The Most Dangerous Dam in the World: Mosul Dam

Middle East & North Africa

The Mosul Dam is in danger of collapse due to the increased rainstorms and the resulting flood would be devastating. As Iraq’s largest dam, it would send a 15 foot wall of water down the river to Baghdad and Mosul would be engulfed in a flood. The immediate impact would result in approximately 500,000 people’s deaths and the environmental impact could severely harm the quality of life for people in the Nineveh, Kirkuk, and Salahadin provinces. Specifically, the resulting famine and disease would affect the region for years to come.

   Maintenance work on the dam is the Iraqi government’s responsibility, but has not taken place since 2014. The necessary repairs to stop the erosion are estimated at a cost of $250 million to $500 million, according to members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party MP in the Kurdistan parliament.

    The threat of demise arises from the soil foundation of the dam. It is built on water soluble soils that must be constantly replenished to prevent collapse. The combination of gypsum, anhydrite, marl, and limestone continually dissolve in water. 

   The Mosul Dam was once known as Saddam Dam. Constructed in 1983, it stands 113 meters high and 3650 meters long along the Tigris River. It is the second largest dam in the Middle East and provides electricity to 1.7 million residents in Mosul.

   Following the immediate wave, disease would surely follow. Water-borne diseases, such as cholera would run ramped. Iraq already experienced a cholera outbreak in September due to the influx of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Floods typically submerge with sewer systems, which would only intensify the outbreak. The strength of the water deluge from the Mosul Dam would also destroy several buildings which could contain an array of toxic materials such as paints and gasoline.

   The danger of the Mosul Dam isn’t solely structural. In August of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized the dam, but Kurdish peshmerga forces took it back. Sitting on the frontline, there is no doubt a collapse would have a significant impact on the battle between ISIS and the peshmerga forces.

   However, Iraqi officials are dismissing the US reports of the danger as alarmist.  A US Army Corps of  Engineers report stated that decomposition of the soil is occurring at a faster rate than it did before construction in 2007. The report went so far as to call the dam the most dangerous in the world.

   If repairs are not made as soon as possible, Iraq will have another national crisis to deal with.

 

More than Numbers: A Snapshot of Life as a Syrian Refugee

Middle East & North Africa

I have the privilege of volunteering for the Rise Foundation’s Castle Art Project at the Akre Syrian Refugee Camp every Friday in Iraq. Originally one of Saddam Hussein’s prison camps, the project aims to empower the children to change their desolate environment by painting murals.

For most, the Syrian refugee crisis is a long number and a tragedy. At least, that’s the general response I get from people back home. But that long number ( estimated at 9.5 million) is made up of faces, hands, and hearts that feel just like ours. That tragedy is someone’s life story, for better or worse.

Rather than rant about how we should look at and treat the refugee crisis, I’d like to show you some of the profound people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Be sure to check out the Castle Art Project as well.

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The Matti Friedman Story: A Different Perspective on Israel

Americas, Middle East & North Africa

Matti Friedman

Former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman outlined a behind-the-scenes look at what he considers media bias against Israel in a presentation sponsored by the American Jewish Committee in Newton, MA on February 3rd.

Friedman recently published two stories about the media coverage of Israel titled, “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth” in Tablet and “What the Media Gets Wrong About Israel” in The Atlantic.

“The narrative of Israel is very carefully engineered,” said Friedman at Temple Emanuel.

Both stories received viral positive and negative attention. The overarching theme in both articles states that journalists craft their stories in the Gaza Strip to fit a single narrative of Israel as the ultimate perpetrator.

He lists several examples of publishing certain stories against the Associated Press’ code of conduct as long as they fit the Palestinian side of the story.

One of his examples is refusing to quote a pro-Israel NGO called Monitor who had made concessions about Israel’s war crimes, but accepting pro-Palestinian anonymous sources against the Associated Press ethics code.

The Associated Press issued a press release on Dec 1, 2014 refuting these claims.

His [Friedman] arguments have been filled with distortions, half-truths and inaccuracies, both about the recent Gaza war and more distant events. His suggestion of AP bias against Israel is false. There’s no ‘narrative’ that says it is Israel that doesn’t want peace; the story of this century-long conflict is more complicated than that.”

   The Director of the American Jewish Committee, Robert Leikind, introduced Friedman as “telling a different kind of story about Israel.”

