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Wednesday, 08 January 2020

Oil rose sharply, with U.S. crude rising nearly $3, on Wednesday after the U.S. said its forces in Iraq were attacked by Iranian ballistic missiles, raising the prospect of a regional conflagration that could cut oil supplies.

West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose nearly $3, or almost 5%, to $65.50 a barrel at around 0029 GMT. Brent crude was yet to trade after dropping nearly 1% on Tuesday.

Iran has launched an attack on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, the U.S. military said on Tuesday, adding Tehran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles from Iranian territory against at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S.-led coalition personnel.

“We are working on initial battle damage assessments,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in statement, adding that the bases targeted were at Al-Asad air base and another in Erbil, Iraq.

Iranian news agency Mehr said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had targeted the base.

Tehran has vowed retaliation for the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani by a U.S. air strike on Jan. 3.

Sirens were heard and American helicopters were seen flying over Iraq’s Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province early on Wednesday, according to al Mayadeen TV.

Published in Business

Ecobank Nigeria has complied with the Central Bank of Nigeria’s recent directive on the reduction of bank charges.

The bank commended the CBN for taking bold steps to further strengthen the financial inclusion drive in the country.

In October 2019, Ecobank announced the elimination of session charges on its USSD platform – *326#, months prior to the new CBN directive. Customers using *326# for their transactions such as inter and intra bank funds transfers, bill payments, airtime top-up, balance enquiry etc. can do so at zero session fees.

Further to the removal of the session charges, Patrick Akinwuntan, Managing Director, Ecobank Nigeria, advocated stakeholder buy-in to make banking more affordable and accessible to all.

He noted that lower charges would encourage the unbanked to adopt structured financial services, thereby driving financial inclusion and economic growth. Ecobank has been at the forefront of the campaign for inclusive, affordable banking. Anyone, regardless of their social class, can open the Ecobank Xpress Account with Zero Naira, from any phone type, simply by dialing *326#. The account opening process is fully “do it yourself” without any documentation or paperwork.

The Managing Director, in his new year message to customers, stated that “Our removal of session charges on Ecobank *326# well ahead of the recent downward review of charges on digital transactions by the Central Bank of Nigeria further demonstrates our commitment to delivering more savings to our customers, making banking with Ecobank more delightful in the new year and beyond.”

Published in Bank & Finance
Wednesday, 08 January 2020 12:40

Major airlines abandon Iran, Iraq

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.

Germany’s Lufthansa, Dubai-based Emirates and low-cost flydubai were among airlines that canceled flights, as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration barred American carriers from the area. But several other carriers continued operations over the affected airspace.

Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles from its territory targeting at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S.-led coalition personnel early on Wednesday, the U.S. military said.

Within hours, the FAA barred U.S. carriers from airspace over Iran, the Gulf of Oman and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia, citing “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations.”

The flight ban came shortly before a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 burst into flames shortly after take-off from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard in a crash blamed by Ukrainian authorities on an engine failure.

Non-U.S. operators are not bound by the FAA’s flight ban, but they and other regulators consider its advice carefully when deciding where to fly.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is studying the situation, a spokeswoman said.

Airlines have taken more steps to avoid flying over conflict zones since 2014, when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was downed by a missile fired from Ukraine, killing 298 people. But re-routing increases flight times and burns extra fuel.

Australia’s Qantas Airways said on Wednesday it would add 50 minutes to its Perth-London flight time and cut passenger numbers to carry more fuel as it re-routes around Iran and Iraq.

The FAA had already prohibited U.S. carriers from Iranian airspace and flying below 26,000 feet over Iraq, after Iran shot down a high-altitude U.S. drone last June.

Lufthansa has stopped flying over Iran and Iraq and canceled its daily service to Tehran as well as the next scheduled flight to Erbil, Iraq, the airline said on Wednesday.

Air France-KLM, which halted flights to the Iranian capital in 2018, said it was also suspending Air France flights through Iranian and Iraqi airspace “as a precautionary measure”.

British Airways said a small number of its flights would be affected by re-routing, without elaborating. Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines Ltd, Malaysia Airlines, Air Canada and Taiwan’s China Airlines were also among carriers that re-routed flights.

“As a result, flight times to and from Mumbai may be slightly longer than expected,” a Virgin spokeswoman said.

Other major airlines maintained flights over Iraq and Iran but said they were actively monitoring the situation.

As of 0830 GMT, airlines still flying over either country included Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines, flydubai, Air Arabia and low-cost long-haul carrier Norwegian Air, according to FlightRadar24 data.

“We fly across Iran on flights to and from Dubai. Our security department monitors the situation closely with ongoing evaluations,” Norwegian said in a statement.

“The safety and security for our passengers and crew is always our number one priority.”

While Emirates and flydubai each canceled a return flight to Baghdad, Qatar Airways said its flights to Iraq were operating normally.

The use of Iranian and Iraqi airspace is particularly critical for the Qatari carrier, banned from flying over Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain since mid-2017 as the result of a damaging dispute with its neighbours.

OPSGROUP, which advises airlines on security, said the new U.S. flight bans were “significant”, particularly given that the entire over-water airspace in the region is now unavailable.

“Flights headed to and from the main airports in the region such as Dubai will now need to route through Saudi Arabia’s airspace,” it said on its website

Published in Travel & Tourism

Despite the claims of optimists, the odds that an international conflict will snowball into a bloody war haven’t gone down significantly since the end of World War II. Trump administration officials’ confidence that the present conflict with Iran can be managed could be dangerously misplaced.

