Al Arabiya TV carries a story about the black and grey markets in oil that are now springing up in the conflict-torn Middle East. ISIS, which has gained control over large parts of the Iraqi oil fields and most of those of Syria, is selling heavily discounted oil — often at a 70%-80% discount — to shadowy buyers. These buyers, if they can mix in their black market purchases with legitimate oil, stand to gain enormously. But ISIS, even selling at a discount, is said to be earning up to $1 million per day.

Libya, also caught up in internal conflict, is seeing attempts to move oil outside of government control.

The case of the Kurds is more “iffy”. There’s a lack of clarity about whether their sale of newly-produced oil is illegal and, at least for now, it seems that it’s being tolerated internationally. The US, for instance, recently accepted a tankerload of Kurdish oil. If this continues, then attempts to create an independent, non-OPEC oil-producer state of Kurdistan becomes much more likely. This, of course, would be at the expense of a unified Iraq.

Sales of black market oil surge in Middle East
Paul Crompton | Al Arabiya News

Crude oil sales through non-governmental channels are a rising trend in the Middle East, with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) radical fighters and Iraqi Kurdistan getting in on the action, experts say.

In conflict-ridden, oil-drenched Iraq, both ISIS and the Iraqi Kurdistan administration are shifting barrels through non-governmental, albeit vastly different, supply chains, while the weakened central authorities in Baghdad remain unable to take action.

For ISIS, the clandestine trade in crude involves loading oil from its seized oil fields onto trucks and selling it to shadowy parties – often Kurdish businessmen – at a knockdown discount.

The lucrative practice currently nets the Jihadist group around $1 million a day, according to industry journal Iraq Oil Report.

Meanwhile…

U.N. warns against oil trading with ISIS


July:29:2014 - 05:53 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

According to the 2014 UN Development Program (UNDP) report, Saudi Arabia now stands 34th out of 187 countries in terms of human development. While incomes have dipped since the oil-price highs of 1980, other indicators such as education and lifespan have risen. Saudi Gazette carries this story…

UNDPtrends

Saudi Arabia rated ‘very high’ in Human Development Index

JEDDAH – Saudi Arabia ranked 34th in the Human Development Index (HDI) of 2014 out of a total of 187 countries and territories.

Saudi Arabia’s HDI value for 2013 is 0.836— which is in the very high human development category—positioning the country at 34 out of 187 countries and territories. Between 1980 and 2013, Saudi Arabia’s HDI value increased from 0.583 to 0.836, an increase of 43.3 percent or an average annual increase of about 1.10 percent.

Between 1980 and 2013, Saudi Arabia’s life expectancy at birth increased by 12.5 years, mean years of schooling increased by 4.5 years and expected years of schooling increased by 9.6 years. Saudi Arabia’s GNI per capita decreased by about 22.9 percent between 1980 and 2013. The current figure is considered very high within the global indicator.

According to the 2014 Human Development Report released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) office in Riyadh on Thursday, human development is improving in Arab states, with some countries showing very high development.


July:27:2014 - 05:46 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Back before the last round of Municipal Elections in 2011, Saudi women were told that they would be able to take part in the elections. Then it was discovered that it would not be possible to set up women-safe voting environments in time, so the women were told, “Sorry!”

Now, with the next round of elections coming in 2015, the government is once again assuring women that they’ll be taking part. The government and municipalities have certainly had time to address the issues that preventing participation. We need only wait to see if some other reason pops up at the last minute that will again thwart women’s playing their political role.

Given that women are now sitting on the Shoura Council and that women’s roles in Saudi life have been expanding, I think there’s every reason to believe that their voting will happen. We’ll have to wait a while to see. Arab News reports…

Women to take part in municipal polls

The Council of Ministers has approved legislation that would allow Saudi women to vote and stand as candidates in upcoming municipal council elections.

Women were not allowed to participate in the 2011 elections but Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques had ordered shortly before the polls that they should be allowed to do so from the 2015 elections onwards.

The law allows councils to approve and implement municipal plans and programs approved in the budget. They would also oversee maintenance, operating, development and investment projects, the law states.


