Conflict update: March 23 2017

UNITED KINGDOM

The man who killed four people yesterday, when he plowed into dozens of people on London’s Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer and attempting to get into parliament, has been identified as 52 year old British citizen Khalid Masood. He was apparently known to British security services, who interviewed him several years ago in connection with a “violent extremism” investigation, but was not on anybody’s radar in recent years for reasons that British authorities are going to have to investigate. He’d also apparently spent time in jail in the past on, among other things, “assault” charges, and one wonders if any of those were of the domestic variety.

Masood was reportedly radicalized by ISIS, which has predictably claimed credit for his attack despite the fact that it almost certainly had nothing directly to do with it.

BELGIUM

A French citizen of North African descent was arrested today in Antwerp on suspicion that he was attempting to drive his car into a crowd of people. Ultra-low tech “weapons” like vehicles and knives have become the lone wolf weapon of choice in Europe, as yesterday’s Westminster attack illustrates, and this is roughly the one year anniversary of the Brussels Airport attack, so the timing is auspicious.

SURE, WHATEVER

The Trump administration’s Director of World War II Reenactments, Sebastian Gorka, had A Thought about the terror attack in London yesterday:

A Trump administration official seized on the Westminster terror attack to justify the president’s blocked travel ban, which targets refugees and immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries, despite confirmation that the attacker was neither an immigrant nor a refugee.

Sebastian Gorka, a national security aide to the president and a former editor for the far-right news site Breitbart, told Fox News’s conservative talk show host Sean Hannity on Wednesday evening that the attack in Westminster, that left three people and the attacker dead, “should be a surprise to nobody”.

“The war is real and that’s why executive orders like President Trump’s travel moratorium are so important,” Gorka said.

The word “like” is doing a hell of a lot of work in that last bit there, because the actual Trump travel ban, had it been implemented in the UK, would have done nothing at all to prevent Masood’s attack, since Masood was a UK citizen. Of course that doesn’t matter–Gorka is just capitalizing on a tragedy to drum up support for his boss’s next attempt to block Muslims from coming into the US. He’s not interested in facts or accuracy, or even really basic human decency.

IRAQ

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Conflict update: March 22 2017

I’m going to be out this evening, so please enjoy (?) this shortened and probably too-early roundup of the day’s worst news.

UNITED KINGDOM

Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge under better circumstances (Wikimedia | Martin Dunst)

This is still very much a developing story, but at least four people, including the attacker, have been killed in London in what seems to have been an attempted attack on the House of Commons. A man drove his vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge this afternoon (timeline), killing two people, before killing a police officer outside parliament with a knife. He was then shot and killed by police. More than 20 other people were injured in the incident, some seriously. Authorities are understandably treating this as a terrorist incident until proven otherwise, but at this point I haven’t yet seen any information about the attacker. I’ll have more on this, but probably not until tomorrow.

NORTH KOREA

This morning’s missile test does indeed appear to have been a failure. The missile reportedly exploded “seconds” after launch, which raises the possibility that a US cyber attack could have been the cause (apparently the US has been working on disrupting these tests immediately after launch). It’s not clear what kind of missile was being tested.

ИСТОРИЯ О ПОЛЬСКОМ МАНАФОРТЕ

So, which Donald Trump associate is having his uncomfortable connections to Vladimir Putin uncovered today? Why it’s none other than Paul Manafort, who briefly served as Trump’s campaign chairman back when the idea of “President Trump” was still just a gleam in Robby Mook’s eye. According to the AP, in 2006 Manafort landed himself a sweet gig working for a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, in which he was supposed to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.” This revelation could be personally very bad for Manafort, who apparently neglected to register as a foreign agent with the DOJ as one is supposed to do when representing foreign interests in the US. It could also be damaging to Trump inasmuch as Manafort and the Trump administration have been insisting that he never did any work for the Russian government–which could still be technically true, mind you, but maybe only technically.

