2014: year in review (by countries, part 2)

2014

 

This is the continuation of previous post I published yesterday. Here are a few more countries under the spotlight this year:

 

Iraq – this country has long been notoriously associated with sectarian strife, the failed US invasions, and right now, a seemingly new synonym is ironically added into once was an influential power in Middle East a millennium ago: ISIS. Since its advent in the middle of this year, this organization, led by a former CIA informant (ha!), has committed numerous atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities across much of the country, most notably Christians and Yazidis. Excluding their poor public-relations exercise by means of decapitation, which, as horrendous as it seems, still continues to entice thousands of foreigners across the whole world to join this movement.

With the Iraqi Army still in partial disarray due to internal conflicts, who else remains in charge of limiting ISIS’s movements? Big kudos to Peshmerga, the army for Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq. While the Army’s offensive has been largely limited (and some even escape), the Peshmerga fighters remain fiercely committed to defending their region, and more generally, the country as a whole, despite the frequent fracas between Baghdad and Erbil (capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) in regard to oil production sharing contracts.

Iran – it has been an uneasy year for President Hassan Rouhani, as nuclear deals with Western countries remain largely in limbo. But one piece of slightly good news abounds: Iran has, for the first time since Ahmadinejad era, achieved positive economic growth, albeit small compared to most emerging markets. With GDP growth estimated at 2%, no matter how small it is, Iran is expected to move slowly into better direction in the years to come.

The big concern that matters, as of my opinion, is the limited freedom of expression that prevails.

Israel / Palestine – “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Gandhi’s quote resonates very obviously in terms of how these two countries relate to each other. A few Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, followed by a retaliation by which a Palestinian child was done so in similar manner. And huge conflicts, due in part to deep scars that remain in both governments, reverberated again, as history has taught. More than 2,000 Palestinian civilians were killed during an offensive by Israeli military in August this year. But is Israel the sole culprit in this conflict? What about Hamas, notoriously known for exploiting civilian places like schools and hospitals to launch unending attacks to Israel? With now Israel dominated by hard-line Zionists, and Palestine partially under control of hard-line leaders as well, the doors towards negotiation and dialogues will not be achievable in the near future.

A piece of good news that remains largely overlooked in this conflict zone: start-ups, mostly in software development and creative products, in both countries are flourishing, and more European countries are recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state.

Japan – Shinzo Abe was reelected as Prime Minister of Japan in a somewhat risky bet he placed in this year’s general election, as his Abenomics was showing failure. In short term, his quantitative easing policy has pumped over trillions of dollars into the market, therefore stimulating exports growth, abundant cash, as well as inflation, the word first time appearing in the news after more than 20 years experiencing continuous periods of deflation. Nonetheless, with Abe’s introduction of consumption tax at 8%, this deals a catastrophic blow for his ambitious initiative intended to revive Japanese economic miracle. With GDP contracting this quarter, the country unofficially enters its recession again. Even his ‘Womenomics’ program, aimed to increase female participation in leadership seats across Japan’s corporations and organizations into 30%, will be hardly achievable in this decade.

In 2015, challenges will not be even easier for Abe, as a whole range of issues will soon face his administration. Revision of US-drafted post-war constitution has attracted massive opposition from largely Japanese public, still traumatized by the deadly repercussions of World War II, even though Japan will never become a militarist power again, given the country’s increasing demographic pressure. His plans to restart nuclear power plants, ratify the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), pass national secrecy laws, and handle Japan’s fragile relations with China similarly encounter big resistance from much of the Japanese population as well. 2014-2018 will not be a smooth path for Abe, were he to continue his tenure.

Libya – the country remains largely fractured three years after Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and brutally murdered by opposition forces in a NATO-led civil war that destroyed Libya in 2011. Some militants have previously formed their own ‘governorate’ in the country’s eastern part, only to face another armed resistance from other fighters, while several ISIS sympathizers have begun to infiltrate the country’s security. Even with Libya’s riches stored abroad (the country’s sovereign wealth fund reaches a staggering amount of 120 billion US$, but mostly in bank accounts in Switzerland, notorious for their secrecy laws), the money can hardly be used for Libyan public, given that much of the money remains under control of Qaddafi’s relatives, many of whom had escaped abroad (except for his son, Saif al-Islam, who may possibly face death sentence).

