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Hundreds dead after massive truck bomb strikes Mogadishu

At least 231 people were killed and hundreds more wounded after a massive truck bomb on Saturday struck Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu.

The Somali government has blamed the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab for the attack, and called it the deadliest ever to hit the nation.

The blast took place outside the Safari Hotel, where rescue workers dug through the rubble of collapsed buildings overnight in search of survivors. Witnesses described a devastating scene with large-scale carnage, as doctors worked feverishly to attend to the dead and injured, many badly burned.

“The hospital is overwhelmed by both dead and wounded,” Dr. Mohamed Yusuf, the director of Medina hospital located near the blast, told the Associated Press. “We also received people whose limbs were cut away by the bomb. This is really horrendous, unlike any other time in the past.”

Photos and videos of the bombing, which took place on a busy street near a section of the city housing foreign embassies, showed collapsed walls, twisted metal, and sporadic fires spewing smoke. The Qatari government said its embassy was “severely damaged” in the strike.

Family members searched through the wreckage and waited at local hospitals with the hopes of finding relatives who survived the bombing.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed announced three days of mourning. The attacks received international condemnation, including from the United States.

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Why a power struggle has broken out over Kirkuk

JUDY WOODRUFF: Longstanding rivalries were re-ignited in Iraq today between vital American allies.

Iraqi military forces and militia moved to push Kurdish forces out of the disputed city of Kirkuk in the country’s north.

Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

MAN (through interpreter): The commander in chief of the armed forces, Dr. Haider al-Abadi, gave orders to protect the people of Kirkuk and to impose security in the city.

LISA DESJARDINS: After months of simmering tensions, Iraqi federal troops moved to retake the disputed city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.

The effort launched before dawn. By midday, Iraqi soldiers, along with state-backed militias, quickly took control of several massive oil fields north of the city. Iraqis also captured Kirkuk’s military airport and various government buildings. They lowered what had been a symbolic Kurdish flag at the governor’s compound.

Journalist Rebecca Collard in Irbil was in Kirkuk this morning.

REBECCA COLLARD, Journalist: You could hear some clashes, some gunfire in the distance, but for the most part, the city seemed more or less abandoned. Now, the Iraqi army, by the end of today, was essentially in control of the whole city and many of the outskirts of Kirkuk.

LISA DESJARDINS: The spokesman for an Iraqi Shiite militia said they achieved all their goals with little resistance.

AHMED AL-ASSADI,  Spokesman for al-Hashed al-Shaabi (through translator): As the troops approached the area, they were confronted by some rebels, who tried to hinder the progress of the advancing units. Our troops returned fire and silenced its source.

LISA DESJARDINS: This comes three weeks after the Kurds held a nonbinding independence referendum that included the disputed province of Kirkuk.

More than 90 percent of the Kurdish region’s residents voted to split from Iraq. The Iraqi federal government, Turkey, Iran and the U.S. all rejected the independence drive.

The multiethnic region of Kirkuk lies just outside of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq’s north. Called the country’s oil capital, Kirkuk produces around 500,000 barrels a day.

In 2014, amid the ISIS onslaught across Northern Iraq, the Kurds took control of Kirkuk, as the Iraqi military fled the city. In the three years since, the Kurds, led by their president, Massoud Barzani, sought to cement their hold, despite tensions with the central government.

Today, Kurdish officials accused Iraq of carrying out a major multipronged attack.

MAJ. GEN. AYOUB YUSUF SAID, Peshmerga Commander (through interpreter): I don’t know what is happening exactly, because we have been in this fight since 4:00 in the morning. We have suffered casualties, including martyrs, and now we have withdrawn to this position. Some of the other Kurdish forces have pulled out. They didn’t fire a single shot.

LISA DESJARDINS: While Kurdish forces withdrew from posts south of the city, some residents vowed to die fighting. Thousands of others fled north.

