Iraqi commander: Could take months to take control of Mosul from ISIL

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150318aa001.jpegBAGHDAD — Iraqi forces face a dilemma as they push farther into Mosul: How to draw out entrenched Islamic State fighters while protecting residents who’ve been hunkered in their homes for weeks.

“We are advancing steadily,” said Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, a commander in Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces. "We are taking in civilians fleeing (Islamic State-controlled) areas while prioritizing protecting residents inside the city.”

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Climate skeptic Trump makes environmentalists at Morocco meeting sweat

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_MAR130218AA001.jpegMARRAKECH, Morocco — Environmental advocates who came here to promote efforts to combat global warming worry that the surprise election of Donald Trump, who once called climate change a "hoax," will try to unravel their progress.

Less than a year ago amid great fanfare, the United States and nearly 200 other countries adopted the world’s first global climate pact, called the Paris Agreement. But Trump has vowed to renegotiate the deal, which limits greenhouse gas emissions.

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Jihadi terrorist groups see opportunity with Trump election

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ161616aa001.jpegJihadi terrorist groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia are looking to leverage the election win of Donald Trump as president of the United States as a call to arms on social media, while others are reaching out to the next administration in an attempt to end U.S. involvement in their countries.

However, regional security analysts, as well as some on Arab streets, see Mr. Trump as a conduit for shifting the balance of power in the Middle East away from Iran’s growing influence and toward Persian Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia.

Read more at The Washington Times

ISIL brainwashed kids to become next generation of extremists

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ140807aa001.jpegIRBIL, Iraq — Karam Kahlid was 18 and working at an orphanage in Mosul when the Islamic State conquered the city more than two years ago.

The militants first burned the orphanage’s books, except the Qurans. Then they beat the children and, finally, indoctrinated them into extremism.

Read more at USA Today

'Iraqi army saved us,' residents outside Mosul say

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_5410433581_8ae746d004.jpegKHAZAR, Iraq — Word that the Iraqi army is nearing Mosul gave hope to traumatized refugees still covered in dust from their recent flight from the battle against the Islamic State militants.

“We are proud of the Iraqi army because they saved us,” said Abu Ali, 52, from Bazwaya, a town about 10 miles east of central Mosul that government troops retook Monday from the Islamic State. "We are not afraid of them (government troops). We are afraid of the Islamic State."

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Protests erupt in Morocco over fish vendor’s death in garbage compactor

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130705aa003.jpegMARRAKESH, Morocco — Protests erupted across Morocco over the weekend after the death of a fish vendor who, according to witnesses, was crushed by a compactor after he jumped into a garbage truck to retrieve his merchandise.

Grainy images of the man, identified in news accounts as Mouhcine Fikri, 31, circulated after his death on Friday night, in the northern port city of Al Hoceima. The city immediately erupted in protests, which spread on Sunday to cities like Marrakesh and Rabat, the capital.

Read more at The New York Times

Displaced Iraqi Christians await return to Mosul with bated breath

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150410aa001.jpegBAGHDAD (RNS) The Rev. Martin Banni, a Chaldean Catholic priest, grabbed the Eucharist, the church’s official documents and a few personal items ahead of the Islamic State fighters’ assault on Karemlash, a town 18 miles southeast of Mosul, two years ago.

More than 100,000 Christians from the area had already left. The archbishop of Mosul begged them to flee, too.

Read more at The Washington Times

Militants storm oil city Kirkuk amid Mosul advance

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRA132811aa001.jpegSuspected Islamic State fighters stormed an Iranian-run power plant and police stations in the Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk on Friday in an apparent counter-attack as Iraqi forces advanced on militant-held Mosul about 100 miles to the northwest.

Iraqi media said at least 13 workers, including four Iranians, were killed in the pre-dawn assault by suicide bombers armed with rifles and that a curfew was imposed on the city claimed by both Iraq's government and the country’s autonomous Kurdish region.

