Crisis pulls US towards Iraq; Syria slides to Somalia-like future; Tesla releases patents to all; Why women are being hanged in India

1 Crisis pulls US towards Iraq (Martin Chulov in The Guardian) Barack Obama has set the stage for renewed US military action in Iraq after the authorities in Baghdad proved powerless to stop relentless Islamist insurgents from seizing further swaths of a country in danger of breaking apart. The US president said his national security chiefs were looking at any and every way they could help the Iraqi authorities take the fight to thousands of Sunni jihadists who have seized three of the country’s biggest cities and vowed to march on Baghdad.

US troops withdrew from Iraq in late 2011 after an eight-year occupation of the country that began with the 2003 invasion. On Thursday the US began airlifting planeloads of its citizens from Iraq. Kurdish fighters poured into the disputed northern city of Kirkuk to head off the militants from Isis, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, whose fighters have surged through the north in recent days, encountering little or no resistance from Iraqi army troops who have deserted in their thousands.

The streets of Baghdad were eerie and empty as Isis members took to social media taunting residents that they were advancing towards the capital. Local people have been stockpiling food, fearing that a much talked about enemy is almost at the city’s gates. Iraqi officials estimate the total number of Isis forces in Iraq at around 6,000, spread between Mosul, Ramadi, Falluja, Tikrit and the surrounding countryside.

Isis has been handing out flyers in the towns it has seized assuring residents who have remained that it is there to protect their interests. The campaign for hearts and minds is gaining some traction, with some residents railing against perceived injustices at the hands of the Shia majority government. But on Thursday it said it would introduce sharia law in Mosul and other towns, warning women to stay indoors and threatening to cut off the hands of thieves. “People, you have tried secular regimes … This is now the era of the Islamic State,” it proclaimed.

2 Syria slides to Somalia-like future (Khaleej Times) Over the last four days, the Syrian civil war has taken a dramatic turn. The first major rebel attack with tanks and artillery has been reported in the south of the country, and appears to have been staged against an important Syrian army position in Deraa, which is due south of Damascus. From all accounts, this is the first time in the more than three-year-old war that the rebels have fielded a large, well-ordered force armed with tanks and heavy mortars.

More than 160,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which grew out of protests against President Bashar Al Assad in March 2011 that are seen as having been inspired by uprisings in the wider Arab world. Outside the immediate region and the Middle East, several countries that have sought to foster a peace deal have in fact misjudged the Syrian crisis; they expected President Assad’s rule to crumble as other leaders’ had done in the Middle East within the last five years.

The fear now is that Syria is descending into a Somalia-style territory run partially by warlords, and that such a possible future poses a grave threat to the Middle East. There is already a humanitarian crisis caused by the three years of conflict. The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon exceeded one million this April, in what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees called a “devastating milestone” for Lebanon, itself a small country.

3 Tesla releases patents to all (Julie Balise in San Francisco Chronicle) Tesla Motors will not pursue patent lawsuits against other automakers that use its electric car technology in good faith, CEO Elon Musk wrote in a blog post. The company originally patented its technology to prevent major manufacturers from using their manufacturing, sales, and marketing resources to overwhelm Tesla. This has not proven to be the case, according to Musk.

Zero emission cars make up a small part of sales for major automakers, Musk wrote, with only a few companies producing a limited volume of models that have limited range. Manufacturers produce almost 100 million new vehicles per year. Tesla can’t make electric vehicles fast enough to “address the carbon crisis,” Musk wrote.

“Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day,” Musk wrote.

4 Why women are being hanged in India (Geeta Pandey on BBC) Four women have been found hanging from trees in remote villages in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the last fortnight. The families of at least three of the dead, two of them teenage cousins, have alleged that they were murdered after being raped. Is this spate of grisly murders new? Such crimes are not new to Uttar Pradesh, indeed to India.

As a young girl, when I visited my grandparents in my tiny ancestral village in Pratapgarh district in the state during my annual summer vacations, I sometimes heard my mother and our neighbours talk about assaults on women. The perpetrators were almost always men from my community – high-caste Brahmins. And the victims were almost always lower-caste or Dalit (formerly untouchable) women. Nobody went to the police because, as my mother said, they were often considered part of the problem.

Certainly in the years since my childhood, things have changed – slowly, but surely. Could stricter rape laws actually be part of the problem? Some campaigners say it could be making women more vulnerable. The victims are being killed because the rapists want to finish off the main witness, they say.

Why are the women being hanged? Some say this might appear the easiest way to attackers to get rid of evidence and pass murder off as suicide. But police and state administration officials disagree and suggest in some cases guilty families are trying to pass “honour killings” off as rape and murder. The head of forensic medicine and toxicology at Delhi’s AIIMS hospital says hanging is “generally a method of suicide” and is “very rarely” used for murder.

“To hang someone is not easy,” Dr Sudhir Kumar Gupta says, but adds, “unless someone is totally defenceless and unconscious.” I ask him if the group of men who allegedly killed two teenage cousins last month could have beaten them into submission before hanging them? “Maybe,” he says.

Why Uttar Pradesh? India’s most populous state with more than 200 million people is also one of the poorest states with more than 40% of its population living below the poverty line. Like much of north India, the state is still largely patriarchal and feudal and women are regarded as inferior to men. Two weeks ago, when a photograph of the two teenage cousins hanging from the branches of a mango tree appeared on news websites and social media, there was outrage across India.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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