Crisis in Iraq
August 8, 2014
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After President Obama authorized limited air strikes in Iraq on Thursday evening, American warplanes today bombed artillery equipment being used by the extremist group ISIS to shell the Kurdish capital of Erbil.

Most Americans had never heard of ISIS until June, when the cash-rich Sunni jihadist group suddenly seized Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, sending tens of thousands of Iraqi government soldiers fleeing, and raising the threat of full-blown civil war in the fragile Mideast nation.

Where did ISIS come from? As The Week's Frances Weaver wrote last month:

ISIS grew out of al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni Islamist outfit that fought U.S. and Iraqi troops during the early years of the Iraq War. When the group was routed by Sunni moderates in 2008, its fighters reinvented themselves as ISIS and regrouped in neighboring Syria, where they seized territory during the chaotic uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011 left another security vacuum, one ISIS has been able to exploit over the past year with the unintentional help of Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Following the U.S. departure, the Iraqi leader purged the government and security forces of Sunnis — who make up just over a third of the country's 33 million people. Alienated and angry, many Sunnis have supported ISIS in its fight against the Shiite-dominated central government. Maliki, says Michael Knights at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "played right into [ISIS's] hands." [The Week]

Learn more about ISIS here. Ben Frumin

Watch this
12:27 p.m. ET
Omar Havana / Getty Images

A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday, causing substantial damage and killing at least 1,000 people, according to government estimates. Via the BBC, here's some footage of the quake and the immediate aftermath. —Jon Terbush

Smoke if you've got em
11:57 a.m. ET
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Hawaii on Friday passed a bill that would raise the legal smoking age to 21 while also banning the sale and purchase of electronic cigarettes for anyone under that age limit. If Democratic Gov. David Ige signs the bill — he has yet to indicate whether he will — Hawaii would become the first state in the nation to raise its smoking age to 21.

"The activities we've engaged in over the years to manage smoking — our additional efforts in education, the raising of cigarette taxes — this is a continuation of those policies," Democratic state Senator Rosalyn Baker told Reuters. Jon Terbush

No justice no peace
11:19 a.m. ET
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Baltimore's police commissioner on Friday conceded that officers made mistakes in their handling of Freddie Gray, the unarmed black man who died last weekend of a severe spinal injury while in custody.

"We know that police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner," Commissioner Anthony Batts said, adding that 30 investigators are probing the incident.

"If someone harmed Freddie Gray, we will have to prosecute him," Batts said.

As they have all week, demonstrators took to Baltimore's streets Friday to protest the incident. Jon Terbush

and now for something completely different
11:09 a.m. ET
Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images

After a 40th anniversary screening of the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the five surviving members of the Monty Python comedy troupe — John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, and Terry Jones — reunited live on stage on Friday for a special Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The Q&A was moderated by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, a longtime Monty Python fan who quickly embraced the anarchic spirit of the evening. As he asked the panel about their career-long commitment to a "healthy disregard for authority," John Cleese wandered around the stage, grabbed Oliver's question sheet, and stuffed his microphone into his mouth, as the rest of the Monty Python members repeatedly switched seats in an impromptu game of musical chairs.

When the Monty Python members did settle down, they spoke engagingly (and often coarsely) on a wide variety of subjects, including the filming of Holy Grail, their 2014 series of live shows at London's 02 stadium, and the state of comedy in general. "I think we don't talk enough about this awful political correcteness," complained Cleese. "I do a lot of… I don't know if they're really racist jokes, but jokes like, 'Why do the French have so many Civil Wars? Answer: Because they like to win one now and again."

"I used to do these jokes, and then I would say, 'There were these two Mexicans,' and the room would freeze. And I would say, 'Why's everybody gone quiet? We did jokes about Swedes, and Germans, and Canadians, and the French. What's the problem about the Mexicans? Are they not big enough to look after themselves?' I find a lot of that very condescending."

The group also recalled the 1989 funeral of deceased Monty Python member Graham Chapman, during which John Cleese delivered a legendarily irreverent eulogy. "Graham's whole ceremony was like that, because we were laughing and then crying, and then laughing and crying. It was as though the emotion was sort of flowing through us, instead of getting blocked, like it usually does in England," said Cleese. "When I was writing it, I got that idea, and I thought, 'No, I can't do that.' And then I thought, 'That's exactly what Graham would like.' Because one thing Graham could not stand was what he called mindless good taste."

John Oliver brought the evening to a close by praising Monty Python one last time. "We've established there's nothing less funny than sincerity, but you're the f----ing greatest," he said, to an enthusiastic standing ovation. Scott Meslow

HAHAHAHAHAHA
10:56 a.m. ET
Twitter / @DavidAyerMovies

If you've ever wondered what the Joker would look like if he shopped at Hot Topic, now you know.

To celebrate the Joker's 75th anniversary, Suicide Squad director David Ayer on Friday shared a teaser image of Jared Leto as the film's interpretation of the iconic Batman character.

In contrast to previous takes on the villain, the film seems to be going for more of a hip, edgy Joker who could just as easily be seen burning down Gotham as he could be seen sneaking cigarettes behind the high school while cursing his parents. The content of the tattoos may scream "crazy!", but the neat artistry of the designs whispers "Crazytown." Jon Terbush

This just in
9:06 a.m. ET
Screenshot / ABC

Famed Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner on Friday came out as transgender in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, saying he is transitioning from male to female.

"For all intents and purposes, I'm a woman," Jenner said.

"Bruce lives a lie," the 65-year-old Jenner added. "She is not a lie. I can't do it anymore."

Jenner said his struggles with gender identity began as a child when he would try on his mother's clothing, and it continued in private for decades even as he became a masculine icon while winning gold in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics. In recent months, tabloid rumors abounded surrounding Jenner's then-alleged transition. Jon Terbush

This just in
8:03 a.m. ET
Zhou Shengping / Corbis

A powerful earthquake on Saturday struck Nepal near the capital Kathmandu, killing hundreds of people and leaving extensive damage across the area. Rescuers are picking through the rubble, and the death toll, which rapidly rose to around 700 in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, is expected to rise further.The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the initial quake's magnitude at 7.8, with at least 15 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or above. Jon Terbush

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