Fake flower delivery robber gets two years

An armed robber who posed as a flower delivery man before tying up two sisters and ransacking their home has been sentenced to at least two years in jail.

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Kyrillos Ghaly was an active member of his Coptic Christian community in Sydney and a model student when he graduated from high school in 2005.

But after relocating to Adelaide to study dentistry his life went into a downward spiral, Judge Anthony Blackmore told Sydney’s District Court on Friday.

He moved into a share house where his flatmates were taking drugs, dropped out of university and accumulated debts with loan sharks.

Then in November 2012, Ghaly armed himself with knives and broke into a home in Sylvania Waters in Sydney’s south and another in Minchinbury in the city’s west.

At Minchinbury, the court heard Ghaly posed as a ‘Roses Only’ flower delivery man, telling the two sisters that the blooms were for “finishing your HSC”.

Once inside, he tied the two girls up and stole jewellery and cash from their home, before saying “All right, it’s been fun”, as he left.

At the Sylvania robbery, the court heard Ghaly held a knife to his victim’s neck, telling him: “If you speak out of turn I will slit your throat”.

He later turned to the man and said: “I’m sorry for what I have put you through, I wish we could have met under better circumstances”.

Judge Blackmore said the robberies had clearly been terrifying for the victims and involved a degree of planning by Ghaly.

He said the 27-year-old had since undergone extensive rehabilitation, had entered an early guilty plea and was clearly contrite for what he had done.

Ghaly, who is now studying physiotherapy, previously told the court that he was on drugs at the time of the offences.

Judge Blackmore sentenced him to a maximum of four years for two counts of armed robbery and one count of break and enter.

Taking into consideration time served, he is eligible for parole in July 2015.

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Royal Portrush to host British Open

For only the second time, golf’s oldest major championship will be played in Northern Ireland when the British Open returns to Royal Portrush Golf Club in 2019.

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Media reports from Ireland and the United Kingdom said the Royal & Ancient, golf’s governing body outside the United States and Mexico, will make the formal announcement Monday. The R&A denied reports about a return to Portrush last summer, saying the course was championship-calibre but questioning whether the infrastructure could accommodate the event’s big galleries.

There was speculation that R&A officials may have changed their minds after Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, said last November that his group was interested in Portrush as a venue for the PGA Championship if the event was to be held outside the United States. The earliest date that might happen would be 2020.

Major champions and Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell had been lobbying on Portrush’s behalf.

“I’ve been kind of hesitant to comment because I really didn’t want to take anything away from the official announcement,” said McDowell, who was three shots off the lead Thursday after the opening round of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

“So I’m very proud of where I grew up. I’m very proud of the tradition and history there, and to bring an Open Championship back to Northern Ireland is very special. It speaks volumes about how far the country has come.”

The only time the Open was only played outside England and Scotland was 1951, when Max Faulkner won at Portrush.

The 2012 Irish Open was played at Portrush, with more than 100,000 fans attending the event.

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Where did Friday the 13th come from? (And where is it going?)

Friggatriskaidekaphobia is the fear of Friday the 13th, and combined with the full moon tonight anyone suffering this niche phobia will likely face compounded trauma.

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Fortunately, the internet is here to help. No matter how obscure an interest, belief or phobia, the digital recesses of the web are likely to provide solace, and the The Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Centre is drolly demonstrative of this phenomenon.

Friday the 13th is widely considered an unlucky day in Western folklore. The idea of such superstition seems like a relic from ancient mythology; an irrational belief borne of ignorance in a time when gods were trusted to provide answers to the universe. Despite years of scientific and technological advancement and the evolution of human culture, superstition lives on in the digital age – it may even be resurgent, thanks to the internet.

With increased connectivity and digital communication allowing faster and ever more transactions – both economic and interpersonal – superstitions have the potential to accelerate and influence ever larger swathes of the population.

An early example of thirteen signalling bad luck is found in Norse legend, when mischievous Loki arrives as the thirteenth dinner guest at Valhalla, and ultimately causes the death of the god Baldur. This event is echoed in Christianity’s Last Supper, with Jesus and his twelve apostles making up the unlucky thirteen.

