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Local Iraqi leaders blame branch of al-Qaida for yesterday’s attack

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber attacked a police training center Thursday in the predominantly Shiite city of Hilla, south of Baghdad, killing 25 people and wounding at least 75 in the second major bombing in Iraq this week.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but officials blamed al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, a Sunni insurgent group that has conducted dozens of attacks in the city in recent years, including several in which the police and security officials were targets.

The attack was the deadliest in Iraq since insurgents promised to increase violence in response to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on Monday.

Coming after a bombing attack killed 10 people in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad on Tuesday, the violence underscored the continuing challenges for Iraqi security forces to secure the country as U.S. forces withdraw by the end of the year.

Although there are far fewer attacks than at the height of the sectarian war in 2007, there are still bombings and assassinations virtually every day.

—Michael S. Schmidt, The New York Times

A year after devastating damage, gratitude in a tornado-torn town

YAZOO CITY, Miss. — Just more than a year ago, when the 170-mph winds of a deadly tornado ripped the eastern stretch of this town to shreds, Noreene Girard could do nothing but cry.

“The trauma of it was unbearable,” she said, recalling the devastation that struck this struggling part of the Delta region.

The tornado damaged 300 homes, killed 10 people and caused $50 million in damage, earning its place as the worst natural disaster in Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina.

But this week, Girard was shedding tears of a different sort, as members of Hillcrest Baptist Church hoisted a fresh white steeple above the timber frame that is to be their new sanctuary. It was a moment that, to Girard and others, felt like a crowning achievement against the storm.

“To be down for so long and finally feel that you are coming back up?” she said. “I just started to cry.”

The healing that has taken place here is only just beginning in the rest of the region, as cities and towns continue to search for the missing and assess the destruction spawned last week by a barrage of tornadoes from Texas to Virginia.

—Susan Saulny, The New York Times

House passes bill to reinstate auctions for offshore drilling

WASHINGTON — With rising gasoline prices and skyrocketing oil company profits as a backdrop, the House approved a bill Thursday to force the Obama administration to accelerate oil lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Virginia coast.

The 266-149 vote, largely along party lines, was a skirmish in the larger battle between Republicans and Democrats to capitalize on consumer anger over the price of gasoline, which has now passed $4 a gallon in most parts of the country.

The bill would reinstate auctions for the right to drill offshore, which have been pushed back by the administration to allow more time for environmental and safety reviews.

Opponents of the measure said the Republican-sponsored bill, titled the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act, reflected “amnesia” about the dangers of offshore drilling barely a year after the Deepwater Horizon blowout killed 11 people and spewed about 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said Republicans were pushing an energy agenda that benefited multinational oil companies without providing relief for U.S. motorists.

“Republicans have brought to the floor another ‘drill only’ bill that would not bring down prices at the pump,” Pelosi said. “It’s a boon to Big Oil that would make another catastrophic oil spill more likely.”

—John M. Broder, The New York Times

Climate changes hinder crop yields in some areas, study finds

Global warming is already cutting substantially into potential crop yields in some countries — to such an extent that it may be a factor in the food price increases that have caused worldwide stress in recent years, researchers suggest in a new study.

Yields were down by more than 10 percent in Russia and by a few percentage points each in India, France, and China compared with what they probably would have been without rising temperatures, according to the study, which focused on the years 1980 to 2008.

Corn yields were off a few percentage points in China, Brazil, and France from what would have been expected, said the researchers, whose findings were published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

Some countries saw small gains from the temperature increases, however. And in all agricultural countries, the extra carbon dioxide that humans are pumping into the air acted as a fertilizer that helped to encourage plant growth, offsetting some of the losses from rising temperatures caused by that same greenhouse gas.

The study’s authors found that when the gains in some countries were weighed against the losses in others the overall global effect of climate change on crop yields has been small so far: losses of a few percentage points for wheat and corn from what they would have been without climate change. The overall impact on production of rice and soybeans was negligible.

But the authors of the study — David Lobell and Justin Costa-Roberts of Stanford University and Wolfram Schlenker of Columbia University — pointed out that temperature increases were expected to accelerate in coming decades, making it likely that that the impact on food production will worsen at a time when demand is expected to rise sharply.

—Justin Gillis, The New York Times