Manafort insists that everything he did for Deripaska was totally above board and didn’t involve any lobbying for Russian government interests. It was so above board, in fact, that Manafort didn’t conduct this particular bit of business under the banner of his regular consulting company, Davis Manafort, but instead under another company he established in 1992 that didn’t have any kind of public profile. As one does with reputable work.

SO THAT’S WHO WE SHOULD BLAME

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Conflict update: March 14 2017

DONALD TRUMP AND THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

According to Foreign Policy, nominal Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter recently to a group of nonprofits warning that the Trump administration is prepared to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council unless “considerable reform” is undertaken in that body. Tillerson’s letter highlighted the presence on the UNHRC of such human rights luminaries as Saudi Arabia and China (and, uh, the United States, while we’re at it), but that’s all smokescreen. By “reform,” what the Trump administration–and, indeed, much of the US foreign policy community–means is “lay off Israel.”

While I take a backseat to nobody in my loathing of Israel’s human rights record, which deserves all the criticism it gets, these folks do have a point about the UNHRC–or, rather, they have part of a point. Something like half of the resolutions issued by the UNHRC since it was formed in 2006, and nearly a third of its special sessions over that time, have had to do with Israel. As shitty as Israel’s human rights record is, that’s disproportionate. Of course, the Trump/Republican solution to this problem is, essentially, that the UNHRC should cease to exist, or at least be less active with regards to Israel. My solution would be for the UNHRC to be at least as active on Israel as it is now, but also be way more active when it comes to, well, everybody else (no government in the world actually cares about human rights, is the real problem here).

But while the Trump administration’s instinct is to withdraw from any international body that doesn’t toe the line, denying them that all-important TRUMP Brand stamp of approval or whatever, if their aim is to steer the UNHRC in a different direction then quitting is exactly the wrong way to do so. The Obama administration, being thoroughly a creature of the Washington foreign policy establishment despite its occasional tepid criticisms of that establishment, also objected to the HRC’s overemphasis on Israel, so it joined the council (the Bush administration refused to be part of it) and, lo and behold, was able to use America’s international heft to push the council to focus attention on Syria, Iran, and nonstate actors like ISIS. If the Trump administration follows through on its threat to withdraw from the council, then it will be giving up its ability to influence what the council does.

I’m torn in cases like this between my instinct, which is that the administration doesn’t think through the ramifications of these kinds of decisions and/or doesn’t really give a shit about them, and my skepticism, which tells me that they must surely realize what they’re doing and are acting purposefully to try to wreck as many international institutions as they can. Of course there’s no reason it couldn’t be both–no presidential administration is a monolith.

“MAD DOG” “REASONABLE CLIMATE CHANGE THINKER” MATTIS

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Conflict update: February 23 2017

LIKE NO OTHER

I think somebody needs to brief Dumbo again:

“I am the first one that would like to see … nobody have nukes, but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country, we’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.

“It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” Trump said.

Russia has 7,300 warheads and the United States, 6,970, according to the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-nuclear group.

“The history of the Cold War shows us that no one comes out ‘on the top of the pack’ of an arms race and nuclear brinkmanship,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the independent Arms Control Association non-profit group.

“Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by another nuclear-armed country,’ he said.

IRAQ

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Conflict update: February 21 2017

Iran

ebrahim_raisi_in_9th_day_rally_01

Ebrahim Raisi (Wikimedia | Meghdad Madadi)

It finally looks like a major principalist candidate might challenge Hassan Rouhahi in May’s presidential election. Ebrahim Raisi was appointed last year to run Astan Quds Razavi, the charitable foundation that manages the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, and that makes him one of the most important religious figures in Iran. Only 56 (that’s practically 26 in the context of hardline Iranian political figures), he’s been mentioned as a possible successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader, but suddenly there’s some momentum behind him as a presidential candidate. Raisi says he’ll only run if he’s the consensus choice among Iranian conservatives, which is a tall order but, for someone of his stature, isn’t out of the question. Raisi isn’t Qasem Soleimani, but he would be a difficult challenge for Rouhani.

