The Watchlist: Iraqi forces claim Kirkuk

Week of October 23rd

Iraqi policemen with the local emergency services unit signal a car to approach a traffic control point in Kirkuk province, Aug. 1, 2011. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Deadliest Terror Attack In Somali History Sparks Popular Outrage

The terror attack that shook Mogadishu last week has become the deadliest in Somali history. According to government sources, 350 people were killed when a truck carrying military grade explosives prematurely exploded at a security checkpoint. The attack, which experts believe meant to target the UN or a Turkish military base in Mogadishu’s “green zone”, occurred near a busy traffic intersection, leading to hundreds of fatalities. The attack has been linked to al-Shabab, an organization with ties to Al-Qaeda, who has been responsible for multiple attacks in Mogadishu this year. The scale of the attacks has since provoked mass protests against al-Shabab. Thousands have taken to the streets donning red bandanas to demonstrate unity in the face of continuing Islamist terror. Despite the resistance to al-Shabab, opinion is split on whether the attacks will help or hurt Somalia’s counterterrorism efforts. The current government of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has made security a top priority since his election in February, yet the ease with which the attack occurred has led some to blame the government for failing to secure the safety of its citizens. Others believe that growing frustration with terror attacks will embolden the government’s security efforts. SEBASTIAN LEDER MACEK


Chinese Congress Gives President Xi Jinping Opportunity to Consolidate Power

Last Wednesday the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) kicked off its 19th week-long National Congress in which delegates of the only major political party of the country will choose its leaders for the next five years, including the President and first Premier. President since 2012, Xi Jinping, will almost certainly serve another five year term in a government that is increasingly centered on him. The past week has seen a number of headlines from established Western publications likening Xi’s grip on power to that of founding President of China Mao Zedong’s, who after his death was described by his successor, Deng Xiaoping, as 70% good and 30% bad despite being widely attributed the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese citizens due to his economic and social revolutions. After Xi delivered an unprecedented 3.5 hour opening speech declaring ‘a new era’ in which China stands tall, it is expected that Xi will seek to consolidate power by replacing members of the tremendously important Standing Committee of the Politburo with those loyal to him. The Congress ends on Wednesday and it will be interesting to see if Premier Li Keqiang, the second most powerful politician in China behind Xi, will hold onto his job or be replaced by a candidate more loyal to Xi like Wang Qishan, despite his being past the typically enforced retirement age. WILL FEUER


Argentinian Activist’s Body Found Amid Congressional Elections

Santiago Maldonado, a 28 year old indigenous rights activist for Argentina’s Mapuche people, was found dead in Chubut River near Buenos Aires on Saturday. He had been missing since August 1st after he and other protesters clashed with police at an indigenous rights demonstration in Patagonia. Authorities transferred his body to the city for identification and an autopsy, where his brother Sergio was able to identify him and morticians were able to deny visible wounds on the body. His death has been highly politicized amid Argentina’s upcoming Congressional Elections, with the leftist opposition accusing security officers for his death and President Mauricio Macri of covering it up. Macri’s center right party has denied such allegations, previously offering a reward for information on Maldonado’s disappearance.

Despite the controversy surrounding Maldonado’s death, last night’s elections saw Macri’s party make substantial gains across the nation. The elections were seen as a barometer of the country’s political mood regarding Macri and his ambitious economic plan. Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations human rights office in Latin America has called for an independent investigation into Maldonado’s death. MEGHAN ROWLEY


Anti-Corruption Journalist Victim of Car Bomb in Malta

Daphne Caruana, a 53-year-old investigative journalist, was killed in a car bomb on the island-nation of Malta last Monday. Described as both “the best investigative journalist Malta has ever seen” and “at times also a tabloid trash writer” who was loose with her journalistic standards, she wrote a popular blog that challenged instances of corruption in the country’s politics and business. Her targets included Joseph Muscat, Malta’s prime minister, as well as the Nationalist party leader, the economy minister, police officers, and foreign businessmen with financial interests in Malta. Caruana’s killing pokes at a dark underbelly within the picturesque holiday destination often cited as an EU success story, having joined in 2004 and becoming one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Beneath this impressive success, however, lie some shadowy practices including corruption, a fragile legal system, a purchasable passport program that grants wealthy individuals easy citizenship, and tax laws favorable to online gambling and foreign money deposits. Despite the government’s posted reward of 1 million euros for information leading to the capture of Caruana’s murderer, F.B.I. and Dutch police support, few are hopeful that the case will be solved in the coming weeks. DANIEL EVANS​

Middle East

Iraqi Forces Claim Control of Kirkuk

Following severe fighting, Iraqi forces now claim to control all areas of Kirkuk province from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. Since they have retaken Alton Kupri, they have taken over the last Kurdish-held area, territory that has been held by the Kurds since 2014. Following fierce rocket, artillery, and machine-gun fire, the Kurdish forces were pushed backed into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Kirkuk is an oil-rich province with an ethnically diverse Kirkuk city, residents of which are stuck in the crossfire of this fighting. Due to its prized oil reserves, the central government in Baghdad and the KRI both claim Kirkuk as their own. The Kurdish government held a referendum, which backed independence through a majority vote. However, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered military action, claiming that the vote was illegitimate. The most recent fighting ensued following the Iraqi court ordering the arrest of Kurdistan’s vice-president because he referred to the troops sent to Kirkuk as “occupying forces.” Peshmerga forces collapsed following the invasion of the Islamic State militants, and the fate of the remainder of their lands will be revealed in the coming weeks. SANURI GUNAWARDENA​

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