Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 18 October 2017: Chinese Communist Party meets to decide future of the party, investigative journalist killed by car bomb in Malta, Iraqi Army takes key installations outside Kirkuk

The weekly briefing, 18 October 2017: Chinese Communist Party meets to decide future of the party, investigative journalist killed by car bomb in Malta, Iraqi Army takes key installations outside Kirkuk

by Matthew Clarke, Chris Abbott and Raphaël Zaffran

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Liberian general election results in presidential run-off; Massive truck bomb kills 276 people in Somali capital.

Americas: US president decertifies the 2015 Iran nuclear deal; Venezuela’s ruling party wins majority of governorships in controversial elections.

Asia-Pacific: Philippine special forces kill two notorious leaders of ISIS-linked groups occupying Marawi; Chinese Communist Party meets to decide future of the party and country.

Europe and Central Asia: Investigative journalist killed by car bomb in Malta; Former prime minister wins Kyrgyzstan presidential election.

Middle East and North Africa: Iraqi Army takes key installations outside northern city of Kirkuk after Kurdish peshmerga withdraw; Syrian Democratic Forces liberate remaining ISIS-held parts of Raqqa.

Africa

Liberia

The general election in Liberia 10 October has resulted in a run-off between George Weah, a senator and former professional footballer, and the vice-president Joseph Boakai. The two main presidential candidates received 39% and 29% of the vote respectively. A further 18 candidates claimed the remaining 32% of the vote between them. A candidate requires 50% of the vote to win the election, and a run-off is scheduled for 9 November. Weah stood as a presidential candidate in the 2005 election, winning the first round but losing in the run-off to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He stood as a vice-presidential candidate in the 2011 election. Weah has been a senator since 2014, and is backed by former president Charles Taylor’s ex-wife, the senator Jewel Howard Taylor. Boakai has been vice-president since 2006, serving under Sirleaf. He was previously agriculture minister between 1983 and 1985, and has held various senior management and board positions in Liberia. It is likely that Weah, Boakai and Sirleaf will respect the result of the run-off, and a peaceful transition of power is expected.

Somalia

On 14 October, a truck bomb exploded outside the Safari Hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing 276 people and wounding over 300 others. The intersection that the hotel sits on is lined with government buildings, including the foreign ministry. The driver of the truck stopped the vehicle at a checkpoint and detonated the bomb next to an oil tanker. It was the single deadliest attack in the Somalia’s history. Hospitals in Mogadishu struggled to cope with the number of casualties. Five Somali Red Crescent volunteers were killed in the attack, and several other volunteers are injured or missing. The government quickly blamed the attack on al-Shabaab, but the militant group has not yet claimed responsibility. Al-Shabaab is on the back foot as it battles the Somali military, 20,000 troops from the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and increased US drone strikes.

Americas

United States

The US president, Donald Trump, has decertified the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Trump’s announcement in a speech at the White House on 13 October gives the US Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran. Trump threatened to end the agreement if the White House is not able to reach a solution with Congress and US allies. The United Kingdom, France and Germany have vowed to maintain their commitment to the deal, known officially as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump’s announcement is another example of the brinkmanship he has repeatedly employed in both domestic and international policy matters. It is a dangerous strategy that is increasing tensions with Iran and will likely backfire due to little support within his administration or from European allies. The US Congress is unlikely to amend JCPOA to accommodate Trump’s demands, which may result in the president withdrawing the United States from the deal. While this would jeopardise the already fragile agreement, it is possible that the deal would hold due to the continued commitment of the other parties. If this were the case, it would be another example of the retreat of US leadership in multilateral affairs.

The Iran nuclear deal may survive US president's sabotage, as the other parties remain committedClick To Tweet

Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 17 out of 23 governorships in controversial gubernatorial elections on 15 October. The vote took place despite months of anti-government unrest across the country in which 100 people have died. Venezuela’s opposition fielded candidates in the elections despite protesting since the government installed a constituent assembly on 30 July and not taking part in political dialogue in September. Although Maduro is hailing his party’s success, the results are at odds with consistent polling data that shows popular support for the ruling party at no more than 20% across the country. It is highly likely that the US president, Donald Trump, will side with the Venezuelan opposition, and possibly call for international sanctions against Maduro’s government. It is also likely that the questionable election results will lead to further civil unrest, as opposition leaders have called the elections fraudulent and refused to recognise the outcomes.

Asia-Pacific

China

The week-long 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China opened in Beijing on 18 October. The congress will result in significant changes to the leadership of the Communist Party (CCP) and hence China. The party delegates will elect the general secretary, the Politburo, three-quarters of the Politburo Standing Committee and the party’s Central Committee. The congress is an important indicator of the factional balance of power within the CCP and the extent to which the current Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has succeeded in rapidly consolidating his power. Delegates are expected to reappoint Xi as general secretary for another five years, enshrine his political philosophies in the party’s constitution, and elect some of his former subordinates to the Politburo. The inclusion of Xi Jinping Thought in the party’s constitution and the cementing of Xi’s power base in the party’s top apparatus will ensure the president’s legacy beyond his second term; however, it is uncertain at the moment whether Xi will break with convention and remain in power beyond 2022. The outcomes from the current congress will give a clearer indication of Xi’s intentions and support for them within the party.

