WORLD IN BRIEF: Officials: Iraq likely to delay Jan. elections

Officials: Iraq likely to delay Jan. elections

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's scheduled January elections may be postponed by more than a month because of a dispute over an election law, officials said Wednesday, a delay that could threaten the planned U.S. withdrawal of combat troops.

Iraqi lawmakers have been working for months to pass a law needed to reform the election process, seeking to make it more representative of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups. It is unclear what a long delay would mean for the United States, which is scheduled to end combat missions in August.

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who heads a small bloc in parliament, said a preliminary proposal from various political factions calls for moving the election to Feb. 27, but it also could be further pushed to March 1.

UN welcomes US plan for buildup in Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday embraced the new U.S. plan for Afghanistan, calling it a balanced effort to achieve stability in the war-torn nation.

The United Nations chief said he appreciated President Barack Obama's call to ''balance military and civilian efforts'' and the emphasis on strengthening Afghan institutions and security forces.

Obama said in a speech Tuesday night that he plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total to 100,000, and begin to withdraw troops as early as July 2011. He said Afghan forces would be rapidly trained to take over the fight.

Stolen remains of Austrian billionaire returned

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- A coffin containing the body of an Austrian billionaire has been returned to his family, more than a year after it was stolen from a graveyard by thieves who blackmailed the relatives for $150,000, police said Wednesday.

It also emerged that criminals from Hungary and Romania were involved in the crime, and that private investigators and security companies had been involved in the search for the coffin without telling police.

''This is a large case of blackmail that was carried out very professionally, although it involved a rather unusual instrument -- a coffin,'' said Ernst Geiger, the organized crime chief at Austria's equivalent of FBI.