REBECCA COLLARD: For the last few years, the Iraqi forces, these primarily Shia militia, the Hashed Shaabi, and the Kurdish forces have been focused on fighting ISIS. Now that fight is coming to an end, and what the fear is that now these internal division in Iraq are going to become more apparent and possibly more violent.

LISA DESJARDINS: These clashes pit one substantially American-armed military force against another. Both the Kurdish forces and Iraqi government troops are part of the coalition fighting ISIS. The U.S. sought to downplay the fighting, labeling the exchange of gunfire a misunderstanding.

And, in the Rose Garden, President Trump tried to stay neutral.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We don’t like the fact that they’re clashing. We’re not taking sides. But we don’t like the fact that they’re clashing.

LISA DESJARDINS: For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more, I’m joined now by Emma Sky. She served as an adviser to General David Petraeus while he was commander of U.S. forces in Iraq from 2007 to 2010, and by Feisal Istrabadi. He’s a former Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations and he helped write Iraq’s interim constitution.

Welcome to both of you.

Let me start with you, Emma Sky.

This has happened so quickly. What exactly has the Iraqi government done?

EMMA SKY, Yale University: The Iraqi government has deployed its forces back up north into Kirkuk.

And since 2003, the Kurds have made it clear that they want to include Kirkuk within their territory in order to proceed with gaining independence, which has always been their goal. But Kirkuk is important to Iraq itself, and no Iraqi prime minister can afford to lose Kirkuk.

So you can see this reaction that has taken place following the referendum on independence, which happened September the 25th, and also included the disputed territories and the city of Kirkuk.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Feisal Istrabadi, what can you add to why the Iraqi government is so set on taking over the city?

FEISAL ISTRABADI, Former Deputy UN Ambassador, Iraq: Well, a couple of reasons.

First, as Emma just said, it is a part of the disputed territories, which are legally and constitutionally under the jurisdiction of the federal government in Baghdad. The KRG expanded into these disputed territories at the time when ISIL was expanding its territory, and then began to take steps to unilaterally declare that these areas were now incorporated into the Kurdistan region, including when it held the referendum that Emma talked about.

It included holding the referendum in these disputed territories. Now, so long as Iraq — so long as we’re talking about a single country, it matters a little less who controls Kirkuk, but once the referendum was held, this gave rise then to the second reason for Baghdad choosing to act now.

As Emma said, Kirkuk is an important oil-producing zone in Iraq. And it is vital for the economic viability of an independent Kurdish state and an important part of the economic viability of the Iraqi state. So there was never going to be a scenario, I think, in which Baghdad would allow a unilateral exercise of control by Kurds to occur over Kirkuk, so long as independence is on the table.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Emma Sky, we heard President Trump say today the U.S. is not taking sides in this.

Is that accurate, that the U.S. isn’t taking sides? What is the U.S. role here?

EMMA SKY: Well, the U.S. has stipulated over and over again that its policy is to support a united Iraq.

So you can see the U.S. has given support to Iraqi security forces, but also to the Kurdish Peshmerga, to fight against ISIS. The U.S. policy for the last few years has really been focused on ISIS and not on the day after ISIS.

But what we’re witnessing at the moment is that different groups are already moving to the day after, which is the power struggle for control of different territories in Iraq.

And Barzani believed that during the fight against ISIS, he became stronger because he got weapons directly from the international community. And, as Feisal said, he was able to extend his control over the disputed territories.

He’s also facing domestic problems within Kurdistan. There are tensions between the different Kurdish groups, and some believe that Barzani has overstayed his term as president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which reminds us just how complicated this is, Feisal Istrabadi.

What does the Iraqi central government want here? They’re not going to get rid of the Kurds. What is it that they want?

FEISAL ISTRABADI: Oh, well, I mean, the Kurds of course are a vital part of Iraq. They’re a vital part of the political process, and they have been represented in Baghdad. The president of Iraq is a Kurd and has been since 2005.

I think what needs to occur and I hope what the government of Iraq wants is a negotiated settlement, in which no party dictates terms to the other, but a negotiated settlement.

