. "I said to the final judge I saw in Baghdad, look at me. Do I look like someone from al-Qaida?"

      Her case is not unique in a country where both physical and procedural mistreatment of prisoners is commonplace.

      Women, however, are doubly vulnerable. According to international and local human rights organisations, women have been detained without charge as "hostages" to persuade husbands wanted in serious crimes to surrender.

      In other cases women have fallen victim to grudges launched by vengeful family members, including husbands. There have been allegations of rape, violence and other serious assaults.

      Vivian al-Tai is one of those who claims she was jailed because of a marital dispute. Her husband lodged a complaint after she sought a divorce because of allegations of domestic violence. He accused her of kidnapping him and forcing him to marry her, according to her aunt, Lubna Ismail. He is thought to be willing to drop the case if his wife withdraws charges of assault and her claim for alimony.

      There is a final category of female prisoners: those who are arrested and in effect held hostage to force male relatives suspected of terrorism to give themselves up.

      This tactic has become one of the complaints of Sunni protesters in the country's northern and western provinces.

      Even then the real reasons for holding the women can be specious. Three months ago Human Rights Watch reported claims of families saying security officers and judges had collaborated to keep women detained on "suspicion of terrorism" charges, then demanded bribes to secure their release.

      In the same report HRW gave details of one of the most notorious recent cases. In November federal police raided 11 homes in the town of al-Taji, north of Baghdad, and detained 41 people, including 29 children, overnight in their homes.

      The report stated: "Sources close to the detainees, who requested anonymity, said police took 12 women and girls, ages 11 to 60, to 6th brigade headquarters and held them there for four days without charge.

      "The sources said the police beat the women and tortured them with electric shocks, and plastic bags placed over their heads until they began to suffocate."

      Those claims appear consistent with allegations made in September to representatives of the Iraqi government's human rights ministry and to the Hummurabi Human Rights Organisation, an Iraqi NGO, during a visit to women's prison 42 in Baghdad's Al-Resafa district. In this jail female inmates reported that they had suffered torture and sexual abuse.

      In Iraq's parliament Atab Jasim Nasif al-Duri, a female MP, raised the issue of the security forces' practice of detaining the wives or other female relatives of wanted suspects.

      A week later, according to a report by Amnesty International, the head of the parliamentary human rights committee expressed concern that female detainees were liable to harassment and abuse when put in the custody of solely male guards while being moved between detention facilities.

      While that led to the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, issuing pardons in January for a few female detainees, human rights activists believe hundreds more women remain in detention.

      Mohammed Hassan al-Salami, of the National Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights, argues that Iraq's draconian anti-terrorism legislation has created a culture of impunity in the country's judicial, policing and judicial system, which has made life easy for unscrupulous individuals who are motivated by either corruption or by sectarian antipathy.

      The legislation includes the 2005 article 4 which, critics argue, in effect holds other family members culpable for the crimes of those accused of terror.

      Salami said: "One of the issues is the power given to security forces to do what they want to defeat terrorism, which is then used for personal advantage. The rule in these places where women are being detained is that these officers are above ordinary citizens.

      "Sadly many people who are victims of abuse are afraid to speak out in public because they are afraid they will be paid back.

      "Some of these women are victims of personal vendettas. Someone hates them and uses the system against them. In these cases we see fake cases and fake warrants. In other cases it is because of political views, designed to shut them up."

      Hussein was released last month with all charges dropped. But her ordeal is not over. She doesn't go out much and is too afraid to return to work.

      Saddam's statue: the bitter regrets of Iraq's sledgehammer man
      Kadom al-Jabouri became famous when he took his hammer to the dictator's statue. Now he wishes he had never done it
      Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
      The Observer, Saturday 9 March 2013 20.38 GMT


      The Shia are in power in Iraq – but not in control
      The Legacy - Day 4. The Shia - On paper Iraq's religious majority also runs the country. In reality, sectarian divisions make it virtually ungovernable


      Iraq is the first Arab country to be ruled by a Shia government since Saladin overthrew the Fatimids in Egypt in 1171. But Shia rule is deeply troubled, and Shia leaders have been unable to share power in a stable way that satisfies the Sunni, the Kurds and even the Shia community.

