The World Today for October 03, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

MIDDLE EAST

Pulling the Tightrope

An alliance between Iraq and Iran has long worried American officials.

Now the US’s arguably closest ally in the region – Kurdistan – might be the catalyst that unites Baghdad and Tehran.

In the wake of 93 percent of Kurdish voters opting for independence in last week’s referendum, Iraq and Iran, who both opposed the ballot, have taken extraordinary steps together.

“The illegitimacy of the independence referendum in northern Iraq [was] stressed again and necessary decisions were taken to provide security at the borders and welcome Iraq’s central government forces to take position at border crossings,” an Iranian military spokesman told Al Jazeera.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi closed Kurdish airspace to international flights while Tehran froze the sale of energy across the Kurdish border, reported Agence France-Presse and Jiji, a Japanese news wire.

Iraqi leaders don’t want to see a large, oil-rich chunk of their country secede. Iran fears a similar breakaway among Kurds in its country. Similarly fearing Kurdish visions of independence, Turkish officials have threatened to cut off oil exports that are crucial to the Kurdish economy.

“They are not forming an independent state, they are opening a wound in the region to twist the knife in,” said Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, according to CBS.

The US also opposed the referendum, saying it would distract from the fight against the Islamic State and heighten instability in an already troubled region.

The vote showed how Kurds desire their own country, wrote Patrick Cockburn in the Independent. Proud of their culture but prevented from securing their own state over the years, they’ve got passion on their side.

But Cockburn noted that they have also managed to bring together a broad coalition of forces that previously was divided.

“The Kurdistan Regional Government is revealed as a minnow whose freedom of action – and even its survival – depends on playing off one foreign state against the other and keeping tolerable relations with all of them, even when they detested [sic] each other,” he wrote, adding that the balancing act is now over.

Cockburn argued that the Iraqi government’s success against the Islamic State is also making things harder for Kurdistan. For years, the Kurdish fighters known as Peshmerga have been the ablest fighters in Iraq. Now, the Iraqi army is battle-hardened, so Iraqi leaders have a force that could at least try to force the Kurds to bend the knee to Baghdad.

The Iraqi army had American and Iranian help in defeating the Islamic State, of course. One could argue Baghdad and Tehran would grow closer with or without the Kurdish referendum.

But it’s ironic that democracy could be to blame for empowering the mullahs in a country where Americans have invested so much.

[siteshare]Pulling the Tightrope[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

LIBYA

Of Patriots and Masterminds

In a Washington courtroom, prosecutors outlined a case against Ahmed Abu Khatallah that suggests he was the mastermind of the 2012 terrorist attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Abu Khatallah “didn’t light the fires or fire the mortars, but is just as guilty” for planning the attack, setting it in motion and getting others “to do his dirty work,” CNN quoted federal prosecutor John Crabb as saying in his opening statement. The first prosecution witness, special agent Scott Wickland, who was living in the US mission at the time, delivered a harrowing account of the incident.

The defense argued that Abu Khatallah – the only suspect in US custody who faces 18 charges related to the attack – is not to blame, only a convenient scapegoat. Though Abu Khatallah made himself the face of the attack through interviews with journalists in its wake, the defense argued he was not a terrorist but a “Libyan patriot” who fought to unseat former strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

[siteshare]Of Patriots and Masterminds[/siteshare]

VENEZUELA

Mr. Popular

Polls suggest Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro received a boost from an unlikely source this month: US President Donald Trump.

Maduro’s popularity jumped from a dismal 6 percent to 23 percent in September. Some Venezuelans may have closed ranks in response to several rounds of US sanctions, while others may have noted a sharp drop-off in violent anti-government protests, Reuters reported.

Nearly 52 percent of respondents opposed the Trump administration sanctions, which followed Maduro’s move to create a Constituent Assembly to amend the constitution and grant himself more power. The move had earlier caused a substantial increase in the number of protesters demonstrating against the left-wing heir to late President Hugo Chavez, whose economic policies have resulted in devastating shortages of essential goods, including food and medicines.

Fifty-seven percent of the 1,000 people surveyed said they disagreed with the United States using a “military option” to push for change in Venezuela, as Trump has held out as a possibility.

[siteshare]Mr. Popular[/siteshare]

RUSSIA

Birthday Bash

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny will spend President Vladimir Putin’s birthday behind bars after calling for an unsanctioned protest against the powerful leader in his hometown of St. Petersburg.

The courts sentenced Navalny to 20 days in jail, meaning he’ll miss other, state-sanctioned rallies organized to coincide with the president’s birthday on Saturday, CBS News reported.

An anti-corruption crusader, 41-year-old Navalny is Putin’s most vocal critic and possibly the country’s most popular opposition politician. When he announced his presidential bid last year, he inspired a grassroots campaign in Russian regions normally loyal to Putin to support his nomination, though he remains barred from the official ballot.

Navalny already spent various short stints in jail as the result of similar run-ins with the authorities. Organizers of public gatherings not okayed by the government can face up to 30 days behind bars per a Russian law adopted following anti-government rallies in 2011-2012.

Navalny has previously said there’s a 50 percent chance he will end up dead for speaking out against Putin.

[siteshare]Birthday Bash[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Walking with Ghosts

Spirits don’t really walk among us, but one could get that feeling after seeing a pair of ghostly white giraffes strolling by.

After a villager in Kenya’s Garissa County spotted a porcelain-hued mother giraffe and her doppelganger calf near Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy, conservationists hurried to film the rare sight. Their recording is thought to be the first known footage of white giraffes, the New York Times reports.

But while white giraffes themselves are rare, their condition is well known: It’s a genetic condition called leucism, which affects the pigment in skin cells and causes a snow-like hue.

Animals with leucism – scientists have documented the condition in penguins, lions and peacocks, for example – often retain pigment in their soft tissues, unlike those with albinism which don’t produce any melanin throughout their entire body. That’s why animals with leucism retain their eye color.

Now that the ghostly giraffes have been spotted, scientists are hoping to keep track of them to measure their life span. With fewer than 100,000 remaining, giraffes are already listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and animals with leucism are highly revered for their pelts and coveted for their mysticism.

Their beauty is undeniable. Take a look for yourself here.

[siteshare]Walking with Ghosts[/siteshare]

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