PBS NewsHour

Pressure is on for Iraqi factions to reconcile in face of extremist threat


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GWEN IFILL: We return now to Iraq and the prospects for unity in a greatly fractured country.

The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that it will provide additional military support against the Islamic State group only when Iraqis form an inclusive government that can deliver national unity.

However, as chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports from Northern Iraq, disaffected Sunnis and Kurds are saying they don’t have much hope in the politics emanating from Baghdad.

MARGARET WARNER: Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers greeted the governor of the long-contested province of Kirkuk Sunday along a defensive trench built to stop infiltration from the south.

And how many of these observation posts are there?

MAN: We have, I think, built 32 of these, and we have another 28 we’re building, yes.

MARGARET WARNER: The Iraqi military used to share security for Kirkuk city and province, until mid-June, when they hastily retreated before the so-called Islamic State’s advance. The Kurdish regional government’s Peshmergas took over.

The trench around the city funnels all who seek to enter it through clogged checkpoints, and many outsiders are turned away. It’s a metaphor for the mutual distrust that afflicts the country among its regions and its sectarian groups, the majority Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds.

But now that the militants have captured one-third of Iraq, the pressure is on, encouraged by the U.S., for the three fashions to reconcile in the capital. Twelve days ago, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to step aside after eight years. Another Shiite figure, Haider al-Abadi, faces a September 10 deadline to form a new government with buy-in from disaffected Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

MICHAEL STEPHENS, Royal United Services Institute: You have two constituencies in that country who clearly feel alienated from the capital city.

MARGARET WARNER: Analyst Michael Stephens, in the Kurdish capital, Irbil, says, before cooperating, both groups have demands, above all, guarantees that Maliki’s heavy-handed Shiite-dominated rule won’t be repeated.

MICHAEL STEPHENS: There’s a number of problems here on both sides to do with distribution of resources and almost a show of respect from the state.

MARGARET WARNER: Part of that respect bubbles up from beneath here, Iraq’s oil wealth. It’s the world’s seventh largest producer, drawing foreign companies with their technology and management skills to produce here.

But the Maliki government has shortchanged the Kurd and Sunni regions in redistributing the revenues. Yet ordinary Iraqis seem less concerned with sharing the oil windfall. Those we met said that what they really want is simply a peaceful country in which to live their lives.

Um Ahmed fled Mosul with her family when extremists took over Iraq’s second largest city June. We met her in an Irbil shopping mall.

UM AHMED, Iraq (through translator): We hope things get better. We ask only for peace and security.

MARGARET WARNER: Baghdad lawyer Aqil Al-Hayali said rampant sectarian violence had forced him and his wife to abandon the capital.

AQIL AL-HAYALI (through interpreter): There is a 20 percent possibility I will go back, but things have to get better. I thank God we don’t have children right now.

MARGARET WARNER: But can the political system deliver reconciliation, and in the face of the I.S. threat?

For answers, we sought out two figures, one from each alienated camp: Kirkuk Governor Karim, a Kurd, and Sunni Arab Ali Hatem Al-Suleiman, leader of Iraq’s largest tribe, whose fighters in 2006 to 2008 helped U.S. forces turn the tide against al-Qaida in Iraq.

Governor Karim has won huge majorities from all sectarian and ethnic communities, Kurds, Sunni Arabs, Turkmen, Christians and Shiites. On a heavily-guarded tour of city projects under construction, he maintained that the extremists’ advance has brought his city’s often divided groups together.

GOV. NAJMALDIN KARIM, Kirkuk, Iraq: Actually, believe it or not, I think it has strengthened the relationship. They feel closer to me. They come to me for their concerns, for their needs and all that more than actually before.

MARGARET WARNER: Karim’s seeks buy-in from all his constituents, delivering services inclusively, in contrast to the zero-sum politics in Baghdad.

It seems to have worked with Turkoman shop owner Arkan Esam.

ARKAN ESAM (through interpreter): We like this governor. Why?  Because he is serving the city and doesn’t differentiate between the ethnicities.

MARGARET WARNER: But Iraq’s long-running sectarian warfare, newly fueled by the extremist advance, still impinges. The evening before we arrived, three deadly bombings tore through this city.

