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Biden to host Iraqi leader with talks underway on winding down coalition against the Islamic State

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden plans to host Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who is visiting next month as the countries hold formal talks about winding down the mission of a U.S.-led military coalition formed to fight the Islamic State group in Iraq.

The meeting is scheduled for April 15, the White House said Friday.

IRAQI IMMIGRANT PLOTTED TO SMUGGLE ASSASSINS THROUGH MEXICO TO KILL FORMER US PRESIDENT: DOCS

The leaders will «consult on a range of issues,» including the fight against the Islamic State and «ongoing Iraqi financial reforms to promote economic development and progress toward Iraq’s financial independence and modernization,» the White House said.

Iraqs Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani attends a ceremony in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 9, 2024. The White House announced Friday, March 22, that President Joe Biden plans to host al-Sudani on April 15 as the countries hold formal talks about winding down the mission of a U.S.-led military coalition formed to fight the Islamic State group in Iraq.  (Murtadha Al-Sudani/Pool Photo via AP)

The two countries have a delicate relationship due in part to Iran’s considerable sway in Iraq, where a coalition of Iran-backed groups brought al-Sudani to power in October 2022.

The U.S. in recent months has urged Iraq to do more to prevent attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria that have further roiled the Middle East in the aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. It’s also sought to apply financial pressure over Baghdad’s relationship with Tehran, restricting Iraq’s access to its own dollars in an effort to stamp out money laundering said to benefit Iran and Syria.

The U.S. and Iraq, meanwhile, held a first session in January to discuss ending the coalition created to help the Iraqi government fight the Islamic State, with some 2,000 U.S. troops remaining in the country under an agreement with Baghdad. Iraqi officials have periodically called for a withdrawal of those forces.

The visit will also come a year after the kidnapping in Baghdad of Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Russian-American academic at Princeton University who is believed to be held by an Iran-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, that is regarded by Washington as a terrorist group and is seen as one of the most powerful armed groups in Iraq. It was formed during the power vacuum that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, with support from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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On Thursday, Tsurkov’s sister, Emma, urged the State Department to declare Iraq a state sponsor of terrorism and called on the White House to make the al-Sudani meeting contingent on the prime minister arranging for the release of her sister — something she said that he was empowered to do.

«I am appalled that Sudani will be allowed to shake President Biden’s hand while his other hand holds the keys to my sister’s shackles,» Tsurkov said at event outside the Iraqi Embassy in Washington.

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Illegally brewed liquor kills at least 34 with dozens hospitalized in southern India

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At least 34 people have died and dozens hospitalized after drinking illegally brewed liquor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, local media reported on Thursday.

The state’s chief minister M K Stalin said the 34 died after consuming liquor that was tainted with methanol, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

MORE THAN 100 DIE IN INDIA AFTER DRINKING BOOTLEG ALCOHOL LACED WITH TOXIC SUBSTANCE

The incident occurred in the state’s Kallakurichi district, where more than 100 people are being treated in various hospitals, top district official M S Prasanth said. He added that the number of those who are in critical condition keeps changing, suggesting that the death toll could rise.

Relatives of a man who died after drinking illegally brewed liquor walk in a funeral procession for his burial in Kallakurichi district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, India, Thursday, June 20, 2024. The state’s chief minister M K Stalin said the 34 died after consuming liquor that was tainted with methanol, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.  (AP Photo/R. Parthibhan)

Ambulances, doctors and specialists from nearby areas were deployed to the district.

Government officials earlier said several people who were vomiting and had stomach pain were admitted to hospitals Wednesday, triggering a police investigation.

Later that day, Stalin, the chief minister, said in a post on social media platform X that those involved in the crime have been arrested, and action has also been taken against officials who failed to prevent it. «Such crimes that ruin the society will be suppressed with an iron fist,» he added.

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Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol are common in India, where the poor cannot afford licensed brands from government-run shops. The illicit liquor, which is often spiked with chemicals such as pesticides to increase potency, has also become a hugely profitable industry as bootleggers pay no taxes and sell enormous quantities of their product to the poor at a cheap rate.

In 2022, more than 30 people died in eastern India’s Bihar state after allegedly drinking tainted liquor sold without authorization. Earlier that same year, at least 28 died from drinking altered liquor in Gujarat state. And in 2020, at least 120 people died after drinking tainted liquor in India’s northern Punjab state.


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