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Growing turmoil tests Obama approach in Mideast

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is confronted with a recent burst of strength by al-Qaida that is chipping away at the remains of Mideast stability, testing his hands-off approach to conflicts in Iraq and Syria at the same time he pushes to keep thousands of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaida-backed fighters have fought hard against other rebel groups in Syria, in a sideshow to the battle to unseat President Bashar Assad. Across the border in Iraq, they led a surprisingly strong campaign to take two of the cities that U.S. forces suffered heavy losses to protect.

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