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Officer: forces begin installing floating bridge to western Mosul

Nineveh – Iraqi forces began Tuesday the installation of a floating bridge that will help bring supplies from the east of Mosul to forces fighting Islamic State militants in the west.

Abdul-Karim al-Sabaawi, a Brig. Gen. in the Iraqi army, said in press statements that the engineering teams had begun erecting the floating bridge that will link both sides of the Tigris River, which bisects the city.

There are five bridges linking eastern and western Mosul above the Tigris River. The bridges were partially destroyed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes during operations in eastern Mosul to hinder attempts by Islamic State fighters to escape to the west. Iraqi commanders said recently they were planning to erect a bridge across the river to allow military supplies into the west.

Iraqi troops, starting a new offensive on western Mosul on February 19th, have recently pushed closer to central Mosul, where many strategic government facilities are located.

The eastern section was retaken late January after three months of operations.

The Iraqi migration ministry said Monday operations in western Mosul had so far forced 14.000 civilians to flee the region, bringing the total of people leaving Mosul since the start of operations in October at 235.000.

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2 IEDs explosion kills 8 volunteer soldiers near Tikrit

2 IEDs explosion kills 8 volunteer soldiers near Tikrit

Salahuddin – Eight members of al-Hashd al-Shaabi were killed by improvised explosive devices explosion in al-Alam area, east of Tikrit, a source told Alsumaria News on Tuesday.

The source said, “Two improvised explosive devices, emplaced on the roadside in al-Alam area, east of Tikrit, exploded at afternoon today, killing eight members of al-Hashd al-Shaabi.”

“Security forces arrived in the area of incident and transferred the casualties to a nearby hospital,” the source added on condition of anonymity.

It is worth to mention that Salahuddin Province is witnessing several suicide attacks, using improvised explosive devices and booby-trapped vehicles, against civilians and security members.

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The strange life, and sudden death, of a North Korean exile

MACAU — The heavy-set man got out of a taxi one night last September and headed for the lobby bar of the swank Wynn Macau — a quiet place, where women are often in evening dresses and gamblers can relax with $300 Cuban cigars. He was dressed casually. There were no bodyguards, no flashy women.

It wasn’t what you’d expect of a man once tipped to be the next dictator of North Korea.

Kim Jong Nam had spent years in exile, gambling and drinking and arranging the occasional business deal as he traveled across Asia and Europe. In recent years, his fortunes had apparently declined, and he’d moved his family from a luxurious seafront condominium complex in Macau to a more affordable apartment building. He was looking for company when he bumped into a friend outside the Wynn.

“He wanted us to join him because he didn’t want to drink alone,” said an insider in Macau’s gambling industry who was introduced to Kim that night by a mutual friend. In a city awash in new money and Chinese gamblers flaunting their wealth, Kim was low-key and polite, making no mention of his powerful family.

“It just seemed odd that the son of a dictator would just be — you wouldn’t know him from an average dude on the street,” said the insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, not wanting to alienate the city-state’s gambling fraternity, where privacy is deeply valued.

Kim may have seemed easygoing, but he had reason to worry. He’d known for years that his younger half-brother, now the ruler of North Korea, had ordered him hunted down, South Korean intelligence officials say.

On a Monday morning in mid-February, that order apparently was carried out.

Kim was walking through Kuala Lumpur’s cavernous budget airport terminal, a few steps past a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop, when a pair of women who Malaysian police say were recruited by a team of North Koreans approached.

At least one of the women suddenly wiped a powerful toxin on Kim’s face, smearing him with VX nerve agent before quickly walking away. Minutes later, after walking to the airport’s medical clinic, Kim went into convulsions.

A few minutes after that, as an ambulance rushed him to a hospital, Kim Jong Nam died. He was 45 years old.

Kim’s mother was one of North Korea’s most famous movie stars. His father was the dictator-prince of North Korea, a deeply isolated country where the same family has been in power since 1948 and the rulers are worshipped in all-encompassing cults of personality.

But Kim Jong Nam’s grandfather, the founding ruler Kim Il Sung, didn’t approve of his mother, and refused to allow his parents to marry. So Kim spent his childhood in luxurious isolation, hidden from his grandfather, shuttled among Pyongyang mansions and watched over by platoons of bodyguards. When his mother fell ill, reportedly suffering from depression, she was sent to Moscow for treatment and Kim was raised by his maternal aunt.

