Author Archives: Kristine L Ming

DNA dogma

Francis Crick (c) Cold Spring Harbor LaboratoryImage copyright
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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Crick’s lecture was said to have altered the logic of biology

Sixty years ago this week, one of the greatest British scientists, Francis Crick, gave a lecture in London in which he accurately predicted how genes work, setting the course for the genetic revolution we are now living through. Here, evolutionary biologist Professor Matthew Cobb from Manchester University unpicks the predictions that set a new course for how we understand the very stuff we are made from.

In one lecture, it has been said that Francis Crick “permanently altered the logic of biology”.

Only four years earlier, he and the young American Jim Watson had solved the double helix structure of DNA, using data gathered by Rosalind Franklin. Aged 41, Crick was still five years away from winning the Nobel Prize for this work, but he had a reputation as a powerful and profound thinker.

He gave his lecture – “On protein synthesis” – at University College London for the Society for Experimental Biology. In it, Crick spoke about how genes do what they do. At the time, this subject was still very murky – some scientists were not even convinced that genes were made of DNA.

But Crick delivered four predictions about genes – and their link to the proteins that build our bodies. In each of these ideas, he was right.

Cracking the code

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Science Photo Library

Crick started with the main thing that genes do: they control the production of proteins.

The problem Crick explored was that the DNA in a gene is simply a chemical code – a string of something called bases – A, C, T, G.

Crick had to explain how the cell could get from this one-dimensional sequence of bases in DNA to the complex three-dimensional structures of proteins. Even more puzzling was the fact that proteins can fold themselves into nearly any shape.

Crick’s answer was simple: the order of bases in the gene – what he called “genetic information” – corresponded to the order of the amino acids that make up each protein, and nothing more.

There was no structural information about the protein that was encoded in the gene, he claimed. He called this the sequence hypothesis.

Somehow, the cell “read” the information in the gene and assembled the amino acids together like beads on a string. The resulting protein folded itself – spontaneously – into its final 3-D structure. We still cannot easily predict the structure of a protein from the order of its amino acids, but Crick’s sequence hypothesis holds good.

Central dogma

To explain how exactly cells assemble proteins, Crick predicted there must be some small molecules – he called these “adaptors” – that could recognise each of the 20 different amino acids in the body, and would bring them to where they could be turned into a protein in the right order.

As Crick gave his talk in London this molecule was being identified in an American laboratory. It is now called transfer RNA. It is the biological messenger that reads and “translates” the genetic code in the cell’s protein-building factory.

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Wellcome Library, London

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Crick drew a diagram to explain the flow of information from DNA to proteins

The most controversial and influential part of the lecture though was what was called the central dogma. Crick explained that as proteins are synthesised, information is taken from the DNA molecule, first into an RNA molecule, and is then used to make a protein.

Before the lecture, he drew a little diagram to explain what he meant. The arrows show what Crick called the flow of information going from DNA to RNA to protein. DNA and RNA could also copy themselves, so there are also arrows going from DNA to DNA and from RNA to RNA.

Because the experimental data were not clear, Crick accepted that it might just be possible that DNA could directly lead to the production of proteins, so he drew an arrow there, too (this is not in fact the case).

The most important point was that, as Crick put it, once the information had gone from DNA into a protein, it could not get back into your DNA. There was no biochemical route for a protein to change your DNA sequence.

Crick thought it might be possible for information to go from RNA to DNA, and this later turned out to be the case, when it was discovered that some RNA viruses can get into our DNA. But the route from protein to DNA is impossible.

This central dogma emphasises that our DNA sequence cannot be changed by our proteins, or by how they are changed by experience. Over the last 60 years this has proved to be correct. Despite the excitement about what is called epigenetics, which explains how genes can be turned on and off by the environment, this never leads to a change in our actual DNA sequence. Crick’s dogma was absolutely right.

Crick later cheerfully admitted that when he coined the phrase, he didn’t know what a dogma was. What he really meant was that it was a basic assumption about how genes worked. Whatever its name, it still guides scientists today.

Crick’s final brilliant prediction was to suggest that in the future biologists would use sequence data to understand evolution, by comparing the sequences of different species.