Iranian and Turkish diplomats are continuing to trade barbs over Syria and regional policy. Meanwhile, Khamenei is throwing red meat at Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu by encouraging another Intifada in occupied Palestine. I have no doubt he’s doing it to provoke exactly the reaction that Trump and Netanyahu will give him.

Iraq

battle_of_mosul_2016-2017

The Battle of Mosul, through earlier today (Wikimedia | Kami888)

Iraqi forces are staging for their big push to capture Mosul airport and the nearby Ghazlani military base. Yesterday they captured the village of Albu Saif, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the airport, and that’s become their staging area. Iraqi commanders don’t seem to be expecting much ISIS resistance at the airport–because it’s not near any civilian areas, coalition and Iraqi air forces have been striking it at will, so the thinking is they will have worn its defenses down. Once the airport is in Iraqi hands the next step will be to repair it as quickly as possible so that it can be used to provide close air support for the rest of the operation.

Joel Wing has been tracking the Iraqi government’s statements about the west Mosul phase pretty regularly at Musings on Iraq. During the lull after east Mosul was fully liberated, Iraqi commanders and politicians have been telling anybody who would listen that ISIS was spent, broken, that it wouldn’t be able to put up a serious fight in west Mosul. Now that the west Mosul operation has started, of course, the tune is changing.

Syria

Reuters reported today that the CIA suspended its program to supply, pay, and arm rebels in northwestern Syria last month, when they began fighting among themselves. Apparently the risk that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham might seize American weaponry in battle was deemed too great to allow the program to continue, though the Agency didn’t seem to worry too much about the risk that rebels would simply, you know, give those weapons to JFS back when everybody was playing for the same team.

The UN expects this week’s peace talks in Geneva to focus on a “political transition process” rather than on “political transition.” These are completely different topics because the UN desperately needs them to be. Apparently the addition of the word “process” is supposed to make it seem less like the UN is trying to usher Bashar al-Assad out of power and more like everybody in Geneva will all be just neutrally shooting the shit about civics, or something.

The Syrian Democratic Forces reportedly made a major incursion into Deir Ezzor province today, driving ISIS out of a dozen villages there. I wouldn’t expect the SDF to move to relieve besieged Deir Ezzor itself–their focus is still on encircling Raqqa. Speaking of the SDF, or more specifically its Kurdish YPG component, the saga of Roy Gutman’s investigation into the YPG continues at The Nation. Today they published a criticism of his reporting from human rights activist Meredith Tax, along with Gutman’s response. Tax’s critique isn’t especially strong, but Gutman’s work still suffers from its sourcing, which for many of its more provocative claims is largely the Syrian government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, both of which have major axes to grind with the YPG.

Turkey

If we can go by statements made by Turkish officials, over 550,000 new refugees have crossed into Turkey in just the past five months. That’s a staggering figure that may be costing the Turkish government more than half a billion dollars each month. Which is all to say that you can kind of see why they invaded northern Syria a few months back.

The predominantly Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has applied to the European Court of Human Rights to hear a case regarding the arrest of its leaders by Turkish authorities in November. Chief among HDP’s arguments is that the ongoing imprisonment of its leaders constitutes an effort by the Turkish government to suppress opposition to April’s referendum on changing the Turkish constitution to increase President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s powers. And, indeed, HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş isn’t going to be given a court hearing until almost two weeks after the referendum, even though he will have been in custody for five months by that point.

Jordan

Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met in Cairo today and, afterward, issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue. Or, in other words, they announced that they’re not swapping land with anybody, thank you very much.

Speaking of Syrian refugees, Jordan is dealing with the challenge of accounting for hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have left destitution in refugee camps along the Syrian border and are now living in Jordan undocumented. They’re understandably reluctant to come forward because they’ll likely be deported back into Syria. The Jordanian government could solve much of this problem by allowing refugees to work legally in the vicinity of the camps, but so far it’s been unwilling to take that step.

