Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) - Iraq has asked the United States to conduct air strikes on Sunni Muslim jihadists who have seized key cities and large swathes of the country, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Wednesday. Speaking in Saudi Arabia, Zebari also urged the kingdom, which has openly criticised "sectarian" policies of the Shiite-led government against Arab Sunnis, to "stop media incitement" and to support it against "terrorism." "Iraq has officially asked Washington to help under the security agreement (between the two countries), and to conduct air strikes against terrorist groups," Zebari told reporters in Jeddah, following Arab ministerial consultations. Militants, spearheaded by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and joined by supporters of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, have overrun a large chunk of northern and north-central Iraq in the past week, although their advance has since been slowed.
Kenyan police said they arrested several suspects Wednesday amid high political tension in the wake of twin massacres on the coast, claimed by Somalia's Islamist Shebab but blamed by the president on local political networks. "We have arrested several suspects," police chief David Kimaiyo said, including the police officer in the town, the owner and driver of a vehicle used by the attackers, and a suspect accused of running fake Shebab social media accounts. Despite an immediate claim of responsibility for the latest carnage from the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta instead blamed "local political networks" along with an "opportunist network of other criminal gangs". The charges have been greeted by scepticism and confusion -- but are also seen as raising the spectre of fresh ethnic violence inside Kenya.
Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) - Saudi Arabia warned Wednesday of the risks of a civil war in Iraq with unpredictable consequences for the region, after Sunni militants seized large areas from Shiite-led government forces. The unrest "carries warning signs of a civil war with unpredictable consequences for the region," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at the opening of an Islamic bloc meeting in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Saud renewed Saudi accusations that "sectarian policies of exclusion" of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority implemented by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government were responsible for the violence.
Kabul (Afghanistan) (AFP) - Afghan presidential election candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Wednesday demanded a halt to vote-counting over fraud allegations, taking the country to the brink of a political crisis during its first democratic transition of power. Abdullah ramped up his complaints over alleged fraud in Saturday's run-off election by accusing his opponent Ashraf Ghani, outgoing President Hamid Karzai and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of all being involved. A smooth election was seen as a key test of the 13-year international military and aid effort to develop Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
The release of Sudan's former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi is not enough for resumption of a national dialogue aimed at resolving the country's multiple crises, a leading opposition figure said Wednesday. Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani, who founded the Reform Now opposition party in December, told AFP that his and other parties which had joined the dialogue met Tuesday "demanding the government to reverse all its latest actions against opposition". They also want authorities to free Sudanese Congress Party leader Ibrahim al-Sheikh and other activists, and called for the Al-Saiha newspaper to be able to resume publishing. State security agents ordered Al-Saiha to halt its presses after it published allegations of official corruption.
European stock markets climbed Wednesday as investors awaited the outcome of the US Federal Reserve's latest monetary policy meeting, and tracked fighting in Iraq. In late morning trading, London's FTSE 100 index of top companies rose 0.39 percent to 6,793.09 points. The Fed will wrap up a two-day policy meeting later in the day. While policymakers are widely expected to continue winding down their stimulus, investors will be watching to see if Fed chief Janet Yellen gives any hints about future policy.
A bill in California that would require soft drinks to have health warning labels failed to clear a key committee on Tuesday. Under the measure, sugary drinks sold in the most populous US state would have to carry a label with a warning that sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. But on Tuesday it failed to win enough votes in the health commission of the California State Assembly, the Los Angeles Times reported. "We're in the midst of a diabetes and obesity epidemic that is wreaking havoc on the public's health and driving up healthcare costs," said Senator Bill Monning, the bill's author, in remarks before the Assembly Health committee, according to the newspaper.
Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Hamas slammed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's support for security coordination with Israel on Wednesday, as the Jewish state pursued a manhunt for three teens believed kidnapped by the Islamist movement. "President Abbas's statements on security coordination with Israel are unjustified, harmful to Palestinian reconciliation... and a psychological blow to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners suffering a slow death in the occupation's jails," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Kirkuk (Iraq) (AFP) - The rapid shift to Kurdish control in Iraq's ethnically mixed oil city of Kirkuk is a step toward a long-held dream for Kurds but has sparked fears among other groups. Kurdish forces took control of Kirkuk and other disputed territory as Sunni Arab militants pressed an offensive that has seen them seize a large chunk of Iraq and sweep federal security forces aside. The Kurds' internal security service, the asayesh, have deployed alongside police in Kirkuk itself. Holding Kirkuk is a major step on that road but, for Arabs and Turkmen, the city changing hands is a cause for concern, not celebration.
Chemical weapons such as chlorine have likely been used in a "systematic manner" in Syria, according to a report by a team from the world's watchdog investigating alleged attacks there. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission said evidence "lends credence to the view that toxic chemicals, most likely pulmonary irritating agents such as chlorine, have been used in a systematic manner in a number of attacks," according to a copy of the report obtained by AFP. President Bashar al-Assad's regime and rebels have both accused the other of using chemical agents, including chlorine, in the bloody uprising that began in March 2011 and in spite of Damascus promising to hand over all its chemical arms.