Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele, for the third time in 10 days on April 16 publicly dismissed Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing quarantine regulations. First, on March 26, the court ordered the government to release individuals who had been detained while grocery shopping. Then on April 8, the court explicitly provided that the government lacked proper statutory backing to detain citizens. After both rulings, Bukele took to Twitter, urging security forces to be strict with the lockdown and reiterating that violators will be placed in a containment facility. The third order states that the Bukele administration must respect the COVID-19-related rulings. Again, Bukele responded on Twitter, declaring that "five people will not decide the death of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans." Security forces have already arbitrarily detained hundreds of people in the containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. (HRW, CISPES, Jurist)
Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks like it is set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is the clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. Turkey's military shot down two regime warplanes over northwest Idlib on March 1, hours after Assadist forces brought down a Turkish drone over the region. The Damascus regime said the pilots parachuted to safety. At least 34 Turkish troops were killed in air-strikes in Idlib n the previous days. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)
Five months after Afghanistan's September presidential elections, a winner has finally been declared—the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani. But hours after the announcement, rival Abdullah Abdullah declared himself the victor, claiming irregularities in the vote and calling the results "national treason." Abdullah, who still serves as chief executive (a separate post from president) has issued a decree barring all election commission workers from leaving the country. The showdown portends a divided government just as US is attempting to broker a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, ostensibly to be followed by "intra-Afghan talks" between the Taliban and the government in Kabul. (The Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN)
Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination on Jan. 3, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. And, in fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a "dirty war" in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad over the past months. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani also provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. As overall commander of Iranian forces in Syria backing up Assad's genocidal counter-insurgency campaign (and by no means just against ISIS and jihadists, but the secular opposition as well) Soleimani is probably responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives.
In response to the recent escalation in Iraq, President Trump has ordered thousands more US troops to neighboring Kuwait. "At the direction of the Commander in Chief, I have authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division to the US Central Command area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a written statement Dec. 31. "Approximately 750 soldiers will deploy to the region immediately, and additional forces from the IRF are prepared to deploy over the next several days," Central Command also said that a detachment from the Kuwait-based Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force will be deployed to the US embassy in Baghdad to reinforce security. (Military Times)
With the forces of eastern strongman Khalifa Hifter stalled outside Tripoli in his drive to oust Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA), both sides have been sniping at each other with drone strikes. Experts say that Haftar has procured Chinese-made Wing Loong drones from his main backer, the United Arab Emirates. The GNA, meanwhile, has turned to Ankara, its own increasingly open backer, which is believed to be supplying Turkish Bayraktar drones. All of this is in defiance of a supposed arms embargo, just renewed by the UN Security Council in June. Over 1,000 have been killed, close to 6,000 injured, and 120,000 displaced in the battle for Tripoli, which opened a year ago. (SCMP, Spet. 19)
Drone strikes on Sept. 27 targeted positions of an Iran-backed pro-government militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces, in northern Iraq, at al-Bukamal near the Syrian border. Hours later, a second attack struck a base in the Fallujah area used by the same militia force. Reports suggested the strikes were carried out by Israel, which has been stepping up attacks on Iran-backed forces across the border in Syria. (Haaretz, ToI) On Sept. 24, Turkish warplanes attacked the Chamanke area of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing a local shopkeeper. Turkey has been for years targeting positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. (Rudaw) On Sept. 10, US-led coalition forces bombed a supposed ISIS stronghold on Qanus Island in the Tigris River, in Salahuddin province. ISIS fighters who had fled areas re-taken from the group in Mosul and Syrian territory are said to have taken refuge on the island. (Iraq News, Stars & Stripes)
Trump now says it is increasingly "looking like" Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, while adding: "I don't want war with anybody but we're prepared." (RFE/RL) He also tweeted in typically ugrammatical style: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Meanwhile, Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, while Iran is denying any involvement. How are we to read this, and what are the risks?