CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.
Hundreds of prisoners began mass hunger strike in protest of detention conditions.
Prisoners in Jau prison in south – which incarcerates majority of Bahrain’s 1,200 political prisoners – 7 Aug began hunger strike to demand better conditions, including increased time outside cells and better health and education facilities; by late month, reports suggested more than 800 prisoners had joined action, making it largest prisoner hunger strike in country’s history. In rare demonstrations, villagers 7 Aug in Sanabis, on outskirts of capital Manama, held protest in solidarity with prisoners; protesters also took to streets in downtown Manama.
De-escalatory understandings between U.S. and Iran began to take shape, underscoring potential for sustained mutual restraint on nuclear and regional fronts, but maritime tensions remained elevated.
First evidence emerged of U.S.-Iran de-escalation. U.S. 10 Aug confirmed Iran’s release of five U.S. nationals from prison to house arrest. Iran’s deputy FM same day indicated that frozen Iranian assets in South Korea were in process of being released, along with “several Iranians who were illegally detained in America”; assets, estimated at around $6bn, will be held in Qatar, where they be available for non-sanctionable humanitarian trade. Additionally, U.S. media reports mid-Aug indicated Tehran had tapered growth of its enriched uranium stockpiling at highest end, while major attacks on U.S. and allied forces by Iranian/Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria appeared to be in lull.
Tensions in maritime domain persisted. After U.S. throughout July announced series of military deployments to Gulf region, various media outlets 3 Aug reported Washington was in advanced deliberations about possibility of dispatching U.S. forces aboard commercial vessels that request it. U.S. 6 Aug announced arrival of 3,000 forces in region facilitating “greater flexibility and maritime capability”; next day Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps warned Iran would “respond in kind to any U.S. action and mischief, including the seizure of ships”. U.S., EU and UK naval authorities 12 Aug alerted commercial vessels of unspecified threat and advised distance from Iranian waters.
Normalisation with Saudi Arabia continued. After Iranian officials 13 Aug reported reopening of Saudi consulate in Mashhad, FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian 17-18 Aug travelled to Saudi Arabia for meetings with his Saudi counterpart and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Amir-Abdollahian described meetings as “frank, beneficial and productive” (see Saudi Arabia).
Western sanctions mounted. Canada 8 Aug sanctioned seven Iranian individuals, including secretary of Supreme National Security Council, citing their involvement “in activities that gravely threaten international peace and security or that constitute gross and systemic violations of human rights”. UK same day blacklisted nearly dozen Iranian persons and organisations as part of set of 25 designations of foreign entities giving military support to Russia.
Hostilities intensified between Türkiye and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in north, parties formed lists ahead of provincial elections in Dec, and Islamic State (ISIS) continued low-scale insurgency.
Türkiye escalated drone strikes on PKK. Turkish drone 6 Aug killed two PKK militants in separate strikes in Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk governorates; 9 Aug killed two PKK members in separate strikes in Sulaymaniyah. Clashes between Turkish forces and PKK 9-10 Aug killed at least six Turkish soldiers in Zap region, Dohuk governorate; Türkiye 10 Aug responded with airstrikes, killing four PKK members. Türkiye 24 Aug launched drone strikes in Erbil governorate, killing seven PKK members. IED 25 Aug killed Turkish soldier in north. Turkish FM Hakan Fidan 22 Aug visited capital Baghdad and Erbil, declaring “we will clear this virus [PKK] from Iraq together”.
Shiite parties formed separate lists for forthcoming provincial elections. Ahead of provincial polls set for 18 Dec, party registration 14 Aug closed with 303 registered parties and 37 coalitions. Shiite Coordination Framework parties decided to compete separately through multiple lists, including former PM Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition and Hadi al-Ameri’s Fateh alliance comprising many Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF)-affiliated groups; scattered coalition reflects parties’ competing local interests, particularly in south. While Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement continued boycott of formal politics, it could back independents.
ISIS continued attacks as govt discussed role of U.S. forces. ISIS 7 Aug attacked PMF position in Salah al-Din governorate, killing one. Clashes between French/Iraqi forces and ISIS cell 28 Aug killed French soldier in Salah al-Din. UN experts 14 Aug warned that ISIS still commands 5,000-7,000 members in Iraq and Syria. Defence Minister Thabit Muhammad al-Abbasi 7 Aug met U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in U.S. capital Washington to discuss defence partnership beyond defeat of ISIS; continued presence of around 2,500 U.S. troops is recurring issue of contention, particularly for pro-Iran parties that constitute governing coalition and in wake of reports that U.S. forces recently bolstered presence at Ain-al-Asad airbase.
In another important development. Iran 28 Aug said it agreed with Iraq that “armed separatists and terrorist groups” in Kurdistan would be disarmed before 19 Sept.
Govt pursued normalisation process with Iran and cracked down on freedom of expression at home.
Iranian-Saudi rapprochement made progress as normalisation with Syria stalled. Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian 17 Aug met Saudi counterpart in capital Riyadh, describing relations “on the right track”; Amir-Abdollahian next day met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in highest-level talks since March reconciliation. Reports during month indicated Saudi Arabia delayed opening of embassy in Syria, which was reportedly planned for June. Amid talk of U.S. efforts to secure normalisation deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia 12 Aug named its ambassador to Jordan, Nayef al-Sudairi, non-resident envoy to Palestine. Riyadh 5-6 Aug hosted Ukraine “peace summit”. BRICS 24 Aug invited Saudi Arabia alongside other nations, including Iran, United Arab Emirates and Egypt, to join bloc.
Govt continued domestic crackdown. Amid series of arrests of social media personalities, authorities early Aug arrested public health expert and social media influencer, Mohammed Al Hajji, before releasing him on 15 Aug; arrests point to authorities’ attempt to stifle perceived criticism of govt policies. Human Rights Watch 21 Aug alleged Saudi border guards conducted “widespread and systematic” killings of hundreds of Ethiopian migrants between March 2022 and June 2023.
Oman sought to advance peace talks as Huthis threatened escalation and clashed heavily with separatists in south, while armed raid on Aden’s presidential palace revealed deep govt divisions.
Omani delegation visited capital Sanaa in hope of fostering talks. Amid growing resentment among civil servants over stalled salary payments, Huthi leader Abdul Malek al-Huthi 11 Aug threatened escalation against Saudi-led coalition if talks do not make progress. After last visit in April, Omani delegation 17 Aug arrived in Sanaa to meet Huthi leadership and discuss latest developments in talks; while Huthis want humanitarian file and salaries addressed first, Omanis suggested addressing salary payments and concurrently establishing principles. Meanwhile, UN special envoy Hans Grundberg 8-9 Aug met Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) members and Saudi officials and 15 Aug met Omani and Huthi officials. In briefing to UN Security Council, Grundberg 16 Aug highlighted dire economic situation and intermittent fighting on Taiz, Marib, Dhale, Hodeida, Shebwa and Saada front lines.
In south, Huthis and Southern Transitional Council (STC) clashed amid spate of militant attacks. Huthis attempted to seize control of strategic military sites in Al Hadd Yafea, northeast of Lahj governorate, triggering clashes with STC on 26 Aug that killed eight STC fighters with unknown Huthi causalities. Meanwhile in Abyan governorate, suspected al-Qaeda attack 1 Aug killed at least five STC-affiliated troops in Wadi Omran; similar assault 10 Aug killed six fighters, including senior STC commander, in Mudiyah district. Unknown gunmen 15 Aug assassinated govt officer in Taiz city investigating last month’s killing of UN official.
Southern militia raided presidential palace. Giants Brigades, southern salafi group aligned with United Arab Emirates (UAE), 13 Aug stormed presidential palace in Aden, besieging PM Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed’s residence for several hours following his return from Riyadh in attempt to pressure Saeed to agree to financial benefits for associates of salafi commander Abu Zara’ah al-Mahrami; raid underscored divisions within PLC, likely stemming from tensions between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
In other important developments. Saudi Arabia 1 Aug announced $1.2bn economic aid for PLC. UN 11 Aug removed over 1m barrels of oil from decaying FSO Safer to avert ecological disaster.
