The World Today for July 14, 2016

Need to Know

Pottery Barn Rule Redux

As the United States plans to deploy 560 more American soldiers to help the Iraqi government retake Mosul from the Islamic State, some Iraqis are preparing for a humanitarian crisis.

As many as one million people, or half the city’s residents, could flee Mosul in the run-up to the campaign for control of Iraq’s second-largest city, Nineveh Governor Nawfal Hamadi told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency this week. Baghdad has already constructed five camps for the displaced, he added.

“Some measures have been taken to contain the situation,” Hamadi said.

The “situation” echoes a problem that former Secretary of State Colin Powell described as the Pottery Barn rule before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003: You break it, you own it.

Iraq has done a lot of breaking in recent years, from the collapse of the government’s forces in the face of the Islamic State two years ago to the controversies surrounding Iraqi leaders’ campaign to push back the jihadists in recent months.

Around 3.4 million people have been displaced in Iraq amid the rise of the Islamic State and the central government’s response, according to the United Nations. Half are children. Another 10 million need food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance.

Some have also suffered abuse – or worse.

Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi launched an investigation into the behavior of troops that Human Rights Watch claimed were responsible for the summary executions, disappearance and torture of residents who fled Fallujah as Iraqi forces retook the city with the help of US-led coalition airstrikes, local militias and Iranian military advisors.

Human Rights Watch now claims that al-Abadi has failed to provide the public with information about the progress of those investigations.

Undoubtedly, al-Abadi and his American allies are focused on defeating the Islamic State. Mosul is the last major stronghold of the Islamic State in the country. Kicking the jihadists out of the city would be a major strategic and symbolic victory for the Iraqi leader.

The new American deployment brings the number of US forces in Iraq to 4,627, a number that doesn’t include other forces operating in secret, the New York Times reported. A decade ago, at the height of the disastrous American war in the country, around 130,000 service members were fighting there.

“We need to move to this place to be as close to the fighting as we have been,” Lt. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, who leads US troops in Iraq, told the New York Times, referring to a captured airfield around 40 miles south of Mosul that will be a staging area for the attack, which is expected to commence soon.

Hopefully, MacFarland and his troops also help make sure the Iraqis aid their fellow citizens who try to move as far away from the fighting as they can.

Want to Know

Humpty Dumpty Politics

Incoming British Prime Minister Theresa May laid out plans to put the United Kingdom back together again, Humpty Dumpty style, in a “surprising and radical” inaugural speech Wednesday night. The biggest shock may be one of the misshapen pieces: Her selection of take-no-prisoners Brexiteer Boris Johnson – who has a history of insulting important people – as her foreign minister.

The bulk of her speech was geared to appeal to centrists. However, her cabinet appointments, also including replacing Chancellor George Osborne with former foreign secretary Philip Hammond, signal a broad shift to the right.

Meanwhile, she took pains to counter nascent rumblings about possible independence referendums in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and obliquely attempted to quell the anti-immigrant strain of the Brexit movement.

“The full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party and that word unionist is very important to me. It means we believe in the union, the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,” she said.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of Johnson-isms. Expect that to grow.

The Emperor’s New No

Japanese Emperor Akihito reportedly plans to abdicate in the next few years, laying the groundwork for an unprecedented royal transition in modern Japan.

Though a palace spokesman denied the monarch has any official plan to step down, Japanese media quoted unnamed palace sources as saying Empress Michiko and his sons, Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino, have been informed and accepted his decision, according to The Japan Times.

If he goes through with the plan, Akihito would be the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in 200 years, following the stepping down of Emperor Kokaku in 1817. Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, is next in line for the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Though the emperor’s role is primarily ceremonial, Akihito is deeply admired by the public and credited with distancing the monarchy from the aggressive nationalism that led to World War Two. The announcement comes amid efforts by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to ease limits imposed on the country’s armed forces following the war.

Turkish-Style U-Turn

Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power is tightening.

With Russia already in his corner, the dictator notorious for dropping barrel bombs on his people and accused of deploying chemical weapons to displace civilians looks to be on the brink of gaining the support of Turkey.

Signaling a potentially stunning reversal, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a televised address this week that Turkey wants to re-establish good relations with Assad “for the fight against terrorism” and stability in the region.

Until now, Turkey has been pushing hard for Assad’s overthrow and providing support for armed insurgent groups fighting against him, and in a recent interview Yildirim told the BBC that “unless Assad changes, nothing will change in Syria.” But the speech appeared to walk back that statement, implying that change doesn’t necessarily mean ouster.

“We normalized relations with Russia and Israel. I’m sure we will normalize relations with Syria as well,” Yildirim said, according to the BBC.


Pokémon GO’s Dark Side

Around the world, Pokémon Go is all the rage. Nintendo’s shares have reportedly gained $9 billion in value in recent days due to the popularity of the recently released game.

Using GPS technology, the Japanese smart phone game sends players into town squares, city streets and malls to collect virtual monsters with funny names – cute pikachus, swimming squirtles and flying zubats – that then battle other players’ creatures.

But horror stories involving the game have surfaced

A woman playing in Wyoming came across a corpse floating in the Wind River. There was no connection between the game and the corpse – the game coincidentally brought her somewhere that a corpse happened to be. More disconcerting was a case in Missouri where four teens mugged and robbed players whom they lured into a trap using the game.

Americans aren’t the only players who have found themselves in sticky situations.

Australian police have warned players not to trespass and to beware walking into traffic while playing, their eyes glued to their smartphones, the Australian Associated Press reported. In New Zealand, the game has caused players to dangerously swim out into the middle of Oriental Bay in Wellington and led others to the doorstep of a local Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang.

Bottom line: please, please be careful out there when searching for arboks, foonguses and tornadus. And for goodness sake, avoid playing at Germany’s Holocaust memorials.

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