Yet widespread superstition around Friday the 13th being unlucky has only been commonplace since the early twentieth century. The 1907 publication of Thomas W Lawson’s novel Friday the Thirteenth has been isolated as a catalyst that combined the portentous nature of thirteen with the historically unlucky day of the week Friday in the popular imagination.

The novel tells the story of an unscrupulous stockbroker using superstition to cause panic on Wall Street on the inauspicious date. A fitting start to the Friday the 13th myth, considering that the condition of financial markets depend in large part on superstition and emotion, or as economist John Maynard Keynes called it, ‘animal spirits’.

Keynes coined ‘animal spirits’ to describe the instincts, appetites and feelings that guide human behaviour around economic transactions, with superstition playing a substantial role. Superstitions often arise due to a lack of control, and money markets are a good example despite economics being regarded as one of the more rational disciplines.

With increased connectivity and digital communication allowing faster and ever more transactions – both economic and interpersonal – superstitions have the potential to accelerate and influence ever larger swathes of the population.

Digital communication has caused superstition to grow rather than retreat in our scientific, technological age. The intangible nature of the web means that our everyday communications now exist in a space between the physical and the ethereal. This space is allowing more room for both fantasy and delusion.

But is the growing feeling of lack of control – of ceding power to technology – making us more paranoid with good reason? We used to scoff at conspiracy theorists who claimed that the government is watching everything we do, but the Snowden revelations proved them right.

Widespread surveillance might be the fantasy proved very real, but there is inherent danger in indulging all manner of paranoia. Sociologist Gerald Bronner warns that the internet is an “incubator of contemporary mythologies”, saying that ease of access allows people with fringe beliefs to congregate and disseminate misinformation at an accelerated rate.

This phenomenon is giving rise to a trend of asserting belief in facts rather than merely accepting them as read. “I believe in global warming” or “I believe in immunisation” are common utterances, as if the actuality of the earth heating up or modern medicine preventing the spread of disease were fabulous stories that one can choose to believe. This proves problematic when the flipside is considered – that one can also choose not to.

Modern mythmaking is on the ascent. Instability and lack of control has always driven superstition – ~feelings~ as it would be termed on social media – and the continuing anxiety around Friday the 13th is merely one example. As anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss observed, superstition has been so prevalent throughout disparate human cultures that “we should ask ourselves if we are not confronted with a permanent and universal form of thought”.

How else to explain ever-emerging mythology like The Slender Man or Smile Dog, which incorporate tech elements combined with superstitious beliefs and horrors. Facilitated by digital subcultures congregating on forums like 4chan, Reddit and Creepypasta, the internet is our new collective nightmare.

Yet the internet has the power to dispel superstitions as well as encourage them. Black cats were once regarded as unlucky, particularly if one happened to cross your path. Yet with the advent of the internet of cute animal photos, black cats cross our digital paths every day with not a hint of superstitious distress. Friggatriskaidekaphobia sufferers too now have hope that their superstitious anxiety can be cured with the help of the internet, freeing them to focus on more logical paranoia, like scopophobia – the fear of surveillance.

Anne Treasure works in communications, is a recent survivor of the book industry, and exists mainly on the internet.

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Overloaded child abuse royal commission wants extra time

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

The Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse will ask the federal government for more time to investigate mounting evidence from across the country.

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Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan says the request will be contained in its interim report due to be handed to the government by the end of this month.

Speaking in Brisbane, Justice McClellan also says he has asked the Vatican for all its documents relating to abuse in Australia.

Stefan Armbruster reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Set up in November 2012, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was always going to have a big job ahead of it.

Just how big is now becoming apparent, as Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan told a Griffith University symposium in Brisbane into Responses to Men Sexually Abused in Childhood.

“I have spoken previously about the resources we needed before we could accept people stories, a priority has been the we being of survivors, who accept the trauma involved in recounting, possible for the first time, the awful experience which scarred them as a child and which may have left them with life long psychological disabilities and other continuing problems.”

The interim report is due to be handed to the government by June 30.

Justice McClellan says the date set for his final report was unrealistic.

“Although the terms of reference actually contemplated that the final report should not be delivered later that 31 December 2015, this was always recognised to be unlikely to be achieved.”

Attorney General George Brandis has said any request for an extension will be fully and properly considered and last month Prime Minister Tony Abbott told federal parliament $377 million had been allocated for the commission to run to mid 2016.

