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News Wrap: Sunni extremists extend control toward Baghdad with Tikrit takeover

June 11, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: More cities in Iraq fell today to a rapidly advancing wave of al-Qaida linked militants. Today, it was Tikrit, only 80 miles north of Baghdad. Yesterday, the extremists took over Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News has this report from northern Iraq.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: For a second day, militants of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria continued their rapid advance. Yesterday, Mosul fell to them. Today, the fighters continued south, taking the strategic town of Baji, and even advancing to Tikrit.

Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, looked empty, apparent testament once again to the lack of government opposition, to the extremists in their midst. In Mosul itself, ISIS consolidated its control, parading the spoils of victory, U.S.-made military vehicles and hardware, abandoned as the Iraqi army fled, though the man notionally in charge of this country suggested a counterattack is coming.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, Prime Minister, Iraq (through interpreter): Today, we are dealing with the situation. We are making preparations and regrouping the armed forces necessary to mop up the territory from those terrorists.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: There was little sign of any significant fight back yet. A stream of refugees continued to flee from Mosul, according to one estimate, half-a-million, mostly Sunni Arabs, heading for the relative safety of the Kurdish-controlled north and Irbil, its capital.

MAN (through interpreter): We have come with absolutely no plan. We just came here because it’s stable. We’re looking for stability.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: If the figure of half-a-million people on the move is correct, that is the biggest exodus of people this region has seen since 1991, when the Kurds of Northern Iraq were fleeing from Saddam Hussein. The question is whether these Islamic extremists have made their gains so fast, that they can’t hold on to the territory they have captured, a vast swathe of territory now stretching from Iraq across into Syria.

The sight of scores of jihadist fighters celebrating the capture of military booty not only embarrass Baghdad, but it will intensify concerns that not just Syria, but Iraq now poses the biggest threat to security in the Middle East and beyond.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the State Department in Washington, spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied the situation in Iraq showed a failure of Western policy there, but acknowledged the U.S. is concerned.

JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: We’re focused right now on how we can assist the government at this point in time during what is a very challenging security situation on the ground, and that’s where we’re going to exert our efforts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Psaki also said the U.S. has no confirmation of reports the militants are expanding their offensive closer to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

GWEN IFILL: In Pakistan, more flights were canceled to Karachi’s airport today, amid concerns over the security situation in the port city. Residents are still reeling from two attacks this week at Karachi’s Jinnah Airport.

Today, a group of ethnic Uzbek fighters claimed to have played a role in Sunday’s attack. They said it was revenge for airstrikes by the Pakistani army in tribal regions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Here in the U.S., a bill designed to let people refinance their student loans stalled in the Senate today. Democrats said it would have permitted about 25 million people with older student loans to refinance that debt at lower, current interest rates.

Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota co-sponsored the legislation.

SEN. AL FRANKEN, D, Minn.: You can refinance a home loan. You can refinance a car loan. You can refinance business debt. Why not allow our — the 44 million people in America to refinance their student debt?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans argued the legislation was too expensive, especially on high-income Americans, who would have been levied a 30 percent tax to pay for it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was an election-year ploy, and asserted Americans are too smart to fall for it.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Minority Leader: Students can understand that this bill won’t make college more affordable. They understand it won’t reduce the amount of money they have to borrow. And students know it won’t do a thing, not a thing, to fix the economy that’s depriving so many young Americans of the jobs that they seek.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama signed an executive order on Monday to make it easier for five million people to pay off their student loans.

GWEN IFILL: The FBI has started a criminal investigation at the Department of Veterans Affairs. FBI Director James Comey told a congressional hearing it will be led by the field office in Phoenix. An inspector general’s report last month confirmed the VA hospital there had excessive wait times and inappropriate scheduling of patients.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The European Union launched an investigation into tax reduction deals that Apple, Starbucks and Fiat have in some European countries. It’s part of a wider push to keep multinational corporations from taking unfair advantage of tax loopholes. The deals are in Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The E.U. says they may be improper if they give companies an advantage over competitors who don’t get the same deal.

GWEN IFILL: On Wall Street today, stocks took their worst hit in three weeks, with the Dow ending its five-day rally. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 102 points to close above 16,843. The Nasdaq fell six points to close above 4,331. And the S&P 500 slipped seven points to close at 1,943.