Conflict update: February 8 2017


Of the many unconscionable things Donald Trump has done in the not-even-three-weeks since he became president, this would be among the most unconscionable:

The leaked draft of a presidential memorandum Donald Trump is expected to sign within days suspends a 2010 rule that discouraged American companies from funding conflict and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo through their purchase of  “conflict minerals.”

The memo, distributed inside the administration on Friday afternoon and obtained by The Intercept, directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to temporarily waive the requirements of the Conflict Mineral Rule, a provision of the Dodd Frank Act, for two years — which the rule explicitly allows the president to do for national security purposes. The memorandum also directs the State Department and Treasury Department to find an alternative plan to “address such problems in the DRC and adjoining countries.”

Trump apparently came to the conclusion that it would be better if American companies were allowed buy scarce minerals from Congolese warlords on the cheap after meeting with Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. This may shock you, but Krzanich’s company stands to gain mightily from this change in American policy. Child soldiers? Human rights violations? Constant war in the Congo? That’s Intel InsideTM, baby!

Also? Donald Trump is going to start getting rent payments from the Pentagon, which wants to establish a permanent security presence in Trump Tower and is prepared to pay for it. Welcome to the kleptocracy.


Somalia has a new president: Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, AKA Farmajo.

Hello, President Mohamed! (Wikimedia | Deeqosonna Warsame)
Farmajo (his nickname, apparently, because he likes cheese) is a former prime minister (and former employee of the New York State Department of Transportation) and dual US-Somali citizen (I guess he should check with the Trump administration about that) who defeated incumbent (now ex-)President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in the second round of parliamentary voting. Mohamud was accused of trying to buy votes, and Farmajo became the anti-corruption candidate. Ironically, then, the candidate seen as the most popular and least corrupt won an election that wasn’t decided by popular vote and was seen as highly susceptible to corruption. The new president now faces the task of cleaning up one of the most corrupt countries on the planet, fending off al-Shabab, and maybe, just maybe trying to bring all of Somalia’s self-declared independent/autonomous regions back together. That seems like a pretty tall order, but Farmajo is probably the only candidate who had any shot at accomplishing it, and he won.

Surprisingly the day seems to have passed in (relative) peace. Attackers, possible al-Shabab but it’s not clear, attempted to storm a hotel in the city of Bosasso, in the Puntland region of the country, but they were driven off after killing four guards (two attackers were also killed), and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious connection to the presidential election.


Nine civilians were reportedly killed today in Syrian and/or Russian airstrikes on a rebel-controlled area of the city of Homs. Elsewhere, the Israel military conducted an airstrike against a government target in Syria in response to what it says was tank fire that crossed the border and struck Israeli territory.

A US airstrike in Idlib today apparently killed a long-time al-Qaeda leader named Abu Hani al-Masri. Masri goes all the way back to the old days of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, before EIJ merged with Osama bin Laden’s Afghan Mujahideen outfit to form al-Qaeda.

US Army Lt. General Stephen Townsend, commanding anti-ISIS coalition forces in Iraq, says that he expects both Mosul and Raqqa to be liberated from ISIS within six months. Mosul seems like a fair bet, but somebody might want to really get on that Raqqa thing.

Turkey says that its forces and their Free Syrian Army allies have advanced into the “outskirts” of al-Bab. Perhaps more importantly, they are now coordinating, via Russia, with Syrian army forces that have advanced on the same city from the south. This lessens–though it doesn’t eliminate–the possibility that the two armies will begin fighting each other once ISIS has been driven out of the city.


Efforts are already underway to reopen Mosul University, which doesn’t seem to have been as badly damaged during the ISIS occupation and recent fighting as you might think. Obviously funding and security are the major concerns right now, but both of those problems should be surmountable once the city is liberated (which, as you read above, is now on a six month deadline of sorts).

The problem of undetonated explosives in Mosul was put in pretty stark relief by the UN recently, when it estimated that the cleanup in Mosul itself would cost around $50 million. That may not seem like much in the big scheme of things, but it’s as much as the UN estimates the same cleanup process will cost for the entire rest of the country.


Although so far he’s denied it, a new conservative challenger may be emerging for Hassan Rouhani in May’s presidential election: Ezzatollah Zarghami, the former head of Iran’s radio and TV broadcasting monopoly. Zarghami has been mentioned by some conservative media outlets as a potential candidate and has been using his social media platforms to (mildly) criticize Rouhani, hence the speculation. It’s not clear how much support he might have.


