Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi indicated he would not give up that post without a fight. He announced the formation of a coalition of smaller groups that contested the Jan. 30 national election and said its aim will be to establish a government that "believes in Iraq and its principles." Allawi called Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the choice of the United Iraqi Alliance of Shiite Muslim parties, "an honorable man." But Jaafari has longstanding ties to the Shiite theocracy in neighboring Iran, and some Iraqis worry that he could attempt to impose Islamic rule if he wins the prime ministership.

Amid mounting pressure, the pro-Syrian leader of Lebanon told journalists he is "ready to resign" in the wake of his predecessor's assassination. But Prime Minister Omar Karami said quitting would be conditional on the formation of a new government in advance, to avoid "a constitutional vacuum." He also said he'd ask parliament for a vote of confidence Monday. Syria denies involvement in the Feb. 14 murder of Rafik Hariri, whose family is demanding an international investigation to identify the assassin. President Bush applied more pressure Wednesday, demanding again that Syria pull all of its troops and "secret services" out of Lebanon.

Tensions mounted for the new leaders of the Palestinian Authority as their colleagues in parliament postponed voting for the third time on the proposed makeup of the cabinet. The move was seen as pressure on President Mohamad Abbas to fire Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia. Qureia has been unable to muster a majority in support of his choices, most of them holdovers from the Yasser Arafat era. Some legislators, on the other hand, have insisted on a cabinet dominated by technocrats and reformists. Another attempt to bring the slate to a vote is expected Thursday.

Despite his earlier sentiments, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has changed his mind and will announce Thursday a refusal to participate in the planned missile-defense shield for North America, reports said. Analysts said the announcement is almost certain to be seen as a snub of Bush, who publicly has urged Martin three times to join. A year ago, when he was a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party, Martin repeatedly voiced support for the system. Since then, the Liberals have lost their majority in Parliament, and Martin needs the help of a small leftist party to keep his government afloat.

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