When experts use the term hot! spots, they’re not talking about places in the world where there are heat waves or raging fires. They mean countries or regions that are at war or at risk of exploding into war at any moment.
- Israel is the scene of a conflict that has been smoldering for decades; Sudan is a war-torn country that threatens to boil over; North Korea and Iran are simmering over plans for nuclear power development; Venezuela is heating up; and the war in Iraq is as red-hot as ever.
- These are just six of the world’s hottest hot spots. For the sake of world peace, let’s hope they aren’t too hot to handle.
Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, and U.S. President George W. Bush have been trading jabs for months. In September, Chavez harshly criticized U.S. policy on the war in Iraq at a United Nations summit of world leaders and claimed that the U.S. government would oust him as it had Saddam Hussein. The United States views Chavez as a possible source of instability in the region but denies any plans to remove him from power. Since coming to power in 1998, the left-wing leader has survived a coup, several protests and strikes, and a referendum on his rule. Though Venezuela is the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world, most people in the country live in poverty.
All eyes are on Israel since the Israeli government ended its 38-year military occupation of the Gaza Strip in August. Thousands of tearful and enraged Israeli settlers in Gaza were forced to leave their homes, yet Palestinian Arabs were jubilant. Gaza is home to more than 1.4 million Palestinians. The two groups have fought over the land now occupied by Israel (called Palestine by Arabs) since the nation was created in 1948. World leaders hope the Gaza pullout is a step toward peace, but the tiny strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea is a stronghold of Hamas, a militant Palestinian group that wants to control not only Gaza but all of the land now occupied by Israel.
Refugee camps in the Darfur region teemed with hundreds of thousands of people when civil war once again tore apart this African nation in early 2003. The war was the result of years of strife between nomadic Arab herders and African farmers over the region’s scarce arable land. The recent violence has left more than 150,000 people dead and forced an estimated 2 million people from their homes. Sudan’s government and two main rebel groups have reached a peace agreement, but many people fear that it won’t hold. Apart from an 11-year peace between 1972 and 1983, Sudan has been entrenched in civil war since it gained independence from Britain in 1956.
Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has declared that he will press ahead with a program to develop uranium in defiance of the United Nations. Ahmadinejad says the only purpose for enriching the uranium is to make fuel for nuclear power plants. World leaders, including President Bush and European leaders, don’t believe him. They fear that the real purpose behind the enrichment program is to make nuclear weapons, which would throw the entire Middle East into turmoil. Israel has threatened military action against Iran if the country develops nuclear weapons. In the past, Iran has threatened Israel with destruction. Iran has been told by the U.N. Security Council to stop its enrichment process or face trade and other sanctions.
- Few spots are hotter than Iraq is right now. More than 140,000 U.S. troops struggle to help Iraqi government forces maintain order and suppress a growing insurgency. The death toll continues to rise for both U.S. and coalition troops and Iraqis.
- Since the war began in March 2003, more than 1,900 U.S. military personnel have died, and an estimated 15,000 have been wounded. Civilian Iraqi casualties are estimated to top 25,000. Many fear that an all-out civil war will erupt among Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis–the country’s three main religious andethnic groups. Yet despite the continued violence, U.S. and Iraqi officials are hopeful that Iraq will hold national elections in December, as planned. North Korea
North Korea’s bizarre but shrewd dictator, Kim Jong II, claims that he has nuclear weapons and that nobody can stop him from developing enriched uranium. He claims it is only for a nuclear power program, not more bombs. Six-nation talks between North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States persuaded North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. However, many wonder whether Kim Jong II can be trusted to keep his word. Some experts say the North Korean leader is just using the threat of building more nukes to get money for his impoverished people. Other experts say a nuclear-armed North Korea threatens world stability.