Daily Memo: Hong Kong’s Lockdown, Iraq’s Unrest, Brexit Bluff

What's geopolitically important today.


Hong Kong on lockdown. Hongkongers woke up Saturday morning to a city in lockdown. The city’s fabled subway network, blocks of storefronts, shopping malls and banks remained closed following another wave of overnight violence, this one sparked by the government’s invocation of a colonial-era emergency law – the first such use of the law in 52 years – that includes measures like a ban on face coverings. On Friday night, protesters set fires in at least two subway stations, and several more businesses considered too cozy with Beijing were vandalized. A second teenage protester was shot by police. The law, which went into force at midnight, evidently hasn’t yet fully deterred the protesters; several hundred demonstrators marched from Causeway Bay to Central on Saturday. But it may make it easier for authorities to accelerate mass arrests and try to take some of the steam out of the demonstrations. That’s at least the hope of Beijing, which is vocally supporting the law and signaling confidence in the ability of Hong Kong authorities to manage the protests, ostensibly precluding the need for an overt Chinese intervention.

Iraq in chaos. Anti-corruption protests in Iraq are likewise showing no signs of slowing down after four days of escalating violence have left at least 72 people dead and hundreds more injured (including 190 on Friday alone). The protests are heavily concentrated in Baghdad, though smaller demonstrations have broken out in several other areas as well, including the southern city of Diwaniya. Likely adding fuel to the fire: On Friday, Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite cleric who has bedeviled the aims of national leaders since the peak of the U.S. occupation, called for Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s government to step down. The members of the Saeroun coalition, led by al-Sadr, have announced the suspension of their membership in the Iraqi parliament. Iraq’s most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, blamed the government for the protests but declined to call for the administration to resign. In an overnight address, Abdul-Mahdi pledged reforms but said Iraq’s woes had no “magic solution.”

Boris’ bluff. The British government acknowledged for the first time that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will send a letter to the European Union requesting a Brexit extension if no deal is reached by Oct. 19, according to documents submitted to a Scottish court. Hardline Brexiteer lawmakers and the government’s Home Office minister confirmed that the government will obey British law, which, at present, requires Johnson to request a Brexit delay on if a deal remains elusive, while still insisting that the U.K. will leave the union by Oct. 31. Johnson repeated his pledge to leave by Oct. 31 in the House of Commons on Thursday, a day after making his “final offer” to Brussels. The EU evidently thinks the Johnson government is bluffing; on Friday, it rejected a British request to hold Brexit talks over the weekend, saying the new Brexit proposals do not provide any basis for finalizing a separation agreement. Given the British parliamentary deadlock, Brussels currently has no incentive to offer a colossal concession like a time-limited backstop that it can’t be sure would satiate the withdrawal agreement’s opponents in Westminster.

Honorable Mentions