Middle East Updates Iran Supplied Weapons to Iraqi Kurds

8 dead after car bomb in Baghdad Shi'ite district; Australia to devote $60m against Islamic extremism; 19 killed in Egypt after two microbuses collide; UN rights chief condemns crimes committed by Islamic State.

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People gather at the site of a car bomb attack in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala, southwest of Baghdad, August 25, 2014.
People gather at the site of a car bomb attack in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala, southwest of Baghdad, August 25, 2014.Credit: Reuters

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Latest updates [Tuesday]:

9:13 P.M. Iran has supplied weapons and ammunition to Iraqi Kurdish forces, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani said Tuesday at a joint press conference with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Arbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdish region.

The direct arming of Kurdish forces is a contentious issue, because some Iraqi politicians suspect Kurdish leaders have aspirations to break away from the central government completely. The move could also be seen by some as a prelude to Iran's taking a more direct role in broader Iraqi conflict.

"We asked for weapons and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons and ammunition," Barzani said.

Militants from the Islamic State have clashed with Kurdish peshmerga fighters in recent weeks and taken control of some areas on the periphery of Iraqi Kurdistan. (Reuters)

9:02 P.M. The UN Human Rights Council will hold an emergency session in Geneva on Monday on abuses being committed by Islamic State and other militant groups in Iraq, a UN statement said on Tuesday.

The request, made by the Iraqi government, was supported by states including Egypt on behalf of Arab states, Iran, the United States and European Union members, it said.

On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned "appalling, widespread" crimes by Islamic State forces in Iraq, including mass executions of prisoners that she said could amount to war crimes. (Reuters)

8:53 P.M. Saudi Arabia's state news agency says the kingdom's foreign minister has met with an Iranian deputy foreign minister in the highest-level bilateral talks between the two Mideast powers since moderate Iranian President Hassan Rohani's election last year.

Relations between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite powerhouse Iran are tense. Tuesday's meeting provided an opportunity for the two oil-rich nations to begin to thaw those ties.

The Saudi Press Agency said Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and the Iranian deputy foreign minister, Amir Abdollahian, discussed "a number of regional and international issues of common interest."

Both countries view each other with suspicion, and their relationship has been further strained by the civil war in Syria. Saudi Arabia backs rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad's government, which is supported by Tehran. (AP)

8:03 P.M. President Barack Obama on Tuesday vowed to go after the Islamic State killers of American journalist James Foley and said rooting out the militant group in Iraq and Syria will not be easy.

"America does not forget, our reach is long, we are patient, justice will be done," Obama told veterans gathered at a convention of the American Legion in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Obama, who ordered airstrikes against the militant group in Iraq and may expand them into Syria, said he would do whatever is necessary to go after those who harm Americans.

"Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won't be easy and it won't be quick," he said, referring to an acronym the United States uses for Islamic State. (Reuters)

6:18 P.M. Britain's top counter-terrorism police officer said arrests linked to fighting in Syria had risen dramatically this year and that significant progress was being made to trace a British man suspected of murdering American journalist James Foley.

Launching an appeal to Muslim communities to help identify "aspiring terrorists", Mark Rowley, the National Policing Lead for Counter Terrorism, said Britain had been escalating its efforts to address rising terrorism problems relating to Syria.

"There is a lot at stake," Rowley said in a statement. "High priority operations, especially against those involved in attack planning or on the cusp have increased greatly."

A video released by Islamic State (IS) last week showing the beheading of Foley, apparently by a masked knifeman speaking English with a London accent stirred proposals for tough new laws to deal with British Islamist militants travelling to Iraq and Syria to join the jihadists.

"Every reasonable person in the country has been touched by the pitiless murder of James Foley at the hands of Islamic State terrorists, and the murderer's apparent British nationality has focused attention on extremism in the UK as well as the Middle East," he said in a statement.

"Investigators are making significant progress but we will not be giving a running commentary."

On Sunday, the British ambassador to the United States said Britain was close to identifying Foley's killer. (Reuters)

5:20 P.M. At least 24 migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa died after their boat sank in the Mediterranean, the Italian navy said after completing a two day search for bodies.

