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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Hong Kong

  • China hinted at forthcoming changes to “perfect” how the Chief Executive of Hong Kong is appointed and removed. It’s not clear what exactly that means: perhaps Beijing is preparing to evict Carrie Lam, or maybe it’s just looking for ways to exert more control over the territory and shut down opposition movements.
  • Meanwhile, pro-democracy protesters gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, despite a ban on their rally (they evaded the ban by re-labeling the assembly as an event for local elections). Police used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse them.

Iran & Iraq

  • NBC had a good article analyzing why Iran is meddling in recent protests in Iraq and Lebanon: it worries about its allies there falling out of power. Article pasted below.
  • Yesterday, Baghdad saw its biggest protests since Saddam: tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in Tahrir Square, and police tried to disperse them with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Pakistan

  • The protests in Pakistan are also getting more serious, with members of prominent political dynasties joining Islamic leaders in calling for PM Khan to step down. This time, they announced a two-day deadline for Khan’s resignation—though it doesn’t seem like things have gotten bad enough that he’d actually quit.

Afghanistan

  • The latest SIGAR quarterly report (which I attached yesterday) also estimates that the U.S. has allocated a grand total of $132 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2002. That’s $82.6 billion for security, $34.5 billion for governance initiatives, $3.9 billion for humanitarian aid, and $11.7 billion for civilian operations…although some of it wasn’t actually spent.
  • Nine young children died after accidentally stepping on a mine in Takhar. The Taliban had likely planted the mine, but declined to admit to being child killers.

Syria

  • Turkey’s Interior Minister warned that Turkey plans to send the IS prisoners it captured in Syria last month back to their home countries, calling European inaction on returning detainees “not acceptable” and “irresponsible.”
  • Pres. Assad called Pres. Trump “the best American president ever”—“not because his policies are good, but because he’s the most transparent.” That’s sweet.

Venezuela

  • Brazilian police accused the Greek-flagged Bouboulina tanker of spilling over 2,000 tons of Venezuelan crude oil off the Brazilian coast on July 28th/29th. The company that operated the tanker, Delta Tankers Ltd., said the voyage to Malacca went smoothly, and definitely didn’t spill the oil that’s now washing up on Brazilian beaches.

Saudi

  • Crown Prince MBS reportedly approved a plan to formally announce the Saudi Aramco IPO tomorrow. The IPO itself wasn’t a surprise—it’s hard for a company aiming for a $2 billion valuation to keep analysts in the dark—but its timing had been uncertain until now.

Sahel

  • Islamic militants attacked a military post in Indelimane, Mali (near the Niger border), killing 53 soldiers and one civilian—ten soldiers survived. While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, the local jihadists are aligned with IS.

Other News

  • South Africa beat England to win the Rugby World Cup 32-12 today. It’s the first time South Africa has won the cup with a black captain, so the win gave South Africans a rare sense of unity.

Why is Iran so afraid of Iraqi and Lebanese anti-government protests? (NBC)

Analysis: Iran has a lot to lose if allies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraq’s Shiite militias are shunted from power.

They came dressed in black and wielding sticks.

Images emerged on social media of men widely believed to be supporters of powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah tearing through a camp of anti-government protesters in Beirut on Oct. 29, smashing chairs and setting fire to tents.

Meanwhile, the anti-corruption protesters regularly can be heard chanting slogans against Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Iran-backed militia and political party’s leader.

The tensions between Hezbollah and the largely leaderless anti-corruption protests sweeping Lebanon are a sign of the great unease that Iran and its proxies across the region are feeling at the upsurge of anti-government demonstrations.

After all, Tehran has worked for years to deepen its influence in these countries — and it’s precisely this domestic order that the demonstrators are looking to shake up, according to Neil Quilliam, an associate fellow at Chatham House, an international affairs think tank in London.

“The protests pose a threat to Iranian interests in Lebanon and Iraq because they are national in character and therefore challenge the current political order, which is shored up by groups supported and underpinned by Iran,” he said.

Iran has a lot to lose if its allies such as the politically powerful Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s government and Iraq’s Shiite militias are shunted from power or see their influence diminish.

In Iraq, after U.S. forces overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003, Shiite allies replaced the Baathist regime. And these are the people in power today and are currently the object of the protesters’ ire. Iran also supports Shiite armed groups in the oil-rich country, who are accused by protesters of building economic empires while many Iraqis struggle in poverty.

In Lebanon, the government is dominated by factions allied with Hezbollah which controls swathes of southern Lebanon where it has channeled the thoughts and desires of many poor Shiites, while fighting neighboring Israel.

And neither Hezbollah nor its ally Amal have escaped the protesters’ wrath.

Even in the groups’ heartland in the south, people have begun to call them out , setting their sights on Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the group’s leader.

For its part, Iran is blaming the West for fomenting unrest.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused foreign government of meddling in Iraq and Lebanon, and on Wednesday accused “U.S. and western intelligence services, with the financial backing of evil countries” of “fanning the flames of chaos.”

Khamenei’s Iran is up against Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia — a U.S. ally. Under President Donald Trump, America withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran and reimposed punishing sanctions on Tehran.

All this makes the protests especially tricky for Tehran to handle.

“Iran is trying to keep its distance from the spiraling tensions and turmoil in both countries but its ability to do so is limited because its local allies, the armed groups, are targeted by the protesters,” said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics.

Iran’s perceived meddling has fed the anti-government and anti-corruption anger among protesters. In Iraq, in particular, “they don’t like the fact that Iran can potentially interfere in their international affairs,” said Clément Therme a research fellow at Sciences Po, a political science institute in Paris.

In Iraq, deadly protests have often been accompanied by anti-Iran chants, such as “Iran out, out! Iraq will remain free.”

In Baghdad last week, protesters were pictured burning an Iranian flag.

Some protesters have accused Iran or its proxies of being behind a violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in the Shiite holy city of Karbala this week, where at least 14 protesters were reported killed and more than 100 injured, according to Amnesty International. The government maintains that one person was killed, and denies involvement in the violence.

Suspicion of meddling by Iran, as well as the U.S., was prevalent among protesters, including Mohammaed Radhi, who owns an electronics shop in Baghdad.

“They’re working to make Iraq part of Iran,” he said. “They partially succeeded in achieving this through forming all those militias who are in fact controlling the country.”

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