Purported diplomatic momentum toward U.S.-Iran de-escalatory understanding showed no sign of progress, while maritime tensions picked up.
Amid stalled diplomacy, U.S. criticised Iran’s weapons transfers to Russia. UN Security Council 6 July convened its semi-annual meeting on implementation of Resolution 2231 during which U.S. placed marked emphasis on Iran’s military cooperation with Russia, describing transfer of UAVs used in Ukraine as “a flagrant violation” of 2231’s restrictions, while UK, France and Germany underscored their joint concerns over continued expansion of Iranian nuclear activity. News late June reported U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley is on leave reportedly pending investigation into handling of classified information, which could deepen already-fraught political debate in Washington over diplomatic engagement of Iran.
Maritime incidents continued as U.S. bolstered regional military posture. U.S. military 5 July reported disrupting “two attempted commercial tanker seizures by the Iranian navy” in international waters, one of which involved “multiple, long bursts from both small arms and crew-served weapons” by Iranian ship against Bahamian-flagged Richmond Voyager. Iranian sources claimed that Richmond Voyager had struck Iranian ship, injuring five, and was subject to “a court order to seize it”; Chevron denied any such incident. U.S. Navy next day reported that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces had detained tanker, assessing that incident may have been smuggling-related. Indonesian authorities 11 July confirmed seizure of Iran-flagged tanker on suspicion of unauthorised ship-to-ship transfer in North Natuna Sea. U.S. defence official 14 July announced deployment of F-16 fighters as part of effort “to deter Iran from going after oil tankers”, while U.S. guided-missile destroyer and F-35 fighters entered region mid-July; Pentagon 20 July additionally announced deployment of Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit to region.
In other important developments. U.S. 18 July approved 120-day sanctions waiver allowing Iraq’s payments for Iranian electricity supplies to be carried out through third-party banks, with qualification that funds be used for humanitarian purposes (see Iraq).
Tensions rose between Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement and rival Shiite Coordination Framework, protestors torched Swedish embassy over Quran burning, and pro-Iran groups demanded U.S. waivers.
Tensions between Sadrists and rivals mounted. Israel 5 July claimed Kataib Hezbollah (member of framework) in March kidnapped Russian-Israeli academic Elizabeth Tsurkov while conducting research partly on al-Sadr’s movement; Kataib Hezbollah denied allegation. Pro-Iran groups affiliated with framework interpreted Tsurkov’s meetings with Sadrists as Israeli attempt to infiltrate movement. Sadrist supporters 15-16 July attacked offices of Shia parties, including Dawa party, Badr Organization, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, in Basra, Najaf and capital Baghdad after alleged defamation of Sadr’s father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr.
Quran burnings sparked unrest, straining ties with Sweden and Denmark. Protestors, mostly from Sadrist movement, overnight 19-20 July ransacked Swedish embassy in capital Baghdad after Sweden permitted demonstrators to burn Quran in front of Iraqi embassy in Stockholm. Govt 20 July expelled Swedish ambassador, withdrew ambassador to Sweden and threatened to sever diplomatic ties. Hundreds 22 July attempted to storm Baghdad’s Green Zone to reach Danish embassy after Quran burning previous day in Danish capital Copenhagen; demonstrators same day set fire to Danish Refugee Council headquarters in Basra governorate.
Pro-Iran factions demanded U.S. waivers. PM al-Sudani 11 July announced deal to exchange Iraqi oil for Iranian gas. Group of pro-Iran “resistance factions” 14 July protested outside U.S. embassy to demand waivers, amid faltering support for unilateral moratorium on attacks on U.S. forces. U.S. 18 July signed 120-day waiver allowing Iraq to pay for Iranian electricity through non-Iraqi banks.
In other important developments. Türkiye continued targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party in north (see Türkiye). President Rashid 3 July revoked special decree granted to head of Chaldean Church, provoking protests among Christian community. In first visit to Syrian capital Damascus since 2011, al-Sudani 16 July held talks on security cooperation with Syrian President Assad. In Kurdistan region, militant 7 July allegedly shot dead two members of Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan in Sulaymaniyah province; explosion 23 July killed former member of Kurdistan Democratic Party-linked intelligence agency in Dohuk city.
Arabia Tensions with United Arab Emirates (UAE) continued to surface, while govt engaged Iran.
Rising tensions with UAE came to light. The Wall Street Journal 18 July reported that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) during off-record press conference in Dec 2022 said UAE “stabbed us in the back” and that he would “take punitive steps” after sending list of demands to UAE; the news surfaced during period of rising Saudi-UAE economic competition and tensions over key issues, including Yemen and oil policy.
Riyadh continued diplomacy with Iran. Oil minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman 5 July reportedly discussed bilateral relations with Iranian counterpart on sidelines of OPEC conference in Austrian capital Vienna. State media 4 July cited foreign ministry affirming Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s exclusive claim to Durra gas field in Gulf maritime “Divided Area” and called on Iran to negotiate demarcation of area’s eastern border.
In other important developments. UN human rights experts 7 July called for release of two Saudi women jailed for critical tweets. Saudi Arabia 18 July agreed to purchase Turkish drones in biggest defence contract in Turkish history (see Türkiye).
Negotiations between Huthis and Saudi Arabia remained stalled, Southern Transitional Council (STC) mobilised forces in Hadramawt amid mounting tensions, and economic crisis sparked protests.
Huthi-Saudi talks made no progress. Negotiations remained at impasse over use of oil revenues for civil and military salary payments and Riyadh’s insistence on its role as mediator in conflict. Huthi delegation 9 July completed Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and reportedly met Saudi officials in Saudi capital Riyadh. Meanwhile, Huthis targeted forces in al-Dhale, southern al-Bayda, and Taiz governorates to pressure Riyadh. In UN Security Council briefing, UN Envoy Hans Grundberg 10 July highlighted need for de-escalation of economic hostilities and concern over military posturing and parades; President of Huthi Revolutionary Committee Mohammed al-Huthi same day accused UN of perpetuating conflict and called for lifting of sanctions. Security Council 10 July renewed mandate for UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) until 14 July 2024.
STC mobilised supporters amid tensions with Saudi-aligned forces in Hadramawt. STC 7 July held annual rally in Hadramawt governorate, expressing discontent at newly-formed Saudi-led Hadramawt National Council (HNC); STC 7 July mobilised protests for Southern Homeland Day and reiterated calls to evict Islah-aligned First Military Region from Hadramawt. STC same day accused First Military Region of shooting protestors at tribal leader’s residence in Seiyun city. STC leader Ayderous al-Zubaidi 9 July threatened to “blow up the situation in Hadramawt”; Saudi-Emirati rivalry has intensified tensions, with Riyadh utilising HNC to diversify its influence in Hadramawt and weaken UAE-backed STC.
Economic hardship sparked protests. Protests 11-12 July erupted in Aden, Lahij, Taiz and Hadramawt governorates over electricity shortages and currency devaluation, as Riyal 11 July reached low of 1,500 to U.S. dollar for first time since April 2022; STC blamed govt ineptitude. Head of Presidential Leadership Council Rashad al-Alimi 12 July met Saudi officials in Riyadh to secure financial assistance and emphasised importance of resuming oil exports from Hadramawt and Shebwa governorates.
In other important developments. Replacement ship 16 July arrived in Yemen to begin unloading oil from stranded tanker FSO Safer. Unknown gunman 21 July killed World Food Programme worker in Turbah town, Taiz governorate.
Reports of indirect talks between U.S. and Iran suggested diplomatic momentum toward limited de-escalation understanding, while Tehran avoided censure at nuclear watchdog meeting.
U.S.-Iran engagement raised spectre of de-escalation. Iranian and U.S. officials mid-month confirmed in media reports that sides had held indirect talks in May in Oman likely aimed at de-escalatory understandings that could see prisoner swap and measure of nuclear restraint by Tehran in return for release of some frozen assets for humanitarian transactions; U.S. 13 June confirmed recent allocation of $2.7bn from Iraq-held Iranian funds but otherwise tempered expectations of major breakthrough.
