China-Vietnam: Today Vietnamese press reported that Beijing announced it was towing a second drilling rig into the South China Sea.
According to a statement posted on the website of China's Maritime Safety Administration, the rig will be towed between 18 and 20 June and is currently 104 nautical miles northeast of Da Nang and 60 nautical miles from China's Hainan Island.
Yesterday, China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi arrived in Hanoi on Wednesday to engage in talks with Vietnam's top leaders -- Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, and Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh -- about the oil rig issue.
Comment: It is unclear whether Chinese actions and announcements are uncoordinated or deliberately calculated to provoke the Southeast Asian leaders. Either way, the Chinese leaders do not seem to care.
They send diplomats, but they have no authority to negotiate issues of sovereignty or to commit China to any policy or practice inconsistent with its claims of sovereignty. Their task is to persuade the Southeast Asians to accept the Chinese position and to warn against violent escalation.
Iraq: The status of the Baiji refinery remains unclear. Eyewitnesses told the press that they saw black militant flags flying over the refinery at Baiji. An Iraqi general said the government force protecting the refinery was still inside Thursday and that the force was in regular contact with Baghdad. The refinery's workers had been evacuated to nearby villages, he said.
Helicopter gunships flew over the refinery to stop any militant advance, the general said. The ultra-extremists reportedly took over a building just outside the refinery and were using it to fire at the government forces.
Samarra. Fighting continues for control of Samarra, which is the site of the Shiite shrine to Imam Ali al-Hadi and to his son Imam al-Askari. Police reported that Sunni militants fired rocket or mortar rounds towards the shrine complex, injuring 14 people. The shrine is undamaged.
Comment: Control of Samarra has important bearing on outside intervention by Iran and Lebanese Hizballah because of the Shiite shrine. Sunni militants damaged the mosque in February 2006 and in June and July 2007. That led to sectarian vengeance killings in which thousands died.
Baghdad. Officials reported more instances of sectarian murder.