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  • iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- In ongoing standoff following a referendum for an independent state separate from Iraq, Kurds in northwestern Iraq have suffered significant losses, including areas that supply much of the region's revenue.Iraqi Kurds lost another major territory on Tuesday to Baghdad, surrendering the town of Sinjar -- one day after losing the oil-rich Kirkuk.Kurdish troops, known as the Peshmerga, abandoned the town to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iran-backed and predominantly Shia militia coalition that operates as part of the Iraqi security apparatus.Iraqi forces have continued their advance on Peshmerga positions in disputed territories, exactly one year after the now-warring sides jointly launched the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS, backed by the United States.The current confrontation between Iraqis and Kurds was spurred on by an independence referendum that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held in defiance of the government in Baghdad and against the advice of the international community.Kurdish President Masoud Barzani and his ruling KDP party were determined to begin movement toward the long hoped-for Kurdish independence.Instead, “KDP hubris has generated the greatest Kurdish setback since 2003” according to Emile Hokayem, senior fellow for Middle East security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.The spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, Colonel Dillon, told reporters on Tuesday that the current standoff is “distracting” from the war against ISIS.But the losses for the Kurds, who have been reliable U.S. partners in the fight against ISIS, in these days of conflict have been substantial. Losing Kirkuk, which is responsible for 13 percent of Iraq’s oil production, is existential for Kurds; the KRG has barely any revenue without it.Late Iraqi President and leading Kurdish politician Jalal Tabalani once referred to Kirkuk as their "Jerusalem." Yet military forces loyal to Tabalani's son and heir cut a deal with Baghdad and withdrew from their positions in the disputed city and nearby oilfields and airbase, facilitating an almost bloodless Iraqi takeover.The United States has made brief statements calling for restraint, after it downplayed Kurdish warnings last week of an imminent attack by Iraqi forces. At a press conference on Monday, President Trump said, "The United States won’t take sides."“Essentially, the United States has decided that supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi and safeguarding him against more pro-Iran competitors in the upcoming Iraqi election is more important than the Kurds right now,” according to Dr. Renad Mansour, an Iraq research fellow at The Royal Institute for International Affairs in London, an independent think tank also known as Chatham House.The General Command of Peshmerga Forces accused a special force unit in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of being part of the military operation in Kirkuk. President Trump had announced on October 13 that the United States was imposing new sanctions on the IRGC.Forces loyal to Barzani surrendered Sinjar Tuesday, a town in north-western Iraq the Peshmerga took control of in 2014 after ISIS attacked and sexually enslaved its population, a minority known as the Yazidis. At the time, Barzani vowed never to leave.They also retreated from the Bai Hasan and Avana oilfields north-west of Kirkuk, two crucial revenue sources for the KRG.Two days after the Kurdish independence referendum was held, one of the demands made by the Iraqi Parliament to avoid a military escalation was that those oilfields and disputed territories be surrendered. At the time, Barzani's only public compromise was to call for dialogue.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government has indicted two Chinese nationals for allegedly manufacturing and shipping illegal cocktails of the drug fentanyl into the United States, which authorities said has contributed to a national crisis with an "extraordinary death toll."Xiaobing Yan, 40, and Jian Zhang, 38, both of China, were indicted in separate cases in recent weeks, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.The move represents the first time U.S. authorities have filed charges against major fentanyl traffickers based in China, where authorities believe the vast majority of illegal fentanyl is being made or otherwise sourced."[It's] an extraordinary epidemic and crisis that has been building for some time," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas in an exclusive one-on-one interview.In the United States last year, a third of all fatal drug overdoses came from fentanyl alone -- 20,000 of the 64,000 fatal drug overdoses in total.One Nation, Overdosed: Snapshots of Americans struggling under the opioid crisis"The fentanyl that we see in the United States is believed to all be coming in some way from China. In some cases it's manufactured in China and then shipped, either through the mail or through other countries to the United States. In other instances the precursor chemicals come from China, and the fentanyl is manufactured in Mexico, for example."Yan allegedly used different company names online to sell fentanyl and similar drugs directly to customers across the United States, and he even tracked changes to U.S. drug laws so he could tweak his recipe and evade U.S. law enforcement."Chemists can make just a slight modification so that the new version is not identical to the previous version" and is therefore not banned by current U.S. law, Rosenstein told ABC News.Yan faces federal charges in Mississippi.Zhang allegedly ran a network of labs in China that manufactured fentanyl and sold the drug online. He and eight others -- five Canadian citizens, two residents of Florida, and a resident of New Jersey – have been indicted by a federal grand jury in North Dakota for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in the United States and other drug-related conspiracies. Zhang allegedly sent thousands of packaged to U.S. customers since 2013.Rosenstein warned that those buying fentanyl have little way of knowing what they’re truly getting, and "just a few grains of pure fentanyl can actually case death."The acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Robert Patterson, said that while "overdose deaths are at catastrophic levels [I] challenge all of us to look beyond the statistics.""Instead, focus on the individuals behind those numbers," he said at a press conference in Washington. "Part of the solution related to this unnecessary loss of life has to come from discussions, which can be difficult and uncomfortable. Each one of these deaths impacts real people, from the immediate victim to all those whose lives they've touched."Chinese authorities have been assisting the Justice Department in their investigations, but U.S. investigators have faced challenges because the ingredients used to make fentanyl are not necessarily illegal in China, according to Rosenstein."The situation now is that some of these labs operate legally in China, but they're violating U.S. law when they ship it here," he told ABC News. "We’re hoping that [China] will step up now that we’ve demonstrated that Chinese nationals are [distributing] this poison and causing deaths in the United States."Chinese authorities, however, have apparently not taken Yan or Zhang into custody."We don't know exactly what the Chinese are going to do," Rosenstein said, noting that the United States does not have an extradition treaty with China. "They might be willing to hold them accountable there ... so we’re going to share the evidence with them."
