Live Coverage

Today's News: Oct. 18, 2016

President Obama tells Donald Trump to “stop whining,” Iranian Americans are convicted in Tehran, the ongoing battle for Mosul, and more from across the United States and around the world

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Here’s what we’re following:

—President Obama told Donald Trump to “stop whining and to try make his case to get votes.” The comments, which came in a news conference with the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, are in apparent response to the GOP presidential nominee’s assertion that the American electoral system is “rigged.” More here

—An Iranian court sentenced Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer Namazi, 80, both Iranian American dual citizens, to 10 years in prison for “cooperating with the hostile American government.” Siamak Namazi was arrested while visiting the country about a year ago. More here

—Iraqi forces are “ahead of the schedule” in their effort to retake Mosul from ISIS, the Pentagon’s spokesman says. Most of the fighting so far has occurred on the outskirts of the oil-rich city. But there were examples Monday of what Iraqi forces and their allies will meet when they draw closer to Mosul, including a car bomb and a suicide bomber. More here

—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).


This live blog has concluded

Who Cut Julian Assange's Internet Connection?

(Peter Nicholls / Reuters)

Updated at 7:37 p.m.

We now have an answer: In a statement Tuesday evening, the Ecuadorian government acknowledged it had severed Julian Assange’s internet connection, citing its “sovereign right to temporarily restrict access to some of its private communication networks within its Embassy in the United Kingdom. It’s full statement:

Our original post:

On Monday, my colleague J. Weston Phippen reported on the accusation by WikiLeaks that the government of Ecuador was behind Julian Assange’s internet connection being cut. Assange, who founded WikiLeaks, has been holed up in Ecuador’s London Embassy since 2012, and the internet is one of the few means of communication he has with the outside world.

So, did Ecuador do it?

In a statement Tuesday reacting to those claims, the government simply said it stood by its decision to grant Assange refuge.

In view of recent speculations, the Government of Ecuador reaffirms the validity of the asylum granted four years ago to Julian Assange. We also ratify that the protection given by the Ecuadorian State will continue while the circumstances that led to the granting of asylum remain.


But WikiLeaks, which has released emails, presumably hacked, belonging to John Podesta, the campaign chair for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, had more to say Tuesday:

The U.S. State Department released an unusually strong rebuttal to that claim:

WikiLeaks and its supporters say the business with Assange’s internet connection is curious as it coincides with the group’s release of Podesta’s emails, which many critics of Clinton say are damaging to her. Clinton’s office has said the leaks are the result of state-sponsored Russian hackers trying to interfere with the U.S. election. As my colleague David Graham reported about the emails: “They capture a candidate, and a campaign, that seems in private exactly as cautious, calculating, and politically flexible as they appeared to be in public.”

And here’s the background to the Assange case from my previous reporting on the WikiLeaks founder:

Assange was arrested in 2010 under a European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden over claims of sexual assault—claims he denies. But in 2012, while on bail, he sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London so he could avoid extradition. Last year, Swedish authorities dropped two cases of sexual assault against him, though the allegation of rape still stands—and it’s in connection with that case the Swedish prosecutor wants to question him. Assange says he fears that if he’s sent to Sweden he’d be extradited to the U.S., whose secret diplomatic cables were published by Wikileaks. The U.S. says there’s no sealed indictment against Assange.

As to the question of who cut Assange’s internet connection, suffice it to say there likely will be more claims and counterclaims in the coming days.

Yemen Is Nearing a 72-Hour Cease-Fire

Khaled Abdullah / AP

A council representing the Houthis of Yemen, the Iranian-allied group that toppled the country’s government last year, has publicly backed a 72-hour cease-fire set to take effect Wednesday night.

The group’s first public statement on the cease-fire “welcomed” a pause in fighting, according to Reuters:

The council announced its "positive engagement" with the ceasefire plan, and added Yemen needed an immediate, lasting and comprehensive truce without conditions, including what it called an end to the blockade on the Yemeni people.

The United Nations announced the truce Monday, which the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Yemen initially agreed to on the condition that the Houthis halt violence as well. The cease-fire will begin at midnight local time on Wednesday to allow humanitarian aid to enter besieged areas of the country, which has been embroiled in conflict for 19 months.

Over half of the 28 million people living in Yemen, one of the poorest nations in the Arab world, lack adequate access to food, according to the UN, and children are acutely vulnerable to starvation.

