TRUMP THREATENS IRAQ WITH SANCTIONS IF U.S. TROOPS

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President Trump has threatened severe sanctions against Iraq after its parliament called on US troops to leave the country.

"We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that's there. It cost billions of dollars to build. We're not leaving unless they pay us back for it," he told reporters.

Tensions are high after the US assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last week.


Iran has vowed "severe revenge".

Soleimani, 62, spearheaded Iranian military operations in the Middle East, and was regarded as a terrorist by the US.  The general's remains have now returned to his home country, where mourners packed the streets of Tehran early on Monday.

Who was Iran's Qasem Soleimani?

The new head of Iran's Quds force -- which Soleimani led -- has vowed to expel the US from the Middle East.

"We promise to continue martyr Soleimani's path with the same force ... and the only compensation for us would be to remove America from the region," state radio quoted Esmail Qaani as saying.

The strike that killed Soleimani also claimed the life of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a top Iraqi military figure who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group.

What did Trump threaten Iraq with?

Speaking from the presidential plane, Mr Trump said that if Iraq asked US forces to depart on an unfriendly basis, "we will charge them sanctions like they've never seen before, ever. It'll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame."

Some 5,000 US soldiers are in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group.  On Sunday, the coalition paused its operations against IS in Iraq, and Iraqi MPs passed a non-binding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave.

Iraqi MPs back call to expel US troops

The resolution was pushed through by the parliament's Shia Muslim bloc -- which is close to Iran.

How has Iran responded to the US?

Iran has announced it will no longer abide by restrictions imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal, under which it agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, saying he wanted to force Iran to negotiate a new deal that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear program and also halt its development of ballistic missiles.

Iran refused and had since been gradually rolling back its commitments under the deal.  In a statement, it said it would no longer observe limitations on its capacity for enrichment, the level of enrichment, the stock of enriched material, or research and development.

The leaders of Germany, France and the UK - which were all signatories to the 2015 deal, alongside China and Russia - responded with a joint statement urging Iran to refrain from "further violent actions or support for them".

"It is crucial now to de-escalate. We call on all the players involved to show utmost restraint and responsibility," they said.

What has Trump said about Iran?

Mr Trump has vowed to strike back at Iran in the event of retaliation for Soleimani's death, "perhaps in a disproportionate manner".

  • These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!  — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2020


 He also repeated a controversial threat to target Iranian cultural sites on Sunday, despite criticism from within the US and overseas.

"They're allowed to kill our people. They're allowed to torture and maim our people. They're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we're not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn't work that way," the president said.

In a series of tweets on Saturday, Mr Trump said the US had identified 52 Iranian sites, some "at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture", and warned they would be "HIT VERY FAST AND HARD" if Tehran struck at the US.

US ready to strike 52 Iranian sites, Trump warns

US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a senior member of the Democratic Party, responded by tweeting: "You are threatening to commit war crimes."

"A reminder to those hallucinating about emulating ISIS war crimes by targeting our cultural heritage," he tweeted. "Through MILLENNIA of history, barbarians have come and ravaged our cities, razed our monuments and burnt our libraries. Where are they now? We're still here, & standing tall."

Targeting cultural sites is banned under the Geneva and Hague Conventions -- and violating them would constitute a war crime in the US.

How soon could Iran develop a nuclear bomb?

The country has always insisted that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful -- but suspicions that it was being used to develop a bomb covertly prompted the UN Security Council, US and EU to impose crippling sanctions in 2010.

The 2015 deal was designed to constrain the program in a verifiable way in return for sanctions relief.

It restricted Iran's enrichment of uranium, which is used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons, to 3.67%. Iran was also required to redesign a heavy-water reactor being built, whose spent fuel would contain plutonium suitable for a bomb, and allow international inspections.

Before July 2015, Iran had a large stockpile of enriched uranium and almost 20,000 centrifuges, enough to create eight to 10 bombs, according to the White House at the time.

US experts estimated back then that if Iran had decided to rush to make a bomb, it would take two to three months until it had enough 90%-enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon - the so-called "breakout time".

Iran's current "breakout time", should it attempt to build a nuclear bomb, is estimated to be around a year, but this could be reduced to half a year or even a matter of months if enrichment levels are increased to 20%, for example. –BBCi


  CAMP SIMBA: THREE DEAD IN ATTACK ON US MILITARY BASE IN KENYA

One US military service member and two contractors were killed in an Islamist attack on a military base in Kenya.


Islamist militant group al-Shabab attacked the base, used by Kenyan and US forces, in the popular coastal region of Lamu on Sunday.

The US military said in a statement that two others from the Department of Defense were wounded.

"The wounded Americans are currently in stable condition and being evacuated," the US military's Africa Command said.

Witnesses to the attack reported hearing gunfire and seeing plumes of black smoke emerge from Camp Simba on Manda Island.

Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of US Africa Command, added in a statement: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of our teammates who lost their lives today.