Although the majority of the approximately 200 attendees were Jewish, many brought up varying viewpoints on Friedman’s claims. Some audience members nodded their heads in agreement fervently, others chose to leave early, and a couple dared to directly question him.

One attendant contested Friedman’s claim that the Associated Press’ Jerusalem Bureau hired up to 40 full time staff to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the most important issue in the Middle East. Friedman’s peg was that the Associated Press only had 1 part time stringer in Syria, where thousands of more people were dying.

The attendee, who asked not to be named, directly refuted the claim and asked whether or not that could be seen as a safety issue rather than clear cut bias.

Despite the intensity of the discussion, Friedman stayed strong through the hot spots. He went as far as admitting fault on his part as a Jewish reporter.

“During my time at the AP, I was overcorrecting not to show bias,” Friedman said.

Friedman didn’t rest all blame on the press corps, though. He raised the point that no prior knowledge is required to cover conflicts such as these and gave the example of his coverage of the Russian invasion of Georgia.

“When you have a lack of knowledge, you’re more susceptible to group think,” said Friedman.

He also raised a concern about college students’ perceptions of Israel a few times throughout the event.

“Those are the ones that are going to be journalists and congressional aides. They’re the ones witnessing Israel being portrayed as a pariah,” he said.

A Ceasefire in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Now What?

Middle East & North Africa, Regions
Credit: Creative Commons

Credit: Creative Commons

After an eventful and volatile summer, Israel and Palestine finally reached a ceasefire in the last week of August. While Hamas claimed victory, urging Palestinians to dance in the streets, the 2014 ceasefire is almost identical to the deal reached during the last Gaza war in 2012. Both deals call for:

  1. An end to hostilities on both sides
  2. Opening of pathways across the border for goods and people, depending upon security
  3. Egypt to monitor and follow up if either side take action against the other

While everyone is hoping that the deal sticks this time, something in the international air has changed. U.S.-Israel relations, typically a strong strategic partnership, face some difficult challenges ahead.

The collapse of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace talks left bitter feelings throughout the administration about the reality of a two-state solution even before the war. Obama’s withholding of the Hellfire missiles, American Airline’s 2 day suspension of flights to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, and Israel’s takeover of 1,000 acres of West Bank lands have added even more strain to a weathered relationship. Not to mention the staggering numbers of dead Palestinians and the upcoming U.N.investigation into Israel’s military tactics in Gaza.

An end to the fighting is definitely welcome in the international community, but the next step has to be taken before the cycle repeats itself.

Morocco: Sexual Harassment to Be Expected

Middle East & North Africa, Regions

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Sitting outside the medina in Marrakech at midnight waiting for our bus, I watch as my host family brags about the steals they made in merchandise haggling with the street vendors. I turn my face to the left for a second, hoping to see our bus make it’s way through the forever busy streets. Instead, my eyes fall on an elderly lady fighting off a young male attacker.

I watch at first in puzzlement, and then in dread as the man dressed in all black attempts again and again to grab the old woman’s face and plant a kiss on her horrified face. She is shouting and shoving, but nobody is coming to her rescue. Quite the opposite, many male onlookers are laughing while women duck their heads and hurry past.

He doesn’t stop badgering the old woman until she hands him what looks to be like 20 dirhams. After he walks away, she picks up her bags and hurries to wait for her bus on the other side of the square.

Satisfied for mere seconds, the young man dressed in all black continues on the chase after any woman who appears to be leaving the square alone. I watch as countless women run away from him or fall prey to his trickery.

Upon my arrival in Morocco, I attended an orientation session that included a class in Moroccan Arabic, Moroccan history, and finally a segment on street harassment.

It’s harmless, they say. Keep your head down and you won’t be bothered, they tell you. What I witnessed did not look harmless. Women did keep their heads down and ignored the man’s catcalling, but it only seemed to encourage the man to victimize them.

Although Morocco is one of the most progressive and advanced countries in Africa, there is still a troubling wide gap in their system.

In 2012, a sixteen year old girl named Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her. Her suicide prompted a revolution to get Article 475 of the penal code, a law allowing rapists of underage girls to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims, amended.

Article 475 declares a prison term of one to five years for a person who “abducts or deceives a minor, under 18 years of age, without violence, threat or fraud, or attempts to do so.”

