World roundup: September 11-12 2021

Stories from Iran, Tunisia, Haiti, and more

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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY

September 10, 1813: In one of the largest naval engagements in the War of 1812, a US fleet defeats a smaller British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie. This was a significant strategic victory, in that it gave the US control of the lake and enabled both the recapture of Detroit in late September and the US defeat of Tecumseh’s confederacy at the Battle of the Thames in early October. The victory also prompted US Commodore Oliver Perry’s famous message to General William Henry Harrison: “we have met the enemy and they are ours.”

September 10, 1918: The Red Army captures Kazan from the White Army and allied militias during the Russian Civil War.

September 11, 1565: The Great Siege of Malta ends

September 11, 2001: Al-Qaeda operatives kill nearly 3000 people by flying airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A fourth plane, probably intended for the US Capitol, was brought down over Pennsylvania.

September 12, 1683: The Battle of Vienna

September 12, 1974: A committee of Ethiopian military officers, called the “Derg,” overthrows Emperor Haile Selassie in a coup amid mass unrest caused in part by a serious famine. The Derg, which refashioned itself as the “Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia,” ruled the country until 1987, when it further transformed itself into the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

INTERNATIONAL

In today’s global news:

A new report shows that violence against environmental and indigenous activists is escalating at an alarming rate:

Murders of environment and land defenders hit a record high last year as the violent resource grab in the global south continued unabated despite the pandemic.

New figures released by Global Witness show that 227 people were killed in 2020 while trying to protect forests, rivers and other ecosystems that their livelihoods depended on.

All but one of the deadly attacks took place outside North America, Europe and Oceania. The authors say environment-related conflict is, like the climate crisis, disproportionately affecting lower-income nations. Indigenous communities suffered more than a third of the killings, despite accounting for only 5% of the world population.

“On average, our data shows that four defenders have been killed every week since the signing of the Paris climate agreement [in 2016],” the report says. “As the climate crisis deepens, forest fires rampage across swathes of the planet, drought destroys farmland, and floods leave thousands dead, the situation for frontline communities and defenders of the Earth is getting worse.”

MIDDLE EAST

SYRIA

A Turkish military convoy struck a roadside bomb in Idlib province on Saturday, initially killing two soldiers and wounding three. The jihadist group “Ansar Abu Bakr al-Siddiq,” which as far as I know is pretty obscure and may be a front for another organization, claimed responsibility for the bombing. One of the three wounded soldiers subsequently died of his wounds. Along with a fourth Turkish soldier killed (apparently) by Kurdistan Workers’ Party fighters in northern Iraq on Sunday, that means Turkey’s regional military escapades cost four soldiers their lives over the weekend.

YEMEN

According to the Yemen government, Houthi rebels fired a missile and several drones at the Red Sea port city of Mocha on Saturday, causing considerable material damage to warehouses used by humanitarian relief agencies but no casualties. The Houthis have not claimed responsibility for the attack.

IRAQ

Iraqi authorities say an Islamic State attack killed at least three people and wounded four others in a village in Nineveh province on Saturday.

Two drones attacked Erbil’s airport, which houses international military forces, on Saturday, without causing any casualties. It’s unclear whether the strikes caused any material damage, with Iraqi Kurdish officials insisting they didn’t even interrupt air traffic despite some apparent claims to the contrary. The strike, presumably though not necessarily carried out by an Iraqi militia, ended a lengthy pause in these sorts of attacks against US and other foreign personnel. The last such attack took place in Baghdad in early July.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israeli military bombed targets in Gaza on Saturday and again on Sunday in response to rocket fire out of the enclave. There are no reports of casualties in the weekend’s exchanges of fire. Palestinian rocket launches late Friday and on Saturday appear to have been timed to respond to reports that Israeli authorities have captured most of the six Palestinians who escaped from an Israeli prison on Monday. The Israelis recaptured two of the six on Friday and another two on Saturday.

