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Top Shiite Cleric Plays Major Role in Iraq Reform Drive

As Iraq attempts to curb rampant corruption and streamline the government, the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is playing a crucial role supporting the reform drive.

Sistani, who is revered by millions and has unmatched prestige in Iraq, issued multiple calls for change this month, kickstarting Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's reform efforts and making it politically risky for Shiite politicians to openly oppose them.

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Republican Barbs Raise Nuclear Deal Doubts in Iran

Fierce criticism of the Iran nuclear agreement by Republicans seeking the U.S. presidency has raised a big question in Tehran -- will future American leaders keep their side of the bargain?

Despite tension and continuing mutual mistrust, Iran's government and President Barack Obama's White House are partners in the same fight, telling their domestic audiences that the July 14 deal is as good as it gets.

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Arbil: The Departure Terminal for Iraq's Exodus

Iraq's gateway to Europe, the northern city of Arbil, is the first bottleneck on a long and uncertain journey for a growing number of Iraqis choosing exile.

"We're selling a lot of one-way tickets these days. More than ever. People are desperate," said Emre Shawkat, who runs a tourism transport business in Arbil, capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

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Analysts: Turkey's Risky Offensive Can Weaken but Won't Destroy PKK

Turkey's almost month-long campaign of air strikes against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Turkish southeast and northern Iraq will weaken but cannot destroy the Kurdish militant group, analysts say.

With some 50 Turkish soldiers killed in attacks blamed on the PKK over the last month, the campaign also risks creating an uncontrolled escalation that could wreck the chances of agreeing a final settlement to end the PKK's over 30-year insurgency. 

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Sweden's Far-Right Posts Record Score as Migration Soars

As immigration to Sweden soars, the far-right Sweden Democrats have topped an opinion poll for the first time, illustrating growing hostility to refugees and beggars in a country known for its open-arms policy.

With a cradle-to-grave welfare state, a reputation for tolerance, a healthy economy, and a job market, Sweden is a favored destination for the record number of migrants fleeing conflicts, authoritarian regimes and poverty worldwide.

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Obama to Take Last Shot at Closing Gitmo

After embarrassing false starts, Barack Obama is making a final push to close Guantanamo prison, but to fulfill that glaringly incomplete campaign promise he faces unpalatable compromises and internal resistance.

When Congress returns from recess in September, Obama's top counterterror advisor Lisa Monaco and Defense Secretary Ash Carter will submit a fresh plan to shutter the infamous 13-year-old facility. 

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Syrians Use Facebook to Plan, Document Journey to Europe

When Wael and his relatives from Syria climbed into an inflatable boat in the dead of night to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece, they abandoned all their belongings -- except their smartphones.

"Our phones and power banks are more important for our journey than anything, even more important than food," said Wael, a 32-year-old from the devastated Syrian city Homs who reached the Greek resort island of Kos on Thursday morning.

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No Usual Suspects in Thai Blasts that Defy Easy Explanation

Thailand's conflict-wracked society is inured to violence, but the scale and ruthless targeting of Monday's Bangkok bombing has no historical precedent and analysts say it is far from the usual modus operandi of the nation's armed agitators.

Opaque armed elements often try to press home an advantage by stoking insecurity in a nation that has hosted endless -- and often well-rehearsed -- rounds of protest and coups, as well as a festering Muslim insurgency.

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China's Disaster Playbook Falls Short in Tianjin Blasts

Chinese authorities' handling of the Tianjin explosions bears many of the hallmarks of their standard approach to the litany of disasters in the country -- a clampdown on discussion, official obfuscation, and carefully targeted media condemnation.

But it has been unusually ineffective, analysts say, with a lack of transparency compared to previous disasters that has created an image of indecision or even possible infighting at the highest levels of power.

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Syrians Risk Lives to Reach Europe 'for their Children'

Five nights ago, Nada and her children braved a perilous journey in an inflatable dinghy to the Greek island of Kos less than a month after fleeing the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo.

"Had it not been for the girls, I would have never taken that boat," said Nada as she watched her three daughters play on the beach of the resort island.

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