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WORLD IN BRIEF: Fighting rages as Karzai urges NATO restraint

MARJAH, Afghanistan -- U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers advanced through poppy fields of Marjah on Saturday under withering gunfire from Taliban fighters shooting from mudbrick homes and compounds where families huddled in terror.

President Hamid Karzai urged NATO to do more to protect civilians during combat operations to secure Marjah, a southern Taliban stronghold and scene of the biggest allied ground assault of the eight-year war.

NATO forces have repeatedly said they want to prevent civilian casualties but acknowledged that it is not always possible. On Saturday, the alliance said its troops killed another civilian in the Marjah area, bringing the civilian death toll from the operation to at least 16.

Fall of Dutch government bodes ill for Afghanistan

AMSTERDAM -- A furious dispute over the war in Afghanistan brought down the Dutch government Saturday, bitterly divided on whether its forces should stay or go as NATO deepens its engagement against the Taliban.

After a contentious 16-hour cabinet meeting, a key partner walked out of Jan Peter Balkenende's coalition, accusing the prime minister of reneging on a pledge to withdraw 1,600 troops this year from Uruzgan province, where 21 Dutchmen already have died.

The collapse of the center-right government was the result of discontent with policies that made the Netherlands a loyal ally of the United States in Afghanistan and previously in Iraq, and was a sign of the difficulty President Barack Obama faces in maintaining the international contingent in the Afghan battlefield at full strength.

Key Sunni group boycott deals setback to Iraq vote

BAGHDAD -- A top Sunni Arab lawmaker banned from running in Iraq's March 7 election withdrew his entire party from the campaign Saturday and called on other groups to join the boycott, a move that threatened to undermine the credibility of the vote and raise sectarian tensions.

In announcing his decision, Saleh al-Mutlaq seized on U.S. concerns about Iran's influence in the political process, an allegation likely to resonate with a Sunni community that is historically suspicious of the intentions in Iraq of Tehran's clerical rulers.