On the 28th of September, after a three-month summer recess, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Lower House of Parliament, paving the way for new elections. The Cabinet later approved elections for October 22nd. The Prime Minister’s choice followed his uptick in approval ratings and the disarray of the main opposition Democratic Party.
In July, some polls showed that Abe’s ratings had fallen below 30 percent after being suspected of cronyism that eroded his popularity. However, recent surveys suggest voters have approved his hardline stance on North Korea, which has threated to “sink” Japan and fired two missiles over the northern island of Hokkaido in the span of less than a month.
Abe’s bid seems to be the attempt to gain a new popular legitimacy to carry on the most difficult point in his agenda, such as the financial and educational reform and the amendment of the article 9 of Japanese Constitution, that would give the Japanese Self Defense Forces a more proactive role compared to that one assigned to them after the Second World War. Even though since now the reform of the Constitution has been a sensitive and a divisive issue, in a moment when Japan’s security is endangering by North Korea’s ballistic threat, the government could easily start the process.
Despite the current boost of Prime Minister’s approval rating, a critical factor for his party (Liberal Democratic Party, LDP) to gain the absolute majority in the Lower House could be represent by the new Party of Hope, formed by the popular governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike. Abe’s former ally, Koike is presenting herself as a conservative populist and she could grab important votes among LDP’s electorate.
On the 25th of September, Iraqi Kurds cast their ballot to vote for their own independence in the controversial referendum created by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). According to officials, people voted at 2,000 polling station across the region, in which more than 92% of the voters in Iraqi Kurdistan have opted for independence.
Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani has stated that this referendum does not mean a unilateral declaration of independence. This “yes” vote simply is a means to kick start the process of negotiations that will pave the way for Kurdish secession. Kurdish officials have insisted on the vote as a demonstration for Kurdish self-determination and a message to Baghdad.
The Iraqi government responded by conducting joint military exercises with Turkey near the Iraqi Kurdish territory. Additionally, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi could send in troops to disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil, such as the city of Kirkuk. Iraqi leaders have also warned military action, particularly over the province of Kirkuk. While home to Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs, Kirkuk is also an oil rich province that lies outside the official borders of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region and essential to Kurdistan’s fragile economy. Without revenues from Kirkuk’s oil fields, KRG wouldn’t even be able to pay salaries to its public employees.
Additionally, the decision around the referendum has aroused negative reactions from neighboring Turkey and Iran, who have been openly opposed to the vote. Both Ankara and Tehran see the creation of a Kurdish state in the northern Iraq as a threat to their internal stability and territorial integrity. Turkey has been a long-time fundamental trading partner of the semi-autonomous region, since the Mediterranean Turkish port of Ceyhan allows Kurdish oil to be exported via pipeline. Therefore, the threats from Turkey to close borders and impose sanctions on oil exports would be a significant financial blow for both Erbil and Ankara, frustrating the Kurdish hopes of achieving the necessary economic sustainability to give way to independence.
On the 24th of September, three Bangladeshi peacekeepers of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have been killed and five others seriously injured in IED explosions while on a patrol between the towns of Anefis and Gao in Mali’s volatile northern desert region. Established by the Security Council in 2013, MINUSMA exists to support political processes and help stabilize Mali after the 2011-2013 civil war.
This is not the first attack on UN peacekeepers in the region. In June, at least three peacekeepers from Guinea were killed in an assault near Kidal; just last month, a gunman attacked a peacekeeping headquarter in the northern city of Timbuktu, killing at least seven people and injuring seven others.
Despite MINUMSA intervention and french Operation Barkhane, the region remains plagued with violence. Since then, eighty peacekeepers have been killed, making it the most costly and deadliest of the UN’s current global peacekeeping operations.
Although many of the tribal militias were largely ousted in past years, much of the region is still lawless, making it a known haven for jihadist activity (some linked to al Qaeda) that European countries, particularly France, fear could threaten European interests at home, as a possible laboratory for radicalization, and abroad, as potential substructure to attack European citizenry.
The violence in the region has stimulated the five West African countries in the Sahel (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad) to launch a regional peacekeeping anti-terror unit.