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Saturday, May 28, 2016

What's going on in the World Today 160528



U.S. Falls Behind in Arctic Great Game

The United States is scrambling to catch up with a big, global push to build icebreakers as the melting Arctic opens the once-frozen north to oil drilling, new shipping and cruise routes, and intensified military competition.

Countries from Russia to China and Chile are all muscling ahead to build a new generation of icebreaking ships. The United States, despite a belated polar effort last year by the Obama administration, has struggled to upgrade its tiny and aging icebreaker fleet, potentially leaving it at a disadvantage in the race for influence in the Arctic.

But on Tuesday, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee earmarked $1 billion for a new polar icebreaker — a potentially big step forward toward building at least the first new ship of its kind in more than a generation.

If passed by Congress, that would fund nearly the entire cost of the ship’s construction, avoiding contentious and yearly fights over money. But it also essentially puts any larger American ambitions in the Arctic on ice for at least a decade while the ship is being built…

Debunking the Myth of the Pivot

On his penultimate trip to Asia this week, U.S. President Barack Obama will have an opportunity to survey the changes that have occurred there during his time in office. As he does, he will find the region much different than it was at the start of his presidency. For the Asia-Pacific region, a single phrase has come to define Obama's administration. In late 2011, as the United States finalized its withdrawal from Iraq, the president declared a great American pivot to Asia. The idea counteracted Washington's dispirited Middle Eastern policy, evoking a massive transfer of U.S. forces and resources to the Asia-Pacific area. Subsequent domestic and international interpretations envisioned the pivot as a tangible thing to be measured in the tonnage of U.S. warships deployed in the region...

The U.S. and Russia Plan for Conflict


Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. That is the mantra the United States and Russia are abiding by as they plan for a tense few years ahead. In critical areas, including the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and arms control negotiations, both countries would genuinely like to negotiate viable solutions. Nevertheless, the mistrust between the two runs deep, and vast differences of opinion and outright conflicts of interest will continue to undermine efforts to reach a comprehensive deal. With little hope of a positive outcome, the strategic decision-makers in Washington and Moscow are cementing their security positions against each other during this period of significant hostility…

May 26, CNN – (New York) One killed in shooting at rapper’s concert. The New York Police Department reported that at least three people were injured and one person was killed May 25 after a suspect opened fire at the Irving Plaza music venue in New York City during a music performance, prompting about 950 attendees to evacuate the building.




Derailing a Nuclear Program by Force

Exactly how the United States and its allies would derail the North Korean nuclear program depends on many factors, not least of which is the extent to which they want to destabilize the sole governing body in Pyongyang. Washington does not want a long-term intervention, meaning that target sets, duration of activity and levels of violence would be limited. That said, any military action must be carried out swiftly and decisively. Rather than exhaustively explore every possible course of action, in the second part of this series, Stratfor will examine the most likely targets should the United States wish to curtail Pyongyang's nuclear activities through force…

What the U.S. Would Use to Strike North Korea

No other country can match the United States when it comes to projection of power. Should Washington decide to carry out a military strike against North Korea, even a limited one, the immediate impact would be devastating for Pyongyang. When considering military action, however, it is important to acknowledge the variables and intelligence gaps that inevitably complicate political and military decision-making. Even with the United States' advantage in training, coordination and equipment, complicating factors and uncertainty about the exact locations and dispositions of North Korean assets make complete mission success far from assured....


France: German Intelligence Chief Warns Of Islamic State Threat During Soccer Tournament May 27, 2016

The head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency warned May 27 that there are indications the Islamic State may be planning to target spectators at the 2016 UEFA European Championship games, a soccer tournament that will begin in France on June 10, Reuters reported. Hans-Georg Maassen, who heads up Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said that while investigators have not uncovered concrete evidence of specific Islamic State attack plans, there are indications that the group wants to carry out an attack during the tournament. France has already said it will deploy more than 90,000 police, soldiers and private security guards throughout the monthlong championship. Around 2.5 million fans are predicted to watch 51 football matches taking place at 10 stadiums around the country.








