In Ukraine, a day of mourning shows nation divided
KIEV/DONETSK Ukraine (Reuters) – Church bells rang out over Kiev’s Maidan square and hundreds of mourners bowed their heads in silence on Sunday, a national day of mourning, to honor 49 Ukrainian servicemen killed by pro-Russian separatists.But some 600 km (375 miles) away to the east in the city of Donetsk, heart of an armed insurgency against central rule by Kiev, there were few signs of mourning as people enjoyed a lazy stroll, sipped coffee in cafes and watched their children play.Few events illustrate more clearly the bitter chasm that has opened up between east Ukraine and the rest of the country of 45 million. Heroes to some, the 49 killed when a missile hit their plane on Saturday were enemies to others.”I feel desperate, like it’s a betrayal. I don’t know what I can do to help,” Volodymyr Radchenko, an engineer in his fifties, said on the Maidan, cradle of an uprising which ousted Ukraine’s Moscow-backed president in February.Nearby, an Orthodox priest led prayers on a stage, flanked by men in black masks and camouflage fatigues.Radchenko’s depressed mood and sense of helplessness are shared by many in Kiev, whose euphoria over Viktor Yanukovich’s overthrow as president has given way to dismay as Russia annexed Crimea in March and separatists rose up in the east in April.”I’m very worried,” said choreographer Iryna Zhadan, starting to weep. „I cry and pray a lot for the dead soldiers.”WORRIES ABOUT THE FUTURE-More than 100 protesters were killed in clashes on and around the Maidan before their hate figure, Yanukovich, fell. Makeshift shrines have been erected around the square and some protesters are still camping out on its edges, worried about the fragile peace and the direction the country is taking.Ukraine now has a pro-European leadership and a new president, Petro Poroshenko, who has intensified a military campaign in the east since being elected on May 25 but has also launched tentative peace talks with a Russian envoy.He has promised a tough response to the shooting down of the plane which some say is needed to crush the separatists but others fear could lead to all-out war with rebels armed with tanks which Kiev and Washington say come from Russia.Moscow denies backing the rebels. Facing the possibility of further Western sanctions, it disavows any plan for a military invasion to absorb mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.But some Ukrainians still fear Russia and the West could fight a proxy war in Ukraine and would rather let the rebellious regions of Donetsk and Luhansk go than face such a conflict.”It’s awful. I just don’t understand why we need Donetsk and Luhansk,” said Lyudmila Shevchenko, a 60-year-old Kiev resident. „If they like it without us, let them live on their own and we won’t send our children to their deaths.”The downing of the military plane as it came in to land at the airport outside Luhansk killed more government servicemen than any other incident since the conflict began.It has increased tension as Moscow and Kiev try to agree how much Ukraine should pay for Russian gas before a Monday deadline for Kiev to pay $1.95 billion in debts or have its gas cut off, that could disrupt flows to the rest of Europe.It also fuelled a violent protest at the Russian embassy in Kiev and a diplomatic spat over insulting comments by Ukraine’s foreign minister about President Vladimir Putin. [ID:nL5N0OW0GX]EAST DOES NOT MOURN-But few sympathizers could be found in east Ukraine, where leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) ignored Poroshenko’s call for a day of mourning and did not arrange a minute’s silence to remember the victims.”We could hold a day of mourning every day for the children and ordinary citizens who are dead because of the Ukrainians,” a DPR spokesman said. „In Kiev they’re mourning the deaths of soldiers who were coming here to kill innocent people – it’s unbelievable … If they don’t want soldiers to die, they shouldn’t have violated Luhansk airspace.”In Donetsk, an industrial hub of one million people, there was as much discussion of the soccer World Cup in Brazil as of the shooting down of the plane. Many regard the Anti-Terrorist Operation, stepped up by Poroshenko, as driving a deeper rift between Ukrainians.”They wanted a war, now they can have it. War brings casualties and they have to face that,” said Zina Demyanova, 60, an accountant.Sergei, a 35-year-old waiter, described the downing of the plane as a „legitimate military victory”.”I’m not sorry. I’m not mourning. We wanted to be acknowledged (by Kiev), the east (of Ukraine) wanted only that, and they sent their killers instead,” he said.A retired administrative clerk who gave her name only as Iryna was among the few questioned by Reuters in the east who said openly they regretted the loss of life on both sides.”This (war) is nonsense, murder. I was crying last night and I cry every day ever since this madness started because all these people have mothers and families and children,” she said.Others suggest few people are prepared to speak out against the rebels in the east because they are afraid.”It’s a horrible day and I am honestly mourning. They killed 49 people in cold blood, people who came to protect their country from this backward lot,” said a student who gave her name only as Svetlana.”You know, there are people in Donbass (the coal mining area of east Ukraine) who do not support this madhouse here and we are begging Kiev to rescue us.”(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Donetsk and by Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk and Margarita Chornokondratenko in Kiev, Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Gareth Jones)
Ukraine faces gas cut threat as talks with Russia fail
KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ukraine faces the threat of Russia cutting off gas supplies when a 0600 GMT deadline passes on Monday after talks on a long-running gas pricing dispute failed.Russian natural gas producer Gazprom said it was not extending the deadline for Ukraine to start paying off its gas debts after the discussions ended in the early hours of the morning in Kiev, raising the prospect of disruptions to gas flows to the European Union via Ukraine.The breakdown of the talks is likely to increase political tensions that have mounted in the past few days between Kiev and Moscow as Ukrainian government forces clashed heavily with pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.The latest in several rounds of talks ended at around 1:30 a.m. (2230 GMT) despite a last-minute attempt by the European Union’s energy commission to secure a compromise.Moscow says Ukraine has a total of more than $4 billion in gas debts and wants almost half that sum paid by 0600 GMT.”The Russian side is expecting payment of the accumulated gas debt of $1.951 billion before 10 a.m. (0600 GMT) on June 16,” Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said.”If the funds are not paid, gas supplies will, as was announced earlier, be switched to a pre-payment system.”European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told reporters in Kiev that he had made a compromise proposal during the talks, which resumed late on Sunday, but Moscow had declined the offer.Western countries had seen the talks as a gauge of President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to compromise in Russia’s political crisis with Ukraine, which