World roundup: September 12 2023
Stories from Japan, Libya, Ukraine, and elsewhere
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TODAY IN HISTORY
September 12, 1683: The Battle of Vienna
September 12, 1974: A committee of Ethiopian military officers, called the “Derg,” overthrows Emperor Haile Selassie in a coup amid mass unrest caused in part by a serious famine. The Derg, which refashioned itself as the “Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia,” ruled the country until 1987, when it further transformed itself into the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
According to The New Arab, another Syrian Democratic Forces attack on the town of Diban in eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzor province late Monday left at least one person dead and five more wounded. Although the SDF has said more than once over the past week that its battle with Arab tribes in that province was over and that Diban was under its control, clearly neither of those claims is entirely accurate.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein announced on Tuesday that Iraqi authorities have begun moving Iranian Kurdish opposition groups to new facilities in northern Iraq that are situated far from the Iranian border. Per an agreement between Baghdad and Tehran the Iraqis are obliged to relocate those groups, which the Iranian government blames for organizing protests and carrying out attacks inside Iran, from the border area by September 19. If they don’t meet that deadline Iranian officials have threatened to attack those groups in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Biden administration on Tuesday blacklisted seven individuals and several related entities allegedly linked to Hezbollah and its activities in Latin America. Primarily they seem to be involved in the group’s fund-raising efforts but at least one of the individuals is also accused of money laundering and drug trafficking.
The Nagorno-Karabakh regional government agreed on Tuesday to accept a shipment of Russian aid via a road linking the Armenian enclave with the rest of Azerbaijan through the town of Aghdam. The Karabakh and Azerbaijani governments announced that aid shipment over the weekend as part of a larger deal that would also involve easing the Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which links the enclave to Armenia. But something interrupted the shipment. It’s not entirely clear what caused the delay but presumably the issue has been resolved. Karabakh officials have been loathe to accept aid from Aghdam over fears that Baku could use the promise of assistance as a means to gain control over the enclave. But the Lachin blockade has left the humanitarian situation inside Karabakh increasingly dire so their options were pretty limited.
The Japanese government has apparently appointed a new “defense attache” to its Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association office in Taipei—its de facto Taiwanese embassy. That’s not new or unusual, but what is new is that the appointee is apparently an active duty Japanese official. Past attaches have strictly been retired military officers in order to maintain the pretense that the position itself is informal and does not suggest Japanese recognition of Taiwanese independence. There’s been no comment on this move from Beijing but one assumes it’s not going to be well received. It comes as Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is reportedly shaking up his cabinet by replacing several ministers. This is primarily an effort to boost weak poll numbers, but it may be noteworthy that Kishida’s pick for defense minister, Kihara Minoru, “currently heads a Japan-Taiwan interparliamentary group” according to Reuters.
AFP is reporting that shelling by the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group killed at least 17 people in Omdurman on Tuesday. United Nations human rights commissioner Volker Türk says that at least 103 civilians have been killed in Sudan’s capital area, which includes Omdurman and Khartoum, in just the past week. The country’s civilian population continues to bear the brunt of the suffering while the RSF and Sudanese military ostensibly battle one another.
Over 2300 people have been confirmed dead and thousands more injured in the northeastern Libyan city of Derna due to massive flooding caused by Storm Daniel, a Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone or “medicane” that had been circulating around the eastern Mediterranean for the past week, give or take, before weakening on Tuesday. With some 10,000 people feared to be missing, the death toll is likely to rise considerably as rescue and recovery efforts continue. Derna took the brunt of the damage, as the storm’s heavy rains caused dams to fail, but there have been reports of mudslides and other damage in Benghazi and several other eastern Libyan towns. The storm had earlier caused significant damage across parts of Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey before slamming into Libya.
The recovery from this disaster is likely to be badly hampered by the lack of a stable or even single Libyan government. It also wouldn’t be terribly surprising to learn that the human toll was inflated, say, by a lack of government oversight with respect to Derna’s infrastructure. This could be the sort of event that causes Libyan political elites to put aside their petty turf concerns and come together for the greater good…or not. It’s also another disaster that has to be placed in the context of unchecked climate change. “Medicanes” are apparently not as uncommon as you might think, but one this destructive—featuring tropical storm-level winds and torrential rain—was undoubtedly enabled by warmer Mediterranean waters and a warmer atmosphere. Research suggests that planetary warming is likely to decrease the frequency of these sorts of storms while increasing their intensity.
Malian officials acknowledged on Tuesday that a car bombing in the city of Gao on Friday killed “around ten” soldiers. No casualty figures had previously been released for the bombing, which was later claimed by Mali’s al-Qaeda affiliate, Jamaʿat Nusrat al-Islam wa’l-Muslimin. In the same general vicinity, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) claimed on Tuesday that its fighters had captured military outposts in the town of Bourem, which is situated just north of Gao. Its forces then apparently withdrew from the town, possibly because of their vulnerability to military airstrikes. The CMA declared itself to be in a “time of war” with the Malian government on Monday, and apparently that was no joke.
