IRBIL, IRAQ/SULAIMANIA IRAQ – Kurds voted in large numbers in an independence referendum in northern Iraq on Monday, ignoring pressure from Baghdad, threats from Turkey and Iran, and international warnings that the vote may ignite yet more regional conflict. The vote organized by Kurdish authorities is expected to deliver a comfortable "yes" for independence, but is not binding. However, it is designed to give Masoud Barzani, who heads the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a mandate to negotiate the secession of the oil-producing region. Turnout was 76 percent an hour before voting closed, the Kurdish Rudaw TV station said, later adding that vote counting had started. Final results are expected within 72 hours.
This photo released on the Facebook page of the Military Council of Manbij City, shows U.S. troops based around the Syrian town of Manbij speaking with residents, in northern Syria, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018. A senior Syrian Kurdish official says Syrian government troops have arrived at the front lines of the flash-point town of Manbij but have not taken over the city, and U.S. troops based outside it have not withdrawn. Ilham Ahmed said an agreement was being worked out with the Russians and the Syrian government that in case of a full U.S. withdrawal, government troops would take over. The Syrian government has announced it has seized control of the town. "The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive," Ahmed said.
For the past five days, the Gulf region has been experiencing one of its most serious political crises in recent history. Early on Monday, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in an apparent attempt to isolate the country. In addition to these three countries, Egypt, Libya, Yemen; the island nations of Maldives and Mauritius; and countries such as Jordan, Mauritania, Djibuti and Senegal have also joined in the campaign against Qatar, one of the most prosperous countries in the Gulf region. This unwise decision will undoubtedly harm the feeling of unity among the Gulf countries and cause serious repercussions for the perpetrators behind it. Since the beginning of the crisis, analysts have been trying to understand the motives behind this move, which was spearheaded by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
The fighting in eastern Syria demonstrates the threat still posed by IS despite claims by President Donald Trump the group has been defeated. The claims were challenged by his national security advisers and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis and the top U.S. official in the coalition against IS. Over the weekend, Bolton announced the U.S. pullout would not be as immediate as Trump had initially declared.
ANKARA – Police searched a mansion in northwestern Turkey belonging to a Saudi citizen on Monday after investigators determined that the man had been in contact with one of the suspects in the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish officials said. Crime scene investigators and other officials, aided by sniffer dogs and a drone, scoured the luxury villa near the town of Termal, in Yalova province, and later expanded their search to the grounds of the neighboring villa, the state-run Anadolu agency reported. Police spent around 10 hours searching the two villas for the journalist's remains, Anadolu reported, without saying if any evidence or trace had been found. The Istanbul prosecutor's office said Mansour Othman Abbahussain -- a member of a 15-person squad sent from Riyadh to kill Khashoggi -- had contacted the mansion's owner, Mohammed Ahmed Alfaozan, by telephone a day before Khashoggi's Oct. 2 killing. "It is being assessed that this conversation was geared toward the disposal (or) the hiding of Jamal Khashoggi's body after its dismemberment," the prosecutor's statement read.