Breath & death
Nearly 8,500 people around the globe were infected with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, the first new infectious disease since AIDS was diagnosed some 20 years ago. The fast-spreading, highly lethal disease (it killed about 10 percent of its victims) rocked world markets, devastated tourism, and caused widespread panic throughout much of Asia. Travel bans and strict quarantines helped end the outbreak by July, but not before it had wreaked up to $140 billion in economic damage worldwide.
Easier than Saddam
Indicted for crimes against humanity by an international war-crimes tribunal, Liberian dictator Charles Taylor finally left Monrovia in August, 14 years after taking power in the West African capital. As Mr. Taylor headed for exile in Nigeria, President Bush sent some 200 U.S. soldiers to help a multinational African force trying to restore order in the war-torn country. It was the American military's first such deployment in Africa since an ill-fated peacekeeping mission in Somalia in 1992.
Kim the nuclear reactor
Iraq wasn't the only international crisis facing President Bush as the year got underway. The International Atomic Energy Agency announced in February that North Korea had stockpiled nearly enough plutonium to make nuclear weapons, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he believed the rogue nation already had one or two such devices. The Pentagon immediately put its bombers on alert throughout the Pacific, but no one wanted to provoke North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il, who was seen as playing the nuke card to blackmail the world into providing more international aid. Six-party talks in August helped to defuse the tensions somewhat, though the specter of nuclear North Korea continued to haunt much of Asia.
Roadmaps & detours
Despite a much-ballyhooed "Roadmap to Peace" unveiled by the United States and key allies, relations between Israelis and Palestinians took a wrong turn in 2003-and never got back on track. Suicide bombings rocked Israel week after week, followed swiftly by military reprisals in Palestinian areas. The White House hoped Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas would drain power from Yasser Arafat and crack down on Islamic radicals, but he resigned in September and was replaced by an Arafat ally, Ahmed Qureia. By year's end, with both sides openly violating the peace accords, the roadmap looked like one more worthless scrap of paper.
In the war against infidels, Americans were not the only targets. Muslim nations throughout Africa and the Middle East felt the wrath of Islamic extremists intent on remaking the Muslim world in their image. In early May, nine suicide bombers carried out near-simultaneous attacks in Saudi Arabia, killing 25. Days later, 13 bombers took 28 lives in Morocco. Saudi Arabia was targeted again in November with a blast that killed 11, and Turkey was hit twice that same month in bombings that killed 50 and injured about 500.
A sweltering continent
Many Europeans were steamed when the United States invaded Iraq in March, but it wasn't until months later that they really got hot. A record-setting heat wave gripped the continent for much of July and August, with average temperatures soaring more than 20 degrees above normal. Glaciers melted, wildfires raged, and rivers dried up as the mercury topped 100 from England to Germany. In France, where cool weather makes air conditioners a rarity, officials said up to 3,000 people died in the heat.