has pushed relations with the West to their worst level since the Cold War ended.But relations deteriorated further last week, with Kiev accusing Moscow of arming the separatists with tanks, protesters attacking Russia’s embassy in Kiev and the rebels shooting down a military plane, killing all 49 personnel on board.Tensions were already high following Russia’s annexation of Crimea after Moscow-leaning president Viktor Yanukovich was ousted and pro-Western leaders took over power.PRICE GAP-Ukraine wants to pay $268.5 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas – the price it had been offered when Yanukovich was in power – but, in a compromise last week, said it would agree to pay $326 for an interim period until a lasting deal was reached.Moscow had been seeking $485 – the price it reverted to after Yanukovich was toppled – but offered to remove export duty, a move that would reduce the price to $385, around the average amount paid by Russia’s European clients.Russia refused to go any lower at the latest talks, which took place in the Ukrainian government’s headquarters after a round of talks in a Kiev hotel on Saturday.”Such a price is unacceptable for Ukraine and Ukraine will not pay it,” said Andriy Kobolev, head of the Ukrainian state gas company, Naftogaz.Oettinger proposed Kiev pay $1 billion immediately and then make monthly debt payments to Gazprom, while paying $385 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas in winter and around $300 in the summer months.”Gazprom didn’t accept this package, my proposal,” he said.Ukraine’s prime minister, who attended the latest talks, had already told the energy sector and local authorities to start preparing for gas cuts and Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said Gazprom had made clear that cuts were a real possibility.Asked by reporters what would happen when the deadline passed, Prodan said: „You know, the Russian side declared that if there is no advance payment, restrictions will be imposed on gas supplies.”Asked whether Kiev would try to schedule another meeting before the deadline, he said nothing was planned but Ukraine was ready for more talks as soon as possible.The EU gets about a third of its gas needs from Russia and around half of this is received through pipelines that cross Ukraine. It suffered serious disruptions in supplies during an earlier „gas war” in 2009.The impact of gas supply cuts would not initially be huge because it is summer and Ukraine and the EU have enough gas in storage to cope, but each would fear cuts in the winter.(Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Sandra Maler)
France benefits from first key use of goal tech
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) — Goal-line technology did its job when it counted at the World Cup, although not without a little bit of confusion.Related Stories
France was the beneficiary of the first World Cup goal awarded thanks to the new system being used in Brazil, which ruled correctly that Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares had narrowly spilled the ball over his own line.That gave France its second goal in a 3-0 win and helped rule out any real controversy in an situation that would have been difficult for any referee to judge correctly. However, Honduras players and coach Luis Suarez were still angry after the video replay showed two separate incidents and therefore conflicting results.The goal came in the 48th minute, when Karim Benzema’s shot hit the far post and rebounded to Valladares, who fumbled the ball into the goal.The seven video cameras trained on the goal established that the ball had briefly crossed the line by a few inches, alerting the referee on his watch with a flashing „GOAL,” before the ball was pushed out again by Valladares.The confusion happened when the system showed replays of Benzema’s shot hitting the post with the verdict „NO GOAL” before continuing to show the rest of the sequence and the ball crossing the line.View galleryFrance’s Karim Benzema looks back to see Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares bundle the ball int …The change infuriated the Honduras players, some of whom remonstrated with referee Sandro Ricci, while Honduras coach Luis Suarez bickered with France coach Didier Deschamps. At the end of the match, they hugged and made up.”Well, I wasn’t angry because they accepted the goal. I was angry because they didn’t accept the goal. The first decision was ‘No goal’ and then the machine said it was a goal,” Suarez said through a translator. „So I don’t know what to think. That’s the point. If the technology sends a clear message, then I don’t understand how the system can say it’s a goal first and then ‘No goal.’ What is the truth?”That video replay also confused some TV commentators and viewers, and France defender Mamadou Sakho said that part of the system could still be improved.”You see ‘No goal’ and then you see ‘Goal.’ Why not just show ‘Goal’? Then everyone can agree and you don’t need to hear the jeers from the crowd,” France defender Mamadou Sakho said. „Even I doubted for 10 seconds when I saw the ‘No goal.’ I thought ‘Oh dear, he’s going to disallow it.’ But then you see the ball had crossed the line.”Deschamps had some sympathy with the Hondurans over the images that were broadcast by organizers.View galleryHonduras’ goalkeeper Noel Valladares scores on own goal as Honduras’ Osman Chavez, right, wa …”The only problem was that they showed an image on the screen that didn’t correspond to the goal,” the France coach said. „They showed the ball hitting the post when the ball hadn’t crossed the line yet. The ball was clearly over the line after the goalkeeper had fumbled.”Obviously, I can put myself in their position and, of course, they were very angry and so were the fans — because if you’re going to show an image it should be the right one.”As for the use of technology, though, he said: „It’s a very good thing.”Midfielder Yohan Cabaye, whose perfectly weighted pass led to Benzema’s shot, used good old-fashioned eyesight to determine what had happened.”From where I was standing I could see the ball had gone in, and I was right,” Cabaye said. „I think if the referee gave it straight away, he knew on his watch that it was a goal. But there was a bit of confusion when we saw ‘No goal’ on the giant screen.”View galleryHonduras players complain to referee Sandro Ricci from Brazil after he awarded a goal to France usin …FIFA responded to the criticism by saying that „in order to ensure maximum clarity in the future for those unfamiliar with (goal-line technology), FIFA will review the coverage of this match … to see if any improvements can be made to enhance the viewing experience for fans.”The system is being used for the first time at a major international football tournament, although different types of goal-line technology have already been implemented in club football.”We’ve been using it in the Premier League this season,” said France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who plays for Tottenham. „It worked, it confirmed the goal was valid. The images speak for themselves.”France also benefited from the first ever Golden Goal at a World Cup when defender Laurent Blanc scored late into extra time in the second round against Paraguay in 1998 — the year it won the tournament.Benzema scored France’s two other goals, the first with a penalty, the other with an emphatic right-foot finish.
