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(Reuters) - Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson will serve as president and CEO of a Nevada-based company working to develop marijuana products for sale in states where the drug is legal, such as Washington and Colorado, he said on Tuesday.

Johnson, the 2012 Libertarian party nominee for U.S. president and a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization, was named to the position with Cannabis Sativa Inc as part of the company's acquisition of another marijuana-related company, Kush.

 

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Officially, the missions the US military is launching in Baghdad are static, unchanging and defined. Protect the US embassy and other American personnel in Iraq. Assess the threat from the Islamic State and the performance of the Iraqi military. Figure out what steps the Pentagon next ought to take to aid Iraq through its crisis.

Unofficially, the Pentagon is indicating that the number of troops in Iraq is likely to continue the incremental expansion that President Barack Obama launched last month after Islamic State forces overran Sunni areas of the country.

 

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The leader of the extremist group that has overrun parts of Iraq and Syria has called on Muslims around the world to flock to territories under his control to fight and build an Islamic state.

In a recording posted online Tuesday, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared he wants to turn the enclave his fighters have carved out in the heart of the Middle East into a magnet for militants.

He also presented himself as the leader of Islam worldwide, urging Muslims everywhere to rise up against oppression.

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The National Security Agency's vast data collection program targeting foreign nationals is a largely legal, valuable tool in fighting terrorism, a watchdog panel said.

The panel, which earlier this year issued a sharp rebuke of domestic surveillance efforts, said in a preliminary report that the foreign intelligence efforts are generally in line with the US constitution, while raising some concerns about unintentional data gathering of Americans.

 

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For a man widely reported to be playing a key role in helping Iraq's routed military recover lost ground, Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran's feared Quds Force, remains invisible.

It is not a new strategy for Suleimani -- the 57-year-old is rarely pictured, a trait that chimes with his apparent, although officially denied, presence in Baghdad in the past fortnight.

Having already helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reverse the gains of Sunni-led rebels in that country's civil war, just when it looked like Assad was finished, Suleimani has cultivated a reputation as perhaps the most formidable security operative in the Middle East.

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Iran is ready to take concrete steps to ensure its nuclear program remains peaceful but will not "kneel in submission" to do a deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said before a resumption of talks with major powers on Wednesday.

In a video message posted on YouTube, Zarif added Tehran was committed to resolving a dispute over its nuclear work before a deadline of July 20 but cautioned against seeking last minute concessions from the Islamic Republic at the Vienna talks.

A nuclear agreement would make history, he said, adding Iran is "willing to take concrete measures to guarantee that our nuclear program will always remain peaceful."

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The nearly 500 American troops sent to Baghdad to bolster security for the US embassy are equipped with Apache attack helicopters and small unarmed surveillance drones, Pentagon officials said Tuesday. President Barack Obama on Monday ordered 200 additional troops to the Iraqi capital to ensure the safety of American diplomats and other personnel working in the city, as Baghdad government forces face a challenge from advancing Sunni extremists.

 

The reinforcements will include troops to fly and maintain Apache attack helicopters and unarmed surveillance drones, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference. The drones were not Reapers or Predators but smaller Shadow robotic aircraft that are launched from a catapult, a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP. The Shadow aircraft, which have been heavily used by US forces previously in Iraq and in Afghanistan, are about 14 feet (4 meters) long and can fly at an altitude of 8,000 feet (2,400 meters).

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On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies claimed their independence from England, an event which eventually led to the formation of the United States. Each year on July 4th, also known as Independence Day, Americans celebrate this historic event.

Conflict between the colonies and England was already a year old when the colonies convened a Continental Congress in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. In a June 7 session in the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall), Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a resolution with the famous words: "Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

Lee's words were the impetus for the drafting of a formal Declaration of Independence, although the resolution was not followed up on immediately. On June 11, consideration of the resolution was postponed by a vote of seven colonies to five, with New York abstaining. However, a Committee of Five was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies' case for independence. Members of the Committee included John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The task of drafting the actual document fell on Jefferson.

