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March 24, 2023

Don’t Worry - It Won’t Hit Us

This weekend, a large asteroid that could have wiped out a city will safely pass between Earth and the moon's orbit, providing scientists with an opportunity to study it up close. This week also marked 20 years since the US invasion of Iraq, with many questioning what was achieved by the invasion. While Washington forgets, much of the world remembers. Finally, once again Boris Johnson is in the headlines as he faces allegations of lying to parliament. Is this finally the end of Boris?

The moon, shown from lower orbit of the earth - JSC/ NASA/ GETTY

‘City Killer’ asteroid passes close to earth this weekend, providing scientists with a unique research opportunity

An asteroid that was discovered a month ago, dubbed the ‘City Killer’ will approach the moon within a distance of 515,000km on Saturday US time, before speeding past Earth at a velocity of around 28,000km/h several hours later.

This weekend, a large asteroid that could have wiped out a city will safely pass between Earth and the moon's orbit, providing scientists with an opportunity to study it up close.

Although common, Nasa said it was rare for an asteroid flybys so big to come so close to occur, and that events like this occurred only about once a decade.

Scientists estimate its size to be somewhere between 40 and 90 metres in diameter.

The asteroid, known as 2023 DZ2, was discovered a month ago and will pass within 515,000km of the moon before flying past Earth at around 28,000km/h.

Despite being a "city killer," there is no danger of it striking Earth. Astronomers will observe the space rock from just over 68,000km away, which is less than half the distance between Earth and the moon, and the Virtual Telescope Project will provide a live webcast of the close approach.

While this event is not a threat, it is good practice for planetary defense and will provide valuable information in the event of a dangerous asteroid that could impact Earth.

This close encounter presents an opportunity for astronomers to observe the space rock from a distance of just over 68,000km away, which is less than half the distance between Earth and the moon.

The asteroid will be visible through binoculars and small telescopes.

The asteroid is due to return in 2026 and although there initially appeared to be a slight chance it might strike Earth then, scientists have since ruled it out.

Two decades ago, the United States invaded Iraq, sending 130,000 US troops into a sovereign country to overthrow its government. Joe Biden, then chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, voted to authorize the war, a decision he came to regret. - JIM LO SCALZO/ EPA

The invasion that plunged a country into years of chaos

20 years after the US invasion, Iraq is a freer place, but not a hopeful one. Conversations with dozens of Iraqis offer a portrait of a nation that is rich in oil, hobbled by corruption and unable to guarantee its citizens’ safety. We take a look back at the history of the war-torn country.

The March 2003 invasion of Iraq proved to be a catastrophic event for the country and its people.

The devastation of this conflict is still being felt, as evidenced by the discovery of a suspected mass grave in the desert outside Sinjar.

The photos of individuals, mostly men, were displayed on a wire fence around the site in Zile-li, a nearby village, the location where 1,800 men were taken and killed on August 3, 2014, as part of the Islamic State's genocidal assault on the Yazidis.

Despite the Americans and British having ended their occupation, a direct link can be traced between the invasion and the catastrophic years that followed.

Naif Jasso, the Sheikh of Kocho, another Yazidi community that suffered an even worse attack than Zile-li, was present at the excavation. He noted that in Kocho, 517 people out of a population of 1,250 were killed by jihadists from IS. In Zile-li, the men were separated from their families at gunpoint and shot dead at the quarry. Sofian Saleh, who was 16 at the time, witnessed the killing of his father, brother, and other men from his village.

He was among the crowd watching the excavation and is one of only two men from Zile-li who survived. Although his hands were tied before the shooting, Sofian survived because the bodies of the dead fell on him and covered him up.

The preferred tactic of Islamic State was evident as they killed the men first and then took the women as slaves. Children were separated from their mothers and indoctrinated as recruits for IS.

One grieving mother sat near the suspected grave, weeping as she recalled her baby being forcefully taken from her and given to a jihadist family.

Nearby, Suad Daoud Chatto, a woman in her 20s, stood with a poster displaying the faces of nine men from her extended family who were killed, as well as two female relatives who were still missing.

She recounted how she was captured by jihadists in 2014, at the age of 16, along with many other women and girls, and held captive in Syria until 2019, when she was finally rescued following the fall of the Caliphate.

Although the jihadist ideology that inspired the 9/11 attacks existed before the US invasion of Iraq, the years of turmoil and brutality that followed in 2003 actually turbo-charged jihadist violence, instead of eradicating it.

