At least 13 people have been killed and another 30 wounded in a suicide attack on a police station in Baghdad. The bombing comes as the Iraqi government is preparing for an offensive to retake the city of Fallujah from Sunni militants. Fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seized parts of Fallujah as well as Ramadi last week. The Iraqi Red Crescent says more than 13,000 families have fled Fallujah to escape the violence in the past few days. The United Nations is warning Anbar faces a “critical humanitarian situation,” with 250 people killed already this month. Iraq is facing its worst violence in six years, with more than 7,000 dead in 2013.
In Syria, anti-government rebels have forced an al-Qaeda-linked group to withdraw from its base in the northern city of Aleppo. Clashes among rebels have left hundreds of people dead in recent days, marking the deadliest infighting between the groups since the Syrian conflict began. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was initially allied with other anti-government groups, but tensions among rebel factions erupted last week. The rebels who seized control of ISIL’s Aleppo base Wednesday found more than 40 bodies inside, sparking concerns the group is executing prisoners as they retreat.
The Syrian government says rebels have attacked a pair of storage sites for the regime’s chemical weapons stockpile. The news comes days after the first shipment of weapons was loaded onto a ship to begin the disarmament process agreed to last year. At the United Nations, Sigrid Kaag, the top official overseeing the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, says she expects the Assad regime to meet a June deadline for the stockpile’s complete destruction.
Sigrid Kaag: “I didn’t say we’re on schedule. But I think what we talked about is a collective expectation by the Security Council, of course, full support of the joint mission, that looking at the end of June deadline that there is no reason to assume that delays should occur. All things being equal, we also have to remember Syria is a country at war. Security situation can shift from day to day. But everything is ready, investment is made, and the authorities have shown that first movements have started to happen.”
The president of the Central African Republic is reportedly preparing to step down after weeks of violence that have left over one thousand dead. Michel Djotodia could make the announcement today at a regional summit in Chad. Tens of thousands have been displaced since violence between Christian and Muslim militants exploded last month. At a camp housing more than 100,000 internally displaced people, the local coordinator for Doctors Without Borders warned of a humanitarian crisis.
Lindis Hurum: “It was very urgent to start because it’s very contagious, and this population is living in very dire hygienic conditions. The density of the camp is also impressive, and in these kind of camps there is a very high risk of epidemic.”
The Obama administration has launched an internal investigation of a drone strike that reportedly killed 12 people in Yemen last month. The victims were on their way to a wedding when they were apparently mistaken for an al-Qaeda convoy. NBC News reports the strike was carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC. The White House probe comes after the human rights group Reprieve released new video showing the victims’ burned corpses lined up on the ground for burial. In a statement, Reprieve said: “In bombing a wedding, the U.S. government has demonstrated that they either don’t know or don’t care who they were targeting. As a result, 12 innocent lives have been lost and many more destroyed … We can only hope [the] internal investigation is robust and that it results in needed policy change and reparation for those affected.”
Utah has told hundreds of LGBT couples their marriages will not be recognized after the Supreme Court reinstated a ban earlier this week. Nearly 1,000 LGBT couples got married after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage late last month. But the Supreme Court halted the marriages on Monday pending Utah’s appeal of the judge’s ruling. Utah Gov. Bob Herbert has told state agencies not to recognize any same-sex marriages that took place in the two weeks when they were allowed. The case could end up before the Supreme Court.
The death toll from record-shattering cold across the United States has risen to at least 21. Several of the victims are homeless people who froze to death. Frigid temperatures are beginning to ease after the blast of Arctic air enveloped swaths of the Midwest, Northeast and even the Deep South.
A political controversy surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has grown into a scandal after it emerged a top aide deliberately ordered traffic delays to exact political revenge. Newly released documents show Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly personally ordered the closure of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey to New York City, to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for declining to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election. In an email to another Christie appointee and high school friend, David Wildstein, Kelly wrote: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The closures caused massive traffic jams with just one lane operational over a four-day period. The scandal could threaten Christie’s expected candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. In a statement, Christie denied involvement, saying he was “outraged and deeply saddened” by his deputy’s actions.
The White House is facing questions over a new memoir from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates that criticizes President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Gates writes Obama never believed in his own policy of escalating the Afghanistan War with a surge of 30,000 troops. Gates also calls Biden, “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended Biden.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “The president and the rest of us here simply just disagree with that assessment. As a senator and as a vice president, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and he has been an excellent counselor and adviser to the president for the past five years. He’s played a key role in every major national security and foreign policy debate and policy discussion in this administration, in this White House.”
As it faced questions over Biden, the White House allowed news crews to take pictures of his weekly lunch with President Obama for the first time. In his book, Gates also reports that both Hillary Clinton and Obama admitted that their opposition to a U.S. troop surge in Iraq in 2006 was “political.”
More than 100 people in New York, including 80 retired police officers and firefighters, have been charged in a suspected disability scam dating back over two decades. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance says the accused made false disability claims, bilking taxpayers out of some $400 million.
Cyrus Vance: “Since at least 1988, these men are charged with coaching hundreds and hundreds of individuals on how to convince the Social Security administration that those individuals are unable to work at any job because they suffer a psychiatric condition, and therefore are entitled to monthly disability payments. Now, it’s a particularly cynical part of the charge scheme that approximately half of the defendants falsely claimed that their psychiatric disabilities were caused by their association with the terrorist attacks of September 11.”
At least two people have died in a U.S. Navy plane crash off the coast of Virginia. The Navy says the helicopter was on a training mission when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Two of the three survivors are in stable condition while another is missing. The crash comes one day after four U.S. servicemembers died in a helicopter crash in England. Norfolk police chief Bob Scully told local residents to stay away from the crash site until the wreckage is removed.
Bob Scully: “The ammunition that is scattered around the crash site came from the crashed aircraft. We do know exactly how much ammunition was on the aircraft, and we also know the nature of that ammunition. So, as I said before, the community do not need to be concerned about the fact that ammunition is scattered about that site, but that is with the caveat that they respect the cordons and don’t go near the site until we have recovered each and every piece of ammunition.”
Wednesday marked the third anniversary of the Tuscon, Arizona, mass shooting that killed six people and wounded 13 others. The injured included former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered major head wounds and nearly lost her life. Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly have since founded a group to take on the U.S. weapons lobby and to campaign for gun control. On Wednesday, Giffords marked the anniversary by going skydiving. Giffords has previously skydived, but this was her first jump since the shooting. In an opinion piece, Giffords likened her difficult physical rehabilitation to the uphill battle for gun control, writing: “I’ve seen grit overcome paralysis. My resolution today is that Congress achieve the same.”