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WORLD IN BRIEF: Iraqi cleric meets with prime minister candidate

Iraqi cleric meets with prime minister candidate

BAGHDAD -- Anti-American Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took a rare, public step into the political arena Monday, meeting in neighboring Syria with the man directly challenging Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his office.

The talks between al-Sadr, who is nominally allied with al-Maliki, and former premier Ayad Allawi, who heads the heavily Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition, appeared to be as much about showing al-Maliki that al-Sadr is keeping his options open as it was about any firm political agreement between the two men in the offing.

Al-Sadr rarely travels outside of his home base in Iran, where he lives in self-imposed exile. His followers won 39 seats in the 325-seat parliament in Iraq's national election in March, giving him considerable sway over who becomes the next prime minister.

Syria bans full Islamic face veils at universities

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria has forbidden the country's students and teachers from wearing the niqab -- the full Islamic veil that reveals only a woman's eyes -- taking aim at a garment many see as political.

The ban shows a rare point of agreement between Syria's secular, authoritarian government and the democracies of Europe: Both view the niqab as a potentially destabilizing threat.

''We have given directives to all universities to ban niqab-wearing women from registering,'' a government official in Damascus told The Associated Press on Monday.

Clinton in Afghanistan to refine war aims

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Struggling to overcome growing concern about the course of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday she detected a subtle but favorable shift in public opinion in key ally Pakistan as she pressed Afghan leaders on reform and security improvements.

Arriving in Kabul to attend an international conference on Afghanistan after two days of talks in Islamabad, Clinton said she would urge Afghan President Hamid Karzai to follow through with pledges to improve governance and fight corruption. But she stressed that the U.S. and its partners had to police themselves in those areas too.