Everything is bigger in Texas, including its presidential contest with a primary and caucus

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) People here like to say everything is bigger in Texas, and their oversized presidential contest is no different with not just a primary election, but a caucus added on, too.

The unique combination pits Barack Obama's skill in caucus organizing against Hillary Rodham Clinton's success in big-state primary campaigns.

Their different strengths have created the remarkably close race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama was able to keep pace and eventually collect more convention delegates than Clinton in part by building wins in the smaller caucuses in places like North Dakota, Idaho and Minnesota. He's won 13 caucuses to her two.

Those are votes that Clinton's campaign often overlooked in pursuit of a more traditional campaign focused on racking up big primary victories in places like California, New Jersey and her home state of New York. Obama has won more primaries overall, 14 to her nine, but she won four of the five biggest prizes so far.

Iraqi presidency endorses execution of Saddam Hussein's cousin known 'Chemical Ali'

BAGHDAD (AP) Iraq's presidential council has endorsed the execution within a month of Saddam Hussein's cousin, known as "Chemical Ali," for his role in the 1980s scorched-earth campaign against Kurds, officials said Friday. But it spared the life of two other officials amid Sunni protests that they were only following orders.

The approval by Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and two vice presidents was the final step clearing the way for Ali Hassan al-Majid's execution by hanging. It could now be carried out at any time, a government adviser and a prosecutor said.

Al-Majid was one of three former Saddam officials sentenced to death in June after being convicted by an Iraqi court of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for their part in the Operation Anfal crackdown that killed nearly 200,000 Kurdish civilians and guerrillas.

Al-Majid was nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for ordering poison gas attacks that killed thousands.

The officials said the three-member presidential council agreed to al-Majid's execution, but did not approve death sentences against the other two Hussein Rashid Mohammed, an ex-deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces, and former defense minister Sultan Hashim al-Taie.

Vermont the latest state to eye lower drinking age; bill would create task force to weigh idea

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) More than two decades after the country established a uniform drinking age of 21, a nascent movement is afoot to allow 18- to 20-year-olds to legally buy alcohol under some circumstances.

Proponents say the higher age hasn't kept young people from consuming alcohol and has instead driven underage consumption underground, particularly on college campuses.

"Our laws aren't working. They're not preventing underage drinking. What they're doing is putting it outside the public eye," Vermont state Sen. Hinda Miller said. "So you have a lot of kids binge drinking. They get sick, they get scared and they get into trouble and they can't call because they know it's illegal."

On Thursday, a committee of the Vermont Senate approved Miller's bill to have a task force weigh the pros and cons of rolling back the drinking age and make a recommendation to the Legislature early next year.

Organizations and lawmakers in other states are toying with similar ideas.

Exit polls show female, conservative and white Southern male voters defy conventional wisdom

WASHINGTON (AP) Hillary Rodham Clinton can bank on the support of women. Conservatives will never trust John McCain. Southern white men won't vote for Barack Obama.

All were conventional wisdom before this year's presidential contests began, and the voters shot some holes in each.

Now that Democrats and Republicans in most states have voted, the candidates' strengths and weaknesses have come into focus. With showdowns in Texas and Ohio next week that could determine whether Clinton stays in the Democratic race, here is what exit polls of voters reveal about the contenders' supporters:

THE FEMALE FACTOR

Women favor Clinton, the New York senator, but not by much. She leads Obama among females by 51 percent to 45 percent. Of 22 states that have held Democratic primaries in which the candidates competed fully, she won the women's vote in just half.

Reports: Prince Harry to be withdrawn from Afghanistan after deployment leaked in press

LONDON (AP) British news organizations say the army is pulling Prince Harry out of Afghanistan after news of his deployment was leaked in the press.

The British Broadcasting Corp. and others on Friday quoted military sources as saying Harry would be sent home after 10 weeks serving on the front lines in Helmand province.

The Ministry of Defense would not immediately confirm the reports.

Tens of thousands eagerly await Pope Benedict XVI's visit to DC; parishes distribute tickets

WASHINGTON (AP) Lori Brown keeps the winning ticket voucher in her purse as a good luck charm, and tells practically everyone she runs into about it.