A further 364 migrants were rescued by navy and coastguard vessels after the fishing boat capsized on Sunday evening, the latest in a series of similar shipwrecks.

Two days earlier, another boat carrying migrants sank near the Libyan coast leaving around 250 feared drowned.

Droves of people, many fleeing war in Syria and military conscription in Eritrea, have attempted the perilous passage this year, pushing the number of seaborne arrivals in Italy to a record of more than 100,000. (Reuters)

1:22 P.M. Iran supplied weapons and ammunition to Iraqi Kurdish forces, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani said Tuesday at a joint press conference with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Arbil, capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

"We asked for weapons and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons," Barzani said.

Militants from the Islamic State have clashed with Kurdish peshmerga fighters in recent weeks and taken control of some areas on the periphery of Iraqi Kurdistan. (Reuters)

10:58 A.M. The top U.S. military officer says the U.S. has some insights into the activities of Islamic State militants within Syria, but he declined to comment Tuesday on the Obama administration's move to conduct surveillance flights over that country.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan, that the U.S. wants more clarity on the militants in Syria "as we craft a way forward."

U.S. officials say the military has begun surveillance flights over Syria, which could pave the way for airstrikes against the Islamic State militants who operate from safe havens there and have taken control of swaths of Iraq.

Dempsey has said he would recommend the military move against the Islamic State militants if there is a threat to the homeland. (AP)

10:17 A.M. The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.

While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes. (AP) Read full article here

10:04 A.M. Egypt's state news agency says 19 people were killed when two microbuses collided and plunged into a canal in the ancient city of Luxor in the country's south.

MENA says the victims were travelling to a wedding party when the accident happened late on Monday night.

The report says the two microbuses were speeding and racing one another, which caused the collision. It says darkness hampered rescue efforts.

Abu al-Naga al-Haggagi, the chief of the local emergency services, is quoted as saying that six people were still missing after the crash and that rescuers were trying to find them.

Traffic accidents are common in this Mideast country due to badly maintained roads and disregard of traffic laws. Road accidents killed about 13,000 people in Egypt last year. (AP)

9:54 A.M. The Australian government says it will spend 64 million Australian dollars ($60 million) on measures to counter violent extremism and radicalization as Islamic State continues to recruit foreign fighters to its ranks in Iraq and Syria.

The measures announced Tuesday include strengthened community engagement programs aimed at preventing young Australians from becoming involved with extremist groups and new multi-agency investigation teams to disrupt foreign fighters and their supporters.

The Australian government is giving high priority to reducing a domestic terrorism threat created by homegrown extremists who travel to Syria and Iraq to fight. (AP)

9:00 A.M. A car bomb was detonated in a mainly Shi'ite district of eastern Baghdad on Tuesday, killing eight people and wounding 20, police and medical sources said.

The bombing in the New Baghdad neighborhood followed a series of blasts in the Iraqi capital on Monday which killed more than 20 people. Police sources said the death toll from Tuesday's attack was expected to rise.(Reuters)

10:28 P.M. Iraqi police officials say two car bombs in a busy commercial district in Baghdad have killed at least 15 people and wounded another 21.

The bombs, which detonated less than two minutes apart, hit a restaurant on a commercial street in north Baghdad, the officials said.

Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. Both spoke anonymously as they are not authorized to brief the media.. (Reuters)

9:47 P.M. A Saudi court has jailed 17 men for up to 33 years on a range of militant Islamist charges, including fighting in foreign conflicts and joining terrorist cells inside the kingdom, state news agency SPA reported on Monday.

Riyadh's concerns about Islamist militants have grown more acute over the past two years as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have attracted more of its own citizens to travel to those countries to join groups fighting in the name of jihad.

King Abdullah decreed in February long prison terms for those who travel overseas to fight or who give material or moral support to groups officially labelled as extremist, including Al-Qaida, Syria's Nusra Front and Islamic State.

The charges brought against the 17 men also included embracing a militant ideology and sharing the "conviction that what the terrorist organisation carries out, in terms of bombing, destroying and killing, is jihad in the name of Allah".

The men, part of a group of 67, were also convicted of financing terrorism, possessing weapons and ammunition without permits and helping members of a "terrorist organization". (Reuters)

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