The World Today for August 25, 2022
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Twisting and Turning
From 2003 to 2009, the Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr waged an insurgency against American troops who had invaded his Middle Eastern country in 2003. Today, the soldiers are mostly gone. But al-Sadr is still arguably the most powerful force in Iraqi politics.
After almost a year of political wrangling in the capital of Baghdad, Iraqi officials still haven’t been able to form a government as “growing drought, crippling corruption and crumbling infrastructure” continue to remain major problems, the New York Times reported. That’s the case even though the oil-rich country has more than $80 billion in cash reserves, a sum that is expected to grow by $10 billion by the end of the year, Reuters wrote.
In July, al-Sadr, a member of the country’s majority Shiite community whose political allies won the most seats in parliament in elections last year, quit leadership negotiations and called on his followers to storm parliament. More than 100 people were injured in the civil unrest, CNN reported, in a story that featured angry protesters occupying the parliamentary chambers.
As a result, the Iraqi government has been mostly immobilized. Justices on the country’s top court recently ruled that they couldn’t help alleviate the situation, according to Al Jazeera.
Iraqis have been regularly protesting for the past three years but the earlier demonstrations, in 2019, focused on the lack of services such as trash pick up, power blackouts and other issues. These days, it is more about politics.
That has led some Iraqis to stay home.
“I don’t understand, really, why people still have (the) energy to go for these protests when all the people at the top are looking after themselves, and they don’t really care about us,” Mohammad Mahmoud, a 41-year-old electrician, who said he barely has electricity in his home in Baghdad, told Al Jazeera. “Maybe the only reason I’d go is that I heard there’s air conditioning in the parliament building. It would be nice to have some cold in this weather.”
Still, Iran is the major player in these recent contretemps – with a twist. Both al-Sadr and his rivals want to reform Iraq on Iran’s ultra-conservative theocratic model. But al-Sadr is a nationalist who advocates for Iraq’s independence from the mullahs in Tehran. His rivals meanwhile enjoy their support and presumably would make Iraq a close Iranian ally, the Associated Press wrote.
Note that both sides want to reduce the influence of the US in their country despite American leaders spending trillions of dollars over the years in a bid to create a new ally in the region, a cost that equates to $8,000 per American taxpayer, explained Insider. “The US has relatively little to do with what’s going on in Iraq, and has few ways to influence it in a positive or negative way,” Arab Gulf States Institute President Douglas Silliman told Middle East Eye.
Iraq’s top cleric, the revered Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been conspicuously silent during the crisis because he doesn’t want to appear to take sides in what is an acute internal crisis. He’s monitoring the situation extremely closely, however, the AP reported separately.
Rather than being a force for instability, the Christian Science Monitor’s editorial board argued, al-Sistani might be a calming force in Iraqi politics. He apparently even met with al-Sadr in a bid to cool tensions and avoid more bloodshed or, worse, a full-fledged civil war.
Whether they can put their differences aside suffice to keep chaos at bay in the country remains to be seen.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Thailand’s Constitutional Court ordered the temporary suspension of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Wednesday, following a petition by the opposition accusing the strongman leader of exceeding his legally mandated eight-year term, the Financial Times reported.
The case concerns a dispute on the length and legality of Prayuth’s time in office, who came to power in May 2014 following a military coup that ousted the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Since then, Prayuth’s government has disbanded much of the political opposition, curbed civil liberties and cracked down on student pro-democracy protests that sought to reform Thailand’s powerful monarchy.
Opposition parties said that Prayuth, a former army chief, began his rule as the leader of the military junta in 2014 and that he should not be eligible to continue serving as prime minister.
In contrast, Prayuth’s supporters countered that his term should be counted from either in 2017, when the new constitution created by the military came into effect; or in 2019, following an election that was held in accordance with the constitution.
Prayuth will now be temporarily replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan – also a former military leader. The court did not specify when it would issue its final ruling.
The temporary suspension comes only a few months before Thailand’s March 2023 elections, when Prayuth’s current term expires.
Analysts suggested that it’s unlikely that the Thai leader will be overthrown. However, they added that the court’s decision to accept the legal challenge increases the risk of political unrest before next year’s polls.
Rights v. Justice
Spanish authorities euthanized a former security guard this week, who was facing trial for wounding three people in his former workplace, a case that has put Spain’s assisted suicide law in the spotlight, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Late defendant Eugen Sabau submitted an application for assisted suicide in June, six months after a shootout with police in the northeastern city of Tarragona that left him paralyzed.
