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World roundup: November 6-7 2021
Stories from Iraq, Libya, Bulgaria, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 5, 1556: At the Second Battle of Panipat, the army of the would-be Hindu ruler of northern India, Hemu (or Hemchandra Vikramaditya), is defeated by the Mughal Empire under the young Emperor Akbar and his regent, Bayram Khan. A wounded Hemu was brought before Akbar to be executed, but it’s said the 13 year old emperor refused, so instead he touched Hemu with his sword while Bayram Khan actually did the killing. The Mughal victory ended a string of successes by Hemu, a Hindu notable who became the de facto ruler of the remnants of the Suri empire before claiming a regal title in his own right after defeating the Mughals and occupying Delhi earlier in the year. His death collapsed his kingdom and left the Mughals as the unchecked power in northern India.
Novvember 5, 1605: Guy Fawkes is arrested by English authorities for his role in the “Gunpowder Plot,” a scheme by a group of Catholics to blow up the House of Lords with King James I in it and install James’ young daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic monarch. Fawkes became the symbol of the plot, and his arrest is celebrated annually as “Guy Fawkes Day” or “Guy Fawkes Night.” Fawkes’ image went from reviled would-be assassin in the years following the foiled plot to something more sympathetic by the 19th and into the 20th centuries. Since the publication of V for Vendetta, whose protagonist wears a Guy Fawkes mask, his image has morphed further into a symbol of resistance to the establishment, whatever one defines that to be.
November 6, 1865: The CSS Shenandoah surrenders in Liverpool, almost six months after Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s surrender at Bennett Place, North Carolina, had ended the US Civil War. The Shenandoah circumnavigated the globe, having set out from England in October 1864 with a mission to disrupt Union commerce. It sailed through the Indian Ocean to Australia, then spent some time attacking US whaling vessels in the North Pacific before planning an attack on San Francisco and then aborting it when its captain, James Waddell, learned of the war’s end. He opted to return to Liverpool and surrender there due to concerns that his crew would be treated as pirates by the US government.
November 6, 1975: The Green March begins
November 7, 1917: The Third Battle of Gaza ends with the Ottoman Yıldırım Army Group abandoning Gaza and Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force occupying the town. The first (in March) and second (in April) battles of Gaza had both ended in indecisive Ottoman victories, by which I mean the Ottomans held their positions but were unable to force the EEF back. Britain’s capture of Beersheba a week earlier was decisive and an extended British bombardment on November 6 proved to be the final straw for the Ottoman defenders. Capturing Gaza put the EEF well on its way to capturing Jerusalem, which it would do around Christmas.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Seven people were killed on Saturday when their vehicle struck a landmine near Palmyra, in Syria’s Homs province. It sounds like this explosive was probably left behind during an earlier phase of the Syrian civil war, which makes some sense given the location. Palmyra was the scene of heavy fighting between Syrian and Islamic State forces a few years ago (2015-2017 particularly) so it’s entirely possible that the mine was placed then.
The Saudi military said on Sunday that its forces had killed at least 138 Houthi fighters over the previous 24 hours in the vicinity of Maʾrib city. There is, as usual, no confirmation of this claim.
An overnight drone attack apparently meant to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was unsuccessful, though six members of Kadhimi’s security detail were wounded. Somebody attacked the PM’s residence in Baghdad with three drones, the third of which managed to strike the residence after Iraqi security forces shot down the other two. Nobody has claimed responsibility, but given the manner of attack and the fact that it took place just a couple of days after major militia-backed protests in Baghdad over the results of last month’s parliamentary election it seems pretty likely this was a militia operation. Figures within or aligned with the militias spent the day denying involvement and more or less mocking the attack. I think the message is supposed to be that if the militias really wanted Kadhimi dead he’d already be dead. Comforting.
The Afghan government announced Saturday that four women, one a prominent human rights activist, have been killed in Mazar-i-Sharif. They were apparently contacted with a phony offer to board a flight out of Afghanistan, presumably by their murderers though that’s not completely clear. Authorities have arrested two people in connection with the killings but don’t appear to have released any details about who they are or whether they have any affiliations with, say, the Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan or TTP), or at least some portion of it, has been in preliminary peace talks with the Pakistani government that are being brokered by the Afghan Taliban. TTP leaders involved in the talks are reportedly demanding a prisoner release by Pakistani authorities as a confidence building measure. It’s unclear how many TTP factions are participating in these talks, or would at least be willing to go along with a successful outcome. The Pakistani Taliban is less cohesive than the Afghan Taliban and there are a number of factions within it whose members may be more or less inclined toward negotiations.
