By Isabel Coles ARBIL Iraq (Reuters) - Islamist militants surged across northern Iraq toward the capital of the Kurdish region on Thursday, sending tens of thousands of Christians fleeing for their lives, in an offensive that prompted talk of Western military action. Reuters photographs showed what appeared to be Islamic State fighters controlling a checkpoint at the border area of the Kurdish semi-autonomous region, little over 30 minutes' drive from Arbil, a city of 1.5 million that is headquarters of the Kurdish regional government and many businesses. The fighters had raised the movement's black flag over the guard post. However, a Kurdish security official denied that the militants were in control of the Khazer checkpoint, and the regional government said its forces were advancing and would "defeat the terrorists," urging people to stay calm. In Washington, a senior U.S. official said the Obama administration had approved military air drops of humanitarian supplies to help trapped religious minorities in Iraq and they could start at any time. U.S. officials, confirming a New York Times report, said President Barack Obama was also weighing carrying out the first U.S. airstrikes in Iraq since a 2011 pullout of troops. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said any U.S. military action would be "very limited in scope" and tied to Iraqi political reforms, adding: "There are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq." News reports that the United States has struck targets in Iraq are not accurate, a Pentagon spokesman said on Thursday, as Islamist militants advanced across northern Iraq. "Press reports that U.S. has conducted airstrikes in Iraq completely false," Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a post on his Twitter feed. "No such action taken." Sunni militants captured Iraq's biggest Christian town, Qaraqosh, prompting many residents to flee, fearing they would be subjected to the same demands the Sunni militants made in other captured areas: leave, convert to Islam or face death. The Islamic State, considered more extreme than al Qaeda, sees Iraq's majority Shi'ites and minorities such as Christians and Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious community, as infidels. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply appalled" by reports of attacks by Islamic State militants in Iraq and called on the international community to help the country's government. The U.N. Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting on the crisis in Iraq. France had called for the meeting to "counter the terrorist threat in Iraq." French President Francois Hollande's office said after he spoke by telephone with Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani that Paris was prepared to support forces engaged in the defence of Iraqi Kurdistan. It did not say how. Shares in energy companies operating in Iraqi Kurdistan plummeted on news of the sweeping Islamist advance toward oilfields in the region. U.S. oil major Chevron Corp said it was evacuating staff in light of the militants' advance, and an industry source said Exxon Mobil Corp was also pulling out staff, although the company declined to comment on security concerns. The Islamic State said in a statement on its Twitter account that its fighters had seized 15 towns, the strategic Mosul dam on the Tigris River and a military base, in an offensive that began during the weekend. Kurdish officials say their forces still control the dam, Iraq's biggest. On Thursday, two witnesses told Reuters by telephone that Islamic State fighters had hoisted the group's black flag over the dam, which could allow the militants to flood major cities or cut off significant water supplies and electricity. The Sunni militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on Kurdish forces in the weekend sweep, prompting tens of thousands from the ancient Yazidi community to flee the town of Sinjar for surrounding mountains. A Kurdish government security adviser said its forces had staged a tactical withdrawal. BOMBINGS ACROSS IRAQ Facebook and Twitter were blocked in Kurdistan on Thursday, initially for 24 hours. A government official told Reuters the reason was to prevent militants from gathering any information about the movement of Kurdish forces from social media, and to stop rumours and panic. The Kurdish Regional Government's Ministry of Interior said in a statement that "our victory is close." The security adviser said many layers of security and a trench protected the regional capital. "Arbil city is fine," he said. The militants' weekend capture of Sinjar, ancestral home of the Yazidi minority, prompted tens of thousands of people to flee to surrounding mountains, where they are at risk of starvation. Some of the many thousands trapped on Sinjar mountain have been rescued in the past 24 hours, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, adding that 200,000 had fled the fighting. "This is a tragedy of immense proportions, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people," spokesman David Swanson said by telephone. Many of the displaced people urgently need water, food, shelter and medicine, he said. A spokesman for the U.N. agency for children said many of the children on the mountain were suffering from dehydration and at least 40 had died. Yazidis, regarded by the Islamic State as "devil worshippers", risk being executed by the Sunni militants seeking to establish an Islamic empire and redraw the map of the Middle East. Thousands of Iraqis, most of them Yazidis, are streaming to the border with neighbouring Turkey to flee the fighting, Turkish officials said. The plight of fleeing Christians prompted Pope Francis to appeal to world leaders to help end what the Vatican called "the humanitarian tragedy now under way" in northern Iraq. In Kirkuk, a strategic oil town in the north held by Kurdish forces since government troops melted away in June, 11 people were killed by two car bombs that exploded near a Shi'ite mosque holding displaced people, security and medical sources said. In Baghdad, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Shi'ite district, killing at least six people, police said. Earlier, a car bomb in another Shi'ite area of the capital killed 14. Gains by the Islamic State have raised concerns that militants across the Arab world will follow their cue. During the weekend, the Sunni militants seized a border town in Lebanon, though they appear to have mostly withdrawn. The Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in the areas of Iraq and Syria it controls, clashed with Kurdish forces on Wednesday in the town of Makhmur, about 60 km (40 miles) southwest of Arbil. Witnesses said the militants had seized Makhmur, but Kurdish officials told local media their forces remained in control there, and television channels broadcast footage of Kurdish peshmerga fighters driving around the town. The mainly Christian town of Tilkaif, as well as Al Kwair, were overrun by militants, according to witnesses. THREAT TO IRAQ'S INTEGRITY The Islamic State poses the biggest threat to Iraq's integrity since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Its fighters and their Sunni allies also control a big chunk of western Iraq. The group has deepened sectarian tensions, pushing the country back to the dark days of the civil war that peaked in 2006-2007 under U.S.-led occupation. Bombings, kidnappings and executions are routine once again in Iraq, an OPEC member. Religious and ethnic minorities that have lived in the plains of the northern province of Nineveh are particularly vulnerable. Sunni militants have been purging Shi'ite Muslims of the Shabak and ethnic Turkmen minorities from towns and villages in Nineveh, and last month set a deadline for Christians to leave the provincial capital Mosul or be killed. The Islamic State's gains have prompted Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, to order his air force to help the Kurds, whose reputation as fearsome warriors was called into question by their defeat. There were several air force strikes on Wednesday, including one the government said killed 60 "terrorists" in Mosul, but they did not appear to have broken the Islamic State's momentum. Critics blame Maliki for Iraq's crisis, accusing him of promoting the interests of fellow Shi'ites at the expense of Sunnis. Heavily armed Sunni tribes support the Islamic State, though they do not share its ideology. Maliki, who has ruled in a caretaker capacity since an inconclusive election in April, has defied calls by Sunnis, Kurds, some fellow Shi'ites and regional power broker Iran to give up his bid for a third term for the sake of Iraq's unity. Iraq's National Alliance, a bloc compromising the biggest Shi'ite parties, is close to nominating a "nationally acceptable" figure to become prime minister, its spokesman said, suggesting Maliki would not be able to hold on. Political deadlock over forming a new government has undermined efforts to confront the Sunni insurgents, who have threatened to march on Baghdad. (Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and James Mackenzie in Rome; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Paul Taylor, Janet McBride, Will Waterman, David Stamp, Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller)
- The Independent
Republicans accuse Democrats of ‘rigging’ elections as divided Senate to consider voting rights bill
Amy Klobuchar says ‘stakes could not be higher’ as deadlocked committee vote signals battle ahead on For The People Act and filibuster
- USA TODAY
The Chernobyl Spirit Company, producers on the moonshine-like drink, claim their product proves the land near the power plant can produce safe crops.
- The Telegraph
The Government will set out its legislative agenda for the new parliamentary session in the Queen's Speech today, but the ceremony will be different to normal because of coronavirus restrictions. This is what will happen, and what to expect: What time is the Queen's speech? This year’s Queen’s Speech will take place today, May 11, and is expected to be delivered between 11:30am and 12:30pm.. The speech, delivered by Her Majesty, is drawn up in close consultation with the Government and outlines the laws ministers hope to pass in the coming year. The State Opening of Parliament is officially triggered after the Queen reads out her speech from a throne in the House of Lords. The speech normally lasts around 10 minutes. Will it be affected by Covid rules? This year’s Queen Speech will look a bit different due to Covid restrictions and a slimmed-down guest list. As per tradition, the speech and ceremony will take place in the House of Lords Chamber, but only 74 people will be allowed to watch from the main Lords chamber. An additional 34 MPs and peers will also be watching from the Royal Gallery. Traditionally Robert Buckland, in his role as Lord Chancellor, would hand the speech to the Queen for her to read out - instead, he will place it on a table. All those attending will be required to wear a mask and produce a negative Covid test in advance of the ceremony. There will be no horse-drawn carriages this year - the Queen will instead travel to and from Parliament in a Bentley state limousine. The traditional military presence and guard of honour will be absent from this year’s proceedings. What will be in the speech? Boris Johnson is expected to introduce long-awaited legislation to reform social care. It is unclear what details the reform will take, but the proposals are expected to be mentioned within the context of an NHS reform bill which will see a merging of local community services with the nationwide system. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - which grants police in England and Wales greater powers to shut down protests - will be reintroduced after it was shelved following a string of ‘Kill The Bill’ protests in Bristol and other parts of the UK earlier this year. The speech is also likely to include a national security bill - legislation that will make it easier to crack down on foreign agents in the UK. Mr Johnson is expected to axe the Fixed Term Parliaments Act - first introduced under the Cameron-Clegg coalition government in 2011 - which would restore the PM’s power to call early general elections. New laws on Northern Ireland legacy issues are expected to be announced, which will ban the prosecution of Northern Ireland veterans and former IRA members alike. A new Sovereign Borders Bill designed to toughen up the asylum system is likely to be announced. Stricter measures to combat voter fraud including proof of identification are expected to be introduced in an Elections Integrity Bill . In a bid to raise animal welfare standards, animals “with a backbone” will have their right to happiness enshrined in law as part of the new Animal Sentience Bill. The Telegraph will be liveblogging the ceremony. Read more: Queen’s Speech: The new laws Boris Johnson wants to push through
