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Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a car-bomb and mortar attack on Iraq's Interior Ministry that killed at least 29 people and wounded 18 others during a celebration of National Police Day. At the time, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraq's defense and interior ministers were inside the building, although they weren't hurt. In a posting on an Internet website, the terrorist organization also rebuked Sunni Muslims who voted in the nation's parliamentary election last month and asked divine punishment on the leaders of the Sunni Islamic Party for having "thrown a rope" to "the crusader enemy" - a reference to the US.

Candidates for the Palestinian parliament will be permitted to campaign in disputed Jerusalem for the still-in-doubt Jan. 25 election, Israel's police minister said Monday. But the announcement, which represented a reversal of an initial ban on preelection activity, was restricted to office-seekers who are not members of Hamas and who support the so-called "road map" to a permanent peace deal with Israel. Hamas is expected to drub Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party in the election, if it is held. But that issue remained uncertain. Interior Minister Nasser Yousef warned Sunday he will not be able to guarantee that polling places are secure, especially in the Gaza Strip. Fatah gunmen disrupted the party's primary election last month, and Yousef said he worries that they'll do so again if it is clear that their candidates will lose.

The fugitive leader of the Taliban rejected an offer of peace talks with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and vowed that remnants of his former regime would step up terrorist attacks as the new year unfolds. Mullah Mohamad Omar, in a message reportedly read by his spokesman over a satellite phone, didn't mention Karzai and said intensified attacks would force US ground troops out of Afghanistan "very soon." In an interview with the Associated Press Sunday, Karzai said hundreds of former Taliban had reconciled with his government and suggested that Omar "get in touch" if he was ready to discuss peace after first "giving us an account as to what he has done."

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Another military plane crash in Iran - the second in just over a month - killed 13 people Monday, among them the new commander of the nation's elite Revolutionary Guard ground forces. Ten lower-ranking officers also died, state TV reports said. The French-built jet went down while attempting an emergency landing in a snowstorm 560 miles northwest of the capital, Tehran, the reports said. Accidents involving military aircraft are not uncommon in Iran, with critics blaming poor maintenance practices as a contributing factor. On Dec. 6, a transport plane slammed into an apartment building in Tehran on another attempted emergency landing, killing 115 people.

The number of confirmed cases of bird flu among humans in Turkey has risen to 14, and the virus has spread to the capital, Ankara, the Health Ministry said Monday. Its director warned that since Turkey is in the flight path of migratory birds, it would remain at risk for years and urged people to stop raising poultry in their backyards. But the UN's World Health Organization said there appear to be no signs that the virus in Turkey is being transmitted from person to person. Three Turks, all members of the same family, have died from the illness after close contact with infected ducks, although a sibling was released from a hospital Monday with a clean bill of health. Meanwhile, Indonesian officials confirmed the death of a 17th bird flu victim.

With crucial televised preelection debates looming Monday night and Tuesday, the opposition Conservative Party in Canada opened its largest lead so far, results of a new opinion poll showed. Voters will choose a new government Jan. 23. In a survey for the Toronto Globe and Mail, 37 percent of respondents said they'd vote for the Conservatives, compared to 29 percent for the outgoing Liberal Party government - an outcome that the newspaper's polling organization called "huge." Analysts said this makes it vital that the Liberals of Prime Minister Paul Martin hurry to try to dent the credibility of Conservative leader Stephen Harper.

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