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Who are the ISIS militants? James Robbins explains

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is a jihadist group active in Iraq and Syria.

 

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Iraq is facing its most severe crisis in years, with the country on the brink of break-up amid lightning offensives by jihadist militants. How has it happened so quickly?

 

Iraq's plagued by violence, so what's new?

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Washington is considering direct talks with Iran on the security situation in Iraq, a US official has told the BBC.

 

The move comes as US President Barack Obama weighs up options on action to take in Iraq.

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Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq's Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country's north.

 

The town of Tal Afar, with a population of some 200,000 people, was taken just before dawn, Mayor Abdulal Abdoul told The Associated Press.

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(Reuters) - Iraq's most senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric urged followers to take up arms against a full-blown Sunni militant insurgency to topple Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, escalating a conflict that threatens civil war and a possible break-up of the country.

 

In a rare intervention at Friday prayers in the holy city of Kerbala, a message from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the highest religious authority for Shi'ites in Iraq, said people should unite to fight back against a lightning advance by militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

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(Reuters) - Two Russian long-range bombers were spotted just 50 miles off the California coast earlier this week and air defense officials scrambled a pair of F-22 fighter jets to make visual identification, a NORAD spokeswoman said on Thursday.

 

The Russian aircraft never entered U.S. airspace during what appeared to be a routine training mission, Major Beth Smith of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said.

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(Reuters) - Georgia will not drug test food stamp recipients under a controversial new law that both federal and state officials concluded was illegal, the governor's office said on Friday.

The Republican-controlled legislature this spring passed a law requiring testing if authorities had a "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. People failing the test would temporarily lose food stamp benefits, although children could still receive them.

The drug testing law, set to take effect July 1, drew outcry from civil liberties advocates, who said it violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

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(Reuters) - Croatia's Supreme Court has confirmed a guilty verdict against former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader for taking a bribe from Hungarian oil group MOL in exchange for allowing it a dominant position in Croatian oil firm INA.

 

The ruling will not automatically annul a disputed INA shareholder agreement that Zagreb and MOL reached in 2009, but may serve as a legal basis for Croatia to start a new court process to render it null and void. The government was not available for an immediate comment.

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(Reuters) - A Chinese official said on Friday that China will never send military forces to the scene of an increasingly ugly spat with Vietnam over an oil rig in the South China Sea, and accused Hanoi of trying to force an international lawsuit.

China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, but parts of the potentially energy-rich waters are also subject to claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China is also involved in a territorial dispute in the East China Sea with Japan.

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(Reuters) - Some of the schoolgirls abducted by militant group Boko Haram may never return home, Nigeria's influential former president Olusegun Obasanjo said, in some of the most pessimistic comments yet on their fate from a member of the country's elite.

Obasanjo said President Goodluck Jonathan's administration had taken too long to respond to the April mass abduction. Once Jonathan's mentor and one of his strongest political allies, Obasanjo turned against him last December.

"I believe that some of them will never return. We will still be hearing about them many years from now," Obasanjo told the BBC's Hausa-language radio service on Thursday, in comments echoed in an interview with Nigeria's Premium Times website.

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(Reuters) - The Ukrainian flag fluttered over the regional headquarters of Mariupol on Friday after government forces reclaimed the port city from pro-Russian separatists in heavy fighting and said they had regained control of a long stretch of the border with Russia.

The advances are significant victories for the pro-European leadership in a military operation to crush the armed rebellion, which began in east Ukraine in April, and hold the former Soviet republic of 45 million together.

In central Mariupol, police cordoned off several streets, where roadblocks of sandbags and concrete blocks, once manned by rebels, were riddled with bullet-holes and the burnt-out hulk of an armoured personnel carrier with rebel insignia smoldered. 

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The US has deployed a Predator drone team of 80 military personnel — mostly airmen — to Chad to help find nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped in neighboring Nigeria.

 

President Obama announced the deployment in a May 21 letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner and said the 80 troops will help operate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and surrounding areas. The troops will stay in Chad until their help is no longer needed, Obama said.

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