President Obama has been reluctant to get engaged more militarily in Iraq, until its warring factions agree to work together. But the weekend suicide bombings here in Kirkuk and a cluster of other attacks in Baghdad, Diyala province and Irbil suggest that reconciliation remains very difficult to achieve.

Karim believes there’s only one pathway to that, to decentralize the government and empower the country’s three regions. If not, he forecasts, there will be a messy breakup anyway.

GOV. NAJMALDIN KARIM: The common goal is to have — to build a country that’s truly democratic, that’s inclusive, and that is decentralized to the maximum extent you can do it.

MARGARET WARNER: And if that’s not possible?

GOV. NAJMALDIN KARIM: If that’s not possible, I think Iraq is gone as we know it.

MARGARET WARNER: And what about the Kurdish region?

GOV. NAJMALDIN KARIM: The Kurdish region will have every right, if that doesn’t happen, to go its own way and determine its own future.

MARGARET WARNER: And Kirkuk is part of that?

GOV. NAJMALDIN KARIM: Kirkuk is always part of Kurdistan.

SHEIK ALI HATEM AL-SULEIMAN, Crown Prince, Dulaim tribe (through interpreter): We don’t want to split from Iraq, but we want to have our own region, our own economy, our own security. We never wanted to split from Iraq, but rather strengthen Iraq’s unity.

MARGARET WARNER: We spoke with Sheik Ali Hatem in Irbil, far from his ancestral home in the western province of Anbar. He sought refuge here after Baghdad issued an arrest warrant against him for treason amidst the conflict between Maliki’s security forces and Sunni demonstrators in Anbar.

Ali Hatem doesn’t claim to speak for all Sunni Arabs, but he shares Governor Karim’s view that the reconciliation talks in Baghdad will go nowhere if the central government doesn’t loosen its grip.

How hopeful are you that this kind of inclusive government can be formed?

SHEIK ALI HATEM AL-SULEIMAN (through interpreter): Very difficult. If we want to protect Iraq, if we want to protect the right of the Iraqi people, we should move to three different regions, a democratic, federal Iraq, rather than a united Iraq built on the blood of the Iraqi people.

MARGARET WARNER: If that does come to pass, he says, then his Dulaim Tribe and others, far from supporting the militants, as is often charged, are ready to take up arms against the Islamic State forces.

SHEIK ALI HATEM AL-SULEIMAN (through interpreter): ISIS are not Muslims. They are Islamists. They want to take advantage of the Sunni region to create their own country. We have postponed the battle against ISIS only because of the political situation. Otherwise, we are going to face them.

MARGARET WARNER: Even if the Baghdad talks produce an inclusive government and Sunni tribes join the fight, would it be enough?

MICHAEL STEPHENS: The idea that a political agreement in Baghdad will immediately solve all the problems to do with Sunni disaffection and tribal disaffection, I think, is a bit naive. But it just opens that door.

MARGARET WARNER: For a country that sees no exit, even an open door may offer hope.

GWEN IFILL: I spoke with Margaret a short time ago.

Margaret, thanks for joining us again.

We just heard in your piece a Kurdish leader saying that a decentralized Iraq is now possible. Did you have a sense of that?  Is Baghdad crazy about that idea?

MARGARET WARNER: You know, Gwen, I haven’t been in Baghdad on this trip.

But I would say that the Shiites certainly aren’t going to like that idea. After all, they are the majority in this country. They’re bound to keep winning future elections, and that means that for the foreseeable future, they will always get to have a Shiite prime minister. And Maliki’s made that a hugely important post.

The only thing that might change their mind and be more willing to compromise is that now they do need the other two groups to fight this new threat from these extremist forces. But that’s only if the Kurds and the Sunnis insist on it as a price for getting into the government.

Now, the Kurds, who have this semiautonomous region already up here, are, of course, in favor of it if it means getting a bigger slice of the oil revenues or getting to sell their own.

I think the Sunnis — the Sunni political class is a little less clear, because you do have Sunni politicians in Baghdad who are invested in the idea of a strong central government. They just want a bigger slice of it. Their critics say, like that sheik that we interviewed, that’s because they want to share in the spoils.

