The World Today for June 30, 2017



Finally, The Fall

It was three years coming.

Iraqi soldiers were poised to retake Mosul Thursday after an eight-month-long fight to recapture the country’s second-largest city, which Islamic State seized almost overnight and declared the capital of their caliphate in June 2014.

“Their fictitious state has fallen,” said military spokesperson Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, speaking at the ruins of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, an 850-year-old landmark in the city center that the militants blew up last week, the Telegraph reported.

A few hundred jihadists were still fighting from entrenched positions in the city, including an11-story hospital that American military leaders were calling a “killing tower” because ISIS snipers were using it as a perch to target civilians fleeing the violence, ABC reported.

“The Old City still remains a difficult, dense, suffocating fight – tight alleyways with booby traps, civilians, and fighters around every corner,” said US-led coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon at a Pentagon press briefing.

The battle represents the beginning of the end for the Islamic State, some say.

“This evil death cult faces its endgame,” said British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon.

The Islamic State has lost 32,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria that contained 4 million people, the BBC said. Estimates said they now controlled around 14,000 square miles.

Those numbers could shrink even further soon enough. In Syria, US-supported Syrian and Kurdish forces are laying siege to the militants’ capital in Raqqa.

But, even as he vowed to pursue the jihadists to the ends of the Earth, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arguably faces another monumental task: reconstruction.

Around 700,000 people have been displaced from the western side of Mosul, where the latest fighting has occurred. Around 190,000 people have returned to the east side of the city, which was liberated in January.

“Huge swathes of the city have been reduced to rubble,” the Independent wrote. “In the searing summer heat the stench of dead bodies is overpowering.”

And the Iraqi government doesn’t have much of a track record dealing with recaptured cities, if Jalawla is anything to judge by: There, residents began rebuilding the city themselves after being abandoned by the federal government, they told USA Today.

The psychological scars will also run deep.

“We saw so many bodies stuck under the rubble as we fled,” said Muhammed Hamoud, a Mosul resident who fled on Thursday, speaking to the Washington Post. “One man was still alive. He yelled for us to help him. We were able to dig him out, but he was so badly injured we had to leave him inside. We couldn’t carry him to flee with us.”

Many Mosul residents were disgusted with corruption in the central government in Baghdad and the largely Shiite army soldiers who fled the Islamic State’s advance three years ago.

Now that Baghdad and their fellow Iraqis have fought hard to liberate Mosul, the two sides might have common ground upon which to build a new future.

[siteshare]Finally, The Fall[/siteshare]



Playing Hardball

US President Donald Trump’s moves to toughen up on China continue.

Washington announced new sanctions on a small Chinese bank accused of laundering money for North Korean companies and approved a $1.4 billion arms sales package for Taiwan on Thursday, the Washington Post reported.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration was moving to cut off the Bank of Dandong from US financial markets to stop money from flowing into North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. The new sanctions were announced hours before South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived at the White House for a two-day summit with Trump, the Post noted.

Trump has endeavored to get China to put more pressure on Pyongyang to halt its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, but in a recent tweet he acknowledged that Beijing’s efforts have “not worked out.”

Mnuchin said the US is “in no way targeting China with these actions” and looks forward to working “closely with the government of China to stop the illicit financing in North Korea.”

[siteshare] Playing Hardball [/siteshare]


Little Brother

Mexico may have used spying software to collect information about senior opposition politicians, including conservative National Action Party (PAN) head Ricardo Anaya.

Calling the accusations false, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has asked the attorney general’s office to investigate claims made by University of Toronto researchers that opposition politicians, activists, human-rights lawyers and journalists had been targeted by spyware known as Pegasus, which Israel-based NSO Group only sells to governments, Reuters reported.

The Mexican attorney general’s office paid over $32 million for the software in October 2014, according to local news reports that cited leaked documents. It was installed the following month, when Arely Gomez, formerly a ruling party senator, had just become attorney general.

Now, Mexico’s comptroller general Gomez said the use of the software “was always done according to the law,” and the president’s office said it was used only against organized crime and national security threats. However, researchers identified a journalist who helped reveal that Pena Nieto’s wife had acquired a house from a major government contractor as one of the targets.

[siteshare] Little Brother [/siteshare]


Unexpected Victory

Abortion rights activists won an unexpected victory on Thursday, after a decades-long struggle to win access to government-funded abortions in England for residents of Northern Ireland.

The British Supreme Court had earlier this month upheld a policy under which residents of Northern Ireland were charged about $1200 if they traveled to mainland Britain to undergo an abortion – which is all-but prohibited in Northern Ireland. But on Thursday, the UK government dramatically changed its policy to allow such patients to access National Health Service funds for the procedure, the Guardian reported.

Previously, the British Department of Health had said funding these abortions would undermine the authority of the Northern Ireland Assembly – which retains the power to legislate in a wide range of areas that are not explicitly reserved for the UK parliament.

The decision was not entirely about women’s rights, but also tied to Prime Minister Theresa May’s alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has a much stronger anti-abortion stance than many of May’s own Conservative Party members.

[siteshare]Unexpected Victory[/siteshare]


A Noisy Find

With its tropical rainforests and diverse fauna, Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula has been a magnet for many a safari-goer in search of exotic species.

But even dedicated bird watchers were caught off guard when they learned one bright blue – and especially noisy – parrot had escaped their notice until now.

Scientists have dubbed the new bird the “blue-winged Amazon” in a new study recently published in the journal PeerJ.

The Amazon’s behavior, plumage and DNA were distinct enough for researchers to declare it a new species and name it Amazona gomezgarzai after Miguel Gómez Garza, a veterinarian at

Mexico’s Autonomous University of Nuevo León, who first glimpsed the new parrot in 2014.

It’s especially surprising that the blue-winged Amazon went undiscovered so long, given the hawk-like screeches it emits.

But researchers estimate only a hundred of these birds live in the wild – and require urgent protection from deforestation – providing some explanation about how they evaded notice.

“This is, without a doubt, proof that we still live in a time of ornithological discoveries,” Gómez Garza told National Geographic. “We just have to keep… our eyes wide open.”
[siteshare]A Noisy Find[/siteshare]

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