Covid-19 concerns but so far seems under control in NZ

There are obvious concerns about the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus (I don’t think I heard of a ‘coronavirus’ until about a month ago) around the world, but so far at least it seems largely contained here in New Zealand.

It started and surged in China, got a hold in South Korea, Iran and Italy, and is getting worse in the United States, but so far there are only two confirmed cases here, both imported by New Zealand citizens. One was someone returning from Iran via Bali (now in hospital), the other returning from Italy via Singapore (now in isolation at home).

There’s a chance that these two may have spread the virus after returning, but that is being checked out and precautions are being taken.

One problem is that most people who get the virus only experience mild to meduim flu-like symptoms and may not get checked for Covid-19, so it could be quietly spreading. Or it may be limited and under control.

There has been an impact on businesses in New Zealand and will impact on finances for some time regardless of how many get the virus here.

However international risks increase, especially from the US.

Reuters: Coronavirus hits New York family, U.S. cases rise; lawmakers near emergency funds deal

Three family members and a neighbor of a New York man infected with the new coronavirus have also tested positive, officials said on Wednesday, and the number of cases increased across the United States.

The latest data here from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed 129 confirmed and presumed cases in the United States from the previous 108.

The cases were 80 reported by public health authorities in 13 states plus 49 among people repatriated from abroad, according to the CDC website. North Carolina became the 13th state to report a case on Tuesday.

Nine people have died in the Seattle area, health officials said. Of the 27 cases documented as of Tuesday in Washington state in the Pacific Northwest, nine were connected to a long-term nursing-care facility in a Seattle suburb.

Reuters: Fragile safety net leaves U.S. economy vulnerable to coronavirus hit

Economists worry that a large number of quarantined workers could sharply curb consumer spending, the pillar of the U.S. economy, and further widen the gap between the affluent and a working class that already struggles to pay the bills.

I know someone who has had a business trip to the US delayed due to concerns about the virus.

US sharemarkets plummeted last week, but recovered a bit at thee start of this week and now Wall Street surges after Biden’s surprise Super Tuesday lead

I wonder who Trump will blame that on, or maybe he will claim the credit.

Trump has been busy on twitter jeering at Democrat candidates who are dropping out (and also past allies like Jeff Sessions: “This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt. Recuses himself on FIRST DAY in office, and the Mueller Scam begins!”

Sport around the world has been impacted by the virus, with doubts about the Olympics.

Reuters: Japan coronavirus cases hit 1,000 mark as Tokyo insists Olympics on track

Japan’s confirmed coronavirus infections rose above 1,000 on Wednesday, most of them from a quarantined cruise liner, as Olympics organizers dismissed speculation that the Tokyo Summer Games could be canceled.

The virus is spreading worldwide, with South Korea, Europe and Iran hit hard, and several countries have reported their first confirmed cases, taking the total to some 80 nations hit with the flu-like illness that can lead to pneumonia.

The number of cases in mainland China, where the outbreak originated in December, has reached 80,270, while the death toll had risen by 38 to 2,981 by March 3.

There have been more than 125 deaths outside China.

The new cases in Japan pushed the total over 1,000, according to Reuters calculations – 706 are from the Diamond Princess cruise liner, which has been quarantined for weeks off Yokohama.

World Health Organisation: Coronavirus disease (COVID-2019) situation reports

SITUATION IN NUMBERS
total and new cases in last 24 hours

Globally
90 870 confirmed (1922 new)

China
80 304 confirmed (130 new)
2946 deaths (31 new)

Outside of China
10 566 confirmed (1792 new)
72 countries (8 new)
166 deaths (38 new)

WHO RISK ASSESSMENT
China Very High
Regional Level Very High
Global Level Very High

All we can do here is hope that the virus is contained here, which will be a challenge given how interconnected the world is now.


UPDATE:

That person seems likely to be connected to one of the two already confirmed to have the virus.

Covid-19 virus and effects spread around the world

Yesterday the Dow Jones dropped 1000 points (over 3%) and early Tuesday it is down another 1%, The NZX50 dropped a further 1.18% on Tuesday.other markets around the world are also down.

Fears and effects of the Covid-19n coronavirus are cited as drivers of the drops. Airlines and tourism in particular have already been significantly affected.

RNZ: Counting the cost of Covid-19s local impact

Hundreds of millions of dollars is likely to be shaved off the value of the economy for the first quarter, with estimates currently between 0.3 and 0.6 percentage points less than pre-virus forecasts.

The International Monetary Fund sees the virus as the biggest threat to the global economy.

Nearly every part of New Zealand’s economy is affected by the outbreak – but particularly exporters and importers who are largely dependent on the Chinese market.

About 50,000 Chinese visitors came through New Zealand’s arrivals gate in February last year, but that traffic has all but disappeared with New Zealand’s border closed to the travellers.

Retail NZ have reported about a third of its members say they are putting up to 30 percent less through their tills, cutting back on forward orders and dropping back staff hours.

Tertiary institutes stand to lose more than $100 million if students from China could not make it to class.