July:24:2014 - 07:56 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The Saudi Arabian government currently spends SR 150 billion (US $40 billion) to provide subsidized fuel for power generation. As a result, Saudis pay the lowest cost for electricity in the world, as low as 5 halala or US $0.013 per kilowatt hour.

Arab News reports that this is going to change, according to the Saudi Electricity Authority. The country cannot continue to pay the subsidy or to use oil and natural gas so extravagantly for electric power generation.

The changes won’t be happening anytime soon, though. Before it can raise prices, the government first has to get a handle on the actual amount of electricity being used, by whom, where, and at what times. This is going to necessitate a multi-year study. Once that information is in hand, the government can start lowering its subsidies and raising the price consumers pay for energy.

Water consumption in Saudi Arabia is tightly tied to power generation, too. The bulk of drinking water — up to 80% — comes from power-hungry desalination plants. While efforts are being made to develop solar-powered plants and nuclear power generation is on the horizon, consumption and waste of this also heavily subsidized product stress the entire economic system.

Cheapest in world, power to get costlier in KSA

Saudis pay the cheapest electricity bills, according to one report, but seemingly not for long. The Saudi Electricity and Cogeneration Regulatory Authority plans to increase electricity tariffs.

The authority announced that it would revise the tariff system to reflect the real costs of the service, cover the expenses of the service provider and increase its economic returns.

The authority declared it would adopt new measures to achieve its goal of increasing electricity prices to be reflective of the service.

This includes designing a new tariff structure, developing a public policy for tariff, preparing an integrated system to collect financial and operational data from service providers in the Kingdom and designing a comprehensive system to calculate the cost that eventually determines the tariff consumers pay.


July:21:2014 - 09:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Great Game was the rivalry that played out between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in the 19th and early 20th C. for supremacy in Central Asia. Today, there’s a new “Great Game” being played out in iraq, says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The rise of ISIS/ISIL and the declaration of a new “Islamic State” have brought into high relief the problems sectarian violence in the region. The direct causes are many, but the effects are a multiple of that, affecting all states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.

Cordesman’s piece is meant as possible guidance for US policy-makers. It’s an interesting analysis.

The New “Great Game” in the Middle East: Looking Beyond the “Islamic State” and Iraq
Anthony Cordesman

The U.S. has good reason to try to prevent the creation of a violent, extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to reverse the gains of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)/ ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), and to help move Iraq back towards a more stable and unified form of government. The chances, however, are that the U.S. can at best have only partial success. The U.S. faces years in which Iraq is divided by sectarian and ethnic power struggles, the Syrian civil war continues, facilitating some form of radical Sunni threat crossing the border between Syria and Iraq.

ISIS/ISIL did not suddenly materialize in Iraq in December 2013. For years, the group exploited growing Sunni and Shi’ite sectarian divisions and steady drift towards civil war. For at least the last three years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s actions of building his own power structure around a Shi’ite dominated state with close ties to Iran alienated Sunnis and exacerbated tensions.

The U.S. cannot simply intervene in Iraq by attacking ISIS/ISIL. It is a major movement in Syria as well as Iraq. The U.S. must also find some way to limit and roll back ISIS/ISIL -– without taking sides in Iraq’s broader civil war. At the same time, creating anything approaching a stable Iraq means creating new and lasting political bridges across Iraq’s increasingly polarized and divided factions as well as helping to create a more effective and truly national government in Iraq, as well as rebuild Iraqi forces that serve the nation, rather than an increasingly authoritarian Shi’ite leader.

It is far from clear that the U.S. can do this, and Syria and Iraq are only the most visible challenges taking place in the strategic game board that shapes the Middle East. The U.S. must also deal with a much broader set of new strategic forces that go far beyond Iraq’s borders. The U.S. must change the structure of its de facto alliances with key Arab states in the region, and it must deal with new forms of competition -– or “Great Game” with Russia — and possibly China, as well.


July:12:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

I note that I’ve been writing Crossroads Arabia for ten years now. I actually started in May, 2004, but by July had settled into this format and platform.