Malaysia – 2014 is the most disastrous year for the country’s aviation industry, as three airliners belonging to its most reliable carriers, Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia, perished this year. The most puzzling of which was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a scheduled flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing that ended up nowhere. After almost 10 months of investigation, involving hundreds of rescue ships and even war ships from more than 27 countries, not even the slightest trace of the plane can be found. The plane was presumed, as by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, to have ‘ended up somewhere in Indian Ocean’. This makes the search efforts even riskier, given that much of Indian Ocean’s terrains remain largely unmapped, some of which may have depth over 6,000 meters. Four months after this tragedy, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 again became a tragedy, as pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine mistook it as ‘Ukrainian military transport plane’ and shot it down. 239 people in MH370 had never been found, while 298 people in MH17 were instantly killed by the missile launched by the separatists.

And this Sunday, Air Asia, long notable as Asia’s largest low-cost carrier with great safety records, faced its first major crisis with the disappearance of its plane in Air Asia Flight QZ 8501, flying from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, to Singapore. 162 passengers and crew were inside the plane, which remains missing as of this hour.

However, other than aviation disasters, Malaysia faces another major issue in regard to the country’s increasing authoritarian rule, as Najib’s administration restarted decades-old sedition laws, used only during British colonial rule, to detain political opponents without prior permission from judiciary powers, including Anwar Ibrahim, the most outspoken. The country also faces ethnic and religious tumults, as Christians are no longer allowed to use ‘Allah’ in their sermons, and more pro-Malay policies at the expense of Chinese and Indian minorities, many of whom have increasingly emigrated abroad.

Myanmar – the country doesn’t experience much progress in democratic transition, as one-fourth of the national parliament remains solely reserved for military. Even the constitution itself requires a law to be approved by more than three-fourths of the entire members, something which can be easily aborted by the powerful military members.

How the country handles its ethnic minorities will remain a concern to be observed in 2015 and years to come, most commonly illustrated by the country’s failure to relate with Muslim Rohingya minorities, many of whom have fled abroad to avoid persecution by ultra-nationalist Buddhists.

One thing almost for sure: in next year’s 2015 election, there is large probability Aung San Suu Kyi will not become the country’s president, given many of the current constitution’s limitations.

Nigeria – Africa’s most populated country faces its major crisis when Boko Haram, an Islamist movement affiliated with Al-Qaeda in northern Nigeria, kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, sparking an international campaign to free them. However, the kidnapping itself is not the mere problem the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration is being faced with. Continuous suicide-bomb attacks have killed over thousands of civilians in many parts across the country, prompting military operations to capture those involved.

Nonetheless, there remains some good news that is worthy of international attention. The country, given its proximity to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, was once thought as a potential ‘bomb’ for Ebola epidemic to turn itself into a pandemic, given the country’s population that now reaches 170 million, as well as high density, low sanitation, acute poverty, and little awareness about cleanliness. However, within months, less than two dozens of cases took place across the whole country, with the number of mortality countable by fingers. This is something seemingly impossible for many experts, but Nigeria, given the national unity in facing this crisis, has proven to the world that no matter how problematic things seem to be, they can resolve it successfully.

And Nigeria’s GDP has for the first time surpassed that of South Africa, therefore becoming Africa’s largest economy. While oil and gas revenues remain the largest source for government budget (and often corrupted), Nigerian economy has been more diversified in recent years.

North Korea – other than the Kim-Obama fracas about naughty comedy ‘The Interview’ and the subsequent Sony hacking attacks that follow (which may possibly be conducted by third parties using North Korean IP addresses), the country is not as isolated as people perceive anymore. Over hundred thousands of Chinese tourists are now visiting North Korea every year, followed by a large flow of cash from China, its principal ally, largely driven by informal economy that the country is mostly depending upon. As economy has collapsed, majority of the North Koreans have now turned into either smuggling or small trade, and the country’s unofficial currencies are either US dollar, euro, or Chinese yuan (South Korean won is not allowed).

The purge, and eventual execution, of Jang Song-thaek remains a proof, however, that Kim Jong-un can be as ruthless as his grandfather and father were (Jang was his uncle, and a sort of ‘intermediary’ between North Korea and China in terms of economic, trade, and investment relations).

 

(wait for part 3)

 

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A Brief Guide About ISIS

Fighters of  al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant parade at Syrian town of Tel Abyad

 

 

A simple, easy guide to understand the world’s currently ‘richest’, and also most well-organized, terrorist organization (which now operates a nearly fully-functional proto-state). Read the full guide in Urban Times.

