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World roundup: August 6-7 2022
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Ukraine, Colombia, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
August 5, 1571: The Cypriot city of Famagusta surrenders to the Ottomans, ending a nearly 11 month siege. As the final Venetian-held city on Cyprus, Famagusta’s surrender meant the total Ottoman conquest of the island. What was supposed to be a peaceful handover turned violent when the Ottoman commander, Lala Mustafa Pasha, abruptly had Venetian commander Marco Antonio Bragadin mutilated and taken into custody (and ultimately executed a couple of days later) and then unleashed his soldiers on the residents of the city. It’s unclear why Mustafa did this—he argued that Bragadin had executed his own Ottoman prisoners and murdered a group of Muslim pilgrims, but it may be that he was letting out some pent up frustration that such a small garrison was able to hold off and embarrass his much larger army for so long. The siege prompted the formation of a new “Holy League” alliance that eventually defeated the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto, though that took place after Famagusta fell.
August 5, 1960: Although it was called the “Republic of Upper Volta” at the time, this is the date when Burkina Faso declared its independence from France.
August 6, 1806: Francis II abdicates and dissolves the Holy Roman Empire as a result of Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz and in the War of the Third Coalition. Luckily he landed on his feet—having already styled himself Francis I of the new Austrian Empire in 1804, he had a very nice golden parachute.
August 6, 1945: The United States drops the first of two atomic bombs on Japan, this one at Hiroshima. The full death toll is difficult to assess because of the nature of radioactive fallout but estimates of over 200,000 are probably within the ballpark.
August 6, 1962: Jamaican Independence Day
August 7, 1819: Simón Bolívar’s victory over colonial Spanish forces at the Battle of Boyacá allows his army to seize Bogotá and secure the independence of the colony of New Granada (roughly Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama). It’s considered one of the first key battles in Bolívar’s campaign to liberate the whole of northern South America.
August 7, 1946: The Soviet Union informs the Turkish government that its management of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus has been detrimental to other Black Sea countries (i.e., the Soviets themselves) and that it would seek to reopen international negotiations on the subject. This was the main event of the Turkish Straits Crisis and pushed Turkey to drop its neutrality and align itself with the US. It was also a key factor in the development of the Truman Doctrine, about which FX subscribers can read more here.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
A new study finds a very troubling situation in the Southern Ocean:
Warmer waters are flowing towards the East Antarctic ice sheet, according to our alarming new research which reveals a potential new driver of global sea-level rise.
The research, published today in Nature Climate Change, shows changing water circulation in the Southern Ocean may be compromising the stability of the East Antarctic ice sheet. The ice sheet, about the size of the United States, is the largest in the world.
The changes in water circulation are caused by shifts in wind patterns, and linked to factors including climate change. The resulting warmer waters and sea-level rise may damage marine life and threaten human coastal settlements.
Our findings underscore the urgency of limiting global warming to below 1.5℃, to avert the most catastrophic climate harms.
Given that we are most likely not going to be “limiting global warming to below 1.5℃,” hopefully somebody’s working on a backup plan.
Protesters turned out across Iraqi Kurdistan on Saturday, primarily in the city of Sulaimaniyah, to call for reform to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The “New Generation” party organized the demonstrations, primarily over the region’s weak economy and alleged corruption and human rights abuses by KRG officials. Younger Kurds in particular seem disenchanted with the fact that the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan dominate KRG politics between them and allow little space for alternative parties to gain any traction.
After three days of fighting that began when the Israeli military started pummeling Gaza in what Israeli officials characterized as a “preemptive” operation that prompted retaliatory rocket fire from the enclave, the Egyptian government has apparently negotiated a ceasefire effective Sunday evening. I haven’t seen any definitive confirmation from Israel but according to Al Jazeera’s live file Palestinian Islamic Jihad—Israel’s main target in this weekend’s fighting—has agreed to the ceasefire, which will go into effect at 11:30 PM local time. To my knowledge the ceasefire is now in place and holding, though by the time you read this that may have changed.
That same live file reports that the death toll over these three days now stands at 43, all of them Gazan and 15 of them children, with well over 300 people wounded. I’m sure there has also been damage to Gaza’s infrastructure, or at least to whatever remains of it after previous rounds of Israeli bombardment. Israeli officials are insisting that some portion of those casualties have been caused by errant PIJ rocket fire, though even if that is true it’s worth noting that those rockets wouldn’t have been fired in the first place had the Israelis not decided to start bombing Gaza on Friday. The United Nations rapporteur for Gaza, Francesca Albanez, characterized Israel’s airstrikes as “illegal” in an interview with Al Jazeera, though thanks to the protection of the United States Israel long ago stopped having to worry about legalities when it comes to taking Palestinian life. The Israelis reportedly killed a second PIJ commander, Khaled Mansour, in Gaza and arrested at least 19 PIJ members in early Saturday morning raids across the West Bank.
The Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman is reporting that there’s been significant progress toward reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during the latest round of talks in Vienna. It sounds like the Iranians have dropped a previous demand that the US State Department remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its Foreign Terrorist Organization list. They are, however, demanding that the International Atomic Energy Agency drop its ongoing investigation into traces of enriched uranium found at a number of undeclared sites in Iran. There’s no indication that the US or European parties to the deal are prepared to agree to that demand but it may not be a red line for the Iranians. Negotiations are expected to pause on Monday for Ashura, an Islamic holiday predominantly commemorated by Shiʿa as the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn at the Battle of Karbala, but it’s conceivable that a deal could be announced shortly after.
A bombing in a commercial area of western Kabul killed at least eight people on Saturday and wounded more than 20 others. Islamic State later claimed responsibility. At the risk of sounding redundant, western Kabul is home to large Shiʿa Hazara population and that community is often targeted by IS.
Unspecified attackers killed at least four people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province late Saturday, in an incident in which the target appears to have been a prominent Pakistani politician. Said politician is Malik Liaqat Khan, a member of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. He was among four people wounded in the attack. There’s been no claim of responsibility as far as I know. This region is a hotbed of Pakistani Taliban activity, and while the Pakistani Taliban is supposedly in talks with the Pakistani government it’s possible a faction within that somewhat disparate group was behind this incident.
The Bangladeshi government slashed fuel subsidies on Saturday, effectively raising prices to consumers by over 50 percent for gasoline and over 40 percent for diesel and kerosene. High global fuel prices are apparently exhausting Bangladeshi foreign currency reserves, which are necessary for maintaining the subsidy. Major fuel price hikes like this have a tendency to spark unrest or exacerbate existing unrest, so this may be a story worth watching over the next few days or weeks.
The Chinese military has ended its extended drill/anger management program following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan a few days ago. Despite a few close calls—including Chinese ships and planes flirting with the median line along the Taiwan Strait, Chinese missiles landing in Japanese economic waters, and Chinese and Taiwanese naval vessels operating in very close proximity to one another—the exercises ended without major incident. Taiwanese officials did accuse the Chinese military of drilling on a simulated invasion of Taiwan on Saturday, but on the plus side at least it was only simulated, right?
According to AFP a couple of Libya’s many militia factions clashed with one another in Tripoli early Saturday morning. Unsurprisingly, these factions are backing different claimants to the Libyan premiership, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and Fathi Bashagha. The fighting ended when a third faction intervened to restore order. It’s unclear whether there were any casualties but this factional violence will be a constant threat until the country’s political impasse is somehow resolved.
As yet unspecified attackers killed at least five Malian police officers in southern Mali’s Sikasso region on Sunday. It sounds like Malian authorities are still assessing this situation so details are spotty. Elsewhere, there are reports of an Islamic State attack on Malian army units in northeastern Mali’s Gao region, though again there’s not much detail available beyond that. On Friday, at least 12 civilians were killed in an attack in central Mali’s Mopti region. The attackers reportedly killed two people, then booby trapped their bodies. Another ten people were killed in the ensuing explosion. The al-Qaeda linked Jamaʿat Nusrat al-Islam wa’l-Muslimin is particularly active in Mopti but the nature of this attack seems more like IS’s style.
Unspecified attackers shot up a bus in central Nigeria’s Kogi state late Friday, killing at least five people. There’s been no claim of responsibility but Islamic State West Africa Province has carried out attacks in Kogi in the past. Less organized criminal gangs are also sometimes active in that province so that’s another possibility.
It sounds like peace talks between Chad’s ruling junta and the country’s 47 rebel groups are going to conclude with an agreement that does not include the largest of those groups. Representatives of the junta and the rebels have been meeting for months in Doha and they’re finally prepared to sign a deal on Monday. However, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) has rejected the deal and says it will not be part of Monday’s signing ceremony. There are at least four other rebel factions that are refusing to sign the deal but FACT is by far the most significant, to such an extent that it’s unclear whether the junta’s planned “national dialogue” (which is supposed to chart a course back to civilian rule) can possibly succeed with FACT still in open rebellion.