"As we honor their sacrifice, let's also harden our resolve. Alongside our African and international partners, we will pursue those responsible for this attack and al-Shabab, who seeks to harm Americans and US interests."

Al-Shabab is linked to al-Qaeda and is headquartered in neighboring Somalia.

The group has carried out a spate of attacks in the region since it was formed more than a decade ago.

On 28 December, about 80 people were killed in a bombing in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

What happened at Camp Simba?

The Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) said "an attempt was made to breach security at Manda Air Strip" but the attack was repulsed.

Four militants were killed, it added.

A fire caused by the attack had been extinguished and the airstrip was now safe, a KDF spokesman said.

A nearby airfield used for civilian flights had reopened, aviation officials said.

Al-Shabab said it had "successfully stormed the heavily fortified military base" before taking "effective control of a part of the base".

The group said the Kenyan military used warplanes to repel the attack.  How extensive was the damage?

The Associated Press news agency reported that two aircraft, two US helicopters and multiple vehicles were destroyed at the airstrip.

Al-Shabab said it had killed nine Kenyan soldiers and had inflicted 17 "battle casualties" on US forces.  Seven aircraft and five military vehicles had been destroyed, it added.

A journalist with Voice of Africa tweeted photos of what the militants said was a US aircraft that had been targeted.

The camp has fewer than 100 US personnel, AP reported.

This was the first attack by al-Shabab on US forces in Kenya.

'Audacious assault'

By BBC World Service Africa editor Will Ross

This was an audacious pre-dawn raid by al-Shabab militants. It is not yet possible to verify al-Shabab's version of events, but there are unconfirmed reports that one of the aircraft destroyed in the attack is a US plane used for spying in the region.

The fact that this happened close to the popular tourist destination of Lamu Island is also alarming.  Since 2011, when Kenya sent troops to fight al-Shabab in Somalia, the jihadist group has carried out frequent attacks on Kenyan soil. Almost exactly a year ago, 21 people were killed during a raid on the Dusit hotel complex in the capital Nairobi.

In June 2018, a US commando was killed in Somalia during an attack by al-Shabab. The US has stepped up military operations against the militants since Donald Trump became president in 2017.

The US military conducted more air strikes in Somalia in 2019 than in any previous year. –BBCi




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 US ELECTION 2020: MICHAEL BLOOMBERG JOINS RACE FOR

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Billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has signalled he will join the race to secure the Democratic Party's nomination for US president.  He has filed paperwork ahead of a deadline for the Democratic primary election in Alabama.

The move is a necessary step to join the race to be the party's candidate to take on President Donald Trump in next year's election.

Mr Bloomberg, 77, has not formally confirmed his candidacy.  However, spokesman Jason Schechter told US media that an announcement "could come as early as next week".

The businessman is said to be concerned the current Democratic contenders would not pose a strong enough challenge to Mr Trump in 2020.  He will be entering a crowded field as one of 17 candidates hoping to be chosen as the Democratic nominee.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the frontrunner, followed by senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The tycoon had strongly hinted that he would run, with his adviser Howard Wolfson releasing a statement on Thursday evening saying they wanted to "ensure that Trump is defeated" in the election next year.

"But Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of [Democratic] candidates is not well positioned to do that," he added.
Media captionBloomberg to BBC in 2018: 'I'd like to make a difference'

His comments came after months of debate over wealth inequality in the US, with Mr Sanders and Ms Warren announcing plans for steep tax rises for billionaires. Unveiling his tax proposals in September, Mr Sanders said: "Billionaires should not exist."

Mr Bloomberg is estimated to be worth $52bn.

On Friday, President Trump taunted Mr Bloomberg by saying there was "nobody I'd rather run against than little Michael".

Mr Bloomberg filed his papers in Alabama later the same day. Better late than never?

Mr Bloomberg is said to be fully aware such a belated entry to the race presents challenges in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where other Democratic contenders have been campaigning for months.

The Bloomberg team reportedly sees a possible pathway through the so-called Super Tuesday contests in March, when 14 states - including California, Alabama and Colorado - will vote on a single day for their preferred White House nominee.

Mr Bloomberg considered running for the White House as an independent candidate in both 2008 and 2016.

In March of this year he had said he would not join the 2020 race.

Mr Bloomberg's advisers are reportedly preparing the paperwork for other states with nearing deadlines. Both Arkansas and New Hampshire require candidates to file by next week.

State-by-state votes, known as primaries and caucuses, will be held from February next year to pick a Democratic White House nominee.

The eventual winner will be crowned at the party convention in Wisconsin in July. He or she is expected to face President Trump, a Republican, in the general election in November.
What's the other reaction?

Mr Biden told media on Friday that he had "no problem" with Mr Bloomberg joining the Democratic field.

"Michael is a solid guy," Mr Biden said. "Let's see where it goes."

Ms Warren welcomed Mr Bloomberg to the race on Twitter, linking to her own campaign website and suggesting the former mayor take a look for potential policy plans.