Egypt

The Egyptian government is reaching out to Hamas, offering to relax restrictions on trade and movement across the border between Egypt and Gaza in return for Hamas’s help dealing with militants in Sinai. Sisi’s government has been mostly hostile toward Hamas since it came to power, since Hamas, as a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, was very friendly with the Morsi government that Sisi overthrew. While Gazans could certainly use the boost in food and supplies coming over a less restrictive Egyptian border, I want to note Sisi’s impeccable logic here. In order to try to tamp down a Sinai insurgency that was massively exacerbated by Sisi’s decision to overthrow and then brutally suppress Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, an insurgency that could probably still be weakened if he were to stop suppressing Egypt’s MB, Sisi is now making concessions to Gaza’s Muslim Brotherhood branch.

Azerbaijan

President Ilham Aliyev appointed a new vice president today, and after what must have been a grueling search process his pick was…his wife, Mehriban! Congratulations? She’s now in line to succeed Ilham if for some reason he ever is defeated in a free and fair election decides to step down. Now I know what you’re thinking–you’re worried that people might have a problem with a president making his wife his vice-president, but don’t worry! Aliyev preemptively arrested just about anybody who might have had a problem with this appointment! Whew, I was worried there for a second!

Pakistan

At least six people were killed today in a suicide bombing targeting a court building in the northern district of Charsadda. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility.

Myanmar

Reuters is reporting that the Myanmar government is investigating the suspicious deaths of two Rohingya while in police custody in October. That may not seem like that big a deal, but it’s the first evidence that Naypyidaw is prepared to maybe, possibly, acknowledge any misconduct by its security forces with respect to the Rohingya.

Indonesia

From the “This Is Exactly What We Need Right Now” file, Saudi King Salman (or, well, somebody in the Saudi palace) is planning a visit to Indonesia for the king and his 1500 person entourage in March. This will be the first time a Saudi ruler has visited Indonesia in almost 50 years. Jakarta is hoping the visit will herald the onset of billions of dollars in Saudi investment. The arrival of the Wahhabi king and his massive Wahhabi retinue will come just a month before the runoff in the Jakarta governor’s race, in which the Muslim candidate is now feverishly trying to deny that he’s been pandering to Islamists in an effort to knock off the Christian incumbent. I’m sure that won’t prove to be a volatile combo.

South China Sea

China is predictably having a bit of a tantrum over the presence of the USS Carl Vinson carrier group in the South China Sea. The rhetoric coming from Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as the fact that this patrol comes a scant month into Donald Trump’s presidency, and of course the fact that Steve Bannon thinks we ought to go to war with China, suggests that this administration is going to be more…let’s say proactive, about asserting navigation rights in the SCS than the Obama administration was. And on that subject, Pentagon officials are telling Reuters that they believe China has started putting surface-to-air missile batteries on the disputed Spratly Islands.

Malaysia

The investigation into the murder of Kim Jong-nam continues to escalate. Now Malaysian authorities say they’ve identified two new suspects in the case–and one of them works at the North Korean embassy. Yikes.

Libya

The UN says that the 2015 conviction of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi on war crimes charges was illegitimate and wants him handed over to the International Criminal Court. Gaddafi, who was sentenced to death by firing squad in that trial, is being held in the western Libyan city of Zintan, outside the control of either of the two factions vying for control of the country, so he’s presumably not going anywhere anytime soon.

Nigeria

A curfew has been put into effect in the southern part of Kaduna state, in the center of the country, after a new round of ethnic violence killed 14 people on Monday.

Guinea

The government and teachers unions reached a deal to end a strike that led to protests in which five people were killed yesterday, but unfortunately two more people were killed today after the deal was announced.

South Sudan

President Salva Kiir has promised that aid organizations trying to reach people stricken by famine in South Sudan will have “unimpeded access.” We’ll see.

