WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House signaled on Wednesday that it was looking to strengthen Iraqi forces to help them deal with an insurgency rather than to meet what one U.S. official said were past Iraqi requests for U.S. air strikes. An Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Iraq had previously made clear its interest in drone strikes or bombing by manned U.S. aircraft to help it beat back the militant onslaught. 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. [ID:nL5N0OS24U] The threat to the Baiji refinery came after militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL group, seized the northern city of Mosul, advancing their aim of creating a Sunni Caliphate straddling the border between Iraq and Syria. The White House, however, suggested that air strikes were not at the top of its agenda as it considers what it may do to help the Iraqi government against an insurgency that has drawn strength from the civil war in neighboring Syria. "While the national security team always looks at a range of options, the current focus of our discussions with the government of Iraq and our policy considerations is to build the capacity of the Iraqis to successfully confront and deal with the threat posed by ISIL," White House national security council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in an emailed comment. The Obama administration official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity declined to provide details on what the United States might do to help Iraq, saying only that it was "considering (a) range of requests." The Wall Street Journal, quoting senior U.S. officials, first reported that Iraq had signaled it would let the United States strike al Qaeda militant targets in Iraq with manned aircraft or drones. Separately, the New York Times reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider air strikes against militant staging areas as the threat from Sunni insurgents mounted last month. An Iraqi official told Reuters that Iraq wanted U.S. air strikes but believed the Obama administration was not interested in getting involved. The official said such strikes would be covered under the strategic framework agreement signed by the United States and Iraq in 2008. Within this, limited U.S. forces could operate on the ground to carry out such strikes, he added. But the official said he did not think the Americans had any interest in such a deepened commitment. DOUBT ABOUT DRONES The Times quoted American experts who visited Baghdad this year as saying they were told that Iraqi leaders hoped American air power could be used to hit militant staging and training areas inside Iraq, and help Iraq’s forces stop them from crossing into the country from Syria. The White House declined to confirm either newspaper report. "We are not going to get into details of our diplomatic discussions but the government of Iraq has made clear that they welcome our support" against the militants, Meehan said in a separate statement. "We have expedited shipments of military equipment since the beginning of the year, ramped up training of Iraqi Security Forces, and worked intensively to help Iraq implement a holistic approach to counter this terrorist threat," she added. "Our assistance has been comprehensive, is continuing and will increase." The fall of Mosul, Iraq's second-biggest city, is a blow to attempts to defeat the militants, who have seized territory in Iraq over the past year following the withdrawal of U.S. forces. A former U.S. official, who worked on Iraq issues, said the Obama administration viewed Iraq as a dispute that did not affect the United States directly and that Washington should steer clear of entangling itself in it directly. Another U.S. official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity questioned the utility of drones, saying it might not be possible to deploy them effectively in time to stem the current crisis in Iraq. "What does it require to have drones come to a country? It requires a very, very high level of intel capability and expertise. So you can’t just send drones on an airplane and have them land and have them work," said this official. "They wouldn’t have, in this sort of period of time, the ability, given what is going on here, to field the drones (effectively)," he added. "I believe it would take longer than the current crisis (may require)." This official said that once militants had taken control of cities, it would require "incredibly intense fighting" on the ground to dislodge them. (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Ned Parker, Steve Holland and Peter Cooney; Editing by Missy Ryan, Prudence Crowther, Robert Birsel)
- The Independent
Nancy Pelosi called pro-Trump rioters ‘Putin puppets’ and the Capitol siege a ‘gift’ to the Russian president
A boy who was killed in an alleged murder-suicide by his father has been identified as 9-year-old Pierce O’Loughlin. Family tragedy: The boy and his father, Stephen O'Loughlin, 49, were both found dead at their home on Scott Street, Marina District in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon, SF Chronicle reports. The boy’s mother, Lesley Hu, asked authorities to check on her son after learning that he did not show up for school that day.
- National Review
A Honduran migrant worker claimed that a migrant caravan was headed to the U.S. because incoming president Joe Biden would give migrants “100 days” to arrive at the country, in an interview with CNN. Biden may seek to enact a 100-day moratorium on deportations, however transition team officials have cautioned that the president-elect will not be able to overhaul immigration policy immediately upon taking office. Even so, a group of about 3,000 migrants from Honduras clashed with Guatemalan security forces on Sunday during their trek north to the U.S.-Mexico border. One migrant claimed the caravan was heading north because Biden had promised to help them, in a CNN interview later reposted by The Hill. Honduran migrant: President-elect Biden is "going to help all of us." pic.twitter.com/LkrVCsXcSb — The Hill (@thehill) January 18, 2021 “I just want patience and prayers that we can get to the U.S. because they [will] have a new president, Biden,” the migrant said. “He’s going to help all of us, he’s giving us 100 days to get to the U.S. and give us [legal] papers, so we can get a better life for our kids, and for our families.” Meanwhile, Guatemala deemed the attempted crossing illegal. “Guatemala’s message is loud and clear: These types of illegal mass movements will not be accepted, that’s why we are working together with the neighboring nations to address this as a regional issue,” the office of Guatemala’s president said in a statement on Sunday.
