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IRAQ WILL DECIDE TROOP PULLOUT, BIDEN PLEDGES

Baghdad

Vice President Joe Biden pledged Thursday to follow Iraq's wishes should Baghdad decide to speed up the timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from the country. Speaking to reporters in Baghdad before heading to northern Iraq to meet with Kurdish leaders, Biden said, however, that there were still a number of steps that would have to be taken before Iraq could call a referendum to alter the so-called "status of forces" agreement. The agreement currently calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and all U.S. troops by the end of the following year. The Iraqi government has agreed to hold the referendum in conjunction with parliamentary elections in January. If voters reject the agreement in the referendum, U.S. forces would have a year to withdraw instead of by the end of 2011.

Louisville, Ky.

Coach is acquitted in player's death

A former Kentucky high school football coach was found not guilty Thursday in the death of a player who collapsed at a practice where the team was put through a series of sprints on a hot summer day. In a rare criminal prosecution of a coach, David Jason Stinson, 37, was charged after 15-year-old Max Gilpin collapsed at an August 2008 practice as the team ran a series of sprints known as "gassers." He died three days later at a Louisville hospital of heat stroke, sepsis and multiple organ failure. His temperature reached at least 107 degrees. The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes, and Stinson hugged defense attorney Brian Butler after the verdict was read.

Elsewhere

Indonesia: Special forces raided a hideout Thursday and killed militant mastermind Noordin Mohammed Top, a Malaysian citizen and skilled bombmaker who was implicated in every major recent attack in Indonesia, including 2002 and 2005 suicide bombings on the resort island of Bali that killed 222 people.

Pakistan: Ilyas Kashmiri, a top commander for al-Qaida, was killed 10 days ago in Pakistan by a U.S. missile fired from a drone, Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday.

Somalia: Islamic insurgents posing as U.N. personnel detonated suicide car bombs in an African Union peacekeeping base Thursday to avenge a U.S. commando raid that killed an al-Qaida operative. The attack killed at least 16 people, including four bombers.

Cuba: Cuban and State Department officials sat down Thursday for talks aimed at re-establishing direct mail service, which was suspended in August 1963, the year after Washington imposed its embargo.

Canada: Health officials ordered an investigation Thursday into why the Canadian government sent body bags to an native reserve in Manitoba after community leaders requested assistance to deal with an expected outbreak of swine flu.

Times wires

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