World update: July 10 2018

It’s been a long day so if it’s OK with you I’m going to roll through these updates with a minimum of banter.



Rebels in Daraa city say they’ve begun surrender talks with Russian officials in hopes of staving off a full Syrian-Russian offensive. The inevitable recovery of Daraa will be a major symbolic victory for Bashar al-Assad, since it was there that Syria’s first Arab Spring protests broke out in 2011 and so it can be said that the entire civil war started in Daraa. While many of the 320,000 people displaced by this ongoing offensive in Daraa province have returned home, many more are still displaced, either elsewhere in the province or near the Golan.


The Houthis fired another missile at the city of Jizan in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. Saudi media says the country’s air defenses successfully intercepted it.

Meanwhile, after recent meetings with Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdul-Salam, United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths sounds like he’s ready to give peace talks another try. As a first step, Yemeni government representatives are expected to meet with Griffiths’ team in Riyadh later this month.


Iran has cut its electricity supplies to Iraq in the middle of peak air conditioning season, which is part of the reason why people have been protesting in Basra and elsewhere of late. Iran is short on power itself–it’s absurdly hot there too–but Iraq is also in arrears on its electricity bill to the tune of about $1 billion. The Iraqi government insists the power will be back on soon, but Iranian authorities don’t appear to be in any hurry.


Mike Pompeo made a stop in the UAE on Tuesday and took Iran to task for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks out of its European embassies. The impetus was the alleged plot to attack in MEK meeting in Paris late last month, for which one Iranian diplomat has been arrested. There are a lot of questions about that story that remain unanswered, but naturally the Trump administration has seized upon it nonetheless.



Two Azerbaijani police officers were killed in clashes with protesters on Tuesday in the city of Ganja. Both were stabbed to death. The protesters were demonstrating over the arrest of Yunis Safarov, an alleged Islamic extremist suspected of having perpetrated an attack on Ganja mayor Elmar Veliyev and his bodyguard last week.


The countries surrounding the Caspian Sea (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) appear to be making progress on a long overdue accord delineating the nature of that body of water (sea or lake) and territorial rights pertaining to it. This could be a major boon to both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which are sitting on huge energy reserves but have only been able to ship them to market via Russia and/or China. If a Caspian agreement goes through, say when representatives from those five nations meet in Kazakhstan in August, it could open up a western pipeline route that would allow both countries to sell directly to Europe as well.


A suicide bomber, claimed by ISIS, struck a security checkpoint outside of Jalalabad on Tuesday, killing 12 people. Another attack in Ghazni province, claimed by the Taliban, killed at least three people and possibly more. Meanwhile, a meeting of Islamic scholars began in Riyadh on Tuesday to discuss the Afghan insurgency. As with similar conferences held elsewhere in the Islamic world over the past couple of months, this one will probably conclude that the Taliban are in the wrong and it will make no material difference.

People in northern Afghanistan are apparently demonstrating for the return of exiled Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum. In fact, they’ve been doing it for over a week now. Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, has been in Turkey since last year trying to escape charges that he and his men kidnapped and brutally assaulted one of his political rivals. But he’s increasingly seen as a symbol of opposition to President Ashraf Ghani among the country’s non-Pashtun groups.

The United Kingdom is boosting the number of troops it has stationed in Afghanistan over 1000 for the first time in four years. Anything to try to keep Donald Trump from getting cranky at this week’s NATO meeting, I guess.


A suicide attacker killed at least 14 people in Peshawar on Tuesday at a rally for the Awami National Party. Among the dead was local political figure and noted Taliban critic Haroon Bilour, and so it seems like that the (Pakistani) Taliban was behind the attack.


Indian security forces killed two rebels and at least one civilian on Tuesday in southern Kashmir. The Indian soldiers surrounded and engaged a group of militants while also firing on a group of protesters who attempted to interfere with their operations.


The Trump administration has unveiled new tariffs on some $200 billion in Chinese goods that could be implemented next month. They’re a retaliation for China’s retaliation to the initial round of US tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods that the US imposed last week. And they’ll prompt another Chinese retaliation in turn, naturally.


