Conflict update: March 20-21 2017

Because there’s so much to cover tonight, you’re getting two updates. This one covers everything but the Greater Middle East, the other covers nothing but the Greater Middle East. Enjoy…?

COMING SOON TO A SECURITY THEATER NEAR YOU

Effective as of yesterday, people trying to fly into the US from airports in Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia will not be allowed to bring any electronic device larger than a mobile phone into the cabin with them. Because Reasons:

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement on the new policy, stating the “2015 airliner downing in Egypt, the 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia, and the 2016 armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul” as examples of why increased security was needed.

“Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items. Based on this information, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administrator Acting Administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last point of departure airports to the United States,” the statement said.

Of those four cited attacks (two of which didn’t even take place on airplanes) only the Somali incident would have been inhibited by this ban, and since investigators believe in the Somali case that a laptop-encased bomb was rigged to explode on a timer, it’s not clear what sticking that same laptop in the luggage compartment would have accomplished–and, in fact, putting a bunch of lithium-ion batteries in the luggage compartment could have disastrous consequences. It’s certainly no secret that electronic devices are a risk, that’s why you get your carry-ons screened at security. But if security at the ten airports cited in this order is lax, then doesn’t the same concern apply to checked luggage? And why has a measure like this become necessary now, when we’ve known that electronics were a risk for years and there have been exactly zero attacks against US-bound passenger flights originating at any of these airports?

I’ve actually seen it suggested that explosives are less a concern than the possibility of someone hacking into the plane’s flight controls, but if that were really a possibility then why would you allow any electronic devices on any plane originating at any airport?

Britain has now implemented a similar ban though from a smaller list of airports, and Canada is reportedly considering one as well, because security theater is remarkably appealing. Aside from making it just a little bit more unpleasant to fly to the US from the Middle East and North Africa, which may be the entire point, I’m not really sure what this accomplishes.

NO MESSAGE HERE

I’m sure this was all just an unfortunate coincidence:

An African trade summit organized by the University of Southern California ended up with zero Africans as they were all denied visas to enter the United States just days before the summit despite applying months ahead of time, in what organizers called an act of “discrimination against African nations.”

“Usually we get 40 percent that get rejected but the others come,” Mary Flowers, chair of the African Global Economic and Development Summit, told Voice of America in an interview Friday.

“This year it was 100 percent. Every delegation. And it was sad to see, because these people were so disheartened.”

If we’re going to adopt Deputy Leader Bannon’s philosophy that nobody from a majority non-white nation should be allowed to enter the United States, then let’s just say that officially. Get it on the record so people can know what they’re dealing with. Sure, the administration will lose in court, again, but they seem happy to keep trying new ways to achieve this goal even as the courts keep telling them “no.”

TILLERSON TRACKER

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See, Tillerson already met with this German dude that one time! What the hell more do you people want?

BREAKING BREAKING BREAKING IN UNPRECEDENTED INSULT, SECRETARY OF STATE MAY SNUB NATO SUMMIT TO MEET WITH CHINESE PRESIDE–you know what, folks? I’m not entirely sure about this one. Continue reading

Conflict update: March 16 2017

SYRIA

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The town of al-Jinah, just west of Aleppo (Google Maps)

“Dozens” (somewhere north of 50, but a final count probably won’t be available until at least tomorrow) of people were killed this evening when an airstrike hit a mosque in the town of al-Jinah, in western Aleppo province, at evening prayer. Upwards of 300 people may have been in the mosque when it was struck, so the death toll could be much higher than has already been reported. It’s still an open question who conducted the strike, but there’s a pretty good chance it was the US, as the Pentagon has already acknowledged carrying out an airstrike in the “vicinity” according to reporter Samuel Oakford:

A photo of missile debris reportedly taken from the scene supports this conclusion:

Oakford says that those US officials told him that the airstrike targeted an “al-Qaeda meeting place” near the mosque, but this is one of those cases where your intent doesn’t really matter. Bombing a place of worship is a war crime. There’s not much gray area there. If people are literally shooting at you from inside the building you might be able to justify something like this, but other than that it’s illegal, full stop.

