The World Today for February 05, 2021

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A Government of Ghosts

Sixteen years ago, after the US had occupied Iraq for more than two years, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian painted a picture of lawlessness in the country’s capital of Baghdad.

“Two and a half years of bloodshed have convinced the outside world that Baghdad is not so much a city as an event, a maelstrom of violence,” it wrote. “The ferocity and frequency of bombings and shootings have turned Iraq’s capital into a maze of military checkpoints, concrete blast walls and razor wire.”

Unfortunately, a lot has not changed.

Women don’t drive saying that since men are kidnapped regularly, what chance then do they have. People who pray going outside because of their fear of bombs find themselves in a constant cycle of prayer. And some people are just thankful when there is only one bomb a week, saying “it’s nice.”

These folks are the lucky ones.

Iraqi party planner Arshad Haibti al-Fakhry was at his Ladies Night event at the Ishtar Hotel in Baghdad on Nov. 20 when unidentified men in Iraqi security force uniforms barged in and abducted him, a friend and 10 others.

As the Washington Post wrote, the men released the 10 partygoers almost immediately. They released al-Fakhry’s friend, the nephew of a government minister. But the party planner has not been seen since. His family and friends still are not sure who is holding him, or where.

Al-Fakhry’s story illustrates the lawlessness that has taken root in Iraq in the almost 18 years since the US invaded the country.

For example, armed groups abducted and sometimes tortured more than 100 people during anti-government protests in 2019, Al Jazeera reported. Authorities have not prosecuted anyone for these crimes.

This summer, kidnappers seized a German curator off the street before she was rescued, Euronews wrote with reporting from the Associated Press. At around the same time, two gunmen shot and killed Hisham al-Hashimi, a security expert who often discussed armed groups in the media, in Baghdad, reported the BBC.

The disappearances don’t only affect dissidents, intellectuals or other prominent figures.

Islamic State militants kidnapped eight people in eastern Iraq recently. The extremists erected a fake checkpoint on a main road, taking whoever was unlucky enough to fall into their trap, Xinhua, China’s state media outlet, wrote. Iraqi forces, with the help of the US and Iran, have largely defeated much of the Islamic State in recent years. Even so, some fighters still roam near the Iranian border.

Even more extreme violence still occurs in Iraq, too, years after widescale fighting has ended.

Suicide bombers killed at least 32 people and injured 100 more at a Baghdad market recently, according to the United Nations. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. But the government may execute hundreds of people now in prison in retaliation.

It’s an endless cycle of violence. And unfortunately, some say rightly that it’s hard to stop such cycles when they’ve taken hold – and become entrenched.

Sarmad Riyadh, a 35-year old antique dealer, saw this firsthand 16 years ago.

“If the Americans left tomorrow, I would close my shop immediately,” he told the Mail & Guardian back then. “No one wants his country to be occupied but in Iraq, we have no security. No one is in charge…We have a government of ghosts.”



Shades of Gray

The International Criminal Court (ICC) found a Ugandan former child soldier-turned-rebel commander guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in a case that was described as “morally the most complicated” the Netherlands-based court had ever handled, reported Al Jazeera.

The court found former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen guilty of 61 charges, including murder, the abduction of children as well as forced pregnancy – the latter a legal first for the court.

Ongwen faces life imprisonment.

Ongwen, 45, was abducted by the LRA when he was a child and the charges are related to crimes committed in the early 2000s.

His lawyers said that he suffered psychological damage as a result of being abducted as a child and was a “victim and not a victim and perpetrator at the same time.”

Judges, however, said the defendant was responsible for his own actions.

Analyst Kristof Titeca noted that the case involved a “huge gray area which is difficult to determine in international law, which thinks in terms of victims and perpetrators.”

Under the leadership of Joseph Kony, the LRA terrorized Uganda for nearly two decades, killing more than 100,000 people and abducting 60,000 children.

In 2005, the Ugandan military was able to expel the group from the country but Kony’s whereabouts remain unknown.


A Dubious Club

Canada designated the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization this week – a move that will add the far-right group to a list that includes al Qaeda and Islamic State – in an effort to crack down on “ideologically motivated violent extremism,” the Washington Post reported.

The announcement comes less than a month after members of the group joined a mob that stormed the US Capitol following a rally by then-President Donald Trump in protest of the results of the November presidential election. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the attack.

The designation will ban Proud Boys members from entering Canada and allow authorities and banks to seize their properties and assets.

Canadian officials said that the Capitol attack was not the catalyst for the designation but added that it did provide a “trove of information” that was added to intelligence reports.

Security analysts in Canada have warned for years that right-wing extremist groups pose a threat to the country.

The government has also categorized other far-right groups as terrorists – including the neo-Nazi groups Atomwaffen Division and the Base – as well as eight organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The male-only Proud Boys was formed in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, a Canadian. Self-described as “Western chauvinists,” its members have a history of street violence, including against Black Lives Matter protesters.


Table Manners

France is set to pass new legislation that would allow workers to eat at their desk – a practice currently illegal in the country – to help businesses follow coronavirus health rules, reported.

Lunch is very important in French culture and eating at one’s desk is banned under French labor laws, which explicitly forbids “letting workers take their meal inside the work premises.” In fact, not only is eating at one’s desk considered uncouth but many employers give special coupons to their employees that allow them to eat lunch at restaurants at a discounted price.

The government said that the change in law will be temporary, just to make it easier for people that are unable to work from home to eat in a safe environment.

Remote working – or Télétravail in French – is still the rule for those able to do so under France’s strict Covid-19 restrictions. Even so, France has been revising its rules since last month to allow workers to come in one day a week upon agreement with their employer.

The changes came after many employees struggled with the psychological impact of remote working.

The pandemic has upended French everyday life, chipping away much-loved customs such as eating out late, post-work apéro drinks, and other cultural activities.


Beer Yoga

A pint of beer or a yoga session can help in dealing with lockdown blues but what if they were combined?

A Cambodian brewery figured out that mixing the two can help people better relieve stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the South China Morning Post reported.

Located in the capital Phnom Penh, TwoBirds Craft Beer brewery is allowing individuals to practice their yoga positions while enjoying a cold glass of fresh brew.

The classes began in December during Cambodia’s lockdown, when restaurants and some venues were allowed to stay open.

Locals and expats participating could enjoy an hour-long session for the affordable price of $8, which also included a free glass of beer.

“For me, I do not like traditional yoga because I get bored after about 20 minutes but I have more fun with beer yoga,” said participant Sreyline Bacha, who was practicing her poses while holding a tall beer glass.

Although the lockdown has ended, organizers still limit the number of class participants to avoid any rise in infections.

The brewery’s general manager, Connor Cheney Kirsch, said that beer yoga is “all about the community” – to help folks socialize, while also getting some exercise.

“It’s all about the fun, all about having a good time together after work,” he said.

Click here to see the tipsy poses.

Holiday Promo

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: 26,679,555 (+0.46%)
  2. India: 10,802,591 (+0.11%)
  3. Brazil: 9,396,293 (+0.61%)
  4. UK: 3,903,706 (+0.53%)
  5. Russia: 3,891,274 (+0.42%)
  6. France: 3,310,071 (+0.00%)
  7. Spain: 2,913,425 (+1.04%)
  8. Italy: 2,597,446 (+0.53%)
  9. Turkey: 2,508,988 (+0.32%)
  10. Germany: 2,265,536 (+0.58%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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