By Isabel Coles ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Kurdish forces in northern Iraq are drawing up plans to break Islamic State's siege of Sinjar mountain, where hundreds of minority Yazidis remain stranded months after fleeing their homes. Seeking to regain territory and repair pride in his military forces, Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, is overseeing efforts to retake the mountain, senior party members said. Islamic State attacked the Sinjar area in August, sending thousands of Yazidis fleeing up the mountain, a craggy strip some 40 miles (65 km) long. Hundreds of Yazidis were executed, Iraqi officials and witnesses said, by Islamic State militants who see the adherents of an ancient faith derived from Zoroastrianism as devil-worshippers. A senior U.N. rights official said the onslaught looked like “attempted genocide”. Kurdish peshmerga forces have regained between 65 and 75 percent of the ground lost to Islamic State in the area since the U.S. began a campaign of air strikes in August, said Halgurd Hikmat, spokesman for the Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry. But Sinjar's awkward geography -- out on a limb to the west, has made it difficult to penetrate. "Our priority now is Sinjar," said Hikmat. "A plan will be in place within the coming days." The strategy was to cut off an Islamic State supply route between Mosul and Syria which runs along the southern foot of the mountain, Hikmat said. He did not elaborate. Controlling Sinjar would put the peshmerga on three sides of Mosul, the largest city under Islamic State control in northern Iraq, and allow them to gain positions for any future offensive to retake the city and nearby areas which have been the target of Iraqi and U.S. air strikes. "After that, we must coordinate with Baghdad and the coalition (of Western and Gulf Arab states) to get Islamic State out of Mosul," said Hikmat. Mosul has become the focus of the government's military efforts because of both its size and its symbolic status after Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivered a public speech at the Grand Mosque there in July, Baghdadi, who sees himself as 'caliph' of an Islamic state he has declared in parts of Iraq and Syria, told his fighters they were victorious after years of patience and holy struggle. STRANDED Estimates of the number of people still stranded on Sinjar mountain -- part of disputed land claimed by both the Kurds and Baghdad -- vary from 10,000 to fewer than 1,000. Last month, the peshmerga recaptured the town of Rabia, taking control of a crossing point into Syria and moving closer to Sinjar. Further advances may not come easily. An intelligence officer in the Rabia area said it would take between two to three weeks to drive Islamic State out of the villages north of Sinjar mountain, because many Arab residents either supported Islamic State, or opposed Kurdish encroachment. A Yazidi fighter told Reuters by telephone from the mountain that he was one of around 1,500 volunteers there, in addition to a contingent of around 150 peshmerga. Hikmat put the number of peshmerga at 2,000. "We have received several (types of) small arms from the Kurds, including AK-47s, sniper rifles, mortars and light machine guns," said the volunteer fighter, who gave his name as Barakat. Politically, Sinjar has been damaging for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) -- one of two main Kurdish power centers -- whose forces were responsible for protecting the area. Since 2003, the KDP has courted and co-opted minorities in the disputed areas along its southern border by providing them with jobs, security and services in exchange for loyalty. "The KDP and the Yazidis are inseparable parts of the same body, and that also applies to the KDP and Sinjar," Barzani, who is also head of the KDP as well as commander-in-chief of the peshmerga, told Yazidi members of his last month. Rival parties have capitalized on the loss of Sinjar to score political points against the KDP. The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which crossed into Iraq and saved thousands of Yazidis over the summer has won favor with the minority, many of whom felt betrayed by the peshmerga. Thousands of Yazidis have since been trained by the YPG in Syria, and a small number of guerrillas remain on the mountain, according to fighters there. Peshmerga spokesman Hikmat said the YPG would not participate in the Sinjar offensive, but that the peshmerga would coordinate with them to protect the area afterwards. (Additional reporting by Saif Sameer; Editing by Michael Georgy and Robin Pomeroy)
- NBC News
First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Joe Biden will continue his flurry of executive orders on Monday, signing a new directive to require the federal government to “buy American” for products and services. Why it matters: The executive action is yet another attempt by Biden to accomplish goals administratively without waiting for the backing of Congress. The new order echoes Biden's $400 billion campaign pledge to increase government purchases of American goods.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.What they're saying: "President Biden is ensuring that when the federal government spends taxpayer dollars they are spent on American made goods by American workers and with American-made component parts," the White House said in a fact sheet.The big picture: Biden’s action kick offs another week in which the president will seek to undo many Trump policies with executive actions, while signaling the direction that he wants to take the country. * Biden will also reaffirm his support for the Jones Act, which requires maritime shipments between American ports to be carried on U.S. vessels. * Last week, Biden signed an order to attempt to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors and workers to $15 an hour.The bottom line: Former President Trump also attempted to force the federal government to rely on U.S. manufacturers for procurement with "buy American" provisions. * But supply chains — with some parts and components made outside of the U.S. — require long and complicated efforts to boost domestic manufacturing. Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
California Governor Gavin Newsom's office has decided to lift the orders as ICU availability in the regions that remained under the stay-at-home order, including the Bay area and Southern California are projected to rise above the 15% threshold that triggered the lockdown measures, according https://bit.ly/3sSPOfp to San Francisco Chronicle. California has reported over 3.1 million cases and 36,745 deaths so far, a Reuters tally showed. Strict stay-at-home orders were renewed for much of California in December to avert a crisis in hospitals.
