The World Today for February 01, 2017


Friends and Foes

After months of fighting, the Iraqi government declared it had finally retaken control of eastern Mosul from the Islamic State last week.

The Atlantic ran a photo essay of the destruction wrought by the violence on Tuesday.

Now the Iraqi army is prepping for a mother of all battles to reclaim the entire city from the militants that seized Mosul in a blitzkrieg-like operation in the summer of 2014.

The fight to retake western Mosul will begin shortly, Iraqi military leaders told the Wall Street Journal.

But whether or not the Iraqi army can fully liberate Iraq’s second-largest city – and the Islamic State’s last remaining urban stronghold in Iraq following its losses of Fallujah and Tikrit – the government’s troops will still need to account for their actions on the ground there.

Even before he announced the liberation of eastern Mosul, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered an investigation into alleged human rights violations committed by government soldiers during the battle of Mosul.

Al-Abadi’s accusations – which include “kidnapping, mistreatment and violations” against Iraqi civilians – are based on a video on social media that showed troops beating and killing at least three suspected jihadists, reported the Associated Press.

The United Nations has previously expressed concerns about violations committed by Shiite militias fighting alongside the government, but the video led the UN for the first time to call explicitly for the Iraq government to investigate its own troops, according to Iraqi news sources.

Human Rights Watch has also criticized Iraqi army airstrikes outside of Mosul as “unlawful” for indiscriminately targeting and harming civilians and likewise called for government action.

The UN and rights groups have good reason to suspect foul play in Mosul if local investigations in other cities that have been liberated from the Islamic State are anything to go by.

The 2015 battle for Tikrit and its neighboring towns saw Shiite militia forces looting and blowing up hundreds of civilian homes – in addition to the unlawful detainment and mysterious disappearance of hundreds of people, claimed Human Rights Watch.

Last week, a probe into human rights violations near Fallujah in June found one member of a Shiite militia guilty of killing 17 civilians, wrote the New York Times.

Whether intentional or not, Islamic State is doing its best to ensure that similar violations occur going forward.

With Islamic State fighters reportedly shaving off their beards to blend in with civilians – and to carry out deadly reprisal attacks – the line between friend and foe is only going to get blurrier for Iraqis as the fighting continues.


Of Internment and Tourism

Bangladesh on Thursday directed officials to relocate Rohingya refugees staying in camps near the country’s largest tourist resort towns to a remote island that is underwater for much of the year.

The plan drew international criticism from around the world, the New York Times reported.

Previously proposed in 2015, the scheme was scrapped due to criticism from international aid groups and rights activists. Its revival follows the arrival of about 65,000 new Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in October and November, and its resurrection took aid groups by surprise, the newspaper said.

Since 1992, about 32,000 registered Rohingya have been living in two United Nations camps near the fishing port of Cox’s Bazar, but estimates of unregistered refugees range from 200,000 to 500,000.

Critics say the relocation scheme stems from the government’s desire to develop Cox’s Bazar into an international tourism destination. A local hotel executive was quoted as saying the beach town needs “cable cars, and theme parks like the Window of the World in Shenzhen” as well as hotels to make that happen.

The Long War

The simmering war in Ukraine has erupted in a burst of fighting over the past week.

Battles over the past few days killed at least eight Ukrainian soldiers and three on the pro-Russian side, complicating US efforts to improve relations with Russia, the New York Times reported.

A higher number of ceasefire violations were reported between Sunday and Monday evenings, compared with the previous 24 hours, CNN quoted the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine as saying.

“Russian occupation forces carried out massive attacks across the contact line using all available weapons, including (artillery, mortars and tanks) – all prohibited by the Minsk agreements – and small arms,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.

Following his various statements of admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainians fear that President Donald Trump will embolden Russia, possibly so much that it results in a full-scale invasion.

A Long Awaited Pardon

Britain issued a posthumous pardon for thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of consensual sex acts that are no longer considered crimes.

The enactment by the government of the so-called Alan Turing law means about 49,000 men will be pardoned, the BBC reported. Turing – a mathematician and codebreaker – was pardoned in 2013 for gross indecency related to homosexual activity.

First announced last year, the pardons this week received a rubber stamp in the form of “Royal Assent.” Along with the posthumous pardons, living people convicted under the outdated laws will also be granted pardons if they apply to have their convictions scrubbed from their records, the news channel said.

“Although it comes too late for those convicted, the friends and relatives of the thousands of people who suffered under this unfair and discriminatory law will now have a weight lifted off their shoulders,” the BBC quoted Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron as saying.


Red Flag

Humans communicate primarily through speech, gesticulating rarely compared to other species in the animal kingdom.

Fish, however, use a more sordid means of communication.

According to research published this month in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, cichlids like freshwater angelfish use urine to relay chemical signals to opponents during a standoff.

To pinpoint this strange find, scientists quartered off smaller fish from larger ones using a transparent barrier. Barriers for half of the sample contained holes, while the other half didn’t.

Next, researchers injected the fish with a chemical to turn their urine an ultraviolet blue and let the fighting begin.

The fish went on alert immediately and rushed toward one another. They also emptied their bladders, sending off a chemical signal to back down.

But for those fish separated by a solid barrier, the normally invisible message didn’t get across.

They urinated even more in response.

The smaller fish, unable to comprehend vis-à-vis urine that they were up against larger rivals, even went on the offensive.

Scientists now believe that their findings could indicate the natural importance of instinctual communication.

Lesson: Keep an eye out for the subtleties, no matter their form.

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