- The Independent
Secret Service agents are prohibited from dating the people they are protecting
- The Daily Beast
Danish Siddiqui via ReutersIn a macabre twist to a situation that is already too dire to comprehend, authorities in the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have had to call in excavators to dig a mass grave after nearly 100 bloated and decomposing bodies were found floating in the Ganges River. Scammers Sell Fire Extinguishers as Oxygen Cylinders to Dying COVID Patients in IndiaAround 40 bodies were found in one riverbank area, and groups of 10 or more were found downstream near cremation ghats that had run out of firewood. Some were partially burned, an official told local media. “We retrieved 71 bodies,” Buxar Superintendent of Police Neeraj Kumar Singh told The Hindu. “Some of them have been disposed of while the process for others are underway. Samples of some bodies too have been preserved for further tests.”It is not yet known if those found floating in the river were victims of COVID-19—nor is it known exactly who they were. None had identification on them, and given the extreme situation that has taxed all public offices across the country, it does not seem likely anyone will be able to identify them with certainty any time soon. If they were dumped from cremation platforms, authorities suggest families may assume they had been properly cremated. Videos of the floating bodies have gone viral across the country, with many blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s apparent negligence for his handling of the pandemic. Over the weekend, the prestigious medical journal Lancet published a scathing editorial placing the blame squarely on his shoulders, saying the deadly mayhem could have been prevented. Meanwhile, the Times of India has reported that funeral homes are “profiteering” by selling expensive funerals and cremations to desperate family members who want their loved ones properly laid to rest. With firewood shortages, many families have had to opt for burials, which are now being sold in some states for up to three times the normal price. India has logged more than 22.6 million coronavirus cases and 246,116 COVID-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, most in the last month.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
Sule Square sits on land owned by the country's military, according to a United Nations report.
- The Independent
Justin Trudeau says by September they will have enough vaccines for everyone to be fully inoculated
- The Independent
Republican who backed Arizona ‘audit’ based on Trump’s election lies now says it ‘makes us look like idiots’
‘Looking back, I didn’t think it would be this ridiculous. It’s embarrassing to be a state senator at this point,’ says Arizona State Senator Paul Boyer
- The Independent
‘This needs to stop now’: Texas farmer finds five hungry, abandoned migrant girls on his land near southern border
‘It was really hot. I don’t think they would have made it if I hadn’t found them,’ says farmer Jimmy Hobbs
Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit will be allowed to race in the Preakness Stakes after failing a drug test
Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit will be allowed to compete in the Preakness Stakes with conditions including additional anti-doping testing.
- The Independent
Senate to consider sweeping federal election legislation as Republicans endorse dozens of bills to limit ballot access in nearly every state
- Associated Press
Arizona general manager Bill Armstrong opted to stand pat at the NHL trade deadline, believing the Coyotes had the right roster to make the playoffs. When they came up short yet again, the Coyotes made a big change, firing coach Rick Tocchet a day after the season ended. Arizona got off to an uneven start but pulled itself into playoff contention with a solid stretch in March, so Armstrong opted to not make any moves at the trade deadline.
- The Independent
Video captures terrifying collapse of balcony full of people in Malibu that left at least nine injured
‘We heard a crack, and I literally saw all my best friends and my girlfriend fall 15 feet to the rocks,’ a witness says
Windfarm CEO Sarah Merrick says being involved in all areas of her business has paid dividends.
- USA TODAY
House Republicans will vote to strip Rep. Liz Cheney of her post, the Colonial Pipeline impacts U.S. gas and more news you need to know Wednesday.
- Charlotte Observer
The Panthers held training camp at Bank of America Stadium last year due to the league’s COVID protocols.
The UK economy shrank by 1.5% in the first three months of 2021, but picked up speed in March.
- Business Insider
More than 120 retired generals and admirals wrote to Biden suggesting he wasn't legitimately elected and questioning his mental health
The letter published by "Flag Officers 4 America" appeared to advance a false conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was illegitimate.
When lifelong Wyoming Republican Tage Benson and Democrat Chamois Andersen met for the first time at the Owl in the Attic antiques store in Laramie this past weekend, they quickly put their political differences aside. Their home state's embattled Republican congresswoman, Liz Cheney, needed to be supported, they agreed, for standing up to former President Donald Trump and contesting his false stolen-election claims. “This is where Democrats and Republicans can come together,” said Anderson, 51, a wildlife advocate who often disagrees with Cheney on policy.
- USA TODAY
At least nine states have announced that they will be ending participation in unemployment assistance programs. Here are their reasons.