The list goes on, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels New Zealand Limited said it expected to lose up to $3 million in last minute cancellations.

Auckland Airport was in the same boat, with 45 return services to Mainland China reduced to eight, almost overnight. It downgraded its earnings by $5 million.

And to top it off, the primary sector was also dealing with a significant drought.

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Simon Limmer said it was the perfect storm.

The virus is not the only problem but is adding to other problems.

The virus increases it’s spread around the world.

RNZ – Coronavirus: Iran’s deputy health minister tests positive as outbreak worsens

Iran’s deputy health minister and an MP have both tested positive for the new coronavirus disease, as it struggles to contain an outbreak that has killed 15.

They have reported 95 cases, but the actual number is thought to be higher.

The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the sudden increase in cases in the country is “deeply concerning”.

More people have died in Iran from the virus than anywhere else outside China.

It is one of three global hot-spots causing great concern among health experts that the virus could be developing into a pandemic. The others are South Korea and northern Italy, where cases have surged in recent days.

On Tuesday an MP from the Iranian capital Tehran, Mahmoud Sadeghi, also said he had tested positive for the virus.

More than 80,000 cases of the Covid-19 respiratory disease have been reported worldwide since it emerged last year. About 2,700 patients have died – the vast majority in China.

Reuters: Coronavirus isolates Iran, strains South Korea, Italy

Iran’s coronavirus death toll rose to 16, the most outside China, heightening its international isolation as dozens of nations from South Korea to Italy accelerated emergency measures to curb the epidemic’s global spread.

Beyond mainland China, however, it has jumped to about 29 countries and territories, with some three dozen deaths, according to a Reuters tally. Growing outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea are of particular concern.

A minor local impact – I was in a Dunedin pharmacy yesterday and they had a sign on their counter saying ‘We are out of stock of face masks, try again next week’.

US claims Iranian missile accidentally downed Ukrainian jet

According to the US it wasn’t an unfortunate coincidence that a jet crashed in Iran just after a missile attack on US bases in Iraq. They claim a Iranian missile accidentally brought the Ukrainian plane down, killing 176 people.

But a news post making the claim may have been taken down.

RNZ:  Iran ‘mistakenly shot down Ukraine jet’ – US media

US officials say they believe the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800 was hit by a missile, CBS says.

Ukraine earlier said it was examining whether a missile strike brought down the aircraft – but Iran ruled this out.

The crash came just hours after Iran carried out missile strikes on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq.

CBS News quoting US intelligence said a satellite detected infrared “blips” of two missile launches, followed by another blip of an explosion.

More to come…

CBS News – Special Report: U.S. officials believe Iran shot down Ukrainian passenger jet

The page cannot be found

The page may have been removed, had its name changed, or is just temporarily unavailable.

More will no doubt be reported during our day.

If the report is accurate (it sounds feasible) it demonstrates that in war zones accidental and civilian deaths are unfortunately a real risk. I think that flying anywhere near Iran or Iraq is best avoided, especially right now.

Meanwhile U.S., Iran ease conflict fears but threats keep crisis rolling

Iran spurned the U.S. president’s call for a new nuclear pact and its commanders threatened more attacks as the Middle East remained on edge following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general and Tehran’s retaliatory missile strikes.

Concern the war-scarred region was primed for a wider conflict eased after U.S President Donald Trump refrained from ordering more military action and Iran’s foreign minister diplomat said missile strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response.

But each side’s next move in their protracted shadow war was uncertain. Iranian generals resumed their habitual barrage of warnings to Washington and Trump said new sanctions were being imposed, as his Democratic rivals criticized his handling of the crisis.

Also:

  • Trump says he has approved increased U.S. sanctions on Iran
    “It’s already been done. We’ve increased them. They were very severe, but now it’s increased substantially,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I just approved it a little while ago with Treasury.

  • Pelosi does not believe Soleimani strike made the U.S. safer
    “I do not believe in terms of what is in the public domain that they have made the country safer by what they did,” she said at her weekly news conference, hours before the House is due to vote on a war powers resolution intended to prevent Trump from waging war against Iran without congressional approval.

 

US versus Iran continues

Donald trump may be trying to defuse the escalating situation between the US and Iran in Iraq.

Reuters: Trump says U.S. does not have to use military against Iran

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States did not necessarily have to use its military power against Iran, in an apparent attempt to defuse a crisis over the American killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

The crash of a Ukranian airliner in Iran has added to the tensions.

No survivors after Ukrainian Boeing plane with 176 aboard crashes in Iran

A Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, bursting into flames and killing all 176 people on board.

Among the victims were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, three Germans and three Britons, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

It was the Kiev-based carrier’s first fatal crash, and it said it was doing everything possible to establish the cause.

Ukraine will send a team of experts to Iran later on Wednesday to investigate the crash, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in the Ukrainian capital.

“Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe,” he said.

Asked at a briefing in Kiev whether the plane could have been hit by a missile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk cautioned against speculation until the results of the investigation were known.

