Despite protests from Sunni Arab leaders in Iraq, the Iraqi government and U.S. forces on Oct. 31 lifted roadblocks around the Shiite district of Sadr City, suspected home of Shiite death squads. The security checkpoints had crippled the district's economy and pressure was mounting on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, to end them. But Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, predicted an upswing in Shiite death-squad activity.
In the United States, the war in Iraq was the chief campaign issue leading up to the Nov. 7 elections. As some members of Congress proposed sweeping changes in U.S. policy-such as a rapid pullout of U.S. troops and a plan to divide Iraq into three states-President Bush remained committed to a free and stable Iraq: "If I did not think our mission in Iraq was vital to America's security, I'd bring our troops home tomorrow."
Democrats running for office last week found themselves also running away from their party's 2004 presidential candidate. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) stirred controversy by telling a group of California students that those who don't study hard and "make an effort to be smart" could "get stuck in Iraq." The slander against U.S. troops emboldened Republicans and put Democrats on their heels. President Bush called Kerry's remarks "shameful" and said the senator should apologize to the troops. Kerry did so, calling the remark a "botched joke" that was meant to be a dig at Bush, not the troops. Still, several Democrats canceled election-eve campaign appearances with Kerry and tried to distance themselves from him. "It was a real dumb thing to say," said Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat running for the Senate.
Three weeks after raising international ire by conducting a nuclear test, North Korea agreed on Oct. 31 to return to six-party nuclear disarmament talks. A statement from Pyongyang said the country is returning to the diplomatic table "on the premise that the issue of lifting financial sanctions will be discussed and settled between the [North] and the U.S. within the framework of the six-party talks." White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the United States had not promised to discuss the issue of financial sanctions but had agreed that "issues like that may be discussable at some future time." North Korea had previously demanded direct talks with the United States, but the Bush administration balked and insisted on the inclusion of China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea.
Sports & crime
The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, but the city of St. Louis also topped Detroit to gain a less desirable title: America's most dangerous city. FBI figures show that violent crime increased 20 percent in St. Louis over the past two years, making it the least-safe city on a list compiled by Morgan Quitno Press. Detroit; Flint, Mich.; Compton, Calif.; and Camden, N.J. followed St. Louis on the list. Camden had topped the list in 2004 and 2005. America's safest city, according to Morgan Quitno: Brick, N.J.
A wildfire that began in Cabazon, Calif., early on Oct. 26 took the lives of five firefighters, destroyed 34 homes, and consumed 60 square miles before firefighters could contain it four days later. Authorities say an arsonist was responsible for starting the "Esperanza Fire," and last week they named Raymond Lee Oyler, 36, as a "person of interest" in the ongoing investigation. Authorities separately arrested Oyler for allegedly starting two other wildfires in the region in June, but stressed that he was not a suspect in last month's blaze. They told a Nov. 1 meeting of displaced residents that the case was "evolving."
Growth in productivity, a key component in rising living standards, stalled during the summer, according to a Labor Department report released Nov. 2. Spurred on by new technologies, productivity (or worker output per hour of work) has increased rapidly since the mid-1990s but showed no change during the July-September quarter. Labor costs, however, grew by 3.8 percent.