In 1957, when Crick was speaking, protein sequences were known from only five species, while DNA sequencing was science fiction and 20 years in the future. But this is exactly what happened, and we can now understand how organisms evolved in unprecedented detail, by comparing their sequences, just as Crick suggested.

Crick’s lecture, which was published the following year, continues to be read and cited by scientists all over the world. It is a monument of clear and penetrating thinking by one of the 20th century’s greatest minds. In all his key predictions, Francis Crick was right, and he did indeed change the logic of biology.

Professor Matthew Cobb is a zoologist, historian and author based at Manchester University

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-41311087

The winners of 2017′s Insight Astronomy Photographer award

The winners have been announced for the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year. The competition received 3,800 entries from amateurs and professional photographers from all over the world.

One of the judges is Dr Marek Kukula. He tells Dan Damon about the dreamers and scientists behind the images.

(IMAGE CREDIT: The Rho Ophiuchi Clouds © Artem Mironov (Russia) – STARS NEBULAE WINNER OVERALL WINNER.)

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-41352399

Iran launches war games near Iraqi Kurdistan border

DUBAI/ISTANBUL – Iranian forces have launched war games in an area near the border with Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Iran’s state media reported on Sunday, a day before a Kurdish independence referendum in the region.

Turkey also said on Sunday its aircraft launched airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq’s Gara region on Saturday after spotting militants preparing to attack Turkish military outposts on the border.

Iraq’s powerful neighbors, Iran and Turkey, strongly oppose the Kurdish vote as they fear could fuel separatism among their own Kurds. Iran also supports Shi’ite groups who have been ruling or holding key security and government positions in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein.

The Kurdistan Regional Government has resisted calls by the United Nations, the United States and Britain to delay the referendum who fear it could further destabilize the region.

Iranian State broadcaster IRIB said military drills, part of annual events held in Iran to mark the beginning of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, are centered in the Oshnavieh border region. The war games will include artillery, armored and airborne units, it said.

Clashes with Iranian Kurdish militant groups based in Iraq are fairly common in the border area.

On Saturday, Turkish warplanes destroyed gun positions, caves and shelters used by PKK militants, a military statement in Ankara said. Turkey’s air force frequently carries out such air strikes against the PKK in northern Iraq, where its commanders are based.

Turkey’s parliament voted on Saturday to extend by a year a mandate authorizing the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq and Syria.

The PKK launched an insurgency in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The US embassy in Iraq cautioned its citizens that there may be unrest during a referendum, especially in territories disputed between the KRG and the central government like the multi-ethnic oil-rich region of Kirkuk.

Three Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were killed and five wounded on Saturday when an explosive device blew up near their vehicle south Kirkuk, security sources said.

The explosion happened in Daquq, a region bordering Islamic State-held areas, the sources said.

Islamic State’s ”caliphate” effectively collapsed in July, when a US-backed Iraqi offensive, in which the Peshmerga took part, captured their stronghold Mosul, in northern Iraq.

The group continues to control a pocket west of Kirkuk and a stretch alongside the Syrian border and inside Syria.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/Iran-launches-war-games-near-Iraqi-Kurdistan-border-505806

Lost generation: 500,000 Syrian refugee children still out of school

Millions of dollars in aid money that the international community pledged to get Syrian refugee children into school did not reach the children, arrived late or could not be traced because of poor reporting practices. That is the conclusion of a new report by Human Rights Watch which tracked the $1.4 billion pledged by the international community last year for education of Syrian refugee children.

Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees. At least a million of the refugees are children, and many have not been in school for several years. At the conference in London last year, these countries pledged to enroll all Syrian refugee children in “quality education” by the end of the last school year.

But as a new school year gets underway, an estimated 513,000 refugee children are not in school, and it is not clear what went wrong.

“We didn’t find any evidence of corruption although there may have been some somewhere,” Simon Rau, the Mercator Fellow, Children’s Rights for Human Rights Watch told The Media Line. “The problem is the gap of transparency. It’s really hard to track that money.”

Rau was one of the authors of a new report by Human Rights Watch entitled “Prevent A Lost Generation of Syrian Children.”