Safety experts say airliner accidents rarely have a single cause and that it typically takes months of investigation to understand all the factors behind them.

In Paris, the maker of the plane’s engines, French-U.S. firm CFM – co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran – said speculation regarding the cause was premature.

U.S. calls for complete cooperation with any probe into cause of Iran crash

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States was calling for complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran.

In a statement, Pompeo said the United States was prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance after the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737, which burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard.

The plane crashed hours after Iran launched missiles at bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, and officials have cautioned that speculation about what happened was premature.

There have been wider effects of the tot for tat attacks.

Airlines re-route or cancel flights around Iraq, Iran after missile strike on U.S. troops

Major airlines canceled Iran and Iraq flights on Wednesday and re-routed others away from both countries’ airspace, following an Iranian missile strike on United States-led forces in Iraq.

On the Iranian missile attacks:

Trump says no U.S. casualties, Iran appears to be standing down

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday there were no American casualties in the Iranian strikes on military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and that Tehran appeared to be standing down.

“No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties,” Trump said in a White House address. “Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down.”

Iran believed to have deliberately missed U.S. forces in Iraq strikes: sources

Iran is believed to have deliberately avoided U.S. military casualties during retaliatory missile strikes on bases housing American troops in Iraq, following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general, according to U.S. and European government sources familiar with intelligence assessments.

USA Today: US knew Iranian missiles were coming ahead of strike

The U.S. military had advance warning of Iran’s missile assault on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces, attacks that prompted new economic sanctions Wednesday from President Donald Trump.

The missiles targeted al Assad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province and another base in Erbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. The extent of damage to the bases was not immediately clear, but early-warning defense systems gave U.S. forces advance knowledge that missiles had been launched, according to a U.S. official speaking to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity.

The advance warning explains no casualties. I would expect the US to be monitoring and detecting missiles, but they can’t have known in advance what the exact targets would be.

CNN, citing an Arab diplomatic source, reported that Iran notified Iraq in advance and that Iraqi officials then tipped U.S. troops before the attack began. A U.S. defense official also told CNN that Iraqis were told by Iran to stay away from certain bases.

The militaries of Finland and Lithuania, which had personnel at one of the targeted bases, said they also received information about an imminent attack and had time to take shelter or leave the base.

It sounds like it was a symbolic counter attack.

Trump has given a national address on the situation. Highlights from Reuters: Trump addresses Iran situation

ATTACK ON MILITARY BASES

“I’m pleased to inform you the American people should be extremely grateful and happy. No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.

“Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”

U.S. STRENGTH

“Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast. Under construction are many hypersonic missiles. The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”

SANCTIONS

“As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.”

There have been US imposed sanctions on Iran for years.

CREATING A NEW IRAN DEAL

“Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”

Trying appeasement after assassinating a foreign leader in another country.

Wanting to scrap one deal and make another deal is typical Trump.

50 killed at Soleimani funeral in Iran

This may add to the tensions in Iran and Iraq – Qasem Soleimani burial: Stampede kills 50 mourners

Fifty people have been killed and more than 200 injured in a stampede as Iranians gathered for the burial of a leading commander killed in a US drone strike.

Millions are already estimated to have packed the streets for a series of funeral processions in Iran.

Soleimani’s killing has raised fears of a conflict between the US and Iran.

The US has labelled him a terrorist, and in explaining why he ordered the strike President Trump said he was acting on an “imminent” threat.

The head of the Quds Force was tasked with defending and projecting Iranian interests abroad, and was hailed as a hero in his home country.

He was also regarded as having been instrumental in the defeat of Isis in Syria.

That is ironic – Trump has claimed credit for the defeat of ISIS, but that battle still isn’t over

Bloomberg last October:  Graham Says Trump’s ‘Biggest Lie’ Is of Islamic State’s Defeat

One of Donald Trump’s biggest defenders in Congress rebuked the president’s decision to step aside from Kurdish allies in Syria while Turkey’s military advances, saying it would result in the re-emergence of ISIS.

“ISIS is not defeated, my friend. The biggest lie being told by the administration is that ISIS is defeated,” Senator Lindsey Graham told “Fox and Friends” in a phone call Monday. “The Caliphate is destroyed, but there’s thousands of fighters” still there.

Also, from Fox: Sen. Graham warns Syria withdrawal would be ‘big win for ISIS,’ compares Trump’s strategy to Obama

And the ISIS risks my have been raised by the assassination.

New York Times: Conflict With Iran Threatens Fight Against ISIS

The American assassination of a top Iranian commander may make it impossible for American forces to stay in Iraq. That could ease an ISIS comeback.

For the militants of the Islamic State, the American drone strike that killed the Iranian commander Qassim Suleimani was a two-for-one victory.

First, the killing of General Suleimani removed the leader of one of the Islamic State’s most effective opponents, responsible for building up the alliance of Iran-backed militias that did much of the ground fighting to drive the militants out of their strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

The assassination has also redirected the wrath of those militias and their many political allies inside Iraq squarely against the American presence there, raising doubts about the continued viability of the American-led campaign to eradicate what is left of the Islamic State and to prevent its revival in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.

