Middle East update: January 27-28 2018


Fighting in Afrin is still centered around Bursaya hill, a strategic high-ground position that could enable someone to, say, position mortars to target other parts of Afrin, or to target the nearby Turkish city of Kilis, depending on that person’s interests. On Sunday it appeared as though Turkish and allied Free Syrian Army forces had taken the hill, but the YPG was still saying that they controlled part of it. Turkish airstrikes now appear to be targeting the April 17 Dam, which is the thing that allows the people living in Afrin to, you know, drink water and turn on the lights and whatnot. No biggie. Better the Turks should shoot at the dam I guess than to shoot directly at civilians–51 of them were killed on Sunday along with over 60 each of YPG and FSA fighters and five Turkish soldiers.

You may be wondering at this point why these FSA guys are willing to die in numbers 12 times greater than the Turks in what is really Turkey’s fight. The answer is that they think after they’re done with the YPG Turkey will help them fight Bashar al-Assad. They should begin steeling themselves for the disappointment now. Turkey has trained them and armed them so that they’re a more formidable fighting force than they were previously, but if FSA leaders think they can depend on Turkish air support as their army marches on Damascus, they’re in for a very rude awakening.

On the other side of this conflict-within-a-conflict, Ankara claims that US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told Turkish presidential adviser Ibrahim Kalin in a Friday phone call that the US is done arming the YPG. So far there’s been no confirmation of this by Washington. If it is true, then I have to ask–and this is regardless of your feelings about the Kurds, the YPG, US operations in Syria, etc.–how many times, and in how many countries, do you think the US is going to get to screw over various Kurdish “allies” before the Kurds decide that maybe Washington isn’t a particularly reliable pal?

Elsewhere in Syria, remember how the rebels and Russia came to a ceasefire deal in Ghouta on Friday and we all weren’t sure if it would hold up. Let me spare you the suspense: it didn’t. Ahrar al-Sham rejected the ceasefire, but more importantly the Syrian government was never involved in negotiating it and doesn’t seem particularly interested in honoring it.


The US-led coalition killed 10 Iraqi police officers and one Iraqi official in a friendly fire incident northwest of Baghdad on Saturday. Apparently the police failed to coordinate whatever it was they were doing with the Iraqi military, which called in the airstrike as it was concluding an anti-ISIS operation in the area.


The Yemeni government banned public demonstrations in Aden this weekend because southern separatists had given Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi until Sunday to sack his cabinet…or else. Or else what, you ask? Well about that:

At least 10 people were killed and about 100 others were wounded as southern Yemeni separatists fought government troops in the southern city of Aden on Sunday, local medics said, deepening a rift between forces that had been on the same side.

The separatists were able to capture a military base and several government buildings before both sides halted the fighting. They say the government precipitated the fighting when its forces attacked demonstrators (so much for the ban). The government, meanwhile, is blaming the United Arab Emirates, which has been backing the separatists even as it works along with Saudi Arabia to defeat the Houthis. I have to admit, I really did think this civil war would wait until the other civil war was over before it kicked off. But I guess I was wrong. What’s interesting is that if the Houthis control northern Yemen and the separatists are able to get control of southern Yemen, what country, exactly, is Hadi going to be running at that point?


Today in Simple Answers to Simple Questions:

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Turkey keeps extending its state of emergency because Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would rather govern as a dictator than as an accountable elected leader. Saved you the read.

You probably know that one of the places wherein the United States stories nuclear weapons is the Incirlik airbase in Turkey. The US-Turkey relationship, as I’m sure you know, is not really in a good place these days. And Turkey is run by the above-mentioned would-be dictator. Which means we’ve stashed nukes in a military base on the soil of a country governed by an arbitrary almost-dictator who doesn’t like us very much. Now, I’m generally not one of these people who goes around saying “maybe we should get our nukes out of Incirlik,” but maybe we should get our nukes out of Incirlik:

That’s the editor of a state media outlet (state media outlets are the only ones Turkey has left) advocating, well, something at Incirlik that doesn’t sound good. Obviously Erdoğan is more of a kick down kind of a guy than the type who’s likely to pick the really big fight with the US and the rest of NATO that would ensue if he made a serious move against American forces at Incirlik, but you never know. And since the strategic utility of stashing nukes in Turkey–anywhere, really–is at this point questionable at best, why not just get them out of there?


When it’s not busy ethnically cleansing much of the West Bank, the Israeli government occasionally finds itself still fighting to preserve the historical record with respect to the Holocaust. Which seems insane, but welcome to 2018. This weekend the Israelis heavily criticized a proposed Polish measure that would make criminalize any suggestion that Poland or Poles participated in Nazi crimes. Poland suffered massively from the Nazi invasion, but it is an immutable fact of history that Poles did collaborate with the Nazis. So while the Polish government has a point when it objects to phrases like “Polish death camps,” criminalizing any suggestion of Polish collaboration is a whitewash. The two governments plan to hold talks on the measure, though the far-right Polish government (hmmm) doesn’t seem inclined to budge on its wording.


Five Egyptian opposition figures called for a boycott of the country’s March presidential election on Sunday. Something about how Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has fixed it so he’s running unopposed, which does seem like it might be a problem. Whether their boycott catches on or not, unless Egyptian authorities force people to the polls at gunpoint turnout in March is likely to be low enough to call the legitimacy of Sisi’s reelection into question.


Well our long national nightmare is over: Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is a free man again. Having been arrested as part of Mohammad bin Salman’s power grab/anti-corruption effort, Alwaleed and Saudi authorities appear to finally have agreed on how many of his billions he needed to fork over to the state to buy his freedom.


Iranian state media reported on Saturday that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers detained 21 suspected ISIS members in fighting in northwestern Iran.

Rex Tillerson said on Saturday that he’s gotten Britain, France, and Germany to agree to work with the US on ways to fix/supplement the Iran nuclear deal to appease Donald Trump so he doesn’t scrap the whole thing. Trump wants to fundamentally alter the terms of the deal by eliminating sunset clauses, something Iran won’t abide and that probably wouldn’t be amenable to Russia or China either (even the three countries working with the US on this project would likely balk at something that attempts to rewrite the deal). He might be willing to settle for new European sanctions against Iran for things outside the nuclear deal, like its missile program and its activities in the Middle East.

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