A week in which markers were put down for the next few months. There was a buildup of Turkish forces along the Syrian border and by Friday night there were reports that the Turks were shelling Kurdish positions across the border in the Afrin region. Reuters reported seeing 9 tanks on the Turkish side. Ankara said it won’t hesitate to cross into the Afrin region unless the United States withdraws support for a 30,000 strong Kurdish-led border force there. Turkey fears such a force would be made up mostly of Kurdish YPG fighters which it says is allied with the PKK – a Turkish Kurd militia considered by the EU to be a terrorist organization.
The USA denies planning such a border force. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week that the situation had been ‘Misportrayed’. Nevertheless, Turkey seem to mean business an it’s been reported that Russian troops in Afrin are withdrawing in order not to caught up in the potential fighting.
This is all part of the new phase in the Syrian war – with ISIL more or less defeated, attention is again turning to the wider issues, which pulled in other countries.
That’s partially why Rex Tillerson says the U.S. intends to maintain a long term military presence in the country. This is to counter Iran and Russia’s ambitions.
ISIL’s self-declared Caliphate may have been smashed, but the terror group is still dangerous.
On Monday suicide bombers murdered more than 30 people in Baghdad. It’s thought ISIL was behind the attacks. This has dealt a blow to the hopes of increasing stability following the liberation of Mosul late last year. The attacks came the day after Prime Minister al-Abadi announced he will be standing again in May’s general election. Several Iranian backed Shia led groups, including the Badr Organization said they will support him. However, the influential Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, who keeps Iranian influence at a slight distance, did not support him.
Under Iraq’s 2003 power sharing constitution the prime minister’s office is reserved for the Shia, the speaker of parliament is a Sunni, and the largely ceremonial office of president is held by a Kurd. Sadly, election campaigns in Iraq in recent years have been marked by an increase in political violence.
On the Korean peninsula the high-level talks between the 2 Koreas continued. At next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang they are now expected to march together under a ‘unified Korea’ flag. 230 cheerleaders will also be present along with 1a 40 musician strong orchestra. The North has also agreed to send a smaller, 150-member delegation to the Paralympics in March.
But – does this mean North Korea will halt its nuclear weapons programme?– probably not. Therefore, it looks as if Kim Jong Un is buying time ahead of what will be increased American pressure once the Winter games are over.
The regional tensions were apparent this week. Firstly, the Hawaiian authorities wrongly put out an alert that a ballistic missile was on its way to the island, adding…This is not a drill… That sparked 38 minutes of fear before a correction was issued. Then on Tuesday Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported that a North Korean missile had been fired… and said the Government urged people to get to cover. At least it only took a few minutes before –‘Ooops..our mistake, sorry’ or words to that effect. A somewhat dry Government statement was then released saying ‘We want NHK to do their utmost to prevent a recurrence.’
Finally – to Macron the Conqueror…
On Friday the French President met Germany’s leader (for now) -Angela Merkel. Why? To sort out the ‘Future of Europe ‘according to a communiqué from the Elysee Palace.
Ms. Merkel is in all sorts of trouble – she’s agreed a grand coalition government with the SDP in Germany – but the SDP hasn’t yet voted on it, which leaves Macron as currently Europe’s most influential leader. He tried to demonstrate this on a visit to Perfidious Albion – or Britain as its also known. He, and the somewhat embattled British Prime Minister, Theresa May, agreed there was a “strong and deep relationship” between the two countries. Indeed, so strong that the UK agreed it will fund extra border security at the port of Calais, and it will take in more migrants and refugees who are living rough in Calais. The UK will also provide some helicopters to help move French troops around in Mali.
Oh, and Le President said the Bayeux Tapestry could be loaned to the UK in a few years’ time… probably after Brexit. The Tapestry? – It’s about 1066 and all that, when, in very broad-brush historical terms, the ‘French’ beat the English at the Battle of Hastings… Thank you Mr. President. I think.