In the latest ugly turn to Syria’s conflict, an apparent chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on 21 August reportedly killed over 1,400 people and injured many more. The attack sparked broad international condemnation and, despite the Assad regime’s denial that it was responsible, renewed discussion among Western states of armed intervention. U.S. President Barack Obama said he would seek Congressional approval for airstrikes against select regime targets (see our Syria Statement).
Sectarian violence in Iraq continued to exact heavy death tolls, including over 78 civilians killed in a series of car bombings in Shiite areas on 28 August. So far there appears to be little appetite by political leaders for the compromises necessary to halt the escalating violence (see our latest report). Instead, the government has requested from the U.S. additional weaponry and intelligence support in order to “combat terrorism”. It has arrested over 670 of what it calls suspected terrorists as part of a new military operation, dubbed “Martyrs’ Revenge”.
Lebanon entered a phase of tit-for-tat violence on a scale unseen since the civil war, as the country’s crippling political and sectarian divide continues to deepen. At least 42 people were killed and hundreds wounded in two explosions in Tripoli on 23 August. The attacks were interpreted as retaliation for a powerful car bomb in the Hizbollah-controlled southern Beirut suburbs on 15 August which killed at least 27 people.
In Egypt hundreds were reported killed in an army crackdown on supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo on 14 August, the result of security forces’ continued excessive force against predominantly peaceful pro-Morsi protests (see our recent briefing). The army declared a curfew and a state of emergency. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood officials have been arrested, often on apparently flimsy charges of inciting violence. The current cycle of violence is believed to have claimed over a thousand lives, predominantly Morsi supporters.
In Yemen, clashes between Huthis and their various rivals in Amran, Saada and Ibb left scores dead and many more injured. Attacks on security personnel increased, with 29 killed in the first half of the month alone. A reported al-Qaeda threat prompted the closure of Western embassies early August and led to a sharp escalation in U.S. drone strikes that killed dozens, primarily in the South.
Discontent and insecurity continued to worsen in Libya. Armed groups are becoming increasingly polarised between those opposing the government and congress and units intent on defending them and other state institutions. On 17 August groups involved in the July closure of oil ports in the east declared the region of Barqa an autonomous federal province and attempted to sell Libyan oil on the black market. The government threatened to use force to reopen the ports, but they nevertheless remain closed, threatening the country’s economic lifeline.
Relations between DR Congo and Rwanda came under increasing strain after Rwanda accused Kinshasa of “deliberately” and repeatedly firing into Rwandan territory. The DR Congo government and UN both denied the veracity of Rwanda’s allegations, instead blaming M23 rebels. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Washington called on both sides to avoid all-out war. Meanwhile hopes for a peace deal receded in the DR Congo with fresh fighting in North Kivu between M23 rebels and government forces who were for the first time backed by UN peacekeepers with a robust offensive mandate (see our recent report).
In Central African Republic Seleka ex-rebel fighters are growing increasingly unruly, abusing the civilian population and engaging in deadly clashes with supporters of former president François Bozizé. In late August the UN reported that some 5,000 civilians sought refuge in Bangui airport and warned of a looming humanitarian crisis. Former Seleka rebel leader Michael Djotodia was formally sworn in as interim president on 18 August, beginning an eighteen-month transition, but with no rule of law, no political roadmap, and the population’s support for the rebel coup leaders waning, the country’s prospects look increasingly bleak (see our recent report).
In Kashmir in early August India claimed five of its soldiers were killed by Pakistani fire near the heavily militarised Line of Control, in what it called a “gross violation” of the 2003 ceasefire. The two countries traded further accusations of cross-border violations as continuing skirmishes and mounting casualties on both sides obstructed efforts to calm tensions.