The World Today for November 29, 2017



What Comes After

The prime minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, recently said the combination of Iraqi government troops, US-led air strikes and Iran-backed militias had defeated the Islamic State in military terms.

The jihadists’ army had collapsed, he said. They no longer held big cities like Mosul, even though they still held sway in some parts of the desert, Reuters reported.

Now, Iraqis and others are turning to the epic undertaking of rebuilding the country.

It has not been easy. The Iraqi government estimates that the cost of rebuilding all that has been destroyed in recent years will cost $100 billion, the National explained.

Tensions have appeared, too.

In Mosul, archaeologists and locals are squaring off over the fate of the 12th-century tomb of Jonah, the Biblical figure swallowed by an enormous fish to illustrate God’s power and mercy, Religion News Service said. Both Muslims and Christians revere his memory. The site is a popular destination for pilgrims.

The Islamic State believed venerating Jonah’s tomb was idolatry and blew it up. Researchers found an ancient Assyrian palace and 7th-century Christian church under the tomb’s rubble. They want to study the site, but locals want their revered landmark back.

Around 6,000 civilians died in the fight to retake Mosul, wrote the Economist, citing human rights group Amnesty International. That has taken a toll on the city’s economic prospects.

College-educated men clear debris for $20 a day. Teachers and doctors work for free in bombed-out hospitals, as officials in Baghdad, usually Shiites, determine whether they were Islamic State sympathizers.

The government is also navigating the tricky job of re-occupying the city. Many Mosul residents, a majority of whom were Sunnis, already resented the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad when the Islamic State rose up in 2014 and overwhelmed government troops in the region.

Syria is facing problems, too, as Russian President Vladimir Putin claims to be edging closer to ending the Syrian Civil War.

President Bashar al-Assad recently unveiled a plan to erect a mega-development of skyscrapers in southern Damascus that would create jobs and testify to the leader’s enduring authority.

But the ambitious project would undoubtedly cost billions, putting enormous strain on Syria’s finances and setting the stage for economic inequality and financial ruin that could rip the country apart later.

“The socio-economic problems that were present before the war will only be increased,” Joseph Daher, a Swiss-Syrian academic who has studied Assad’s reconstruction efforts, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “It will only nurture future problems for a new generation.”

Iraq and Syria have an opportunity to put their countries back together. But the forces that tore their countries apart are not very far away.



Anything You Can Do

North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that demonstrates it can hit  “everywhere in the world,” according to the US secretary of state.

Launched on Wednesday, the Hwasong-15 ICBM flew some 590 miles and attained an altitude of 2,800 miles before splashing down in the waters off Japan, where it hit its planned target, according to North Korean state media.

The first such test in nearly two months came in spite of repeated warnings from US President Donald Trump during his recent trip to Asia, but the president’s initial response was uncharacteristically restrained, noted CNN. Trump merely told reporters that the US “will handle” the situation.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was also measured in his response, but he hinted that Washington’s patience is not infinite, saying, “Diplomatic options remain open and viable, for now.”

The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to talk strategy, while the US and Canada will convene a meeting of nations that contribute military forces to the UN Command that supports South Korea to discuss how to counter the threat.


Turning the Corner

President Donald Trump’s move to put more boots on the ground in Afghanistan is a “game-changer” that puts the Afghan security forces “on a path to win,” said Gen. John Nicholson, head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

After 16 years of fighting, the coalition has “turned the corner,” Foreign Policy quoted Nicholson as saying.

It would be wise to take his prediction with a shovel of salt. He’s at least the eighth top commander in the last decade to forecast a speedy resolution to the war, and his claims fly in the face of ground conditions – where the Afghan government’s control is deteriorating and the Taliban is bouncing back.

Meanwhile, with the addition of another 3,000 soldiers this fall, the US military presence reached a mere 14,000 troops, compared with 100,000 during the height of American involvement in the war. Only 1,000 will be deployed in combat alongside Afghan forces.


Divorce Settlement

Reports of an agreement on the so-called Brexit bill have been exaggerated.

Still, Britain’s offer of between 40 and 55 billion euros for the divorce settlement received a “broad welcome” from Brussels, the BBC reported.

Earlier reports had suggested that the two parties had agreed in principle on the bill. The European Union side has put the figure at 60 billion euros, while in September British Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK was only prepared to pay 20 billion. Significant progress on the settlement is necessary before negotiators can move on to discussing the future of trade relations.

Pressure is mounting to make that progress before a crunch summit in mid-December, when EU leaders will decide if they’ve made enough headway to move forward to the next step.

Behind the scenes, the PM’s top Brexit adviser and the deputy to the EU negotiator Michel Barnier are reportedly working on a joint paper formalizing what they’ve agreed to so far by Monday, noted the BBC. The idea is to prevent issues that have been decided from being reopened while others are still being ironed out.



Pakistan recently unveiled the remains of a sleeping Buddha statue – the oldest such remains left in the world.

The 1,700-year-old statue, 48-feet long, was unearthed recently in the ancient Buddhist site of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it remained undiscovered for almost 90 years after initial excavations of the ancient site began, Reuters reported.

The region was once the center of the Buddhist civilization that took root under the Mauryan king Ashoka 2,300 years ago. Archeologists also found about 500 other Buddhist objects.

The find is the latest to underscore the diverse history and culture of the South Asian country.

And unlike neighboring Afghanistan – where the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 causing an international outcry – Pakistan’s leadership is taking pains to show it reveres that heritage.

Last year, for example, a defaced 7th-century Buddha at Jahan Abad, Swat, got its face back after being damaged by the Taliban almost a decade ago.

Pakistani opposition leader, Imran Khan, a conservative known for emphasizing dialogue with Islamist hardliners like the Pakistani Taliban, called the new discovery an “asset.”

In Pakistan, religious minorities have been targeted for years by right-wing traditionalists.

Now officials hope to use the discovery to further its push for tolerance, polish up Pakistan’s image abroad and promote tourism.

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