World roundup: November 12 2020
Stories from Iraq, Armenia, Ethiopia, and more
This is the web version of Foreign Exchanges, but did you know you can get it delivered right to your inbox? Sign up today:
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 11, 1918: Marshal Józef Piłsudski becomes head of state for the first Polish state to have existed since Austria, Prussia, and Russia carved up the previous one in the “Third Partition” in 1795. The German and Austrian governments had formed a Polish Regency Council the previous year, and with Germany defeated, Austria-Hungary defeated and disintegrating, and Russia in chaos following its 1917 revolution, the council availed itself of the opportunity to declare independence in October 1918. But it’s Piłsudski’s appointment that’s considered the start of the modern Polish state and it’s therefore this date that’s commemorated every year as Polish Independence Day.
November 11, 2004: PLO leader and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat dies of still undetermined causes. Arafat’s death left the PA in the less capable hands of Mahmoud Abbas, though it’s hard to see how things could have turned out much differently in Israel-Palestine had he lived.
November 12, 1893: Afghan ruler Abdur Rahman Khan agrees to accept the boundary drawn by British Foreign Secretary for India Sir Mortimer Durand as the new border between Afghanistan and British South Asia. The Durand Line, which ran through the traditional homelands of both the Pashtun and the Baluch peoples, has for better or worse (usually worse) remained the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to the present day.
November 12, 1942: The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal begins. The battle ended three days later with a decisive US victory over Imperial Japan that ensured the Japanese would be unable to provide significant support to their soldiers on Guadalcanal. It thus marks a decisive turning point in the Guadalcanal Campaign and, for some historians, marks the overall turning point in World War II’s Pacific Theater.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for November 12:
53,076,770 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (14,574,394 active, +643,043 since yesterday)
1,298,596 reported fatalities (+9669 since yesterday)
With a new study suggesting (controversially, to be fair) that it’s too late to escape the worst effects of climate change by simply cutting carbon emissions, TomDispatch’s Nick Turse previews the climate refugee crisis to come:
At least 100 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, persecution, or other forms of public disorder over the last decade, according to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. That’s about one in every 97 people on the planet, roughly one percent of humanity. If such war victims had been given their own state to homestead, it would be the 14th largest nation, population-wise, in the world.
By the end of June, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, an additional 4.8 million people had been uprooted by conflict, with the most devastating increases in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burkina Faso. Yet, as dismal as these numbers may be, they’re set to be dwarfed by people displaced by another signature story of our time: climate change.
Already, shocking numbers have been put to flight by fires, derechos, and super storms, and so much worse is yet to come, according to experts. A recent forecast suggests that, by the year 2050, the number of people driven from their homes by ecological catastrophes could be 900% greater than the 100 million forced to flee conflicts over the last decade.
2071 confirmed coronavirus cases (+0)
605 reported fatalities (+0)
The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen reported downing five Houthi drones on Thursday. That a hefty number even for the Houthis, who has far as I know haven’t commented.
511,806 confirmed cases (+3298)
11,532 reported fatalities (+50)
According to the Washington Post, the US military has given the Iraqi government personal information on scores of translators and other Iraqis who have been working with US forces, potentially putting them in grave danger:
At a time when militia attacks on supply convoys for the U.S.-led coalition and against other U.S. interests have been on the rise, the sharing of this information — including names, addresses and license plate numbers — could present a heightened threat to hundreds of Iraqis who have long worked with American forces, in particular as translators.
The U.S. military provides this personal information to the Iraqi security forces, as required by Iraqi authorities, to secure permission for the translators to move around Iraq, according to documents and Iraqi military officials. But Iran-backed militias have so permeated parts of Iraq’s security apparatus that the information has, in some cases, become accessible to groups that have taken up arms against the Americans and their local support staff, Iraqi officials say.
“It’s not a surprise that militias have these documents,” said an official in Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s office. He added, “They believe it’s going to be a long battle, so they will gather as much leverage over U.S. interests as possible.”
Anyone who puts their lives on the line to assist the US military should rightfully be relocated to the United States if that’s what they want. Under the Trump administration’s xenophobic immigration policies, Iraqi translators have been especially screwed, but this is a problem that predates Trump. So there’s not much reason to think the Biden administration will finally solve it.
352,160 confirmed cases (+311)
5605 reported fatalities (+15)
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s terror attack on an Armistice Day ceremony in Jeddah. Three people were wounded in the bombing but none seriously.
726,585 confirmed cases (+11,517)
40,121 reported fatalities (+457)
According to state media, Iranian security forces have captured Farajollah Chaab, the alleged leader of the Ahvaz National Resistance movement. That’s an Arab separatist movement, based in Iran’s southern Khuzestan province, which claimed responsibility for a 2018 terrorist attack in that region that killed 25 people. IS also claimed responsibility for that attack, and it remains unclear which claim is accurate, or whether either is or both are. Chaab has supposedly confessed to involvement in the 2018 attack, though Iranian authorities have a mixed record, to say the least, when it comes to the reliability of the confessions they extract.
112,680 confirmed cases (+2132)
1668 reported fatalities (+32)
Thursday marked the third day in a row in which thousands of people packed the streets of Yerevan to protest the deal Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed earlier this week to end the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The demonstrators are calling for Pashinyan’s resignation, but he’s resisted those demands while, notably, also not making any public appearances. His security forces have arrested at least 10 opposition politicians on allegations they’re fomenting the protests.
