Iraqi military units assumed responsibility for security in Najaf Province Wednesday, a move considered especially significant given its status as the holiest site for Shiite Muslims. The province becomes the third of 18 to come under local control, although US-led forces will stand by to help if conditions there deteriorate. US spokesmen also announced the capture of the senior Al Qaeda leader in Mosul, although he was not identified.
"Under the right conditions," North Korea would be willing to allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities, but no other "meaningful" developments can be reported from the resumption of six-nation talks in Beijing, one participant said Wednesday. He said the North's delegation to the talks "seems to place the biggest importance" on the financial sanctions imposed by the US, which it insists must be dropped before the nuclear program can be dismantled. Discussions on the sanctions issue were described as "businesslike," but there were no immediate plans for future meetings on the subject.
Another cease-fire was agreed to by Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip Wednesday, and it appeared to be holding despite a rampage by mourners after the funerals of two policemen loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Armed security units from both sides withdrew from the streets, and commerce generally resumed after three days of clashes in which at least 10 Palestinians were killed. In an attempt to influence the situation, Al Qaeda's second-in-command issued a new videotape scorning the call by Abbas for a new Palestinian election, saying that would only distract from "the right policy ... holy war," a presumed reference to attacks against Israel and the US.
Heavy fighting on three fronts was taking place between Islamist militiamen and forces defending Somalia's interim government Wednesday. Despite reports of casualties, neither side appeared to be winning so far. The Islamists had warned that they'd attack Tuesday unless troops from neighboring Ethiopia left the country, but that deadline passed without incident. Hours later, however, the combat began as a European Union envoy was meeting with senior government leaders in Baidoa, their base.
Western criticism of Russia's current course is driven by fears of its resurgence as "a leading power," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference Wednesday. He spoke amid complaints that Russia still is resisting the imposition of UN sanctions against Iran for the latter's suspected nuclear weapons program. Russia and Iran are major trading partners, and Lavrov said Western governments are seeking to limit Iran in ways that also could be painful to Russia. He warned that the West needs his country to help tackle global crises.
In an address to the nation Wednesday, Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo unveiled proposals that he said would lead to a new election by next July. Appearing to snub the UN, he called for abolition of its buffer zone, which divides forces loyal to him from the rebels trying to oust him. The UN last month proposed an alternative that would keep the buffer in place until elections can be organized next October under appointed Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny. Gbagbo has said he won't implement any of the UN peace strategy.
A senior cabinet minister would neither confirm nor deny reports that Spain's government has held its first peace talks with the Basque separatist organization ETA. "There is nothing relevant so far," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said. ETA, which is blamed for more than 800 deaths since its campaign for an independent Basque state began in the late 1960s, said last month it would walk away from peace efforts by the "end of autumn" unless talks had begun. Some analysts interpreted that as a warning that it would renege on the cease-fire it declared last March.