Discover more from Foreign Exchanges
World roundup: October 2-3 2021
Stories from Jordan, the Philippines, Kosovo, 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
October 1, 331 BC: This is the generally accepted date for the Battle of Gaugamela, in which Alexander the Great’s Greek-Macedonian army decisively defeated a larger Persian army and almost instantly gained control over the western half of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. Persian Emperor Darius fled east hoping to recruit a new army, but he was murdered by his cousin Bessus, who proclaimed himself the new emperor. His reign was short-lived, as Alexander had conquered the whole empire by 329.
October 1, 1827: An imperial Russian army defeats the Qajars at Yerevan during the 1826-1828 Russo-Persian War. The Russians followed up by capturing Tabriz, the largest northern Iranian city, at which point the Qajars surrendered. Under the terms of the ensuing treaty, they gave both the Erivan Khanate and the Nakhichevan Khanate to the Russians. This effectively created the modern nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively, and ended centuries of Persian domination in the southern Caucasus—which would henceforth be dominated by Russia instead.
October 1, 1918: Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force captures Damascus, effectively bringing World War I to an end in the Middle East.
October 2, 1187: Jerusalem’s garrison, led by Balian of Ibelin, surrenders to Saladin.
October 2, 1944: The Warsaw Uprising ends with the Polish resistance defeated. Estimates vary, but over the two month conflict the Nazis killed upwards of 200,000 civilians and expelled hundreds of thousands more from the city. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 Polish resistance fighters were also killed against at least 2000 German soldiers (with several thousand more MIA).
October 3, 42 BC: First round of the Battle of Philippi, pitting the army of assassins Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus against the combined armies of Triumvirs Marc Antony and Octavian. Brutus’s forces defeated Octavian’s, but Antony’s forces defeated Cassius’s and Cassius subsequently committed suicide after false reports told him that Brutus had also been defeated. So the battle was more or less a draw. The two armies would meet again 20 days later, at which point the Triumvirs soundly defeated Brutus and he, too, committed suicide.
October 3, 1932: In accordance with the terms of the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, Iraq gains independence from Britain upon the expiration of its United Nations Mandate, albeit with Britain retaining substantial political and commercial influence in the newly “independent” kingdom. Commemorated annually as Iraqi National Day.
October 3, 1990: The German Democratic Republic (“East Germany”) is merged into the Federal Republic of Germany (“West Germany”) after a 45 year separation. Commemorated annually as German Unity Day.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
There’s been another major leak related to the offshore financial wheelings and dealings of the global elite, as the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reports:
Coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), over 600 journalists from around the world, including more than 75 from OCCRP’s network, spent two years sifting through nearly three terabytes of documents.
The result is an unprecedented look inside the world’s shadow economy. Coming more than five years after the Panama Papers, which exposed law firm Mossack Fonseca, the latest leak ends forever the idea that abuses of the offshore system are the work of a few bad apples. Instead, the files expose a vast and often interconnected system that is feeding crises and discontent across the world.
It’s “the dark side of globalization,” Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland: Why Thieves And Crooks Now Rule The World And How To Take It Back, told OCCRP.
For decades, major banks, law firms and accountants have worked hand in hand with the world’s biggest corporations to build a system that allows for seamless global commerce and the minimization of tax, Bullough said. As time has gone by, kleptocrats and criminals have increasingly used this system for their own ends.
“It just so happens that the same things that big corporations want — minimal scrutiny, minimal taxes, best protection for contracts and so on — are also the same things the kleptocrats want,” he said.
But while corporate tax minimization might hurt the budgets of developed countries, the worst damage is in the Global South. For a fee, offshore providers are able to create sophisticated global structures that can be used by politicians, officials and businessmen in some of the world’s poorest countries to siphon staggering amounts of money abroad. As the Pandora Papers show, service providers often prove all too willing to take on such clients.
As has been the case with previous similar leaks, the revelations gleaned from this massive collection of documents will emerge over the next several weeks. They’re also unlikely to have much of an impact, if the examples of those past leaks can be considered relevant. That depressing thought aside, some of the most interesting early Pandora Papers stories include:
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has reportedly sunk a whopping $700 million into properties in London via multiple offshore companies. It’s no secret that Aliyev has been helping himself to the Azerbaijani treasury but this figure suggests a considerably larger level of self-enrichment than previously theorized.
