A few days ago I caused my decrepit middle-aged body to suffer a back injury that makes it hard to sit and write for long periods. I managed to get through a full update yesterday but it wasn’t pleasant. I hope you’ll be patient with me as I condense today’s update, and writing time.
The Syrian army on Friday regained control over the Damascus-Deir Ezzor highway from ISIS. Elsewhere, Syrian and Russian airstrikes in Idlib on Friday hit an estimated 42 towns and villages and killed at least 12 people.
Syria Direct reports on Jaysh Khaled bin al-Waleed, an ISIS affiliate that controls a small enclave in southwestern Syria–one of the few places outside of eastern Syria where ISIS still has a presence:
But despite its countless human rights violations, JKW has largely operated with little real resistance on the ground from rebel brigades, allowing it to govern and terrorize thousands of civilians with its violent interpretation of Islamic law.
Inaction against the group is perhaps surprising, given its location at a sensitive nexus. JKW’s territorial pocket borders both Jordan and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. It is totally surrounded on all sides by its rival, the Western-backed Southern Front rebels.
A relatively successful Russian- and American-brokered ceasefire in Syria’s south is now in place. JKW did not sign onto the ceasefire—now nearing its fourth month—and is not covered under the deal. The state of calm raises a key question about this stagnant front: Why don’t Southern Front forces on the ground now pivot their attention toward driving out JKW?
The short answer is that the Southern Front forces are still focused on fighting the government, and as long as JKW leaves them alone they have no reason to pick a fight with it.
If you’d booked any international flights into or out of Iraqi Kurdistan, you might want to check with your travel agent. Kurdish airspace is now officially closed (domestic flights within Iraqi Kurdistan are still flying). That’s one of many ways Baghdad, along with Turkey and Iran, is punishing the Kurds for voting for independence. One of the big questions surrounding this situation is how long the three of them are going to be able to maintain this united front. Turkey doesn’t have a long track record of getting along with either Iraq or Iran, and while a Turkish blockade of Iraqi Kurdistan could seriously harm the local economy, it’s also a major blow to Turkish commercial interests there. Moreover, if Turkey really takes a bite out of the Kurdistan Regional Government it could benefit their rivals, the PKK, and Ankara definitely doesn’t want that. And Russia may lean on Turkey to take it easy–Moscow is officially opposed to Kurdish independence but doesn’t want to lose its energy concerns in northern Iraq.
At least Iraqi media is handling the situation with class:
After it looked yesterday like there was no chance of the UN human rights council establishing an investigation into Saudi war crimes in Yemen, today things dramatically turned around. Sort of. The council managed to pass a compromise measure that will send a group of “experts” to Yemen to investigate, but will not establish a formal commission of inquiry as had been originally proposed. The Saudis, who threatened to cut off trade with any country that supported the commission idea, were apparently talked into grudgingly accepting the compromise.
One good place for the investigators to start might be with the country’s cholera epidemic. The Red Cross estimates that Yemen will see its one millionth case of the disease before the end of the year.
At least five people were killed and 20 injured Friday by a suicide bomber who struck a Shiʿa mosque in Kabul. The bomber, who disguised himself as a shepherd, was apparently with ISIS as they’ve claimed credit for the attack.
Shinzō Abe’s decision to call for early elections may already be backfiring on him and his Liberal Democratic party. Yuriko Koike, the popular governor of Tokyo, has launched a new political party, the “Party of Hope,” and the opposition Democratic Party has decided to have its candidates run on her ticket. The combined opposition, under a well-liked leader, could be too much for Abe to overcome even though his poll numbers have improved of late.
Fighting in and around Sabratha, one of the main hot spots for Libya’s human trafficking business, has killed 26 people over the past two weeks. A former (?) smuggling outfit called the Anas al-Dabbashi Brigade has allied with the Government of National Accord and started policing the smugglers instead, leading to some violent clashes.
The Cameroonian government has now outlawed all public gatherings and closed borders in the country’s English-speaking South-West region. It’s undoubtedly looking to stop independence marches planned there for this weekend.
Russia assured Western nations worried about its Zapad 2017 military exercises in Belarus that no Russian forces would be left behind in Belarus after the exercises were over. Well, Zapad is over, but the top general in the Ukrainian military, Viktor Muzhenko, says there are still Russian forces in Belarus. Moreover, he says Moscow lied about how many Russian soldiers would be participating in the exercises. Take with a grain of salt, naturally.
Polls show that 59 percent of Germans want Germany’s next governing coalition to consist of Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU/CSU, the libertarian Free Democratic Party, and the Greens. That figure is presumably inflated by days/weeks of hearing that this is the only workable governing coalition that can be formed, but still, “be careful what you wish for” seems like the appropriate thing to say here.
In a preview of what could be a very ugly weekend, Catalan independence activists have started occupying designated polling places in advance of Sunday’s planned referendum, in order to prevent Spanish authorities from blocking the vote. Police have been ordered to stop the vote from happening, but it’s not clear how Catalan police will respond to those orders.
The United States has pulled all nonessential diplomatic personnel out of Cuba, as the still unsolved and still bizarre “sonic attack” story rolls on. The Trump administration has also started warning Americans against travel to Cuba, though there’s no evidence that anything has happened to American tourists.
Sadly, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has decided to resign to spend more time trying to con his family into paying for him to take charter flights all over the place.
He will be missed.
Finally, here’s San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz passionately disagreeing with the Trump administration’s glowing assessment of its own performance in delivering relief aid to Puerto Rico. I have nothing to add to this, Mayor Cruz speaks for herself:
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