Al-Qaida Captures Fallujah: Washinton Post: "A rejuvenated al-Qaeda force asserted control over the western Iraqi town of Fallujah on Friday, raising its flag over government buildings and declaring an Islamic state in one of the most crucial areas that U.S. troops fought to pacify before withdrawing from Iraq two years ago. The capture of Fallujah came amid an explosion of violence across the western desert province of Anbar in which local tribes, the Iraqi security forces and al-Qaeda militants have been fighting one another for days in a confusingly chaotic three-way war. ... [I]n Fallujah, where Marines fought the bloodiest battle of the Iraq war in 2004, the militants appeared to have the upper hand, underscoring the extent to which the Iraqi security forces have struggled to sustain the gains made by U.S. troops before they withdrew in December 2011. The upheaval also affirmed the soaring capabilities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the rebranded version of the al-Qaeda in Iraq organization that formed a decade ago to confront U.S. troops and expanded into Syria last year while also escalating its activities in Iraq."
Merging Battlefields: New York Times: "The fight has become a severe test of Prime Minister Maliki’s ability to keep the country together and prevent a full-scale eruption of civil war. The combat scenes that have played out in Anbar, which had been the heart of the Sunni insurgency during the American occupation and where more than 1,300 American soldiers were killed, have provided the sharpest evidence yet of a country descending into a maelstrom of violence.... For the Qaeda militants in Iraq, who are fighting under the same name as the most extremist Sunni rebels in neighboring Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the gains they have made in Anbar represent a significant step toward realizing the long-held goal of transforming Iraq and Syria into one battlefield for the same cause: establishing a Sunni Islamist state."
It's Friday, January 3rd, welcome to the Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees, and the whole team at @Slatest. Programming note: I'm back on vacation next week. A host of other Slate writers will keep the Slatest up and running, but the email newsletter and the PM post in specific may be MIA more often than not next week.
War Stories: Why Snowden Won’t (and Shouldn’t) Get Clemency
It's Cold Out There: USA Today: "The bitter cold that gripped the snow-covered northern tier from Cleveland to Boston on Friday shows no sign of easing, as another arctic blast roaring out of Canada threatens to drive weekend temperatures to all-time record lows. The National Weather Service said 'dangerously cold temperatures' will slam the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest through the weekend, driving wind chill temperatures in some areas to below -60 degrees F. The weather service warned that 'wind chills colder than 50 below can cause exposed flesh to freeze in only 5 to 10 minutes.' ... Before the full force of the Arctic blast roars in, another winter storm will spread snow and ice from the central Plains to the Great Lakes states this weekend. ... Much of the eastern half of the country is already reeling from Thursday's killer storm that has shut down airports and major roads and forced school closings in much of the Northeast. At least 13 people died in the storm: Slick roads were blamed for traffic deaths in Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Authorities said a 71-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease froze to death after she wandered away from her rural western New York home."
The Little Sisters and SCOTUS: New York Times: "The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court on Friday to reject a lawsuit filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns challenging requirements for many employers to provide health insurance coverage of birth control or face penalties under the new health care law. The Justice Department said the requirements did not impose a 'substantial burden' on the nuns’ right to practice their religion, because they could 'opt out' of the obligation by certifying that they had religious objections to such coverage. ... On Tuesday night, just hours before the contraceptive coverage requirements were to take effect, Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Obama administration from enforcing them with respect to the nuns and certain other religious groups. The Little Sisters of the Poor operate nursing homes for poor people in the United States and around the world."
Utah's Gay Marriage Fight: Associated Press: "Legal arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court about Utah's overturned same-sex marriage ban have focused heavily on whether gay and lesbians can be suitable parents, provoking a debate on family values in the Mormon state. Lawyers for the state set the tone for the debate in a 100-page filing with the high court this week that made several references to their belief that children should be raised by straight couples. An attorney for same-sex couples says the state's argument has no scientific backing and that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry actually causes severe harm to their children. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is considering Utah's request to put an immediate halt on gay marriages in Utah. ... More than 900 gay and lesbian couples have married since U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled on Dec. 20 that the state's ban violates gay and lesbian couples' constitutional rights."
The Paul Walker Coroner's Report: Los Angeles Times: "Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker and his friend were traveling at more than 100 mph when the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT in which they were riding crashed, killing them both, according to a Los Angeles County coroner’s report released Friday. The limited-production sports car was in the No. 1 lane on Hercules Street in Santa Clarita on Nov. 30 when Walker’s friend, Roger Rodas, lost control of the vehicle, officials said. The autopsy report is the first time authorities have estimated speeds for the Porsche or detailed any of vehicle's movements. ... Rodas and Walker both quickly succumbed to multiple traumatic injuries and flames, the report said. Walker suffered multiple fractures to his arms, face and ribs and was unrecognizable because of the fire, it said. Rodas suffered similar injuries and fractured his skull. The force of the crash was so severe it almost split the vehicle in half, according to the report."
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