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WORLD IN BRIEF: Extra UN troops, police pledged for Haiti

Extra UN troops, police pledged for Haiti

UNITED NATIONS -- Sixteen countries have offered to provide the 3,500 extra troops and police officers that the United Nations requested to beef up security in Haiti and ensure aid is delivered to earthquake victims, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said Thursday.

A week after the Jan. 12 quake devastated the Haitian capital and surrounding area, the U.N. Security Council authorized 2,000 additional troops to help the 7,000 military peacekeepers already in the country and 1,500 extra police for the 2,100-strong international police force.

Iraqi panel bars 2 politicians from election

BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi panel issued a final ruling Thursday to bar two prominent Sunni politicians from running in next month's elections, a move that is likely to raise tensions between the Shiite-led government and Sunnis who claim they are being politically undermined.

The back-and-forth over a decision to blacklist hundreds of candidates from the March 7 vote because of ties to Saddam Hussein's former Baathist regime has threatened to mar the balloting process, which U.S. officials hope could be a milestone in reconciliation among Iraq's rival religious groups.

Campaign posters were plastered across Baghdad, a few hours ahead of the official start of the election season that was to begin today.

US troops close Taliban escape route

NEAR MARJAH, Afghanistan -- U.S. and Afghan soldiers linked up with Marines on the outskirts of the Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, sealing off escape routes and setting the stage for what is being described as the biggest offensive of the nine-year war.

Taliban defenders repeatedly fired rockets and mortars at units poised in foxholes along the edge of the town, apparently trying to lure NATO forces into skirmishes before the big attack.

''They're trying to draw us in,'' said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, 30, of Tulsa, Okla., commander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.

Up to 1,000 militants are believed holed up in Marjah, a key Taliban logistics base and center of the lucrative opium poppy trade. But the biggest threats are likely to be the land mines and bombs hidden in the roads and fields of the farming community, 380 miles southwest of Kabul.