SAUDI ARABIA

Satellite imagery appears to show that the United States has pulled its air defense units from Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan airbase. The US military stationed Patriot missile batteries and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense unit at that facility after a September 2019 attack on Saudi oil facilities that may have been carried out by Iran. The specific reason for their apparent removal is unclear but presumably has to do with changing regional priorities. We’re still pivoting to Asia, I guess. The redeployment also comes as the Biden administration is declassifying documents related to the FBI’s 9/11 investigation, revealing more information (albeit heavily censored information) about contacts between the 9/11 hijackers and people with ties to the Saudi government.

IRAN

International Atomic Energy Agency director Rafael Grossi visited Tehran this weekend to try to salvage the IAEA’s nuclear monitoring mission in Iran. He came away with an agreement from Iranian officials to allow the IAEA to install new memory cards in its on-site cameras, allowing them to continue operating. There had been some question as to whether the Iranians would allow the IAEA to maintain that equipment. Iran suspended its participation in the IAEA’s monitoring program months ago but agreed to allow the cameras to keep recording with the understanding that the IAEA could review them if, and only if, there’s an agreement on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal (the JCPOA). The memory card agreement seems relatively picayune and yet had the Iranians barred IAEA access to those cameras at this stage it may well have quashed any remaining chance of reaching an accord on the JCPOA.

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

The reopening of Kabul’s international airport seems to be continuing apace, with word coming over the weekend that the United Arab Emirates has opened an “air bridge” into Kabul to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the Pakistan International Airlines will resume commercial flights to and from Kabul starting on Monday. The frequency of those flights will presumably be determined by the demand from people trying to get into Afghanistan. Pakistan and China have also been sending humanitarian aid into Afghanistan, and there’s talk of incorporating Afghanistan into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, one of the largest spurs of the broader Belt and Road Initiative. If that came to pass it could provide an economic lifeline to the otherwise internationally isolated Taliban government and give China a leg up in terms of gaining access to Afghanistan’s mineral resources.

The Taliban’s acting minister of higher education, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, said on Sunday that women will be allowed to study in university and graduate programs in Afghanistan, provided they’re in gender-segregated classrooms. The Taliban didn’t allow women’s education at all the last time it was in control of Afghanistan and was (based on anecdotal information) imposing similar bans in parts of Afghanistan that came under its control during the war. So the implementation of women’s-only schooling may reflect a concession toward women’s rights, should it actually come to pass.

PAKISTAN

Al-Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahiri, who most people seem to think is somewhere in Pakistan so I’m sticking this under “Pakistan,” issued a new video over the weekend marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. For months there have been rumors that Zawahiri is dead, which probably would get more attention if it actually mattered one way or the other, and apparently this video doesn’t do much to disprove them. Zawahiri talks about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, but it doesn’t sound like he says anything that wouldn’t have been known to him after the US and the Taliban signed their withdrawal agreement in February 2020. He does mention an incident that took place in northern Syria in January of this year, which means if he is dead it happened sometime after that.

NORTH KOREA

North Korean state media is reporting that the country carried out successful test launches of a long-range cruise missile on Saturday and again on Sunday. The missiles allegedly flew 1500 kilometers and hit their targets, whatever those may have been.

AFRICA

TUNISIA

Tunisian President Kais Saied confirmed on Saturday that part of his plan, now that he’s suspended parliament and assumed full control of the Tunisian government, is to change the country’s constitution. However, he told reporters that he intends to make those changes “within the framework of the constitution.” There have been some reports that Saied, who was a critic of the constitution when it was adopted in 2014, would seek to scrap it wholesale and submit a new charter to the Tunisian public via referendum—potentially bypassing parliament, which under the current constitution has to approve any amendments before they go to a referendum. That may still be in the cards, but it’s worth noting that several prominent politicians and the very large Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) publicly came out in opposition to that scenario. Saied also suggested on Saturday that he’s close to appointing a new cabinet, which would at least show some movement back toward normalcy.