      This is not wholly the leaders’ fault. They fear the Kurds want independence and the Sunni hope to regain their old dominance. Qusay Abdul Wahab al-Suhail, the Sadrist deputy speaker of parliament, says “the problem is that the Sunni do not accept power in the hands of the Shia”.

      Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s response to all this has been to grab as much authority as he can, circumventing agreements that would parcel out power in a nominally fair way, that, in practice, paralyses the state machinery. The government in the Green Zone, the great fortress it inherited from the Americans, is not shy about its sectarian allegiance. Shia banners and posters of Imam Ali and Imam Hussein decorate checkpoints and block-houses in the Green Zone and much of the rest of Baghdad, including prisons and police stations.

      Mr Maliki’s efforts to monopolise power – though less effective than his critics allege – have alienated powerful Shia individuals, parties and religious institutions. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the pre-eminent Shia religious leader of immense influence, whom the Americans at the height of their power found they could not defy, will no longer see the Prime Minister’s emissaries. The marji’iyyah – the small group of men at the top of the Shia religious hierarchy – have come to see the Prime Minister as a provoker of crises that discredit Shi’ism and may break up the country. Iran, the only other large Shia-controlled state, with strong but not overwhelming influence in Iraq, says privately that it is unhappy with Mr Maliki, but does not want a political explosion in the country while it is facing ever-mounting pressure over Syria, its other Arab ally, and its economy is buckling under the impact of sanctions.

      The Sunni rise again: Uprising in Syria emboldens Iraq's minority community
      The Legacy - Day 3. A nation divided - When Saddam fell, his people fell with him. But events in Syria have emboldened Iraq’s Sunni minority to fight for a greater share of power


      “Iraq or Maliki! Iraq or Maliki!” shout Sunni Arab demonstrators as they block roads in western Iraq in protest against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and discrimination against their community.

      Demonstrations by Sunni, in their tens of thousands, began with the arrest of the bodyguards of a Sunni politician on 20 December and are still continuing. For the first time since 2003 the Sunni – one fifth of the 33 million Iraqi population – are showing signs of unity and intelligent leadership as they try to escape political marginalisation in a country ruled since the fall of Saddam Hussein by the Shia majority in alliance with the Kurds.

      In the first days of the protests, Sunni demonstrators held up pictures of Saddam Hussein and waved the old regime’s version of the Iraqi flag. This changed when a revered Sunni scholar, Abdul-Malik al-Saadi, taking a leadership role, instructed that these symbols of Sunni supremacy should be dropped and substituted with slogans acceptable to the Shia. Mr Saadi issued a fatwa condemning “regionalism”, which is the code for a semi-independent Sunni region, a demand which, if granted, would mean the break up of Iraq. He appealed instead for Sunni and Shia unity against the Maliki government. A Shia political observer noted that “they are aware that without winning over the Shia south of the country they face isolation and defeat.”

      The new direction of Sunni opposition has met with a positive response. Muqtada al-Sadr, the nationalist populist Shia cleric, once dreaded by Sunni as the inspiration for the death squads of the Mehdi Army Shia militia, supported the protests, saying: “Iraq is not only composed of Shia, but Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians, Mandeans and Jews as well.” This cross-sectarian appeal by the Sunni makes it more difficult, but not impossible for Mr Maliki to play the sectarian card in upcoming local and parliamentary elections this year.

      The Sunni have a lot to complain about. Anger is deep over an anti-terrorism law that allows detention without trial of a suspect on the word of an unidentified informer. Sheikh Qassim al-Kerbuli, a leader in the Sunni heartland province of Anbar, says: “I know a Sunni teacher in Baghdad who threw a Shia student out of an examination because he caught him cheating. The student told the security forces the teacher was a terrorist and he is now in prison.”