Romney blasts Hillary Clinton as ‘clueless’ Her tenure as secretary of state was ‘a monumental bust,’ former GOP nominee says
The pictures on a militant website appear to show masked fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, loading the captives onto flatbed trucks before forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs. The final images show the bodies of the captives soaked in blood after being shot.The grisly images could further sharpen sectarian tensions as hundreds of Shiites heed a call from their most revered spiritual leader to take up arms against the Sunni militants who have swept across the north. ISIL has vowed to take the battle to Baghdad and cities further south housing revered Shiite shrines.While the city of seven million is not in any immediate danger of falling into the hands of the militants, Sunday’s bombings could raise tensions. Food prices in the city have risen, twofold in some cases, because of disruption to transport on the main road heading north from the capital.The government bolstered defenses around Baghdad Sunday, a day after hundreds of Shiite men paraded through the streets with arms in response to a call by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for Iraqis to defend their country. ISIL has vowed to attack Baghdad but its advance to the south seems to have stalled in recent days. Thousands of Shiites have also volunteered to join the fight against the ISIL, also in response to al-Sistani’s call.Despite the added security, a string of explosions killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 30 in the city, police and hospital officials said. One car bomb went off in the city center, killing 10 and wounding 21. After nightfall, another explosion hit the area, killing two and wounding five. The third went off near a falafel shop in the city’s sprawling Sadr City district, killing three and wounding seven.Baghdad has seen an escalation in suicide and car bombings in recent months, mostly targeting Shiite neighborhoods or security forces. The police and hospital officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.Armed police, including SWAT teams, were seen over the weekend manning checkpoints in Baghdad, searching vehicles and checking drivers’ documents. Security was particularly tightened on the northern and western approaches of the city, the likely targets of any advance by ISIL fighters on the capital. The city looked gloomy on Sunday, with thin traffic and few shoppers in commercial areas.At one popular park along the Tigris river, only a fraction of the thousands who usually head there were present on Sunday evening. In the commercial Karada district in central Baghdad, many of the sidewalk hawkers who sell anything from shoes to toys and clothes were absent.The crisis in Iraq has prompted the United States to order an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf. It also laid out specific ways for Iraq to show it is forging the national unity necessary to gain assistance in its fight against the ISIL and other militants.Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday ordered the USS George H.W. Bush from the northern Arabian Sea as President Barack Obama considered possible military options for Iraq. Hagel’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said the move will give Obama additional flexibility if military action were required to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq.Accompanying the carrier will be the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun. The ships, which carry Tomahawk missiles that could reach Iraq, were expected to complete their move into the Persian Gulf by the end of the day. The Bush’s fighter jets also could easily reach Iraq.In neighboring Iran, the acting commander of the Islamic Republic’s army ground forces, Gen. Kiomars Heidari, said Iran has increased its defenses along its western border with Iraq, though there was no immediate threat to the frontier.In Baghdad, Iraqi government officials said ISIL fighters were trying to capture the city of Tal Afar in northern Iraq on Sunday and raining down rockets seized last week from military arms depots. The officials said the local garrison suffered heavy casualties and the town’s main hospital was unable to cope with the number of wounded, without providing exact numbers.The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters. Tal Afar is mainly inhabited by Turkmen, an ethnic minority.Iraq’s top military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, confirmed that fighting was raging at Tal Afar, but indicated that the militants were suffering heavy casualties. On all fronts north of the capital, he said, a total of 297 militants have been killed in the past 24 hours.There was no way to independently confirm his claims.ISIL and allied Sunni militants captured a vast swath of northern Iraq last week, including second city Mosul and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, as Iraqi troops, many of them armed and trained by the U.S., fled in disarray, surrendering vehicles, weapons and ammunition to the powerful extremist group, which also fights in Syria.The captions of the photos say the killings were to avenge the killing of an ISIL commander, Abdul-Rahman al-Beilawy, whose death was reported by both the government and ISIL shortly before the al-Qaida splinter group’s lightning offensive, which has plunged Iraq into its bloodiest crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011.”This is the fate that awaits the Shiites sent by Nouri to fight the Sunnis,” one caption read, apparently referring to Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.Al-Moussawi, the military spokesman, confirmed the photos’ authenticity and said he was aware of cases of mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas held by ISIL.U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay warned on Friday of „murder of all kinds” and other war crimes in Iraq, and said the number killed in recent days may run into the hundreds, while the wounded could approach 1,000.Speaking in Geneva, she said her office has received reports that militants rounded up and killed Iraqi soldiers as well as 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul.Her office also heard of „summary executions and extrajudicial killings” after ISIL militants overran Iraqi cities and towns, the statement said.Most of the soldiers who appear in the pictures are in civilian clothes. Some are shown wearing military uniforms underneath, indicating they may have hastily disguised themselves as civilians to try to escape.Many soldiers and policemen left their uniforms and equipment behind as the militants swept into Mosul, Tikrit and surrounding areas.The captions did not provide a date or location, but al-Moussawi said the killings took place in Salahuddin province, the capital of which is Tikrit.Some of the pictures appeared to show some of the soldiers pleading for their lives, others seemed terrified.All soldiers appeared in their early 20s, with some wearing the jerseys of such European soccer clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona. Some of the militants wore black baggy pants and shirts, many of them had sandals or flip flops.Iraqi authorities appear to be trying to limit the dissemination of such images and other militant propaganda being shared through social media and to deny the militants their use for operational purposes.Martin Frank, the CEO of IQ Networks, an Internet service provider in Iraq, told The Associated Press that authorities have ordered multiple social media sites including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to be blocked. On Sunday, they tightened the restrictions further by telling network operators to halt traffic for virtual private networks, which allow users to bypass Internet filters.Internet traffic in several areas overrun by militants, including Mosul and Tikrit, was ordered to be cut off altogether, he said.No timeframe was given for the shutdowns._Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Raphael Satter in London and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
