Countdown to violence in Cote D'Ivoire?

After two weeks of stalemate, the political controntation in Cote D'Ivoire is finally moving -- in the very, very wrong direction. Last month, opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara won a presidential election -- but incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to leave. In recent days, the two have set up rival headquarters, named rival cabinets, and claimed rival military forces for their protection. Now it seems, the stage is set for a showdown.

Earlier today, troops loyal to Gbagbo surrounded Ouattara's headquarters at a local hotel. Now, Ouattara has set a date -- Dec. 17 -- on which his own loyal forces will attempt to take the government offices away from Gbagbo. 

Ouattara is likely trying to put pressure on Gbagbo to step down -- something that the international community has also been trying for the last two weeks. The European Union, for example, today announced sanctions on Gbagbo's government. Cote D'Ivoire has already been kicked out of the African Union and the regional economic grouping ECOWAS, until the crisis is resolved. 

Unfortunately, Gbagbo remains unyielding. Most every news report has been reminding readers about just how volatile the country remains, and just how real the possibility is that it could slip back into war. It looks more and more like this is not a case of crying wolf. 



Iranian foreign minister fired

While traveling in Africa, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was abruptly fired today:

The president thanked Manouchehr Mottaki for his more than five years of service — spanning Ahmadinejad's entire time in office — but gave no explanation for the change in a brief statement on his website. He named nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also one of the country's 12 vice presidents, to serve as caretaker foreign minister.

The speculation is that Mottaki was fired for a combination of factors including a brewing power-struggle with Ahmadinejad and his failing efforts to improve Iran's image at international meetings: 

In the past year, there were reports that Mottaki opposed a decision by Ahmadinejad to appoint his own special foreign envoys to key areas such as the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea region. Mottaki found the appointments embarrassing to the foreign ministry and allegedly took his complaint to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.

Khamenei reportedly sided with Mottaki, forcing Ahmadinejad to moderate his position and change their title only to the level of advisers.

Iranian media have also reported in the past year that some lawmakers were pushing for Mottaki to be dismissed, arguing that he failed to adequately defend Iran at international organizations such as the United Nations. Iran is scheduled to hold another round of talks with world powers early next year over its disputed nuclear program.

The Cable's Josh Rogin recently reported on Mottaki's appearance the Manama Security Dialogue in Bahrain.