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Monday, July 22, 2013

Mass Jailbreaks in Iraq

500 inmates have escaped from two jails in Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Taji, after a brutal, sustained attack that left 56 dead – 26 security personnel, 20 prisoners and 10 attackers. Masked gunmen fired mortar rounds at the jails, set off car bombs at the entrances and used three suicide bombers. Among the escapees are at least four high-ranking al-Qaeda members, and a senior member of Iraq’s security and defense committee in parliament claimed that “most of them were convicted senior members of al-Qaeda and had received death sentences.”

The attacks come one year after al-Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate announced it would target the justice system. It represents the most serious challenge from al-Qaeda that the government has faced in years. Elsewhere in Iraq today, a military convoy and a group of policemen were attacked, leaving at least 33 dead.

Detroit Pensioners in Limbo

Detroit’s workers, retirees and pension funds have challenged Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s decision to file for bankruptcy, concerned by the severe cuts to the pensions of current retirees that would ensue. On Friday, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina ordered Orr to withdraw the bankruptcy petition he filed the day before, noting that it violated Michigan’s constitution, which bans the governor from cutting the retirement benefits of public workers. The governor has filed an appeal and a federal court judge has set the hearing for Wednesday.

Detroit’s $18 billion in debts led the city to file for bankruptcy, although Orr and Governor Rick Snyder stressed that the majority of the city’s obligations are funded. They only intend to cut unfunded pensions and healthcare costs, arguing that they “don’t have a choice.” Despite this, they indicated that they would not apply for any federal aid and did not say how much they intended to cut from retirees’ pensions.

EU Puts Hezbollah’s Armed Wing On Terrorist Blacklist

EU foreign ministers unanimously agreed to list Hezbollah’s armed wing as a terrorist organization, making it illegal for people in Europe to send the group money, and freezing all of its European assets. The US has had Hezbollah on its own blacklist for years; the EU has, until now, refused to blacklist Hezbollah, over concerns that it would fuel instability in Lebanon.  Two factors seem to have been behind the switch: Hezbollah’s links to the bombing of a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and their active support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.

The move is intended to impede Hezbollah’s ability to function, but its implementation will be difficult, since authorities will have to unravel the connections between the group’s military and political wings (the political wing is not blacklisted). Additionally, Hezbollah does not seem to have any substantial assets or fundraisers in Europe, so this gesture will end up being little more than a political slap on the wrist.

Colombia’s Peace Talks with the FARC in Doubt

This past Saturday, Colombia’s Independence Day, saw the biggest blow to Colombia-FARC peace talks since November. Members of the FARC ambushed and killed 15 soldiers in Aruca state, and four other soldiers in Donacello, which is their traditional stronghold. President Juan Michael promised retaliation, ordering the military high command to put “the entire machinery of war” to work against the rebel group. So far, 12 people have been arrested.

The attacks threw doubt over ongoing peace talks with the government, which had been cited by analysts as the best chance of ending the insurgency in more than 50 years. Both sides had agreed on land reform, although nothing will be settled until agreements on the entire 6-point plan are reached.

Female Genital Mutilation More Unpopular, Still Prevalent

A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund announced that the practice female genital mutilation is gradually declining in many countries, even those in which the practice is deeply entrenched. In more than half of the 29 counties in African and the Middle East, teenaged girls were less likely to have been cut than their mothers, with the most drastic improvements seen in Kenya, Tanzania and the Central African Republic. Additionally, it found that most girls and women – and a significant number of boys and men – opposed the practice. In Chad, Guinea and Sierra Leone, more men wanted it banned than women.

In countries where it remains nearly universal, however, not much has changed. In Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, Eritrea and Mali between 89 and 98% of all women had been cut. Egypt’s levels have only dropped from 96% (of women over 40) to 81% (of 15- to 19 year-olds).  UNICEF estimates that 125 million girls and women have been cut and another 30 million girls are at risk over the next decade.


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