The question I keep getting asked here, Gwen, is, where is the United States going to come down on this?  A lot of people here, and I — and also farther south into Iraq proper, have said, you know, the Americans’ insistence over the last 10 years under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama on a unified Iraq is really unrealistic, because the politics practiced here are sectarian, winner-take-all, and always alienates the other two groups.

GWEN IFILL: Does Iran have a role in this — in the direction this goes?

MARGARET WARNER: Oh, absolutely. They have had a role here all along, even all during the American occupation, as a matter of fact.

But the latest sign of that was that, today, surprisingly, the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, showed up here in Irbil, met with the president and the prime minister. They had a joint press conference. And President Massoud Barzani, the president of this region, announced that in fact Iran has been supplying the Kurds with weapons to fight the I.S. forces.

Now, that’s a real turnaround, because the Iranians have their own Kurdish problem, as they see it. They have never been friendly to this semi-sovereign Kurdish entity up here. But I guess it’s the I.S. threat that is impelling them in that direction. And Barzani said, you know, we asked a lot of countries for help and for weapons, and Iran was the first country to respond.

So I think it is evidence, Gwen, that, in this sort of slow-motion dissolution of Iraq that we have been really seeing over the last few years, exacerbated by the I.S. forces now, not only Iran, but perhaps some of Iraq’s other neighbors are going to want to play.

GWEN IFILL: Keeping an eye on Iran and the U.S., Margaret Warner for us in Iraq tonight, thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Pleasure, Gwen.

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Why Israel and Hamas are interested in making this cease-fire stick

Palestinians celebrate Gaza ceasefire

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GWEN IFILL: For more on where things go from here, I’m joined by Dennis Ross, a longtime U.S. diplomat and Middle East envoy who served in the George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations. He’s now a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat of peace and development at the University of Maryland, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and author of the book “The World Through Arab Eyes.”

Gentlemen, welcome back to the NewsHour.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, Brookings Institution: Pleasure.

GWEN IFILL: So we have talked about this before.

Dennis Ross, you have certainly been on the other side of the negotiating table before. Does this cease-fire seem real to you?

DENNIS ROSS, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: It does seem real to me because I think both sides really want this to be over. Neither side knew, at this point that there was much more that could be gained and they each saw that the price they were paying was one that was going to continue to go up.

And we can look at it as the price not being equal to the two sides, but how does each side evaluate those costs? I think, for the Israelis, they had destroyed the tunnels. If they wanted to go in and stop the mortars, they had to go in on the ground again and basically try to take over Gaza, which was just too high a price to pay.

So, they had achieved basically what they were going to achieve militarily. For Hamas, they’re in a situation as well where, if you look at the rockets they have left, if they kept firing, they would begin to deplete the arsenals they have. The price that was being paid within Gaza was also going up.

So I think each was looking for a way out, and right now this way out gives them a chance to sustain something.

GWEN IFILL: Shibley Telhami, we heard Mark Regev, the Israeli spokesman, say in that piece he didn’t understand why Hamas didn’t take the same deal a month ago. Is he correct in that?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: No, I think it was actually the same deal for either side.

The Israelis got some more out of it in some ways, but obviously the immediate opening of the passages, the crossings and providing relief is something to get out of it, but they didn’t get everything they were asking for, especially not the ports.

But I just want to go back to the question that you asked about, will the cease-fire hold? I agree with Dennis, first of all, that I think the incentives for both of them to keep it and respect it is very high. They don’t have much incentive to break it. They have very little to achieve in the short-term.

But here’s the thing. I believe, from the outset, neither side wanted the escalation, and they ended up with an escalation. It remains very volatile. There is a lot of negotiations at stake coming up. Politically, there are some gains and some losses. The prime minister of Israel started of the 82 percent approval rating. Yesterday, the latest poll was 38 percent approval rating.

There’s a political problem for each one and there’s much to go. So I don’t think it’s over, even though I think it’s a different kind of strategic decision right now. Both sides don’t want to reengage again in conflict.

