World update: October 10 2017

I’m wrapping up early tonight to see if I can’t get a decent night’s sleep for a change. See you all tomorrow.



Haider al-Abadi says ISIS should be defeated entirely in Iraq by the end of the year. Considering how quickly they’ve been losing ground since Mosul was liberated, this isn’t an unrealistic goal. On the other hand, it kind of depends on how you define “defeated.” ISIS is likely to remain at least a terrorist presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Abadi’s government is planning to reopen an oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Turkey that doesn’t pass through Iraqi Kurdistan. This pipeline was closed when ISIS swept through northern Iraq in 2014, and the decision to reopen it could add to the tension surrounding Kirkuk, which Iraqi Kurds are claiming as their own city. It’s another policy designed to isolate the Kurds, this time by offering Turkey an alternative for receiving Iraqi oil aside from the Kurdish pipeline. Abadi is reportedly considering issuing an arrest warrant for Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, which will definitely calm everything down.

Speaking of potential flashpoints, Tal Afar may once again be looking like one. Middle East Eye is reporting that Popular Mobilization forces that have taken control of the city are burning the homes of its Sunni residents to prevent their return. Turkey, which views itself as the protector of Tal Afar’s Turkmen population and especially its Sunni Turkmen population, has repeatedly described this kind of scenario as a red line that would draw a response. But with so much attention on the Kurdistan situation, Ankara might not want to escalate things with Baghdad and the PMUs just now.


Jabhat al-Shamiyah, a Free Syrian Army militia, announced Tuesday that it’s turning over control of the Bab al-Salam border crossing to the Syrian opposition government in exile based in Turkey. The group says it’s hoping that other rebel forces controlling Turkey-Syria border crossings will follow its example in order to strengthen the opposition government.


Israeli Defense Minister Buck Turgidson Avigdor Lieberman sounds like he’s preparing the Israeli public for a pretty major conflict in the near future. In a speech delivered at the Israeli army’s headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Lieberman said that Israel’s next war will have to be fought against Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south simultaneously. Lieberman further argued that the entire Lebanese army has come under Hezbollah’s control, pre-justifying a war against Lebanon that could go much further than just another Israeli invasion of the border area.

The Israelis will probably wait to start this war until after they see how the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation process plays out–they expect it will fail, which makes doing war on Gaza again much simpler than if the process were still ongoing. A new round of Hamas-Fatah talks opened on Tuesday in Cairo.


Another Emirati official, this time Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash, has now tied the Qatar diplomatic crisis to the 2022 World Cup:

This is a new and odd wrinkle in this whole soap opera, but I note that Gargash doesn’t seem to think Qatar needs to reconsider its policy of working manual laborers to death to prepare for the event. That’s apparently OK.


Never let it be said that Donald Trump is not a uniter:

A tough line from President Donald Trump has been met by a show of unity from both sides of Iran’s political divide, uniting hardliners who cast the United States as an implacable enemy with pragmatists who seek rapprochement with the West.


Iran, which has kept up a steady drumbeat of angry statements for days, lashed out again on Tuesday, threatening to teach the Americans “new lessons” and keep “all options on the table” if Washington blacklists its Revolutionary Guards.

That he’s done this just months after an Iranian election in which a relatively moderate incumbent president was willing to publicly campaign against the IRGC to a frankly shocking degree is nothing short of remarkable. Any progress Iranian moderates made in that campaign is being set back because Trump is forcing Iranians to unite against him. The anti-Iran community, which doesn’t want there to be any daylight between Iranian moderates and Iranian hardliners because that complicates the case for war, includes a number of neoconservative “Never Trump” types, but really they couldn’t have asked for a better president.



One Indian soldier and four Kashmiri rebels were killed across three separate clashes in Kashmir between late Monday and early Tuesday.


The head of Thailand’s military junta, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, says that the country will definitely hold elections next year. Which is the same thing he said last year, so nobody get their hopes up.


The US Navy made another of its periodic freedom of navigation excursions into the South China Sea on Tuesday, sending the destroyer USS Chafee to sail past the Paracel Islands, which are dubiously claimed by China.


Last September, North Korean hackers stole a massive trove of South Korean military documents from the South Korean defense ministry. On Tuesday, a South Korean politician released information about what exactly was taken, including joint US-South Korean war plans. Among these plans were documents related to the use of South Korean special forces in potential assassination operations.



It seems that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is still alive, probably, now that new footage has been aired on Algerian TV of him meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday. I mean, it’s not dispositive proof, but let’s say the preponderance of evidence supports the proposition that Bouteflika hasn’t died yet.


Africa Is a Country’s Lion Summerbell has a look at how the rest of the world is, par for the course, making South Sudan’s civil war worse:

The problem is as always that instability is hugely profitable. Weapons of considerable sophistication have poured into the country from all sides. The SPLA are using Russian Mi-24 military gunships (origin unknown) to attack SPLA-iO positions, even crossing the border into the Congo in August. In 2014, the UN security council revealed a receipt from Chinese defense contractor Norinco for $20 million worth of small arms. That was after the press broke a $38 million contract—Chinese officials claim it was signed before the outbreak of war in 2013—between Beijing and Juba, and the Chinese made a public declaration to arm neither side.