“This is precisely the sort of deus ex machina the organization needed, to give it room to operate and to allow it to break out of its current marginality,” said Sam Heller, an analyst at the International Crisis Group who studies the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Just Security – Trump’s Fatal Mistake: Killing Suleimani vs. Countering ISIS

The fight against ISIS is on hold. It’s unclear how exactly it will ever resume. With U.S. and coalition forces hunkered down in anticipation of Iranian retaliation for the killing of Qassem Suleimani and the Iraqi parliament calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, combined with continued fallout from President Trump’s decision to withdraw from parts of Syria, our counterterrorism campaign is deeply compromised.

And running across all of this is the same dynamic – a president who knows very little about how to wage counterterrorism and cares not at all about setting the diplomatic conditions to achieve our goals against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. Counterterrorism is about much more than dropping bombs and training partners, and unless the President or somebody in his administration shows some diplomatic savvy in a hurry, our campaign against ISIS in the region is, for most all intents and purposes, over.

Back to the funeral in Iran – ‘Soleimani’s revenge’: Huge crowds at funeral hear vows of Iranian action

As the coffins of General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who also died in Friday’s attack in Baghdad, were passed over the heads of mourners, Soleimani’s successor vowed to expel US forces from the region in revenge.

The killing of Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s drive to build its influence in the Middle East, has stoked concern around the globe that a broader regional conflict could now erupt.

Trump has listed 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, that could be hit if Iran retaliates with attacks on Americans or US assets, although officials sought to play down the president’s reference to cultural targets.

General Esmail Ghaani, the new commander of the Quds Force, the elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards charged with overseas operations, promised to “continue martyr Soleimani’s cause as firmly as before with the help of God, and in return for his martyrdom we aim to rid the region of America”.

“God the Almighty has promised to take martyr Soleimani’s revenge,” he told state television. “Certainly, actions will be taken.”

Other political and military leaders have made similar, unspecific threats. Iran, which lies at the mouth of the key Gulf oil shipping route, has a range of proxy forces in the region through which it could act.

The assassination has created problems in an already troubled Iraq.

Iraq’s rival Shi’ite leaders, including ones opposed to Iranian influence, have united since Friday’s attack to call for the expulsion of US troops, who number about 5,000, most of them advisers.

Soleimani, widely seen as Iran’s second most powerful figure behind Khamenei, built a network of proxy forces to create a crescent of influence stretching from Lebanon through Syria and Iraq to Iran. Allies also include Palestinian and Yemeni groups.

Trump’s ‘threat of war crimes’

Tehran has said Washington must return to the existing nuclear pact and lift the crippling sanctions before any talks can take place.

Trump stood by remarks that cultural sites were potential targets, despite criticism from US politicians that this amounted to a threat to commit war crimes.

“They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way,” Trump said.

Democratic critics of the Republican president have said Trump was reckless in authorising the strike. Republicans in the US Congress have generally backed his move.

RNZ: US denies troop withdrawal from Iraq after letter sent by general

The United States has no plans to pull troops out of Iraq, Defense Secretary Mark Esper says, following reports by Reuters and other media of a US military letter informing Iraq officials about the repositioning of troops in preparation to leave the country.

“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Esper told Pentagon reporters when asked about the letter, adding there were no plans issued to prepare to leave.

“I don’t know what that letter is… We’re trying to find out where that’s coming from, what that is. But there’s been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period.”

The United States has about 5,000 US troops in Iraq.

The letter was a poorly-worded draft document meant only to underscore increase movement of US forces, the top US military officer told reporters.

“Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening,” US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, stressing there was no withdrawal being planned.

The authenticity of the letter, which was addressed to the Iraqi defence ministry’s Combined Joint Operations Baghdad and signed by a US general, had been confirmed to Reuters by an Iraqi military source.

Meanwhile we still have an involvement in Iraq that has been affected. RNZ – New Zealand should be a ‘principled voice’ as US-Iran tensions rise, Golriz Ghahraman says

The Green Party defence spokesperson says New Zealand needs to be able to stand up to its allies if the situation between the US and Iran continues to escalate.

Golriz Ghahraman said the situation in Iran had also reignited calls from the Green Party to get troops out of Iraq.

Yesterday, Defence Minister Ron Mark confirmed that training activities being conducted by the 45 New Zealand troops at Iraq’s Camp Taji were being halted. The government is monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has called for restraint and de-escalation in the region.

The New Zealand government was already planning to withdraw troops by June this year.

Ghahraman said she had spoken to Mark about whether troops would need to be evacuated now.

“Whether in fact it is far too dangerous is something we don’t know, but we know the risk is growing by the minute and the situation is changing very fast, so I have raised it with the minister and we are having those conversations now,” she said.

Previous comments by Peters asking for calm early on was the right move, but New Zealand would need to reassess where it stood when allies like the US were threatening war crimes, she said.