A lot has gone on over these ten years. A new King in Saudi Arabia, increased attacks on Saudi Arabia by Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda related groups as well as the effective Saudi counter-offensive. Reforms in social policies, in the legal system, and in lightening the hand that seeks to control women have all taken place. Saudi women have taken part in the international Olympics. New laws and regulations have been adopted that have bettered the working conditions of foreign workers while others have served to chase many of those workers out of the Kingdom to be replaced by Saudi workers.

Saudi Arabia remains a work in progress and I look forward to recording that progress over the coming years.


July:11:2014 - 08:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

For the second time within a year, artillery rounds fired from Iraq have landed in Saudi Arabia. Asharq Alawsat reports that three round landed near the northern city of Arar, close to the Iraqi border. No injuries or damage were reported. The assumption is that this is related to the successes of ISIS/ISIL in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is reported to have beefed-up its border security with 30,000 troops.

Three shells fired from Iraq strike Saudi territory
Nasser Al-Haqbani

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi authorities are investigating reports that three shells fired from Iraq on Monday struck near a residential complex in Arar in the Northern Borders Province close to the Iraqi border.

Nobody was injured in the attack, which represents the second time in the past year that Saudi territory has been struck by projectiles from neighboring Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is fighting against government troops.

Saudi Border Guard spokesman, Gen. Mohamed Al-Ghamdi, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “At around 1:40 am local time on Monday, three shells struck near a residential complex in Arar in the Northern Borders Province. Thank God, nobody was injured in the attack.”

Ghamdi confirmed that Saudi authorities were investigating the source of the attack, which originated inside Iraqi territory.


July:09:2014 - 08:13 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette and other Saudi media are reporting that the US is currently producing more oil than any other country, including Saudi Arabia. Much of the increase in production is due to oil shale production. The reports says that the US became the biggest producer of natural gas in 2010.

US overtakes KSA as biggest oil producer

JEDDAH – US has turned the world’s biggest oil producer this year as extraction of oil from shale rocks reached a high, a Bank of America report said.

US production of crude oil, along with liquids separated from natural gas, surpassed the production of both Saudi Arabia and Russia this year with daily output exceeding 11 million barrels in the first half of this year. This output is expected to increase to a peak of 13.1 million barrels a day in 2019 and will remain at the same level for at least a decade.

US production of crude oil, along with liquids separated from natural gas, surpassed all other countries this year with daily output exceeding 11 million barrels in the first quarter, the bank said in a report today. The country became the world’s largest natural gas producer in 2010. The International Energy Agency said in June that the US was the biggest producer of oil and natural gas liquids.

“The US increase in supply is a very meaningful chunk of oil,” Francisco Blanch, the bank’s head of commodities research, said by phone from New York. “The shale boom is playing a key role in the US recovery. If the US didn’t have this energy supply, prices at the pump would be completely unaffordable.”


July:06:2014 - 07:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

As though the presence of ISIS in Iraq wasn’t enough to cause Saudi jitters, Saudi media are reporting attacks on the country’s southern border with Yemen. These attacks are assessed to be by Al-Qaeda and its surrogates.

Al Arabiya TV:

Al-Qaeda suspects blow themselves up in Saudi Arabia

Two suspected al-Qaeda militants blew themselves up early Saturday in southern Saudi Arabia after police surrounded them inside a government building.

Reports on casualties were not immediately available.

Saudi Arabia launched a massive crackdown on Al-Qaeda following a spate of deadly attacks in the kingdom from 2003-2006.

The incident comes a day after al-Qaeda linked militants attacked a border post near the border with Yemen. Al Arabiya News obtained on Friday exclusive pictures of the bodies of the gunmen who attacked the border post killing one Saudi border security officer and one Yemeni soldier.

Arab News:

3 attackers of Saudi border post killed
JEDDAH: MD Al-Sulami

A Saudi security officer and a Yemeni soldier have been killed in two separate attacks on border posts between the two countries, officials said.

The Interior Ministry said a border security patrol came under fire near the Wadia post in the southern province of Sharura, killing the unit’s chief.

