Demonstrations in Iraq entered their second week. The protests have been concentrated in southern oil-producing regions around Basra. On Sunday, three Iraqi protesters were reportedly killed and another 120 were injured in clashes with security forces in the capital of the southern province of Muthanna. The nature of the simultaneous demonstrations and riots in the Shiite regions indicates they’re being organized by someone. Given that Iran is looking for leverage as Western sanctions pressure sets back in, along with the participation of Iran-backed militias in the protests, it’s natural to cast suspicion on Tehran. But it may not be that simple, since Iran may have considerable financial stakes in oil production in this region, and protesters have also targeted Iran-backed parties in Iraq. This raises the question of whether someone else – say, Israel or the U.S. – has an interest in destabilizing the region. We’re watching for signs that the unrest spreads beyond Shiite areas.
U.S. President Donald Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday. The two issues that matter most here are Syria and Ukraine. Particularly in light of last week’s U.S. indictments of Russian intelligence officials for alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Trump will be looking to return home with some kind of deal. Ukraine is unlikely to be discussed unless the Russians want to bring up U.S. forces in the region, putting the spotlight on Syria. The other question is whether Putin is more interested in friendship with Germany than an entente with the United States. Trump’s criticism of Germany and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline last week is noteworthy in this regard. Underneath all the noise, for Russia, this is about Germany versus the United States. It always has been.
The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units have completed their withdrawal from the Manbij region in line with the U.S.-Turkey “roadmap” agreed to last month, according to multiple reports. But unnamed Turkish Foreign Ministry officials say reports of the withdrawal are exaggerated, and there are other signs of fresh destabilization across Syria. On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Putin that a renewed assault by Bashar Assad’s forces on the Idlib region would derail the Astana peace process. On Sunday, Israeli rockets struck a Syrian military position north of Aleppo, according to Syrian state TV. Notably, Erdogan reportedly discussed Manbij with Trump over the phone this morning, amid continued speculation that Trump may announce a grand bargain with Putin involving the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, Israel also carried out its largest daytime airstrike campaign in Gaza since the 2014 war, according to local media, in retaliation for a spate of rocket attacks. The Israelis are not looking for a fight at this point, so the key question is what Hamas wants in all this. This is particularly important because the issue of Iranian forces is on the table, and this is the kind of circumstance Iran wants. Tehran wants the Saudis to publicly abandon the Palestinians if nothing else.
- The Chinese economy continued to decelerate, according to official figures, growing 6.7 percent in the second quarter. Meanwhile, China’s monetary base grew just 8 percent year over year in June, its all-time slowest pace, down from 8.3 percent in May.
- British Prime Minister Theresa May ruled out a second Brexit referendum amid warnings from a handful of pro-EU Tory lawmakers that they would join Labour in blocking an exit from the union without a deal with Brussels.
- Italy agreed to allow hundreds of refugees to disembark from a pair of packed ships in Sicily after Germany, France, Malta, Spain and Portugal agreed to accept them.
- Boko Haram is back, with fighters overrunning a military base in northern Nigeria. It was the group’s second major attack in two days. Some 600 Nigerian troops are reportedly missing.
- German lawmakers within the ruling coalition are feuding over just how quickly to raise military spending under pressure from the U.S., with the Social Democrats pushing back against calls from the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union to reach 1.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2021, three years ahead of current plans.