About 6,800 people have been killed and 35,000 injured in Yemen since March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition of several Arab nations launched a military campaign on behalf of the Yemeni government against the Houthi rebels.

Judge in El Chapo Case Shot Dead While Jogging

The Supreme Court in Mexico City (Edgard Garrido / Reuters

The judge who presided over the case of the notorious drug lord known as “El Chapo” was shot dead while he was jogging near his home, according to Mexican officials and news reports.

Vicente Antonio Bermudez Zacarias, a district court magistrate for appeals and civil judgments, was killed Monday in Metepec, Mexico’s Supreme Court said in a statement Tuesday. Security-camera footage leaked to Mexican news outlets showed the judge being shot in the back of the head in broad daylight, BuzzFeed reports.

The AP reports Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said he has instructed the attorney general’s office to lead the investigation.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped last July from a maximum-security prison in Mexico, where he was being held for drug trafficking crimes. He was captured in January of this year, and Mexico plans to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for several drug-related crimes, by early 2017. El Chapo’s lawyers have attempted to block the extradition process. He is currently being held at a Mexican prison near the U.S. border.

A Mass Die-Off of Endangered Frogs in Peru

Juan Karita / AP

In a river that feeds Lake Titicaca, near the border of Peru and Bolivia, more than 10,000 dead frogs have floated ashore, raising concern over the already critically endangered species.

The Titicaca water frog, or Telmatobius culeus—which when translated from Latin means the “aquatic scrotum”—lives only in the high-altitude fresh waters of Lake Titicaca and its surrounding rivers. The lake is one of the highest in the world at 12,500 feet, where the air is thin. To survive in such a low-oxygen climate, the frog evolved loose folds of skin like pants that are too large and wrap body and waist. The Titicaca water frog absorbs oxygen through its skin, so this excess skin helps it breathe.

The Titicaca water frog can weigh two pounds and stretch 20 inches. It’s partly because of its size that locals have hunted it for food (also because juice made from blending the frog is believed to be a male aphrodisiac). Hunting and loss of habitat have reduced the frogs’ numbers to the point of near-extinction.

But this latest mass die-off is thought to come from pollution. Conservationists and locals have tried to warn the government about the level of sewage in the rivers that feed the lake for years. Maruja Inquilla, who leads a committee to fight pollution of the Coata River, told La República earlier this month when local first noticed the dead frogs, that in order for government officials to believe her about how contaminated the river had become, she had to bring government workers the dead frogs.

“The authorities do not realize how we are living,” Inquilla told La República. “They have no idea of the extent of contamination. The situation is desperate. The worst thing is that nobody does anything.”

Locals say they’re frustrated because for years they’ve asked the government to build a sewage treatment plant to clean waste from the city of Juliaca, just north of Lake Titicaca, which is home to about 225,000 people. The government has already approved construction of the plant, but it won’t begin until 2018. Juliaca is also not the only source of pollution. Last year, hundreds of frogs died on the Bolivian side of the lake because of industrial contamination.

Peru’s National Forestry and Wildlife Service has started an investigation into the death of the frogs.

Netflix Shares Rocket as Subscriptions Soar

Elise Amendola / AP

Netflix shares are set to have their largest one-day gain since 2013 after the company announced it blew past subscriber growth expectations in the third quarter, according to the Financial Times.

The online video streaming service unexpectedly surpassed its previous guidance of adding 300,000 subscribers in the United states and 2 million abroad—it managed to bring in 370,000 and 3.2 million respectively. That brings Netflix’s total number of subscribers worldwide to almost 87 million.

The news caused Netflix’s shares to rocket 19 percent to $118.94 on Tuesday morning; the company stock is on track for the ninth-best day in its history.

Netflix’s performance this quarter is essentially an inversion of the previous one: weak subscriber growth last quarter resulted in its stock having its worse performance in the past three years. With tough competition from companies like Hulu and Amazon, Netflix’s slowdown in 2016 after its extraordinary performance the previous year was unsurprising.

So what caused the turnaround? The explosive popularity of its original shows like Stranger Things, the synth-drenched 1980s nostalgia trip that developed a cult following over the summer. If people wanted to know what all the fuss was about and they didn’t already have a Netflix subscription, they had to sign up.       

Original content is expected to remain at the center of Netflix’s bid for online streaming supremacy. The FT reports:

Netflix says it will produce 1,000 hours of original programming next year, up from 600 hours this year, building on demand for hits such as House of Cards and Making a Murderer. At this pace Netflix appears to be heading towards spending half of its content budget on original programming rather than third-party content within a few years, analysts say.

