By Ghazwan Hassan TIKRIT Iraq (Reuters) - Sunni rebels from an al Qaeda splinter group overran the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Wednesday and closed in on the biggest oil refinery in the country, making further gains in their rapid military advance against the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad. The threat to the Baiji refinery comes after militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the northern city of Mosul, advancing their aim of creating a Sunni Caliphate straddling the border between Iraq and Syria. The fall of Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city, is a blow to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's attempts to defeat the militants, who have seized territory in Iraq over the past year following the withdrawal of U.S. forces. About 500,000 Iraqis have fled Mosul, home to 2 million people, and the surrounding province, many seeking safety in the autonomous Kurdistan region. Having also taken two small towns north of Baghdad, Dhiluiya and Yathrib, the insurgents are in control of between 10 and 15 pct of Iraqi territory, excluding Kurdistan, and have led many Iraqis to fear they have the capital, Baghdad, in their sights. Security sources said ISIL militants on Wednesday drove more than 60 vehicles into Tikrit, the home town of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, which lies about 100 miles (160 km) north of Baghdad. The militants occupied the provincial government headquarters and raised the black flag of ISIL. "Our forces were caught by surprise, they never expected ISIL would use police and army Humvee vehicles, we mistook them for government forces and it was too late to stop them," said a police captain who fled from Tikrit to Samarra. "We are fighting devils and not ordinary people". Around 100 ISIL fighters held mass prayers in central Tikrit after taking control. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq's leaders must unite to face a "mortal" threat. "There has to be a quick response to what has happened," he said during a trip to Greece. Zebari said Baghdad would work with forces from Kurdistan in the north to drive the fighters out of Mosul after Iraqi security forces there fled on Tuesday. CONSPIRACY Maliki described the fall of Mosul as a "conspiracy" and said those who had abandoned their posts would be punished. He also said Iraqis were volunteering in several provinces to join army brigades to fight ISIL. In a show of the militants' reach, a car bombing in a crowded market in the town of Safwan, which sits on Iraq's southernmost border with Kuwait, killed five people. In a statement on its Twitter account, ISIL said it had taken Mosul as part of a plan "to conquer the entire state and cleanse it from the apostates", referring to the province of Nineveh of which the city is the capital. Militants executed 10 soldiers and policemen on Wednesday near the town of Riyadh, 60 km (40 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, after setting up a checkpoint on the road, police sources said, while in Tikrit six police officers were executed. In Mosul, 80 Turkish citizens were being held hostage by the militants, the foreign ministry in Ankara said. Turkey threatened to retaliate if any of the group, which included special forces soldiers, diplomats and children, were harmed. Ambassadors of the NATO defence alliance held an emergency meeting in Brussels at Turkey's request and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan held talks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden about the developments. ISIL, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, broke with al Qaeda's international leader, Osama bin Laden's former lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri, and has clashed with al Qaeda fighters in Syria. ISIL's advances show that Iraq's security forces - trained and equipped by Washington at a cost of nearly $25 billion and numbering more than a million - are outmatched against insurgents who once took on the might of the United States. Overnight on Tuesday, ISIL militants moved on Baiji, home to Iraq's largest refinery, which can process 300,000 barrels per day and supplies oil products to most of Iraq's provinces and as well as Baghdad. Security sources said the fighters drove into the town of Baiji in armed vehicles, torching the court house and police station before freeing prisoners. The militants later withdrew into surrounding villages after tribal leaders persuaded them not to take over the energy installations in Baiji, local officials and residents said. However, the violence in Iraq prompted fears about the outlook for oil supplies, with futures prices in New York pushed higher towards $110 a barrel. DOMINANT PLAYER ISIL has become a dominant player in Iraq and Syria, where it has seized a string of cities over the past year, often fighting other Sunni groups. The United States expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and pledged "any appropriate assistance" to help the Iraqi government. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One: "There's no doubt that the situation has deteriorated over the last 24 hours. "The deterioration of security is rapidly becoming a humanitarian issue and requires a coordinated response by Iraqi leaders across the country to halt the advances that the ISIL has made and regain control of territory currently in ISIL's hands," he added. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States believed that the Baiji refinery remained under control of the Iraqi government. ISIL control in the Sunni Anbar province as well as around Mosul would help the Islamist group consolidate its grip along the frontier with Syria, where it is fighting President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Shi'ite Iran. Members of Iraq's Shi'ite majority have also been crossing the border to fight in Syria alongside Assad's forces. In Sadr city, a Shi'ite slum in Baghdad, men were stockpiling weapons in anticipation of a battle against ISIL. "The army has proven to be a big failure. People have begun to depend on themselves because ISIL may enter Baghdad any minute," said Muhannad al-Darraji from Sadr City. At about the same time, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Sadr City, killing at least 38 people. A further 18 people were killed when a car bomb exploded near the northern Kadhimiya district, where there is a Shi'ite shrine. DISPLACEMENT The governor of Mosul blamed Maliki for failing to act upon his warnings about the threat of ISIL. "The entry of ISIL to Mosul was through the desert from Syria," Atheel al-Nujaifi said. "There are camps in the desert and we have repeatedly asked the government to bomb these camps instead of luring ISIL into the cities to fight it." At a checkpoint on the road between Mosul and Arbil, residents who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs were stunned by the turn of events. A 40-year-old man who fled the city with his family said: "We are frightened because we don't know who they are. They call themselves revolutionaries. They told us not to be scared and that they came to liberate and free us from oppression." (Additional reporting by Raheem Salman, Ahmed Rasheed and Isra al-Rubei'i in Baghdad,; Steve Holland on Air Force One; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Giles Elgood)
- LA Times
Bundesliga's Der Klassiker between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in on TV while in the Premier League the Manchester Derby features the table's top teams.
