Middle East update: March 8 2018

SYRIA

Yesterday the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that pro-government forces had split Eastern Ghouta in two, but today the word is they’re only “poised” to split it in two, so I guess the SOHR jumped the gun a bit. On the other hand this new report is coming from the rebels, so they might be spinning a bit. A second humanitarian aid convoy, which was supposed to enter the area on Thursday, was postponed by the fighting, amid reports that 90 people were killed overnight and that the Syrian government may have used phosphorus and/or chlorine weapons.

In Afrin, Turkish forces and their rebel proxies were reportedly able to capture the town of Jinderes on Thursday. This gives them control of all but two of the enclave’s largest population centers and helps them isolate Afrin city from Kurdish and/or pro-government reinforcements.

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The current situation in Afrin (Wikimedia | MrPenguin20)

IRAQ

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree on Thursday formally incorporating the Popular Mobilization Units into the Iraqi armed forces, with equal pay but also equal responsibility to abide by military guidelines. Abadi has been promising this for a while but seemed reluctant to pull the trigger, maybe for fear of a negative reaction from Washington. But with elections approaching, it probably can’t hurt for Abadi to give the PMUs something they’ve been wanting for some time now.

The Turkish government says that it’s planning a joint operation with the Iraqi government to go after PKK fighters in northern Iraq. That said, there’s been no confirmation of this from Baghdad so don’t assume anything yet. Iraq and Turkey have been at odds in the past but bonded over their mutual opposition to last year’s Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum. However, relations appear to be souring again over the Iraqi government’s treatment of alleged ISIS members who also happen to be Turkish nationals–particularly Turkish women who married ISIS fighters and joined the group.

Iraqi authorities are pondering the question of how to deal with former child soldiers who were forcibly recruited by ISIS:

Hundreds of children are estimated to have been used as fighters by Islamic State, including boys who joined with their families or were given up by them and the offspring of foreign fighters groomed from birth to perpetuate its ideology.

 

Experts have warned that indoctrinated children, who began escaping the clutches of Islamic State as its territory fractured last year, could pose an ongoing threat to security, both regionally and in the West, if they are not rehabilitated.

 

Treating Yazidi children, who were separated from their families and in many cases orphaned, holds particular challenges.

The Iraqi legal system allows for criminal prosecutions of defendants who are as young as nine years old, and so far it’s been putting more child soldiers on trial than in the kind of rehabilitation program that they ought to be in.

YEMEN

Hey, in case you thought the boys in Washington might have suddenly grown a conscience, don’t worry–we’re still dumping hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons on Saudi Arabia and the UAE that they can then use to slaughter some more Yemeni civilians:

The United States sold more than $650 million in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as the Yemen war expanded last year, according to a study released on Thursday.

 

The Washington-based Security Assistance Monitor said the weapons went to Saudi Arabia and the UAE through the State Department’s Direct Commercial Sales program, which allows American arms-makers to sell directly to foreign customers.

 

US weapons contractors reportedly sold $610 million in precision-guided bombs and small arms ammunition to the Saudis, and another $48.6 million in M-4 and M-16 automatic rifles and spare parts to the Emiratis. Congress receives detailed readouts of direct US commercial weapons sales, but only cursory data is made public.

We’ve sold the Saudis thousands of kits to turn “dumb bombs” into “smart bombs,” so the next time they double-tap a preschool or something you can be sure that’s exactly what they meant to do.

TURKEY

Ankara is basically asking every country in Europe to please arrest former PYD leader Saleh Muslim and send him to Turkey for trial. After striking out with the Czech Republic and Germany last week, it tried Sweden this week–but Swedish authorities said that Muslim had already left the country.

LEBANON

The spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that Israel and Lebanon are in communication about their land and maritime border disagreements on an almost daily basis and that there is “no appetite” for war. Which makes sense. Lebanon doesn’t want a war because it would likely be fought almost entirely on Lebanese soil, and Israel doesn’t want a war because the last time it went to war against Hezbollah, in 2006, it lost, and if it goes to war with Hezbollah again it’s probably going to be facing a much stronger opposing force than it did then. But that doesn’t mean there’s not going to be a war eventually.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The site of the new US embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood apparently doesn’t fully lie within the internationally recognized borders of Israel, which presumably makes it an American-facilitated land grab. The site crosses the border into the no man’s land that was created after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War to serve as a buffer between Israeli and Jordanian-claimed territory. It is thus, technically, part of the Occupied Territories.

Of course, questions about which parcel of land belongs to whom are rendered somewhat irrelevant when you accept that Israel has no intention of ever actually allowing the creation of an independent Palestinian state:

Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington earlier this week, Netanyahu dodged a question about whether he supports a one- or two-state solution, and outlined a vision that sounds a lot like an entrenched and enhanced version of the occupation as it exists today.

 

“I don’t want the Palestinians as citizens of Israel and I don’t want them as subjects of Israel. So I want a solution where they have all the powers they need to govern themselves but none of the powers that would threaten us,” the prime minister said.

 

“What that means is that whatever the solution is, the area west of the Jordan — that includes the Palestinian areas — would be militarily under Israel,” he continued. “The security, the overriding security responsibility would be Israel’s.”

In other words, what Netanyahu envisions is more or less the status quo, extended indefinitely, but he’d really appreciate it if the Palestinians and everybody else would just shut the fuck up about it already.

Al-Monitor’s Akiva Eldar believes that a recent uptick in the amount of punitively anti-Palestinian legislation being considered by the Israeli Knesset is another sign that Netayahu is preparing to call an early election.

EGYPT

Inflation is on the decline in Egypt, down to 14.4 percent in February from 17 percent in January. I’d say this will impact the upcoming Egyptian presidential election, but nothing is going to impact the upcoming Egyptian presidential election as it’s already been fixed.

SAUDI ARABIA

The Archbishop of Canterbury met with Mohammad bin Salman on Thursday and says the crown prince wants “to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions” in Saudi Arabia.

Oh yeah, for sure man:

But hey, at least MBS wants to do some business deals with Britain. He can’t be all bad if he wants that, right?

IRAN

Iran rang in International Woman’s Day celebrating the sentencing, a day earlier, of a woman to 2 years in prison (21 months suspended) for taking off her hijab in protest. Ayatollah Khamenei then delivered a speech in which he reduced women’s rights protesters in Iran to nefarious agents of the West. I don’t really have any other comment here because I think it all speaks for itself.

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Author: DWD

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