Update on Iraq

Hello Friends,

Things are heating up in Iraq.

Iraqi government forces have been advancing further into Tikrit in the largest offensive push by Iraqi and Shia Militias against Islamic State.

Attacking from four fronts, the Iranian advised forces have put the jihadists in a position of having to fall back to defensive positions in several places of the city.

Some reports are saying that there are only 150 IS fighters remaining.

23,000 government aligned forces are involved in the operation to recapture Saddam Hussein's hometown.

Tikrit lies half way from Baghdad to Mosul along the Tigris river.

IS fighters have been deposed from several towns and villages along the way.

But Iraqi forces have encountered literally hundreds of make-shift bombs along the way.

In Iraq's western Anbar province, Islamic State fighters carried out an onslaught assault from all directions upon the city of Ramadi.

More than 40 Iraqi soldiers were said to be killed just outside the city when IS fighters dug a tunnel and filled it with explosives - blowing up an Iraqi army headquarters. The campaign by Islamic State on Ramdi was started by the firing of more than 150 motor and rocket rounds.

The City has also been hit by suicide attacks using explosives-laden vehicles to attack security checkpoints and a bridge.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Egypt's Appeal Against Islamic State

Hello Everyone,

After carrying out a second air raid into Libya targeting Islamic State fighters, Egypt has called on the international community to intervene.

Libya has been a mess with sectarian and tribal clashes since 2011 after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's deposing and death.

There are two rival governments for the vast oil rich country, and this adds to the fertile soil of instability which Islamic State jihadists grows in.

Unfortunately, with the Middle East already in upheaval there is little international appetite for military involvement. The United Nations prefers a political and diplomatic solution.

Thousands of Egyptian Coptic Christians, along with some Muslim participants that included Sheikhs from al Azhar, Egypt's main center of Islamic learning which is over 1000 years old, condemned the beheadings and are mourning at the main Coptic Cathedral in Cairo as well as in al-Our village south of Cairo where 13 of the 21 men murdered were from.

Libya has condemned the actions of Egypt saying that the airstrikes were a violation of it's sovereignty.

But it is clear that there is no current power structure able to bring Islamic State into accountability.

Feeling the need to keep at the jihadists, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is calling for a United Nations Security Council resolution mandating international intervention.

Sisi knows the mentality here well and wishes to continue striking out at IS in Libya as much as he possibly can in order to send the clear resounding message – don't touch our Egyptian citizens.

It also serves his interests internationally by demonstrating that Egypt, as a Muslim country, will protect Christians, which in the past it has been accused by human rights groups of not doing enough to aid the ancient minority.

We can help – with our prayers. These men killed were simply seeking to work in Libya because their situation in Egypt is impoverished.

Islamic State in their action and words is targeting Christianity clearly in this video out of Libya. Pray for the Christians in Libya, the Egyptian Coptic Church, and believers throughout the Middle East, that God would give them hope, courage, protection, boldness, and sustenance.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Russia In Egypt

Hello Everyone,

Egypt is hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The State visit is important to both countries - but more so to their leaders.

Russia and Egypt have a long history together in modern times.

Today, Egypt wants Russian military hardware, which Russia is happy to sell amidst the sanctions the international community has in place for their actions in Crimea and the Ukraine.

Mr. Putin also wants to expand his influence in the Middle East and North Africa in light of the turmoil in Syria and Libya.

For Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Mr. Putin is a long time supporter who brings with him credibility in his approval of handling the borderline volatile landscape Egypt now is.

Key to the visit was the signing of an energy deal that will see Russia share in the building and running of a nuclear power plant for Egypt.

As America had stepped back from Egypt in 2013, due to the violent crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, it shelved military aid to the country - and it's influence. Feeling that America did not understand the dynamics of Egypt and the terrorism within, Mr. Sisi accepted Russia's overtures to fill in.

Russia, having often handled dissident actions within it's borders, has indeed stepped up and provided traction for the new Sisi Government and the county's development.

Mr. Sisi has long said he intends to fix Egypt's economy, and hosting Mr. Putin gave Egyptians the chance to hear how trade with Russia has been increased by 80% over the last year.

But the largest development by far is a deal worked by Russia's defense and foreign ministers with Egypt who visited Cairo back in November, 2014.

The two countries were reportedly close to signing a $3 billion dollar deal for Russian MiG-29 jet fighters and attack helicopters.

In addition to this large military exchange, there is little doubt as to the fresh leader being tutored in geopolitics from the experienced Putin.

Egypt has many challenges on it's borders with instability in Libya, containment of Hamas, and internal dissatisfaction by a majority of it's citizens.

But the crisis burning right now is in Northern Sinai as Islamic State seeks to strengthen its presence.

10 men were beheaded recently for allegedly being spies for both Egypt and Israel.

This comes after Egypt has taken military action against the jihadists, who have carried out multiple coordinated attacks on police and army in the area causing significant loss of life.

Mr. Sisi will no doubt be seeking to strengthen his image and abilities in light of Mr. Putin's visit and the challenges his government faces.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Jordanian Resolve After Death

Hello Everyone,

After the tragic event of the putting to death of the captured Jordanian pilot – Islamic State has seemingly not placed fear into the Jordanian Kingdom.