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Iraqis who escaped Mosul now worry about relatives still there

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150318aa001.jpegISTANBUL — From the comfort of her adopted home in Stuttgart, Germany, Noor Al Jobory waits anxiously for news from her brother. Her family remains trapped in Mosul, Iraq, and the flow of news from the besieged city is down to a trickle. She just wants to know they are safe.

“There is no Internet inside the houses. There are only a few Internet cafes, and (the Islamic State) only allows them to open from time to time,” said Al Jobory, 25, who is a teacher. “Whenever he sees one of them open, he calls me. I don't know exactly when he will call me again.”

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Iraqi forces close in on Islamic State-controlled Mosul

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ160615aa001.jpegBAGHDAD — Iraqi government forces bombed Mosul on Monday, as Kurdish-led troops captured villages just east of the city to lay the groundwork for reclaiming the last major Iraqi city held by the Islamic State.

Explosions shook the eastern part of Mosul, as U.S.-led coalition warplanes launched airstrikes at Islamic State defensive positions in the long-anticipated drive to free the northern Iraqi city, captured by the militant group in 2014.

USA Today

Pakistan law cracks down on 'honor killings'

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IND130723AA001.jpegLAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan passed a law Thursday to clamp down on honor killings after a surge of recent high-profile killings of young women by family members prompted international outrage.

Under previous law, killers could go unpunished if they were granted forgiveness by relatives. The new law only allows family members to pardon the killer from the death penalty. The murderer would still face a mandatory sentence of 12.5 years if convicted of the killing.

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Muslim Brotherhood anticipates winning more seats in Jordan’s parliament

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_JOR151515aa004.jpegAMMAN — The Muslim Brotherhood anticipates winning around a third of seats in Jordan’s parliament after elections on Tuesday.

Called the Islamic Action Front, or IAF, the Brotherhood’s affiliate had boycotted nearly 10 years of Jordanian elections, complaining that the kingdom’s ballot rules weakened opposition parties.

Now, however, Jordan has changed its election rules and the Brotherhood is seeking to refresh their global image through participation in one of the few democracies in the Arab world.

“The Brotherhood believes that participation in the elections is a religious and national duty needed to prove that we can take part in political life with other forces,” said IAF spokesman Paddy Rafayeh. “The Egyptian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood cost us the trust of the public.”

Previously, Jordan used a one-man-one-vote system. Now voters cast two ballots: one for a party and one for a roster of individual candidates. The revised system aims to level the playing field for smaller political parties.

“Current electoral laws, based on the principle of proportional lists, somewhat encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in elections," said Lower Sakhr al-Khasawneh, an election official.
Some experts question the Brotherhood’s forecast.

Up for office on Tuesday are 130 members of parliament. Fifteen spots are reserved for women. Separate regions are also guaranteed seats as are religious minorities such as Christians.

The IAF is currently running the highest number of partisan candidates with 72—but they only stand to win 20 seats, political analyst Oraib al-Rantawi told the Associated Press.
In November, the United Arab Emirates, a key donor to Jordan, designated the organization as a terrorist group.

“The deterioration of security and political situations in several Arab countries, such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, have also put the Brotherhood under political pressure,” said Ibrahim Gharaibeh, a researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

That pressure has its roots in the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. In Egypt, the Brotherhood and their candidate, Mohammed Morsi, were elected into power, only to be ousted one year later when Morsi attempted to squash out public protest. The party is now forbidden to participate in elections both there, and in several other Arab countries.

In light of such global vitriol, the Brotherhood has a chance on Tuesday to “rearrange their political situation,” he added.

Samia Ali Zoubi, a 50-year-old housewife from the eastern village of Zarqa, said she supported the group. “I will elect the Muslim Brotherhood out of duty and religious support,” said Ali Zoubi.

But voter apathy for King Abdullah II’s voter base of tribal coalitions, along with general frustrations over misrepresentation, may stymie turnout.

