Daily Memo: Protests in Iraq, the Economy in Europe, Emergency Powers in Hong Kong

What's geopolitically important today.


Protests in Iraq. Nationwide protests have entered their third day in Iraq, where the government is working to contain the fallout. Dozens were injured and at least 10 people were killed overnight (five in the southern city of Amarah and at least another five in Nasiriyah), bringing the death toll to 19 since protests began on Tuesday. The government has shut off internet access throughout much of the country and imposed an indefinite curfew. Unknown attackers targeted the Green Zone in an apparent rocket attack, the second in less than two weeks, but coalition forces reported no injuries or damage. The speaker of Iraq’s parliament invited protesters to attend an Oct. 5 session to discuss their demands. Prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully and warned against political or religious movements trying to capitalize on the protests. The U.S. government ordered nonessential personnel at the Baghdad embassy and Irbil consulate to leave the country, and the foreign ministries of Turkey and Iran have warned their citizens against traveling to Iraq. Iran closed two of its nine border crossings with its western neighbor – one temporarily and another at Khesro indefinitely. We will be closely watching how these protests evolve since they come at a time when regional powers are jostling for influence and control in Iraq.

Europe’s race to the bottom. IHS Markit’s final eurozone composite output index for September was barely above contraction, falling to 50.1 from 51.9 in August. (Anything below 50 indicates contraction.) In Germany, the service-sector slowdown came in worse than feared, dropping to 51.4 from 54.8 in August, its worst reading in three years. Germany’s composite index slipped into negative territory for the first time since 2013, at 48.5 from 51.7 last month. The British economy in September saw its second-worst decline in business confidence in a decade, behind only the period following the 2016 Brexit referendum. The services sector turned negative, joining construction and manufacturing in decline, with a composite measure of private-sector output showing a reading of 48.8 in September from 49.7 the previous month. The rate of job shedding was the fastest since 2010, and the shrinking volume of export orders suggested that foreign firms are switching business to other markets. In all, IHS Markit expects that the British economy shrank by 0.1 percent in the third quarter after declining by 0.2 percent in the second quarter, meaning the economy is in a technical recession.

Emergency powers in Hong Kong. Authorities in Hong Kong will on Friday reportedly discuss plans to invoke emergency powers to contain increasingly violent anti-government protests. Potential emergency measures include a curfew and a ban on wearing masks. Meanwhile, Reuters obtained police documents suggesting Hong Kong police had loosened guidelines on the use of force against protesters ahead of demonstrations on Oct. 1. Previously, officers were told that they “will be accountable for their own actions.” This line was replaced with “officers on the ground should exercise their own discretion to determine what level of force is justified in a given situation.” The result on Oct. 1: A teenage protester was shot with a live round by police, the first such instance since the current wave of protests began, and more than 100 others were wounded as police fired off some 1,400 rounds of tear gas and 900 rubber bullets. The protests may not be dying down, but Beijing is still content to let the Hong Kong government do what’s necessary to keep a lid on matters on its behalf.

An impasse in Syria. The U.S.-Turkey impasse over the question of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units may have created an opening for Russian involvement. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara is dissatisfied with current efforts to establish a safe zone with the U.S. in northeastern Syria. He also echoed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments from earlier this week – that Turkey will not rule out unilateral military operations in the area in pursuit of its desired results. Russia was quick to respond; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was able and willing to help open a dialogue between the Syrian and Turkish governments over northeastern Syria. The Kremlin has yet to express blatant objection to Tukey’s plans for a safe zone but still supports dialogue as a means to this end. Lavrov said Washington’s desire to control the safe zone and border issues created the conditions that encouraged Turkey to seek alternative options.

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