Look, Irbil has some legitimate agreements with respect to Baghdad. Baghdad has some legitimate agreements with respect to Irbil. I think we need a mediator perhaps or somebody to convene a roundtable — the United States is who I’m thinking of, of course — to address some of those issues.

Most of the issues are, from the Irbil side, economic issues of payments, and from Baghdad’s side, transparency of how much oil Irbil is producing and exporting, which Irbil has never accounted for to Baghdad.

I think if those issues are resolved, perhaps hopefully some of these other issues can at least be delayed for another day. But at the end of the day, neither government — neither the regional government nor the federal government in Baghdad can really tolerate dictation of terms to it by the other side. My hope is that a negotiated settlement obtains.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Emma Sky, where do you see this going from here? Do you see the peace that different sides have worked to hard to create in Iraq unraveling as a result of this?

EMMA SKY: I think there is an opportunity for a deal, and I think the sort of deal that could be negotiated is one that looks at a special status for the city of Kirkuk and negotiated terms for Kurdistan’s separate, whether that be towards confederation or towards independence.

But there needs to be negotiation. There needs to be a look at where should the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq actually be, and that requires mediation district by district through those territories.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know there are other players who are playing an important role here in Iran and Turkey, and this is all very much playing out as we watch, watch it happen in Iraq.

Emma Sky, Feisal Istrabadi, thank you very much.


EMMA SKY: Thank you.

The post Why a power struggle has broken out over Kirkuk appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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U.S., Japan agree to maximize diplomatic pressure on North Korea

TOKYO — U.S. and Japanese diplomats agreed Tuesday to maximize pressure on North Korea to resolve tensions over its nuclear program, while citing the need to be prepared for the worst if diplomacy fails.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, after meeting his Japanese counterpart, Shinsuke Sugiyama, told reporters that the focus at the State Department is still on diplomacy to solve the problem and eventually denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

“We must, however, with our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere, be prepared for the worst should diplomacy fail,” he said. The U.S. must be prepared to defend itself and its allies, he said.

Sugiyama, briefing reporters separately, reiterated Japan’s support for President Donald Trump’s policy of keeping all options open, but stressed the need for a diplomatic solution by bolstering cooperation among Japan, U.S. and South Korea, as well as via cooperation with China and Russia.

The two diplomats will join their South Korean counterpart in Seoul for further talks Wednesday on North Korea.

READ MORE: Rex Tillerson says continue diplomacy with North Korea ‘until first bomb drops’

The talks come as the U.S. and South Korea hold joint naval drills this week. They regularly conduct joint exercises, though North Korea condemns them as an invasion rehearsal.

North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador warned on Monday that the situation on the peninsula “has reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment.”

Kim In Ryong told the U.N. General Assembly’s disarmament committee that North Korea has been subjected to a direct nuclear threat from the United States and has the right to possess nuclear weapons in self-defense.

He pointed to military exercises and what he called a U.S. plan to stage a “secret operation aimed at the removal of our supreme leadership.”

Kim’s speech follows increasingly tough U.N. sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country is curtailing economic, scientific and other ties with North Korea in line with U.N. sanctions, and the European Union announced new sanctions as well.

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U.S.-backed Syrian forces recapture Raqqa from Islamic State group

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced Tuesday that they had captured the city of Raqqa from Islamic State militants.

“Everything is finished in Raqqa, our forces have taken full control of Raqqa,” SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP. A formal declaration would be announced after operations to clear any remaining sleeper cells and to remove landmines in the city were completed, Sello added.

The move is a major setback for the Islamic State which considered Raqqa the de-facto capital of its self-declared caliphate. It comes on the third anniversary of the global effort to defeat ISIS.

Raqqa was the first provincial capital to fall from government control in March 2013 after it was captured by a rebel army. The army included both Syrian opposition groups and more hard line  parties including al-Nusra and the Islamic State.

