The second son of former Libyan leader Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, is reported to have been freed under an amnesty. Saif is believed to have been the son Gaddafi preferred as his successor.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Top government officials and political parties in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq have agreed that there will be a referendum on independence on September 25th this year.
|The date was set at a meeting in Irbil chaired by the President of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani. A statement was issued saying that the referendum would be held in the three provinces that make up the region but also "areas of Kurdistan outside the region's administration" The central government has urged the KRG not to hold the referendum. Neighboring countries such as Iran, Turkey and Syria all with Kurdish minority populations have all opposed a referendum as has the US.|
(June 8) Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General gave an extensive briefing on the Libyan situation to the UN Security Council on June 7. This article is a commentary on some of the contents.
|Kobler titled the briefing "Setting the Stage for Peace". Kobler still defends the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) as a key guide towards a future settlement of Libya's divisions although he admits: "In Libya, the transition process has not been fully implemented. Parallel institutions continue to exist. The House of Representatives did not yet recognize the Government of National Accord nor did it adopt the Constitutional amendment." Indeed, the House of Representatives (HoR) last defeated a vote of confidence in the Government of National Accord as required by the LPA last August 22. Kobler claims that the GNA and its presidency council (PC) have changed facts on the ground with oil production rising to 800,000 barrels a day. However. one could argue that it is because Haftar has chosen to cooperate with the National Oil Company (NOC) that production has increased rather than any particular increased power of the GNA. Indeed the GNA is now more at the mercy of Haftar. There does not seem to have that much progress on a solution based on the LPA since the GNA failed to gain the confidence of the HoR last August.|
Monday, June 19, 2017
(June 8) Sharara, the largest oil field in Libya shut down due to a worker's protest. The workers are protesting the death of a colleague according to a source who could not be identified as he she was not authorized to speak to the media.
|The stoppage reduces Libya's output by about 270,000 barrels a day. The shut down is a setback for National Oil Corporation(NOC) head Mustafa Sanallah who had just claimed that Libyan oil production had just reached 808,000 barrels a day. He also said that the NOC expected that number to rise to more than one and a quarter million barrels per day by the end of 2017.|
(June 7)Forces loyal to Field Marshal Kahlifa Hafter, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) of the House of Representatives Government (HoR) based in eastern Libya have advanced his power by capturing the Al Jufra region of south central Libya.
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|Writing in the Libya Observer, freelance journalist Abdelkader Assad claims that the forces of Haftar's Operation Dignity are close to their dream of entering Tripoli after he gained ground in Al Jufra capturing the towns of Hun, Waddan, and the Al Jufra air base. Earlier he had taken theTimnahent air base without a fight as the Third Force and Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) abandoned it. After failing in a coup attempt, Haftar launched his Operation Dignity way back in May 2014:|
In February 2014, Haftar appeared in a televised announcement to reveal that the General National Congress (GNC), which had recently unilaterally extended its mandate, had been dissolved. Haftar called for a caretaker government to oversee new elections. His announcement was soon dismissed with great skepticism by the then acting Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. Haftar's actions were condemned as a "coup attempt" and "ridiculous".] Three months later on 16 May in Operation Dignity, Haftar began a combined air and ground assault against the pro-Islamic militias of Benghazi, as well as a sustained heavy weapons attack against the Libyan parliament.[2Operation Dignity is still ongoing and to a considerable extent is the source of the present conflict with the GNA.
(June 6)The US-backed Syrian Democratic(SDF) forces have entered into the city of Raqqa in Syria long held by the Islamic State(IS). The offensive is the conclusion of seven months of planning with air support from the US-led coalition.
|The offensive has also seen the SDF a multi-ethnic group but dominated by the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) , receive support from US military advisers and weapons deliveries. Today, June 6, the SDF broke into the east edge of the city for the first time and are fighting street battles inside the city.|
Friday, June 16, 2017
Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. will reap billions from Saudi contracts subsequent to President Trump's announcement that the Saudis will buy up to $110 billion in American weapons.
|Speaking at a conference in New York last Wednesday, Marillyn Hewson CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. said she could see the company gaining up to $28 billion in new business from the Saudis. Dennis Muilenbege CEO of Boeing Co. also hopes to profit from sales to the Saudis of more than $50 billion for both military and commercial sales. Often these deals involve long term maintenance and sustainment contracts that can run up to 30 years. Typically these contracts make up 70 percent of the total value of sales.|
The Trump administration is taking action to prevent the full CIA torture report of 2014 of 6,700 pages from being made public by having copies returned to Congress which is exempt from laws requiring government records be made available to the public.
|The report describes the harsh detention and interrogation programs used by the United States. The White House claimed the move was made in response to requests by Senator Richard Burr, the current Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.|
President Obama has told Senate intelligence leaders that he will preserve a 7,000-page Senate report on how the CIA detained and interrogated terror suspects after 9/11 in his presidential papers — but won’t seek to declassify the document prior to leaving office. The president has informed the Archivist that access to classified material should be restricted for the full 12 years allowed under [the Presidential Records Act],” Obama’s chief lawyer wrote Friday to Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking member and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Eastern commander's forces capture the Jufra area including a key airbase as opposing factions including those associated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) withdrew.