Czech Prime Minister (and billionaire) Andrej Babiš, who fashions himself an anti-corruption crusader, has invested some €15 million in French real estate through a variety of offshore “shell companies.” It’s unclear why he didn’t just invest the money openly but it’s hard to come up with a non-corrupt explanation.
Jordanian King Abdullah II, ruler of a country so impoverished it is absolutely dependent on foreign aid, has somehow bought himself a cool $106 million worth of swanky UK and US real estate.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who like Babiš makes anti-corruption part of his political image, apparently owns a whole “network” of offshore companies alongside his business partners. One of them is still paying dividends to a company owned by Zelensky’s wife. It’s unclear where the money is coming from but in the context of Ukrainian politics it’s probably not from a particularly ethical source.
Houthi missile strikes on Maʾrib city reportedly killed at least three people, two of them children, and wounded at least 33 other people on Sunday. From the way state media is reporting the story it sounds like the Houthis fired three missiles toward a military target, but one landed in a nearby residential area.
In Aden, at least ten people were killed on Saturday (including four civilians) in clashes between Southern Transitional Council fighters and members of an STC splinter group led by one of its former commanders. The fighting occurred near Aden’s government buildings and subsided when the STC’s armed wing, the “Security Belt,” moved additional forces into that neighborhood.
A roadside bomb killed two electrical workers in Turkey’s Bingöl province on Saturday. Turkish officials have blamed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), though whether there’s any evidence to support that allegation is uncertain. Separately, the Turkish military reported Saturday that its forces had killed three PKK fighters in northern Iraq.
Jordanian King Abdullah II had what I’m sure was a delightful phone chat with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday, the first time the two leaders have had a bull session since the start of the Syrian civil war ten years ago. I don’t want to oversell the importance of this but it is another sign that Syria and Jordan are normalizing relations. This call comes on the heels of reports that the two countries are collaborating on regional energy deals, restoring regular air travel, and reopening their border to commercial traffic. This bilateral warming of ties could be the prologue to Assad’s reintegration into the broader Arab world.
Speaking of air travel, EgyptAir made what was technically its first-ever flight to Israel on Sunday. This may seem a little odd given that Egypt and Israel officially normalized relations in 1980, but since 1982 EgyptAir has been operating its flights to Israel under a somewhat fictional subsidiary called “Air Sinai” out of concerns about public backlash. “Air Sinai” only flies between Cairo and Tel Aviv and will probably dissolve now that EgyptAir is openly acknowledging its Israel-Egypt flights.
Qataris elected two-thirds of the country’s Shura Council on Saturday. The 45 member body has been around officially since 1972, though all of its members had previously been appointed by the Qatari emir. The Qatari people voted in a 2003 referendum to make 30 of the council’s seats subject to election, but it’s taken 18 years and numerous false starts to get to an actual election. The Shura council will be empowered to approve the emirate’s budget, draft legislation, and conduct oversight on cabinet ministers, but the emir remains the final authority.
Turnout was 63.5 percent, and the election seems to have gone off relatively uneventfully despite some prior tensions over restrictions on voting rights. Qatari women may be dismayed that none of the 28 women who ran for seats were elected. Presumably there will be at least a few women among the 15 members Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani appoints.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state media on Saturday that he wants the Biden administration to unfreeze $10 billion of Iran’s overseas assets as a good faith gesture with respect to the negotiations over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. He’s not without a point here, though—given that it was the United States that trashed the nuclear agreement it’s not unreasonable to ask the US to make some kind of reparation as part of the process of undoing that action. It’s unlikely the US will respond favorably though, because the political grief such a gesture would create in DC just isn’t worth it for the administration. In the same interview Amirabdollahian also told state media that Iran will be returning to the talks “soon,” suggesting that the $10 billion was more a request than a demand, but this still probably doesn’t bode well for supporters of the nuclear agreement.
Georgian voters headed to the polls on Saturday for municipal elections that were noteworthy mostly because they drew former President Mikheil Saakashvili back into the country, where he was subsequently arrested. Local elections are not our thing, but partial results show the ruling Georgian Dream party winning (amid allegations of irregularities), though it’s not clear by how much. The party had at one time agreed to dissolve parliament and hold a snap election if its candidates in these local elections failed to garner at least 43 percent of the total vote, and while it’s since backed out of that pledge a poor showing by Georgian Dream could trigger protests.
