Iraqi troops continued fighting Wednesday in the city of Ramadi, where they are trying to reverse a major loss from earlier this year and reclaim the area from Islamic State militants.
The offensive is in its second day with a focus on the city’s government complex. Iraqi officials have expressed optimism that security forces will be in control of Ramadi within several days.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition that is backing Iraqi troops with airstrikes against Islamic State targets, Colonel Steve Warren, was more cautious in assessing the mission, saying Tuesday that while recapturing Ramadi was “inevitable,” it would be a tough fight and take “some time.”
He said there were believed to be between 250 and 350 militants in the city and several hundred more in nearby areas. VOA
A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday shows that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has significantly closed the gap on Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.
Cruz now has the support of 24 percent of registered Republican voters, just four points away from Trump’s lead of 28 percent, within the poll’s margin of error of ± 4 percent. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ben Carson are a distant third and fourth in the race, at 12 and 10 percent respectively; the rest of the field is stuck in the single digits. Quinnipiac University via The Week
The pageant was the first to be held in Baghdad in 43 years. “Iraq needed this,” pageant director Ahmed Leith said. “The situation is weak here, and we wanted to celebrate this the same way other countries like Lebanon and others do. To have a sense of normalcy.”
But as the date of the event approached, the number of competitors dwindled. The pageant website and its Facebook page were inundated with death threats against the women — so much so that the nearly 200 participants dropped to less than 10.
In the end, Qasim, 20, an economics major at the University of Kirkuk, received her crown to the applause of a supportive audience cheering her on for prevailing against the odds. For the director Leith and the rest of the audience, Qasim’s victory was about more than winning a beauty pageant. CNN
A human rights watchdog on Wednesday accused Russia of using cluster munitions and unguided bombs on civilian areas in Syria in attacks that it says have killed hundreds of people in the past few months. Cluster munitions are by nature indiscriminate and often leave unexploded bomblets on the ground. These can maim and kill civilians long after the cessation of hostilities.
The report focuses on six attacks in Homs, Idlib and Aleppo provinces between September and November which it says killed at least 200 civilians. It denounced Russia’s “shameful failure” to acknowledge civilian killings.
“Some Russian air strikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program. “Such attacks may amount to war crimes,” he said.
Russia says its airstrikes are aimed at the Islamic State group and other “terrorists,” but Western officials and Syrian rebels say most of the strikes have focused on central and northern Syria, where IS does not have a strong presence. Fox news
150,000 police officers have been dispatched to the North Sumatra province of Indonesia to guard churches during the Christmas season. WORLD Magazine reports the officers were ordered to protect the churches in response to growing concerns of Islamic terrorism in the region.
Police commissioner Hamam Wahyudi said that the officers have been in place since mid-December. Riot police are also on alert.
According to WORLD, Christmas attacks have previously occurred in the region. A series of Christmas Eve church bombings killed 18 people in 2000; Islamic terror group Jemaah Islamiyah was suspected to have orchestrated the attacks.
Christians are a minority population in Indonesia and Christian persecution is common. However, Indonesian pastors report Christianity is on the rise despite the constant risk of persecution. Christian Headlines
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