October 08, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Cold Shoulders

IRAQ

Still stabilizing after years of occupation and civil war following the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq faces momentous challenges. At the center of a combustible region, wedged between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria, facing low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic, the Middle Eastern country’s leaders have massive challenges and busy agendas.

Two years ago, tens of thousands of Iraqis expressed their frustration with the country’s leadership, decrying crumbling infrastructure, withering public services and corrupt and incompetent government. Officials responded with a bloody confrontation, the Guardian noted.

But these days, most Iraqi voters are apathetic – top religious leaders have been all but begging them to cast a ballot in elections on Oct. 10, Agence France-Presse reported. Voter turnout in the coming election was expected to fall to less than 45 percent – the turnout of the last election in 2018. The problem is, voters say democracy doesn’t really help them much.

“I see the politicians’ posters in the street but I don’t know the names or the programs,” an Iraqi man told the London-based Arab Weekly. “I think they all have the same program: ‘We will do this, we will do that.’ It’s all promises.”

The disinterest occurs even though Iraqi politics continue to reflect the country’s diversity, as Reuters illustrated. Shiite and Sunni Muslim-affiliated political parties, Kurdish politicians and activists who seek to throw out corrupt officials and revamp the state are all running for office.

Meanwhile, the low turnout eventually translates into a lack of popular support, opening the door to the two militarist movements that have been growing and jockeying for power in the wake of the exit of the US from the country in recent years, as Professor Haitham Numan of Gulf University Public Relations in Bahrain wrote in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

These groups include the Iran-backed Fatah alliance and the Sadrist Movement of Baghdad-based Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, a former foe of the US who is now one of the most powerful men in the country. Now Western diplomats see him as one of the best counterweights to Iranian influence in the country, the Financial Times said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, an independent who took over after the civil unrest of 2019, is working hard to keep his job, Axios noted. He has, for example, hosted Iranian and Saudi leaders to cool tensions between the two regional rivals and raise his profile as an international mediator.

What happens after the election is anyone’s guess. Iraq usually defies predictions. Still, one thing is clear: The country is going nowhere fast.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Time To Shine

TANZANIA

Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, becoming the first black African in almost two decades to win the world’s most prestigious literary award, the New York Times reported.

The Swedish Academy – which awards the prize – recognized Gurnah for “his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”

Born in 1948 in Zanzibar, which is now part of Tanzania, Gurnah became the fifth laureate from Africa to receive the prize, a list that includes Wole Soyinka of Nigeria (1986), Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt (1988) and the South African winners, Nadine Gordimer (1991) and John Maxwell Coetzee (2003).

The author – currently living in Britain – left Tanzania at the age of 18 following a violent 1964 uprising against the government led by soldiers. His works predominately focus on immigrant experiences in Britain, the effects of colonialism in East Africa, and the impact of exile on identity and a sense of belonging.

Gurnah’s award follows criticism of the academy for how its choices have lacked diversity: The Nobel Peace Prize for Literature has been awarded 118 times but 95 of those laureates were from Europe or North America.

Only 16 winners had been women.

Tone Deaf

CANADA

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to apologize this week for going on a family vacation instead of attending the commemoration of Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, a day aimed at commemorating the Indigenous victims and survivors of the country’s infamous former residential school system, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

Trudeau said he made “a mistake” when he chose vacation over visiting Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation on Sept. 30. The event – and his absence –was just a few days after his Liberal minority government was reelected after snap elections.

Indigenous leaders and activists swiftly criticized the prime minister’s absence as a “complete letdown,” and coming at a time when Canada is coming to grips with its historical mistreatment of its First Nations.

Earlier this year, the remains of more than 200 Indigenous children were found in unmarked graves around the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Following the gruesome find, Indigenous communities across Canada have been conducting searches at other residential schools. So far, more than 1,300 possible graves have been discovered, according to the Canadian-based Global News.

The backlash against Trudeau also came shortly after a Canadian court dismissed a legal challenge by the federal government against restitution to the victims and their families, a verdict that will pave the way for billions of dollars to be paid in compensation to First Nations children removed from their families.

Almost 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and sent to church and state boarding schools for the purpose of assimilation in the 19th century. The schools operated until the late 1990s.

In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said that many children faced sexual and physical abuse at the schools, while also being barred from practicing their traditions or speaking their native languages. The commission said the maltreatment at those schools amounted to “cultural genocide.”

‘No Expiry Date’

GERMANY

The trial of a 100-year-old former Nazi SS guard began Thursday in Germany, making him the oldest defendant to be tried for Nazi-era crimes more than 70 years after the end of World War Two, CBS News reported.

The defendant known as “Josef S.” – because of German privacy laws – is accused of being an accessory to murder while serving as a guard at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp between 1942 and 1945.

Prosecutors have charged him with more than 3,500 counts of accessory to murder, saying that he “knowingly and willingly aided and abetted this at least by conscientiously performing guard duty.”

Authorities said that the suspect was fit enough to stand trial, despite his advanced age. The court sessions, however, will be limited to up to two and half hours a day, according to Euronews.

The trial is expected to last until January.

Thomas Walther, a lawyer representing survivors and victims’ relatives, welcomed the trial and said that justice has “no expiry date.” Even so, the case underscores the desperate efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice before they die.

More than 200,000 people were held at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, located near Berlin, between 1936 and 1945. Tens of thousands died from malnutrition, disease, forced labor, as well as systematic exterminations by the SS.

Historians believe that between 40,000 to 50,000 people died at the camp even as some estimates suggest that number to be closer to 100,000.

DISCOVERIES

A Llama’s Gift

The secret to beating the coronavirus might lie inside a llama, according to a new study.

British scientists recently developed a Covid treatment using llama “nanobodies” that could be administered to humans through a simple nasal spray, the BBC reported.

Nanobodies are a smaller and simpler version of antibodies that llamas and camels produce naturally in response to infection. These types of antibodies can grab onto pathogens that invade organisms and tag them with an immune “red flag.” This then prompts the immune system to respond against the invader.

In their new study, researchers injected a non-infectious viral protein into Fifi the llama in order to stimulate her immune system. Once her immunity kicked in, the team took a sample of Fifi’s blood and picked out the strongest nanobodies – in this case, the ones that closely matched with the viral protein.

They then grew a large quantity of the special nanobodies, which they later used on coronavirus-infected rodents via a nasal spray. The novel treatment caused animals to recover in a matter of days. Public Health England called the treatment one of the “most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing agents.”

Even so, the simple spray needs to be tested in humans to determine its effectiveness. Still, other scientists said the treatment is “very promising nonetheless and the fact it may be cheaper and easier to administer is a plus.”

Weekly World Quiz

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 236,795,222

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,934,870

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,400,865,236

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 44,158,989 (+0.23%)
  2. India: 33,915,569 (+0.06%)
  3. Brazil: 21,532,558 (+0.07%)
  4. UK: 8,084,322 (+0.50%)
  5. Russia: 7,575,825 (+0.36%)
  6. Turkey: 7,357,306 (+0.41%)
  7. France: 7,142,387 (-2.30%)**
  8. Iran: 5,674,083 (+0.21%)
  9. Argentina: 5,264,305 (+0.02%)
  10. Spain: 4,971,310 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country