That’s not necessarily as simple as it sounds. In September it canceled a well-liked show prematurely, something that it has rarely done since its inception. Why? Because making high-quality shows from scratch is expensive, and most shows don’t offer a huge return on investment. Netflix doesn’t just need more original productions to keep up its pace of grown—it needs extremely popular ones.

The Debate Over Israel’s Policy for Holy Sites

Sebastian Scheiner / AP

UNESCO approved Tuesday a controversial resolution criticizing Israeli policy for the region’s holy sites—a resolution that Israel says ignores Jewish ties to some of the religion’s most sacred places. The UN cultural agency’s Palestinian representatives, however, welcomed the decision.  

The resolution, which can be read in full here, criticizes Israel’s management of religious sites in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the document characterizes as “for the three monotheistic religions.” The resolution was approved last week by a commission of countries, with 24 voting in favor, 26 abstaining, and six—including the United States—voting against.

The resolution specifically criticizes Israel for refusing to grant visas to UNESCO experts seeking to assess the preservation of holy sites in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the war of 1967, and East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed that same year, though the latter was not recognized under international law.  

Israel quickly cut ties with UNESCO after the resolution was ratified, calling the decision “delusional.”

“We won't negotiate and we won't take part in these ugly games,” Carmel Shama-Hacohen, the Israeli ambassador to UNESCO, told the AP after the draft’s ratification. “There is no place for these games in UNESCO. This noble organization was established to preserve history, not to rewrite it.”

Israeli officials also criticized the resolution for referring to the Temple Mount—known in Arabic as Haram al-Sharif and in Hebrew as Har HaBayit—by only its Islamic name, despite the fact that the site is sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

Palestinian representatives to UNESCO welcomed the agency’s decision, which they said has less to do with assigning ownership over the sites and more with giving experts access to them.

“The aim of the mission was not to say that Israel was an occupying power or not, the whole world knows it," Elias Sanbar, the Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, said. "The aim was to say: according to the field of competence of UNESCO, are the monuments and historical sites of UNESCO well-preserved, and if restored, well-restored according to the rules of restoration?”

The resolution’s passage is unlikely to have a significant impact on the ground, though Jordan—which serves as the official guardian of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount and cooperates closely with Israel on security issues—praised the vote as a “historic decision” and reaffirmed its commitment to “diplomatic and legal efforts to preserve the historic status quo.”  

Obama to Trump: 'Stop Whining'

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Hail to the chief troll, am I right? During a White House press conference on Tuesday with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, President Obama took a shot at the Republican nominee to replace him, saying of Donald Trump’s recent statements about the election being rigged, “I’d advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and to try make his case to get votes.”

Trump has spent the last week or so feuding with members of his own party and claiming the election is entirely corrupt, to the horror of political scientists and many GOP officials. “The whole thing is one big fix. It's one big fix. It's one big ugly lie. It's one big fix,” he said on Friday. “The process is rigged. This whole election is being rigged.”

Obama took Trump to task for trying to “discredit” elections. “You start whining before the game’s even over? If whenever things are going badly for you and you lose, you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job,” Obama said. “But the larger point I want to emphasize here is, there is no serious person out there who would suggest you could even rig America’s elections, in part because they’re so decentralized. There’s no evidence that that has happened in the past, or that there are instances in which that will happen this time.”

The election has afforded voters a highly unusual sight: a sitting president campaigning at full velocity for his successor, something that few living voters have witnessed. While he has generally kept his campaigning separate from his presidential duties, this is one example of how the two roles tend to bleed into one another.

Could Data-Driven Policing Make Racial Profiling Worse?

(Mark Lennihan / AP)

The boom in use of increasingly sophisticated facial-recognition technology by law enforcement agencies has created sprawling, unregulated databases prone to intensifying racial profile practices, according to a new report published Tuesday by the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University.

The report, which is based on a yearlong investigation of dozens of police department records, is the most comprehensive overview to date of the privacy and civil-rights issues emerging from the growth of facial recognition as a tool for law-enforcement investigations.

One in two American adults is in at least one law-enforcement face-recognition network, according to the report. The databases are being generated on the local, state, and federal levels and can use everything from driver’s- license photos to mug shots to match people with images of suspects at a crime scene.

