The World Today for April 26, 2017


Bad Company

Iranians vote for president on May 19 at a time when their country stands poised either to end or to double-down on its so-called rogue status.

But the country isn’t likely to make a u-turn any time soon.

On a positive note for the West, former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t make the list of six candidates running for Iran’s top office. The conservative Guardian Council, a group of clerics and lawyers appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and parliament, disqualified him.

Why positive? Ahmadinejad made headlines in the US in 2006 when he said President George W. Bush was “inspired by Satan.”

At the same time, the Council allowed moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani to run for reelection. Rouhani’s government negotiated the nuclear deal with President Barack Obama.

The supreme leader backed Rouhani in 2013 in a calculated move to quell public dissent in the wake of Ahmadinejad, whose controversial reelection in 2009 triggered street protests, the Guardian explained.

But critics point out that Iranians have yet to experience the economic benefits promised with the lifting of sanctions tied to his nuclear deal, Bloomberg reported.

“Rouhani was elected primarily on the promise of elevating the economic position of Iranians,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow for the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council for Foreign Relations.

That’s led hardliners, including supreme leader Khamenei, to throw their weight behind former judicial official Ibrahim Raisi, the New York Times reported

But even though Raisi heads the powerful Imam Reza Foundation, a subsidiary of the supreme leader’s office, he also has a tarnished reputation for his involvement in a supposed death committee that led to the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

Still, Iran’s political elites see Raisi as a natural successor to the aging Khamenei, who has steered Iran’s course via his “deep state” of security agents. His successor will continue the conservative ideological, political and cultural course of the nation, said Foreign Affairs.

The third most serious contender is Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the conservative mayor of Tehran and a former officer in the Revolutionary Guard’s air force.

Writing in Al Jazeera, Northwestern University Middle Eastern scholar Saeid Golkar described the battle between the three men as a struggle between alliances within Iran’s three power blocs: the clergy, the technocrats and the military/security forces.

“Hassan Rouhani represents the clergy-technocrat alliance; Raisi, the clergy-military/security alliance; and Ghalibaf, the security/military-technocrats alliance,” wrote Golkar.

Rouhani would likely at least try to continue engaging with the US. The other two would slow down that engagement or even take the country in the opposite direction.

The odds aren’t in Rouhani’s favor, meaning that, despite the tone of recent years, Iran might remain a wild card for the US overseas for years to come.

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With Friends Like These…

Turkey bombed Kurdish troops fighting as part of the US alliance in Iraq and Syria, illustrating one of the trickiest fault lines in the fight against the Islamic State.

Turkish warplanes Tuesday targeted soldiers with the YPG, a Kurdish militia fighting in cooperation with the US in Syria and Iraq, the New York Times reported. But an apparently errant strike also hit communications towers near a headquarters of the peshmerga soldiers of Iraqi Kurdistan.

At least five peshmerga soldiers were killed and more were wounded, the paper cited Kurdish officials as saying.

The incidents threaten to exacerbate differences between the US and Turkey regarding the alliance with Kurdish troops. In Syria, America views the YPG as essential to taking Raqqa, but Turkey considers the YPG to be one and the same as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – a separatist group known as the PKK that Turkey, the United States and Europe consider a terrorist organization.

Turning the Corner

As America continues to battle dubious claims linking vaccines to developmental disorders, the rest of the world is fighting to roll out new ones to save tens of thousands of lives.

Beginning next year, the world’s first malaria vaccine will be available in selected areas of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi as part of a test of its efficacy in real-world conditions, Al Jazeera reported.

The injectable vaccine – developed by British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and a network of African research sites in seven African countries – has already been shown to protect young children from the deadliest form of malaria in clinical trials.

“Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa,” the channel quoted the WHO regional director for Africa as saying.

More than 400,000 people died of malaria across Africa in 2015.

Slings and Arrows

Brazilian police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse indigenous tribesmen protesting encroachment on their reservations by farmers on Tuesday.

Decked out in colorful headdresses and body paint, the indigenous protesters fought back with bows and arrows, according to US News & World Report. Dozens of indigenous people are killed each year in Brazil in fights with farmers and ranchers over land, the magazine noted.

Meanwhile, President Michel Temer’s labor reform bill was approved by a lower-house committee, setting up a floor vote later today. The government hopes to push the bill through before an opposition protest on Friday against his reform plans, Reuters reported.

Leftists and labor unions oppose the bill – which would make it easier to hire temporary workers and outsource jobs – as well as Temer’s plans to cut pension benefits. The pension bill faces a crucial committee vote May 8.


The Unexpected Visitor

The little village of Ferryland on the Canadian island of Newfoundland unexpectedly became a tourist hotspot this month when it played host to a surprising, high-profile visitor: a massive, 15-story iceberg.

While Iceberg sightings are not uncommon in the region this time of year, this iceberg’s proximity to the coast lured hundreds of visitors hoping to snap a picture, Ferryland Mayor Adrian Kavanagh told Canadian Press.

“It’s a huge iceberg and it’s in so close that people can get a good photograph of it,” said Kavanagh. “It’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen around here.”

This year’s “iceberg season,” which runs from April to September, is shaping up to be a busy one, wrote the Huffington Post. More than 615 icebergs have already been spotted in North Atlantic shipping lanes, they said.

But “uncommonly strong counter-clockwise winds,” as well as global warming, could make this a record-breaking season.

“Usually you don’t see these numbers until the end of May or June,” one Canadian Coast Guard leader said. “So the amount of icebergs that we’re seeing right now, it really is quite something.”

Check out a video of Ferryland’s famous visitor here.

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