General Mark A. Milley, the U.S. army chief of staff, said though the exact cause of an explosion that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Mosul, Iraq, is still unknown, it is “possible” the U.S.-led coalition was responsible. “It is very possible that Daesh blew up that building to blame it on the coalition in order to cause a delay in the offensive into Mosul and cause a delay in the use of coalition airstrikes,” Milley told reporters Monday in Baghdad. “And it is possible the coalition airstrike did it.” The Pentagon announced Friday it would investigate a coalition airstrike that may have led to the collapse of buildings with at least 160 people inside. As my colleague J. Weston Phippen noted, “what happened remains unclear, and some witnesses have said it was a direct hit on the building, while others say the airstrike targeted a truck ISIS had loaded with bombs and the ensuing explosion brought the building down.” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, welcomed the investigation, adding bodies continue to be found in buildings where ISIS reportedly held people as human shields. Amnesty International criticized the U.S.-led coalition for not taking adequate precautions to protect citizens as it fights to expel ISIS from western Mosul, noting that evidence from coalition airstrikes in the eastern part of the city showed “destroyed whole houses with entire families inside”—actions the organization said could constitute war crimes.
—Members of Scottish Parliament voted 69-59 to give First Minister Nicola Sturgeon the authority to negotiate with the U.K. government on holding a second referendum on independence. More here
—President Trump signed an executive order on energy independence that aims to roll back Obama-era environmental protections. But many of the coal jobs the president has promised to restore are unlikely to materialize. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
U.S.-Led Coalition to Investigate Mosul Airstrike That May Have Killed Civilians
Scottish Parliament Supports Another Referendum on Independence
Updated at 12:53 p.m. ET
Members of Scottish Parliament voted 69-59 to give First Minister Nicola Sturgeon the authority to negotiate with the U.K. government on holding a second referendum on independence, a day before the U.K. is expected to trigger Brexit. The U.K. government responded almost immediately, saying it would not enter into a negotiation with the Scottish government on a new referendum. Today’s vote comes two weeks after Sturgeon announced her plan to ask parliament for authority on the referendum, which she wants to hold sometime between the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019. The move was prompted by the U.K.’s decision last summer in a nationwide referendum to leave the European Union. Although the margin of victory was significant—52 percent to 48 percent—about 62 percent of Scots voted to remain in the EU. A referendum on independence, Sturgeon said, would allow Scotland to protect its own interests. Theresa May, who has said “now is not the time” for a Scottish referendum on independence, is expected to trigger Brexit tomorrow. That process, which would determine the shape of future U.K.-EU relations, is expected to take two years; Sturgeon’s timeframe for a Scottish referendum would fall within that period. The U.K. government’s statement on the Scottish parliament’s vote said: “It would be unfair to the people of Scotland to ask them to make a crucial decision without the necessary information about our future relationship with Europe, or what an independent Scotland would look like.” The previous Scottish referendum on independence, in 2014, resulted in 55 percent of voters opting to stay in the U.K. and 45 percent voting to leave.
3 Bodies Found in Search for Missing UN Experts in Congo
Three bodies, including those of two white people, were found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, government officials announced Tuesday. The discovery comes two weeks after the disappearance of two UN experts—U.S. citizen Michael Sharp and Swedish national Zaida Catalán—after they were abducted by “unidentified negative forces” from a remote village near the southern Congolese city of Kananga. Four others, including Congolese interpreter Betu Tshintela and Isaac Kabuayi, a driver, are also missing. Human Rights Watch said the group’s disappearance marks the first time UN experts have been reported missing in the DRC, as well as the first time international workers have disappeared or been abducted in the Congo’s Kasai province, a region the organization said had “until recently had been largely peaceful, unlike eastern Congo, which has long been embattled by dozens of armed groups.” Lambert Mende, a Congolese government spokesman, told the BBC the government could not confirm the identities of the bodies until before completing DNA tests, but added that “as far as I know, no other white individuals are missing here.” John Sharp, Michael’s father, responded to the discovery in a statement on Facebook:
'Carlos the Jackal' Given His Third Life Sentence for 1974 Paris Grenade Attack
Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as “Carlos the Jackal,” was handed a third life sentence Tuesday by a French court for a 1974 grenade attack on a Paris shopping center that killed two people and injured more than 30 others. The 67-year-old, who described himself to the court as a 17-year-old (“give or take 50 years”) professional revolutionary, denied his involvement in the attack and denounced the trial for the decades-old crime as “absurd.” As my colleague J. Weston Phippen reported, the case, which began in court earlier this month, took decades to reach trial because it was previously dismissed due to lack of evidence. Sanchez was previously serving two life sentences in France for a string of deadly attacks in the 1970s and 1980s.
