Extremist group leader urges Muslims to travel to Iraq and Syria to help build Islamic state

BAGHDAD (AP) -- The leader of the extremist group that has overrun parts of Iraq and Syria has called on Muslims around the world to flock to territories under his control to fight and build an Islamic state.

In a recording posted online Tuesday, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared he wants to turn the enclave his fighters have carved out in the heart of the Middle East into a magnet for militants. He also presented himself as the leader of Islam worldwide, urging Muslims everywhere to rise up against oppression.

The audio message came two days after al-Baghdadi’s group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, unilaterally declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the land it controls. It also proclaimed al-Baghdadi the caliph, and demanded that all Muslims around the world pledge allegiance to him.

His group’s forceful seizure of territory and its grand pronouncement of a caliphate have transformed the Iraqi-born al-Baghdadi into one of the leading figures of the global jihadi movement, perhaps even eclipsing al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri.

The blitz across Iraq has pushed the death toll there to levels unseen since the worst sectarian bloodletting in 2006 during the U.S. occupation. The United Nations said Tuesday that more than 2,400 Iraqis were killed last month. That tally would make June the deadliest month in Iraq since at least April 2005, when The Associated Press began tracking casualty figures there.


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Kurds in northern Iraq dig new frontier taking in disputed areas

MARIAM BEK, Iraq (AP) -- As Islamic extremists seek to sweep away borders in their advance across the Middle East, Kurds in northern Iraq appear to be in the process of digging a new one, asserting their claim to hotly disputed territory and expanding their semi-autonomous region in a bid for greater autonomy or outright independence.

The emerging frontier of sand berms, trenches and roadblocks is being built to take in areas Kurdish fighters seized as Sunni militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant swept across northern Iraq last month, routing the armed forces of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and raising fears the country could be torn in three.

Kurdish forces say they assumed control of the disputed territory in and around Kirkuk -- a major oil hub -- to prevent it from being taken over by the Sunni insurgents as Iraqi troops melted away. They say the defense of the 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) frontier is necessary to prevent the militants, who have declared a transnational Islamic state straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border, from advancing further.

"This is a security measure. We are dealing with a serious threat," said Falah Bakir, the Kurdish region’s top foreign policy official. "We are neighbors to a terrorist state -- the Islamic State -- and we have to take measures to ensure our safety."

But the barriers, hastily built over the past few days, are also defining the borders of a possible future Kurdish state, and laying the groundwork for a conflict with Baghdad over Kirkuk, which has a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

IG Report: Obama administration struggles to resolve ‘inconsistencies’ in health sign-ups

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Many of the 8 million Americans signed up under the new health care law now have to clear up questions about their personal information that could affect their coverage.

A government watchdog said Tuesday the Obama administration faces a huge task resolving these "inconsistencies" and in some cases didn’t follow its own procedures for verifying eligibility.

Two reports from the Health and Human Services inspector general marked the first independent look at a festering behind-the-scenes issue that could turn into another health law headache for the White House.

The inspector general found that key personal details submitted by many consumers -- such as annual income and citizenship -- do not match records the government has on file.

It also found shortcomings in the internal safeguards used by the federal insurance exchange and some state marketplaces to check the accuracy of consumer information.

Alongside a few (thousand) friends, Americans gather at stadiums, plazas for U.S.-Belgium game

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- His right cheek painted with an American flag, Jon Watson sat sweating in the Texas heat.

He didn’t mind the searing sun, the 90-plus degree temperatures or the lack of a breeze in Austin. He was here for a party with thousands of other American soccer fans set to watch the U.S. play Belgium in the World Cup, with the winner set to move on the quarterfinals of the biggest sporting event in the world.

"And I’m not even a soccer fan. I’m a tennis guy. I should be watching Wimbledon," Watson said. "But I wanted to get out and be part of the community, to come together and cheer for the same team."

From Texas to Chicago to California, U.S. fans flocked to public spaces, from wide open parks to sports stadiums to their favorite sports bars, to watch the game.

Tuesday’s game was the fourth for the U.S. in Brazil as it tried to move deeper into the tournament. With every game, the crowds have swelled as die-hard soccer fans joined the newcomers. Suddenly, America looks like a soccer-crazed country, as people skip work and gather in big crowds and watch the game play out on giant screens.

As Israel buries kidnapped
teens, Netanyahu threatens
tough action against Hamas

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel’s prime minister threatened Tuesday to take even tougher action against Hamas following an intense wave of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, as the country buried three Israeli teens it says were kidnapped and killed by the Islamic militant group.

In comments broadcast live on national television, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his first goal is to find the killers of the three teens. "We will not rest until we reach the last of them," he said.

But a broader mission is to act against Hamas in its Gaza stronghold, the Israeli leader said as he convened an emergency meeting of his Security Cabinet to discuss a response to the deadly abductions.

"Hamas continues to support, even at this time, the kidnappings of our citizens and is directly responsible for firing rockets and mortars at our territory, including in recent hours," Netanyahu said.

"If there is a need, we will broaden the campaign as much as needed."

Hobby Lobby ruling on birth control, religious freedom puts Green family in crosshairs

David Green felt like the black sheep of his family. His five other siblings had followed their preacher father into church work; David went into retail.

But as his business successes mounted, he found his religious calling: using the financial might from his Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain as an engine for evangelism. That mission, until recent years carried out largely within the world of Pentecostal Christianity, took the 72-year-old Green all the way to a landmark victory Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court over the birth control coverage rule in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

"I don’t think they decided to go into that kind of an area. I think it was forced on them by the government," said Vinson Synan, a friend of the Greens and a prominent scholar of Pentecostal history at Regent University. "They’ll be heroes to the very conservative religious people who are very much against abortion."

The justices ruled 5-4 that requiring closely-held companies such as Hobby Lobby to pay for methods of women’s contraception to which they object violates the corporations’ religious freedom. It was the first time the high court has declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law.

Women’s rights groups and their supporters condemned the decision. But the ruling revitalized religious conservatives who, after a series of defeats over gay marriage, felt they were on the losing side of the culture wars. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, said after Monday’s ruling, "I’m so happy about this I almost want to be dancing in the streets about it."

Justices do agree sometimes: Robust defense of digital-age privacy marks a less-divisive term

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supreme Court justices found more common ground than usual this year, and nowhere was their unanimity more surprising than in a ruling that police must get a judge’s approval before searching the cellphones of people they’ve arrested.

The term that just ended also had its share of 5-4 decisions with the familiar conservative-liberal split, including Monday’s ruling on religion, birth control and the health care law.

But the 9-0 cellphone decision last week may be the most consequential of the justices’ 67 rulings this term. It signaled a high degree of skepticism about the government’s authority, without any need to satisfy an impartial judge, to sweep up vast quantities of information that individuals store on computers and cellphones, as well as other records that companies keep online.

The scope of that ruling will await future cases, including possible challenges to NSA’s surveillance and collection of massive amounts of Americans’ telephone records. But the justices indicated that constitutional privacy protections, embodied in the Fourth Amendment, will apply strongly to cases involving computers and digital storage, said Elizabeth Wydra, the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center’s chief counsel.

Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the court "was a broad and sweeping ruling in favor of privacy," Wydra said.

Pro-Russian rebels capture
police HQ in eastern Ukraine
after hours of renewed fighting

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- The Interior Ministry headquarters in eastern Ukraine’s largest city fell to pro-Russia separatists Tuesday after a five-hour gunbattle that erupted hours after the Ukrainian president ended a cease-fire.

The shaky cease-fire had given European leaders 10 days to search for a peaceful settlement, and its end raised the prospect that fighting could flare with new intensity in a conflict that has already killed more than 400 people since April.

In Tuesday’s clashes, rebels fought for more ground, and badly trained and disorganized government troops seemed incapable of crushing the mutiny.

President Petro Poroshenko had called a unilateral cease-fire to try to persuade the rebels to lay down their weapons and hold peace talks. Some of the rebels signed onto the break in fighting as tentative negotiations began, but each side accused the other of repeated violations. When he ended the cease-fire, the president said the rebels were not serious about peace.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that substantive talks with representatives in eastern Ukraine had failed to start in earnest and that the cease-fire announced by Poroshenko amounted to an ultimatum to the rebels to disarm.

In bone dry California, water fetching record prices as sellers cash in on drought

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Throughout California’s desperately dry Central Valley, those with water to spare are cashing in.

As a third parched summer forces farmers to fallow fields and lay off workers, two water districts and a pair of landowners in the heart of the state’s farmland are making millions of dollars by auctioning off their private caches.

Nearly 40 others also are seeking to sell their surplus water this year, according to state and federal records.

Economists say it’s been decades since the water market has been this hot. In the last five years alone, the price has grown tenfold to as much as $2,200 an acre-foot -- enough to cover a football field with a foot of water.

Unlike the previous drought in 2009, the state has been hands-off, letting the market set the price even though severe shortages prompted a statewide drought emergency declaration this year.

Navy has its first female
four-star admiral

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Navy has its first female four-star admiral.

She is Michelle Janine Howard, promoted on Tuesday to the service’s highest rank. The ceremony was held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at the Arlington National Cemetery, near the Pentagon.

She will serve as the vice chief of naval operations, which makes her the No. 2 admiral in the Navy behind Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations.

Howard has served 32 years in the Navy. She is a 1978 graduate of Gateway High School in Aurora, Colorado. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982.

Among her many distinctions, Howard in 1999 became the first African-American woman to command a Navy ship.

Oil flat despite U.S.,
China factory strength

The price of oil held steady Tuesday despite signs that manufacturing activity grew in the U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest oil consumers.

Benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery fell 3 cents to close at $105.34 a barrel in New York. It is the fourth day in a row of declines and the sixth decline in the last seven trading days. The contract closed at a 10-month high of $107.26 on June 20.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 7 cents to close at $112.29 a barrel in London.

Manufacturing activity in China, the world’s biggest oil importer, grew in June for the first time in six months, according to a private survey. Manufacturing activity in the U.S., the world’s biggest oil consumer, grew in June for the 13th-straight month, though the pace of the expansion slowed from May.

It wasn’t enough to push the price of oil higher, which suggests oil supplies may be ample enough to meet even rising global demand and prices could be headed lower.

"The fact that some positive manufacturing numbers and associated strong gains in the U.S. stock market were ignored reinforces our opinion that some additional price weakening through the next few sessions lies ahead," wrote independent energy analyst Jim Ritterbusch in a note to investors Tuesday.

Oil prices have risen in recent weeks on concerns that violence in Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest exporter, would cut global supplies. They stabilized late last week as the stunning initial advance by insurgents lost momentum.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

--Wholesale gasoline fell 0.6 cent to close at $3.037 a gallon.

--Natural gas fell 0.6 cent to close at $4.445 per 1,000 cubic feet.

--Heating oil rose 0.3 cent to close at $2.978 a gallon.