Middle East Updates / Obama Authorizes Up to 1,500 Additional U.S. Troops for Deployment to Iraq

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U.S. soldiers in Iraq: Are they ready for Iraq II?Credit: AP

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9:54 P.M. U.S. authorizes deployment of up to 1,500 additional U.S. military personnel to Iraq

White House authorizes deployment of up to 1,500 additional U.S. military personnel in non-combat roles to train, advise ans assist Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish forces.

Obama will ask Congress for $5.6 billion for overseas contingency operations in fight against ISIS.

Personnel is additionally authorized to conduct training missions at Iraqi military facilities outside of Baghdad and Irbil.

The U.S. military will establish several training sites across Iraq, and will finalize locations in the coming weeks.

Mission will be coordinated with multiple coalition partners, to be funded through request for "Iraq Train and Equip Fund" to be submitted to Congress. (Reuters)

9:03 P.M. U.S. may significantly increase number of American forces in Iraq

The U.S. military has drawn up plans to significantly increase the number of American forces in Iraq, which now total around 1,400, as Washington seeks to bolster Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State, U.S. officials told Reuters on Friday.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to offer details. The United States aims to help advise and train Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling Islamic State fighters who swept into much of northern Iraq. (Reuters) 

8:57 P.M. Syrian activists share photo of two children said killed in U.S. air strikes

Syrian activists shared a photo on social media on Friday of two children they said were killed in U.S. air strikes on Wednesday night which Washington said targeted an al Qaeda-linked militant faction.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had no comment on the authenticity of the images or whether they might have been caused by U.S. bombing.

"We of course strive to avoid civilian casualties even in this extremely complex operating environment and we recognize the inherent risk in strikes...When any accusations are made or information is brought forward, we would certainly look into that and take it seriously."

The photo, sent to Reuters by an activist in Idlib province, showed two young children covered in blood and dust. The activist, who asked to remain anonymous, said a total of four children were killed in a strike which hit the town of Harem.

Reuters could not independently confirm the authenticity of the image.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, which tracks the violence in the civil war, also reported that two children were killed by a U.S. strike in Harem. (Reuters) 

8:30 P.M. Suicide bomber reportedly kills senior police officer involved in fight against ISIS near Iraq's Baiji refinery

A suicide bomber in a truck packed with explosives killed a senior police commander involved in an operation against Islamic State militants who have been surrounding the country's biggest refinery for months, security sources said.

The attack killed general Faisal Malik, one of the supervisors of the operation designed to break the Sunni insurgents' grip on the facility and rescue security forces trapped inside it just outside the town of Baiji.

Two policemen were also killed.(Reuters)

7:04 P.M. Susan Rice: U.S. not engaged in any military coordination with Iran on countering ISIS

U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice said on Friday the United States is not engaged in military coordination with Iran in countering Islamic State forces in the Middle East.

Rice, at a White House briefing, responded to a report that President Barack Obama had written a letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about Islamic State by saying, "We are in no way engaged in any coordination - military coordination - with Iran on countering ISIL." (Reuters) 

6:11 P.M. U.S.-led coalition hits ISIS with 14 air strikes in Iraq and Syria

U.S. and allied nations staged eight air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria in the past three days and also hit the insurgent group in six attacks in Iraq, the U.S. Central Command said on Friday.

Seven strikes near the Syrian border town of Kobani, a regular target for the attacks, hit three small Islamic State units, seven fighting positions and destroyed an artillery piece while another near Tall Abyad destroyed a weapons stockpile.

An air strike near Falluja, Iraq, destroyed two bulldozers and another near Bayji hit a small unit and damaged a building. Targets near Ramadi, southeast of Falluja and northwest of Haditha destroyed or damaged Islamic State vehicles, Central Command said. (Reuters)  

5:38 P.M. Nusra Front seizes at least three villages in northwest Syria

Al-Qaida-linked rebels on Friday seized at least three villages from Western-backed rivals in the northern-western Syrian province of Idlib, consolidating their gains in the area, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front captured the villages of Safhun, al-Futira and Hazareen on the outskirts of Idlib.

