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World roundup: July 7 2022
Stories from Afghanistan, Nigeria, Peru, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
July 6, 640: The Battle of Heliopolis
July 6, 1917: The Battle of Aqaba
July 6, 1967: The Nigerian Civil War begins when Nigerian forces invade the breakaway Niger Delta region of Biafra. The conflict eventually settled into a Nigerian blockade of Biafra, precipitating a massive humanitarian crisis in which hundreds of thousands of people (high estimates run to around 3 million) died of preventable causes, mostly starvation. A final Nigerian assault in December 1969 led to the Biafran rebels’ surrender a month later.
July 7, 1937: The Marco Polo Bridge Incident, a clash between Chinese and Japanese troops near Wanping, ends with the Chinese force holding the bridge but still obliged to make concessions to the superior Japanese force in order to end the confrontation. This relatively minor incident sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War, which continued into and throughout World War II.
July 7, 1991: The Brioni Agreement ends the Slovenian War of Independence. The agreement required Slovenia and Croatia to delay their independence bids for three months in exchange for the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army from both republics. In reality this marked the end of the Slovenian phase of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, while having no effect on the war in Croatia.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Turkish military on Wednesday declared that its forces had killed 20 “terrorists” belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)/People’s Defense Units (YPG) militia (Turkey doesn’t distinguish between them) in northern Syria. The Turkish Defense Ministry didn’t go into detail as to when or exactly where these “neutralizations” (its language) took place, but the announcement comes amid indications that Turkey is preparing to undertake its previously announced invasion of northern Syria.
Speaking of northern Syria, or at least the rebel-held parts of it, it’s that time of year when people living in that part of the world get to wait and see if the United Nations Security Council will decide to let them keep eating for another year. Nothern Syrian residents are heavily dependent on humanitarian aid, most of which is delivered from across the border in southern Turkey. The Council has to renew that operation annually, and that renewal is regularly opposed by Russia, which argues that the cross-border relief violates Syrian sovereignty and that all aid should be delivered via Damascus. The next renewal vote is scheduled to happen sometime today, and the Russians have reportedly proposed a six month renewal rather than a full year, with the intention of using that period to shift aid distribution to an intra-Syrian model. That may be a tough sell for Council members. Moscow could veto a 12 month extension, though there’s apparently a movement going to maintain cross-border aid regardless of what the Council does.
Yemeni rebels announced on Thursday that they will open up a road in Yemen’s Taiz province for the upcoming Eid al-Adha holiday, which should begin this weekend. The rebels are supposed to be relaxing their siege of Taiz under the terms of Yemen’s ceasefire but they have yet to do so and are now blaming the Saudi-led coalition for failing to uphold its end of that agreement. This move could be the first step toward a bigger opening of roads around the city, but the rebels may be looking for a withdrawal of government forces from Taiz city before they go any further. It’s unclear whether the government would accept those terms.
Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Turkey gained a temporarily positive image in the West. Ankara’s key role in Black Sea security by closing the Bosporus and Dardanelle straits, its supply of highly effective Bayraktar drones to Ukraine, and efforts to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv boosted the country’s standing.
This came as a pleasant surprise to officials in Washington and Brussels who were accustomed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s frustration with the West and his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Yet, soon after Sweden and Finland submitted their applications for membership in NATO, Erdogan quickly restored Turkey’s image as NATO’s problem child by threatening to use its veto. Erdogan is a tough negotiator and today, on the surface at least, he appears to have achieved his objectives after finally giving a green light to the two Nordic countries at NATO’s recent Madrid Summit.
However, Erdogan has failed on many fronts. He did not extract significant concessions from Washington, he managed to once again greatly irritate the U.S. Congress, which holds the key to arm sales to Turkey, and he will soon discover that Sweden is not likely to extradite the people named on Turkey’s terrorist list.
The deal Erdoğan ultimately struck included a lot of vague language and few concrete promises. He does seem to have forced some movement on the sale of modernized F-16s from the US but that’s at best a consolation for a Turkish military that was in the market for F-35s as recently as three years ago. So time will tell, but I think Taşpınar’s assessment is reasonable.
