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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs


Iran’s Retaliation Gives President Trump an ‘Obvious Off-Ramp,’ but Tension – and Confusion – Remain

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 10:36 PM PST

Iranian forces launched a barrage of more than a dozen ballistic missiles Tuesday against two Iraqi military bases that house American and coalition forces, U.S. officials said—a retaliatory attack for the American drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the most prominent military general in Iran.

But as early reports emerged of no American casualties and limited damage, U.S. officials quickly concluded the attacks were more of a face-saving measure for Tehran than an escalation of hostilities. “The Iranians have left President Trump with an obvious off-ramp,” to mounting hostilities, a senior U.S. official told TIME Tuesday night.

“Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense,” Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced on Twitter. “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

As the Pentagon assessed the damage, U.S. officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, told TIME that no Americans were killed in the assault on Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province and another military installation in Erbil, located in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.

“All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now,” President Donald Trump said on Twitter. “So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”

If both sides appear to have concluded, at least for the moment, that starting a full-blown war was a bad idea, the fallout from the Soleimani strike is still roiling the Pentagon, America’s allies and the region. American forces in the Middle East and around the world remain on high alert, and U.S. and allied intelligence officials warn that terrorist groups and individuals with no ties to the Iranian regime may act on their own.

James Clapper, a former Director of National Intelligence, said the Iranians had three audiences in carrying out the missile strike: their own public, the U.S. and the Iraqis. “Zarif’s statement was very temperate, and implies they have ‘concluded’ their retaliation,” he said. “We may well have dodged a bullet, if Trump can contain himself.”

The Trump Administration on Friday urged all American citizens to leave Iraq “immediately.” The counter-ISIS battle, which is largely run out of Iraq, has been halted indefinitely. And 3,500 additional soldiers have arrived in the region on snap deployment orders, joining the 15,000 American troops sent to the Middle East since the situation with Iran began to deteriorate last spring.

“On almost a daily basis, the military has had to react to the President’s decisions, rather than plan for them,” says Chuck Hagel, a former U.S. Defense Secretary and Republican Senator from Nebraska. “It could come in an off-the-cuff comment or Twitter or in an emotional outburst. It’s a dangerously dysfunctional way of doing business that opens the door to unintended consequences.”

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been building since the Trump Administration walked away from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal and began levying crippling economic sanctions more than a year ago. It remains unclear what the lasting price of the latest confrontations with Iran will be for the U.S.

NATO allies Germany and Canada have begun to draw down forces from central Iraq out of concern of the volatility in the region.

At the same time, confusion has deepened over the future of American forces in the country, after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi requested the U.S. military to clarify how a letter stating the U.S. was preparing to withdraw troops was mistakenly sent to his office.

The unsigned letter, which the Pentagon claims was sent in error, surfaced online just one day after Iraq’s parliament made a non-binding vote to expel all foreign forces from the country. Mahdi said during a televised cabinet meeting the letter looked official to him. “It’s not a piece of paper that fell off the printer or reached us by coincidence,” he said, adding that it was translated in Arabic and English.

The White House and Pentagon have yet to explain how a “draft” of the unsigned letter from Marine Brigadier General William Seely, who commands the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS in Baghdad, was sent out. Defense Department officials were left scrambling in the halls of the Pentagon for more than 90 minutes as journalists sought an explanation on the letter after it was published Monday by the Reuters and AFP wire services.

Even Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley couldn’t answer whether the letter was authentic and, if it was, what it meant. “I don’t know what it is,” Esper said Monday during a hastily planned press briefing, referring to the letter. “We’re trying to find out where that’s coming from, what that is.” About five minutes after the briefing concluded, Milley made a phone call and returned to tell reporters: “That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should never have been released.”

The pair emphasized that no American forces would be leaving Iraq, in fact just the opposite. About 3,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division packed up their weapons and equipment and said goodbye to their family members at Fort Bragg in North Carolina for a snap deployment to Kuwait to help deal with hostilities.

In the city of Fayetteville, where many of the soldiers’ families live, the community was settling into the uneasy routine of awaiting their safe return, says Mayor Mitch Colvin. Yellow ribbons went up around town and local churches put up messages calling for prayers on marquees. “Unfortunately, this is something that we, as a community, have grown accustomed to over the past 20 years,” he says. “It’s never easy. We all see what’s going on in the news. We just pray that this deployment is quick and that all our brave soldiers come home safe.”

—With reporting by Kim Dozier and John Walcott/Washington

82 Iranians, 63 Canadians Among Dead in Ukrainian 737 Crash in Iran

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 08:01 PM PST

(SHAHEDSHAHR, Iran) — Ukraine’s foreign minister says that Iranian, Canadian, Ukrainian, Swedish, Afghan, British and German nationals were killed in the Ukrainian plane crash just outside Tehran.

Foreign Minister Vadim Prystaiko said after Wednesday’s crash that there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board. The Ukrainian nationals included two passengers and nine crew members.

He says there were also 10 Swedish nationals, four Afghans, three Germans and three British nationals. Airline officials said most of the passengers were transiting through Kyiv to other destinations.

A Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday, just minutes after taking off from the Iranian capital’s main airport, turning farmland on the outskirts of Tehran into fields of flaming debris and killing all on board.

The crash of Ukraine International Airlines came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, but both Ukrainian and Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy extended his condolences to the families of the victims. His office said he had cut his visit to Oman short and was returning to Kyiv because of the crash. The country’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk confirmed the casualty toll.

“Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims,” said parliament speaker, Dmytro Razumkov, in a Facebook statement.

Ukraine International Airlines said it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran after the crash.

“It was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew,” Yevhen Dykhne, president of the Ukraine International Airlines, said at a briefing following the crash.

The plane had been delayed from taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It took off to the west, but never made it above 8,000 feet in the air, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.

It remains unclear what happened. Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared a fire struck one of its engines. The pilot of the aircraft then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Hassan Razaeifar, the head of air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight. He did not elaborate.

Ukrainian authorities have offered to help with the investigation of the plane crash. “We’re preparing a group of specialists in order to help with the search operation and the investigation of the cause of the crash,” Honcharuk said.

The plane, fully loaded with fuel for its 2,300-kilometer (1,430-mile) flight, slammed into farmland near the town of Shahedshahr on the outskirts of Tehran. Videos taken immediately after the crash show blazes lighting up the darkened fields before dawn.

Resident Din Mohammad Qassemi said he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq in revenge for the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani when he heard the crash.

“I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere,” he told The Associated Press. “At first I thought (the Americans) have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around everywhere.”

The plane carried 167 passengers and nine crew members from different nations on its flight to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Biniaz said. The crash killed all on board, Iranian emergency officials and Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said.

The majority of the passengers were Iranian nationals, Russia’s RIA Novosti agency reported, citing Iranian authorities. Staff at the Boryspil airport in Kyiv, where the plane was headed, told the AP that passengers on this flight are usually Iranian students coming back to Ukraine after winter holidays

AP journalists who reached the crash site saw a wide field of field of debris scattered across farmland, the dead laying among shattered pieces of the aircraft. Their possessions, a child’s cartoon-covered electric toothbrush, a stuffed animal, luggage and electronics, stretched everywhere.

Rescuers in masks shouted over the noise of hovering helicopters as they worked. They quickly realized there would be no survivors.

“The only thing that the pilot managed to do was steer the plane towards a soccer field near here instead of a residential area back there,” witness Aref Geravand said. “It crashed near the field and in a water canal.”

The Boeing 737-800 is a very common single-aisle, twin-engine jetliner used for short to medium-range flights. Thousands of the planes are used by airlines around the world.

Introduced in the late 1990s, it is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months following two deadly crashes. Boeing built the aircraft that crashed Wednesday in 2016 and it last underwent routine maintenance on Monday, Ukraine International Airlines said.

A number of 737-800 aircraft have been involved in deadly accidents over the years.

In March 2016, a FlyDubai 737-800 from Dubai crashed while trying to land at Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia, killing 62 onboard. Another 737-800 flight from Dubai, operated by Air India Express, crashed in May 2010 while trying to land in Mangalore, India, killing more than 150 onboard.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. was “aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information,” spokesman Michael Friedman told the AP.

Boeing, like other airline manufacturers, typically assists in crash investigations. However, that effort in this case could be affected by the U.S. sanctions campaign in place on Iran since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.

Both Airbus and Boeing had been in line to sell billions of dollars of aircraft to Iran over the deal, which saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But Trump’s decision halted the sales.

Under decades of international sanctions, Iran’s commercial passenger aircraft fleet has aged, with air accidents occurring regularly for domestic carriers in recent years, resulting in hundreds of casualties.

___

Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran, and Gambrell from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Bangkok; Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran; Daria Litvinova in Moscow, and Inna Varenytsia and Dmytro Vlasov in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

FAA Bans U.S. Commercial Flights Over Iran and Iraq After Missile Barrage

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 06:52 PM PST

(NEW DELHI) — Some commercial airlines on Wednesday rerouted flights crossing the Middle East to avoid possible danger amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.

Australian carrier Qantas said it was altering its London to Perth, Australia, routes to avoid Iran and Iraq airspace until further notice.

The longer route meant that Qantas would have to carry fewer passengers and more fuel to remain in the air for an extra 40 to 50 minutes.

Malaysia Airlines said that “due to recent events,” its planes would avoid Iranian airspace.

Singapore Airlines also said that its flights to Europe would be re-routed to avoid Iran.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it was barring American pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace.

The agency warned of the “potential for miscalculation or mis-identification” for civilian aircraft amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Such restrictions are often precautionary in nature to prevent civilian aircraft from being confused for ones engaged in armed conflict. The FAA said the restrictions were being issued due to “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations.”

The emergency flight restrictions follow Iranian ballistic missile strikes Tuesday on two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops. Those strikes were retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad last week.

