- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

IRAQ

Accusations split leadership

BAGHDAD | Iraq’s vice president on Tuesday accused the prime minister of grabbing power in the south and obstructing efforts to rebuild there after years of war, allegations that intensified the campaign to decentralize the government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is trying to amend the constitution to give the central government more power and curtail the power of provincial administrations. He argues that the alternative to a strong central government would be chaos.

But Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, whose political party hopes to create and lead a self-ruled region in southern Iraq, said Tuesday a strengthened central government is hindering reconstruction in the Shiite-dominated south.

The issue of creating a southern region that mirrors the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq is coming to the fore with less than two weeks to go before Jan. 31 provincial elections that could reshape local power bases.

KUWAIT

Gaza meeting ends in discord

KUWAIT CITY | Arab leaders trying to come up with a plan to rebuild Gaza ended their meeting Tuesday in discord, unable to agree on whether to back Egyptian peace efforts or even set up a joint reconstruction fund for the devastated Palestinian territory.

The deep tensions among rival Arab leaders could affect the fragile cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that ended a three-week Israeli onslaught on the Mediterranean strip. The military campaign to stop militant rocket fire left around 1,300 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza health officials, and material damage estimated at around $2 billion. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.

The violence in Gaza split Arab countries into two camps - one led by Syria and Qatar supporting Hamas hard-liners who rule the territory, and another led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia hoping to lure the Palestinian militant group toward more moderation.

Saudi Arabia was the only Arab country to commit at the opening of the gathering to a $1 billion contribution for rebuilding efforts.

YEMEN

Exile sought by ex-leader

SAN’A | Somalia’s former president, an ex-warlord who was forced from government, sought political asylum in Yemen, arriving Tuesday in a private jet from his impoverished homeland, an aide and a Yemeni security official said.

One of the former president’s aides confirmed that Abdullahi Yusuf was offered a permanent home in Yemen, which lies across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.

Mr. Yusuf’s decision to seek asylum confirms his retirement from politics in the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

The 75-year-old former warlord resigned in December following a series of public quarrels with his prime minister.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

U.S. Consulate closing for day

DUBAI | The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi has announced that its consulate in the neighboring city of Dubai will be closed Wednesday due to security information provided by authorities.

The embassy announcement says the consulate - located in the Dubai World Trade Center - will be closed for American citizen services and visa interviews. The statement doesn’t elaborate on the nature of the security information.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are part of a confederation of seven city-states making up the United Arab Emirates. The country is a close U.S. ally.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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