There is a “lack of information about the projects donors are funding, and their timetables,” the report said. “Public fund-tracking reports, databases, and other mechanisms often lack enough information to assess whether the projects being funded addressed the key obstacles to education for Syrian children.”

When financial aid did arrive, it often came too late, after the school year had already begun, Rau said.

The situation is different in each country. In Turkey, for example, refugee families have to obtain special cards before enrolling their children in school. Many refugees are having difficulties getting these cards as they fled the fighting in Syria without some of the documents they need.

In Lebanon, which is hosting more than a million Syrian refugees, the situation is a little different. The Lebanese government has pledged that all children can enroll in public schools, straining the school system at times.

Because of the increase in enrollment, there are two shifts of school per day. That means that some children will be coming home from school well after dark.

“The teachers are exhausted from teaching two shifts,” Suha Tutunji, the Director of Education for the NGO Jusoor in Lebanon told The Media Line. “Many of the schools are quite a distance away, and parents don’t feel its safe for their children, especially girls, to walk.”

While school is free, she said, transportation is not covered and costs up to $20 per child per month, still a high sum for refugee families. There is some antagonism toward the refugees, she said, who are seen as taking jobs from local Lebanese. In some cases, teachers have made anti-refugee remarks in class.

In addition, she said, some Syrian parents choose not to send their children to school.

“A lot of the parents who live in refugee camps, whether in Syria or Lebanon, do not send their children to school after age 12 or 13, but send them to work,” Tutunji said. “Girls help their mothers and eventually get married.”

Another problem is that the primary language of instruction in public schools in Lebanon is either English or French, while most Syrian children speak and understand only Arabic. Until this year, Syrian children were enrolled in the afternoon session, where classes were taught in Arabic until fourth grade. That meant that Syrian refugee children were kept separate from Lebanese children.

Starting this year, Syrian children will also start to learn in English or French in first grade. She said that even though there has been an information campaign that public school is free, many parents still believe they have to pay.

An estimated 300,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are still not in school.

“We are going to have a lost generation,” she said. “When the fighting ends, Syria is going to need doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists and physiotherapists. Who will do that if these children don’t go to school?”

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Lost-generation-500000-Syrian-refugee-children-still-out-of-school-505601

Israel responds: Tehran’s test of ballistic missile threatens free world

Iran’s provocative actions have threatened the free world, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Saturday after Tehran claimed to have tested a ballistic missile with multiple warheads capable of hitting Israel.

“This Iranian missile launch is an act of provocation and defiance against the United States and its allies, as well as an attempt to test them,” Liberman said, adding that it “is also further proof of Iranian aspirations to become a world power that threatens not only the Middle East, but all the countries of the free world.”

He warned against the day when such a ballistic missile carries a nuclear warhead.

“Imagine what would happen if Iran would obtain nuclear weapons, something which it strives to do. We must not allow this to happen,” said Liberman.

The new ballistic missile has a range of 2,000 km. The distance by air between Israel and Iran is 1,800 km.

TV coverage of Iranian missile test, September 23, 2017 (Reuters)

Iran said Saturday it would keep developing its arsenal, despite US pressure to stop.

The United States has imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, saying its missile tests violate a UN resolution that calls on Tehran not to undertake activities related to missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran says it has no such plans.

Iran said in its announcement on Saturday that the Khorramshahr missile could carry several warheads.

State broadcaster IRIB carried footage of the missile test without giving its time and location. It included video from an on-board camera it said showed the detachment of the cone that carries multiple warheads.

“You are seeing images of the successful test of the Khorramshahr ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km. – the latest missile of our country,” state television said, adding that this was Iran’s third missile with such a range.

The Khorramshahr missile was first displayed at a military parade on Friday, where President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would strengthen its missile capabilities.

Britain also voiced concerns about the latest test.

“Extremely concerned by reports of Iran missile test, which is inconsistent with UN resolution 2231. Call on Iran to halt provocative acts,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter.

Trump told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that Iran was building its missile capability and accused it of exporting violence to Yemen, Syria and other parts of the Middle East.

