x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Bahrain abuse probe delayed, US arms sale affected

Bahrain announces that an investigation into alleged government abuses would not be completed until late November ¿ a delay that will further postpone the sale of military equipment by the US to the country.

WASHINGTON // Bahrain yesterday announced that an investigation into alleged government abuses would not be completed until late November - a delay that will further postpone the impending sale of military equipment by the US to the country.

On Tuesday, the US said it would put off the US$53 million (Dh194.6m) deal until a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry had been completed.

The US State Department said yesterday that the sale was not imminent anyway and that there were several procedural hurdles that still had to be cleared before it went ahead.

The delay was likely to upset US allies in the Gulf, but Graeme Bannerman, a scholar with the Middle East Institute in Washington, said it was "prudent" to reassess arms sales, even to allies, due to the turmoil in the region.

"Arms sales are constantly reviewed. And when the situation is as fluid as it is, that is only prudent," he said.

The State Department has said it would await the outcome of Bahrain's investigation into a crackdown on protests in February and March that were inspired by Arab uprisings in other countries.

The report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which has been probing alleged abuses during the Shiite-led protests, was due to be delivered on Sunday.

But the commission has now said the report would not be completed until November 23.

About 30 people, mainly Shiites, died when the protests erupted. Continuing clashes and deaths in police custody have since taken the total number of deaths past 40, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

The US had planned to sell 44 armoured Humvees and 300 TOW missiles to Bahrain.

The State Department had said that the equipment was for external defence only.

The US delay of the sale was announced in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, who had introduced legislation to bar sales to Bahrain until "meaningful steps were taken to improve human rights" there.

At least six senators had protested the arms sale to Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state.

Senator Wyden said that while the delay was welcome, he would continue to seek to stop the deal altogether.

"We're not going to back off in the least," Senator Wyden told AFP on Wednesday.

Roby Barrett, an expert on Gulf security and a scholar with the Middle East Institute, said there was a lot of "political posturing" involved in the opposition to the sale.

"Congressional opposition does not surprise me," he said.

"There are always elements in Congress who will tend to ignore US strategic interests in the region."

He added that even if the sale were suspended, it would be merely "symbolic" because Bahrain faced no real threats as long as the US Navy Fifth Fleet was based there.

okarmi@thenational.ae