Iraqi forces launch large-scale push to retake western Mosul from ISIS

FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2016 file photo, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq.

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a large-scale military operation on Sunday to retake the western half of Mosul and dislodge Islamic State militants. It is the latest phase in a 4-month-old offensive to retake Iraq’s second largest city.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation on state TV, saying government forces were moving to “liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression and terrorism forever,” using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. He called on security forces to deal with civilians properly and to respect human rights.

Iraqi forces declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” last month, however ISIS militants continued to launch attacks there. Hours after the latest operation was announced, suicide bombers struck troops and pro-government Sunni militiamen in eastern Mosul.

“ISIS’s cruelty, brutality and reach show they are not just a threat in Iraq and Syria, but to the region and the entire world,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, in a statement.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising into the sky early Sunday morning as U.S.-led coalition jets struck militant positions southwest of Mosul and militarized Iraqi police fired artillery toward the city. Heavily armed police units were getting ready to move north with their armored vehicles from a base just southwest of the city.

“This is zero hour and we are going to end this war, God willing,” said Mahmoud Mansour, a police officer, as he prepared to move out.

The battle for western Mosul promises to be the most daunting yet, as the half of the city west of the Tigris River has older, narrower streets and is still home to hundreds of thousands of civilians, who have been told to shelter in place.

“Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world, and the Iraqi forces have risen to the challenge,” said Townsend. “They have taken the fight to the enemy and sacrificed their blood for the people of Iraq and the rest of the world.”

The immediate objective was to take the villages on the southern outskirts of Mosul airport, a police spokesman told The Associated Press. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Police units quickly moved into the village of Athba, about 3 miles (5 kilometers) southwest of the airport, encountering only light resistance, according to an AP reporter traveling with them. Separately, the army’s 9th Division moved into the village of Bakhira, also southwest of the city, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense said.

The United Nations meanwhile warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside their houses “are at extreme risk,” with dwindling fuel and food supplies and scare drinking water and electricity.

“The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble,” Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement. “We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes,” Grande said.

Citing witnesses in western Mosul, the U.N. said nearly half of all food shops were closed and bakeries had shut down due to a lack of fuel and an inability to purchase costly flour. Prices of kerosene and cooking gas have skyrocketed, and many of the most destitute families are burning wood, furniture, plastic or garbage for cooking and heating.

“Three out of five people now depend on untreated water from wells for cooking and drinking as water systems and treatment plants have been damaged by fighting or run out of chlorine,” said Peter Hawkins, of the U.N. agency for children.

The humanitarian agencies were gearing up to aid 250,000 to 400,000 civilians who may flee due to fighting, the statement said. The U.N. estimates that about 750,000 civilians may be left in western Mosul.

Iraqi forces spent three months driving ISIS from eastern Mosul, but the militants appear to have left sleeper cells to carry out attacks behind the front lines.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, said a suicide bomber set off struck a patrol of Sunni tribal fighters in Zihoor neighborhood, while another targeted Iraqi troops in Nabi Younis.

Rasool declined to provide casualty figures. Two policemen said one Sunni fighter was killed and nine wounded in the first attack, while the second attack wounded five soldiers. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

Iraqi special operations forces, regular army and federal police units are taking part in the offensive along with government-approved paramilitary forces, mainly consisting of Shiite militias, which are operating on the city’s outskirts.

Mosul fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq. It is the extremist group’s last major urban bastion in Iraq.

[Source:-Fox news]

20 Free and Secure Alternatives to the Parse Push Service

Since Facebook announced the end of Parse, we’ve been looking at the best alternatives for sending push notifications.

Push notifications are an essential tool for engaging and retaining users. Developers can use them to send their users reminders, let them know about recent updates or ask for reviews and feedback.

Using a reliable service for push notifications helps if you want your app or game to have active users.

Until now, Parse has been one of the best suppliers of this service. Unfortunately, it ends, in it’s current form, after January 2017. It’s becoming an open-source project and won’t offer all the same services as it used to.