An IRI poll in April found that 87 percent of some 1,000 respondents believed that the previous session of parliament didn’t accomplish anything worthwhile during their tenure. More than half questioned if they would even vote now.

"I do not believe in elections,” said Siham Said Hatter, 20, a University of Jordan political science student who lives in the northern village of Salt. “But I will submit a blank paper in the ballot box as a sign of democratic participation. I believe that this Council will not offer anything, just like its predecessors.”

Analysts commented that the outcome of Tuesday’s elections would likely favor the status quo under the government.

But Jordan’s ability to protect the democratic process in a tumultuous region has beget a special regard for the kingdom.

"The fact that Jordan is actually holding elections in a region that is full of blood and fight and weapons – that in itself is important," said Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani. "It shows the strength of this country."

Nothing to celebrate this Islamic New Year in Aleppo

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ140807aa001.jpegCAIRO — The only fireworks in Aleppo, Syria on this Islamic New Year's holiday are provided by relentless airstrikes.

Normally the holiday, which falls on Monday in Syria this year, is celebrated with visits to family and friends and special feasts. But not this year, as besieged residents endure virtually non-stop bombing by Russian and Syrian warplanes since a fragile cease-fire fell apart last month.

Read more at USA Today

Egypt is building a new capital - and China is bankrolling it

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130828AA001.jpegCAIRO — The Egyptian government is determined to build a new capital in the desert 28 miles southeast of this iconic city — and it's no longer a mirage now that China is bankrolling most of the $45 billion project.

Work has already begun on a 270-square-mile tract of army-owned land that would house as many as 5 million people when completed in 2021. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is pushing the project, has his skeptics, who wonder how cash-strapped Egypt can afford such an ambitious development.

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Libya once again braces for chaos as Islamic State retreats

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_LBY130208AA002.jpegSirte, LIBYA — From the second floor of a school, Abdallah Karim, 20, gazes at downtown Sirte, at buildings blown apart, streets littered with broken glass and rubble — his hometown reduced to a field of ruins. Still, he says, he enjoys the view.

“I really don’t care about the destruction of my city. Look, over there, my house was there,” said Mr. Karim, a fighter from the Defense Misrata brigade, pointing to a destroyed building through the large window. “I don’t care. I just want the Islamic State men to be dead.”

Read more at The Washington Times

Amid bombs, Syrian mother vows, 'We will not leave our homes'

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_SYR130327AA002.jpegPARIS — A bloody day in the heart of the City of Light left some of France’s best-known journalists dead and police tracking down the native Islamist terrorists suspected of carrying out the murders to avenge what they said were insults to the founder of their faith. One suspect surrendered and two others were missing.

The well-coordinated early-morning attack on the editorial offices of the Charlie Hebdo targeted the editor of the bitingly satiric weekly, Stephane Charbonnier, nine colleagues and a security guard, all murdered in cold blood by masked assailants who reportedly called out the names of their victims as they were shot.

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Brief cease-fire for Aleppo until 'nightmare of war' returns in Syria

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_SYR-130617AA.jpegISTANBUL — Shahoud Hussein, a civil defense worker in East Aleppo, Syria, took a few days off last week from helping those caught in the country's 5-year-old civil war after a cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia began.

He almost couldn’t remember what peace was like — walking on the streets without tensing up, allowing children to play outside. Now, all that is gone again, he said.

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In much of the Middle East, it's getting more dangerous to be gay

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGY130826aa001.jpegJust after it became known in June that the attacker of Orlando's Pulse nightclub had pledged allegiance to ISIS, Egypt’s foreign ministry immediately moved to condemn the attack on a US gay bar.

“Egypt stands next to the American people in these difficult times, offering sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishing the injured a speedy recovery,” the ministry said.

Read more at PRI

13,000 families in Gaza still displaced two years after war

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_GAZ140508AA001.jpegGAZA CITY — For the past two years, Iftetah Amsha, 50, has been sharing a hot, cramped mobile home with her husband and 10 children. Their house was destroyed during the 50-day war with Israel that ended two years ago this month. "I don’t know when I will get out of here," she said.

