News Roundup (Week of June 4-10, 2017)

news roundup, June, 2017, globe, space, vector

Hello, readers! For today, I wanted to at least share some international stories for this News Roundup. I might include more stories this week, but I can at least share these five.

Table of Contents

Here are the stories I have curated for this week:


Commentary: Iran and Russia

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In International News …

This week, I found a few international news items I would like to focus on. As it turns out, Americans should have a vested interest in all these stories. In particular, there are political parallels in Great Britain and what’s going on in Iran and Qatar may be consequences of Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

Martial Law Is in Effect in the Philippines As the Country Deals with ISIS.

Since May 23, the Philippines have been dealing with the threat of ISIS within its own borders.

Duterte Declaring Martial Law

On Tuesday, May 23, clashes between government forces and an Islamist terrorist group loyal to ISIS were reported in the city of Marawi, in the Philippines. At the time, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was taking part of a summit in Moscow. He abruptly left to tend to the matter in his country and he declared martial law.

The Maute group, an Islamist organization based in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, was involved in the clashes. And according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (which has pledged loyalty to ISIS), was among militants.

The clashes reportedly started at 2 pm local time. Duterte declared martial law for the city of Marawi and the greater island of Mindanao at 10 pm local time.

According to spokesman Ernesto Abella, the militants had taken over several buildings in the city and set fire to others. Among the buildings under siege were a church, a school and the city jail. A medical center was taken over by the militants, who “replaced the Philippines flag with a black, ISIS-style banner.”

Abella also said 3 officers had died in the fighting. Another 12 were injured.

The Philippines president is granted the ability to declare martial under the country’s 1987 constitution. However, the suggested limit is 60 days. Duterte said he is willing to push the declaration to a full year.

Previously, Filipinos had lived under 14 years of martial law, under former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. He was removed via a peaceful revolution in 1986. During his rule, he committed many human rights violations, which included imprisonment, torture, forced disappearances, and ordering his secret police to carry out extrajudicial killings.

Growing Casualties

In less than a week of fighting, at least 103 people had died in the city of Marawi. Among the dead were 19 civilians, 11 members of the military, and four policemen. During that same span, 61 militants were killed.

The fighting started as Filipino authorities were trying to capture Isnilon Hapilon, who was designated the ISIS emir for Southeast Asia in 2016. Hapilon had called for help among Maute fighters, who were also assisted by other militants in the area.

The Philippines are especially vulnerable to the threat of ISIS. As the terrorist network is losing ground in Syria and Iraq, some of its fighters might be moving toward Southeast Asia. The border region with Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are especially lawless and none of those nations have a plan for dealing with Islamist terrorism.

Anti-ISIS Airstrike Ending in Disaster

On June 1, eleven Filipino soldiers were killed when a plane missed its target and hit the soldiers. Eight militants were killed as part of another airstrike.

In other news:

  • By the beginning of June, at least 70,000 residents of Marawi were displaced and at least 140 people died in the fighting. At least 100 of the dead were militants.
  • All hands were on deck as at least 5,000 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a separatist Muslim militant organization, signed a treaty with Manila. President Duterte said he would use any fighters to help him extinguish the threat within the country.
  • At the moment, there was still a recalcitrant faction of the ISIS-linked militants in Marawi. Also, some residents reported that teenage boys between the ages of 14 and 16 years old were being used by the Maute group and others.

Help from the U.S.?

After three weeks of fighting, the death tolls included: 58 members of the military, including 13 Marines who were killed on Friday, June 9 and over 140 militants.

By Saturday, June 10, there were reports that the U.S. Special Operations Forces were assisting the Philippines military. According to the Pentagon, the number of troops in the Special Ops is between 50 and 100 at any given time. Neither the U.S. Embassy or the Pentagon would specify the nature of the support the U.S. was given due to “security reasons.”

Despite this report, President Duterte said he was unaware he was receiving U.S. help.

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Here Is an Update on Syria.

On Monday June 5, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) began an offensive in order to capture Raqqa in northern Syria and to dismantle Islamic State’s “physical caliphate.” The attack may have begun in the eastern Mishlab district an in the Division 17 military base. The SDF has been working to encircle the city since November 2016; at the same time, government forces were working on recapturing Mosul, Iraq.

The Syrian Democratic Forces is a group comprised of 50,000 Syrian Kurds (40%) and Arabs (60%). The group claims no loyalty to the Syrian government as Bashar al Assad or the militants fighting against the government. Yet the SDF has driven IS from about 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) of territory in northern Syria since October 2015.

Raqqa is often referred to Islamic State’s Syrian “headquarters,” since it was captured by the terrorist network in 2014. It was the first Syrian provincial to fall into IS hands. Currently, it is estimated that as many as 4,000 IS militants may be in the city.

U.S. commander Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend warned that the effort in Raqqa would be “long and difficult.” He also mentioned the recent attack in Manchester, England when making his comments. His point was that the Islamic State had a far reach, which made this battle in Raqqa all that important.

