At least 19 more Iraqis were killed as Baghdad echoed to the sounds of bombings and shootings Thursday. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the arrest of "about 400" members of the so-called Mahdi Army, which is believed responsible for much of the sectarian strife there over the past year. The militia is loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is Maliki's key supporter. Meanwhile, as part of President Bush's new strategy for Iraq, US officials identified 10 former state-run factories that they hope will be back to their prewar employment levels within three months. They employed 1,100 people each, on average.
Without saying why, a delegation of senior Iranian officials arrived in North Korea Thursday. Both nations are under international pressure to give up their nuclear programs, and both have been labeled by Bush as parts of an "axis of evil." North Korea is believed to have sold missiles to Iran. The US is deploying two aircraft carriers within reach of Iran. But the latter's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Thursday his country was "ready for anything" in its standoff with the West.
With all previous efforts at forming a unity government having failed, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will meet Saturday with exiled Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal, aides said. Their talks in Damascus, Syria, will be the first since Hamas won control of the Palestinian government in last year's election. Hamas supporters and those of Abbas's Fatah organization have fought repeatedly but inconclusively for control of Gaza, and Abbas has threatened to call a new election that could topple Hamas.
Voters go to the polls Sunday across Serbia for a crucial election that pits hard-line nationalists against pro-Western reformers. The outcome also is expected to affect UN plans for the future of breakaway Kosovo Province and whether Serbia finally bows to demands that it arrest Gen. Ratko Mladic, one of the world's most wanted war-crimes suspects. Opinion surveys show neither the reformist Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic or the nationalist Radical Party is likely to win a majority, meaning one of them may have to lure the forces of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica into a coalition. Kostunica is widely criticized for his failure to capture Mladic.
Ten more Muslim extremists were killed by government forces in the southern Philippines, a day after the death of terrorist leader Abu Sulaiman. Reports said three other militants from the Abu Sayyaf organization were captured and that the government troops were closing in on another of its chieftans, Radullan Sahiron. President Gloria Arroyo said "relentless pressure" on Abu Sayyaf, which has ties to Al Qaeda, was "taking its toll." But an Army spokesman said "we cannot give you a timetable" for its elimination as a threat to security.
A federal investigation was promised in Australia into videotaped remarks by a radical Muslim cleric who is seen urging children to become martyrs for Islam and ridiculing Jews as "pigs." The tapes by Sheikh Feiz Mohammad of the Global Islamic Center in Sydney are sold publicly, but their existence wasn't generally known until this week when portions were broadcast in a TV documentary. Members of Parliament from both major political parties denounced the tapes as "an incitement to terrorism" and called for Feiz, who is currently in Lebanon, not to be readmitted to Australia. Another cleric recently aroused controversy by suggesting that Muslim immigrants were more Australian than whites of British descent, many of whose ancestors were sent there as convicts.