As tensions rise in Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. 5th fleet guarding the Persian Gulf, opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman is calling for U.S. help to urge Saudi Arabia to withdraw its forces from the island state. He also called on Iran not to meddle in Bahraini affairs.
“We demand Saudi Arabia withdraw the Peninsula Shield forces. We do not want Bahrain to turn into a battlefield for Saudi Arabia and Iran,” Sheikh Salman told reporters in Bahrain on Wednesday.
At least 24 people have been killed in the unrest this month, including four police, according to Bahrain’s interior minister Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa.
The government is accusing Iran and Hezbollah of promoting the unrest, and called on the Gulf Cooperation Council to send in troops to help maintain order two weeks ago. Most of the 1,500 troops that answered that call came from Saudi Arabia. But Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar also contributed to the Peninsula Shield force.
Intelligence sources tell Newsmax that Iran has infiltrated agents and Revolutionary Guards operatives into the country posing as air marshals on commercial Iran Air flights from Tehran.
These operatives bring weapons, money, and orders from Tehran and work for a secret police force known in Iran as heresat. They travel on official passports, Newsmax sources said.
But Shiite opposition leaders in Bahrain fear the Iranians as much as they do the Saudis.
“The Shias in Bahrain are different from the Shias in Iran,” the spokesman for the opposition al-Vefagh movement, Matar Ibrahim Matar, told Newsmax in a telephone interview from Bahrain.
“We have our own identity, and we don’t want the Islamic Republic of Iran meddling in Bahrain. We don’t want the velayat-e faghih [Iranian-style clerical dictatorship] in Bahrain.”
The conflict in Bahrain is often portrayed as sectarian, since Shiites
|King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa
account for nearly 70 percent of the population yet are ruled by a Sunni royal dynasty led by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
In the 1990s, King Hamad struck a compromise with the majority Shiites by allowing them to stand for Parliament and express their grievances and aspirations through democratic means.
But political gerrymandering has largely frustrated the Shias, Matar tells Newsmax.
“In the last parliamentary elections, al-Vefagh won 64 percent of the vote, but we only got 18 seats out of 80 in the two houses of Parliament,” Matar said.
The upper House, which accounts for 40 seats, is appointed by the king, so al-Vefagh’s election victories were limited to the lower House. “But even there, with 18 seats out of 40, we have less than 50 percent,” he tells Newsmax.
As an example, he said the district that elected him had 16,000 voters, whereas others with Sunni representatives have just 700.
“We want political and social dialogue,” he said. “So far, we have had no response. This government is speaking for the Sunnis. But the Sunnis should speak through their elected representatives.”
Matar called on the United States to end its passive reaction to the Saudi intervention, which the State Department weakly condemned.
“The ruling family itself is divided,” he said. “Their hard-liners want to use force; another faction favors dialogue. For now, the hard-liners are in charge. We fear that without U.S. intervention, this will lead to a regional conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. We don’t want Bahrain to become part of a regional conflict.”
|Protesters in Bahrain
Matar said that al-Vefagh was calling on the United States to play a more active role in mediating the civil conflict in Bahrain, since the presence of the U.S. 5th fleet gives the United States a clear stake in the outcome.
“We are calling on the United States to do three things,” Matar said. “First, to demand the withdrawal of Saudi troops. Second, to support political reforms and the formation of an elected government. Third, to denounce the crimes against humanity by the regime, which has prevented medical services to people wounded in the unrest.”
Matar pointed to the history of Bahrain as a melting pot of Persian, Indian, and Arab cultures.
“We have our own identity. Shias in Bahrain are different from Shias in Iran or Iraq. Sunnis in Bahrain are different from the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia. We have a high level of acceptance for the culture of others. We want a civil, liberal, and democratic country,” he said.
“We think the private sector should be the engine of our economy, so the markets must be free. This would be impossible under an Iranian-style system.”
Asked about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Mattar said that al-Vefagh did not want Bahrain to become a player in regional affairs. “We are a small country. Nobody knows where we are. Let the Palestinians solve their own problems.
“I can’t be more Palestinian than the Palestinians” who are negotiating with Israel,” he said.
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