World update: November 14 2017

Another short one today, both because I’m trying to recharge a bit and because I won’t be able to write this evening. Back to normal tomorrow.



Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says his government “will take action” to regain control of Iraq’s entire border, if it can’t reach some kind of accommodation with Kurdish authorities soon. Abadi did say that they’ll retake the border without violence, so that’s something I guess. And the Kurdistan Regional Government agreed on Tuesday to abide by an Iraqi court ruling prohibiting it from seceding, which could be a step toward a reconciliation with Baghdad.


The US and Russia remain stalemated in the UN Security Council over a resolution to renew the investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria.


Saad al-Hariri says he’ll be returning to Lebanon “within two days.” His family will remain in Saudi Arabia, either for their protection or the Saudis’, I guess. Boutros al-Rahi, the head of the Maronite Church, visited Hariri in Riyadh on Tuesday–along with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman–and later said that he “support[s] the reasons” for Hariri’s resignation. He also has support from Iran, which wants him to stay on as PM, and Kuwait, whose ambassador told Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Tuesday that Kuwait supports “Lebanese sovereignty” in a veiled slap at Riyadh. I think Hariri will have his work cut out for him in terms of getting a similar response from the rest of Lebanese society. Yes, he was the hero of Sunday’s Beirut Marathon, but that was as a symbol of resistance to Saudi intervention. He won’t be that anymore when he returns–instead, he’ll be coming back even more a Saudi proxy than he was before all this happened.


With the Palestinian Authority back in control of Gaza’s points of entry, the Israeli government has reportedly agreed to suspend its harshest restrictions on materials coming into Gaza as of January 1. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is part of the reason why Gaza remains largely in ruins, because it drastically limits the building supplies that can be imported, which has caused many construction firms in Gaza to go out of business.


Say, remember how Saudi Arabia was going to reopen all of Yemen’s ports? So humanitarian aid groups could start, you know, bringing food and medicine back into the country? Well, funny story: they aren’t doing that. In fact, on Tuesday they decided to bomb Sanaa’s airport so as to make it unusable for bringing in aid, which is kind of the opposite of what they said they were going to do. And they say they won’t reopen the ports until they can be sure weapons won’t be smuggled in to the country. Which would be reasonable, if people in Yemen weren’t currently dying for lack of food and medical care. You can’t sentence an entire nation to death because some guys shot a missile at you and it almost hit something. Or rather you can, but it would be sadistic to do so. And that’s really what this has become, an episode in Saudi sadism. The corollary to the Saudi belief that they secretly rule the entire Arab world is that all other Arab peoples (and, really, most Saudi subjects too) are expendable when push comes to shove.

The House of Representatives, to its credit, voted on Tuesday to declare America’s role in enabling that sadism to be unauthorized. The resolution is non-binding though, so in practical terms it means nothing.

At least six people were killed on Tuesday when ISIS bombed a security base outside of Aden.


The death toll from Sunday’s earthquake has been revised down to just over 430, but that figure is probably destined to be an undercount given that the hardest hit areas were isolated, rural villages where people may have been buried without official paperwork. Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says that government-built housing fared worse in the quake than private buildings, and he aims to investigate the reasons.

Al-Monitor’s Saeid Jafari says that Rouhani’s second term cabinet choices have turned his government to the right. It could be that Rouhani thinks he can accomplish more if he distances himself from the reformists who helped get him reelected, or this could just be who he is. Probably a little of both.

It might also have something to do with pressure from the US. The Trump administration has started lobbying European leaders to impose new sanctions against Iran over its missile program.



A new Taliban force called the “Red Unit” has killed “dozens” of Afghan police officers in a series of attacks over the past two nights. The Red Unit is by all accounts basically a Taliban special forces outfit, complete with night-vision goggles and laser-sighted weapons that are both considerably more advanced than anything most Afghan police or soldiers have in their possession. It’s not clear where the gear is coming from–Russia, Pakistan, or simply via the Taliban’s own purchasing on the international arms market. Afghan officials seem to have ruled out the possibility that their own special forces lost this equipment to the Taliban, since they say it doesn’t appear to be American (which is what the Afghans use).