However, the second clause of that article specifies that when the minor marries the man, “he can no longer be prosecuted except by persons empowered to demand the annulment of the marriage and then only after the annulment has been proclaimed.” Essentially, a victim cannot pursue prosecution independently.

The article was successfully repealed in January 2014 due to international outcries over Filali’s suicide. But Morocco still has a long way to go.

A recent study conducted by the state planning commission (HCP), states that one out of two unmarried women in Morocco were subjected to physical and/or verbal sexual violence in 2012. The study also claims that 9% of women in Morocco have been subjected to physical sexual violence at least once.

These numbers can’t go on. The abuse women are experiencing every day must end, and it shouldn’t take a suicide to make the world call for gender equality in Morocco. The country has so much to offer its citizens and outside travelers, but first it must change the way in which women are treated.

Afghan Elections: A Country in Transition

Middle East & North Africa, Regions

Afghanistan underwent presidential and provincial elections this week with surprising success despite Taliban promises to wreak havoc. According to the Afghanistan Interior Ministry the casualties were limited to:

  • 9 police officers dead
  • 7 Afghan army members dead
  • 89 insurgents dead
  • 4 civilians dead
  • 43 civilians injured

While we may balk at the thought of anyone murdered because of election day, these numbers are relatively low in perspective with the Taliban’s threat of violence.

However, the overall success of the democratic election remains to be seen. Preliminary results aren’t expected until April 24th; and if a candidate doesn’t secure more than 50% of the vote runoff elections will take place on May 28th.

Despite these stipulations there is a general approval for the implementation of the democratic process into a country plagued by one of the world’s most extreme terrorist organizations. A survey conducted by the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) showed that 92% of Afghan citizens support the idea of a democratic election. 73% of respondents also said that peace was among their top issues.

The frontrunners of the 2014 elections have been:

Ashraf Ghani

Ashraf Ghani

Zalmai Rassoul

Zalmai Rassoul

Zalmai Rassoul

Zalmai Rassoul

Afghanistan still has a long way to go. The withdrawal by the end of this year of most NATO troops has most countries worried. It is expected the Taliban will probably expand into troop vacated areas first, and unless the bilateral agreement is signed there won’t be any American forces there to stop it. President Karzai is still holding out on this, although all presidential candidates have said they will sign the agreement if elected.

The country as a whole resembles 1989 Afghanistan after the Soviet Union ended. That was the last time Afghanistan experienced a transitioning national government. The instability in the 90’s is what led to Taliban control of Afghanistan in the first place, whose to say history won’t repeat itself now?

The responsibility of fighting Taliban insurgency will fall on the Afghan National Security Forces, made up of 248,000 active troops and 28,000 local police. All of whom rely on international funding to function.

The next couple years will be an uphill battle for Afghanistan, and the winner of the recent presidential election will determine whether the country continues to progress or regress back into the Taliban’s clutches.

BBC Timeline of Major Afghanistan Events

Child Sorcerers in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Middle East & North Africa, Regions

As the United Nations announces it’s gradual withdrawal from the Democratic Republic of Congo today despite the growing rebel forces, a serious human rights issue gets the green light.

As of May 2013, 50,ooo children were accused of witchcraft. The child sorcerers are said to be possessed by dark powers, causing them to strangle parents in their sleep, eat the hearts of their siblings, and spread HIV and polio.

In reality, the ‘child sorcerer’ is anything but. Typically, the consist of children born with an unusual birthmark or a poor family. 70% of street kids in the DR Congo claim to be accused of witchcraft. According to the UNICEF report Children Accused of Witchcraft, the children are roaming the streets of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi most.

Dumping a child on the street or a church is a quick fix for the increasingly dire poverty of Congolese citizens. The constitution prohibits the abandonment of children accused of sorcery under a punishment of imprisonment, but the lack of implementation encourages families to do so.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is 80% Christian, and a surge in eglises de reveil, or revival churches has played a hand in an increase of exorcisms.  According to the Human Rights Watch Report, some church leaders and community members also beat, starve, and abandon children accused of witchcraft.

If the UN can’t be bothered to sustain a peacekeeping mission in opposition to the rebel forces, what will inspire them to stop the abuse and murder of children?

 

Central Africa Republic: “Never Again” Except This Once?