NB: It’s just a community post, but don’t worry, it pretty much offers a comprehensive, brief explanation.

 

Excerpt:

 

ISIS Are Billionaires

Speaking of wily tricks and laying claim to sovereign lands, ISIS are not just a band of ragtag nut jobs going gung-ho crazy in the middle of the desert. They are the richest jihadist organization in the world.

Speaking of wily tricks and laying claim to sovereign lands, ISIS are not just a band of ragtag nut jobs going gung-ho crazy in the middle of the desert. They are the richest jihadist organization in the world. The looting of Mosul and other towns in north Iraq gave them ~$1.5 billion in cash and gold bullion. ISIS also have control of a number of Iraqi and Syrian oil fields.

In fact, as they stand, ISIS command a formidable budget of over $2 billion in total. They can buy arms, train armies, hire accomplices, infiltrate organizations and exercise both intelligence and counter-intelligence operations.

To put things in perspective, Al-qaeda’s budget is reported to have been a measly $70-400 million.

 

More bonuses: to gain even more perspectives about this organization, I recommend you to watch VICE News’ direct dispatch of their reporters in covering up the regions ISIS has already controlled. A 5-part documentary, it offers you rare glimpses about life inside this new ‘country’.

 

The War Photo No One Would Publish

first gulf war

 

 

 

Not long after the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 (with more than one million casualties on both sides), Saddam Hussein, then-Iraq’s leader, had his troops aimed, again, at its neighboring country, Kuwait, bringing the exasperated country back at war. The consequences were deadly for both Iraq and Kuwait, and nearly for Saudi Arabia; almost 800,000 US and NATO troops had to be brought in to stop Iraqi troops from invading the wider Middle East region. Thus began First Gulf War in 1991. Nonetheless, the war played upon was all huge mess not only for the military, but also civilians; while hundred thousands of soldiers were either dead or killed under the storms of fires, bombardments, and mortar shells, millions of civilians were also massively displaced. Most depressingly, Iraq had to pay war reparations to Kuwait almost equivalent to 80 billion US$, severely hampering the country’s already fragile financial stability.

But the public worldwide didn’t really have a complete idea about how the war was truly about. Kenneth Jarecke captured raw, real pictures about the worn-out troops, dead bodies, and all gruesome scenery from the battlefields, but none of the mass media wanted to publish his work instead. And much of the public remains concealed by the reality, up to now.

Read the full article in The Atlantic about Jarecke’s photographs.

 

Excerpt:

 

Not every gruesome photo reveals an important truth about conflict and combat. Last month, The New York Times decided—for valid ethical reasons—to remove images of dead passengers from an online story about Flight MH-17 in Ukraine and replace them with photos of mechanical wreckage. Sometimes though, omitting an image means shielding the public from the messy, imprecise consequences of a war—making the coverage incomplete, and even deceptive.

In the case of the charred Iraqi soldier, the hypnotizing and awful photograph ran against the popular myth of the Gulf War as a “video-game war”—a conflict made humane through precision bombing and night-vision equipment. By deciding not to publish it, TIME magazine and the Associated Press denied the public the opportunity to confront this unknown enemy and consider his excruciating final moments.

The image was not entirely lost. The Observer in the United Kingdom and Libération in France both published it after the American media refused. Many months later, the photo also appeared in American Photo, where it stoked some controversy, but came too late to have a significant impact. All of this surprised the photographer, who had assumed the media would be only too happy to challenge the popular narrative of a clean, uncomplicated war. “When you have an image that disproves that myth,” he says today, “then you think it’s going to be widely published.”

The Iraqi who saved Norway

al farouk

 

 

The story of how Farouk al-Kasim, an Iraqi oil engineer, seeking refuge out of his country’s internal turmoil, ended up rescuing the whole Norwegian nation from their resource curse, the ‘Dutch disease’. Read the full article on Financial Times.

 

Excerpt:

 

In 1952, the Iraq Petroleum Company had reluctantly agreed to train young Iraqis to work alongside its colonial-era masters. It would sponsor batches of Iraqi students to study abroad with the promise of a job afterwards. At only 16, the precocious al-Kasim was selected for the first intake and sent to study petroleum geology at Imperial College London. He returned to Iraq in 1957 – by then married to Solfrid, who had been working in London as an au pair.