The UN says it needs $2.1 billion to try to keep as many Yemenis as possible from starving to death this year. On the plus side, I guess, the Yemeni government has decided not to suspend American counter-terrorism activity in the country. I would like to call your attention to one part of that piece:

The U.S. operation may also have created a headache for the government not just by killing innocent people but also a local al Qaeda commander, Abdulraoof al-Dhahab, who was an ally of pro-government tribes fighting the Houthis.

We’re attacking al-Qaeda in Yemen while simultaneously providing essential support to a brutally violent Saudi-led effort to reinstall a Yemeni government that apparently still works with al-Qaeda when convenient. Seriously, what the fuck are we doing in Yemen?


First, an apology. I was under the mistaken impression that the Taliban claimed credit for yesterday’s suicide attack that killed 20 people outside the Supreme Court building in Kabul. They did not–rather, they apparently said they were checking to see if the bomber was one of their own. As it turns out, he was not, and ISIS claimed credit for the attack today.

ISIS also appears to have been behind an attack in northern Jowzjan province that killed at least six Red Cross aid workers (two more are reportedly missing). Their convoy was attacked by ISIS while trying to deliver supplies to avalanche victims.


Anonymous UN officials have told Reuters that potentially “thousands” of Rohingya have been killed since the Myanmar government began cracking down on their community in October, far more than have been previously estimated. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has finally said it will “investigate” the allegations, which is a big step for the Nobel laureate whose commentary on the Rohingya genocide has previously waffled between “meh” and “both sides do it.” But Suu Kyi doesn’t control the army, so even if she finally acknowledges the genocide she’ll have to fight to stop it.


President Trump has reportedly sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping a letter that says he “looks forward” to working with Xi to develop a “constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China.” After weeks of tension between Trump and his team on the one hand and Beijing on the other, the letter probably is meant to break the ice in advance of a phone call.


The UN’s special representative in Libya, Martin Kobler, says that there is “a growing consensus” behind the idea of changing the composition of the spectacularly unsuccessful Government of National Accord’s Presidency Council. The current 9-member council is supposed to represent a broad swath of Libyan society, but it can’t even cohere internally, let alone exert any control over the country. The most obvious change would also potentially be the most destructive: putting Khalifa Haftar on the council. Haftar undoubtedly wouldn’t accept unless he was given substantial authority, and some of the large Misratan militias currently supporting the GNA would undoubtedly have serious objections, but if those problems could be overcome it would be an instant turning point in the Libyan civil war.

Central African Republic

Five people have been killed in and around Bangui over the past couple of days, after a government operation to arrest Muslim militia leader Youssouf Sy went sideways and Sy was killed. His followers retaliated by attacking Christians.


Sorin Grindeanu’s government survived a no-confidence vote today and will apparently try to ride out the public outrage over its now-withdrawn pro-corruption decree. Grindeanu’s justice minister, Florin Iordache, may have to fall on his figurative sword, since he’s the guy who technically drafted the decree.

United Kingdom

UK Prime Minister Theresa May seems mad. She “does not believe” Scotland should hold a new independence referendum, which is understandable since recent polling suggests she could lose it (that polling also suggests a majority of Scots don’t want the referendum to take place until after Brexit negotiations are concluded, which means 2019 at the earliest). She’s also seems fed up with talk about Scotland having a “future” within the European Union, since, as she noted, an independent Scotland wouldn’t be in the European Union–though, of course, it could get into the European Union, which can’t happen if it remains in the UK.

Speaking of Brexit, the UK parliament passed a bill authorizing May to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of leaving the EU. Shortly before that, it rejected a measure that would have protected the residency of EU nationals currently living in Britain. This seems pretty shitty, to be honest, but May’s government continues to offer non-specific and unenforceable assurances that those EU nationals will be treated with “the utmost respect” and that their immigration status will be prioritized after Article 50 is formally invoked.


Polling for the French presidential race has been fairly consistent of late, showing far right/fascist candidate Marine Le Pen winning the first round by a slim margin and then being absolutely walloped by Emmanuel Macron in the runoff. These polls show Macron beating Le Pen by margins of 25 points or more, so they’d have to be incredibly wrong for Le Pen to pull out a victory.

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