      Worse things can and do happen in prison. Torture of detainees is habitual, leading to false confessions and long prison sentences. This is not confined to Sunni, but they are most frequently targeted for abuse. “When the security forces arrest someone they torture them with electricity,” says Nazar Abdel Hamid from Fallujah, who is helping organise the protests. “They are hung up by their hands or forced to sit on a broken bottle.”

      The demonstrators are enraged over women being detained for long periods by the security forces because their male relatives are under suspicion, but cannot be found. Sheikh Kerbuli says “I know of one woman who has been held for six years because her husband was seen with a suspicious-looking black bag. Nobody knows what was in the bag but he escaped, so they took away his wife instead.”

      Such stories are confirmed by human rights activists who have visited prisons. Pascale Warda, a former minister and one of the heads of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organisation, visited the women’s prison in Baghdad last year. She says “there were 414 inmates of whom 169 had been arrested but not sentenced. Our team saw traces of torture at the time of the investigation. Some women prisoners had been raped, usually when they were being moved from the place where they were being investigated to the prison.”

      The accusation of rape caused outrage when a government supporter claimed the women had been paid to make the allegation. William Warda, Pascale’s husband, who also belongs to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organisation, says the authorities “always depend on confessions from those arrested under the anti-terrorism law so they always use torture on them.” He says that when he asked why prisoners had been detained without charge for so long they say “they are still looking for evidence against them after three or four years.”

      Sunni grievances are much more extensive than false imprisonment and mistreatment. They feel they have been reduced to the status of second class citizens, discriminated against when it comes to getting a fair share of jobs and projects to provide electricity, water and healthcare. They see anti-Ba’athist legislation, supposedly directed against leading members of the Ba’ath Party that ruled Iraq from 1968 to 2003, as a sectarian weapon used to take away the jobs and pensions of Sunni teachers and minor civil servants. Ghassan al-Atiyyah, a political scientist and activist, says he visited a teacher in the Sunni district of Abu Ghraib in Baghdad who “after 30 years as a school teacher is out of a job and a pension. They just sent him a message written on a scrap of paper saying “Go home”. He is penniless. If he was younger he would get a gun.”

      Many Shia express sympathy for cases like this, but they add that Sunni in Anbar, Salahudin, Nineveh and Sunni districts of Baghdad are frequently unemployed because they used to have plum jobs under Saddam Hussein as army, police or intelligence officers. In the 1980s it was said that 80 per cent of army officers were Sunni and 20 per cent Shia, while the proportions were the reverse in the lower ranks. A retired Shia general says “it is hypocritical of Sunni to demand back security jobs that they only held in the past because of sectarian bias in their favour.”

      Iraq 10 years on: How Baghdad became a city of corruption
      The Legacy - Day 2. Money talks - In the second part of his landmark series on Iraq, Patrick Cockburn reveals how bribery became the dominant currency in Baghdad


      Iraqis are not naïve. Grim experience of their country’s rulers over the past 50 years leads many to suspect them of being self-serving, greedy, brutal, and incompetent. Ten years ago, some had hoped Iraqis might escape living in a permanent state of emergency as the US and Britain prepared to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Others were wary of Iraqis returning from abroad who promised to build a new nation.

      A few months before the invasion, an Iraqi civil servant secretly interviewed in Baghdad made a gloomy forecast. “The exiled Iraqis are the exact replica of those who currently govern us… with the sole difference that the latter are already satiated since they have been robbing us for the past 30 years,” he said. “Those who accompany the US troops will be ravenous.”

      Many of the Iraqis who came back to Iraq after the US-led invasion were people of high principle who had sacrificed much as opponents of Saddam Hussein. But fast forward 10 years and the prediction of the unnamed civil servant about the rapacity of Iraq’s new governors turns out to have been all too true. As one former minister puts it, “the Iraqi government is an institutionalised kleptocracy”.