South Africa

A wave of anti-immigrant violence targeting Nigerians has hit Pretoria in recent days, after similar violence struck a suburb of Johannesburg a few weeks ago. This has prompted the Nigerian government to appeal to South Africa and the African Union to take measures to protect its nationals living in South Africa.

Cyprus

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said today that Turkey must reserve the right to intervene to defend Turkish Cypriots, which, of course, is the kind of thing that makes reunification less likely.

Ukraine

The secretary general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Lamberto Zannier, says the Ukraine ceasefire “doesn’t look too good.” It doesn’t seem like there’s been much new fighting over the last day or so, but progress on moving heavy weapons off the front lines has been slow or non-existent, which suggests the ceasefire isn’t going to stick. Kiev is calling for new sanctions to punish Moscow for its decision to begin honoring unofficial travel documents issued by the separatist “governments” in the Donbas. Meanwhile, pro-Russia Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Artemenko, the one with the shady possibly connections to Donald Trump, is apparently headed to the US to push his peace deal, the one Russia has already called “absurd” and that the Ukrainian government doesn’t even seem willing to acknowledge.

Sweden

Maybe Donald Trump’s bizarre pronouncements are better understood as prophecy than as news:

Just two days after President Trump provoked widespread consternation by seeming to imply, incorrectly, that immigrants had perpetrated a recent spate of violence in Sweden, riots broke out in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in the northern suburbs of the country’s capital, Stockholm.

The neighborhood, Rinkeby, was the scene of riots in 2010 and 2013, too. And in most ways, what happened Monday night was reminiscent of those earlier bouts of anger. Swedish police apparently made an arrest on drug charges at about 8 p.m. near the Rinkeby station. For reasons not yet disclosed by the police, word of the arrest prompted youths to gather.

Over four hours, the crowd burned about half a dozen cars, vandalized several shopfronts and threw rocks at police. Police spokesman Lars Bystrom confirmed to Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper that an officer fired shots at a rioter but missed. A photographer for the newspaper was attacked and beaten by more than a dozen men and his camera was stolen.

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Conflict update: February 18-19 2017

Trumplandia

Say, this seems nice:

On any given weekend, you might catch President Trump’s son-in-law and top Mideast dealmaker, Jared Kushner, by the beachside soft-serve ice cream machine, or his reclusive chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, on the dining patio. If you are lucky, the president himself could stop by your table for a quick chat. But you will have to pay $200,000 for the privilege — and the few available spots are going fast.

Virtually overnight, Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s members-only Palm Beach, Fla., club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of American government, a so-called winter White House where Mr. Trump has entertained a foreign head of state, health care industry executives and other presidential guests.

But Mr. Trump’s gatherings at Mar-a-Lago — he arrived there on Friday afternoon, his third weekend visit in a row — have also created an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.

I’m not going to pretend that the wealthy and powerful never had special access to the levers of power in DC before this, but as with so many things about Trump, he seems to have taken the grossest parts of American politics and made them grosser.

On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the Munich Security Conference and tried to assure the attendees that the Trump administration’s commitment to NATO is “unwavering.” Reuters, at least, suggested that he was received tepidly at best, though the NATO bit got him some applause.

Paul Pillar wrote a typically insightful piece a few days ago about the utter confusion surrounding Trump’s Israel-Palestine policy, and what it says about Trump’s foreign policy more generally.

We’re Still All Gonna Die

Because it’s the one part of the government that Donald Trump and Paul Ryan can’t be seen to contradict or gut, the one part of the government that will definitely be allowed to continue research into climate change and its impacts is the Pentagon. Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis, ironically for this cabinet, was actually pretty forward thinking on renewable fuels and the national security implications of climate change when he was a flag officer.

The War on Terror (Old School Edition)

Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind radical Muslim cleric whose involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and subsequent terror plots in the United States earned him a life sentence in federal prison, completed his sentence when he died on Saturday morning. He was 78 and, really, won’t be missed.

