October 2019 Analysis: Syria, Iraq & Lebanon
During the month of October, the MENA region has witnessed some political unrest and instability. In Syria, the Turkish offensive took place after the US withdrew troops from the Syrian border. And Iraq experienced two waves of mass protests against the country’s socioeconomic conditions, while similarly in Lebanon, people took to the streets to protest against the Lebanese government. When such incidents happen, it becomes imperative to stay up to date on current situations; one way of doing this is by subscribing to security alerts to help you stay vigilant and safe as you operate in volatile countries across the Middle East.
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In this blog, we take a closer look at what happened in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon this month, and zoom in on security response.
Incident: Turkish Offensive in Syria
The Turkish offensive into northern Syria, also known as “Operation Peace Spring” by Turkey, took place on October 9th 2019 when the Turkish Air Force launched airstrikes on towns located near the border. This occurred after the US withdrew their troops on October 6th 2019 from the area where the United States had been supporting its Kurdish allies.
The military operations resulted in the displacement of 176,000 people, according to the UN. More than 70 civilians in Syria and 20 civilians in Turkey were killed as a result. 259 Kurdish fighters, 196 Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and seven Turkish army soldiers were among the killed.
Related: August 2019 Recap: Syria & Lebanon
In response, Russia began stationing its troops near the border on October 23rd 2019, while the German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer proposed an internationally controlled security zone in northern Syria with the purpose of protecting civilians and de-escalating the situation with ISIS & ISIL fighters in the country. However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu rejected the plan and called it “unrealistic.”
Incident: IS Leader Killed in US Raid
According to the US media sourcesz, on the evening of October 27th 2019, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as the fugitive leader of the Islamic State (IS) group, detonated his suicide vest during a US military operation in north-west Syria. Al-Baghdadi was chased into a tunnel where he killed himself and three of his children by igniting his suicide vest.
According to the US, the explosion mutilated Baghdadi’s body but an on-site DNA test confirmed his identity, according to a speech by President Trump, and none of the US military personnel were killed.
Incident: Protests in Iraq
Iraq experienced two waves of mass protests against the government in the month of October alone. Protesters demanded better work conditions, public services and an end to corruption.
In the first wave of protests starting October 1st 2019, 157 people were killed and more than 6,000 were injured, while in the second wave on October 27th 2019, at least 67 people were killed in the span of just two days. Hundreds more people were injured after clashes between demonstrators, security forces and Iraqi shi'ite and Iran backed militant group.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi deployed members of Iraq’s counter-terrorism service (CTS) in an attempt to control the situation. The CTS took over after security forces fired tear gas at checkpoints around Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square and failed to clear the area of protesters. CTS officers arrested dozens of protesters in Nasiriya, according to police and security sources.
Incident: Protests in Lebanon
Anti-government protests began on October 17th and were initiated after the government’s announcement of new taxes, including taxes on WhatsApp calls. However, the WhatsApp decision was revoked mere hours later due to popular opposition. With that said, the protests continued and changed into expressions of anger against the entire political establishment, on whom they blame the country’s poor economic situation.
According to the Internal Security Forces, 70 people were arrested, however, activists claim that the number is closer to 300. In terms of casualties, 2 Syrian nationals who participated in protests, were shot and killed when the bodyguards of ex-MP Mosbah al-Ahdab opened fire to disperse protesters in Tripoli on October 17th. According to the Islamic Medical Association, 64 people were injured in Sidon demonstrations over the course of just three days.
Related: Lebanese New Government & Its Agenda
Security forces in Lebanon used excessive force against protesters in downtown Beirut on October 18th according to Human Rights Watch. The Internal Security Force’s riot police fired tear gas at protesters and fired rubber bullets at demonstrators. The Human Rights Watch reported that protesters had trouble breathing and were seen vomiting and fainting from tear gas inhalation.
Similar protests took place across the country in Tripoli, Jbeil, Baalbek, Saida, Sour and Nabatieh. Although protesters didn’t directly attack riot police, they did loot construction sites and stores, smashed shopfronts and blocked access to the airport and city with burning tires and trash, as well as blocked access to the airport from the city and vice versa. Others hurled fireworks at riot police guarding the Prime Minister’s headquarters.
Incident: Resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister
Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Al Hariri resigned on October 29th 2019 following weeks of mass protests. Protesters in Sidon started to celebrate upon hearing of Al Hariri’s intention to resign. This, however, wasn’t the first time that Al Hariri resigned on television; as he resigned back in November 2018 during his visit to Saudi Arabia.