The call for an extension was praised by the Griffith University symposium organiser Professor Patrick O’Leary, who has acted as consultant for the royal commission.

“I think as the royal commission has continued we’ve really been shocked by the extent of the abuse and the numbers that have been affected. I think there’s been some underestimation of the harrowing stories and the size of the problem.”

The commission has heard private evidence from 1,700 people, with another 1,000 waiting and the case load growing by 40 a week.

It’s still examining 400,000 documents, has taken more than 13,000 phone calls, received 5,000 letters and referred 160 cases to police for investigation.

Now, Justice McClellan has written to the Vatican to ask for copies of all documents held in Rome relating to sexual abuse by priests and workers.

“We have asked for documents that reveal the nature and extent of communications between Catholic congregations in Australia and the Holy See. I’m awaiting a reply to my general request. From these documents we should be able to determine how church authorities in Australia, under the guidance of the Vatican, have responded to the individual allegations of abuse.”

Professor Patrick O’Leary says the response of institutions requests for documents has not been good.

“I think there has been some slow progress in the past and particularly in the Vatican identifying how it has failed and that has been one of the frustrating aspects of working in this area and I think it extends beyond the Catholic church to a global issue.”

The royal commission is currently holding public hearings in Canberra up to June 20.

 

 

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NSW budget a big test for Baird govt

Just two months ago, Premier Mike Baird thought it would be too hard for a new treasurer to be parachuted into the job to deliver the NSW budget.

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“That would be … a classical hospital pass,” Mr Baird told reporters hours after replacing Barry O’Farrell as premier in April.

But Mr Baird eventually overcame his reluctance to let go of the treasury portfolio, deciding to hand the job to the young and relatively untested Andrew Constance.

Mr Constance is now days away from delivering his first budget.

Next Tuesday’s budget isn’t expected to include big-ticket spending announcements, given the tight fiscal environment and the recent federal funding cuts.

But with the election only ten months away, the budget will mark the start of the government’s pitch to voters for another term.

Mr Constance will likely use his budget speech to highlight how the state’s economy has improved since the coalition won office in 2011.

He’ll likely point to NSW’s improving housing market and strengthening jobs figures to show that the state’s finances are in good hands.

The treasurer will also likely spruik the government’s plan to partially sell off the state’s electricity assets.

While there aren’t expected to be any more details on the asset sale, Mr Constance will use his speech to repeat Mr Baird’s claim that the $20 billion expected to be raised by the sale will help “transform” NSW by funding road and rail projects.

Opposition Leader John Robertson says the government will use the budget to position itself for next year’s election.

“What we’ve seen in the last week is a premier whose only focus is on the election in March 2015,” he told AAP.

He urged voters to look at the fine details on any new infrastructure announcements, saying none of it would be “real work or substantial announcements”.

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Should Parliament have the right to say whether Australia goes to war?

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

On his American trip Tony Abbott has met with Jeb Bush, son of one president, younger brother of another and himself an aspirant to be Republican candidate for the White House.

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The encounter brought back memories of how John Howard, visiting the United States during the Clinton presidency, had his initial contact (in a phone call) with George W Bush, then running for office.

It was later, as a consequence of Howard happening to be in Washington on September 11 2001, that the very personal and deep bond between the two was forged. Still, that first talk started what was to be a crucial pairing.

Howard’s closeness to Bush was one reason why the then prime minister was such an enthusiastic supporter of Bush’s Iraq war. Given the Australian-American relationship, we were always going to be there for the US. But in retrospect, the Australian government’s lack of critical analysis and absence of scepticism is an indictment of its leadership.

With Iraq now in crisis as insurgents attack and the country descends into civil conflict, its government appealing to the US for help, we look back on a war that was started on false information, ended with little achieved, and has been followed by worsening instability and violence. Countless civilians and many troops were sacrificed. (Unlike in Afghanistan, Australia lost no soldiers in combat in Iraq – there were two deaths from accidents.)

In a retrospective lecture to the Lowy Institute last year, marking the war’s 10th anniversary, Howard was somewhat defensive but unrepentant.

