31 killed at Iraq campaign rally for Shiite militant group ahead of key parliamentary election
BAGHDAD — Suicide bombers killed 31 people Friday at a sports stadium hosting a campaign rally for thousands of supporters of a militant Shiite group before parliamentary elections, authorities said — an attack that could unleash more sectarian violence.
An al-Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, claimed responsibility for the attack at the Industrial Stadium in eastern Baghdad, which drew about 10,000 backers of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq group.
It said on a militant website that the bombings were to avenge what it called the killing of Sunnis and their forced removal from their homes by Shiite militias.
The authenticity of the claim could not be independently verified.
The attack was a stark reminder of the sectarian violence that has plagued Iraq more than two years after U.S. troops ended an eight-year presence that often served as a buffer between the nation’s Shiite majority and its Sunni Arab minority.
Despite renewed push Israeli quest for visa-free travel to the US faces major reciprocity test
WASHINGTON — A campaign to allow Israelis to enter the United States without a visa is gaining steam in Congress, but is still running into a brick wall with the Obama administration over the U.S. government’s most elementary demand: that the Jewish state provide the same treatment at its borders to all Americans, even if they are Arab or Muslim.
Objections from U.S. officials and some lawmakers blocked a congressional effort over the last year that could have allowed Israel to maintain discriminatory entry policies for certain groups of Americans, which no other country can do if its citizens are able to visit the U.S. without visas. However, a new version of proposed legislation could offer Israel greater flexibility in the Visa Waiver Program, and the administration has pledged to work with Israel to help it move closer to qualifying for the program.
Israel’s push to join the prestigious club of 38 mainly European and Asian nations is a top priority for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and pro-Israel lawmakers. And because Israel currently meets few of the criteria for membership, the issue has become a sensitive diplomatic and legislative one in Washington, where officials and lawmakers don’t want to offend a close friend and ally. Citizens of member countries can visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa, provided they register electronically before boarding a flight.
Up to now, many Palestinian-Americans have been barred from entering Israel. If they are allowed into Palestinian territories, they cannot arrive at Tel Aviv’s international airport and must instead travel overland from Jordan or Egypt. Other Americans of Arab origin or Muslim faith say they’ve suffered similar restrictions, as well as U.S. citizens with political views Israel finds objectionable.
Potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates discuss gun rights, court NRA at annual meeting
INDIANAPOLIS — Several potential Republican presidential candidates courted gun-rights supporters Friday at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, talking up their pro-gun credentials while imploring the crowd to fight not just for their Second Amendment rights but for other freedoms they say are being threatened.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addressed the NRA’s annual leadership forum, a kind of political pep rally the organization considers one of its premier events. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire also recorded videos that were played for the crowd of more than 2,000 inside Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts.
One after another, the possible 2016 contenders thanked the NRA and its members for flexing their considerable political muscle to help push back recent gun-control efforts, including legislation following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that would have required background checks for gun purchases. They said that same activism will be critical heading into elections this fall, in 2016 and beyond.
By wire sources