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World roundup: August 30 2022
Stories from Iraq, Pakistan, the Solomon Islands, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
August 29, 1526: The Battle of Mohács
August 29, 1842: Britain and Qing China sign the Treaty of Nanking, ending the 1839-1842 First Opium War. China was obliged to pay reparations to Britain and Hong Kong became a British colony, which it remained until 1997. The treaty also ended China’s “Canton System,” which had forced all foreign trade to run through the port city of Guangzhou (Canton) and was the means by which the Chinese government controlled those foreign commercial interactions, and forced the Qing to accept unequal conditions on Chinese-British trade.
August 30, 1363: The navies of two competing factions of the Red Turban rebels vying to replace the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty—one led by Zhu Yuanzhang and the other by Chen Youliang—begin a five week battle on Lake Poyang. When it was over, Chen Youliang was dead and Zhu Yuanzhang’s faction established itself as the main rebel group opposing the Yuan. Zhu and his forces eventually overthrew the Yuan and he took the throne as the Hongwu Emperor, the first ruler of the Ming Dynasty.
August 30, 1922: The Republican Turkish army defeats an occupying Greek force at the Battle of Dumlupınar in western Anatolia. In their victory the Turks destroyed the better part of an entire Greek corps and began driving the rest of the Greek army toward the western Anatolian coast. The Greek position was untenable and they withdrew completely from Anatolia in mid-September.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The US military has reportedly concluded that the drone attack on its base in southern Syria’s Tanf region earlier this month was carried out by a militia based in Iraq, probably Kataʾib Hezbollah based on the area whence it’s believed the drones were launched. The Pentagon retaliated with airstrikes against Iranian-linked militias in Syria, rather than Iraq, out of concern that attacking an Iraqi militia might contribute to that country’s ongoing political crisis (more on that in a moment). The US military’s Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve command actually tweeted a map showing the Iraqi origin of that drone strike last week, but according to The Wall Street Journal it deleted the tweet under pressure from senior Pentagon officials and the White House.
Iraqi political boss Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers to end their weeks-long demonstration in Baghdad, one day after at least 22 people were killed (AFP is reporting at least 30, all Sadrists) in violent clashes following Sadr’s “retirement” from politics. I put retirement in quotes there because this isn’t the first time Sadr has taken his political ball and gone home—it’s not even the first time he’s done something like this in the current calendar year—and it almost certainly will not be the last. Indications are that his supporters were dispersing from Baghdad’s Green Zone as of Tuesday afternoon, local time, but Sadr has shown he can put them back in the streets at a moment’s notice.
In terms of who, if anybody, comes out of Monday’s affair in a stronger position, I think it’s too early to say. As I say, Sadr has a history of making these grand “I quit” gestures when he’s frustrated with the political process and his record in terms of their success is mixed at best (I think it’s fair to say the one in June has been a bust, for example). Iraqi President Barham Salih has joined the calls for a new election in hopes of ending the crisis, and if that happens then obviously Sadr will have won this exchange because a new election has been his primary demand, though if his movement loses ground in that election then this will have been a net loss for him.
For other interpretations, Musings on Iraq’s Joel Wing argues that the Sadrists are still in a stronger position, both politically and militarily should it come to that, than their Coordination Framework rivals. Responsible Statecraft’s Steven Simon, on the other hand, contends that Sadr’s political efforts were undermined by the resignation of influential Grand Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri on Monday, when Haeri urged his followers to take their cues moving forward from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, strengthening the Iran-backed Coordination Framework’s legitimacy. Simon writes that Monday’s outburst was Sadr’s reaction to Haeri’s statement and that Framework-affiliated militias and Iraqi security forces were able to call his “bluff” and “force his retreat” by the end of the day.
A group of Israelis attempting to visit a religious site in the West Bank city of Nablus was reportedly attacked by Palestinian gunmen on Tuesday, with several of the Israelis reportedly wounded in the incident. The group was apparently on a trek to Joseph’s Tomb without the military escort that usually accompanies Israeli visitors to that site. Israeli forces subsequently entered Nablus in response to the attack and there are reports of a gun battle of some kind but details are very spotty at this point.
