Conflict update: January 7 2017

Ivory Coast

I’m going to level with you and say that I wasn’t going to write one of these tonight, but for the fact that something pretty big seems to have flared up in a country that doesn’t get much American attention under any circumstances and that has been more or less pretty quiet for a few years now. Beginning yesterday, Ivorian soldiers in the city of Bouaké began mutinying over low pay and poor living/working conditions, and by the middle of the day today their revolt had spread to cities across the country, including the Ivory Coast’s largest city, Abidjan. There were multiple reports of soldiers seizing control of cities, erecting barricades, and firing weapons, but if there have been any casualty reports I’m not aware of them.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara announced later in the day that he’d reached an agreement with the mutineers to get them to return to their bases, but at some point, and I’m not clear on this but I think it happened after the deal was announced, soldiers surrounded a residence in Bouaké where the country’s defense minister, Alain-Richard Donwahi, was staying, having flown to the city earlier in the day to try to talk to the mutineer leaders. It seems they were unhappy about the agreement, which apparently doesn’t address all their concerns, or maybe they were angry that, while announcing the deal, Ouattara also spent some time chastising the soldiers for their actions. That siege has reportedly now been lifted and the people who were in the house, including Donwahi, have been allowed to go.

I won’t pretend to understand Ivorian politics in the slightest, but Ouattara came to occupy his office after his forces won a civil war in 2011. Well, characterizing it that way is unfair to Ouattara, who was the internationally recognized winner of the 2010 Ivorian presidential election–the civil war was fought because incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who is currently on trial before the International Criminal Court, refused to concede. So he didn’t just seize power by force, he was elected first. But the army as it currently exists is apparently patched together from forces that fought each other during the 2002-2011 period when Ivory Coast was under almost constant internal tension between the northern and southern (and, if you must, Muslim and Christian) segments of the country (the 2011 war was the last manifestation–so far–of that tension). It’s hard to say (well, at least for me it is) whether, or how much, lingering tensions within the army or between the army and Ouattara’s government may have played a role in this uprising, and whether or not this mutiny might be the harbinger of a new round of troubles.

The Gambia

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), meeting on the sidelines of Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo’s inauguration today, opted to punt on the question of whether or not to militarily intervene to force Yahya Jammeh to abide by last month’s election results and step down. Representatives from ECOWAS member states are meeting again on Monday in Abuja, Nigeria, for further discussions.


A restaurant in Mogadishu believed to be popular with Somali soldiers was bombed today in an attack that killed at least 3 people and injured 11 others, some critically. There was no claim of responsibility, but there’s a high probability of al-Shabab involvement in any terrorist attack in Somalia.


A captured Benghazi militia fighters is apparently confirming that Wissam b. Hamid, one of the more prominent leaders within the Islamist Benghazi Shura Council, was killed in a Libyan airstrike on that city about a month ago. Wissam played a role in the September 11, 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi when he refused, despite his arrangements with the Americans, to provide security for the compound after the attack began. His death is also a big boost for Khalifa Haftar, whose forces have been trying to subdue the Benghazi Islamists for months now.


At least 48 people were killed, and over 100 more injured, by a car bomb that struck a market in the northern town of Azaz today. The attack was likely perpetrated by ISIS, perhaps in retaliation for recent Turkish/Free Syrian Army advances around al-Bab, but nobody has claimed responsibility for the bombing yet. Azaz’s population has been greatly enlarged by people fleeing Aleppo, and this attack seems to have been meant to maximize casualties–which, of course, supports the theory that ISIS was behind it.

The Syrian government has announced some vague plans for rebuilding Aleppo, focusing at first on restoring basic infrastructure, then rebuilding schools, hospitals, and the city’s airport.


Map of the Mosul operation through today (Wikimedia | Kpoalvin)

A spokesman for Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service, which has been spearheading the assault on east Mosul, says that Iraqi forces are “closing in” on the Tigris River, which bisects the city into its western and eastern halves. They’ve reportedly advanced to within half a kilometer of one of the five bridges that span the river, but we should be clear that “advancing” is not the same as “holding.” So while this is good news, it’s not a sign that east Mosul is on the verge of total liberation. In particular, federal police appear to have retaken most of the Wahda neighborhood, including the hospital complex that was the Iraqis’ high-water mark (they briefly held it but were forced to withdraw) during the first, pre-pause, phase of the offensive.