U.S. orders mandatory inspections for F-35s after engine issue
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military has ordered mandatory inspections of all Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets before further flights after a Marine Corps F-35B model suffered an in-flight emergency last week, a Pentagon spokesman said on Sunday.Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the F-35 program office, said the inspections were ordered late on Friday but that a majority of the 97 F-35s in the fleet – 69 operational jets used for training and 28 test aircraft – had already been inspected and cleared to resume flights on Monday.He said the inspections, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, were focused on the oil flow management valve fitting on all F135 engines, which are built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp. The valve provides oil flow to the engine bearing compartments.News of the engine issue came just days after Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s chief arms buyer, said the F-35 program was making progress but more work was needed on developing the jet’s software and improving its reliability.The inspections were ordered after an F-35B model suffered an in-flight emergency on June 10 caused by oil loss in the jet’s engine at a Marine Corps base in Yuma, Arizona, where issues have now been found with a total of three valves, DellaVedova said.He said the pilot returned to base safely and there were no injuries.No issues have been discovered at the other bases where F-35s are flown in California, Florida, Arizona and Maryland, he said.Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates said the company was working closely with the Pentagon’s F-35 program office to determine the cause of the issue. He said it took about 90 minutes to inspect each aircraft, and nearly all planes had been inspected and cleared for further flights.Bates said the F135 engine had completed nearly 32,000 hours of combined ground and flight testing, with more than 16,000 logged in operational flights. Engine availability had remained steady at or above 98 percent, he said.Bates also said the engine was designed to survive significant damage from foreign objects as well as oil deprivation, and the control system for the engine included redundant mechanical and electronic parts.DellaVedova said the source of that F135 engine oil leak appeared to be a supply line to engine bearings and a fitting that separated from the body of the valve in question.It was not clear if the issue was maintenance-related.(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Sandra Maler)
Palestinian president’s wife treated in Israel hospital
Israeli news site Ynet said Amina Abbas was admitted to the private Assuta hospital in Tel Aviv on Thursday.She underwent surgery on her leg before being discharged on Sunday.The hospital refused to comment on the report, Ynet said.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Saturday held Abbas responsible for the safe return of three youths Israel said were abducted by the Islamist Hamas movement.Gilad Shaer, 16, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Eyal Ifrach, 19 disappeared on Thursday night, 10 days after the establishment of a new Palestinian government of technocrats pieced together by Abbas’s Fatah movement and Hamas.On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said „many indications point to Hamas’ involvement” in their kidnapping.Palestinian security in the West Bank was cooperating with Israeli forces in its efforts to find the youths, which included detaining 80 Palestinians overnight — many of them Hamas members.Abbas is not the only Palestinian leader to prefer Israeli medical facilities for family members.Earlier this month, the mother-in-law of former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya was allowed into Israel from Gaza for cancer treatment.In November, his granddaughter was taken to an Israeli hospital to be treated for an infection in her digestive tract.
Iran warns against military intervention in Iraq
„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.Responding to the crisis, the Pentagon said on Saturday the United States had ordered an aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, into the Gulf.Afkham’s comments come a day after President Hassan Rouhani said he believed the Iraqis have the capacity to „repel terrorism” and that Iran had not been asked for help by its neighbour.View galleryIranian President Hassan Rouhani, pictured during a meeting in Tehran, on June 15, 2014 (AFP Photo/A …But in surprise comments, he added that Iran may consider cooperating with its arch-foe the United States to fight the Sunni extremist militants in Iraq.”If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it,” he said, despite the lack of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington for more than three decades.”We have said that all countries must unite in combating terrorism. But right now regarding Iraq… we have not seen the Americans taking a decision,” Rouhani added.However, National Supreme Security Council chief Ali Shamkhani dismissed any US-Iran cooperation over Iraq.”That is part of a psychological war, and is totally unreal,” Shamkhani said, denouncing „information published in the West’s media”.”As we have already said, if there is an official Iraqi request we will be ready to study it under the framework of international rules, and this concerns no other country,” added Shamkhani, a Rouhani appointee.The deployment of the US aircraft carrier group was ordered by Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and comes amid calls for air strikes to blunt the insurgents’ lightning offensive that caught Iraq’s security forces on the hop, with many soldiers throwing away their uniforms and fleeing.However, Iraqi troops launched a counter-offensive on Saturday, recapturing two towns north of Baghdad, while thousands of volunteers answered a call to arms from top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Security beefed up at US embassy in Baghdad
