Obama's Iraq timescale, exam concerns and baking triumph

  • 10 August 2014

The crisis in Iraq continues to dominate the papers, with attention turning to Barack Obama's assertion that tackling Islamist militants will be a long-term project and to the developing humanitarian situation.

The Sunday Times says Mr Obama said he was prepared to launch air strikes on the militants for months to come in what it calls a dramatic escalation of the conflict in Iraq.

The paper says the rapidly unfolding humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq has presented him with what may prove to be the most testing dilemma of his presidency.

It also describes the plight of some of Iraq's displaced people: "Driven from their homes... afraid to return for fear of execution, the refugees from Iraq's latest outbreak of sectarian mayhem were forced to leave their dead unburied as they limped across the desert into Syria in search of relief."

Middle East specialist Diana Darke writes in the Sunday Times that the epic, near Biblical, scenes of the Yazidi people fleeing up a bare mountain have caught the public imagination.

The Sunday Telegraph says there were reports that thousands of Yazidi Kurds, including children, may already have lost their lives after being trapped without food and water for days.

The Observer believes Mr Obama has conceded that the advance of Islamic State forces had been swifter than anticipated.

The Independent on Sunday says it was an acknowledgement that neither Baghdad nor Kurdish forces in the north can resist the military advance of the Islamic State.

The paper's Patrick Cockburn says US air strikes are boosting Kurdish morale and Kurdish forces say they have opened a road for thousands of Yazidis cut off in the mountains.

"Descent into apocalypse" is the headline above a despatch from the Mail on Sunday's Ian Birrell.

Genocide fear

In its leader, the Sunday Times says President Obama was right to order air strikes against the "barbaric extremists who have invaded northern Iraq".

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, former Chief of the General Staff, Lord Dannatt, says Iraq stands on the brink of genocide and disintegration.

"The lesson of the Rwandan genocide or the Srebrenica massacre, when we said 'never again', is that a genocide can happen in moments," he says.

The Telegraph says the Islamic State is a military threat and one which must be confronted - its advance has driven thousands of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities from their homes under the threat of "convert or die".

Former foreign secretary David Miliband acknowledges in the Observer that the 2003 invasion of Iraq had contributed to the country's current disintegration and mounting crisis.

In a leading article, the Independent on Sunday states that preventing genocide is "just".

"We should not repeat the mistakes of the past. Any regime we help to install, or restore, must be inclusive and respectful of minorities," it says.

"But the immediate danger is from the jihadists of the Islamic State. They must be stopped. The argument is not whether to do so but when and how."

The Mail on Sunday comments that responsibility for "this catastrophe" lies heavily upon the West.

"We rightly feel a strong duty to intervene, and so we must," it says.

"But this time we should recognise that we cannot rebuild the Arab world with bombs and bullets and that our aim in this operation must be to save the innocent from the terrible fate we have helped so much to visit on them."

Military analyst Charles Heyman writes in the Sunday Express that the West cannot sit by and do nothing.

"We are talking about large numbers of innocent people waiting on a hillside to be murdered," he says.

'Frankly bizarre'

Pupils are bracing themselves for a tough time when A-level results are released this week, reports the Sunday Express.

It says stricter standards imposed by former Education Secretary Michael Gove are expected to be reflected by a dip in grades.

"It could see thousands of teenagers having to frantically search for alternative courses if they fail to get high enough scores for their first-choice university," says the paper.

The Independent on Sunday finds that government changes to GCSEs to make them harder will result in students taking them over three years instead of the current two.

It says many schools are expected to begin GCSE studies in crucial subjects such as maths and English at 13 years old in response to the reforms.

Meanwhile, the head of the universities admissions service, Mary Curnock Cook, tells the Sunday Times that pushy middle-class parents should not risk their children's job prospects or happiness by insisting they take traditional degrees and enter professional careers.

"I sometimes hear of children who want to do art or fashion but whose parents want them to do accountancy which seems, frankly, a bit bizarre," she says.

And in another education story, the Sunday Telegraph reports on research that suggests bright students are being discouraged from applying to Oxford and Cambridge by state school teachers who believe they are full of "toffs".

The survey by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust also found that many teachers "dramatically" underestimated children's chances of being admitted from the state system.

Sweet success

The popularity of The Great British Bake Off - the new series having switched from BBC Two to BBC One - has not escaped the attention of the papers.

The Independent on Sunday says the show has become the modern equivalent of the Roman arena: "Contestants armed with rolling pins and cookie cutters doing battle as the mob cheers their heroes and trolls the ones it hates on social media."

However, it notes that research suggests people are actually doing less baking in their homes despite the success of the programme.

The Sunday Telegraph says the very British attitude of "don't set your sights too high, and you won't be disappointed" was the Bake Off's founding principle.

The success of the show labelled "the most unlikely phenomenon on television" has surprised even those who originally commissioned it, the Telegraph continues.

Profiling co-judge Mary Berry, the Sunday Times describes her as "Victoria sponge in human form - elegant, classic and never too sweet".

Sunday Mirror TV critic Kevin O'Sullivan is a fan of the format, too.

"Huge sighs of relief as the the Bake Off switched to a brave new populist world and the producers barely changed it at all," he writes. "It wasn't broke so they didn't fix it."

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