Wall Street ended sharply lower on Thursday, leaving the Nasdaq down nearly 10% from its February record high, after remarks from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell disappointed investors worried about rising longer-term U.S. bond yields. A decline of 10% from its February record high would confirm the Nasdaq is in a correction. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield spiked to 1.533% after Powell's comments, which did not point to changes in the Fed's asset purchases to tackle the recent jump in yields.
- The Independent
‘I’m always up for a good fight,’ says Trump ally
- The Independent
Obama administration greatly expanded the use of drone strikes before later imposing checks
- The Independent
Israel lead the world in vaccinations per capita, but isn’t vaccinating Palestinians
- The Independent
Analysis: US Capitol Police trying a measure of transparency for a change
- Associated Press
Bradley Beal scored 33 points and the Washington Wizards pushed ahead with a late run to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 119-117 after All-Star Paul George was a late scratch Thursday night. Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds while Moe Wagner added 12 points as the Wizards snapped a two-game skid. Washington won eight of 11 heading into the All-Star break to move into the fringes of contention in the bunched Eastern Conference.
- The Independent
Republicans in 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills restricting voting rights, underscoring urgency in Congress to pass sweeping elections legislation, Alex Woodward reports
- Reuters Videos
(SOUNDBITE) (English) NANCY VAN DER STRACTEN, WHO IS BOXING TO FIGHT PARKINSON'S DISEASE, SAYING: "Hello, I am Nancy. I am boxing here against my Parkinson's disease.75-year-old Nancy Van Der Stractensteps into the ring three times a weekto battle her symptoms of Parkinson’s diseaseLocation: Antalya, Turkey(SOUNDBITE) (English) NANCY VAN DER STRACTEN, WHO IS BOXING TO FIGHT PARKINSON'S DISEASE, SAYING:I am now nine years declared with Parkinson's, six years I used many medicines and I discovered that is not enough. You have to move, move, move and boxing is ideal to move, move, move. So we go on.""It does not stop your Parkinson's. Parkinson's is a degenerative disease. It never stops but you can keep slow - slow it down. It is like a break and instead of being miserable the whole week, you stand up and you say: "Oh today, boxing." Stand up, get ready, go to box and after the boxing, after two hours of training you feel really better."
- The Independent
‘Yes, it could take 10 hours but the American people deserve to know what’s in it,’ claims Ron Johnson
Skip Bayless is reportedly staying at Fox Sports for a reported $8 million per year after ESPN pursued him with offers in the same salary range.
- Business Insider
Federal investigators are zeroing in on potential communications between lawmakers and Capitol mob in lead-up to the insurrection
The report added that Democrats were pushing investigators to review footage to determine whether lawmakers toured organizers before the riot.
Former President Donald Trump intensified his war with the Republican establishment on Thursday by attacking Karl Rove, a longtime Republican strategist who criticized Trump's first speech since leaving office for being long on grievances but short on vision. "He’s a pompous fool with bad advice and always has an agenda," Trump complained in a statement issued by his office in Palm Beach, Florida. Rove, the architect of Republican George W. Bush's presidential victories in 2000 and 2004, wrote in an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that Trump's speech last Sunday to the Conservative Political Action Conference was wanting.
A New Orleans police officer groomed and raped a 14-year-old girl he was assigned to take to a rape kit exam, a lawsuit alleges
The lawsuit alleges the officer began grooming the girl as they sat in the waiting room of a New Orleans children's hospital.
- Associated Press
The Senate is beginning debate on a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, after Democrats made eleventh-hour changes aimed at ensuring they could pull President Joe Biden’s top legislative priority through the precariously divided chamber. Democrats were hoping for Senate approval of the package before next week, in time for the House to sign off and get the measure to Biden quickly. After the Senate voted by the slimmest of margins Thursday to begin the debate, Democrats were encountering opposition from Republicans arguing that the measure’s massive price tag ignored promising signs that the pandemic and wounded economy were turning around.