Tehran avoided censure at nuclear watchdog meeting. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi 5 June told IAEA’s Board of Governors that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles had “risen by over a quarter in three months”; Grossi said Tehran had “provided a possible explanation” for presence of depleted uranium particles at ‘Marivan’” – one of three locations subject to agency probe into past nuclear activities at undeclared sites – and declared “the agency has no further questions” regarding origin of particles enriched up to 83.7 per cent. Consequently, U.S. and/or European allies did not introduce censure motion but nonetheless criticised Iran. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei 11 June backed engagement on safeguards with IAEA while emphasising that nuclear “infrastructures [should] remain untouched”.
West continued steady stream of sanctions. U.S. 1 June sanctioned six individuals/entities linked to “terrorist plots” targeting “former U.S. government officials”, among others. U.S. next day designated four persons/entities linked to “censorship of the Internet”. U.S. Treasury Department 6 June blacklisted 13 persons and entities linked to “Iran's ballistic missile development”. EU 23 June sanctioned four Iranian entities linked to “manufacturing of UAVs and their provision to Russia” and 26 June designated seven Iranian officials over human rights concerns.
Maritime tensions persisted amid Iranian-Saudi normalisation. U.S. and UK naval forces 4 June reported “Iranian fast attack boats harassed [a] commercial ship” transiting Strait of Hormuz. Iran 6 June reopened its embassy in Saudi Arabia (see Saudi Arabia). FM Amirabdollahian 19-22 June discussed idea of “regional cooperation forum” touring Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and UAE.
Parliament passed budget to expand public employment and resolve oil spat with Erbil, Türkiye struck Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in north and Islamic State (ISIS) maintained low-level insurgency.
Parliament passed controversial federal budget. Against International Monetary Fund’s advice for tighter fiscal policy, parliament 12 June passed record-large budget, which relies almost exclusively on hydrocarbon exports and adds 700,000 new public employees in response to youth-led protests over unemployment. Notably, budget outlined new revenue-sharing mechanism for oil exports between federal govt and Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) that resolves a main sticking point between pair; arrangement guarantees Erbil 12.7% share of federal expenditures and increases its allocation of public salaries and pensions; KRG’s allocated budget is estimated to increase by 30%. Govt 19 June met Turkish energy delegation in capital Baghdad to discuss resumption of oil exports after Ankara paused them following international arbitration ruling. Over 50 MPs in Kurdistan regional parliament late June resigned in protest of Supreme Court’s ruling in May that assembly’s decision taken in Oct to delay elections by year was unconstitutional.
Türkiye struck PKK, which ended unilateral ceasefire in Türkiye. Suspected Turkish drone 1 June hit house in Sinjar district, injuring two PKK-affiliated fighters. After unidentified gunmen 9 June shot dead PKK member in Sulaymaniyah, PKK blamed Turkish intelligence and 10 June declared end to four-month unilateral ceasefire in Türkiye, citing operations against its members (see Türkiye and Syria). Turkish forces 26 June said it “neutralised” four PKK members in north.
Low-scale ISIS insurgency continued. ISIS attack 11 June killed three soldiers and injured four others in Wadi al-Naft, Kirkuk governorate. Iraqi forces conducted antiISIS operations throughout month; notably, 2 June killed four suspected ISIS militants in Diyala governorate. Defence Ministry 17 June announced killing four suspected militants in airstrike in Tarmiya district, north of Baghdad. Israeli jets 24 June killed suspected ISIS militants in Al-Rafi’i in Kirkuk governorate.
In other important developments. Govt 20 June announced first local provincial elections since 2013 will be held 18 Dec. Clashes between two rival Iranian Kurdish dissident groups 22 June killed two fighters in Zirgwez, Sulaymaniyah governorate.
Reconciliation with Iran continued, while dialogue with Yemen’s Huthis remained stalled and tensions surfaced with United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Iran reopened embassy in Riyadh. Three months after signing China-brokered reconciliation deal, Iran 6 June reopened embassy in Riyadh to end seven-year diplomatic absence. Saudi FM Faisal bin Farhan 17 June visited Iranian capital Tehran and described discussions as “positive and clear”; Saudi embassy in Iran has yet to open. Iranian navy commander 3 June claimed Iran would form naval alliance with India, Pakistan and Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia.
Talks remained deadlocked with Huthis, friction with UAE became visible. Although dialogue with Huthis remained stalled, first direct flight between Yemen and Saudi Arabia since 2016 17 June arrived in Jeddah city and Huthi media 21 June reported Saudi Arabia and Huthis exchanged bodies of fighters (see Yemen). Tensions between Saudi Arabia and UAE behind scenes intensified over differences in approaches to Yemen and Sudan crises, with Riyadh accusing Abu Dhabi of undermining conflict resolution efforts.
In other important developments. Saudi Arabia 4 June announced voluntary unilateral oil production cuts in July. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 6-8 June visited Saudi Arabia for meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Riyadh 11-12 June hosted Arab-China business conference.
Negotiations between Huthis and Saudi Arabia remained stalled despite flurry of diplomatic activity and confidence-building steps, while rival forces jostled for control in southern provinces.
Huthi-Saudi talks remained deadlocked despite steps to ease tensions. In attempt to increase pressure on Huthis, Saudi Arabia 5 June held talks on Yemen with Chinese officials and 7 June with U.S. officials. Other diplomatic efforts continued at high intensity: notably, UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg 4-5 June travelled to Saudi Arabia and Oman, and Presidential Leadership Council leader Rashad al-Alimi 8 June met U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken in Saudi capital Riyadh. Negotiations, however, remained stuck over various Huthi demands, including salary payments and increasing flights from Sanaa airport. In positive steps, national carrier Yemenia Airways 8 June announced doubling flight schedule to six, with first direct flight since 2016 between Yemen and Saudi Arabia 17 June arriving in Saudi Arabian city Jeddah; Huthi media 21 June reported Saudi Arabia and Huthis exchanged bodies of fighters. Huthis officials issued weekly warnings of return to hostilities and Huthi redeployments along front underscored potential of renewed war. Meanwhile, UN 16-18 June convened talks between govt and Huthis in Jordanian capital Amman, where Huthis reportedly agreed to negotiate release of prominent political prisoner and Islah member Mohammed Qahran.
Regional actors manoeuvred their affiliated forces in south. Following Riyadh’s request, Al-Alimi’s Nation Shield Forces 6 June deployed from Saudi border toward Aden province, signalling intent to counteract United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed Southern Transitional Council’s (STC) influence in south; STC next day reportedly sent reinforcements to Aden. In Hadramawt province, after STC took steps to solidify its influence with UAE support in recent months, Saudi Arabia invited several prominent Hadrami leaders to Riyadh for discussions regarding future of region, underscoring tensions between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi; participants of discussions 21 June established Hadramawt National Council.
In other important developments. Huthis continued to economically undermine govt, notably by importing cooking gas through Hodeida port to break govt’s monopoly in Marib. Clashes between suspected al-Qaeda militants and UAE-backed pro-govt Shebwa Defence Forces 10 June reportedly killed three in Shebwa province.
Govt advanced ties with Qatar and returned its ambassador to Lebanon, while authorities summoned senior Shiite cleric.
Govt continued normalisation with Qatar and returned ambassador to Lebanon. In sign that normalisation proceeds after pair announced resumption of formal relations in April, Bahrain 15 May announced it was resuming flights to and from Qatar starting 25 May. Govt 20 May said it would restore diplomatic representation at ambassador level in Lebanon, after Gulf countries supported Saudi Arabia in withdrawing ambassadors in Oct 2021 following critical comments made by Lebanon’s then-information minister about Riyadh’s role in war in Yemen.
Authorities detained senior cleric. Police 22 May summoned for interrogation senior Shiite cleric Muhammad Sanqour, as interior ministry accused him of “repeated inflammatory speeches” and “publicly inciting hatred”; during Friday prayers, Sanqour reportedly raised concern about treatment of prisoners. Videos on social media same day showed dozens of protesters expressing solidarity with Sanqour in front of his house. Authorities 25 May released Sanqour.
Govt sought to avoid censure vote ahead of nuclear watchdog meeting in June, while maritime tensions continued and West condemned govt’s support for Russia and execution of dual national.