It remained his conviction, he said, that his government’s decision to join the war “was right because it was in Australia’s national interests, and the removal of Saddam’s regime provided the Iraqi people with opportunities for freedom not otherwise in prospect”, an assessment that doesn’t sound too convincing now.

He acknowledged that “a powerful element in our decision to join the Americans was, of course, the depth and character of our relationship with the US. Australia had invoked ANZUS in the days following 9/11. We had readily joined the Coalition in Afghanistan; Australia had suffered the brutality of Islamic terrorism in Bali. There was a sense then that a common way of life was under threat”.

In America, many politicians who supported the war at the time have come to rethink. Hillary Clinton, who may face off in a Clinton-Bush presidential race, writes in her just-released Hard Choices that she deeply regretted her vote, as a senator, to authorise George W Bush to launch military action if diplomacy failed.

“Over the years that followed, many senators came to wish they had voted against the resolution. I was one of them.” Her mistake became more painful, she writes, “as the war dragged on, with every letter I sent to a family in New York who had lost a son or a daughter, a father or mother”.

The modest commitment and absence of combat casualties lessened the impact of Iraq for Australians, especially compared with Vietnam, that other war that proved misguided. Vietnam’s impact was heightened by conscription and many deaths.

For most Australians, Iraq is one of those conflicts relatively easy to put out of mind, and conscience.

But a group of Australians under the name of The Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry, whose president is a former secretary of the Defence Department, Paul Barratt, has been agitating for nearly two years for an investigation into how Australia decided to join the invasion. This push has been predictably dismissed (most recently Defence Minister David Johnston, who responded that there had been several inquiries).

The group has also pressed for reform of the “war power”, which it argues should be in the hands of Parliament. Barratt said in a letter to Johnston last month: “The current process produced very flawed decisions in relation to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and is clearly overdue for careful reconsideration.”

The Howard government reported to parliament on Iraq and there was debate and a motion of endorsement in the House of Representatives, but the Parliament had no role in the decision-making.

In contrast, in the US (where the governmental structure is different) the war power is in practical terms divided between the president and the Congress (though presidents have found ways around Congress).

Critics of the proposal see it as alien to our system of government. They also point out that we don’t “declare war” these days, so the decision would be about approval for the dispatch of a force, which would raise the question of whether further parliamentary approval would be required for that force to be increased.

Working out a precise model for the Australian parliament to have a formal share in the war power would be a challenge in itself. Given that crossbenchers usually control the Senate, it wouldn’t be practical or desirable to require approval by each house. If the government and opposition of the day disagreed on whether Australia should enter a conflict – as they did on Iraq – to have the likes of the Palmer United Party calling the shots (as it were) would be a frightening thought.

Agreement by the House of Representatives would seem the most sensible arrangement (another option would be consent by a majority of the total parliament). This, however, would be open to the criticism that the result would be automatic acceptance of the government’s decision.

While that might be true, the fact that the parliament had some formal responsibility would give greater weight to debate on the matter.

Empowering parliament would not guarantee the “right” decision was made – and with some conflicts what that is may only be clear in hindsight – but it might prompt more voices of caution. Even if reluctant to speak out in the chamber, being involved in the process could encourage MPs to examine the issues more actively and raise their voices in the privacy of their party. (In fact we saw a taste of this in the Gulf War when Bob Hawke had to work hard with his backbench to get backing for the Australian commitment.)

All those voting for involvement would publicly have to carry some individual ownership of the decision, as they defended it in their electorates.

While the debate about the war power has been driven by the historical context Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, points to its contemporary relevance.

“There is a significant risk that China and Japan could clash militarily over the Senkaku/Diaoya Islands,” White says. “If they do, there is a high likelihood that America would be drawn in and would expect Australia to support them. This would pose to Australia a choice about war and peace far more consequential than the choice we faced over Iraq.”

Listen to the new Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, with guest Sarah Hanson-Young here.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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US companies evacuate Iraqi air base

US companies are evacuating hundreds of Americans working with the Iraqi government from a major air base, as Islamic militants swept towards Baghdad.

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A US defence official confirmed that “a few hundred” American contractors from Balad air base, 80 kilometres north of the capital, were being moved to Baghdad for security reasons.

“We can confirm that US citizens under contract to the government of Iraq in support of the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program in Iraq are being temporarily relocated by their companies due to security concerns in the area,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday.

