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World roundup: October 15-16 2022
Stories from Iran, Ukraine, Haiti, and elsewhere
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: Those of you who have been asking whether my voiceovers would be released as standalone podcasts in the FX RSS feed are in luck, as Substack has apparently decided to add a new button that does just that. While I continue to be uneasy about treating the voiceovers as a product separate from the written text of these roundups, given that it’s now as simple as clicking a toggle I guess it’s worth giving it a try.
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
October 14, 1066: Duke William of Normandy’s army defeats the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson and his army at the Battle of Hastings. William claimed that he’d been promised the kingdom of England by Edward the Confessor (who’d died in January), but Godwinson was elected king by the Anglo-Saxon nobility. The Normans invaded and the two armies met outside of the town of Hastings. Accounts of the battle vary, but the general story seems to be that after repelling initial Norman attacks, the Saxons made the mistake of pursuing their retreating foe. At that point William rallied his men and turned the tide of the battle. Their victory, along with Godwinson’s death toward the end of the battle, ensured the Norman takeover of England and made Duke William of Normandy into King William I, the Conqueror.
October 14, 1322: A Scottish army under Robert the Bruce defeats the English army of King Edward II at the Battle of Old Byland. This was the largest Scottish victory in battle with English forces since Bannockburn in 1314 and helped secure Scottish independence.
October 15, 1529: The Siege of Vienna ends
October 16, 1934: The Chinese Red Army begins the “Long March,” a series of maneuvers that would, over the next year and over some 9000 kilometers, see Mao Zedong’s forces evade the Kuomintang army of Chiang Kai-shek. Though the Red Army lost a substantial portion of its forces, the Long March preserved the Chinese Communist Party and enabled Mao’s rise to undisputed leadership within it, in addition to being a massive symbolic success.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to the TASS news agency, the Russian and Syrian militaries undertook an operation in Daraa province over the weekend in which they killed at least 20 “Islamic State fighters.” This was apparently in retaliation for the bombing of a Syrian military bus outside of Damascus on Thursday, in which 18 soldiers were killed.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the “Syrian National Army’s” Third Corps reportedly agreed to a ceasefire late Friday, after several days of fighting that left HTS in control of Aleppo province’s Afrin and Azaz districts, previously held by the SNA. The ceasefire agreement allows the Third Corps to return to the positions it held prior to the fighting but brings Afrin and Azaz under a “unified military command” led by the Islamist group and what sounds like a permanent HTS military presence in those areas. There are indications that civilians in those districts are not entirely thrilled about the possibility that HTS is now moving in to stay.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s political movement announced on Saturday that it will not participate in the forthcoming Iraqi government under Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Shiaʿ al-Sudani. This decision is not terribly surprising given Sadr’s rhetoric in recent months and his opposition to the Coordination Framework, the dominant alliance behind the new government. Sadr’s decision to withdraw his partisans from the Iraqi parliament back in June looms large at this point. Had he retained his parliamentary presence Sadr could have led Iraq’s first organized parliamentary opposition bloc since the US invasion. Now he’s left himself entirely out of the political firmament with no recourse beyond organizing street protests—a tactic that has so far failed to force the snap election he’s been demanding.
Israeli forces killed one Palestinian and wounded three others on Saturday during what they termed “a violent riot” in the West Bank town of Qarawat Bani Hassan. Details on this alleged riot are unclear.
An apparent Islamic State attack left at least one Egyptian soldier and two tribal fighters dead in the northern Sinai on Friday. At least one IS fighter was also killed in the fighting. Details seem a little spotty but the incident took place near Gaza and seems to have involved an IS strike on a patrol. A number of tribal groups in Sinai have been working as paramilitary auxiliaries in support of the Egyptian military’s anti-IS operations.
At least four people were killed and another 61 injured when a fire broke out inside Iran’s infamous Evin Prison late Saturday. Authorities cited some sort of violent clash between inmates in a prison workshop as the cause of the blaze, though there’s no way to verify that claim and parts of it don’t entirely make sense (for example, why a prison workshop was open late at night on a Saturday). Iranian media has aired a few conflicting explanations for the blaze, including a claim that rioting prisoners set a warehouse on fire. There were reports of Iranian security forces deploying to the prison as well as indications of gunfire and explosions that would align with some sort of prison riot, which may have been sparked by the fighting between prisoners or may be an alternative to that explanation. Evin is home to a large number of political prisoners and several dual nationals being held by the Iranian government, including US citizen Siamak Namazi. It’s unclear if any of the latter were among the casualties but Namazi specifically has reportedly contacted his family.