Party congress will give an indication of the current balance of power within the Chinese Communist PartyClick To Tweet

Philippines

Philippine Army special forces have reportedly killed two notorious leaders of the ISIS-linked groups that have been occupying Marawi City in the southern Philippines since May 2017. Soldiers killed Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute during a hostage rescue operation in the city on 16 October. Hapilon was the leader of Abu Sayyaf, Islamic State’s affiliate in Southeast Asia, and Maute was the co-founder with his brother of the Maute group, composed of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters. Former rebels have identified the two men’s bodies, and the Filipino defence secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, confirmed that they had been killed in Marawi. The deaths of Hapilon and Maute are a significant blow to both the violent Islamist insurgency on Mindanao and Islamic State’s Southeast Asia ambitions at a time when its ‘caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria is crumbling. The army has confined the remaining insurgents to a small area of Marawi, and the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, declared the liberation of the city on 17 October.

Europe and Central Asia

Malta

On 16 October, Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta, was killed in a car bomb near her home in Bidnija. Galizia used her widely-read blog, Running Commentary, to take aim at the criminal interests that she believed had captured Malta and turned the country into a mafia state. The journalist had recently filed a police report after receiving death threats. There have been 15 mafia-style assassinations and car bombings in Malta in the last decade. The Maltese government has launched an investigation into Galizia’s murder, and the police have asked other countries’ security services, including the FBI, for help identifying the perpetrators. However, opposition politicians claim that the rule of law is under threat in Malta, and many on the island will not trust the police to properly investigate the murder. The journalist’s son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, has accused the Maltese police of incompetence and the government of impunity. The head of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajini, has called for a full investigation.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan held a presidential election on 15 October. Pundits had predicted a close race between oil tycoon Omurbek Babanov and former prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who was backed by the outgoing president, Almazbek Atambaev. However, Jeenbekov won an outright victory with 54.81% of the vote compared to Babanov’s 33.74%. The election is the first time that the Kyrgyz Republic has experienced a peaceful transition of power since its independence in 1991, consolidating its position as Central Asia’s only democracy. However, it is likely that irregularities and procedural problems occurred during the vote. European observers and members of the OSCE-led observer mission have raised concerns that both the main campaigns may have engaged in vote-buying and voter pressure. Nonetheless, international observers have generally praised the election’s rare competitiveness. Jeenbekov will serve a single six-year term as per a 2010 constitutional reform. During that time, he will face major societal and regional challenges, including latent ethnic tensions between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities, rising security concerns and radical Islamism in the country’s southern province, and relations with the regional hegemons, Russia and China, and its more-powerful and less-democratic neighbours, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq

The Iraqi Army has taken key installations outside the northern city of Kirkuk after Kurdish peshmerga withdrew with only minimal fighting reported. Iraqi forces now control the K1 military base, the Baba Gurgur oil field, the North Oil Company’s offices and an airport east of the city. The Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have disagreed over the status of Kirkuk since the city fell under Kurdish control in 2014 after Iraqi forces fled advancing ISIS fighters. Tensions have risen since an independence referendum in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan on 25 September that the Iraqi government declared unconstitutional. Baghdad does not wish to see a Kurdish state, as it would result in the loss of a large area of territory, including oil fields. Washington has urged Iraqi and Kurdish forces to avoid escalating the conflict, and has made it clear that it does not want to see Baghdad use weapons supplied by the United States for the fight against Islamic State being used for internal repression. The Kurdish president, Masoud Barzani, has ordered the peshmerga to only respond if attacked, but the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has ordered the army to ‘impose security’ on Kirkuk. Although a battle for the city does not look likely at this point, the potential for bloodshed remains high given the rising tensions and the forces from both sides amassing near the city.

Syria

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has cleared the last pockets of ISIS resistance from the National Hospital and a sports stadium in the centre of Raqqa. The red and yellow flag of the Kurdish YPG forces now flies over the city. The predominantly-Kurdish SDF allowed hundreds of ISIS fighters and their families to flee Raqqa ahead of the final assault, though prevented foreign fighters from leaving. Around 200-300 ISIS fighters remained in the city. The SDF had lay siege to the one-time de facto capital of Islamic State for four months. The liberation of Raqqa is a significant blow for Islamic State. The final push for the city follows the near-complete removal of the group from the territory it has held in Iraq and Syria. The destruction of its ‘caliphate’ means Islamic State is now confined to the desert and semi-desert areas between the two countries. Its evolution into an ‘online caliphate’, combined with ongoing ISIS-inspired attacks in Europe and elsewhere, may help the group maintain its relevance in the international jihadist community, but the supply of funding and fighters to the group will likely be diminished now it no longer holds significant territory.

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