Iran claimed progress on nuclear concerns ahead of key meeting in June. With International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting set for 5 June, Iranian media 30 May reported progress between govt and UN watchdog over safeguards concerns; IAEA did not confirm claims, while its forthcoming quarterly report could determine prospect of U.S. and European states introducing censure resolution at meeting. Israeli military’s chief of staff 23 May said Iran’s uranium enrichment is more advanced than ever, warning “there are possible negative developments on the horizon that could lead to action”. Iran 25 May successfully test-launched ballistic missile with potential 2,000km range.
Maritime tensions persisted. After U.S. late April reported that Iran’s navy had seized Marshall Islands-flagged tanker in Gulf of Oman, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps 3 May detained another tanker sailing from Dubai to Fujairah in Strait of Hormuz. U.S. 12 May announced that it would increase presence of ships and aircraft with allies in Strait of Hormuz, adding that its Fifth Fleet would deepen cooperation with two parallel maritime security initiatives operating in area.
U.S. condemned Iran’s support for Russia. U.S. 15 May indicated that it would “continue to impose costs” on those involved in sending equipment to Russia and 19 May sanctioned four entities linked to Iran-Russia maritime transfers. Canada 3 May designated ten Iranian individuals and entities, four connected to drone manufacturer and six over human rights concerns. European Union (EU) 22 May adopted eighth set of designations over human rights violations since anti-govt protests began in Sept 2022.
Iran executed dual national and three citizens, sparking condemnation. Authorities 6 May executed Habib Chaab, dual Swedish-Iranian national who had been sentenced to death on charges of involvement with separatist group, triggering condemnation from Sweden, U.S. and EU. Authorities 19 May executed three men sentenced to death in connection with their alleged involvement in killing three security personnel in Isfahan city during nationwide protests in Nov 2022.
Tensions eased between rival Kurdish parties following months-long feud, dispute between Erbil and Baghdad stalled federal budget, and violence broke out in centre and south.
Rival Kurdish factions struck accord, as Türkiye continued strikes. U.S. delegation 3-4 May visited Erbil and Sulaymaniyah cities with aim of “bridging divisions”. Kurdistan PM and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masrour Barzani 8 May met Kurdistan Deputy PM and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Qubad Talabani for first time since tensions between parties spiked over assassination of intelligence officer in Oct 2022 that KDP blamed on PUK; leaders agreed to stop verbal attacks in media ahead of Nov regional elections. PUK 14 May ended its six-month boycott of regional govt’s cabinet meetings. In Ninewa governorate, Turkish drone strike 16 May killed three PKK-affiliated Sinjar Re-sistance Units (YBS) fighters in Khanasor town and 23 May killed three in Khalaf village.
Erbil accused Baghdad of breaking oil deal, delaying federal budget. Federal parliament’s finance committee 25 May made series of amendments to draft 2023 budget articles related to Kurdistan’s oil revenue; Erbil next day condemned amendments as “unconstitutional” and contrary to previous agreement struck with federal govt. Dispute indefinitely postponed parliamentary vote on three-year budget bill scheduled for 27 May, as talks to resolve differences continued.
Centre and south witnessed violence, amid low-scale Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency. In Salah al-Din governorate, fighting between families 1 May reportedly killed three, including police colonel and Popular Mobilisation Forces member, in Albu Nassif village. In Dhi Qar governorate, security forces 20 May reportedly intervened in exchange of gunfire between Al-Awwad and Al-Sayed Taher clans in Al-Shatrah district. Meanwhile, army 5 May said it killed three alleged ISIS members in Wadi al-Shay in Kirkuk governorate. Alleged ISIS gunmen 21 May killed two in Tarmiya district, Salah al-Din governorate.
In other important developments. Protesters 1, 5 May filled Tahrir Square in capital Baghdad, demanding higher public-sector salaries. Demonstrators demanding employment 21 May clashed with security forces in Dhi Qar governorate, leaving 32 injured. Iran 13 May summoned Iraq’s ambassador to protest presence of “terrorist” groups, likely Kurdish, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Kingdom reestablished ties with Syria and welcomed President Assad back into Arab fold, while continuing rapprochement with Iran.
Riyadh resumed relations with Damascus, continued normalisation with Iran. After Arab League 7 May readmitted Syria, Saudi Arabia 9 May announced it would reopen diplomatic mission in Syrian capital Damascus and next day invited Syrian President Assad to Arab League summit in capital Riyadh. Assad 18 May arrived in Jeddah and next day attended Arab League summit after 12-year suspension (see Syria). Meanwhile, Iranian foreign ministry 1 May announced initial diplomatic activities had resumed at Iranian embassy in Riyadh. Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian 10 May said Saudi Arabia previous day named new ambas-sador to Tehran and Iran would appoint ambassador to Riyadh “soon”, as 10 May deadline passed without officially reopening embassies and appointing ambassadors. Iranian finance minister 11 May led economic delegation to Jeddah in first visit by Iranian official since March agreement to resume ties. Saudi Arabia and Canada 24 May agreed to restore full diplomatic relations after five years.
In other important developments. Negotiations with Huthis in Yemen stalled (see Yemen). Jeddah hosted joint U.S.-Saudi-led talks beginning 6 May between Sudan’s warring parties (see Sudan). In sign of improving ties, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan 7 May met Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman in Jeddah to discuss “strategic relations” and “significant progress” in Yemen war. Amnesty International 16 May said number of executions in Saudi Arabia in 2022 was highest recorded in 30 years.
Hopes of breakthrough deal between Saudi Arabia and Huthis dwindled, while southern separatists demanded independent state and factions jockeyed for control of Hadramawt province.
Huthi-Saudi talks stalled. After Saudi diplomatic visit in April raised expectation of breakthrough, Huthis refused to sign Saudi-proposed roadmap or deal with Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), and refused to provide guarantees to enter intra-Yemen talks; Huthis reportedly demanded Riyadh pay reparations for war. UN Envoy Hans Grundberg 2-3 May visited capital Sanaa and held “constructive” meeting with Huthi leaders; 3 May travelled to Aden for “fruitful” discussion with PLC head al-Alimi. Grundberg 17 May briefed UN Security Council, noting “clear determination on all sides to make progress” toward peace deal despite violence along front lines, particularly in al-Jawf, Marib, Taiz and Saada governorates.
Southern Transitional Council (STC) made bid for leadership in south. In attempt to build consensus among southern groups on secession and position itself as main force in south ahead of anticipated intra-Yemeni talks, STC 4-8 May convened Southern National Consultative Meeting, which 8 May produced “national charter” calling for “restoration of the state of the south”; several important groups, notably Hadramawt Inclusive Conference and National Conference for the People of the South, refused to attend, stating opposition to STC’s expansionist agenda. STC 8 May announced council’s restructuring, including creation of legislative body of 392 members. STC President and PLC Vice President Ayderous al-Zubaidi 9 May appointed three new STC vice presidents.
Tensions persisted in Hadramawt, UN proceeded to salvage FSO Safer. Amid STC threats to take over Wadi Hadramawt – northern valley of Hadramawt controlled by Saudi-aligned Islah forces – Saudi-led delegation 5-6 May met Hadramawt and Shebwa governors as part of Saudi strategy to challenge STC’s power and deploy Nation’s Shield Forces headed by al-Alimi. PLC 22 May met Saudi defence minister in Riyadh, where council members criticised STC’s moves in Hadramawt. UN 4 May fell short of funding target to salvage stranded oil tanker FSO Safer but planned to begin rescue operation.
Bahrain and United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced plans to restore diplomatic ties with Qatar, concluding process to end almost six-year intra-Gulf rift.
Bahrain and UAE announced plans to re-establish formal relations with Qatar. Bahrain and Qatar 13 April revealed intention to restore diplomatic ties after pair held second round of dialogue at Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretariat in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. Shortly afterward, UAE and Qatari officials 18 April told reporters both countries were working to reopen embassies and restore ties; Bahrain and UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, severed ties with Qatar and imposed blockade in June 2017, marking beginning of tense intra-Gulf confrontation lasting until 2021. While announcements mark full resumption of ties between Qatar and all former blockading states, signalling entire GCC’s intent to turn page after 2017-2021 rift, tensions and friction points continue to plague intra-GCC relations, including economic competition between Saudi Arabia and UAE as well as disputes between UAE and Qatar over latter’s alleged ties to Islamists in region.