The Hajj is underway in Saudi Arabia, so Hajj Mubarak to FX readers who might be participating. I note this year’s pilgrimage because, after two severely COVID-restricted pilgrimages the past two years, this one marks a substantial step back toward normal. Saudi authorities have allowed 1 million people to make the pilgrimage, 850,000 of them from outside the kingdom. That’s still a far cry from the nearly 2.5 million who attended in 2019 but it’s substantially more than the 1000 and 60,000 who were allowed to make the pilgrimage in 2020 and 2021, respectively, with none of them coming from overseas.
According to Reuters, the United Arab Emirates is on the verge of a deal with the Afghan government to run several major airports across Afghanistan, including Kabul airport. Afghan officials had been negotiating a joint operations deal with Qatar and Turkey, with Turkey providing security. But it sounds like the UAE swooped in with an offer to run the facilities while hiring Afghans to provide security, which was more attractive to Kabul from a job creation standpoint. The deal also includes regular flights to and from Afghanistan by UAE airlines. Getting Afghanistan’s airports up and running could help the country’s Taliban-led government ease its current international isolation, though there’s only so far that can go as long as Afghanistan is under US interdict.
Their decision to go with the UAE suggests that the Taliban’s long-standing relationship with Qatar has hit a rough patch. It also suggests that the UAE is still jockeying with Qatar for regional influence, even as the two countries have tried to paper over their disagreements in recent months.
Somebody tossed a grenade into a Pakistani police outpost in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Thursday, killing one police officer and wounding four other people. There’s no indication as to responsibility.
Japanese voters will head to the polls on Sunday for elections to the House of Councillors, the upper house of the Japanese parliament. Polling indicates that Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s Liberal Democratic Party is likely to gain seats, though probably not enough seats to establish a sole majority in the chamber so the party will have to maintain its coalition with the Komeito party. Economic struggles have eaten into Kishida’s approval rating but there doesn’t appear to be an opposition party that’s in position to capitalize.
Conakry has been the scene of several days of sometimes-violent protests following the arrest of three senior members of Guinea’s National Front for the Defense of the Constitution. That bloc emerged years ago in opposition to former President Alpha Condé’s decision to extend his presidency into a constitutionally dubious third term, and it’s refashioned itself in opposition to the military junta that toppled Condé last September. All three were arrested earlier this week and are apparently charged with criticizing the junta’s governing body, the National Transitional Council, which I think we can all agree should definitely be against the law. At least 17 police officers have been injured in various melees over the past couple of days and protesters turned out again on Thursday.
Islamic State West Africa Province has claimed responsibility for Tuesday evening’s attack on a prison outside of Abuja. After apparently doing a more accurate headcount, Nigerian authorities are now saying that some 900 prisoners were freed during that attack, around 400 of whom are still at large—up substantially from previous claims of 600 and 300, respectively. One prison guard was killed in the assault, which unsurprisingly was meant to spring ISWAP personnel from the facility. Of particular concern is the location of this prison, which shows that ISWAP hasn’t just expanded out of its regular haunts in northeastern Nigeria but is sophisticated enough to carry out a major attack on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
There are reports of new fighting between Congolese security forces and members of the M23 militia in the eastern DRC’s North Kivu province, despite Wednesday’s apparent agreement between Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame to deescalate that particular conflict. That agreement included a ceasefire and M23 withdrawal, clauses that the rebel group rejected on Thursday while insisting that Kagame had no authority to negotiate on their behalf. That’s contrary to the assessment of the Congolese military, which insists that M23 is being aided and indeed directed by the Rwandans. Presumably these new clashes are only going to worsen tensions between Kinshasa and Kigali.
There’s not much to new on the ground in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are still shelling cities in what’s left of Ukrainian-held Donetsk oblast. At least one person was killed in that shelling in Kramatorsk, while at least three were reportedly killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv. The Russians are also periodically shelling Kharkiv though there’s no indication of any imminent ground offensive there the way there is in Donetsk. If you click that link up there you’ll see that Russian President Vladimir Putin gave some sort of ominous sounding speech on Thursday warning of “tragedy” in Ukraine, but frankly at this point I’m not sure there’s anything to be gleaned from analyzing whatever comes out of Putin’s mouth.