President Trump Says ‘All Is Well’ After Iran Fires Missiles at Iraq Bases

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 03:42 PM PST

(TEHRAN, Iran) — Iran struck back at the United States for the killing of a top Iranian general early Wednesday, firing a series of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops in a major escalation that brought the two longtime foes closer to war.

Iranian state TV said it was in revenge for the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qasem Soleimani, whose death last week in an American drone strike near Baghdad prompted angry calls to avenge his slaying. A U.S. official said there were no immediate reports of American casualties, though buildings were still being searched.

‘All is well!’ President Donald Trump tweeted shortly after the missile attacks, adding, ‘So far, so good’ regarding casualties.

Soleimani’s killing and the strikes by Iran came as tensions have been rising steadily across the Mideast after President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. They also marked the first time in recent years that Washington and Tehran have attacked each other directly rather than through proxies in the region. It raised the chances of open conflict erupting between the two enemies, which have been at odds since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But in a tweet shortly after the missile launches, Iran’s foreign minister called a ballistic missile attack a “proportionate measures in self-defense” and said it was not seeking to escalate the situation but would defend itself against any aggression.

Iran initially announced only one strike, but U.S. officials confirmed both. U.S. defense officials were at the White House, likely to discuss options with Trump, who launched the strike on Soleimani while facing an upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate,

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned the U.S. and its regional allies against retaliating over the missile attack against the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province. The Guard issued the warning via a statement carried by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.

“We are warning all American allies, who gave their bases to its terrorist army, that any territory that is the starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted,” The Guard said. It also threatened Israel.

After the strikes, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator posted a picture of the Islamic Republic’s flag on Twitter, appearing to mimic Trump who posted an American flag following the killing of Soleimani and others Friday in a drone strike in Baghdad.

Ain al-Asad air base was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. It houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces.

Two Iraqi security officials said at least one of the missiles appeared to have struck a plane at the base, igniting a fire. It was not immediately clear whether it was an Iraqi or U.S. jet. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the attacks, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they had no permission to brief journalists.

About 70 Norwegian troops also were on the air base but no injuries were reported, Brynjar Stordal, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Armed Forces told The Associated Press.

Trump visited the sprawling Ain al-Asad air base, about 100 miles or 60 kilometers west of Baghdad, in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. He did not meet with any Iraqi officials at the time, and his visit inflamed sensitivities about the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. Vice President Mike Pence also has visited the base.

Iranian state TV said the Guard’s aerospace division that controls Iran’s missile program launched the attack, which it said was part of an operation dubbed “Martyr Soleimani.” Iran said it would release more information later.

The U.S. also acknowledged another missile attack on a base in Irbil in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region.

“As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners and allies in the region,” said Jonathan Hoffman, an assistant to the U.S. defense secretary.

Wednesday’s revenge attack happened a mere few hours after crowds in Iran mourned Soleimani at his funeral. It also came the U.S. continued to reinforce its own positions in the region and warned of an unspecified threat to shipping from Iran in the region’s waterways, crucial routes for global energy supplies. U.S. embassies and consulates from Asia to Africa and Europe issued security alerts for Americans. The FAA also warned of a “potential for miscalculation or mis-identification” for civilian aircraft in the Persian Gulf amid in an emergency flight restriction.

A stampede broke out Tuesday at Soleimani’s funeral, and at least 56 people were killed and more than 200 were injured as thousands thronged the procession, Iranian news reports said. Shortly after Iran’s revenge missile launches early Wednesday, Soleimani’s shroud-wrapped remains were lowered into the ground as mourners wailed at the grave site.

Tuesday’s deadly stampede took place in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman as his coffin was being borne through the city in southeastern Iran, said Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s emergency medical services.

There was no information about what set off the crush in the packed streets, and online videos showed only its aftermath: people lying apparently lifeless, their faces covered by clothing, emergency crews performing CPR on the fallen, and onlookers wailing and crying out to God.

“Unfortunately as a result of the stampede, some of our compatriots have been injured and some have been killed during the funeral processions,” Koulivand said, and state TV quoted him as saying that 56 had died and 213 had been injured.

Soleimani’s burial was delayed, with no new time given, because of concerns about the huge crowd at the cemetery, the semi-official ISNA news agency said.

A procession in Tehran on Monday drew over 1 million people in the Iranian capital, crowding both main avenues and side streets in Tehran. Such mass crowds can prove dangerous. A smaller stampede at the 1989 funeral for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini killed at least eight people and injured hundreds.

Hossein Salami, Soleimani’s successor as leader of the Revolutionary Guard, addressed a crowd of supporters gathered at the coffin in a central square in Kernan. He vowed to avenge Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike Friday near Baghdad’s airport.

“We tell our enemies that we will retaliate but if they take another action we will set ablaze the places that they like and are passionate about,” Salami said.

“Death to Israel!” the crowd shouted in response, referring to one of Iran’s longtime regional foes.

Salami praised Soleimani’s work, describing him as essential to backing Palestinian groups, Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria. As a martyr, Soleimani represented an even greater threat to Iran’s enemies, Salami said.

