Wars and rumors of war

News of the Year | In Iraq there are the stories that are told and those that are not

Issue: "News of the Year," Dec. 30, 2006

Told: That 785 Americans and nearly 18,000 Iraqis died in 2006. That the security breakdown means many Iraqis spend days at a time trapped in their homes, and even simple trips to buy bread and vegetables or to walk a child to school are fraught with danger. That the security situation restricts U.S. officials inside a tightly controlled Green Zone in Baghdad, further isolating them from the ground situation they hope to rehabilitate-to the extent that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group appointed by Congress spent much of the year studying the U.S. role in Iraq, but altogether spent only four days actually in Iraq, and only one member of the panel ever left the Green Zone. The panel said America needs to open a dialogue with regional provocateurs like Iran and Syria while buttressing the existing Iraqi security forces.

Left untold, in a year when Iraq's fledgling justice system successfully brought Saddam Hussein to trial and a death sentence, was the story of how a government of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and others could form in January and still be together in December while sectarian fighting rages in the streets. Or why, despite a massive overhaul of the U.S. intelligence community, only handfuls of the documents recovered from Saddam's regime have been examined or translated. Were it not for the February disclosure by former UN weapons inspector Bill Tierney, who translated and publicized 12 hours of Saddam tapes, we may never have heard Saddam discuss his aspirations for weapons of mass destruction. Other documents disclose a massive training project personally supervised by Saddam and involving thousands of Islamic radicals. It's no surprise that major media like The New York Times and The Washington Post ignored such documents. But what remained a mystery at year's end is why the Bush administration failed to publicize evidence that would bolster its besieged rationale for going to war.

U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, meanwhile, scored unheralded gains, killing almost 2,100 militants-including Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters-since September. Stepped-up fighting followed an increase in roadside bombs and suicide attacks-over 90 this year. And as combat in Afghanistan passed the five-year mark, snaring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar remained a goal instead of a reality.

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Equally unending but more catastrophic: continued fighting in Darfur, the western region of Sudan where 350,000 have died and 2 million have lost homes since fighting between rebels and government-supported militias began in 2003. A landmark peace agreement in May, followed by a UN resolution in August calling for an international peacekeeping force, have done little to ease suffering. Government-backed fighters as recently as Dec. 9 attacked a Swiss relief agency truck carrying passengers and medical supplies, killing 37, including four teachers, six women, and four children.

The militant Islamic group Hezbollah launched a 34-day war with Israel in July, firing rockets into Israel that killed eight soldiers and kidnapping two others. Israel responded to the provocation by launching an all-out military offensive, bombing the Beirut airport and shattering apartment buildings in the capital and parts of southern Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other Persian Gulf states-in rare resolve-condemned Hezbollah for "inappropriate and irresponsible acts," as continued fighting sent U.S. Marines to Lebanon for the first time in 20 years to evacuate thousands of Americans. With civilian casualties and collateral damage mounting on both sides, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the region to negotiate a ceasefire, which took effect Aug. 14. It reduced the hot war to a back-burner simmer but only intensified Lebanon's internal conflict with Hezbollah, which took to the streets in mass demonstrations aimed at bringing down the democratically elected government.

Microsoft tried to have a war with Apple, breaking into the portable media player market with Zune, a device designed to take on the pricier iPod. But Zune has struggled to get off the ground. One month after its release, it placed fifth in sales-light years behind iPod.

In the battle of so-called Seventh Generation video game consoles, Microsoft may have won the day by default. While Nintento's Wii and Sony's PlayStation 3 worked through the final kinks for much of 2006, Microsoft launched its Xbox 360. For video gamers who spent most of 2006 investing in Xbox 360 games, PlayStation 3 and Wii might not have the appeal the manufacturers had hoped.

First he took on his former Philadelphia Eagles in a lengthy rap diss. Then he fumed at new teammates in Dallas for ratting on him after he napped in team meetings. Now Cowboys star receiver Terrell Owens, nearing 1,000 yards for the year, says he feels less combative: "Winning cures a lot of things."


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