Iraqi Politicians Fear U.S. Pullout

While Congress debates (or refuses to debate) a withdrawal timeline for Iraq, most Sunni and Shia Arab parties in the Iraqi parliament are getting nervous at the prospect of losing the protective presence of U.S. troops. A Sunni-led group called the Iraqi Accord Front has reversed its earlier position, which was for an immediate U.S. withdrawal. Leaving now, the group says, would shift power to “outlaws” and send Iraq “back to the middle ages.” [The Associated Press reported today that the “Accordance Front” has since announced its withdrawal from the Iraqi government over failure to disband militias and other security measures.]
Only parliament members allied with Muqtada al-Sadr still advocate for an immediate pull-out, which some analysts attribute to the fact that Sadr’s allies have enough power to overwhelm the weak Iraqi Army and take over. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to disagree with officials in parliament, saying last month that U.S. troops could leave “any time.”

Mommy, I Got the Safe-Sex Merit Badge!

The U.K.-based Girl Guides are raising a few eyebrows, and acknowledging the realities of modern life, by initiating a new program of sex education, debt management, and such basics of today’s home life as “flat-pack” furniture assembly. The decision follows a survey of Girl Guides in the United Kingdom to determine the priorities of a century-old organization that once caused a scandal by encouraging young women to go camping and join sports teams.

“Guides keen to be prepared — for safe sex and living with debt”
The Times (U.K.), July 25, 2007

Copyright Expires on British Invasion

The United Kingdom has denied efforts by Paul McCartney and other figures from music history to extend the copyright from 50 to 70 years on their early hits. This includes the Beatles classic “Please Please Me,” among others. In contrast, the estates of U.K. novelists enjoy copyright protection for 70 years beyond the author’s death. In the United States, performers retain copyright on their work for 95 years past the original release of a recording. Source:
“U.K. won’t extend copyright on rockers’ old hits”
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, July 24, 2007

Mexican Drug Sting Bites Back

A drug bust that netted $205 million gave Mexican President Felipe Calderon bragging rights back in March, but has since turned into a PR nightmare. Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese immigrant and Mexican national, was accused of importing tons of methamphetamine ingredients, but turned the tables by claiming that the money was actually illegal campaign cash, and that Calderon’s operatives threatened to kill him if he didn’t hide it during last year’s election. Noticias de Oaxaca reports that his alleged ties to Calderon’s ruling National Action Party and the Mexican military have put all concerned on the defensive, and that the $205 million is now considered emblematic of government collusion with drug barons. While Mexico’s opposition parties have called for an investigation, Ye Gon is a free man in New York City, having fled the country after being tipped off, allegedly by complicit police officers, about an impending raid on his home. The DEA, meanwhile, won’t arrest or extradite him, saying they don’t have the proper “paperwork.”

Azerbaijan and Armenia: War Without End

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that killed 30,000 people and created one million refugees supposedly ended 13 years ago with a ceasefire in 1994 — but the countries are still at war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory in Azerbaijan controlled by ethnic Armenian forces. Ordinary citizens are now caught in the middle. Azeri farmers living along the borders of the war zone dodge bullets as they attempt to sow vegetables and graze cattle; their irrigation water is blocked by Armenian forces and a lake that used to feed into six local villages has dried up. Traveling across the war zone to visit the nearest town six kilometers away requires a special pass, American and European efforts to resolve the issue diplomatically have failed, and the president of Azerbaijan is threatening a new war if the Armenians do not give up the occupied territory. The government of Azerbaijan also refuses to recognize the results of an upcoming presidential election in Nagorno- Karabakh because they do not consider it a separate state.

Big Boom in Baghdad Home Shares

Sunnis in the south of Baghdad, and Shias in the north, have been forced out of their homes as their neighborhoods came under control of militants of another sect. Rather than flee the country, however, their solution has been to swap homes with a Sunni or Shia family in the same situation. These home swaps are “booming,” according to a real estate agent who claims to have arranged 211 such deals so far. The practice is not without its risks, however; sometimes the houses of uprooted families are “claimed” by the visiting family who, with help from local militants, decide it’s theirs to keep. Source:
“Iraq: Sunni, Shia families swap homes in bid to remain safe”
IRIN (U.N.), July 5, 2007

The Two Burials of Kamal Jalil Uthman

U.S. military officials took credit for killing a top al Qaeda leader — twice. After a recent announcement that Kamal Jalil Uthman, the leader of al Qaeda terrorists in Mosul and a “very dangerous terrorist,” was killed in a raid last month, a reporter from the Examiner noticed that the military had already taken credit for killing Uthman last year. Questioned by a reporter, a military spokesman admitted officials “probably could do a better job” on labeling previous killings. A few hours later, a second spokesman called to say Iraqi officials had captured, not killed, Uthman last year and released him this spring for unknown reasons, after which he was killed by U.S. forces. Source:
“Iraqis set free terrorist, U.S. forces kill him”
The Examiner, July 6, 2007

Al Qaeda Spreads

Even as Al Qaeda sympathizers in the United Kingdom make headlines, the terrorist group has seen affiliates taking root in other countries. In Algeria, officers arrested 13 minors, some as young as 12, and dismantled a terrorist training camp near Algiers in early June. The young soldiers were members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an outlawed group that calls itself the “North African branch” of Al Qaeda. The Salafist Group has also come to Spain, where officials arrested two suspected members last week and alleged they were recruiting fighters to be trained in camps as far away as Mali, Niger and Mauritania. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in Algeria in April, saying its goal was to end the Spanish occupation of the municipalities of Ceuta and Melilla.

Russia’s Thirst for Oil

Russia has been single-minded in ensuring its hegemony over oil rights and delivery throughout Eastern Europe, and now seeks to edge out its American competitors in providing oil to Western Europe as well, say analysts. Vladimir Putin shocked observers by announcing a plan to annex a 460,000 square mile chunk of oil-rich Arctic last week. Russian scientists claim there is evidence showing that its northern Arctic region is connected to the North Pole by an underwater shelf. Critics counter that Canada could make the same claim — and besides which, nobody owns the North Pole. Putin also met with the leaders of eight Balkan countries to persuade them to back his new Italy-backed venture to build a gas pipeline under the Black sea from Russia to Bulgaria, saying it would benefit all of Europe.

Poverty is a Plague for Africa's Children

A gangrenous affliction of the face called noma is surging among impoverished, malnourished children in West Africa, and now appears to infecting HIV-positive adults as well. Aid workers told the U.N. news agency that the disease is not transmitted, and could be prevented with improved nutrition and improved living conditions. Niger and Burkina Faso, the centers of the African surge, have the world’s highest rates of underweight and undernourished children. The disease, which is not yet taught in medical schools, rots facial tissue, causing the skin to scab off all the way to the jaw. Health workers are only now beginning to recognize the symptoms; survivors are disfigured for the rest of their lives.