The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee will meet on Monday to adopt (probably) the third “historical resolution” it has adopted in its century of existence. The party’s two previous such resolutions were adopted under Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, and it should come as no surprise then that this proposed resolution seeks in part to enshrine current Chinese leader Xi Jinping alongside his two very prominent predecessors as one of the key figures in the Party’s development. The resolution may be intended in part to ensure that Xi continues as president beyond the end of his second term ends next year. There’s little chance of somebody emerging to challenge Xi but having himself placed in the Party’s “hall of fame,” so to speak, should eliminate even the slimmest chance of opposition emerging.
Sudanese security forces arrested at least 113 people and broke out the tear gas to disperse a large anti-junta protest in Khartoum on Sunday. The Sudanese Professionals’ Association organized the protests, which marked day one of a two day general strike to demand the restoration of civilian governance in the wake of last month’s coup. While talks on restoring the pre-coup civilian/military balance of power in Khartoum are ongoing, the SPA has staked out a more provocative position and is demanding an end to the military’s role in the Sudanese government altogether.
Those talks, by the way, suddenly don’t appear to be going terribly well after days of what seemed like steady progress. Instead of moving to reinstate Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister, the military has reportedly tightened the terms of his house arrest. Hamdok is demanding a full rollback to pre-coup conditions while the military is insisting that its ouster of Hamdok and his cabinet wasn’t a coup at all, but simply a “correction” of the course of Sudan’s political transition. If the two sides can’t agree on what happened it’s perhaps unsurprising that they’re not coming to an agreement on what happens next.
Libya’s three-member presidential council announced on Saturday that it had suspended interim Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush over…well, I’m not exactly sure. Council chair Mohamed al-Menfi talked about Mangoush’s “administrative violations,” which doesn’t really help clarify things but may mean that, as far as Menfi is concerned, she’s been freelancing—as in not consulting the council—with respect to her handling of Libyan foreign policy. She apparently raised eyebrows in certain Libyan political corners when she suggested in an interview last week that one of the suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, could potentially be extradited to the United States. Her suspension, intended to last at least two weeks, will also keep her from attending a Libyan transition conference in Paris that’s scheduled to begin on Friday. Menfi won support for his decision to suspend Mangoush in the House of Representatives, the legislative body based in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk, but he met pushback from interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, who contends that Menfi overstepped his authority. Luckily Libya is in great shape to weather another political crisis.
Speaking of Dbeibeh, there’s speculation brewing that he could announce a run for Libya’s presidency in next month’s election. This is funny, not “ha ha” funny but the other kind, because when he assumed the interim premiership Dbeibeh pinky swore that he would not run for president at the end of the transition. If he runs he could well win the election, but he’ll likely be dogged by arguments that he’s breaking the transition rules.
The Economic Community of West African States blacklisted members of Mali’s ruling junta on Sunday after Malian officials told the bloc that they’re not going to meet the February 2022 deadline by which they’d promised to hold new elections. The sanctions include the usual package of travel bans and asset freezes, along with the threat of additional sanctions next month if the junta doesn’t demonstrate some progress on a democratic transition.
A crowd estimated to number in the tens of thousands demonstrated in Addis Ababa on Sunday in a show of support for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and opposition to the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front and its allies. One of those allies, as far as the crowd was concerned, is the United States. Reuters identified a number of protesters who had bad things to say about Washington. The Biden administration hasn’t offered overt support to the TPLF but it has been heavily critical of Abiy’s government and its prosecution of the Tigray war. On Saturday, the US embassy in Addis Ababa ordered non-emergency US personnel in Ethiopia to leave the country, though that had more to do with the TPLF’s advance on the capital than with public sentiment.
Back in August, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the United States does “have a presence on the ground” in Somalia. According to Responsible Statecraft’s Nick Turse, she was lying:
An eleventh hour withdrawal of U.S. forces by the Trump administration was officially completed in mid-January. Under the Biden administration, however, troops soon began “commuting” to Somalia and an American “footprint” was reestablished, according to AFRICOM spokesperson John Manley.