GWEN IFILL: Is the Palestinian Authority strengthened in this? Is Netanyahu, as Shibley Telhami says, weakened?

DENNIS ROSS: I don’t believe that Netanyahu has really been weakened.

This is not like 2006 with Prime Minister Olmert. Netanyahu was much more careful in terms of how he framed the objectives. His objectives were to destroy the tunnels and to restore quiet. Now, it’s true the threat of Hamas is still there. They have been militarily weakened, but the threat is still there.

And for those on the right, he will be challenged. He — the numbers of support he had at 82 percent were unrealistic and weren’t going to be sustainable anyway, so he will have to contend with explaining where you go from here. And I think simply having the pre — the status quo ante is not something that will necessarily be acceptable.

I think Hamas though is also, in the near term, you know, the sense that they have stood up is one thing, but, as the dust settles, I think that there will be a lot of questions about where do you go from here, and in terms of the Palestinian Authority, they want to show that they’re back in Gaza now.

Hamas will look for ways to demonstrate who’s still in control and that’s I think an issue for us to be watching.

GWEN IFILL: How different is the role that Egypt played this time around for this deal, and how different was the role the U.S. played?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Oh, this is very different, because I think, obviously, in some ways, Egypt is essential, partly because, of course, Egypt has a stake in Gaza. It’s right there and it cares about what happens in Gaza for multiple reasons, A, for the Palestinian cause, but, B, because they see Hamas as the threat and an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But what made them more valuable this time for the Israelis is that they were closer to Israel on Hamas in many ways. That’s why — one reason why the Israelis in some ways preferred Egyptian mediation to American mediation, whereas, oddly enough, the Palestinians actually preferred American mediation to Egyptian mediation. This is the oddity of all of this.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Dennis Ross about the U.S. role in this.

Was it — did it help to step back from the table a little bit?

DENNIS ROSS: Yes, I think it did, because, at the end of the day, the Egyptians did have the leverage. And Shibley is right.

You had a conversion of interests between Egypt and Israel. If anything, in some ways, Egypt was even harder on Hamas than the Israelis were. For Egypt, Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood and this is an existential struggle. They’re the ones — and part of the deal here is probably the reopening of Rafah. Only they could do that. From an American standpoint…

GWEN IFILL: Right, the checkpoint in Egypt, yes.


From an American standpoint, we looked I think at Egypt and wondered, well, are they active enough to try to make something happen? And that probably had us look at Turkey and had us look at Qatar, but in a way that in a sense was unlikely to produce the Egyptians.

So, our taking a step back at a certain point helped, number one. And, number two, I think there was — one of the things that was different from last time, this time, the Egyptians didn’t want it to appear as if they needed the U.S. to come in to do this. And because of that, I think we were still active, but I think we were active in a much more low-visibility fashion.

GWEN IFILL: What is the carrot at the end of the stick in another month? Right now, this whole deal is for a month. And, if so, others things happen. What is it likely those things will happen?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: And this is really a central question, because the reality of it is, we can say that both lost and political stalemate or whatever, but here’s the reality on the ground.

Gaza was in horrible shape before the war started, needed relief before the war. So, guess what? Not only do we have 0.8 percent of its population dead or wounded and about a quarter homeless, but we have — the damage to property is many times its GDP. And no one can do that from the inside.

So even to get back to where they were, which was horrible, it is going to take an enormous amount, billions of dollars that’s not going to come. And, two, I think when you look at it, nobody really can do this over and over again. There was a war in 2008-2009 that was devastating. There was a war in 2012, just two, three years later. There’s a war now, and some Israelis are saying, well, this is not — unfinished business. We need to do this again.

GWEN IFILL: Had this devolved into a war of attrition, that this was only way out?

DENNIS ROSS: Yes, I think that is one of the things that helps to explain why we’re seeing this end right now.

The price did become too high. And the gains grew increasingly suspect. So that produced a reality where we are right now. And I think it is going to create an incentive on each side not to see it end.

But I would build on one point that Shibley made. The more you do the reconstruction — it has two elements to it. One element is the P.A. is at the border crossing.

