The World Today for June 20, 2017



A Mosque, an Advance and Desperate Gambles

At the heart of Mosul’s historic center stands the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, a relic of the 12th Century recognizable by its iconic leaning minaret.

Throughout the city’s history, the mosque had been a source of pride for residents.

But its symbolism quickly grew sinister after Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the formation of a caliphate in Iraq during a Friday prayer there in 2014.

Today, the Great Mosque symbolizes the last stand of the Islamic State in Iraq. With their backs against a wall, Islamic State fighters have hunkered down in the house of worship, the Washington Post reported.

Iraqi and US military officials recently began their delicate and dangerous advance into the narrow alleyways of Mosul’s Old City, where the mosque stands. After eight months of engaging the militants in a city once held squarely under the jihadists’ control, this last showdown is proving to be the bloodiest and most difficult yet.

The Islamic State began to grow in prominence in Iraq in 2010 after then-President Barack Obama withdrew troops from the country and handed control over to the nascent Iraqi government and its shabby military, recalled the Council on Foreign Relations.

The group took advantage of the state’s vulnerabilities and quickly gained support from thousands of foreign fighters, overrunning strategic outposts and seizing a third of the country.

At the height of its power in 2014, the group controlled almost all of the Tigris-Euphrates river basin, an area similar in size to the United Kingdom, the BBC reported.

Since then, the US-led international coalition, as well as Iraqi forces, Kurdish militants and other ethnic groups, have regained much of the lost territory in Iraq.

But Islamic State’s desperation has led to more brazen brutality.

In Mosul, the group has entrenched themselves among the 100,000 or so civilians that the UN estimates remain in the city. About 230 civilians have been killed in the past two weeks alone.

Many have perished in US airstrikes, which have seen an uptick during the Trump presidency – sparking tensions with Russia – even though fighting has moved to urban areas.

It’s a recipe for civilian casualties, the New York Times wrote in an op-ed lambasting the administration’s eradication efforts.

Meanwhile, Islamic State snipers shoot down civilians who attempt to flee the rubble and desolation.

Desperate amid food and water shortages, outbreaks of food-borne illness and disease, many have no choice but to gamble their lives for freedom.

Although ground forces have finally begun their careful mission to retake the Old City, many residents fear that time isn’t on their side.

“Tell the security forces to reach us quickly,” one resident pleaded to the Washington Post. “If this lasts until the end of the month, many people will die.”

[siteshare]A Mosque, an Advance and Desperate Gambles[/siteshare]



Broken Alliance

The US-Russia alliance in Syria may be disintegrating.

Russia’s defense ministry said Monday it is suspending coordination with the United States in Syria over so-called “de-confliction zones” after the Americans downed a Syrian government fighter jet over the weekend, and warned it would consider joint coalition aircraft west of the Euphrates River to be military targets.

These warnings “could be posturing,” the New York Times said. But the rising tensions do not bode well, considering that Moscow and Washington remain at loggerheads over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since 2015, when Russia deployed troops to Syria to prop up Assad’s regime, Moscow and Washington have had an agreement designed to prevent US and Russian forces from clashing, even though they’re backing opposite sides in the Syrian civil war as they jointly battle the Islamic State.

Now, though, that agreement appears to be faltering as Iran makes a play for the Euphrates River valley with Russian support, the newspapaer quotes a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy as saying.

[siteshare]Broken Alliance[/siteshare]


Irreconcilable Differences?

Divorce talks between Britain and the European Union finally began Monday, with the EU winning the first round by forcing Britain to accept its timetable for the negotiations.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, forced Britain to agree to two-stage talks that first map out the dissolution of the 43-year-old partnership and only then discuss the future relationship between the two sides, the Washington Post reported. Before Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent surprise failure at the polls, Britain had been insisting the two threads should be negotiated in parallel.

With the stakes encompassing not only Britain’s continued access to European markets but also the status of EU citizens living in Britain and other issues such as intelligence sharing, the EU is less likely to compromise following May’s misstep and the rise of France’s Emmanuel Macron.

European leaders insist Britain cannot have full access to European markets unless it also allows full access to its own. Meanwhile, European demands for British restitution have risen from $67 billion a few months ago to $112 billion.

[siteshare] Irreconcilable Differences? [/siteshare]


Regular Beatings

Despite its headlong sprint into the free market economy, Vietnam continues to use draconian methods to intimidate human rights activists and bloggers.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Monday called on Hanoi to stop beatings of such campaigners, citing 36 incidents between January 2015 and April 2017 in which unknown men in civilian clothes attacked activists, Reuters reported. The rights group said many of these beatings occurred in full view of uniformed police, who did not intervene to stop them.

Because Vietnam’s Communist Party retains tight controls over other forms of media, blogs and social media sites like Facebook are popular venues for airing grievances against the government. As of January this year, at least 112 bloggers and activists were serving prison sentences in Vietnam, down from at least 130 at the end of 2015, Human Rights Watch said.

“The report is based on false information and lack of objectivity about the situation in Vietnam,” a foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters.

[siteshare] Regular Beatings [/siteshare]


Here Kitty Kitty

The residents of the Pakistani city of Karachi – a port town of more than 20 million – have undoubtedly seen a lot happen in their crowded streets.

But even the denizens of this sprawling metropolis were caught off guard when they saw businessman Saqlain Javed cruising the streets of Karachi in his pickup truck the other night with his pet lion lounging in the back.

It’s not uncommon for wild cats to be kept as pets in Pakistan, where some wealthy businessmen operate private zoos and even parade their animals in public, wrote Reuters.

But unfortunately for Javed, a video clip of his nighttime drive went viral and attracted the attention of Karachi police.

Javed – whom police said has a license to run a personal zoo but is not allowed to transport animals on Karachi’s streets – was arrested on charges of “endangering public life and property” Wednesday, police told Reuters.

He has since been released on bail. As for his pet lion, she’s been returned home and placed under house arrest while police consult with Pakistan’s wildlife department.

Check out a short video clip of this lioness’ joyride here.

[siteshare] Here Kitty Kitty[/siteshare]

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