World update: June 1 2018

I’m planning to do something crazy later today and have a nice evening with my family, so we’re shortening things up a bit today. If anything huge happens, please check back later for possible updates.



According to Rudaw, the YPG is claiming to have attacked two Turkish military bases in Afrin on Thursday with “many casualties” on the Turkish-Free Syrian Army side. This should be treated as unconfirmed.

While the US, Israel, the Gulf Arab states, Europe, the Syrian rebels, Turkey, and maybe even Russia are keen to see Iran get out of Syria ASAP, the Iranians are probably not going to be inclined to oblige them:

But Iranian officials and other experts say the country has invested too much blood and treasure — upwards of $30 billion to date — to fold to international demands, regardless of Israeli airstrikes, or even Moscow’s pressure. Having already made such a massive investment, Iran is determined to reap the potential long-term strategic rewards Syria has to offer — even if it comes at the expense of more lives and money in the short term.


“I don’t think Iran is willing to abandon its presence in Syria,” said the editor of a leading Tehran news outlet, who spoke to Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity. “It gives Iran good leverage against Israel. The ground is very important, and Iran is very skillful at managing the ground — the one area where even Russians are weak. The one who has control of the ground doesn’t take seriously those who don’t.”

Official Iranian policy is that they’ll leave Syria if/when the Syrian government asks them to leave, but Bashar al-Assad so far shows no inclination toward doing that.


Iraqi journalist Mustafa Habib reports that civilians in Qaim are worried that US forces and Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization militias, who are uneasily coexisting there to protect against an ISIS resurgence, may themselves come to blows, shattering the town’s tenuous peace:

“Compared to a year ago the security situation is stable,” says Abdul-Rahman Karbouli, a community leader in Al Qaim, based in the Rumana area. “A year ago, this was a distant dream because of the presence of the extremists. Today we can stay up late without fear and my son works in one of the dairy factories in the city.”


It sounds good but Karbouli says it may not last; there is a big problem brewing. He fears that Al Qaim will fall victim to a conflict between the US military and members of the Shiite Muslim militias. The latter are former volunteers who fought against the Islamic State, or IS, group, but who are now an official part of the state security forces.


Israeli forces shot and killed another Palestinian civilian amid protests near the Gaza fence line on Friday. In this case it was a 21 year old woman who was volunteering as a medic for the Palestinian Health Ministry and was reportedly wearing a medic’s uniform when some Israeli sniper clearly and deliberately targeted her for killing. I mention that last part because, according to the Israelis, their snipers never fire randomly and never miss. Israeli officials say they’re investigating the report but that all their soldiers observed “the rules of engagement” on Friday. I confess I’m unfamiliar with any rules of engagement that make medics a lawful target, but then I’m not an expert on such things.

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled last week in favor of the demolition of a school in Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village built in “Area C” of the West Bank. The flip side of Israeli settlements policy, which asserts the right for Israel to build on Palestinian land in “Area C,” a designation created under the Oslo Accords (whose terms the Israelis generally ignore unless it suits their needs) for territory that accounts for over 60 percent of the West Bank, is Israel’s treatment of Palestinian claims over that same territory. Palestinians are absolutely forbidden to build anything in Area C without permission (which is rarely given) from the Israeli government. It’s part of the legal framework for Israel’s annexation/ethnic cleansing campaign. The community that uses the school has been displaced multiple times by the Israelis for similar reasons.


The Saudi government is openly talking about taking military action should Qatar go through with purchasing Russian S-400 anti-aircraft batteries. The Qataris and Russians have been negotiating for a few months now over a possible sale. In a letter he sent to French President Emmanuel Macron for some reason, Saudi King Salman reportedly said that if the Qataris acquire the S-400 “the Kingdom would be ready to take all the necessary measures to eliminate this defence system, including military action.” A major Qatari arms purchase from Russia would likely irritate Washington, but–and here’s the chaser–the Saudis have also talked about buying the S-400, so it’s not clear what their justification here could possibly be other than “Qatar should render itself defenseless so that we can just roll over it whenever.”

Granted this story is from Al Jazeera, which is not objective on stories involving Qatar, but they are citing a report in Le Monde that you can read yourself in French if you prefer.



The Myanmar government and the United Nations have reportedly reached agreement on a framework for repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. The framework stresses the need for a safe return and for ensuring the development of all the people of Rakhine state, Rohingya included. The UN’s refugee and development offices would be given access to Rakhine to monitor the program. A framework isn’t the same as an actual plan, of course, so there’s presumably quite a bit more work that needs to be done, and the refugees will be entitled to choose whether and when to return.


The Malaysian government is crowdfunding the reduction of its $250 billion national debt. No, really. Malaysia’s finance ministry claims that the public is clamoring for a way to help the government pay its bills, so…good luck with that?


