By Ahmed Rasheed and Phil Stewart BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition warplanes launched their first airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Tikrit on Wednesday, officials said, coming off the sidelines to aid Iraqi forces fighting alongside Iran-backed Shi'ite militia on the ground. The decision to give air support to the Tikrit campaign represents the biggest collaboration so far by the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed paramilitaries, and opens a new chapter in the war. It also appeared to represent at least a tacit acknowledgement by Baghdad that such airpower was necessary to wrest control of the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Islamic State fighters, after its attempts to go it alone stalled. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi forces would prevail with the support of "friendly" countries and the international coalition, including arms, training and aerial support. "We have opened the last page of the operations," Abadi said on state television. Reuters first reported the U.S.-led coalition's expected entry into the Tikrit campaign, disclosed by Iraq's president in an interview and later confirmed by a U.S. official. It has been carrying out strikes elsewhere in Iraq since August. A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American warplanes and aircraft from allied nations were striking up to a dozen targets in Tikrit, selected after coalition surveillance flights. In language that appeared to intentionally omit the Iranian-backed militia, Lieutenant General James Terry, the senior U.S. commander of the U.S.-led coalition, said the strikes were aimed at enabling "Iraqi forces under Iraqi command." "These strikes are intended to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing collateral damage to infrastructure," Terry said, using an acronym for Islamic State. As coalition aircraft entered the fray, Iraqi forces pounded Islamic State positions in Tikrit, resuming an offensive that had stalled for almost two weeks. Two military officers in the city confirmed Iraqi forces were shelling the militants. "Military operations in Tikrit started at around 9 pm local time by pounding Islamic State positions with artillery, mortars and Katyusha rockets," said provincial council member Hadi al-Khazraji. More than 20,000 troops and allied Shi'ite paramilitary groups have been taking part in the offensive and have suffered heavy casualties on the edge of the city, 100 miles (160 km) north of Baghdad. The Iraqi military had lobbied for U.S.-led coalition air strikes while Shi'ite paramilitary forces opposed such a move. One militia leader, Hadi al-Amiri, boasted three weeks ago that his men had been making advances for months without relying on U.S. air power. The mainly Sunni city of Tikrit was seized by Islamic State in the first days of their lightning strike across northern Iraq last June. If Iraq's Shi'ite led-government retakes Tikrit, it would be the first city wrested from the Sunni insurgents and would give Baghdad momentum for a pivotal stage of the campaign: recapturing Mosul, the largest city in the north. Still, the offensive raised thorny questions for American war planners, who have long sought to distance themselves from the acknowledged risks that heavy involvement of the Shi'ite militia on the ground could heighten sectarian tensions in the Sunni city of Tikrit. It also raises questions about whether the U.S.-led coalition can maintain the extent of operational control of the battlefield that it needs with so many Shi'ite militia on the ground. (Additional reporting by Richard Mably, Samia Nakhoul, Ned Parker in Baghdad; Editing by Dominic Evans and Ken Wills)
- The Independent
Senator tweeted that unexpected family issue prevented him from attending
- Business Insider
Opinion: The costs of a foreign policy that emphasizes US global preeminence are now inescapable clear, and US leaders need to change course.
Ina Garten's new breakfast sandwich can be made in a flash and features deliciously creamy eggs made in a microwave.
- Business Insider
Trump begins settling scores with Republican opponents by endorsing a former aide's primary challenge to an Ohio congressman who backed impeachment
Trump weighed in for the first time after he indicated he would play an active role on the campaign trail during the 2022 midterm elections.
- The Telegraph
Perched on the mountain range that divides the sprawling city of Caracas from the Caribbean Sea, Venezuela’s Hotel Humboldt can be seen from nearly all corners of the capital. The 65-year-old, 14-floor structure can only be reached by cable car from the city below. It currently boasts 69 rooms, six dining areas, a casino, a night club, and a swimming pool and spa. “It will be the first seven star hotel in Venezuela,” President Nicolas Maduro once proudly proclaimed as the 1956 symbol of oil wealth was being lavishly renovated. Now, the hotel is open again as a symbol of an impending economic recovery and tourism boom in a country that has suffered the worst economic crisis in modern Latin American history. But the so-called Socialist president’s touting of the luxurious, $300 per night hotel in a country where most live in poverty represents something else to others - an abandonment of a political project promising a socialist utopia in favor of an 'anything goes', capitalist kleptocracy.
- Martha Stewart Living
Prince Harry Just Revealed Exactly When He Knew Meghan Markle Was the One: "We Went from Zero to 60"
The Duke of Sussex candidly shared more about his married life in a recent interview with James Corden—watch it here.
- Associated Press
The U.S. is getting a third vaccine to prevent COVID-19, as the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two. Health experts are anxiously awaiting a one-and-done option to help speed vaccinations, as they race against a virus that already has killed more than 510,000 people in the U.S. and is mutating in increasingly worrisome ways. The FDA said J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death.
