- - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

IRAQ

22 killed in rare attack in Iraq’s Shiite south

BAGHDAD — Twin explosions early Tuesday near a government compound killed at least 22 people and wounded dozens in a rare attack in the Shiite heartland, Iraqi officials said.

The blasts came as Iraq’s top political factions started to discuss in earnest whether to ask the U.S. to leave some of its troops to stay beyond the Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline because of the security situation.

While violence is well below what it was during the years that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, militants are still able to launch deadly attacks. The ongoing violence has led to concerns about what happens when the 47,000 remaining U.S. troops are withdrawn.

EGYPT

Military posts Facebook poll on next leader

CAIRO — Egypt’s military rulers have posted a Facebook poll to gauge the popularity of nearly 20 presidential hopefuls as the North African nation prepares for its first post-revolution parliamentary elections.

The online survey, which had garnered more than 100,000 responses by Tuesday, was an unprecedented test of public opinion as the military rulers try to prove their commitment to a transparent transition to democracy.

Previous elections were marred by fraud and allegations that they were rigged in favor of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Votes were divided among 18 names, including pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei; the first female hopeful, Bothaina Kamel; and former regime officials, including the country’s former intelligence chief.

As of Tuesday, Mr. ElBaradei was in the lead, with 35 percent of the votes, followed by prominent Islamic scholar Mohammed Selim al-Awa.

Organizers acknowledged the monthlong poll that opened Sunday is not scientific but said it is an opportunity to determine the front-runners ahead of the balloting, which is scheduled for September.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Conservation group urges more Arab natural sites

DUBAI — The Arab world should propose more natural sites for the U.N.’s World Heritage list after having only two new ones listed in the past 15 years, a conservation group said Tuesday.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a report released Tuesday that the Middle East and nearby regions have the fewest natural World Heritage sites.

Only four are listed, including Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania, Ichkeul National Park in Tunisia, the Socotra Archipelago in Yemen and the Wadi Al-Hitan in Egypt.

Jordan has proposed the Wadi Rum protected area for designation as a cultural and natural site at the meeting of the World Heritage committee in Paris, which runs until June 29. It is one of 37 sites up for designation.

The report also found the 18-state region does far less to monitor and promote natural sites like marine reserves and desert landscapes than for cultural sites like pyramids and ancient fortifications. It found that 12 states had 35 sites that have potential to be listed but so far haven’t been nominated.

LIBYA

NATO loses contact with unmanned drone

TRIPOLI — NATO said one of its unmanned drones disappeared over Libya on Tuesday, rebutting reports that forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi had shot down an alliance attack helicopter.

Libyan state television repeatedly broadcast images of what appeared to be aircraft wreckage, including a red rotor and close-ups of markings in English.

It quoted an unnamed Libyan military official saying a NATO Apache attack helicopter crashed in Zlitan, about 85 miles east of the capital Tripoli. The report claimed it was the fifth Apache that had been downed — a charge NATO denied.

From wire dispatches and staff reports