|This development leaves the eastern commander Khalifa Haftar and forces loyal to his Libyan National Army in control of the south central desert area of Al-Jufra and also the Sebha region according to Reuters. Haftar does not recognize the GNA and many militia who support it he regards as his enemies, although he has recently praised some Tripoli militias who drove out some of Haftar's strongest opponents from Tripoli. He may be attempting to divide militias supporting the GNA. Reuters suggests that taking Sebha and Al Jufra areas may be a key step in the LNA's stated goal of moving to Tripoli. Haftar may have his sights on other towns such as Bani Walid and the city of Misrata before attempting to take Tripoli. An LNA spokesperson has said that LNA forces will gradually move towards Bani Walid that is almost 350 km (215 miles) northwest of the Jufra area. The Jufra area is about 500 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of Benghazi and around the same distance southeast from the capital in the west of Tripoli. As all this is going on, Martin Kobler the UN envoy to Libya, and others are still talking about a political solution and Kobler promises a dialogue soon. By the time the dialogue actually gets underway, Haftar may be close to achieving a military solution so the GNA will be forced to surrender to his demands. About a month ago, Haftar met with Faiez Serraj of the GNA and the two agreed to calm tensions and raised hopes for a political deal. There was no common statement or any actual deals signed. Since than Haftar has continued to try to carry out a military solution.|
(June 2) According to a report in Al Jazeera, forces loyal to eastern commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar launched attacks almost simultaneously against forces associated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
|The attacks happened just hours after unidentified jets bombed GNA-held areas. Haftar does not recognize the GNA government. His forces, the Libyan National Army(LNA) are associated with the rival House of Representatives(HoR) government. The Bunyan al-Marsous(BAM) forces who who were involved in the clashes earlier captured Sirte from the Islamic State. BAM forces, who support the GNA, said they were attacked on Friday both by Haftar and by Islamic State(IS) forces in the central district of Al Jufra which is south of Sirte. While IS has no longer control over major centers they still exist in a number of areas in Libya. Al Jazeera's reporter Mahmoud Abdelwahed said from Tripoli the capital: "Fresh fighting has erupted between forces loyal to renegade commander Khalifa Haftar and forces loyal to the UN-backed GNA, helped by the Benghazi Defence Brigades in the area of al-Jufra in the central desert of Libya." He said warplanes, believed to be Egyptian, hit 14 locations in Jufra overnight including several residential areas and the Jufra air base used by UN-backed GNA forces. Abdelwahed said the raids caused heavy material damage but there were no reports of casualties. The Jufra area is about 400km to the south of Sirte.|
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
On Thursday the U.S. blacklisted nine companies and government institutions for alleged support of North Korean weapons programs. The list includes two Russian firms.
|The announcement comes from the U.S. Treasury as diplomats from the U.S. and China were expected to propose blacklisting more North Korean individuals and entities due to the country's constant tests of ballistic missiles. The U.S. is struggling to slow the North Korean nuclear and missile programs. Each time the U.S. increases its involvement in South Korea with ever increasing shows of force, the North Koreans take this as evidence that they must develop their weapons systems more quickly to deter any attempt by the U.S. and South Korean to use military action to stop them. So far the U.S. attempt to cut off funds and supplies to the North has failed to stop the North from further developing its weapons systems.|
(June 2)Protesters in the Afghan capital Kabul demanded the resignation of the president Ashraf Ghani's government after the recent devastating truck-bomb attack in the capital.
|There were deadly clashes with the riot police. Four protesters were killed as police fired live ammunition to break up the demonstration. Health Ministry spokesperson Waheed Majrooh said; “In today’s protest four people died and eight others were wounded." The protests and no doubt the casualties added pressure on Ghani's weak and divided government that has been powerless to prevent attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians.|
Ghani condemned what he called the cowardly truck-bomb attack that ripped through the diplomatic district supposedly the most secure area of Kabul. The attack killed at least 90 people and wounded hundreds more.
In the Kabul protests more than 1,000 demonstrators with many carrying pictures of bomb victims rallied in the morning near the site of the blast. They hold Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah responsible for the blast due to lax security. The two share power. Niloofar Nilgoon, one of many women in the protest said: "The international community has to put pressure on them and force them to resign. They're not capable of leading the country." As the standoff lasted longer the situation grew more tense and regular gunfire bursts were heard. Police in riot gear used water cannon and tear gas to stop protesters from access to the road that leads to the presidential palace. Among those killed according to Afghan media reports was the son of a prominent politician.
The protesters are angry at the Western-backed government which has failed to provide security even in the capital, 3 years after most foreign troops have left. One banner read: "Ghani! Abdullah! Resign! Resign!" Given the weak government and unstable political situation the U.S. may find its plan to possibly send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to break the stalemate with the Taliban even more problematic than it already is. The Taliban control about 40 percent of the country. Even before the truck attack 715 civilians had been killed in the first three months of 2017. In 2016 nearly 3,500 civilians were killed the worst year for civilian deaths on record.
Kabul has been on edge ever since the devastating bombing as it showed militants could strike arguably the most secure district in the city which is home not only to foreign embassies surrounded by concrete blast walls but also the presidential palace. Rahila Jafari, a social activist said: “Our brothers and sisters were martyred in the bloody attack and our leaders are doing nothing to stop this carnage. We want justice, we want the perpetrators of the attack to be hanged to death.” Another demonstrator claimed that until the two rulers resigned the demonstrations would continue: “Day after day, innocent civilians are being killed by terrorists. If our leaders cannot restore security they should step down.” The enclosed video claims that even more were killed in the protests, seven.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
(May 31)Jet Blue flight 915 from JFK airport in New York to San Francisco was diverted after a battery in a laptop caused a fire in a passenger's backpack and started emitting a great deal of smoke.
|The backpack was in the rear of the plane when it started to belch out smoke passengers said. One passenger said: “We’re at 35,000 feet and all of a sudden we hear an announcement and we look back in row 25 and we saw everybody standing up and smoke coming around and we didn’t know what was going on.” Kat Honniball, another passenger on the flight said that people began to smell smoke and saw it was coming from a backpack: "I was stunned — I knew something was going to happen because, you know, lithium batteries catching on fire when you're up at 38,000 feet you can't help but think you've got to do something." He said that passengers and crew remained calm during the incident. Although the fire was put out, the plane was diverted to Grand Rapids Michigan where it sat for three hours while emergency crews removed the battery from the plane and inspected it. There was no damage. The plane then continued its flight to San Franciso. The plane was carrying 158 people. The actual battery was not a laptop battery. Grand Rapids Ford Airport spokeswoman Tara Hernandez confirmed that a lithium battery started smoldering, but said that it was not a laptop battery. There was a laptop in the bag with it though, she said.|
The potential flammability of laptop batteries is also one concern experts have voiced over the potential expansion of a laptop ban on international flights into the U.S.: a battery fire in the passenger cabin can be quickly spotted and contained, but one in the baggage hold could do significantly more damage.
News that Trump had withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords did not keep all three main U.S. stock indices from setting new highs the first trading day in June.
A batch of positive economic data showing that the U.S. economy was picking up speed offset any concerns there might have been Trump's rejection of the accords. Even some of the big oil companies such as Exxon were in favor of the U.S. remaining in the accords. The ADP private sector employment report showed that the U.S. economy added 253,000 jobs in May, whereas estimates only averaged 185,000 in a poll of economists. The report could point to a a strong government payrolls report on Friday that will include hiring both by the government and private sectors. This could lead to expectations of another interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve in two weeks time. Another report showed factory activity was up in May after it had been slowing down two months in a row.Paul Springmeyer an investment managing director at U.S. Bank in Minneapolis said: "More than anything it is employment data driven, it was such a resounding uptick over expectations. It bodes well for the Fed; certainly the numbers are very, very high in terms of the likelihood of that (hike) coming through for June." Forecasts from Fed officials point to a median of two more interest hikes until the end of 2017. Thomson Reuters days show traders pricing in an 88.9 percent chance of an interest hike of a quarter-percentage-point at the Fed meeting on June 13-14. A JP Morgan spokesperson said of the jobs report "It was a very good, positive surprise. We've had a few negative surprises, so this is definitely against the current.Overall, it says the economy is still moving along nicely." On Friday morning at 8:30 the U.S. government will release its non-farm payrolls report. J.J. Kinahan chief strategist at TD Ameritrade said of the report: "What the ADP number does is it raises expectations that the jobs report can come at the top end of the range and maybe above the estimate," The good news appeared to offset the bad news that jobless claims were up from the forecast of 239,000, coming in at 248,000.The Fed is not likely to decide not to up rates according to Jason Thomas, chief economist at AssetMark: "They have been telegraphing their moves clearly. They want to raise rates. My sense is that they see themselves in smooth waters right now, but those waters are shallow and there are rocks beneath. Unemployment is really low, but labor force participation has barely budged." CME Group' FedWatch tool put market expectations at a very high 95.8 percent.Volatility in the market was low last month going below 10 six times during the month. These levels have not been seen in more than 20 years. Volatility is a gauge of fear in the market. In spite of all the media worries about Trump's behavior it does not seem to be reflected in investors exhibiting any fear in the way they are operating on the stock market. Some analysts are saying that there are good reasons for worrying about what Trump is doing as in a recent article in Bloomberg.Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Privat Bank expressed concern: "Investors worry that the relationship between decreasing volatility and increased purchases could morph from a virtuous cycle to self-fulfilling feedback frenzy, leading to a vicious, volatility induced sell-off. The extent of a potential downdraft depends on how large the risk-parity investment community is. It's widely believed that the mass of money managed under a risk-parity mandate remains small, although it's a trend worth watching."The Dow Jones Industrial average ended up 135.53 points, at 21144.18 a gain of .65 percent. The S & P 500 Index rose .76 percentage points to 2430.06 or 18.26 points. Finally, the third index the Nasdaq composite closed at 6246.83 or .78 percent gaining 48.31 points. In spite of the dismal performance of Trump the investment community so far appears to accept his policies as business friendly and discount his erratic behavior.