Middle East Updates / Pentagon OKs Deployment of 1,300 More Soldiers in Iraq

Iraq clashes with ISIS delay evacuation of Yazidis; Turkey says training of Syrian rebels may start before March; Turkey issues arrest warrant for U.S.-based Muslim cleric; 11 killed in Baghdad bombings.


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Latest updates:

9:26 P.M. Pentagon authorizes 1,300 troops for training mission in Iraq

The United States will send up to 1,300 more troops to Iraq beginning in late January, the Pentagon said Friday.

The deployment is in addition to 1,500 troops that President Barack Obama authorized in November, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said at a news briefing.

"Their mission will be to train, advise and assist Iraqi security forces," Kirby said.

About 1,000 soldiers will be from a combat team based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Kirby described them as troops with counterintelligence, logistics and communication skills. (DPA)

7:22 P.M. Iraq clashes with ISIS delay evacuation of Yazidis

An Iraqi lawmaker says sporadic clashes between Iraqi Kurdish fighters and Islamic State extremists and other logistics problems are delaying the evacuation of the last Yazidis still trapped on Sinjar mountain.

Lawmaker Mahma Khalil, himself a member of Iraq's minority Yazidis, says fighting was still underway Friday near the mountain.

He says that the Kurdish peshmerga fighters delivered a substantial amount of food and supplies to the thousands of Yazidis still trapped on the mountain after opening up a corridor to them on Thursday.

The development was an incremental step in the battle to retake the town of Sinjar, at the foothills of the mountain by the same name, which fell to the Islamic State group in early August. (AP)

4:12 P.M. Turkey says training of Syrian opposition may start before March

Turkey could begin training and equipping moderate Syrian opposition fighters before March, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday.

The U.S. State Department said in October that Turkey had agreed to support the program, a core part of President Barack Obama's strategy in Syria to field local forces to hold and eventually roll back Islamic State insurgents. (Reuters)

2:56 P.M. Turkey issues arrest warrant for U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen (Reuters)

2:32 P.M. Turkey keeps media executive, three others in custody on terrorism charge

A Turkish court detained a top media executive and three other people on Friday pending trial on accusations of belonging to a terrorist group, in a case which President Tayyip Erdogan has defended as a response to "dirty operations" by his enemies.

The executive, Hidayet Karaca, runs a television station close to the president's ally-turned foe Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric. Erdogan accuses Gulen of seeking to topple him through supporters in the judiciary, police and other institutions. (Reuters)

12:55 P.M. 11 killed in Baghdad bombings

Iraqi authorities say bombings have killed 11 people in the capital Baghdad.

Police officials say the deadliest attack happened Friday morning when a bomb exploded near a market in Baghdad's northern district of Shaab, killing four people and wounding nine others.

Later on, a bomb blast at a commercial street in eastern Baghdad killed two people and wounded eight others. In downtown Baghdad, a bomb went off near car repair shops, killing two people.

Police said a bomb blast near an industrial area killed three people and wounded seven others in Baiyaa district in western Baghdad.

Medics in a nearby hospital confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. (AP)

12:07 P.M. WHO: One million people wounded, diseases spreading in Syria

One million people have been wounded during Syria's civil war and diseases are spreading as regular supplies of medicine fail to reach patients, the World Health Organisation's Syria representative said.

A plunge in vaccination rates from 90 percent before the war to 52 percent this year and contaminated water have added to the woes, allowing typhoid and hepatitis to advance, Elizabeth Hoff said in an interview late on Thursday.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which began in March 2011 with popular protests against President Bashar Assad and spiraled into civil war after a crackdown by his security forces.

"In Syria, they have a million people injured as a direct result of the war. You can see it in the country when you travel around. You see a lot of amputees," said Hoff. "This is the biggest problem."

She said a collapsed health system, where over half of public hospitals are out of service, has meant that treatments for diseases and injuries are irregular. (Reuters) 

10:58 A.M. Kurds break ISIS siege on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq

U.S.-backed Kurdish forces have broken a months-long siege by Islamic State on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, opening a passway for thousands of civilians trapped there, a Kurdish official was quoted as saying on Friday.

It is the biggest military victory against the extremist group, which took large parts of northern Iraq in July.

"Peshmerga forces were able to connect with their brothers on Mount Shingal (Sinjar) after launching a military operation," Masrour Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, was quoted as saying by Kurdish broadcaster Rudaw.

Thousands of civilians, mainly members of the Yezidi minority, fled to the mountain in August after the militant group captured the northern town of Sinjar. (DPA)

10:11 A.M. U.S. officials backed talks with ISIS to save Peter Kassig

U.S. counter-terrorism officials backed negotiations with two prominent jihadi clerics in a failed attempt to save the life of an American hostage who was later beheaded by Islamic State militants, the Guardian newspaper reported on Friday.

Citing emails, the Guardian said talks with the spiritual leaders of Islamic State, also known as ISIS, aimed at releasing hostage Peter Kassig began in mid-October and ran for several weeks with the knowledge of the FBI.

U.S. officials were not immediately available to comment on the newspaper report. (Reuters) Read full story here

11:58 P.M. Iraqi Kurdish troops battling ISIS open key corridor in Iraq

Iraqi Kurdish forces battling Islamic State militants managed on Thursday to open up a key corridor so that thousands of people from the country's Yazidi minority who have been trapped on a mountain can flee, said a senior Kurdish official.

The development was an incremental step in the battle to retake the town of Sinjar, at the foothills of the mountain by the same name, which fell to the Islamic State group in early August.

The Kurdish peshmerga troops, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, launched the operation to retake Sinjar on Wednesday.

Masrur Barzani, chancellor of Kurdistan Region Security Council, said the Kurdish forces advanced in battle, establishing the passageway to the mountain on Thursday. He emphasized that Iraqi forces were in no way part of the operation.

"We asked the Iraqi government to provide the ammunition needed for this operation. Unfortunately they did not send the ammunition and their contribution was nothing, to be quite frank with you, especially for this operation," Barzani told The Associated Press in Dohuk, in Iraq's Kurdish region.

Tens of thousands of Yazidis became trapped on the mountain in early August, when the Islamic State extremists captured the towns of Sinjar and Zumar, prompting the exodus. (AP)