If this does turn out to have been a US strike it would be, at best, Donald Trump’s second war crime in his two months on the job, after the botched special forces raid in Yemen that killed several Yemeni civilians. Its also reflective of the Trump administration’s overall plan to get more deeply involved in Syria, just not on the Assad-rebels front. The Pentagon is preparing to send 1000 more US troops to support the Syrian Democratic Forces in their eventual attack on Raqqa, as well as to serve as a deterrent against Turkey attacking the SDF. This strike would indicate a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda in Syria as well.

THAT’S SO GORKA

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Breitbart News editor turned key Trump national security adviser Sebastian Gorka (seen above, wearing his, uh, uniform) is being forced to deny that he’s a member of a Hungarian organization with ties to the Nazis. Several weeks ago, LobeLog’s Eli Clifton noticed that Gorka sometimes likes to wear a medal, which you can see in the photo above, from the Vitezi Rend. According to the State Department, and World War II/Hungarian historians, the Vitezi Rend organization, which was established after World War I to honor war veterans (well, non-Jewish war veterans), collaborated with the Nazis.

Gorka claimed that his father was “awarded” the medal for his time as a political prisoner in Communist Hungary in the 1950s, and that he (Sebastian) sometimes wears the medial to commemorate his father’s sacrifice, but that story doesn’t really check out. For one thing, only a Vitezi Rend member could get the medal, and for another, for Sebastian to wear it now means that he’s a member of the group himself. The Forward then dug into the Gorka story and reported on his ties to far-right antisemitic groups in Hungary, which prompted the Anti-Defamation League, last month, to demand that Gorka “disavow” those ties.

Then today happened. The Forward, building on their previous reporting, got leaders within Vitezi Rend to “confirm” that Gorka is an active member of their organization. This has prompted a number of human rights and Jewish groups to call for his resignation or firing, including the Anne Frank Center. What’s more, if Gorka really is a member of Vitezi Rend, his immigration status could be in question, according to the Forward:

Gorka’s membership in the organization — if these Vitézi Rend leaders are correct, and if Gorka did not disclose this when he entered the United States as an immigrant — could have implications for his immigration status. The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual specifies that members of the Vitézi Rend “are presumed to be inadmissible” to the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Gorka — who Vitézi Rend leaders say took a lifelong oath of loyalty to their group — did not respond to multiple emails sent to his work and personal accounts, asking whether he is a member of the Vitézi Rend and, if so, whether he disclosed this on his immigration application and on his application to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2012. The White House also did not respond to a request for comment.

The fact is that we don’t know whether Gorka disclosed his membership in Vitezi Rend to immigration authorities, but if he did it would be a simple thing to say so and put a big chunk of this story to bed. That he hasn’t done that is…suggestive. And the irony of a national security adviser in this administration playing fast and loose with the immigration process is nothing short of mind-boggling.

IRAQ

A combination of bad weather and stiff ISIS resistance continues to hamper Iraqi advances in western Mosul, but the operation is progressing slowly. Iraqi forces moved closer to the Nuri Mosque in Mosul’s Old City today, and made small gains in other parts of the city as well. While the fighting was going on the AP reported that US and Iraqi commanders seemed to have very different conceptions of how the operation is going, with the Americans estimating that about a third of western Mosul has been liberated and the Iraqis putting the figure at 60 percent. The simple explanation here is that the Iraqis are citing a figure that includes the Mosul airport and Ghazlani military base, places that aren’t really in the city proper but have nonetheless been included in the overall west Mosul offensive. The Americans are talking about the city itself. No scandal, just the Iraqis naturally putting the best possible spin on their progress to date.

Nineqah province’s Yazidi, Turkmen, and Assyrian Christian minorities are looking ahead to post-ISIS Iraq and pushing for an autonomous region for their groups, and other minorities who wish to join the effort. The region would be similar to the Kurdistan Regional Government, though none of these groups appear to have the KRG’s ultimate goal of independence in mind.