In its article on the report, the Washington Post notes that the FBI is poised to take facial recognition to another level:

“The FBI ran a pilot program this year in which it could search the State Department’s passport and visa databases for leads in criminal cases. Overall, the Government Accountability Office reported in May, the FBI has had access to 412 million facial images for searches; the faces of some Americans appear several times in these databases.”

While facial recognition technology isn’t built to cast suspicion on people based on their race, the underlying realities of how policing and surveilling already work make it so that the technology disproportionately targets minorities. For example, African Americans are more likely to be arrested and thus have their mug shots in police department databases, and so they’re more likely to surface in facial-recognition tracking databases. But since many people who are arrested are found to be innocent of any wrongdoing, these databases are effectively keeping closer tabs on people who never committed a crime.    

The report has already generated some uproar from a number of leading civil-liberties organizations, who have collectively written to the Justice Department’s civil rights division based on its findings. As the Post reports:

The groups note the technology’s deployment during protests after the police-involved death of a black man in Baltimore and warn that unregulated use could make African Americans reluctant to attend events where facial images might be captured, chilling their rights to free speech and assembly. The report said protesters arrested for minor crimes such as trespassing can end up in facial-recognition databases for their rest of their lives, exposing them to an enhanced level of police scrutiny even if charges were later dropped.

The report doesn’t argue against the use of facial recognition technologies per se. Instead it recommends that strict regulations are formed to clearly define how they should be developed and used.

The FBI issued a statement defending its use of facial-recognition technology.

The U.S. and New Zealand Bury a Cold-War Hatchet

(Andy Clark / Reuters)

In the 1980s, New Zealand banned nuclear ships from docking in its ports, and because the U.S. refuses to confirm or deny any of its ships are nuclear-powered, it has been decades since any U.S. military warship has visited the country.

But on Tuesday, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key cleared the USS Sampson to visit next month during the Royal New Zealand Navy's 75th anniversary.

“I think it’s a sign of the fact that the relationship between New Zealand and the United States is truly in the best shape it’s been since the anti-nuclear legislation was passed,” Key said. “All of those last vestiges of the dispute that we had have really been put to one side.”

The nuclear-free dispute began in 1985, with a New Zealand law meant to take a stance against nuclear proliferation, and was escalated by the U.S. during an era of Cold War tension. The U.S and New Zealand—as well as Australia—signed a treaty in 1951 that called for each to support the another in the event of an attack. It also said the countries would cooperate on military matters in the Pacific Ocean. During the 1980s, the U.S. docked ships in New Zealand, which essentially placed New Zealand on one side of the Cold War in an age of increasing paranoia that the U.S. and the Soviet Union were headed toward nuclear mass destruction. In 1985 New Zealand’s Parliament passed the Nuclear Free Zone Act, meant to “promote and encourage” the country’s participation in global “disarmament and international arms control.” That same year, New Zealand denied the USS Buchanan entry to its port. The warship wasn’t nuclear-capable, but it was seen as a sign that New Zealand’s wanted no part in the Cold War.

The U.S. responded by saying it would not longer uphold its treaty to protect New Zealand, severed visible military ties, and downgraded diplomatic exchanges. But lately, especially after New Zealand sent special forces to aid the U.S. in Afghanistan, the two countries’ military relations have improved.

The chief of the New Zealand Navy, Rear Admiral John Martin, told the Associated Press: “We've been working with the U.S. Navy for many decades and we’re looking forward to hosting them down here. A birthday is not complete without your friends.”

Putin Heads to Berlin for the First Time Since He Annexed Crimea


The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France will gather Wednesday to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where government forces and separatist groups have been locked in conflict for more than two years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Berlin to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande. Putin’s visit to the city will be his first since his government annexed Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula, in 2014. The move prompted fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels who seek autonomy from Ukraine. The conflict has since killed about 10,000 people, including soldiers and civilians.

Peace efforts have so far been unsuccessful. In early 2015, the four leaders signed an accord in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, aimed at ending fighting and finding a diplomatic solution, but violence has continued. In July, six Ukrainian soldiers and seven rebel fighters were killed in one day of intense fighting.

Merkel on Tuesday warned against expecting too much to come out of the meeting, Reuters reported. “One mustn’t expect any wonders from tomorrow's meeting but it is worth every endeavor on this issue to take efforts forward,” she told reporters.

Poroshenko sounded similarly skeptical. “I am very optimistic about the future of Ukraine but unfortunately not so much about tomorrow's meeting, but I would be very happy to be surprised,” he said.