GWEN IFILL: The Palestinian Authority.

DENNIS ROSS: Yes, the Palestinian Authority, so that they can be in a position where they can take some credit for this, but also the more you begin to have reconstruction, assuming there are safeguards for its end use, so that Hamas can’t misuse this material to rebuild the tunnels and the rockets, the more it is going to be hard to go back to conflict, because to begin to restore life again in Gaza is going to create a very strong incentive not to put that at risk.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: If I may just say, the Gaza war itself was a symptom, not the source of the problem.

Just before, we were talking about the possibility of a third intifada, that the two-state solution was just coming to an end, collapse of hope. And so even if you fix Gaza, meaning what has happened, all of the tragedy that has happened, that’s not going to fix it.

And I think one of the things that wars do, historically, is they create new opportunities, because you reshuffle the deck. And I think it can cut both ways, obviously. People can say I’m going to fight again or people can say this is not tenable. And I think the diplomatic effort right now should focus on turning this into, we need to do something much more comprehensive.

GWEN IFILL: That’s what we will be watching for.

Shibley Telhami from the University of Maryland, Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, thank you both very much.

DENNIS ROSS: Thank you.


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Hamas and Israel agree to truce that opens more Gaza border crossings


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GWEN IFILL: In the Middle East, the bloody battle between Israel and Hamas which took thousands of lives this summer appears to be ending. A new cease-fire was announced this afternoon.

Celebratory gunfire rang out in Gaza City, where people poured into the streets on news that seven weeks of war might finally be over. The formal announcement came from Egypt, which mediated talks, on and off, for weeks.

In its essentials, the statement said, Israel and Hamas accepted what they called an open-ended truce. And Israel agreed to open more border crossings, allowing humanitarian aid and construction materials into Gaza.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007, is expected to take over administration of Gaza’s borders.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian National Authority (through interpreter): We hope that this will fulfill the demands and needs of our people in Gaza and provide all their food and medical requirements and to begin the rebuilding of all that had been destroyed.

GWEN IFILL: If the cease-fire holds, new talks on other issues would begin in a month. Those issues could range from Hamas demands to rebuild Gaza’s bombed-out airport and construct a seaport, to Israel’s demand that Hamas disarm.

The terms of the cease-fire deal contained no major concession by the Israelis. But Hamas says there’s no doubt who won this latest war.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas Spokesman (through interpreter): We are here today, after achieving an agreement between the two sides, to announce the victory of resistance. We are here today to announce the victory of Gaza.

GWEN IFILL: On the Israeli side, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu painted the outcome differently.

MARK REGEV, Israeli Government Spokesman: Israel has accepted the Egyptian cease-fire proposal. We hope that this time, the cease-fire will stick, and I think now that, as the dust will begin to clear, many people will be asking, why is it that, today, Hamas accepted the very same Egyptian framework that it rejected a month ago? Ultimately, so much bloodshed could have been avoided.

GWEN IFILL: The cease-fire followed another night of Israeli airstrikes on high-rise buildings in Gaza. They leveled a 15-story apartment and office complex and severely damaged another.

By day, Palestinians viewed the destruction that left 25 people wounded. The buildings had largely been evacuated before the bombings, after Israeli warnings. The final hours of fighting also saw more rockets hit Southern Israel. One struck a home in Ashkelon, injuring a dozen people. And a mortar strike killed one Israeli.

In Washington, the State Department cautiously welcomed the prospect of an end to the killing.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki:

JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: We view this as an opportunity, not a certainty. Today’s agreement comes after many hours and days of negotiations and discussions, but, certainly, there’s a long road ahead. And we’re aware of that, and we’re going into this eyes wide open.

GWEN IFILL: Gazan officials say more than 2,100 Palestinians died during the conflict, with half-a-million displaced. On the Israeli side, 69 were killed, all but five of them soldiers.

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News Wrap: Fighting in Ukraine intensifies as Putin and Poroshenko meet one-on-one


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GWEN IFILL: The leaders of Russia and Ukraine came face to face today. They agreed to have their border guards consult, but, otherwise, there was little sign of progress. The meeting unfolded as Kiev claimed new proof that Russian troops are inside Ukraine.

