Turkish air-strikes deepen privation in northeast Syria

Months of Turkish air-strikes on Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria have left more than a million people without power and double that number with no reliable access to water. Starting in early October, an initial series of heavy Turkish drone strikes knocked out civilian infrastructure and killed dozens—apparent retaliation for a suicide bombing outside a government building in Ankara. The strikes have intensified since. Attacks in December and January struck healthcare facilities as well as roads that are key for aid access, while a series of strikes in mid-January hit even more power stations. (Photo: al-Zarba oil field in northeast Syria, after it was hit by an air-strike in mid-January. Credit: Ivan Hasseeb/TNH)


China moves toward recognition of Taliban regime

Chinese President Xi Jinping officially accepted the credentials of the envoy to Beijing from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan—a clear step toward recognition of the regime. A month before that, Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, visited Kabul to meet with Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi—the highest-level meeting between China and the Taliban regime since its return to power in 2021. China has already struck hydrocarbon deals with the Taliban, and has been eyeing Afghanistan’s lithium, copper and rare-earth metal mines. This is in line with Beijing’s perceived design to establish control over the planet’s rare earth minerals. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Greater Middle East

Was drone strike on US forces in Jordan or Syria?

President Biden is pledging undefined retaliation after three US troops were killed and dozens injured in a drone strike being blamed on one of the Iran-backed militias that have been harassing US-led coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. It is widely reported that the target was a site in Jordan known as Tower 22, which provides logistical support for the US outpost across the border at al-Tanf, Syria—near where the borders of Jordan, Syria and Iraq intersect. However, a communique from the umbrella group for Iran-backed factions known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq did not mention Tower 22, but claimed responsibility for drone strikes on three sites within Syria. These are al-Tanf, the nearby border outpost of Rukban, and Shaddadi—over 200 kilometers away in Hasakah governorate, in Syria’s northeast corner, near oil fields that are under the control of US-backed Kurdish forces. (Image: Pixabay)


Oil, ethnicity at issue in Kirkuk land dispute

Residents of a disputed neighborhood in Iraq’s northern city of Kirkuk staged a sit-in to protest eviction orders and criminal charges filed against them by a state-owned oil company. Hundreds of Kurdish families who were pushed out of Kirkuk during Saddam Hussein’s Arabization campaign returned to the city following the fall of his regime in 2003. With their former homes now occupied by Arab families, many took up residence in a residential complex in Arafa neighborhood, previously inhabited by functionaries of Saddam’s Baath party. Now, the North Oil Company is claiming ownership of the residential complex, and ordering the Kurdish families to vacate. Arrest orders have been issued against residents who have refused to comply. In the background lie ongoing tensions between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government over control of the Kirkuk oil-fields. (Photo: Rudaw)

The Caribbean

Podcast: geopolitics of the Essequibo dispute

In Episode 205 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg looks at the recent re-escalation and (hopefully) denouement of the dispute over Esequibo—an oil-rich territory controlled by Guyana and claimed by Venezuela. Ironically, this claim was first asserted by the conservative, anti-communist Venezuela of the 1960s to help destabilize the anti-imperialist Guyana of Cheddi Jagan. Today, the left-populist but increasingly nationalistic regime of Nicolás Maduro even entertains hubristic claims to sovereignty over Venezuela’s other much larger neighbor, Colombia. But this revanchism appears to mask the fact that “revolutionary” Venezuela largely remains a petro-state with a rentier economy, vulnerable to drops in the global oil price, even if Chinese corporate exploiters have been replacing gringo ones. With the recent easing of sanctions, US giants like Chevron have even returned to Venezuela—while the extractivist model results in indigenous resistance. Contrary to the dogmas of left and right alike, the real root of the Venezuelan crisis is that the country is insufficiently socialist. Listen on SoundCloudor via Patreon. (Map: SurinameCentral via Wikimedia Commons)

Greater Middle East
Bab al-Mandab

Houthis vow to continue attacks on Red Sea shipping

The leadership of Yemen’s Houthi armed movement issued a statement saying they would not halt their military operations in the Red Sea unless Israel stops its “genocide crimes” in Gaza and allows humanitarian aid to enter the Strip. The move comes despite the US announcement of a new naval coalition to counter the attacks. The Houthis, backed by Iran, have launched over a dozen attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea since Israel’s bombardment of Gaza began in October. A range of drones and ballistic missiles have been deployed against vessels in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, or Gate of Tears, which separates the Horn of Africa from the Arabian Peninsula—a chokepoint for global trade. Shipping firms have already started to pull their vessels from the Red Sea route, opting for the much longer passage around Africa. The closing of the Red Sea to shipping has obvious implications for the price of oil and the ongoing worldwide food and energy crisis. (Image: NASA via Wikimedia Commons)

Planet Watch

COP28: landmark deal, or messy compromise?

