US bombs militants in Iraq as crisis worsens
IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — The U.S. unleashed its first airstrikes in northern Iraq against militants of the Islamic State group Friday amid a worsening humanitarian crisis. The extremists took captive hundreds of women from a religious minority, according to an Iraqi official, while thousands of other civilians fled in fear.
Many of America’s allies backed the U.S. intervention, pledging urgent steps to assist the legions of refugees and displaced people. Those in jeopardy included thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority whose plight — trapped on a mountaintop by the militants — prompted the U.S. to airdrop crates of food and water to them.
The extremists’ “campaign of terror against the innocent, including the Yazidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it.”
Underscoring the sense of alarm, a spokesman for Iraq’s human rights ministry said hundreds of Yazidi women had been seized by the militants. Kamil Amin, citing reports from the victims’ families, said some of the women were being held in schools in Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul.
“We think that the terrorists by now consider them slaves and they have vicious plans for them,” Amin told The Associated Press. “We think that these women are going to be used in demeaning ways by those terrorists to satisfy their animalistic urges in a way that contradicts all the human and Islamic values.”
For the U.S. military, which withdrew its forces from Iraq in late 2011 after more than eight years of war, the re-engagement began when two F/A-18 jets dropped 500-pound bombs on a piece of artillery and the truck towing it. The Pentagon said the militants were using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, and home to a U.S. consulate and about three dozen U.S. military trainers.
Later Friday, the U.S. launched a second round of airstrikes near Irbil, U.S. officials said. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the strikes publicly, said unmanned aircraft hit a mortar and four Navy F/A-18 fighter jets destroyed a seven-vehicle convoy
Expanding from their stronghold of Mosul, the militants have captured a string of towns and Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam and reservoir in recent weeks. Ethnic and religious minorities, fearing persecution and slaughter, have fled as their towns fell.
Many had taken refuge in the Khazer Camp, set up near Irbil, but it was empty Friday as nearby fighting prompted families to flee once again.
Some made their way by car or on foot to Irbil; others were unaccounted for amid the sea of fleeing people. According to the U.N., more than 500,000 people have been displaced by the violence in Iraq since June, bringing the total this year to well over 1 million.
In Irbil, hundreds of uprooted men crowded the streets of a Christian-dominated neighborhood, expressing relief at the news of U.S. airstrikes.
Global turmoil weighs on stocks; US prices up
NEW YORK (AP) — Fear is creeping into stock and bonds markets around the world against a backdrop of escalating global turmoil.
Prices in Europe and Asia slumped Friday on news of U.S. fighter jets dropping bombs in Iraq, the end of a three-day cease-fire in Gaza and escalating tensions in Ukraine. The drops capped broad losses for the week, including a 5 percent drop in Japan’s major stock index and declines in Europe.
In recent days, money has been flowing from around the world into U.S. Treasurys, the perennial safe haven for spooked investors.
The question facing investors now, according to Wells Capital’s chief strategist, Jim Paulsen: “Are geopolitical risks really going to have an economic impact?”
Until recently most investors apparently didn’t think so. Before late July, prices in major indexes had been rising in the face of widening conflicts around the world. Some experts warned that markets had grown dangerously complacent.
But then the West imposed increasingly crushing sanctions on Russia for supporting rebels in Ukraine, Israel’s bloody war in Gaza dragged on and Sunni extremists made advances in northern Iraq.
Prices have been falling generally in the past month, even in the resilient U.S. stock market. On Friday, investors appeared to be snapping up share prices that had been beaten down in recent days. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 134 points, or 0.8 percent, to 16,502 as of 3:07 p.m. Eastern time. Having drifted down in recent weeks, the blue chip index is still off nearly 4 percent from a record high on July 16.
As investors have sought safety, U.S. government bond prices have risen and yields, which move in the opposite direction, have plummeted. The yield on German government notes maturing in 10 years hit its lowest level ever Friday. Notes of the same maturity sold by the U.S. and the United Kingdom are yielding the least in about a year.
Another sign of fear, the VIX, a gauge of expectation of future U.S. stock volatility, has climbed nearly 50 percent since early July.
In the U.S. on Friday, the Standard &Poor’s 500 index rose 17 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,926. The Nasdaq composite rose 31 points, or 0.7 percent, to 4,365.
In Europe, Germany’s DAX fell 0.3 percent while the FTSE 100 index of British shares dropped 0.5 percent. Both indexes are down about 2 percent for the week, capping three weeks of losses.
France’s CAC-40 was flat, but ended the week down 2 percent. That was its worst weekly loss in a year.
Ga. Peanut plant chief: we faked salmonella tests
ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia peanut plant manager testified Friday that his company had been shipping contaminated nuts with fake documents showing them to be salmonella-free before the plant was identified as the source of a nationwide outbreak that killed nine Americans and sickened more than 700.
“In my mind, I wasn’t intentionally hurting anyone,” Sammy Lightsey told jurors at the trial of his former boss, Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, and two others.
Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, are accused of shipping tainted products to customers and covering up lab tests showing they contained salmonella. Stewart Parnell and the Georgia plant’s quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson, are also charged with obstructing justice. Experts say it’s the first time corporate officers and managers have gone to trial on federal charges in a food poisoning case.
Lightsey, who managed the plant from July 2008 until the company went bankrupt following the outbreak in 2009, pleaded guilty to seven criminal counts in May after agreeing to testify for prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence. He was the top manager at the peanut plant, reporting directly to Stewart Parnell.
Soon after taking the job, Lightsey said, he discovered that peanut paste was being shipped to Kellogg’s for use in peanut butter crackers the same day they were produced, without waiting the 48 hours it takes to receive results of lab tests for salmonella and other contaminants.
Rather than wait, Lightsey said, the plant would ship paste with lab results that actually came from different batches tested a week earlier, certifying they were negative for salmonella.
Lightsey said he confronted Michael Parnell, who handled the contract for Kellogg, one of the company’s biggest customers.
“I went to the office and called Mike Parnell and I told him we can’t do this; it was illegal and it was wrong,” Lightsey said. “He informed me it was set up before I got there and don’t worry about Kellogg’s, he can handle Kellogg’s.”
Lightsey said he didn’t push the issue further. He didn’t say if he ever discussed the fake lab results with Stewart Parnell.
Defense attorneys won’t be able to cross-examine Lightsey until next week.
Lightsey testified that prosecutors agreed to cap his prison sentence at 6 years — compared to a possible 76-year sentence if he didn’t take their plea deal. Judge W. Louis Sands told jurors to keep in mind that Lightsey “may have a reason to make a false statement.”
The defense has already noted that it was Lightsey who initially lied to the Food and Drug Administration inspectors who arrived at the plant after it was linked to salmonella poisoning.
Two FDA investigators testified Lightsey first told them the plant had only one test showing salmonella, and that it had turned out to be a false positive. Five days later, he admitted that lab testing had confirmed salmonella three times during his six months as a manager. The FDA later found 12 positive tests in a span of two years.
The Georgia plant was shut down and Peanut Corp. went bankrupt, but by then the outbreak had prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 714 people in 46 states were infected and nine people died — three in Minnesota, two in Ohio, two in Virginia, one in Idaho and one in North Carolina.