It was the first encounter between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko since June. They joined other European leaders at a summit in Belarus.

PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO, Ukraine (through interpreter): Today in Minsk, without any doubt, the fate of Europe and the fate of the world is being decided. We should together find the only correct solution upon which nothing less than peace on the continent depends.

GWEN IFILL: Poroshenko called for imposing stronger controls on the border with Russia and for cutting off arms supplies to pro-Russian rebels.

On the Russian side, President Putin said the crisis cannot be resolved without — quote — “peaceful dialogue.”

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): I would like to stress that we are ready to discuss any variants of our cooperation, based on consideration for each other’s interests. We are ready to exchange opinions on the current acute crisis in Ukraine, which I’m sure cannot be solved by further escalation of military actions.

GWEN IFILL: The one-on-one meeting between Putin and Poroshenko finally took place late at night. It was hosted by the president of Belarus.

PRESIDENT ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, Belarus (through interpreter): Talks were not easy, but the dialogue was substantive and extremely frank. It is already valuable and important that this dialogue took place.

GWEN IFILL: But military action only intensified in southeastern Ukraine. It was the second day of fighting around Novoazovsk, which lies close to the major port of Mariupol, and on the same road that leads to the Russian-annexed Crimea Peninsula.

Ukraine also charged that a Russian helicopter attacked a border post yesterday, killing four guards. And Kiev released sound and video of what it said were 10 captured Russian soldiers. Several complained about their government’s actions.

ALEXEI GENERALOV, Captured Russian Soldier (through interpreter): Stop sending the men here. Stop it. It shouldn’t be happening. Why is this being done? It’s not our war. It’s not our war, and if we weren’t here, then none of this would be happening. They would have sorted out their state and their own problems by themselves.

GWEN IFILL: Moscow said the soldiers accidentally strayed across the border. The Russians have repeatedly denied they are aiding the rebels in Ukraine.

The Obama administration wouldn’t confirm reports today that U.S. planes are conducting surveillance flights over Syria. They could set the stage for airstrikes on Islamic State militants there. The Pentagon’s main spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, declined to say directly if the flights are under way. He did acknowledge there’s a lot to learn about the group.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, Pentagon Press Secretary: We recognize that their development, their growth, the increase in their capabilities, it hasn’t happened overnight, and it has happened regionally, that they operate pretty much freely between Iraq and Syria.

Do we have perfect information about them and their capabilities, whether it’s on the Syrian side or the Iraqi side? No, we don’t.

GWEN IFILL: President Obama made no mention of surveillance flights in his speech today, but he cautioned that rooting out the Islamic State group will not be easy. He also vowed the killers of journalist James Foley will be brought to justice. He said, America doesn’t forget.

There’s also word the Persian Gulf state of Qatar is working to secure the release of four more American hostages in Syria. The Reuters news service reported that development today, citing an unnamed source in the Gulf. Qatar helped free American journalist Peter Theo Curtis on Sunday. He’d been a hostage in Syria for two years.

In Afghanistan, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatened to pull out of a U.N.-supervised audit of the disputed runoff election. His camp said none of the fraudulent votes are being thrown out. Abdullah led in the initial voting, but former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani finished first in the runoff.

The scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs brought a new presidential pledge today. The agency has faced disclosures of lengthy wait times for health care and of falsified records. President Obama defended his response to the scandal.

But, at the American Legion Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, today, he said there’s much more to do.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there, and those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans and live up to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first. And I will not be satisfied until that happens.

GWEN IFILL: The president also announced steps to improve access to mental health care for active-duty troops and veterans. Separately, VA officials said an investigation found no proof that delays in care at its Phoenix hospital caused any deaths.

The World Health Organization is now officially targeting electronic cigarettes. The U.N. agency today proposed an array of regulations, including banning the indoor use of e-cigarettes and restricting advertising and sales to minors. Use of the devices has soared in recent years and created an industry worth $3 billion.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 30 points to close at 17,106. The Nasdaq rose 13 points to close at 4,570. And the S&P 500 added two points to finish above 2,000 for the first time.

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