U.S.: Washington To Examine New India-Iran Port Deal May 24, 2016

A U.S. State Department official said the United States will examine a new deal between India and Iran to develop the southern Iranian port of Chabahar, Reuters reported May 24. The deal, which the two countries signed May 23, will connect India to Central Asia via Iran and Afghanistan. As part of the agreement, India has pledged up to $500 million to develop the port at Chabahar. But some U.S. senators have raised questions about whether the deal could violate lingering sanctions against Iran. Testifying to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on May 24, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal said there have not been any signs of India working with Iran on issues that might raise concerns for the United States.


Retaking Raqqa From the Islamic State


The battle for Raqqa, the Islamic State's self-declared capital in Syria, has begun. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are advancing toward the city, engaging the jihadist group in the villages of al-Hisha, Tal Samen and Mutamshirij along the way. Because of Raqqa's strategic importance, the Islamic State will do everything in its power to keep the city within its grasp. Driving the militants from their stronghold will not be easy or cheap, but if the SDF is successful, it will greatly accelerate the Islamic State's defeat in Syria...

Iraq: Protesters, Security Forces Clash Again In Baghdad

Security forces used tear gas to try to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on May 27, Alsumaria TV reported. Reports are continuing to emerge from the area, where demonstrators have reportedly tried to once again make their way toward the city's Green Zone. Protesters have breached the heavily guarded area's walls twice in the past month, including on May 20, when four people were killed after security forces used live ammunition to try to push back the crowd. The May 27 demonstration was ostensibly organized to show support for the government's ongoing offensive against the Islamic State in Fallujah, but in all likelihood protesters have turned out for the same reasons they participated in other recent demonstrations: anger over the inability of Iraqi leaders to effectively address corruption or protect the country's population. Hundreds of protesters have also reportedly gathered in the southern city of Basra. In a recent update, the office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said security forces have brought the situation in the capital city under control. But, as recent history has proven, demonstrations can evolve rapidly in Baghdad.

Iraq: Government Advances In Fallujah Offensive May 25, 2016

Iraqi government forces and allied militias continued to make significant advances in their effort to retake the city of Fallujah from the Islamic State on May 25, Iraqi military and police officials said, Rudaw reported. Military sources said security forces and their allies cleared Islamic State fighters from more than a dozen areas outside the city and have advanced into the city in some places. Reports suggest at least 160 Islamic State militants have been killed in the fighting. The militant group has controlled the city since January 2014.

Offensives Launched in Iraq and Syria

May 27: Offensives Launched in Iraq and Syria

The massive operation to retake the western Iraqi city of Fallujah from Islamic State forces continues. On May 27, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense announced that Iraqi security forces have initiated the operation's second stage. In a statement, the spokesman for Iraq's Joint Military Command said that the second stage would focus on minimizing casualties among Fallujah's residents and that militias would be deployed alongside Iraqi troops.
Shiite militias, with support from Iran, have been vying for greater participation in the fight agains the Islamic State. Washington and other international actors are trying to avoid the outbreak of sectarian clashes during the push for Fallujah — a looming concern across Iraq. The representative of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic state has said 4,000 Sunni fighters will participate in the fight but maintains that it neither works with nor supports Iraq's Shiite militias. These Shiite forces, however, are already involved in fighting regardless of the U.S. preference. In the operation's first stage, which began on May 22, Sunni and Shiite militias participated separately in clearing villages around the city. Because the second phase will entail fighting in tight, urban areas, Sunni and Shiite militias will be brought into closer proximity. This makes the risk of violence between the nominally aligned sectarian militias much higher, laying the groundwork for future skirmishes.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State has launched an offensive against rebel forces in northern Syria, cutting off access to the towns of Azaz and Mare. The offensive's success has revealed just how ineffective rebel groups backed by Turkey and the United States have become. So far, the rebels have gained little ground in their efforts to drive Islamic State forces out of northern Aleppo province. As the rebels founder, the United States has few alternatives to fall back on in the fight against the Islamic State. As a result, the Syrian Democratic Forces may opt to stage their own campaign. Reports suggest that the group is already preparing for a potential offensive by reinforcing its positions near Manbij.

