International roundup: "The dream of liberation is now a reality."
Around the world
In October and November, violence in Iraq fell to its lowest monthly level in five years, the United Nations said on Monday.
- The news came just two days after Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State after Iraqi forces recaptured the last few areas along the Syrian border still controlled by ISIS.
- From Abadi’s declaration of victory: “Honorable Iraqis: your land has been completely liberated. The dream of liberation is now a reality.”
- Abadi’s announcement followed Russia’s announcing the defeat of ISIS in Syria.
- In a grim reminder that Iraq will be dealing with the aftermath of this war for years and possibly decades to come, two mass graves were just discovered near Sinjar, containing the remains of 140 civilians murdered by ISIS, mostly members of the Yazidi religious group.
- One of the graves contained the bodies of 20 women and 40 children, according to the paramilitary group that discovered the mass graves.
In other Iraq news: on Friday, Brigadier General Talal Silo, a former commander for the Syrian Democratic Forces, alleged that the US military allowed thousands of ISIS fighters to flee from their de facto capital of Raqqa along with their families in order to allow them to fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
- The Syrian Democratic Forces, which captured Raqqa in October, stalled their offensive into Raqqa for three days to allow the ISIS fighters to escape, according to Silo.
- From the Reuters report: “The account of a last-ditch battle was a fiction designed to keep journalists away while the evacuations took place.”
- The US coalition has denied making any deal.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a think tank on Tuesday that he was ready to talk to North Korea “without precondition,” reports NPR.
- Tillerson’s comments, which came a week after North Korea indicated its willingness to talk, were quickly disputed by the White House and Tillerson’s own State Department.
- The events highlight the deep dysfunction between Tillerson and the president, who has already made plans to replace Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, the CIA director.
- Tillerson’s credibility, according to many observers, is shot. “How can you take what Tillerson says now seriously in the context of the past 10, 11 months?” said Van Jackson, a former Asia specialist for the Defense Department.
- North Korea, for its part, passed along its request through Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.
The United Kingdom reached a deal with the European Union last Friday that allows Brexit talks to move onto their next phase, according to the BBC.
- The agreement as it stands includes provisions for protecting the rights of EU and UK citizens in their cross-border travels, a guarantee that there’ll be no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and an approximate determination of the settlement costs (between $47 and $52 billion) expected to be incurred as the process continues over the next few years.
- Next up: today’s European Council summit, where EU leaders will need to approve the deal.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial drug war is under review this week by the Philippines Supreme Court.
- In one interesting exchange, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio questioned why the government seemed so intent on going after low-level drug dealers while ignoring larger drug traffickers who are able to move large amounts of drugs through the country’s ports.
- “Why is the policy to go after retail and not bulk importation?” Carpio asked. “If you stop the supply then there is no more demand.”
- The question was directed at Jose Calida, the Solicitor General of the Philippines, who responded that, because the country is an archipelago, “these shabu or metamphetamine hydrochloride are dumped into the sea your Honor and somebody will get it from the high seas.”
- Calida’s argument, it seems, is that the drug lords are Chinese, and thus outside Philippine jurisdiction, unlike the street sellers.
- Duterte’s drug war has claimed thousands of lives, including dozens of children.
- Just two months after suspending police from the conflict, Duterte last week reinstated them, in the process telling human rights groups to “go to hell, all of you!”
In Honduras, where at least three people have been killed in protests following a disputed presidential election, hundreds of members of the riot police refused to carry out orders enforcing curfews.
- The police officers announced as a group that they would no longer be confronting protesters, since the policy “amounted to ‘taking sides’ in the political battle” between President Juan Orlando Hernández and opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla.
- “Our people are sovereign,” one of the officers said, reading from a prepared statement. “We cannot confront and repress their rights.”
15 UN peacekeepers were killed and 53 more were wounded in the Democratic Republic of Congo last Thursday in an attack by the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group with ties in neighboring Uganda. All of the peacekeepers killed were from Tanzania. Five Congolese soldiers were also killed.
- It was the deadliest attack on a UN peacekeeping mission since 1993, when 22 Pakistani soldiers were killed in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.
- The UN mission in Congo is, as the Associated Press reports, “the largest and most expensive in the world,” with a budget of more than a billion dollars and more than 16,000 peacekeepers deployed.
- Nearly 300 peacekeepers have been killed since the mission began in 1999.
An arrest warrant was issued by an Argentine judge for former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner over charges of treason.
- She is accused of signing a deal covering up Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish Center that killed 85 people.
- Kirchner, who won election to Argentina’s senate in October, has immunity from prosecution as a senator in Argentina’s Senate following her election in October.
- Prosecutors will need two-thirds vote of the Senate to remove her immunity.
Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday in further anti-corruption protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the focus of two corruption investigations.
- The protesters, estimated to number approximately 10,000, called for Netanyahu to resign from office as smaller protests took place in other cities.
- Meanwhile, Israel’s Knesset moved closer to passing legislation that would bar police investigators from informing prosecutors of any incriminating evidence against the Prime Minister in any future corruption investigations.
Russia was banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics by the International Olympics Committee on Tuesday over running a state-sponsored, systematic doping program for their athletes.
- In other Russia news: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to run for reelection in March. A victory would see him continue as president until 2024.
Nine countries and transnational unions, including the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, and the EU, agreed to a ban on commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean for at least 16 years. The ban allows scientists time to study the impact large-scale fishing will have on the environment before allowing it to commence.
Last Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the true purchaser of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, “Salvator Mundi”, which sold for a record-breaking $450 million.
- According to the report, the bin Salman used his distant cousin as a proxy to purchase the painting.
- The Saudi embassy in Washington disputed the story, saying the cousin, who is a longtime friend of MBS, purchased the painting on behalf of the ministry of culture of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The Louvre Abu Dhabi confirmed it will be getting the painting.
- “Salvator Mundi,” a painting of Jesus Christ, is one of fewer than 20 known works by da Vinci.
- Meanwhile: last Wednesday saw Saudi Arabia hold its first ever public concert by a female singer, a sign of the Crown Prince’s reforms.
header image: "counter-ISIL coalition small group meeting," foreign and commonwealth office / flickr