Since this news broke in January 2016, a number of alternatives to Parse have grown in popularity. We’ll take a look at what these services have to offer and how they compare to the original Parse Push notification service!

Plus, find out how to integrate a push notifcation service into your V-Play App or Game with a simple code snippet!

Requirements – Alternatives to Parse

We had four main requirements in mind when looking into Parse alternatives:

download

Free Usage Plan

The new service should provide a free usage plan so developers can try it out for themselves and see how to get started. Signing up for a service without the ability to test their push notification features in a real world scenario is a serious roadblock for most developers.

Similar Feature Set

The new plugin should provide the same feature set we already offer with our Parse plugin. We still want the ability to send push notifications on a transactional basis to single devices, all devices of a user, or a group of users. This is an essential feature that must be supported. The concept of channels, used within the Parse plugin, is an optimal design pattern that we want in any potential replacement.

Easy Migration

We were looking for a scenario where transitioning from one push provider to another would only take a few seconds. The best case would see you as a Parse Plugin user making only one change to your code, simply changing your item’s name to see the new service properly set up.

Cross-Platform Performance

Like Parse, a new plugin should handle the platform-specific differences between iOS and Android transparently, both in the app or game code, and from the back end side.

player_retention_local-notifications-e1404839560228

Ideally, sending pushes from your server shouldn’t get out of control when sending different requests for iOS and Android, and dealing with sockets or customized payloads. We wanted to stick with a simple HTTP request, sending a JSON body, and the rest being handled by the push plugin when possible.

We also kept in mind that we’d probably want to have the option of supporting push notifications on new platforms in the future. So services that already provided push notification support for Windows Phone 10, Ubuntu Phone or desktop notifications earned extra points.

Available Services for Sending Push Notifications

Based on these requirements, we had a closer look at alternatives to the Parse Push service. We’ve ranked the services too, with the best Parse alternatives for V-Play developers getting extra points. These were the services that made it onto our final shortlist:

Google Cloud Messaging (GCM)

Google Cloud Messaging (GCM) soon became our favorite for a feature-complete Parse substitution for V-Play developers. Google provides an abstracted push service for both iOS and Android, using Push only is free, and Google’s topics can be created from your app without any additional server-side code.

parse_alternatives_GCMFurthermore, as Parse is already using GCM service as a foundation for sending pushes, push performance is identical to using Parse.

OneSignal

As we started implementing GCM, we also had another look at alternatives for the V-Play Game Network. We wanted to find a way of sending and receiving push notifications for game invites, user chats or friend requests. Based on this simple feature set, we had a look into OneSignal.

parse_alternatives_OneSignalOneSignal supports a wide range of platforms, including iOS and Android and also supports a similar feature to Parse channels, called tags . You can set a collection of tags on a device and target your push notifications based on those tags. This looked promising!

OneSignal also provides server-side localization of push notifications, maintaining the different device languages in their own database and allowing you to update your push texts without releasing a new app update. You can send a localized push notification for three languages from your back end, just like this curl request demo:

curl --include \
--request POST \
--header "Content-Type: application/json" \
--header "Authorization: Basic <API-Key>" \
--data-binary '{ "app_id": "<App-ID>", "contents": { "en": "New friend request", "de": "Neue Freundschaftsanfrage", "es": "Solicitud de nuevo amigo", "fr": "Demande d’ajout" } }' \
https://onesignal.com/api/v1/notifications

Depending on the device language, only the set language will be sent to the device and shown in the push.

Tags can be aggregated and it’s also possible to use different operators. So if you tag your users with a region identifier and their current user level in your RPG game, you can send a push to users who are currently checked in at middle-earth and have a level greater than 10, with a tag combination of:

 [
   {"key": "region", "relation": "=", "value": "middle-earth"},
   {"key": "level", "relation": ">","value": "10"}
 ]

OneSignal service is free for all push notifications and provides a lot of features. These are covered in our documentation.

