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US to withdraw troops from Iraq over coming months despite Islamic State surge

US to withdraw troops from Iraq over coming months despite Islamic State surgeThe US said it will withdraw troops from Iraq in the coming months, six months after the assassination of an Iranian general in Baghdad threatened to see them expelled from the country. The announcement comes amid a spike of Islamic State activity in the country, and as Baghdad and Washington began long-anticipated talks over the future of the presence of the US in the country. A joint statement read: "In light of significant progress towards eliminating the Isis threat, over the coming months the U.S. would continue reducing forces from Iraq.” Relations between the two plummeted to an all-time low this year after the US killed Iranian spy chief Qassim Soleimani in an airstrike near Baghdad airport in January. Iranian-backed militias have since launched repeated rocket attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad, and on military bases housing US troops. At the time, Iraqi officials were publicly furious, with President Barham Salih, describing the airstrike as a breach of sovereignty. The Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution to expel American troops immediately. Yet, US officials insisted both publicly and privately that they would leave on their timetable, and only when Iraq was capable of handling its own security affairs. US-led efforts against Isil n Syria are heavily reliant on Washington’s presence in Iraq. The October 2019 raid that killed Isil-chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi was conducted by forces flown in from bases in Iraq. The withdrawal announcement comes as attacks by Isil surge in the country. A recent study by the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point notes that Isil claimed 566 attacks in Iraq in the first quarter of 2020 – a notable increase on previous months. The study described Isil as showing “very significant resilience”, adding that “the movement has undertaken an agile, fluid, and pragmatic shift back to insurgency in every area of Iraq where the group has lost physical control of populations and resources.” At 5,200, the current contingent of US troops in Iraq is already considerably reduced compared to the peak in 2007, when numbers topped 160,000 under President George W. Bush. The Trump administration has attempted to balance its desire to bring as many troops as possible home before the presidential election later this year, and a “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran – Iraq is seen as a key battleground in the rivalry. Though no exact figures were given, western officials believe the reduction will halve the number of US troops remaining in Iraq, with further reductions possible before the end of the year.



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Looting and violence continues in New York City despite unprecedented curfew

Looting and violence continues in New York City despite unprecedented curfewPeople smashed their way into shops including Macy’s while Mayor Bill de Blasio says curfew would start earlier tonight, at 8pmAn unprecedented curfew in New York City on Monday night did little to prevent destruction, as people smashed their way into shops including Macy’s flagship store, grabbed merchandise and fled.Police said more than 200 were arrested and several officers were injured, following another day of peaceful protests throughout the city over the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died on 25 May after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.One officer was struck by a hit-and-run driver in the Bronx and was taken to a hospital in critical condition, police said.“Some people are out tonight not to protest but to destroy property and hurt others and those people are being arrested,” Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted. “Their actions are unacceptable and we won’t allow them in our city.”It was the fourth instance in a row of mainly peaceful daytime demonstrations followed by violence and arrests after nightfall.De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, announced an 11pm curfew late on Monday afternoon. De Blasio said Tuesday’s curfew would start earlier, beginning at 8pm and ending at 5am.Roving bands of people struck stores in Manhattan and the Bronx, even though many stores were boarded up pre-emptively as merchants feared more destruction.Video posted on social media showed piles of rubbish on fire on a debris-strewn street and people smashing into stores. Another video showed a group of men hitting a police officer with pieces of wreckage until he pulled his gun and they ran.People rushed into a Nike store and carried out armloads of clothing. Store windows were smashed near Rockefeller Center.The violence threatened to overshadow anger over the death of Floyd.On Monday, a federal judge agreed to release on bail two lawyers accused of throwing a molotov cocktail into a police van during protests in Manhattan on Friday.Urooj Rahman, 31, and Colinford Mattis, 32, were each released on a $ 250,000 bond, according to local media reports. They were expected to be confined to their homes as they await trial. Prosecutors had strongly argued against their release on bail.“We don’t believe this is the time to be releasing a bomb-thrower into the community,” one prosecutor said of Rahman, according to a Pix11 local news report.Defense lawyers argued that the government was alleging a “property offense” and highlighted the heightened risks of contracting Covid-19 in the Medical Detention Center in Brooklyn.Rahman, a human rights lawyer who studied at Fordham University School of Law, and Mattis, who works for a Manhattan law firm and was educated at Princeton, were charged with causing damage to a police vehicle by throwing a homemade incendiary device into an empty NYPD van outside the 88th precinct.Some police officers in New York City and around the nation have sought to show solidarity with demonstrators while urging calm.New York City’s highest-ranking uniformed member, Chief of Department Terence Monahan, clasped hands with protesters and kneeled on Monday in Washington Square Park, in Manhattan.“The people who live in New York want New York to end the violence,” Monahan said.



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New Zealand still supports Taiwan at WHO despite Chinese rebuke

New Zealand still supports Taiwan at WHO despite Chinese rebukeNew Zealand’s foreign minister on Tuesday said the country has to stand up for itself after China warned its backing of Taiwan’s participation at the World Health Organization (WHO) could damage bilateral ties. Taiwan, with the strong support of the United States, has stepped up its lobbying to be allowed to take part as an observer at next week’s World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO’s decision-making body – a move which has angered China. Taiwan is excluded from the WHO due to the objections of China, which views the island as one of its provinces.



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Russia's Putin orders gradual easing of coronavirus lockdown despite surge in cases

Russia's Putin orders gradual easing of coronavirus lockdown despite surge in casesRussian President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced a gradual easing of coronavirus lockdown measures despite a new surge in infections which took Russia’s tally past Italy’s, making it the fourth highest in the world. Putin, in a televised nationwide address, said that from Tuesday he would start lifting restrictions that had forced many people to work from home and businesses to temporarily close. The Russian leader emphasised the lifting of restrictions would be gradual and that individual regions in the world’s largest country would need to tailor their approach to varying local conditions.



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Wisconsin delays primary election despite Trump calling for it to go ahead

Wisconsin delays primary election despite Trump calling for it to go aheadThe governor of Wisconsin has issued an executive order to postpone the state’s embattled elections on Tuesday for at least two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, following mounting criticism over the upcoming in-person vote.Governor Tony Evers (D-WI) delayed the presidential primary until 9 June, saying in a statement about the executive order: “Frankly, there’s no good answer to this problem—I wish it were easy. I have been asking everyone to do their part to help keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe, and I had hoped that the Legislature would do its part—just as the rest of us are—to help keep people healthy and safe.”



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Trump official says coronavirus death rate same as flu – despite it being 100 times worse

Trump official says coronavirus death rate same as flu – despite it being 100 times worseIn congressional testimony today, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf claimed that the mortality rate for coronavirus is similar to the flu, both at about 2 per cent.In response, Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana asks: “Are you sure of that?”



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