Less than a week after Reuters confirmed a previous report from the Russian foreign ministry, that Islamic State head Aby Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed during an airstrike in Syria, conflicting reports have emerged about Baghdadi’s death, with the Iraqi interior ministry first cited by Al-Arabiya that the terrorist group head is “likely still alive and hiding near Raqqa”, and subsequently a top Kurdish counter-terrorism official echoing the same, and telling Reuters that “he was 99 percent sure that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was alive and located south of the Syrian city of Raqqa, after reports that he had been killed.”
“Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99 percent he is alive,” Lahur Talabany told Reuters in an interview, adding “don’t forget his roots go back to al Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing.”
By now, however, it no longer matters whether the “leader” is alive or dead: after Iraqi security forces retook Mosul from ISIS control last week, and the group under growing pressure in Raqqa, ISIS is scattered and on the run. If anything, Baghdadi has become a liability to others and himself.
Recall that it was the Islamic State which originally reported Baghdadi’s death, perhaps as a means of easing the blow from the ongoing ISIS failure:
“Daesh organisation (IS) circulated a brief statement through its media in the (IS-held) town of Tal Afar in the west of Mosul, confirming the killing of its leader al-Baghdadi without giving further details,” Xinhua news agency cited Iraqi news agency al-Sumaria News as saying. “Daesh called on the (IS) militants to continue their steadfastness in the redoubts of the caliphate and not being dragged behind the sedition.”
Still, Talabany said the Islamic State was shifting tactics despite low morale and it would take three or four years to eliminate the group. After defeat, Islamic State would wage an insurgency and resemble al-Qaeda on “steroids”, he said. Which likely means more unrest in Europe.
As Reuters also adds, the future leaders of Islamic State were expected to be intelligence officers who served under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the men credited with devising the group’s strategy.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin which originally reported news of Baghdadi’s death now appears to be backing off, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the Kremlin has “no precise info on ISIL leader al-Baghdadi’s death”, adding that “conflicting reports on the matter keep coming.”
In a rare comment on the deteriorating North Korean situation, outspoken Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte urged the US to show restraint after North Korea’s latest missile test and to avoid playing into the hands of leader Kim Jong Un, who “wants to end the world“. The notoriously blunt Duterte said on Saturday that the Southeast Asia region was extremely worried about tensions between the United States and North Korea, and said one misstep would be a “catastrophe” and Asia would be the first victim of a nuclear war.
“There seems to be two countries playing with their toys and those toys are not really to entertain,” the president said quoted by Reuters during a news conference after the ASEAN summit in Manila, referring to Washington and Pyongyang. “One miscalculation of a missile, whether or not a nuclear warhead or an ordinary bomb, one explosion there that would hit somebody would cause a catastrophe.”
Duterte also warned the United States, Japan, South Korea and China that they are sparring with a man who was excited about the prospect of firing missiles. Duterte’s speech, which was delivered in his capacity as chairman of ASEAN, was due to speak by telephone to U.S. President Donald Trump later on Saturday. He said he would urge Trump not to get into a confrontation with Kim.
“You know that they are playing with somebody who relishes letting go of missiles and everything. I would not want to go into his (Kim’s) mind because I really do not know what’s inside but he’s putting mother earth, the planet to an edge.“
Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s bluster on “historic tax reform” and $1 trillion in infrastructure investment, his visions still remain short on specifics, while the Congress appears headed to an epic clash over a contentious corporate tax plan.
American stocks surged in euphoria after Trump said Feb. 9 that he would announce something “over the next two or three weeks that will be phenomenal in terms of tax.” Yet his address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, his first, contained nothing but generalities — a far cry from the promised “phenomenal” plan.
During the campaign, Trump called for cutting the federal corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives have drawn up a proposal of their own that would introduce a 20% border adjustment tax to fund a corporate tax rate cut to 20%. This plan would impose no taxes on exports but would bar companies from deducting import-related costs from taxable income.
Trump has not taken a clear stand on the border adjustment tax, and Tuesday’s address only alluded to the issue. “When we ship products out of America, many other countries make us pay very high tariffs and taxes,” he said. “But when foreign companies ship their products into America, we charge them nothing, or almost nothing.”
Trump’s presidency might be second shortest in US history, says Ronald Feinman of Florida Atlantic University. William Henry Harrison holds the record for the shortest administration at 31 days. Trump looks set to beat that in just a couple of days; however, he has yet to outrule James A. Garfield, who was president for 199 days in 1881, but died “after terrible suffering and medical malpractice” when he was shot by an assassin.
If Trump manages to eclipse Garfield, the next contender to beat is Zachary Taylor, who served 16 months and five days for the third shortest presidential term in US history.
According to Feinman, who insisted that Hillary Clinton would win November’s presidential election with a 49 to 44 percent electoral majority, Trump will be either impeached or forced to resign in a matter of weeks. After that, Vice President Mike Pence will take the reins, according to US law.
So why would that happen, one might ask? According to Feinman’s blog post, the greatest sin of Donald Trump is failing to continue acting as US presidents did before him. Feinman cites the “abrupt ending of a phone call to the Australian Prime Minister, [US’s] loyal ally in four wars in the past;” Trump’s “seeming lack of respect for Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel;” and “lack of strong support for NATO” as reasons for a possible premature ending to his administration. Feinman does not trouble himself to speculate as to whether the aforementioned respect and support are justified, though. He also names Trump’s puzzling attitude towards the longstanding One-China Policy as another reason he won’t be around long.
Update: The White House has just released a statement confirming this is similar to President Obama’s plan…
President Donald J. Trump Statement Regarding Recent Executive Order Concerning Extreme Vetting
“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border. America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe, as the media knows, but refuses to say.
My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.
The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.
To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days. I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”
As we detailed earlier, a president who chooses to ban immigrant refugees from majority-Muslim nations on the basis of national security and fears over terrorism is – according to the mainstream media and 1000s of Americans at various protests today – a vicious, soul-less, fascist, Islamophobic racist, and as bad as hitler (we are paraphrasing).
Moments ago, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi publicly announced the start of an offensive to retake Mosul, the capital of Islamic State’s caliphate in Iraq. US troops are said to be playing a “supporting role” in the offensive, with the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters making up the bulk of the 30,000-strong force.
Washington recently announced the deployment of 600 additional US troops to help with the city’s recapture, bringing the total number of US force management personnel to move than 5,000, according to the Pentagon.
“The hour has come and the moment of great victory is near,” Prime Minister el-Abadi said in a speech on state TV, surrounded by the armed forces’ top commanders. “I announce today the start of the operation to liberate the province of Nineveh.”
The assault on Mosul is backed the U.S.-led coalition and could be one be the biggest military operations in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.It is expected to last several weeks if not longer.
“We are proud to stand with you in this historic operation,” Brett McGurk, U.S. envoy to the coalition against Islamic State, said on Twitter at the start of the Mosul offensive.
Attacks on energy facilities in nothern Iraq killed at least five, including a top police commander, and wounded others.
In the first attack on Sunday on the AB2 gas compressor station, northwest of the oil-rich Kirkuk province, sources said gunmen used hand grenades to storm through the external door of the facility before shooting dead four employees in a control room.
They then planted explosives, around five of which went off, the sources said.
Counterterrorism forces regained control of the facility and freed 15 other employees who had hidden in a separate room.
The fighters could not be found and may have escaped to launch a second attack 25 kilometres away, at the Bai Hassan oil field.
ISIL claim second attack
In that second attack, gunmen used the same approach to enter the facility before blowing up an oil storage tank inside.
The head of the oil police force in Kirkuk province was killed and three police officers were wounded when they responded to the Bai Hassan attack.
Security officials said a suicide bomber there blew himself up, setting off fires in two oil tanks.
ISIL, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for the second attack via its Amaq website without mentioning the first strike.
The oil-rich Kirkuk province is divided between areas mainly controlled by the Kurdish autonomous region and areas held by ISIL. It is at the centre of a territorial dispute between the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad.
Seemingly not satisfied with the domestic blowback from their interventionist-driven Washingtonian foreign policy,Francois Hollande – lagging badly in the polls – has decided to double-down following the recent terror attack in Nice. As Sputnik News reports, France will send artillery to Iraq and its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to assist the US-led coalition’s efforts in Syria and Iraq in the coming months.
The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will be sent to the region in September, the President added.
“The Charles de Gaulle airacrft carrier will arrive in the region by the end of September. It and our Rafale aircraft will allow to intensify our strikes against Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq,” Hollande said in a televised statement.
France will also send artillery to Iraq in August to help the Iraqi army fight Daesh terrorists, the President added.
“The Defense Council and I made a decision this morning to provide Iraqi forces with artillery as a part of anti-Daesh efforts. The artillery will be delivered in August,” Hollande said.
However, France “will not deploy ground troops,” Hollande said.
“We support the operations in Syria and Iraq, but will not send our troops. We have advice to give, training to provide, but we will not deploy men on the ground,” Hollande stressed.
The US-led coalition of more than 60 nations, including France, has been carrying out airstrikes in Syria and Iraq since the summer of 2014, with the US alone having recently reached the questionable milestone of dropping 50,000 bombs on ISIS.
French president François Hollande has called the attack in Nice that left at least 77 people dead and dozens wounded a terrorist attack.
In an address to a stunned nation early Friday in Paris, Mr Hollande said:
The terrorist nature of this attack cannot be denied.
France has been struck on the day of her national holiday – the 14th of July, Bastille Day – the symbol of liberty, because human rights are denied by fanatics and France is clearly their target.
Mr Hollande said the dead included several children and 20 of the injured were in a critical condition.
Mr Hollande extended for three months the state of emergency that was imposed after November’s Isis-inspired attacks on Paris and had been due to end on July 26. France would step up its strikes in Syria and Iraq, he said: “We will continue to hit those who threaten us,” the president said.