Iraq premier: No politics in crackdown

BAGHDAD - Last weekend's crackdown on a government-allied Sunni paramilitary group in Baghdad was not politically motivated and followed a six-month investigation that tied the commander to crimes and subversion, Iraq's prime minister said Thursday.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in his first public comment on the two-day gunbattles in the Fadhil neighborhood, told Iraqi state television that the crackdown sends a message that those who want to undermine the political process 'will face the same fate.'

Members of the Awakening Council in Fadhil launched an uprising Saturday after police arrested their leader on charges of terrorism, murder, extortion and leading a cell loyal to Saddam Hussein's banned Baath party.

Benedict prays for John Paul's beatification

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI marked the fourth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II with a memorial Mass on Thursday and new prayers for the Polish pontiff's beatification.

Benedict presided over an evening Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in which he recalled how beloved John Paul was, particularly among young Catholics.

'How many priestly vocations ... are linked to the testimony and preaching of my venerated predecessor!' Benedict said in urging young people to continue joining the priesthood and religious life.

Later, Benedict descended to the grottos underneath St. Peter's and knelt for a few minutes of silent prayer before his predecessor's simple, marble tomb. The pope sprinkled holy water in blessing before returning to the basilica upstairs and greeting some of the pilgrims.

Coalition: 20 militants killed in Afghanistan

KABUL - Afghan and U.S. coalition troops battled a large group of militants in southern Afghanistan before calling in an airstrike that killed 20 insurgents, the coalition said in a statement Thursday.

Dozens of insurgents attacked the joint foot patrol in Helmand province's Kajaki district Wednesday, the statement said.

Following a firefight, the militants were forced into 'secondary fighting position' before the combined patrol called in an airstrike that hit them, the statement said.