In tweet seemingly directed at Mr Bloomberg, Mr Sanders wrote: "The billionaire class is scared and they should be scared."

Some recent opinion polls have suggested that Ms Warren and Mr Sanders - who are more politically liberal than Mr Biden - might face an uphill battle against Mr Trump.

The Republican National Committee said in a statement that the billionaire's prospective entry "underscores the weak Democrat field".

Mr Bloomberg was a Wall Street banker before going on to create the financial publishing empire that bears his name. His net worth is $52bn (£40bn), according to Forbes. This is 17 times more than Mr Trump's (estimated at $3.1bn).

He staged a successful campaign for New York mayor in 2001, remaining in office for three consecutive terms until 2013. A philanthropist, he has donated millions of dollars to educational, medical and other causes.

Why is he running now?

Why is he contemplating a run for the highest political job in the land just a few months after announcing he would watch 2020 from the sidelines?

The top one is the obvious response. Mr Bloomberg has plenty of pollsters and political strategists at his disposal, and is reported to be a very data-driven businessman. It doesn't take an advanced degree in quantitative analysis, however, to realise that the Democratic field, even at this (relatively) late date, is still in flux.

There are four candidates at or near the top of early state and national primary polls - Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. All of them have their strengths, of course, but all of them also have obvious weaknesses.

What does Bloomberg believe in?

Originally a Democrat, Mr Bloomberg became a Republican to mount his campaign for New York mayor in 2001. Now regarded as a moderate Democrat, he rejoined the party only last year.

Mr Bloomberg has liberal views on issues such as climate change, gun control,immigration and abortion rights.  He was credited this week with helping Democrats win control of Virginia's legislature, after his gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety injected $2.5m into the state's election. But Mr Bloomberg is more conservative on topics like the economy and policing.

As mayor, he defended the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy, which critics say disproportionately targeted African Americans and Hispanics.   At city hall, Mr Bloomberg banned supersize sodas to prevent obesity, but was overruled by the state's Supreme Court. --BBCi

   MONSEY STABBING: JOURNALS OF ATTACKER 'REFERENCED JEWS'





 









The man suspected of stabbing five people at a rabbi's house in New York state on Saturday kept journals which included references to Jews and anti-Semitism, authorities said.

Federal prosecutors have filed hate crime charges against Grafton Thomas over the attack.  The filing says his journals included drawings of the Star of David.

His internet search history also included questions such as "why did Hitler hate the Jews", it said. Grafton Thomas's attorney pointed to his client's history of mental health problems, and said there is no evidence the attack was driven by anti-Semitism.  There has been an increase in police patrols around Jewish neighborhoods and synagogues following the attack.

What was found in the journals?

The criminal complaint said agents recovered journals from the suspect's home in Greenwood Lake, New York, including comments such as "why [people] mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide".

It says the 37-year-old also used his phone to search for "why did Hitler hate the Jews" on four occasions. "German Jewish Temples near me" and "prominent companies founded by Jews in America" were also searched, along with other references to "Nazi culture" and swastikas. On Saturday, Grafton Thomas accessed an article about an increase in police presence in New York after possible anti-Semitic attacks.

He is expected to appear in federal court on Monday to face five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon and causing injuries.

What did his lawyer say?

Michael Sussman, Thomas's lawyer, told a press conference on Monday that he had requested a full mental health evaluation.

"We were able this morning to... review scores of papers which frankly show the ramblings of a disturbed individual, but there is no suggestion in any of those ramblings... of an anti-Semitic motive," he told reporters.

How did the attack unfold?

A man brandishing a machete on Saturday attacked a Hanukkah celebration at the rabbi's property in Monsey - an area with a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Rabbi Yisroel Kahan, who was in the house at the time, described the moment the attack began.

"He pushed his way in, slammed the door shut and said 'none of you getting out of here' - something to that effect, nobody's leaving - and pulls out a machete and unsheathes it and starts doing the unthinkable," he said.

Thomas was detained soon after and charged with attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty, and is being held in jail with his bail set at $5m (£3.8m).

State Governor Andrew Cuomo described the attack as "domestic terrorism", while President Donald Trump said the attack was "horrific".

"We must all come together to fight, confront and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism," the president said.  Are anti-Semitic attacks on the rise in the US?

On Friday, New York city police's hate crimes unit said it was investigating eight anti-Semitic incidents reported since 13 December.

They included a threat by a man who walked into an Orthodox Jewish community organization's headquarters in Brooklyn and threatened to shoot someone. In another incident a 30-year-old woman reportedly slapped three women in the face.

New York Police Department commissioner Dermot Shea has said hate crimes in New York City are up 22% this year.

"You see a swastika being drawn, you see a brick being thrown through a window, you see a woman walking down the street with her kids and having her wig ripped off," he said.

In April a gunman killed a woman and wounded three people at a synagogue in San Diego.

That attack came exactly six months after the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history, when a gunman killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. --BBCi