TURKEY

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heading to Turkey on March 30 to try to mend fences with Ankara, but he may want to prime himself for a chilly reception. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems hell bent on doing as much damage to Turkey’s relations with western countries as necessary to win nationalist support in the April 16th referendum, and to that end he’s once again threatening to abrogate the refugee deal he reached with the European Union last year. This is something Erdoğan seemingly two or three times a day at this point, but he never actually follows through on his threats. Much like his repeated promises to unleash economic hell on the Netherlands, on this Erdoğan’s bark is worse than his bite. He knows that Turkey needs Europe economically as much as Europe needs Turkey to act as a migrant bottleneck.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

A short time ago a rocket or rockets appear to have struck near Israeli settlements in the Jordan valley. Militants in Gaza often fire rockets into Israeli territory, but it’s not yet clear what happened in this case as far as I can tell.

Benjamin Netanyahu promised again today that he will build a brand new illegal West Bank settlement to replace the illegal Amona settlement that his government tore down last month. Bibi is nothing but generous with other people’s land.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said today that the Israeli military should send Lebanon “back to the Middle Ages” if and when another Israel-Lebanon war breaks out. Justifying his comments on the basis that Hezbollah is “embedded” in Lebanon’s security apparatus, Bennett said that Lebanon’s “infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases…should all be legitimate targets.” I wonder what kind of schools this guy runs.

EGYPT

Writing for the Carnegie Endowment, Maged Mandour looks at the civilian toll Egypt’s Sinai operations have taken:

In addition, the number of casualties during counterterrorism operations far exceeds the estimated number of Wilayat Sinai fighters. Since the start of the large counterterrorism “Operation Martyr’s Right” in September 2015, the Egyptian military has reported that 2,529 militants were killed and 2,481 others arrested as of December 2016. However, foreign intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Israel Defense Forces, estimated in mid-2016 that the size of Wilayat Sinai ranges from several hundred to a thousand militants, far below the numbers of reported killings. This disconnect can be explained by faulty intelligence or by inflating of the number of militants killed to include civilian deaths among militant deaths. The Egyptian government has a history of attacking civilians mistaken for militants. Local sources in Sinai back up the existence of such incidents, including an invented attack on a police station in Sheikh Zuweid that was used to justify the deaths of civilians in September 2013.

The counterinsurgency operation has increasingly been undifferentiated in its targeting of the local population. On January 13, five local youth were assassinated who were accused of being part of an attack on a police checkpoint that claimed the lives of eight policemen. In response, the local Bedouin tribes around the city of al-Arish launched a limited civil disobedience campaign to placate the public, refusing to pay water and electricity bills on February 11. The families claimed that at the time of the attack on the checkpoint, the five youth were already being held by state security forces, specifically the national security agency. This is not the first time that Egyptian security forces have been accused of executing defendants already in custody at the time of their alleged crimes, the most notable example of which is the case of Arab Sharkas. Six men were executed after being accused of killing soldiers during a Wilayat Sinai raid on the village of Arab Sharkas in March 2014, even though there was strong evidence that they were under arrest at the time the raid was committed.

SAUDI ARABIA

King Salman’s visit to China has paid off to the tune of $65 billion in new economic deals between the two nations. The countries reportedly agreed to deepen their ties on fossil fuel and renewable energy, with China possibly purchasing a stake in state-run Saudi oil giant Aramco before it goes public. Riyadh desperately needs new investment to boost its stagnating economy at a time when oil prices are low and look to remain relatively low for the foreseeable future. Salman also said he hopes China will increase its political and diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, but Chinese President Xi Jinping sounded noncommittal on that front.

IRAN

The deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Motahhari, is demanding that Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi explain a recent spate of arrests of prominent reform activists in the lead up to May’s presidential election. Motahhari is furthermore threatening to begin impeachment proceedings against Alavi if he refuses to explain the situation to parliament. Alavi, as intelligence minister, answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not to President Hassan Rouhani nor, for that matter, to parliament, so if Motahhari were to attempt to follow through on this threat it could precipitate a significant government crisis.

