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Four NATO soldiers killed in east Afghanistan: official

Four NATO soldiers killed in east Afghanistan: official

8 July 2014 | 09:12 | FOCUS News Agency
Kabul. Four soldiers from the US-led NATO mission fighting in eastern Afghanistan died on Tuesday in "an enemy forces attack", the coalition force said, as foreign troops wind down their war against the Taliban, AFP reported.
"Four International Security Assistance Force service members died as a result of an enemy forces attack," a statement from ISAF said. In line with coalition policy, it did not name the nationalities of the victims.
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Jihadist 'caliph' demands obedience in unprecedented appearance

Jihadist 'caliph' demands obedience in unprecedented appearance

6 July 2014 | 01:13 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. Self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made an unprecedented appearance in the Iraqi city of Mosul, which his forces helped capture last month, and ordered Muslims to obey him, according to a video posted Saturday, AFP reports.
That marks a significant change for the shadowy jihadist whose Islamic State (IS) group led a lightning offensive that overran swathes of five provinces north and west of Baghdad.
The onslaught has alarmed world leaders, displaced hundreds of thousands and piled pressure on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as he seeks a third term in office following April elections.
The video showed a portly man clad in a long black robe and a black turban with a long greying beard addressing worshippers at weekly prayers at Al-Nur mosque in central Mosul.
"I am the wali (leader) who presides over you, though I am not the best of you. So if you see that I am right, assist me," said the man, purportedly Baghdadi.
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Jihadists control all main Syria oilfields: NGO

Jihadists control all main Syria oilfields: NGO

4 July 2014 | 23:35 | FOCUS News Agency
Beirut. The jihadist Islamic State (IS) now fully controls all of Syria's main oil and gas fields in Deir Ezzor province bordering Iraq, a monitoring group said on Friday, cited by AFP.

The IS has declared an "Islamic caliphate" in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq, where it is spearheading an offensive against government forces. "IS took control of the Tanak oilfield, located in the Sheiytat desert area in the east of Deir Ezzor province," late on Thursday after rival rebels withdrew, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Earlier the same day, the jihadists seized the major Al-Omar oilfield. They have still not captured the tiny Al-Ward field, which produces barely 200 barrels of oil per day and is in the hands of a local tribe, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. The IS seized Tanak and Al-Omar after rival fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front and other Syrian rebel groups withdrew, said the Observatory. In Deir Ezzor, which holds the bulk of Syria's oil resources, the IS has taken over nearly all the countryside, its forces bolstered by heavy weapons captured from Iraqi troops fleeing the offensive that it headed.

In January, Al-Nusra and other Islamist militants turned their guns on the jihadists, then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as they swept across Syria imposing their hegemony and brutal abuse. The rebels expelled IS from the northeastern Idlib province and much of Aleppo, though the jihadist group has gone on the counter-offensive in the northern city. On Friday, it seized the Kurdish villages of Zur Maghar and Bayada near the border with Turkey, the Observatory said.
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U.N. experts trace recent seized arms to Iran, violating embargo

U.N. experts trace recent seized arms to Iran, violating embargo

28 June 2014 | 06:03 | FOCUS News Agency
New York. A U.N. expert panel has concluded that a shipment of rockets and other weapons that was seized by Israel came from Iran and represents a violation of the U.N. arms embargo on Tehran, according to a confidential report obtained by Reuters on Friday, Reuters reports.
The finding comes just days ahead of the next round of negotiations in Vienna between Iran and six world powers aimed at securing a deal that would gradually lift international sanctions on Tehran -- including the arms embargo -- in exchange for curbs on the controversial Iranian nuclear program.
Despite Israel's public statements that the seized arms were destined for Gaza -- an allegation that Gaza's governing Islamist militant group Hamas dismissed as a fabrication -- the experts said the weapons were being sent to Sudan.
The experts do not speculate in the report about why the arms were being sent to Sudan, a country which Western diplomatic and intelligence sources have told Reuters has in the past been a conduit for Iranian arms shipments to other locations in Africa, as well as the Gaza Strip.
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Iran, Russia to finalise new nuclear plants deal: media

Iran, Russia to finalise new nuclear plants deal: media

23 June 2014 | 10:39 | FOCUS News Agency
Tehran. Iran is moving to finalise plans with Russia to build at least two more nuclear power plants on its southern Gulf shores, media reports said on Monday, AFP reported.
The announcement came as Russia's Rosatom deputy chief Nikolai Spassky arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit during which he will meet senior nuclear officials.
Spassky will also meet Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, a senior negotiator in talks with world powers on Iran's nuclear ambitions, the official IRNA news agency reported, without elaborating.
Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said after months of negotiations, the deal will be signed this week, the ISNA news agency reported.
Under a provisional agreement, Russia will build two more 1,000-megawatt plants next to Iran's sole existing plants in the southern Gulf port city of Bushehr.
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The Guardian: Jihadi recruitment video for Islamist terror group Isis features three Britons

The Guardian: Jihadi recruitment video for Islamist terror group Isis features three Britons