The Somali parliament met on Sunday to confirm Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre’s new cabinet. As it happens, some jolly folks in Mogadishu decided to commemorate the event by dropping mortar shells near the capital’s presidential palace. Presumably it was al-Shabab, but there’s been no claim of responsibility as yet. There are also no reports of any casualties.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
It was unfortunately a busy weekend in the eastern DRC’s Ituri province. Late Friday, fighters from the Zaire militia reportedly attacked a village in Ituri and killed at least 22 people in the process. Zaire is an ethnic Hema militia that is the counterpart of the ethnic Lendu CODECO militia. Those two communities have been engaged in on-again, off-again fighting since the late 1990s and the militias have contested the control of gold mines in Ituri. Also in Ituri province, fighters from the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces militia are believed to have been responsible for attacks on two villages, one late Friday and the other early Saturday morning, that left around 20 people dead in total.
There are apparently indications that the Russian military is shifting additional forces from Ukraine’s Donbas region to the southern part of the country, presumably to counter the Ukrainian offensive there and perhaps with an eye toward launching their own southern offensive. At the same time, Ukrainian forces in the Donbas are preparing for a Russian offensive against the city of Sloviansk. Russian artillery attacks on that city have been curtailed in recent days and it’s unclear whether the Russians can actually undertake major operations in both the Donbas and southern Ukraine at the same time.
Four more cargo ships loaded with grain left Ukrainian ports on Sunday, following the three that set sail on Friday and appear to have already passed inspection at Istanbul, and the one that’s already proceeded into the Mediterranean and is now…well, that’s complicated. That ship, the Razoni, was supposed to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday but apparently did not do that. It now looks like it will arrive on Tuesday, with no indication as to why it’s been delayed.
Italian authorities had to carry out a controlled detonation involving an unexploded World War II bomb discovered last month in the Po River near the city of Mantua. Unlike most World War II-era ordinance, which is usually discovered during construction projects or the like, this bomb’s discovery can be traced to the worst drought northern Italy has seen in some 70 years, which has dropped water levels on the Po low enough to reveal all sorts of exciting things like undiscovered explosives. And they said climate change was going to be bad!
Gustavo Petro officially took office as Colombian president on Sunday, becoming the first leftist chief executive in that country’s history. Among other things, this means he can now pursue the ceasefire and/or peace deals with Colombia’s myriad armed groups that he talked about pursuing as a candidate and then as president-elect. Petro has called on the US and other Western states in particular to drop their failed wars on drugs and adopt new approaches that support his anti-violence efforts inside Colombia. Let’s say I’ll believe they’re going to do that when they do it.
SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS
Voters in Saint Kitts and Nevis went to the polls on Friday and elected themselves, according to results announced on Saturday, a new prime minister. Terrance Drew’s Labor Party emerged with six seats, a gain of four and enough for a majority in the 15 seat parliament (three seats in the National Assembly are appointed by the governor-general and one is reserved for the attorney-general, so six seats represents a majority of the legislature’s 11 elected seats). The election became necessary when incumbent PM Timothy Harris’s “Team Unity” coalition, which had held a collective nine seats, broke apart earlier this year.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken began a three country tour of Africa on Sunday with his arrival in South Africa. Blinken’s trip will take him to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda as he tries to improve Washington’s image on the continent. According to Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer that effort is going to include the unveiling of a new, less militarized US approach to African affairs:
The strategy has several overarching objectives, according to officials and diplomats briefed on the matter, including boosting democracy, governance, and security; a focus on pandemic recovery and economic opportunity; addressing the climate crisis and a “just” energy transition for the continent; and promoting open societies. Officials inside the administration say one of the top goals of the new strategy is to boost focus and funding on diplomacy and development, in an effort to shift away from the military-first engagement in parts of Africa, particularly the Sahel region, that has dominated U.S. policy over the past two decades, when Washington’s primary foreign-policy focus was on counterterrorism.
The emphasis on military partnerships drove the United States to cooperate closely with brittle, autocratic regimes, including in Chad and Mali, focusing on counterterrorism priorities while letting human rights and democratic governance priorities in effect wither on the vine—all while terrorist groups have only gained ground in parts of West Africa.
It would appear that the fairly lukewarm response most African governments have given to the Biden administration’s efforts to strangle Russia economically and isolate it diplomatically have created something of a panic in Washington. It remains to be seen how this new approach is actually going to be implemented and whether it will survive the Biden administration, but the US focus on counterterrorism in Africa to the exclusion of almost anything else hasn’t really worked out either for the US or for most ordinary people across the continent. It’s been good for military dictators, I guess, but that’s about it. So if there is a real policy change on the horizon that may wind up being a good thing.
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