The End of Thailand’s Tiger Temple

Wildlife officials in Thailand have seized some of the more than 100 tigers held at a Buddhist temple in response to allegations of mistreatment of the animals.

Six tigers were tranquilized and removed Monday from Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Yannasampanno, which is known as “Tiger Temple,” according to animal-welfare advocates. The temple is a popular tourist spot in Kanchanaburi province, where visitors are allowed to play with tigers and cubs and even take selfies with them. Government officials plan to clear the temple of all tigers, and will spend the next week removing the remaining 131 animals. The tigers will be transported to government sanctuaries elsewhere in the country.

For years, former temple workers and animal-welfare groups have alleged that the tigers have been abused—beaten, fed poorly, and housed in small concrete cages with limited time outside. Some conservationists say the monks have illegally bred and trafficked the animals. Temple officials have denied the allegations.

Monday’s raid was led by Thailand’s national parks, wildlife, and plant conservation department, which obtained a warrant from a provincial court to seize the tigers, according to The Nation, an English-language newspaper in Thailand. Officials had previously seized 10 tigers in raids in January and February. The department granted the temple a zoo license in April, but appeared this month to reverse course.

“We have a court warrant this time, unlike previous times, when we only asked for the temple’s cooperation, which did not work,” Adisorn Nuchdamrong, deputy director-general of the national parks department, told Reuters Monday. “International pressure concerning illegal wildlife trafficking is also part of why we’re acting now.”

The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, an animal-rights group based in Phetchaburi province, located south of Kanchanaburi, documented the interaction between the monks and department officials:

The Nation described “high tension” at the temple as wildlife department staff, local police, Thai armed forces, and members of animal-rights groups descended on the grounds. At first, the temple’s monks denied entry to officials. Later, monks unchained several tigers and allowed them to roam freely, which animal-rights activists said was an attempt to hinder operations to confiscate them.

More than 300 officials remained at the temple overnight to ensure the remaining tigers’ safety, the AP reported.

The New York Times in May reported temple officials say the tiger attraction earns $3 million a year in ticket revenue, while government officials say it brings in $5.7 million.

The Latest Military Offensives Against ISIS

Iraqi security troops, Shiite militias, and other forces have nearly surrounded Fallujah one week after they began a military offensive to recapture the city from Islamic State militants.

The forces were stationed outside Fallujah Sunday, and will eventually advance on the city, Reuters reported, citing state media.

Government forces and militias began their approach in the hours between May 22 and May 23, and are backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes. They have seized some villages and other rural areas this week in their march toward Fallujah. The city, located east of Baghdad,  was the first of several to fall to ISIS in January 2014, six months before the militant group declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria and Western nations began considering air strikes. The city’s 50,000 residents have remained trapped since. At least 3,000 people have fled Fallujah to safety in the last few days, and some have been killed trying to escape, according to humanitarian agencies. The coming onslaught is expected to further endanger the remaining residents.

Iraqi forces on Sunday launched other offensives against ISIS elsewhere in Iraq. Government troops and Kurdish peshmerga fighters attacked ISIS militants in village east of the city of Mosul, which has been under ISIS control since June 2014. U.S. and Iraq officials hope to attempt to recapture Mosul if the offensive in Fallujah succeeds.

Reuters reported Sunday service members from the U.S.-led coalition were present on the front line near Mosul. Fighting appeared “heavy,” Reuters said:

Pick up trucks raced back from the frontline with wounded people in the back, and two of the U.S.-led coalition servicemen helped haul one man onto a stretcher.

Gunfire and airstrikes could be heard at a distance, while Apache helicopters flew overhead. One of the villages, Mufti, was captured by mid-day, the Kurdistan Region Security Council said in a statement.

Video footage from reporters on the ground in Saqlawiyah, located north of Fallujah, showed soldiers firing artillery, some wearing long-sleeved camouflage shirts and pants, others in T-shirts.

In Syria, rebels drove ISIS militants out of the the villages of Kafr Shoush and Braghida Sunday, the AP reported. ISIS had swept the villages earlier this week, catching the rebels by surprise.

The U.S. has said ISIS has lost 40 percent of its territory in Iraq and 10 percent in Syria after more than a year of bombing by coalition forces.

No Kurd Will Die to Restore Iraqi Unity

This week marked the start of offensives ultimately aimed at retaking two of ISIS’s last major urban strongholds—Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in Syria, and Fallujah, the first major Iraqi city to fall to ISIS some two years ago. The final prize, Mosul, seems to remain out of reach for the foreseeable future, despite indications a year ago that a battle to retake the city could come any day. An Iraqi army offensive launched in late March stalled quickly.

Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city. ISIS wrested it from Iraqi government control in 2014 in its first major show of strength, and it is where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” and demanded the allegiance of the world’s Muslims. Taking it back will be essential to winning the war against ISIS. But as fighters opposed to ISIS try to advance elsewhere on the battlefield, little is being done to promote the reconciliation between Shia and Sunni Arabs that Iraq really needs—both to construct a force capable of beating ISIS, in Mosul and beyond, and to create the political conditions to prevent its return.

ISIS and the ‘Loser Effect’

We—the Kurds in Iraq—believe the road to Mosul begins in Baghdad. My colleagues in the Kurdistan Region Security Council and I are working closely with the global coalition in the war on ISIS and planning for the Mosul offensive. (I’m writing here in a personal capacity.) Our peshmerga remain the most effective ground force against ISIS in Iraq, and have already defeated the group on every major front where we’ve faced them, pushing the jihadists to the edge of Mosul after the group’s attempts to expand north from the city. Joint raids by U.S. and Kurdish special-operations forces in and around the city, as well as in Syria, have netted troves of intelligence on the group’s operations and finances.

And our peshmerga will continue creating the conditions to allow a liberating force to take Mosul back. We have let the Iraqi army to use Kurdish territory as a staging ground. Since doing so, in fact, we’ve seen a sudden increase in ISIS attacks into Kurdish-held territory. But our brave men alone cannot go into Mosul, an Arab city, where they would be seen as an occupying force. Put simply, given that we Kurds aspire to run our own affairs in our own territory in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, no peshmerga will die to restore Iraqi unity. The Kurds cannot force Shia and Sunni Arabs to live together in peace.

At least 40,000 peshmerga continue to hold a 600-mile border against ISIS in northern Iraq. These fighters have relied on mostly aging, Soviet-era equipment to clear over 8,000 miles of territory. We intend to keep it all, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Iraqi army abandoned in June 2014 as ISIS swept across northern Iraq. We are part of the global coalition against ISIS, and Islamic State-occupied territory remains a threat to us, so we have an interest in participating in the Mosul operation. But we expect the Iraqi government to compensate us, both militarily and politically.

Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani has announced plans for an independence referendum later this year in territories reclaimed by the peshmerga. I and many of my compatriots in the Kurdistan region believe the Iraqi government in Baghdad is deliberately pushing us away: It has suspended of our share of the country’s oil revenues for the last two years, withheld payments to the peshmerga, and lobbied against our attempts to purchase arms for the war on ISIS. In 2015, for instance, we received only one weapons shipment from Baghdad. It was mostly ammunition. For the rest, we had to rely on other countries.

took back from ISIS last December in its first major victory against the group. In that case, the government could rely on a small but cohesive Sunni front to help. This meant that the operation did not require Shia militias to occupy the Sunni city. Given the brutality some of those militias have displayed elsewhere, many locals might not prefer that state of affairs to ISIS rule.

Mosul, on the other hand, is a much larger city, with a mosaic of ethnic and religious groups. It’s the political and tribal center of anti-government sentiment. The Kurdish government and the international anti-ISIS coalition have estimated that there are nearly 9,000 die-hard ISIS fighters in the city, and that dislodging them will require at least two divisions, or 30,000 men, engaged in house-to-house fighting for up to six months. As of now, however, nearly two years since Mosul fell, just 5,400 men from the Iraqi army are in place in Makhmour, south of the Kurdish capital of Erbil, 50 miles from Mosul.

The U.S. is devoting painstaking efforts to keeping Shia militias out of Mosul, where their involvement could begin an endless cycle of score-settling and diminish hopes that the Sunnis will turn against ISIS and revolt. But it was this same kind of Sunni revolt that was required to defeat the Islamic State’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the effort against ISIS cannot succeed without a similar mobilization in the Sunni areas where the group predominates. The volunteers in the current fight, however, are riven by ethnic differences and mistrust. Each group is competing for influence in a post-ISIS Mosul; some, backed by Turkey, antagonize the Iranian-backed Shia militias. Iran and Turkey, in turn, are filling the vacuum left by the government in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government, whose policies created the current crisis, has left those same policies largely in place. Officials have done little to offer Mosul’s people an alternative between domination by Shia militias on the one hand or ISIS control on the other.

But the right policies can increase the operation’s chances of success. Baghdad can do more to encourage a Sunni-led revolt. There are over a million mostly Sunni Arabs living in displacement in the Kurdistan region, and in our conversations with them they’ve expressed that they’re not interested in fighting for Mosul unless political and security guarantees come from Baghdad. Further devolution of power to Sunni provinces can give the community a stake in the country’s future and buy-in to the political process.