The previous week, the United States announced it would be providing arms to the Popular Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish military which dominates the SDF. That move, however, was already opposed by Turkey in the planning stages. Turkey alleges the YPG is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish government, the United States, and other international bodies recognize as a terrorist group.

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Qatar Was Cut off Diplomatically by Gulf States.

Trump’s recent visit may have touched off a geopolitical crisis among Gulf States.

Last week, Saudi Arabia led a coalition to cut off the small, oil-rich Gulf State of Qatar diplomatically. The group of countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council includes Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives. The reasoning for this move was Qatar’s connection to terrorism in the region, but the main reason was Qatar’s reticence to stand firmly against Iran.

Does Qatar Sponsor Terrorism?

From what I’ve gleaned from someone in the know:

In 2013, Qatar’s Emir Hamad Al-Thani abdicated his throne in favor of his son, Tamim. The father was pragmatic, pro-West, pro-Saudi, yet he supported Islamists where it benefited him. The son is similar to the father in some ways, yet the former is less pragmatic, truly believes in Sharia law, wants to spread it across the world, and unequivocally supports Sunni Islamism.

Sunni Islamist groups include: The Muslim Brotherhood, the Pakistanic Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaida, and ISIS. The Saudis supported jihadists against Assad (which include the Nusra Front, which has been linked to Al Qaida) but support the Sisi against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Iran broke off with Hamas due to the latter’s stance on the Syrian War in 2012.

Like Turkey’s Recip Tayyip Ergogan, Tamim is open to aligning with Iran out of Muslim solidarity.

Qatar and Turkey began supporting ISIS in 2014. Qatar was a main funder of the terrorist network. Turkey supplied soldiers, arms, and military bases. ISIS later turned on Turkey, yet Qatar may have still funded the group.

What Is the Real Reason for Blocking Qatar Diplomatically?

It’s undoubtedly connected to Iran.

Although the move was initiated by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia quickly took the lead and made a series of demands, including:

  • Denouncing Iran.
  • Apologizing to Saudi Arabia.
  • Expelling Hamas and Hezbellah and freezing their bank accounts.
  • Never developing on policy that contradicts the GCC’s official stance.

Iran is Saudi Arabia’s arch-foe and the war in Yemen is largely a proxy war for the two countries. Saudi Arabia is a Wahhabist nation, meaning it strictly adheres to the teachings of the Koran and supports Sunni networks. Iran is a Shiite nation.

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Iran Suffered Twin Terrorist Attacks in Its Capital.

Also last week, there were two attacks in Tehran, the capital of Iran, resulting in at least 17 deaths and 42 people suffering injuries. The attack lasted for hours and resulted in the arrest of 5 people.

The first attack was carried out in Iran’s parliament building, where terrorists opened fire. Four attackers were killed by authorities.

Attackers also opened fire at the mausoleum for Ayatollah Khomeini (the founder of Iran). In the attack on the mausoleum, one attacker, a woman, was said to have detonated a suicide bomb. Another attacker was killed by authorities.

A third attack was thwarted, according to Iranian intelligence officers.

These attacks were a first for Iran. These were claimed by ISIS, which hadn’t launched an attack in the majority Shiite nation before. Compared to most of its neighbors, Iran is a relatively stable nation.

The attacks were blamed on Saudi Arabia and the United States, given Trump’s recent foreign trip. In the first leg of that trip, Trump singled out Iran and accused it of being a sponsor of terror.

However, Iran recently renewed the nuclear deal with the United States. Also, Iranians overwhelmingly voted to re-elect moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who oversaw the nuclear deal.

Western Reaction

Western responses to the terrorist attacks were mixed, at best. While France immediately condemned the attacks, other western nations were slow to react.

In the United States, the White House released this statement:

We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times. We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said this during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Hezbollah:

We have recently seen an attack on Iran, and the Iranian government – the mullahs, I believe that Sunni forces have attacked them … Isn’t it a good thing for us to have the United States finally backing up Sunnis who will attack Hezbollah and the Shiite threat to us, isn’t that a good thing? And if so, maybe…this is a Trump strategy of actually supporting one group against another.

Rohrabacher was quickly rebuffed by panelist Dr. Matthew Levitt:

Those attacks were claimed by the Islamic state. It is never in our interest to support a terrorist group like the Islamic state. We should condemn the attacks on Iran as we would condemn any act of terrorism.

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The Recent Parliamentary Elections in the United Kingdom Produced Surprising Results.

Coming into the election, the Conservatives (A.K.A. the Tories) held 330 seats in the U.K. parliament. That was more than the prescribed majority of 326 seats. However, British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in the hopes of increasing her mandate for Brexit negotiations.

As the election neared, the Labour Party was expected to make gains, but polls differed greatly. While a YouGov poll ahead of the elections had Labour within a point of the Tories, some polls had the Conservatives at 11 or 12 points ahead.

