The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is sending the wrong signal to the government of Bahrain in proceeding with a partial sale of new arms to Manama, according to human rights activists and some lawmakers here.
Their reaction followed Friday's announcement by the State Department that it had cleared a number of items for transfer out of a 53- million-dollar arms package that the administration originally announced last September but subsequently held up due to opposition from key members of Congress.
In announcing what it called the "renewal of U.S. security cooperation with Bahrain", the State Department stressed that none of the weapons approved for transfer could be used in the kingdom's ongoing efforts to suppress growing unrest on the island, especially among its majority Shi'a community.
Demonstrations have been taking place on an almost nightly basis in Shi'a villages in recent weeks and have increased in violence, with some youths throwing Molotov cocktails at police, and with police firing tear gas and birdshot to disperse the protests, with sometimes fatal results.
"Given the continued deterioration in the human rights situation there, we think it's a bad call to be releasing arms - any sort of arms - to Bahrain at this time," Joe Stork, a veteran Middle East specialist at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS.
"We're very concerned with the signal that this sends both to the Bahraini government and the Bahraini people," said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).
"And we're very disappointed that this announcement was not accompanied by an announcement of any real progress on reform issues, including the numerous recommendations made by the Bassiouni Commission that have yet to be ...