Militants are closing fast on the capital Baghdad after sweeping up a huge swathe of predominantly Sunni Arab territory in northern and north-central Iraq since launching their offensive in the second city of Mosul late on Monday.

Psaki stressed, however, that the US embassy in Baghdad was still operating, saying “the status of the staffing at the US embassy and consulates has not changed”.

The evacuation of Balad was being handled by the companies and did not involve the US government, the defence official said.

“It’s their people. It’s their planes,” the official said, asking to remain anonymous.

The contractors are hired out by the Iraqi government and working on programs related to F-16 fighter jets. They are not on the US government’s payroll.

Balad air base was once one of the world’s busiest airports and housed about 36,000 American personnel before it was handed over to Iraqi control in November 2011.

The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing was the last unit to leave JBB, which occupied 25 square kilometres and had a 20-kilometre security perimeter.

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Postecoglou not weighing in on ref drama

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou refused to weigh in on the refereeing drama of the World Cup’s opening game, despite it possibly becoming a big factor in Australia’s clash with Chile on Friday.

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The showpiece kicked-off in controversy on Thursday after Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura awarded a penalty that helped hosts Brazil start their campaign with a 3-1 win over Croatia in Sao Paulo.

Nishimura ruled Fred had been brought down in the box however, replays showed there had been minimal contact.

In the wake of the controversy there are suggestions referees may be gun shy when it comes to making similar decisions during the rest of the tournament.

Socceroos striker Tim Cahill said on Wednesday he was expecting there to be shirt-pulling and nudging by the Chileans in the box during their crucial first clash in Cuiaba on Friday (Saturday AEST).

But Postecoglou wouldn’t get drawn into the matter.

“All the teams have had a visit from the officials and they’ve told every country what they’re looking for, so we’re aware of what they’re looking at,” Postecoglou said.

“The referees have got their job, we’ve got ours so we won’t sit there and try and preempt what may or may not happen.

“We’ve been told the things that are going to be highlighted at this World Cup and we’ll deal with it accordingly.”

While the Chileans may look to nullify Cahill’s aerial advantage Postecoglou said he wasn’t Australia’s only threat.

“We’ve got somebody there who’s very threatening and Timmy’s looked very sharp. But I don’t think that’s our only avenue for goal,” Postecoglou said.

“We’re working on a few things and we certainly believe we can be a threat in other areas.

“But there’s no doubt they’re going to have to pay attention to Timmy because if he does get half a chance in the box, particularly in the air, he can head it in from any position. So we’ll use that.”

Postecoglou emphasised there were no concerns over Mark Bresciano’s fitness and indicated the veteran midfielder would start.

The 34-year-old has been battling a back complaint in the lead up to the Socceroos’ campaign opener.

“Absolutely (he’s right to start),” Postecoglou said.

“He’s trained really well and more important he’s recovered from training really well. So he’s ready to go.

“I think he’s really looking forward to it, he’s got that steely look in his eye and he’s ready to play.

“There’s no doubt in my mind physically now he’s right to go.”

Meanwhile, FIFA has ordered the Socceroos to change their strip for their opening match.

They were due to wear the traditional gold shirt and green shorts. But they will now play in gold shorts, with the governing body ruling the green would have clashed with Chile’s blue shorts.

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Priest killed, another wounded in US

A critically wounded Catholic priest administered the last rites to his dying colleague after they were shot in their church in Arizona.

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An intruder or intruders broke into the Mother of Mercy church around 9.30pm on Wednesday. A 911 emergency call for burglary was made by Father Joseph Terra, as he comforted his dying fellow clergyman, Father Kenneth Walker.

“How can a person break into a church? How can a person assault a man of the cloth? How can a person take a person’s life, especially a priest? It’s sad,” said local councillor Mike Nowakowski.

Phoenix police chief Daniel Garcia called the attack a “tragic and appalling criminal violation”. He said investigators had some “strong physical evidence”, but no eyewitness accounts and no knowledge of how many intruders were involved.

“At this point, we have no information as to whether it’s a suspect or suspects,” he told reporters, adding: “It was called in as a burglary, but I want to be cautious to label anything.”

