Tuareg rebels in Mali have recently launched a number of attacks on towns in the northern part of the country. Reuters and the AP have detailed accounts of the fighting, including some analysis of how the absence of Qadhafi (who was a key mediator in defusing past conflicts) is affecting the situation. The Washington Post reports on claims by Mali’s government – and denials by the rebels – that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is fighting alongside the rebels.
Let’s look more closely at the geography of the uprising. The rebels call themselves “National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad.” But what is Azawad? The AP explains:
The group was formed in October and seeks self-determination of the north of Mali, an area it refers to as the Azawad. Azawad can also refer to the Tuareg-speaking zone covering northern Mali, northern Niger and southern Algeria where many of the blue-turbaned nomads live, but NMLA leaders say their demands relate only to the area within Mali.
Wikipedia has more on (the geographically broader interpretation of) Azawad:
Azaouad, Azawad, or Azawagh is the collective non-officially recognized name for the main Tamashek-speaking parts of northern Mali, northern Niger, and part of southern Algeria. Azawad is mainly made up of Sahelian and Saharan vast flat lands inhabited by Tuareg nomads. It does not correspond to any single administrative region of Mali, Niger, or Algeria, but it includes portions of the Kidal Region of Mali and theTahoua Region and Agadez Region of Niger, and large portions of southern Algeria. Azawad has a strong and distinctive Tuareg character, different from the official identities and characters of the central governments of Mali, Niger, and Algeria. Azawad emerged recently as a geopolitical issue due to the recent separatist movement, the Mouvement Populaire pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MPLA), that aspires to establish an independent Azawad republic with a Tuareg idenitity.
This provides some introductory context for the map I’ve put together. Google Maps occasionally distorts the locations of some towns, but this map will hopefully give at least some idea of where the hotspots of fighting have been so far.