“We do have to, in the days to come, reassess whether or not we are really going to stand up to what has become a belligerent US president.

“I think that is a good place for New Zealand to be, that we stand as a principled voice on the international stage and we do call out our allies,” she said.

She hoped it would not come to war, but if it did, she believed the US would try and pressure New Zealand to be involved.

“They have always put pressure on us to join their wars, the kind of war on terror rhetoric we saw in the early 2000s will come back again.

“That pressure was withstood by Helen Clark’s government, then the previous National Party government did put our troops in the position they are now where there is political football being played by someone as reckless as Donald Trump and their lives are on the line. ”

“We have no place contributing to the militarisation of the Middle East, because that doesn’t help the region, but also because it puts Kiwi lives at risk.

“Yes there will be pressure and I would hope this and successive government’s will withstand that if there is a war.”

Greens are likely to resist any attempts to draw New Zealand further into the Middle East mess if things escalate there.

Iraq wants to expel US troops

US troops were allowed into Iraq four years ago in an agreement to help fight against the ‘Islamic State’. The Iraqi government now wants to expel the troops after the US airstrike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani – but remarkably, under the agreement they are required to give one year notice.

There are fears that there will be a resurgence of ISIS if the US leaves Iraq, and that Iran will increase it’s influence in Iraq.

More of an immediate concern is that both the US and Iran have threatened each other of further aggression over the ‘act of war’ committed by the US.

Stuff (AAP): Iraq’s Parliament calls for expulsion of US troops

Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of US troops from the country Sunday (Monday NZT) in reaction to the American drone attack that killed a top Iranian general, raising the prospect of a withdrawal that could allow a resurgence by Islamic State extremists.

Lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent forces to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government. Even then, cancelling the US-Iraq agreement requires giving the Americans a one-year notice for withdrawal.

Amid Iran’s threats of vengeance, the US-led military coalition in Iraq announced Sunday it is putting the fight against Islamic State militants on hold to focus on protecting its troops and bases.

A pullout of the estimated 5200 US troops could cripple the fight against Isis and allow it to make a comeback. It could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq.

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox News that the parliamentary vote is “a bit concerning”.

“The Iranian government is trying to basically take over Iraq’s political system. Iran is bribing Iraqi politicians. To the Iraqi people, do not allow your politicians to turn Iraq into a proxy of Iran,” he said.

“The killing of Soleimani was a political assassination,” outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Parliament, adding that the Iranian general was scheduled to meet him the next morning about relations with Saudi Arabia.

The US has been supporting Saudi Arabia and provided them with arms. It is a complex situation in the Middle East.

 

  • President Trump Says 52 Targets Already Lined Up If Iran Retaliates AP News

    President Donald Trump issued a stark warning to Iran on Saturday, threatening to hit dozens of targets in the Islamic Republic “very fast and very hard” if it retaliates for the targeted killing of the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

    The series of tweets came as the White House sent to Congress a formal notification under the War Powers Act of the drone strike on Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a senior administration official said. U.S. law required notification within 48 hours of the introduction of American forces into an armed conflict or a situation that could lead to war.

  • Iran Official: ‘The Response for a Military Action Is Military Action USA Today

    Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations said Saturday “the response for a military action is military action,” as fears grew that a U.S. airstrike that killed the head of Tehran’s elite Quds force and mastermind of its security and intelligence strategy will draw Washington and the Middle East region into a broader military conflict.

    Iran has already vowed an unspecified harsh retaliation for the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani near the Iraqi capital’s international airport on Thursday. President Donald Trump said he ordered the strike to prevent a conflict with Iran because Soleimani was plotting attacks that endangered American troops and officials.

    No evidence was provided.

  • No, Attacking Iran Won’t Help Trump Get Reelected Jonathan Chait, NY Magazine

    Beginning in 2011, and continuing through the next year, Donald Trump began obsessively predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran in order to be reelected. Trump stated it publicly, on at least a half-dozen occasions, explicitly positing that attacking Iran would help Obama win reelection.

    Trump’s allies have framed the issue as being about Qasem Soleimani’s moral culpability, or Iran’s responsibility for escalating the conflict. And it is certainly true that Iran is a nasty, aggressive, murderous regime. But none of this refutes the fact that Trump’s Iran policy is failing on its own terms. Having violated a diplomatic agreement on the premise that doing so would not lead to war, they are now blaming Iran for the war they insisted would never happen.

  • The Soleimani Strike Defied the U.S. Constitution Oona Hathaway, The Atlantic

    The drone strike that killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, raises many legal issues, but one of the most significant—at least to the American constitutional order—is that President Donald Trump ordered the strike without so much as informing Democratic leadership in Congress, disregarding Congress’s essential role in initiating war. If Congress fails to respond effectively, the constitutional order will be broken beyond repair, and the president will be left with the unmitigated power to take the country to war on his own—anywhere, anytime, for any reason.