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that much of the U.S. embassy staff will stay in place even as parts of the country experience instability and violence. She did not specify the number of personnel affected by the shift. The embassy is within Baghdad’s Green Zone. It has about 5,000 personnel, making it the largest U.S. diplomatic post in the world.”Overall, a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission,” she said.Some embassy staff members have been temporarily moved elsewhere to more stable places at consulates in Basra in the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq and Irbil in the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northeastern Iraq and to Jordan, she said.U.S. travelers in the country were encouraged to exercise caution and limit travel to certain parts of Iraq.The State Department issued a travel warning for Iraq Sunday night that cautioned U.S. citizens to avoid „all but essential travel to Iraq. Travel within Iraq remains dangerous given the security situation.”Raw: Police, Military Tighten Baghdad Security Play Video„Due to the relocation of personnel from Baghdad, the embassy will only be restricted in its ability to offer all consular services; but emergency services are always available to U.S. citizens in need at any embassy or consulate anywhere in the world,” Psaki said.Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement that a „small number” of military personnel are helping to keep State Department facilities safe in Baghdad. He said embassy personnel are being moved by commercial, charter and State Department aircraft. But, Kirby says, the U.S. military has „airlift assets at the ready” should the State Department request them. A military official said about 150 Marines have been sent to aid with security and are already at the embassy.Islamic militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, have captured large swaths of territory north of Baghdad. Their advance on the Iraqi capital was prompting tighter security in the city of 7 million people.The State Department acted as the Iraqi government sought to bolster its defenses in Baghdad on Sunday. Despite the added security, a string of explosions killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 30 in the city, police and hospital officials said. And, an Islamic militant group behind the strife posted graphic photos that appeared to show its fighters massacring dozens of captured Iraqi soldiers.U.S. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said the ISIL militants’ claim of killing the Iraqi troops „is horrifying and a true depiction of the bloodlust that those terrorists represent.”View galleryShiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic S …She added that an ISIL claim that 1,700 Iraqi troops were killed in Tikrit could not be confirmed by the U.S. Tikrit is the hometown of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama on Sunday was briefed on the situation by National Security Adviser Susan Rice as he was spending Father’s Day in Rancho Mirage, California, where he was taking a brief vacation.Secretary of State John Kerry made calls to foreign ministers in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to discuss the threat and the need for Iraqi leaders to work together.Earlier Sunday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cannot keep his country together, and a U.S. alliance with Iran might be needed to do so.Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said a U.S. partnership with longtime foe Iran makes him uncomfortable but likened it to the United States working with Soviet leader Josef Stalin in World War II against Adolf Hitler. He says the United States has to do what it can to keep Baghdad from falling to insurgents.View galleryThis image posted on a militant website on Saturday, June 14, 2014, which has been verified and is c …Iran says it has no interest in a destabilized Iraq as its neighbor.Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier to move from the northern Arabian Sea and it has arrived in the Persian Gulf as President Barack Obama considers possible military options for Iraq — although he has ruled out the possibility of putting American troops on the ground in Iraq. Kirby has said the move will give Obama additional flexibility if military action were required to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq.The carrier was accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun, which carry Tomahawk missiles that could reach Iraq.In a phone call Saturday with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Kerry said U.S. assistance „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,” according to a statement by the State Department.Graham spoke to CNN’s „State of the Union” and CBS’ „Face the Nation.”
World’s nuclear arsenal reduction slows down: Stockholm institute
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Around 200 protesters are marching toward Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium ahead of the World Cup match between Argentina and Bosnia.The demonstrators are outnumbered both by security forces and journalists. They are chanting „FIFA, go back to Switzerland,” referring to international soccer’s governing organization.Protests broke out across Brazil during last year’s Confederations Cup soccer tournament. At that time, more than 1 million Brazilians took to the streets in a single day in a show of widespread anger over lavish government spending on soccer stadiums for the World Cup while conditions in schools and hospitals remain woeful.A scattering of protests over spending have been staged around World Cup matches since the tournament began last week, but they have been small and have received little public support.
Kaymer closes out wire-to-wire US Open win
As he set it down on the table, Kaymer rubbed off a tiny smudge on the gleaming silver, which was only fitting.Over four days at Pinehurst No. 2, he dusted the field in a performance that ranks among the best.Kaymer set the 36-hole scoring record by opening with a pair of 65s. He never let anyone closer than four shots over the final 48 holes. Equipped with a five-shot lead, he was the only player from the last eight groups to break par.Welcome back, Martin.”You want to win majors in your career, but if you can win one more, it means so much more,” Kaymer said after closing with a 1-under 69 for an eight-shot victory over Rickie Fowler and two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton.View galleryMartin Kaymer, of Germany, holds up the trophy after wining the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehur …”Some people, especially when I went through that low, called me a one-hit wonder and those things. So it’s quite nice proof, even though I don’t feel like I need to prove a lot to people. But somehow, it’s quite satisfying to have two under your belt.”The 29-year-old German is a forgotten star no more.Kaymer returned to the elite in golf by turning the toughest test in golf into a runaway at Pinehurst No. 2, becoming only the seventh player to go wire-to-wire in the 114 years of the U.S. Open. Only three players finished the championship under par.One guy appeared to be playing a different tournament.”No one was catching Kaymer this week,” Compton said. „I was playing for second. I think we all were playing for second.”View galleryMartin Kaymer, of Germany, wipes his eyes behind the trophy after wining the U.S. Open golf tourname …Only a late bogey kept Kaymer from joining Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as the only players to finish a U.S. Open in double digits under par. He let his putter fall to the ground when his 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole dropped into the center of the cup, like so many others had this week.Kaymer finished at 9-under 271.His last two wins are the U.S. Open and The Players Championship, with the strongest and deepest field in golf. He never trailed after any round in both of them.”Martin was playing his own tournament,” Fowler said after recovering from a double bogey on the fourth hole to close with a 72.
This U.S. Open really ended Friday.View galleryMartin Kaymer, of Germany celebrates after winning the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., …No one had ever opened 65-65 in the U.S. Open, which broke the 36-hole record that McIlroy set three years ago rain-softened Congressional. When it could have gotten away from Kaymer in the third round, he stayed strong for a stabilizing 72.”He kind of killed the event in the first two days,” Henrik Stenson said. „He went out and shot two 65s and left everyone in the dust.”He did it again in the final round.Knowing the gallery was against him — the loud cheers for Fowler, clapping when Kaymer’s ball bounded over the back of the second green — he holed a 10-foot par putt, and then drilled a driver on the 313-yard third hole onto the green to set up a two-putt birdie.Fowler, in the final group of a major for the first time, fell back quickly on the fourth hole. He sent his third shot from a sandy path over the green and into some pine trees and had to make a 25-foot putt just to escape with double bogey.View galleryMartin Kaymer, of Germany rects after winning the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., Sund …”It was probably the toughest day that I played golf today, especially the first nine,” Kaymer said. „Because if you have two or three Americans chasing you, playing in America, it’s never easy being a foreigner. But I said at the ceremony as well that the fans were very fair. But it was a tough one. If you lead by five shots, it’s not easy.”A lot of people think, ‘Well, you have a little bit of a cushion.’ But if you approach that day in that way, with that attitude, it can be gone so quickly.”No chance on this day.Compton was the only player who really put up a fight. His birdie on No. 8 got him within four shots. Three bogeys in a five-hole stretch on the back nine did him in. Even so, Compton received a standing ovation walking the 18th green. He somehow scratched out a par from 50 yards away against the lip of a bunker.It wasn’t the Hollywood script he wanted, but it wasn’t a bad consolation — his first trip to the Masters next April.View galleryMartin Kaymer, of Germany celebrates after winning the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., …”I’ve never gotten this far along in my story,” Compton said. „I’m thrilled.”Kaymer joined Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Woods and McIlroy as the only players to win two majors and be No. 1 in the world before turning 30 since the world ranking began in 1986. He is the fourth European in the last five years to win the U.S. Open, after Europeans had gone 40 years without this title.It’s a rebirth for Kaymer, who reached No. 1 in the world in February 2011, only to believe that he needed a more rounded game. His preferred shot was a fade. Kaymer spent two hard years and a lot of lonely hours on the range in Germany and his American home in Scottsdale, Arizona.He was as low as No. 63 in the world six weeks ago. Now he goes to No. 11.Woods still holds the most dominant U.S. Open win — 15 shots at Pebble Beach in 2000. McIlroy holds the scoring record at 16-under 268.”I’m wondering how he did it,” McIlroy said. „Obviously, if you limit the mistakes, you might end up a couple under for the week. But to do what he’s doing … I think it’s nearly more impressive than what I did at Congressional.”Among those who congratulated Kaymer on the 18th green was Sandra Gal, a German player on the LPGA Tour. The U.S. Women’s Open takes over Pinehurst No. 2 on Monday.
Messi scores and lifts Argentina 2-1 over Bosnia
After a frustrating first half, the Argentina captain scored in trademark style in the 65th minute on Sunday night, completing a quick 1-2 connection with Gonzalo Higuain and running through defenders before striking a brilliant left-footed shot off the post.The goal — only the second for Messi on football’s biggest stage — set off wild celebrations among the throngs of Argentine fans that had turned the famed Maracana stadium into a sea of blue and white. It also energized an unimpressive Argentina team that was ahead at that point only because of an early own goal by Bosnia.Vedad Ibisevic scored a close-in goal in the 85th, but Argentina held on to win 2-1 in the Group F match.”It’s the first game, I was anxious, nervous,” Messi said. „It was important to start with a win. We’ve got to improve certain things, but it was important to start with the three points.”Bosnia got the worst possible start to its first World Cup when Sead Kolasinovic scored an own goal after just three minutes.View galleryArgentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during the group F World …Messi sent a free kick from the left flank into the penalty area that Marcos Rojo barely touched before the ball bounced off Kolasinovic’s foot into Bosnia’s goal.Bosnia bounced back after the early setback, with Izet Hajrovic slipping through Argentina’s five-man defense but failing to beat goalkeeper Sergio Romero. Five minutes before the break, Senad Lulic tested Romero’s reflexes with a well-timed header on a corner kick.Meanwhile, there was no sign of Argentina’s vaunted attack, as Bosnia gave Messi no space to work his magic and Sergio Aguero hardly touched the ball.Coach Alejandro Sabella put in Higuain at halftime, which allowed Messi to take a step back. That shift proved crucial, getting the Barcelona star more involved in the action.”The changes gave Messi more support,” Sabella said. „He doesn’t need much, because he’s the best in the world. But there is always a context that can enhance him a little bit more.”View galleryArgentine players celebrate as Bosnia’s Sead Kolasinac (5) looks back after scoring an own goal …After a string of dangerous runs, Messi combined with Higuain, pulled left along the penalty area, and scored after leaping over defender Ermin Bicakic without losing speed and balance.Messi, who has been accused by critics of not playing with as much heart for the national team as he does for Barcelona, pulled on his blue-and-white striped jersey and ran to the sideline before pumping his fist toward the fans.”I wanted to release all the energy from other times when things didn’t go right (with the national team),” he said. „It’s always a pleasure to score with the national team.”Higuain said Bosnia was a strong opponent that didn’t allow Argentina to control the game.”We scored the second goal at an important moment of the match and that calmed us down a bit,” the Napoli striker said.View galleryArgentina’s Lionel Messi strolls past Bosnia’s Sead Kolasinac during the group F World Cup s …Second-half substitute Ibisevic put some nerve back in the match when he picked up a pass from Senad Lulic and slotted the ball between Romero’s legs.Bosnia started with Edin Dzeko as a lone striker and coach Safet Susic only added Ibisevic after Argentina’s second goal.”I told him that playing against Argentina I cannot play two attackers,” Susic said. „And besides in the midfield we have very offensive-minded players. Playing two strikers (from the start) would have been very risky.”Argentina plays Iran on Saturday, while Bosnia will play Nigeria.The match was the first World Cup game at the Maracana since Brazil lost to Uruguay in the final round of the 1950 tournament, which remains a deep wound in Brazilian football history. The July 13 World Cup final will also be held at the Maracana.
