Week of October 21

Protesters in Baghdad this month. Across Iraq, at least 150 civilians have been killed at demonstrations, one report said. Credit: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his inability to form a new government. BBC reported that since Netanyahu failed, his opponent Benny Gantz will have the opportunity to build a government. The results of the September election showed that Gantz’s Blue and White party won 33 seats; just 28 seats shy of being the majority party in the Knesset, while Netanyahu’s Likud party conceded 32 seats. Although Gantz won the election, President Rivlin allowed the prime minister a chance to form a coalition government. In response to the development, Netanyahu said, “During the past few weeks, I made every effort to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table. Every effort to establish a broad national unity government, every effort to prevent another election.” In a video posted to his Facebook page, he continued, “To my regret, time after time he declined. He simply refused.” Should both politicians fail, there is a chance that Israeli citizens will be voting a third time this year.   

On October 22nd, Iraq announced it would remove a dozen military and police officers accused of allowing troops to shoot unarmed civilians during recent protests. All twelve men are facing persecution and are under investigation. During the first week of protests, the New York Times estimated that at least 149 civilians were killed, and 4,207 were injured. The New York Times story also reported that although “the punitive action taken by Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s prime minister, was the sharpest rebuke of military excess at any time in recent years, it nevertheless drew broad criticism from Iraqis across the political spectrum, mixed in with some praise.” People are disappointed that the government had failed both to take responsibility for its part in the bloodshed or hold to account the popular mobilization units that have also been involved in fomenting attacks on civilians.

On Wednesday, the Turkish government made a deal with Russia to stop its invasion into northern Syria. The Turkish defense ministry made a statement announcing that the Turkish military would remain in the 900-square-mile area that was taken from the Kurds. After the Trump administration announced the U.S. role in Syria was over and troops would be withdrawn, Russian and Syrian government security forces are establishing control in the area. As for the Kurdish fighters, they are required to move an additional 20 miles from the border. The deal also means that most of northern Syria will be under Kurdish and now, Syrian government control. Kurdish officials have not responded to the agreement. Update: According to a tweet from New York Times journalist,  Rukmini Callimachi, Turkey is still launching attacks despite the ceasefire agreement. 

A convoy of U.S. military vehicles, arriving from northern Iraq, drives along a road in the countryside of Syria’s north-eastern city of Qamishli on October 26, 2019. Credit: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

On Thursday, Trump reversed course on the prior troop withdrawal and “vowed that the United States would prevent the Islamic State from regaining control of oil fields in eastern Syria, emphasizing his interest in the energy assets there despite his steps to curtail the U.S. military mission in the country.” Trump has repeatedly referred to the oil-producing areas of Syria while defending his abrupt decision to withdraw most American forces, which critics say has enabled a militant resurgence and endangered a battlefield ally. The change of mind, announced via tweet, reportedly came after Pentagon officials persuaded the president that it was essential to protect east Syrian oil resources. Trump, meanwhile, reportedly told the audience at a speaking event that his aim would be to secure a U.S. share of Syrian oil revenues, which is potentially a war crime. The comments were made as the Pentagon considers a plan that would place heavy weaponry around the oil fields and retain a larger number of troops than officials have previously suggested, potentially further diluting the practical effect of the announced withdrawal. Iraq has told the U.S. that American troops do not have approval to stay in the countryVideo footage and photos from the region showed military convoys re-entering Syria.

Anti-government protesters shout slogans against Hezbollah supporters after they clash between each other during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. Credit: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

On October 25th, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah party said that the protests occurring there for over 10 days have been manipulated by foreign actors. Lebanese citizens say they are fed up with corruption and inefficiency in their national government, and new taxes — especially one on a popular communication app used for free international calls — were the last straw. Electricity outages lasting up to 3 hours occur on a daily basis and a recent fire in the country’s renowned cedar forests could not be controlled because the government helicopters didn’t have adequate water supplies. The protesters are calling for reforms to the confessional government system which mandates that certain leadership positions be held by specific sectarian groups. Members of the different religious identities have been united in their calls for the resignation of all members of government including the prime minister and the head of the national bank. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has stated despite his  prior support for the protesters, that if the protests continue then there is a chance for a civil war that could tear Lebanon apart. Hezbollah is a Shia political party and paramilitary organization frequently aligned with Iran and Syria. Undeterred, protesters have continued their daily demonstrations while schools and other state institutions remain closed.  

On Sunday, Trump declared that U.S. forces had brought “the world’s No. 1 terrorist leader to justice” in a press conference highlighting the demise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a U.S. military operation. U.S. special operations forces were inserted into an area in northwest Syria and proceeded to attack a military compound in the dead of night. The soldiers fought to get to Baghdadi and as he fled deeper into the compound, he was cornered and detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and 3 of his children. The rarely-seen leader turned a disorganized, radical insurgent group into a pseudo-state that had enough land and military might to challenge Western powers. His death, however, does not been the end of the Islamic State, which has survived similar casualties. The decentralized nature of the organization means that regional groups have developed their own distinct iterations that exist out of formal hierarchical structures of governance. Baghdadi himself merged from the shadows to claim leadership of the caliphate after the assassination of ISIS forefather, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in June 2006. To learn more about the history of ISIS, read the Middle East Journal’s The Islamic State: From al-Qaeda Affiliate to Caliphate.

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