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Mideast protests rage after Saudi Arabia executes Shiite cleric

Iran’s Supreme Leader warned on Sunday there would be divine retribution for Saudi Arabia’s rulers after the execution of a renowned Shiite cleric, as Iranian protesters ransacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran in outrage. Liz Sly of The Washington Post joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Beirut.

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    Suicide bombers from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have killed 15 Iraqi security forces and wounded 22 others at an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad.

    Today's attack happened at Camp Speicher, a former U.S. base outside Tikrit, where Iraq is training police and soldiers. Five suicide bombers were involved. Two detonated car bombs at a camp gate, while three others entered the camp and blew themselves up inside.

    In an online statement, ISIS said it targeted trainers from what it called the rejectionist army. Iraq's Defense Ministry said ISIS has stepped up suicide attacks since losing control of the Iraqi city of Ramadi last week.

    The U.S. State Department is calling on Iran to protect the Saudi embassy in Tehran after protesters set fire to it last night and stormed a Saudi consulate in Mashhad, Iran's second largest city. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said those actions were not justifiable, and Iranian police have arrested 40 people.

    The protests were in response to Saudi Arabia's mass execution yesterday of 47 people, including a leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Nimr al-Nimr. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Nimr's execution a crime carried out by tyrants who will face a — quote — "divine revenge."

    AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, Supreme Leader of Iran (through translator): The politicians, executives and policy-makers of the Saudi government should have no doubt that this blood will catch up with them, and it will give them hell. Almighty God will not ignore blood of the innocent.


    In response to the heated rhetoric and ransacking of its embassy, Saudi Arabia late Sunday announced it is severing diplomatic ties with Iran.

    It says it will expel Iranian diplomats for undermining Saudi security and withdraw its own personnel from Iran.

    Joining me now to discuss the reaction to the mass executions in Saudi Arabia and also the ongoing conflict in Iraq is Washington Post reporter Liz Sly. She joins me now via Skype from Beirut.

    Let's talk first about the Saudi Arabian executions that we talked about yesterday, we reported about. The reaction in Iran has been a very, very strong one.

    What is to make of this?

  • LIZ SLY, The Washington Post:

    Iran had warned Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions not to execute Sheik Nimr.

    So, it was really quite predictable that they would respond in this way when they did carry out that execution. And I think, today, we're seeing things calm down just a little bit. They have ordered the police into action around the Saudi Embassy. They have rounded up and arrested some of the protesters.

    And it could be that, after this outburst of rage that we have seen, things will tamp down a little bit.


    And what is the U.S. State Department's role there?

  • LIZ SLY:

    Well, it's a bit unclear what role they have been playing in the background.

    They have never actually called on Saudi Arabia not to execute this man. And they didn't specifically condemn the execution yesterday. They urged Saudi Arabia to respect due process. They also urged Saudi Arabia to allow the peaceful expression of dissent, which is the reference to the likely demonstrations of support for Nimr that we're likely to see among Shia in Saudi Arabia.

    But they didn't go so far as to condemn the execution. And, in the past, when they have been questioned at the State Department by reporters on what they think about the threat of this execution, they have avoided calling for Saudi Arabia not to do it.


    All right, let's also talk about the other story that you have been working on and covering.

    We talked about attacks in Tikrit today. Yesterday, they were attacks in Ramadi, this after Iraqi forces have just taken — retaken control of the city.

  • LIZ SLY:

    Yes, we saw a lot of attacks on Friday, a lot of attacks yesterday and today by the Islamic State, seemingly trying to make a pushback against this defeat they have suffered in Ramadi.

    Now, at the moment, the Iraqi military are telling us that they have managed to turn back those attacks, that they are holding their ground. But for awhile there, it did look a little wobbly. And I think this is a reminder that, although they did take most of Ramadi about a week ago now, that the city is still not fully secured, and it's all a bit dicey over there in Anbar still.


    And this still means that the biggest city, Mosul, is in ISIS control, I mean, much, much bigger than Ramadi, right?

  • LIZ SLY:


    And, really, any campaign to take Mosul back is still really a long way away, that Ramadi, we have seen like a five-, six-, seven-month battle just take back the small portion that they lost last summer. They're not even talking about turning to Mosul next. They're talking about turning on deeper into Anbar and trying to push out the Islamic State from other parts of Anbar that it holds.

    We're a long way from Mosul.


    All right, Liz of The Washington Post, joining us from Beirut via Skype, thanks so much.

  • LIZ SLY:

    Thank you.

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