And if Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants to encourage more peshmerga participation in the fight for Mosul—including help organizing Sunni groups—he can restore federal payments to Kurdistan and provide equipment. These are rights, not privileges, enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution. The peshmerga have not been paid for five months. His government’s practice of providing arms to Kurdish groups that refuse to come under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs undermines our region and should stop.

These gestures would lesson tensions and give the Kurds incentives to fight a battle that’s fundamentally not theirs. Beyond the Mosul operation, Abadi can accept he cannot hold back the Kurds, and offer political recognition of our national goals. We will not return to a united Iraq if Mosul is liberated. The gulf between our government in Erbil and the Iraqi government in Baghdad is unbridgeable.

We can provide the means for a swift victory. But the ability to hold Mosul in the long term will depend on the Shia-led government reaching an inclusive political agreement with its Sunni community. The Sunnis, too, need their autonomy in the areas they dominate, including the parts of northern and western Iraq where ISIS currently holds sway. The right to create federal regions is stipulated in the Iraqi constitution, and many Sunni officials believe doing so holds the key to a secure future. In the past, however, calls for a regional government in Sunni areas, similar to what the Kurds have, were met with the arrival of the Iraqi army and a declaration of martial law by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The Kurds believe long-term stability can only be achieved by recognizing the new, de facto segregated Iraq. No amount of firepower will deliver peace.

The Big Stories This Week: Obama in Hiroshima, Lego Debates, and More

The Politics of Saying Sorry

This week, Obama visited Hiroshima—the Japanese city on which the U.S. launched the first-ever atomic bomb strike—becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so. There, he laid wreaths at a memorial to victims of the blast, met with survivors, and pushed for an end to nuclear warfare. One thing he didn’t do? Apologize for the attack.

Should he have? Uri investigated the international “politics of apologizing”: “Setting aside the arguments for and against the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what makes apologizing different for countries than for people?” And Alan compiled photos of Hiroshima—then and now.

Berning Bridges

Another week down, still no Democratic nominee. “Is Sanders—the onetime liberal gadfly whose views few of his colleagues heeded—simply enjoying the spotlight’s validating glow for as long as it lasts?” Molly asked. “Or is he as delusional as some of his dead-ender fans? It’s impossible to tell.”

Either way, it’s probably not good for the party. And “with Trump stirring in these early polls, that healing process can’t start too soon to soothe the nerves of anxious Democrats,” Ron wrote. Last week, Clare hit on this: “As the Sanders campaign presses forward, it must carefully consider whether the senator’s ambition for a political revolution is a goal best achieved by actively stoking the anger of his supporters—and, in a sense, encouraging them to tear it all down.” Readers are weighing in on the race here.

Brick by Brick

“If you want to look at how a toy evolves over time, Legos are probably your best bet,” Julie wrote. She and Adrienne both delved into the plastic-brick manufacturer’s transitions over time—and what they say about our society.

In 2012, the company launched its Friends line—which “includes a pop star’s house, limousine, TV studio, recording studio, dressing room, and tour bus; a cupcake cafe; a giant treehouse; a supermarket; and a hair salon”—targeted at young girls. Still, “Lego hasn’t been able to shake the perception that original Legos are for boys,” Adrienne writes. “Friends, not surprisingly, hasn’t helped.” Despite the rosy release, the overall amount of plastic weaponry in Lego sets has only increased: As Julie reported,“the proportion of sets [since 1978] that included weapons increased by an average of 7.6 percent annually.”

Above All, Calories

Counting calories just got a lot easier, literally: Michelle Obama, the healthy-eating movement’s leading surrogate, unveiled the FDA’s new label design, featuring a significantly enlarged calorie reading.

But James critiqued the changes: “Calories are one metric to consider among many—they tell us nothing other than, if we were to set fire to this food, how much energy would be released?”

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Obama’s Historic Hiroshima Visit

President Obama became the first sitting American leader to make a trip to Hiroshima, the Japanese city bombed by the U.S. with a nuclear device in 1945.

At a ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Obama and Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, stood in front of the eternal flame. The American president laid a wreath at the memorial; the Japanese leader also laid a wrath there.

He then signed a guest book at the memorial: “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”

At a news conference Thursday in Japan, which he was visiting for a meeting of the Group of 7 industrialized nation, Obama provided the rationale for why he’s the first American leader to visit the memorial: “Part of the reason I’m going is because I want to once again underscore the very real risks [of nuclear weapons] that are out there and the sense of urgency that we all should have.”

You can watch Friday’s ceremony here:

Obama has made clear that he won’t apologize for the bombing on August 6, 1945, that ultimately led to Japan’s surrender in World War II. Two other American presidents have visited Hiroshima: Jimmy Carter visited on May 5, 1984, long after he’d left the White House. Richard Nixon went on April 11, 1964, four years before he won the presidential election.