21 June 2014 | 03:50 | FOCUS News Agency
London. Three men who claim to be British have appeared in a recruitment video for the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), in which they directly appeal for other westerners to join them fighting jihad and state their intention to join the war in Iraq, where the army is struggling to repel the Sunni insurgents.
The video – entitled There's No Life Without Jihad – features three men with distinctly English accents, along with two Australians, holding guns and surrounded by greenery as they implore others to join them. Captions state their nationality and noms de guerre.
Going to Iraq or Syria to fight could constitute a crime under UK terrorism legislation, The Guardian reported.
The 13-minute video, which was apparently filmed in Syria, features clips of the seated men speaking in English, littered with Arabic phrases and words – including some quotations from the Qur'an – interspersed with footage of Isis fighters on the march.
Isis has been using its control of territory and oilfields in north-eastern Syria, where a number of jihadist groups have joined the civil war that has been raging for more than three years, to capture land in Iraq, and they are now believed to be crossing the border between the two countries with ease.
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Top Iraq Shiite cleric calls for new govt to avoid past mistakes

Top Iraq Shiite cleric calls for new govt to avoid past mistakes

20 June 2014 | 14:54 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. Iraq's top Shiite cleric called on Friday for the country's next government to be "effective" and avoid past mistakes, in an implicit criticism of the embattled incumbent premier, AFP reported.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for the "formation of an effective government that is acceptable on a ... national level (and) avoids past mistakes," in remarks made by his spokesman on his behalf.
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Iran says Obama lacks will to combat terrorism in Iraq

Iran says Obama lacks will to combat terrorism in Iraq

20 June 2014 | 14:22 | FOCUS News Agency
Tehran. US President Barack Obama lacks "serious will" to combat terrorism, a top Iranian official said Friday after an Iraqi appeal for American airstrikes went unanswered, AFP reported.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian's comments followed a statement from Obama on the Iraq crisis in which he pledged to send military advisors to Baghdad but stopped short of further action at this stage.
Fighters from the Sunni extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and their allies, have made swift territorial gains in Shiite-majority Iraq in a push that began last week.
ISIL considers Shiites, also a majority in neighbouring Iran, to be apostates.
"Delaying the fight against terrorism and ISIL and putting conditions on it have fuelled suspicions and doubts about the United States' objectives in Iraq," Abdollahian said, according to the state broadcaster's website.
"Obama's comments show the White House lacks serious will in fighting terrorism in Iraq and the region," he added.
On Thursday, Obama had warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Iran against promoting sectarianism after Tehran vowed to help Iraq against the fighters and defend Shiite holy sites located in its western neighbour.
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Australia to stop 'killer' jihadists returning: PM

Australia to stop 'killer' jihadists returning: PM

20 June 2014 | 10:34 | FOCUS News Agency
Sydney. Australian jihadists fighting overseas who are "trained killers" and "hate our way of life" should be stopped from returning home and detained if they do, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday, AFP reported.
Australia has concerns that its citizens are fighting alongside Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria, including with the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
"The important thing is to ensure that as far as is humanly possible they don't come back into our country," Abbott told Sydney radio station 2GB.
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Obama warns Iran against stirring sectarian tide

Obama warns Iran against stirring sectarian tide

20 June 2014 | 02:46 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. US President Barack Obama warned Iran on Thursday it could end up fighting sectarian fury "in a whole lot of places" unless it helped stabilize Iraq and pushed for an inclusive, multiethnic government, AFP reports.
Shiite Iran could play a "constructive" role in helping ease the crisis in Iraq sparked by the lightning advance of Sunni radicals from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Obama said.
But he cautioned that "old habits die hard," following several days of maneuvering between Tehran and Washington over possible cooperation amid signs both sides may have a common interest in preventing Iraq's plight from worsening.
Obama's intervention came as he announced the dispatch of 300 military advisors to help assess training needs for Baghdad's armed forces but insisted that he was not getting drawn back into a war Washington launched to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003 and which he declared over in 2011.
"Our view is that Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we're sending," Obama said.
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Obama to send advisors to Iraq, open to military action

Obama to send advisors to Iraq, open to military action

19 June 2014 | 23:03 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. President Barack Obama pledged to take "precise" military action if needed to check marauding Sunni radicals in Iraq and offered up to 300 US advisors to train Iraqi forces facing a crisis splintering the country on sectarian lines, AFP reports.
But Obama, who based an entire political career on ending US involvement in Iraq, insisted the United States is not slipping back into the morass -- and issued a sharp warning that sectarianism spells disaster for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Iran.
Obama signalled stepped up White House action after meeting top national security advisors to discuss how to respond to swift gains by rbel Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces, which have seized several key cities and threatening to advance on Baghdad.
The fighters have northern Iraq's biggest city, Mosul and taken swathes of territory in an advance which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, left an unknown number dead and alarmed Western nations who fear the establishment of a vast new "terror" haven.
Obama was adamant, however, that "American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq."
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Rampant rise of Islamic fundamentalism is the root cause for the situation in Iraq: J.D. Gordon

Rampant rise of Islamic fundamentalism is the root cause for the situation in Iraq: J.D. Gordon

19 June 2014 | 22:07 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. “Rampant rise of Islamic fundamentalism is the root cause for the situation in Iraq.” That is what Jeffrey. D. Gordon, former Pentagon Spokesman said in an interview for FOCUS News Agency in connection with the crisis in Iraq, where Sunni terrorist organization has been seizing territory since June 10.
“The security disaster unfolding today in Iraq has a number of direct causes, though from a strategic standpoint, the rampant rise of Islamic fundamentalism is the root cause. This rise also explains why Russia remains under siege from radical Islamists operating from Chechnya, Dagestan and beyond. From a tactical standpoint, there are several key factors on why ISIS has been so successful on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria,” Jeffrey. D. Gordon said.

The entire interview later in the Opinion column
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If the U.S. withdraws all troops from Afghanistan by 2016 as planned, the security situation will deteriorate: Jeffrey D. Gordon

If the U.S. withdraws all troops from Afghanistan by 2016 as planned, the security situation will deteriorate: Jeffrey D. Gordon

19 June 2014 | 21:19 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. “If the U.S. withdraws all troops from Afghanistan by 2016 as planned, the security situation will deteriorate similarly to what we see today in Iraq.”That is what Jeffrey. D. Gordon, former Pentagon Spokesman said in an interview for FOCUS News Agency in connection with the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2016 and the expected consequences.
According to Jeffrey Gordon the Taliban remains strong and will potentially topple the Afghan government in Kabul.
“The Taliban remains strong and will potentially topple the Afghan government in Kabul, and at a minimum, will carve out autonomous regions in the Hindu Kush Mountains along their eastern border with Pakistan, plus southern strongholds of Kandahar. Al Qaeda and affiliates would come back again to plot and train for the next 9/11-style mass attack on the West. The world would in essence, return to a pre-9/11 type scenario. It would be a nightmare for both the U.S. and Europe,” Jeffrey Gordon said further.

The entire interview later in the Opinion column
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Obama: US ready for 'precise' military action in Iraq

Obama: US ready for 'precise' military action in Iraq

19 June 2014 | 20:48 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. US President Barack Obama on Thursday said he was ready to take "targeted" and "precise" military action in Iraq if necessary following the swift advance of radical Sunni fighters, AFP reported.
Obama said Washington was prepared to send up to 300 military advisors to study how to train and equip Iraqi forces and had already increased its surveillance and intelligence capabilities in the country.
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The success of ISIS will hurt relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia: Jeffrey D. Gordon

The success of ISIS will hurt relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia: Jeffrey D. Gordon

19 June 2014 | 20:16 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. “The success of ISIS in seizing a 400-mile wide stretch of territory across both Syria and Iraq, equaling roughly 1/3 of each country, will hurt relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia/Gulf States. That is what Jeffrey. D. Gordon, former Pentagon Spokesman said in an interview for FOCUS News Agency in connection with the crisis in Iraq, where Sunni terrorist organization has been seizing territory since June 10.
In his words the effect of the situation in Iraq will similar with the events on 9/11 when Americans learned that 15 of 19 hijackers were Saudis. “It will cause many to rightfully question the alliance and demand change”, Jeffrey D. Gordon said.

The entire interview later in the Opinion column
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Israel fears Iraq crisis may spark US concessions to Iran

Israel fears Iraq crisis may spark US concessions to Iran

19 June 2014 | 13:37 | FOCUS News Agency
Jerusalem. Israel fears that a jihadist offensive that has swept up swathes of Iraq may prompt concessions to arch-foe Iran from its longtime ally the United States, AFP reported.
"If Washington needs Tehran's help to solve the Iraq crisis, the United States will need to be more flexible in negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme," public radio cited a senior official as saying.
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau warned: "We're in a situation where, to confront the threat from the global jihad, we rely on Iran and its allies."
The rise of the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has seized Iraq's second city Mosul and a swathe of its north and centre over the past 10 days, has prompted talk of possible cooperation between Washington and Tehran to help stop the insurgency.
A top Iranian official said on Wednesday that Tehran could consider working with the United States over the crisis in Iraq if talks on its nuclear programme are successful.
The Iranian official's comments came after US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he would be open to cooperating with Iran on Iraq.
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US flying F-18 surveillance missions over Iraq, Obama reviews options with lawmakers: Fox News

US flying F-18 surveillance missions over Iraq, Obama reviews options with lawmakers: Fox News

19 June 2014 | 06:32 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. The United States is flying F-18 surveillance missions over Iraq from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, officials confirm to Fox News, as President Obama weighs options for "increased security assistance" in the country.
The surveillance missions are being launched from the USS George HW Bush. It was already known that the Obama administration had authorized "manned and unmanned" surveillance flights, but F-18's are not traditional surveillance aircraft -- they are attack aircraft.
"It's not so much about looking as it is being seen," a U.S. official told Fox News.
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Obama under pressure to respond to Iraq crisis

Obama under pressure to respond to Iraq crisis

19 June 2014 | 03:01 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. US President Barack Obama faced demands for a new US strategy on the deepening crisis in Iraq on Wednesday, as the White House insisted he had not ruled out Baghdad's request for air strikes, AFP reported.
But there were no signs renewed military action was imminent in a war Obama had declared at an end, as the president mulled a range of options drawn up by his advisors.
The White House, pushing back on reports that said Obama had decided no air strikes would take place immediately, said the president had yet to discount direct military action.
"The only thing the president has ruled out is sending troops back into combat in Iraq, but he continues to consider other options," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"Work is being done that will help us see with more clarity what the options available to the president are," Carney added, when asked to clarify whether Obama had ruled out air strikes.
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Obama has not ruled out air strikes in Iraq: White House

Obama has not ruled out air strikes in Iraq: White House

18 June 2014 | 21:18 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. The White House indicated Wednesday that President Barack Obama had yet to rule out air strikes in Iraq to support government forces against rampant Sunni militants threatening to splinter the country, AFP reported.
Obama, who was due to meet top congressional leaders, including Republican critics, to discuss his strategy, was considering a range of options, his spokesman Jay Carney said.
"The only thing the president has ruled out is sending troops back into combat in Iraq, but he continues to consider other options," Carney said.
"Work is being done that will help us see with more clarity what the options available to the president are," Carney added, when asked to clarify whether Obama had ruled out air strikes.
Earlier, some US media reports suggested that the White House has decided to hold off on "immediate" air strikes by manned planes to check the fast advance of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) across Iraqi territory - partly due to a difficulty in identifying appropriate targets.
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Iraq appeals for US air strikes on advancing jihadists