The US Navy is claiming that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted to capture a US sea drone in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday. The US 5th Fleet has been using an array of unmanned vehicles—airborne, seaborne, and submarine—to patrol the Persian Gulf/Gulf of Oman region and the Red Sea, particularly high traffic areas like the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. According to US officials the Iranians seized the USV, a Saildrone Explorer, but then released it when approached by a manned US patrol boat and a US helicopter. The IRGC has not, to my knowledge, had any comment on the incident.
Once again I feel obliged to turn this newsletter into a weather update, as flooding caused by far stronger than usual monsoon rains has killed at least 1100 people in Pakistan over the past two months. Pakistani Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman told Reuters on Tuesday that “one third of the country is literally under water,” which is probably not an exaggeration considering that Pakistan has received rainfall in excess of 190 percent of its 30 year average since mid-June and Sindh province in particular has received 466 percent of that average. With the usual caveat that weather is not climate, this is climate change. Its effects are here, now, and nobody is ready to deal with them.
The United Nations has launched an appeal for $160 million to support emergency relief efforts in Pakistan, a figure that’s probably nowhere near what is actually needed especially considering that the floods have destroyed vast swathes of farmland and that will lead to food shortages down the road. The United States, which has done more than any other single country to bring about our new climate hellscape, has pledged $30 million toward that fund, and for some reason I feel compelled to note here that a single F-35B costs a shade over $100 million.
Gunmen killed the chief of police in the town of Ampatuan, in the Philippines’ Maguindanao province, as he and other officers were attempting to effect an arrest on Tuesday. The chief’s driver was also killed in the attack and three other officers were wounded. Authorities suspect the attackers were from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group, a separatist group that’s particularly active in Maguindanao. Separately, at least one person was reportedly killed in Basilan province in what appears to have been a clash between fighters from competing rebel groups.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, becoming the latest in a string of US politicians to exploit that country to burnish their political image this month. To be fair, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is apparently building a manufacturing plant in Arizona so Ducey’s visit isn’t as inexplicable as some of of the previous visits have been. And there presumably is some symbolic benefit for Taipei in having all these US officials visit the country despite Chinese complaints. But it still seems exploitative.
Solomons Prime Minister Manesseh Sogavare announced on Tuesday that the country will bar all naval vessels from docking in its ports until his government has had a chance to draw up and implement “new processes” for doing so. This announcement comes in the wake of reports that a US Coast Guard ship and a Royal Naval vessel were recently refused permission to dock at Honiara for refueling. According to Sogavare the ban will apply to all naval ships and is a response to “unfortunate experiences of foreign naval vessels entering the country’s waters during the course of the year without diplomatic clearance granted.”
The backdrop to all of this is of course that Washington has identified the Pacific, and the Solomons in particular, as a key setting in the glorious New Cold War with China. On Monday the White House accused Beijing of “try[ing] to bully and coerce nations throughout the Indo-Pacific to do their bidding,” presumably in connection with those docking incidents.
Over 20,000 former rebel fighters graduated basic training to become members of the regular South Sudanese military on Tuesday, the first batch to do so under the terms of a long-delayed 2018 peace deal. The integration of rebels into the national armed forces was one of the key parts of that agreement and the failure to implement that plan has fueled concerns about the stability of the peace process, so Tuesday’s graduation ceremony may have marked a huge step forward. Some 50,000 fighters are supposed to graduate training this year and 83,000 in total.
There are reports of another Ethiopian airstrike on Mekelle, capital of the country’s Tigray region. Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesperson Getachew Reda tweeted something about a “night time drone attack” that occurred just before midnight local time on Tuesday. Officials at Ayder Hospital say they’ve begun receiving casualties, but at this point there are no details beyond that.