Batch

While there are many great services out there, a lot of them missed our basic requirements for app and game push notifications. Some of the services lack a free plan for transactional push notifications, although they are reasonably priced for their rich feature set, such as Batch.

parse_alternatives_batchUnfortunately, Batch doesn’t provide a concept like channels for transactional pushes. It’s only possible to assign a single value for identifying users across devices. They have a great feature set though so we will be keeping an eye on any developments regarding the Batch service.

Urban Airship

Urban Airship does a great job at handling marketing and campaigns. They automatically segment users based on events triggered from within your app, something it has in common with Batch.

parse_alternatives_Urban AirshipThese features are quite nice for advanced use cases, but they’re not suitable as a replacement for Parse. Their initial set up for a new push service is much harder than the current method. Also transactional pushes with Urban Airship aren’t that feature-rich, as is the case with others.

Amazon SNS

Amazon SNS looked great when we first considered it. There’s a free plan, transactional push notifications and Amazon provides a similar concept to Parse’s channels, called topics. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to create new topics on-the-fly. You have to create topics from your server-side code first, making things a lot more complicated for your back end.

For example, sending pushes to all devices of a user, identified by a userId, is easy with Parse:

 Parse { channels: [ "userId" ] }

When trying to do this with Amazon SNS, you first have to explicitly create this channel/topic (“userId”) from the back end. It’s not possible to create topics on-the-fly.

And there’s another restriction on Amazon SNS: You can only create up to 10.000 topics per app. While this might seem like more than enough, if you create a sports news app that sends out push notifications for a range of sports, it’s not possible for all your users to get a unique channel. Instead, you would have to manage tokens and users in your own database backend.

Note: Amazon released an even newer push notification service just as this article was being written. You can check out Amazon Pinpoint here.

Firebase (FCM)

Firebase was acquired by Google in 2014 but it was only this year that they started to support push notifications. It also added advertising through AdMob integration and analytics for mobile developers.

firebaseThese sound like cool new features, but Google basically just added GCM as a push back end and AdMob for advertising and renamed them “Firebase”. As we currently support both features with our GCM and AdMob plugins , Firebase isn’t ranked as highly as you might expect. We are however looking into other features of Firebase and will keep you updated on this one!

Accengage

Accengage offers a range of Push services for mobile developers, from CRM connections to Push Geomarketing.

logo-accengage-205x49You can try it for yourself with their free demo but it will cost you to use their full services. The main advantage of this service is the ability to segment users in a number of ways. You can segment your users based on a range of behaviors and target them for better engagement. The lack of a full free service is the only thing stopping it from being ranked higher.

Catapush

This service is dedicated specifically to sending push notifications and is priced depending on how many active users you have. Their free tier allows you to engage with up to 100 monthly active users.

catapushAnyone looking for advanced push notification features as standard should take a look at Catapush. They offer guaranteed delivery, delivery statistics, and 2Way communication through push.

Quickblox

While QuickBlox isn’t an all-in-one service, it does offer separate SDKs for sending push notifications with iOS and Android. And their free plan lets you send 20 notifications per second, as long as you have less than 20,000 users.

We can’t attest for how easy it is to send these notifications or what customizable options are available. But their free plan definitely offers value for developers working within a restricted budget.

Boxcar

Boxcar calls itself the “Universal Push Notification Platform” and is another service worth checking out for those with a smaller  budget. It offers cross-platform support for iOS and Android and let’s free users send 200 Pushes Per Minute.

boxcarOn top of that, the team at Boxcar.io reckon they have the fastest Push notification network on the market.

Parse Open Source

For a couple of months now, the Parse open-source server has been supporting the sending of push notifications. However, there are important features missing like sending queues, so it’s not really production-ready as of now.

Backendless

Backendless offers a fully-functioning mobile-backend-as-a-service to developers. This service includes the ability to send push notifications from client or server and has cross-platform capabilities.

backendless-comPerhaps the strongest feature of the Backendless MBaaS is the ability to push to iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Amazon users at the same time. Backendless offers a free license with extra features available when you need them.

