Watchlist: When the Iraqis Come to Town
Week of October 17th
An image of Mosul, Iraq, from the Tigris river.
Student Protests in South Africa
Students in South Africa have taken to the streets in protest over the cost of university tuition. Protesters are calling for free tuition, in what they see as a largely racial issue. They cite the high tuition cost as a roadblock for many black students who wish to attend university. On October 15, President Jacob Zuma called for an end to the “violent campus protests.” Many of the protests have evolved to include a criminal element, with lootings and fires occurring during or around the protests. However, those involved are also accusing police of arresting students for simply participating or for singing songs of protest. While the conflict continues on, the question of the cost of higher education isn’t new for South Africa. For background information check out the article Heightened Hurdles: Transforming Education in South Africa from our Fall 2015 edition of the Michigan Journal of International Affairs, available in our online archive.
Haitian Cholera Outbreak
In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which devastated many remote villages and towns in western Haiti, there has arisen a possible new threat that may prolong the suffering and impact of the hurricane: a cholera outbreak. This waterborne disease spread by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food also affected the island nation following the 2010 earthquake. Cholera is thought by aid agencies operating in Haiti to be a grave threat because of limited water and sanitation infrastructure the nation has. There is also the threat of more hurricanes and the continuation of the rainy season, which will prolong the lack of access aid agencies and local governments will have to help those with the disease. It has also been reported that there have been clashes between Haitians seeking aid and relief from the hurricane with police and United Nations (UN) peacekeepers. This is likely due to the fact that it is believed a UN aid worker from Nepal introduced cholera to the island nation during the earthquake cleanup in 2010. It remains to be seen if the outbreak will be as extensive as that in 2010, as only about 200 cases have been reported in areas aid has already reached.
Death of a Monarch in Thailand
Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away early Thursday afternoon at the age of 88, after being hospitalized on October 3rd. He was the world’s longest serving monarch. Deputy-Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam announced on Friday that Former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda would stand in as Regent while Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn mourns the death of his father. Look out for more information about the King’s funeral and succession plans in the week to come.
Severe Flooding in Vietnam
Severe flooding hit central Vietnam this past weekend, leaving at least 21 people dead and tens of thousands of homes damaged from the torrential rain. Four central provinces have been affected with the province of Quang Binh experiencing the worst of this natural disaster, as crops are destroyed and livestock are swept away. Local media express concern over the fact that discharges from hydropower reservoirs have exacerbated the flooding. Provincial officials are frustrated that dam operators had not informed local residents sooner regarding the rising water levels. On top of all this, Typhoon Sarika is set to hit northern Vietnam early next week. Stay tuned for updates regarding the safety of Vietnam’s residents in light of this fatal natural disaster.
Possibility of New Scottish Referendum
Last week, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for a consultation on a second Scottish independence referendum bill. The consultation marks the first step in the long process of allowing the referendum to go to a vote. Although a similar referendum for Scottish independence was rejected by a 5% margin in September of 2014, the country has experienced renewed calls for a revote in response to the Brexit decision last June. Many Scots were in favor of staying within the EU compared to other regions of the UK, with 62% voting to remain compared to a 46% in England. So what’s next for Scotland? Only time will decide whether they negotiate their concerns through independence or within the UK, but extensive talks are certain. Watch out next week for further developments on the bill’s consultation and an online MJIA article looking more in-depth at the causes and possible outcomes.
Battle for Mosul Looming
On Saturday evening, the Iraqi Air Force dropped leaflets over Mosul warning residents of the impending offensive to liberate the ISIS-held city. A 25,000 strong Iraqi force, which includes Kurdish peshmerga and a group of largely Shi’ite militias collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), is expected to take part in the battle for Mosul. ISIS has held the city, Iraq’s second largest, since June 2014, making the impending offensive a critical test for Iraq’s fledgling government, led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. There are concerns that the Iraqi force is ill-equipped to ensure the safety of the largely Sunni population of Mosul and Shi’ite militias have been accused of reprisal attacks against civilians in areas previously liberated from ISIS. On the eve of the Mosul offensive, the Iraqi forces face important questions, but for now, Baghdad is eager to end the two-year long occupation by the Islamic State.
US, Russia Talks Rift Deeper as Assad, Putin Gain Momentum in Aleppo
On Saturday in Lausanne, diplomatic talks between Russia, the United States, and crucial Middle East states did not progress. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his British, French, and German counterparts in London on Sunday to discuss the viability of imposing sanctions on Russia and Syria if the bombardment continues. With diplomatic setbacks in recent weeks and miniscule effect of existing sanctions on Syria, finding a political solution remains challenging. On the ground the stakes are high in Aleppo this week, as Syrian and Russian warplanes continue with a ground offensive to recapture the rebel-held district East Aleppo. Assad anticipates the recapture of Aleppo will serve as a “springboard” for government forces moving forward, seeking to recapture the final rebel-held major city, Idlib. As talks between Western powers and Russia continue to rift, President Assad’s imperatively strategic offense in Aleppo is certain to gain momentum this week.