World roundup: July 30-31 2022
Stories from Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
July 29, 1148: The Siege of Damascus ends
July 29, 1588: The English fleet puts the final nail in the Spanish Armada’s coffin at the Battle of Gravelines. After harassing the armada for the previous nine days, forcing it to regroup in the Spanish Netherlands, the English fleet used its superior mobility to inflict a serious defeat on its Spanish counterpart, sinking five ships and killing some 600 people. The Spanish fleet was forced to beat a hasty and badly managed retreat north, and by the time it had circled back around Ireland and returned home it had lost about a third of its ships and thousands of men.
July 30, 762: Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur founds the city of Baghdad as his new capital. Located near the site of the former Sasanian (Persian) capital Ctesiphon, Baghdad replaced the Umayyad capital Damascus as the center of the caliphal court.
Officially the new city was called Medinat al-Salam, or “the City of Peace.” It’s not entirely clear why it took the name Baghdad, but the prevailing theory as far as I know is that a village called “Baghdad” stood near the spot where the city was built, and common usage applied that name to the city. Eventually common usage won out. For several centuries Baghdad was arguably the most important city in the world. At its height it may have been home to more than a million people and was world-renowned as a center of learning and culture. Its decline mirrored the decline of the Abbasid dynasty, and the Mongol sack of the city in 1258 proved especially devastating.
July 31 (or thereabouts), 741: The Battle of Talas
July 31, 1941: The invading Wehrmacht defeats the Soviet Red Army at the Battle of Smolensk, part of World War II’s Operation Barbarossa. Though a fairly stunning German tactical victory, leaving over 400,000 Soviet soldiers killed or wounded and over 300,000 captured, strategically Smolensk contributed to the overall collapse of the Nazi invasion of the USSR. The stiff Soviet resistance caused German leaders to slow down their advance on Moscow, which gave the Soviets time to strengthen their defenses around the city and contributed to the attrition of the German army. The subsequent Battle of Moscow ended in a significant Soviet victory.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
A faction of the Turkish-led Syrian National Army reportedly destroyed a Syrian military outpost in Aleppo province on Saturday. The New Arab is reporting that there were Syrian soldiers killed in this artillery attack but had no specifics as to how many. The rebel group, which calls itself Harakat al-Tahrir wa’l-Bina (The Movement for Freedom and Development), may have been retaliating for an earlier attack on one of its positions by the Syrian army.
Supporters of Iraqi political grandee Muqtada al-Sadr again stormed into the Iraqi parliament building in Baghdad on Saturday. This is the second time they’ve seized that building in less than a week, following Wednesday’s brief occupation, and this time they may be hanging around. Sadr’s movement issued a statement on Saturday announcing that the demonstrators will be engaging in “a sit-in until further notice.” They intend to prevent parliament from holding votes on a new president or prime minister and thereby force a new election, and judging from the tents, meals, and other sights AFP reported inside and outside the parliament building, scenes that continued into Sunday, it seems like they’re preparing to be there for a while.
Hezbollah aired a video, shot by drone, showing Israeli ships milling around the offshore Karish natural gas field on Sunday along with audio of the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, warning that “playing with time is not useful.” The unspoken threat here is presumably that Hezbollah will attack these ships if the Israelis make a serious move to exploit that field. Karish lies in an area of the Mediterranean coast claimed by both Israel and Lebanon along their still unsettled maritime border. The Lebanese government has pursued US-mediated negotiations with Israel but Hezbollah has repeatedly intimated that it might take more aggressive action. The Israeli military has shot down several Hezbollah drones over Karish over the past couple of months—one drone in late June and three in one incident earlier this month.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration is considering whether or not to blacklist an alleged “network of companies” that has been evading US sanctions on Iranian oil sales. Supposedly they’ve been using “ship-to-ship” transfers in the Persian Gulf to mingle Iranian and Iraqi oil while “forging documents” to make the oil appear to be Iraqi. Supposedly the administration is conflicted because of concerns that new sanctions could further narrow the already slim chances of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, though it may also be that the administration is worried that shutting this operation down could impact global oil prices.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry accused the Armenian military of conducting artillery strikes on Saturday against Azerbaijani positions in the Lachin and Kalbajar regions, both of which border the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Armenian military is denying that allegation. The Azerbaijanis say they returned fire but I haven’t seen any claims of casualties despite all of these shells supposedly flying to and fro.
