POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Will Baghdad Fall Too?

12/06/2014 08:25 BST | Updated 12/06/2014 08:59 BST
STR via Getty Images
A picture taken with a mobile phone shows an armoured vehicle belonging to Iraqi security forces in flames on June 10, 2014, after hundreds of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched a major assault on the security forces in Mosul, some 370 kms north from the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Some 500,000 Iraqis have fled their homes in Iraq's second city Mosul after Jihadist militants took control, fearing increased violence, the International Organization for Migration said. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Here are the five things you need to know on Thursday 12 June 2014 (apart from the fact that it's the start of the World Cup in Brazil!)...

1) WILL BAGHDAD FALL TOO?

Eleven years on from the invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein, violent Islamist extremists have captured the country's second-biggest city, Mosul, and is now heading for Baghdad. It's an astonishing and shocking development.

From the Telegraph front page:

"Iraq is facing a return to its darkest days of civil war after.. militants seized a vast swathe of the country’s northern region in a lightning advance which took them to within striking distance of Baghdad. A day after snatching control of the northern city of Mosul, fighters were on Wednesday night within 60 miles of the Iraqi capital, encountering little resistance from government troops. En route they seized major towns, oil refineries and military bases and embarked on an orgy of kidnappings and executions, forcing an exodus of more than half a million people across the north."

The group doing the seizing, kidnapping and executing is the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Syria), which is known as ISIS, and which is so violent and fanatical that Al Qaeda has disowned its behaviour and distanced itself from the group. Could it be the world's most successful terrorist group, having captured large swathes of actual territory and defeated a standing army (the Iraqi army) on the battlefield?

The Independent splashes on "Iraq: The End of the American Dream?"

Some in the west might argue that the big mistake was US and UK troops withdrawing from Iraq when, in fact, the big mistake (crime?) was the decision to invade Iraq in the first place and turn it into the near-failed state it is today.

2) FORGET SCOTLAND, WE WANT THE WORLD CUP

As the World Cup kicks off in Brazil today, the HuffPost UK has an exclusive poll on whether the English would prefer winning the World Cup or keeping Scotland in the UK:

"Half of the people in England would rather the English football team won the World Cup than Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom, according to an exclusive Huffington Post UK poll published on Thursday. The Survation survey, conducted for HuffPost UK to mark the start of the tournament in Brazil today, revealed the English are evenly split, 50-50, when forced to choose between the two agonising options... The survey also appeared to confirm gender stereotypes about football fans. A majority of English men, by a clear margin of 53.6% to 46.4%, would rather see Steven Gerrard lift the Fifa World Cup Trophy in Rio de Janeiro on July 13 than see Scotland remain part of the UK."

3) THERESA'S IN TROUBLE

Uh oh! More passport trouble for the home secretary Theresa May - the Guardian has this exclusive story as its splash:

"Ministers were forced to intervene in the working of the chaotic Passport Office after the Guardian revealed that managers had ordered staff to relax security checks on applicants for British passports from abroad in an effort to reduce a backlog of at least 30,000 applications. A briefing note sent to staff on Monday told Passport Office workers to drop checks on countersignatories, as well as requirements for evidence of addresses and letters of confirmation from employers and accountants. An hour after the leaked document was published on the Guardian's website on Wednesday night, the Home Office issued a terse statement saying that ministers had no knowledge of the instructions and had ordered managers at the Passport Office to withdraw it immediately."

The Mail splashes on the PM's seeming indifference and complacency at PMQs yesterday: "Cameron: What Passport Crisis?"

Ouch.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of what happens when you put a cute puppy in front of... a leaf blower!

4) GEORGE CRACKS DOWN

From the FT:

"George Osborne plans to make manipulation of foreign exchange, fixed income and commodities benchmarks a criminal offence in order to shore up London’s status as an international banking and markets hub.

The chancellor will announce the intention to extend the legislation regulating Libor to cover other benchmarks in his Mansion House speech on Thursday... Mr Osborne is anxious to address negative headlines about financial scandals given the City’s place in the $5.3tn international foreign exchange market."

5) HARRY POTTER PLUMPS FOR THE UNION

Fromm the Guardian:

"JK Rowling, the multimillionaire author of the Harry Potter novels, has donated £1m to the campaign against Scottish independence after warning that it could be a 'historically bad mistake' to leave the UK. Rowling said she believes Scotland is an "exceptional" country but is convinced that independence would carry serious economic risks, damaging funding for the world-class medical research she has supported with multimillion-pound donations after her mother's death from multiple sclerosis. Her £1m donation was the biggest donation yet made to the pro-UK Better Together campaign, run by her friend and former neighbour, Alistair Darling... Rowling, who moved to Edinburgh in 1993, added that she was bracing herself for abusive attacks from hardline nationalists who questioned her English roots. 'By residence, marriage, and out of gratitude for what this country has given me, my allegiance is wholly to Scotland and it is in that spirit that I have been listening to the months of arguments and counterarguments,' she said."

According to the Telegraph, she is already facing online abuse from the notorious 'cyber-nats'...

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 36

Conservatives 34

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 6

That would give Labour a majority of 18.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "Michael Gove's toxic assault on schools is based on naked discrimination."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Let’s copy America and kick out rotten MPs."

George Eaton, writing in the New Statesman, says: "The smaller coalition party nearly always gets smashed – but all is not lost for the Lib Dems."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol