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US vows to back Iraq in fight against jihadist threat

The United States vowed Wednesday to boost aid to Iraq amid fears the US-backed Iraqi army is increasingly powerless against emboldened militants more than two years after American forces withdrew. But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied the offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant had caught Washington by surprise or that it marked a failure of US policy in the country it invaded in 2003. Washington is committed to "working with the Iraqi government and leaders across Iraq to support a unified approach against ISIL's continued aggression," Psaki told reporters, adding that the US administration had long warned of the dangers posed by the militants now sweeping toward Baghdad.

Senate passes bill aimed at fixing veteran healthcare delays

By David Lawder and Will Dunham WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan measure aimed at easing healthcare delays for veterans by giving them more access to private care and allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs to open more clinics and hire more medical staff. The 93-3 vote in the Democratic-led Senate followed unanimous passage on Tuesday in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives of a similar bill to address a crisis that has embarrassed the Obama administration and prompted Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to quit. Lawmakers must now iron out differences between the House and Senate versions before voting on a final package that could be signed into law by President Barack Obama. It was crafted by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and Republican John McCain of Arizona, a state where 40 veterans are said to have died while waiting months for appointments at VA clinics in Phoenix.

Cantor leaving US House leadership after shock defeat

Eric Cantor, the Republican star unexpectedly bounced from the US Congress by a political novice, said Wednesday he will step down as House majority leader. "While I intend to serve out my term as a member of Congress from the 7th District of Virginia, effective July 31st I will be stepping down as majority leader," Cantor told reporters a day after his shock primary loss to economics professor Dave Brat. The move sets off a scramble for the number two post in the House Republican leadership, just as lawmakers crank up their campaigns ahead of November's mid-term congressional elections. Shortly before addressing reporters, Cantor broke his news to the Republican caucus in a closed-door conference in the US Capitol basement, where lawmakers said House Speaker John Boehner wept as he praised his outgoing deputy.

Is Border Patrol Abusing Immigrant Kids?

The ACLU and four other immigrants rights groups issued a complaint, Tuesday, detailing reports of what they call systemic abuse against unaccompanied immigrant children by Customs and Border Protection Officials and called on the Department of Homeland Security to put a stop to it.

Iran's diplomatic push aims to reduce nuclear mistrust

Direct meetings this week between Iran and world powers, including the US, aim to deliver what diplomats are calling a "trust mechanism" meant to ensure both sides honour a nuclear deal. The announcement of separate talks with the United States, Russia, France and Germany -- all members of the P5+1 that is negotiating with Iran -- underscores that serious differences remain. Iran has in the past few weeks repeatedly declared its "inalienable" right to pursue a nuclear programme for peaceful purposes, while insisting that sanctions be lifted. While the Western powers and Iran both say they want an agreement, neither is yet willing to cede sufficient ground.

Uganda defies critics to take lead at UN assembly

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Uganda's foreign minister was elected president of the UN General Assembly's 69th session Wednesday, side-stepping criticism from US activists opposed to its tough anti-gay laws. Sam Kutesa was acclaimed president unopposed and to a round of applause from member states, then congratulated by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon four months after the legislation was signed. Kutesa stepped down as foreign minister in 2011 for 10 months after prosecutors filed graft charges against him over a $4.8 million hotel deal for a 2007 Commonwealth summit in Kampala. Questioned about his relationship with Entebbe Handling Services, a company he once chaired, and its contracts with UN peacekeeping missions, Kutesa declared an end to his business links.

Ethics Office Thinks GOP Rep. Broke Law

Two of Steve Stockman's staffers gave $7,500 to his campaign, in violation of federal campaign-finance regulations. The Office of Congressional Ethics reports there's good reason to believe he was covering it up.

Mosul residents fleeing to Arbil berate Iraq's Maliki

Arbil (Iraq) (AFP) - Thousands of people who fled Iraq's second city of Mosul after it was overrun by jihadists wait in the blistering heat, hoping to enter the safety of the nearby Kurdish region and furious at Baghdad's failure to help them. As many as half a million people are thought to have fled Mosul, which was captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) Tuesday after a spectacular assault that routed the army. At a roadblock some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, a long line of men, women and children has been queueing under the blazing sun since morning, seeking permits allowing them stay. Hot and tired they may be, but they don't hesitate to vent their anger at Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

US business chiefs call for immigration reform

Heads of major US companies on Wednesday urged immigration reform as crucial to boosting US economic growth, amid speculation the issue was dead after a shock Republican election defeat. The Business Roundtable, an influential group representing top chief executives, said that fixing America's "broken immigration system" would unleash a powerful force that drives growth and bolsters the business sector. The group issued a report laying out the economic case for immigration reform, which coincidentally landed as Washington political circles reeled from Tuesday's unexpected defeat of Republican Party chieftain Eric Cantor in a Virginia primary election. Cantor, the US House of Representatives majority leader, was trounced by a university professor backed by the radical conservative Tea Party, David Brat, who campaigned against Cantor's support of legislation that would allow the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the country and become US citizens.

