The U.S. bombing campaign in northern Iraq has entered its fifth day. Obama authorized the airstrikes last week in what he called an effort to halt the advance of Islamic State militants on the city of Erbil, as well as to prevent a massacre of Iraq’s Yazidi minority. Thousands of Yazidis have been fleeing from a mountain where they were trapped for a week by the rebels’ advance. Thousands more remain on Mount Sinjar. U.S. officials have confirmed the CIA has been secretly sending arms and ammunition directly to Kurdish Peshmerga forces who are battling the rebels. On Monday, a top Pentagon official, Army Lieutenant General William Mayville, said the U.S. strikes are unlikely to have a major impact on the overall capacity of the Islamic State.
Lieutenant General William Mayville: “We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL’s (Islamic State) operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Erbil. However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria.”
As fighting rages in the north, Iraq is facing a political crisis in Baghdad. On Monday Iraq’s president named a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to end Nouri al-Maliki’s eight-year rule. Maliki, however, appears to be refusing to step down. He has accused the Iraqi president of staging a coup and deployed militias and special forces on the streets. Speaking Monday, President Obama pledged U.S. support for Maliki’s replacement.
President Obama: “Earlier today, Vice President Biden and I called Dr. Abadi to congratulate him and to urge him to form a new Cabinet as quickly as possible, one that’s inclusive of all Iraqis and one that represents all Iraqis. I pledged our support to him, as well as to President Massoum and Speaker Jabouri, as they work together to form this government.”
We’ll have more on the crisis in Iraq after headlines.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have returned home to find their homes in rubble as a 72-hour truce with Israel appears to hold for a second day. The United Nations has called the damage from the Israeli siege “unprecedented,” with 30,000 people in need of rehousing in the town of Beit Hanoun alone. Nearly 2,000 Palestinians have died, including a month-old baby who succumbed to injuries on Monday. The United Nations has appointed a three-person panel to investigate possible war crimes it says may have been committed by both Hamas and Israel. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed. In Egypt, both sides are continuing talks on a long-term truce, with Palestinians seeking an easing of the crippling economic blockade of Gaza.
On Monday, a group of Turkish activists announced plans to challenge the Israeli blockade by sending another aid flotilla to Gaza. In 2010, Israeli commandos stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla, killing 10 Turkish activists, including a U.S. citizen.
In Turkey, Prime Minsiter Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won the country’s first direct popular election for president. Erdogan has run Turkey for over a decade as prime minister but was due to hit a term limit next year. He is expected to seek an expansion of the presidential role. Last year, massive protests swept Turkey accusing Erdogan of authoritarian rule.
In South Sudan, the government and rebels have failed to meet a deadline to form a transitional government amid a conflict that has killed at least 10,000 people. Fighting erupted in December between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and supporters of his former deputy Riek Machar. About 1.5 million people have fled their homes, and one in three people are reportedly facing dangerous levels of food insecurity. UNICEF says 50,000 children could die from malnutrition this year. The United States heavily backed the independence of South Sudan in 2011. Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned both sides for their failure to reach a deal, calling it “an outrage.”
The death toll from a record Ebola outbreak in West Africa has topped 1,000. The World Health Organization says there are now more than 1,800 suspected or confirmed infections. On Monday, Liberia said it is receiving doses of an experimental drug to give to two doctors. The doctors will be the first Africans treated with ZMapp, which has been used on two U.S. missionaries now recovering in Georgia and a Spanish priest who has died. The WHO has backed the use of the drug to treat the current crisis, but its maker says stocks are very limited.
Russia has sent a convoy of humanitarian aid to the rebel-held city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists has left residents without electricity or water supplies for days. The Red Cross was due to coordinate the relief effort but says Russia appears to have gone ahead on its own. The move has heightened fears of direct Russian intervention in the region, where Ukraine says 45,000 Russian troops have massed along the border. On Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russian intervention appeared likely.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: “There is a high probability. We see the Russians developing the narrative and the pretext for such an operation under the guise of a humanitarian operation, and we see a military build-up that could be used to conduct such illegal military operations in Ukraine.”
A new report accuses the U.S. military of failing to investigate or punish its soldiers for apparent war crimes in Afghanistan. The report by Amnesty International examined cases involving more than 140 civilian deaths, none of which resulted in prosecutions by the U.S. military. In one case, a U.S. plane bombed women and girls collecting firewood, killing seven of them. In another, a former prisoner described torture and killings while he was held by U.S. Special Forces in Wardak province. Amnesty International research director Nicola Duckworth said Afghan families are left without information or recourse when their loved ones are killed.
Nicola Duckworth: “The focus is on Afghan victims who have been left in the dark, without information and without access to justice, and how the deeply flawed U.S. military system is a fundamental part of the reason why this is happening.”
A new report by Human Rights Watch finds Egypt’s killing of at least 817 unarmed protesters in a single day last year was a premeditated attack that likely amounted to a crime against humanity. A year ago this week, Egyptian forces dispersed the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in as part of a systematic crackdown on protesters opposed to the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth and Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson had attempted to enter Egypt to present the report, but they were detained and turned away.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has signed into law a reform package opening the country’s oil and gas sector to foreign multinationals as part of his neoliberal agenda. The reform has faced mass protests by environmentalists and indigenous groups who say it is a threat to their land.
A federal judge has extended a ban on executions in Ohio for several months amid concerns over a new two-drug method for lethal injections. Ohio is among the states to see prolonged executions ranging from 26 minutes to two hours while using new substitutes for drugs banned for use in executions by their European makers. Louisiana faced a drug shortage earlier this year that prompted it to seek the opioid hydromorphone from a local hospital. A hospital board member told the news site The Lens that the hospital did not realize the drug was intended for use in executions and would not have provided it if it had.
In Ferguson, Missouri, protesters took to the streets for a third day to demand justice after the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. St. Louis County Police say Brown assaulted an officer and tried to reach for his weapon. But witnesses say the unarmed African-American teen was shot with his arms up as he tried to flee an officer’s fire. The FBI has opened an investigation into possible civil rights violations. On Monday, police fired tear gas and beanbag rounds at demonstrators, accusing them of throwing rocks. More than 1,000 people packed into a church to observe a moment of silence. We’ll have more on the shooting after headlines.
The actor and comedian Robin Williams has died of an apparent suicide at his home in Tiburon, California. He was 63. News of Williams’ death caused such an outpouring that the list of trending topics on social media was dominated by film titles like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Flubber,” and the words “my captain,” a reference to the film “Dead Poets Society.” Williams rose to fame in the 1970s on the TV show “Mork & Mindy.” He was the voice of the genie in the Disney film “Aladdin” and a fast-talking radio DJ in “Good Morning, Vietnam.” He won an Oscar for his role as Matt Damon’s therapist in “Good Will Hunting” and starred as Patch Adams in a film based on the real-life doctor who uses humor as medicine. In this clip from the film, Williams stands before a medical board accused of treating patients without a license.
Robin Williams (as Patch Adams): “Now, you ask me if I’ve been practicing medicine. Well, if this means opening your door to those in need, those in pain, caring for them, listening to them, applying a cold cloth until a fever breaks, if this is practicing medicine, if this is treating a patient, then I am guilty as charged, sir.”
Board member: “Did you consider the ramifications of your actions? What if one of your patients had died?”
Robin Williams (as Patch Adams): “What’s wrong with death, sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity and decency and, God forbid, maybe even humor? Death is not the enemy, gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all: indifference.”
Among the audience members in that scene is the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Williams’ roommate. Hoffman died of a drug overdose earlier this year. Williams had also battled addiction and was reportedly suffering from severe depression at the time of his death.