The rise of Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Iraq can be traced to America's invasion of the country more than a decade ago, as it left a power vacuum and unleashed sectarian bloodletting, experts said Friday. With television footage of Sunni extremists sweeping across Iraq this week, critics of former president George W. Bush's decision to invade in 2003 said the onslaught offered yet more proof of the war's disastrous fallout. For University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, events in Iraq are "an indictment of the George W. Bush administration, which falsely said it was going into Iraq because of a connection between Al-Qaeda and Baghdad." But by occupying and "weakening" Iraq, the Bush administration ironically created conditions that allowed Al-Qaeda "to take and hold territory in our own time," he wrote.
Barack Obama traveled to a Native American reservation in North Dakota, his first visit as US president to "Indian Country," where he focused Friday on education and economic development. The president, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation in the central far northern state. Ahead of the visit officials announced a series of initiatives on improving education and economic development for Native American communities. When the couple arrived at Standing Rock, dancers in colorful tribal outfits greeted the Obamas, who met with senior tribal officials.
A bomb attack targeting a weapons bazaar in eastern Syria close to the Iraqi border killed 30 "terrorists" on Saturday, state 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. "Light weapons are sold nearby, but the targeted area was a street market and those killed were civilians," spokesman Omar Abu Leyla said.
Iran may consider cooperating with the United States in fighting Sunni extremist fighters in Iraq if Washington acts against them, President Hassan Rouhani told journalists Saturday. He was responding to questions of whether mutual interests in fighting terrorism could possibly bring together Tehran and Washington -- traditional foes that have had no diplomatic relations in more than three decades. "If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it," Rouhani said at a press conference marking a year since he was elected president.
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." 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.
The Philippines said on Saturday it had filed a protest with Beijing for reclaiming land on a disputed South China Sea reef, the fourth such complaint in three months. The new protest over reclamation at the McKeenan Reef in the Spratly Islands chain further heats up an increasingly tense dispute over the waters where China has been accused of using bullying tactics against other claimants. He did not say if China had responded. The Philippines previously filed an objection against China in April after monitoring large-scale reclamation and earth-moving activity on Johnson South Reef, which it said might be intended to turn the tiny outcrop into an island with an airstrip.
Crouched on bunk beds in the narrow cells of the Regina Coeli lockup in Rome, prisoners say Italy still has a long way to go to ease a chronic overcrowding problem condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. Italy was given 12 months by the Strasbourg court last year to improve cramped living conditions it said "violate basic human rights", but despite efforts at reform the deadline passed last week and the country's jails still exceed capacity by 15,000 inmates. Last January, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the government to pay 100,000 euros ($135,450) to seven prisoners who brought the so-called Torreggiani case over their living conditions. Antonio, a Spanish father-of-one caught smuggling hashish into Italy, praised new measures brought it to cut jailbird numbers, including relaxing penalties for selling or possessing cannabis.
The head of the State Department's office in charge of energy diplomacy will step down in August after playing a key role in getting countries such as China, India and Japan to cooperate with Western sanctions on Iran, officials said on Friday. Carlos Pascual became an important player in Washington's effort to place tough new sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program soon after the bureau of energy resources was launched in 2011. The State Department said Pascual had decided to return to private life. The sanctions have halved Iran's oil sales since mid-2012 in efforts by the Washington and the European Union to cut funding to the country's nuclear program.