The World Today for February 20, 2017


Once More unto the Breach

Near misses from sniper fire. Terrorists on suicide missions in bomb-filled, runaway cars. Narrow, ancient alleys where soldiers can’t ride in protective armored vehicles.

Those are the dangers awaiting Iraqi soldiers who resumed the battle to take back Mosul from the Islamic State, the Los Angeles Times wrote on Sunday.

After months of fighting the Islamic State in cities like Tikrit and Fallujah, Iraqi forces with the help of American air strikes and Iranian-backed militias finally stormed into the eastern half of Iraq’s second-largest city in October.

Now Iraqi forces have begun a pincer movement from East Mosul and the western suburbs of the city in hopes of strangling the Islamic State fighters who remain in entrenched positions that could become venues for some of the bloodiest battles in recent years.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called the beginning of the offensive “a new dawn.”

But it will be dark before the light.

It took Iraqi forces 100 days to reach the Tigris River, which splits the city in half. Last month, the government admitted that its soldiers needed to take a break, mend their wounds and regroup before moving forward.

The New York Times reported that planes dropped leaflets on western Mosul in a last-ditch appeal to the jihadists.

“To those of you who were intrigued by the ISIS ideology, this is your last opportunity to quit your work with ISIS and to leave those foreigners who are in your homeland,” said one of the leaflets, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, another name for the group. “Stay at home, raising the white flags as the forces approach.”

Few militants appeared to accept the offer. The coalition was girding for heavy losses.

“Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world,” said US Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend in a statement provided to the BBC.

The United Nations and others were concerned about the 650,000 people living in west Mosul. Around 350,000 were estimated to be children.

“This is the grim choice for children in western Mosul right now: bombs, crossfire and hunger if they stay; or execution and snipers if they try to run,” said Save the Children Iraq Director Maurizio Crivallero.

If fear, privation and death are the wages of this battle of civilizations, then at least Iraqi fighters can take heart from those living in the liberated zones of east Mosul. Since the Islamic State was driven out of that part of the city, life has begun to return to normal.

A local east Mosul school principal told NPR that he was exhilarated to reopen his school.

“I felt as if I had been reborn into this life,” he said.


No Corner Yet

A car bomb killed 34 people in Mogadishu on Sunday in the first major terror attack to hit Somalia since the election of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Feb. 8, a milestone in the country that has seen decades of war.

Mohamed offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those who planned the blast, the Associated Press reported. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the strike, but it bears the hallmarks of other attacks perpetrated by Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab.

“I was staying in my shop when a car came into the market and exploded. I saw more than 20 people lying on the ground. Most of them were dead and the market was totally destroyed,” Reuters quoted an eyewitness as saying.

A few hours before the explosion, al-Shabab had denounced the new president as an “apostate” and vowed to continue fighting against his government.

Troops from the African Union forced al-Shabab out of Mogadishu in 2011, but the militants remain powerful in some rural areas. Last month, nearly 30 people were killed in a bomb attack by militants at the Dayah hotel in the capital.

Upping the Ante

Pakistani government forces killed more than 130 suspected terrorists and arrested more than 350 others in a nationwide crackdown following a string of suicide bombings.

Pakistani forces also killed at least 15 alleged terrorists in a targeted strike across the border in Afghanistan, the Press Trust of India cited local media as saying.

Last week, Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan after a suicide attack at a Sufi shrine in the southern Sindh province that killed nearly 90 people. It also put the alleged mastermind of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Hafiz Saeed, on its national terror watch list for the first time. Coming not long after a move to put Saeed under house arrest, the decision marked a departure from Pakistan’s earlier denials that the popular figure is involved with terrorism.

The founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Saeed now heads Jamaat-ud Dawa, which is billed as a charitable organization.

A Murder Mystery

The apparent assassination of the half brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Malaysia has sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries.

Malaysia on Monday recalled its ambassador from Pyongyang and summoned the North Korean envoy to explain allegations he has made over Malaysia’s handling of the investigation into the murder, Reuters reported.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry said that the North Korean envoy had “insinuated” at a Feb. 17 press conference that the Malaysian government had “something to conceal” in relation to the murder of Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur on February 13.

For its part, South Korea said Sunday that Seoul believes Pyongyang itself orchestrated the murder, and Malaysian authorities have revealed that four North Korean suspects arrived in Malaysia a few days before the killing and fled Malaysia on the day of the attack, a separate Reuters report noted.

The suspects were traveling on ordinary passports, not diplomatic ones, police said.


Mama Mia!

Chinese scientists have discovered prehistoric evidence of live birth in an aquatic reptile better known for digesting bodies than gestating them.

Dinocephalosaurus lived almost 250 million years ago. Sporting an elongated, five-foot neck, it looked like a smaller version of a brontosaurus, but swam. Scientists always assumed that this formidable sea reptile laid eggs like the rest of its “clade” – or organisms that spring from a common ancestor, like crocodiles and birds.

That’s why scientists became confused when a well-preserved dinocephalosaurus fossil was unearthed with a fossilized miniature version of itself nested inside its stomach.

“I was not sure if the embryonic specimen was the last lunch of the mother or its unborn baby,” Jun Liu, a paleontologist at the Hefei University of Technology in China, told the Washington Post.

Liu and his colleagues soon discovered the latter to be the case. The embryo’s positioning within the adult indicated that it couldn’t have been prey, which is normally consumed head-first.

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