Muqtada is back in school

studying to become ayatollah

BAGHDAD - The leader of Iraq's biggest Shiite militia movement has resumed seminary studies toward attaining the title of ayatollah - a goal that could make firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army an even more formidable power broker in Iraq.

Al-Sadr's objectives - described to the Associated Press by close aides - are part of increasingly bitter Shiite-on-Shiite battles for control of Iraq's southern oil fields, the lucrative pilgrim trade to Shiite holy cities and the nation's strategic Persian Gulf outlet.

The endgame among Iraq's majority Shiites also means long-term influence over Iraqi political and financial affairs as the Pentagon and its allies look to scale down their military presence in the coming year.

Shut out of election, chess

genius says he was rooked

MOSCOW - The Kremlin appears to have checkmated chess genius Garry Kasparov, eliminating the internationally known figure from the presidential race.

Kasparov said yesterday his bid collapsed because supporters were blocked from renting a meeting hall to nominate him - part of President Vladimir Putin's campaign, he said, to snuff out any viable opposition and turn Russia's March 2 ballot into a virtual one-man contest.

The move makes it impossible for Kasparov to challenge Putin's chosen successor as a candidate. But even if his supporters had nominated him, Kasparov would have faced formidable barriers, such as a Putin-era law forcing independent candidates to gather 2 million signatures - nearly one out of 50 Russian voters - for a spot on the ballot.

Rather than give up vodka,

he gets alcohol poisoning

BERLIN - A man nearly died from alcohol poisoning after quaffing two pints of vodka at an airport security check instead of handing it over to comply with new rules about carrying liquids aboard a plane.

The incident occurred Tuesday at the Nuremberg airport, where the 64-year-old man was switching planes on his way home to Dresden from a vacation in Egypt.

He was told at a security check he would have to either throw out the bottle of vodka or pay a fee to have his carry-on bag checked.

Instead, he chugged the liquor - and was quickly unable to stand or otherwise function, police said.

A doctor determined the man he had possibly life-threatening alcohol poisoning, and he was sent to a Nuremberg clinic for treatment, which he's still getting.

Fujimori's court outburst

becomes a popular ringtone

LIMA, Peru - Former President Alberto Fujimori's recent courtroom cries are now a free, downloadable ringtone, the latest political outburst from Latin America to pierce pop culture.

"Soy inocente!" - "I'm innocent!" the famously stoic Fujimori shouted Monday at the start of his kidnapping and murder trial.

That cry is now celebrated in a ringtone loop, answered by a famed soundbite from Spain's King Juan Carlos telling Venezuela's outspoken President Hugo Chavez to "shut up" during a heated confrontation at a summit in Chile last month. *

-Associated Press