Soleimani will ultimately be laid to rest between the graves of Enayatollah Talebizadeh and Mohammad Hossein Yousef Elahi, two former Guard comrades killed in Iran’s 1980s war with Iraq. They died in Operation Dawn 8, in which Soleimani also took part. It was a 1986 amphibious assault that cut Iraq off from the Persian Gulf and led to the end of the war that killed 1 million.

The funeral processions in major cities over three days have been an unprecedented honor for Soleimani, seen by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force.

The U.S. blames him for killing U.S. troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before he was killed. Soleimani also led forces supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war, and he also served as the point man for Iranian proxies in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Assad in Syria on Tuesday amid the tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Soleimani’s slaying already has led Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge.

In Iraq, pro-Iranian factions in parliament have pushed to oust American troops from Iraqi soil following Soleimani’s killing. Germany and Canada announced plans to move some of their soldiers in Iraq to neighboring countries.

The FAA warning barred U.S. pilots and carriers from flying over areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace. The region is a major East-West travel hub and home to Emirates airline and Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel. It earlier issued warnings after Iran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone last year that saw airlines plan new routes to avoid the Strait of Hormuz.

The U.S. Maritime Administration warned ships across the Mideast, citing the rising threats. “The Iranian response to this action, if any, is unknown, but there remains the possibility of Iranian action against U.S. maritime interests in the region,” it said.

Oil tankers were targeted in mine attacks last year that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied responsibility, although it did seize oil tankers around the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of the world’s crude oil travels.

The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said it would work with shippers in the region to minimize any possible threat.

The 5th Fleet “has and will continue to provide advice to merchant shipping as appropriate regarding recommended security precautions in light of the heightened tensions and threats in the region,” 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Joshua Frey told The Associated Press.

Iran’s parliament, meanwhile, has passed an urgent bill declaring the U.S. military’s command at the Pentagon and those acting on its behalf in Soleimani’s killing as “terrorists,” subject to Iranian sanctions. The measure appears to be in response to a decision by Trump in April to declare the Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization.”

The U.S. Defense Department used that terror designation to support the strike that killed Soleimani.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Lolita C. Baldor and Zeke Miller in Washington, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed.

Iraq’s Outgoing Prime Minister Says U.S. Troops Must Leave

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 02:59 PM PST

WASHINGTON — Iraq’s outgoing prime minister said Tuesday that the United States has no alternative and must pull its troops out of the country, or else face an impending crisis. But President Donald Trump countered that it’s not the right time for a pullout and that it would be the worst thing that could happen to Iraq.

Trump said a U.S. pullout would allow Iran to gain a stronger foothold in Iraq.

“The people of Iraq do not want to see Iran running the country, that I can tell you,” Trump said from the White House.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned in November amid mass anti-government protests, said Iraq wants a U.S. troop withdrawal to avoid further escalation as tensions soar between American and Iran.

His comments came just days after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top general at Baghdad’s international airport. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, senior Iraqi commander of an Iran-backed militia, was also killed in Friday’s strike. His remains were brought back to Iraq from Iran to be buried in the holy southern city of Najaf.

“We have no exit but this, otherwise we are speeding toward confrontation,” Abdul-Mahdi said in a prerecorded televised speech following a weekly Cabinet meeting.

He said the “historic decision” was necessary, “otherwise we will not be taken seriously.”

U.S. troops are present in Iraq based on a request by the government in 2014, when vast swathes of the country were being overrun by the Islamic State group. But now that IS has been largely defeated, Abdul-Mahdi said, the mission has devolved into a U.S.-Iran proxy war.

Trump said he wants U.S. troops out of Iraq — eventually.

“At some point we want to get out, but this isn’t the right point,” Trump said.

Trump also reiterated that he still expects the United States to be reimbursed for some of its expenses, though he didn’t specify a price tag.

“We’ve spent a tremendous amount of money on building airports and building one of the largest embassies we have in the world. And we want to be reimbursed to the various costs that we have had. They’re very significant,” Trump said.

Iraq was barely starting to recover from the devastating four-year war against IS when mass protests erupted in October against the ruling elite, forcing Abdul-Mahdi to resign two months later. He hasn’t been replaced.

Referring to the fight against Islamic State extremists, he said: “Iraq did its part to fight in the war, and I see that any harm to Iraq will be harmful to all regional states and the whole world.”

Iraq’s parliament passed a non-binding resolution to request that the government expel foreign troops from the country on Sunday, in the wake of the U.S. airstrike. The vote was pushed by pro-Iran political factions but appeared to have the support of Shiite lawmakers from rival camps.

The session was boycotted by Kurdish and many Sunni lawmakers who opposed the decision or took issue with elements of the resolution.

Though the death of Soleimani is stoking broader regional tensions and fears of more violence, in Iraq, the killing of al-Muhandis drove a wedge between Iraq and the U.S. Officials in Baghdad consider the strike to be a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, as al-Muhandis, who was also the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces, was assassinated on Iraqi soil without their approval or knowledge.

