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Monday, July 22, 2013

Hundreds Escape in Abu Ghraib Prison Break

A daring raid carried out by insurgents on the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons in Baghdad Sunday night left 25 members of Iraq’s security forces dead and freed hundreds of inmates. The attack featured a coordinated array of mortar shelling, and suicide and car bombs, and led to an hour-long firefight with Iraqi forces.

While there were no initial reports of prisoners escaping from Taji, officials stated that over 500 inmates did escape from Abu Ghraib during the assault. The majority of the escaped prisoners were apparently senior members of al-Qaeda, according to one Iraqi MP, and many of those prisoners had been previously sentenced to death.

The brazen attacks were just the latest in a string of assaults and suicide attacks that have left more than 450 dead throughout Iraq in July alone. Shawan Mohammed Taha, an Iraqi lawmaker who spoke to the New York Times, said “This big security failure shows that the top security commanders have failed to sort out any solutions for the ongoing security deterioration. The terrorists, not the security forces, are now taking the initiative.”

Goldman Sachs Earns Billions Manipulating Aluminum Market

David Kocieniewski of the New York Times reported over the weekend on a complex scheme orchestrated by investment bank Goldman Sachs, in which the firm takes advantage of international pricing regulations to drag out shipments of aluminum to industrial buyers, driving up prices and making themselves millions of extra dollars in rent and storage fees.

Goldman Sachs purchased Metro International three years ago. The latter company’s warehouses around the Detroit area house nearly a quarter of all aluminum on the open market. Since Goldman’s acquisition, the typical turnaround time for a wholesale aluminum purchase (from the initial order through delivery) has ballooned from six weeks to more than 16 months. Those delays increase prices, and generate additional fees for Goldman and Metro for housing the aluminum.

The process adds only about one tenth of a cent to a typical purchase of a can of soda, but according to analysts and consultants, the scheme has made Goldman Sachs and other players close to $5 billion (U.S.) over the last three years. Similar maneuvering has been employed by investment banks in a variety of industries, thanks to looser federal oversight. J.P. Morgan is currently negotiating a settlement over the rigging of electricity prices that could cost it $500 million.

Metro International blames the increased delays on logistical issues, and nothing that they nor Golden Sachs have done is illegal. The London Metal Exchange (LME), which oversees the industry, is beginning to address the issue of such delays and their impact on the market, but such change is slow coming. Existing LME regulations require storage facilities to move a minimum of 3,000 tons of aluminum each day. Metro gets around this by simply moving those assets back-and-forth, amongst its own warehouses. The Exchange is attempting to tighten regulations and close such loopholes.

Nick Madden, an official with one major aluminum purchaser told the Times “We’re relieved that the LME is finally taking an action that ultimately will help the market and normalize, however, we’re going to take another year of inflated premiums and supply chain risk.”

FARC Attacks Threaten to Undermine Talks with Colombia

Two separate clashes over the weekend between the Colombia military and members of the rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) left 19 soldiers dead, and Colombia’s president vowing a reprisal. In one attack employing explosives, 15 soldiers guarding an oil pipeline construction site near the Venezuelan border were killed. FARC maintains a strong presence in that region and has frequently targeted a number of oil pipelines.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to the region on Sunday and called for more troops on the ground to target the rebel group. “Our hearts are with the families of the 15 heroes who sacrificed their lives in Arauca for the tranquillity and security of their fellow citizens,” Santos declared.

The latest clashes are likely to impact recent negotiations for peace talks between FARC and the government. The rebels had requested a cease-fire, along with talks in Havana, Cuba, but Santos refused. The government has stepped up efforts to defeat the group, which has maintained an insurgency in Colombia for nearly a half-century, reportedly capturing or killing at least 500 rebels in recent months.

Deadly Earthquakes Kill Scores in China

At least 75 people have been killed and more than 600 injured after a series of earthquakes struck near the Chinese city of Dingxi early Monday. The quakes also reportedly caused widespread damage, and an official with the region’s earthquake bureau told reporters “More than 21,000 buildings were severely damaged and more than 1,200 have collapsed.” The initial magnitude 6.6 tremor was followed less than two hours later by a second, 5.6 magnitude quake. Damage and injuries were still being assessed, and the death toll could rise, as the worst-hit regions were without electricity and telephone services, making contact and assessment efforts difficult.

U.S. Navy Bombs the Great Barrier Reef

Two Harrier jets from U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet dropped four unarmed bombs, totaling nearly 4,000 pounds, into Australia’s historic Great Barrier Reef Marine Park last week. The Navy described the incident as a training exercise that went wrong, and argued that the devices posed no threat to the area’s marine life. The bombs were intended to be dropped at a nearby bombing range, but the presence of civilian boats in the area led to the original mission being aborted. The Navy said the pilots jettisoned the bombs into the ocean because they were low on fuel and couldn’t land on their carrier, the USS Bonhamme Richard, with the bomb loads still attached.

Australian Senator Larissa Waters was outraged by the incident. “Have we gone completely mad?” she told Australia’s ABC radio. “Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?”

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