While the Americans and Sunni tribes were able to temporarily weaken Al-Qaeda, the jihadist group eventually regrouped and evolved into the even more ruthless and barbaric Islamic State.

In 2003, America's anger and power blinded President George W. Bush to the realities that had constrained his father twelve years earlier.

When the US and UK failed to persuade the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that explicitly authorized invasion and regime change, Bush and Blair claimed that earlier resolutions gave them the necessary authority.

Many, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, did not believe their argument.

In an interview with the BBC, 18 months after the invasion, Annan stated that it was illegal and not in conformity with the UN Charter. France and other Nato allies refused to participate in the invasion, and Blair ignored massive protests in the UK.

Blair's decision to go to war haunted his political career. No leader faces a more significant decision than going to war. Bush and Blair chose a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

The justifications for the invasion were soon shown to be false, and the weapons of mass destruction that Blair insisted made Saddam an imminent threat were not found. It was a failure of intelligence and leadership.

Despite the devastation caused by the war, there are signs of hope in Iraq. Though many towns and villages remain in ruins, Iraqis feel safer and well-trained anti-terrorist units are containing jihadist cells.

While bombings and ambushes still occur, shopkeepers are optimistic about the upcoming Ramadan season.

However, the political system implemented by the Americans after the invasion has created opportunities for corruption and has caused significant harm to the people of Iraq.

Estimates suggest that between $150bn and $320bn has been stolen since 2003, leaving most Iraqis without access to basic necessities like power, clean water, and medical care.

Children can often be seen working or begging on the streets instead of attending school. Iraq's latest prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, has promised to address corruption but faces significant challenges in doing so.

Ultimately, it is the innocent victims who matter most in this conflict. The war has caused immeasurable harm to millions of Iraqis and others in the Middle East, making their lives much more difficult than before.

Boris Johnson sits across from MPs during questioning - GETTY/ AP

Boris Johnson Under Fire from MPs

Once again, Boris Johnson is under scrutiny over accusations about lying to parliament. Could this be the end of his political career? Johnson says he ‘emphatically’ did not set out to deceive members of Parliament over Covid rule-breaking parties that occured in Downing Street, but many critics disagree…

Boris Johnson has admitted to misleading Parliament about Covid rule-breaking parties in Downing Street, but denies doing so intentionally.

Ahead of being questioned by MPs on Wednesday, the former Prime Minister has released a 52-page document in which he says that his assurances to MPs that lockdown rules had been followed were made in "good faith".

If MPs determine that Johnson did deliberately mislead them, he may face suspension or even expulsion from Parliament.

A group representing families of Covid victims have called his claim to have acted in good faith "sickening" and have said it was "obvious" he misled MPs.

Since April last year, the Commons Privileges Committee has been investigating whether Johnson initially misled Parliament over what he knew about parties in No 10 during lockdown.

An inquiry by senior official Sue Gray later found rule-breaking had taken place across multiple events, and police issued fines to 83 people, including Johnson himself, for breaching Covid laws.

The committee has previously suggested that Johnson may have misled Parliament on multiple occasions and that rule breaches would have been "obvious" to him at the time. Johnson's defence document, prepared by his legal team and headed by top barrister Lord Pannick KC, claims that he had not "intentionally or recklessly" misled MPs and would "never have dreamed of doing so".

He says he believed at the time that events he attended in No 10 abided by restrictions, and relied on officials to advise him about other events in the building he did not attend, and they did not tell him rules were broken.

Johnson says that he corrected the record in May 2022, on the day Ms Gray's report was published, and that it was "not fair or appropriate to give a half-baked account before the facts had been fully and properly established.”

Mr Johnson's defense document criticizes the Privileges Committee's investigation, accusing it of being biased and disregarding precedents established by previous similar inquiries.

The committee has determined that Mr Johnson's intentions are not relevant to their inquiry's focus, which is whether his statements to Parliament hindered the committee's work.

However, if the committee finds that Mr Johnson's statements did obstruct their investigation, then his intentions will be considered when determining any potential penalties.

If the committee concludes that Mr Johnson deliberately misled MPs, the strongest sanction may be imposed, while the alternative is finding that he misled Parliament "recklessly". The committee's final recommendations and any penalties will require approval by the full House of Commons, with Conservative MPs given a free vote.

Sanctions could range from a formal apology to suspension from the Commons.

If Mr Johnson is suspended for more than ten days, a by-election in his constituency may be triggered, although such lengthy suspensions have been uncommon in the past.

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