Voting for Iraq - even in Hollywood

Iraq went to the polls, Bill Gates was overtaken as the world's richest man, and medical researchers suggested taxing pizzas. Cassie Biggs reviews the week

Sandra Bullock has her name engraved on her Oscar for Best Actress at the Governors Ball following the the 82nd Academy Awards.
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Thousands of Iraqis, braving bombs, bullets and intimidation, went to the polls to elect a new parliament, a key step on a US-drawn path for the country's return to self-rule. About 62 per cent of the electorate voted, while attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere killed 39 people. Despite claims of ballot rigging and fraudulent electoral rolls, a full tally is expected on March 18 with official results at the end of the month. Provisional results showed that the prime minister Nouri al Maliki's State of Law list would probably take 100 seats in the 325-member parliament, although he would need allies to form a governing coalition. A US general said the successful election meant the US withdrawal of half its 96,000 troops in Iraq by August was still on course.

Iraq also dominated the Oscars, where the low-budget film The Hurt Locker scooped up six awards, including Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win the prize. Ms Bigelow beat her former husband, James Cameron, whose sci-fi 3D blockbuster Avatar is the world's top-grossing film, although only managing to scrape three awards. Jeff Bridges won his first Oscar for Crazy Heart, as did Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. The night before she had received a Razzie for worst actress in All About Steve. Producers of the Best Documentary, The Cove, about the slaughter of dolphins in a Japanese town, accused a California restaurant of selling whale meat. Police said they would investigate.

A tax on pizza and soft drinks could drastically cut obesity levels and slash Medicare costs in the United States, according to US researchers. Writing in the journal, Archives of Internal Medicine, they suggested an 18 per cent tax on junk food could lead to a significance calorie cut among adults that would lower their average weight by 2kg a year. Obesity costs the United States an estimated $147 billion (Dh539.5bn) a year in health costs.

Dubai Police warned Mossad and other foreign spy agencies that they had just a week to leave the Emirates and the Gulf region, or they would be pursued by authorities here. It was not clear if Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the emirate's police chief, was referring just to Mossad, or also to American and British intelligence agencies. Both the CIA and MI6 have listening posts in the Emirates. Dubai has issued international arrest warrants for 27 suspects accused of carrying out the murder of the Hamas commander, Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, in a Dubai hotel room in January. All of the suspects carried fraudulent passports from western countries and some had assumed the identities of people with dual nationalities living in Israel.

An American-born member of the al Qa'eda militant group was arrested in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. At first authorities thought they had captured one of the most wanted men in the United States, Adam Gadahn, the terror network's spokesman, but it later emerged it was not Gadahn, but another man with a similar name. The man arrested was known by the name Abu Yahya, an alias that the California-born Gadahn was known to use. The US has a $1 million bounty on Gadahn's head for treason.

Joe Biden, the US vice president, on a trip to revive the Middle East peace talks, landed in Israel declaring himself a "friend" of the Jewish state. It came as something of a shock, however, when a day later Tel Aviv announced it had approved the building of another 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, land Palestinians want for their future capital. The US opposes any building of settlements on land seized in the 1967 war. Palestinians reacted with outrage while a piqued Mr Biden arrived 90 minutes late for an official dinner with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel later apologised for the timing of the announcement.

Three men were accused of conspiring to blackmail the family of the late former president of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, by stealing his corpse and holding it for ransom. Mr Papadopoulos's remains were lifted from his grave in December last year and found early this week in a different grave. The three men accused of involvement include an Indian expatriate and two Greek Cypriots, one of whom is serving a life sentence in jail for murder. Police said that the Indian man had confessed to the plot and that they had intended to ask the family for $270,000 in cash, but then halved that when no money was forthcoming.

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and managing director of News Corporation, joined hundreds of international media leaders at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Media Summit. The meeting is part of the emirate's attempts to explore new revenue streams and reinvent itself as a regional hub for culture and media. Mr Murdoch said creativity was reliant on freedom and urged governments to overturn censorship laws. He announced a new regional head office in Abu Dhabi.

Doctors and residents in the Iraqi city of Fallujah said there had been an increase in the number of birth defects there - something many suspect to be linked to the use of heavy weapons by the Americans. The town saw some of the heaviest fighting between US troops and Sunni insurgents in 2004. While the Iraqi government says there are only one or two cases a year, doctors point to many more, including incidents of an abnormal number of fingers and toes, paralysis and heart problems. Due to the poor security in the area, an independent medical assessment has not been carried out.

A blue-eyed, blonde-haired American woman, who used the online moniker JihadJane, was charged with terror offences over an alleged plot to murder a Swedish man. The woman, Colleen LaRose, 47, a convert to Islam, had been living in suburban Philadelphia and was recruited over the internet by a contact who ordered her to kill the target in a way that would frighten "the whole kufar [non-believer] world", according to a court indictment. At the same time, Irish police arrested seven people over a plot to kill Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist who had a bounty put on his head after depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Police would not confirm if the two men were the same target.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, and Warren Buffet, the canny investor, were bumped off the top of Forbes list of the richest people in the world. For the first time in 16 years, the top spot was claimed by a non-American: Carlos Slim Hel, a Mexican telecoms tycoon with a fortune estimated at US$53.5 billion. Pakistan added its first billionaire this year, the bank chairman, Mian Muhammad Mansha. The Middle East's richest man was Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, with $19.4bn.