Security forces gave chase, killing three of the attackers, while a fourth was wounded and captured, a ministry spokesman said.


July:05:2014 - 08:58 | Comments Off | Permalink

Claiming that Iraqi forces have left Iraq’s borders with Syria and Saudi Arabia — a claim Iraq denies — Saudi Arabia is sending 30,000 troops to prevent infiltration by ISIS-related forces. Reuters reports that the Saudi government considers its 800-mile border with Iraq to be vulnerable and is acting to protect it.

Saudi Arabia deploys 30,000 soldiers to border with Iraq
Sami Aboudi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia deployed 30,000 soldiers to its border with Iraq after Iraqi soldiers abandoned the area, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television said on Thursday, but Baghdad denied this and said the frontier remained under its full control.

The world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia shares an 800-km (500-mile) border with Iraq, where Islamic State insurgents and other Sunni Muslim militant groups seized towns and cities in a lightning advance last month.

King Abdullah has ordered all necessary measures to protect the kingdom against potential “terrorist threats”, state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.


July:04:2014 - 08:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project has taken a recent look at how the Islamic world view religious extremism. They see it increasingly dimly and are increasingly worried about it.

Attitudes in the countries surveyed have shown a decline in support for extremism on the whole, though the report points out that support for suicide bombings still holds strong minority support in several countries.

The polling was done before ISIS declared itself a caliphate. I suspect that the negative numbers would decline even more sharply were to polls to be held today.

Concerns about Islamic Extremism on the Rise in Middle East
Negative Opinions of al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah Widespread

As well-publicized bouts of violence, from civil war to suicide bombings, plague the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. And in the Middle East, concern is growing. Lebanese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Turks are all more worried about the extremist threat than they were a year ago.

Meanwhile, publics hold very negative opinions of well-known extremist groups, such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.

In Nigeria, the vast majority of respondents, both Muslims and Christians alike, have an unfavorable view of Boko Haram, the terrorist group that recently kidnapped hundreds of girls in the restive north of the country. And a majority of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the Taliban.

Few Muslims in most of the countries surveyed say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies. And support for the tactic has fallen in many countries over the last decade. Still, in some countries a substantial minority say that suicide bombing can be justified.

These are the main findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted among 14,244 respondents in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations from April 10 to May 25, 2014. The survey was conducted prior to the recent takeover of Mosul and other areas of Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The poll is reported in Arab News among other Saudi media, though Saudi Arabia was not among those countries polled.


July:03:2014 - 07:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

Following his removal as Deputy Minister of Defense, Khaled bin Bandar has been named as Chief of General Intelligence. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, meanwhile, was named as Advisor to King Abdullah.

The palace intrigues continue.

New Gigs for Prince Bandar and Prince Khalid
Patrick W. Ryan | SUSRIS

Two appointments were announced today in Saudi Arabia installing Prince Bandar bin Sultan as Advisor to King Abdullah and Prince Khalid bin Bandar to Chief of General Intelligence.

The naming of Prince Khalid as intelligence chief comes two days after he was relieved as Deputy Defense Minister – where he served for only six weeks — a move that spurred speculation about leadership realignment and future succession intrigue. The announcement noted that the action was taken at the recommendation of Crown Prince Salman, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister.

King names new intelligence chief
ARAB NEWS

JEDDAH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has tapped the former deputy defense minister to lead the Kingdom’s intelligence services.

The king named Prince Khaled bin Bandar to the post of chief of general intelligence in a decree on Monday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Prince Khaled was relieved of his post as deputy defense minister on Saturday, barely six weeks after he was appointed.

Prince Khaled was previously the governor of the Riyadh region, an important post he assumed in February 2013 that involves overseeing the capital and provides opportunities for direct contact with top officials and visiting dignitaries.

The king also named the former intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as adviser and special envoy to the king.

Prince Bandar was ambassador to the US for 22 years before becoming director general of Saudi intelligence agency in July 2012.


July:01:2014 - 08:20 | Comments Off | Permalink
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