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Daily Brief: Kurdish Offensive Continues Escalation With Syrian Government

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August 22, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Kurdish Offensive Continues Escalation With Syrian Government

Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) forces launched an assault on areas controlled by the Syrian government in the northeastern city of Hasaka on Monday. The YPG called for pro-government militias to surrender after government jets bombed YPG targets for the first time last week (Al Jazeera). The fighting in Hasaka marks the most serious confrontation between Kurdish forces and President Bashar al-Assad's regime to date (Reuters). The Kurdish group is also central to U.S.-led efforts to combat the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Meanwhile Iran's foreign ministry announced that Russia was no longer using its bases to launch strikes in Syria (AP).


"As regional dynamics and alliances shift, the fighting in this previously obscure city could undermine the Obama administration’s campaign—of which the Kurds are a key component—to degrade and destroy Islamic State. It also risks bringing the US into a more direct confrontation with Syria in defence of its Kurdish allies and American personnel based alongside them," Fazel Hawramy writes for the Guardian.

"When the Syrian protest movement started in 2011, it was young Kurds in Amouda, in the north of the country, who took to the streets, calling for freedom and democracy. President Bashar al-Assad soon announced he would recognise some of the rights demanded by the Kurds and allowed them to register as citizens and hold an identify card, a right they have been deprived of since 1962. But the Kurds rejected the concessions, saying they would wait to get their rights once all Syrians achieved freedom and democracy. Five years on the scene is different. As the war has dragged on in Syria, Kurdish groups have taken the opportunity to gain more power," Lina Sinjab writes for the BBC.

"In many ways, Syria’s Kurds today appear to be reliving what their Iraqi counterparts experienced at the end of the Gulf War in 1991: the same economic desolation; the same combination of military control and security provided by rebel Kurdish parties that are prized for their ability to maintain law and order but enjoy only lukewarm local support; the same deep relief that a hated regime no longer has much say in their affairs; in both cases, a measure of unexpected support from the US; the same upswell of hope now that they are finally achieving some autonomy; and the same nagging fear that an oppressive central government—whether the current one in Damascus or a future incarnation—will return to impose its will," Joost Hilterman writes for the New York Review of Books.


Japan's First Lady Visits Pearl Harbor

Akie Abe, wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, visited the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii on Sunday (Japan Times). No serving Japanese prime minister has made such a visit (AP).

CFR's Sheila A. Smith discusses the U.S.-Japan alliance in this article.

HONG KONG: Protesters demonstrated in Hong Kong after candidates who favor the territory's independence from China (Hong Kong Free Press) were barred from legislative council elections.


Pakistan Army Kills Forty in Border Offensive

Pakistan's army launched an offensive in the Rajgal valley, near the border with Afghanistan, against suspected militants (Reuters). The Pakistani military said it had killed at least forty people in the area since last week.  

TAJIKISTAN: Police in Tajikistan have reportedly compiled a list of women known to wear Islamic head coverings and raided markets where veils are sold in a bid to combat what officials say is excessive piety (Eurasia).


Iraq Carries Out Mass Execution of Suspected ISIS Militants

Iraqi forces executed thirty-six men on Sunday who had been convicted of participating in a massacre of Iraqi soldiers by the self-proclaimed Islamic State in 2014 (AP). The head of the provincial council in Salahuddin said some of the men had not been at the scene of the first massacre and that their confessions had been extracted under torture.

Ned Parker discusses whether Iraq has a plan after its battle against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in this CFR interview.


Ethiopian Marathoner Protests Government After Silver Medal Win in Rio

Feyisa Lilesa made a gesture of protest after placing second in the Olympic marathon in Rio, which he told reporters after the race could get him killed or jailed in Ethiopia (NYT). The marathoner said the Ethiopian government "is killing my people," a reference to security forces' crackdown on anti-government protests by the Oromo ethnic group.

DRC: Congolese health workers are using bug spray and attempting to destroy mosquito breeding sites in an effort to combat yellow fever, measures seen as poor alternatives to vaccination campaigns. Nearly one million vaccines have gone missing in the country and others were improperly stored (WaPo).


Italy, France, Germany to Meet in Ventotene to Discuss Brexit

Leaders of the EU's three largest economies will meet on the southern Italian island to discuss Britain's exit from the union (Guardian). The meeting is the second of its kind before an informal summit in September.

TURKEY: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan identified (BBC) the suicide bomber who attacked a wedding in Gaziantep on Saturday as a boy between the ages of 12 and 14. The death toll in the attack has reached fifty-four people (Hurriyet)


Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics Close

The sixteen-day sporting event closed in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday (AP) as International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach passed its flag on to the governor of Tokyo (LAHT), the 2020 host city.  

This CFR Backgrounder examines the economics of the Olympics Games for host countries.

UNITED STATES: A top public health official has warned that the mosquito-borne virus Zika could spread to the Gulf Coast (Reuters). Several locally transmitted cases have been reported in southern Florida. The virus has been linked to severe birth defects in newborns.
This CFR Backgrounder looks at the spread of the Zika virus.

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