Daily Memo: Iraqi Unrest, Mediterranean Alliances, a European Response

What's geopolitically important today.


Trouble in Iraq. The potential for political crisis in Iraq is increasing as protests continue. A debate has emerged over who’s behind the protests, pitting pro-Iranian forces against those favoring the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Iranian media said pro-U.S./Saudi media outlets have been trying to politicize the protests; meanwhile, U.S. media outlets have reported that protesters have claimed the security forces that represent them are Farsi-speaking Iranians. Divisions in the Iraqi government are once again bubbling to the surface as leaders disagree over how to quell the unrest. Leading Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani has called for the formation of a special committee to design an anticorruption plan and execute reforms called for by protesters. Another religious leader, Ahmed al-Safi, warned that the demonstrators’ demands should not be met, at risk of escalating the unrest. Yet another Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, called on members of his Saeroun coalition (which holds the largest number of parliamentary seats) to boycott parliament until the Cabinet submits a plan that meets protesters’ demands. And, finally, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has called for a return to normalcy, saying the government wants to help the population, but that there’s no magical solution and he can’t meet all of their demands in just a year. It’s worth noting that protests in 2018 resulted in a political power struggle that reshaped the Iraqi government

Mediterranean alliances. After a brief operational pause, Turkey will resume offshore oil and gas drilling 56 miles (90 kilometers) south of the coast of Cyprus. Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said the drillship Yavuz will operate Oct. 19-Jan. 20 at a new well called Guzelyurt-1, which falls within an area that Greek Cyprus had previously awarded to Eni and Total, but which Turkey claims is within its territorial continental shelf. The U.S. took the opportunity to call on Greece to contribute to the international effort to protect the Gulf region; U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper reminded Greece that Washington considers it an ally and a reliable NATO partner. The U.S. leads the Eastern Mediterranean coalition of Greece, Cyprus and Israel that’s aimed at countering Turkish activities, and it’s trying to parlay this into cooperation with its maritime security patrols in the Persian Gulf. Athens, however, said tensions in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean preclude Greece’s direct naval participation in the effort but did say Greek military installations in the United Arab Emirates could serve as observers in the Gulf.

The European response. After Washington announced 25 percent tariffs on select European Union goods and 10 percent tariffs on Airbus planes, Brussels is planning its response. The EU has made it clear that it intends to respond in kind. But while the bloc may be able to agree on the need to respond, its two largest economies disagree on exactly how that should be done. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the bloc would seek approval from the World Trade Organization to take action against the U.S., likely in the form of punitive tariffs. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz also urged a prudent European response given current uncertainty over trade. But the French appear ready to play hardball; Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said France was preparing to impose sanctions. His country’s response is understandable; it will be more heavily affected than most other EU states since it’s a major Airbus shareholder and leading exporter of wine and cheese. The EU has an active WTO case against the U.S., and the anticipated ruling may give it the ability to impose similar tariffs next spring. But Brussels may not be willing to wait that long as U.S.-EU trade tensions mount.

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