- The Week
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) didn't exactly pull punches in an interview with Politico, going after congressional Republicans, Democrats, former President Donald Trump, and the Biden administration all in one go. Sasse, who is facing imminent censure from the Nebraska GOP for voting to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, stands by that vote and says he's not bothered by the action his home state's Republican Party is taking against him, though he did say he thinks it's not "healthy." His comments to Politico seemed to back up that confidence. At one point, when asked about Trump loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Sasse simply said "that guy is not an adult," and described Congress, generally, as "a bunch of yokels screaming." Sasse's candor is gutsy, but it's worth noting he's generally well-respected by his Senate colleagues and won re-election handily last year, so he's ensconced in the upper chamber until 2026, and likely doesn't need to look over his shoulder as of now. While he's been in the spotlight for his intra-party criticism of late, Sasse did have words for Democrats, as well, per Politico. He said the Biden administration is "cowering" to the opinions of progressive lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and called the education spending plan in President Biden's COVID-19 relief package "disastrous." Read more at Politico. More stories from theweek.comBiden in the quagmireNewly confirmed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is 'obsessed' with creating 'clean-energy jobs'Records provide Louisiana State Police's 1st acknowledgement Black man who died in custody was mistreated
- Business Insider
QAnon's most devout followers believe bizarrely that former President Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 19th President on March 4, 2021.
Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler is out as owner of WNBA team, and the new owners include former star player who retired to fight for social justice
One month after WNBA players helped oust Kelly Loeffler from the Senate, the league announced that it had approved sale of the franchise she co-owned.
- Yahoo News Video
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she won't take AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine because she is too old, a comment that comes as millions of Germans refuse to take the vaccine because they do not trust it.
- The Week
Prince Harry and James Corden tour L.A., crawl through the mud, discuss Harry's thoughts on The Crown
Prince Harry evidently thought he was going to be on "Carpool Karaoke." "This is subtle — where's the Range Rover?" he asked James Corden when Corden arrived in an open-air bus for a tour of Los Angeles on Thursday's Late Late Show. The non-working-royal prince did rap the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but there was no singing on the tour. There was, however, high tea, an ill-advised real estate push invoking Meghan Markle, and a military-style obstacle course. Prince Harry seemed to enjoy parts of the tour: He said he's never been allowed to ride on an open-top bus and has always wanted to go sight-seeing, and since he and his wife arrived in the U.S. during coronavirus lockdown, "this is the first time I've had a chance to see L.A." He described a typical day in his quasi-royal Santa Barbara household, starting with breakfast from a waffle-maker gifted to son Archie by his great-grandmother, the queen, and ending with him and the duchess in bed watching Jeopardy! or "a little bit of Netflix." "And how do you feel about The Crown?" Corden asked. Unlike his brother, Harry has watched the show, and he had thoughts about how his family is portrayed: "They don't pretend to be news, it's fictional, but it's loosely based on the truth. Of course it's not strictly accurate," but "loosely, it gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle, what the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everything else, what can come from that. I'm way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family or my wife or myself," because one is "obviously fiction" and the latter is "being reported on as fact." When asked, Harry said he wants Damian Lewis to play him when his storyline starts in The Crown. Corden nominated himself to play Prince William, earning a dubious stare from Harry. "It's not great casting, but it is casting," he said. You can watch him get the last laugh below. More stories from theweek.comBiden in the quagmireBen Sasse on Matt Gaetz: 'That guy is not an adult'Newly confirmed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is 'obsessed' with creating 'clean-energy jobs'
Residents of an Indian slum thought they were getting vaccinated like everyone else but were unknowingly part of a clinical trial
After a white van advertised COVID-19 vaccines to a central-Indian slum, many of its residents feel duped after finding out they were in a trial.
- Business Insider
Go back to the place you got your first shot if you lose your paper card, and make sure to take a photo of the vaccine card after your first dose.
It's been 40 years since Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announced their engagement with a televised interview.
- Business Insider
Trump supporters and right-wing reporters wouldn't stop heckling CNN's Jim Acosta during second day of CPAC
A crowd of Trump supporters and right-wing reporters were filmed following Jim Acosta around CPAC while chanting "CNN sucks!"
Jill Biden said on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" that her daughter, Ashley, was the first to tell her that the Valentine's Day scrunchie sparked a trend.
- The Week
Democrats decry Biden's airstrikes in Syria as unconstitutional. Republicans praise them as 'proportional.'
Democrats are calling the Biden administration's airstrikes in Syria unconstitutional. President Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes against facilities in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militant groups, his first military action since taking office. The strikes were in response to several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. While Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the limited scope of the airstrikes "aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq," many Democrats expressed concerns on Friday that the move has done just the opposite, and argued it wasn't legally justified. "Some Democrats said that Congress has not passed an authorization for the use of military force specifically in Syria," reports CNN. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said "there is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization ... we need to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate." Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) agreed, calling for an immediate congressional briefing and saying "offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances." Republicans, however, were seemingly largely pleased with the move. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the U.S. response a "necessary deterrent" to tell Iran that attacks on U.S. interests "will not be tolerated," reports CNN. As Fox News notes, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), among others, also applauded the strike, calling it "proportional." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the action as "necessary," and said Biden "has the right to take action" as he sees fit. She said "there was a thorough, legal response" and the Defense Department briefed congressional leadership in advance. More stories from theweek.comBiden in the quagmireBen Sasse on Matt Gaetz: 'That guy is not an adult'Newly confirmed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is 'obsessed' with creating 'clean-energy jobs'
A harmless side effect of the shot can be swollen lymph nodes. That means the vaccine is working, but could cause false alarm, so you should wait.
- Business Insider
Merkel says she won't take AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine because she's too old, as 1.4 million jabs are left unused
The German chancellor said she wasn't eligible because the vaccine isn't approved for people over 65 in Germany.