Afghan and Iranian border guards clashed with one another on Sunday along the border between their Nimruz and Sistan and Baluchistan provinces, respectively. Details are spotty but at least one Afghan was killed in the exchange of fire. Iranian media is claiming that the Afghan border forces attempted to raise an Afghan flag “in an area which is not Afghan territory,” which is not terribly explanatory.
In an update to Friday’s apparent grenade attack in Kabul, Afghan authorities now say that two people were killed in that incident. It’s not clear if they died in the blast or succumbed to their wounds later. There’s still no indication as to responsibility though almost by default speculation is focused on Islamic State.
The Pakistani military said on Saturday that one of its soldiers was killed along with six Baluch separatists during an operation in Baluchistan province overnight. As far as I know there’s no specific indication as to which faction of Baluch separatists these fighters belonged.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is jetting off this coming week for a tour of Asia that may take her and a congressional delegation to Taiwan—or, you know, not. Pelosi’s office released an itinerary that made no mention of Taiwan (she’s heading to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan if you must know), but that doesn’t mean she’s not planning a surprise visit. The possibility of Pelosi visiting Taiwan has raised concerns in Washington about what the Chinese military might do regarding her flight and/or her military escort. I suspect nothing, but it’s always fun to inject a little panic into the public discourse now and then. There’s no reason for Pelosi to risk even the slimmest possibility of Chinese retaliation over a junket, but since her politics are frozen in the 1980s I’m sure she thinks it’s critical that she stand up to The Commies or something.
Thousands of Sudanese people reportedly took to the streets of Khartoum on Sunday to renew calls for an end to military rule and a transition to democratic civilian governance. Anti-junta protests have intensified this month over ongoing inter-communal violence in southern Sudan’s Blue Nile region. Protesters have accused the junta of allowing inter-communal tensions to fester in order to weaken opposition to continued military rule.
Senegalese voters went to the polls on Sunday to elect themselves a new parliament. Results aren’t in yet so there’s not much to say, except to note that the outcome may determine whether President Macky Sall attempts to stick around beyond the end of his constitutionally limited second term. Opposition figures have suggested that if Sall’s Alliance for the Republic party maintains its supermajority (125 seats in the 165 seat legislature), Sall might attempt to institute constitutional changes that could allow him to run for president again. Initial reports have turnout fairly low, which probably favors Sall but again there are no actual results yet.
UPDATE: Sall’s party is claiming to have retained its majority, though there are still no results in so it’s unclear how large a majority or even if this claim is accurate at all.
Guinea’s largest civilian opposition group, the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC), has suspended its protests against the ruling junta for at least a week following an appeal from Guinea-Bissau President and Economic Community of West African States chair Umaro Sissoco Embaló. ECOWAS may be close to talking Guinea’s junta down from a 36 month transition to a 24 month transition and I’m sure Embaló is worried that more protests could undermine his negotiations. Complicating matters, the junta has apparently arrested FNDC leader Oumar Sylla. He was picked up overnight between Friday and Saturday and as of Saturday his whereabouts were unknown.
Jihadist fighters reportedly attacked two Tuareg nomad encampments in northeastern Mali overnight between Wednesday and Thursday, killing at least 16 people in total. Tuareg organizations in Mali are blaming Islamic State in the Greater Sahara for these attacks.