A fourth village might have fallen to the Nusra Front, the Britain-based watchdog said. (DPA)

5:00 P.M. ISIS shuts down all schools in areas it controls in east Syria

Islamic State has shut all schools in areas it controls in eastern Syria pending a religious revision of the curriculum, residents and a monitoring group said on Friday. 

Islamic State is tightening its rules on civilian life in Deir al-Zor province, which fell under near-complete control of the Islamist militant group this summer. The government still controls a military air base and other small pockets.

The announcement came on Wednesday, after Islamic State held a meeting with school administrators at a local mosque on the outskirts of Deir al-Zor city, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors all sides of the conflict.

"Islamic State informed them that teachers shall undergo a religious instructional course for one month, and that Islamic State officials were currently developing a new curriculum instead of the current 'infidel' education," the Observatory statement said.

At the start of the academic year in September, Islamic State revised the school curriculum in areas it controls, eliminating physics and chemistry while promoting Islamic teachings.

Their latest move aims to further reduce the school day into several hours of religious learning at the expense of academic subjects, according to local activists. (Reuters) 

4:50 P.M. At least three killed in Egypt clashes

At least three Egyptians were killed and eight wounded on Friday in separate incidents involving Islamist protesters and militants across the country, security and medical sources said.

Violence has polarised Egyptians since the army overthrew elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last year following mass protests against his rule.

Small hit-and-run demonstrations are the most Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood can muster after a fierce security crackdown in which hundreds have been killed and many thousands detained.

One civilian was killed and two others wounded by gunfire in northeast Cairo during clashes between Islamist protesters and residents, a security official said.

Further south in the province of Fayoum, a 17-year-old Islamist protester was killed during clashes with the police, medical and security sources said. Five others were wounded, including three policemen. (Reuters)

3:54 P.M. UN watchdog: Iran is failing to address suspicions it may have researched how to build an atomic bomb

Iran is failing to address suspicions it may have researched how to build an atomic bomb, a UN watchdog's report showed on Friday, potentially complicating efforts by six powers to reach a nuclear deal with Tehran.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran's nuclear program said Tehran had still not provided information about two specific areas of the IAEA's investigation that it was supposed to do more than two months ago.

The confidential document was issued to IAEA member states less than three weeks before a self-imposed Nov. 24 deadline for Iran and the six global powers to end a decade-old standoff over the Islamic Republic's atomic activities. (Reuters) 

3:41 P.M. Syria troops battle rebels near Golan Heights, Lebanon border

Syrian troops battled rebels near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the Lebanon border until the early hours of Friday in clashes that killed and wounded dozens, activists and state media said.

State news agency SANA said government forces have killed "a number of terrorists and wounded many others" in the southwestern village of Beit Jin. The government refers to opposition fighters and members of jihadi groups as terrorists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting that began Thursday left 26 pro-government forces and 14 rebels and jihadi fighters dead. The Britain-based group gathers its information from activists on the ground in Syria.

The area near Mount Hermon along the disputed borders between the three countries has seen weeks of heavy clashes as rebels and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have pressed an offensive.

Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said Lebanese troops prevented Syrians from bringing in 11 wounded people from the Beit Jin area.

Nusra Front fighters and some rebel factions have captured wide areas on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, including the town of Quneitra and its crossing point. Israel captured the strategic plateau in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

More than 190,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad and turned into civil war after a brutal military crackdown. (AP)

3:17 P.M. Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric says army corruption enabled ISIS to seize territory

Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric said on Friday that corruption in the armed forces had enabled Islamic State to seize much of northern Iraq, criticism that will pressure the government to enact reforms in the face of an insurgency.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has become increasingly critical of Iraqi leaders since Islamic State's lightning advance created Iraq's worst crisis since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Iraq's army, the recipient of $25 billion in U.S. training and funding, collapsed in the face of the onslaught. Further Islamic State advances and the beheading of Western hostages triggered U.S.-led air strikes.

Speaking on live television through an aide in the holy southern city of Kerbala, Sistani asked rhetorically what would happen if the military were corrupt.

"We think that the security deterioration that happened some months ago can answer that," Sistani said. "Objectivity demands that the different military positions should by occupied by those who are professional, patriotic, faithful, courageous and not affected in doing their duties by personal and financial influences." (Reuters) 

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