Sashido

If your main concern when finding a Parse alternative is avoiding downtime during migration, then Sashido is a strong choice. They offer to migrate your services with zero downtime.

sashidoSashido also offers 24hr support. You can start your 14-free trial to see how quick migration really is and see if the service suits your needs. After that, you can use Sashido on a pay-as-you-go basis, choosing only the services you need!

Syncano

Syncano offers the ability to send push notifications to Android and iOS users. This is possible from a dashboard that was designed with ease-of-use in mind. Syncano is a customizable tool with the ability to add sockets to your app.

syncanoYou can get started with a 30-day free trial and continue using Syncano’s services from $25/month once it ends.

TeraData

TeraData, or Appoxee as it was once known, offers their own complete tool for sending push notifications. TeraData offers a campaign builder, personalization options and a dashboard for tracking the success of push notifications to iOS and Android devices.

teradataA demo of TeraData is available on request.

Kumulos

Although Kumulos is mainly aimed at app marketing agencies, it may have some use to you as a developer. It offers cross-platform push notifications for Android and iOS and user segmentation features.

kumulos-logo1Kumulos services begin with a free trial and can be used on a pay-as-you-go basis after that.

Carnival

Not only does Carnival offer push notifications, it provides a range of rich messaging services. These allow you to customize your push notifications with images and videos. The service also includes the ability to send in-app notifications and deep-link messages that bring your user to a different part of your app.

carnivalCarnival starts with a free demo available upon request.

Streethawk

streethawkStreetHawk offers push notifications for Android and iOS users along with a host of other user retention and engagement solutions. With a simple integration model and the ability to send triggered notifications, it may be worth checking out. StreetHawk starts as a free trial and integrates with a number of services such as Flurry. Mixpanel and Segment.io.

Pushwoosh

This service offers the ability to send push notifications to up to 500,000 devices free. It has support for Android, iOS, and 19 other platforms.

If you’re interested in more than sending push notifications, things can get pricey quickly with this service. Their first paid license starts at $50/month, although it’s stacked with features.

Kinvey

Kinvey offers enterprise-level solutions for a number of business, but you can’t forget it’s MBaas too. Along with Push Notifications, it offers data storage, location tracking and more. If you have a large project in mind, it may be worth getting in touch with Kinvey to see what kind of a deal they can do for you.

While there’s no free trial to speak of, you may be interested to sign-up and take their free tutorial to see if you’re interested in what they have to offer.

Parse Alternatives for V-Play

You can add push notifications to your V-Play App or Game in just a couple of minutes. Here’s a quick code example to show you how easy it is to add OneSignal push notifications to V-Play:

import QtQuick 2.0
import VPlayPlugins 1.0
OneSignal {
  appId: "<add-your-app-id-here>"
  onNotificationReceived: { console.debug("Received notification with message:", message) }
}

For further information on how to integrate the OneSignal Plugin with your V-Play app or game, seeour documentation.

To summarize, we decided to go with two plugins for now: Our new OneSignal plugin, which features an easy setup and simple, targeted push notifications. And the new Google Cloud Messaging plugin that supports advanced use cases like client-side localized push notifications and invisible background downloads, as already provided by our Parse plugin.

You can access V-Play Plugins for monetization, analytics and more with the V-Play Indie License. To test the plugins for yourself, download our Qt Plugin Demo App from the App Store and Google Play.

For the full source code of this sample app, including all V-Play Plugins, you can check out this GitHub sample.

[Source:-DZone]

Iraqi forces launch military push to drive IS from Mosul

Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq on Monday.

Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air and ground support, launched coordinated military operations early on Monday as the long-awaited fight to wrest the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters got underway.

Convoys of Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. forces could be seen moving east of Mosul into the early hours of the day. Along the front line, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes sent plumes of smokes into the air and heavy artillery rounds could be heard.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operations on state television, launching the country on its toughest battle since American troops left nearly five years ago.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been under IS rule for more than two years and is still home to more than a million civilians according to U.N. estimates.

“These forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul which is to get rid of Daesh and to secure your dignity. They are there for your sake,” al-Abadi said, addressing the city’s residents and using the Arabic language acronym for the Islamic State group.