KASHMIR

The Indian government seems to be moving quickly to approve and start work on six hydropower projects in Kashmir. Nice, renewable energy, am I right? Well, hold up a second. While there’s a lot of money to be made in these projects, they all happen to involve tributaries of the Indus River whose waters eventually flow into Pakistan. So in addition to generating electricity, these six dams, once built, could conceivably allow the Indian government to, I don’t know, artificially cause a famine in Pakistan by depriving it of enough water for irrigation. A water war involving two nuclear-armed states sounds like it might not be the best thing for the environment (or, really, anything else), but maybe that’s just me.

I’m no civil engineer or whatever, but it’s likely that these projects could be undertaken in such a way as to alleviate Pakistani concerns over water flow through the Indus valley. It’s also likely that the Indian government is going to use these dams as leverage to try to get Pakistan to do more to tamp down Kashmiri separatists.

MYANMAR

A commission set up by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, charged with investigating the plight of the Rohingya community, said today that the Myanmar government must allow some 120,000 Rohingya to leave the decrepit internal refugee camps where they’ve been forced to live for the past five years. Annan’s commission further called upon the government to ensure that those Rohingya are guaranteed security and a way to make a living at the sites to which they return once they’ve left the camps.

PHILIPPINES

A Filipino legislator has filed impeachment charges against President Rodrigo Duterte. There’s about as much chance of this going anywhere as there is of me being appointed the next FBI Director, but hey, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

NORTH KOREA

This sounds promising:

The Trump administration made a clear break Thursday with diplomatic efforts to talk North Korea out of a nuclear confrontation, bringing the United States and its Asian allies closer to a military response than at any point in more than a decade.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that 20 years of trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program had failed and that he was visiting Asia “to exchange views on a new approach.”

Soon after Tillerson’s remarks, in a sign of mounting tensions, the North Korean Embassy held an extraordinary news conference in Beijing to blame the potential for nuclear war on the United States while vowing that its homegrown nuclear testing program will continue in self-defense.

We’re fast approaching the point where the only way to keep Donald Trump’s promise that North Korean will never develop an ICBM will be to strike the country’s missile facilities, which is a scenario that probably won’t end well. Absent diplomacy, it’s hard to see where else this situation can go.

SOMALIA

Somali pirates released the oil tanker they’d hijacked a couple of days ago, along with the crew, after a long day that included a gun battle with Somali naval forces and negotiations with tribal elders on shore. They reportedly agreed to release the ship without being paid a ransom after they’d learned that it had been hired by Somali businessmen.

UKRAINE

Kiev imposed sanctions on a number of Russian-owned banks today, preventing their Ukrainian branches from moving money out of the country.

GREECE

A Greek group calling itself “Conspiracy of Fire Cellsclaimed responsibility for sending a letter bomb to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble on Wednesday, thereby also implicating themselves in a letter bombing at the International Monetary Fund’s Paris headquarters today. The German bomb was intercepted, but the Paris bomb did injure the person who opened it. That bomb was apparently sent from Greece, hence suspicion falling on this “Fire Cells” group.

BALKANS

Johannes Hahn, the European Union official in charge of bringing new countries into the bloc, spoke to the prime ministers of Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia in Sarajevo today. His message? Settle your various internal and external beefs so that you can join the EU. The problem with that message? Between Brexit and the rise of anti-expansion right-wing governments in EU states like Poland and Hungary, there’s little reason for any of the six Balkan states to believe they’re ever going to join the EU no matter what they do. The carrot only works if the horse knows it’s eventually going to get to eat the damn thing.

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Conflict update: March 2-5 2017

GOVERNMENT OF THE MARKS

There’s long been this narrative on the right that America spends vast sums of money helping feed and clothe the poor around the world while our own people/military/deficit starve/wastes away/balloons. This is, of course, a giant pile of bullshit, maybe the most bullshit of all the bullshit stories the right has fed the American people in my lifetime. The ubiquity of this narrative, and the inability/unwillingness of politicians on the center-left to counter it, leads to nonsense like this:

A large majority of the public overestimates the share of the federal budget that is spent on foreign aid. Just 3 percent of Americans correctly state that 1 percent or less of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, and nearly half (47 percent) believe that share is greater than 20 percent. On average, Americans say spending on foreign aid makes up 31 percent of the federal budget.