In those days, his father, Kim Jong Il, loved him deeply, almost desperately. He rocked his son to sleep, and cooed to him “the way a mother calms a crying baby,” the aunt, So’ng Hye-rang, wrote in a memoir after she defected to South Korea in the 1990s.

At some point in his childhood, Kim Jong Nam left home, spending years living either with his mother or in boarding schools in Moscow and Geneva. He came back as a worldly teenager, a young man conversant in a string of languages who found himself back in the walled-off mansions and with just a cousin, his aunt’s daughter, for company.

“They had nothing to do. They had no place to go,” So’ng wrote in her memoir. They would occasionally be driven around the city, but weren’t allowed out of the car. At the seaside, they’d be kept in a sealed-off area where they “experienced the sorrow of being on the vast empty beach.”

By that time, Kim Jong Il also had another family, with a dancer named Ko Yong-hui who gave birth to current ruler Kim Jong Un, and his brother and sister. Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father in 1994, shifted what So’ng called his “abnormal, tearful love” of Kim Jong Nam to his new children.

It was probably around this point that Kim Jong Nam — then seen by most analysts as his father’s successor-in-waiting — was pushed aside, almost certainly by his step-mother.

“I think Kim Jong Nam was already out” of the succession race because of the proximity to Kim Jong Il of Ko and her children, said Chang Yong Seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification studies.

“A queen can play a very important role when a crown prince is proclaimed,” he added.

Kim Jong Nam began traveling more as he grew into adulthood, setting up homes in Beijing and Macau, where he had children with two women.

In 2001, he was caught with his family trying to enter Japan using a fake passport. He told Japanese officials they were going to Disneyland and was quickly expelled, a major embarrassment for Kim Jong Il that seemingly ended any chance he could succeed his father.

Still, most analysts believe he was financially supported by his father, as well as by the Chinese government, North Korea’s main ally. He also reportedly worked as a freelance businessman, arranging deals where he could.

It was not always a lonely life.

“He had mistresses abroad, used to meet North Korean diplomats and had a network of friends in North Korea,” said Nicolas Levi, a researcher with the Polish Center of Asian Studies. For a while, he also traveled back to North Korea, though he did not attend his father’s 2011 funeral.

In Macau, a former Portuguese colony turned Chinese gambling center, Kim’s son and daughter joined the Portuguese-language Lusophone Scouts and the family attended Mass, hoping to fit in better.

“The family was trying as much as possible” to live normal lives, said Ricardo Pinto, a Macau magazine publisher who closely watched the family for years.

There’s no evidence Kim ever got involved in his homeland’s politics, though he told journalists that he didn’t believe in the regime’s system of hereditary dictatorship.

While Kim never fell on hard times, his jet-setting ways appeared to have slowed in recent years. Two years after his father died, his powerful uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was arrested and executed by Kim Jong Un’s government. Jang had been close to Kim Jong Nam, and also may have financially supported him, said Chang, the South Korea-based analyst.

He also knew that his brother wanted him dead, apparently fearing he — and his illustrious bloodline — could someday be used against the regime, South Korean intelligence officials have said.

After a mysterious failed attempt to kill him in 2012, South Korean officials say Kim sent his brother a letter, begging for the assassination order to be lifted.

“We have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, and we know that the only way to escape is to commit suicide,” he wrote.

Instead, two women — one Indonesian and the other Vietnamese — were recruited to kill him, with the Indonesian woman telling authorities that a group of men had recruited her for what she believed was a harmless prank.

They paid her $90.

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UN defends refugee vetting as Trump mulls revised entry ban

AMMAN, Jordan — In an office cubicle at the U.N. refugee agency, a Syrian woman and her three daughters took turns staring into a camera for iris scans. Their biometric registration, a first step toward possible resettlement in the West, is to be followed by interviews and background checks that can take months or even years.

The 31-year-old part-time hairdresser, who fled to Jordan in 2014 after her husband went missing in Syria’s civil war, feels fortunate. But the long road ahead for many Syrian refugees could grow even more arduous if U.S. President Donald Trump fulfils campaign vows to impose “extreme vetting.”

Many of the 5 million Syrian refugees who scratch out a living in overwhelmed neighboring states such as Jordan aren’t necessarily candidates for a rare slot in the resettlement program. Priority is given to the most vulnerable, including women heading households, medical patients and victims of torture.