France beats Honduras 3-0 at World Cup
The convincing victory — albeit against a 10-man team for more than 45 minutes — was in stark contrast to the team’s performances in South Africa four years ago, when the highly paid squad failed to win a single match and was sent home in a disgrace after going on a training strike.It now tops group E and, with Switzerland and Ecuador left to play, stands a good chance of staying there.”Winning 3-0 at a World Cup isn’t easy,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. „(The players should) savor the moment, there’s nothing more wonderful. We’re going recover and then go again in five days’ time.”Benzema’s first goal came from the penalty spot just before halftime after Wilson Palacios was sent off with his second yellow card for charging into the back of Paul Pogba. The Real Madrid striker calmly slotted the ball to the left of Noel Valladares to give the French a deserved lead going into the break.”It’s my first World Cup and I think we’re all satisfied with the result,” Benzema said. „It was important to win this match.”View galleryFrance’s Karim Benzema, second from left, scores his side’s third goal during the group E Wo …With Honduras down to 10 men, France didn’t take long to double the score, thanks again to the Real Madrid striker and the first decisive use of goal line technology in a World Cup.Yohan Cabaye, whose pass had earlier picked out Pogba to give the French their penalty, struck a long ball that Benzema shot across the goal. The ball came back off the post across goal before Valladares fumbled it over his own line. With the new technology system confirming the ball crossed the line, referee Sandro Ricci gave the own goal despite Honduran protests.Benzema got his second on the 72nd minute, firing in powerfully from inside the area after a long-range shot by right back Mathieu Debuchy was blocked.”Obviously Karim did well because he scored and he was decisive for us,” Deschamps said. „But I was also pleased with our team spirit and our collective way of playing. They defended with a lot of aggression; it was pretty difficult to find an opening even though we hit the crossbar twice. The sending off changed things. We had a lot of space and could take advantage of it.”Les Bleus, featuring just five holdovers from 2010, dominated from the opening whistle against a Honduran team seeking its first World Cup win. The Central Americans had a reputation for aggressive play going into the match, and their 14 fouls and one expulsion will only add to that.View galleryFrance’s Paul Pogba, left, challenges Honduras’ Roger Espinoza during the group E World Cup …The Hondurans’ physical approach succeeded in stifling some of the approach play of the French, but the 1998 champions looked especially dangerous down both flanks in the first half hour.Blaise Matuidi connected with a cross but saw his header tipped onto the bar by Noel Valladares, while Antoine Griezmann, playing in place of Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, also rattled the woodwork after climbing high in the six-yard box.French keeper Hugo Lloris didn’t have to touch the ball until the 31st minute and didn’t have to make a save all night against a team that managed just 37 percent of the possession.”I think they played better than us so there are no excuses,” said Honduras coach Luis Suarez. „There are certain things that we will have to improve in the future, but sometimes it is difficult to play with a man less, especially when you are facing a team that’s very well organized.”He denied his team had played rough.”I don’t think we crossed the line,” he said. „Of course we have a strong and intense style, but we respect the game.”The only downside for the French fans was that the teams’ national anthems weren’t played before the game because of an apparent malfunction — meaning they didn’t get a chance to sing „La Marseillaise.” FIFA later saidt was a malfunction and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.
Switzerland beats Ecuador 2-1 at World Cup
With just seconds left in the third and final minute of stoppage time, substitute Haris Seferovic finished off a length-of-the-field move by slamming home a close-range shot. After wild Swiss celebrations, Ecuador’s shell-shocked players barely had time to restart before the final whistle was blown.It was the fifth time in the first nine matches in Brazil that a team had come from a goal down to win — but this was the most dramatic of all the comebacks.”It was a dream to be able to win this match in the very last minute like this,” Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said through a translator. „It was emotional — it will be important for the morale of the team.”Sluggish in the first half-hour, Switzerland — highly fancied after rising to No. 6 in the FIFA rankings — conceded a sloppy goal to go behind when Enner Valencia rose unmarked in the 22nd minute and headed in a free kick from six yards (meters).Ecuador’s defending for the 48th-minute equalizer was just as abject, however, with Admir Mehmedi finding space from even closer in to nod in a corner.View gallerySwiss players celebrate after the group E World Cup soccer match between Switzerland and Ecuador at …With Mehmedi and Seferovic both second-half substitutes, it was no wonder that the wily Hitzfeld — a veteran coach with two Champions League titles on his resume — had a huge grin on his face at the final whistle.Not so his counterpart.”We were naive and that cost us the game,” Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rieda said. „(The loss) is more our fault. We were not beaten by our opponent.”After being among the bores of the last two World Cups, it was expected to be all change for Switzerland with Hitzfeld putting his faith in a young, dynamic class of 2014 that had come up together through the national youth ranks.But nerves ensured they started the World Cup poorly, misplacing simple passes and overhitting crosses in a drab first half. The second half wasn’t much better either — but Seferovic rescued them, having only come on in the 75th minute for the ineffective Josip Drmic.View galleryEcuador’s Enner Valencia celebrates scoring the opening goal during the group E World Cup soccer …The Real Sociedad forward scored a 90th-minute winner against Cyprus in June in Switzerland’s unbeaten run through qualifying but he has lost his place to the emerging Drmic.”Haris is a striker through and through,” Hitzfeld said. „What he lacked was practice in terms of playing time at Real Sociedad. In the tournament build-up, he performed excellently but he still needs time to develop.”Seferovic scored the crucial goal, but teammate Valon Behrami deserves just as much credit.It was the central midfielder who produced a perfectly timed tackle in his own box and then embarked on a lung-bursting run up the field in the lead-up to the winning goal. At one stage, he was hacked down near the center circle but he got up and carried on his run, with the referee playing an excellent advantage.The ball was fed to the left, where left back Ricardo Rodriguez — who set up Mehmedi for the equalizer — slid a low cross for Seferovic to crash a finish high in to the net.View gallerySwitzerland’s Haris Seferovic, right, celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during …Cue Switzerland’s entire bench spilling into the pitch to celebrate with Seferovic, with some players choosing to mob Behrami.”It was a great feeling,” Behrami said. „Those 30 seconds were amazing for us.”FIFA President Sepp Blatter was present — and was booed by sections of the crowd — for what was probably the poorest game at this World Cup in terms of quality. Thousands of fans missed the first part of the match because of long queues to pass through security.It meant there were still plenty of empty seats when Valencia stole a yard on Johan Djourou and guided a simple header into the net from Walter Ayovi’s free kick, with Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio left completely stranded.It was one of the few clear-cut chances created by Ecuador, which is now on the back foot in a Group E also containing France and Honduras.