No acknowledged cases
Meanwhile, in Turkmenistan…well, see for yourselves:
Building a huge golden statue in honor of a dog breed—not even a specific dog, just a kind of dog—is the kind of thing you can do when your control over the country is so absolute there’s no possibility that a critical mass of your citizens might wonder why you’re squandering the national treasury in such a way. Berdymukhamedov has managed to criminalize the use of the word “coronavirus,” so needless to say the dog statue is fairly small potatoes for him.
65,598 confirmed cases (+1145)
1508 reported fatalities (+28)
Official results from Myanmar’s parliamentary election on Sunday show that Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party has enough seats to form a government. With 412 races called, the NLD has won 346 of them. It needed 322 seats for a majority. The NLD’s margin may get larger, as there are still 64 races that haven’t been called.
71,804 confirmed cases (+919)
985 reported fatalities (+15)
The parties Libya’s civil war agreed Thursday to reopen the Libyan Coastal Highway, which in peacetime runs along the entire length of Libya’s Mediterranean coast and is part of the much larger Cairo-Dakar Highway, AKA the Trans-African Highway 1. The road has been closed due to the war and the partitioning of Libya into eastern and western halves, and before it can be reopened it will need to be demilitarized and, most importantly, de-mined. They also agreed to establish a joint military commission based in Sirte in order to manage the implementation of their ceasefire.
65,108 confirmed cases (+851)
2111 reported fatalities (+18)
The Algerian Constitutional Council on Thursday announced the official result of that country’s November 1 constitutional referendum, and it’s a landslide victory for “who cares.” Just under 67 percent of those who voted chose to adopt the constitutional changes outlined in the referendum, but “those who voted” amounted to just under 24 percent of eligible voters. Which means the Algerian constitution is now going to be changed based on the will of not quite 15 percent of Algerian voters. Democracy is a beautiful thing.
The proposed constitutional changes were meant to appease the Hirak movement, the anti-government protesters who turned out last year, forced the ouster of former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and demanded the ouster of Algeria’s entire ruling establishment before COVID-19 took the wind out of their sails. The changes don’t meet the protesters’ demands and so Hirak organizers encouraged their supporters to boycott the referendum.
2586 confirmed cases (+0)
67 reported fatalities (+0)
A group of (presumably) jihadist fighters attacked a military patrol in northern Burkina Faso on Wednesday, killing at least 14 Burkinabé soldiers. There’s been no word on who specifically was responsible.
101,248 confirmed cases (+521)
1554 reported fatalities (+9)
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday announced that his military had “liberated” the western part of the Tigray region, where the Ethiopian military and forces aligned with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front have been battling one another since the middle of last week. I realize this is starting to sound like a broken record, but with the Ethiopian government’s decision to blackout communications in Tigray there’s no way to verify Abiy’s claims. But some disturbing reports have begun to filter out of Tigray anyway, including an Amnesty International report that perhaps hundreds of civilians were butchered to death in the Tigrayan town of Mai Kadra on Tuesday. It’s unclear who was responsible but evidence points to TPLF fighters. Tigrayan regional leader and TPLF boss Debretsion Gebremichael has denied involvement and seems to be accusing the Ethiopian military of carrying out the attack to frame the TPLF. Meanwhile, the fighting has so far displaced at least 11,000 people into neighboring Sudan, which suffice to say is not equipped to deal properly with that sudden an influx of refugees.
Debretsion has also accused the Ethiopian military of killing civilians (he didn’t go into specifics) in airstrikes, and has been calling on the international community to pressure Abiy into negotiating. Meanwhile, witnesses in Humera have described an attack on their town last week that may have involved forces from neighboring Eritrea. The TPLF has alleged that the Eritrean military is involved on Ethiopia’s side, a charge Ethiopian officials deny but that makes a certain amount of sense, given that the Eritrean government’s beef with the TPLF long predates the Ethiopian government’s beef. The TPLF has been at the forefront of border tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia going back to their 1998-2000 war, hence the bad blood.
430,453 confirmed cases (+5634)
8304 reported fatalities (+89)
Somebody fired shots at the Saudi embassy in The Hague on Thursday, possibly in response to the terrorist attack in Jeddah the day before (see above) though of course that’s purely speculative. It’s unclear if there was more than one shooter but regardless some 20 shots were apparently fired at the building. There were no casualties.
930,237 confirmed cases (+2231)
35,067 reported fatalities (+36)
New interim Peruvian President Manuel Merino unveiled his new cabinet on Thursday, but that was somewhat overshadowed by the thousands of people out in the streets still protesting the ouster of former President Martín Vizcarra on Monday. Those demonstrators have been battling police virtually since Vizcarra’s impeachment, with security forces relying on tear gas and mass arrests to try to quell the unrest. Merino called for calm on Thursday while alleging that the protests are being fomented by politicians planning to run in April’s presidential election.
10,873,936 confirmed cases (+161,541)
248,585 reported fatalities (+1190)
Finally, at Jacobin writer Sarah Lazare says things are already not looking good for the (presumptive) incoming Biden administration:
In July 2019, while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president, Joe Biden declared in a foreign policy speech, “It’s past time to end the Forever Wars, which have cost us untold blood and treasure.” But the president-elect — who, as vice president, oversaw wars in Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and more — is already embracing personnel with strong ties to the military apparatus driving this endless combat.
On November 10, Biden announced his agency review teams, which he says “are responsible for understanding the operations of each agency, ensuring a smooth transfer of power, and preparing for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris and their cabinet to hit the ground running on Day One.”
Of the twenty-three people who comprise the Department of Defense agency review team, eight of them — or just over a third — list their “most recent employment” as organizations, think tanks, or companies that either directly receive money from the weapons industry, or are part of this industry. These figures may be an undercount, as the writer was not immediately able to exhaustively source the funding of every employer.