Once home, al-Kasim started his working life at the company. Half a century later, eyes shining with glee, he recalls the first time he entered the oil executives’ club in Basra. “I walked across the room, straight up to the bar, where I sat down and ordered a drink. Then I turned around and looked back at all the British managers with their wives, who were staring at me in silence. It was the first time they had seen an Iraqi enter the club, except as a servant.”

But the company could reassure itself that he was no radical anti-imperialist. “I’m a mild man … I got the impression that I fitted in their scheme as a balanced person who will take over management at one time, and treat IPC fairly.” When he left at 31, he was number five at the company and its highest-ranking Iraqi.

Al-Kasim and his family wouldn’t have left Iraq but for their son’s medical problems, but even so, the move was politically sensitive. In the past, he’d been stopped at the border on orders from the secret police, who considered him a key figure for any future nationalisation of the oil industry. Now it took months to secure permission to take his son for what they had to pretend would be short-term medical treatment abroad. “It was a smuggling operation … we were only trying to save the life of our youngest child. But in Iraq, these things don’t matter.”

Infographics: how 5 countries could become 14

future map

Actually, combined with the possible city-states, and one ‘missing’ plenipotentiary, the number could be instead 18.

Sorry, I was instead counting ‘Sunnistan’ as two separate countries – Syria and Iraq.

Source: The New York Times

‘We’ don’t ‘do’ politics

real life vs politics

 

Most of the smart people I know want nothing to do with politics. We avoid it like the plague—like Edge avoids it, in fact. Is this because we feel that politics isn’t where anything significant happens? Or because we’re too taken up with what we’re doing, be it Quantum Physics or Statistical Genomics or Generative Music? Or because we’re too polite to get into arguments with people? Or because we just think that things will work out fine if we let them be—that The Invisible Hand or The Technosphere will mysteriously sort them out?

Whatever the reasons for our quiescence, politics is still being done—just not by us. It’s politics that gave us Iraq and Afghanistan and a few hundred thousand casualties. It’s politics that’s bleeding the poorer nations for the debts of their former dictators. It’s politics that allows special interests to run the country. It’s politics that helped the banks wreck the economy. It’s politics that prohibits gay marriage and stem cell research but nurtures Gaza and Guantanamo.

But we don’t do politics. We expect other people to do it for us, and grumble when they get it wrong. We feel that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, if we even get that far. After that we’re as laissez-faire as we can get away with.

What worries me is that while we’re laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing.

 

Brian Eno

 

Source: Edge

Kurdistan, the bright side of Iraq

sulaymaniyah

 

Sulaymaniyah, the largest city in Kurdistan, houses a population of approximately 1.5 million people. Due to recent oil boom, the city has experienced fluorishing economic boom unseen in majority of Iraqi territories.

 

Kurdistan is like a country; it has a government solely voted by the will of its people with Baghdad’s little intervention. It has a president, a prime minister, a basic constitution that shapes the territory’s rudimentary foundation, fully-fledgling political parties, and even a partly free foreign-relations policy without referring to Iraqi government’s directive. Nonetheless, Kurdistan is, just like the rest of autonomous areas throughout the world, still an integral part of Iraq.

Barely anybody has heard the whereabouts of this unique place. Not even its murky, blood-shed history. Throughout the 20th century, Kurdistan had been the battlefield between Kurd fighters and Iraqi armed forces, the climax of which took place when then-President Saddam Hussein launched al-Anfal campaign – one of the worst chapters of genocide in human history – which saw more than 100,000 Kurds massacred throughout Iran-Iraq War. The tragedy was not until the 1990s, when Iraqi troops, exasperated with myriad attacks from NATO forces, retracted from the territory. Since the departure, an autonomous government has been appointed to lead the war-torn region.

Unlike the rest of Iraq, despite occasional commotion, today Kurdistan enjoys relative stability. With better safety and abundance of oil and gas reserves, more investment projects are being pumped out to spur the region’s economic growth. One of the major cities in Kurdistan enjoying such boom is Sulaymaniyah (pictured above), which has seen progress in recent years, as seen from the rising living standards, bustling economic activities, better creativity among its youth, and more opportunities to succeed in the region. These are the things deemed ‘nearly impossible’ by most of the Iraqis living beyond Kurdistan.

Undeniably, we can infer that the ‘City of Emerald’ has switched further North.

 

Watch it further: http://monocle.com/film/affairs/cultural-kurdistan/

 

Read these articles further for more information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdistan_Region

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulaymaniyah