22 thoughts on “British army insults fallen soldiers for Bahrain dictatorship’s bribe

  1. February 19, 2013, 10:23 p.m. ET

    A Palace Rift in Persian Gulf Bedevils Key U.S. Navy Base

    MANAMA, Bahrain—A widening split between rival bloodlines within Bahrain’s royal family is empowering anti-American hard-liners in this strategically important island-state, palace insiders say, stoking U.S. concerns about its primary naval base at the heart of the Persian Gulf.

    The split, largely hidden from view until recently, involves two branches of the Khalifa royal family, both descended from brothers installed by the British in 1869. In an unusual breach of royal-family discipline, palace figures described the divisions in interviews with The Wall Street Journal. Last week marked the two-year anniversary of historic Arab Spring protests here that continue to echo daily in Bahrain’s streets.

    The royal rivalry within tiny Bahrain, nestled in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has geopolitical significance. It is empowering Sunni Islamists and eroding American influence here, according to Western diplomats, U.S. officials, ruling-family rivals, opposition leaders and political analysts.

    The feud pits the king, whose predecessors nurtured Western ties for decades, against a hereditary line within the royal family known as the Khawalids. The Khawalids, whose power base includes the hard-line Islamist movement, were long marginalized within the family. But in recent years, the Khawalids gained control of important institutions including Bahrain’s security and intelligence forces, the judiciary and the king’s royal court.

    “They have come out of obscurity,” said Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen, an expert on Bahrain’s royal family at Chatham House, a London think tank. “These guys are engaged in a huge battle for control of the family.”

    At the most extreme, there is concern among both palace insiders and western observers that the current royal succession line could eventually be shuffled in favor of the Khawalids. “The king is totally marginalized,” said Emile Nakhleh, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and a Bahrain watcher. “Some elements within this Khawalid faction might begin to think, we should explore another line of hereditary control for the ruling family,” he said.

    “Surrounding the king are all powerful Khawalids,” said a senior member of the royal family—not a Khawalid himself—in an interview with the Journal, taking the highly irregular step here of denouncing his rival cousins.

    Bahrain has ranked among the more moderate and democratic Gulf states. The presence there of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and Navy Central Command makes it a hub of U.S. power in the Gulf.

    Bahrain remains a close ally, U.S. officials say, as does the king. However, officials acknowledge that there are more conservative elements within the royal family that are suspicious of Washington’s motives on the island. These people say that, while the position of the current crown prince—the king’s son and eventual heir to the throne—is under threat from hard-liners, they don’t believe there is imminent likelihood of a change in sovereign bloodline within the ruling family.

    There are hints of waning enthusiasm for Bahrain among some U.S. military figures. Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Dennis C. Blair, former Director of National Intelligence and Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, this month urged the Pentagon to move the Fifth Fleet’s headquarters out of Bahrain.

    “The Fifth Fleet headquarters should be moved back on board a flagship, as it was until 1993,” he wrote in The Hill, a publication that covers Congress. Calling that expensive but “necessary,” he said: “Permanent basing in a repressive Bahrain undermines our support for reform and is vulnerable if instability continues.”

    A top adviser to Bahrain’s king who is close to senior Khawalids said reports of deep royal-family rifts are overblown and disputed that the rival camps were defined by bloodline. “This is healthy debate, not a blood vendetta from fairy tales,” the adviser said. The king declined to comment.

    The adviser said some critics within the ruling family may be motivated by competition for government appointments, particularly as people angle to eventually succeed the 82-year-old prime minister, the king’s uncle and one of Bahrain’s most powerful men, though there is no timetable.

    No Khawalid government officials agreed to be interviewed.

    When the Arab Spring protests swept into Bahrain in 2011, royal-family disagreement burst into the open. The king, though his son and heir apparent, reached out to compromise with activists, at U.S. urging. The Khawalids, on the other hand, called for crackdown.

    The Khawalids prevailed and led the crackdown. The kingdom has simmered ever since. Violent clashes between protesters and police—tear-gas canisters, rubber bullets and chants of “death to the king”—remain a nightly affair.

    On Thursday, security forces killed a 16-year-old protester, an opposition website said. Bahrain’s chief of public security said a protester died, according to Reuters.

    The kingdom of Bahrain is home to roughly 1.2 million people, most of whom practice Shiite Islam, but the ruling family is from the Sunni minority. Thus the clash within Bahrain is a microcosm of broader conflict in the Middle East, pitting Sunni governments, such as Saudi Arabia, against Shiite Iran and its allies.

    “What happens in Bahrain sets the tone for much of the rest of the gulf,” which until now has largely avoided the Arab Spring unrest, said Kristin Smith Diwan, a Bahrain watcher at the American University in Washington.

    Two former U.S. officials with experience in Bahrain said that if the Khawalids continue to gain influence it may not be viable to continue to base thousands of U.S. service members and their families there. A report this month by Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace urged the U.S. military “to prepare plans for the gradual relocation of the Fifth Fleet’s assets and functions” because of uncertainties within the ruling family.

    Last Sunday, the government and opposition parties restarted formal talks for the first time since 2011. The talks themselves show how ruling-family power has shifted in less than two years. In 2011, the crown prince led the government’s team. But hard-line elements in the ruling family oppose direct negotiations with the opposition; this time, there is no direct ruling-family participation.

    Bahrain’s crackdown on its opposition, which began in March 2011, was the broadest on Shiite-lead dissent in Bahrain’s modern history. At least 86 people died, some tortured to death in government custody, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the palace. Thousands of Shiites were purged from government payrolls. Dozens of Shiite mosques were flattened.

    “The different style of the crackdown reflected a different leadership calling the shots,” said Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow and Bahrain expert at Chatham House, the think tank.

    At the same time, anti-U.S. rhetoric became so personal that the U.S. Embassy sent one diplomat home out of safety fears. In that incident, after a U.S. diplomat gave doughnuts to Shiite protesters outside the U.S. embassy, a newspaper funded by the Khawalid-controlled royal court accused the diplomat of working both for the Israeli intelligence services and the Iranians to topple the monarchy, and published the diplomat’s name and photo.

    Privately, Bahrain officials say there was widespread frustration that the U.S. didn’t do more to support the royal family as protests erupted, though it was never stated officially. The Bahraini newspaper backed by the royal court began referring to the U.S. president as “Ayatollah Obama”—a mocking reference to Iran’s top leader—because of Washington’s alleged support for opposition protesters. Bahrain alleges Iran is backing Bahrain’s opposition.

    U.S. officials dispute the characterization and say they supported the king and his call for dialogue with the opposition.

    Critics of the Khawalids also say they have minimized the influence of the moderate, pro-American crown prince, Salman Khalifa, who is next in line to the throne.

    Rival family factions have jostled for influence in Bahrain ever since the 18th century, when the Khalifa, a tribe with roots in Saudi Arabia, came to power. But only recently, as family members have begun voicing alarm at growing Khawalid clout, has Bahrain’s hard-liner camp been identified as largely dominated by a cohesive blood line within the family.

    In the 1920s, two Khalifa brothers dominated Bahrain: The emir, who ruled with British backing, and his brother, Khaled Ben Ali Khalifa, in a junior role as a provincial governor. Khaled is the patriarch of the bloodline Khawalids, which in Arabic means “descendants of Khaled.”

    When Shiites sought greater rights in the early 1920s, Khaled Ben Ali led the crackdown. At British prodding, he was tried for murder and jailed. The trial left wounds that festered for decades.

    But in time, the Khawalids rebuilt their power. According to one member of the royal family, an opening came in 1965, when Khaled Ben Ali’s great-grandson, Khaled bin Ahmed Khalifa, was named vizier, or head of court, for the then-15-year-old Crown Prince Hamed bin Isa Khalifa—the man who today, is king.

    Three years later, with independence from British rule looming, the crown prince chose another Khawalid, his vizier’s brother, to help build the nation’s first army. Thus the Khawalids moved from royal outcast to central palace figures.

    In 1999, the crown prince became king. Of his two powerful Khawalid aides: One became Royal Court Minister, essentially his chief of staff, and the other remained Commander in Chief of the Bahrain Defense Forces, with widened authority.

    The Khawalid-controlled defense budget rose 118%, to $883 million in 2011 from an estimated $406 million in 2001, nearly twice the growth rate of any other country in the region. In 2008 the defense commander, Khalifa bin Ahmed Khalifa, was promoted to Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, replacing the current crown prince.

    Today’s king won early praise as a reformer. He released political prisoners and gave women the vote.

    Then his clout appeared to weaken. He “increasingly seems to isolate himself in his palace,” then-U.S. Ambassador Adam Ereli noted in a 2007 cable to Washington, released by WikiLeaks. Hard-liners including the “highly influential” Royal Court Minister, a Khawalid, “call the shots” and, among other things, “crack down hard against Shia interests.”

    The king walked back many of his earlier reforms, for instance, limiting the powers he had pledged to the elected half of Bahrain’s parliament. He imposed new restrictions on alcohol sales. He banned the television show “Big Brother” for being un-Islamic.

    In 2006, a Sudanese-British adviser to the Bahrain government wrote a 240-page report accusing Khawalids of leading a secret campaign to undermine reformers in the ruling family and disenfranchise Shiites by rigging elections, stoking sectarian differences and backing radical Sunni Islamists. It singled out then-head of Bahrain’s intelligence apparatus, Ahmed Atiyatallah, the nephew of the Royal Court Minister, as the leader.

    The report was publicly released, although Bahrain’s Justice Ministry has banned mention of it in Bahraini media. The author, who didn’t respond to interview requests, has been deported.

    The report described what it called an “underground network,” lead by Mr. Atiyatallah, working “to override the legal legitimacy, falsify popular will and vilify civil organizations.” It would lead to “the escalation of violence and terrorism,” and “the rule of the state security apparatus,” it said.

    Mr. Atiyatallah declined to be interviewed. Previously he has dismissed the report as part of an Iran-backed effort to destabilize Bahrain.

    “That was when things started going wrong,” said a senior ruling-family member. “You could see that they, the Khawalids, had more power than most realized.”

    When the Arab Spring uprising broke out in February 2011, the king backed his son, the crown prince, to lead talks with the opposition. The crown prince offered a deal that would have granted the Shiites historic concessions, including a bigger share in parliament. The Khawalid brothers opposed the offer, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

    After a confrontation between the crown prince and the Royal Court Minister at a family meeting, the Royal Court Minister flew to Saudi Arabia, according to an aide to the crown prince and a senior member of the ruling family. There he convinced Saudi’s King Abdullah to oppose the crown prince’s efforts, according to the same two people.

    Back in Bahrain, some units of the kingdom’s security services loyal to the Khawalids attacked opposition marches, according to the two people familiar with the Saudi talks. Bahrain’s negotiations with protesters fell apart.

    The top adviser to the king who is close to the Khawalids disputed those allegations in an interview. He blamed the failed negotiations on Shiite leaders who declined to accept concessions offered by the crown prince.

    Saudi Arabia sent forces to Bahrain to help quash the uprising. The king declared martial law, giving the Khawalid armed-forces commander more power.

    In the months after the crackdown, the Khawalids and their allies weakened the crown prince, according to people both inside and outside the palace. His allies have been removed from positions of influence. The Economic Development Board, a de facto parallel cabinet set up by the crown prince, had its policy-making powers stripped.

    In December, the crown prince spoke publicly for the first time in months. He renewed a call for dialogue with the opposition, but appears to have made little headway.

    His comments didn’t mention the U.S., and contained generous nods to the Khawalids’ influence, including praise for Saudi Arabia for its help quashing the uprising. “We will never forget your stand during our difficult time,” he said. Without Saudi help, “We would have been a far different place.”

    A version of this article appeared February 20, 2013, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Palace Rift in Persian Gulf Bedevils Key U.S. Navy Base.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324595704578239441790926074.html

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  5. HMS Northumberland in Bahrain

    Organisations: Ministry of Defence

    Published: 20 February 2013

    Policy: Working for peace and long-term stability in the Middle East and North Africa

    World location: Bahrain

    The Royal Naval warship HMS Northumberland is visiting Bahrain halfway through an eight-month deployment in the Middle East.

    Commodore Ancona also met with a special guest on board HMS Northumberland – Brigadier General Ahmed Khalifa Salman Al Khalifa, Commander Royal Bahrain Naval Force. The Bahrain Navy is an important regional partner to the Royal Navy and a major supporter of the work undertaken by the international naval forces.

    HMS Northumberland and her ship’s company are now back at sea conducting operations after she recently demonstrated her capabilities and systems to regional and global partners at the Naval Defence Exhibition in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hms-northumberland-in-bahrain

    • Royal Navy visits Bahrain days after Mons Hall anger

      22 February 2013

      A Royal Navy warship has visited Bahrain just days after it emerged a Sandhurst hall, previously dedicated to British soldiers killed in the First World War, would be renamed after the King of Bahrain. Concerns had been raised about the country’s human rights record and the memory of British troops.

      The Ministry of Defence confirmed on 20 February that HMS Northumberland had visited Bahrain halfway through an eight-month deployment in the Middle East.

      The frigate was said to have made its visit to the home of Commodore Simon Ancona, the UK maritime component commander, who met with Brigadier General Ahmed Khalifa Salman Al Khalifa, the commander of the Royal Bahrain Naval Force.

      The Bahrain Navy was described by the MoD as “an important regional partner to the Royal Navy and a major supporter of the work undertaken by the international naval forces”.

      But just days earlier MPs attacked a decision to rename Sandhurst’s Mons Hall ‘King Hamad Hall’,

      http://www.defencemanagement.com/news_story.asp?id=22176

      after the King of Bahrain had donated £3m to assist with refurbishment. It had originally been named after The Battle of Mons, where thousands of British and German soldiers lost their lives during the early parts of the First Wold War.

      Andy Slaughter, chairman of the Democracy In Bahrain all-party parliamentary group, warned at the time of “double standards” in renaming the hall, given concerns over human rights in Bahrain.

      “To change the name of something which commemorates a very tragic episode in British military history and an example of courage and heroism of British soldiers simply because they’re getting a sum of money from a rather dubious source is appalling,” he was quoted as saying.

      “It reflects the appalling double standards the British government and institutions have in relation to the Bahraini regime, which is guilty of all sorts of human rights abuses and fundamentally undemocratic.”

      Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn also reportedly said he was “appalled” at the decision adding that there was something “deeply ironic in renaming a hall that was in memory of soldiers who died in a tragic battle in the First World War in honour of a king who is routinely committing human rights abuses, including the shooting of demonstrators”.

      http://www.defencemanagement.com/news_story.asp?id=22258

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