After meeting in Ankara Oct. 17, US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal to suspend Turkey's military offensive in northern Syria over the next five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a designated area along the border. This is being widely reported as a "ceasefire." However, the 13-point agreement does not use the word "ceasefire," but states: "The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow the withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone within 120 hours. Operation Peace Spring will be halted upon completion of this withdrawal." Operation "Peace Spring" is the utterly Orwellian code-name for the Turkish offensive, and the YPG is the People's Protection Units, the Kurdish militia in northeast Syria. The YPG was not a party to the "ceasefire," but nonetheless agreed to abide by it. Still, fighting has continued, with at least eight civilians reported killed less than 24 hours into the deal. There is also no consensus on the geographic limits of the area covered by the deal. The official text does not define it, and Turkey and the US remain at odds on the size the "safe zone" (another Orwellian construction) that Ankara seeks to establish in Syria. Ankara is still asserting it will be 100 kilometers deep, while Washington is calling for 20 kilometers. (Rudaw, Middle East Eye, AP)
In a deal brokered by Russia, the leadership of the Rojava Kurds have agreed to cooperate with the Assad regime in resisting the Turkish incursion into northeast Syria. With Assadist forces already mobilizing to the region from the south and Turkish-backed forces advancing from the north, the Kurds have been left with little other choice. Accepting a separate peace with Assad is now their only hope to avoid outright extermination, or, at the very least, being cleansed entirely from their territory. But the sticking point in previous peace feelers between the Kurds and Assad has been the latter's refusal to recognize the Rojava autonomous zone—so its survival now is gravely in doubt, even in the improbable event that the Turkish advance is repulsed. Worse still, with the Kurds now open allies of the brutal regime that Syria's Arab opposition has been fighting for nearly eight years, a general Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria appears terrifyingly imminent.
A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction Oct. 11 against President Donald Trump's proposed plan for funding the border wall, finding that it exceeds executive branch authority under the Appropriations Act. Trump issued a proclamation in February declaring a national emergency on the southern border of the US, as both a humanitarian and security crisis. El Paso County, Tex., and the Border Network for Human Rights sued to challenge the proclamation. Going further than previous rulings against the border wall plans, Judge David Briones specifically declared Trump's emergency proclamation to be "unlawful." (Jurist, Politico, Oct. 11)
Turkey launched its assault on the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria Oct. 9, with air-strikes and artillery pounding areas along the Syrian-Turkish border. Hundreds of civilians have fled the bombardment, headed south into areas still held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Turkish offensive comes days after President Trump announced that he is withdrawing US forces from Kurdish-held territory in Syria, a move widely condemned by Washington's allies. "The [US] statement was a surprise and we can say that it is a stab in the back for the SDF," said militia spokesman Kino Gabriel. (MEE, BBC News)
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has finally announced that the House is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry after reports surfaced that Donald Trump called on a foreign power to intervene in the upcoming election. Trump placed a hold on $391 million in aid to Ukraine just over a week before a July phone call in which he apparently urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden—the son of former US Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's likely opponent in next year's race. The transcript of that call (not, apparently, verbatim) was released by the White House Sept. 25. Trump of course called the impeachment inquiry "the single greatest witch-hunt in American history," and tweeted that the inquiry is PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT (all caps). (Jurist)
The US and Brazil on Sept. 13 announced an agreement to promote private-sector development in the Amazon rainforest. US officials said a $100 million fund will be established to "protect biodiversity" by supporting businesses in hard-to-reach areas of the forest. At the meeting in Washington where the pact was struck, Brazil's foreign minister Ernesto Araujo said: "We want to be together in the endeavour to create development for the Amazon region which we are convinced is the only way to protect the forest. So we need new initiatives, new productive initiatives, that create jobs, that create revenue for people in the Amazon and that's where our partnership with the United States will be very important for us." (BBC News, Sept. 14; AFP, Sept. 13)
Trump now says it is increasingly "looking like" Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, while adding: "I don't want war with anybody but we're prepared." (RFE/RL) He also tweeted in typically ugrammatical style: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Meanwhile, Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, while Iran is denying any involvement. How are we to read this, and what are the risks?
The US Supreme Court on Sept. 11 allowed enforcement of a policy that would deny asylum to Central American migrants who pass through another country en route to the US and fail to make a claim for protection there. US District Court Judge Jon Tigar blocked the new rule in July by issuing a nationwide injunction. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently scaled back the order so that it only pertained to Ninth Circuit states, which include California and Arizona. In response to Judge Tigar's recent attempt to return his order to its original scope, the Trump administration requested that the Ninth Circuit temporarily stay the injunction. The Supreme Court's decision to grant the stay authorizes the Trump administration to proceed with nationwide implementation of the policy even though it is still being challenged in the lower courts.