A US-backed alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters has begun a campaign to expel Islamic State (IS) militants from land north of Raqqa.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is believed to have deployed about 30,000 fighters.

US-led coalition warplanes will support the offensive and Russia has also given its backing.

The SDF did not mention any plan to take Raqqa, the de facto capital of the "caliphate" proclaimed by IS in 2014.

The alliance, which is dominated by the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) militia, has emerged as a key ally of the US-led coalition over the past two years, leading the fight against IS on the ground in northern Syria.

With the help of US airpower, it has taken control of about 26,000 sq km (10,000 sq miles) of territory, including a 400km (250 mile) stretch along the Turkish border…

A Political Reunion in Iraqi Kurdistan

The balance of power in Iraqi Kurdistan may be on the brink of change. On Monday, a leading member of the Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) announced that his party had reached a preliminary agreement, to be signed on Tuesday, with the Gorran party. According to the deal, the two will merge in parliament and run on a joint ticket during the next elections. Given the stops and starts that define Iraqi Kurdish politics, another agreement between parties may seem like more of the same political jockeying. But the merger stands to make a meaningful impact not only on Iraqi Kurdistan but also on its relations with Turkey and Iran...

The Biggest Obstacle to Iran's Energy Makeover Is Itself

Throughout the first half of the year, Iran's national oil company has been busily signing partnership deals with its international peers to secure its place in future Iranian energy projects. The agreements, the most recent of which was sealed on May 4 with Austria's OMV Group, come at a critical time for Iran's hydrocarbons sector. Over the past decade, the Iranian oil industry languished as Tehran largely shunned outside assistance. But now, in an effort to capitalize on the country's recent nuclear deal with the West and the lifting of sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani is trying to reinvigorate the sector by pumping in foreign cash and expertise


Avigdor Lieberman named as Israel's defence minister

Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu signed the coalition deal in parliament
Israel and the Palestinians

The controversial right-wing Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman has agreed to bring his Yisrael Beitenu party into the country's governing coalition.

The deal, which shores up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's one-seat majority in parliament, will see Mr Lieberman appointed defence minister.

Mr Lieberman pledged his commitment to "responsible, reasonable policy".

The deal led Moshe Yaalon, a member of Mr Netanyahu's Likud party, to quit as defence minister in protest on Friday.

The former general warned that Israel was being taken over by "dangerous and extreme elements”.

Israel: Airstrikes Target Gaza Strip May 26, 2016

Israel carried out airstrikes against two Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip early May 26 in response to a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave, Israeli military sources said, Naharnet and AFP reported. Ajnad Beit al-Maqdis, a small Salafist group, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, which it said targeted an Israeli military base. The rocket reportedly hit an open area, causing no casualties and no damage. Israel has said it holds Hamas responsible for any rocket attacks launched from Gaza. A 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas resulted in the deaths of more than 70 Israelis and around 2,200 Palestinians.


The Russian Economic Revolution That Never Was

Russia's economic strategy is in disarray. The government has already cut its federal budget for 2016 twice, and the Kremlin has still not made a final decision on this year's spending. After muddling through two years of economic hardship, government members, silovarchs and technocrats are squabbling over how to escape a prolonged crisis. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin resurrected his Presidium of the Economic Council to come up with a plan for the next three years. The presidium has been dormant for two years. Originally composed of dozens of economists, statesmen and entrepreneurs, the group proved too large and diverse to agree on a future economic and financial strategy for Russia. In its latest iteration, the presidium has shrunk to just six members representing Russia's three primary economic camps.