A bombing at a mosque in Kabul killed at least five people on Sunday. The target was a memorial service for the mother of Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, and for obvious reasons it seems likely the Islamic State was responsible. Likewise, two Taliban fighters and two civilians were killed in a shooting in the city of Jalalabad on Saturday that was also probably carried out by IS. The group hasn’t yet claimed responsibility for either incident.
Pakistani Taliban fighters killed at least five security personnel in an attack on a military convoy in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Saturday. In an interview with Turkish media on Friday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that his government is “in talks with some of” the groups that comprise the Pakistan Taliban “on a reconciliation process.” The Pakistani Taliban is significantly less cohesive than the Afghan Taliban (which itself really isn’t as cohesive as it’s generally portrayed), so a “divide and conquer” approach could have some merit. Ironically the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan could help here, if it repays the Pakistani assistance it’s received by doing more than the previous Afghan government did to pressure Pakistan Taliban units operating on Afghan soil.
Elsewhere, IS has claimed responsibility for the shooting of a Pakistani Sikh man in Peshawar on Thursday. Pakistani authorities were initially unsure whether this incident was terrorist-related.
At least eight people were killed on Sunday when ongoing protests by farmers turned violent in India’s Uttar Pradesh state. A car possibly owned by the son of a junior minister in Narendra Modi’s government ran over two protesters, killing both and triggering the violence. According to Reuters, three members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party were among those killed along with “a driver” (this may be the driver of the initial car but it’s unclear from the reporting) and two more farmers. Protests against Modi’s agriculture privatization efforts have continued and there were initial indications that this incident may have spurred additional demonstrations.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte abruptly announced his withdrawal from next year’s vice presidential race on Saturday, saying that he will instead retire from politics. He made the announcement while accompanying Philippine Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, a longtime Duterte ally, as he registered his own vice presidential candidacy. Duterte’s wing of the ruling PDP-Laban Party has endorsed Go as its presidential candidate but he’s sworn off of that office. The plan now, according an interview Duterte gave to Philippine media late Saturday, is for Go to run as VP in alliance with Duterte’s daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio—even though she’s also denied interest in running for the presidency.
As yet I don’t believe Duterte-Carpio has confirmed that she’s changed her mind about running. And Duterte said he has no “idea” when she plans on filing her alleged presidential candidacy. Even if she does decide to run it’s unclear whether she’d really want to tie herself to Go, even informally (Philippine presidents and VPs are elected separately so any “ticket” must necessarily be informal). Duterte’s decision not to run for VP (assuming he doesn’t change his mind) seems to be a reaction to recent polling that suggested he might not win and that his potential VP run had angered Philippine voters who believe it would violate the spirit of the constitution’s single term limit on presidents. But if Duterte isn’t going to run for VP and the legal immunity that office provides, he will want a friendly president to shield him from any prosecution that might arise as a result of, say, his violent “war on drugs.” Polling has consistently shown that Duterte-Carpio would be a strong presidential candidate, though her numbers have recently dropped somewhat as well.
It was a busy weekend for Chinese aircraft skirting Taiwanese airspace, if you’re into that sort of thing for some reason. After flying 38 aircraft through Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Friday, the Chinese military topped that record by flying 39 through the ADIZ on Saturday. They flew some number of aircraft through the ADIZ on Sunday as well, but I haven’t seen any indication as to how many. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price issued a statement criticizing China’s “provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilising, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability.” This is a bit overblown. Flying through a country’s ADIZ is provocative and doing so repeatedly adds to the provocation, but it’s fairly minor as international provocations go. The US military has been known to fly through China’s ADIZ on occasion, for example, and we all lived to tell the tale.
The North Korean government says it will restore the currently defunct inter-Korean hotline as of 9 AM (local time) Monday. Kim Jong-un announced his intention to reopen the hotline at a session of parliament a few days ago.
The Sudanese cabinet issued a statement on Sunday warning that the country is on the verge of running out of fuel and other basic supplies due to ongoing protests by members of the Beja community that have effectively shut down Port Sudan. The Beja are angered over government peace deals with Sudan’s various rebel groups and over eastern Sudan’s general lack of political influence, as well as a weak regional economy. The cabinet statement offered negotiations over the protesters’ concerns in return for a relaxation of their port blockade.