Pakistani authorities say their security forces killed at least five “militants” in an operation in Baluchistan province on Sunday. Allegedly these are the same militants who were responsible for Friday’s roadside bombing that killed at least three people. It’s unclear if they were Baluch separatists, Islamists, or some combination.
Elsewhere, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned US ambassador Donald Blome on Saturday to complain about remarks US President Joe Biden made at a Democratic Party fundraising event on Thursday. Biden characterized Pakistan as “maybe one of the most dangerous nations in the world” due to the fact that it has a nuclear arsenal “without any cohesion.” Apparently that didn’t go over so well in Islamabad, with Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari expressing surprise over the comments.
Unknown gunmen shot and killed a Hindu man in Kashmir’s Shopian district on Saturday. This may be the latest in a string of targeted killings in Kashmir whose victims have primarily been Hindu or people who are relatively recent arrivals to the region from other parts of India. Those killings have been attributed to Kashmiri militants.
China’s ruling Communist Party opened its once-every-five-years party congress on Sunday. Continuity would appear to be the organizing principle this time out—the biggest change the party is likely to adopt is one allowing Xi Jinping to continue serving as president for an unprecedented third term. The party will also need to plan for slower than usual economic growth, driven by a mix of COVID, the disruption caused by the war in Ukraine, a downturn in China’s real estate sector, and continuing trade conflicts with the US. There also will undoubtedly be some interest in seeing which party members receive promotions to key committees and the like in terms of trying to suss out a potential line of succession behind Xi.
Inter-communal violence has left at least five people dead in Sudan’s West Kordofan state. The fighting began in the town of Lagawa on Friday and has involved members of the Messiria, an Arab community, and the Nuba peoples. Sudanese security forces intervened and that appears to have put an end to the fighting for now.
Police and protesters clashed in Tunis’s Ettadhamen and Intilka neighborhoods on Friday and Saturday nights (I haven’t heard anything about Sunday), amid demonstrations over the death of a local man during a police chase. The man in question, Malek Selimi, apparently suffered some sort of neck injury while fleeing police back in August and recently succumbed to that injury. His funeral kicked off the protests.
Also on Saturday, some 2500 people turned out in downtown Tunis for two opposition-organized protests against President Kais Saied. The larger of the two was held by the Islamist Ennahda party and its National Salvation Front alliance and attracted around 1500 people, while a protest by the secular Free Destourian Party attracted some 1000 people. Needless to say protests of these size are unlikely to convince Saied that he needs to change course politically.
An apparent jihadist attack on a security patrol left at least 11 people dead in Burkina Faso’s Centre-Nord region on Saturday. Three Burkinabé soldiers are among the victims along with eight civilian auxiliaries. There’s no indication as to responsibility in a region where both al-Qaeda and IS have active affiliates.
A roadside bomb killed two people in southeastern Niger’s Diffa region on Sunday. The bombing took place in the Lake Chad vicinity, where Islamic State West Africa Province and the remnants of Boko Haram remain active.
The International Rescue Committee says that one of its aid workers was killed, along with two other people, in an airstrike in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on Friday. At least four people were wounded in the same attack. The strike took place in the city of Shire, which has in recent days become the epicenter of the Eritrean military’s offensive in northern Tigray. There’s been no comment on the airstrike from any of the combatants involved in the Tigray conflict.
According to the Russian news outlet TASS, at least 11 people were killed and another 15 wounded when two gunmen opened fire on a Russian military training ground in Belgorod oblast on Saturday. Russian officials, who characterized the attack as an act of “terrorism,” say the two shooters were killed in the engagement but it’s not clear if they’re counted among those 11 dead. The attackers are further described as two volunteers from a former Soviet republic.
Russian soldiers have reportedly begun arriving in Belarus as part of a new joint task force supposedly dedicated to defending the Belarusian border from assorted yet unspecified dangers posed by the country’s unfriendly neighbors. The redeployment of Russian forces to Belarus has unsurprisingly raised concerns that they could launch another attack into Ukraine from Belarusian territory and/or that Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko might decide to send his military into Ukraine in support of the Russian invasion. There is as yet no indication that Lukashenko will take that step, and he insists the Russian deployment will not exceed 9000 personnel which wouldn’t make for a terribly large invasion force.
