The World Today for May 01, 2017


In the Crossfire

Iraqi commanders expect to take back Mosul from the Islamic State this month, Reuters reported on Sunday.

That’s good news. But the next few weeks are crucial to whether Iraqi and US-led coalition forces earn the confidence of Mosul residents after they kick out the jihadists and reoccupy Iraq’s second-largest city.

Around 400,000 civilians are still in Islamic State-occupied districts of Mosul. In desperate need of food, water and medicine, many fear dying in the imminent crossfire.

Their fate amid the fighting in the next few weeks could determine whether they welcome or fear the Iraqi government’s control of the city after the Islamic State falls.

In early April, American and Iraqi forces announced they would change tactics after the deaths of civilians in Mosul during the fight against the militants. The shift occurred after a March 17 air strike against the Jadidah neighborhood killed more than 100.

“We agreed among the commanders to not depend on the air strikes because that means we will maybe lose a lot of people,” Maj. Gen. Najm Abdullah al-Jabouri told NPR.

Now the US government admits at least 352 civilians unintentionally died in artillery bombardment and airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in fighting against the Islamic State since August 2014, according to a Pentagon report released Sunday.

“Although the coalition takes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimizes the risk of civilian casualties, in some incidents casualties are unavoidable,” the report said.

Its estimate of the number of those casualties is probably conservative.

The London-based Airwars, a monitoring group, claimed more than 3,000 civilians have died in US-led strikes in Iraq and Syria since 2014, according to the Associated Press.

The news came after the US military announced that a serviceman died on Saturday. The US soldier was the second killed since operations against the Islamic State in Mosul began six months ago.

No matter what the toll in lives, the effect on relations between the two countries has been momentous.

“The US’ sanctimonious self-image does not fit well with its own sordid history of involvement in Iraq,” wrote Iraqi author and attorney Zaid Al-Ali in Al Jazeera. “The US has become so involved in Iraq’s modern history that its footprint can be found everywhere.”

But the UN on Sunday also announced that Iraqi and other forces had rescued 36 Yazidi survivors after three years of living as slaves, Reuters said.

Now, one can only hope Mosul residents, after their city is freed, remember their liberation and create new freedoms – for every resident – instead of focusing on the bloody conflict, its toll, and who’s to blame.


Bread and Circuses

Not long after a crackdown on bakeries using flour to make brownies and pastries instead of bread, embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hiked the country’s minimum wage and doled out free homes on Sunday in the face of a growing protest movement demanding fresh presidential elections.

On his regular television show, “Sundays with Maduro,” the president ordered a 60 percent increase in the country’s minimum wage starting Monday, USA Today reported. It was the third pay increase he’s ordered this year and the 15th since he became president in 2013. But it doesn’t mean all that much compared with the plunging value of the bolivar and inflation tipped to cross 2000 percent next year.

Meanwhile, government officials in several states handed over hundreds of homes, some built with Chinese funding, which brought the total number of houses built under a low-cost housing program started by former President Hugo Chavez to 1.6 million units.

It’s not clear either move will put an end to a month of protests that has seen 29 people killed, hundreds injured and more than 1,300 arrested, however.

‘Shadow of War’

Iran’s supreme leader stepped up his criticism of incumbent moderate President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday in the lead-up to elections on May 19.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Rouhani’s landmark agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in return for the removal of international sanctions had not lifted the “shadow of war” over the country, Reuters reported.

As European Union leaders and companies sought to boost Tehran’s moderates with a delegation of more than 50 European firms over the weekend, Rouhani defended his position. He called the nuclear deal a “national achievement” that has put Iran in position to advance economically. But hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, a cleric with ties to the judiciary and one of Rouhani’s main opponents, said the country “should resolve issues by relying on domestic capabilities.”

Notably, Rouhani wasn’t Khamenei’s favorite candidate in 2013, either. But he won nevertheless.

Headscarves, Critics and Wars

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday without a headscarf, setting the stage for an official visit in which she pressed King Salman on women’s rights, the war in Yemen and the death penalty.

The visit comes after an international outcry over Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, noted Deutsche Welle. Most aspects of Saudi women’s lives are still controlled by male guardians, though women have made some gains in employment and higher education, the agency said.

Known affectionately as “Mutti” (Mommy) in Germany, Merkel is not the first high-profile visitor to opt not to cover her hair or wear the black robe worn by most of the country’s female citizens. But her visit comes in the wake of her support for a German ban on the veil in public schools, courts and in some other circumstances, a bill passed by the lower house of parliament last week.

In meetings with King Salman and other top members of the royal family, Merkel also urged the leaders to abandon the death penalty and pushed for an end to the war in Yemen, saying, “We don’t believe there can be a military solution to the conflict,” the Associated Press reported.


A Useful Diet

Humans produce up to 300 million tons of plastic each year, only to have much of it end up as garbage polluting virtually every corner of the globe.

Part of the problem is that plastic resists biodegradation after it has outlived its use.

But now a team of scientists in Europe says they might have found a palm-sized solution to the world’s excess supply of plastic shopping bags – thanks to a wax worm that can chew its way through the manufactured material within 40 minutes.

The common wax worm – known as Galleria mellonella – gets its name because it lives on the wax in bee hives – which has a similar carbon backbone to many types of plastic.

When researchers, led by Federica Bertocchini, a developmental biologist at the University of Cantabria in Spain, placed worms on polyethylene plastic, they found each worm created an average of 2.2 holes an hour.

At that rate, 100 worms could break down an average, 5.5 gram plastic bag in a month, wrote National Geographic.

That’s a small but impressive start, given that scientists have searched for decades for a way to biodegrade plastics, they added.

Check out a video of the insects in action here.

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