Middle East & North Africa, Regions, Uncategorized

Two decades ago the world made a vow to ‘never again’ let genocide like the Holocaust, Rwanda, or Bosnia reoccur. Organizations like the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International sprung up with missions to deter and stop future genocide.

And yet, genocide may be developing right under our noses. The situation in the Central Africa Republic has received media attention for the coup that removed the government in March 2013 and the lynching of a young Christian man by Muslims in February 2014. The news reports have hinted at the ethnic conflict developing into genocide, but no successful action has been taken.

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Photo Credit: Breibart via Creative Commons

 

Why did the conflict develop?

Currently, 1 million of the C.A.R.’s 4.6 million population has fled their homes, and over 2,000 people have been murdered in the last 11 months.

At its heart, the conflict developed after a coup led by a Muslim militia disposed of former President Francois Bozize for war crimes and broken promises. But this wasn’t the first coup the C.A.R has faced. Since gaining independence from France in 1960, there have been 5.

The difference is this coup ensued an violent uprising of minority Muslims against the Christian majority. But the angry uprising stemmed from more than a corrupt leader.

The Central African Republic is a country rich in natural resources like gold and diamonds. Traders tend to be Muslims and miners tend to be Christians. The give and take bargaining relationship between the miners and the middlemen is the true friction that led to the current wildfire.

Photo Credit: Free Stock via Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Free Stock via Creative Commons

The antibalaka (antimachete) are the Christian militias who have the upper-hand out of sheer majority. They are hunting down Muslim rebels, or the Seleka, who target Christians. Unfortunately, since Seleka was dissolved by leader Michael Djotodia in September 2013, the antibalaka have just been killing Muslims. In response, Muslims have formed another militia group to defend themselves, the Organization of Islamic Resistance.

Interim President Catherine Samba- Panza, former mayor of Bangui, has less than a year to resolve the mess before the next elections are held.

Is it genocide?

No. At least not yet, but it has the potential. Currently, the situation in the C.A.R. can be classified as an “ethnic cleansing.”

Ethnic cleansing is a relatively new term, developed in response to the conflict in Yugoslavia. Refined and redefined, the U.N. Security Council defines ethnic cleansing as the

“Purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas”

While the conflict in the C.A.R. has all the catalysts the Rwanda Genocide displayed, it has not spiraled into the total annihilation of one ethnic group yet. But if the West does not join the French and the African Union peacekeeping forces, it may have to redefine it’s definition of “never again.”

Current Syrian Conflict

Middle East & North Africa

One of today’s most complicated international conflicts, the Syrian Uprising has put a serious strain on international relations. Over 130,000 Syrians have died and 2.3 million others have fled the country as refugees. In response, the United Nations and other world

2012 Conflict Map via Freedom House- Creative Commons

2012 Conflict Map via Freedom House- Creative Commons

powers have sponsored peace talks between rebel forces and the regime.

Quick history on conflict

Rebels vs. Assad

The rebel forces want a transitional regime change. At the peace talks in Geneva, the opposition is being led by the Syrian National Coalition.

The Syrian regime, led by President Bashar al-Assad, is fighting to remain in power. At the peace talks, the Assad administration’s focus is counterterrorism.

The X Factor

One group’s influence on the Syrian Conflict concerns America more than the civil war itself. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, fights against the rebels to prop up the Assad regime. The U.S. concern? ISIS claims a connection to Al-Qaeda.

Advocates of strict Islam, the group has used the civil instability to grow their terrorist organization. Today, ISIS maintains 9 checkpoints on a main road from Syria’s Atnah to the Turkish border, compared to the 2 checkpoints they established last November.

However, as of February 4th Al Qaeda disassociated ISIS.

“ISIS is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group . . . does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions,” Al-Qaeda’s General Command

The statement is the first time Al Qaeda has officially denied an affiliation. Speculation says the split is due to tensions between group leaders and disapproval of ISIS’s willingness to harm civilians.

What this means for the terrorist group’s future role in Syria remains to be seen.

Western Support

As one of the forefront investors in the peace talks in Geneva, the United States has tried influence both sides to reach an agreement without choosing sides. In reality, the U.S. stands to gain nothing by choosing to exclusively back Assad or the rebels. Neither profit U.S. national interests, and neither present a functioning democratic transitional government.