The PMF is an umbrella group of mostly Shiite militias and a component of Iraq’s armed forces.

“Politically in Parliament, there is cross-bloc support (to oust U.S. troops),” said Sajad Jiyad, managing director of Bayan Center, an Iraqi think tank. “Even people nominally pro-U.S., anti-Iran or neutral are not happy with what the U.S. has done, and believe it’s a dangerous escalation.”

“The common denominator is this was an infringement on sovereignty,” he said.

Al-Muhandis’ remains had been taken to Iran for DNA testing. They were sent back through the Shalamsheh border crossing to his hometown of Basra in southern Iraq before being transferred to Najaf for burial late Tuesday.

Thousands of mourners in Basra’s city center gathered to receive the body. Many waved banners of the Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, which al-Muhandis founded. The U.S. has blamed the group, which is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, for a rocket attack in northern Iraq in late December that killed a U.S. contractor. That prompted the airstrike last week.

Amid threats of vengeance from Iran, the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq had said it was putting the battle against IS militants on hold to focus on protecting its own troops and bases.

A letter leaked to social media from the commander of the U.S. task force to Iraqi military authorities has also caused confusion among officials over the U.S. intentions to withdraw militarily.

A letter from Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III to his Iraqi counterpart dated Monday had said the U.S.-led coalition would be “repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper later clarified to reporters that there was no plans for American troops to leave Iraq. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter had been “an honest mistake.”

___

Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad and Kullab reported from Beirut.

Australia’s Wildfires and Climate Change Are Making One Another Worse in a Vicious, Devastating Circle

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 12:45 PM PST

The hot, dry conditions that primed southeastern Australia’s forest and fields for the bushfires that have been ravaging the country since September are likely to continue, scientists warn — and climate change has likely made the situation much worse.

Over the past few months, the bushfires have already scorched millions of acres, killed two dozen people, and slaughtered an estimated half a billion animals in the country, where it is currently summer. But scientists say that the risk of additional fires remains high. Southeastern Australia has been “abnormally dry” since September, which means that it would need significant rainfall repeatedly over a period of weeks to become damp enough to cut down the risk of fires, says Dan Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.

Unfortunately, such prolonged rain does not appear to be imminent in the next few weeks. Although the region experienced some rain early this week, Pydynowski warns that it has “not been impressive” and is not enough to substantially reduce fire risk. Significant rain from Tropical Storm Blake is also not expected to reach the area most affected by the fires.

“Everything is so dry right now, it doesn’t take much for a fire to spark and blow up and spread,” Pydynowski says.

A cemetery recently hit by bushfires near Mogo, New South Wales, on Jan. 5.
Adam Ferguson for TIMEA cemetery recently hit by bushfires near Mogo, New South Wales, on Jan. 5.

Climate scientists warn that the scale and devastation of the wildfires are clear examples of the way climate change can intensify natural disasters.

The Australian bushfires were exacerbated by two factors that have a “well-established” link to climate change: heat and dry conditions, says Stefan Rahmstorf, department head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and a lead author of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report.

In recent years, Australia has experienced long-term dry conditions and exceptionally low rainfall. Scientists say that droughts in the country have gotten worse over recent decades. At the same time, the country has recorded record high temperatures; last summer was the hottest on record for the country.

“Due to enhanced evaporation in warmer temperatures, the vegetation and the soils dry out more quickly,” says Rahmstorf. “So even if the rainfall didn’t change, just the warming in itself would already cause a drying of vegetation and therefore increased fire risk.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has resisted calls for the country to reduce its carbon emissions, has been accused of deemphasizing the the link between the bushfires and climate change, saying during a November interview that there isn’t “credible scientific evidence” that curbing emissions would diminish the fires.

However, scientists stress that while many sources may ignite fires — including arson — climate change is a major reason why recent the blazes in Australia have been so destructive.

“There are now disingenuous efforts to downplay the clear role of climate change in worsening the intensity and severity of the Australian fires, or to blame ‘arson’ as a way to distract from the growing threat of climate change. These efforts should be called out for what they are: gross climate denial,” Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and co-founder of Pacific Institute in California.

Gleick says that the bushfires are a “very clear example of the links between climate change and extreme weather.” He points out that these fires are very similar to recent highly destructive fires in Brazil and California.

“It’s not a question of whether climate change has caused these fires. Fires start for natural reasons — or for human cause reasons. What we’re seeing is a worsening of the conditions that make the fires in Australia unprecedentedly bad,” says Gleick. “All of these factors — record heat, unprecedented drought, lack of rain — all contribute to drying out the fuel that makes these fires worse. What we have are fires that might have occurred anyway, but the extent, the severity, the intensity of these fires is far worse than it otherwise would have been without the fingerprints of climate change.”

Rahmstorf also says that climate scientists believe wildfire conditions are worsening because climate change affects the water cycle, which in turn “leads to less rainfall in already dry parts of the world, and more rainfall in the already wet parts of the world.” Australia is especially vulnerable to climate change because the continent is already hot and dry; a large swathe of the country is facing increased risk of drought, says Rahmstorf.