Elsewhere, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoned Turkey’s ambassador in Kyiv on Thursday to answer questions about the Russian-flagged cargo vessel Zhibek Zholy. That ship has been docked at Turkey’s Karasu port for the past few days while Turkish authorities investigated—or at least while Ukrainian officials thought they were investigating—whether or not it is carrying pilfered Ukrainian grain (it probably is but that’s not important now). Those same Turkish authorities cleared Zhibek Zholy to leave Karasu on Thursday, meaning they either investigated and found no wrongdoing (doubtful) or never investigated in the first place (more likely). So the Ukrainians apparently have some questions about what exactly is going on.
The growing storm surrounding UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson apparently became too intense even for him, as he announced his resignation on Thursday. It’s likely Johnson would have faced a no-confidence vote within his Conservative Party as soon as next week, so he more or less resigned before the party canned him. There’s a catch, however. Johnson apparently intends to remain in office in a caretaker capacity (in which he’d be obliged not to introduce any major new policies or legislation) until the Conservatives choose his successor. As Johnson has no obvious successor, the field of candidates looking to replace him is likely to be large and the process of whittling it down long, meaning Johnson could hang around for months and potentially hold sway over the succession process.
Johnson’s announcement that he intends to remain in office until his successor is chosen caused immediate outrage both within the Conservative Party and across British politics. The thing is, sticking around on an interim basis is a fairly common thing for ousted PMs to do and it’s not clear whether there’s a mechanism by which Johnson can be prevented from doing it. One alternative next step here would be for deputy PM Dominic Raab to replace Johnson in a caretaker role, but if Johnson doesn’t resign then there’s really no way for Raab to assume office. And given that Raab is one of the candidates to replace Johnson, other leading Tories may not be comfortable with moving him into the PM office even on an interim basis. The House of Commons could hold a no-confidence vote to oust Johnson, but the Tories would likely vote against such a motion because they don’t want to risk a snap election. Seems like kind of a mess. On the plus side, at least Boris will be in office long enough to hold his wedding reception at Chequers. It’s so important to try to find the silver lining in these situations.
There’s reportedly an effort underway in the Peruvian Congress to remove Vice President Dina Boluarte from office on corruption charges. This seems like a backdoor attempt to weaken President Pedro Castillo, who has survived two impeachment attempts in his first year in office. Whereas ousting Castillo would require 87 of 130 votes in the Congress, a tall order even given the president’s unpopularity, removing Boluarte would require only a simple majority and could deal a serious blow to Castillo’s presidency. Boluarte's legal team has appealed to the Organization of American States to quash the investigation, alleging (seemingly with some cause) that it’s politically motivated.
Finally, in case you missed it while I was away, Alex Thurston stopped by with a new column examining the intersection of politics and blasphemy:
In Nigeria, the politics of blasphemy play out within a particularly fraught national context involving relations between a (likely, nobody knows for sure) Muslim majority and large Christian minority. Within that context, ironically, Deborah Samuel’s killers may have felt themselves to be on the defensive, rather than the offensive. On one level, Samuel was an outsider and a minority in the overwhelmingly Muslim-majority, far Nigerian north. Northern Nigerian Muslims sometimes appear keen to draw boundaries demarcating insiders from outsiders. On another level, Nigerian Muslims are aware of the powerful currents of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim violence in the world at large, including in some of the world’s most powerful states, such as India, China, Israel, and France. Compounding these tensions, 2023 is an election year. The campaign, already in full swing, has reawakened questions of national, subnational, ethnic, and religious identity.
Neither anti-blasphemy violence nor Islamophobic violence justify one another, but they do feed each other and turn up the political temperature around Islam. At both the Nigerian national level and the global level, blasphemy killings that might seem at first like evidence of retrograde religious attitudes turn out to be much more directly a product of present-day politics.
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