The first round of talks yielded little progress for either party. They failed to reach any sort of agreement, even the easing of the Syrian government blockade on the delivery of food and medicine to besieged communities was unachievable.

But involved parties remain hopeful for success in Geneva, as the second round of peace talks resume next week.

Further reading on Syria

Syria Live Blog

Highlights of 2014 Munich Security Conference

Americas, Asia, Europe, Middle East & North Africa, Regions

John Kerry, Ban Ki-Moon

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right) greeted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (left) before the 50th Munich Security Conference. Credit: AP Photo

Yesterday concluded the 50th annual Munich Security Conference in Germany. The Conference is a 3 day global platform used to discuss international security policy. A grueling and intensive 72 hours later, our world’s foremost policy makers walked away with these highlighted accomplishments and discussions:

International Cyber Security:

  • Prompted by the recent NSA security breaches, a debate on cyber security ensued. Participants agreed that a common effort for improvement must be implemented.

Peace in Southeastern Europe:

  • After 220 hours of dialogue, Kosovo and Serbia achieved a peace agreement.

More of the Same in Syria:

  • A discussion led by UN Envoy to the Middle East Brahimi on the Syrian Civil War revealed disappointment with the Assad regime, but no progress with Geneva II.
  • Prince Turki Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia accused Assad of genocide and the West (except France) of ignoring the Syrian people.
  • The debate concluded that the UN Security Council needed to increase its’ efforts and countermeasures.

Progress in Iran:

  • U.S. Senator Chris Murphy says the U.S. Senate will not vote on a new round of U.S. sanctions.
  • Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif says they should reopen human rights talks with the European Union.
  • Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel stand by disarmament deal with Iran.

U.S. Perspective:

U.S. officials who attended the conference used the platform to push their support for the Obama administration and certain agenda items.

Kerry’s speech called for the investment in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), a trade investment agreement meant to promote economic growth in the United States and the European Union. T-TIP aims to open EU markets, strengthen rules-based investment, eliminate all tariffs, and promote global competitiveness.

Kerry spoke in support of the chemical weapons deal with Syria, the arms deal with Iran, and the Israel-Palestine peace talks. He also voiced support for Ukraine’s protests, but pledged no U.S. involvement.

Hagel led with what he labeled a successful operation in Afghanistan, followed by support of the French in the Central African Republic. He also spoke on military partnerships with countries such as the U.K. and Spain, and echoed Kerry’s call for a transatlantic renaissance.

Hagel concluded with a defense of the U.S. shrinking defense budget, and a promise to further U.S. influence by working with international allies.

Quotes from Kerry at Conference:

“I was recently in Korea and reminded that 10 of the 15 countries that used to receive aid from the United States of America as recently as in the last 10 years are today donor countries. Think about that: 10 of the 15 and the others are on their way to being donor countries.”

“What we need in 2014 is a transatlantic renaissance, a new burst of energy and commitment and investment in the three roots of our strength: our economic prosperity, our shared security, and the common values that sustain us.”

“If we’re ambitious enough, T-TIP will do for our shared prosperity what NATO has done for our shared security, recognizing that our security has always been built on the notion of our shared prosperity.”

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic European future more important today than in Ukraine. While there are unsavory elements in the streets in any chaotic situation, the vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe and a prosperous country, and they are fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realize their aspirations.”

Quotes from Hagel at Conference:

“In reviewing U.S. defense priorities tempered by our fiscal realities, it’s clear that our military must place an even greater strategic emphasis on working with our allies and partners around the world. That will be a key theme of the Department of Defense’s upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review which will articulate our defense strategy in a changing security and fiscal environment.”

“All of us must work closely together with African nations in helping them build their security forces and institutions. A more collaborative approach to global security challenges will require more defense establishments to cooperate not just on the operational level, but on the strategic level as well.

Despite fiscal constraints, the budget that we will release next month fully protects our investment in European missile defense. Our commitment to Europe is unwavering. Our values and our interests remain aligned. Both principle and pragmatism secure our transatlantic bonds.”

“I would venture to say the United States is more present doing more things in more places today than maybe ever before. How we’re doing it is differently, and it’s what I talked about, what John talked about – capacity-building for our partners, working closer with our partners, being able to do more as we are more creative with these initiatives.”