Russia is receiving munitions and military hardware sourced from Iraq for its war effort in Ukraine with the help of Iranian weapons-smuggling networks, according to members of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias and regional intelligence services with knowledge of the process.
RPGs and anti-tank missiles, as well as Brazilian-designed rocket launcher systems, have been dispatched to Russia from Iraq as Moscow’s campaign has faltered in the last month, the Guardian has learned. And an Iranian-made Bavar 373 missile system, similar to the Russian S-300, has been donated to Moscow by the authorities in Tehran.
Using the weapons-trafficking underworld would signal a dramatic shift in Russian strategy as Moscow is forced to lean on Iran, its military ally in Syria, after new sanctions triggered by the invasion of Ukraine.
Has phosphorus been used in Mariupol? Ukraine is checking unverified information that Russia may have used chemical weapons in Mariupol, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Malyar, has said. “There is a theory that these could be phosphorus munitions,” she said.
What has the US said about this? The Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said he was aware of the reports but could not confirm them. “These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including teargas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” he said.
What else is happening? Here’s what we know on day 48 of the invasion.
Biden vows to crack down on ghost guns – ‘weapons of choice for many criminals’
Joe Biden speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP
Joe Biden has announced a crackdown on “ghost guns”, untraceable firearms assembled from kits, which have been used in a rising number of shooting crimes.
The president, who has promised to tackle gun violence across America, said the new rule would make it easier for law enforcement officials to track and catch those who use illegal firearms.
“These guns are weapons of choice for many criminals,” Biden said during an event in the White House Rose Garden. “We’re going to do everything we can to deprive them of that choice and when we find them, put them in jail for a long, long time … If you commit a crime with a ghost gun, expect federal prosecution.”
He also announced the nomination of Steve Dettelbach, the US attorney in Ohio from 2009 to 2016, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
What are ghost guns? They are often assembled from kits, do not have serial numbers and are sold without background checks, making them easy to acquire and difficult to trace.
How many of them are there? It’s hard to know but in 2021 there were about 20,000 suspected ghost guns reported to the ATF as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations – a tenfold increase from 2016, according to statistics shared by the White House.
US orders some consulate staff to leave Shanghai as China Covid outbreak worsens
Decision to move out non-emergency staff comes as the city battles China’s worst outbreak of the virus since the start of the pandemic. Photograph: Mark R Cristino/EPA
The US state department yesterday ordered non-emergency US government workers to leave the consulate in Shanghai owing to a surge in Covid cases and China’s strict measures to control the virus.
On Friday the state department announced that non-emergency personnel could voluntarily leave the consulate. It is not clear why the departure of those workers has become mandatory.
“Our change in posture reflects our assessment that it is best for our employees and their families to be reduced in number and our operations to be scaled down as we deal with the changing circumstances on the ground,” the department said yesterday.
China responded angrily to the earlier voluntary departure order.
What measures is China taking to control coronavirus? The most controversial of Shanghai’s practices had been separating Covid-positive children from their parents. The state department cited the risk of parents and children being separated in yesterday’s announcement.
In other news …
People wearing masks show proof of vaccination at a restaurant in Philadelphia. Photograph: Hannah Beier/Reuters
Philadelphia became the first major US city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate yesterday after reporting a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, with the city’s top health official saying she wanted to forestall a potential new wave driven by an Omicron sub-variant.
At least 24 people have been killed in landslides and flooding across central and southern Philippines, authorities said yesterday , after tropical storm Megi dumped heavy rain on the region and disrupted travel before the Easter holidays. More than 13,000 people fled to emergency shelters as the storm raged.
Stores across the US have started to ration baby formula while some others are reporting increasing shortages. The problems come two months after a huge manufacturer recall that occurred as a result of illnesses and deaths among infants.
Britney Spears has apparently revealed she is pregnant with her third child, months after she was released from a conservatorship that she said prevented her from marrying and having additional children. The Toxic singer shared the news in a post on Instagram yesterday.
Stat of the day: 250m people now face extreme poverty, warns Oxfam
People queue for paraffin in Sri Lanka. Photograph: Rebecca Conway/Getty Images
The rising price of food caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increased energy costs could push a quarter of a billion more people into extreme poverty, Oxfam has said. It said these new challenges had piled on to the economic crises created by Covid, and the charity called for urgent international action including cancelling debt repayments for this year and next, which could free up $30bn (£23bn) for dozens of the countries facing the biggest debts.
Don’t miss this: Work remote, get paid less? The battle dividing offices will define the future of work
‘The case for going into an office regularly is having to be made to the workforce – and many are rejecting it.’ Photograph: Nuthawut Somsuk/Getty Images/iStockphoto
The world of work was already quite sick before the coronavirus took hold, but the pandemic put rocket boosters on cultural change. We can see the impact of this in every metric around work: during the Great Resignation of 2021, millions of American workers resigned en masse. Workers worldwide have declared they would quit their jobs if not provided with flexibility. Mobility and freedom are the new prizes for the professional working class. But some companies fail to grasp the scale and sweep of change.
Climate check: how sonic pollution is hurting marine life
Whales cannot hear the echolocating pulses that locate their prey owing to ocean noise. Illustration: Guardian Design
Today, ocean waters are a tumult of engine noise, sonar and seismic blasts, writes David George Haskell. We are severing the sensory links that gave the world its animal diversity. Whales cannot hear the echolocating pulses that locate their prey, breeding fish cannot find one another amid the noise and turbidity, and the social connections among crustaceans are weakened as their chemical messages and sonic thrums are lost in a haze of human pollution. We could make it stop, so why don’t we?
Last Thing: San Francisco police stop self-driving car – and find nobody inside, video shows
A Cruise self-driving car outside the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. Photograph: Heather Somerville/Reuters
A video recently posted online shows what happens when police try to apprehend an autonomous vehicle. Police in San Francisco stopped a vehicle that had been driving without headlights, only to find it was empty. “Ain’t nobody in it – this is crazy,” a bystander can be heard saying in the video, posted on 1 April. The car then speeds away to the other side of the intersection, leaving the police behind. “Welcome to the future,” quipped one Twitter user.
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