Seriously, fuck that guy.

Iraq

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Conflict update: February 9 2017

Just by way of an update, there’s a pretty good chance this place will be quiet tomorrow. I’m traveling again and, well, I might just feel like crashing afterwards. That’s also why this is posting a few hours earlier than I usually post these updates.

#ThanksTrump

As the Trump administration decides how to proceed now that its Muslim immigration ban looks truly kaput, it’s also preparing to begin the mass deportations called for in its other big immigration EO (the one about the “wall”). The Intercept has some excellent reporting on what’s about to happen and the ramifications that it will entail.

In a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump reportedly referred to the 2010 New START nuclear arms control treaty as a “bad deal” for the US and refused Putin’s offer to extend it. OK, I mean, Trump is entitled to his opinion, but I have to say I’d feel better about this if sources who were involved in the call didn’t later report that, after Putin brought New START up, Trump had to “ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was.” Or, also, if Trump hadn’t made it abundantly clear during the 2016 campaign that he had no idea what New START was or what it did, despite his firm conviction that it was a terrible deal.

Eight countries–the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, and Cape Verde–have signed on to a joint effort to counter the Trump administration’s “gag rule” that prevents US-funded NGOs from providing women around the world with information on abortion.

Ted Malloch, the favorite to be named US Ambassador to the European Union, apparently doesn’t like the EU very much, which suggests he’ll do really well in that job, assuming he gets it. After all, former UN Ambassador John Bolton hated the UN, and he…oh, right. In Malloch’s case, one wonders how long Brussels is going to tolerate the Trump administration’s increasingly obvious desire to break the EU up.

Israel-Palestine

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government seems acutely aware that the recent passage of a bill legalizing the annexation of private Palestinian land by Israeli settlers is problematic, to say the least. That’s why they’ve drawn up some helpful talking points for settlement defenders, chock full of grade A bullshit about how the law was the only “fair” solution to the problem of these poor, benighted Israeli families, whose only crime was the literal theft of land belonging to somebody else (the dehumanization of actual Palestinians being a cornerstone of this particular bill). Defenders are also supposed to stress that the legal Palestinian owners of the land will be “fairly compensated,” which kind of elides the fact that many of them don’t want to be “compensated” at all, they just want their land. Here’s the interesting bit, though:

Israeli journalist and commentator Yossi Melman, who revealed the list Thursday in a column for Israeli newspaper Maariv, noted some peculiarities with the arguments, however.

For starters, he wrote, there is no mention of Netanyahu’s support for the law. Initially, the prime minister opposed the legislation, because he understood there would be immediate global criticism. Failing to mention Netanyahu, Melman said, “reinforces the assessment” that the prime minister and some of his ministers voted in favor of the law out of fear of upsetting right-wing voters.

The memo also suggests the government is “pinning its hopes on the Supreme Court to save Israel from the international isolation that the law is liable to cause.” The arguments allow diplomats to tell Israel’s critics not to get too frantic about the law because it will be knocked down in the court.

There is considerable evidence suggesting that Netanyahu wants the court to save him, not the least of which is that he was against the annexation bill before he was for it.

A Palestinian attacker wounded six Israelis in a market in the central Israeli town of Petah Tikva today. In Gaza, an Israeli (presumably, though they seem to be denying it) airstrike on part of the city’s tunnel network reportedly killed two civilians, and the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights is sounding alarm bells about the possibility of a new large-scale Israeli military offensive in Gaza.

Syria

The AP is beginning to wonder how there can be a ceasefire in Syria when fighting has continued mostly unabated in Idlib, Homs, Hama, areas around Damascus, al-Bab, Palmyra, areas around Raqqa, Deir Ezzor…well, you get the idea. It’s a good question, but I can assure you that there’s a perfectly understandable answer, which is that [trails off incoherently].

Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army proxies reportedly continue to push in to al-Bab. I’ve seen scattered reports of minor fighting between the Turkish/FSA army and Syrian government/allied forces moving toward al-Bab from the south, but for the most part it seems that whatever Russia-brokered accommodation the two sides have reached is holding. Speaking of which, three Turkish soldiers were reportedly killed earlier today in an “accidental” Russian airstrike, which I suppose counts as “friendly fire” now because this war has gone through the looking glass about a dozen times since it began.

Hashem al-Shaykh, a leader of the new Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham rebel coalition, says that his organization is going to step up its attacks on Syrian government forces. Tahrir al-Sham was formed in the midst of the intra-rebel fighting that gripped Idlib a couple of weeks back, and includes Jabhat Fatah al-Sham as well as the forces that opted to take its side rather than merge with the remaining elements of Ahrar al-Sham. This announcement could be an attempt to signal that it’s going to try to move past its conflict with Ahrar al-Sham and get back to fighting the government.

Iraq

I want to reiterate that, in addition to these posts, you should be reading Joel Wing’s daily Mosul updates. He goes into considerably more detail than I’m able to do and draws on Iraqi Arabic media, which I could probably do if you were willing to get my February 9 update sometime in April. Today’s update covers what’s happening in Mosul so thoroughly that I’m just going to quote him:

A commander from the Golden Division told the press that IS had no presence in east Mosul, and yet sleeper cells continue to be found along with infiltrations and continuous shelling and drone strikes. General Saadi Maan stated that the insurgents were no longer in liberated sections of Mosul. He did acknowledge that there were infiltrators. Five IS fighters were killed trying to sneak into the Rashidiya neighborhood in the northern tip of the city. In nearby Darkazlia searches led to a firefight with 16 IS being killed, and 17 arrested including 2 suicide bombers. Several more insurgents were discovered trying to cross the Tigris into east Mosul and were wiped out. Drone attacks, mortar fire, and rockets on eleven neighborhoods left 45 dead and 21 wounded. There are gun battles with militants almost every day now in east Mosul. The government has warned about sleeper cells and IS fighters who disappeared into the general population. The Iraqi forces (ISF) are attempting to root them out with raids and searches throughout the city. At the same time, IS is shelling and launching drone strikes causing more and more casualties. This is leading to continued displacement from Mosul.

IS’s main activity in west Mosul was maintaining control. It burned ten people on charges of helping the Iraqi forces. It raided the New Mosul neighborhood looking for phones, and when they found them people were shot. Another five civilians were executed for trying to flee across the Tigris River. Their bodies were strung up to scare others.

The Iraqi ministry says that it’s extinguished all but five of the 25 oil well fires that ISIS set when it fled Qayyara in advance of the Iraqi offensive. The environmental damage caused by those fires will take substantially longer to dissipate.

Iran

The Washington Post is reporting that “senior defense and intelligence officials” are trying to talk the Trump administration down from its plan to designate the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. They’re concerned, as you might imagine, with the myriad consequences related to an action that would be akin to some other country declaring the entire US Marine Corps a terrorist force. The State Department’s FTO status was never supposed to be used this way and has never been applied to a state actor.

Egypt

Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s government, the one with which the Trump administration seems so enamored, raided and shut down the offices of the Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence in Cairo today. Ostensibly the center is under investigation for accepting illegal foreign funds. Practically, it was shut down because it works to counter the Sisi government’s often brutal and systematic human rights abuses.

Yemen

Military analyst James Spencer has an interesting analysis at LobeLog of that (alleged) Yemeni rebel suicide attack on a Saudi frigate on January 30. I say (alleged) because, while it’s clear that an attack occurred and it’s pretty likely that the rebels were behind it, Spencer makes a pretty compelling argument that it was a missile attack, not a suicide attack. We know the Yemeni rebels have used anti-ship missiles before, and the video of the attack suggests, at least to Spencer, that the explosion happened too far above the water line to have been caused by a bomber on a boat. He believes the Saudis manufactured the tale about a suicide bomber to cover for the fact that they weren’t employing standard anti-missile defenses despite sailing in waters known to be vulnerable to rebel anti-ship missiles.