Iraq appeals for US air strikes on advancing jihadists

18 June 2014 | 19:34 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. Iraq asked the United States Wednesday to carry out air strikes on Sunni jihadists, who attacked the country's main oil refinery and seized more territory in the north, AFP reported.
The appeal came as fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were pressing a week-long offensive that has brought them close to the capital, and as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pledging to face down "terrorism."
"Iraq has officially asked Washington to help under the security agreement (between the two countries), and to conduct air strikes against terrorist groups," Zebari told reporters in Saudi Arabia.
However, Zebari said "a military approach will not be enough. We acknowledge the need for drastic political solutions."
The United States spent millions of dollars over several years training and arming a new Iraqi army after disbanding the Sunni-led force created by the late dictator Saddam Hussein.
Washington has already deployed an aircraft carrier to the Gulf and sent marines to bolster security at its embassy in Baghdad, but President Barack Obama has insisted a return to combat in Iraq for US soldiers is not on the cards.
However, Secretary of State John Kerry has said drone strikes could be used.
Maliki vowed on television that "we will face terrorism and bring down the conspiracy," adding that "we will teach (militants) a lesson and strike them."
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US, Iran hold brief talks on Iraq crisis in Vienna

US, Iran hold brief talks on Iraq crisis in Vienna

17 June 2014 | 04:06 | FOCUS News Agency
Vienna. The United States and Iran briefly discussed the crisis in Iraq on the sidelines of a critical fifth round of nuclear talks in Vienna, US officials said Monday, AFP reports.
The two nations, which have been bitter foes for more than 30 years, are both deeply concerned by a major insurgency by Sunni militants who have overrun swathes of Iraq over the past week.
"The issue did come up briefly with Iran on the margins of the P5+1 in Vienna today, separate from our trilateral meeting" which had included the EU, a senior State Department official said in a statement, asking not to be named.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed to CNN television that there were "brief discussions."
It is yet to be determined "if we want to keep talking to Iran about Iraq," she added, acknowledging though that Tehran and Washington had "a shared interest" in ensuring militants don't get "a foothold any more in Iraq."
But she stressed: "No outside country can fix Iraq's problems. We need Iraq's political leaders from across the spectrum to step up."
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About 275 US military personnel to Iraq: Obama

About 275 US military personnel to Iraq: Obama

17 June 2014 | 02:29 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. About 275 US military personnel are being deployed to Iraq to help American personnel and protect the embassy in Baghdad, President Barack Obama said Monday in a letter to Congressional leaders.
The force, which began deploying on Sunday, has been sent "for the purpose of protecting US citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat," Obama wrote, AFP reports.
"This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed."
The move comes as jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) battle Iraqi security forces for control of a strategic northern town and Washington weighs possible drone strikes against the militants.
The ISIL fighters have taken control of a swath of territory north of Baghdad in a drive towards the Iraqi capital launched a week ago.
The White House said in a statement that the US military personnel would help the State Department relocate some embassy staff from Baghdad to the consulates in Arbil and Basra, as well as Amman.
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Break over, Obama returns to Iraq nightmare

Break over, Obama returns to Iraq nightmare

17 June 2014 | 01:09 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. Barack Obama returned to Washington on Monday after a brief family break in California to find himself confronted once again by the nightmare from which America thought it had escaped: Iraq, AFP reports.
Obama ran for the White House as a young leader who opposed the 2003 US invasion, and then won re-election as the steady hand who had finally withdrawn American troops eight years later.
But now his generals have brought out the old map once again and the 44th president -- like the 41st, 42nd and 43rd before him -- is contemplating new military action against targets in Iraq.
With no more US boots on the ground, Obama's best option to counter a lightning offensive by Sunni extremists militants that has threatened the Baghdad government may be strikes from the air.
But, whether he limits action to drone strikes, cruise missile salvoes or bombardment from carrier-based aircraft, he will be taking a step he wanted to avoid: expanding US action in the Middle East.
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U.S. ready to discuss Iraq crisis with Iran, official says

U.S. ready to discuss Iraq crisis with Iran, official says

16 June 2014 | 18:39 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. The State Department's No. 2 diplomat arrived in Vienna on Monday prepared to discuss possible collaboration with Iran on dealing with the crisis in Iraq, according to a senior administration official, Los Angeles Times reported.
The official said Deputy Secretary of State William Burns flew to Austria to join international negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, but may also take up on the sidelines of those talks the threat posed by an Al Qaeda-inspired Sunni extremist group that has been seizing territory from the Iraqi government.
"There may be a discussion of that issue on the margins," said the administration official, who declined to be identified based on ground rules set by U.S. officials. The official was briefing reporters on the outlook for the Iran nuclear talks this week.
U.S. and Iranian officials have been hinting for several days that they may discuss at least limited cooperation on how to deal with the extremist group, which has seized the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit in the last week. The group is known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
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Kerry open to US-Iran cooperation on Iraq

