Conflict update: March 6 2017


Donald Trump launched the world premiere of Muslim Ban, Episode 2: Attack of the Clods today, and, well, it hasn’t been struck down by a court yet so I guess that’s something.

Damn, Jar Jar Binks looks like shit

The revised travel ban removes Iraq from the list of proscribed nations altogether, so at least one country in which we currently have soldiers engaged in active combat will no longer have to feel like Trump just kicked it in its collective nuts. It also explicitly exempts travelers who already have valid visas, so there won’t be people stranded at the airport under this version of the ban. It’s less punitive with respect to Syrian refugees than the last ban was, as well–where the last ban suspended all refugee resettlement for 120 days but permanently suspended Syrian refugee resettlement, now Syrians will simply face the same 120 day ban as everybody else. The overall number of refugees the US accepts in a single year will be cut from “LOL, you can’t be serious” to “holy shit, is this a fucking joke,” though, so Syrian refugees–all refugees, really–still mostly won’t be allowed in.

Additionally, the new ban removes preferences for refugees who are “religious minorities” (i.e., Christians) in order to support its new claim that the ban is “not motivated by animus toward any religion.” That’s bullshit, of course, but because our legal system thrives on bullshit it may be enough to allow this ban to survive the inevitable court challenges. Instead of an overt religious ban, the new order requires federal agencies to compile special lists of crimes perpetrated by immigrants, making selection bias official federal policy. I’m sure that will be fine.


After a weekend in which most Iraqi offensive operations were shut down due to bad weather that affected visibility and the ability to use air power, things picked back up today. Iraqi forces were able to take the western end of the second of Mosul’s five bridges, which put them in position to partially encircle the main government complex in Mosul’s old city and which, once the bridge is repaired, give the Iraqis another way to bring soldiers and materiel in from east Mosul directly to the front lines. The Iraqis were able to take several other neighborhoods, though the focus right now remains on the old city and the government buildings there.

Iraqi federal police have taken a page out of ISIS’s playbook and are weaponizing store-bought quadcopter drones with makeshift bombs. I am, and maybe you are as well, conditioned to get the chills when somebody talks about weaponized drones because of the US drone program and its total disregard for small niceties like due process, civilian casualties, and national sovereignty. But in a situation like this–i.e., an active war zone–they may not be so bad. I have to say this made some sense to me:

Bellingcat analyst Nick Waters, who has been following the use of drones by Islamic State closely, told Motherboard that the drones actually have the capability to be more ethical than a normal weapon system.

“You get to see exactly what you’re shooting at, they’re surprisingly accurate (likely reducing civilian casualties) and when you only have one or two bombs you want to make sure you hit the target first time,” he told Motherboard via Twitter direct message.

“They’re better than firing a bunch of 107mm rockets into an area and hoping you hit something with ‘ISIS’ written on it,” Waters added.

Better still would be not introducing explosives into a situation where you aren’t 100 percent sure you’re only going to kill ISIS fighters, but that standard will never get used. Given the choice between weaponized drones and an artillery barrage, I can see how the drone really might be the more ethical choice.

UPDATE: Just before I hit “post,” Reuters reported that Iraqi special forces have taken the main government building in west Mosul after an early Tuesday morning (damn time zones) assault.


The Syrian Democratic Forces, by which I mostly mean the Kurdish YPG, has (have?) really maneuvered the Turkish army into a box. By handing front-line positions to the Syrian army, they’ve put Turkey in a position where its forces can’t get to Raqqa, and will have a hard time getting to Manbij, without picking a fight they don’t really want to pick with Damascus. And now they’re saying that Manbij is “under the protection” of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, which, if true, means that if the Turks want to attack the city they’ll be attacking a NATO ally. Like I said, a box.

As for Raqqa, the SDF announced on Monday that it had cut the last main road out of the city, which should completely cut off ISIS’s ability to move fighters between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. The only reliable way for ISIS to get into and out of Raqqa at this point seems to be via the Euphrates River.


For some time now, the United Nations has been pushing Ankara to release Aydın Sefa Akay, a judge who works for the UN’s Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) and is supposed to be hearing an appeal right now from a convicted Rwandan . Akay was among the tens of thousands of judges, reporters, Kurds, liberals, left-handed people, people whose last names begin with the letter “P,” etc., who were arrested following last summer’s failed coup. In Akay’s case, and this is completely true, he was arrested because he had a chat app on his phone that was apparently used by several of the coup plotters. That’s it. Imagine if they’d used Facebook–assuming Ankara hadn’t banned Facebook that week.

The UN had given the Turkish government a February 14 deadline to release Akay, and that came and went, so now it’s referred the situation to the Security Council.


Donald Trump called his buddy Benjamin Netanyahu today, just in time to interrupt the fourth interrogation to which Israeli police have subjected the prime minister during his ongoing corruption investigation. The situation has advanced to the point where Israeli politicians are beginning to prepare for an indictment, which would likely force Netanyahu to resign.


