- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Mullen steps up pressure on Kabul

KABUL | The Pentagon’s top military officer followed his commander in chief to Kabul on Monday to keep up pressure on President Hamid Karzai to tackle corruption, which he said could undermine the war’s new strategy.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen arrived less than a day after President Obama made the first trip of his presidency there, bringing a stern message that Mr. Karzai needs to do more to fight graft.

Mr. Obama’s escalation strategy enters its most ambitious phase with a major offensive starting in June in the Taliban’s birthplace of Kandahar, where the top provincial official is Mr. Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai.

Adm. Mullen described Kandahar as Afghanistan’s “center of gravity” and the key to reversing the Taliban’s momentum. But he said the whole strategy could fail if Mr. Karzai does not do more to fight corruption in his brother’s southern fiefdom.


Allawi’s victory could be at risk

BAGHDAD | A committee that vets candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime is recommending four people elected to parliament from the winning list of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi be disqualified, an official on the committee said Monday. The challenge risks deepening Iraq’s sectarian tensions.

If the courts accept the recommendation, it could alter the outcome of the March 7 vote, in which Mr. Allawi’s secular Shi’ite-Sunni coalition beat a bloc led by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by just two seats.

That in turn could fuel feelings of disenfranchisement by Iraq’s minority Sunnis, many of whom backed Mr. Allawi’s party and think the vetting committee is trying to rob them of a victory and tilt the election outcome back to the Shi’ite-led majority.

Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc immediately rejected the step.


President warns against vote boycott

KHARTOUM | A boycott of national elections next month by former southern rebels would result in the north rejecting the south holding a secession referendum in January, President Omar Bashir warned Monday.

“If the SPLM boycott the elections, we will reject the referendum,” Lt. Gen. Bashir said in comments carried on local television.

Rumors have swirled in Khartoum that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) would seek to have the legislative, regional and presidential elections scheduled for next month delayed, or would boycott them. But a southern party leader said Monday that “the SPLM are ready for elections.”

The elections for April 11 and 13 will be Sudan’s first multiparty elections in almost a quarter-century.


Skirting scandal, pope hails John Paul

VATICAN CITY | Pope Benedict XVI hailed the legacy of John Paul II on Monday, five years after his death, while questions swirl over the late pontiff’s record in combating pedophile priests and whether a miracle needed for his sainthood really happened.

During an evening Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to pay tribute to the late pope, Benedict told pilgrims from John Paul’s Polish homeland that his predecessor had “without interruption taught us to be faithful witnesses to faith, hope and love.”

Krakow Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who for decades was John Paul’s personal secretary, was among the prelates at the commemoration. Also attending was Cardinal Bernard Law, who after resigning as Boston archbishop in the sex-abuse scandal which rocked his diocese, was put in charge of a prestigious Rome basilica by John Paul.


Outside panel to study WHO’s flu response

GENEVA | A group of outside experts will scrutinize the World Health Organization’s response to the swine flu outbreak and examine whether the global body could have been clearer when it declared a pandemic of what has turned out to be a relatively mild disease, the World Health Organization said Monday.

The review starting later this month will be conducted by around 30 scientists and public health officials, and their initial findings will be presented to member states by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in May, a senior official told reporters in Geneva.

Several governments urged the WHO last year not to declare swine flu a pandemic, saying it could cause unnecessary alarm if the virus turned out to be harmless. The U.N. health agency went ahead anyway, arguing that the term “pandemic” signifies only that a new strain is circulating worldwide, but says nothing about how dangerous it is.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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