The Republicans who have invested heavily in selling this narrative to the American people, of course, know they’re shoveling bullshit. Or at least they did. The Republican Party that used to peddle lies to their marks has now been replaced by a Republican Party made up of the marks themselves, and we just elected one of them president. So this is unsurprising:

The White House budget director confirmed Saturday that the Trump administration will propose “fairly dramatic reductions” in the U.S. foreign aid budget later this month.

Reuters and other news outlets reported earlier this week that the administration plans to propose to Congress cuts in the budgets for the U.S. State Department and Agency for International Development by about one third.

“We are going to propose to reduce foreign aid and we are going to propose to spend that money here,” White House Office of Management Budget director Mick Mulvaney told Fox News on Saturday, adding the proposed cuts would include “fairly dramatic reductions in foreign aid.”

Mulvaney said the cuts in foreign aid would help the administration fund a proposed $54 billion expansion of the U.S. military budget.

“The overriding message is fairly straightforward: less money spent overseas means more money spent here,” said Mulvaney, a former South Carolina Representative.

That’s nice. Except we’re not spending that money “here.” We’re “drastically” cutting the pittance we already spend on trying to make life a little less shitty in poorer countries and repurposing the “savings” toward the shit we use to fucking bomb those same countries because that’s how America gets its kicks. The fact that cuts in foreign aid will probably make America less secure, thus requiring more military spending, is a feature, not a bug.

Trump’s budget is likely DOA in Congress, thankfully. But as a window into how these people view the world it’s…well, I was going to say “troubling,” but that would suggest that it’s not entirely in keeping with everything else about Donald Trump.

Anyway, that was the big Trump news this weekend, I’m sure there wasn’t anything else.

IRAQ

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Conflict update: January 14 2017

Iraq

Iraqi commanders are saying that their forces have seized control of Mosul University from ISIS, a major step toward the full liberation of eastern Mosul. ISIS had been using the university as a base of operations, so now that’s denied to them, and the campus sits in a tactically significant position overlooking a big chunk of the eastern bank of the Tigris. The university operation went a little faster than I would have guessed, in part because the campus is devoid of civilians, which allowed the Iraqis and their coalition air cover to go a little more all-out than they’ve been doing when fighting in more populated areas of the city. That’s also meant that the burden on field hospitals on the outskirts of the city has been lessened over the past couple of days.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has been working on something that could do more for Iraqi security than anything short of liberating Mosul: stabilizing relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Baghdad offered Jaafari as a mediator to the Iranians last year after Riyadh broke off diplomatic ties between the two countries, and he’s apparently been carrying messages between the two governments. His efforts may have helped secure a minor breakthrough earlier this week, when the Iranians and Saudis agreed to discuss arrangements for Iranian pilgrims on this year’s Hajj.

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Ibrahim al-Jaafari (R) sitting next to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a memorial service for former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani earlier this week (Wikimedia)

Syria

The Syrian High Negotiations Committee announced today that it supports the peace talks scheduled to happen in Astana, Kazakhstan, starting on January 23. They said this despite the fact that new fighting in Idlib and near Damascus continued to put the lie to the notion that the country is under a ceasefire leading up to the talks, and also despite the fact that you’d be hard pressed to find five people currently in Syria who give two shits what the High Negotiations Committee has to say about pretty much anything. The HNC is supposed to be the main political body underlying the rebellion, but the main groups doing most of the rebel fighting at this point are forces–Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, etc.–that have nothing to do with the HNC. Their endorsement of these talks means very little in any practical sense.

Speaking of the Astana talks, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed today that the United States has been invited to participate after all.

To the east, ISIS has launched a major attack on the city of Deir Ezzor, which drew a response from the Syrian air force. Deir Ezzor is the only city in eastern Syria still under government control, but it’s been besieged by ISIS off and on for a couple of years now. It’s likely that fighters who fled Mosul are part of the renewed ISIS offensive here.

