Kurdish forces launch offensive to take back Sinjar in northern Iraq

GlobalPost
Iraqi Kurdish forces take part in an operation backed by US-led strikes in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar on Nov. 12, 2015, to retake the town from the Islamic State group and cut a key supply line to Syria.

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NEED TO KNOW:

Asia’s go-to drug is now methamphetamine. Everyone seeks it: party kids, factory hands, office drones. It offers a high suited to a region powered by frantic labor. And most of it's coming from Myanmar.

Myanmar is an enigmatic country, to put it lightly. Until very recently it was as closed-off and dictatorial as North Korea. But it has changed in recent years, introducing economic and political reforms in exchange for attractive aid packages from the United States and others. Foreign businessmen — quick to see the potential — now crowd Yangon’s hotels. American fast-food chains are already moving in. And, maybe most significantly, the country just managed a peaceful national election that — assuming the military-led government agrees to give up power — saw overwhelming support for the country’s opposition democratic party.

In the background and under the noses of the international community, however, Myanmar’s military-led government is fueling a huge and destructive meth trade. A GlobalPost investigation published today reveals that many of the meth trade’s key players are, in fact, armed groups overseen by Myanmar’s military.

In the series “Asia’s Meth Wars,” GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Patrick Winn travels to Myanmar to show how the country’s army props up militants who flood Asia with cheap, potent meth. A GlobalPost documentary team traveled to Myanmar’s northern frontier, where speed pills are cranked out with impunity. 

GlobalPost’s team takes you into drug dens where men melt pink pills and inhale the fumes. They connect you with a former DEA agent who divulges the Myanmar military’s collusion with the narco-militias who produce these drugs. And they embed with religious vigilantes, armed with bamboo sticks, who are fed up with a meth epidemic that's ravaging their people. GlobalPost cameras follow ragtag enforcers as they yank drug users from their homes and beat them until they vow to get clean.

While the United States and much of the world celebrates Myanmar’s awakening, this reporting exposes secret links between the government and narco-militias — and reveals how their top product, pink meth, is fueling that awakening while sowing chaos and misery across the region.

Check out the whole series now. There is also this cool animation about how Asia's meth is made.

WANT TO KNOW:

Kurdish forces in Iraq are trying to take back Sinjar from the Islamic State. On Thursday they captured a strategic highway. About 7,500 peshmerga troops are now heading to Sinjar City, where the Kurds believe about 700 Islamic State fighters remain. The path forward, however, is heavily mined. And still in the mind of many of these fighters is their attempt to retake Sinjar last December, which ultimately failed.

The retaking of Sinjar would be a symbolic victory. It was partly the fall of Sinjar to the Islamic State that led the United States to begin its air campaign in Iraq, which then widened to Syria a month later.

The fall of Sinjar revealed just how brutal the Islamic State could be. The militants killed, kidnapped, and raped members of the Yazidi minority group, driving them to Mount Sinjar to hide. Fears of genocide began to spread. Yazidi forces have joined the peshmerga for this latest offensive. And American airstrikes preceded the attack.

But a victory in Sinjar would hardly be game-changing. The Islamic State still controls large areas of eastern Syria and western Iraq, including two key cities: Mosul and Ramadi. In fact, it controls most of Anbar province.

Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front, the United States and its allies have had little success getting all the players with a foot in Syria to agree on anything, let alone a way out of this mess. So millions continue to flee, and thousands continue to die.

STRANGE BUT TRUE:

Petrobas is Brazil’s state oil company. You might have heard about it because it’s embroiled in a massive corruption scandal right now that has contributed to the crushing of Brazil’s once-mighty economy.

Here’s the short of it, in the words of GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Will Carless, who lives in Brazil: “Prosecutors allege that a cartel of construction companies partook in a huge kickback scheme at Petrobras, pretending to bid on projects like oil refineries, but instead taking turns to build and charging the government far more than the cost of the projects. Prosecutors claim the extra money was skimmed off and shared among company executives, or funneled over to political parties in contributions. Bribes totaling $3 billion were allegedly paid.”

So now many of the flashy things that this corrupt money paid for are being auctioned off. And, no, you probably can’t afford any of it. Even at auction these wildly expensive toys remain wildly expensive for most people. This insane yacht, for instance, is being sold for about $800,000. That’s actually a really good deal.