A United Nations cargo vessel arrived in Djibouti on Tuesday carrying 23,000 metric tons of Ukrainian grain. This is the first of what will ideally be several shipments of Ukrainian grain to the Horn of Africa, where drought, high food prices caused by the Ukraine war, and local conflict have combined to leave tens of millions of people in nine countries dependent on humanitarian relief. For people who are not dependent on relief but who are struggling with high food prices these shipments will unfortunately have no effect because their cargo will not be sold on the market.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Suspected Allied Democratic Forces fighters attacked five villages in the eastern DRC’s Ituri and North Kivu provinces in a killing spree that lasted from Thursday through Monday and left more than 40 people dead in its wake. The death toll is likely to rise as authorities assess the damage and recover more bodies.
Angola’s opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) party said on Tuesday that it had filed complaints over last week’s general election with the Angolan election commission, the first step in challenging the election results. The commission says it’s rejected at least two UNITA complaints but it’s unclear if there are more being considered. The party can appeal those rejections to the Angolan Constitutional Court. These challenges are unlikely to succeed but UNITA leaders probably want to get them on the record before they grudgingly agree to accept what was really a rather favorable outcome from their perspective.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who oversaw the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Tuesday. He was 91 years old.
The Russian firm Gazprom announced on Tuesday that it will cease delivering natural gas to French provider Engie over lack of payment. It’s unclear whether this means Engie has stopped paying its bills or just refuses to pay them in rubles as Gazprom has been demanding. A statement from Engie on Tuesday hinted at the latter but didn’t go into specifics. French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne is telling media outlets that Engie has found alternative gas sources but it’s unclear what those are.
There are reports of heavy fighting in southern Ukraine’s Kherson oblast, consistent with reports that the Ukrainian military has begun that southern counteroffensive it’s been talking about for a few weeks now. It’s apparently been impossible to confirm any details as to how that counteroffensive is proceeding, with Ukrainian officials unsurprisingly trumpeting major successes in destroying Russian supply and logistical targets and Russian officials unsurprisingly claiming that the Ukrainians were failing on all fronts and taking significant casualties in the process. Elsewhere, at least five civilians were reportedly killed on Tuesday in Russian shelling on the city of Kharkiv and at least four more civilians were killed in Russian artillery strikes in other parts of the country.
A new poll from CNT/MDA shows continued tightening in Brazil’s presidential race ahead of October’s election. The survey has former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leading incumbent Jair Bolsonaro 42.3 percent to 34.1 percent in first round voting intentions. That’s virtually unchanged from the pollster’s May survey, which had Lula’s lead at 40.6-32. But the new poll puts Lula’s lead in a prospective runoff at 50.1 percent to 38.8 percent, which is down from a 14 point lead in May and an 18 point lead in December.
Bolsonaro’s numbers may take a hit as the result of a new report alleging that he and members of his family have been buying up a lot of valuable property in cash. There is of course nothing inherently corrupt about buying real estate in cash, but these purchases raise a number of corruption-adjacent questions, like “why use cash?” and “where did the Bolsonaros get all this cash?” that Bolsonaro himself seems uninterested in addressing.
Finally, Forever Wars’ Spencer Ackerman assesses what the end of the Afghanistan war has meant for the War on Terror—or, more to the point, what it has not meant:
SINCE THE U.S. MILITARY departed Afghanistan a year ago, the Justice Department under President Biden has asserted in at least four cases that the end of that war has no bearing on the broader War on Terror.
Crucially, these are the cases of four people locked in Guantanamo—one of whom was subsequently freed as the result of his petition before a judge in his case, Amit Mehta. These men argued that surely the end of the war of which they are prisoners meant they could finally leave their cages.
Biden's Justice Department didn’t have to resist. It could have pocketed a political opportunity, provided by the end of the Afghanistan war, to roll back the War on Terror. It could have simply conceded the straightforward argument that people detained as the result of an active war should be free at the war's conclusion. Instead, the department chose to affirmatively assert that the broader War on Terror, alive and kicking, provides all the authority necessary for continued detention.
As for Afghanistan, a declassified intelligence product provided to FOREVER WARS by the National Security Council assesses that al-Qaeda has not reconstituted itself in Afghanistan a year after the Taliban victory. It also suggests an al-Qaeda disproportionately weaker than the powers the Justice Department claims for combating it.
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