- Associated Press
A court in Thailand on Tuesday sentenced a former civil servant to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for breaching the country's strict law on insulting or defaming the monarchy, lawyers said. The Bangkok Criminal Court found the woman guilty on 29 counts of violating the country’s lese majeste law for posting audio clips to Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy, the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said. “Today’s court verdict is shocking and sends a spine-chilling signal that not only criticisms of the monarchy won’t be tolerated, but they will also be severely punished,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for the group Human Rights Watch.
Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sydney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America. * The letter also orders Lindell to "preserve and retain all documents relating to Dominion and your smear campaign against the company." * Lindell also must preserve all communications with any member of the Trump campaign, in addition to communications with Rudy Giuliani, Powell, Jenna Ellis and Lin Wood. The big picture: Lindell met with Trump last week and was caught by photographers with notes referencing martial law and Sidney Powell. The CEO has become known for pedaling election-overturning conspiracies and last year promoted a fake cure to the coronavirus. What they're saying: Dominion's letter reads... "Despite knowing your implausible attacks against Dominion have no basis in reality, you have participated in the vast and concerted misinformation campaign to slander Dominion ... Litigation regarding these issues is imminent."A spokesperson for My Pillow did not immediately return a request for comment. Read the full letter here: Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- The Independent
In further snub, Melania Trump has not given Jill Biden traditional tour of family wing of White House
- The Telegraph
A woman identified as having taken part in the storming of the US Capitol is accused of stealing a laptop belonging to top Democrat Nancy Pelosi which she hoped to sell to a Russian spy agency, according to the FBI. There is no indication Riley June Williams, a 22-year-old careworker from Pennsylvania, took a laptop from Ms Pelosi's office. The FBI, which is working off a tip, said in the court record the "matter remains under investigation." The complaint, filed late Sunday in US District Court in Washington, sought the arrest of Williams on grounds including "violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds." Relying on several photos and videos of the chaotic January 6 riot, an FBI agent said Williams was seen near the office of Ms Pelosi, US House Speaker. A witness, identified in the court document only as W1 but who claimed to be "the former romantic partner of Riley June Williams," alleged that Williams planned to send the laptop to a friend in Russia to sell it to the SVR foreign intelligence agency. That sale "fell through for unknown reasons, and Williams still has the computer device or destroyed it," the affidavit says.
- Yahoo News Video
The spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert has quit less than two weeks after she was sworn into office, saying he felt like he need to due to the insurrection at the nation's Capitol.
Exclusive: Putin trying to show he's Russia's "top dog" with Navalny arrest - Kremlin critic Khodorkovsky
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who fell foul of the Kremlin, said on Monday the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to show he is still "top dog" in Russia. Khodorkovsky said the West should act rather than talk if it wanted to have any influence on the 68-year-old president after Navalny's arrest and that Navalny could face a decade in prison, as Khodorkovsky did after challenging the Kremlin.
The officer who may have saved the life of Vice President Mike Pence could now be giving him the side-eye. The cop hailed as a hero for leading a crowd of insurrectionists away from the Senate floor and potentially saving hundreds of lawmakers’ lives has, perhaps, left the vice president on read. Vice President Mike Pence has reportedly reached out to thank Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman for his heroism on Jan. 6, but they have yet to connect.
- Associated Press
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has authorized the dispatch of oxygen to Brazil to help its South American neighbor treat people sickened amid another wave of the coronavirus, despite frosty relations between the two governments and Venezuela's own lack of hospital supplies. Maduro approved departure for a convoy of six tanker trucks loaded with oxygen in a national broadcast Sunday on state TV. It's destined for the city of Manaus in the northern state of Amazonas.
- National Review
President Trump signed an executive order on Monday expanding access to personal firearms for federal law enforcement officials. The order is one of the last of Trump’s presidency, with Joe Biden set to be sworn into office on Wednesday. The purpose of the order is to remove “undue obstacles” for law enforcement officers and prosecutors to obtain concealed carry licenses, as well as to expand protections for prosecutors and judges. “It shall be the policy of the United States to remove any undue obstacle preventing current or retired Federal law enforcement officers from carrying a concealed firearm,” the order states. The order also directs the U.S. Attorney General to “propose a regulation…to provide that the special deputation as a Deputy United States Marshall shall be granted upon request to any Federal prosecutor” who faces risk of harm as a result of his or her work. The special deputation would grant a prosecutor the right to concealed carry of a firearm. It is unclear if the incoming Biden administration will work to carry out the order. Biden announced earlier this month that he will nominate Merrick Garland, the prosecutor who headed the investigation against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, to the position of attorney general. Biden himself is preparing several executive orders for the first days of his presidency, in an attempt to reverse several Trump administration policies. Among other issues, Biden will rejoin the Paris Climate Accords and end Trump’s immigration restrictions on some Muslim-majority nations.