He also criticized a 2015 pact that the United States and other world powers had struck with Iran in which Tehran had agreed to restrict its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.

Iran’s defense minister said on Saturday that foreign pressure would not affect Iran’s missile program.

“On the path to improve our country’s defensive capacity, we will certainly not be the least affected by any threats and we won’t ask anyone’s permission,” Brig.-Gen. Amir Hatami said in remarks carried by state television.

The US says Tehran’s ballistic missile tests violated a UN resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal. Iran denies that its missile development breaches the resolution and says its missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons.

“The weight of the Khorramshahr missile’s warhead has been announced to be 1,800 kilos… making it Iran’s most powerful missile for defense and retaliation against any aggressive enemy,” state television said.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United Nations that “Iran is developing ballistic missiles to threaten the entire world,” when he addressed the opening session of the General Assembly in New York.

“We must also stop Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and roll back its growing aggression in the region,” Netanyahu said.

The deal between Tehran and the six world powers, including the US, he said, allowed Iran to develop conventional weapons and also retained its ability to become a nuclear power.

The deal has to be amended and or nixed so sanctions can be reimposed on Iran that will force it to halt its development of ballistic missile and dismantle its nuclear capabilities, Netanyahu said.

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Israel-responds-Tehrans-test-of-ballistic-missile-threatens-free-world-505766

Bright sparks

installation of a solar panelImage copyright
Getty Images

The US solar industry has seen dramatic growth in the past few years, but a request for a rare trade action has led to a fierce fight over the future of the industry – and one that wouldn’t exist without the presidency of Donald Trump.

Phil Brodhagen runs a solar installation company in Colorado Springs, and his customers – local homeowners and businesses in a military-friendly town – love American-made products.

Until they see the price.

“They want to go solar, but they do have a limit on how much they can spend.” he says. “They’d love an American product, but if they can’t afford it, they’ll either not get a system at all, or go for the cheaper one.”

Brodhagen is one of hundreds of business owners across the US paying very close attention to a case in front of the US International Trade Commission. And he’s worried about the outcome.

“It will hurt this industry,” he says. “It’s going to be me laying off people as well as everyone else.”

On Friday, the commission is expected to rule on whether imported solar products have seriously injured US solar product manufacturers, enough to impose higher tariffs on imports worldwide.

The petition was brought by two solar manufacturers who are based in the US, but owned by overseas companies.

Suniva and SolarWorld have argued their financial troubles – as well as a series of other US solar manufacturer bankruptcies – are due to a massive oversupply of solar cells and panels imported from overseas, primarily from Chinese companies.

Image copyright
Getty Images

They point to dozens of US companies like theirs that have gone out of business since 2012.

“Quite simply, we need the commission’s help to save solar manufacturing in the United States,” Juergen Stein, chief executive of SolarWorld Americans told the commission in August.

But SolarWorld and Suniva find themselves fiercely opposed by much of the solar industry in the US, including the largest trade group, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

SEIA has argued increasing the prices of panels through tariffs will set back the solar industry for years, hurting companies that buy and install solar panels, or make solar-related products. The trade group estimates a loss of as many as 88,000 jobs, or a third of the current solar work force, if Suniva and SolarWorld’s requests come to pass.

The group accuses the two companies of using the rare trade action to save themselves, at the expense of the rest of the industry.

What’s at stake? For both sides, the immediate future of the fast-growing solar industry in America.

Bret Sowers, a utility-scale solar farm developer, calls the trade case an “eminent threat” to his business. Projects like his are reliant on how low a price per watt cost they can offer utility firms. Their competition is not just other solar firms, but coal and wind, natural gas and nuclear energy.

New solar capacity doubled between 2015 and 2016 and such large-scale projects drove more than half the growth.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

An employee makes a final inspection on panels during a tour of an REC solar panel manufacturing plant in Singapore

“We have close to $2bn in investment we’ve planned across the southeast,” he says, based on prices continuing their downward trend. If he can’t deliver the prices he expected, those solar farms won’t be built.

“That’s hundreds of construction jobs gone,” he says, and layoffs at his company.

Sowers is specifically frustrated because US plants at SolarWorld and Suniva were not building the larger, 72-cell panels at the kind of scale his projects need.

