The World Today for August 22, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

MIDDLE EAST

Too Tired to Fight

Recent meetings between Saudi Arabian leaders and Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric and powerbroker Muqtada al-Sadr could spell a shift in the Saudi-Iranian cold war that has long bedeviled the Middle East.

A leader of the insurrection against American troops after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, al-Sadr visited Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently to discuss how the oil-rich Persian Gulf kingdoms might help pay for the $100 billion in reconstruction necessary in Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi and Tikrit after three years of rule under Islamic State, the Guardian reported.

In July, a combination of Iraqi troops, US-led air support and Iranian-backed militias liberated Mosul, putting an end to most of the jihadists’ control in Iraq.

The majority of the residents of Mosul and those other cities are Sunni Muslims who look toward Saudi Arabia as their advocate. Shiites like al-Sadr, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese Hezbollah, meanwhile, consider Iran their protector.

But al-Sadr has also always opposed foreign influence in his country, including Tehran’s growing power among the two-thirds of Iraqis who are Shiite.

The war against the Islamic State has also led al-Sadr and others to think twice about bloody intra-Islamic conflicts.

“Iraq has learned the hard way from its war with ISIS that domestic conflict between Sunnis and Shiites will not bring jobs for young people and other necessities of running a democracy,” the Christian Science Monitor said in an editorial.

The Intercept’s recent story about Saudi Arabia’s weariness with its ongoing war in Shiite-dominated Yemen bolsters the Monitor’s assertion. Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in the Yemenis civil war to prevent an allegedly pro-Iranian regime from seizing control.

But the conflict has become a quagmire and even arguably spilled over to Shiite-majority provinces in Saudi Arabia, Stratfor wrote in an analysis.

Human rights groups have condemned Riyadh for killing children, for example, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Last year, the United Nations was going to shame the desert kingdom for murdering children in an annual report until Saudi lobbying led UN leaders to change their minds. That’s not good optics.

As Paul Pillar wrote in the National Interest, Iran is also less interested in combating Saudi Arabia as the Islamic State attempts to stir up minorities within Iran’s own borders and launches attacks like the June 7 bombing at Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum in Tehran that killed 18 people.

Fatigue, in other words, might end what battalions of politicians, soldiers, diplomats, spies, religious leaders and militants could not. Long live fatigue.

[siteshare]Too Tired to Fight[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Forward March

The Taliban reacted characteristically to US President Donald Trump’s announcement Monday that American troops will remain in Afghanistan with no set plan for pulling them out, saying their jihad will go on.

“As long as there is even one American solder in our country,” Reuters quoted a Taliban spokesman as saying after Trump’s speech, the militants will “continue our jihad.”

Trump said Monday that the US would abandon “nation building” but continue to pursue victory in Afghanistan, giving the military the authority to ramp up troop levels and ending the practice of announcing how many soldiers the US will send into the conflict, CNN reported.

He also freed US military commanders to take battlefield decisions more rapidly by ending restrictions imposed by former President Barack Obama when the Afghan forces were pushed to take the lead in the fight.

His goal, however, remains the same: Pressure the Taliban to come to the negotiating table so that a peace settlement can be ironed out.

[siteshare]Forward March[/siteshare]

INDIA

Divorce Court

India’s Supreme Court ruled by 3:2 majority that the practice of instant divorce by “triple talaq” – in which Muslim men may divorce their wives by saying, “I divorce thee” three times – is unconstitutional.

The court said Tuesday that the practice violates the fundamental rights of Muslim women as it irrevocably ends marriage without any chance of reconciliation, the Times of India reported. Justice Kurien Joseph also noted that triple talaq is not recognized by the Koran and hence it couldn’t be considered a practice to be protected under the right guaranteeing religious freedom.

Though triple talaq is not unique to India, the court ruling has special significance in its contemporary politics. Since independence, the country has had separate civil codes for its different religious groups – so Muslim men could divorce their wives by triple talaq and marry as many as four women but Hindus could not, for example.

Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi – whose supporters call the rival force “pseudo-seculars” – has pushed for ending triple talaq in a savvy effort to position himself as a champion of women’s rights rather than an opponent of Muslims. But such political maneuvers have ramped up ethnic tensions in the past.

[siteshare]Divorce Court[/siteshare]

CHILE

A Swansong

In another landmark ruling, Chile’s Supreme Court voted to approve a bill that would relax a total ban on abortions that dates to the era of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The court ruled that abortions are justified after rape, if the mother’s life is at risk or if the fetus is not expected to survive the pregnancy, ending a conservative challenge to a law approved after two years’ debate in the Chilean Congress, the BBC reported.

Chile had been among seven countries that prohibited abortion under any circumstances, along with Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Malta, The Vatican and Dominican Republic.

The fight to relax the absolute ban has been underway since 1991, but was seen to be imminent when President Michele Bachelet was elected in 2013. The easing of restrictions is viewed as the abortion-rights supporter’s swansong as she leaves office, the BBC said.

Previously, doctors and patients faced up to five years in prison for performing or undergoing an abortion. Nevertheless, as many as 70,000 illegal abortions were performed every year.

[siteshare]A Swansong[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

A Stinky Sight

Observers around the country cast their gazes to the sky Monday in hopes of catching a glimpse of the solar eclipse.

But while one natural rarity took place in the heavens, another was occurring a bit closer to home – in Washington, DC, to be exact.

This week, three aptly named “corpse flowers” will bloom at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC. Their petals, scented like rotting flesh to attract insects, can reach up to eight feet in height, Vox reports.

Corpse flowers require a perfect constellation of conditions to bloom, a process that can take anywhere between eight and 20 years. That’s why witnessing three flowers blooming simultaneously in the same location is a true rarity, the US Botanic Garden explains.

“The plant blooms only when sufficient energy is accumulated, making time between flowering unpredictable, spanning from a few years to more than a decade.”

In the past, 130,000 visitors flocked to Washington to see and smell the flower for themselves.

But if a trip to the capital is out of the question this time around, there’s a live stream video of the bloom on the Botanic Garden’s YouTube page until Aug. 23.

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