“God willing, we shall win,” he added, dressed in the uniform of the elite counterterrorism forces and flanked by military commanders.

The push to retake Mosul will be the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011 and, if successful, the strongest blow yet to the Islamic State. A statement on Al—Abadi’s website pledged the fight for the city would lead to the liberation of all Iraqi territory from the militants this year.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the launch of the operation to liberate Mosul “a decisive moment in the campaign” to deliver a lasting defeat to IS. He said the U.S. and other members of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

Iraqi forces have been massing around the city in recent days, including elite special forces that are expected to lead the charge into the city, as well as Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters, federal police and Shiite militia forces.

South of Mosul, Iraqi military units are based at the sprawling Qayara air base, but to the city’s east, men are camped out in abandoned homes as the tens of thousands of troops massed around the city have overwhelmed the few military bases in the area.

Kurdish forces are stationed to the north and east of Mosul, a mostly Sunni city that has long been a center of insurgent activity and anti-central government sentiment after the U.S.—led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iraqi officials have warned that the Mosul operation has been rushed before a political agreement has been set for how the city will be governed after IS.

Lt. Col. Amozhgar Taher with Iraq’s Kurdish forces, also known as the peshmerga, said his men would only move to retake a cluster of mostly Christian and Shabak villages east of Mosul and would not enter the city itself due to their concern for “sectarian sensitivities.”

“To eliminate the threat we must eliminate (IS) from Mosul,” Taher said at a makeshift base in an abandoned house along the frontline some 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul.

The city fell to IS fighters during the militants’ June 2014 blitz that left nearly a third of Iraq in the extremists’ hands and plunged the country into its most severe crisis since the U.S-led invasion. After seizing Mosul, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi visited the city to declare an Islamic caliphate that at one point covered nearly a third of Iraq and Syria.

But since late last year, the militants have suffered battlefield losses in Iraq and their power in the country has largely shrunk to Mosul and small towns in the country’s north and west. Mosul is about 360 kilometers northwest of the capital, Baghdad.

The operation to retake Mosul is expected to be the most complex yet for Iraq’s military, which has been rebuilding from its humiliating 2014 defeat.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a statement that the operation to regain control of Mosul could take “weeks, possibly longer.”

Earlier, Iraqi Brig. Gen Haider Fadhil told The Associated Press in an interview that more than 25,000 troops, including paramilitary forces made up of Sunni tribal fighters and Shiite militias, will take part in the offensive that will be launched from five directions around the city.

The role of the Shiite militias has been particularly sensitive, as Nineveh, where Mosul is located, is a majority Sunni province and Shiite militia forces have been accused of carrying out abuses against civilians in other operations in majority Sunni parts of Iraq.

Fadhil voiced concern about potential action from Turkish troops based in the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul. Turkey sent troops to the area late last year to train anti—IS fighters there. But Baghdad has seen the Turkish presence as a “blatant violation” of Iraqi sovereignty and has demanded the Turkish troops withdraw, a call Ankara has ignored.

Military operations are also predicted to displace 200,000 to a million people, according to the United Nations. Just a few kilometers from the eastern front line, rows of empty camps for displaced civilians line the road, but aid groups say they only have enough space for some 100,000 people.

“It is the future of Iraq at stake,” said Aleksandar Milutinovic, the Iraq country director for the International Rescue Committee. He stressed that the population of Mosul is not all supporters of IS, “they’re just people who had no other opportunity or a place to go” and urged Iraqi forces to “show will and a very serious commitment to protecting civilians and ensuring their wellbeing.”

In the midst of a deep financial crisis, the Iraqi government says it lacks the funds to adequately prepare for the humanitarian fallout of the Mosul fight. In some cases commanders say they are encouraging civilians to stay in their homes rather than flee.

“While we may be celebrating a military victory (after the Mosul operation is complete),” said Falah Mustafa, the foreign minister for Iraq’s Kurdish region, “we don’t want to have also created a humanitarian catastrophe.”

[Source:-The Hindu]