Human rights groups are accusing the Iraqi government of indiscriminate bombing. Baghdad officials deny that and note they're fighting a Sunni insurgency that commits mass executions and suicide bombings.
Yet rights workers say civilians are being killed by government attacks with so-called barrel bombs — the crude weapons made famous in Syria's current conflict. Barrel bombs are illegal and indiscriminate explosives, packed in things like oil drums or gas cylinders.
Hospitals haven't been spared. A doctor reached in the town of Garma in Anbar province says his hospital was destroyed by a barrel bomb and now he works in a school nearby. Many of the victims, he says, were women and children.
Other doctors contacted by NPR say they're counting hundreds of civilians killed in several places, including Mosul, Fallujah and Baiji — casualties of barrel bombs from Iraq's Shiite-led military.
A Terrifying Blast
Distraught and in tears, Ali Hamad can barely describe the destruction that fell from the sky last Wednesday.
The family had broken their day-long fast in the city of Fallujah in the restive Anbar province. Hamad walked out of the house and heard the hum of a helicopter, saw a barrel bomb drop then a terrifying blast.
"I got up and screamed for my sisters and my mother," he says. Hamad's house was wiped out, his whole family dead — two teen-age sisters, a 10-year-old brother, his mother and his uncle. He found pieces of them in the rubble. His mother's arm was still holding her prayer beads. He already lost his father during the U.S. invasion in 2003.
Next door, a family of six was gone. A grieving man cries and says he wishes he had died with them.
"I want someone to hear me, to tell the United Nations what Prime Minister Nour al Maliki is doing to us. Why? Because we're Sunni?" he asks.
Insurgents And Indiscriminate Bombings
Tirana Hassan, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, investigated 17 separate airstrikes, including six barrel bombs since June 6 that killed at least 75 civilians.
"The Iraqi government needs to cease all indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas and foreign governments who are providing military support and assistance should only continue to support the Government of Iraq on the condition that the armed forces are compliant with international humanitarian law," Hassan says.
Baghdad is locked in a battle with the extremists calling themselves the Islamic State who have taken over vast parts of the north and west. They're known for extreme violence and killing innocents.
The government denies the use of barrel bombs, but they've been documented in Fallujah since January and are being used in other towns. Doctors in Fallujah estimate the town gets hit by barrel bombs three times a week and more than 600 civilians have been killed in strikes since January.
"A number of these barrel bombs have dropped in these civilian areas and not actually exploded," Hassan says. "So here you have a civilian population who is trapped between insurgents on the one hand and indiscriminate bombings on the other also living with unexploded ordinances."
And so people are fleeing in huge numbers to safer areas like Shaqlawa, northeast of Erbil. It's a resort town where many families from Anbar fled to escape the airstrikes.
Escaping To Safety
The Nouri family fled Fallujah. Ahmed Nouri lays in a bed recovering from a strike that wounded him. He says it was a barrel bomb a month ago, it overturned his car, a scar runs down the length of his arm, another across his stomach.
"This is genocide by Maliki against the Sunni people of Fallujah," he says.
His sister, Suad, and brother, Mohamed, sit nearby. They survived a rocket and then a barrel bombing last week and fled.
Mohamed Nouri pulls out a small pink piece of paper where he lists every strike he witnessed — July 11, July 12 the list goes on. First, the Americans came and killed us, he says, and now the leader of our own country is doing it.
North Korea has fired a short-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, according to The Associated Press, which quotes an unnamed South Korean official.
The test is described as beginning with a launch in the country's southwest Hwanghae province on Saturday morning and ending when the missile landed off the east coast at the end of a 310-mile flight path.
The unnamed official quoted by AP did not specify what type of missile was involved, but its range suggests it could be the Hwasong-6, described by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation as a variant on the Russian-made SCUD-C. It was put in service by Pyongyang in 1988 and is said to be North Korea's most widely deployed missile (with approximately 400), capable of carrying up to a 1,760 pound payload.
AP calls Saturday's test, "the latest in a slew of weapons tests by Pyongyang, and came on the eve of the 61st anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the rivals' war."
According to the AP: "North Korea routinely test-fires missiles, artillery and rockets, but the number of weapons tests it has conducted this year is much higher than previous years. Outside analysts say this indicates that North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un, is handling things differently than his late father, Kim Jong Il, who sparingly used longer-range missile and nuclear tests as negotiating cards with the outside world to win concessions. Kim Jong Un inherited power upon his father's death in December 2011."
In June, the blog 38North.org, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, noted the appearance of a North Korean cruise missile in the latest propaganda films out of Pyongyang.
