Calm grips Fallujah, street fighting continues
BAGHDAD (AP) — Residents started to trickle back to the besieged city of Fallujah on Friday as militants and government forces appeared to be preparing for a long standoff. Al-Qaida-linked fighters and tribal gunmen are camped on the outskirts of the city, with Iraqi army and police stationed nearby.
A tense calm settled over the city, although sporadic street fighting rattled Ramadi and surrounding areas in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, a vast desert region west of Baghdad once a major battleground for U.S. troops.
The extremist militants, emboldened by fellow fighters’ gains in the civil war in neighboring Syria, tried to position themselves as the champions of Iraqi Sunnis angry at the Shiite-led government about what they see as efforts to marginalize them.
Iraqi troops have taken up positions in and around Fallujah and Ramadi, both recently overtaken by black masked gunmen after the arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the government’s dismantling of a year-old Sunni protest camp in Ramadi, but have not launched major urban offensives, fearing likely civilian casualties could incite Sunni anger and push moderate tribal leaders to side with the extremists.
500 reported killed in rebel infighting in Syria
BEIRUT (AP) — With nearly 500 people reported killed in a week of rebel infighting, many Syrians barricaded themselves in their homes Friday while others emerged from mosques angrily accusing an al-Qaida-linked group of hijacking their revolution.
The rebel-on-rebel clashes have overshadowed the battle against President Bashar Assad and underscore the perils for civilians caught in the crossfire of two parallel wars.
The violence, which pits fighters from a variety of Islamic groups and mainstream factions against the feared al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, spread across four provinces in opposition-controlled parts of northern Syria.
The infighting is helping Assad, whose forces clawed back some of the ground lost to the rebels in recent months as they bombard the north and other opposition regions with warplanes, heavy artillery and crude explosive-filled barrels dropped over rebel neighborhoods.
US diplomat withdrawn after expulsion demand
NEW DELHI (AP) — The United States said Friday it was withdrawing a diplomat from India in hopes it would end a bitter dispute that started with the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York.
Washington’s announcement it was complying with a demand from New Delhi for the expulsion of the U.S. official came hours after Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, left the U.S.
Khobragade, 39, is accused of exploiting her Indian-born housekeeper and nanny, allegedly having her work more than 100 hours a week for low pay and lying about it on a visa form. Khobragade maintained her innocence, and Indian officials described her treatment as barbaric.
In an apparent compromise, she was indicted by a federal grand jury but also granted immunity that allowed her to leave the United States. Khobragade arrived in New Delhi on Friday, where she was met at the airport by her father and a sister.
Settlements hit by boycott campaign
NETIV HAGDUD, West Bank (AP) — An international campaign to boycott Israeli settlement products rapidly turned from a distant nuisance into a harsh economic reality for Israeli farmers in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley. The export-driven income of growers in the valley’s 21 settlements dropped by more than 14 percent, or $29 million, last year, largely because Western European supermarket chains are shunning the area’s produce, settlers said.