BAGHDAD

Biden’s visit marks ‘new beginning,’ problems ahead

Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that his trip to Baghdad ahead of the U.S. military pullout marks a new beginning between Iraq and the United States, but protests in Iraq against his visit demonstrated the difficulties the relationship will face.

Biden landed in Baghdad Tuesday in a surprise visit to Iraq at a pivotal time as the last of the American troops withdraw, and the U.S. must establish a new relationship with a country that is home to billions of barrels of oil reserves and more closely aligned with neighboring Iran than the U.S. would like.

In comments surrounding his meetings with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Biden stressed that the U.S. and Iraq will continue to have a relationship long after the American troops have left the country.

Some 13,000 U.S. troops remain, down from a one-time high of about 170,000. Security was tight for Biden’s visit, which was not announced in advance.

Many Iraqis, suspicious of American intentions in the region, have wondered why the U.S. is keeping such a large presence here, while Americans have questioned the prudence of spending money in Iraq while the U.S. is experiencing financial problems of its own.

CAIRO

Political party of Muslim Brotherhood claims lead

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political party said Wednesday that unofficial preliminary results from this week’s parliamentary elections in nine Egyptian provinces show it is in the lead, followed by a more conservative Islamist party.

If final results confirm the projection, which is in line with what political analysts have been predicting, Islamists will play a major role in drafting the country’s new constitution. The process will tackle complicated and fraught issues, including the role of the once universally venerated Egyptian military and the extent to which Islam will shape policy.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party said its information about preliminary results showed its candidates had won as much as 40 percent of the votes cast Monday and Tuesday, the first phase of a staggered three-month election for the two houses of parliament.

WASHINGTON

NLRB moves ahead with plan to speed union elections

The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday moved ahead with plans to speed the pace of union elections, even as Republicans in Congress threatened to derail the process.

The board’s Democratic majority voted 2-1 in favor of a revised proposal that could give organized labor a boost in organizing new members at companies that have long opposed unions.

Business groups have strongly opposed the new rules, saying they amount to ambush elections that don’t give company managers enough time to talk to employees. Unions claim the rules help them level the playing field with companies that abuse the legal process to stave off union elections.

The vote came after the board’s lone Republican member, Brian Hayes, didn’t make good on threats to resign, a move that would have rendered the agency powerless to act. The board’s plan would simplify procedures and shorten deadlines for holding union elections after employees at a work site gather enough signatures. NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce said the changes are needed because current rules “are laden with unnecessary delays.”

SAN FRANCISCO

Happy Meals will cost a dime extra if you want a toy

A new city law aimed at making fast food for kids follow nutritional guidelines won’t be making Happy Meals healthier, just more expensive – if you want a toy.

Beginning Thursday, it will cost an extra dime in San Francisco to get a toy in a Happy Meal – a move one county supervisor called a marketing ploy prompted by the new law.

San Francisco was the first major U.S. city to prohibit fast-food restaurants from including toy giveaways with children’s meals that don’t meet nutritional guidelines for sodium, calories and fat.

Scott Rodrick, who owns 10 of the 19 McDonald’s franchises in the city, said the 10-cent charge was intended to adhere to the letter of the law while giving consumers what they want.

SALT LAKE CITY

Bird hunter shot when his dog steps on his shotgun

A Utah bird hunter was shot in the buttocks after his dog stepped on a shotgun laid across the bow of a boat.

Box Elder County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Potter says the 46-year-old Brigham City man was duck hunting with a friend when he climbed out of the boat to move decoys.

Potter says the man left his 12-gauge shotgun in the boat and the dog stepped on it, causing it to fire. It wasn’t clear whether the safety on the gun was on at the time.

Potter says the man was hit from about 10 feet away with 27 pellets of birdshot. He says the man wasn’t seriously injured.

— From news service reports