Report

Kerry Visits Iraq to Support Abadi Government

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Iraq today meeting with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a show of support. “This is obviously a very critical time here in Iraq,” Kerry said. Abadi is currently caught in a fight between political elites trying to maintain control of the cabinet and a populist movement that ...

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Iraq today meeting with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a show of support. “This is obviously a very critical time here in Iraq,” Kerry said. Abadi is currently caught in a fight between political elites trying to maintain control of the cabinet and a populist movement that supports his shift toward non-partisan technocrats. The country has also been hit hard by declines in oil prices, which have increased Iraq’s fiscal deficit. Iraqi forces, backed by the U.S.-led coalition, are making steady gains against the Islamic State and today reached the city center in Hit, though fighting continues in some neighborhoods.

Kerry traveled to Iraq from Bahrain, where yesterday he called on Iran to play a more constructive role in resolving conflicts in Yemen and Syria. The United States and Russia are discussing a framework for a revised constitution for Syria, Bloomberg reports, though those conversations are in early stages.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Governing Territory with Millions from Taxes and Seized Accounts

A new investigation by Reuters has determined that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has funded its occupation of Mukalla, Yemen, and surrounding towns with millions of dollars in taxation from the city’s port, extortion from oil companies, and seized bank accounts. “The group is experiencing a period of obscene, unprecedented wealth and luxury,” a Mukalla resident told reporters. AQAP has demonstrated its effort to govern by trying to arrange an oil export contract with the Yemeni government and promoting public works projects. “I prefer that al Qaeda stay here, not for Al Mukalla to be liberated,” another resident said. “The situation is stable, more than any ‘free’ part of Yemen.”

Headlines

  • Former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha has been sentenced to 13 years in prison by a military court for transporting explosives to be used in terrorist attacks in 2012; a previous trial sentenced him to four years in prison last year, but that trial was thrown out.

 

  • Another 45 Pakistani refugees arrived in Turkey today after being deported from Greece, bringing the total so far to approximately 250; German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the EU-Turkey deal in comments today, noting that refugees will receive individualized attention under the arrangement.

 

  • Turkish and Israeli officials are nearing an agreement to restore normalized diplomatic relations and say the plan could be finalized “very soon” at their next meeting; the countries have limited their ties since a spat in 2010 over a flotilla that tried to reach Gaza but was intercepted by Israeli troops.

 

  • The Islamic State attacked a cement factory in Al-Dhmeir, northeast of Damascus; reports vary, but approximately 170 to 300 factory workers were captured and transported to Islamic State-held territory.

 

  • The French government said it would not carry out airstrikes or deploy ground forces to combat the Islamic State in Libya, but it could provide assistance to help secure the U.N.-backed unity government in Tripoli; “We shouldn’t make the same mistakes as in the past. If you’re imagining airstrikes, ground troops, that’s not on the table,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

Arguments and Analysis

How the Middle East and North Africa Can Benefit from Low Oil Prices” (Shanta Devarajan, Future Development)

“The sharp drop in oil prices starting in mid-2014 is changing this picture. Almost every oil-exporting country is cutting subsidies in fuel, electricity, gas, and water. The United Arab Emirates has essentially eliminated fuel subsidies. Many are cutting public spending and some, like Algeria, are freezing public-sector hiring. Morocco and several GCC countries have introduced energy-efficiency improvements, lowering carbon emissions. Oil importers such as Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan, who started reforming subsidies in 2014, are shifting from a fixed domestic price of fuel to one that is tied to the world price. In short, low oil prices are inducing substantial policy changes in MENA that will help the region overcome many of the problems it has been plagued with for a while. To be sure, these policy changes are only the beginning. To benefit even more from low oil prices, the countries in the region will need to move on at least three fronts: (i) substantial civil service reform, so the public sector is seen as accountable to citizens, which will in turn make citizens more comfortable with paying higher prices for public services; (ii) the adoption of fiscal rules that will permit smoothing of consumption through the inevitable price shocks; and (iii) for the oil exporters, consider more efficient ways of distributing oil revenues to citizens, possibly including the use of lump-sum transfers.”

 

How to Preserve the Fragile Calm at Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade” (International Crisis Group)

“The real bind is that Israel in effect has annexed East Jerusalem, so even were the government much less sympathetic to the religious Zionist agenda, it would have to jump through hoops at the Esplanade to avoid implementing Israeli domestic law, which not surprisingly provides for Jewish access to and worship at Jewish holy sites. But for Jerusalem’s Palestinians, the PA and Jordan — and so for Netanyahu to keep relations with them even — the Esplanade must be treated according to its internationally-recognised status: as occupied territory. Until Israel reaches a formal arrangement with the PLO and Jordan — which need not be a final status agreement — that binds its conduct there no less thoroughly than its other laws do, every prime minister will be forced to balance competing interests. Politicians and security officials have reacted by making and remaking policy on the fly, in secret and, in Israel’s case, sometimes in apparent violation of domestic law. The commitment to the discreet understandings is above all between Netanyahu and the king, not Israel and Jordan. So long as they prioritise their personal relations and impose their will on their domestic systems, their agreement will hold. But if their calculations change, or one of their tenures ends, the understandings could evaporate, and with them, the prospects for stability.”

-J. Dana Stuster

JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images

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