The World Today for April 04, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

The Final Fight

After six months of fighting, the battle for Mosul – the Islamic State’s last remaining stronghold in Iraq – is reaching a fever pitch.

Backed by US-led air strikes, Iraqi forces launched a campaign to reclaim the city in October. Iraqi leaders declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” in January following three months of intense fighting.

The battle for western Mosul is so far shaping up to be an even bigger challenge.

On Monday, the BBC reported that the extremists were using children as human shields to slow the Iraqis.

At the same time, Mosul residents who escaped the fighting told USA Today that American warplanes had been killing more civilians in episodes like the one last month that killed dozens of them.

The US-led coalition is investigating reports that up to 200 Iraqi civilians may have been killed in recent American airstrikes on Mosul.

If true, it would rank among the American-led airstrikes with the highest civilian casualties since the war began in 2003, noted the New York Times.

But the Iraqi military has countered these reports with its own statements, claiming that an Islamic State booby trap caused that fatal explosion.

The collateral damage comes as Iraqi forces are engaged in their heaviest clashes with the Islamic State yet.

The terrorist group’s refined use of drones – which they now employ to drop grenades on civilian and military targets in densely packed streets – has proven particularly effective, noted the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, thousands of other shell-shocked survivors are fleeing Mosul for refugee centers on the southern outskirts of the city.

Taken together, the news confirms the UN’s warnings that the consequences of the battle for Iraq’s second-largest city would unleash a humanitarian crisis.

It’s also prompted Iraqi forces and their allies to rethink their strategy as the push to retake Mosul enters its final stages.

That includes plans to isolate rather than fight through the Old City of Mosul – likely the next target of their operations – due to the difficult street-by-street battles Iraqi soldiers have fought in recent weeks, noted Reuters.

That could ultimately prolong the fighting, however.

The Sydney Morning Herald is probably right in declaring that the Islamic State’s caliphate in Iraq is coming to an end.

But, with the US now poised to send additional ground troops to the country to assist Iraqi forces, things in Mosul look unlikely to calm down as soon as many might hope.

WANT TO KNOW

A Growing Rift

A United Nations drive to raise billions more dollars for Syrian refugees could well expose a growing rift among the US, Russia and the European Union.

In the lead-up to a two-day conference that begins Tuesday, the United Nations has appealed for $8 billion more aid to deal with the refugee crisis, looking to Gulf states as well as traditional European donors, Reuters reported.

But it’s not clear how much the EU, US and others will be willing to pledge this year, even as Russia’s devastating bombing of Aleppo has resulted in a spike in the number of the displaced. Possible areas of conflict are the waning US and Russian support for the UN-led peace process, which the EU sees as vital to any real progress, and the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow has long contended Assad should remain in power, and under Donald Trump, the US has said removing him is no longer a priority. But the EU reiterated on Monday that “a meaningful and inclusive transition in Syria” open to Syrians from all backgrounds remains its top goal.

Of Cars and Boycotts

South Korea’s troubles in China continue to mount in the lead-up to a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week.

Hyundai Motor Co and Kia Motors Corp have slashed production in China due in part to mounting anti-Korean sentiment in the world’s largest auto market, Reuters reported.

Washington’s recent decision to speed the implementation of a missile shield in South Korea in response to North Korean missile tests has rankled Beijing and prompted calls for boycotts of South Korean products. That problem, plus tough competition from Chinese carmakers, prompted a 52-percent drop in the sales of Hyundai and Kia cars in March compared with a year earlier, the agency said.

At Trump’s meeting with Xi this week, the US president will likely try to leverage American buying power to push China to use its own economic importance in North Korea to further rein in Kim Jong-un – whose relationship with Beijing is showing signs of strain.

A Looming Crackdown?

Russian President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the scene of a deadly subway train bombing that killed 11 people in St. Petersburg on Monday.

At least 30 others were injured in the blast, which occurred as a train trundled between two subway stations in the central part of Russia’s second-largest city, the Washington Post reported.

Russian authorities did not provide information on the identity or motivation of the bomber, but the incident is being investigated as an act of terrorism committed by a single perpetrator who left an explosive device at one central station before boarding a train and detonating a second device, the paper said.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the incident.

Russia has suffered similar attacks – on a train station and trolley bus in 2013, at Moscow airport in 2011 and the Moscow subway in 2010 – amid some 800 such attacks since 1970, the Post noted separately.

But the timing of this incident prompted fears the government might use it as a pretext to clamp down on protests against corruption that brought tens of thousands to the streets last month.

DISCOVERIES

T-Rex Had Feelings Too

Tyrannosaurus rex has developed a reputation for terrorizing the Earth in his heyday.

But new evidence suggests that history might have been a bit too harsh in judging the fearsome carnivore.

T-rex had a sensitive side too, it seems.

While the 20-foot dinosaur no doubt had a sharp set of dagger-like teeth to tear into his prey, scientists now say that its snout was as sensitive as human fingertips.

In a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers found that numerous small nerve openings on the hard surface of the T-rex’s snout would have made the creature’s face into a third “hand” used to explore its surroundings and carry offspring.

More importantly, T-rex’s sensitive skin may have been crucial for successful mating.

“In courtship, tyrannosaurids might have rubbed their sensitive faces together as a vital part of pre-copulatory play,” said the scientists in their study.

Be that as it may, it’s probably little consolation for the smaller dinosaurs that ended up as Tyrannosaurus’s lunch.

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