Dimitrov saves match point to win Queen’s final
The fourth-seeded Dimitrov is the first Bulgarian to lift the title, and also the first player this year to win titles on three different surfaces after claiming victories in Acapulco on hardcourt and Bucharest on clay.At age 32, 10th-seeded Lopez was attempting to become the oldest winner of the tournament since 33-year old Tony Roche defeated John McEnroe in the 1978 final, and to win his first title since Eastbourne one year ago.”Of course, I’m really happy with the win,” said Dimitrov. „Obviously I knew what I had to do today out on the court, and Feli is one of those competitors that when it comes to fast surfaces, he’s always very tricky to play.”Down match point in the second set wasn’t the coolest thing, but, you know, I just fought hard. I just left everything out on the court.”In a match that featured few rallies and even fewer break point opportunities, Dimitrov dropped only four points on serve in the first set but failed to convert two break points to lead 4-2.View galleryFeliciano Lopez of Spain plays a return to Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria during their Queen’s Club …Lopez went on to claim the tiebreaker on his fourth set point and games went comfortably with serve in the second set until the Spaniard held a match point on his opponent’s serve at 6-5.Dimitrov survived that crisis and then swept the tiebreaker for the loss of just one point, but a forehand volley by Lopez gave the Spaniard a break in the opening game of the final set.The Bulgarian got back on level terms at 4-4 when Lopez double-faulted, and claimed the tiebreaker on his second match point when Lopez netted a forehand.”I think when you face players like Grigor, you know that even playing the way I played today there is a chance to lose because he’s a great player,” said Lopez. „He never gives up, as he showed today.”It’s tough to lose when you play such a great match, but you have to take it the other way, no? Overall it was a great week for me. It has been a great preparation for Wimbledon, and hopefully in Eastbourne next week I can do well again.”Dimitrov’s girlfriend, French Open champion Maria Sharapova, was among the spectators at Queen’s.
Andrej Kiska inaugurated as Slovakia’s president
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 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.”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,” he said.Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had ordered aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush into the Gulf in response to the crisis.Obama has been under mounting fire from his Republican opponents over the swift collapse of Iraq’s security forces, which Washington spent billions of dollars training and equipping before pulling out its own troops in 2011.- Maliki given ‘unlimited powers’ -Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who since taking office last August has overseen a rapprochement with a superpower Tehran long derided as the „Great Satan”, said his government was prepared to consider offering help.”If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it,” Rouhani told a news conference.Iraq’s Shiite premier Nuri al-Maliki said the cabinet had granted him „unlimited powers” to reverse the offensive, in which militants swept towards Baghdad after overrunning second city Mosul on Tuesday — before losing some steam.Troops found the burned bodies of 12 policemen as they recaptured the town of Ishaqi in Salaheddin province from the insurgents, a police colonel and a doctor said.It was one of the closest points to Baghdad militants reached as they overran a large part of northern and north-central Iraq.Troops also retook the nearby Muatassam area of Salaheddin, the colonel said.View galleryIraqi security forces fire artillery during clashes with Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq …Late Friday, police and residents expelled militants from another town in the province, Dhuluiyah, witnesses said.Security forces have also held fast in the Muqdadiyah area of Diyala province, preventing militants from taking the town in heavy fighting, police said.
In the besieged city of Samarra, north of the capital, reinforcements were awaiting orders to launch a counter-offensive against areas north of the city, including Dur and Tikrit, seized by militants earlier this week, an army colonel said.Maliki visited Samarra Friday to rally troops and pray at the Al-Askari Shiite shrine, a revered site whose 2006 bombing by Al-Qaeda sparked a sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands.North of Baghdad, gunmen attacked a convoy carrying the head of Iraq’s anti-corruption watchdog, killing nine police, and a convoy carrying the deputy head of the Shiite religious endowment was also targeted, killing eight guards.- Starting to regain ground -Security forces have generally performed poorly, with some abandoning their vehicles and positions and discarding their uniforms, though they seem to have begun to recover from the initial onslaught and have started to regain ground.They will be joined by a flood of volunteers, urged on by Sistani’s call Friday for Iraqis to join up to defend the country.A representative of Sistani, who is adored by Shiites but rarely appears in public, made the call on his behalf from the shrine city of Karbala, south of Baghdad.A Qatar-based union of Sunni Muslim clerics on Saturday denounced the call, saying developments in Iraq were a „result of oppression and exclusion of people that wanted freedom”.Obama said while the US was willing to help, Iraq needed to heal the deep divide between the Shiite-led government and the Sunni Arab minority, whose resentment jihadists have exploited.Washington „will not involve itself in military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together,” Obama said.”Any action that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq’s leaders to set aside sectarian differences.”State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed Republican lawmakers’ criticism that a residual US force would have prevented the Iraqi army’s collapse.”When we left Iraq, after years of sacrifice and American taxpayer money, and certainly our troops felt that sacrifice more than anyone, the Iraqis had an opportunity,” Harf told reporters.Instead, Iraqi leaders „created a climate where there were vulnerabilities when it came to the cohesion of the Iraqi army,” she said.Former British prime minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, hit out at critics who linked the 2003 invasion of Iraq with the current violence in the country, blaming instead the West’s failure to act in Syria.Blair, who took Britain into the US-led war to remove Saddam Hussein and is now a diplomatic envoy in the Middle East, also criticised the sectarianism of the government in Baghdad.In a long article published on his website, Blair said arguments that there would be no crisis in the region if the Iraqi dictator had remained in power were „bizarre”.He condemned the sectarianism of Maliki’s government, who he said had „snuffed out what was a genuine opportunity to build a cohesive Iraq”.