Marking a Century of the Modern Middle East

Modern Middle Eastern history is often told to start and end with the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, signed a century ago this week. The agreement is credited to British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot, who led closed-door negotiations after World War I from which a cache of secret correspondence later emerged. And though Sykes-Picot is only one part of Middle Eastern history, it is undeniable that the agreement was a critical one: It laid the framework for many of the boundaries that still define the Middle East today, delineating Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Mandate Palestine and several Arabian Gulf countries. Some of these states have been more successful than others, but all have undergone tumultuous state-building over the past century. While it is commonly recognized that the agreement imposed an idealistic and simplistic postcolonial grid onto a complex region, the boundaries became real soon enough, as citizens and governments in each country began to construct nationalist narratives...

Afghan Taliban announce successor to Mullah Mansour

The new Taliban leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, in an undated photoAfghan Islamic Press via AP

The Afghan Taliban have announced a new leader to replace Mullah Akhtar Mansour who was killed in a US drone strike.

In a statement, the Taliban acknowledged Mansour's death for the first time and named his successor as Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.

Analysts say it is unlikely the group will change direction under hardline religious scholar Akhundzada.

The Kurds: A People Without a Home

It has been said that the Kurds are a nation without borders, though that is only partly true. They are, of course, citizens of any number of countries, ones that envelop their homeland in the Middle East and ones much farther afield. But for the Kurds — a nation of some 25 million people who, despite their shared culture, speak different languages, practice different religions, subscribe to different political ideologies and hold different passports — citizenship is not such a simple matter…


Stalkers: When Affection Turns to Rage

By Scott Stewart

Twenty-year-old Japanese pop music star Mayu Tomita was critically injured May 21 when an attacker stabbed her more than 20 times in the head, neck and torso. The assailant was 27-year-old Tomohiro Iwazaki, an obsessed fan reportedly angered that she had returned a gift he had sent her. Following the assault, Iwazaki did not attempt to flee the scene of the crime. When the police arrived, he confessed to attacking Tomita. He had waited for her at a nearby subway station and approached her to ask why she had not kept his gift. When she did not provide a clear answer, he flew into a rage and attacked her.

The Tomita case is a brutal reminder of the very real danger that the mentally disturbed can pose to celebrities, a threat that arguably exceeds the danger posed to celebrities by terrorists. In almost every case where a mentally disturbed individual has attacked a celebrity, the attacker has made prior contact with the eventual target, quite often extensively — providing ample warning signs. When those warning signs are ignored, as it appears they were in the Tomita case, the results can be devastating.

While mentally disturbed stalkers are dangerous as well as hard to deter or divert to other targets, they are vulnerable to detection if they are identified and then sought out as they stalk their victims...

France: Police Raid Google's Paris Office In Tax Fraud Investigation May 24, 2016

French police raided Google's Paris offices May 24 as part of an aggravated tax fraud investigation directed at the company, French authorities said, AP reported. The dawn operation reportedly involved around 100 investigators and 25 information technology experts. According to France's financial prosecutor's office, the inquiry is looking into whether Google Ireland Limited is actually operating out of France and failing to report its activity and to meet fiscal obligations, particularly corporate taxes and value-added taxes. Many U.S. companies base their European operations in countries with low taxes such as Ireland, prompting regulators to push for them to pay taxes in the places in which they actually do business. In a statement, Google said it is cooperating with French investigators and complies fully with French regulations.

Artificial Intelligence Redefines the Labor Force

Google’s AlphaGo program recently defeated the world’s second-ranked player of Go — a vastly more complex game than chess — marking an important milestone in the development of artificial intelligence (AI). But equally important was Google's revelation that one of its robots has developed the ability to pick up objects in ways that had previously only been identified in cognitive life forms. Both advances were brought about by the development of computational models based on the human central nervous system, which is particularly well suited to certain aspects of AI, such as pattern recognition and machine and adaptive learning. Research in this area will have significant implications for geopolitics in the future....

Except where noted courtesy STRATFOR.COM

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