U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes an unannounced visit to Baghdad, after meeting with representatives of the Gulf monarchies in Bahrain. His visit is generally interpreted as a show of support for the Abadi government and his attempted reforms.
Meanwhile, conditions are dire in the beseiged city of Fallujah where children are dying of starvation and the hospital has run out of supplies. IS has prevented people from leaving even as fire from Iraqi forces is contributing to civilian casualties. The Organization for Islamic Cooperation has called for urgent relief, though it is unclear how relief can be delivered given IS control of the city and ongoing combat.
Polling by the U.S. State Dept. finds that 1/3 of Iraqis believe the U.S. supports the Islamic State, and that the U.S. is conspiring to control Iraq's natural resources. [The latter was the original plan behind the 2003 invasion, but it has largely been abandoned by now. -- C]
U.S. may establish additional "fire bases" in Iraq to support the advance on Mosul.
IS is said to be netting up to $200 million a year from the sale of plundered antiquities, according to the Russian ambassador to the UN. Although the claim appears in part to be intended as a criticism of Turkey, through which the loot transits and toward which Russia is hostile, it is credible.
Iraqi troops have reached the center of Hit.
Secretary Kerry will visit Kabul on Saturday.
U.S. air strikes kill 17 people in Paktika. The provincial police chief says the dead were all militants, but another local official says they were all civilians. A third says at least some of the casualties were civilians.
Disarray, dysfunction and corruption in the Afghan government endanger the regime's survival.
Rod Nordland in the NYT reports that the opium industry corrupts all sides in Helmand. This is worth an extended excerpt -- but do follow the link.
President Ashraf Ghani’s envoy for Helmand, Maj. Gen. Abdul Jabar Qahraman, has been given the task of fixing the situation. He says that a big part of the reason Helmand has become so difficult is that so many of its combatants have a financial stake in the continuation of the drug trade and of the war itself — something he hopes to undo by getting all sides talking to one another.
He calls the problem fourth-wife syndrome. The fourth wife — four is the most allowed under Islam — is often several decades younger than the husband, so her father can demand a high price for the bride. . . .
The Taliban shadow governor for the province, Mullah Manan, is from a poor family, yet recently he took a young girl as his fourth wife. “Where did he get this money?” General Qahraman said. “He had to pay a lot for such a marriage, and his father didn’t even own a donkey.” As a counterpoint, he mentioned that the Afghan National Police commander in Nad Ali district, Hajji Marjan Haqmal, had also just paid 3 million afghanis for a young, fourth wife — around $42,000, or more than three years’ salary for a district commander.