Jordan's King Abdullah II cut short his trip to Washington DC where he was due to be at President Barak Obama's prayer breakfast, after the on-line release of the documented murder by immolation of 27-year-old pilot, Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh.

After briefly meeting with President Obama, King Abdullah fly directly back to Amman and met with his military chiefs and other Jordanian officials.

Jordan has said clearly they will take action against Islamic State.

The King emphasized that Jordan is waging a war of principles against the militants because they are not only fighting Jordan, but also fighting Islam.

Jordan has since carried out dozens of successful air raids against IS assets in both Syria and Iraq.

There are unconfirmed reports that an American held hostage, Kayla Jean Mueller, was killed in one of those strikes by Jordan outside of Raqqa in Iraq.

After news emerged that Islamic State had murdered a captive Jordanian pilot, The Hashemite King Abdullah II offered his condolences to the pilot's family at their home.

Jordanian fighter jets, returning from a bombing mission, flew over the home of the slain pilot while the King was with the father.

Jordan has sent several sorties into both Iraq and Syria targeting IS.

Jordanians demonstrated by the thousands, including Queen Rania, showing their solidarity with the al-Kasaesbeh family and in the fight against Islamic State.

The message is very much that Islamic State does not represent Islam – and that Muslims must step up and fight the Sunni extremists and retake the image of their religion.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Shock for Jordan

Hello Everyone,

Much of the Middle East – particularly the Kingdom of Jordan, is in shock tonight.

Jordan confirmed the death of it's Air Force pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, who had been taken hostage by Islamic State after his plane went down back in December near Raqqa in Syria.

A brutal video was published online purportedly showing show al-Kasasbeh being burned alive.

Jordan is vowing "punishment and revenge" - an "earth shacking" retaliation against Islamic State.

Jordan is part of the coalition led by the United States carrying out airstrikes and reconnaissance against IS targets.

The video shows al-Kasasbeh at gunpoint, walking amongst rubble apparently caused by coalition air strikes targeting IS.

The Jordanian army is describing him as a martyr. There are already pressures mounting for the government to exact a price.

One thing that may happen is the expediting IS prisoners in Jordanian jails who are on death row awaiting execution.

Jordan's King Abdullah, who was on an official visit to Washington DC is en route back to Jordan after learning of the IS video and the fate of the 26 year old pilot.

Join me tomorrow on the Harvest Show for latest as I keep you abreast of the many different stories happening here in the Middle East.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

IS Strike in Sinai

Hello Everyone,

32 Egyptians, most of whom were soldiers, were killed in a series of attacks by Islamist militants in the north of Egypt's Sinai peninsula and the Suez.

The coordinated attacks were mainly in and around the provincial capital of the Sinai, El-Arish.

The Islamic State affiliated group Sinai Province fired rockets at police offices, a military base and a military hotel in El-Arish.

A car bomb was detonated at the military base and several checkpoints were attacked.

The attack in the Suez was carried out with a roadside bomb. More than 50 people were wounded in the extensive attacks.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has returned from an African Union Summit in the capital Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

The four separate attacks on security forces in North Sinai were the bloodiest in years.

These are the first significant assaults in the region since the most feared Sinai militant group swore allegiance to IS in back in November of 2014.??

These attacks will further weaken the attraction of tourists to Egypt and it's already frail economy.

It has now been four years since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and many people fear their situation is less now than it was under Mubarak's rule.

President Sisi wishes to project stability for Egypt amidst cries of shaming the Muslim Brotherhood.

Earlier this week, the day after the fourth anniversary of the uprising in Egypt that ousted the former president Hosni Mubarak, his two sons were released from jail.

Their release followed deadly clashes between police and anti-government protesters commemorating the uprising.

Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, along with their father, are pending retrial for embezzlement.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Ebb and Flow

Hi Everyone,

The situation with Islamic State seems to be ebb and flow...

Kobani – where much of the worlds attention, has seemed to fall into a stagnant situation, with neither side able to muster an offense.

Before Kobani – was the incident of the exodus of Yazidi and other minorities to Mount Sinjar.

Since those tragic scenes, people on the mount have ironically been safe- yet held captive because IS forces encircled the Mount.

However, these last few days Kurdish forces have made a significant victory in breaking that siege.

Thousands of displaced people now have a potential way off the mountain and try to reach family and friends – predominately in Kurdistan where most fled back in August when the siege began.

The US who is leading coalition forces against IS says that the terror group has been weakened and are losing moral. Yesterday several high-ranking IS fighting figures were killed in Coalition bombings in Iraq.

But with the success in the north – the large area of the Anbar province is not bringing good news.

Iraqi forces have been encircled on a base by IS and lost in a mere four hours what took them two weeks of fighting to gain.

This is a blow to the steps forward made by the Iraqi military.

Soldiers complained that they lacked Coalition air support and were forced to pull back to Ain al-Asad airbase.

Some of the deadliest fighting has taken place in the region and more than half a million people have been forced to flee their homes.