Kerry open to US-Iran cooperation on Iraq

16 June 2014 | 16:52 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he would be open to cooperating with Washington's traditional foe Iran on Iraq, and warned drone strikes were an option to halt a militant assault, AFP reports.
"I wouldn't rule out anything that would be constructive," Kerry told Yahoo News when asked if the United States would cooperate militarily with Iran, one of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's key allies.
Kerry also said that US President Barack Obama is carrying out "a very thorough vetting of every option that is available," including drone strikes.
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Saudi calls for national consensus government in Iraq

Saudi calls for national consensus government in Iraq

16 June 2014 | 15:28 | FOCUS News Agency
Riyadh. Saudi Arabia called Monday for the quick formation of a national consensus government in Iraq, blaming Baghdad's "sectarian" policies against Sunni Arabs for the unrest now sweeping the country, AFP reports.
The Sunni-dominated kingdom, whose relations with the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have been strained, also warned against foreign meddling in Iraq after jihadist-led Sunni militants took control of vast swathes of territory north of Baghdad in a matter of days.
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Spain raids jihadist cell 'led by ex-Guantanamo inmate'

Spain raids jihadist cell 'led by ex-Guantanamo inmate'

16 June 2014 | 11:12 | FOCUS News Agency
Madrid. Spanish police arrested eight people in pre-dawn raids in Madrid on Monday against a jihadist recruitment network led by a former Guantanamo Bay inmate, the government said, AFP reported.
Police have so far launched 12 raids in the Spanish capital, detaining eight people, and the investigation remains open, Spain's interior ministry said in a statement.
The Islamic cell found and dispatched recruits for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants based in Syria and Iraq, the ministry said.
ISIL fighters made rapid military gains in Iraq last week, seizing the second-biggest city Mosul and coming within 80 kilometres (50 miles) of Baghdad's city limits. Online photos, which cannot be independently confirmed, apparently show ISIL militants massacring captured Iraqi soldiers during the offensive.
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US condemns 'horrifying' Iraq massacre by ISIL militants

US condemns 'horrifying' Iraq massacre by ISIL militants

16 June 2014 | 06:18 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. The United States on Sunday condemned a "horrifying" massacre by Islamic militants said to have killed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers as they advanced on the capital after seizing vast swathes of northern Iraq, AFP reports.

Iraq said it had "regained the initiative" against fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, amid grisly reports of atrocities committed during the militants' lightning offensive. Photos posted online were said to show Sunni militants summarily executing dozens of captured members of the security forces, while tweets attributed to ISIL claimed they had killed 1,700 Shia soldiers. "The claim by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that it has massacred 1,700 Iraqi Shia air force recruits in Tikrit is horrifying and a true depiction of the bloodlust that these terrorists represent," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

"While we cannot confirm these reports, one of the primary goals of ISIL is to set fear into the hearts of all Iraqis and drive sectarian division among its people." Psaki said the US would evacuate some of its staff and boost security at its embassy - America's largest worldwide, and located in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone - due to "ongoing instability."

Australia followed suit, announcing it was withdrawing a number of officials from Baghdad, with only an "essential core" of embassy staff to remain. US-trained Iraqi forces folded immediately as ISIL extremists captured key towns in swift succession last week, abandoning vehicles and positions and discarding their uniforms. They seized Iraq's second biggest city Mosul and Tikrit, late dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown and capital of Salaheddin province. In four days, they came within 80 kilometres (50 miles) of Baghdad's city limits. Iraqi officers said their forces were now starting to repel the militants, and that soldiers had recaptured two towns north of Baghdad.

As troops began to drive back the militants, they found the burned bodies of 12 policemen in the town of Ishaqi in Salaheddin province, a police colonel and a doctor said.
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US condemns 'horrifying' massacre in Iraq's Tikrit

US condemns 'horrifying' massacre in Iraq's Tikrit

16 June 2014 | 02:28 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. The United States condemned Sunday a "horrifying" massacre by militants said to have killed hundreds of Iraqi Shia air force recruits in the northern city of Tikrit, urging the country to unite, AFP reports.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have overrun a succession of major towns and cities in the north of Iraq over the last week and are closing on Baghdad.
On Friday, tweets attributed to ISIL claimed the militants had killed 1,700 Shia soldiers as they advanced toward the capital, a figure that has not been independently verified.
"The claim by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that it has massacred 1,700 Iraqi Shia air force recruits in Tikrit is horrifying and a true depiction of the bloodlust that these terrorists represent," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
"While we cannot confirm these reports, one of the primary goals of ISIL is to set fear into the hearts of all Iraqis and drive sectarian division among its people."
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US to boost embassy security in Iraq

US to boost embassy security in Iraq

16 June 2014 | 00:04 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. The US embassy in Baghdad plans to increase security staff and evacuate some personnel after militants captured vast swathes of territory and advanced toward the capital, officials said Sunday, AFP reports.
It was unclear how many staff members would be evacuated from the embassy, the largest US mission in the world, which is located within the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses much of the international presence in the city.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the staff would only be "temporarily relocated" to US consulates in Basra in the south and Erbil in the northern Kurdish territories. Neither area is currently threatened by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant militants.
Other staff will be taken to the US embassy in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where they will work on Iraq-related issues.
"The Embassy of the United States in Baghdad remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders -- supporting them as they strengthen Iraq's constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats," Psaki said in a statement.
She stressed that Washington "strongly supports Iraq and its people" as they face the militants' onslaught.
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Syria pounds ISIL bases in coordination with Iraq: NGO