Efforts to revive nuclear accord showed no sign of progress, Tehran and Arab Gulf states continued normalisation, and hostilities in Levant and underscored looming conflict risks.
Holding pattern continued on nuclear talks as Western sanctions increased. Diplomatic track in April showed little sign of progress. U.S., E3 and other G7 members 18 April noted “a diplomatic solution remains our preferred solution” and described 2015 deal as “useful reference”, which underscored that 2015 agreement is in all likelihood not revivable. Meanwhile, West continued issuing Iran-related sanctions. U.S. 19 April blacklisted seven individuals and entities allegedly part of “a sanctions evasion network” supporting Iran’s drone and military programmes. In parallel to EU and UK sanctions, U.S. 24 April designated five Iranian authorities and entities, in addition to imposing visa restrictions on eleven more officials, over human rights violations. Washington 27 April sanctioned five Iranian officials and entity for “wrongful detention of U.S. nationals”.
Momentum continued toward de-escalation in Gulf. Following 10 March Saudi-Iranian normalisation deal, sides continued to improve ties. Tehran 4 April announced appointment of Reza Ameri, foreign ministry veteran, as ambassador to United Arab Emirates – filling position that had been vacant since 2016. FM Hossein Amirabdollahian 6 April met his Saudi counterpart in Chinese capital Beijing for first bilateral meeting in seven years; sides underscored intention to reopen diplomatic facilities by 9 May and subsequently exchanged visits by delegations.
Escalation in Levant and tensions at sea spotlighted risks. Following deadly hostilities in north-eastern Syria between U.S. forces and Iran-aligned groups late March, Tehran 3 April claimed that it had “never been involved, directly or indirectly, in any attacks against the U.S. military forces in Syria and Iraq”. Meanwhile, Israeli military 2 April downed alleged Iranian drone from Syria and early April launched multiple strikes in Syria, amid multi-front escalation (see Israel-Palestine, Lebanon and Syria); hostilities underscore risk that region remains potential theatre for future multi-actor escalation involving Iran-backed forces. In maritime domain, Iran’s navy 27 April seized Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker in Gulf of Oman; U.S. reportedly had seized China-bound Iranian oil shipment.
Türkiye continued strikes in Kurdistan region amid intra-Kurdish tensions, rifts surfaced between armed Shiite factions in capital Baghdad, and deadly tribal clashes flared in south.
Türkiye continued strikes in Kurdistan, highlighting inter-party tensions. After Türkiye 3 April asserted Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) infiltrated Suleimaniya international airport security, Suleimaniya officials 7 April claimed Türkiye carried out drone strike near airport, allegedly targeting Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazloum Abdi’s convoy that was accompanied by three U.S. personnel. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)-led regional govt same day accused Suleimaniya authorities – dominated by rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – of provoking attack, while PUK party leader Bafel Talabani indirectly accused KDP of providing Türkiye with intelligence. Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 11 April vowed to continue operations in Suleimaniya, alleging PKK controls city. Alleged Turkish drone 15 April killed two near Penjwen town, Suleimaniya governorate.
Friction persisted between Shiite armed groups, intercommunal violence flared in south. Highlighting potential for violent infighting within Shiite paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation forces, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia Saraya al-Salam 9 April paraded weapons through Baghdad’s Dora district in response to dispute with Kataib Hizbollah over local property. Meanwhile in Dhi Qar governorate in south, following months of tensions between al-Rumaid and al-Omar clans in al-Islah district, protests over water scarcity and related demand for dismissal of district commissioner (member of al-Rumaid clan) 13 April escalated into armed clashes between groups, killing four and injuring dozen. Security sources 19 April reported clashes between Atab and Hatem tribes in Dhi Qar’s al-Nasr district, following killing of tribal leader.
Low-level Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency continued, Baghdad and Erbil inked oil deal. Security forces 7 April killed five alleged ISIS members in Diyala governorate. Suspected ISIS members 18 April killed two in al-Mudadiya district, Diyala governorate. Following International Chamber of Commerce ruling in March on Kurdistan’s oil exports to Türkiye that marked win for federal govt in years-long dispute, Baghdad and Erbil 4 April signed temporary agreement, likely solidifying Baghdad’s sole control over Türkiye-Iraq pipeline on Iraqi side.
Bahrain and UAE announced plans to re-establish formal relations with Qatar. Bahrain and Qatar 13 April revealed intention to restore diplomatic ties after pair held second round of dialogue at Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretariat in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. Shortly after, UAE and Qatari officials 18 April told reporters both countries were working to reopen embassies and restore ties; Bahrain and UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, severed ties with Qatar and imposed blockade in June 2017, marking beginning of tense intra-Gulf confrontation lasting until 2021. While announcements mark full resumption of ties between Qatar and all former blockading states, signalling entire GCC’s intent to turn page after 2017-2021 rift, tensions and friction points continue to plague intra-GCC relations, including economic competition between Saudi Arabia and UAE as well as disputes between UAE and Qatar over latter’s alleged ties to Islamists in region.
Riyadh continued normalisation process with Iran, intensified engagement with Syria and maintained peace efforts in Yemen.
Saudi-Iranian rapprochement progressed and Riyadh stepped up engagement with Damascus. Following breakthrough deal in March, Saudi and Iranian FMs 6 April met in Chinese capital Beijing for first bilateral meeting in seven years. Saudi Arabia 8 April and Iran 12 April sent delegations to prepare opening of respective embassies by May deadline (see Iran). Meanwhile, Saudi FM Faisal bin Farhan 12 April met Syrian counterpart in Jeddah and next day announced steps toward reopening embassies and resuming flights. Saudi Arabia 15 April hosted Gulf Cooperation Council, Egyptian, Iraqi and Jordanian FMs in Jeddah to discuss potential Syrian attendance at Arab League summit in May, without reaching agreement. In first visit since beginning of Syrian conflict, Saudi FM 18 April met Syrian President Assad in Damascus (see Syria).
Riyadh continued peace efforts in Yemen, U.S.-Saudi ties displayed strains. Riyadh 8 April sent first delegation to Yemen since start of military intervention in 2015 and mid-month participated in prisoner swap, as negotiations appeared to make progress (see Yemen). Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ members 2 April announced further cuts in oil production, against U.S. wishes; CIA chief William Burns early April travelled to Saudi Arabia to meet Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and intelligence officials to reportedly express that U.S. was “blindsided” by Saudi decisions to resume ties with Iran and Syria.
United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain announced plans to restore diplomatic ties with Qatar, concluding process to end almost six-year intra-Gulf rift.
UAE and Bahrain announced plans to re-establish formal relations with Qatar. Bahrain and Qatar 13 April revealed intention to restore diplomatic ties after pair held second round of dialogue at Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretariat in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. Shortly after, UAE and Qatari officials 18 April told reporters both countries were working to reopen embassies and restore ties; Bahrain and UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, severed ties with Qatar and imposed blockade in June 2017, marking beginning of tense intra-Gulf confrontation lasting until 2021. While announcements mark full resumption of ties between Qatar and all former blockading states, signalling entire GCC’s intent to turn page after 2017-2021 rift, tensions and friction points continue to plague intra-GCC relations, including economic competition between Saudi Arabia and UAE as well as disputes between UAE and Qatar over latter’s alleged ties to Islamists in region. Meanwhile, Iran 4 April announced appointment of ambassador to UAE – filling position that had been vacant since 2016.
First Saudi diplomatic visit to Yemen in eight years and prisoner swap injected momentum into peace talks, raising hope for comprehensive agreement in May to halt hostilities.