Author Jeffrey Lewis writes that the North Korean cruise missile appears to be a copy of the Russian Kh-35 Uran, a sea-skimming anti-ship weapon.
Prince's semi-autobiographical film, Purple Rain, hit theaters 30 years ago this weekend, presenting the world with a bold new model for the contemporary pop artist. NPR television critic Eric Deggans remembers the moment vividly. Hear his conversation with special correspondent Michele Norris above, and read his personal essay on the movie below.
Little compares to that magic moment when you sit down in a movie theater and watch a film that seems as if it's telling your story. That happened to me three decades ago. The film was Prince's pop-funk masterpiece, Purple Rain.
The movie and its soundtrack were milestones for music and media: the christening of Prince as a pop star and the explosion of his uniquely multicultural, genre-bending, sex-drenched form of funky sonic genius.
But for me, nothing before had so fully captured what it was like to perform in a band.
I was a young drummer starting a band with classmates at Indiana University, which would eventually get a short stint as Motown recording artists, playing throughout the Midwest and even in Japan. Watching Purple Rain, before all that would happen, felt a bit like seeing an autobiography, set to the baddest music around.
A band is essentially a marriage with three or four or eight or ten people. It requires you to spend outlandish amounts of time together, sweating to make the kind of art that might move a few hearts and allow you to earn a living besides.
For all its flaws — from the stilted, amateurish acting to clumsy direction and clunky lines — Purple Rain nailed that feeling. As Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman begged Prince to let the band play one of their songs, I relived a thousand other band fights fueled by insecurity, fatigue and immaturity.
Seeing them eventually work it out and blow the roof off of the First Avenue club felt like a special message: You can do this, too.
Purple Rain was special to the world for many other reasons. At a time before YouTube, social media or the World Wide Web, few artists had the power to create multimedia experiences on multiple platforms to speak directly to fans.
Prince, who cultivated a mystique by giving few interviews and revealing little about his life or work, let fans into a fictionalized version of his history on the big screen. And the film, juiced by career-making turns from slick lothario Morris Day and his band The Time, gave Prince-heads a super-sized vision of their idol, tooling around Minneapolis with a tricked-out motorcycle and fiercely ruffled shirts.
Not many years before, the music world was seriously segregated. MTV had to be shamed into playing Michael Jackson videos and the "disco sucks" movement too often felt like a thinly veiled way of saying, "black and brown and gay people suck."
But Prince offered a musical world that put genres in a blender. "Let's Go Crazy" married a bouncy '50s-style rock rhythm to a percolating, '80s pop funk beat. "Purple Rain" was a soulful ballad fired up by incendiary guitar solos. "When Doves Cry" was a percussive marvel held together by a spastic drum machine groove and soaring, Prince-ian vocals.
Sitting in an Indiana theater packed with kids my age, I saw Purple Rain as a validation of the musical world I was already seeking out: a glorious, paisley-drenched descendant of Sly & the Family Stone by way of James Brown and Bill Haley's Comets.
Film purists will insist the movie itself is pure shlock. The female lead, Patricia "Appolonia" Kotero, emotes like she learned her lines that morning. Only the masterful Clarence Williams III — the Mod Squad veteran who gives an emotional performance as Prince's abusive father — seemed to have any real acting chops at all.
But when you're on the tip of a cultural revolution, little of that matters. And looking back over 30 years, it's obvious that Purple Rain became a generational manifesto, while providing the largest megaphone yet for one of the greatest geniuses in pop music.
United Nations experts said they had recovered a second so-called black box at the crash site of Air Algerie flight AH5017 that went down in the desert in southern Mali.
Reuters says that "initial evidence taken from the remote crash site indicates that the aircraft broke apart when it smashed to the ground early on Thursday morning, making an attack appear unlikely."
The plane was en route from Ouagadougou, the capital of the West African nation of Burkina Faso, to Algiers when it suddenly disappeared from radar.
The death toll of 118 — 112 passengers and six crew — includes 54 French citizens. The Guardian reports that ten members of the same French family were among the victims.
The first of the data recorders has already been found and analyzed, French President Francois Hollande said on Friday.
The New York Times says:
"The wreckage of Flight 5017 was found by an international search team just before nightfall on Thursday in an isolated area, about 60 miles south of the town of Gao in eastern Mali. Soldiers from Burkina Faso, who were the first to arrive on the scene, said they had found several bodies among the burned-out hull of the plane, a Boeing MD-83."
"'We think the aircraft crashed for reasons linked to the weather conditions,' Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, said in an interview on the French radio station RTL."