Afghanistan

General John Nicholson, the US commander in Afghanistan, told Congress today that he needs “a few thousand” more troops to properly carry out his mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan military. He suggested that NATO allies could provide some of those troops, but I’m not sure he made a convincing case that a few thousand more Western troops will be enough to change the course of a war that has clearly turned in the Taliban’s favor. The Russian Foreign Ministry, always trying to be helpful, said today that Moscow is ready to cooperate with NATO in Afghanistan.

India-Pakistan

Today the Pakistani government accused India of building a “nuclear city” where it will manufacture nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and of organizing terrorist attacks in Pakistan. India, as you might guess, denies these accusations.

Myanmar

A Malaysian ship loaded with aid intended for the Rohingya arrived in Yangon today, where it was welcomed by a crowd of Buddhist protesters carrying signs reading “NO ROHINGYA.” Because there are no Rohingya. Don’t believe your lying eyes. Anyway, the burden is now on the Myanmar government to deliver the aid.

Philippines

The New People’s Army engaged in a number of small attacks today while criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte for ending his government’s peace talks with the Communist rebel group.

China

This is fine, everything is fine, nothing to worry about:

A U.S. Navy P-3 plane and a Chinese military aircraft came close to each other over the South China Sea in an incident the Navy believes was inadvertent, a U.S. official told Reuters on Thursday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aircraft came within 1,000 feet (305 meters) of each other on Wednesday in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal, between the Philippines and the Chinese mainland.

Libya

The so-called Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar attacked an air base near the central Libyan city of Jufra. Jufra is controlled by Misratan militias that are opposed to Haftar and the GNA and (at least nominally) aligned with the Government of National Accord. Speaking of which, the General National Congress appears to be forming some kind of armed guard force in Tripoli that could be used to “secure” (i.e., kick the GNA out of) government facilities.

The Gambia

The new Gambian government announced today that it will reverse Yahya Jammeh’s plan to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. This is an interesting development insofar as, only a few days ago, the African Union passed a non-binding resolution calling on all its member states to withdraw from the ICC. But it is potentially good news for the ICC, obviously.

Nigeria

Read this piece on life in the Niger Delta. Just read it.

Greece

Hey, Brexit, don’t get too comfortable. The original, uh, rexit (?) hasn’t gone anywhere. That’s right, I’m talking Grexit, baby. The short version is that Greece’s economy is still in the shit, and with the new state of the world being what it is (including that new American president who really seems to want to break the EU up), Germany’s hard line on austerity seems likely to only get harder. Of course, one of the other thing’s that’s changed since last time we visited with Grexit is that the refugee situation has gotten worse. Tossing Greece from the EU will make it substantially more difficult for the EU to cope with a problem it’s already not really coping with as it is.

Romania

As expected, Romanian Justice Minister (well, ex-Justice Minister) Florin Iordache resigned today over his role in the recent anti-anti-corruption decree that has caused so much public outcry. Almost as predictably, the government Iordache just left is trying to play the xenophobia card, defending itself by arguing that there are foreigners among the crowds of protesters. Sorin Grindeanu’s Social Democratic Party is center-left on economics but apparently has a strong if a bit incongruous nationalist streak that is now on ugly display.

Meanwhile, the Russian government said today that it considers Romania a “clear threat,” which is really just what the Romanian people need right now.

Russia

Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov today saying that recent NATO deployments in Eastern Europe are seen by Moscow as a “threat.”

An analysis by the State Department’s top economist finds that targeted US sanctions have worked as intended, hurting the oligarchs surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin while mostly leaving the rest of the Russian economy (which is weak nonetheless because of cheap oil) untouched. What the Trump administration will do with these findings, and the sanctions, is unclear.

Radio Free Europe and Voice of America are launching a new Russian language news outlet, Current Time, that looks like it will basically be the opposite of RT America.

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