Peace process picked up speed amid Saudi-Huthi talks and prisoner swap. Saudi Arabia 3 April invited Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) members to Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh to discuss negotiations with Huthis, where it presented draft agreement that reportedly included six-month nationwide ceasefire, end to transport restrictions, release of detainees and payment of salaries to civil and military employees in both Huthi and govt-controlled areas. Saudi-led coalition 6 April announced lifting of most restrictions on commercial ships docking in southern ports, including Aden, for first time in eight years. Saudi and Omani delegations 8 April met Huthi leaders in Sanaa to discuss renewal of ceasefire that lapsed in Oct 2022, in first official Saudi diplomatic mission to Yemeni capital since kingdom launched military campaign in March 2015; draft agreement was reportedly modified to include declaration of cessation of war instead of truce, roadmap for humanitarian aid and economic arrangements, and steps toward comprehensive political solution; parties also discussed departure of foreign forces. Although stumbling block remained over Saudi Arabia’s status as mediator or conflict party, Huthi chief negotiator 14 April said negotiations were “serious and positive”. In key confidence-building measure, Huthis, govt and Saudi Arabia 14-16 April concluded swap of 887 detainees; Saudi Arabia 17 April unilaterally released 104 detainees. UN Envoy Hans Grundberg 17 April described talks as best opportunity for peace in eight years.
Parties clashed in Marib, Shebwa and Lahij governorates. Huthi forces and Saudi-backed Salafi group, Saba Axis, clashed along front lines in Marib governorate. Huthis, Giants Brigade and Southern Transitional Council (STC)-affiliated Shebwa Defence Forces clashed along border between Shebwa and al-Bayda.
Saudi-led coalition sought to ease tensions in south. Coalition continued meetings with pro-govt and Southern Transitional Council (STC)-affiliated officials to ease tensions, particularly over Wadi Hadramawt area where STC forces seek to replace Islah-affiliated troops. STC President and PLC member Aydrous al-Zubaidi 1 April announced plan for STC to integrate new south-ern components, consolidating STC as chief representative on southern issue.
Engagement with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) forestalled international censure, govt and Saudi Arabia announced breakthrough normalisation deal, and tensions with U.S. flared in Syria.
Iran avoided censure at IAEA’s Board of Governors, Western sanctions mounted. Ahead of first Board of Governors meeting in 2023, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi 3-4 March visited capital Tehran for meetings with senior officials and President Raisi amid heightening concerns over longstanding safeguards issues as well as recent discovery of uranium particles enriched to near-weapons grade and undeclared modifications at Fordow facility; visit produced joint statement on increased cooperation. U.S. and E3 (France, UK and Germany) did not introduce censure resolution during board meeting on 7 March, but underscored serious concern of Tehran’s nuclear activity. Meanwhile, U.S. 2 March expanded its sanctions against Iranian petroleum and petrochemical export companies. European Union 7 March sanctioned Iranian prison over human rights concerns. UK next day sanctioned govt institution The Headquarters for Enjoining Right and Forbidding Evil in Iran, as U.S. issued its tenth round of human rights-related sanctions since protests began in Sept.
Tehran and Riyadh announced breakthrough agreement. Following undisclosed talks in Chinese capital Beijing, Iran and Saudi Arabia 10 March announced deal to restore diplomatic relations seven years after they were severed, and following nearly two years of intermittent dialogue (see Saudi Arabia). Deal could mark constructive shift in de-escalating regional tensions, but may prove transitory unless Iran and West address nuclear standoff, hostages in Iran and Tehran’s military support for Russia.
Iran-U.S. tensions surged in Syria. Alleged Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated groups 23 March launched drone attack on base near Syria’s Hasakah city, killing U.S. contractor and injuring six U.S. troops; in retaliation, U.S. conducted airstrikes on alleged IRGC-affiliated groups, killing several militants (see Syria); President Biden asserted that “the U.S. does not … seek conflict with Iran” but would “forcefully” protect its people. Earlier, UK 2 March announced Royal Navy and U.S. 23 Feb interdicted vessel from Iran in Gulf of Oman carrying anti-tank guided missiles and medium-range ballistic missile components, likely intended for Huthis in Yemen.
Govt approved first draft budget in three years as parliament advanced electoral reform, while low-scale violence persisted in north and Islamic State (ISIS) continued its insurgency.
Govt approved budget and parliament pursued electoral reform. Council of Ministers 13 March approved 2023-2025 federal budget for parliament ratification, which expands public employment but fails to address structural causes of poor economic and financial situation and lack of govt services. Parliament 20-25 March passed 15 articles of new draft electoral law for Nov 2023 provincial council and parliamentary elections; new law reintroduces voting along party lists, turns each governorate into single electoral constituency, and raises minimum age for candidates to 30, which marks major setback for emerging parties and reform-minded independent candidates; Sadrist movement expressed opposition. Meanwhile, PM Sudani 13 March announced agreement with Kurdistan Regional Government to deposit Kurdistan’s oil revenues in bank account under federal govt’s supervision.
Türkiye targeted Kurdish militants and intercommunal violence flared in north. Turkish drone 1 March hit vehicle in Sinjar, Ninewa governorate, killing two Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) fighters. Following months of tit-for-tat attacks between Shiite Dulaimi and Sunni Azzawi tribes in Diyala governorate, militants 6 March attacked al-Haziniyah village, reportedly killing at least five members of local leader Sheikh Mustafa al-Tamimi’s tribe; PM Sudani 8 March visited governorate and deployed military reinforcements. Two helicopters 15 March crashed in Chamanke region, Duhok governorate, killing nine Syrian Democratic Forces members on knowledge-sharing trip.
Low-scale ISIS insurgency and anti-ISIS operations continued. Military 12 March announced security forces killed 22 alleged ISIS members in Anbar governorate. Alleged ISIS militants 8 March killed one in attack on security forces in Tuzkhormatu district, Kirkuk governorate.
In other important developments. Court 3 March issued warrants to freeze assets of former Finance Minister Ali Allawi and three senior aides to former PM Kadhimi for alleged facilitation of tax misappropriation. Govt and Iran 19 March signed border agreement aimed at securing frontier between Iran and Iraq’s Kurdish region.
In breakthrough China-brokered agreement, Riyadh and Tehran agreed to restore diplomatic relations after seven years of severed ties.
Saudi Arabia and Iran announced deal to reinstate diplomatic relations. After China 6-10 March hosted secret Saudi-Iranian talks in its capital Beijing, parties 10 March issued joint statement outlining plan to resume diplomatic relations and reopening of embassies within two months; while details of agreement remained unclear, it could mark constructive shift in de-escalating regional tensions among Gulf rivals and signals Riyadh’s desire to diversify global relationships as China’s regional clout grows (see Iran). Iranian official 19 March said King Salman invited Iranian President Raisi to country, while Iranian FM Amirabdollahian same day said he would meet Saudi counterpart “in the near future”.
Riyadh signalled openness to normalisation with Syria. FM Prince Faisal bin Farhan 7 March said engagement with Damascus was necessary to address Syria’s humanitarian crisis; United Arab Emirates 19 March hosted Syrian President Assad for second time since March 2022. Saudi media 23 March reported Riyadh was in talks with Damascus to reestablish consular relations.
Huthis escalated hostilities in Marib and Shebwa governorates, ending months-long de facto truce and overshadowing prisoner exchange deal with govt as well as Iran-Saudi agreement.
Huthis launched attacks in Marib and Shebwa. Huthis launched assaults on govt-aligned forces 20 March in Marib’s Harib district and 26 March in mountain range connecting to Merkhah Al Ulya district in southern Shebwa, leading to deadly clashes, displacing hundreds and ending de facto truce in last six months as govt warned of possible return to all-out fighting; Huthi offensive seemingly sought to break stalemate in ongoing backchannel talks with Riyadh and dampened hopes for Saudi-Iran détente. Huthis 25 March conducted drone attack on Taiz Governor Nabil Shamsan, killing one. Huthis same day announced restrictions on humanitarian flights arriving in capital Sanaa, citing alleged Saudi prohibition on commercial flights.
Diplomatic efforts bore fruit before escalation. Following 10 March Saudi-Iran deal to restore ties (see Saudi Arabia and Iran), Saudi officials reportedly revealed deal included Iranian commitment to halt weapons shipments to Huthis; govt, Huthis and Southern Transitional Council (STC) cautiously welcomed agreement, fuelling hopes of reducing risk of new Huthi offensive; longstanding grievances of local factions, however, remained unaddressed. Meanwhile, Huthi-Saudi talks continued and, in parallel, govt and Huthi delegations 20 March reached deal to exchange 887 detainees in UN-facilitated talks in Switzerland.