Since a drone strike at Baghdad airport that killed a top Iranian general, Iranians have been protesting in the streets in massive numbers, and their country has pulled out of the 2015 deal limiting its development of nuclear weapons. Iraq’s prime minister and Parliament have moved to kick the U.S. military out of their country – troops who have in the meantime stopped fighting the Islamic State group and are instead focusing on keeping themselves safe.

Iran has vowed “harsh revenge” for the Jan. 3 killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Policymakers in the Trump administration have said they believe that the use of force will prompt Iran to back down, or at least that any escalation will be manageable. My research into how conflicts begin and how deadly they get shows that while most wars don’t escalate very far, those that do can easily become catastrophic.

As memories of World War II and the Cold War fade into history, policymakers and the public are increasingly prone to think of large-scale warfare as a thing of the past.

But while most wars remain small, my own analysis of trends in warfare concludes that the threat of wars with large numbers of casualties has not decreased. It’s dangerous to assume that Iran will not escalate the crisis further, much less that the U.S. could limit any violence that might ensue.

Big wars are more common than people think

Especially bloody deadly wars, while rare, are not actually as rare as most Westerners may think.

World War I and World War II are not even in the top three deadliest international wars in the past two centuries, based on the number of battle deaths as compared with the combined populations of the warring nations.

Two South American wars, the Paraguayan War of the late 1860s and the Chaco War from the mid-1930s, are the deadliest on record. The Paraguayan War, little known outside of military history circles, may have cost Paraguay half – or more – of its total prewar population. The Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the most recent of the top five, was the third when ranked by death rates. Only then come the two world wars.

Not every conflict becomes a massive war, of course. It is possible that Iran could be deterred by the threat of large-scale American retaliation, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued on Jan. 5. But it is dangerous to assume there won’t be a war, even if it’s true that neither Iran nor the U.S. wants one.

Escalation is very hard to predict

In late summer 1914, as World War I began, German Kaiser Wilhelm II famously promised his troops that they would be “home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.”

In World War II, even after Hitler had invaded Poland in 1939, American diplomats believed that economic pressure alone would suffice to bring Nazi Germany to its knees. In both cases, years of bloody warfare followed.

What I’ve found is that escalation typically results from chance occurrences that simply can’t be foreseen.

Virtually no one predicted the fall of France to the Nazis in the summer of 1940. No one could have known that President Harry Truman would decide, against the advice of his National Security Council, to send U.S. forces across the 38th parallel during the Korean War, and few observers anticipated that doing so would bring China into the conflict.

Major wars are “black swans” – rare but incredibly consequential events that cannot be predicted.

U.S. Marines in northern Korea are stalled by a Chinese counterattack on Dec. 14, 1950. AP Photo

Chance plays a huge role in war

The role of chance events in warfare can be dramatic.

Hitler’s successful invasion of France transformed what had been a problem of regional containment into a years-long global conflict with more than 16 million people killed in battle. A driver’s wrong turn in Sarajevo in 1914 turned what would have been a botched assassination attempt into World War I.

Chance works both ways, of course: The Union of Concerned Scientists has documented a hair-raising array of nuclear near-misses that mostly caused no harm but could have resulted in millions of deaths.

War can be volatile – while most remain small, big ones can come out of almost nowhere. I see in this imbalance a similarity to a concept called the “80/20” rule, in which 80% of outcomes come from 20% of cases: About 80% of world income, for example, is held by 20% of the global population.

In warfare, lethality of international conflict is considerably more concentrated. The data I analyzed shows that over the past 200 years, the deadliest 20% of wars are responsible for 98% of all battle deaths.

No one wants very large wars, and most wars do end up being relatively small. But the potential for chance events to blow up into massive conflicts means nobody really knows, and nobody can predict, when the next really big one will come along.


[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend. ]The Conversation

Bear F. Braumoeller, Baranov and Timashev Chair in Data Analytics and Professor of Political Science, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Published in World

Russian state lender VTB has filed a lawsuit in Britain’s High Court against a Mozambican government company it lent hefty sums to as part of a project now at the centre of a $2 billion debt scandal, an online court filing shows.

The filing, dated Dec. 23, names as defendants the Mozambique state and Mozambique Asset Management, which took a $535 million loan from VTB as part of a costly project that U.S. authorities say was an elaborate front for a bribery and kickback scheme.

It says the case relates to “general commercial contracts and arrangements” but does not elaborate. It provides no further information other than that VTB Capital, the investment banking arm of VTB, is being represented by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

It does not state whether the case relates to the loan, which Mozambique and VTB had been trying to restructure. The deputy head of the legal department of VTB Capital said in October the loan represented a “significant exposure” it expected to be repaid.

VTB did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment, and Mozambique’s Attorney General’s Office said it was waiting for formal notification of the lawsuit.

The debt scandal has already sparked a series of court cases spanning London, New York and South Africa, ensnaring global investment bank Credit Suisse, three of its former bankers, Mozambique’s former finance minister and a past president’s son.

However this is the first time any of the cases have involved VTB. Russia and Mozambique strengthened ties throughout 2019, with President Filipe Nyusi visiting the nation in August.

Credit Suisse and VTB provided or arranged a total of around $2 billion for the project, encompassing tuna fishing, maritime security and shipyard development. Hundreds of millions of dollars went missing, while the benefits never materialised.

Mozambique did not disclose some of the loans, which were guaranteed by the state. The International Monetary Fund and other donors cut off support when they came to light in 2016, triggering a currency collapse and sovereign debt default.

It remains on the hook for the money, the largest chunk of which now sits in a restructured eurobond. The country is trying to challenge the guarantee related to a $622 million loan from Credit Suisse, also in a London court.


Credit: Reuters

Published in Business
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