Islamic State steps up counter-attacks as fighting edges closer to Mosul | Reuters
By Maher Chmaytelli and Stephen Kalin | BAGHDAD/BARTELLA, Iraq BAGHDAD/BARTELLA, Iraq Islamic State expanded its attacks on Monday against the army and Kurdish forces across Iraq, trying to relieve pressure on the militant group's defences around Mosul, its last major urban stronghold in the country.About 80 Islamic State-held villages and towns have been retaken in the first week of the offensive, bringing Iraqi and Kurdish forces closer to the edge of the city itself - where the battle will be hardest fought.The Mosul campaign, which aims to crush the Iraqi half of Islamic State's declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria, may become the biggest battle yet in the 13 years of turmoil triggered by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and could require a massive humanitarian relief operation.Some 1.5 million residents remain in the city and worst-case forecasts see up to a million being uprooted, according to the United Nations.
By Maher Chmaytelli and Stephen Kalin
| BAGHDAD/BARTELLA, Iraq
BAGHDAD/BARTELLA, Iraq Islamic State expanded its attacks on Monday against the army and Kurdish forces across Iraq, trying to relieve pressure on the militant group's defences around Mosul, its last major urban stronghold in the country.About 80 Islamic State-held villages and towns have been retaken in the first week of the offensive, bringing Iraqi and Kurdish forces closer to the edge of the city itself - where the battle will be hardest fought.The Mosul campaign, which aims to crush the Iraqi half of Islamic State's declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria, may become the biggest battle yet in the 13 years of turmoil triggered by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and could require a massive humanitarian relief operation.Some 1.5 million residents remain in the city and worst-case forecasts see up to a million being uprooted, according to the United Nations. U.N. aid agencies said the fighting has so far forced about 7,400 to flee their homes.In a series of counter-attacks on far-flung targets across Iraq since Friday, Islamic State fighters have hit Kirkuk, the north's main oil city, the town of Rutba that controls the road from Baghdad to Jordan and Syria, and Sinjar, a region west of Mosul inhabited by the persecuted Yazidi minority.Yazidi provincial chief Mahma Xelil said at least 15 militants were killed in the two-hour battle in Sinjar and a number of their vehicles were destroyed, while the peshmerga suffered two wounded. Islamic State said two peshmerga vehicles were destroyed and all those on board were killed. Islamic State committed some of its worst atrocities in Sinjar when it swept through the Yazidi region two years ago, killing men, kidnapping children and enslaving women. Kurdish fighters took back the region a year ago.REGIONAL INTERVENTION
The Iraqi force attacking Mosul is 30,000-strong, joined by U.S. special forces and under American, French and British air cover. The number of insurgents dug in the city is estimated at 5,000 to 6,000 by the Iraqi military.Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said Iraqi security forces and the peshmerga were making "solid progress" in their advance on Mosul, but were facing heavy resistance.
The Mosul campaign has drawn in regional players and highlighted how Iraq, like neighbouring Syria, has become a platform for influence between rival parties - Sunni-ruled Turkey and its Gulf allies and Shi’ite Iran and its client militias.Turkey and Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated central government are at loggerheads over the presence - unauthorised by Baghdad - of Turkish troops at a camp in northern Iraq.Ankara fears that Shi'ite militias, which have been accused of abuses against Sunni civilians elsewhere, will be used in the Mosul offensive. Turkey's own presence in Iraq has also helped inflame sectarian passions among Shi'ites.Turkish artillery has already played a role in the battle and four Turkish fighter jets are on standby to take part in air operations, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denied that Turkey had a role in the operation. "We don't want the Turkish military force," he said in a statement.The region of Nineveh around Mosul is a mosaic of ethnic and religious groups - Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Sunnis, Shi'ites - with Sunni Arabs the overwhelming majority.
It was from Mosul's Grand Mosque that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate in 2014. Within a year his group was in retreat in Iraq, having lost the Sunni cities of Tikrit, Ramadi and Falluja.The Iraqi army last week dislodged insurgents from the main Christian region east of Mosul and its elite unit, the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) has pressed ahead with operations to clear more villages since Saturday.CTS forces took a handful of villages west of the Christian town of Bartella in an early morning attack on Monday and are now six kilometres (about four miles) east of Mosul. The areas taken so far have been largely empty of civilian populations, but civilians could be living in the two villages lying ahead, Bazwaia and Gogjali, bordering Mosul proper.