Interim Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush on Sunday hailed (or sort of hailed, at least) what she called “a very modest start” to efforts to remove foreign fighters from the country. The ouster of the foreign mercenaries who participated on both sides of Libya’s civil war has been a central tenet of the peace process that’s supposed to be leading to a national election this December. But the process of actually ousting them has been very slow, hampered to a large extent by the fact that the warring eastern and western Libyan factions still aren’t entirely committed to reunification.
An estimated 8000 or more people gathered in Tunis and thousands more in other parts of Tunisia on Sunday to demonstrate in support of Tunisian President Kais Saied and his months-long power grab, which now has him suspending the constitution and ruling by decree. The last two weekends have seen smaller anti-Saied demonstrations, raising speculation that the Tunisian public might be losing patience with what is supposed to be a temporary period of one-man rule. Sunday’s protests, coupled with polling in his favor, will probably tamp that speculation back down.
According to Le Monde, French President Emmanuel Macron made some scathing comments about the Algerian government during an event at his presidential palace on Thursday, accusing it of “stoking hatred for France” and its officials of abusing the French visa system. Over the weekend the Algerian government, already upset over Macron’s decision to halve the number of visas available to Algerian nationals, recalled its ambassador from Paris and banned the French military from Algerian airspace. It’s unclear whether the latter is an indefinite ban or just a symbolic one-day statement.
A United Nations peacekeeping convoy in northern Mali’s Kidal region was hit by a roadside bomb on Saturday, leaving at least one peacekeeper dead and four more wounded. There’s no indication as to responsibility.
Two Burkinabé soldiers were killed on Saturday when their patrol was hit by an improvised explosive device in the Cascades region, near the Ivorian border. Most bombings of this kind take place in northern and eastern Burkina Faso, so an incident in the country’s far west is unusual. Here to there’s been no claim of responsibility.
Nigerian authorities now apparently believe that Boko Haram has established a presence in northern Nigeria’s Niger state, taking control of parts of the state’s Shiroro district. Boko Haram, or some part of it, may be looking for a new home as the Islamic State West Africa Province has been driving it out of northeastern Nigeria. State officials thought the Boko Haram fighters were criminal bandits initially but have since come to a different conclusion. A Boko Haram presence in other parts of northern Nigeria could help explain the recent escalation in the frequency and sophistication of attacks attributed to “bandits” across that region.
At least one Chadian police officer died and at least ten people were wounded on Saturday when police cracked down on an anti-junta demonstration in N’djamena. Estimates as to the size of the demonstration range from 1200 (the opposition figure) to a somewhat implausible 100 (the police figure). Things turned violent when the march reportedly strayed from its approved route, at which point police broke out the tear gas. The police officer died in some kind of a “fall” though the details are unclear.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Allied Democratic Forces militia fighters killed at least eight people in an attack on a community in the eastern DRC’s Ituri province. Authorities discovered the bodies on Saturday but the reporting doesn’t say when the attack is believed to have taken place. The attackers also kidnapped an unspecified number of people.
Ethnic Serbian protesters in northern Kosovo have reportedly removed the roadblocks they’ve put in place over the past couple of weeks amid protests over the Kosovan government’s decision to ban Serbian-tagged vehicles from entering the country. NATO mediators announced on Thursday that they’d negotiated an agreement between the Kosovan and Serbian governments to deescalate tensions along their border related to the protests, with Kosovan authorities agreeing to withdraw police units from the area and to begin issuing temporary registrations allowing Serbian vehicles to cross the border. NATO peacekeepers are deploying to monitor the situation along the border.
Finally, at Jacobin, the Center for International Policy’s William Hartung outlines just how lucrative the War on Terror has been for the US defense industry:
The costs and consequences of the United States’s twenty-first-century wars have by now been well-documented — a staggering $8 trillion in expenditures and more than 380,000 civilian deaths, as calculated by Brown University’s Costs of War project. The question of who has benefited most from such an orgy of military spending has, unfortunately, received far less attention.
Corporations large and small have left the financial feast of that post-9/11 surge in military spending with genuinely staggering sums in hand. After all, Pentagon spending has totaled an almost unimaginable $14 trillion plus since the start of the Afghan War in 2001, up to one-half of which (catch a breath here) went directly to defense contractors.