  • Iran, Not the U.S., Is in a Dilemma Victor Davis Hanson, National Review
    For all the current furor over the death of Qasem Soleimani, it is Iran, not the U.S. and the Trump administration, that is in a dilemma. Given the death and destruction wrought by Soleimani, and his agendas to come, he will not be missed.

    Tehran has misjudged the U.S. administration’s doctrine of strategic realism rather than vice versa. The theocracy apparently calculated that prior U.S. patience and restraint in the face of its aggression was proof of an unwillingness or inability to respond. More likely, the administration was earlier prepping for a possible more dramatic, deadly, and politically justifiable response when and if Iran soon overreached.

It seems rather simplistic and naive to think that the current situation doesn’t pose problems if not a dilemma for the US. Iran will have known that ongoing provocations would eventually result in a reaction from the US, and that was more likely in the US election year.

 

Trump via Twitter:

Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters.

He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years.

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

I think the only certainty in this situation is that this isn’t the end of USA versus Iran, nor the problems in the Middle East.

US versus Iran escalates

President Trump ordered a missile attack on Baghdad airport that is reported to have killed a ‘top Iranian general’, in retaliation for attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad.

Iran has promised ‘harsh retaliation’.

US versus Iran has been at risk of escalation for years. To an extent at least that now appears to be happening.

What Iran has been doing is a concern. The US response raises concerns. This too and fro fury could fizzle, but it could get very ugly.

  • Trump Orders Strike Killing Top Iranian General in Baghdad MSN
    The commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps was killed early Friday in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that was authorized by President Trump, American officials said.The commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and several officials from Iraqi militias backed by Tehran were killed when an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the airport.

    The killing of General Suleimani was a staggering blow for Iran’s military and national pride, and was a serious escalation of Mr. Trump’s growing confrontation with Tehran, one that began with the death of an American contractor in Iraq in late December.

  • Terrorist General Soleimani Had Blood of Thousands On His Hands Daily Mail (UK)
    Qassem Soleimani masterminded the killing of hundreds of US troops in IED attacks, helped Assad slaughter his people in Syria, was an ally of Hezbollah and ‘more powerful than Iran’s president’.
  • Esper Says Iran May Be Planning More Attacks on U.S. Interests PBS
    Iran or its proxy forces may be planning further strikes on American interests in the Middle East, and the U.S. is prepared to take preemptive military action if it gets sufficient warning, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday.“The game has changed,” Esper said, citing a series of violent attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq in recent months by Iran-supported militia groups. “We’re prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region.”
  • Iran Vows ‘Harsh’ Retaliation AP
    Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” for a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed a top Iranian general who had been the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, and the U.S. announced Friday it was sending more troops to the region as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing.

    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the killing a “heinous crime” and vowed his country would “take revenge.” Iran twice summoned the Swiss envoy, the first time delivering a letter to pass onto the United States.

  • After Killing of Top Iranian General, What May Come Next? Heather Hulburt, NY MagIn less than a week, the standoff between the U.S. and Iran has zoomed from what seemed to be a somewhat calibrated exchange of rockets, cyberattacks, and rhetoric to the killing of a man reckoned to be Iran’s second-most-powerful military official, causing military and counterterrorism experts to worry about nasty scenarios from all-out regional war to terrorist retaliation against Americans abroad or at home.

    While its unclear how exactly Tehran will retaliate, we can predict some of the broader consequences of this drastic escalation in U.S.-Iranian hostilities.

  • Trump Calls the Ayatollah’s Bluff  Matthew Continetti, Washington Free Beacon
    The successful operation against Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, is a stunning blow to international terrorism and a reassertion of American might. It will also test President Trump’s Iran strategy. It is now Trump, not Ayatollah Khamenei, who has ascended a rung on the ladder of escalation by killing the military architect of Iran’s Shiite empire. For years, Iran has set the rules. It was Iran that picked the time and place of confrontation. No more.Reciprocity has been the key to understanding Donald Trump.
  • Attack on U.S. Embassy in Iraq Shows Trump Is Failing Wendy Sherman, USA Today

    He walked into Iran’s trap.

    It is President Donald Trump’s failed policy toward Iran that has brought us to this combustible moment.

    Like much of Trump’s national security and foreign policy, his Iran approach is tactical and not strategic. The results have been devastating to U.S. interests. Iran’s most extreme hard-liners, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Quds force, which never wanted the nuclear deal, have gained more power, arguing that the United States couldn’t be trusted to honor any agreement.

    Iran’s nefarious activities in the region have increased, because terror is not an expensive undertaking and so is largely immune from economic sanctions.

    Most would agree that the United States had to respond in some way to the death of an American, but whether the airstrike was the right and proportionate measure is debatable.

    Regardless, if the Trump administration really understood the dynamics of Iraq, it might have anticipated a move like the attack on the U.S. Embassy. Administration officials might have worked more closely with the Iraq government to think through the best way forward. Instead, in essence, Trump walked into Iran’s trap.