      It is a view shared by Iraqis in the frontline of business in Baghdad. Property prices in the capital are high and there are plenty of buyers. I asked Abduk-Karim Ali, a real-estate broker, who was paying so much for houses. He replied with a laugh that there were investors from Kurdistan and Bahrain, but most purchasers he dealt with are “the thieves of 2003 who have the money”. “Who are they?” I asked. “I mean the officials in the government,” said Mr Ali. “They buy the best properties for themselves.”

      “The corruption is unbelievable,” says Ghassan al-Atiyyah, a political scientist and activist. “You can’t get a job in the army or the government unless you pay; you can’t even get out of prison unless you pay. Maybe a judge sets you free but you must pay for the paperwork, otherwise you stay there. Even if you are free you may be captured by some officer who paid $10,000 to $50,000 for his job and needs to get the money back.” In an Iraqi version of Catch-22 everything is for sale. One former prison detainee says he had to pay his guards $100 for a single shower. Racketeering is the norm: one entrepreneur built his house on top of a buried oil pipeline, drilled into it and siphoned off quantities of fuel.

      Corruption complicates and poisons the daily life of Iraqis, especially those who cannot afford to pay. But the frequent demand for bribes does not in itself cripple the state or the economy. The highly autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government is deemed extremely corrupt, but its economy is booming and its economic management is praised as a model for the country. More damaging for Iraq is the wholesale theft of public funds. Despite tens of billions of dollars being spent, there is a continuing shortage of electricity and other necessities. Few Iraqis regret the fall of Saddam, but many recall that, after the devastating US air strikes on the infrastructure in 1991, power stations were patched up quickly using only Iraqi resources.

      Ten years on from the war, how the world forgot about Iraq
      The Legacy - Day 1. A nation in crises - In the first of a landmark six-part series, Patrick Cockburn reports on the feeling of betrayal in Baghdad


      It is 10 years since the start of the war in Iraq which led to the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

      The diplomatic map of the world has been redrawn as a consequence. Inquiry after inquiry has studied the legality of the conflict.

      Political reputations have been made and lost. But what of the country itself?

      Patrick Cockburn, The Independent’s acclaimed foreign correspondent, toured Saddam’s former empire to find out what state it is in. Who have been the winners?

      Who have been the losers? And have we left Iraq in a better condition than we found it?


      Iraq is disintegrating as a country under the pressure of a mounting political, social and economic crisis, say Iraqi leaders.

      They add that 10 years after the US invasion and occupation the conflict between the three main communities – Shia, Sunni and Kurd – is deepening to a point just short of civil war. “There is zero trust between Iraqi leaders,” says an Iraqi politician in daily contact with them. But like many of those interviewed by The Independent for this article, he did not want to be identified by name.

      The escalating crisis in Iraq since the end of 2011 has largely been ignored by the rest of the world because international attention has been focused on Syria, the Arab uprisings and domestic economic troubles. The US and the UK have sought to play down overwhelming evidence that their invasion and occupation has produced one of the most dysfunctional and crooked governments in the world. Iraq has been violent and unstable for so long that Iraqis and foreigners alike have become desensitised to omens suggesting that, bad as the situation has been, it may be about to get a great deal worse.

      The record of failure of post-Saddam governments, given the financial resources available, is astounding. One of the reasons many Iraqis welcomed the fall of Saddam in 2003, whatever their feelings about foreign occupation, was that they thought that his successors would restore normal life after years of sanctions and war. To their astonishment and fury this has not happened, though Iraq now enjoys $100bn (£66bn) a year in oil revenues. In Baghdad there is scarcely a new civilian building to be seen and most of the new construction is heavily fortified police or military outposts. In Basra, at the heart of the oilfields, there are pools of sewage and heaps of uncollected rubbish in the streets on which herds of goats forage.

      I was in Baghdad at the end of January when there were a couple of days of heavy rain. For years, contractors – Iraqi and foreign – have supposedly been building a new sewage system for the Iraqi capital but none of the water was disappearing down the drains. I drove for miles in east Baghdad through streets flooded with grey, murky water, diluted with sewage. I only turned round in Sadr City, the Shia working-class bastion, when the flood waters became too deep to drive through. Shirouk Abayachi, an advisor to the Ministry of Water Resources, explained to me that “since 2003, $7bn has been spent to build a new sewage system for Baghdad, but either the sewers weren’t built or they were built very badly”. She said the worst flooding had been where in theory there were new sewage pipes, while those built in the 1980s worked better, concluding that “corruption is the key to all this”.