Despite that, slightly more Afghans believe the country is headed in the right direction according to the newest Asia Foundation survey. However, 60 percent still believe it’s headed in the wrong direction and more than 70 percent say they fear for their safety.

If you’re interested in the minutiae of languages, then you’ll probably appreciate this Diplomat piece on how politics have created divisions in the Persian language that don’t really exist:

Strangely, the Persian language, official in three countries — Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan — and spoken in many others, such as Uzbekistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Pakistan, does not have this sense of unity, despite all of its forms being mutually intelligible and based on the same literary standard and cannon dating from the early Middle Ages. As a result, the Persian language is called Farsi in Iran, Dari in Afghanistan, and Tajik in Tajikistan.


This has led many to believe that the three aforementioned languages are actually separate, though albeit closely related languages, and in fact, not the same language. This author has always found it odd when looking through language options on U.S. government websites and paperwork to see Persian (Farsi) and Dari listed as separate languages; it would almost be like listing American and British English as separate languages.

As the piece notes, there is a marked contrast with Arabic, which is considered one language with several dialects even though some of those dialects have evolved so much as to be mutually unintelligible with the others. Dari and Tajik are Persian, but authorities in both Tajikistan/the USSR and in Afghanistan maintain those different names to try to downplay their ties with Iran.


A North Korean soldier who made a run–well, technically a drive, then a run–for the border on Tuesday is incredibly expected to survive the wounds he suffered when other soldiers opened fire on him. South Korean surgeons removed five bullets from his body and say there are two others that they left in.



As European countries work on introducing new legal means for Libyan migrants to legally get into Europe, the UN would like to remind you that the current deal the European Union has with Libya is pretty freaking disgusting:

The EU’s policy of aiding Libyan authorities to intercept migrants and return them to detention is “inhuman”, the United Nations said on Tuesday.


The UN’s human rights chief accused European countries of ignoring warnings over the deal struck with Libya.


Authorities say it has caused detainees to rise sharply to almost 20,000.


UN monitors who visited facilities said they found “thousands of emaciated and traumatized men, women and children piled on top of each other”.


It would appear that Zimbabwean army commander Constantino Chiwenga has wasted no time demonstrating that his threat to intervene in the country’s political system, apparently in support of ousted former VP Emmerson Mnangagwa, wasn’t an idle one. Tanks and other armored vehicles were seen heading toward Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, on Tuesday, which–understandably I think–raised fears of a coup attempt. So far nothing more seems to have happened and it’s likely this was a demonstration of intent/opening move by Chiwenga rather than a full-on move against President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party has accused Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct” over his statements and actions the past two days, and leaders of the the party’s youth wing, who are very supportive of first lady and likely future VP Grace Mugabe, say their members are “ready to die” to defend the Mugabes from the army. Things could get very bad here very quickly, and unfortunately the possible outcomes–either a military junta or the establishment of a Mugabe Dynasty–both, to put it in technical terms, suck.



The US government has forced the Russian-funded RT news network to register as a foreign agent. Aside from raising some problematic questions about freedom of the press–RT is government funded and often pushes a Kremlin line, but it’s not clear what objectively differentiates it from, say, Al Jazeera or the BBC–it appears Russia is preparing to respond by forcing all international media to register likewise, including and most especially American outlets. Which is not really a great outcome for people who already fear that Russia is too restrictive on journalists.


Ukrainian investigators say they’re puzzled as to why they aren’t getting more cooperation from the US in their investigation of the misuse of state funds related to Paul Manafort’s business dealings there. Hmmmm, let me see if I can think of a reason why the Trump administration might not be inclined to help them out on this one.


London, with a bit of an assist from Facebook, has started accusing Russia of meddling in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Which is a little weird, because it puts the ostensibly pro-Brexit Theresa May in the position of arguing that, potentially, Brexit only happened because of Russian interference. It could also offer her an excuse to, say, call for a second vote, if she were inclined to do so. But there’s been no indication that she is or ever would be so inclined.

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