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“The two dots don’t really connect. They were making cars and I’m buying trucks – and now they’re claiming the trucks are hurting the cars.”

James Marlow, who runs a similar Georgia company, is frustrated with the petition, even though he just finished a project with Suniva panels.

“They used to be the home town team,” he says of the firm, originally spun out from Georgia Tech and headquartered in the state.

In 2015, in an effort to expand, a Hong Kong-based energy firm purchased more than half the company, but Suniva filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and weeks later, brought the trade petition.

SolarWorld, whose parent company also filed for insolvency in Germany, joined the petition shortly thereafter.

Marlow says he supports bringing back manufacturing to America, but thinks that means a whole set of policies to deal with what’s a “drastically larger” issue.

“It’s why most of our clothes are made in Asia and why this cell phone I’m talking to you on made in Asia – it’s not just one action.”

Media captionA stretch of road has been paved with solar PV (photovoltaic) panels in France.

He attended the 15 August arguments in front of the trade commission on the case and said interest was intense. There were two overflow rooms for people to listen. An official told him they hadn’t seen that many people come to hear a case since NAFTA.

If the trade commission finds in favour of the manufacturers, it can make recommendations, but it is up to the president to decide.

And President Trump is eager to impose tariffs, especially in an industry in which he could be seen to be tough on Chinese manufacturing. He reportedly has said “I want someone to bring me some tariffs” because “China is laughing at us”.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Once the trade commission makes its initial ruling, it will have several more weeks to make a recommendation to Trump. The president then can decide to take the recommendation or not.

Solarworld had earlier successes with two requests for increased tariffs on Chinese manufacturers for similar unfair trade practice accusations.

But that wasn’t enough, says Tim Brightbill, a lawyer representing SolarWorld, because Chinese firms shifted production to other countries to get around the tariffs.

He also claims the potential job loss numbers are overblown.

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“These predictions were made before when SolarWorld brought actions against China, that somehow jobs would be lost. But the opposite happened,” Brightbill says.

The situation is especially odd considering both SolarWorld and Suniva are owned by parent companies that could be harmed by the tariff.

Brightbill says “it just shows that SolarWorld is committed to manufacturing here,” even if it involves putting a tariff on a German-produced panel.

They may not be alone. While the US solar industry is holding its breath, foreign manufacturers are starting to think about setting up shop in the US, especially if the commission recommends a broad tariff.

Both sides see the dispute as a turning point for the industry – and both think the president should be on their side.

“If the Trump administration wants to create jobs,” James Marlow says. “They should join with the solar industry.”

The question for President Trump will be – which part?

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-41352259

How killer flies have the fastest vision of any animal

Flies are notoriously hard to swat because they see around four times faster than humans. They effectively watch you coming in slow-motion. In fact, scientists discovered that so-called ‘killer flies’ have the fastest vision of any animal.

Find out more with CrowdScience: Spider silk and super fly senses.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-41287217

Kurdish referendum on ‘Independence’ unpopular but imminent

ISTANBUL – On September 25, Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will hold a referendum on independence that nearly every international actor opposes.

Experts say the referendum is mostly about using leverage against Baghdad, which strongly opposes it.

“[KRG president Masoud] Barzani is using this referendum to put pressure on Baghdad to give more concessions to the Kurds,” Gönül Tol, founding director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies, told The Media Line.

“The referendum doesn’t mean independence and they all know that. Even Kurdish officials have acknowledged that reality.”

KRG lawmakers have stated that a “yes” vote, predicted by most analysts, would not result in an official declaration of independence. Denise Natali, director and distinguished research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, says Barzani and his ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) are also using the referendum to maintain relevance as the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, or Daesh), during which the KRG’s armed forces played a key role and expanded its territory, winds down.

“[Barzani and the KDP] may think this is an opportune moment, after all of the Daesh territorial gains, to consolidate power [and] authority in some way,” she told The Media Line.

Tol agrees, pointing out that there have been protests against Barzani’s rule and opposition politicians have called for him to step down.

“There are a lot of divisions among the Kurds themselves,” she said. “[Barzani] wants the referendum to have a rally around the flag effect.”