There is evidence to suggest that the SPLA-iO have been searching far and wide for the means to redress these imbalances, and that they’ve found a sympathetic ear in the West. Right now, most of what they’ve got to work with is old Sudanese Kalashnikovs. But in a 2014 report, UK-based Conflict Armaments Research observed two US-made recoilless rifle rounds in their original boxes in a cache of captured SPLM/A-iO weapons. The date at which they entered the conflict is still indeterminate, though their condition suggests that they may have been recent acquisitions. Naturally, a request for comment from the US permanent mission to the United Nations returned nothing.


The fact that these are American guns is important. No country has been more heavily involved in South Sudan over the past half-century than the US. Americans are hardly aware of this, of course—we’ve paid very little attention to the area since the days of Bush the younger, when resistance groups battling Khartoum’s heavy hand were an American cause célébre. But G.W.’s interest in the country was just another thing he inherited from his father. George Clooney may have got to Darfur in 2006, sure, but Chevron beat him there by about thirty years.

The weapons sales are one thing, but there’s also the fact that South Sudan is sitting on at least 3.75 billion barrels worth of oil reserves, and everybody wants their proxy faction to win the war so they can have a say in what happens to the oil. Nobody has been more guilty of meddling in South Sudan over its oil reserves than the US, which has managed to pull off the neat trick of fomenting the civil war while constantly criticizing the South Sudanese for fighting each other.


Two people were killed on Tuesday when gunmen attacked a van near the campus of the Technical University of Mombasa. The identity of the attackers is not known but this attack certainly has hallmarks of al-Shabab.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga played his biggest trump (no pun intended) card on Tuesday, announcing that he’s withdrawing from the October 26 redo of the country’s presidential election. Odinga has threatened to boycott the race unless substantial changes were made in the Kenyan elections commission and in the procedures for conducting the vote, and his withdrawal now renders the whole process invalid, even if the government says it plans to go ahead with the vote anyway. There’s no possible way for President Uhuru Kenyatta to claim legitimacy coming out of an election in which he will run unopposed. You can expect this situation to get much worse unless Kenyatta does something to entice Odinga back into the political process. At this point, his supporters are outside that process and that makes for a very volatile situation.


United Nations officials are warning that the conflict in the CAR, which has claimed hundreds of lives since last November, is on the verge of developing into all-out civil war and/or genocide. The civil war between the Muslim Seleka militia and predominantly Christian anti-balaka forces has been complicated by the breakup of the Seleka into divergent and sometimes hostile factions, and the already inadequate UN peacekeeping force in the country is about to have its mandate run out in November. It’s not clear whether that mandate will be extended, given an America-driven push toward reducing the UN’s peacekeeping commitments and anger within the CAR about reports that peacekeepers have frequently engaged in sexual violence against locals.



It could take Angela Merkel into next year before she’s able to set up a new coalition government in the wake of last month’s election. The policy differences that separate Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU party from the libertarian Free Democrats and the lefty Greens are obviously substantial and are going to take intense negotiations to overcome. And assuming they actually do reach some kind of accord, it would be a genuine miracle if this coalition holds together for more than a couple of years and another genuine miracle if those years aren’t characterized primarily by gridlock.


Catalan’s government on Tuesday took the bold step of trying to have its cake and eat it too. What I mean is that President Carles Puigdemont suspended declaring independence for now in order to create space for negotiations with Madrid. Puigdemont is trying to stake out a middle ground whereby he doesn’t repudiate the October 1 independence referendum but also didn’t do anything that could justify Madrid invoking emergency powers to assume direct rule over Catalonia. He wants international mediation as part of this outreach, but it’s not clear where he’s going to find mediators–the European Union, to which Puigdemont has repeatedly appealed for help, is clearly on Madrid’s side and seems prepared to let Catalonia serve as an example for other would-be independence movements in other EU member states.



Finally, military historian Andrew Bacevich looks at the reasons why most Americans seem to be largely indifferent to the country’s several ongoing wars. While they may be ignorant as to what’s going on, Bacevich argues that it’s not because the information isn’t out there:

Ever since the United States launched its war on terror, oceans of military press releases have poured forth.  And those are just for starters.  To provide updates on the U.S. military’s various ongoing campaigns, generals, admirals, and high-ranking defense officials regularly testify before congressional committees or brief members of the press.  From the field, journalists offer updates that fill in at least some of the details — on civilian casualties, for example — that government authorities prefer not to disclose.  Contributors to newspaper op-ed pages and “experts” booked by network and cable TV news shows, including passels of retired military officers, provide analysis.  Trailing behind come books and documentaries that put things in a broader perspective.


But here’s the truth of it.  None of it matters.

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