Still, the vetting process has come under intense scrutiny since Trump took office.

A week after his inauguration, Trump suspended refugee admissions, arguing that the displaced pose a potential terrorism threat and that his administration needs time to impose more stringent vetting procedures. A federal judge blocked the order, but Trump has said a new version will be announced soon.

U.S. involvement in refugee resettlement is bound to shrink this year, even if a new executive order softens earlier provisions, such as the open-ended ban on the entry of displaced Syrians.

Trump has announced that he is reducing the U.S. limit for taking in refugees from all over the world from 110,000 to 50,000 a year, leaving even fewer spots for refugees from the conflict-scarred Middle East.

The U.S. has been a leading resettlement destination, taking in about half of the 20,000 refugees, most of them Syrians, who left to the West from Jordan in 2016, said Daniela Cicchella, a senior refugee agency official in Jordan.

Cicchella described the vetting as stringent, but said all involved are open to ways of improving it.

The program is “one of the most scrutinized” ways of entering the United States, Cicchella said during a tour of the vetting area at the agency headquarters in Jordan’s capital.

“We have been working very closely with different countries, including with the U.S. authorities, in the last years,” she said.

Trump’s initial order asked officials to review the refugee approval process in search of possible security loopholes, but did not say what additional vetting he wants to see.

For now, the process includes in-person interviews during which refugees provide information about families, friendships, social or political activities, employment, phone numbers and email accounts.

They also provide biometric information, including fingerprints, and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies are consulted for background checks. Syrians are subject to additional classified checks. Their vetting can take up to two years

Last year, the U.S. Homeland Security Department said it planned to look more closely at social media postings of people seeking to come to the United States.

The Syrian hairdresser said she hoped to move with her daughters, ranging in age from 7 to 13, to Britain, where she has family. In a small office, a U.N. staffer logged their details into a computer, including the names and ages of the woman’s siblings.

After registration, they were led to another cubicle for an in-depth interview with another U.N. staffer. After the first hurdle, there’ll be more refugee agency interviews and checks by the prospective new host country. Jordan’s security agencies also get involved in clearing refugees for departure.

“I want to leave Jordan, and it is a chance to improve my daughters’ education levels,” said the woman, whose name was withheld at the request of the refugee agency, which cited protection concerns.

She said she understood Western concerns about weeding out potential terrorists. “But I don’t think I will pose any threat,” she said, adding that she and her daughters “want to live in peace.”

Analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence arm have found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries covered by Trump’s travel ban, including Syria, pose a terror threat to the U.S.

A draft document that surfaced last week concluded that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats and that few people from the seven Muslim-majority countries listed in the travel ban carried out attacks or were involved in terrorism-related activities since the 2011 start of Syria’s civil war.

A Homeland Security official said at the time that the document is not a final comprehensive review of the government’s intelligence.

The initial travel ban created confusion among refugees awaiting resettlement.

At the time, about 300 Syrian refugees had tickets to fly from Jordan to the United States, said Cicchella.

“They were shocked, they were sad,” she said. Many had sold their belongings and were left stranded. Flights were rebooked a few days later, after the court suspension of the ban, and most have since reached the United States, she said.

Overall, 673 Syrian refugees arrived in the U.S. in the past month, according to a U.S. refugee aid agency, citing government statistics.

Several thousand others are in the pipeline, having been submitted to the U.S. as candidates for resettlement after initial screenings by the refugee agency. With shrinking U.S. refugee quotas, their prospects are uncertain.

In 2017, the U.N. refugee agency hopes to resettle 76,800 refugees from the Middle East and North Africa and 169,000 globally, but the scope depends on the quotas being offered by host countries.

Jordan, a key U.S. military ally in the fight against the Islamic State group and a major recipient of U.S. aid, has refrained from criticizing Trump’s immigration policies.

However, the kingdom views resettlement as one of the ways, along with international financial aid, to ease the disproportionately heavy refugee burden on regional host countries.

More than 650,000 Syrian refugees live in Jordan, close to 3 million in Turkey and more than 1 million in Lebanon. Schools, hospitals and state budgets, especially in Jordan and Lebanon, have been strained by the mass influx.

Government spokesman Mohammed Momani said Sunday that the international community must do more to help Syrian refugees.

“If we don’t do this, then we will have generations of lost refugees, uneducated refugees, abandoned refugees that will continue to create further problems to the host communities (in the region),” he said.

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