Power struggle deepens in Iraq as U.S. increases role in fighting Sunni militants

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq’s president snubbed incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and picked another politician to form the next government Monday, setting up a fierce political power struggle even as the country battles extremists in the north and west.

The showdown came as the United States increased its role in fighting back Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group that is threatening the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Senior American officials said U.S. intelligence agencies are directly arming the Kurds who are battling the militants in what would be a shift in Washington’s policy of only working through the central government in Baghdad.

U.S. warplanes carried out new strikes Sunday, hitting a convoy of Sunni militants moving to attack Kurdish forces defending the autonomous zone’s capital, Irbil. The recent American airstrikes have helped the Kurds achieve one of their first victories after weeks of retreat as peshmerga fighters over the weekend recaptured two towns near Irbil. The Pentagon’s director of operations said the effort will do little to slow Islamic State militants overall.

Haider al-Ibadi, the deputy speaker of parliament from al-Maliki’s Shiite Dawa party, was selected by President Fouad Massoum to be the new prime minister and was given 30 days to present a new government to lawmakers for approval.

Al-Maliki has defiantly rejected the nomination.


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In a speech after midnight Sunday, he accused Massoum of blocking his reappointment as prime minister and carrying out "a coup against the constitution and the political process."

Iraq’s Yazidis search for missing loved ones after chaotic escape from militants

SEMALKA, Syria (AP) -- Trucks and jeeps trundled slowly across the pontoon bridge, packed with refugees, with children poking their dusty heads out of the windows and truck beds. Nearby, a distraught father frantically scanned them as they passed, hoping to catch sight of his missing son.

Beside him, a young man searched for his sister, who he fears was snatched by extremists.

Unknown numbers, perhaps hundreds, of men, women and children went missing in the chaos as tens of thousands of Iraqis from the Yazidi religious minority fled in a panic from marauding militants, then spent a week hidden in a barren mountain range before finally making their way into neighboring Syria. The loss of loved ones adds even more suffering to people who spent days stranded in the Sinjar mountains under a blazing son with barely any food or water.

Some of the missing may have been gunned down by militants during the escape. Others were lost as families scattered in panic under gunfire from extremists chasing them into the mountains. Dizzy from thirst, some adults lost track of children in the crowds in the mountains. Some women may have been abducted by militants, and Iraqi and U.S. officials say they believe hundreds of women are being held captive by the radical Islamic State group.

"There are many missing, many," said Naji Khano, who lost his 17-year-old son Sherwan as he fled gunmen.

Cease-fire takes hold in Gaza as Israeli, Palestinian negotiators begin talks

CAIRO (AP) -- As a new temporary truce took hold, negotiators from Israel and the Hamas militant group resumed indirect talks Monday to reach a long-term cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

The two sides huddled in an Egyptian government building for nine consecutive hours, a Palestinian official said Monday, in what are expected to be marathon negotiations in the coming days.

The Palestinian delegations were more optimistic Monday, the Palestinian official told the Associated Press, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations with the media. He said progress was made on several issues.

The 72-hour truce, brokered by Israel, took effect just after midnight, in the second attempt to halt a month of heavy fighting between the sides.

A similar three-day truce collapsed on Friday when militants resumed rocket fire on Israel after the sides were unable to make any headway in Egyptian-brokered negotiations for a more lasting deal. Hamas is seeking an end to an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade, while Israel wants Hamas to disarm.

7-year-old border blockade, imposed to isolate Hamas, has hurt Gaza’s 1.8 million people

DEIR EL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Mohammed al-Telbani lost his life’s work when Israeli shells repeatedly slammed into his four-story snack and cookie factory during the Gaza war, finally sparking a fire that engulfed vats of margarine and sacks of cocoa powder.

As he contemplated starting over, sitting near the smoldering ruins of one of Gaza’s largest factories, he looked to Cairo for answers. There, negotiators from Israel and Hamas launched another attempt Monday to negotiate an end to the 34-day-old war -- and, perhaps even more crucial for Gaza’s 1.8 million people, reach a new border deal for the coastal territory.

Gazans haven’t been able to trade or travel freely since Israel and Egypt imposed stringent border restrictions in response to the violent Hamas takeover of the territory in 2007. The closure also deepened Gaza’s separation from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas on the opposite side of Israel that, along with Gaza, are envisioned as part of a future Palestinian state.

The blockade was meant to isolate the Islamic militant Hamas and perhaps loosen its grip on power. Seven years later, Hamas remains rooted in Gaza, albeit weakened by a financial crisis brought on by the closure as well as thousands of Israel airstrikes over the past month.

Gaza’s civilians have borne the brunt of the blockade.

Witnesses: Black teen had hands raised when he was fatally shot by suburban
St. Louis officer

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) -- A black teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer had his hands raised when the officer approached him with his weapon drawn and fired repeatedly, according to two men who said they witnessed the shooting, which sparked a night of unrest in suburban St. Louis.

The FBI opened an investigation Monday into the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday after being confronted by a white officer in Ferguson, a 21,000-resident suburb that’s nearly 70 percent black.

Authorities were vague about exactly what led the officer to open fire, except to say that the shooting was preceded by a scuffle of some kind. It was unclear whether Brown or a man he was with was involved in the altercation.