Syria pounds ISIL bases in coordination with Iraq: NGO

15 June 2014 | 17:08 | FOCUS News Agency
Beirut. Syria's army has been pounding for 24 hours major bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in coordination with the Baghdad government, a monitor said Sunday, as cietd by AFP.
The strikes against ISIL - which has spearheaded a week-long jihadist offensive in Iraq - have been more intense than ever, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"The regime air force has been pounding ISIL's bases, including those in the northern province of Raqa and Hasakeh in the northeast," which borders Iraq, said the Britain-based group.
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Iraq forces kill 279 militants in 24 hours: spokesman

Iraq forces kill 279 militants in 24 hours: spokesman

15 June 2014 | 16:14 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. Iraqi security forces have killed 279 "terrorists" in the past 24 hours, as they push back against a major militant offensive, a security spokesman said on Sunday, AFP reported.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's security spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassem Atta, made the announcement during a televised news conference.
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Kurd forces hold Iraq border crossing with Syria: official

Kurd forces hold Iraq border crossing with Syria: official

15 June 2014 | 13:53 | FOCUS News Agency
Sulaimaniyah. Kurdish forces are in control of one the two official border crossings with Syria, which they seized after Iraqi forces withdrew, a senior Kurdish security official said on Sunday, AFP reported.
The Kurdish troops took control of the Rabia crossing on Tuesday and have held it since, Jabbar Yawar, the secretary general of the ministry responsible for the Kurdish peshmerga forces, told AFP.
Two peshmerga fighters were killed in an attack by militants after Kurdish troops took the crossing, Yawar said.
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Syria govt retakes strategic town on Turkey border: state TV

Syria govt retakes strategic town on Turkey border: state TV

15 June 2014 | 12:00 | FOCUS News Agency
Damascus. Syrian government forces on Sunday recaptured the strategic town of Kasab, near the only border crossing with Turkey in northwestern province of Latakia, state television reported, as cited by AFP.
"Units from the army are reestablishing security in the province of Latakia after killing a large number of terrorists and destroying their weapons," the television said, referring to rebels who had been in control of the town for more than two months.
Kasab, an Armenian town, is strategically important because it is located near the only border crossing with Turkey in sensitive Latakia province, the heartland of the Alawite sect from which Assad hails.
Rebel fighters including members of Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front withdrew from the town on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, leaving only a small number of men behind.

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Iran warns against military intervention in Iraq

Iran warns against military intervention in Iraq

15 June 2014 | 09:48 | FOCUS News Agency
Tehran. Iran warned on Sunday that "any foreign military intervention in Iraq" would only complicate the crisis, after the US said it was deploying a warship in the Gulf, AFP reported.
"Iraq has the capacity and necessary preparations for the fight against terrorism and extremism," foreign ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham was Sunday quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
"Any action that complicates the situation in Iraq is not in the interests of the country nor of the region," Afkham said, adding, "The people and government of Iraq will be able to neutralise this conspiracy."
Iraq is battling an offensive by Sunni militants who have advanced to within 80 kilometres (50 miles) of Baghdad's city limits after seizing a swathe of the country's north.
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US 'committed' to Iraq: Kerry

US 'committed' to Iraq: Kerry

15 June 2014 | 08:12 | FOCUS News Agency
Washington. The United States is "committed" to supporting Iraq as it battles Sunni militants who have seized a swathe of the country's north, Secretary of State John Kerry told his Iraqi counterpart Saturday, AFP reported.
President Barack Obama said he was "looking at all the options" to halt the offensive that has brought the militants within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of Baghdad's city limits, but ruled out any return of US combat troops. A US carrier group was ordered into Gulf waters.
During a phone call with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Kerry stressed that the United States was "committed to supporting Iraq," a State Department statement said.
"Assistance from the United States would only be successful if Iraqi leaders were willing to put aside differences and implement a coordinated and effective approach to forge the national unity necessary to move the country forward and confront the threat of ISIL," or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, it added.
He urged the Iraqi government to ratify election results "without delay," form a new government on time and to respect the rights of all its citizens from various religious and ethnic backgrounds.

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Iraq crisis: US orders aircraft carrier to Gulf, Iran offers help

Iraq crisis: US orders aircraft carrier to Gulf, Iran offers help

15 June 2014 | 06:37 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. The United States ordered an aircraft carrier into the Gulf Saturday over the Iraq crisis, where Sunni Arab jihadists have seized a swathe of the country, as Shiite Iran said it would consider helping foe Washington should it take action.
The order came as Iraqi commanders said that soldiers had recaptured two towns north of Baghdad, and thousands of volunteers answered a call to arms from top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
US President Barack Obama said, as cited by AFP, he was "looking at all the options" to halt the offensive that has brought Sunni Arab militants within 50 miles (80 kilometres) of Baghdad's city limits, but ruled out any return of US combat troops.
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Iraq forces find burned bodies of 12 police in recaptured town

Iraq forces find burned bodies of 12 police in recaptured town

14 June 2014 | 14:38 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. Iraqi security forces found the burned bodies of 12 policemen when they recaptured a town north of Baghdad from militants on Saturday, a police colonel and a doctor said, AFP reported.
Troops backed by tribal militia recaptured Ishaqi in Salaheddin province as they readied a fightback against the offensive that saw Sunni Arab militants overrun a large chunk of northern and north-central Iraq this week.
It was one of the closest points to the capital that the militants had reached in the assault they launched in second city Mosul late on Monday.
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Syria TV says 30 killed in blast near Iraq border

