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Militants take hostages after seizing Iraq city council HQ

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Militants seized the city council headquarters in the Iraqi city of Samarra and took employees hostage on Tuesday, officials said, the second such attack in recent months.

The attack illustrates the impunity with which militants in Iraq can strike even targets that should be highly secure.

Two militants, possibly wearing explosives-rigged vests or belts, seized the Samarra city council building on Tuesday morning with an unknown number of employees inside, security officials said.

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Clashes broke out between the militants and security forces, and a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle near police and anti-Al-Qaeda militia forces when they arrived at the scene.

The blast wounded 24 people, most of them police, a doctor and an officer said.

The doctor also said that the deputy head of the city council was wounded in the bombing.

The attack in Samarra follows a similar incident in Tikrit, another city in the central Salaheddin province, where militants detonated a car bomb and seized the city council headquarters on December 16.

Security forces ultimately freed the Tikrit hostages, but a city council member and two police were killed.

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Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian violence in which tens of thousands died.

More than 1,750 people have been killed in attacks and clashes in Iraq since January 1, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.


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Trump administration quietly guts COVID-19 paid leave provision that already excluded 75 percent of workers

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The Trump administration has quietly issued new guidance that will exempt many small businesses from having to provide some workers with paid leave during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Labor issued a temporary rule Wednesday that effectively exempted businesses with fewer than 50 workers from being required to provide 12 weeks of paid leave for workers whose children are suddenly at home from school or child care under the coronavirus stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump.

This article first appeared in Salon.

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Trump is deploying national guardsman to provide pandemic support without any health benefits: report

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The National Guard are an essential part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and thousands of them have potentially been exposed to infected civilians, making it a particularly dangerous and important time to serve.

But according to The Daily Beast, the guard has been deployed in a way that prevents them from being eligible for the military's health care system.

"The approximately 20,000 guardsmen who have been called up to help states around the country deal with the spread of the coronavirus are federalized on what’s called Title 32 status, which puts them in command of their various state governors but with the federal government paying costs," wrote senior national security correspondent Spencer Ackerman. "But according to the National Guard’s advocates and the U.S. governors’ association, the guardsmen are activated on orders that last 30 days. That puts them one single day shy of the requirement allowing the military health insurance system known as TRICARE — think of it as Medicare For All In Uniform — to cover them."

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Vaccine researchers grew ‘alarmed’ as Trump’s CDC wasted weeks of their time with a flawed coronavirus test: report

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According to a report from the Washington Post, in the early days as health officials became concerned about the possibility of the COVID-19 pandemic blossoming out of China, researchers sat and wasted days they could have used to start developing a vaccine because they were assured by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that a testing kit was on its way.

As it turned out, that test was flawed.

Relying on emails and interviews, the Post is reporting, "On a Jan. 15 conference call, a leading scientist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assured local and state public health officials from across the nation that there would soon be a test to detect a mysterious virus spreading from China. Stephen Lindstrom told them the threat was remote and they may not need the test his team was developing 'unless the scope gets much larger than we anticipate,' according to an email summarizing the call."

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