Investigators have refused to publicly disclose the race of the officer, who is now on administrative leave. But Phillip Walker said he was on the porch of an apartment complex overlooking the scene when he heard a shot and saw a white officer with Brown on the street.

Brown "was giving up in the sense of raising his arms and being subdued," Walker told The Associated Press on Monday. The officer "had his gun raised and started shooting the individual in the chest multiple times." The officer then "stood over him and shot him" after the victim fell wounded.

Ukraine: Red Cross will lead humanitarian aid mission into rebel-held territory

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukrainian forces on Monday zeroed in on rebel strongholds as the government welcomed an international humanitarian relief mission into the rebellious east involving Russia, the United States and the European Union.

The mission will be conducted under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The organization said in a statement it is ready to facilitate the operation with the involvement of all sides concerned following a Russian initiative to provide humanitarian assistance to people in eastern Ukraine.

It wasn’t clear when the deliveries would start.

"The practical details of this operation need to be clarified before this initiative can move forward," said Laurent Corbaz, the ICRC’s head of operations for Europe and Central Asia.

Moscow had long urged Kiev to allow the aid delivery, but Ukraine and the West previously had opposed the move, fearing that it could serve as a pretext for sending Russian troops into rebel-held territory. Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of arming and supporting the rebels fighting government troops in the east, a charge that the Kremlin has denied.

Ethics test: Who should
get experimental Ebola treatment? So far, only Westerners

MADRID (AP) -- Now it’s not just two Americans, but a Spaniard as well: the three non-Africans known to have Ebola got some of the very few doses that exist of an experimental drug aimed at treating the deadly disease.

None of the more than 1,700 Africans sickened by Ebola have received this treatment.

This drug, ZMapp, is so novel and unproven that not much is available and its effectiveness remains unknown. It could end up doing more harm than good. It would take months to produce even modest quantities. Even then, using it more widely would present other ethical dilemmas.

But many Africans are seeing a larger, bitter truth in the fact that two Americans and a Spaniard were able to get this treatment after being infected in West Africa, where the hemorrhagic fever has raged for months, killing 961 people and counting.

"There’s no reason to try this medicine on sick white people and to ignore blacks," said Marcel Guilavogui, a pharmacist in Conakry, Guinea. "We understand that it’s a drug that’s being tested for the first time and that could have negative side effects. But we have to try it in blacks too."

Driver struck by Stewart’s car dies of massive blunt trauma; had reputation
as a wheelman

PORT LEYDEN, N.Y. (AP) -- Kevin Ward Jr. was crafting a reputation as a wheelman, the kind of driver who could race vehicles on any track without fear.

He’d sit up on his seat, floor it, and zip his way through a maze of cars straight toward the front of the pack.

For points. For fun. Often for little money.

"He would go to tracks that a lot of other drivers wouldn’t go to," Chuck Miller, the race director and president for the Empire Super Sprints circuit, said Monday. "If we had co-sanctioned races with other organizations where we really weren’t giving points or anything, but it was a deal where you wanted to see how you stacked up against the other competition, the Wards were willing to go and do that and see where they were at."

Ward began racing go-karts in 1998 at age 4. In 2010, he moved on to sprint cars and was Empire Super Sprint racing rookie of the year in 2012. The 20-year-old raced mostly on dirt tracks a few hours from his home in Port Leyden, a village of 700 in northern New York.

In a kerfuffle about the Facebook messaging app? Here are 5 things you should know

NEW YORK (AP) -- Facebook’s recent effort to force people to adopt its standalone mobile messaging app has privacy-concerned users up in arms. Many of them believe the app is especially invasive.

One blog from the Huffington Post published in December has gone viral, making the rounds on the social network recently because it claims the app gives Facebook "direct control over your mobile device" and allows Facebook to call phone numbers without a users’ intervention and send text messages without confirmation, but none of that is accurate.

In truth, Facebook Messenger isn’t any more invasive than Facebook’s main app --or other similar applications.

The fear and confusion stem from a message that greets owners of Android devices when they install the app. It explains that the app requires permission access to the device’s camera, microphone, list of contacts and other information.

Here’s what Facebook’s mobile messaging app does and doesn’t do.

N.Y. judge to encourage settlements of GM lawsuits

NEW YORK (AP) -- A New York judge has told lawyers he’ll encourage settlements in lawsuits brought on behalf of nearly 1,000 plaintiffs against General Motors for defective ignition switches.

Federal Judge Jesse Furman told dozens of lawyers at a hearing Monday he’ll be careful not to interfere with the work of a bankruptcy judge who’s deciding if the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy protects it from damages.

Detroit-based General Motors Co. says at least 13 people have died in crashes linked to the problem. Lawyers suing GM say the death toll is at least 60.

GM has acknowledged knowing the switches in its small cars had problems since at least 2001. But it wasn’t until February it began recalling 2.6 million of the cars, mainly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions.

Dead two-headed dolphin discovered in Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkish media reports say Turkish scientists will examine a two-headed dolphin that washed up on a beach in western Turkey.

The private Dogan news agency said the remains of conjoined dolphin calf were discovered on a beach in Dikili, near the Aegean city of Izmir last week by a vacationing gym teacher.

It quoted Akdeniz University marine biologist Mehmet Gokoglu as saying the dolphin was a rare occurrence, similar to conjoined twins.

Marine biologists at Akdeniz University will study the dolphin.