When asked to explain why Psaki claimed there was no U.S. presence in Somalia, Biden administration officials would only speak off the record. “You are welcome to say that the White House declined to give further comment and pointed you to previous interviews where senior officials explained that we do not currently have a large permanent presence on the ground in places like Libya and Somalia,” a spokesperson, who refused to be named, wrote in an email.
What constitutes a “large permanent presence” is unclear, but U.S. troops do, indeed, have a presence on the ground in Somalia. “Our footprint in Somalia is under 100 personnel, though as you know, that number can fluctuate with periodic engagements,” Manley told Responsible Statecraft.
The Ukrainian military claimed on Sunday that separatist rebels had launched multiple mortar and grenade attacks along the frozen front line in the Donbas region, killing at least one Ukrainian soldier and wounding two more.
With Bulgaria facing a third 2021 election on November 14, polling suggests that voters better start mentally preparing themselves to do it all over again. At least the next vote will happen in 2022. A Gallup International survey whose results were released on Saturday shows former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB party leading the field with 24.1 percent of the vote. That’s far from a sole majority, and Bulgaria’s other parties made it pretty clear after the country’s April and July elections that they’re not interested in cutting any coalition deals with Borissov’s party. No other party polled higher than 15.6 percent, which means that any GERB alternative would have to emerge from what are likely to be very difficult coalition talks. The one new factor at play in this election is the presence of a new anti-corruption party, “We Continue the Change,” which wasn’t on the ballot in April and July. The new party has the potential either to serve as a bridge between the various non-GERB parties, which could help alleviate Bulgaria’s political dysfunction, or to further atomize and complicate the anti-GERB vote, and make the dysfunction even worse.
The leader of North Macedonia’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, Hristijan Mickoski, says he has amassed a 61 seat majority in the country’s 120 seat Assembly and is prepared to replace Zoran Zaev as prime minister. Zaev announced last weekend that he would step down following local elections in which his Social Democratic Union party did very poorly, but he hasn’t submitted his resignation yet and is reportedly trying to shore up his coalition so that it will remain in control after he leaves office. Mickoski is threatening to bring a no-confidence motion against Zaev’s government if the PM doesn’t resign by Monday.
Two new polls, which seems to have been the last ones released before a two week pre-election polling blackout went into effect, show right-winger José Antonio Kast in position to win the first round of Chile’s November 21 presidential election. In one survey, from Pulso Ciudadano, Kast is leading leftist Gabriel Boric, 27.3 percent to 23.7 percent. In another, from Cadem, Kast is ahead of Boric 25 percent to 19 percent. The Cadem poll also puts Kast ahead, 44-40, in a hypothetical runoff, which puts it in line with a few other recent polls showing that the runoff momentum has flipped from Boric to Kast.
Nicaraguan voters headed to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president, with incumbent Daniel Ortega likely to win after he, well, jailed pretty much everybody else. The outcome of the vote is less interesting than the question of what the Biden administration plans to do afterward. It’s been signaling for weeks now that it would heap new sanctions on Ortega and Nicaragua following the vote, and Joe Biden issued a statement on Sunday referring to the proceedings as a “pantomime election.” Among other things, the administration may look to oust Nicaragua from the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement.
Finally, at Foreign Policy, Ahmed Twaij argues that a recent agreement between the US and Iraqi governments dealing with the return of looted antiquities could become a model for other such disputes moving forward:
This summer, the United States said it would repatriate more than 17,000 artifacts looted from Iraq in a landmark deal between Iraq’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Antiquities and the U.S. Justice Department. Since museums across the West are filled with antiquities stolen during years of colonialism, exploitation, and corruption, the deal sets an important precedent in the effort to decolonize museums and return culturally vital items to their countries of origin.
The deal is being portrayed as part of a global drive to reduce the illegal trade of ancient items. But the items repatriated primarily come from two U.S. collections: the Museum of the Bible and Cornell University. Other artifacts scattered across the West taken in state-backed pillaging—which was supported by, among others, the British, German, and Ottoman governments—remain in place. So although the world should celebrate the artifacts’ return, it should also recognize the deal is not enough.
The international community needs to pressure museums worldwide to continue to return ransacked relics—especially agencies such as UNESCO, which has supported the repatriation. The U.S.-Iraq deal can now help inform that endeavor. It should be used as a model for reassessing how artifacts have been acquired and redressing wrongs from past centuries.