At least eight members of Nigeria’s security forces—three police officers and five members of civilian defense units—were killed on Saturday when their outpost in central Nigeria’s Kogi state came under attack. Authorities are attributing this attack to “bandits” but Kogi has on occasion seen attacks by Islamist militants from the northeastern part of Nigeria.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
The United Nations Security Council voted to ease its arms embargo on the Central African Republic on Friday. Five council members abstained, including veto holders Russia and China, because they (and the Central African government) preferred a full lifting of the embargo. The change will allow the Central African government to import some categories of weapons and ammo while maintaining a full embargo on the CAR’s myriad militant groups. All three of the council’s African members—Gabon, Ghana, and Kenya—joined Russia and China in abstaining.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
UN peacekeepers reportedly attacked a border outpost in the town of Kasindi on Sunday, killing at least two people and wounding 15 more. There’s no indication why the peacekeepers—I guess that term should be used loosely—attacked the outpost as they were returning to the eastern DRC after having been on leave in neighboring Uganda. The shooters have reportedly been arrested and their home country or countries notified. There have been anti-UN protests in cities and towns in the eastern DRC for about a week now, so these UN personnel may have been on edge, but that doesn’t explain their decision to open fire.
Bandits reportedly killed at least 32 people in an attack that began late Thursday and continued into Friday in a district just north of Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo. Authorities believe the attack was retaliation for the perception that community members are collaborating with security forces.
Gazprom announced on Saturday that it’s cutting off gas supplies to Latvia. It didn’t provide a reason but the announcement came one day after Latvijas Gaze announced that it would pay for Russian gas in euros rather than in rubles, Moscow’s preference. The Latvian government had already announced a ban on Russian gas imports to take effect at the start of next year and officials say they don’t expect to have much of a problem with Gazprom’s decision.
A Russian missile strike on the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Sunday killed the owner of one of Russia’s largest grain exporters along with his wife. Elsewhere, at least five Russian naval personnel were wounded in an apparent drone attack on Russia’s Black Sea fleet headquarters in Sevastopol, in Crimea. Ukrainian officials are denying that they were responsible and given the rudimentary nature of the drone it’s likely this attack would have to have been carried out from within Crimea, possibly by some sort of Crimean militant group. The Ukrainian military is claiming that it’s killed “dozens” of Russian soldiers in Kherson oblast and other parts of southern Ukraine in recent days, though that claim can’t be confirmed.
Tensions in the majority Serb areas of northern Kosovo erupted on Sunday over a plan to require residents to obtain license plates for their cars from Kosovan authorities in Pristina. Serbs in northern Kosovo still recognize the Serbian government as their rightful legal authority and obtain things like license plates from Belgrade. Protesters on Sunday blockaded roads leading to two major border crossings into Serbia, both of which had to be shut down as a result. At one point air raid sirens went off in the town of North Mitrovica but thankfully there were no actual air raids to accompany them. The Kosovan government decided because of the uprising to postpone the implementation of the license plate program for one month, pushing back from August 1 to September 1, the definition of kicking the can down the road and not very far at that.
One man was wounded on Saturday when unknown attackers opened fire on a temporary military outpost near the town of La Laguna. The outpost had been set up to provide security for a visit by Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. It’s unclear if Giammattei was the target but it doesn’t appear he was ever at any risk. Perhaps a likelier explanation is that these attackers were part of a criminal group operating along the Mexican-Guatemalan border.
Giammattei’s security forces arrested journalist José Ruben Zamora Marroquín on Friday on allegations of money laundering. He’s known for his investigations into alleged corruption, which apparently is not something Giammattei appreciates. Zamora Marroquín has begun a hunger strike, and a crowd of journalists protested Saturday outside the courthouse where a preliminary hearing was held in his case.
Finally, at Responsible Statecraft, Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Martin Fleck has nothing nice to say about the House of Representative’s bloated 2023 defense budget:
“The Pentagon budget is running amok!” charged Representative Barbara Lee during the recent floor debate on the National Defense Authorization Act.
She and Rep. Mark Pocan were advocating an amendment to the massive spending bill that would roll back an earlier House Armed Services Committee decision to add $37 billion on top of the Biden Administration’s $813 billion military spending request.
HASC Chairman Adam Smith, seeking to overrule his own committee, also rose to speak in favor of the Lee/Pocan amendment. It was, nonetheless, defeated, with the majority of House members falling all over themselves to shovel as much money to military contractors as they could.
How was this even possible? The July 13 vote was 277 to 151, and each of the 277 “nay” votes was an affront to common sense. Each one signaled an abdication of responsibility.
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