|Al-Qaeda fighters turn Iraq cities into battlegrounds as Obama and Kiwi PM Key enjoy Hawaii golf
US President Barack Obama played golf with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in Hawaii Thursday, in a rare vacation encounter with a foreign politician.
They hit the green at a US Marine Corps base on the northeastern coast of the island of Oahu.
As they played golf, Iraq erupted in violence.
(Pictured, an al-Qaida fighter stands guard after setting fire to an Iraqi police truck in front of the provincial government headquarters in Fallujah, 65 kilometers west of Baghdad, Iraq).
Iraqi security forces and allied tribesmen are battling to put down al-Qaida-linked gunmen who, in a coordinated surge, ran rampant in two of the country's main Sunni cities, overrunning police stations and sweeping through the streets, emboldened by mounting sectarian tensions between minority Sunnis and the Shiite-led government.
Troops hammered the militants with Hellfire rockets recently sent by the United States to help the government's fight against al-Qaida's Iraq branch, which also operates with increasing strength in Syria's civil war across the border. The militants' swift uprising a day earlier overwhelmed police forces in Ramadi and Fallujah, two cities in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province that were once strongholds for militants battling US troops.
The al-Qaida branch, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, appeared to be trying to exploit Sunni anger after authorities over the past week arrested a senior Sunni politician accused of terrorism and dismantled a months-old sit-in in Ramadi by Sunnis protesting discrimination the government. Those moves added new fuel to sectarian violence that has escalated since the American withdrawal.
In new violence outside Anbar, a pickup truck laden with explosives blew up on a busy commercial street Thursday evening in the city of Balad Ruz, 45 miles (70 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, destroying several shops. At least 19 people were killed and 37 were wounded, according to the security officials and health officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
Thursday marked Obama's eighth round of golf during his vacation, which hit the 13-day mark. The president usually plays with friends or colleagues and has even teed off with White House chef Sam Kass.
In contrast to his predecessor George W Bush, who hosted foreign counterparts at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Obama prefers to surround himself with family and friends during his time off – usually spent in Hawaii at the end of the year and Martha's Vineyard in the summer.
However, while on holiday on the swank East Coast island in 2010, he played with then-New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Obama is due to leave Hawaii aboard Air Force One on Sunday to return to Washington, an eight-hour flight away.—AFP/AP