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Watch List: March 8, 2018

Turkey and Iraq discuss joint offensive, a new jihadist threat in the Philippines, Russia and the U.S. willing to talk

|March 8, 2018

The items listed below represent potential emerging issues that our analysts are tracking. These can be long term or short term, but will be updated daily. If an item on our Watch List becomes critical, we will email you a full analysis explaining its significance.

Each Saturday, we will follow up our daily Watch List for each week with our conclusions on these issues.

Turkey, Iraq: Turkey’s foreign minister said the Turkish and Iraqi governments had reached a consensus on a potential offensive in Iraq. The joint operation would target Kurds in Iraq and would be launched sometime after Iraqi elections in May. The timing coincides with the planned conclusion of Turkey’s operations in Afrin. Meanwhile, Turkey and the United States are meeting in Washington on March 8-9 to discuss Syria and Iraq, particularly the mostly Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The Kurds are a constant sticking point in the U.S.-Turkey relationship, so we need to see if the U.S. reacted to the news of the Turkey-Iraq offensive.

Philippines: A dozen low-level jihadist groups appear to be trying to coalesce under the banner of “ISIS Philippines.” The jihadist landscape in the Philippines has traditionally been too fragmented to pose a major threat to the region, but last year’s Marawi uprising after several groups merged under the leadership of the Maute group demonstrated the latent threat that jihadists in Mindanao can pose with enough funding and organization. Warnings from Philippine officials about another “Marawi-style” attack have been increasing lately, and the future of a landmark peace agreement with moderate separatist groups in Mindanao remains in doubt. Let’s try to determine the size of this so-called ISIS Philippines and see how it compares to the jihadists who took over Mindanao last year. That should help us gauge how much of a threat this is.

Russia, U.S.: Russia and the U.S. are showing signs of willingness to talk. A top U.S. diplomat said Washington is ready to mark another round of strategic stability talks with Moscow in an effort to maintain bilateral relations. This came after Russia’s deputy foreign minister met with former U.S. diplomats. Russian President Vladimir Putin also called for fighting to stop as soon as possible in Donbass, Ukraine. Russian and U.S. officials were supposed to meet this week, but the meeting was called off last week. Do we know why? What are the chances of an agreement in Ukraine, and what would it look like?

Iran: Reformist lawmakers in Iran are leading a movement to impeach the ministers of labor, urban development and agriculture. Reasons include high-profile transportation accidents and concern over the management of pension funds. It isn’t news that Iran’s political system is divided, but Iran just got over a wave of domestic unrest over economic conditions and calls for political change. We need to rule out any type of larger government crisis. Has the president commented? How often have motions on impeachment been raised in the past?

Kazakhstan: The Kazakh parliament is considering a U.S. proposal to expand their bilateral agreement on the commercial rail transit of freight through Kazakhstan to Afghanistan via Uzbekistan. The U.S. would like to include the Kazakh ports of Kuryk and Aktau in the transit route. Supplies destined for the ports would depart from Azerbaijan and cross the Caspian. How does this fit into the United States’ South Asia strategy? Where do the Russians, Azerbaijanis and Uzbeks stand on the proposal? If Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are not on board, then this goes nowhere.

European Union: European Council President Donald Tusk rebuked the United Kingdom’s latest proposal for trade with the EU post-Brexit. Tusk issued guidelines calling for a limited arrangement for services and regulatory cooperation. He emphasized that being outside the EU will inevitably lead to friction and that the priority must remain on the integrity of the EU single market. We need to gather as many details as possible on the guidelines he issued. What is plan B for the U.K.?

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