BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An al Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for a wave of bombings across Iraq that killed 60 people on Monday and the Interior Ministry said it was facing an „open war” from insurgents bent on plunging the country into sectarian strife.The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which was formed earlier this year through a merger between al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Syria, said in a statement posted online it had carefully selected its targets, which were mainly Shi’ites.The 17 blasts were the latest in a relentless campaign of bombings and shootings that have killed more than 4,000 people since the start of the year. Nearly 900 people have lost their lives in militant attacks in July.Another 26 people were killed in scattered attacks on Tuesday evening, and the bodies of two unidentified men were found in the northern city of Mosul with gunshot wounds and their hands bound behind their backs.”The country is currently facing an open war from bloodthirsty sectarian forces that aim to plunge the country into chaos,” said the Interior Ministry, warning it would deal harshly with anyone found harboring insurgents.The ministry said it was setting up a hotline for citizens to report information that uncovered „terrorist cells”, offering big cash rewards to anyone who came forward.Hundreds of convicts ran free after simultaneous attacks on two high-security prisons last week, raising questions about the ability of Iraq’s security services to combat al Qaeda, which has been regaining momentum in its insurgency against the Shi’ite-led government.”The latest operations came at the height of security deployment after the blessed operations to break the chains of the lions in Abu Ghraib and Taji jails,” read the statement by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.The group said Monday’s attacks were part of a „heavy price” the government would pay for its mistreatment of the Sunni minority, which resents Shi’ite supremacy since the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.The jailbreaks came exactly one year after the leader of al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, launched a „Breaking the Walls” campaign that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority, the group said in a statement.In a separate statement, a spokesman for the combined Syrian and Iraqi groups said the „Breaking the Walls” offensive was over and al Qaeda would move on to a new phase called „the Harvest of the Soldiers”, calling Sunnis to join their ranks.Sectarian tensions in Iraq and the wider region have been inflamed by the civil war in neighboring Syria, where mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are fighting to overthrow a leader backed by Shi’ite Iran.A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Shi’ite mosque on the northern outskirts of Baghdad on Tuesday evening, killing six people, and another bomb in a Sunni mosque in the town of Tuz Khurmato killed three.Six people were killed when a bomb exploded outside a cafe in central Baquba 50 km (30 miles) northeast of Baghdad.In Baghdad, two blasts near a Sunni mosque in the western al-Jihad district killed two people, and three bombs went off in a busy street in the Turath neighborhood, killing three others, police said.Gunmen attacked a police patrol in central Mosul, killing two, and in Tarmiya, north of Baghdad, a bomb struck another police patrol, also killing two. A bomb targeted a third police patrol in the town of Mishahda, killing two more.(Reporting by Kareem Raheem in Baghdad, Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Ziad al-Sinjary in Mosul and Ghazwan Hassan in Tikrit; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Stacey Joyce)
WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama’s latest public comments on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline have highlighted the wildly divergent job estimates associated with the project while raising concerns among American proponents that he’s preparing to reject it.The White House hasn’t responded to queries about where the president got his paltry estimate of 2,000 potential jobs during a recent interview with the New York Times. A spokesman said simply that Obama’s remarks prove he is trying to „drain the politics” from the Keystone XL debate.But a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official said Tuesday that Obama’s public comments about the pipeline over the past few weeks suggest he might be setting the stage to delay a decision on Keystone XL even further.”He’s talked about the need to focus on the climate impact, he’s talked about looking at the jobs numbers and whether they’re significant, he’s talked about national security issues associated with the pipeline,” Matt Koch, the chamber’s energy and pipeline specialist, said in an interview.”They’re all important but they’ve all been part of the process, and to keep shifting around from one issue to another publicly is causing concerns that he wants to leave the door open to request more studies. And it’s not necessary — all those aspects have been looked at with a lot of scrutiny already.”Koch added that Obama’s low-ball job estimate in his interview with the Times, published Sunday, was „disturbing” given the president keeps referring to the importance of the approval process and yet doesn’t seem to have grasped his own administration’s findings.”Obviously he’s not paying much attention to the potential benefits despite this process he keeps referring to,” Koch said. „To see him come out and really miss the mark and publicly downplay the benefits is very frustrating.”Obama told the Times that Keystone XL „might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline — which might take a year or two.”He added with a chuckle: „And then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in a economy of 150 million working people.”That’s in direct opposition to the U.S. State Department’s draft report on the project.The analysis released earlier this year by State Department officials found that the pipeline would support 42,100 jobs during the one- to two-year construction period, with total wages of about $2 billion, although only 35 permanent and temporary jobs will remain once Keystone XL is fully operational.Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, also pointed to the State Department numbers when publicly taking issue this week with Obama’s job estimate. The department is assessing the pipeline because it crosses an international border, but a final decision from Obama isn’t expected until late this year or early 2014.Rather than relying on the State Department initial findings, Obama appears to be basing his jobs estimate on an anti-pipeline study by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute.The Cornell study says each segment of the pipeline requires 500 workers. Given the southern leg of Keystone XL is near completion, 10 segments of the pipeline remain — translating into 5,000 jobs over two years, or 2,500 jobs a year.Adding to the confusion, however, was TransCanada itself, which said on Sunday that 20,000 jobs would be created over two years — 22,100 fewer jobs than the State Department says would result, but 15,000 more than forecast by the Cornell study.On Tuesday, TransCanada’s Shawn Howard explained the 22,100-job gulf between the State Department and TransCanada. The State Department report, he said, is including another 22,100 „indirect” and spinoff jobs related to the construction of Keystone XL, including employment in professional services, lodging and food services.”We speak to what we know — and that’s consistently been the 20,000 direct construction and manufacturing jobs,” Howard said. „We did not include additional indirect or induced jobs in that number ….. We report and account for jobs in exactly the same fashion as the U.S. Department of Labor does.”Keystone XL job claims have long been a source of conflict in the United States — and, at times, wild exaggeration. The American Petroleum Institute once claimed 500,000 jobs would be created by Keystone XL, and during the 2012 Republican presidential race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry pegged the number of potential of jobs at „100,000 to one million.”Congressional Republicans haven’t gone that far, but they’re expressing dismay this week about the president’s insistence the pipeline would create minimal American jobs.“A president disparaging private-sector jobs … is beyond belief,” Fred Upton, the chairman of the House of Representatives’ energy and commerce committee, told Fox News.”In this economy, any source of private job creation should be welcomed with open arms. After nearly five years … there is no reason to delay these jobs another day. Republicans, Democrats, leading unions, and job creators all agree, it’s time to start building.”The Republican National Committee has also taken aim at the president for his insistence that there’s no evidence Keystone XL would be a „big jobs generator.””President Obama joked about the potential job-creating power of the Keystone XL pipeline. With our economy lagging, the president should be jumping at any opportunity to create jobs instead of bending to the will of special (interests) at the expense of out of work Americans,” the committee said in a statement.Sen. John McCain disputed the president’s numbers, asserting at a luncheon in D.C. on Monday that the pipeline would create thousands of jobs while chastising Obama for looking down his nose at any job creation potential.”It is wrong of him to say that it really wouldn’t mean many jobs when we’ve got 7.6 per cent unemployment across this country,” the Arizona lawmaker said. „It seems to me that every new job would be important when we have unemployment that high.”Nebraska congressman Lee Terry said the president now has „zero credibility when he speaks about infrastructure projects creating jobs.”And Paul Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, has suggested the pipeline may be part of upcoming budget negotiations that are already threatening to become toxic. Some congressional Republicans are vowing to shut down the federal government if the president’s sweeping health-care reform law isn’t defunded.It’s the second time in as many months that the president has spoken publicly about Keystone. In his highly anticipated national climate change speech last month, Obama said pipeline shouldn’t be approved if it leads to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.In the Times interview, Obama also said Canada may have to reduce the carbon footprint of Alberta’s oilsands in order for the pipeline to win approval. Keystone XL would carry millions of barrels of oilsands bitumen a week through six U.S. states to Gulf Coast refineries.”I’m going to evaluate this based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere,” he said. „And there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tarsands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.”Gina McCarthy, the new head of the powerful Environmental Protection Agency, wouldn’t weigh in on Keystone XL in great detail during her first public speech since starting the job.But she did note that in his June climate address, Obama „sent a very strong signal that climate’s impact would be taken into consideration in this decision, and in others.”The EPA has proven itself to be far more wary of Keystone XL than the State Department, and has twice criticized the department’s environmental assessments of the pipeline as being insufficient. McCarthy said Tuesday the EPA would continue to provide input on State’s environmental findings on Keystone XL.“I think the best that the EPA can do is to continue to be an honest commenter on the environmental impact statement, which we have done our best to do and will continue to do that, and work with the administration as difficult decisions are made,” she said in response to a question from an environmentalist following her address to Harvard Law School in Boston.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. spy agencies plan to release newly declassified documents as early as this week about the National Security Agency surveillance programs revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden, and also material related to a secret intelligence court, a U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday.The declassified documents were intended to provide the public more information about the programs as part of a commitment by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for greater transparency, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.The documents would also include information about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the official said. That court operates in secrecy in making decisions on government surveillance requests.General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, said he was glad the government was taking action to declassify more information.”I think it is the right thing. I think it helps articulate what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it,” he told Reuters in Las Vegas where he is scheduled to speak at the Black Hat conference of cybersecurity experts on Wednesday.”I think the more we can give to the American people, the better. We always have to balance security of the nation with transparency. But in this case I think it is a good thing,” Alexander said.Snowden’s release of information about the NSA surveillance programs to American and European media outlets sparked an uproar over revelations last month that U.S. intelligence agencies had collected data on phone calls and other communications of Americans and foreign citizens as a tool for fighting terrorism.The move to declassify more information about the surveillance programs, which intelligence officials say have helped thwart terrorist attacks, comes as some lawmakers seek curbs in response to privacy concerns.Snowden has been charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and is stuck at an airport in Russia while seeking asylum in a country that will not hand him over to the United States. (Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Jim Finkle in Las Vegas; Editing by Andrew Hay and Mohammad Zargham)