- Business Insider
Biden supports making a temporary $3,000 payment to parents in the stimulus bill permanent going forward
Senate Democrats want to make the larger tax credit permanent and give families an option to receive monthly checks. Biden wants a permanent one too.
It's estimated that the change to the bill will affect more than 7 million families across the United States.
- Business Insider
Biden changed his plan for the strike on Iran-backed militias at the last minute to avoid killing a woman and children
Intelligence came in that a woman and children were in the strike area as F-15E Strike Eagles were in the air and on their way.
- The Week
Capitol riot's 'QAnon Shaman' defends himself by claiming he 'stopped somebody from stealing muffins'
A suspect charged in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building is speaking from jail in a new interview — and offering a unique defense positioning himself as simply a savior of baked goods. Jacob Chansley, the Capitol riot suspect who refers to himself as the "QAnon Shaman" and was photographed during the insurrection wearing fur and horns, spoke with 60 Minutes in an interview broadcast Thursday, in which he claimed his "actions were not an attack on this country" as he faces up to 20 years in prison for them. "I sang a song, and that's a part of shamanism," he said. "...I also stopped people from stealing and vandalizing that sacred space, the Senate, okay. I actually stopped somebody from stealing muffins out of the break room." Chansley neglected to mention the fact that, during the deadly insurrection, he allegedly left a threatening note for former Vice President Mike Pence warning, "It's only a matter of time, justice is coming." He was charged with "knowingly entering or remaining in" a restricted building and "violent entry and disorderly conduct," and prosecutors noted he carried around "a spear, approximately 6 feet in length," during the riot. Prosecutors have also said he "incited fellow Trump supporters rioting inside the Capitol building and disobeyed police orders," The Wall Street Journal reports. Despite this, Chansley, who said he regrets "entering that building," bemoaned the fact that former President Donald Trump never pardoned him or any of the other Capitol rioters, telling 60 Minutes this "wounded me so deeply" and "disappointed me so greatly." Still, Chansley added that even though he didn't get the pardon he wanted, he still doesn't regret his loyalty to Trump. The "QAnon Shaman" of the January 6th attack on the Capitol tells his story for the first time from jail, as he faces up to 20 years behind bars. Jacob Chansley spoke with @60minutes+'s @LaurieSegall pic.twitter.com/uhUuFNHRvf — CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) March 4, 2021 More stories from theweek.comWhy the Dr. Seuss 'cancellation' is chilling7 scathingly funny cartoons about Trump's CPAC appearanceThe Republican grievance perpetual motion machine
- The Daily Beast
Charles McQuillan/Getty ImagesAt least ten former staffers who worked for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are “queuing up” to cooperate with an investigation ordered by the queen into allegations that Meghan bullied her staff, it was claimed Thursday evening.The claim was made in the British newspaper the Mirror and is likely to be taken seriously as it was made by well-sourced royal reporter Russell Myers.Sources connected to the group, who have been assured of confidentiality as the investigation continues, said the staffers were considered to be “hugely professional and proud of their efforts” while working at Kensington Palace.One source told The Mirror, “A group of people are queuing up to be involved. They have been silent for too long and there is much to talk about.”Meghan Markle Dismisses Bullying Allegations as Pre-Oprah ‘Calculated Smear Campaign’It came after a report in the Daily Mail said that some alleged victims of workplace bullying by Meghan dub themselves the “Sussex Survivors Club” and are believed to be suffering a form of post-traumatic stress.The paper’s royal reporter Rebecca English said that during a royal tour in Fiji, “I witnessed Meghan turn and ‘hiss’ at a member of her entourage, clearly incandescent with rage about something, and demand to leave. I later saw that same—female—highly distressed member of staff sitting in an official car, with tears running down her face. Our eyes met and she lowered hers, humiliation etched on her features.”A bombshell report in The London Times Tuesday said that Meghan systematically bullied members of the staff and that her head of communications, Jason Knauf, was so appalled by Meghan’s behavior that he put his concerns in writing to his superiors. That email was leaked to The Times.Buckingham Palace responded by ordering a full investigation into the bullying claims.Meghan’s camp has been keen to point out that the complaints raised by Knauf were dropped. However, the Mirror’s source said, “The complaint was considered and those members of staff were spoken to and given the option of taking it further. For whatever reason, they decided not to, possibly because they were still in their job and they were worried about the implications.”A source close to the Sussexes told the Mirror of the palace probe: “The first we heard about this was via the press—this is a whole tit-for-tat scenario. It’s not a complaint we haven’t heard anything but it’s very hard to know what the process is. If this was a private company, we’ve effectively already been fired and I’m not entirely sure what any process could be.”A spokesperson for Meghan and Harry declined to comment to The Daily Beast.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.