After eight years in power, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki announced late Thursday that he would resign and endorse Haider al-Abadi (Reuters), the longtime political ally chosen by al-Maliki's own political bloc to succeed him and form the country's next government. The White House commended the move (FT), saying it marked "encouraging developments" that Washington hoped could set Iraq on "a new path." The resignation follows weeks of international and domestic pressure on al-Maliki, who has been accused of exacerbating the country's sectarian divisions and facilitating the arrival of the Sunni Islamist insurgency engulfing the country (AP).
"The key challenge facing any post-Maliki government, however, remains overcoming the alienation of Sunni Arabs from the new order in Baghdad – a situation that has had no small part in enabling the rapid spread of Islamic State across northern Iraq. It's not clear that Abadi replacing Maliki at the head of the dominant Shia coalition will necessarily result in Sunni reintegration," writes Tom Kutsch for al-Jazeera.
"Mr Obama's idea of a self-regulating balance of power has dissolved in an acid cocktail of state failure, sectarian savagery and a jihadist rampage so confident that almost every armed force in the Levant is melting before its onslaught," writes David Gardner for the Financial Times.
"Even in the best of scenarios, ISIS will hold territory in Syria and Iraq for some time to come. The United States has taken steps to improve its tactical intelligence. Yet, given the long-term nature of the threat and of American interests in the region, more work is needed improving strategic intelligence," writes CFR's David Palkki.
China, South Korea Condemn Japanese Shrine Visit
China and South Korea condemned visits by two Japanese cabinet ministers to the Yasukuni shrine (AP), a memorial that honors the war dead, including convicted war criminals. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose visit to Yasukuni in December drew widespread criticism, declined to visit the shrine this trip.
SOUTH KOREA: South Korean president Park Geun-hye pressed North Korea again to abandon its nuclear weapons program on Friday (Yonhap), a day after Pyongyang fired five short-range rockets into waters off its east coast.
SOUTH AND CENTRL ASIA
Shots Fired at Pakistan Rally
Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan said government supporters fired on him and his supporters (AFP) during a rally Friday, although police disputed the claim. Khan is leading thousands of demonstrators to Islamabad in a protest demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
INDIA: Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his first Independence Day speech on Friday, making a surprise announcement to replace the once-powerful Planning Commission with a new institution (HT).
Israel Prepares For War Crimes Inquiry
Israel condemned the United Nations Human Rights Council over its appointment of a Canadian international law expert to head an inquiry into possible war crimes (NYT) committed by Israel in its month-long conflict in the Gaza Strip. More than 1,900 Palestinians have been killed in the recent violence.
At least fourteen people were killed in a Friday offensive by African Union peacekeepers against Islamist militants outside the Somali capital of Mogadishu (Reuters). AU peacekeepers, in cooperation with Somali forces, launched a campaign this month to weaken the al-Shabab militant group.
AFRICA: The World Health Organization said Friday that the scale of the Ebola outbreak is "vastly underestimated," stressing that the reported numbers of deaths, which have reached 1,069, do not reflect the full gravity of the crisis (BBC).
EU Ministers to Hold Meeting on Iraq
Foreign ministers of the European Union are meeting in Brussels on Friday to discuss the situation in Iraq (RFI). The twenty-eight nation bloc faces pressure to step up arms supplies to the country's beleaguered Kurdish minority fighting Islamist militants. The move comes after France announced Wednesday it would provide weaponry to Kurdish forces.
UKRAINE: A group of armored vehicles and military trucks crossed the border from Russia into Ukraine at a crossing near Donetsk on Thursday night, the Telegraph reported (Telegraph)
The Russian convoy could give Moscow a pretext for invasion or a face-saving way out of the brewing conflict, explains CFR's Janine Davidson.
Fernández Attacks U.S. Printing Firm
Argentinian president Cristina Fernández said on Thursday that her government will use an anti-terrorism law to seek criminal charges against a U.S.-based international printing firm that closed its Argentine plant (MercoPress), likening the company to the hedge funds in litigation with Argentina over defaulted bonds.
HAITI: United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti clashed with supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the capital of Port-au-Prince on Friday (BBC).