Iran condemns Saudi troops' arrival in Bahrain

Iran's decision to get involved threatens to change the situation from a local dispute into a regional standoff between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, with Bahrain as the proxy.

Hasan Jamali/AP
Bahraini antigovernment protesters react Monday, March 14, at Pearl roundabout in Manama, Bahrain, when Shiite opposition leader Sheik Habib al-Muqdad (unseen) advised them Saudi forces were believed to be coming to the roundabout and that there were buses waiting to take them home.

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Iran criticized the deployment of forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates yesterday to Bahrain, the small Gulf island nation where protesters have been calling for democratic reforms since Feb. 14.

The move was organized by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a political and economic bloc of six regional powers. But Iranian officials condemned the deployment as Western-backed and against the will of peaceful protesters.

"The deployment of forces by a number of regional countries may be for mitigation of their concerns about their power, but they have placed themselves against the people's wrath through this action … this will definitely harm their glassy palaces in the future," Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said at a session of parliament in Tehran Tuesday, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency. "The Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament) cautions the regional states that they should not imagine such a military intervention, which is happening at the US orders, would have no costs," he added.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also spoke out against the arrival of foreign troops in Bahrain, saying the deployments “are unacceptable and will further complicate the issue,” according to Iran’s Press TV.

Iran's decision to get involved threatens to change the situation from a local dispute into a regional standoff between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, with Bahrain as the proxy, the New York Times reported.

A Saudi soldier was shot dead by a protester in Bahrain Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.

Iran – which suppressed its own pro-democracy "Green Movement" in 2009 with a deadly crackdown – has already taken a strident tone in Arab world revolutions, comparing the ousters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, for example, to its own Islamic Revolution which toppled the US-backed shah. But Bahrain seems to strike a special chord, with Shiite protesters in a Shiite-majority nation demonstrating against the Sunni Al Khalifa family, which has ruled since the late 1700s.

The foreign forces that entered Bahrain yesterday come from the security forces of the GCC, which is comprised of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Oman. The forces include at least 1,000 Saudi soldiers and 500 UAE police officers, the Washington Post reports.

“The Bahrain government asked us yesterday to look at ways to help them to defuse the tension in Bahrain,’’ UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan told reporters before a Paris meeting yesterday with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The minister said the deployment was intended to “get calm and order in Bahrain and to help both the Bahraini government and the people to reach a solution.’’

The US has key interests in Bahrain, a banking and financial hub for the Gulf. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based there and US military access through Bahrain supports operations in Iraq, CNN notes. Just last month, US President Barack Obama welcomed movements by Bahrain’s king to push forward with reforms and reform his cabinet.

In a Saturday meeting with the King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed for stronger democratic reforms, the Post adds.

But the US statements and foreign troop deployment does not seem likely to quell protesters, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

Opposition groups said Monday that the Saudi intervention was a declaration of war. Protests that began with calls for democratic reform and an end to Shiite discrimination are now calling for regime change. …

Meanwhile, a pro-government parliamentary bloc on Monday called on the king to impose martial law after 100 people were reportedly wounded Sunday. Police attacked the mostly Shiite protesters who were blocking a highway leading to the financial district in the capital Manama. They used tear gas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators, but were unable to disperse them.

Clashes between protesters and Sunni government supporters also erupted on the campus of a university in Sakhir. Those events followed large protests on Friday, in which hundreds were wounded when protesters marching to government offices were attacked by police and government supporters who carried sticks and clubs.

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