 

 

All we can do is watch and hope it doesn’t get too nasty or widespread.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, USA and oil

One of the world’s riskiest situations is developing in one of the most volatile regions of the world, the Middle East, after oil production facilities were bombed by drones. The US has blamed Iran. The US has close ties with Saudi Arabia.

Oil production has been affected, with prices surging following the attack (but settling back a bit since).

MSN: Saudis face lengthy oil halt with few options to fill gap

The oil market is facing a prolonged disruption to Saudi Arabia’s oil production with few options for replacing such huge output losses.

The weekend attacks on the kingdom eliminated about 5% of global oil supply — and raised the risk of more conflict in the region — propelling Brent crude to a record surge on Monday. Officials at state oil company Saudi Aramco have become less optimistic on the pace of output recovery, telling a senior foreign diplomat they face a “severe” disruption measured in weeks and months and informing some customers that October shipments will be delayed.

The historic price gain underscores the unprecedented nature of the disruption caused by the drone attack on the Abqaiq crude processing plant. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been the oil market’s great stabilizer, maintaining a large cushion of spare production capacity that can be tapped in emergencies, such as the 2011 war in Libya.

The halt of 5.7 million barrels day of the kingdom’s production — the worst sudden supply loss in history — exposes the inadequacy of the rest of the world’s supply buffer.

Petrol prices have already risen in New Zealand. I don’t know why that has happened so quickly, petrol in tanks here should be the same price as it was last week. Is there any other market that changes prices based on possible future cost rises?

ABC News:  U.S. intel shows cruise missiles fired at Saudi oil facility came from Iran, officials say

The attack on a major Saudi oil facility originated geographically from Iranian territory, with a series of low-altitude cruise missiles fired from at least one location in the western region of the country, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the latest intelligence.

The intelligence assessment draws a more clear link between the attack and Iran, and it could worsen tensions between Washington and Tehran.

U.S. officials are considering possible multilateral sanctions with allies against Iran as part of the response to the attacks…

The Department of Defense has advocated for restraint. But it has provided a briefing on military options to President Donald Trump, who over the weekend tweeted that the U.S. is “locked and loaded” and ready to respond, once it officially determined who was behind the attack.

Three U.S. officials previously told NBC News there was extremely compelling evidence showing the origination point of the strikes, and one official with direct knowledge described that evidence as imagery.

That’s image based imagery, not imaginary.

A Saudi military spokesman says initial investigations show Iranian weapons were used in the attack.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday no talks would take place between Iran and the U.S. “on any level…

Reuters: U.S. lawmakers blast Iran, wary of war, after Saudi oil attack

Members of the U.S. Congress blasted Iran after the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, but expressed wariness about U.S. military action, especially before they have a clearer picture of who was behind it.

President Donald Trump said the United States was “locked and loaded” to hit back after Saturday’s attack, which knocked out more than half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production and damaged the world’s biggest crude processing plant.

Iran denied U.S. accusations it was to blame and said it was ready for “full-fledged war.”

U.S. lawmakers, especially Trump’s fellow Republicans, were quick to blame Tehran.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican majority leader, called it “a brazen attack” with significant implications for the global energy market and said he welcomed Trump’s preparation to potentially release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to stabilize markets if necessary.

Many lawmakers stressed that Congress, not the president, has the right to declare war and warned against any quick military action.

Trump may not be able to initiate quick military action on his own, but he is capable of escalating tensions and the prospects of war via Twitter.

Military action would likely put oil production and supply at even more risk.

Congress, with backing from both Republicans and Democrats, has passed – but Trump has vetoed – four bills seeking to push back against Trump’s strong support for the Saudi government, despite its human rights record and steep civilian casualties in the war in Yemen.

Trump and the US say nothing against Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemeni war – and supply the Saudis with arms.

Wikipedia:  2017 United States–Saudi Arabia arms deal

On May 20, 2017, U.S. President Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud signed a series of letters of intent for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to purchase arms from the United States totaling US$110 billion immediately, and $350 billion over 10 years. The intended purchases include tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, as well as radar, communications and cybersecurity technology. The transfer was widely seen as a counterbalance against the influence of Iran in the region and a “significant” and “historic” expansion of United States relations with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.

Between 2011 and 2015, Saudi Arabia was the destination for nearly 10% of all U.S. arms exports

The 2017 deal was partially created with the help of Jared Kushner, son-in-law of and senior advisor to President Trump

So the attack on the Saudi oil production facilities raises tensions significantly between the US and Iran. The risks may temper responses, but I think it likely that there will be some sort of retaliation.  Economic sanctions are already in place against Iran, so that must be a limited option. If Iran is indeed responsible for the attack it may in part be an attempt to enhance the value of their own oil to compensate for sanctions.

Whatever, it’s complex and it’s a high risk game being played in the Middle East that could significantly impact on the world.

 

 

Two oil tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman

Attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman risk escalating conflict in the Middle East. It has already resulted in an increase in the price of oil.

Reuters: Tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman stoke fears over conflict and oil

Two oil tankers were attacked on Thursday and left adrift in the Gulf of Oman, driving up oil prices and stoking fears of a new confrontation between Iran and the United States.

