IRAQ For the third time in just under one year, Iraqis prepared to go to the polls nationwide. Dec. 15 elections will determine who takes the helm of a permanent government, following elections in January to elect a temporary government and in October to approve a new constitution-all polls that leaders in the region, even Iraqi ally King Abdullah of Jordan, once called "impossible."
Six main alliances competing in the polls participated in a nationally broadcast debate-Iraq's first ever-that lasted three hours and had nearly the viewer turnout of Saddam's trials. In addition to ethnic alliances for Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, the three leading alliances-and ones likely to prevail in the parliamentary system-are those drawing support across ethnic/religious lines. They include the "secular" Shiite movements of former prime minister Iyad Allawi and opposition figure Ahmed Chalabi. To watch: secular candidate Mithal al-Alusi, who made a controversial visit to Israel late last year and whose two sons later were killed in a bomb attack. The Kurdish Alliance of current president Jalal Talabani is likely to pull enough voters in the north to be a swing partner in any coalition government.
The trial of Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, recessed until Dec. 21 following both extraordinary outbursts by the former dictator and testimony from his victims. Saddam boycotted the proceedings Dec. 6 after telling the judge to "go to hell" and complaining that authorities were restricting him to six of "the worst cigarettes in the world" per day. Meanwhile, Saddam victims in sworn testimony described mass arrests that included babies as young as 1 day old; watching a prison guard throw a baby to its death from an upper-story window; and seeing a grinding machine used to crush a prisoner's head.
Iraqis are content to have protracted proceedings against a dictator many assert gave them firsthand knowledge of brutality, said Hero Talabani, wife of the president. "Don't rush it; let it take years," she told reporters.
DANIEL OF THE YEAR Why not man of the year? First of all, heroes can be women, as WORLD's 2004 honoree (Baroness Caroline Cox) demonstrated. Or they can be children, as 1999 Daniel(s) "Generation WWJD" proved. More importantly, anyone can be a man for a year; daring to be a Daniel is a longer-term assignment requiring a public walk of faith, and that through fiery furnaces and lion's dens. Meet Mako Fujimura, artist and WORLD's 2005 Daniel of the Year (See "Art aflame").
NATIONAL SECURITY Federal air marshals shot and killed a passenger at Miami International Airport Dec. 7 after the man, Rigoberto Alpizar, claimed he had a bomb and ran from the aircraft. Later, law enforcement officials did not find explosives but said the agents followed protocol.
An increased number of airborne marshals and other precautions have done little to improve security, argues Richard Miniter, author of Disinformation. The routing of terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, has done more to reduce the threat of attack to its pre-9/11 levels (see "Interview: Threat assessment").
CHRISTMAS "Holiday trees" became "Christmas trees" once again, as a number of chains nationwide bowed to pressure from conservative groups to call a spade a spade and a holiday by its real name. "It's a matter of simple courtesy to acknowledge a holiday celebrated by 96 percent of the American people," said Don Feder, president of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation (JAACD), a group that held a Dec. 1 press conference to speak against the disappearance of Christmas from schools, shops, and the public square (see "Christmas comeback").
CONGRESS Texas Republican and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay must decide if the glass is half full or half empty. A Texas judge threw out one criminal charge against the powerful Republican congressman Dec. 5, without waiting for it to go before a jury, but will allow prosecutors to try him on money laundering charges related to what Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle called fishy fundraising. It all puts Mr. DeLay in a quandary: To retain his leadership position in the House, he needs not only to win in the trial, but to win quickly. But does Mr. DeLay really want to rush his defense when felony charges and serious prison time are on the line?
VENEZUELA The United States called for electoral reform in Venezuela after supporters of President Hugo Chavez swept all 167 seats in parliament in a Dec. 4 ballot. Five opposition parties boycotted the election and only 25 percent of registered voters went to the polls. Venezuelans showed a "broad lack of confidence in the impartiality and transparency" of the process, the State Department warned.
New Tribes Mission went before the supreme court in Venezuela Dec. 6, seeking to annul a Nov. 14 order giving the mission organization 90 days to leave the tribal areas.
STUDENT LIFE Campus organization Atheist Agency at the University of Texas at San Antonio is offering students some trade: The group will exchange their Bibles for pornography. Witty atheistic collegians deserve credit for their sense of humor, but perhaps the evil deed can be turned for good-if it causes students to dust off that Bible and wonder which is more important in their lives.
CROATIA Authorities arrested the third-most-wanted war criminal from the Balkan wars, Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina. Accused of killing 150 Serb civilians in 1995, the 50-year-old outlaw has been sought by a UN tribunal for nearly a decade, along with former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, who remain at large.
HIGHER EDUCATION University of Kansas professor Paul Mirecki stepped down as chairman of the religious studies department last week, after being urged to do so by colleagues. Mr. Mirecki had stirred controversy by writing on an internet discussion board that a class he was starting on Intelligent Design would "be a nice slap" in the "big fat face" of fundamentalists. He had also, two days before stepping down, told police that two men in a rural area south of Lawrence, Kan., had referred to the controversy as they physically attacked him.