- - Sunday, January 9, 2011

IRAQ

Arab summit plan faces stiff challenges

BAGHDAD | Insurgent threats and a lack of hotel space for delegations pose stiff challenges to Iraq’s plan to host the annual Arab League meeting for the first time in 20 years, despite assurances from the body’s leader Sunday.

Iraq's government is hoping the summit will showcase what Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has described as the nation’s improved security and pump foreign money into the parched local economy.

“We are seeking this summit because it will confirm Iraq’s return to its leading role, and that Iraq is an important Arab country,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said during a short speech Sunday to Iraq’s parliament. “The Arab League is concerned about Iraq now and in the future.”

The government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild palaces and hotels where thousands of delegates from the 22-nation group are expected to stay on the summit’s March 23 start.

Observers say, however, that a lack of hotel space and threats from militants could stymie the government’s dream to host the summit.

This week, a militant website posted a message from insurgent group Ansar al-Islam threatening to attack the summit and any political or business officials associated with it. Ansar al-Islam is a radical Sunni Arab group linked to al Qaeda.

AFGHANISTAN

Cleric’s arrest sparks protest

KABUL | Hundreds gathered in a mosque in northern Afghanistan on Sunday, demanding NATO forces release an influential cleric arrested in a raid that touched a raw nerve among Afghans who said they were shut out of the operation.

Opening another potential trouble spot for the coalition, three civilians, including a child, were killed Saturday in the crossfire as militants battled NATO forces, according to officials in the southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.

Separately, NATO said one of its service members was killed by a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan — the 11th killed so far this year.

In the northern province of Kunduz, NATO said its forces, in tandem with its Afghan counterparts, arrested five people early Sunday in connection with a Dec. 19 attack that killed at least eight Afghan security soldiers and police in the area.

Provincial authorities said hundreds gathered at the main mosque in the city of Kunduz to protest the arrest of Mullah Nurallah, the apparent target of the raid early Sunday.

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