Gleick says that the bushfires can have a ripple effect both on the local landscape and on the global climate. Fires can cause “ember storms,” which can lead to additional fires when embers from smaller fires are picked up by the wind.

Fires also add carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere, which can in turn amplify climate change, Gleick says. “Climate change is making these disasters worse, and these disasters are making climate change worse,” says Gleick. “We’ve only seen a tiny fraction of the climate change that we’re going to see in the coming years and the coming decades. If we’re seeing these disasters with a 1 degree warming of the planet so far, and we know that we’re headed for a 1.5 or 2 or 3 degree warming, we can only imagine how bad these disasters are going to get.”

Trump Says Now ‘Isn’t the Right Point’ for U.S. Troops to Pull Out of Iraq

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 12:33 PM PST

President Donald Trump said it isn’t the right time for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq after the country’s parliament called for foreign troops to depart and confusion erupted over a draft U.S. letter suggesting preparations for a withdrawal.

“Eventually we want to be able to allow Iraq to run its own affairs,” Trump said Tuesday during an Oval Office meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “This isn’t the right point.”

Trump said a U.S. departure would be a mistake because it would give Iran a foothold in the country.

Questions about whether the U.S. would exit Iraq swirled on Monday after a letter surfaced that purportedly told military officials in Baghdad that American forces were repositioning in advance of a departure. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that the letter was a draft and should never have been sent. Trump said he didn’t know anything about the letter.

Separately on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he hasn’t received any request from the Iraqi government to withdraw U.S. forces. And he said at the time of last week’s strike, Soleimani was just days away from attacking U.S. forces in Iraq.

‘The Police Did Nothing.’ Students in India Are Protesting After a Masked Mob Violently Attacked a Top Delhi University

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 08:44 AM PST

Nursing a bandaged right hand and bruises on his back from where he was struck with a rod, Santosh Singh says he no longer feels safe at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, where he is a masters student.

Singh comes from Bihar, India’s poorest state, and is the first member of his extended family to attend any university — let alone JNU, as the country’s most prestigious higher education institution is known. He was so happy when he arrived for the first time that he kissed the campus gate. “I worked hard to enter this university,” he says. “It meant so much to me.”

But on Sunday evening, as he was walking toward his student accommodation, masked men stormed the campus. Armed with iron rods, sticks, baseball bats and stones, they attacked students and teachers, smashed windows and vandalized student dormitories. “I thought, this is the end,” Singh told TIME on Monday. “They are going to kill us.”

As he spoke, a crowd of his fellow students marched behind him, chanting slogans against the police and government.

In all, more than 30 students and staff were injured in the violence, some severely. One video from the scene shows JNU’s student union president, Aishe Ghosh, bleeding from her head. “I have been brutally attacked,” she tells the camera. Other footage shows masked men rushing through university corridors armed with sticks. Police were present, some students said, but did nothing to stop the violence. “The police just watched both inside and outside the campus and did nothing,” says Mohammad Sharif, a masters student.

“Even a blind student like me was not spared,” said Surya Prakash, 25, a Sanskrit student who says he was beaten inside his room. His bed was still covered in shards of glass from a smashed window. “When I told them I was blind, they accused me of lying.”

JNU Violence Aftermath
Vipin Kumar—Hindustan Times via Getty ImagesSuryaprakash, a blind research scholar pursuing an MPhil in Sanskrit, is seen sitting in his room at Sabarmati Hostel, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), on Jan. 6, 2020 in New Delhi, India. He was also beaten up the day before during violence inside the campus.

Singh has no doubt about who the masked men were. “They were ABVP goons,” he says, referring to members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization affiliated to the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Their slogans, their style of talking and the word they love the most — ‘traitors’ — was on their lips when they were beating us,” Singh tells TIME. Other witnesses said the mob was chanting “victory for mother India” and “shoot the traitors of the country.” “Even the ambulance which came for the injured was attacked,” student Syed Ali Mohammad tells TIME.

The ABVP denies involvement, saying instead that the attackers were masked left-wing students. But evidence suggests the attack was coordinated on ABVP WhatsApp groups, and experts say the attack fits a pattern of intimidation by Modi’s government and its Hindu nationalist allies against universities, which have always been bastions of progressive thought but now feel increasingly out of step with the country’s prevailing political climate of religious nationalism.

“The authorities have failed in their duty to ensure the safety of the students, signaling a shameful complicity of the state machinery,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty India, in a statement. “Moreover, the constant demonization of the students by the Government of India continues to increase their vulnerability to such attacks and awards impunity to the attackers. It is not an isolated incident and must be seen amidst the larger pattern of pushback as massive protests continue unabated across the country.”

In May 2019, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a massive mandate to govern India for another five years, with an increased majority in national elections. Amid a faltering economy, his reelection campaign tapped heavily into the Hindu nationalist politics held by his party’s base. Such politics tend to encompass the belief that India is a Hindu nation, a bitter rivalry with Pakistan, the scapegoating of Muslims (who make up 14% of India’s population), and a disdain for the secular intellectuals who ran India for much of the 20th century and who still hold important influence at universities like JNU.