Israel-Palestine

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Philippine President Dexter

Here’s a fun story. Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, is a bit of a controversial character. One particular reason why he’s controversial is because he has this little policy about drug users, which is that he feels it’s OK for people to just kill them, whatever, no big deal. Last week, Duterte said something really interesting:

On Monday, Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, bragged about killing people. He said that when he was a city mayor, he used to hunt suspects on his motorcycle, shooting people on the spot. The goal, he said, was to encourage police officers to do the same.

“In Davao, I used to do it personally. Just to show to the [police] that if I can do it, why can’t you?” he said.

“I [would] go around in Davao with a motorcycle … and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also. I was really looking for an encounter to kill,” he said.

Ah, hey, OK. He was just a big city mayor, riding around on his motorcycle, looking for people to kill. As you’ll do. Duterte’s handlers, who are underpaid no matter how much they’re making, scrambled to argue that he was “exaggerating” (maybe he only wounded the people he shot?), but, I mean, this is kind of a big admission. The former mayor of Davao and current President of the Philippines says he’s a serial killer, that’s going to raise some eyebrows.

One eyebrow that has been raised belongs to Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, who thinks, maybe, that somebody should investigate Duterte’s claims. Duterte’s response?

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines called the United Nations’ human rights chief an “idiot” on Thursday, days after the diplomat suggested that Mr. Duterte be investigated for murder.

You there in the United Nations, you do not know diplomacy,” Mr. Duterte said. “You do not know how to behave, to be an employee of the United Nations. You do not talk to me like that, you son of a bitch.”

Yes, clearly anybody who suggests that a confessed murderer should be investigated for murder is an idiot. Duterte also said he would “burn down the United Nations” if he goes there, and, hey, why not add arson to the list?

Duterte’s new kick is his plan to ban online gambling in the Philippines, so if you’re a Filipino who likes to play online poker or whatever you might want to get your affairs in order. You’d hate to be sitting in an internet cafe holding a full house, see your president come through the door packing an AR-15, and realize you never bothered to draw up a will.

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

Conflict update, December 8

Syria

aleppo

The situation in Aleppo as of December 4–green areas under rebel control, red under government control, those dull yellow areas are the current frontlines (Wikimedia | Kami888)

According to Russia, the Syrian army has halted offensive actions in Aleppo and is focusing on evacuating civilians. Which may come as news to the rebels, who continue to report that the fighting is ongoing. The army has captured Aleppo’s Old City and rejected a rebel call for a five day ceasefire to allow evacuations. It’s not clear whether this halt, assuming it’s real, is related to those ongoing talks between the Russians and Americans on plans to try to get the rebels out of Aleppo instead of the civilians, but so far there’s been no indication of a breakthrough there. The government expects Aleppo’s fall to lead to a “domino effect” that will bury the rest of the rebellion, but the likelihood that the rebels will just surrender rather than transition into something more like a guerrilla resistance seems slim.

After going several days without any strikes, the Turkish air force struck a number of ISIS targets around al-Bab yesterday, killing a reported 23 fighters.

There are signs that Egypt may be considering sending forces to Syria to aid Assad, though so far Cairo is denying it. Sisi, as a Sunni and someone who relies to a significant extent on financial aid from some of Assad’s biggest foes (the Gulf monarchies), seems like a candidate to send aid to the rebels if anything. But Sisi also recognizes the value of helping out a fellow military dictator against Islamist rebels, given his own circumstances, and he and Assad seem to have a rapport. The fact that Riyadh hasn’t been making with the regular aid lately probably has Sisi feeling a little salty as well. Still, take this with a grain of salt; if anything, this may simply be Sisi’s way of getting King Salman’s attention.