Israel president Rivlin to usher in new era, say analysts

The election of populist hawk Reuven Rivlin as Israeli president ushers in a new diplomatic era and highlights Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's growing isolation within his own party, analysts say. The 74-year-old Jerusalem native 'Ruby' Rivlin -- a veteran member of Netanyahu's rightwing Likud party -- will succeed dovish elder statesman Shimon Peres, but is unlikely to make his presence felt anywhere near as much on the international stage. Reuven Hazan, a politics chair at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said Rivlin would respect the "largely... ceremonial and symbolic position" of the presidency. In two terms as speaker, Rivlin was a "champion of the Israeli parliament against the Israeli government, even though he was a member of the majority," Hazan said.

Israel strikes Gaza, blames Abbas for rocket fire

An Israeli air strike killed a Palestinian in Gaza on Wednesday after new rocket fire from the territory prompted Israel's premier to warn he holds Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas responsible. Two Palestinians were also wounded in the evening raid in the northern Gaza Strip, the emergency services said. The Israeli military said it had targeted "terrorists affiliated to the international jihad," its designation for Al-Qaeda inspired groups in Gaza. Abbas, who swore in a new merged government for the Palestinian territories last week replacing the Hamas administration in Gaza, condemned the rocket fire, which Israeli officials said hit the Eshkol region without causing any casualties or damage.

House considers bill to waive school meal rules

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is considering legislation to allow some schools to opt out of healthier meal standards. It's a proposal that has drawn a veto threat from the White House.

After Karachi attack, first US drone strike in Pakistan this year kills 6

Miranshah (Pakistan) (AFP) - The first US drone strike in Pakistan this year on Wednesday killed at least six militants, officials said, as Washington resumed the controversial programme after a brazen Taliban attack on Karachi airport earlier this week. The timing of the strike is bound to raise suspicions of coordination between the two countries after drone attacks were reportedly suspended at Islamabad's request last December to give Pakistan space to pursue a peace process. Pressure has been mounting on the government to launch a ground offensive in the Taliban-infested North Waziristan tribal district after a dramatic week that began with the all-night siege Monday of Karachi's Jinnah International in which 37 people including the 10 attackers were killed.

Congress, FBI moving on VA health care

WASHINGTON (AP) — As Congress moves to help thousands of military veterans enduring long wait times for VA medical care, the FBI said it has opened a criminal investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Suicide bomber kills four Malian, Chadian troops in Mali

A suicide bomber killed at least four Malian and Chadian soldiers at a military camp in rebel-infested north-eastern Mali on Wednesday, army sources told AFP. The bomber struck in a car laden with explosives at the entrance to the camp, which houses local soldiers as well as international troops from the United Nations' MINUSMA peacekeeping force, they said. The suicide bomber died and at least four Chadian and Malian soldiers were killed in Aguelhok," a Malian military source said. An African military source in Aguelhok, a town of 8,000 in the Ifoghas mountain range, said several soldiers had also been wounded.

Italian Catholic community warns Christians at risk in Iraq

An Italian Catholic community warned Wednesday of violence against Christians in Iraq, where a jihadist takeover in Mosul has seen as many as half a million people flee their homes. "From the sketchy information coming out of Mosul it appears Christians are once more the victims of terrorism and bloodshed," the Sant'Egidio community, which promotes dialogue between religions, said in a statement. "An explosion of extremist violence is putting at risk a project of religious integration and social development, based on coexistence and collaboration between Christians and Muslims," it said. Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and their allies on Tuesday seized Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province, and militants have since then captured a large swathe of northern and north-central Iraq.

AP sources: Cantor plans to resign from leadership

WASHINGTON (AP) — Repudiated at the polls, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor intends to resign his leadership post, officials said Wednesday, clearing the way for a potentially disruptive Republican shake-up a few months before midterm elections with control of Congress at stake.