Merkel said she and Hollande would also bring up the conflict in Syria, where Russian forces launch regular airstrikes on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s government against rebel groups. On Tuesday, Russia announced it would stop bombing the rebel-held city of Aleppo for 48 hours and allow humanitarian workers to deliver supplies to its besieged residents.

'Hot Dogs' May No Longer Be Considered Halal in Malaysia

A halal certification sticker on display at a restaurant in Kuala Lumpu, Malaysia. (Reuters)

The Malaysian government announced Tuesday that food outlets selling hot dogs must omit “dog” from the product’s name or risk being refused halal certification, Agence France- Presse reports.

The decision, the government’s religious authority says, was prompted by complaints from Muslim tourists to the Muslim-majority country, where hot dogs are commonly sold by halal street vendors and restaurants.

“In Islam, dogs are considered unclean and the name cannot be related to halal certification,” Sirajuddin Suhaimee, the halal division director of the country’s Islamic Development Department, told AFP.

Halal, meaning “permissible” in Arabic, denotes what Muslims are allowed to use or engage in under Islamic law. In order for food products to be designated as halal under Islamic law, they must not contain pork, alcohol, or animal meat that was not slaughtered according to Islamic procedure. Though halal designation guidelines don’t make mention of food products’ names, Suhaimee said the name change was necessary to preempt confusion.

“Any (halal) products that make consumers confused, we have to change,” he said.

The decision stands to affect a number of Malaysian food vendors selling hot dogs, including the Pennsylvania-based pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s, which boasts 45 outlets in Malaysia. The pretzel chain’s products are in the process of applying for halal food certification—including the chain’s “Pretzel Dog.”

Suhaimee suggested a solution: “It is more appropriate to use the name 'Pretzel Sausage',” he said.

Though Auntie Anne’s appeared receptive to the name change—Farhatul Kamilah Mohamed Sazali, an executive at Auntie Anne's Malaysia, told AFP, “It's a minor issue. We are fine with changing the name and are still working on it”—some social media users were more critical.

Iran Sentences Two Iranian Americans to 10 Years in Prison

(Vahid Salemi / AP)

Updated at 2:16 p.m.

An Iranian court has sentenced an Iranian-American businessman and his father to 10 years in prison, the state-run Mizan news agency reported Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports that Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer Namazi, 80, who is also a U.S.-Iranian dual citizen, were convicted of “cooperating with the hostile American government.”

Siamak, who was arrested about a year ago while visiting Tehran, has a fairly high profile in both the United States and Iran. He’s a business consultant who has served as public- policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute and been named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. His father, who was detained in February, is a former UNICEF representative and “once served as a governor Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province under the U.S.-backed shah,” according to the AP.

In a statement, Babak Namazi, Siamak Namazi’s brother, said:

The Mizan report also announced the conviction of a number of others in Iran, including Nazar Zika, a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon. Hadi Nili, a reporter for the BBC’s Persian-language service, said other Iranian Americans had been convicted as well. He identified them as Farhad AbdeSaleh, Kamran Ghaderi, and Alireza Omidvar.

While the Namazis’ American citizenship makes their sentences notable to Western observers, it doesn’t afford them special protections in the Iranian judicial system. As the AP reports:

Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, meaning those detained cannot receive consular assistance. In most cases, dual nationals have faced secret charges in closed-door hearings in Iran's Revolutionary Court, which handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government.

Siamak Namazi was under arrest during the time of a groundbreaking prisoner swap between Iran and the U.S. in January in the run up to the implementation of the nuclear deal between the countries. That deal involved Iran freeing four detained Americans in exchange for seven Iranians held in the U.S.

Mark Toner, the U.S. State Department spokesman, in a statement said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the reports.

“We join recent calls by international organizations and UN human rights experts for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran, including Siamak and Baquer Namazi, so that they can return to their families,” he said.

The Battle for Mosul: Day 2

Smoke rises from clashes at Bartila in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants.
Smoke rises Tuesday from clashes at Bartila, east of Mosul, during clashes with ISIS militants. (Reuters)

Iraqi security forces, Kurdish fighters, and their allies, backed by U.S. airstrikes, continued their march Tuesday toward Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city that ISIS has controlled since mid-2014.

Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, said Iraqi forces are “ahead of the schedule” in their effort to retake Mosul. Social-media posts by the Iraqi military, Peshmerga, Shia fighters, and groups affiliated with them, said Iraqi forces controlled parts of Qarawosh, about 9 miles (15 kilometers) from Mosul, ISIS’s last major stronghold in Iraq. Posts on Twitter showed Kurdish Peshmerga fighters standing over the bodies of ISIS fighters, some as young as 15. Hashd, a Shia militia, which is also taking part in the fighting, said it destroyed 16 ISIS positions on the southern side of Mosul.

Human-rights groups are worried about the potential actions of Shia militias—such as Hashd and the Badr Brigades, which are affiliated with Moqtada al-Sadr—in Mosul. Human Rights Watch warned this week that “civilians may suffer yet more abuse when the government tries to retake the city if recent lessons from the operations to retake Fallujah, Tikrit and other areas are any guide.”  Here’s more:

Just take a look at past operations against the extremist group in Iraq to see why. Most recently, in the May-June battle to retake Fallujah, members of the Badr Brigades and Hezbollah Brigades (two powerful units within the Iraqi government’s Popular Mobilization Forces), and, in at least one instance, Iraqi federal police officers, detained and beat men fleeing the fighting, summarily executed and forcibly disappeared others, and mutilated corpses.

The disappearances took place as the armed units working with the government forces and the police separated men from their families at checkpoints, as well as in mass roundups in certain suburban neighborhoods. The abuses in Fallujah followed numerous earlier allegations of widespread abuses during the government’s anti-ISIS operations, including destruction of homes by the Popular Mobilization Forces in Tikrit, and Amerli. All of the operations to retake territory from ISIS were supported by US-led coalition airstrikes.

Mosul has historically been a diverse city with large numbers of Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomen, and others. When ISIS, a Sunni group, took over the city, many non-Sunnis left. The city’s Sunnis, angry with what they viewed as the Iraqi government pro-Shia bias, initially supported ISIS. It’s unclear what level of support the group now enjoys in the city of about 1.5 million people. But reports from inside Mosul say ISIS has largely abandoned the non-Sunni part of Mosul and is concentrating its efforts in the Sunni-dominated portion. As Iraqi forces and their allies move closer to Mosul, ISIS has deployed car bombs and suicide bombers against the advancing forces. Inside Mosul, ISIS has ramped-up mass arrests and executions, Patrick Osgood, the Kurdistan bureau chief of Iraq Oil Report, said in an interview Monday, citing reports from inside the city. The group has also begun burning oil and tires to obscure the view of the city from above.

The Iraqi battle for Mosul is the culmination of an operation that began about six months ago. In that time, several others parts of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, are once again under Iraqi government control.

A Tenuous Cease-Fire in Aleppo Begins

Khalil Ashawi / Reuters

Russia has announced a 48-hour cease-fire starting Tuesday to allow humanitarian aid inside Aleppo, but the United Nations says aid workers are still unable to enter because Russia, Syria, and rebel groups have not guaranteed the aid workers’ safety.

The news of a cease-fire comes earlier than expected, and Russia had previously said it would stop strikes on Thursday for an eight-hour period. Both Russian and Syrian militaries had agreed to the “humanitarian pause” to allow civilians out of the city, and to allow aid workers to reach those unable to evacuate. The UN has called for weekly 48-hour cease-fires, but partly because of strained U.S.-Russian relations. Allowing humanitarian workers into Aleppo, the last major rebel stronghold, has been tricky, as is evidenced by the confusion Tuesday.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told RT, the state-run broadcaster: “The goal of this work is to separate the terrorist from the ‘moderate opposition’ and get them out of eastern Aleppo.”

That remark suggests Russia wanted to evacuate rebel fighters and families on the fence, not necessarily to ensure aid workers could reach those people inside the city, where an estimated 275,000 civilians live alongside 8,000 rebel fighters, and bombs have destroyed most hospitals.

"We need assurances from all parties to the conflict, not just a unilateral announcement that this will happen,” UN spokesman Jens Laerke told Reuters. “We need everybody to give us those assurances before it is immediately useful for us to do anything meaningful."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it will need guarantees from all sides, including the rebels, before it enters the city. The group is being appropriately cautious after a cease-fire last month failed, and an aid convoy was bombed—apparently by Russian airstrikes. Here is some of our previous reporting on that September 19 attack:

The airstrike killed 20 people Monday, including the head of the Syrian Red Crescent, and destroyed 18 of the 31 trucks that were delivering medicine, water, and food to help 250,000 stranded civilians. The bombing came just after a weeklong ceasefire agreement, brokered by Russia and the U.S., came to an abrupt end.