The World Today for September 18, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

KURDISTAN

Waiting for a Country

Many warned years ago that Iraq could split apart in the wake of the United States toppling ruthless strongman Saddam Hussein.

Now, after the American invasion, internecine violence, Iranian intrusions and the rise and fall of the Islamic State, the Kurds might deliver the coup de grâce that would put an end to Iraq as we know it.

Kurdish lawmakers last week voted to hold an independence referendum on Sept. 25.

For many, the vote to secede was not only the obvious next step in making Kurdistan’s separation from Baghdad official, it was realizing a long-cherished dream that stems from the arbitrary way European leaders redrew the map of the Middle East during World War I.

“We’ve been waiting more than 100 years for this,” Kurdish parliamentarian Omed Khoshnaw told Reuters.

As the BBC explained, the Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the region but have never had a nation-state. That’s made life hard for them. They comprise around 18 percent of Iraq, where they suffered oppression before winning autonomy after the 1991 Gulf War. They also live in large numbers in Syria, Turkey and Iran. In Turkey, Kurds have fought a bloody insurgency, and in Iran, too, they suffer discrimination.

One would think that many would applaud the assertion of democracy. But this is the Middle East.

Baghdad opposes the vote, saying it’s unconstitutional. In an interview with the Associated Press, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he would “intervene militarily” if the vote resulted in violence.

Those strong words come after Kurdish President Masoud Barzani said his forces would stop Iraqi or Iranian-backed Shiite militias from moving into Kirkuk, an oil-rich city now occupied by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

The US opposes the vote, saying it could distract from the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey also opposes it, fearing an independent Kurdistan would embolden or provide a base for Kurds fighting to create a separate state in eastern Turkey. Iran is opposed for similar reasons.

Even some Kurds don’t want a vote. Out of 111 lawmakers, only 68 attended the parliamentary session to trigger the referendum due to a boycott among opposition party lawmakers who support independence, but not at the current juncture.

Barzani’s response to the naysayers was astute. “We still haven’t heard a proposal that can be an alternative to the Kurdistan referendum,” he said at a recent rally.

But he should be careful what he wishes for.

As the Economist noted, the referendum could backfire, resulting not in a glorious celebration of self-determination but bloodshed as Kurdistan’s neighbors try to quash independence.

That would be a tragedy that would warm the hearts of Islamic State jihadists now on the run.

[siteshare] Waiting For A Country[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

PAKISTAN

All in the Family

Pakistanis went to the polls to choose a lawmaker for the parliamentary seat vacated by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a vote that is expected to highlight the Sharif family’s popularity in advance of federal elections next year.

In fact, the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), hopes that a victory in the city of Lahore in the state of Punjab – the Sharif base which is run by his brother, Shahbaz – will show that the family’s reputation remains untarnished despite Sharif’s removal from office in July, Reuters reported.

Sharif’s wife, Kulsoom, is the frontrunner for the seat.

Meanwhile, the party is facing resistance from opposition leader Imran Khan, whose relentless anti-graft campaign and pursuit of Sharif led the Supreme Court to open an investigation into the former prime minister.

Nawaz Sharif was elected prime minister for the first time in 1990. In July, the Supreme Court barred him from holding office while officials investigate corruption charges against him and his three children including Maryam, who is running her mother’s campaign.

[siteshare] All in the Family [/siteshare]

ICELAND

Dishonorable Collapse

Iceland’s ruling coalition collapsed over the weekend and the stability-seeking country whose banking sector collapsed a decade ago is now facing its second snap election within a year.

On Friday, the Bright Future party announced it was leaving the coalition after nine months over a convicted pedophile having his “honor restored” because of a letter signed by the prime minister’s father, the BBC reported.

Under the “restoring honor” law convicts may regain their full societal rights if they provide three recommendation letters from persons of good character. In this case, the convicted pedophile received one of those letters from Benedikt Sveinsson, Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson’s father.

The restored honor of this particular pedophile – who raped his stepdaughter on a daily basis starting when she was five – was already a growing scandal in Iceland, a country that sees very little serious crime. Then came the eventual disclosure of the letter, which many observers say smacks of a cover-up by the government.

It’s the second scandal that has brought down a government in the tiny North Atlantic nation: The previous government collapsed over the Panama Papers scandal.

[siteshare]Dishonorable Collapse[/siteshare]

PALESTINE

For the Longest Time

Hamas agreed to dissolve the administration that runs Gaza, allowing for a “unity government” under President Mahmoud Abbas, and putting an end to the decade-long feud between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party.

On Sunday, Gaza’s militant rulers said it would agree to hold general elections – the first since 2006 – which would ensure a stronger union in the Palestinian territories, reported the Independent.

However, both factions have not met face-to-face and it remains unclear whether the announcement will bring an end to the division between the two camps or broaden it.

Tensions between Fatah and Hamas boiled over in 2007, resulting in the latter taking control of Gaza. Previous attempts at reconciliation failed in 2014. Meanwhile, Hamas has been greatly weakened by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, three wars with Israel in the past decade and international isolation, as well as a shattered economy, high unemployment and intermittent electricity.

[siteshare]For the Longest Time[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Open Carry

German’s are known for being able to handle their fair share of beer – but Bavarian waiter Oliver Strümpfel surpassed all previous expectations.

In the Bavarian town of Abensberg recently, Strümpfel exhibited herculean strength by carrying 29 full, one-liter beer steins 131 feet across a beer tent packed with eager onlookers – without using a tray.

That’s 154 pounds of beer, in case you were wondering.

Strümpfel had been training for months to break his own world record of carrying 25 steins.

As it turns out, he did so twice, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports.

After successfully walking with 27 steins in hand, he challenged himself to go for 31. Even though two broke en route, he still shattered both of his previous titles.

“I have been training since February three or four times a week in the gym,” said Strümpfel, adding that it’s rewarding to see so much effort pay off.

He plans to hit the gym hard again in anticipation for another record-breaking display next year.

“I know that I can carry more than 30 steins,” he said.

Click here to check out Strümpfel in action.

[siteshare]Open Carry[/siteshare]

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