Freedom and Democracy are on the march, my friends:

On Monday Bahrain’s justice ministry filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve the main remaining opposition group on the grounds that it undermined security, the state-run Bahrain news agency reported.

The secular National Democratic Action Society, or Wa’ad, had perpetrated “serious violations targeting the principle of respecting the rule of law, supporting terrorism and sanctioning violence by glorifying people convicted for terrorism cases”, the ministry said.

Authorities last year dissolved the then largest opposition group al-Wefaq and revoked the citizenship of the country’s top Shia Muslim cleric.

On Sunday the upper house of parliament approved a constitutional amendment that critics say will allow authorities to run the country under an undeclared state of martial law. The change will allow civilians to be tried by military courts if the case involves the military.

Sure, the Bahraini monarchy could reduce tensions by not, say, killing and imprisoning people on the crime of being Shiʿa in a majority Shiʿa country, but that’s just loco, man. Better to suppress political opposition and codify sham trials, that’s the way to keep things in order.


While the Saudi campaign to bomb the hell out of Yemen’s Red Sea ports has certainly contributed heavily to a decline in humanitarian aid reaching Yemenis who are at acute risk of starving to death, it must be said that the recent uptick in Yemeni rebels firing on ships in the Red Sea has also, unsurprisingly, diminished the willingness of ship captains and crews to ferry aid into Yemeni waters.


Iranian attack boats in the Persian Gulf reportedly forced one US and three British naval vessels to change course to avoid them today. This is the kind of situation that could quickly escalate into something much worse, but fortunately in this case it didn’t.


Police in the city of Rajbiraj killed at least three activists from the country’s Madhesi minority group on Monday. The activists were attempting to disrupt a demonstration by the Unified Marxist-Leninist Party, which opposes planned changes to the Nepalese constitution intended to address the grievances of ethnic minorities like the Madhesi. In response to those killings, on Tuesday a general strike was called across much of southern Nepal.


Fighting between government forces and the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army near the country’s border with China in northeastern Shan province killed at least 30 people on Monday. This is just one of Myanmar’s galaxy of ongoing ethnic conflicts, but it happens to be the one that most closely involves China, since the Kokang people, who live in that part of Shan province, are ethnically Han Chinese and Beijing has considerable influence with them and with the MNDAA.


Yesterday’s North Korean missile launch was, per Pyongyang, practice for a potential attack on US military facilities in Japan.

Meanwhile, the North Korean government has reacted to Malaysia’s decision to expel its ambassador by barring Malaysian embassy staff (just embassy staff and not, as initially reported, all Malaysians, per this correction) currently in North Korea from leaving the country. Now, I’m no lawyer, but isn’t that pretty much, you know, kidnapping?


Seoul is considering filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization over China’s decision to impose economic penalties in response to South Korea’s decision to install a US anti-missile system on its territory. Beijing says the radar in the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system South Korea wants to put in place, to protect against a hypothetical North Korean nuclear attack, will be powerful enough to detect activity within China. Since South Korea decided to go forward with the THAAD installation, the Chinese government has been mysteriously interfering in travel and tourism between the two countries, which could violate a Chinese-South Korean free trade agreement.


The Benghazi Defense Brigades, fresh off their still-tenuous capture of the Libyan oil terminals at al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf, say they’re planning an offensive to retake Benghazi from Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. Meanwhile, though, Haftar is planning his own offensive to retake the oil terminals.


The day after Mali’s three largest jihadi groups announced their merger, an attack by unknown militants on a military base near the Burkina Faso border killed at least 11 Malian soldiers. Other armed militant groups that do not seem to be affiliated with the new al-Qaeda supergroup surrounded Timbuktu today in order to prevent the installation there of interim government authorities.


Five Nigerien security officers were killed today near the country’s border with Mali after they were attacked by unnamed “extremists.” Niger often has problems with Boko Haram attacks in the south, but given the location here it’s more likely that, if these extremists came from someplace outside of Niger, they came from across the border in Mali.


François Fillon’s short-term political fortunes got a boost today, when former Prime Minister Alain Juppé announced that LOL, no, he would not be bailing out the Republican Party that chose the scandal-crippled Fillon over him by replacing Fillon as the party’s presidential nominee. Party bigwigs then later announced that they would continue to support Fillon’s candidacy despite the fact that his chances of actually winning the election are only slightly better than mine and I’m not even French. There are other potential replacements, in particular former President Nicolas Sarkozy, but it appears that Fillon has enough of a base remaining, despite the allegations that he’s been funneling state money to his wife in a series of what were basically no-show jobs, to force the Republicans to keep him on the ballot.

What I’m saying, in other words, is get used to the fact that Marine Le Pen is going to make the runoff for the French presidency. Fascism has its appeal, I guess.

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