Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 16, 2017

Iraq claims it has seized parts of Kurdish-held Kirkuk, firefighters make progress against California wildfires, and more

1

Iraq claims progress in operation to take Kurdish-held Kirkuk

The Iraqi government said early Monday its forces had made progress in a "major operation" to seize Kurdish-held Kirkuk and surrounding oil fields, taking over "vast areas" of the city, including a refinery and a gas plant. The Kurdistan Regional Government denied the claim, saying everything in the region remained under Kurdish control. A KRG official told Reuters that Iraqi troops were not able to get closer to Kirkuk or take away any territory from Kurdish peshmerga fighters, and the biggest battle took place south of Kirkuk, when the peshmerga and a mostly Shi'ite Iraqi paramilitary force exchanged artillery fire. In late September, Iraqi Kurds voted in favor of independence, a referendum Baghdad has called illegal.

2

California firefighters gain upper hand on wildfires as winds weaken

California authorities said Sunday that they had "turned a corner" fighting deadly wildfires that have killed 40 people and devastated the state's wine country, as the winds that have fueled the blazes died down and firefighters gained the upper hand. "A week ago this started as a nightmare, and the day we dreamed of has arrived," Napa County Supervisor Belia Ramos said. The number of people under evacuation orders shrank from 100,000 to 75,000 as some people were allowed to return home. "Conditions have drastically changed from just 24 hours ago, and that is definitely a very good sign," said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It's probably a sign we've turned a corner on these fires."

3

Tillerson says he won't dignify 'moron,' 'castration' questions with answer

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday brushed off questions about reports of trouble in his relationship with President Trump, dismissing questions about whether he once referred to Trump as a "moron" as "petty stuff." Tillerson said he was "not dignifying the question with an answer," and "not playing" the game. When asked about comments by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) — who said Trump had "publicly castrate[d]" Tillerson by undermining his diplomatic efforts — Tillerson declined to treat the question seriously. "I checked," he said. "I'm fully intact."

4

Rare eastern Atlantic storm Ophelia weakens as it approaches Ireland

Former Hurricane Ophelia, downgraded Sunday to a post-tropical cyclone, raced toward Ireland early Monday, and was expected to make landfall later in the day. Its top sustained winds were 85 miles per hour but it was expected to continue weakening as it traveled over colder waters. Ireland's Met Eireann weather service said the country's south and west could be hit with top sustained winds of 70 mph and gusts of up to 80 mph, as well as heavy rain and storm surges. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Ophelia could cause coastal flooding and "large and destructive waves" where it hits land. The storm could be the strongest to hit Ireland in 50 years. The rare eastern Atlantic hurricane developed quickly, and reached Category 3 strength farther east than any storm in recorded history.

5

Death toll in Somalia truck bombings reaches 300

The death toll from twin truck bombings in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, rose to more than 300 as emergency workers continue to pull bodies out of destroyed cars and buildings, the director of an ambulance service said Monday. The Saturday blasts were the deadliest to hit the city since an Islamist insurgency erupted 10 years ago. More than 300 other people were wounded. The death toll was expected to rise further, said former internal security minister Abdirizak Omar Mohamed by phone from Ergodan Hospital, where many of the victims were taken. "There are other people who possibly died of their wounds at other hospitals," he said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of national mourning. "Let's unite against terror," he said.

6

Sessions sends hate-crimes expert to help prosecute murder of transgender teen

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent a federal hate crimes lawyer to help prosecute a man charged in Iowa for the murder of a transgender high school student, 16-year-old Kedarie Johnson, last year. The move suggests that Sessions, a staunch conservative, plans to aggressively fight violence against transgender people as individuals despite rolling back protections for them as a group. "This is just one example of the attorney general's commitment to enforcing the laws enacted by Congress and to protecting the civil rights of all individuals," said Devin O'Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department.

7

Austrian conservative wins as voters shift to the right

Early results from Austria's Sunday election indicate that Sebastian Kurz, a 31-year-old conservative, has been elected as the country's next chancellor. "We have been given a great responsibility by the voters today. We should be aware of that and that people are putting a lot of hope in our movement. There is a lot to do. It's about establishing a new political style in our country," said Kurz, Europe's youngest leader. Sunday's election came under close scrutiny as Europeans watched to see whether populist far-right parties would surge in Austria as they have in several other countries. Immigration dominated Austria's campaign, as it did in other countries. Kurz has taken a hard line, calling for limits on the number of refugees allowed into Europe.

8

French president moves to strip Legion of Honor award from Weinstein

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that he "started the procedures" to rescind disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein's Legion of Honor award as fallout from an avalanche of sexual assault and harassment accusations against Weinstein. A day earlier, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which holds the Oscars, expelled Weinstein. Also on Sunday, London's Metropolitan police said its officers were investigating three allegations of sexual assault in 2010, 2011, and 2015 made by the same woman. London police did not name the victim or Weinstein, but said the accusations involved the same man accused Wednesday of an alleged assault in the late 1980s, which is when British actress Lysette Anthony said she told police that Weinstein raped her.

9

Trump campaign subpoenaed in ex-Apprentice contestant's defamation suit

Former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos' lawyer has subpoenaed documents from President Trump's campaign regarding "any woman alleging that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately," BuzzFeed News reported Sunday. BuzzFeed said the subpoena was "buried" in the defamation lawsuit lawyer Gloria Allred filed against Trump on Zervos' behalf, after Trump said her claim that he kissed and grabbed her in his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007 was a lie. Trump's lawyers have responded by saying that "Ms. Allred has served a far-reaching subpoena on the Trump campaign that seeks wholly irrelevant information intended solely to harass the president."

10

Kaepernick files grievance against NFL owners

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, now a free agent with no team, has filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging that the league's owners have kept him off the field because he started the NFL protests against police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem. Attorney Mark Geragos has sent a copy of his complaint to the NFL, all 32 teams, and the NFL Players Association, saying they "have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick's leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States." Kaepernick, whose filing demands an arbitration hearing, left the San Francisco 49ers in March.

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