BAGHDAD (AP) -- Clashes between Iraqi troops and Sunni militants west of Baghdad killed at least four children on Thursday as the United Nations announced its highest level of emergency for the Arab country's humanitarian crisis in the wake of the onslaught by the extremist Islamic State group.<br />
Since their blitz offensive in June, the al-Qaida-breakaway group has overrun much of Iraq's north and west and driven out hundreds of thousands from their homes. The push has displaced members of the minority Christian and Yazidi religious communities and threatened Iraqi Kurds in the Kurdish autonomous region in the north.<br />
The U.N. on Wednesday declared the situation in Iraq a "Level 3 Emergency" - a development that will trigger additional goods, funds and assets to respond to the needs of the displaced, said U.N. special representative Nickolay Mladenov, pointing to the "scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe."<br />
The Security Council also said it was backing a newly nominated premier-designate in the hope that he can swiftly form an "inclusive government" that could counter the insurgent threat, which has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011.
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
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