The two clerics had lived at the church for four years, and Walker was “a pretty strong man”, said Father Fred Adamson of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, who confirmed that Terra had given the last rights to his colleague.

“Father Terra was able to absolve him and to offer the last rites, obviously a great deal of comfort and consolation to us as Catholics. He was able to extend that in his own suffering,” he said.

Terra, 56, was hospitalised in critical condition with unspecified injuries.

Authorities had no suspects or solid leads as of Thursday afternoon. They searched the neighbourhood, interviewed the injured priest and examined physical evidence from the scene.

A 2003 Mazda belonging to Walker was found abandoned a few blocks from the church. Police were investigating whether the suspect or suspects took the vehicle and left it behind after the crime.

As police investigated the crime scene at the church, about a dozen parishioners gathered across the street, kneeling on the footpath and reciting the rosary. A bouquet of flowers and a photograph of Walker, 28, lay on the footpath.

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US pulled back into fires of Iraq War

The US is reluctantly being dragged back into the smouldering ashes of the Iraq War amid accusations its failure to intervene in Syria aided the rise of jihadists now closing in on Baghdad.

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More than a decade after the invasion and almost three years since the last US troops pulled out, Washington has been relegated to the sidelines as it watched Iraqi forces collapse in face of this week’s surprise onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS.

The US has poured more than $US25 billion ($A27 billion) into training and equipping the Iraqi army since 2003, and even State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki admitted there had been “a clear structural breakdown” among the security forces.

With Baghdad now in ISIL’s sights as it seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate stretching from Lebanon to Iran’s Zagros Mountains, Washington is vowing to ramp up military aid.

The Obama administration is even mulling an Iraqi request for drone strikes – something it has consistently refused.

A demand for an additional $US1 billion of US military aid to Iraq, including aircraft and about 200 Humvees, is already before US lawmakers.

It is out of the question, however, that President Barack Obama, who won his first term in 2008 on a platform of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will send forces back to the battlefields where about 4500 Americans were killed.

“ISIL can certainly keep their expansion going. The question is when will they hit a brick wall,” said Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.

Both the US intelligence services and the Iraqi authorities were caught “flat-footed”, Rubin told AFP, adding that “no one saw this insurgency coming with the speed that it did”.

As the White House huddles in crisis talks, the easiest option facing Obama is to send in military advisers “to help the Iraqi army to do better with what they have. That’s the least problematic,” said retired major general Paul Eaton from the National Security Network think tank.

“The next (option) would be some kind of air-delivered capability, either drones or aircraft. But there are some political downsides to that … just the image of America bombing Arabs is not a great image.”

Neither of those two moves, however, would help restore the credibility of the Iraqi army.

“What Western armies do best is to teach people how to fight,” Eaton said, calling for more and better training, even though US forces have been working with Iraqi soldiers in Jordan since earlier this year.

Aside from the inherent weaknesses of the Iraqi security forces, analysts point to the enormous strain the country is suffering from the war in neighbouring Syria.

One of the causes behind the turmoil in Iraq “is an exogenous shock, which is clearly the Arab Spring”, RAND Corporation senior political scientist Christopher Chivvis said, saying the events had coincided with the withdrawal of US forces.

“Without the Arab Spring, it’s much less likely that you would see this deterioration in Iraqi security that we have today.”

Psaki agreed, telling reporters “this a situation where the impact of the ongoing crisis in Syria, the overflow of that into Iraq, has clearly been a major factor”.

Many of the ISIL fighters, who split from al-Qaeda in 2013, have been trained in arms and warfare in Syria, and US lawmakers on Thursday put the blame squarely on the administration’s lack of a regional strategy.

Hawkish Republican Senator John McCain called for “drastic measures” to reverse the sweep by the Sunni militants.

“Get a new national security team in place. You have been ill-served,” he stormed.

But since 2011, the Obama administration has sought to portray the situation in Iraq as a problem for the Baghdad government, repeatedly urging Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to work harder to foster unity and reconciliation.

“US officials are right to place part of the blame for this on Nouri al-Maliki,” argued Faysal Itani, a fellow with the Atlantic Council.

He called for serious pressure on Maliki “to reconcile with more mainstream aggrieved Sunni militants and tribes co-operating with ISIL, without whom ISIL would not have been able to make such swift, massive territorial gains”.

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