The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda argues that Pompeo’s recent rough visit to Pyongyang should be a wakeup call about the nature of negotiations with North Korea:

Whatever else can be said about the outcomes of Pompeo’s trip, the biggest takeaway is that the United States will be marching head first into a brick wall in negotiations with North Korea if its position continues to rest fundamentally on North Korean unilateral disarmament. This is a fact and the North Koreans have been clear about it in this round of diplomacy.



The lifting of US sanctions on Sudan hasn’t gone the way Khartoum presumably expected:

When the US decided to remove economic sanctions on Sudan last October, President Omar al-Bashir’s government was ecstatic.

Not only did this signal a new era in the often tempestuous relationship with Washington, it allowed the politicians – and the Sudanese people – to hope that an end to a severe economic crisis was in sight.

But instead of regaining its footing, the economy has fallen off a cliff, with inflation soaring and people struggling to get by.

The Sudanese government is blaming the lingering effect of the sanctions and Washington’s failure to properly communicate that they’re no longer in place. Critics are blaming the Sudanese government’s authoritarianism and its lopsided spending on its military and on meddling in regional affairs. Khartoum is now trying to get itself removed from the State Department’s terrorism sponsors list, which would open up access to international aid.


Nigeria is number one! In the number of people living in extreme poverty! Wow, when you take those two sentences together it doesn’t really sound so cool. According to estimates by the World Poverty Clock, 87 million Nigerians are trying to live on less than $1.90 per day, outstripping the former world number one, India, which has a little over 70 million people in the same situation. That’s 44 percent of the Nigerian population, which is a high figure but is child’s play compared with South Sudan, which has 85 percent of its population living in extreme poverty, or Yemen, which comes in second with 84 percent.


Speaking of South Sudan, a new UN report attempts to catalogue the atrocities committed recently on both sides of that country’s civil war:

In its investigation, the United Nations found government forces and those aligned with them killed at least 232 civilians and raped 120 women and girls in a recent spate of attacks on opposition-held villages, in what may amount to war crimes. Dozens of those killed — including children, the disabled and the elderly — were burned alive. At least one of the gang-rape victims was as young as 6. Opposition troops were also responsible for killing a number of civilians, and the investigation identified three individuals who the report says bear the “greatest responsibility” for the violent incidents the United Nations documented.



Though he’ll criticize NATO members for failing to hit the alliance’s 2 percent GDP defense spending target, Donald Trump is expected to express his support for the alliance’s common defense commitment during this week’s meeting in Brussels. That we’re at a point where we’re even wondering about this, especially when the common defense principle has only been invoked once in NATO’s history and it was in defense of the United States, is frankly astonishing. But here we are.


Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has cut a deal with the Czech Communist Party in order to secure their support for his ANO-Social Democratic Party coalition in a confidence vote scheduled for Wednesday. In return for their vote of support, Babiš has reportedly agreed “to tax the compensation that the country’s churches receive for property seized by the former Communist regime.”


Iran is attempting to withdraw around $350 million in cash from German banks in an effort to stockpile some hard currency before US sanctions come on line next month. The German government says it’s reviewing the transaction, though it’s unclear on what grounds it could interfere with it. In a supremely smart move on Tuesday, the US Ambassador to Germany, Fox News personality Richard Grenell, publicly urged Berlin not to allow the withdrawal to go through. Grenell, who seems to view his role as more colonial governor than ambassador, is at this point so unpopular in Germany that his opposition might be extra motivation for the German government to allow the withdrawal to go through.



At least 38 people were killed on Sunday in clashes between protesters and police across Nicaragua. That figure includes 31 protesters, four police officers, and three pro-government demonstrators. It was the deadliest single day since protests against President Daniel Ortega’s government began in April. Most of the violence involved pro-government forces attempting to clear roadblocks erected by protesters.


In an effort to tackle the non-existent problem of immigration, the Trump administration is considering paying Mexico to register potential asylum seekers before they hit the US border. This would allow the US government to reject their asylum requests and block them from entering the country altogether. Aside from this idea being grossly immoral and probably illegal under international law, something tells me this idea is unlikely to pass muster with incoming Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. But I guess we’ll see.

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