Rift between STC and Riyadh continued, govt made overtures to Islah. STC official criticised deployment of Saudi-backed army National Shield Forces in STC-controlled areas, which threatens STC’s grip in south. STC 9 March voiced concern over Saudi-Huthi talks, warning against any deal that goes beyond UN-led process. Separately, Presidential Leadership Council member and leader of Joint Resistance Forces Tareq Saleh 2 March travelled to Islah-stronghold Taiz city and shook hands with rival and Islah military leader Abdo Farhan Mekhlafi, likely signalling attempts to secure pockets of influence in event of Saudi-Huthi settlement.
In other important developments. In first maritime incident in Red Sea this year, unidentified assailants 17 March attacked ship with machine-gun fire. Huthis doubled down on efforts to remove restrictions at Hodeida port, which could jeopardise govt revenues.
Coordinated U.S. and European efforts against govt’s crackdown and military cooperation with Russia continued apace, while nuclear standoff deepened and regional tensions remained elevated.
West continued censure amid shrinking appetite for engagement. U.S. 3 Feb sanctioned eight individuals involved with already-designated drone manufacturer as well as two Iranian navy vessels, 9 Feb targeted Iranian energy exports. New Zealand 15 Feb issued sanctions against eight persons and entities involved in drone production, and widened its travel ban against Iranian officials implicated in human rights abuses. European Union (EU) 20 Feb expanded its human rights designations by targeting additional 34 Iranian persons and entities; UK same day designated eight individuals. Marking 24 Feb anniversary of Ukraine war, UK sanctioned five individuals, U.S. announced export control measures and EU designated seven Iranian entities all related to concerns over drones. Canada 27 Feb sanctioned 12 Iranian individuals over human rights violations.
Nuclear standoff deepened ahead of nuclear watchdog meeting in March. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 1 Feb expressed concern “that Iran implemented a substantial change in the design information of [Fordow Fuel enrichment plant] in relation to the production of high-enriched uranium without informing the Agency in advance”; Iran’s atomic energy chief maintained that there had been an error by IAEA’s inspectors. Adding to list of concerns, U.S. media 19 Feb revealed IAEA had detected uranium enriched to 84%; Iran’s atomic energy agency denied enriching over 60%. Senior IAEA officials 21 Feb visited Tehran for discussions; lack of progress before 6 March start of IAEA Board of Governors meeting could lead Western govts to introduce another censure resolution. CIA director 26 Feb assessed nuclear program expanding “at a worrisome pace”, though no indication of weaponisation.
Regional tensions remained elevated. After govt 1 Feb said early investigations in attack late Jan on Isfahan defence facility pointed to Israeli responsibility, reports 17 Feb emerged of apparent Iranian drone strike against commercial vessel linked to Israeli ownership week earlier; Israeli PM Netanyahu 19 Feb blamed Iran for attack and rocket fire against U.S. forces in north east Syria day earlier (see Syria).
Protesters rallied in capital Baghdad, Turkish forces continued striking Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in north as hostilities halted in Türkiye, and security forces targeted Islamic State (ISIS).
Protesters rallied against currency devaluation and electoral law. Iraqi dinar 2 Feb reached new low at 1,750 to $1 at street exchanges, compared to official rate of 1,460; protesters next day demonstrated devaluation in Baghdad. Central Bank 7 Feb lowered exchange rate to 1,300 to $1. During visit to U.S., FM Fuad Hussein 10 Feb listed economy and endemic corruption as country’s biggest challenges. Protesters 27 Feb rallied in Baghdad against draft electoral law seen as undermining independent candidates. Meanwhile, govt continued regional security dialogue. Saudi FM Prince Faisal bin Farhan 2 Feb visited Baghdad and announced cooperation to reduce regional tensions. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 5 Feb visited Baghdad and met PM Sudani to discuss bilateral relations, counter-terrorism and Iraq’s role in regional mediation. Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian 22 Feb visited Baghdad for talks on border security and Iran-Saudi Arabia dialogue.
Turkish forces continued attacks on PKK in north. Despite unilateral ceasefire announced by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) commander in Türkiye following calamitous earthquake on 6 Feb that killed tens of thousands (see Türkiye), Turkish forces continued ground operations and airstrikes in north; notably, Turkish defence ministry 11 Feb announced “neutralising” six PKK members and Turkish strike 27 Feb reportedly killed three militants. Before earthquake, Iran-backed Islamic Resistance Ahrar al-Iraq Brigade claimed eight rockets that 1 Feb targeted Turkish military base in Ninewa governorate; Turkish forces and PKK mem-bers 2 Feb reportedly clashed in Metin mountains; Ankara 4 Feb announced “neutralising” three PKK members.
Security forces conducted anti-Islamic State operations. Army 12 Feb announced killing seven suspected ISIS members in airstrikes in Hamrin mountains in Diyala governorate. Iraqi forces 14 Feb killed three ISIS militants in Wadi Shay, Kirkuk governorate; same day killed three in Kubeisa town, Anbar governorate. Iraqi airstrikes 15 Feb reportedly killed at least 12 suspected ISIS members around capital Baghdad. Security forces 16 Feb clashed with suspected ISIS cell in Tarmiya district, Salah al-Din governorate, killing three militants and four soldiers.
Riyadh hosted meeting between U.S. and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), while media spat pointed to tensions with Egypt.
U.S. and GCC held meeting on counter-terrorism and security cooperation. U.S.-GCC working group 13-16 Feb held meeting in capital Riyadh that had been postponed in Oct 2022 following U.S.-Saudi tensions over oil production. Joint statement following meeting focused on threats of Islamic State (ISIS), Iran and Iran-aligned groups, while reaffirming “that diplomacy remains the preferred way to address Iran’s destabilizing policies.” Earlier, FM Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud 2 Feb visited Iraq and discussed Gulf-Iraq electricity connectivity, oil policy and regional security dialogue (see Iraq). FM Al-Saud 18 Feb reaffirmed need for new approach to Syria and dialogue with Syrian President Assad for humanitarian reasons, following deadly earthquake (see Syria).
Saudi-Egyptian media spat broke out. Saudi and Egyptian media pundits engaged in tit-for-tat verbal criticisms over deterioration of Egypt’s economy and Saudi Arabia’s decision to apply stricter conditions on lending money (see Egypt); Egyptian President al-Sisi 9 Feb denied conflict with Saudi Arabia. Spats surfaced after Saudi Arabia’s finance minister in Jan described kingdom’s new approach to providing aid to allies, moving from “direct grants and deposits without strings attached” to “working with multilateral institutions to actually say we need to see reforms”; another source of tension relates to delayed transfer of Sanafir and Tiran islands in Red Sea from Egyptian to Saudi control per 2016 deal.
Saudi-Huthi backchannel talks displayed signs of progress, Huthis criticised UN’s role in Hodeida and Riyadh announced large deposit in Aden-based Central Bank as govt faced economic troubles.
Tentative signs of breakthrough in Huthi-Saudi negotiations emerged. Contours of deal reportedly became clear as Huthis claimed that Saudi Arabia agreed to their preconditions, including easing movement restrictions around Sanaa airport and Hodeida port and paying state employees’ salaries in Huthi-controlled areas. In positive signals, Riyadh permitted increased movement in Huthi-controlled Hodeida port and both sides toned down negative media rhetoric. Meanwhile, concurrent high-level diplomacy continued. In hope of resurrecting truce ahead of Muslim holy month of Ramadan beginning late March, UN Spe-cial Envoy Hans Grundberg’s military adviser early Feb met govt military commanders, tribal and civil society leaders to discuss possible ceasefire mechanisms. Grundberg 7 Feb met Presidential Leadership Council members al-Alimi and Abu Zara’a al-Muharrami in Aden to discuss inclusive political process; next day met Southern Transitional Council (STC)-aligned Aden governor. Grundberg and Iranian foreign ministry special adviser 9 Feb travelled separately to Oman for talks with Omani officials and Huthi chief negotiator.