Fueled in part by an influx of trained foreign fighters affiliated with ISIS, insurgents in Mindanao–Islamist and communist alike–are turning more and more to improvised explosive devices in their attacks:

The bombing of a cathedral in Koronadal city injured three people in late April, while an explosion in a crowded bar in Jolo left another 10 civilians wounded in early-May. These IED attacks were among the latest aimed at harming civilians in the region. The first was carried out by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) while the second occurred in a stronghold of the notorious Abu Sayyaf group.


Yet more often security forces have been the preferred target of IED blasts, launched with increased regularity not only by Islamist groups but also the communist rebels of the New People’s Army (NPA). With Mindanao under an extended period of Martial Law – which was first imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte at the height of the five-month Marawi siege – the long-troubled island’s plethora of armed groups appear to be turning to IEDs as they come under sustained pressure from military operations.


Taiwan has a friend in Africa. The government of eSwatini, formerly Swaziland and the only African country that still recognizes Taiwan, says that it will not succumb to coercion from Beijing to sever that relationship.


Kim Jong-un’s letter to Donald Trump has reached the United States, where it was shepherded to the White House early Friday afternoon by Kim Yong-chol, the top Pyongyang official who just wrapped up two days of meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York. And apparently it did the trick, because Trump later announced officially that his June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore has been un-canceled.

The Wall Street Journal was able to report generally on the letter’s contents based on the words of “one foreign government official who was briefed on the contents.” Per the WSJ, “it expresses the North Korean leader’s interest in meeting without making any significant concessions or threats.” Apparently it was conciliatory enough to meet Trump’s standards.

UPDATE: Simply amazing:

Mr. Trump initially told reporters it was “a very nice letter” and “a very interesting letter,” but by the end of a conversation with reporters, he said that he had not actually read it.


“I purposely haven’t opened the letter,” Mr. Trump said.

To be clear, this isn’t just amazing because Trump completely contradicted himself within about five minutes. It’s also amazing because the letter was already opened as a security matter before it got to Trump.



The BBC has a video up (can’t embed, sorry) covering its investigation into Tramadol abuse in Nigeria. The painkiller is apparently being used both by Boko Haram fighters and local vigilante fighters in northeastern Nigeria who oppose the terrorist group.


Reuters reports on the escalating violence in Cameroon’s anglophone region:

Clashes between insurgents fighting for a breakaway republic in Cameroon’s English-speaking region and security forces have killed scores of people and displaced tens of thousands more since the conflict intensified late last year.


In the bloodiest incident to date, Cameroonian forces surrounded and killed more than two dozen suspected separatists in the town of Menka, in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, last weekend.


Insurgents have abducted and killed soldiers and policemen in hit-and-run guerrilla raids.


Cameroonian forces have responded with scorched earth tactics such as burning down villages then opening fire on fleeing residents, witnesses told Reuters in February. The army denies such accusations.



Italy has a government, and Giuseppe Conti is prime minister, and all is right with the world, I guess. Congrats to everyone involved for not making things too embarrassing.


As expected, conservative Mariano Rajoy is out and socialist Pedro Sánchez is in as Spanish prime minister. Rajoy was bounced in a no-confidence vote on Friday spurred by a corruption scandal–or, really, a series of corruption scandals–engulfing his People’s Party. His removal is a first in Spanish history, so at least he’ll have a legacy.

Sánchez takes office in a pretty unwieldy position. In order to get over the 176 votes he needed to oust Rajoy and take the job himself, he had to cut deals with at least five other parties as far as I can tell, which is too many for a workable coalition. Among them were Catalan separatists who will expect Sánchez to be more flexible with respect to Catalan issues than Rajoy and the Basque Nationalist Party, which only agreed to sign on when Sánchez agreed to abide by Rajoy’s budget and in particular its investments in Basque country. Spain will almost certainly be holding new elections relatively soon, but if he can manage it Sánchez would be well advised to spend at least a few months actually doing stuff in order to build up a record on which his Socialist Workers’ Party can run when the time comes. That’s going to be the hard part.



Petrobras CEO Pedro Parente has resigned in the wake of national trucker and oil worker strikes that both came to an end late this week. Oil workers suspended their planned 72 hour strike on Thursday, perhaps with some knowledge that Parente’s resignation was coming. The trucker strike, largely over diesel prices, seems to just be dying down after almost two weeks in which the delivery of goods throughout the country had been virtually shut down. Parente was supposed to have met with Brazilian President Michel Temer, the man striking truckers wanted to see ousted in a military coup a couple of days ago, on Friday morning, but it’s not clear whether he did so before announcing his resignation.


Right-wing candidate Ivan Duque, who won the first round of Colombia’s May 27 presidential election but failed to clear 50 percent, has a commanding lead over his opponent, lefty Gustavo Petro, in early polling ahead of a June 17 runoff. Duque has 55 percent to Petro’s 35 percent.

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