      Theft of public money and incompetence on a gargantuan scale means the government fails to provide adequate electricity, clean water or sanitation. One-third of the labour force is unemployed and, when you include those under-employed, the figure is over half. Even those who do have a job have often obtained it by bribery. “I feared seven or eight years ago that Iraq would become like Nigeria,” says one former minister, “but in fact it is far worse.” He cited as evidence a $1.3bn contract for an electricity project signed by a minister with a Canadian company that had only a nominal existence – and a German company that was bankrupt.


      Iraqis looked for improved personal security and the rule of law after Saddam, but again this has not materialised. The violence is much less than during the mass slaughter of 2006 and 2007 when upwards of 3,000 Iraqis were being butchered every month. But Baghdad and central Iraq remains one of the most dangerous places on earth in terms of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings. It is not just political violence that darkens lives, but a breakdown of civil society that leaves people often looking to tribal justice in preference to police or official courts. One woman said that: “If you have a traffic accident, what matters is not whether you were right or wrong but what tribe you belong to.”

      The same sense of insecurity in the face of arbitrary government taints political life. If there is not quite the same fear as under Saddam, it often feels as if this is only because the security forces are less efficient, not because they are any less cruel or corrupt. The rule of Nouri al-Maliki, Prime Minister since 2006, has become a near dictatorship with highly developed means of repression, such as secret prisons, and pervasive use of torture. He has sought to monopolise control over the army, intelligence service, government apparatus and budget, making sure that his supporters get the lion’s share of jobs and contracts. His State of Law Coalition won only 24 per cent of the votes in the 2010 election – 2.8 million votes out of 19 million registered voters – but he has ruled as if he had received an overwhelming mandate.

      Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah 'worse than Hiroshima'
      The shocking rates of infant mortality and cancer in Iraqi city raise new questions about battle



      Drip-feeding Chinese culture in Sudan
      Relations not merely economic as China opens cultural centres and promotes language in African country.
      Last Modified: 08 Mar 2013 03:33


      Sudan is one of China's most important trading partners in sub-Saharan Africa. But the relationship is not purely economic.

      China has been promoting its culture in Sudan through opening cultural centres, organising exhibition, and sending Sudanese students to study in Chinese universities.

      Al Jazeera's Mohamed Vall reports from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.


      Death sentences upheld over Port Said riots
      Egypt court confirms death sentences for 21 people found guilty of sparking deadly football riots in 2012.
      Last Modified: 09 Mar 2013 11:27


      An Egyptian court has confirmed the death sentences of 21 Port Said football fans accused of sparking deadly riots at a stadium last year.

      Listing the names of the 21, the judge said the court had confirmed "the death penalty by hanging".

      In a ruling on live television on Saturday, the Cairo court also sentenced five more people to life in prison for the riots and acquitted 28. Others out of a total of 73 defendants received shorter jail sentences.

      The death sentences, passed on January 28, have been a flashpoint for protests across the country.

      The 74 football stadium deaths occurred in February 2012 at the end of a match between Cairo's Al-Ahly and local side Al-Masry.

      Spectators were crushed when panicked crowds tried to escape from the stadium after a pitch invasion by supporters of Al-Masry. Others fell or were thrown from terraces. Most of the victims were fans of Al-Ahly.

      Two senior policemen were sentenced on Saturday to 15 years in prison - former head of police security General Essam Samak and Brigadier General Mohammed Saad, who at the time of the riot had the keys to the stadium gates, which were locked.

      The other seven police put on trial were acquitted.

      Witnesses have said that police deployed at the stadium were passively staying on the sidelines and did not interfere to stop the violence.