A civilian government  that was established in the city divided two months later, and less than a year later ISIS recaptured Raqqa and named the the capital of their caliphate.

About 900 civilians have been killed since the the start of the five-month operation, including 570 people in coalition air raids, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the civilian death toll at 1,130 people. American journalist James Foley was beheaded in the mountains south of the city.

SDF fighters pulled down the Islamic State’s black flag from the city’s National Hospital near the city’s stadium, according to a Reuters report.

Special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Brett McGurk said in August that the U.S. would attempt to perform a “stabilization” in Raqqa — including demining, removing rubble from major pathways to allow trucks and equipment through, and “basic electricity, sewage, water, the basic essentials to allow populations to come back to their home.”

It is not clear when the 300,000 civilians who have fled Raqqa since April during the operation will be able to return.

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Tillerson: ‘Heartbreaking’ reports of suffering in Myanmar

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is condemning reported atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and he says those responsible — perhaps the country’s military — will be held accountable.

Tillerson says accounts of the suffering of the Rohingya are “heartbreaking” — and that if those reports are true, then “someone is going to be held to account for that.”

Tillerson — who’s set to visit South Asia next week — is urging the Myanmar government to improve humanitarian access to the population in western Rakhine state.

Amnesty International has accused Myanmar’s security forces of killing hundreds of men, women and children during a systematic campaign to expel the Rohingya. More than 580,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since late August.

“We really hold the military leadership accountable for what’s happening,” Tillerson said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “What’s most important to us is that the world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in that area.”

He also called Wednesday for the U.S. and India to expand strategic ties. He pointedly criticized China, which he accused of challenging international norms needed for global stability.

He said the world needed the U.S. and India to have a strong partnership. The two nations share goals of security, free navigation, free trade and fighting terrorism in the Indo-Pacific, and serve as “the eastern and western beacons” for an international rules-based order which is increasingly under strain, he said.

Both India and China had benefited from that order, but Tillerson said India had done so while respecting rules and norms, while China had “at times” undermined them. To make his point, he alluded to China’s island building and expansive territorial claims in seas where Beijing has long-running disputes with Southeast Asian neighbors.

“China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea directly challenge the international law and norms that the United States and India both stand for,” Tillerson said.

He added that the U.S. seeks constructive relations with China but “won’t shrink” from the challenges it poses when it “subverts the sovereignty of neighboring countries, and disadvantages the U.S. and our friends.”

U.S.-India relations have generally prospered in the past decade, in part because of their shared concerns about the rise of China. While President Donald Trump has looked to deepen cooperation with China on addressing the nuclear threat from North Korea, he’s also sought a closer relationship with India, which shares U.S. worries on Islamic extremism.

“In this period of uncertainty and angst, India needs a reliable partner on the world stage. I want to make clear: with our shared values and vision for global stability, peace and prosperity, the United States is that partner,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson said the U.S. wants to help improve India’s military capabilities, and also improve security cooperation among the region’s major democracies, which included Japan and Australia.

Tillerson said the U.S. and India were leading regional efforts on counterterrorism. He called for India’s archrival Pakistan “to take decisive action against terrorist groups based within their own borders that threaten its own people and the broader region.”

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The battle for Mosul is over, but this hidden ISIS danger could lurk for years


The former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, recently listed 81 locations where bombs were dropped, but had not yet exploded.

Facilities used to make weapons were often on the list of high-value targets for the coalition. So now those places are twice as likely to contain dangerous items.

So, this was once a workshop for electrical engineering students. You can still see the lab tables here. It was hit by an airstrike in 2015. Afterwards, members of the university staff found bomb-making instructions among the rubble. This was likely an ISIS bomb-making factory, and judging by the crater, a high-value target.

Despite the damage, Dean Alubaidy says he will hold classes this fall in alternate buildings, until the campus is ready. He’s expecting registration to be in the thousands, students who lost three years of education during the fighting and don’t want to lose another one.