The World Today for August 19, 2020

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Of Cooks and Crooks

It’s not uncommon for Iraqi businessmen to receive visits from militia leaders who insist on taking a cut of their profits and have the power in and outside of government to enforce their demands.

The country has become a kleptocracy, the New York Times asserted.

As a new generation of wealthy corrupt officials, militia fighters and others purchase restaurants, discos and estates, youth unemployment and youth poverty in Iraq has skyrocketed.

Iraq’s finance minister recently said the country’s economy needed to be “restructured radically” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the crash in oil prices, the Financial Times reported. The state’s coffers are bare, in other words. He estimated that around 300,000 workers on the public sector payroll are “ghost employees,” – someone receiving a check for a no-show job.

The Iraqi government, however, has little leverage over the fighters or corruption. Many militia members were instrumental in the government’s successful US-supported campaign against Islamic State over the past few years. Many officials view them as potential patrons rather than destabilizing vigilantes and racketeers who should be disarmed and disbanded. Some, like Kata’ib Hezbollah, receive significant support from Iran.

Iraqis are still processing the trauma of the years under Islamic State. Iraqi soldier Ali Hussein Kadhim, whose Shiite community was persecuted under the Sunni Muslim terrorists, told the BBC about his harrowing experience as a prisoner of Islamic State.

Officials in Baghdad are still struggling to overcome the legacy of years of war and dictatorship. Earlier this year, for example, Iraqi lawmakers rescinded permission for 5,000 American troops to remain in the country. The Pentagon has said many of the troops are expected to leave in the coming months. They regularly come under attack by militants of different groups.

“At some point, we do want to get smaller there,” said Marine General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, who leads the Central Command, during a talk with the US Institute of Peace, according to the Military Times. “I just don’t know when that’s going to be.”

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who took office in May raising hopes that the central government might finally take control and boldly steer the ship of state, is trying to gain some control over the militias. But, as Foreign Policy magazine explained, militia leaders are refusing to give up their turf or their current de facto status as semi-autonomous states within Iraq.

It’s hard to lead, organize or progress when there are too many cooks – or crooks.



A Pinch of Justice

The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon found one out of four defendants guilty for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 on Tuesday, a verdict that was six years in the making, France 24 reported.

The court found Salim Ayyash guilty of involvement in Hariri’s death but acquitted three others due to a lack of evidence. The four are members of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which is labeled a terrorist organization by the US and other countries.

Even so, the judges took care to add that there was no evidence that Hezbollah’s leadership or the Syrian government were involved in the suicide attack that killed Hariri and 21 other people on Feb. 14, 2005.

Both the Syrian government and Hezbollah have denied involvement.

Hariri’s death, meanwhile, set the stage for years of conflict between Lebanon’s rival political groupings.

The verdict comes as Lebanon reels from an economic and political crisis. Earlier this month, a massive explosion in Beirut killed at least 180 people and injured thousands, setting off new protests with demonstrators demanding the removal of the country’s ruling elite. Already two governments have resigned since the initial protests began last year.

The ruling could further inflame political tensions in the country as it struggles to stave off economic collapse.


A Coup

The president of Mali resigned Tuesday after being arrested by military officers staging a coup, further destabilizing the West African country which has been grappling with a violent insurgency, the coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis and months of anti-government protests, the New York Times reported.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta said on television that the national assembly and the government would be dissolved. Earlier, the prime minister, Boubou Cissé, had been arrested along with the president of the National Assembly, the finance minister and other officials.

The rebellion came amid a protest movement fueled by the conviction that Keïta had stolen the parliamentary election in March. Demonstrators have also been furious over the government’s failure to address corruption and an Islamist insurgency that has plagued the country for eight years.

Earlier Tuesday, military vehicles rolled toward the capital. Local media and European embassies reported seeing soldiers closing off public squares and barricading roads. Meanwhile, protesters carried signs around Bamako’s independence monument reading “Adieu, IBK” – referring to Keïta as gunfire and cheers filled the streets of the capital following news of his arrest.

Observers say Tuesday’s chaos is reminiscent of the days leading up to the 2012 coup: Then, the military stormed the presidential palace and declared they had brought down Amadou Toumani Toure’s government.

While African leaders and the US warned the leaders of the coup to follow the constitution and release those arrested, some shrugged off the warnings.

“Nobody can take this country hostage,” said Sidy Tamboura, the secretary-general of the national police union, surrounded by young protesters, in a video clip. “It’s already over for this rotten, incompetent regime.”


Hairpin Curves Ahead

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau resigned amid a growing scandal involving the Liberal government and a charity with links to the family of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Morneau’s resignation earlier this week follows his disclosure to lawmakers last month that his family accepted tens of thousands of dollars in hospitality and accommodation from WE Charity.

The Toronto-based organization also paid Trudeau’s mother and brother nearly $380,000 in fees and expenses to attend the organization’s events.

The charity was awarded a now-canceled contract to run a student-volunteer program with a price tag of nearly $756 million.

Both Trudeau and Morneau are now under investigation by Canada’s ethics watchdog for possible violations of the conflict-of-interest rules because neither of them recused themselves during a cabinet discussion on awarding the contract.

On Tuesday, Trudeau appointed Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland as the new finance minister. She is the first woman in that position in Canadian history, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.


A ‘Dinosaur’ With a Secret

The tuatara lizard, dubbed “New Zealand’s living dinosaur,” is one of the oldest species on Earth.

The lizard is endemic in New Zealand and can live more than 100 years, making it the longest-living reptile after tortoises. Recently, scientists discovered that the dinosaur survivor has one of the largest vertebrate genomes ever discovered, which has links not only to reptiles but also to mammals such as humans, International Business Times reported.

In their study for the journal Nature, lead author Neil Gemmel said that the tuatara’s genomic architecture was “unlike anything previously reported, with an amalgam of features that have previously been viewed as characteristic of either mammals or reptiles.”

He explained certain parts of its genes were similar to modern species, adding that the types of repeating elements in its DNA were similar to mammals.

Researchers noted that the creature evolved specialized genes for immunity and metabolism over time – they hope these can be replicated to help humanity in the future. The authors suggested that understanding these ‘major histocompatibility complex’ (MHC) genes could help increase disease resistance and prolong the human lifespan.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 5,482,602 (+0.72%)
  2. Brazil: 3,407,354 (+1.42%)
  3. India: 2,767,253 (+2.39%)
  4. Russia: 930,276 (+0.51%)
  5. South Africa: 592,144 (+0.38%)
  6. Peru: 549,321 (+2.50%)
  7. Mexico: 531,239 (+1.05%)
  8. Colombia: 489,122 (+2.61%)
  9. Chile: 388,855 (+0.35%)
  10. Spain: 364,196 (+1.42%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

Correction: In Tuesday’s WANT TO KNOW section, we incorrectly said in our “If At First You Don’t Succeed…” item that Puerto Rico will hold its gubernatorial elections in December. The elections will be held Nov. 3. We apologize for the error.

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