Syria TV says 30 killed in blast near Iraq border

14 June 2014 | 13:31 | FOCUS News Agency
Damascus. A bomb attack targeting a weapons bazaar in eastern Syria close to the Iraqi border killed 30 "terrorists" on Saturday, state television reported, as quoted by AFP.
"A big explosion hits a terrorist arms market in Mayadeen, killing 30 terrorists and wounding dozens of others," the television reported.
Just 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the Iraqi border, the town is under the control of rebel groups, including Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate the Al-Nusra Front, that have been fighting the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
ISIL is the same cross-border group which has spearheaded an offensive in neighbouring Iraq this week that has seen militants sweep down from second city Mosul towards Baghdad.
A rebel spokesman from Deir Ezzor province contested the television's report, and told AFP the blast was a car bomb planted by ISIL that killed at least 15 civilians in a street market.
"Light weapons are sold nearby, but the targeted area was a street market and those killed were civilians," spokesman Omar Abu Leyla said.
ISIL's fighters in Syria have been under attack by rival rebels since the start of the year.
They have been driven out of much of northwestern Syria, but retain control of the city of Raqa up the Euphrates Valley from Deir Ezzor.
They have tried repeatedly to extend their area of control to the Iraqi border to unite their forces in the two countries.
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Iran's Rouhani does not rule out cooperation with US on Iraq

Iran's Rouhani does not rule out cooperation with US on Iraq

14 June 2014 | 11:57 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. Iran would consider cooperating with the United States in fighting Sunni extremist fighters in Iraq if Washington acts against them, President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday, AFP reports.
"If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it," Rouhani told a press conference.
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Iraq forces preparing for counter-offensive: officer

Iraq forces preparing for counter-offensive: officer

14 June 2014 | 10:59 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. Iraqi security forces readied a counter-offensive against militants north of Baghdad on Saturday, an army colonel said, after the prime minister announced the cabinet granted him "unlimited powers", AFP reports.
The colonel from the military command responsible for Samarra, a city 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of the capital, said reinforcements from the federal police and army arrived on Friday.
The officer said the reinforcements were for a drive against areas north of the city, including Dur and Tikrit, that militants seized in a spectacular assault this week.
Security forces were awaiting orders to begin, the colonel said.
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Obama 'urgently' considering air assault on targets in Syria and Iraq: The Guardian

Obama 'urgently' considering air assault on targets in Syria and Iraq: The Guardian

14 June 2014 | 00:11 | FOCUS News Agency
Sofia. The Obama administration is urgently considering an air assault on Islamic extremists that officials told the Guardian could be directed at targets in Syria as well as Iraq.
President Obama announced on Friday that in the "days ahead" he will decide on a package of military and diplomatic options to halt the rapid advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), as the jihadist army's march from Syria through Sunni Iraq has upended Obama's achievement of extricating the US military from the Iraq conflict.
Obama has ruled out sending US soldiers and marines back to the Iraqi streets they patrolled from 2003 to 2011, but signalled a new, reluctant openness to returning the US to war in Iraq.
Isis "could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well," Obama said in a televised address, but vowed not to be "dragged back into a situation in which, while we're there keeping a lid on things, and after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we're not there, people end up acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country."
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Obama pledges help, top cleric calls Iraqis to arms

Obama pledges help, top cleric calls Iraqis to arms

13 June 2014 | 20:00 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. US President Barack Obama said Friday he is examining options short of sending troops to help Iraq counter a Sunni militant onslaught, as a leading cleric called Iraqis to arms, AFP reported.
"We will not be sending US troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces," Obama said in Washington.
Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged the people to defend the country against the offensive spearheaded by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who travelled to the embattled city of Samarra north of Baghdad, said in a statement security forces "began their work to clear all our dear cities from these terrorists".
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Take up arms against Iraq 'terrorists': top Shiite cleric

Take up arms against Iraq 'terrorists': top Shiite cleric

13 June 2014 | 14:17 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. Top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called Friday for Iraqis to take up arms against "terrorists" who have overrun swathes of the country in a major offensive, AFP reported.
"Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose," his representative announced on his behalf during Friday prayers in the city of Karbala.
"He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honour will be a martyr," he added.
The elderly Sistani, who rarely appears in public, is highly influential in the Shiite Muslim world and is adored by millions.
An offensive launched by the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and its allies late Monday has overrun all of one province and chunks of three more.
Security forces have so far failed to halt the drive, with some fleeing after throwing away their uniforms and abandoning their positions.
Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has already announced that the government will arm and equip citizens who volunteer to fight.
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US mulls 'all options' as militants move nearer Baghdad