"It's ridiculous," said Brown, a mother of two from Laurel, Md., recalling how excited she was when her raffle ticket won her a seat at the April Mass that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate in Washington. "I'm just so out of my skin jumping for joy with this."

Brown is one of tens of thousands of people eagerly awaiting the first visit by a pope to Washington since 1979. The Archdiocese of Washington is distributing about 46,000 tickets for the event, and has set aside 14,000 seats for Catholic dioceses nationwide, archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said.

Of those, the biggest share of tickets 6,000 will go to the Diocese of Arlington in northern Virginia. The Archdiocese of Baltimore is receiving 2,500. On Friday, the Archdiocese of Washington plans to announce the ticket allocation for its own 140 parishes, which will be based on the size of each parish's Mass attendance and whether it has a school or significant religious education program, Gibbs said.

After that, it's up to each parish to decide how to distribute the tickets.

Oil briefly tops $103 a barrel for first time as US dollar weakness draws investors

SINGAPORE (AP) Oil prices surpassed $103 a barrel for the first time Friday as persistent weakness in the U.S. dollar and the prospect of lower interest rates attracted fresh money to the oil market.

Prices were supported by comments Thursday from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said the American economy is not immediately threatened with stagflation, a combination of economic weakness and rising inflation.

Investors chose to see the comments as confirmation of their beliefs that the Fed will continue cutting interest rates to try to shore up the economy.

Lower U.S. interest rates tends to weaken the dollar, and crude futures offer a hedge against a falling dollar.

"Due to the weakening dollar and the rising fear of inflation, investors have put money into commodities, oil included," said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with Purvin & Gertz in Singapore.

Gas leak suspected in explosion that rocked Illinois shopping plaza; 8 people injured

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (AP) Some shop owners smelled gas for the last couple of days at a shopping plaza rocked by an explosion that injured at least eight people and rattled nearby buildings, authorities said.

The blast occurred around lunchtime Thursday in a business district about 40 miles north of Chicago, shattering windows and collapsing the roof of the plaza, which housed a cell phone shop, a tuxedo store and a hair salon, among other businesses.

Five people were taken to Vista East Medical Center, none with life-threatening injuries, and four were discharged by Thursday evening, hospital spokesman Adam Beeson said. He said he didn't know the remaining patient's condition.

Three people were treated for injuries at the scene, Deputy Fire Chief Dan Young said. There was no reason to believe anyone was missing, he added.

Authorities believe the incident was caused by a gas explosion, he said.

'American Idol' cuts 4 more contestants, as show trims competition to 16 semifinalists

NEW YORK (AP) Four more aspiring singers failed to convince viewers that they have what it takes to win the star-making talent contest "American Idol."

The voting public cut loose Alaina Whitaker, Jason Yeager, Robbie Carrico and Alexandrea Lushington, trimming the number of contestants to 16 Thursday night.

Whitaker, a 16-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., let out a sob after she heard the result.

"Sorry, this is so embarrassing," she told host Ryan Seacrest, who consoled her with a hug.

The other "Idol" female contestants gathered on stage to lend moral support to Whitaker as she gave a final performance of "Hopelessly Devoted to You." Several contestants wiped away tears.

FBI opens inquiry into whether Roger Clemens lied to Congress about steroid use

WASHINGTON (AP) The FBI took up the Roger Clemens case Thursday, told by the Justice Department to investigate whether the star pitcher lied when he testified to Congress he never took performance-enhancing drugs.

The FBI's involvement was announced one day after the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee told Attorney General Michael Mukasey they weren't sure whether Clemens told the truth under oath at a Feb. 5 deposition and Feb. 13 public hearing.

A probe could result in charges against the seven-time Cy Young Award winner for perjury, making false statements or obstruction of justice. Congress did not ask for a similar investigation of Brian McNamee, the former personal trainer who testified under oath that he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone.

"The request to open an investigation on the congressional testimony of Roger Clemens has been turned over to the FBI and will receive appropriate investigative action by the FBI's Washington field office," FBI spokeswoman Debra Weierman said.

As with Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, Clemens faces scrutiny from federal authorities more for what he said than what he might have done.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.