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment. Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud. Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections. The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
- The Independent
First family orders sesame bagels with cream cheese
- Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights, while Israeli police clashed with ultra-Orthodox protesters in several major cities and the government raced to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control. The entry of highly contagious variants of the virus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world's highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel's highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Monday he will not run for a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2022, citing "partisan gridlock."Why it matters: It's a surprise retirement from a prominent Senate Republican who easily won re-election in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2022, creating an open Senate seat in a red-leaning swing state.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.Between the lines: Portman was one of the Republican senators who said that former President Trump "bears some responsibility" for the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His decision not to seek re-election will free him from the political constraints of voting to convict Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, though it's not yet clear whether he will choose to do so.What they're saying: "I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said in a statement. * “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground." * "This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
Tacoma Police spokeswoman Wendy Haddow said police were alerted to the street racers and a 100-person crowd blocking area streets, according to the News Tribune. When the patrol car responded, the crowd began pounding on the vehicle's windows, she told local media. “He was afraid they would break his glass,” Haddow told the News Tribune, saying the officer sped away from the scene for his own safety.
- The Week
Senate Democrats are drawing a line at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand that a power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 Senate include a pledge to retain the legislative filibuster. "If we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered McConnell "word for word" the same power-sharing agreement used in the first half of 2001, and McConnell's insistence on adding the filibuster pledge is "a non-starter."But until Schumer and McConnell reach agreement on the Senate's operating rules, Republicans still retain much of the majority they lost last Wednesday."Without an organizing accord, Republicans remain in the majority of most Senate committees," and "veteran Democrats eager to seize the gavels and advance their long dormant agendas can only wait and wonder," The Washington Post explains. "Newly sworn-in Democratic senators cannot get committee assignments until an organizational deal is struck," leaving the old GOP-majority structures in place, and "Democrats can't unilaterally impose an organizing agreement because they would need Republican support to block a filibuster."The filibuster has evolved into a sclerotic de facto requirement for a 60-senator supermajority on all legislation. Frustration with obstruction by the minority led Senate Democrats to end the filibuster for some presidential appointees and lower-court judges in 2013, and McConnell continued eroding the filibuster as majority leader, killing it for Supreme Court nominees and further easing the confirmation of presidential appointees.A handful of Democratic centrists would prefer to keep the filibuster — for now. But there is mounting pressure from inside and outside the chamber. "There is absolutely no reason to give Sen. McConnell months and months to prove what we absolutely know — that he is going to continue his gridlock and dysfunction from the minority," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the anti-filibuster liberal coalition Fix Our Senate.More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O'Connor as his physician, replacing President Donald Trump's doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president. The White House confirmed that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. O'Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden's doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden's request.
- The Telegraph
Italy’s interior minister has intervened in a row in Naples over the painting of giant murals that pay tribute to the blighted lives and violent exploits of teenage criminals. Italians have adopted a curious English phrase, “baby bosses”, to describe the young gangsters, who frequently lose their lives in confrontations with police on the streets of the southern city. Such “bosses” are said to be members of “baby gangs” – another curious Italo-English invention that denotes groups of delinquents and drifters. Authorities in Naples want to scrub out or paint over two large murals which adorn the sides of buildings. They depict two young men, Ugo Russo and Luigi Caiafa, who were shot dead in separate incidents last year by police officers during robbery attempts. A mural dedicated to Russo depicts his face and the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice. He was killed when he tried to rob an off-duty police officer last year.