Since winning reelection, Modi has rewarded the party base by delivering on several long-held Hindu nationalist goals: in August, his government revoked the constitutional autonomy of Jammu & Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state and a territory claimed by India’s arch-rival Pakistan. Later that same month, a project to root out “infiltrators” in Assam, an Indian state bordering Muslim-majority Bangladesh, was completed, putting nearly 2 million people at risk of losing of their citizenship. And in December, Modi’s government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that would offer streamlined asylum applications to members of all South Asia’s major religions — except Muslims, India’s largest minority community and a regular BJP target.

The passage of the CAA sparked a wave of demonstrations from opponents of the BJP. Across the country, including on the JNU campus, protesters rose up in opposition to the law, which they said was a flagrant violation of India’s secular constitution that privileged Hindus and other groups over Muslims. “The very soul of the Indian freedom struggle and constitution was the idea of equal citizenship for people regardless of their faith,” Harsh Mander, an activist and former civil servant, told TIME in December before he was detained while peacefully protesting. “It’s this that they are destroying.”

INDIA-POLITICS-RIGHTS-PROTEST
Noah Seelam—AFP via Getty ImagesStudents and supporters hold placards as police personnel stand guard during a protest against an attack on the students and teachers at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in New Delhi on Jan. 6, 2020.

The attack on JNU on Sunday came shortly after more than 100 other students and teachers had participated in a protest against fee increases that would have made it difficult for poorer students like Singh to pay for their stay at JNU. Even though their protest wasn’t linked to the Citizenship Amendment Act, the attack on peacefully-demonstrating students was seen by many in India as an attempt by supporters of the BJP to intimidate protesters at a time when it is struggling to keep them off the streets more generally.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Police stormed two universities in December amid the anti-CAA protests sweeping the country. At Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi, they were filmed beating a group of Muslim students protesting the law. Shortly afterward, police stormed Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh. Two students there claimed to have been tortured in police custody. On Monday, Delhi police charged Ghosh, the JNU students’ union president who was left bleeding from her head, and 19 other protesting students with vandalism, but have not arrested any of the masked attackers. Police have also been blamed for several of the 23 deaths in nationwide anti-CAA protests, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

The group many students blamed for the attack, the ABVP, is the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the ideological powerhouse of the Hindu nationalist movement, which in turn is the parent organization of the ruling BJP. The RSS was founded in 1925 and was heavily influenced by European fascist parties, including the Nazis in Germany. Subscribing to the belief that rigid discipline is the key to creating a force able to wield political power, the RSS runs camps where adherents are drilled with a regime of Hindu nationalist lectures and physical exercise while wearing khaki uniforms. Modi, along with many other top members of the BJP, attended RSS camps as an adolescent and continues to be close to the organization.

The attackers at JNU weren’t decked out in khaki — but displayed other signs of allegiance to the Sangh Parivar, the constellation of Hindu nationalist organizations with the RSS at its center. Rakeesh Kumar, 24, was walking towards his dormitory on Sunday night when four masked men stopped him. “What is your ideology?” one man carrying an iron rod asked him. In any normal circumstance Kumar would have laughed at the question, he tells TIME, but he was terrified. He pointed to the book he was carrying: a political science volume titled “Hindu Nationalism” edited by Christophe Jaffrelot.

“Had they known what the book was about I would have been beaten badly,” Kumar says, referring to the book’s critical bent. But when the men saw it, they left him alone. “Hail Lord Ram,” they said — a slogan referring to the militaristic deity who has become an icon to Hindu nationalists — and moved on toward another building.

— With reporting by Sanya Mansoor/Delhi

The New Issue of Italian ‘Vogue’ Has Replaced Glossy Fashion Shoots With Illustrations, In Move Towards Sustainability

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 07:26 AM PST

As is often the way when it comes to fashion, what’s old is new again: Vogue Italia‘s January 2020 issue is replacing its usual glossy photographs and editorial fashion spreads with illustrations. The reason? To reduce the environmental impact of photoshoots.

“This is the first time Vogue has done this since the introduction of photography in its pages in the early 20th century,” Condé Nast, Vogue‘s publishing company, said in a press release on Jan. 3. “The purpose of this rather bold move is, simply, to be more sustainable.”

What’s so wasteful about the magazine’s usual production? “One hundred and fifty people involved. About twenty flights and a dozen or so train journeys. Forty cars on standby. Sixty international deliveries. Lights switched on for at least ten hours non-stop, partly powered by gasoline-fueled generators. Food waste from the catering services. Plastic to wrap the garments. Electricity to recharge phones, cameras…” Emanuele Farneti, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia said in a statement explaining the resources that went into the fashion editorials in the magazine’s September 2019 issue.

Fashion magazines’ September issues are renowned for being especially heavy due to coverage of the new season’s collections and campaign ads. Nonetheless, they offer insight into the scale of the resources spent on production.

