The World Today for May 02, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

IRAQ

Mystic Chords of Memory

The financial crisis, the rise of the Islamic State and the success of right-wing movements around the world make it easy to forget another controversy that dominated global headlines 15 years ago and arguably remains alive today: the American invasion of Iraq.

The justification for the 2003 invasion never materialized. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found, a fact that has benefited from the obscurity that time bestows upon historical events. And now, in the lead-up to Iraqi elections May 12, the US-led coalition has signaled the end of major combat operations against Islamic State in the still-troubled country by announcing the “deactivation” of its land forces command headquarters, Reuters reported.

“People who were born after the war are going to start learning how to drive a car,” noted the Columbia Chronicle, a student-run newspaper at Columbia College Chicago. “Even those who have just become eligible to vote probably can’t remember a time before American and allied forces toppled the Saddam Hussein regime.”

Today there are between 5,200 and 7,400 American soldiers in Iraq – a number the Pentagon has made hard to nail down, according to the Military Times.

The numbers are clearer on the Iraqi side. As many as 600,000 Iraqis lost their lives during and after the 2003 invasion, the Intercept reported.

“We, the Americans, were there trying to do the right thing,” a former Army Ranger in Iraq and ex-US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy told NPR. “But we really didn’t know what we were doing, and we were causing a tremendous amount of suffering.”

Those sentiments help explain why Americans are still divided over the war.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted in March found that 48 percent of respondents said the invasion was wrong, CNN reported. Forty-three percent agreed with the decision to attack. Around 53 percent of respondents thought the US had failed to achieve its goals. Only 39 percent thought the war was a success.

The rise of the Islamic State in 2014 – the militants had been active before then, but the fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in that year is considered the apex of their power – was surely a great disappointment in the post-war period.

For three years, Mosul’s residents and others lived under the jihadists’ tyranny. The penalty for drinking alcohol was 80 lashes, the Economist wrote. Today teams are still clearing the rubble, often with the sense that they must rebuild or else fall back into chaos.

“We’re waiting for Mosul to be rebuilt and cleaned,” street cleaner Suhail Mizer told the Guardian, adding that he has yet to receive his $8 per day salary for his toils. “That’s the center of Mosul and the most important part. If that doesn’t happen then maybe even ISIS will come back.”

President Donald Trump should heed Mizer’s words and not pull troops out of Iraq too quickly or he risks squandering the peace that is slowly taking hold there, John Hannah, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued in Foreign Policy.

It’s understandable, however, to ask why 15 years has not been long enough.

WANT TO KNOW

INDIA

Black Death – or Yellow, Green, or Brown

Despite constant calls of alarm over the past several years, India’s deadly air pollution problem has only gotten worse, according to the latest report from the World Health Organization.

India now accounts for 14 out of the world’s 15 worst polluted cities, the Times of India reported. That’s due in part to the rollout of monitoring systems to more Indian cities – a step in the right direction. But the WHO says pollution levels in the capital of New Delhi have again been getting worse since 2015, after a few years of marginal improvements.

In Kanpur, the worst city on the list, the average level of pollutants 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter topped 173 micrograms per cubic meter in 2016, the WHO found. That’s compared with a WHO guideline of just 10 μg/m3 for the annual mean.

Meanwhile, India’s Supreme Court sounded the alarm about another casualty of bad air. The white marble Taj Mahal – which earlier turned yellow – is now turning green and brown.

SOUTH KOREA

Charmed, I’m Sure

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in had a stunning impact on public opinion in the South.

A whopping 78 percent of respondents to a Korea Research Center poll published this week said they trust the North Korean leader, compared with 10 percent from a Gallup Korea poll conducted just a month-and-a-half ago, Bloomberg reported.

The prospect of lasting peace also buoyed Moon – lifting his approval rate to a glowing 86 percent.

At last week’s meeting, the two leaders signed a declaration to finally end a seven-decade war this year, and pursue the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. US President Donald Trump heightened expectations on Monday by expressing hope that his planned meeting with Kim would take place in the DMZ, where “there’s a great celebration to be had on the site” if the negotiations are successful. And Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Tuesday he’d host a joint meeting with Moon and China’s Premier Li Keqiang in Tokyo on May 9 in a bid to get back in the game.

ARMENIA

The Crisis Continues

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan called for a general strike Wednesday after he failed to garner enough votes to take office as prime minister – despite being the only candidate.

Signaling that the crisis will not end easily, the governing Republican Party blocked his election as interim prime minister, despite widespread protests over its selection of ex-President Serzh Sargsyan for the post and a previous vow not to stand in the way of Pashinyan’s appointment, the BBC reported.

Addressing tens of thousands of people massed in the capital Yerevan after he received the backing of only 45 of 105 members of parliament, Pashinyan urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports.

Sargsyan, who had served 10 years as president, stepped down last month, days after being sworn in as prime minister. Pashinyan had led protests calling for his ouster, arguing that moves to transfer power from the president to the prime minister and then assume that post were part of a strategy to circumvent presidential term limits and cling to power.

DISCOVERIES

Home Alone

As the old adage goes, the best defense is a good offense.

When it comes to home security in Japan, that means deterring would-be criminals with new tech.

Hoping to reassure single women living alone, a Japanese apartment management company developed a simple security system that consists of moving shadows projected on window treatments to deter break-ins, Reuters reported.

Known as “Man on the Curtain,” the system uses a smartphone connected to a projector to display the image of a man boxing, doing martial arts, or simply playing the guitar to dupe potential intruders into thinking that there’s more than one person at home.

After an initial trial run of the system, enough interest from the public encouraged the company to think about scaling up its product.

But some think the ploy might backfire: Savvy criminals might be alerted to an empty home just by seeing a shadow boxer in the window.

“That would put the cart before the horse,” said Keiichi Nakamura, manager of the firm’s advertising department. “So we’d like to commercialize it once we add variety, such as releasing a new video every day.”

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