      Celebration and condemnation

      Thousands of Al-Ahly fans who had gathered outside the club's headquarters in Cairo welcomed the upholding of the death sentences. Fans also blocked the October bridge, one of the most vital bridges in the capital, in protest over the acquittal of the police officers.

      State television said thousands of Al-Ahly fans stormed the police officers' club. Smoke was seen rising from the building.

      Meanwhile in Port Said, several hundred people, many of them relatives of the defendants, gathered outside the local government offices to vent their anger over the verdicts.

      Most of those condemned to death were fans of Port Said's Al-Masry club. The verdicts led to protests in the city that left about 40 people dead, most of them shot by police.

      Port Said has been a centre of violence in the latest wave of unrest to hit Egypt. Protests and clashes have erupted across the country since January 25, when hundreds of thousands marked the second anniversary of the start of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak's regime.

      Many residents of Port Said, which is located at the northern tip of the Suez Canal, have seen the football trial as unjust and politicised, and football fans in the city have felt that authorities were biased in favour of Al-Ahly, Egypt's most powerful club.


      Yemen's youngest divorcee says father has squandered cash from her book
      Nujood Ali clams father has used proceeds from her book deal to marry and has arranged wedding for her younger sister
      Joe Sheffer in Sana'a
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 March 2013 18.29 GMT


      It's been five years since Nujood Ali became known as the world's youngest divorcee after escaping the man who bought her as a child bride aged nine.

      The story of Nujood's marriage and subsequent court victory was turned into a bestselling book, bringing hope to thousands of Yemeni brides forced into marriages they are too young to understand or consent to.

      The royalties from I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced were supposed to pay for the girl's schooling and allow her to follow her ambition to become a lawyer. Instead, Nujood says, the money has been squandered by her father – who has now sold her younger sister to a man twice her age.

      "My father has spent all the money on getting married twice again," she says, fidgeting nervously, her fingers stained with henna.

      Now 15, she still finds it difficult to talk about her marriage and ex-husband. "He now has four wives, 14 children and learnt nothing from my experience. He gives me between $20 [£13] and $30 a month for pocket money."

      Nujood's ordeal began when she was married off by her father at nine, for a dowry of a little more than $750, after her future husband, Faez Ali Thamer, promised not to have sex with her "before the year after she has her first period" – as required by law in Yemen.

      But what followed was a cycle of sexual and physical abuse, starting on her wedding night.

      Two months later, during a visit back to her family home, she took the unprecedented step of running away and asking a court for a divorce on grounds of abuse.

      The case was the first of its kind in Yemen and attracted so much attention that the court's security described the hearing as a "mob scene". Both Nujood's father and husband were briefly imprisoned during proceedings, after colluding to lie to the court about the girl's age.

      The book of Nujood's story was ghostwritten by Delphine Minoui and published in France. It was translated into 16 languages and sold in 35 countries.

      Publishers Michel Lafon agreed to pay her father, Ali Mohammed al-Ahdel, $1,000 a month until she was 18 to support her upbringing. It also bought a large house for the family in Sana'a, and set up a fund paid directly to a school for her education.

      But Nujood says she has been forced out of the home and has not received any of the money being paid to her father. She said her father had rented the first floor of the house to another family, and moved his new wife into the second. "I've been asked to leave and have to stay in my older brother's cramped house."

      Listening carefully in the corner of the room is Haifa Ali, Nujood's younger sister, who recently became engaged to a man she does not know.

      "I don't want to get married," Haifa says. "I'm very scared, because the [dowry] money has already been paid and I want to continue my education."

      Haifa is cut short by Nujood, her anger overcoming her shyness. "I won't let it happen to her," she says. "I will speak to as many journalists and lawyers as possible about this. It is illegal."

      The girls' father refused to speak to the Guardian, but the book's publishers say they are trying to rectify the situation. "We are unable to pay Nujood directly legally in Yemen due to the law and it is at times exceptionally difficult to know what is going on from France," said Margaux Mersie of Michel Lafon.

      "The problem is that al-Ahdel'<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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