MALI

A Malian military patrol was ambushed in the Ségou region on Sunday, in an incident that left at least five soldiers and three attackers dead. One of Mali’s multiple jihadist insurgent groups was presumably responsible, but it’s unclear which one. Three United Nations peacekeepers were wounded in a bombing in Mali’s Kidal region on Saturday. Again, the perpetrator in that incident is unknown.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi issued a statement late Friday calling for a review of the “technical and financial details” of the mining deals his predecessor, Joseph Kabila, cut with China. Tshisekedi has previously discussed his intention to revisit past mining deals, which he’s termed “exploitation contracts.” That said, I suppose one could note the timing between the arrival last month of US special forces to assist in operations against the Allied Democratic Forces militia in the eastern DRC. Not long after those US soldiers arrived in the DRC, Tshisekedi’s government closed a number of Chinese-owned mining operations in South Kivu province. Now Tshisekedi is pushing ahead with a general review of Chinese mining contracts. Eh, I’m sure it’s all coincidental.

EUROPE

UKRAINE

Separatists reportedly killed two Ukrainian soldiers amid several violent incidents across the front line in eastern Ukraine over the weekend. There’s no word on any civilian casualties and as far as I can tell no comment from the separatists.

BULGARIA

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has set November 14 as the date for Bulgaria’s next snap election, which will be its third parliamentary election this year. The first two votes proved to be busts, as the parties failed both times to agree on a governing coalition, but surely this third election will produce a decisive result. Maybe.

NORWAY

Norwegian voters headed to the polls on Sunday for the first day of their two day parliamentary election, which is expected to turn on two main issues—inequality and climate change. Polling has consistently put the Norwegian Labour Party ahead, but there’s a possibility it could have to rely on either the leftist Red Party or the center-left Green Party for support. That would be awkward, as both parties want to rein in Norway’s oil and gas industry for environmental reasons, while Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre does not.

GERMANY

Another new poll shows the Social Democratic Party gaining ground ahead of Germany’s September 26 federal election. The latest INSA survey has the SPD at 26 percent support, six points ahead of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union alliance. That lead is one point larger than it was in the previous INSA poll. A snap poll by ARD television taken Sunday showed SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholtz emerging victorious from a televised debate against the CDU/CSU candidate, Armin Laschet, and the Green Party candidate, Annalena Baerbock, which could further bolster the SPD’s apparent lead.

AMERICAS

HAITI

Haitian prosecutors investigating the assassination of former President Jovenal Moïse back in July are apparently interesting in speaking with current Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Chief prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude sent Henry a letter on Friday requesting an interview to discuss two phone calls he had with former Haitian official Joseph Felix Badio a few hours after the assassination. Badio happens to be one of the main suspects in Moïse’s killing, and he apparently was at the presidential mansion (or, in other words, the scene of the crime) when he called Henry. Without a president there’s nobody in the Haitian government who can require the sitting PM to submit to an interview, hence the less forceful “request” from the prosecutor’s office. Claude had suggested the interview take place on Tuesday, but it sounds like Henry isn’t planning to be there—he slammed the request as a “diversionary tactic” on Saturday.

UNITED STATES

Finally, journalist Cole Stangler writes that, despite its rhetoric to the contrary, the Biden administration is still obstructing efforts to waive COVID vaccine IP rules to enable developing nations to produce their own vaccines:

In May, the Biden administration made a bombshell declaration, endorsing a call to temporarily suspend intellectual property (IP) rights on COVID vaccines that health and trade experts say could greatly improve access to shots in the Global South — a move that appeared to mark a turning point in the global fight against the pandemic.

Months later, though, as the pandemic rages and the glaring gap in vaccine access grows, the effort remains blocked at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Any waiver for vaccines needs the green light from the organization’s TRIPS Council — the commission in charge of IP rights — and unanimous support from all 164 members. But as delegations return to Geneva after summer break, a long-circulated proposal backed by India and South Africa has yet to gain traction.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration — which has deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry — has proven unwilling to share vaccine recipes with other countries, as we reported earlier this week.