January 07, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

IRAQ

Hostages

The killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani triggered a cascade of events that is upending the Middle East.

An American drone killed Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, at Baghdad International Airport on January 3.

The fallout has been epic. Iraqi lawmakers voted in favor of booting American forces out of the country, the Associated Press reported.

Iranian leaders have also said they won’t abide by the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal that US President Barack Obama negotiated, reported CNBC. President Donald Trump had withdrawn from the deal, saying it didn’t go far enough, and imposed new sanctions to compel more concessions from the Iranians. But the mullahs in Tehran were still largely abiding by the agreement because China, European powers and Russia were still parties to it.

Iranians have vowed revenge. At her father’s massive funeral, Soleimani’s daughter said the parents of American soldiers “will spend their days waiting for the death of their children,” wrote the National Review.

As emotions run hot, others are wondering if the killing was legal.

Writing in the Navy Times, retired Capt. Lawrence Brennan, who served in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, argued that targeting a foreign military commander plotting against US forces was clearly lawful.

Soleimani orchestrated Iran’s proxy wars throughout the Middle East. By helping Iraqi militants create sophisticated roadside bombs, he’s responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers, according to US officials, reported USA Today.

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus called Soleimani “a truly evil figure,” wrote the Intercept in a story that noted how even Iranian officials thought his brutality might someday backfire against the Islamic Republic.

But George Packer at the Atlantic contended that the legality of the strike wasn’t as important as determining whether it was good strategy. A New York Times analysis suggested Packer had a point, describing how Iran has more incentive, not less, to produce a nuclear warhead.

One could say the crisis began last week when Iraqis attacked the American embassy in Baghdad. Or one could argue that the rioters – who burned a couple of guardhouses but never entered the embassy itself – acted in protest against US airstrikes in late December against an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq.

At least one takeaway is clear: After sacrificing 5,000 lives and spending trillions in Iraq, American interests in the country are far from secure.

And a cycle of reprisals has taken everyone hostage.

WANT TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

A Tale of Two Speakers

Two rival lawmakers were declared the leaders of Venezuela’s National Assembly on Sunday, following a tumultuous day in the country’s politics, CNBC reported on Monday.

Venezuelan security forces prevented opposition leader Juan Guaido from entering the Assembly Sunday for a session that was expected to result in his re-election as head of the legislative body.

The blockade allowed the government of President Nicolas Maduro to install former opposition lawmaker Luis Parra in Guaido’s place.

In response, opposition lawmakers held a session to re-elect Guaido at the headquarters of El Nacional, a pro-opposition newspaper.

Maduro’s move was condemned by the United States and several Latin American nations, which support Guaido, Reuters reported.

Last year, Guaido declared himself the country’s interim president. He denounced Maduro’s presidency as illegitimate after Maduro was re-elected in 2018 in a vote that was widely criticized as rigged.

Guaido has been recognized internationally as Venezuela’s president, but Maduro has refused to step down and still enjoys the backing of the military.

UGANDA

Starting Early

Ugandan police clashed with supporters of singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine on Monday, after police arrested the lawmaker as he sought to kick off public meetings ahead of presidential elections next year, Agence France-Presse reported.

Wine’s supporters began protesting after police blocked his first meeting in the capital, prompting authorities to fire teargas and rubber bullets at supporters.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said that Wine had violated Uganda’s election laws by “going early and conducting campaigns” as opposed to holding “consultations.”

Under Uganda’s election law, presidential aspirants may carry out “nationwide consultation” in the 12 months ahead of their official nomination as candidates.

This is not the first time that Wine was arrested.

Since his election to parliament in 2017, he has been a vocal critic of longtime President Yoweri Museveni.

The young lawmaker has a lot of support from Uganda’s urban youth, many of whom are tired of Museveni’s reign.

CROATIA

Goodbye to All That

Croatia’s newly-elected center-left president vowed to make the country more tolerant following Sunday’s presidential election runoff, the Guardian reported.

Zoran Milanovic defeated right-wing incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in second-round voting on Sunday, a few days after the country assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Milanovic, a former prime minister from the Social Democratic party, focused his campaign on moving Croatia away from the resentments of its wartime past.

Grabar-Kitarović’s campaign, however, focused on hard-right rhetoric, patriotism and references to the 1990s Yugoslav wars in a bid to unite the country’s right-wing supporters.

Analysts called Milanovic’s victory a protest vote against Grabar-Kitarović.

They predicted that Grabar-Kitarović’s party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), will now veer toward the center-right before parliamentary elections later this year.

Milanovic, meanwhile, will lead the country during Croatia’s EU presidency, a period likely to be dominated by post-Brexit fallout and debate over EU enlargement in the Western Balkans.

DISCOVERIES

What Lies Beyond

People with near-death experiences tell vivid tales about their brush with death, such as dark tunnels with bright lights and out-of-body experiences.

According to a recent study, these eerie glimpses of an afterlife are actually quite common in people who have almost died, Inverse reported.

Researchers interviewed more than 100 people whom they classified as having had a “true” near-death experience.

The team used a survey known as the Greyson Near-Death Experiences Scale to separate “true” near-death experiences from other moving psychological moments.

Almost 90 percent of the participants felt that time was distorted during their “true” experience. Meanwhile, more than half of respondents reported having an out-of-body experience.

“For around an hour I had no sense of self or my surroundings,” said a male participant.

The study, unfortunately, doesn’t explain why these experiences happen to some people, but the authors suspected that a disorder known as “REM sleep intrusion” might be the culprit.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is marked by vivid and intense dreams, with the body entering into a form of paralysis. People with REM sleep intrusion can go through these experiences while awake, and study participants with this condition were 2.8 times more likely to also have a near-death experience.

The mystery of what lies beyond remains intact.