The COP28 climate summit concluded in the United Arab Emirates with a so-called “UAE Consensus” that resolves to “transition away from fossil fuels”—hailed as an historic first commitment to eliminate the principal cause of climate change. Many climate activists, however, assail the document as vague and non-binding. Another failure pointed to by skeptics is the lack of finance commitments to come out of COP28. The funds made available by rich countries to help developing countries adapt and transition continue to lag far behind what is needed. A New Collective Quantified Goal for Climate Finance is set to be discussed next year at COP29, to be held in Azerbaijan. (Photo: CounterVortex)

North America
Oil Sands

Alberta invokes Sovereignty Act over emission regs

The legislature of the oil-producing Canadian province of Alberta invoked the controversial Alberta Sovereignty Act in response to new federal environmental policies. The provincial legislature passed a resolution resolving to “urge the Government to use all legal means necessary to oppose the implementation and enforcement of the Federal Initiative in Alberta.” The initiative referred to is Canada’s proposed Clean Energy Regulations, which the resolution says would have “an extreme chilling effect on investment” in Alberta’s energy sector. Premier Danielle Smith introduced the Sovereignty Act in November 2022, asserting that Albertans no longer wanted “Ottawa to…interfere in our constitutional areas of jurisdiction,” and proclaiming a right to provincial non-compliance. (Photo of Alberta’s shale oil fields by Kris Krug, via The Tyee)


Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline to resume operation

The pipeline exporting crude oil from Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to the Turkish port of Ceyhan is ready to resume operation, seven months after it was ordered closed by an international court ruling. The Paris-based International Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of Baghdad against Ankara, finding that the latter breached a 1973 agreement by allowing the Kurdistan Regional Government to begin independent oil exports in 2014. The judgement confirmed that Iraqi national oil company SOMO is the only entity authorized to manage export operations through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. The KRG has now acceded to these terms, agreeing to market through SOMO. (Photo via Iraqi News Agency)


‘Occupy’ protests hit Ghana

Hundreds held a three-day protest campaign in Ghana’s capital, Accra, to denounce harsh economic conditions and the “moral decay” of the country’s leadership. With placards reading “Ghana deserves better,” protesters attempted to march on the seat of government, Golden Jubilee House, intending to “occupy” it—but riot police and armored vehicles barred their way. In response, demonstrators sat down in the road, effectively shutting down the area for hours. Over 50 were arrested when police finally cleared the intersection. (Photo: Jurist via GhanaWeb TV)


Gabon coup: another blow to Françafrique

A group of soldiers in Gabon seized control of the country and canceled the results of its presidential election—just after incumbent President Ali Bongo, heir to a corrupt dynasty closely aligned with France, was declared the winner amid claims of electoral fraud. In scenes reminiscent of those in Niger after the recent coup there, crowds have poured into the streets of Gabon’s capital Libreville, expressing their support for the new junta—and animosity for both the ousted Bongo dynasty and France. The coup appears to mean a further reduction for the French influence sphere in Africa, known as Françafrique. Over the past three years, coups have ousted French-aligned regimes in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea as well as Niger. Russia appears eager to step into the erstwhile role of France in providing military assistance to these countries. The day after the Gabon putsch, a Russian delegation met with Burkina Faso’s interim regime to discuss stepped-up security cooperation. (Map: PCL)


Syria: revolution reborn

The Free Syria flag again flew high in villages, towns and cities across the country, as thousands filled the streets, reviving the chants of the revolution. Protests first erupted in the regime-held south of the country, especially the Druze-majority city of Suwayda. They were triggered by a recent increase in fuel prices as the regime has yet again cut subsidies. But the protests soon escalated to renewed calls for the downfall of the Bashar Assad dictatorship, and spread to other regime-held cities—including Aleppo, the country’s largest, which was savagely bombarded by regime and Russian warplanes in 2015-6. Demonstrations in support of the new uprising were also mobilized in the opposition-held northern pocket of the country. (Photo of Idlib demonstration by Omar Albam, via Leila’s blog)