Huthis grew critical of UN’s role in Hodeida. Huthis 6 Feb accused UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) of intentionally blocking cargo ships from entering Hodeida port, which UNVIM denied, and called for abolition of mechanism; criticism may reflect Huthis’ desire to diminish UN role ahead of possible lifting of Saudi Arabia’s restrictions on port. Huthis 5 Feb accused UN of delaying mission to salvage rusting oil tanker FSO Safer.
Economic outlook remained bleak, govt forces manoeuvred along front lines. Riyal in govt areas hovered around lowest rate since start of truce, while govt’s oil production remained at near-halt amid Huthi threats; Huthis sought to channel import commodities solely through Huthi-controlled Hodeida rather than govt-controlled Aden. Saudi Arabia 21 Feb announced $1bn deposit intended for Central Bank of Aden. Meanwhile, Nation Shield Forces – commanded by PLC head al-Alimi – deployed across key fault lines in Lahij, Shebwa, al-Dhale and Hadramawt governorates, which have seen friction between STC and Islah forces; move could be aimed at forestalling STC takeover in Hadramawt.
Govt maintained harsh crackdown on protests as Western states continued censure and sanctions, further sapping appetite for engagement on nuclear file, while attack targeted Isfahan military facility.
Govt continued crackdown, further straining relations with West. Govt 7 Jan executed two individuals linked to protests, convicted as part of campaign that UN human rights chief described as tantamount “to state sanctioned killing”. Govt 14 Jan executed dual UK-Iranian national accused of espionage, prompting UK to temporarily recall its ambassador and blacklist prosecutor general. European Union (EU) continued diplomatic rebuke and preparing new sanctions. Notably, calls grew in UK and EU to label Islamic Republic Guard Corps (IRGC) as “terrorist organisation”, which Tehran threatened would evoke strong response; European Parliament 19 Jan passed non-binding resolution calling for designation. In first sanctions of 2023, U.S. 6 Jan targeted six individuals linked to Iranian company said to be engaged in drone proliferation, as well as director of organisation that is “responsible for overseeing Iran’s ballistic missile programs”. EU 23 Jan approved sanctions against 37 Ira-nian individuals and entities over human rights concerns; UK same day blacklisted seven individuals and entities and U.S. in parallel designated 11.
Nuclear talks remained moribund. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi 12 Jan asserted that nuclear negotiations “have broken down”, adding “the Agency – and I personally – do not want to leave this political vacuum around such a volatile and dangerous issue”; Grossi asserted willingness to meet Iranian officials but no meetings have been confirmed to resume discussions on outstanding safeguards concerns. Grossi 24 Jan called nuclear deal “an empty shell” as “every limit that existed [in deal] has been violated several times”.
Isfahan military facility targeted in drone attack. Govt 28 Jan confirmed bomb-laden drones struck defence facility in Isfahan but maintained damage was minimal; attack widely attributed in media to Israel. Earlier, U.S. Central Command 6 Jan intercepted 2,000 assault rifles aboard sailboat transiting “from Iran to Yemen”. Azerbaijan withdrew staff from Tehran embassy following 27 Jan attack that killed one and injured two.
Govt sought to pass 2023 budget and stabilise currency amid protests against hardship, armed groups targeted international coalition forces, and Islamic State (ISIS) continued attacks.
Govt haggled over budget amid protests demanding jobs. PM Sudani 11 Jan met Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) PM Barzani in capital Baghdad to discuss KRG’s share in 2023 federal budget and other bilateral issues; Barzani 15 Jan said they had reached “preliminary agreements”. PM Sudani 23 Jan replaced Central Bank governor Mustafa Ghaleb Mukheef with Muhsen al-Allaq after Iraqi dinar 20 Jan reached new low at 1,670 to U.S. dollar. Demonstrations took place across country as protestors demanded employment; notably, hundreds 2 Jan protested in front of North Oil Company in Kirkuk city as police responded with tear gas, injuring five. Hundreds 8 Jan reportedly demonstrated in front of finance ministry in Baghdad. Hundreds 25 Jan protested currency devaluation in Baghdad.
IED attacks targeted International Coalition. In first attack targeting International Coalition convoy in months, IED 12 Jan hit convoy in Taji distict, Baghdad; armed group al-Muqawama al-Dawliya same day claimed attack. IEDs 19 and 26 Jan targeted convoy in Yusufiya district, Baghdad governorate. PM Sudani 15 Jan defended U.S. troop presence, saying: “We think that we need the foreign forces”. Sudani 16 Jan received White House Envoy Brett McGurk to discuss bilateral relations; McGurk reaffirmed U.S. commitment to support Iraq against ISIS.
Low-level ISIS insurgency continued. Alleged ISIS sniper 9 Jan killed police officer in Muqdadiya district, Diyala governorate. Suspected ISIS militants 18 Jan killed two police officers in Jabal Bur, Kirkuk governorate. Counter-terrorism operations continued; notably, airstrikes 21 Jan killed two alleged ISIS militants in Salah al-Din governorate.
In other important developments. U.S. forces 8 Jan shot down drone near Ain al-Asad airbase housing U.S. personnel in Anbar governorate. In possible indication of political comeback after months of silence, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr 13 Jan addressed supporters ahead of Friday prayer.
Saudi Arabia explored return to dialogue with Iran and continued backchannel talks with Yemen’s Huthis.
Saudi and Iranian officials signalled openness for dialogue. After Saudi FM Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Iranian FM Amir-Abdollahian met in Dec at Baghdad Conference in Jordan, marking their first meeting for several years, Saudi FM 2 Jan met with Iran’s VP for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Hosseini on sidelines of Brazil’s presidential inauguration. Amir-Abdollahian 13 Jan expressed hope for restoration of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and stated both sides had reached agreement at last month’s summit to resume bilateral talks. Saudi FM Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud 17 Jan confirmed Riyadh was exploring avenues for dialogue with Iran.
Riyadh continued backchannel talks with Huthis. Saudi officials continued back-channel talks with Huthis to reinstate truce in Yemen, as tensions arose between Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates over influence in Yemen’s Hadramawt province (see Yemen).
Backchannel talks between Huthis and Saudi Arabia intensified amid steady rise in skirmishes along front lines, while Saudi-Emirati tensions rose over influence in Hadramawt governorate.
Huthis and Saudi Arabia pursued dialogue to reinstate truce. After Omani mediators 10 Jan arrived in capital Sanaa, Huthi chief negotiator 15 Jan called talks with Omanis “serious and positive” but group warned of military escalation if their conditions are not met. Govt remained excluded from talks, raising fears that Riyadh could make unacceptable concessions. UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg 16 Jan visited Sanaa to discuss truce restoration with Huthi officials and same day briefed UN Security Council, reporting “potential step change” in conflict’s trajectory. Meanwhile, low-scale fighting along key front lines in Saada, Marib, Taiz, al-Dhale and Hodeida continued to steadily rise, raising threat of miscalculation and renewed conflict. Head of Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) Al-Alimi late Jan established Nation Shield Forces, new military units under his direct command.
Emirati-backed groups sought to shift balance of power in Hadramawt. Southern Transitional Council (STC) – backed by United Arab Emirates (UAE) – 3 Jan mobilised protesters in Seyoun city demanding replacement of Islah-affiliated First Military Region with UAE-aligned Hadrami Elite Forces. Local tribal bloc Hadramawt Tribes Confederation denounced STC moves. In sign of unity with First Military Region, Saudi delegation 10 Jan met Hadramawt governor. STC’s efforts to establish military presence in areas with strong historical ties to Saudi Arabia could mark beginning of UAE-led initiative to uproot Saudi-backed Islah from Hadramawt, threatening localised conflict.
Govt continued active diplomatic engagement amid economic deterioration. U.S. Special Envoy Timothy Lenderking and U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Steven Fagin 6 Jan met al-Alimi and PM Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed to mobilise international support for govt; al-Alimi 10 Jan met U.S., UK, French and European Union ambassadors. PLC members and govt officials 8 Jan met in Saudi capital Riyadh to discuss stabilising economy and govt initiative to lower exchange rates against U.S. dollar. Following Huthi-enforced halt to oil exports, govt 8 Jan approved increase of customs exchange rates from 500 to 750 riyals; STC immediately called for reversal as fuel and other commodity prices spiked.