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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Iraqi security forces and Iranian-backed militias are preparing to attack Kirkuk in a bid to punish Iraqi Kurds who support independence. The United States must not allow Iraqi Kurds to be slaughtered, nor can it allow a war between anti-ISIS coalition members. The Trump administration should immediately propose a 10-kilometer buffer zone between the sides and dispatch a high-powered envoy to help mediate differences.

The situation is urgent.

Iranian-backed forces deployed to the Kirkuk front-line overnight. Militias include the Badr Brigade, Khorasan and Tafoof units, as well the notorious Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, wearing police uniforms. They have been joined by members of the Iraqi Federal Police, Anti-Terror troops, and members of the 9th Division’s Armor Brigade.

Today, Prime Minister Heider al-Abadi delivered an ultimatum to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The ultimatum demands that the Kurds:

  • Hand-over control of the Kirkuk airport.
  • Relinquish the K-1 air base, also known as Kaywan.
  • Surrender all oil fields in Kirkuk province.
  • Allow the return of the Iraqi army to all places where they were stationed before ISIS invaded in 2014.
  • Remove Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim from his position.

The six-point ultimatum includes a deadline of early Sunday morning. Abadi threatens to attack if the Kurds do not comply.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has called for calm. “All standing issues should be dealt with through negotiations and peaceful means,” said Barzani. “Our calls for dialogue and negotiations must not be answered with threats, amassing forces and preparations for war.”

But Kurds are preparing for the worst. About 6,000 peshmerga – “those who stand before death” – are being rushed to the front-line, strengthening the line of defense should fighting erupt by design or by accident.

The situation is extremely volatile. Abadi does not control the myriad of militias deploying to Kirkuk. Their backers in Iran could try to provoke hostilities. An incident could cause a spiral of deadly violence, leading to full-bore war.

 

David L. Phillips is director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as senior adviser to the U.S. Department of State during the administration of President Barack Obama. His most recent book is “The Kurdish Spring: A New Map for the Middle East.”

 

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.