Drugmaker Merck & Co said on Monday it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus pandemic research on treatments, with initial data on an experimental oral antiviral expected by the end of March. Merck was late to join the race to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 2 million people and continues to surge in many parts of the world including the United States. The company will record a pre-tax discontinuation charge in the fourth quarter for vaccine candidate V591, which it acquired with the purchase of Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience, and V590, developed with nonprofit research organization IAVI, Merck said in a statement.
- Associated Press
As the House prepares to bring the impeachment charge against Donald Trump to the Senate for trial, a growing number of Republican senators say they are opposed to the proceeding, dimming the chances that former president will be convicted on the charge that he incited a siege of the U.S. Capitol. House Democrats will carry the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” across the Capitol Monday evening, a rare, ceremonial walk to the Senate by the prosecutors who will argue the case. Chief Justice John Roberts is not expected to preside at the trial, as he did during Trump’s first impeachment.
- Yahoo News Video
Israeli authorities on Monday extradited a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her former students in Australia, capping a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments and antagonized Australia's Jewish community.
- Business Insider
Barely any time has passed since President Biden's inauguration, and Republicans have already returned to their bag of shenanigans.
- The Telegraph
Britain faces a three-month lockdown "halfway house" after Easter, with a full reopening delayed until all over-50s have had their second dose of the vaccine, The Telegraph understands. Ministers are considering proposals to begin reopening swathes of the economy in April under similar restrictions to those in place over the summer, with "rule of six" and social distancing measures in force in pubs and restaurants. A return to full normality will be delayed for at least 12 to 14 weeks to allow all over-50s to have their second dose of the vaccine, according to a source familiar with the discussions. Ministers are keen to reopen hospitality venues in some capacity before the G7 summit in the second week of June, when the UK will host world leaders at Carbis Bay, Cornwall. National measures will be eased in advance of the summit, allowing pubs, restaurants and tourism to begin to trade again. Boris Johnson has previously suggested England will return to the geographical tiers system after the lockdown ends, but sources suggested the tiers may apply to the whole country rather than to specific areas. "The appetite for regional tiers will only come if you have large swathes of the country that are significantly lower in case numbers and new variant case numbers and hospitalisations," a source said.
Pfizer Inc will pursue its request for India to approve its COVID-19 vaccine if the government commits to buying shots, the U.S. drugmaker told Reuters on Monday, even as global supplies tighten. Pfizer was the first company to seek emergency-use authorisation (EUA) for a COVID-19 vaccine in India, but the government this month approved two much cheaper shots - one from Oxford University/AstraZeneca and another developed at home by Bharat Biotech with the Indian Council of Medical Research. India's Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) says Pfizer officials failed to turn up to meetings after the company's application was made in early December.
- Associated Press
Federal law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second trial of former President Donald Trump nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. The threats, and concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew, have prompted the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump's trial, the official said Sunday.
The will-he-or-won't-he speculation surrounding a possible gubernatorial run by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is destined to continue at least a bit longer.What he's saying: Lindell told Axios that his focus is currently on proving his (baseless) claims of election fraud. He won't make a decision until that fight is resolved.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here. * "Why would anybody want to run if they had the same machines with the election fraud?" Lindell said Friday. * "It will all get out there, and when it does, we'll see what elections are going to have to be done with paper ballots and no machines. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to put in everybody's resources and time."Between the lines: While he's leaving the door open, Lindell's comments create a path for bowing out.Why it matters: If Lindell runs, name recognition and his ties to Trump could give him an edge among GOP voters. * Many top Republican officials and consultants think having the unpredictable pillow salesman at the top of the ticket would spell disaster for their efforts to win statewide in 2022.How we got here: Lindell has been flirting with a bid for months, but his commitment to promoting conspiracy theories about the 2020 election — including a much-covered White House visit — has triggered legal backlash and trouble for his business. * Last fall, Lindell said he'd run if Trump won another term. Then, in early January, he told the Star Tribune he was "90-95%" sure he'd jump in and would decide "once we know Donald Trump is our president."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.