The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed and that the U.S. government would continue to assess the situation. Washington accused Tehran of being behind a similar attack on May 12 on four tankers in the same area, a vital shipping route through which much of the world’s oil passes.

Tensions between Iran and the United States, along with its allies including Saudi Arabia, have risen since Washington pulled out of a deal last year between Iran and global powers that aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran has repeatedly warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz, near where the attacks happened, if it cannot sell its oil due to U.S. sanctions.

No one has claimed Thursday’s attacks and no one has specifically blamed them on any party.

Reuters:  U.S. calls attacks on commercial shipping ‘unacceptable’

The United States on Thursday called attacks on commercial shipping “unacceptable” and told the U.N. Security Council that the latest assaults on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that left one ablaze and both adrift “raise very serious concerns.”

That’s stating the obvious.

“It’s unacceptable for any party to attack commercial shipping and today’s attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman raise very serious concerns,” acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Jonathan Cohen told a council meeting on U.N. and Arab League cooperation on Thursday morning.

“The U.S. government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned at the meeting that the world cannot afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”

Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah described the tanker attacks as a threat to international peace and security.

“This is the most recent event in a series of acts of sabotage that are threatening the security of maritime corridors as well as threatening energy security of the world,” he said.

Maybe some tariff threats will sort this out.

Last August: The US has reimposed sanctions on Iran. 

When President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May, he also said the US would reimpose strict sanctions on Tehran.

Starting at 12:01 am on Tuesday, financial penalties that former President Barack Obama removed from Iran as part of the nuclear agreement snap back into place.

On November 4, even more sanctions that Obama lifted will kick back in. Those will hit Iran’s oil exports and energy sector, a key industry for the country; financial institutions working with the Central Bank of Iran; port operators and shipbuilding sectors; and the provisions of insurance and financial messaging services.

Or not.

The goal of the sanctions, according to the senior administration officials, is to cripple the Iranian economy to the point that the regime must end its support for terrorism and negotiate an end to its nuclear program with the US.

Another possibility was an escalation in tensions and unintended consequences.

Reuters:  Latest on tanker attacks south of Strait of Hormuz

Here is the latest from Reuters on attacks on two tankers on Thursday south of the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil is shipped:

* Panama-listed tanker Kokuka Courageous was damaged in a “suspected attack” that breached the hull above the water line, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said

* The ship was attacked twice in three hours before all the crew were evacuated, the president of Japanese owner Kokuka Sangyo told reporters

* There had been an engine room fire on the tanker, which was carrying a cargo of methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore

* A second ship, the Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo” at around 0400 GMT, said Taiwanese refiner CPC Corp, which had chartered the vessel

* The Aframax-class tanker loaded with 75,000 tonnes of naphtha was on fire, said Norwegian owner Frontline

* Frontline said the Front Altair was afloat, denying a report by Iran’s IRNA news agency that it had sunk

Oil and the Middle east have long been problems that have been short on effective solutions.

Defying the US CongressTrump declares national emergency to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, UAE

This has to be somewhat concerning.

A few days ago from Reuters – Trump administration may use Iran threat to sell bombs to Saudis without Congress’ approval: senator

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration plans to use a loophole and rising tensions with Iran to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, even though Congress blocked such sales for months over concerns about civilian deaths in the war in Yemen, Senator Chris Murphy said on Wednesday.

“I am hearing that Trump may use an obscure loophole in the Arms Control Act and notice a major new sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia (the ones they drop in Yemen) in a way that would prevent Congress from objecting. Could happen this week,” the Democratic senator warned on Twitter.

Congressional aides said there are provisions of the Arms Control Act, which sets rules for international arms transactions, that would allow a president to approve a sale without congressional review in case of a national emergency.

In this case, they said the Republican president would cite rising tensions with Iran as a reason to provide more military equipment to Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an important U.S. partner in the region. Trump has touted arms sales to the Saudis as a way to generate U.S. jobs.

Trump previously declared an influx of immigrants a national emergency to bypass Congress and get $6 billion to build his wall along the Mexican border. Both Democrats and his fellow Republicans voted to block the move, forcing Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.

Now from Reuters: Defying Congress, Trump sets $8 billion-plus in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

U.S. President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress on Friday to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major weapons sales.

Several of Trump’s fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, said they would object to such a plan, fearing that blowing through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to check not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.

Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration’s action was “unfortunate” and likely to damage future White House interactions with Congress.

“I would have strongly preferred for the administration to utilize the long-established and codified arms sale review process,” McCaul said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that U.S. partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a “one-time event.”

In his memorandum justifying the emergency declaration, Pompeo listed years of actions by Iran. “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote, and cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran.

Trump’s administration also announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East, which it described as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran against what it sees as a threat of potential attack.

Members of Congress from both parties have worried that Trump is pushing toward war with Iran.

War with Congress, war with Iran – is there nothing that Trump can’t do?