Democrats Want Representative Nunes to Step Aside From House Inquiry Into Russian Interference
Democrats are demanding that Representative Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, step aside from the panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. At issue are Nunes’s actions and his comments on Trump’s claims—since discredited by lawmakers from both parties, as well as heads of U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI—that he was the subject of President Obama’s wiretapping. Last Wednesday (March 22), Nunes said at a news conference that “on numerous occasions the Intelligence Community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.” Nunes said that while this wasn’t illegal, the unmasking and sharing of the names of Trump’s aides was “inappropriate.” He then went to the White House to deliver this information without informing his colleagues—Republican and Democrats—on the House panel. Representative Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is the ranking member on the panel, questioned Nunes’s independence. Two days later, on Friday, March 24, Nunes made two announcements: that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, had offered to testify before the panel as it investigates Russian interference in the presidential election; and that he wanted to cancel a public hearing scheduled for this week with senior former intelligence and Justice Department officials. This time Schiff called it a “serious mistake.” Cut to yesterday, Monday, March 27: CNN reported Nunes was seen on the White House grounds on the day before his announcement on March 22. Nunes told CNN he was there “to confirm what I already knew” and that he needed a secure location to examined the intelligence information he’d received. My colleague David Graham writes:
But why did Nunes need to go to the White House to see the information? There are secure facilities at the Capitol. Nunes has refused to say whether his revelations came from White House officials, saying will not confirm or deny anything about his source. How does he know that no administration figures knew he was at the White House Tuesday? (Clearly, someone saw him and tipped off CNN. Who else did?) And if, as he told CNN, he was simply confirming what he already knew, where and when did he obtain that insight in the first place?
Schiff once again questioned whether Nunes can objectively oversee the investigation into the Russian interference in the election. He and other Democrats in the House and Senate urged Nunes to step aside. CNN reported Tuesday the House Intelligence Committee has canceled all its meetings this week, indicating, it said, “the panel is facing serious turmoil and questions about whether it can proceed.”
Cyclone Debbie Batters Northeast Australian Coast
Cyclone Debbie, a category-four storm with winds of up to 163 mph, battered the coast of Queensland, Australia, downing power and telephone lines in the northeastern part of the country. “Everyone is going to be in shock tomorrow, just to see the full impact of this cyclone,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. “I'm bracing myself for it.” Debbie, now a category-two storm, still packs powerful winds as it moved inland. One serious injury was reported. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged those affected to be “prepared to shelter in place until Wednesday.” It’s unclear when power will be restored to the affected areas. Those in Bowen, Airlie Beach, Proserpine, the Whitsundays, and Mackay were advised to stay inside Tuesday night.
Trump Signs Executive Order on Energy Independence
Updated at 2:38 p.m. ET
President Trump, flanked by coal miners, signed an executive order on energy independence at the Environment Protection Agency. The order would dismantle the Clean Power Act, President Obama’s signature environmental legislation, and, among other things, make it easier for the coal industry to operate. On the presidential campaign trail, Trump had labeled Obama’s policies job-killers, and had vowed to reverse them, restoring jobs to the coal industry. That may be easier said than done, however. Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, told The Guardian though he welcomed Trump’s expected policy changes, the president should “temper his expectations” on bringing coal jobs back. “He can’t bring them back,” Murray said. Indeed, coal’s share of U.S. electric production declined sharply in the Obama years, partly due to regulation, but also because of increased competition from cheaper sources of energy such as shale gas. Robinson Meyer writes of Tuesday’s executive order:
It is an omnibus directive that strikes across the federal government, reversing major rules that aim to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions while simultaneously instructing departments to ignore or downplay the risks of climate change in their decision-making.
It is exactly as bad as environmental advocates feared—with one exception. The order does not mention whether the United States should remain in the Paris Agreement, the international pact to address climate change ratified in 2015. Withdrawal from the treaty, a campaign promise of Trump’s, still divides his White House. (Reportedly, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are partial to staying in the agreement.)
Yet unless there are major advances in technology, it will be difficult for the United States to meet its commitments under Paris without using rules similar to the current regulations.
Read Rob’s piece here.