The Iraqi forces were hoping to gain control of a supply route run between IS in Syria, and IS on the outskirts of Iraq's capital Baghdad.

Now, with these men trapped on this major base, it becomes a desired target for IS to regain it's military prowess - a potential major victory for the Islamic State.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Ex-Wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Hello All,

This week has carried a particularly intriguing story.

It comes out of Lebanon, with Lebanese authorities detaining a woman with her son, first thought to be the wife of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The arrest came a few weeks ago when the woman tried to enter Lebanon from Syria – apparently with fake documents.

So called "foreign intelligence apparatus" was involved in her apprehension – as she would be a high value target. Many versions of just who she was were circulating from regional sources, including Iraq and Lebanon.

It turns out that the woman was married to Baghdadi for three months six years ago, and has a daughter by him.

She was traveling with her daughter, and two sons.

Lebanese security used DNA from both the woman and the daughter with her, along with DNA from Iraqi authorities of Al-Baghdadi to ascertain the match.

The two boys with her are from a previous marriage. It turns out, in fact, that she is now married to a Palestinian, and is actually pregnant with his child.

Her family is a known terror source with her father and brother being active in Al-Nusra Front.

She was in custody at the beginning of the year and released in an Al-Nusra prisoner exchange for Greek Orthodox Nuns whom the group kidnapped. 120 prisoners were swapped, and this woman was part of that exchange,

One Lebanese official has said she is a "powerful card" in negotiations with IS and Al-Nusra, who are currently holding more than 20 Lebanese soldiers and police hostage.

They are threatening to kill them unless militants are freed from Lebanese jails.

Islamic State has not commented on the affair.

Al-Nusra has condemned her being held.

Make no mistake, authorities are pleased to have the chance to glean information from her as they seek to learn more about the self proclaimed Caliph - Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Islamic State Expanding

Hello Friends,

The Islamic State is expanding.

It seems that they feel they are not going to be gaining more territory any time soon in Syria and Iraq – so they are looking to destabilize and create new areas of influence.

We already know that they wish to see their black flag raised in the Kingdom of Saud.

In Libya, the Islamic State's influence is moving west with fighters claiming loyalty to IS now in complete control of the city of Derna, with a population of about 100,000, not far from Egypt's western border.

This area is a known weapons smuggling route, and places the extremist group about 200 miles from the shores of the European Union.

Libya is suffering from political chaos and ethnic strife.

Reports say that up to 300 Libyan jihadists have returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq in order to expand IS's presence westwards along the coast towards Algeria - where Islamic State has recently gained a foothold as well, through the allegiance of a large terrorist group there.

In Egypt's Sinai, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis – the area's largest and most effective terror group has now pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

They now call themselves the "State of Sinai" – eluding to ISs desire to grow its boundaries.

The terror group has been responsible for the death of hundreds of Egyptian police and soldiers – along with escalating attacks upon Israeli interests.

The Islamic State has sent a deputy commander of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to lead the acquired groups operations.

Egypt's President Abdel al Sisi has vowed to crush the group.

Reports say that as many as 20,000 soldiers are in the area preparing to confront the Jihadists. Israel authorized the expansion of the Egyptian presence as it sees President Sisi serious about wiping out this potential major threat before it can organize any further terror.

The buffer zone to the Gaza Strip has now been extended to roughly ½ miles width as opposed to the original size of ¼ mile.

President Sisi (and Israel for that matter) wishes to block any physical ability for Jihadists in the Northern Sinai to link up with Hamas or any other group in Gaza.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

Kobane Boost of Moral

Hello Everyone!

The most impactful news right now may be that Turkey will now reportedly allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters (not Syrian Kurds, not Turkish Kurds) to enter the Syrian border town of Kobane to fight Islamic State.

It is being understood as a reversal of their earlier policy.

The news came after America carried out air drops of weapons, ammunition, and first aid supplies to the Kurdish fighters who have long complained that they are outgunned by IS who has tanks, armored personnel carriers and heavy weaponry.

Sometimes using home made bombs, the defenders have regained a fairly large portion of the city – but the battle isn't over yet.

This announcement is huge because the Islamic State has freely sent supplies and fighters as reinforcements into battle where as the Kurdish forces were left on their own not able to receive much in terms of fighting relief or supplies.

Perhaps as many as 200,000 people have fled Kobane in the recent months of fighting.

Many Kurds who fled with their families into Turkey have sought to return to fight in defense of their homes.

Turkey has not officially allowed re-entry into Kobane.

This has caused hundreds to stand upon the hills and offer only their cheers as support for their brothers fighting a desperate battle.

At points durring the past weeks, Kurds have broken through border fencing to reach the town - which is roughly a mile away from the border.

This past week saw an major increase in US Coalition airstrikes upon IS targets in and around Kobane, shifting the momentum back into the hands of the Kurdish fighters of the town. For a second day now it has been somewhat quite.

There are still battles, but not the same intensity and breadth across the town.

Perhaps the biggest thing to come out of this is a boost of moral for these men and women who have, particularly over this last month, lost many of their comrades and friends who fought to defend this strategic and symbolic city.

Brian Bush Middle East Correspondent LeSEA Broadcasting

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