The conflict left 18,000 housing units destroyed or damaged, according to the United Nations. Fewer than 4,500 have been reconstructed and more than 13,000 families remain displaced in this crowded strip of land along Israel’s southwestern border.

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Libya discord threatens to overshadow military successes against Islamic State

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_LBY130208AA003.jpegTRIPOLI, Libya — Even as airstrikes authorized by President Obama have enabled Libya’s embattled unity government to seize the Islamic State’s critical stronghold here, a struggle between the feuding political and religious factions is putting those battlefield successes in doubt.

Discord between Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord, army commander Khalifa Hafter and Sadiq Al-Ghariani, the country’s top Muslim cleric, threatens to overshadow the military success against Islamic State in Sirte, the coastal city that just months ago was the terrorist group’s biggest outpost beyond its base in Syria and Iraq.

Read more at The Washington Times

Syrians ‘caught in a vise,’ suffering more than ever as civil war drags on

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_SYR130327AA002.jpegAMMAN, Jordan — Damascus resident Goud Abdulsalam telephones her family in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria every day, but the call usually doesn’t go through. Her family rarely has electricity, much less food or other necessities. “Every day, my father goes out foraging for food in the markets,” Ms. Abdulsalam said. “He’s looking for anything, anything at all.”

The plight of the residents of Deir Ezzor illustrates how many Syrians are suffering more than ever five years after the start of the Syrian civil war. That’s especially true in cities parceled out between the Syrian government and Islamic State.

Read more at The Washington Times

Attacks on Christians in Egypt raise alarms

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_EGT130712AA004.jpegCAIRO — Residents in the southern Egyptian village of Naj al-Nassara watched in horror as their beloved Archangel Mikhail Coptic Church burned to the ground.

“We heard deafening sounds of explosions and crackling as the interior of the church gave way,” said Salim Qamhi, a farmer in Naj al-Nassara. “The fire had eaten up everything — the wooden sanctuary, the icons, the pews and the books.”

Read more at USA Today

Israel’s arrest of Christian aid director imperils Palestinian charity missions

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_PAL151125aa001.jpegRAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel’s arrest of the Gaza director of an evangelical Christian aid group for redirecting millions of dollars in assistance to the militant group Hamas has sent shock waves throughout the Palestinian territories and left many worried that the incident will jeopardize all charity missions, even as Gaza struggles to recover from a war two years ago.

Many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are bracing for the fallout as authorities prepare to lay out the case against Mohammed El Halabi, the chief executive of World Vision and one of the most prominent aid executives in the territory.

Read more at The Washington Times

Iraqis fear bombing signals country plunging back into sectarian war

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRQ150315aa001.jpegBAGHDAD — Iraqis fear their country will descend into sectarian war again in the wake of the Islamic State's suicide truck bombing in the capital Sunday, one of the deadliest attacks in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

“We are living a horror movie,” Al-Mujtaba Al-Waeli, 28, a musician in the Iraqi national orchestra, said Monday. “Our relatives and beloved ones die on daily basis in different ways. I hope, from the bottom of my heart, to see the day when my homeland is safe again.”

Read more at USA Today

Iraqi prime minister faces power struggle with Muqtada al-Sadr in fight for Mosul

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IRA130621aa001.jpegBAGHDAD — As Iraq’s prime minister struggles to meet his goal of retaking Mosul from the Islamic State group by the end of this year, he also is racing to prevent a power struggle with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

A victorious war leader, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is striving to unite the country’s quarreling factions and take the wind out of Sheikh al-Sadr’s protest movement that has brought tens of thousands onto the streets in defiance of government calls for a halt on demonstrations that distract from the fight against the Islamic State. But some doubt he will achieve it, saying Mr. al-Abadi will preside over an ever-weakening government.
Read more at The Washington Times
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