Iraq’s new best friend: Russia and Iraq announced a multibillion-dollar arms deal during a visit to Moscow by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Iraq agreed to buy more than $4.2 billion of heavy weapons, including helicopters and air defense systems, from Russia over the next year. Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a major buyer of Soviet weaponry, but since the U.S. invasion in 2003, it has spent a mere $300 million on Russian military equipment and more than $6 billion on U.S. weapons. “Iraq is sending a clear signal to the U.S. that it can conduct an independent policy,” said analyst Alexei Malashenko. “The message is: ‘We can sign contracts with Russia if we like.’”
Pyongyang, North Korea
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Bombing America: North Korea says it now has missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland. The secretive nuclear-armed nation has long claimed it could strike U.S. targets, but in a defense statement this week it was much more specific, saying its missiles could “strike not only the bases of the puppet forces and the U.S. imperialist aggression forces’ bases in the inviolable land of Korea but also Japan, Guam, and the U.S. mainland.” “Puppet forces” is the regime’s name for the South Korean army. The threat was a response to a recent U.S.–South Korean agreement to extend the range of the South’s ballistic missiles, which the North called “a product of another conspiracy of the master and the stooge to push the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the extreme pitch of tension and ignite a war.”
Accusing Israel: With domestic pressure rising over Iran’s plummeting currency, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad changed the subject this week by raising the specter of war with Israel. “The possibility of an attack against Iran cannot be ignored,” Ahmadinejad said in a televised interview. “But Iran’s response to any aggression will be crushing.” Iran also accused Israel of conducting cyberattacks on Iranian oil facilities and communications companies. Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes shot down an unmanned drone that entered Israeli airspace from the Mediterranean coast last week. Israeli press reports said the plane was apparently a surveillance drone controlled by Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group allied with Iran.
Islamists demand democracy: In a protest organized by Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, some 15,000 Jordanian Islamists marched to a mosque in downtown Amman last week to push for more democracy in the kingdom. Protesters chanted, “Listen Abdullah, our demands are legitimate” and “We are free men, not slaves.” King Abdullah agreed in July to dissolve the current, rubber-stamp parliament and hold elections next year. But the Islamists say the electoral districts the king drew up are designed to pack the parliament with representatives from pro-government tribal areas and minimize the influence of cities, where the Brotherhood holds sway. Islamists also have significant support among Jordanians of Palestinian origin, who make up most of the population but who live mainly in grim refugee camps and face discrimination.
Johannesburg, South Africa
First black Idol: Almost two decades after the end of apartheid, South Africa has its first black winner of a popular singing show. In the eight years it’s been on the air, Idols South Africa, an American Idol–style contest, had only white or mixed-race winners until last week, when Khaya Mthethwa took the crown. South African fans have been accusing the producers of racism for years, but TV analysts said the audience that makes up the voters skews white middle class because the broadcaster is a private satellite channel. Mthethwa is part of Joyous Celebration, the largest and most popular touring gospel choir in the country.
Rustenburg, South Africa
Miners fired en masse: In an effort to stem a national tide of wildcat strikes, Anglo American Platinum, the world’s biggest platinum producer, last week fired 12,000 striking miners. The National Union of Mineworkers showed up at the scene to try to negotiate but quickly backed out, saying Amplats security officials had racially denigrated its leader. Some 80,000 platinum, gold, coal, and iron miners—16 percent of the total mining workforce—are on strike across South Africa. The workers are demanding the same 20 percent pay raise that some platinum miners got after a violent strike in August in which 46 people died.
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