- The Week
The FBI on Monday shared with law enforcement agencies an intelligence report warning that far-right extremists have talked about going to D.C. for the inauguration and posing as National Guard members, The Washington Post reports.The Post obtained a copy of the document, which said "lone wolves" and QAnon followers — including some who participated in the mob that stormed the Capitol earlier this month — have indicated they intend on traveling to Washington for the inauguration. The report also said people have been observed downloading and distributing maps of sensitive locations in D.C.The briefing did not include any specific plots, the Post reports, and noted that "numerous" extremist groups and militias have publicly stated they don't want to see any violence targeting the transition of power. At the request of the FBI, the Post did not share all of the details inside the intelligence report, in order to protect intelligence-gathering methods and avoid publicizing security vulnerabilities.The Secret Service coordinates all security for the inauguration, while the FBI gathers intelligence on threats made against the event. Last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray said agents are monitoring an "extensive amount of concerning online chatter" and it can be difficult to "distinguish what's aspirational versus what's intentional."More stories from theweek.com 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Melania Trump released a farewell video. So did Colbert's Late Show Melania Trump. Anthony Scaramucci says even he got an invite to Trump's D.C. sendoff
An independent panel said on Monday that Chinese officials could have applied public health measures more forcefully in January to curb the initial COVID-19 outbreak, and criticised the World Health Organization (WHO) for not declaring an international emergency until Jan. 30. The experts reviewing the global handling of the pandemic, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, called for reforms to the Geneva-based United Nations agency.Their interim report was published hours after the WHO's top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, said that global deaths from COVID-19 were expected to top 100,000 per week "very soon". "What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January," the report said, referring to the initial outbreak of the new disease in the central city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.
The death toll has now risen to 78 following the powerful tremor on Sulawesi island on Friday.
- Associated Press
Kamala Harris will make history on Wednesday when she becomes the nation’s first female vice president — and the first Black woman and the first woman of South Asian descent to hold that office. With the confluence of crises confronting Joe Biden's administration — and an evenly divided Senate in which she would deliver the tie-breaking vote — Harris is shaping up to be a central player in addressing everything from the coronavirus pandemic to criminal justice reform. Symone Sanders, Harris' chief spokeswoman, said that while the vice president-elect's portfolio hasn't been fully defined yet, she has a hand in all aspects of Biden's agenda.
- The Independent
The latest updates from the White House and beyond on 17 January 2021
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday he would not stop Filipinos from getting shots of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech, despite reports in Norway of deaths among frail elderly people after being inoculated. Norway said on Monday it was not changing its policy on the use of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine following reports of deaths among very frail recipients after the inoculation was given. In his address, Duterte also reiterated his defense of the government's supply deals involving CoronaVac, the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech.
- The Telegraph
A Christian girl has been taken into care in Pakistan after allegedly being abducted by a Muslim man who forced her to marry him and kept her chained up in a cattle pen. The girl spent five months chained up in the pen in the yard of her 45-year-old captor's home, where she was forced to work all day clearing the animals’ dung, her family claim. They said that when she was rescued by police last month, she had cuts on her ankles left by the shackles put on her by captor, who is also said to have raped her repeatedly. The case has now been taken up by human rights groups, who say the family's initial complaint to police went ignored for three months. They claim that every year, hundreds of girls from Pakistan's Christian and Hindu minority groups are abducted and forced into Muslim marriage, with the justice system often turning a blind eye for fear of offending Islamic hardliners. They say that Britain, which gives £302 million in aid last year to Pakistan, should insist that more is done to counter prejudices against minorities and challenge institutionalised tolerance of sexual abuse. In November, The Telegraph reported on the case a 14-year-old girl allegedly kidnapped by a Muslim man who then used threats of violence to make her sign false papers consenting to marriage. When she escaped from his custody, a court initially ruled the marriage legal and returned her to her abductor's home. She is now in hiding, with the British charity Aid to the Church in Need petitioning Boris Johnson to allow her to seek asylum in Britain.
- NBC News
"The situation at the border isn't going to be transformed overnight," a senior Biden transition official told NBC News in an exclusive interview.