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI is helping authorities in Malta investigate a car bomb that killed a journalist who exposed the nation's ties to offshore tax havens through the leaked Panama Papers.Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, was reportedly killed Monday as she drove away from her home near Mosta, on Malta's main island, according to the BBC.U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert condemned Galizia's death as "appalling violence in the strongest terms possible" in a press briefing Tuesday.Nauert called for a "thorough, transparent" investigation, saying that the FBI is providing "specific assistance as needed" at the request of Maltese authorities.Muscat described Galizia's death as a "barbaric attack" and a "political murder," as well as an assault on freedom of expression.Galizia was "was one of my harshest critics, on a political and personal level," Muscat said. Galizia wrote that Muscat's wife, along with the country's energy minister and the government's chief of staff, had offshore holdings in Panama to receive money from Azerbaijan, according to the AP. Muscat and his wife denied that they had companies in Panama.Thousands of people gathered in Sliema Monday night for a candlelight vigil in tribute to Galizia.The slain journalist had been a columnist for The Malta Independent for more than 20 years and also wrote a blog called the "Running Commentary." She is survived by her husband and three sons.
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  • Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images(VIENNA) -- On Sunday, Austria’s center-right People’s Party (ÖVP) won the parliamentary elections, putting its 31-year-old leader Sebastian Kurz on a track to become Chancellor of Austria and Europe’s youngest national leader.Kurz, dubbed “wunderwuzzi” meaning “wonderkid,” called for a snap election back in May and announced his candidacy for chancellor in June in a bold gamble that he won when voters handed his party about 32 percent of the vote.He currently serves as the country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration, a position he was appointed to in 2013 at the age of 27 -- the youngest to hold the post in Europe.As Foreign Minister, Kurz hosted a conference on nuclear weapons in 2014 and later hosted the talks that lead to the Iran nuclear deal, signed in Vienna in 2015. The year before, he invited 30 foreign ministers to Vienna to negotiate solutions to the Ukraine crisis.Domestically, he has introduced and supported policies that lean more right-wing than center-right, politically.In January, he called for a ban on the Islamic headscarf for school teachers and other public servants in Austria. He was also one of the decision-makers behind legislation that banned full face veils such as the burqa in public places in Austria. The ban came into effect earlier this month and Kurz vowed that it would be strictly enforced. In August last year, he told The Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, ORF, that the full body veil is "hindering integration" and that it is "not a religious symbol, but a symbol for a counter-society."He has also criticized Austria’s large neighbor Germany for its “open-door policy” that has welcomed a million refugees from Syria and Iraq since 2015. Kurz went in the opposite direction of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying that Austria couldn’t take anymore migrants and that he was prepared to send troops to the Balkans to close the border. Kurz claims that he has reduced migration to Europe by taking the initiative to close the Balkan migration route, shut last year.Some criticize Kurz for mimicking the policies of Austria’s extreme-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), despite his leadership in what is billed as a more centrist party, while others praise him, arguing that his tough stance on migration appeals to voters and reduces the actual power of the radical right.Before Kurz took over leadership of his party in May, polls predicted that the Freedom Party could win the election. In Sunday’s election, the Freedom Party’s vote share increased, but they came third with about 26 percent of the vote.“By election day, the FPÖ had faded to the background behind the ÖVP’s charismatic new leader,” wrote Alex Jarman, a Fulbright-Schuman fellow in the Institutions Unit at the Centre for European Policy Studies, in an analysis published by the London School of Economics. In the same analysis, Jarman argued that Kurz' strategies may work in the short-term to stop the far-right from dominating Austria’s politics, but that Merkel’s approach in Germany will work better in the long-term.Austria’s electoral system makes it difficult for a party to gain a majority on its own, which is the case for Kurz’ People’s Party that will need to form a coalition to govern the country. Kurz will likely attempt to form a coalition with the Freedom Party, by some to make a lot of demands rather than act as a friendly partner.“Kurz’s actions do not address the underlying factors fueling radical right-wing populism in Austria," Jarman wrote. "While Kurz has reduced the FPÖ’s prominence in the short term, he has also brought radical right-wing populist ideas into the mainstream of Austrian politics. This action will not easily be undone, and future populists will be able to take advantage of it to bring more instabil
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  • blog.x.company(QUEANBEYAN, Australia) -- X, the organization known as Google's "moonshot factory," announced Monday that is using drone technology to deliver burritos and over-the-counter medicines to rural communities in Australia.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Prince William and Duchess Kate have announced their third child is due in April 2018.The new baby will join the couple's older children, Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2."The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted to confirm they are expecting a baby in April 2018," Kensington Palace said in a statement Tuesday.The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted to confirm they are expecting a baby in April 2018. pic.twitter.com/jOzB1TJMof
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