Syria update. Russia and Syria continue to conduct airstrikes on rebel positions in Idlib, but so far Syria has not launched a ground offensive. It’s possible that that could change today – last week, rumors emerged that President Bashar Assad gave Russia an ultimatum to find a diplomatic solution by Monday, or else. Meanwhile, there have been near-daily reports of Turkish reinforcements being sent to Idlib. One report even suggested Turkey had sent a 300-vehicle convoy on Sunday, though it came from Al-Masdar, a source we don’t find especially credible because of its sympathies toward the Syrian government. Elsewhere in Syria, Russia accused the United States of using white phosphorus bombs in Deir el-Zour on Saturday. (It’s illegal to use incendiary weapons such as white phosphorus bombs against civilians.) The Pentagon denied the accusation.
Outside Syria, it appears as though the competition over the Caucasus is heating up too. While Iran and Azerbaijan negotiate ways to increase bilateral trade in Tehran, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Azerbaijan – even as military exercises between Turkey and Azerbaijan proceed. Turkey may even be planning to establish a military base in Nakhchivan, according to a Turkish media report. (It would be Turkey’s third foreign military base.) The presence of foreign powers in the Caucasus is a threat Russia takes seriously, so if the rumors are true, it might be an effort by Turkey to create some leverage over Russia as the conflict in Syria continues. Russia, Iran and Turkey may have areas of agreement and disagreement in Syria, but their interests stretch far beyond this single country, and growing competition in the south Caucasus would be indicative of this.
Yet even with all the activity in Syria, Iran appears to also be focusing on its security threats closer to home – namely, the Kurds. Over the past few days, the government in Tehran has increased the tempo of its attacks against Iranian Kurdish positions in Iraqi Kurdistan. Shelling began Sept. 6, followed by a missile strike Sept. 8. So far, as many as 15 have been killed and 50 wounded. An Iranian Kurdish militant group known as the Kurdistan Free Life Party condemned the attack, as did the Iraqi government. Meanwhile, social media reports claim that a large contingent of soldiers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been deployed to the cities of Kamyaran, Marivan and Piranshahr in western Iran. Over the weekend, Iran executed three Iranian Kurdish prisoners. Four Iranian Kurds who had been kidnapped were recently found decapitated in Iraq near the Iranian border.
Iraq’s leader is under fire. As protests in Basra calmed over the weekend, the government in Baghdad lifted its curfew and reopened the port at Umm Qasr. But the fallout from the protests is just beginning. On Saturday, Iran summoned Iraq’s ambassador over the burning of an Iranian consulate in Basra. In Iraq, two of Iraq’s biggest political coalitions called on the prime minister to step down. The leader of a pro-Iran militia went so far as to say the prime minister should be tried in a military court.
The weekend brought potentially bad economic news for Canada. The International Maritime Organization, the U.N. agency responsible for regulating shipping, is implementing new policies meant to limit the amount of sulfur in certain ship fuel. Tar sands in Canada are particularly high in sulfur, and refining it out is an expensive process. Considering oil is one of Canada’s most important industries, and considering the country is already at risk of a banking crisis – to say nothing of the ongoing trade talks with the U.S. – the Canadian economy is in a precarious position.
- In Sweden, two centrist parties failed to secure a majority in recent elections. An anti-immigration party placed third.
- China is taking part in Exercise Kakadu, Australia’s largest naval military drills.
- China is giving tax breaks to small businesses to help them survive the trade war.
- Madrid is deploying security forces to Catalonia ahead of Catalonia Day, which falls on Sept. 11.
- North Korea held a military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of North Korea. Notably absent were its intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are usually a fixture of these events.
- Construction on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has begun.
- Turkey’s president will visit the U.S. in late September to take part in the Turkey Investment Conference.
- Germany said it may participate in a joint operation with the U.S., the U.K. and France if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons.
- Malaysia has decided to cancel $4.1 billion of Chinese pipeline projects that were suspended following the country’s elections in May.
- The U.S. has canceled a meeting with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, members of the Alliance for Prosperity, which was launched in 2014 to provide security funding to Central America to stem the flow of migrants.