US mulls 'all options' as militants move nearer Baghdad

13 June 2014 | 06:58 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. Jihadists swept towards Baghdad Thursday as President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse and US companies evacuated hundreds from a major air base, AFP reported.
With the militants closing in on the capital, forces from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region took control of Kirkuk, an ethnically divided northern city they have sought to rule for decades against the objections of successive governments in Baghdad.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari acknowledged the security forces that Washington invested billions in training and equipping before withdrawing its own troops in 2011 had simply melted away.
Obama said Iraq was going to need "more help from the United States and from the international community".
"Our national security team is looking at all the options... I don't rule out anything," he said.
Russia said the lightning gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a movement so radical it has been disavowed even by the Al-Qaeda leadership, showed the pointlessness of the 2003 US-led invasion, carried out in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Washington found rare common cause with its longtime foe Tehran, with both voicing dismay at the Sunni extremists' advance and pledging to boost aid to Iraq's beleaguered Shiite prime minister.
The militants, who have swept up a huge swathe of predominantly Sunni Arab territory in northern and north-central Iraq since launching their offensive in the second city Mosul late on Monday, advanced into ethnically divided Diyala province.
Late Thursday, they captured the Jalawla and Saadiyah areas of the province, whose mixed Arab, Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite population has made it a byword for violence ever since the 2003 overthrow of Sunni Arab dictator Saddam Hussein.
ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani vowed the jihadists would not stop there, but would press on to the capital and the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, visited by millions of pilgrims from around the world each year.
The Shiite-led government in Baghdad has been left floundering by the speed of the jihadist assault.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he would seek parliament's authorisation to declare a state of emergency but MPs failed to muster a quorum for the vote on Thursday.
Only 128 out of 325 MPs showed up for the session, a senior official said.
The swift collapse of Baghdad's control comes on top of the loss of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, earlier this year. It has been a blow for Western governments that have paid a steep price both in lives and money in Iraq.
The Iraqi foreign minister acknowledged the collapse of the security forces in Mosul and other cities, with many personnel melting away after discarding their uniforms.
"It is a setback definitely for the Iraqi security forces, who collapsed in the largest city and abandoned their weapons and equipment," he said.
Zebari said the security forces were mounting a fightback in Tikrit - the hometown of the now executed Saddam - and witnesses and officials reported air strikes on the dictator's former palace in the town as well as a former army base taken over by militants in Mosul.Washington is considering several options for offering military assistance to Baghdad, including drone strikes, a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Resorting to such aircraft - used in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen in a highly controversial programme - would mark a dramatic shift in the US engagement in Iraq, after the last American troops pulled out in late 2011.
But there is no current plan to send US troops back into Iraq, where around 4,500 American soldiers died during the conflict.

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US companies evacuating Iraqi air base: officials

US companies evacuating Iraqi air base: officials

13 June 2014 | 03:04 | FOCUS News Agency
Baghdad. US companies were Thursday evacuating hundreds of Americans working with the Iraqi government from a major air base, US officials said, as Islamic militants swept towards Baghdad, AFP reports.

A US defense official confirmed that "a few hundred" American contractors from Balad air base, 80 kilometers (50 miles) 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.

Militants are closing fast on the capital Baghdad after sweeping up a huge swath 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 defense 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 some 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 kilometers (nine square miles) and had a 20-kilometer security perimeter.
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UN Security Council calls for urgent dialogue in Iraq

UN Security Council calls for urgent dialogue in Iraq

12 June 2014 | 23:06 | FOCUS News Agency
New York. The UN Security Council on Thursday demanded urgent inclusive dialogue in Iraq and condemned "terrorist" activities, but stopped short of mulling action against militants advancing on Baghdad, AFP reports.

The Council met for two hours behind closed doors as Kurds captured the contested oil city of Kirkuk and the United States contemplated air strikes to bolster Iraq's collapsing army. The 15 members expressed unanimous support for the government and people of Iraq in their fight against terrorism and called for broad-based dialogue, said rotating president Russia.

"This is a great opportunity for a fresh start in having an all-inclusive political dialogue and also in resolving the multitude of issues," Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. "There must be a strong and intensified effort to start this dialogue," he added, after Iraqi MPs failed to show up to authorize the prime minister's request for a state of emergency.

Security Council members urged the Iraqi government and the international community to support the UN mission on the ground, especially in response to the humanitarian crisis, Churkin said. He said members condemned "all terrorist and extremist activities" but warned that Iraq had to address much deeper and more complex political, sectarian, social and oil disputes. "The more immediate thing is to reach some kind of accommodation between the main political forces to make it easier for them all to fight the terrorists," he added.

French ambassador Gerard Araud agreed, saying on Twitter: "Iraqi crisis has an essential political dimension. Need for Bagdad (sic) to respond to the concerns of the Sunnis and to outreach to the Kurds." Although jihadists have swept south from the northern city of Mosul to Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, Churkin said the UN envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, did not see an immediate danger of the violence spreading to Baghdad.

Diplomats said Mladenov briefed by video link that the UN mission had only a "very limited" ability to respond to the humanitarian needs of more than 500,000 displaced from Mosul. He described the crisis as the biggest threat to Iraqi sovereignty for some time, they added.
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Photographer killed covering north Iraq clashes

Photographer killed covering north Iraq clashes

12 June 2014 | 22:29 | FOCUS News Agency
Kirkuk. A news photographer was killed while covering fighting between Kurdish security forces and jihadists in northern Iraq on Thursday, medical and security sources said, cited by AFP.
Kamran Najm Ibrahim died and 14 Kurdish security personnel were wounded in the clashes west of the oil city of Kirkuk, where the militants have seized a string of mainly Sunni Arab towns in the ethnically divided province.
Ibrahim, a well-known freelance photographer, was the first journalist to lose his life covering a major offensive spearheaded by jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which began late on Monday.
The militants have overrun a large swathe of northern and north-central Iraq, including second city Mosul.
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PICTURE OF THE DAY
A lift is built to Trapezitsa hill in Veliko Tarnovo.
A lift is built to Trapezitsa hill in Veliko Tarnovo.

VIDEO OF THE DAY
Some 10,000 Syrian Kurds receive asylum in a refugee camp in Turkey.
Some 10,000 Syrian Kurds receive asylum in a refugee camp in Turkey.
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