Meridian Reads: Iraq, Poland and global holiday traditions

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Hi there, Meridian Readers! This round-up marks our last of 2019, but don’t fret- we’ll be back and better than ever in the New Year. Let’s dive in.

State Department Outlines dramatic scale-down of U.S. presence in Iraq

Publication: Foreign Policy | By Robbie Gramer

  • Earlier this month the U.S. State Department sent Congress detailed plans to dramatically and permanently reduce the number of U.S. diplomats in Iraq, a measure that critics say runs directly against the Trump administration’s stated goals of countering Iranian influence in the country and undercuts Washington’s efforts to stabilize the Iraqi government. Big yikes.
  • So… what exactly happens now?
    • The U.S. Mission in Iraq will reduce the number of staff at its embassy, diplomatic support center, and consulate in Erbil in Northern Iraq from 486 to 349, a 28 percent decrease.
  • When?
    • By the end of May 2020.
  • The Trump administration is slashing the size of the U.S. Embassy at a time of political upheaval in Iraq amid anti-government protests and as it works to fend off Iranian influence in the country.
  • After over 15 years of military involvement in the country, the United States still has about 6,000 troops in Iraq following the military campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group, and it poured about $1.5 billion of aid into the country in 2018.
  • What does this mean?
    • It might be bad. Some inside the U.S. government have already sounded the alarm on the adverse impact reducing the number of nonmilitary U.S. officials in the country will have.
    • A government watchdog report issued last month determined that the ordered departure for USAID personnel “had significant adverse effects on program planning, management, and oversight activities in Iraq,” where USAID manages over $1 billion in humanitarian assistance programs, as ProPublica reported.

Poland sees limited room for Russia diplomacy, despite Macron overtures

Publication: Reuters | By Joanna Plucinska

  • Here’s the scoop: Poland sees limited room for diplomacy and dialogue with Russia, a senior Polish official said, despite attempts by French President Emmanuel Macron to persuade Warsaw to rethink its relationship with Moscow.
  • Macron told The Economist magazine in November it was time to rethink Europe’s strategic relationship with Russia. He said there was “some concern” in Poland about his plan, but he was “starting to talk to them.”
    • How come? Russia’s lack of willingness to share the wreckage, the black box flight recorders and other evidence from the Smolensk crash site have harmed relations, Macron said.
    • Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine also caused friction, and Poland’s foreign and defense policy is built largely on deterrence of Russia.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda said after meeting Macron at the NATO summit that Russia is “no enemy” and described Russia as “a partner and neighbor.”
  • “As a country that neighbors Russia we will never push for antagonism in the West’s relationship with Russia, because then we can become a victim of that antagonism,” Krzysztof Szczerski, a senior presidential aide, said.

From Christmas To Diwali: Holidays around the world

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Publication: United Planet | By Lauren Mackie

  • You probably know that Christmas and Hanukkah are upon us, but countries all over the world celebrate this holiday season in different ways. Here’s a quick guide:
    • Christmas: Celebrated all around the world, Christmas falls on December 25th each year to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The word “Christmas” literally means “Christ’s Mass,” and is a feast central to the Christian liturgical year.
    • Hanukkah: Chanukah, which has many different transliteration spellings (you’ve already seen two), is an eight-day Jewish holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt (2nd century BCE). The holiday is observed for eight nights and days, and because it starts on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew Calendar, it can fall anywhere from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar.
    • Kwanzaa: This is a week-long holiday celebrated in communities in the United States and Canada, as well as in the Western African Diaspora to honor African heritage in African-American culture. Created by Maulana Karenga in 1966, it is observed from December 26-January 1, and ultimately ends with a feast and the exchange of gifts.
    • Las Posadas: With its origins in Spain, Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration that is now primarily celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala, and parts of the Southwestern United States. The roots of this holiday are in Catholicism but several different branches of Christian Latinos follow the tradition. During the celebration, a procession moves from house to house with a candle inside a paper lampshade, stopping at each home to sign and pray. Eventually, the procession ends with caroling, feasting and pinata breaking.
    • Eid-al-Adha: Also referred to as the Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid-al-Adha is an important Islamic holiday celebrated worldwide to honor the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his first-born, Ishmael, on God’s command. To celebrate, families traditionally dress in their finest clothing to perform prayer in a large congregation or mosque and sacrifice their best halal domestic animals as a symbol of Abraham’s sacrifice.
    • Diwali: This past year, this five-day Hindu festival began on November 13th and is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, among others. The festival is also referred to as the “festival of lights” and celebrates both the attainment of nirvana by Mahavira (an Indian Sage), as well as a Death Anniversary of Swami Dayanand (Hindu religious leader).
  • There are many more, and we encourage you to research them all!

Happy holidays, Meridian Readers. We’ll see you next time.