For the January issue, Vogue Italia instead asked seven artists — David Salle, Vanessa Beecroft, Cassi Namoda, Milo Manara, Delphine Desane, Paolo Ventura, and Yoshitaka Amano — to each draw a cover, each piece featuring a model wearing Gucci clothes. The resulting images span the mediums of painting, drawing, graphic design, comic book design and collage.

The challenge was to prove it is possible to show clothes without photographing them,” Farneti wrote in an Instagram post unveiling the covers. “This is a first… Vogue Italia has never had an illustrated cover: and as far as I know no issue of Vogue Italia in which photography is not the primary visual medium has ever been printed.”

Founded in 1892, Vogue‘s earliest covers were all illustrated; the magazine later became one of the first periodicals to run a cover with a color photograph in 1932, per the New York Times, amid a larger gravitation towards photography. Vogue Italia‘s January cover is the first time the brand has had an illustrated cover since “the introduction of photography in its pages in the early 20th century,” according to Condé Nast.

Farneti also wrote that the money saved by not producing photoshoots will be donated to the restoration of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice, Italy. The museum has been damaged by recent flooding, which scientists argue has been worsened by climate change.

Condé Nast said the issue is just one example of efforts being undertaken by the brand to be more sustainable — for example, Vogue Italia will reportedly change its packaging to 100% compostable plastic wrap in the next year. In December 2019, all 25 editors-in-chief of Vogue brands signed a new set of principles, which included a commitment to sustainability.

See all seven illustrated covers below:

 

‘It Felt Like The House Was Sinking.’ 1 Person Dead After 6.4 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Puerto Rico

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 07:21 AM PST

At least one person has been killed in Puerto Rico and power is out across the island after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck off the southern coast early Tuesday morning, according to the Associated Press. The 6.4 magnitude quake follows a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck nearby on Monday, resulting in the collapse of Punta Ventana, a coastal rock formation and popular tourist destination.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports the 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck at 4:24 a.m. about five miles south of the city of Indios.

Puerto Rico governor Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency Tuesday morning. There are currently 255 displaced people in southern Puerto Rico as a result of the earthquake, according to the governor’s office.

The island has experienced over 400 earthquakes since December 28, when a 4.7 magnitude quake struck in the same region. Eleven of the earthquakes since then have been higher than 4.0, according to the USGS. Tuesday’s quake was the most severe since Dec. 28. At least eight people have been injured in building collapses, according to the AP.

USGS says there is currently no threat of tsunami — though some municipalities along the southern coast began evacuating out of fear, according to Puerto Rico’s emergency management office.

Carmen Guzmán-Mato tells TIME she and her family fled from the southern town of Parguera, where they had been vacationing, to San Juan on Tuesday morning. “It felt like the house was sinking; we woke up in a panic,” she said.

Officials sounded a tsunami siren that forced the town’s residents to run and drive uphill. The tsunami warning was a false alarm, but it was enough to push the family into leaving.

“I started vomiting, I believe, out of anxiety,” says Guzmán-Mato, who is from Puerto Rico but is currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Her family stayed in the town until daybreak, then decided to evacuate. “It was tough because you want to leave, you want to get out of there, but at the same time it’s like, well, what if you’re on a road and all of a sudden another [earthquake] happens?”

Earlier USGS reports indicated Tuesday morning’s earthquake was a magnitude 6.6, but the number has since been adjusted to 6.4. Puerto Rico now faces likely aftershocks of magnitude 3 or higher in the coming week, USGS says.

Damage from Monday’s 5.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed several buildings. Puerto Rico’s electricity supplier, Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica, has reported an island-wide power outage as a result of Tuesday’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake. Power should be restored throughout the day, it said.

Here’s what to know about the earthquakes striking Puerto Rico, an island still recovering from 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

Who are the victims?

According to the AP, 73-year-old Nelson Martínez was killed after a wall collapsed on him in his home in Ponce, about 14 miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter. Ponce mayor María Meléndez told local television reporters that eight others were injured, according to the AP.

How are authorities and Puerto Ricans responding?

Before declaring a state of emergency, Vázquez Garced announced Tuesday morning that all government employees except for first responders have been relieved from duty for the day in order to prioritize safety. The governor’s office also urged the public to remain calm.

The governor’s office approved $130 million to aid in the emergency, Vázquez Garced announced at a Tuesday morning press conference. The office has also set up a mobile unit in Ponce to coordinate recovery efforts. The National Guard has also been called into action.

Vázquez Garced told radio station WKAQ 580 that officials will begin the process of assessing damage and identifying further possible casualties. She urged Puerto Ricans to reach out to family, friends and neighbors, especially the elderly or those who live alone, to make sure all are accounted for.

Guzman-Mato, now safe in San Juan, says she and her family is still on edge as aftershocks are likely to continue. “In Puerto Rico you always hear that we’re due for a big one,” she said. “After [Monday’s earthquake] everyone was talking about, ‘alright, get your emergency kits going,’ but we had one day and it came back even harder.”