Amid the uncertainty and dread of what is for many an unprecedented moment, you can be forgiven for not paying attention to other developments in the world. Here’s a primer to get you up to speed.
The United States and Iran are clashing again in Iraq. Hostilities continue to flare up months after the escalation that led to the U.S. assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian commander. On Wednesday, a barrage of rocket fire carried out by a pro-Iran Shiite militia hit a military base in Iraq, killing two Americans and a British soldier stationed there. On Friday, the United States responded with airstrikes targeting positions linked to the militia, Kataib Hezbollah. At least five members of Iraqi security forces were killed in the strikes, prompting outrage from authorities in Baghdad angered once more by the brazen “violation of national sovereignty.”
On Saturday, the Iraqi government issued a statement warning against such unilateral American action against Iranian-linked militias. “In doing so, it does not limit these actions, but rather nurtures them, weakens the Iraqi state’s ability to provide its own security, and expects more losses for Iraqis,” the statement read. It reiterated an Iraqi parliamentary demand for the departure of U.S. troops in the country. “This necessitates the speedy implementation of the parliament’s decision on the issue of the coalition’s withdrawal.”
The U.S. airstrikes were hardly a deterrent; U.S. and coalition forces stationed in Camp Taji, a base north of Baghdad, faced renewed rocket attacks over the weekend, with at least five injuries reported.
France held the first round of voting in local elections Sunday. Turnout was somewhat suppressed by fears over the coronavirus, and less than 50 percent of the electorate went to the polls to vote for the country’s mayors. Initial results showed a strong performance for the center-left and Green parties. There’s the prospect, though, that the second round of voting may be canceled as the country’s lockdown intensifies. That could invalidate this weekend’s results.
In Israel, Benny Gantz was given a mandate to form a government. It’s the latest twist in the country’s long-running political drama, which has seen three elections in less than a year fail to yield a stable coalition government. When the vote took place two weeks ago, it appeared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would stake a claim to the next government. But even with the support of a bloc of right-wing and religious parties, Netanyahu was short of the 61-seat majority needed to return to power.
“Gantz, whose party won 33 seats, appeared to have forged alliances in recent days with two unlikely partners: The Joint List of Arab-majority parties, which gained 15 seats, and the right-wing nationalistic secular party headed by Avigdor Liberman, which won seven,” reported The Post’s Ruth Eglash. “The factions have wildly incompatible ideologies, but they share the goal of ousting Netanyahu and ushering in new leadership in Israel.”
That may not be enough, and Gantz still has a “mammoth” task ahead of him, Eglash noted.
A fragile cease-fire forged between Russia and Turkey has mostly held over Syria’s war-torn Idlib province. But it’s uncertain how long the detente may last, with the forces of President Bashar al-Assad keen to press their advantage in one of the last remaining rebel enclaves in the country.
“The situation in Idlib is dire,” Syrian political activist Oula Alrifai wrote over the weekend. “A million civilians were forced to flee their homes in the last three months. Overcrowded camps have forced many to live in the open, exposed to winter weather so harsh that some children have frozen to death. Others are starving.”
In a meeting with reporters in Washington last week, Serdar Kilic, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, warned that his government had few means to check for the spread of the coronavirus among Syrian refugees should a new exodus flood across Turkey’s borders.
In Bolivia, plans are still in place to stage a new election in May following the dramatic departure of leftist President Evo Morales last year. But as my colleagues recently reported, the interim regime led by the right-wing Jeanine Áñez has hardly ushered in a unifying democratic restoration.
“Since being sworn in, the fiercely anti-socialist Áñez has presided over the detention of hundreds of opponents, the muzzling of journalists and a ‘national pacification’ campaign that has left at least 31 people dead, according to the national ombudsman and human rights groups. Washington has yet to comment,” my colleagues wrote.
And there’s another plague in our midst. Last week, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization warned that swarms of hundreds of billions of locusts were starting to form in the Horn of Africa. It deepens the menace that my colleagues reported about last month. The governments in Ethiopia and Kenya are struggling to assemble enough aircraft that can target the swarms with pesticides, while aid agencies warn of countless acres of crops ravaged as the locusts move through the region.