The Russian military claimed on Sunday that it’s halted the Ukrainian military’s advance in Kherson oblast and inflicted heavy casualties in the process. There’s no confirmation of these claims, which has been generally true throughout the war, but Ukraine has certainly suffered losses along a southern front where its progress has been much more fitful than it was in Kharkiv oblast last month. The Russians still seem to be evacuating civilians and administrative functions from Kherson city so they can’t be all that confident of the situation there. Russian forces are still advancing slowly amid reports of very heavy fighting around the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk oblast. Ukrainian shelling reportedly damaged the administrative building in Donetsk city on Sunday, but I haven’t seen any word on possible casualties.
Jacobin’s Harrison Stetler look at the increasingly tense labor situation facing French President Emmanuel Macron:
A strike paralyzing France’s oil refineries is developing into a national crisis, days after a state order this Tuesday commanding an end to the over two-week long work stoppage. Five of seven French refineries were offline or affected by the strike as of Thursday. Nearly one-third of the country’s gas stations have faced difficulties resupplying or have exhausted their stocks — a result of cuts in distribution and panic buying in some areas. First concentrated in gas stations in the northern regions of France, the shortages have since spread, disrupting commuting motorists in growing swaths of the country as the state dips into strategic reserves to bolster energy flows.
The strike movement was launched on September 27 by the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), seeking to strengthen employees bargaining hands in the lead-up to annual salary negotiations originally scheduled for mid-November. Primarily involving refinery specialists at oil processing sites, the stoppages at their peak brought six refinery sites to a halt: four facilities owned by the French oil major TotalEnergies, and two locations controlled by Esso, Exxon-Mobil’s subsidiary.
The strikes pose a major problem for Emmanuel Macron’s government, on edge over any new disturbances to an already strained energy market and cautiously watching any runaway demands spurred on by the rising cost of living. In reaction to the government’s contentious requisition order, which will see striking employees summoned by prefects to resume work, the CGT is looking to extend the strike movement to the entirety of the energy sector and beyond. At the behest of the CGT and three other unions, a cross-sectoral strike is scheduled for Tuesday, October 18.
The Ecuadorean government says it’s reached scores of agreements with Indigenous groups, related to the verbal deal President Guillermo Lasso made with leaders of those groups to end weeks of protests back in June. Among the provisions in these agreements are price caps, especially with respect to energy, debt relief for Indigenous communities, and the suspension of new oil and mining projects pending assessments on how those projects will impact local Indigenous peoples.
Salvadoran authorities have arrested a whopping 55,000 people since President Nayib Bukele imposed a state of emergency ostensibly over rising gang violence back in March. The Salvadoran Congress extended that state of emergency for at least another month on Saturday. I say “ostensibly” because, while Salvadoran officials insist all of these people have been nefarious gang evildoers, there’s plenty of reason to suspect Bukele is using gang violence as a justification for a campaign of arbitrary arrests and systematic civil rights violations.
The US and Canadian governments have sent “security equipment,” including armored vehicles, to the Haitian National Police in what may be the first step toward a full-on military intervention to quell recent gang violence. The United Nations has estimated that as much as 60 percent of Port-au-Prince may effectively be under gang control, while their fuel blockade continues to negatively impact basic services at a time when cholera has reemerged as a serious health threat. The Biden administration has reportedly drafted a UN Security Council resolution calling for a multinational military intervention and it’s exceedingly unlikely the US government would write such a resolution unless it were preparing to participate in the intervention.
Finally, the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s Heather Brandon-Smith ponders Sunday’s 20 year anniversary of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, which is famously still on the books:
With the Iraq War having been officially over for nearly 11 years, it begs the question as to why, apart from being a matter of historical interest, the law that authorized it even merits discussion. Indeed, prior to the post-9/11 era, the anniversaries of statutory force authorizations or declarations of war have been seldom observed, let alone accompanied by calls for their repeal.
That’s because, historically speaking, the repeal of such instruments hasn’t been necessary to mark a final end to their use by the executive branch. Prior administrations generally accepted that the end of a conflict rendered the statue that authorized it obsolete. This was the case even when the enemy was the same. For example, President Roosevelt never attempted to rely on the 1917 declaration of war against Germany to justify war against Hitler’s Nazi regime 24 years later. Rather, he sought a fresh authorization from the body with the constitutional power to “declare war.”
This has not been the case for the Iraq AUMF. Despite Congress’s very clear intent for the resolution, as exhibited by both its text and legislative history, successive administrations have interpreted the Iraq AUMF far beyond its original purpose.
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