His victims said Sabau – since known as “the Tarragona gunman” – should be kept alive until after the trial, but two Spanish courts ruled in the defendant’s favor.
A Tarragona court said that the quadriplegic man was suffering unbearable pain and that delaying his death until after the trial violated the dignity and rights of the accused.
Despite the rulings, José Antonio Bitos, a lawyer for the injured police officer, noted that the court’s decision set a precedent for future similar cases. He added that other defendants facing similar circumstances could exploit the law to avoid lengthy prison sentences.
Even so, legal analyst Ramón Riu acknowledged that while other courts will take the previous case into account, they “will not be obliged to follow the same criteria.”
In March 2021, Spain became the fourth nation in Europe to legalize physician-assisted suicide for persons suffering from terminal illnesses and other intolerable long-term conditions.
A Slow Opening
Singapore became the latest Asian country to repeal a colonial-era law that banned sex between men, marking another victory for the LGBTQ+ community in the region, Reuters reported.
In his annual national day rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singaporean society, especially young people in the city-state, was becoming more accepting of gay people.
The current law – specifically, Section 377A of the penal code – bans sex between men and imposes penalties of up to two years in prison for those who violate it.
Even so, authorities have not been actively enforcing the law and there have been no known convictions for sex between consenting adult males for decades. The legislation also doesn’t cover sex between women or other genders, only men.
The Southeast Asian city-state is following in the footsteps of its Asian neighbors: In 2018 India’s highest court scrapped a ban on gay sex, while Thailand has recently edged towards legalizing same-sex unions.
Despite this, there are no plans to allow gay people the same rights as heterosexual citizens and the definition of marriage in Singapore is still defined as “between a man and a woman.”
LGBTQ+ groups welcomed Lee’s decision to repeal the law, but also expressed concern that ruling out same-sex marriage would help to perpetuate discrimination.
Meanwhile, an alliance of more than 80 churches expressed strong disappointment over the government’s decision.
“The repeal is an extremely regrettable decision which will have a profound impact on the culture that our children and future generations of Singaporeans will live in,” it said in response to the law change.
- Ukraine celebrated its independence day Wednesday with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying the country was “reborn” when Russia invaded six months ago, even as Ukrainian authorities remained on high alert over potential Russian attacks, NBC News reported. To commemorate the event, Kyiv’s international allies gave plaudits and fresh commitments of military assistance. US President Joe Biden announced a new package of about $3 billion that he claimed would enable the nation to buy weapons to protect itself in the long run. Despite the celebrations, a Russian attack killed 25 civilians when missiles struck a railway station and a residential area in eastern Ukraine, Reuters added.
- Nearly 16,500 people have been jailed across Russia for opposing the war in the six months since the invasion of Ukraine, according to data published Wednesday by an independent human rights group, the Moscow Times noted. OVD-Info found that the majority of detentions occurred during the first month of hostilities when the Russian parliament passed legislation making nearly any speech or action condemning the war illegal.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been facing criticism in recent days following an interview, where he justified his decision not to inform Ukrainians about details of repeated US warnings that Russia planned to invade the country, according to the Washington Post. Public figures and ordinary citizens have been posting harsh critiques on social media against the leader’s decision, saying that bears at least some responsibility for the atrocities that followed.
A new study on young lizards showed some of the devastating impacts of climate change, the Washington Post reported.
Scientists in France discovered that rising temperatures are causing a species of lizards to give birth to offspring with damaged and aged DNA.
For more than a decade, a research team closely studied the viviparous lizard, a species that is found from Ireland to Japan. Also known as the common lizard, the reptile has a unique reproductive system: It can both lay eggs and give live birth, too.
Researchers took samples of blood and pieces of their tails to catalog the genetic material of hundreds of individuals. They specifically measured caps at the ends of the lizards’ chromosomes called telomeres, which shield the rest of the DNA from fraying or tangling.
Telomeres degrade over time as the species age and as a result of stressors, including rising temperatures.
The findings showed that newborn lizards born in heat-stressed populations had shorter telomeres, suggesting that they were “born old.”
The team explained that shorter telomeres could be passed on by lizard mothers living in hotter areas and lead to DNA degradation over generations. And since most “old” newborns cannot make it to reproductive age, their populations could eventually go extinct.
“Once you are in this circle of events, it’s quite complicated to come back,” said co-author Andréaz Dupoué.
Dupoué and his colleagues noted, however, that the study could encourage other researchers to use telomeres as a measure to figure out if conservation efforts are working.
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