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World Scene

- - Monday, July 26, 2010

IRAQ

Twin car bombs kill 25 in Karbala

BAGHDAD | Two car bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims during a religious festival in the holy city of Karbala killed 25 people Monday, Iraqi police and hospital officials said. Sunni extremists are suspected.

Militants detonated two parked cars filled with explosives about two miles apart as crowds of pilgrims passed by. Police and medical officials in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, said 68 people were injured in the attacks.

The pilgrims were on their way to Karbala to take part in an important religious holiday, known as Shabaniyah, that attracts devout Shiites from throughout the country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Monday bombings, but the method is the hallmark of Sunni extremists.

While violence has dropped dramatically in recent years in Iraq, suspected Sunni insurgents regularly target Shiite religious ceremonies and holy places in an attempt to re-ignite sectarian tensions that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2005 and 2007.

SOUTH KOREA

U.S. shows its power with carrier drills

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON | The East Sea/Sea of Japan off the Korean Peninsula roiled Monday with U.S. and South Korean ships, submarines, fighter jets and helicopters doing high-profile military maneuvers intended to show North Korea that it is being watched.

Military officials said that despite threats of retaliation, North Korea was staying clear. Most of the firepower for the four-day exercises — which North Korea condemns — has been flying off the decks of the USS George Washington, a U.S. supercarrier that can carry up to 70 aircraft and more than 5,000 sailors and aviators.

Washington and Seoul are hoping the drills — and the deployment of the most potent symbol of American military reach in the U.S. Navy — will send a powerful message to North Korea in the aftermath of the March sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. An international investigation determined the ship was sunk by torpedo, likely in a sneak attack by a North Korean submarine.

North Korea — which has denied any connection to the sinking — has threatened to counter the maneuvers with some sort of military show of its own. But on the second day of the maneuvers, scheduled to run through Wednesday, officials said no signs have been seen the North will make good on its saber-rattling rhetoric.

AFRICAN UNION

AU agrees to increase Somalia force

KAMPALA, Uganda | Leaders of the African Union agreed at a summit Monday to reinforce the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia to counter al-Shabab insurgents, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin told Agence France-Presse.

"This summit has just approved the requests made by the Intergovernmental Authority for Development," a six-nation east African grouping, which had asked for 2,000 extra troops, he said.

They would reinforce the 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers already in Mogadishu for the African Union.

Al-Shabab, an Islamist extremist group that controls most of central and western Somalia, has taken responsibility for two bomb attacks in Uganda's capital Kampala on July 11. They killed 76 people gathered to watch telecasts of the World Cup final.

Al-Shabab has said the aim of the attacks was to force the withdrawal of AU troops who have been helping to sustain Somalia's transitional government, whose authority is limited only to a few districts of the capital Mogadishu.

YEMEN

Army battles rebels; dozens die

SAN'A | Yemeni soldiers battled Shiite rebels a short distance from the capital on Monday in clashes that killed dozens, a tribal leader said.

A cease-fire unraveled in June, re-igniting a six-year conflict that spilled across the border last year by drawing in the Saudi military. The new fighting threatens to siphon Yemeni military resources away from a separate battle against the country's al Qaeda offshoot.

The U.S. and other countries have pressured Yemen to resolve the rebellion so that it can concentrate on fighting the al Qaeda faction, which is suspected of masterminding the failed attempt to bomb an airliner in the U.S. on Christmas Day.

Fighting in Yemen's northern provinces killed at least 53 people last week, and rebels have seized several towns.

Monday's battles took place in the town of al-Zalaa, 75 miles north of the capital.

FRANCE

French face fight after al Qaeda slaying

PARIS | If France is to strike back after al Qaeda killed one of its citizens, as President Nicolas Sarkozy promised Monday, it will have to work closely with allied West African armies, experts said.

An estimated three dozen French commandos took part in a Mauritanian raid deep into the Sahara Desert last Thursday, killing six members of al Qaeda's local wing but failing to rescue 78-year-old air worker Michel Germaneau.

Mr. Germaneau has now been executed — beheaded by his captors, according to local officials — and Mr. Sarkozy has vowed that France will fight back, raising the stakes in the low-level guerrilla conflict in the region's arid wastes.

France is the former colonial ruler of most of the Sahel, a band of scrub and desert along the southern rim of the Sahara between Mauritania and Chad, and retains much influence with regional leaders.

But it has a light military footprint on the ground, a handful of military advisers and trainers working with local armies, and the transnational nature of the al Qaeda threat will complicate any attempt to corner the militants.

"We can't intervene, but we can just support another country," said a military officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity while commanders examine options. "I don't foresee us sending 2,000 troops to the region."

From wire dispatches and staff reports