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WORLD: Sunni-backed politician to join government

Sunni-backed politician to join government

BAGHDAD — The head of a Sunni-backed political party will join the Shiite-led government being assembled by his top rival, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, clearing a final hurdle to end months of tortuous, postelection dealmaking.

The breakthrough cements what the Obama administration has been pushing for as U.S. troops prepare to leave Iraq by the end of 2011: an inclusive government that distributes power among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to forge stability after more than seven years of war.

As part of the deal, Ayad Allawi will join Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government as head of a newly created council to oversee security and foreign policy issues. The two rivals will make the same annual salary, believed to be at least $360,000.

Obama review cements troop withdrawal

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan war review will conclude the United States has made enough security gains to begin withdrawing troops in July, but the findings will also emphasize lasting troubles, from Afghanistan’s ability to serve its people to Pakistani havens for extremists.

In a detailed preview of statements Obama will make Thursday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the yearlong review of Obama’s war plan will, essentially, offer no surprise. The president plans to stick with his pledge to start drawing home troops next summer after ordering one year ago that 30,000 more troops be sent to Afghanistan to blunt the Taliban’s momentum. The goal of coalition forces is to shift control to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.

Bethlehem tourism swells

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Bethlehem has seen a record number of tourists this year and its thousands of hotel rooms are fully booked for Christmas week, thanks to steadily declining violence in the West Bank.

It is a welcome bit of good news in a period that is otherwise gloomy, with a U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian peace effort appearing to have run aground.

So far this year, 1.4 million tourists have visited the traditional birthplace of Jesus and 90,000 are expected during the Christmas season, a significant increase over last year, according to Israeli government figures. The numbers of visitors have been rising steadily.