World update: September 13 2017

Sorry, but today’s update needs to be another short and early one



The Kurds have a major supporter in their independence movement: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Which is, on some level, just astonishing. Israel has cultivated good relations with Kurds of all stripes for decades, so this makes sense viewed through that lens, but for this particular Israeli prime minister to endorse independence and self-determination for a frequently oppressed Middle Eastern people is, let’s say, pretty rich.


Foreign Policy looks at the machinations over who will control Raqqa once it’s fully out of ISIS’s hands:

For three months, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been fighting to liberate Raqqa from the Islamic State and have reportedly captured 70 percent of the city. The jihadi group will eventually be kicked out of the city, but what happens after the dust settles remains a matter of some dispute. Some reports contend that the city will be handed over to a council friendly to Damascus — a contention vigorously denied by the SDF, which says it aims to set up institutions that exclude the regime’s security branches from the city.

Damascus has tried to keep its hooks into areas that are now under Kurdish control by continuing to pay salaries to civil servants there, but it’s unlikely that will be enough to get people living in Raqqa to welcome Bashar al-Assad back with open arms. On the other hand, it’s also far from clear that they’re going to abide living under Kurdish protection indefinitely.

A source in Damascus says the convoy of ISIS fighters that had been trying to get from the Lebanese border to ISIS-controlled territory in Deir Ezzor has finally made it to its destination. The convoy had been held up by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, and there have been innumerable wildly conflicting stories about its whereabouts over the past couple of weeks, but the coalition has been forced to draw down its air presence in Deir Ezzor to avoid conflicting with Russian and Syrian operations in Deir Ezzor city. That could have created an opening for the convoy to slip through.


Speaking of things that are rich, the Saudi government said Wednesday that it welcomes a United Nations investigation into alleged war crimes in Yemen…just, you know, not now. We’re just not sure it’s the right time, you know. Maybe tomorrow would be–well, no, that’s no good either. Next week? We’re a little busy next week. Sometime in 2018? Oh, wow, can you believe this, 2018 is just packed with stuff. Anyway, we definitely welcome the investigation, just let us get back to you about the dates.


Five ISIS fighters and two Egyptian soldiers were killed Wednesday in fighting in northern Sinai.

The Egyptian government arrested human rights lawyer Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy at Cairo Airport on Sunday. Metwally co-founded the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, an organization that advocates on behalf of Egyptians who have been disappeared by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government. He has now himself been disappeared, which would be ironic if it weren’t so completely predictable. Metwally is being held on charges related to Egypt’s recently-adopted anti-NGO law, which makes it virtually impossible for non-governmental organizations that challenge Cairo in some way (on human rights, for example) to continue operating.


The Saudis, meanwhile, are asking individuals who see other people “publishing terrorist or extremist ideas” on social media to inform on those people to authorities. Not that you would necessarily expect anything less from Riyadh, but they are really turning up the repression in recent days, which makes me think there might be some truth to the rumors about  an impending transfer of power.


The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said Wednesday that it has captured an ISIS leader from Syria and foiled a series of attacks planned to coincide with the Ashura holiday later this month.



The Kazakh parliament earlier this week approved a preliminary Latin alphabet for writing the Kazakh language, which means the country may finally be preparing to transition away from Cyrillic (this change has allegedly been in the works for years now). This is a massive transition, as you might expect, that will immediately render almost everyone in Kazakhstan illiterate unless it’s managed carefully.


At least three people were killed Wednesday by a suicide bomber near Kabul’s main cricket stadium. ISIS appears to have claimed responsibility.


Journalist Daud Khattak says that the anti-terrorism declaration adopted at the recent BRICS conference in China is a sign that Beijing’s patience with Pakistan is not infinite:

China is not only worried about the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, where the continuation of war is breeding new and more violent groups and strengthening existing ones, including the specifically China-focused Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), but also needs stability in Central Asia to successfully continue with its Belt and Road Initiative.

Pakistan has to come to terms and do away with its proxies if it is interested in retaining the friendship with China; the BRICS declaration is a gentle nudge. Commenting on China’s regional approach to political, security, and economic issues, former Pakistani senator and analyst Afrasiab Khattak [no relation] writes in one of his latest articles that “China is not content with looking at Afghanistan or India from Pakistan’s point of view anymore.”


Several Philippine senators say they plan to block the lower house of parliament’s attempt to defund the office responsible for investigating abuses in Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

NORTH KOREA says that its analysis of updated seismic figures related to North Korea’s September 3 nuclear test suggest a bomb yield on the order of 250 kilotons rather than the 100-120 kiloton range around which earlier estimates had been correlating. That’s a big difference and would make it much likelier that Pyongyang did in fact test a true two-stage thermonuclear device.


Polling shows that a majority of South Koreans support having some kind of nuclear capacity in South Korea. One recent poll found that 60 percent of South Koreans want Seoul to develop its own nuclear capability, while another found that 68 percent would like the US to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea.



Demonstrators turned out in large numbers in Tunis on Wednesday to protest the opening of debate on a bill that will grant amnesty to people who have been accused of corruption under the regime of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Parliament approved the measure anyway.