On election night, even those in favor of Labour (including Western watchers) believed the Tories would keep their majority in Parliament. However, Labour picked up seats in historically Tory districts. Although the conservatives remained the largest legislative party in the country, they lost their majority, which might give the Brits a hung parliament.

Jeremy Corbin’s Rise

Jeremy Corbin won his race on Thursday night. That result was met with elation from progressives within the U.K. and across the pond.

Watchers in the United States have compared Labour Leader Jeremy Corbin to Bernie Sanders. In some ways, one can see the parallels.

He is left of many of the other leading Labour politicians and he was much maligned by party insiders. Last year, he was given a no-confidence vote by 89 members of his party, (Tony) Blairites* and the press coverage of Corbin has been extremely negative.

However, Corbin is even to the left of Sanders. In the Labour Party Manifesto, titled “For the Many, Not the Few,” Corbin supported platform items like free college for all, free health care for kids up to four years old, a revitalized health system, and the socialization of some essential services, like rail, water systems, and the Royal Mail.

* What has been going on between Corbin’s faction and the Blairites resembles what is going on within the Democratic Party. When Tony Blair rose to power in 1997 (20 years ago, folks), he wanted his government to resemble that of Bill Clinton’s administration. However, this “Third Way” politics ultimately doomed the Labour Party years after Blair moved Great Britain to participate in the Iraq War.

Mistakes May Made

As the elections neared, Theresa May was rightfully criticized for numerous positions she took. Voters were increasingly frustrated with austerity measures promoted by the Tories. Two services that suffered were the National Health Service and law enforcement, which saw cut-downs on the police force.

It just so happened both those services were at the forefront of recent attacks. The NHS was severely hampered during the Wanna Cry cyber-attack. And the staffing of law enforcement was brought into questions shortly after the recent attack on the London Bridge.

While May has said Britons would be less safe with Corbin as PM, they weren’t exactly safer with May as PM. There have been three terrorist attacks in the U.K. in two months.

Also, May said she may be willing to clamp down on the Internet or change human rights laws in order to deal with terrorists.

By most of all, May’s biggest mistake was calling this election.

Should May Resign?

There are calls for May to resign and she is being challenged by a few members in her own party. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, might be the frontrunner but he is not very popular.

What About Brexit?

Since there will be a hung parliament, the leading two parties will have to race to form large enough coalitions in the 650-seat body.

The Tories flirted with joining up with the Democratic Unionist Party, but that is not favored by voters. The DUP is a far-right party from Northern Ireland with ties to terrorists.

Whatever happens, the Brits will have to negotiate terms with the European Union. The wheels were set in motion, so Brexit will happen. However, the prime minister will have to come up with a plan that will help the United Kingdom make as best of a transition as possible.

The Brits have a tough road ahead of them. They have to choose between a hard Brexit (which will completely take the U.K. out of the European Union and allow for stricter border control) and a soft Brexit (which will allow for the free movement of E.U. citizens in and out of the U.K.). The U.K. will need to come up with an equitable deal which all 27 members of the E.U. can agree on while avoiding a “cliff’s edge,” which will revert the U.K. to the strictest possible tariffs.

(For the E.U.’s part, the member countries will not make this easy for the Brits. The union needs to deter other members from following the U.K.’s example and since the U.K. is the largest economy currently in the union, it is the most important member.)

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Commentary: I Would Like to Make This Clear About Iran and Russia.

I am disgusted by the “popular” positions on Iran and Russia.

Right now, we are hearing things about the Russia probe in Congress, most notably the Senate. I have maintained that I feel like it’s a distraction. Although Congress may very well find (more) proof of Trump’s corruption, there is already proof, if you go by his view of the Emoluments Clause and the recent deal made with Saudi Arabia, which just gave a kickback to Ivanka Trump’s foundation.

And recently, the White House and Dana Rohrabacher looked on the recent terror attacks in Iran with glee. Disgusting.

How do I feel about both countries? I’m conflicted about Russia, but I have a more positive view towards Iran.

Now, while there are certainly things I don’t like about these countries, neither of them should automatically be treated like they’re the enemies of the United States. In fact, both these countries have done things to decrease tensions with the U.S.

As I mentioned above, Iran renewed the nuclear deal with the United States. And the moderate president, Rouhani, was reelected.

Russia was instrumental in the Iranian nuclear deal and was receptive to a military cooperation agreement in Syria … until our military forces went against Obama’s wishes and carried out an authorized military strike. Putin is a bad actor based on his human rights record, actions against free speech, and his actions in Crimea. However, he has hardly been hostile to the United States.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has exported its Wahhabist ideology abroad and even sponsored groups like ISIS, which shares that Wahhabit mindset. Sixteen of the nineteen hijackers on September 11, 2001 came from Saudi Arabia and so did Osama bin Laden. But we just sold the Saudis more weapons for $110 billion.

Where are our priorities?

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