The Hangman's Noose for Saddam
The outcome was never much in doubt from the moment a shaggy Saddam Hussein was rousted from his spider hole in Iraq just over three years ago. His on-and-off trial for one of many atrocitiesthe killing of 148 Shiite men and boys in the northern town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt therewas something of a tragicomedy, with an often-truculent Saddam acting as if he were dictator still. But if there was any thought that such justice would deflate the Sunni insurgency or placate the once oppressed Shiite masses, those hopes have been drowned out by the daily drumbeat of death and destruction wracking Iraq. With his death sentence upheld by an appeals court, Saddamwhose 1980s war with Iran cost some 1 million livescould only look ahead to a hangman's noose.
A Reversal of Fortunes in Africa
'We are now in charge." A couple of weeks ago, few would have expected to hear that from a leader of Somalia's weak transitional government. The Somali administration controlled almost no territory and was nearly surrounded in the provincial town of Baidoa, as fighters from the Union of Islamic Courts closed in, ready to turn Somalia into a Taliban-style emirate. But after four days of fighting, the feared Islamist movement melted away under controlled fire of tanks and helicopter gunships from neighboring Ethiopia. By Thursday, Mogadishu belonged to the government.
Still, the capital city was in chaos, with looters and militiamen in the streets, and the Islamists pledged to turn Mogadishu into an African Baghdad. Courts official Omar Idris told the BBC: "I think this is very, very early to say that the Islamic Courts forces were defeated."
The stakes are high for Somalis, who have endured 16 years of anarchy and murder since the fall of dictator Siad Barre. Many threw in their lot with the courts movement last year to rid Mogadishu and other cities of lawlessness that has turned Somalia into a "feral nation," as described recently by one analyst. U.S. intelligence sees the courts movement as an al Qaeda affiliate and this summer gave millions in cash and arms to some of Somalia's worst warlords in an effort to stop the Islamists. But the warlords were routed, leaving the weak transitional governmentwhich counted on Ethiopian troops for securityto hold off the surging Islamists.
When the courts movement started threatening Christian-led Ethiopia with jihad, East Africa's biggest army moved in with armor and air power. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi now says his troops will leave Somalia within weeks. Their long-term presence would become a rallying point for jihadists. The internationally recognized Somali government is pinning its hopes on getting a substantial United Nations-approved peacekeeping force, but there are many hurdles to that. Guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings could force the Ethiopians to remain where they are, defending a government that can't yet defend itself.
Learning the Steps of the Tehran Tango
Your move. Iran's parliament made its response to sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council. Lawmakers directed the government to "accelerate Iran's nuclear activities" and to "revise its cooperation" with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The measure, approved by top religious authorities, seems to leave the government relatively free to act as it wisheswhich is hardly new.
Fidel Faces Down the Grim Reaper
Could it really be that Fidel Castro, widely speculated to be on death's door, will once again stick it to his detractors? Spanish surgeon José Luis García Sabrido, flown to Cuba for a look-see at the ailing, frail former strongman, pronounced that the patient was making a slow, difficult recovery. "He doesn't have cancer" or "any malignant sickness," he said. That conflicts with the U.S. intelligence estimate that Castro is suffering from terminal cancer. Cuba treats Castro's actual condition as a state secret, though doctors say his reported symptoms could reflect a variety of serious stomach or intestinal complications linked to emergency intestinal surgery in July.
Suddenly Unwired in the Wired Age
The Earth shook, and parts of Asia came unplugged. A 6.7-magnitude earthquake off southern Taiwan did more than cause property damage ashore. It ruptured two undersea data transmission cables, disrupting telephone and Internet networks in Taiwan, China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. For users, Web access and E-mail traffic slowed to a crawl, if they were available at all. It will take weeks to complete repairs returning networks to full capacity.
A degree of redundancy is built into data networks, but in this case the earthquake occurred near a sea-bottom area transited by as many as a dozen fiber-optic cables. Telecom companies scrambled to reroute some telephone and Internet traffic through satellites and through cables to Europe.
With Dan Morrison in Cairo and Associated Press
This story appears in the January 8, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.