In the west, the Popular Mobilization Units continued to sweep through villages on the outskirts of Tal Afar. The PMUs have been ordered not to enter Tal Afar lest they draw a response from Turkey, so they’ve concentrated on surrounding the city. They’re waiting on an Iraqi army/police force to enter the town and drive ISIS out, but that force hasn’t been assembled yet and, given the situation in Mosul at the moment, probably won’t be assembled anytime soon. Which leaves the PMUs still flapping in the breeze, vulnerable to ISIS counterattacks from Tal Afar.

Speaking of Turkey, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is in Baghdad meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Haider al-Abadi, and they’ve either reached an agreement or appear to be close to reaching an agreement that would see Turkey’s small but potentially destabilizing force withdrawn from the town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul. This would be a very positive development if it actually comes to pass.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi authorities killed two alleged terrorists in a raid in a neighborhood in the northern part of Riyadh. One of the two, a man named Tayah al-Saihari, is believed to have made explosive belts used in a couple of suicide attacks in the kingdom over the past couple of years.


Forces loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi announced today that they are on the verge of capturing Dhubab, a small peninsula that is just north, along the country’s Red Sea coast, of the Mandeb Strait, the chokepoint for Red Sea ship traffic. A Houthi news service in Aden denied the reports, and, well, who’s to say really.


Somebody attacked a group of Hazara miners in Baghlan province yesterday, killing eight of them. The governor of Taleh va Barfak district, where the attack took place, pointed blame at the Taliban, but the Hazara being Afghanistan’s largest and most visible Shiʿa minority, it wouldn’t be out of the question if this had been an ISIS operation.


During a raid today on the Ansar al-Khilafah militant group, Philippine police killed two people, a Pakistani and his companion, who are believed to be affiliated with ISIS.


German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel gave an interview to Der Spiegel in which he blamed the German government’s insistence on Eurozone-wide austerity for the rise of right-wing populist movements in countries all over the continent, and said that Berlin’s economic agenda has increased the possibility of an eventual EU breakup. Gabriel is the leader of the Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in the governing coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and he’ll challenge Merkel in September’s election, so this was a bit of a political shot across the bow. But even at that, uh, he ain’t wrong.

Regular readers will note that I’ve never been real clear as to the reasons why any European country would voluntarily agree to give its currency-printing authority over to Germany in exchange for…well, that’s not so clear, is it? Common monetary policy without common fiscal policy is a really shitty deal for the union’s economically weaker countries, and it hasn’t even worked out too well for relatively strong France. It works out great for Germany, though. The EU’s political mission, essentially to prevent another World War breaking out in Europe, is a noble one, but the economic mission needs serious rethinking.


Cities all over Mexico have seen days of massive street protests over high gas prices, which suddenly shot up by 20 percent or more this year because the Mexican government has decided to abandon its long-time program of subsidizing artificially low gas prices. There has been some violence; mobs have been looting businesses and setting fires, and so far over 1500 people have been arrested. Overall, though, things have mostly been peaceful, but the longer the protests go on the more violent they seem to be turning.

While this doesn’t excuse the violence, the increase in gas prices has been pretty devastating to Mexico’s poorest citizens:

But the steep price increase will impact the poorest harder than anyone. The cost of one gallon of gasoline in Mexico is now just 65 cents less than Mexico’s newly increased minimum wage, which is now 80 pesos—or about $3.75 for a full day’s work.

So, for some Mexicans, this means that they can work all day, and then be forced to chose between buying a gallon of gasoline or a gallon of milk, with not enough left over for a half-dozen eggs in either scenario.

I suspect you’d have a lot of Americans out in the streets under those same conditions. And while subsidizing cheap gas seems a far less sensible solution to this problem than raising the minimum wage to a something higher than the destitution level it’s at now, the Mexican government kind of has its hands tied at this point. Even if they were to raise the minimum wage again, the ongoing collapse of the peso brought on by Donald Trump’s election could easily wash out most of the impact of higher wages. Meanwhile privatization has basically wrecked Mexico’s domestic oil industry, so there’s no help to be had there, and without the subsidies even the modest recent increase in global oil prices has hit people hard.

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