- By Mary Casey-Baker<p> Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p>
Heavy clashes have continued across Bahrain between anti-government protesters and security forces ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix set for Sunday. Bahrain’s main opposition society al-Wefaq has called for major protests to be held Friday. Pro-democracy groups have demanded the race be canceled over the kingdom’s poor human rights record and slow pace of reform. Bahrain’s crown prince, Prince Salman bin Hamad Isa Al Khalifa, has admitted his country is "not perfect" but insists progress is being made, and that "we are in a much better position than last year." He urged Bahrainis not to politicize the race. F1A President Jean Todt, said in an email, it is "our firm belief that sports, and the F1 Grand Prix, can have a positive and healing effect in situations where conflict, social unrest and tensions are causing distress." On Friday in a joint statement, F1’s chief executive and commercial-rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone maintained that Bahrain is a safe place to race and said the event will go on as scheduled.
The United Nations Security Council has reached agreement on a non-binding statement on the Syrian conflict, after the prodding of U.N. humanitarian officials who have said the war has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe. In a U.N. Security Council briefing, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, and Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said 25 percent of Syria’s population of 22 million people is internally displaced, and 1.3 million people have fled the country. Amos appealed to the U.N. Security Council to approve cross-border relief operations to address humanitarian needs inside Syria. The security council has been deadlocked since the beginning of Syria’s uprising in March 2011, but reached a rare consensus issuing the statement saying, "The escalating violence is completely unacceptable and must end immediately," continuing that it "urged all parties to ensure safe and unimpeded access for aid organizations to those in need in all areas of Syria." Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating what some U.S. officials believe to be the first credible indications that chemical weapons have been used in fighting in Syria. According to four senior U.S. officials, witness accounts and preliminary testing of samples from Syria have increased suspicions that Syrian forces have used chemical agents. However, other U.S. officials are skeptical, concerned that Syrian opposition forces could have tainted the samples.
- An estimated 32 people were killed and 65 others wounded in a suicide bombing inside a busy café in Iraq’s capital Baghdad Thursday night ahead of the April 20 provincial elections.
- The U.S. Defense Department is expected to announce next week a $10 billion arms deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as a means to counter Iranian threats.
— By Mary Casey