Islamic State used improvised explosive devices and snipers in the areas retaken on Monday, as they have in many previous battles, Brigadier General Faleh Fadel Jasim said. The militants dug a 10 km-long network of tunnels under Bartella, with food and weapons stores, to hold up the army, he said. "They tried making fortified defense lines but they weren't able to."The army's press office said a total of 78 villages and town have been recaptured between Oct. 17, when the Mosul operation started, and Sunday evening, more than 770 Islamic State fighters have been killed.Islamic State says it has killed hundreds of fighters from the attacking forces and blocked their progress. A French defence source said on Monday hundreds of Islamic State fighters have left Syria with the aim of reinforcing their stronghold in northern Iraq. "(In recent weeks) we saw movements from Syria to Mosul," the source said.In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Jarvis also said Islamic State was bringing more reinforcements from outside.The army is trying to advance from the south and the east while Kurdish peshmerga fighters are holding fronts in the east and north.After Islamic State's attack on Friday in Kirkuk, the hardline Sunni militant group has launched other diversionary attacks in Sinjar and Rutba, 360 km west of Baghdad, where they killed at least seven policemen, according to security sources.Federal police units which arrived in Rutba overnight were backing up the local forces, according to the sources who estimate that 16 insurgents have been killed so far. Islamic State said in an online statement that dozens of security force members and pro-government Sunni tribal forces had fled Rutba. (Additional reporting by Saif Hameed in Baghdad, Idrrees Ali in Washington, and Marine Pennetier in Paris; Editing by Dominic Evans)
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By Brian Homewood | LAUSANNE, Switzerland LAUSANNE, Switzerland Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has lost his appeal against a six-year ban for ethics violations, imposed amid the biggest corruption scandal to shake the world soccer body, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Monday.CAS ruled that Blatter had authorised payments to former European football boss Michel Platini worth over $2 million that amounted to "undue gifts" and therefore violated FIFA's code of ethics.Blatter led FIFA for 17 years, resigning in June last year after several dozen football officials, including FIFA executive committee members and former members, had been indicted in the United States on graft charges, along with two sports marketing firms.The 80-year-old Swiss was not among those indicted, but became embroiled in scandal when he was banned from all football-related activity the following December by FIFA's Ethics Committee along with Platini, then president of the European soccer body UEFA.The men were banned, initially for eight years, over a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($1.98 million) that FIFA made to Platini in 2011, with Blatter’s approval, for work done a decade earlier.The bans were reduced to six years by FIFA's appeals committee in February.Both men denied wrongdoing and Blatter said the payment related to a verbal agreement between them.CAS said in a statement that its three-man panel had determined that Blatter "breached the FIFA code of ethics since the payment amounted to an undue gift as it had no contractual basis". "The Panel further found that Mr Blatter unlawfully awarded contributions to Mr Platini under the FIFA Executive Committee retirement scheme which also amounted to an undue gifts," said CAS.CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION Swiss prosecutors have also begun investigating Blatter on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation of funds over the payment, which they describe as "disloyal", though he has not been charged. And in September, FIFA's Ethics Committee said it was investigating Blatter and two other former leading FIFA officials over the salaries and bonuses they had received while in office.At the same time, Swiss authorities are investigating whether bribes were paid on Blatter's watch to help Russia and Qatar secure the right to host FIFA's showpiece event, the four-yearly World Cup, awarded by the FIFA Executive Committee
MANILA Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he would open numerous economic sectors to foreign investors and move against protectionism.Speaking in New Zealand after a Asia-Pacific summit in Peru, Duterte said he had decided it was time to speed up the "entry of new players" into energy, power and information and communications technology sectors, as well as freeing up the airwaves.Investors in the Philippines, one of the world's fastest- growing economies, have complained often of regulations that can restrict foreign investment in various areas, among them telecoms and utilities.
By Makini Brice and Anastasia Moloney LES CAYES, Haiti (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Health officials in Haiti on Thursday said they were preparing for a likely surge in cholera cases in the wake of Hurricane Matthew which severely damaged water supplies and sanitation systems in the Caribbean nation.The fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade has killed at least 140 people, most of them in hardest-hit Haiti where rescue workers were struggling to reach remote areas due to flooded roads, collapsed bridges and power outages."Due to massive flooding and its impact on water and sanitation infrastructure, cholera cases are expected to surge after Hurricane Matthew and through the normal rainy season until the start of 2017," the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said in a statement.Even before the storm hit Haiti this week, the impoverished nation was struggling to stem the water-borne disease.More than 9,000 Haitians have been killed, and 790,000 have been infected, since a cholera outbreak began in 2010, according to PAHO.Infection is caused by drinking and using contaminated water that triggers diarrhea and vomiting and can cause severe dehydration which if not treated quickly can be fatal. Children are particularly at risk, the United Nations' children's agency (UNICEF) has warned."Water-borne diseases are the first threat to children," UNICEF said this week.