Iraq

A couple of days ago Iraqi forces announced that they’d made huge, sudden gains in Aleppo, moving close to the Tigris river and seizing al-Salam Hospital. Unfortunately, the Iraqis appear to have gotten too greedy, and yesterday a failure to consolidate their gains turned the hospital into an ISIS trap:

A few hours later, as the sun set Tuesday evening, the trap was sprung. First came the suicide car bombs, and then the hospital was surrounded by hundreds of militants firing bursts of heavy machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

“We thought we were going to die, all we could think about was saving our lives,” Pvt. Mithad Abdulzahra of the Iraqi army’s 9th Division said later, as he recovered in a hospital bed in the nearby city of Irbil from gunshots that shattered his right arm. The IS fighters eventually fought their way inside the al-Salam hospital. Of the 100 or so Iraqi soldiers trapped there, nearly all were killed or wounded, he said.

Survivors were eventually able to retreat, but such is the problem with an operation that is taking longer than the politicians would like it to take. There’s pressure to advance too quickly, which is when things can go very wrong.

The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, is calling for an investigation into Iraqi airstrikes on the western town of al-Qaim yesterday that reportedly killed civilians. How many civilians were killed is a matter of some dispute. The government says it had credible intelligence that the houses it targeted were full of ISIS fighters.

To the west, the Popular Mobilization Units are struggling to maintain control over the road from Mosul to Tal Afar, and are being left to twist in the wind a bit as an Iraqi government force is assembled to enter Tal Afar itself. The PMU can’t attack Tal Afar without risking a Turkish response. Speaking of the western front, Reuters reported yesterday that the Iraqi government’s initial plan for the Mosul operation was to leave the west open so that civilians could flee Mosul and any ISIS fighters who were less than committed to the cause might have an escape corridor to Syria. The goal, after all, was to take back Mosul, not kill all the ISIS fighters there, so leaving them a way out could potentially have been pretty smart.

Well, as it turns out, Iran, Russia, and France objected–Iran and Russia to the idea that these fighters would be allowed to flee into Syria, and France to the idea that fighters could escape Mosul and eventually make their way to, say, France, to commit terror attacks. So the plan was changed to have the PMU close off the western route, and consequently hundreds of thousands of civilians are stuck inside the city and ISIS is committed to fighting to the death because they can’t really do anything else. On the plus side, I guess, the encirclement of the city has opened up new economic opportunities for people willing to smuggle civilians (the ones who can afford to pay, anyway) out of the city. Hilariously (in a morbid way), the smugglers may very well be ISIS fighters. The True Believers of ISIS literally never miss an opportunity to make some cash.

War on Terror

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Somebody else wants to leave the ICC. Who it is will totally…not surprise you in any way.

With South Africa, Burundi, The Gambia, and now Russia abandoning the International Criminal Court, who will be next to jump ship?

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Hey, look, it’s Derpy Harry!

Yes, everybody’s favorite potty-mouthed, mass murdering head of state, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, is pretty sure he wants out of the ICC too:

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin removed Russia’s signature from the founding treaty of the ICC, which it never joined. Duterte said he might consider the more drastic step of quitting a court the Philippines joined in 2011.

“They are useless, those in the international criminal (court). They (Russia) withdrew. I might follow. Why? Only the small ones like us are battered,” Duterte said before his departure for Lima to attend an Asia-Pacific summit.

Why does Duterte want to leave the ICC, you ask? Uh, did you not read the “mass murdering” thing up there?

An ICC prosecutor last month said the Hague-based tribunal may have jurisdiction to prosecute the perpetrators of killings in the Philippines’ drug war, in which more than 2,400 have been killed.

The one thing the ICC has going for it is that most of the countries abandoning it are doing so for purely and obviously self-interested reasons. Duterte doesn’t want to be investigated for organizing hit squads to execute weed smokers. Putin doesn’t want to be investigated for annexing Crimea. The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh didn’t want to be investigated for his lousy human rights record. Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza is already under investigation on account of how he keeps killing people in order to keep himself in power. So they’ve all got selfish reasons to want to withdraw from the court. But South Africa is a different story, and that’s the withdrawal that really doesn’t bode well for the ICC long-term. Well, none of the withdrawals bode well for the ICC long-term; if every country you investigate will just quit the court, then pretty soon you’re probably going to stop investigating countries. But South Africa is the first country that opted to leave the court despite having no immediate reason to do so.

TIP JAR