Natali believes Barzani is overplaying his hand.

“I think [the referendum] is a sign of deep desperation by Masoud Barzani because he’s actually weak. He’s only strong because everybody else is weaker,” she said. Barzani has overstayed his presidential term since it ended in 2015, at which time parliament was suspended, and has been accused of corruption and oppressing opponents. “Barzani has put his opponents on the defensive, daring them to oppose a Kurdish independence referendum. It’s a pretty shrewd political maneuver,” Steven A. Cook, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Media Line.

“It allows Barzani – no democrat – to discipline the political arena in his favor.”

On Tuesday, Iraq’s parliament voted to reject the referendum, but Kurdish officials don’t accept the decision.

“The worst thing about the whole thing is it’s circumvented the most important people,” Natali said. “You can’t do this without at least the recognition from the Iraqi government through the constitution under parliament, or else it’s illegitimate. It was done without any international support, without any regional support.”

Natali believes a yes vote in the referendum won’t change the KRG’s precarious position – lacking any external support, with a troubled economy, no access to the sea, and holding territory disputed with Baghdad. The disputed territories are in the governorates of Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala.

“This doesn’t change anything. If you do this unilaterally, you’re going to be in the same position you’re in now – de facto controlling territories that nobody else recognizes that you’re in charge of,” Natali said. “You can’t just say that ‘Kirkuk is mine.’ You can’t just say ‘Nineveh is mine.’” Tol also expresses hesitancy over the KRG’s ability to be fully independent, especially after not being able to defend itself alone against the ISIS onslaught in 2014.

“Many people said ‘How are you going to have an independent state if you can’t even protect your own territory, if you depend on Baghdad and the international community?’” she said.

No regional or international actor except Israel has supported the referendum. The United States, the United Nations, Turkey and Iran have all denounced it.

The KRG’s once-booming economy took a major hit in 2014 when Baghdad cut off huge budget payments amounting to 17 per cent of Iraq’s oil sales. Since then, Erbil has been selling its oil through a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, making it highly dependent on Ankara.

A Turkish foreign ministry statement on September 14 said that “continued insistence on carrying out this referendum, despite all friendly advice to the contrary, will carry a cost.” Ankara has been fighting a decades-long war against Kurdish militants at home but enjoys warm relations with Barzani.

Tol believes Turkey is unlikely to take concrete action against the KRG.

“I don’t think that Turkey really sees [Iraqi Kurdistan’s] independence as an existential threat, but the timing is difficult because elections are coming up in Turkey in 2019 and [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan has been playing on the nationalists,” she said.

Devlet Bahçeli, Erdoğan’s political ally and leader of Turkey’s ultranationalist National Movement Party (MHP), said on September 9 that the Kurdistan referendum is a “cause for war.”

“Will [Ankara’s] actions match [its] rhetoric? Hard guess, but I am led to believe no, it will not,” Aydın Selçen, Turkey’s former consul general to Erbil, told The Media Line. “Iraqi Kurdistan’s oil will flow through Ceyhan to world markets, Habur [border crossing] will remain open and [there will be] no overland military intervention in Shengal or Qandil [regions in northern Iraq].”

Iran, a powerful player in Iraq with close ties to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and Iraqi Shiite militias, and often troubled relations with its own Kurdish population, also opposes the referendum.

“The Iranians can cut off trade; Sulamaniyah [a city in Iraqi Kurdistan’s east] runs on trade with Iran. Those Iranian backed militias can also cause a lot of mischief,” Cook said.

The United States also vocally opposes the referendum, but Cook thinks Washington wouldn’t simply abandon its ally.

“The US has a long history of double dealing with the Kurds, but even with the Trump Administration’s opposition, it seems hard to believe that Washington will leave the Kurds alone to face its neighbors should they really try to secede,” he said.

Tol says that whatever happens after the referendum, the KRG has many challenges in front of it as it continues to pursue independence.

“There are just so many problems facing an independent state,” she said. “It’s a bumpy road ahead.”

Article source: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Analysis-Kurdish-referendum-on-Independence-unpopular-but-imminent-505603