June 02, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

IRAQ

Voices and Choices

The United Nations believes that free and fair elections can help Iraq move on from the wars and terrors of the past and embark on a new future.

“The way to express one’s voice, to make one’s choice, is at the ballot box,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. “This essential democratic exercise requires every voter, candidate, journalist and activist to play their part.”

But many members of civil society are calling for Iraqis to boycott the general election in October because the government has not done enough to protect journalists, activists and others, Agence France-Presse wrote. More than 70 activists and similar folks have been killed in police clashes or abducted since protesters started taking to the streets in 2019 to call for reforms and an end to corrupt and incompetent government.

“Today’s protests took place because the weak government did not keep its promises to bring the murderers to justice,” activist Kamal Jaban told the Associated Press during a recent demonstration at Tahrir Square in Baghdad.

The government, says Human Rights Watch, has provided a “vacuum of impunity” for killers who silence those Iraqis calling for change.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was going to call an election on June 6 to mollify demonstrators who are demanding an early vote. But election officials said they needed more time to prepare, further angering protesters who feel as if their leaders don’t want to hear them.

As Reuters explained, al-Kadhimi faces criticism of his handling of the coronavirus, and is also confronting an economic crisis due to low oil exports and a public safety challenge in the form of powerful militia groups that operate outside the law.

The militias receive support from Iran, a predominantly Shiite Muslim nation that is seeking to expand its influence in Iraq, a Shiite-majority country where Sunni Muslims had ruled before the US invasion in 2001, Voice of America added.

Al-Kadhimi has condemned the violence and proposed rebuilding Iraq’s agricultural sector in order to lessen the country’s dependence on oil exports, the National wrote. Iraqi officials have also met with Kurdish leaders to make sure their people participate and feel included in the election.

Infighting has long marred Iraq. Now at least some of the fighters want to make their voices heard without violence.

WANT TO KNOW

DENMARK

Between Friends

France and Germany are requesting clarification in response to a report claiming that one of Denmark’s intelligence agencies assisted the United States in spying on multiple European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, CNN reported Monday.

The report details an internal investigation by Denmark’s Defense Intelligence Service (FE) in 2014 to determine whether the US National Security Agency used its partnership with FE, and Danish internet cables in and out of Denmark, to spy on senior European officials.

The investigation began about a year after former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden unveiled documents showing that a US official had given the NSA 200 phone numbers to monitor, including those of world leaders.

A few months after Snowden’s leak, the German government said it had information that suggested the US was tapping Merkel’s phone.

Following the recent report, Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron called the practices “unacceptable between allies” and sought answers from both Denmark and the US on the issue.

Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen said the government will not comment on the matter but added that the targeting of close allies was unacceptable.

The scandal comes amid a European Union review of its data-sharing relationship with the US, according to Politico.

Both parties are currently negotiating a new agreement to allow companies to transfer data from the EU to the US, while protecting privacy standards.

SAUDI ARABIA

Disturbing the Peace

Saudi Arabian officials defended a new order to restrict the volume of mosque loudspeakers Monday, following a backlash from conservatives on social media, Al Jazeera reported.

Last week, the country’s Islamic affairs ministry said that the speakers in mosques should be set at no more than one-third of their maximum volume. The new rule also stipulates that the use of these loudspeakers should be limited mainly to issuing the call to prayer, rather than broadcasting full sermons.

Minister Abdullatif al-Sheikh said the order came after citizens complained that the speakers’ loud volume was disturbing the children and the elderly. He added that the loudspeakers served a limited purpose because television channels also broadcast prayers and Quran recitals.

The move was welcomed by many in the ultraconservative kingdom, which is home to tens of thousands of mosques, as well as to other holy sites in Islam.

However, the decision sparked criticism from conservative groups, who called for the banning of loud music in restaurants and cafes.

The recent order is part of the country’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s liberalization drive. Already, his policies have eased social restrictions in the nation, allowing women to drive and lifting a ban on cinemas that goes back decades.

While the crown prince has promised a more “moderate” Saudi Arabia, his government has also cracked down hard on dissent.

An unclassified United States intelligence report concluded that the royal approved and likely ordered the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018.

VATICAN

About Time

Pope Francis changed church law Tuesday to criminalize sexual abuse of adults by priests and other church officials following years of global criticism over the Vatican’s handling of sexual abuse cases committed by the clergy, Axios reported.

The move marks the first time the Catholic Church has recognized that sexual predators “groom” their victims based on power imbalances to build relationships that eventually lead to sexual abuse.

The revision of the criminal section of the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law comes after 14 years of study and marks the first such rewrite since the law was implemented in the 1980s, the Washington Post reported.

The law now recognizes that adults can be mistreated by priests who abuse their power, and that people outside the clergy – known as laypeople – can be punished for abusing children and adults.

It will also hold to account bishops and cardinals who have sometimes protected known abusers or have ignored abuse.

The new provisions allow priests who engage in sexual acts to be defrocked and laypeople to be fired from their jobs, fined or exiled from their communities.

The changes come partly in response to a raft of abuse and financial scandals that have been magnified because the deliberations about how to punish the offenders were shrouded in secrecy.

DISCOVERIES

A Thousand Suns

At the twilight of World War Two, the United States tested its first nuclear weapon in the New Mexico desert in what is famously known as the “Trinity” test.

The plutonium bomb, known as “Gadget,” obliterated everything in its path, but it also left some otherworldly crystals that had never been seen on Earth, Live Science reported.

Researcher Terry Wallace and his team came across the strange, colored rocks recently while studying the bomb-blasted Trinity site.

Wallace explained that when Gadget exploded, it released a fireball that was hotter than the Sun, causing the metal test tower and surrounding sand to melt together into a new type of glass, named trinitite.

Trinitite is primarily green, but the test site also included some samples that were red in color. Wallace’s team suggested these might contain other metals, such as copper.

Under close inspection, the team thoroughly analyzed the red trinitite and found a five-sided “quasicrystal” with an atomic structure never seen on Earth before.

They said that the odd gem resembled those found in meteorites from the early solar system that were created by the extreme heat and pressure of the universe’s most powerful explosions.

Their findings cannot explain how or why red trinitite formed this way, but Wallace noted that the discovery could help scientists “better understand nuclear explosions and ultimately lead to a more complete picture of what a nuclear test represents.”

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: 33,287,577 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 28,307,832 (+0.47%)
  3. Brazil: 16,624,480 (+0.48%)
  4. France: 5,738,641 (+0.17%)
  5. Turkey: 5,256,516 (+0.14%)
  6. Russia: 5,022,881 (+0.19%)
  7. UK: 4,506,333 (+0.07%)
  8. Italy: 4,220,304 (+0.06%)
  9. Argentina: 3,817,139 (+0.93%)
  10. Germany: 3,692,908 (+0.07%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours