A little more than a week ago, 23-year-old Assad Haig’s life took a nightmarish turn.
Islamic State (IS) militants captured 63 of his relatives, members of the persecuted Yazidi community, when the extremist fighters overran the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar.
One of the militants notified Haig, who works in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, about the harrowing kidnapping spree by phone.
Only two of Haig’s family members managed to evade capture — his father, who fled to Mount Sinjar, and his 84-year-old grandmother, who was left behind by the militants in the family home with the grim warning that she would be executed if she didn’t convert to Islam.
LAKE TURKANA, Kenya — Lake Turkana is the world’s biggest desert lake, a vital source of life for humans and animals alike. But its lifeline is about to be cut by a push for development. Ethiopia, which borders Kenya, is building Africa’s largest hydro-electric power project, damming the Omo River, Lake Turkana’s primary source of water.
“On Friday, Assad Haig received a call from his mother’s phone number. On the other end was a militant of the Islamic State. Haig’s family, the man said, were going to be executed.
Haig is 23 years old. He works in the Kurdish capital of Erbil. He comes from Sinjar, a town that was overrun by Islamic State militants on Aug. 3. Almost every relative he has ever known — 63 in total — was in Islamic State custody at the time he got the call. Most of them are, or were, women and small children,” writes GlobalPost’s Tracey Shelton.
Photo by Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost
GlobalPost senior correspondent Simeon Tegel writes from Lima, Peru:
It was a momentous day for Latin America: On March 11, 1990, Augusto Pinochet, the region’s last military dictator, finally handed power to an elected civilian president.
Since then, democracy has put down roots in the Americas to such an extent that few expect a repeat of the bloody coups that frequently punctuated the region’s history.
But now, across Latin America, the military is flexing its muscles once again and taking on more central roles in society, including in ways that experts warn are posing subtler risks to constitutional rule.
Read the full story here: Latin America’s military is making a comeback
Photo by AFP/Getty
NEW DELHI, India — One talks about being beaten up. Another describes how people humiliate her. Many more speak about rape — a common danger facing women of India’s lowest caste.
Meet the dalits, better known in the West as “untouchables” — an Indian caste so denigrated that they suffer explicit discrimination and abuse.
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BEIRUT, Lebanon — As the Iraqi government struggles to contain a Sunni militant advance on Baghdad and hold the country together, more and more Iraqis are blaming Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki for their country’s increasing resemblance to neighboring Syria.
Maliki isn’t just responsible for the Iraqi army’s poor showing against the Islamic State, critics say: Like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, he’s responsible for the violence itself, for having ordered a military crackdown on a public demonstration, triggering the recent wave of unrest. And now, he’s relying on a military strategy that guarantees high civilian casualties.
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SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — If Zoya Kolosovksaya had her way, the national anthem would be ringing out each morning from the central square of this tattered former rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine.
Now that security forces have chased out the armed separatists who’d made this provincial outpost of around 120,000 their nerve center, the 51-year-old resident believes the anti-government hysteria that was recently so prominent here should quickly fade.
“People are capable of getting used to anything,” Kolosovskaya said. “They should get used to the fact that Ukrainian statehood exists.”
Photos by Dan Peleschuk/GlobalPost
JUBA, South Sudan — Birthdays are a time to reflect, even for countries. South Sudan turns 3 years old today and this year it has decided to take stock of its estimated 9,000 child soldiers.
It’s a staggering figure and one that has motivated the world’s youngest nation — also one of its most troubled — to try to change its image amid brutal war.
Full story here:
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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — In his rotating wardrobe of team jerseys and visors, Jose Aquiles often stalked the sidelines of his students’ soccer games, shouting instructions and praise.
A pro in his younger days, Aquiles lived for the sport, never missing a chance to play or coach. But at a tournament one Friday in April, he appeared pensive, foregoing his usual perch for an out-of-the way bench — a towel slung across his head to block the sun.
“That was the last time I saw him,” said Luis Winfredo Montoya, a fellow teacher at the school in rural Santa Lucia, in western El Salvador, where Aquiles taught English and social studies.
The following Monday, word spread through school that Aquiles’ body had been found dismembered and buried in a scrubland controlled by the notorious Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, street gang. His eighth graders sobbed and refused to enter his classroom. At his funeral, days later, hundreds filled the streets and thronged his casket, which was closed because of the damage to his body.
Aquiles’ murder outraged his teachers union, which demanded justice. In the past several years, 27 Salvadoran teachers have been killed, and thousands extorted, as gangs have gained hold over even remote areas of the country, said Paz Zetino, the union’s director.
Some have been killed over as little as a failing grade.
Photo by Seth Robbins/GlobalPost
KIRKUK, Iraq — At a peshmerga outpost on the western outskirts of Kirkuk, talk of battlefield strategy in the fight against Sunni militants quickly devolves into trash talk about their supposed partner in that fight: the Iraqi military.
"They’re not fighting, they’re just falling down," Qurshed Ismahil, the senior commander at this small base, says, disparaging the Iraqi military’s performance over the past two weeks.
"Of course they lost Mosul, they just left everything and ran home."
His men, sitting around him on foam mattresses under a makeshift awning, nod in agreement.
"There is no more Iraqi military," laughs one man. "It’s just a name, that’s it."
Photo by Susannah George/GlobalPost
GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Tristan McConnell reports from Leer, South Sudan:
Eight months old and weighing less than half what he should, Ruot Diang died in his mother’s arms on a Tuesday night earlier this month. Doctors at the hospital where he died in rural South Sudan thought it was tuberculosis that finally killed him, after malnutrition severely weakened his body.
But they can’t say for sure because the hospital’s lab — like its operating theater, emergency room and pharmacy — had been looted and burned when the country’s latest civil war reached the town of Leer in January.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) reopened the hospital in May, and since then five children have died there. They are among the first victims of South Sudan’s entirely man-made humanitarian crisis, but they won’t be the last.
Photos by Tristan McConnell/GlobalPost
When an Ebola outbreak lasts for months and continues to show up in new cities, health officials take notice.
That’s exactly what’s happening in West Africa. An outbreak that started in Guinea last February has surged in the past few weeks. It’s now the deadliest outbreak since the virus was first detected in 1976.
More than 500 cases have been reported in three West African countries, and the death toll has risen to 337, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. That’s up from 208 cases reported two weeks ago, a 60 percent spike.
"There are many villages in the eastern part of Sierra Leone that are basically devastated," virologist Robert Garry of Tulane University tells NPR’s Jason Beaubien. “We walked into one village … and we found 25 corpses. One house with seven people, all in one family, were dead.
"It’s a very serious situation there," adds Garry, who just returned to the U.S. from West Africa. "This is about as bad as it [an Ebola outbreak] gets."
Ebola often kills around two-thirds of the people it infects. And it kills quickly, sometimes within days, sometimes within weeks. That actually makes outbreaks relatively easy to stop, says Thomas Geisbert, of the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Photo: A health worker from Doctors Without Borders examines Ebola patient Finda Marie Kamano, 33, at her home in Conakry, Guinea, in April. The outbreak that began in February is still spreading in West Africa. (Sylvain Cherkaoui/Cosmos/Courtesy of Doctors Without Borders)
GlobalPost’s Susannah George reports from Erbil, Iraq:
It was a moment some thought would never come.
US President Barack Obama ordered American troops back onto Iraqi soil. Granted, it’s only a few hundred this time, and they are ostensibly there just to protect the US embassy in Baghdad — a far cry from the thousands that flooded the country after the 2003 invasion.
Still, US troops in Iraq carry the baggage of that long, bloody war, a fact that is not lost on the average Iraqi.
"The situation is bad now, but the US [military] coming back, it will only get worse," said a young man who asked to be called Ibn al-Awja, a nickname meaning "son of al Awja," the town where Saddam Hussein was born. "Honestly, there is no future," he said, exacerbated.
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KARACHI, Pakistan — Shabina agreed to talk with me from the backseat of a van at a busy intersection in Karachi. She lives on the edge of the city, where it’s too dangerous to meet with a foreign journalist.
“This area is relatively safer, but anything can happen in a minute so we avoid sitting in open areas,” explained her father-in-law, who had driven her to the meeting.
Relatively safer, maybe. But Shabina still didn’t want to get out of the van. “There is no safety in Pakistan,” she said.
Her concern is well-founded. Late last year Shabina’s husband was shot dead as he dropped off two of their children at school. In a matter of minutes, he became another statistic in Sunni extremists’ campaign to cleanse Pakistan of its Shia minority.
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
ERBIL, Iraq — Last week, the Iraqi military looked pretty bad.
As Al Qaeda-inspired militants swept northern Iraq, state security forces fled, some even stripping their uniforms off in order to avoid being identified.
But they didn’t flee out of cowardice, they say, or lack of discipline. They fled their base in Mosul because they had no choice.
Deserters, speaking this week from the relative safety of Iraq’s Kurdish region east of Mosul, said their commanders abandoned them. They had only one option, and that was to surrender.
"We had everything, all the necessary equipment, training, but we didn’t have a leader," a soldier who asked to be called Hussein said Monday.
Photo and story Susannah George/GlobalPost