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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Anbar’s Tribes Want to Join Other Provinces Against ‘Iranian Occupation’

The Military Council of the Anbar Tribes Revolutionaries video in Arabic was released on Tuesday to deny reports that Falluja was surrounded.

As my colleagues Yasir Ghazi and Tim Arango reported, the fighting in Anbar province has exacerbated the animosity among Sunni civilians and tribal militias toward the Shiite dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Underlining the escalating sectarian tensions, one such Sunni group, called the Military Council of the Anbar Tribes Revolutionaries, on Tuesday framed the battle as being against Iran, and said it was trying to expand its influence outside of Anbar to join forces with Sunni tribal fighters in other provinces to fight Mr. Maliki’s Shiite led government.

On its Facebook page, the group said in a statement that it was taking the steps because of the “criminal Maliki government, which is the hand of Iran in Iraq.”

It said the Anbar group’s fighters were joining forces with revolutionary councils representing Sunni tribes in other Iraq provinces “to stand in one trench” against the “Iranian occupation.” It mentioned the neighboring province of Salahuddin.

The council also posted a video recorded on Tuesday, in which militiamen said Falluja was in the hands of its people, and denied reports that the city was surrounded and besieged, saying they were steadfast and ready to fight to defend it: “There will be no withdrawal, only victory.”

The main narrator in the footage, speaking on a rooftop surrounded by armed fighters and overlooking a road, said: “We will burn up anything that moves along that highway.”

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Sale of Tear Gas to Bahrain Blocked Over Concerns Raised by Rights Groups

A video produced for Bahrain Watch’s “Stop the Shipment” campaign, documenting what rights groups have called the excessive use of tear gas by police officers in the kingdom.

Citing concerns raised by rights groups about the misuse of tear gas by the riot police in Bahrain, South Korea’s government has decided to block the export of millions of canisters of the gas to the kingdom, The Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the South Korean agency that has to approve military exports told the newspaper that shipments to Bahrain from two defense contractors had been stopped because of “unstable politics in the country, people’s death due to tear gas and complaints from human rights groups.”

One of the companies, DaeKwang Chemical, said that “growing pressure from human rights groups” made it unlikely that its planned sale of three million shells to Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the police force, would ever go through. The same company acknowledged last year that it had sold a million tear gas shells to the kingdom in 2011 and 2012.

Opposition activists from one rights group, Bahrain Watch, worked for almost three months to stop the shipment through an online information campaign â€" drawing attention to video that appeared to show the excessive and at times deadly use of the the gas against protesters, sharing leaked documents, and encouraging supporters to send nearly 400,000 emails to Korean defense officials.

The campaigners even tried to build support for the effort by creating a Buzzfeed post headlined “27 Insane Videos of Tear Gas in Bahrain” and were supported by Korean activists who staged street protests in Seoul outside the export office.

On Tuesday, the Bahraini activists who helped lead the campaign welcomed the news of its apparent success as “a victory for human rights.” They pledged to expand their efforts to stop the import of other forms of “less lethal” ammunition, like shotgun pellets, from other countries that arm Bahrain’s security forces, including the United States.

Despite dozens of deaths and the frequent use of gas, the authorities in Bahrain have repeatedly denied the use of excessive force to disperse protests.

In October, however, an extensive report from Physicians for Human Rights accused Bahrain of “Weaponizing Tear Gas.”

Bahrain’s police chief responded to the criticism this week by accusing protesters who clash with the police of “engaging in guerrilla warfare” and asking, rhetorically, “Isn’t this better than using live ammunition?”

Airline and Rail Travelers Stranded During Severe Cold Weather

As the bitter cold moved east and continued to keep much of the center of the country in a deep freeze, travelers found themselves stranded at airports, on Amtrak trains and in their driveways.

For the sixth consecutive day, airlines canceled thousands of flights across the country, according to FlightAware.com. The American Automobile Association reported a double-digit increase in calls from motorists unable to start their cars because of subfreezing temperatures. Downed overhead lines disrupted commuter rails and Amtrak service in the Northeast.

And, in the Midwest, nearly 500 passengers were trapped on three Amtrak trains stuck in a remote part of Illinois, as Chicago’s local television station, WGN, reports.

The passengers, who were on three different trains headed to Chicago from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Quincy, Ill., finally began arriving at their destination Tuesday after snow and ice, combined with subfreezing temperatures, made the tracks impassable starting late Monday afternoon. Some passengers made the final leg of the journey to Chicago’s Union Station by bus. Others spent the night at a rail yard while other passengers remained aboard the heated train cars near Mendota, about 80 miles west of Chicago, until another train arrived to rescue them, officials said.

One train passenger, Mary Beth Bush, posted regular updates of the ordeal on her Twitter account, beginning Monday around 5 p.m. with a first report that the train was stuck.

She included dozens of updates that included observations of how some of the passengers and crew were responding to the delay. She also posted a photo of a beef stew meal that she said was distributed to passengers by Amtrak employees.

A passenger inside one of the trains also captured video that was shown on a local television station.

Because of the rescue operation and the condition of the tracks, Amtrak canceled multiple trains in the Midwest on Thursday, and train service was also disrupted along the Northeast Corridor because of mechanical problems and overhead wires, officials said.

