Iraqi PM ventures into streets before conference

Iraq's prime minister ventured into Baghdad's streets and chatted with Iraqis at police checkpoints Friday to showcase security ahead of an international conference aimed at stabilizing the country with help from its neighbors. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shook hands with Iraqi soldiers and bent down to kiss children who lined up behind cement barriers in the street in a mostly Shiite area of south Baghdad. The prime minister took advantage of the weekly four-hour vehicle ban every Friday for the Muslim holy day when there is little traffic in the streets. Al-Maliki's office released no advance details of the outing because of safety concerns, but issued photos afterward. "The conference is proof that the situation in Baghdad is getting back to normal and that the political process is strong and stable," al-Maliki told reporters at a power station nearby.