Current Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi is taking heat from across the political spectrum, both for his support for the amnesty measure and his efforts to increase women’s rights in Tunisia. Essebsi is pushing new laws that would allow daughters to inherit equally with sons and would allow women to marry non-Muslims, a right currently only available to men. He’s getting a considerable amount of pushback from religious conservatives who see these measures as un-Islamic.


Us chocoholics are apparently destroying the West African rainforest:

The world’s chocolate industry is driving deforestation on a devastating scale in West Africa, the Guardian can reveal.

Cocoa traders who sell to Mars, Nestlé, Mondelez and other big brands buy beans grown illegally inside protected areas in the Ivory Coast, where rainforest cover has been reduced by more than 80% since 1960.

Illegal product is mixed in with “clean” beans in the supply chain, meaning that Mars bars, Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Milka bars could all be tainted with “dirty” cocoa. As much as 40% of the world’s cocoa comes from Ivory Coast.


The folks at Africa Is a Country look at recent political upheavals in Togo:

The latest installment of the Republic of Togo’s on-again off-again political crisis appears to have a little more heft than usual. Over the past several weeks, tensions have escalated between the government and a coalition of opposition parties and activists. Large-scale rallies, marches and gatherings have sprung up in a number of cities around the country. With the internet and cellular technology suspended by the Ministry of Information, signs suggest that this may be blossoming into a serious threat to the half-century-long Eyadéma dynasty.


South Sudanese rebels say government forces have attacked Aburoc, a town near the border with Sudan where roughly 10,000 displaced people had taken refuge.


Three US drone strikes on Wednesday reportedly killed six al-Shabab fighters in southern Somalia.


Several people were injured in clashes with police on Wednesday after rumors of efforts to rig the October 17 presidential election caused a riot to break out in the city of Kisumu.


Gunmen attacked a UN human rights office in Bujumbura early Wednesday morning. Nobody was hurt. The UN has been sounding the alarm, again, about rights abuses in Burundi recently and so this may have been an attempt to intimidate UN staffers.


The UN said on Tuesday that at least 25 people have been killed over the past week in fighting between various armed factions in central and eastern CAR. Another six people have been killed in the past week in northwestern CAR. Thousands of people remain displaced by the fighting.


A 12 or 13 year old girl acting as a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed at least five people in an attack on a mosque in northern Cameroon on Wednesday.



For the past several days a series of bomb threats have been made against several targets in a number of Russian cities. They’ve all turned out to be hoaxes but nobody seems to have any idea who’s behind them. Some are even speculating that they’re part of a Russian military drill.


Spain’s prosecutor has opened criminal investigations into 712 mayors in Catalonia over their support for the planned October 1 Catalan independence referendum. This whole process is continuing to head toward a dark place.


You can’t make this stuff up:

As negotiations to leave the European Union drag on, much of Britain’s tabloid press has frequently struck an indignant tone, blaming European allies for the slow progress.

However, one attempt to reach out to these Europeans to justify the pro-Brexit position has fallen flat on its face — thanks to a rogue translation that resulted in Germanic gibberish.

The editorial in question appeared on the website of the Sun, a fervent Brexit supporter and Britain’s best selling newspaper, on Sunday. It aimed to convince a European audience that its leaders were harming the E.U. by taking a hard-line stance on Brexit — perhaps a reference to some sly English-language stories in the German press — and so it was written in the German language.

That was the plan, at least. However, the ensuing article mangled the German language. There were grammatical mistakes in nearly every line, with some colloquial British phrases translated literally in a way that would make no sense to a German reader (pigheaded intransigence, for example, became “schweinkopf-unnachgiebigkeit”).

The translation was so bad that even Google Translate would have done better, so it’s clear that the Sun opted to use Bing Translate instead. As any respectable media outlet would.



The Brazilian Supreme Court has revoked the immunity deal that had been given to billionaire Joesley Batista, the man at the center of the corruption scandal surrounding President Michel Temer. While Batista certainly seems to deserve being arrested, again, the revocation of his immunity is likely to make it harder to build a case against Temer.


Rand Paul tried to do something good for a change and, naturally, got smacked down on Wednesday by the rest of the Senate:

An effort by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to sunset the broad legislation authorizing post-9/11 military operations failed on Wednesday.

Paul’s bid, an amendment to the annual defense policy bill, was killed 61-36, in a motion brought to the Senate floor by Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Thirty-three Democrats and two Republicans–Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Dean Heller (R-Nevada)–joined with Paul, in a bid to keep his amendment alive. Thirteen Democrats voted for the Corker motion at the urging of Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the leading Dem on the Armed Services Committee.

The post-9/11 AUMF has been used to justify everything from 16 years’ worth of pointless war in Afghanistan to shooting down Syrian government aircraft in Syria. It should have been put to bed so many times over the past 16 years, but because Congress desperately fears the idea of taking responsibility for national security decisions they’ve left it in place as a blank check for successive presidential administration to do pretty much whatever the hell they want. Which they’ll get to continue doing, apparently.

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