But even though temperatures are expected to go up on Wednesday, air travelers may find themselves still struggling through the weekend to get where they need to go.

FlightAware, an online flight-tracking service, shows the percentage of delays and cancellations across the country in red on its MiseryMap in real time.

According to FlightAware.com’s online flight tracker, almost 2,400 flights into and out of United States airports had been canceled by Tuesday afternoon, on top of the 4,000 flights canceled on Monday. Of those canceled flights, more than 1,600 of them were at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

In an unusual move, JetBlue Airways grounded all of its flights starting at 5 p.m. on Monday for 17 hours at New York City’s three major airports and at Boston’s Logan International Airport. JetBlue officials said it would resume full operation by 3 p.m. Tuesday.

“We regret the impact to our customers,” the airline said in a statement, explaining the decision was made because of the deep freeze on the East Coast and a need to give pilots required rest after weekend delays.

The decision was met with frustration by some customers on Twitter and Facebook.

Service resumed on Tuesday, but in a statement, JetBlue said it could take some time for people to find an available seat.

These industry wide cancellations, on top of the previous days’ cancellations, have now left millions of air travelers displaced, struggling to find any available seat to get to their destinations. With planes already full with previously booked holiday travelers, remaining seats are quickly filled, (for some of the other guys, even overbooked), and some customers aren’t seeing available seats for nearly a week.

Some travelers were thankful to finally reach their destination. Steve Burgess, who said he took Amtrak to New York City from Chicago, posted this photo on Twitter of the inside of his train when he arrived at Penn Station on Tuesday.

A Rare Visit With a Jailed Journalist in Egypt

A first-person account of a visit with Mohamed Fahmy, part of a team of journalists from Al Jazeera English who were arrested 10 days ago on accusations that their coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood constituted “false news” and “incitement,” has provided a rare glimpse into prison conditions in Egypt as the government cracks down on the Brotherhood and anyone suspected of supporting it.

The account was published on Monday by McClatchy Newspapers, whose Cairo correspondent, Nancy Youssef, secured a visit with Mr. Fahmy when he was briefly transferred from Egypt’s notorious Tora prison, used to house many political prisoners, to another facility on the outskirts of the capital for interrogation.

Mr. Fahmy, who previously worked for CNN and the BBC and has contributed to The New York Times, was detained with several other Al Jazeera English staff members, including Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent who won a Peabody Award in 2011 for his coverage of Somalia for the BBC.

Video of Peter Greste’s Peabody Award-winning BBC documentary, “Somalia: a Land of Anarchy,” has been posted to YouTube in three parts.

In addition to his work in daily journalism, Mr. Fahmy is also a published author whose books include an account of Egypt’s 2011 uprising entitled, “Egyptian Freedom Story.” Ramy Yaacoub, a political analyst, recently tweeted a picture of his copy of the book, and noted the sad contrast, given its author’s imprisonment.

They are all believed to be held in Tora, which Ms. Youssef noted is home to “Egypt’s worst criminals.” It has also housed both former President Hosni Mubarak and his deposed successor, Mohamed Morsi.

Ragia Omran, a well-known Egyptian human rights lawyer, posted an update to Twitter on Sunday describing the conditions in which Mr. Fahmy, who uses Twitter under the handle @Repent11, was being held.

To see Mr. Fahmy, Ms. Youssef wrote that she and a colleague presented themselves to prison officials not as journalists, but as his friends, “for fear of being arrested.” It is rare for a reporter to be granted access to a prisoner in such a politically sensitive case, and Ms. Youssef said she was not sure why they had been allowed in at all.

“In Egypt, the legal system is strict until it’s not; every rule, it seems, can be broken,” she wrote

Fahmy looked haggard and confused but healthy. He had the early signs of a beard and he hadn’t combed his hair. He rarely looked his visitors in the eye, seemingly confused. “I am fine,” he said.

He said prison authorities had refused to give him a sleeping bag and pillow that had been sent to him in prison after lawyers reported that he was sleeping on the floor. “They didn’t allow it,” he said.

He said he was being held in solitary confinement in Tora, with no light and with “insects.” He asked for food - Egyptian prison food is notoriously bad - and his friend turned over a duffle bag and four other bags filled with food, toiletries, clothing, water, towels, notebooks, a pen and cigarettes.

“He can trade favors from the guards with the cigarettes,” a lawyer had explained earlier.

Fahmy only glanced at the bags. “I’m being held the worst of everyone,” he said. “Why are they putting me in a highly secured prison?”

Whether he meant he was being treated worse than other prisoners or worse than Greste and the other Al Jazeera English staff members was unclear.

He said he hadn’t yet received medical treatment for a shoulder injury that he’d suffered before his arrest but that had grown worse since. “I am trying to get to the hospital, but it is slow,” he said, pointing to his shoulder.

Mr. Fahmy’s Twitter account, which is followed by more than 18,000 people, is now being run by his family members, who use it to post occasional updates about his case, including efforts to secure him access to medical care. In an update posted to Twitter on Saturday, they said he had been promised a trip to the hospital once his most recent round of interrogations had ended, but on Sunday they said that officials had reneged on that promise.