According to the French Foreign Ministry, Niger’s ruling junta has arrested an elected French official. Stephane Jullien, the counselor for French citizens abroad, was apparently detained on Friday for reasons that are not entirely clear beyond the recent overall deterioration in French-Nigerien relations. His arrest will likely escalate that deterioration. Nigerien officials seem not to have commented on this situation as yet. The junta asked French ambassador Sylvain Itté to leave Niger late last month and he’s ignored that request as Paris has rejected the junta’s authority to issue it.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
A new report from Amnesty International and the Congolese NGO “Initiative for Good Governance and Human Rights” links cobalt and copper mining in the DRC with rampant human rights violations including the forced displacement of residential communities. Demand for both metals is rising due to their utility in battery manufacturing. The report accuses mining companies of removing people from their homes and farms in order to enable the expansion of mine projects.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered an apparently very extensive speech to the lucky attendees of the “8th Eastern Economic Forum” in Vladivostok on Tuesday. Amid comments on Russian foreign relations and US politics, among other topics, he made it quite clear that the war in Ukraine is now a war of attrition. Rejecting the possibility of a ceasefire because it would give the Ukrainians a chance “to replenish their resources and restore the combat capability of their armed forces,” Putin suggested that a peace deal could only be possible once Kyiv’s war-making capacity has been completely exhausted. Paired with Ukrainian leaders’ insistence on recovering all the territory Russia has been occupying since 2014 and there doesn’t seem to be much of a basis for negotiations.
Also from the Long War file, US Air National Guard commander Michael Loh said on Tuesday that Ukrainian pilots could be trained to fly the US-made F-16 warplane “within three months,” according to the AP. Other US officials have been talking about a six to nine month timeframe, though it sounds like Loh’s estimate is a best case scenario and six may be more reasonable—apparently nine months is the timeframe for pilots who have never flown combat aircraft. Ukraine’s Western backers have collectively pledged to supply it with 42 F-16s to date. Kyiv is seeking at least 50 and it’s likely those pledges will be ratcheted up over time.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian cargo aircraft manufacturer Antonov is reportedly opening a new “drone center” that will expand its capacity for producing and developing unmanned craft. This pivot to drones fills a need generated by the war and also offers the company, which did much of its prewar business in Russia, a possible economic lifeline.
Colombia was the most dangerous country in which to be an environmental activist in 2022. A new report from the NGO Global Witness says that, of the at least 177 environmental activists killed worldwide last year, fully 60 of them were killed in Colombia. Latin America overall was dangerous, with at least 34 activists killed in Brazil and 31 in Mexico. Indigenous activists seem to have been at greatest risk.
If you’ve been paying attention to the nascent 2024 US presidential race, then first of all I recommend taking up a hobby. I hear bird-watching is nice. But second of all, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that invading Mexico to counter drug trafficking is fast becoming a core Republican Party principle. Not only is this a monumentally dumb idea in just about every respect, the threats are not going unnoticed in Mexico:
Security analysts said those proposals rely on a misguided idea of how drug trafficking works in Mexico. Falko Ernst, a Mexico analyst for the International Crisis Group, said that comparisons to combating ISIS are wrong. Those Islamist militants were imposed from the outside.
Mexican traffickers, in contrast, are often deeply embedded in their communities. Republicans have “the illusion you have a clearly delineated threat” in Mexico that “stands apart from the rest of society, politics and the economy, one that can be surgically removed, a cancer-like growth in the body,” Ernst said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
Mexican officials have reacted angrily to the Republican proposals to unilaterally enter their country’s territory. “We’re not going to be anybody’s piñata,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said last month after [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis made his comments in the first Republican primary debate about deploying Special Forces against Mexican fentanyl producers.
The Republicans want “to come over and hunt for narco traffickers, violating our sovereignty, something we are never going to allow,” López Obrador said in his daily news conference. He has also said he would urge Americans of Mexican origin to vote against Republicans if their “aggression” continued.
Finally, Responsible Statecraft’s Matthew Petti notes that the “Abraham Accords” are not fostering a new era of religious tolerance in the Middle East so much as refocusing intolerance on a different target:
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman seems to sum up the Biden administration’s logic: that a Saudi-Israeli agreement would “open the way for peace between Israel and the whole Muslim world” and “dramatically reduce the Muslim-Jewish antipathy born over a century ago with the start of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict.”
But the Abraham Accords are attached to a social order that is deeply unequal, divided along ethnic and religious lines. While Israel allows foreign Muslims to visit Jerusalem, it rules over millions of Palestinians against their will. (That conflict is more about nationalism in the here and now than “Muslim-Jewish antipathy.”) And while some monarchies in the Persian Gulf are beginning to embrace foreigners of different religions, those same states — especially Bahrain — treat their native Shi’a Muslims as a potential fifth column.
For the past few years, some of the Gulf monarchies have been engaged in a project to replace Israel with Iran as the main enemy of the Arab masses. On one hand, these countries have repressed pro-Palestine activism and promoted an image of Palestinians as parasitic ingrates. On the other hand, they have encouraged fears of Iranian power, often conflating Iran with Shi’a Muslims as a whole. Israel has encouraged both prejudices as part of its outreach to Middle Eastern publics. Rather than a victory for religious tolerance, the Abraham Accords are the culmination of an attempt by Israel and its new Gulf allies to rearrange their official enemy lists.
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