What We're Watching: Iraqi COVID ward burns, the EU's Mozambique mission, Bulgaria's punk-rock leader

eople gather as they inspect the damage at al-Hussain coronavirus hospital where a fire broke out, in Nassiriya, Iraq, July 13, 2021.

Iraqi COVID ward burns: Clashes broke out Monday between police and relatives of patients at the al-Hussein hospital in Nasiriyah (Iraq's fourth largest city) who were killed when a fire broke out in the COVID-19 isolation ward. At least 92 people died, and dozens were injured when a the shoddy ward, constructed a few months ago to manage the growing COVID outbreak, became ablaze. (Iraq's Health Ministry has still not confirmed the cause of the fire.) This disaster comes as the COVID crisis has severely strained the country's already-feeble healthcare system, leading to more than 1.4 million infections and at least 17,000 COVID deaths nationwide (likely a gross undercount). Monday's blaze comes months after a deadly fire at a Baghdad hospital killed at least 82 people. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has ordered the suspension and arrest of health and defense officials in Nasiriya, but it's unclear whether this move will be enough to placate furious Iraqis who are rising up after years of neglect, economic stagnation, war, and now a pandemic. Indeed, many Iraqis who have hit the streets in recent months are asking a simple question: what do we have to lose? Only 2.5 percent of the Iraqi population has received one dose of COVID vaccine.


EU's Mozambique mission: The EU said Monday that it will establish a new military mission in Mozambique to help the government push back against an increasingly brazen Islamic insurgency that's taken over large swaths of territory in the country's northeast. Portugal, Mozambique's former colonizer, is already training Mozambican troops and will head the mission on the ground. Like the EU operation launched in Mali in 2013, European troops will train soldiers and help rebuild infrastructure, but they will not engage in combat missions. It's unclear whether the 27-member bloc will send military equipment. For more than three years, fighters belonging to the al-Shabaab militant group that claim loose ties to the Islamic State have waged a brutal insurgency in Cabo Delgado province that has killed thousands and displaced more than 700,000 people. Earlier this year, US Special Forces soldiers began training Mozambican troops as part of an effort to quash the insurgency in the country's northeast.

Will Bulgaria have a punk-rock PM? With around 99 percent of votes counted from Sunday's national election in Bulgaria, former punk-rock front man and TV personality Slavi Trifonov, who fashions himself as "anti-politics," is favored to head Bulgaria's next government. So far, Trifonov's There Is Such a People party has won 23.9 percent of the vote, just 0.2 percentage points ahead of former prime minister Boyko Borisov's conservative GERB party. Trifonov, who says he will only sit in government with specific protest parties, says he will not try to form a coalition, but will instead head a minority government. The former pop star, who has no real political agenda and did no real canvassing prior to the polls, says he is not courting groups like the anti-corruption group Stand Up! Mafia Out! that emerged from last year's rallies against the corruption plagued Borisov government. Given the slim margin, analysts say that another election cannot be ruled out, which would be Bulgaria's third in 2021. Either way, this result is likely to signal the end of Borisov's years-long grip on power, an era characterized by successive corruption scandals and allegations of ties to organized crime groups. (For your amusement, here is Trifonov rocking it out with the Ku ku band, circa 2011.)

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A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What is going on in Bosnia with Bosnian Serbs boycotting all major institutions?

Well, it's a reaction against a decision that was taken by the outgoing high representative during his very last days, after 12 years of having done very little in this respect, to have a law banning any denial of Srebrenica and other genocides. But this issue goes to very many other aspects of the Bosnian situation. So, it has created a political crisis that will be somewhat difficult to resolve.

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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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