Iraqi elections to determine who leads after US withdrawal underway (+ analysis); China grows defence budget, but at smaller rate; German militants sentenced for planning "monstrous bloodbath"; Turkey and Brazil could undermine Iran sanctions; and more
Top of the Agenda: Violence Haunts Early Voting in Iraq
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis begin early voting (AP) ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections, amid continued violence and preparation to draw down US forces. The elections will determine who will run the country once US troops leave and will signal whether the country can overcome sectarian tensions. Three explosions across Baghdad Thursday targeted voters, killing seventeen people. US and Iraqi officials have warned that insurgent violence could disrupt the vote.
The United States has failed to neutralize (WashPost) the powerful Shiite militant group Asaib Ahl a-Haq, which threatens to complicate the U.S. drawdown by allying with other Shiite militias to attack Iraq's Green Zone and U.S. military bases.
Violence surrounding the country's elections could complicate (NYT) the pace of American withdrawal and compromise U.S. President Barack Obama's political support.
In the Christian Science Monitor, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the UN, says sectarian parties are stoking fears that would cause Iraqis to vote their identities.
The Washington Institute's J. Scott Carpenter and Ahmed Ali say the Obama administration needs to remain flexible about the U.S. withdrawal despite inevitable delays in forming the next Iraqi government.
In this CFR interview, Iraq analyst Nir Rosen says the coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is likely to lead in the elections.
This CFR Backgrounder examines Iraq's political landscape.
PACIFIC RIM: China's Military Spending Slows
Indonesia: Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said the country will increase security (Reuters) in the Malacca Strait after warning about threatened attacks on oil tankers.