THE WAR ENDS…
-COMING HOME…As the last American soldiers in Iraq pack up and head out - Martha RADDATZ checks in from what was - for eight years - the nerve center of the entire U.S. military operation in Iraq. From Martha: "Great stuff here - got inside (General Peter) Chiarelli's old headquarters building…and the operations center where they got their battle updates…the digital clocks still lit up with times around the world - and all the huge screens where drone feeds came in still here…Even the Iraqis were blown away by all the stuff." Luis MARTINEZ adds that the U.S. is leaving behind an estimated $200 million in gear and equipment - cheaper to leave behind apparently than cart it all out.
-IRAQIS REACT…Reactions are mixed and the AP takes a look at the Iraqis who are most worried about life without the Americans: the nation's Sunnis. One Tikrit school teacher said: "The American departure represents a joyous event, but our concerns are about the time after the departure… Absolutely, after the American withdrawal the divisions between Sunnis and Shiites will get worse and worse."
-U.S. TO IRAQ: YOU WILL NOT STAND ALONE…The U.S. may be withdrawing troops - but President Obama made it clear yesterday that he wasn't withdrawing his support. The two leaders pledged to cooperate on a range of military and civilian initiatives as the final U.S. troops prepare to leave Iraq, but details remain unclear. Maliki declined to endorse Obama's demand that Syria's Assad quit, underscoring U.S. concerns that Syria's ally Iran will seek to wield greater clout over Iraq.
HEZBOLLAH NAMES UNDERCOVER CIA AGENTS
Alex MARQUARDT and the ROSS UNIT report that Hezbollah's Al Manar TV publicly named undercover CIA officers working in Lebanon. Following the Ross Unit's reporting last month, Al Manar used animation to recreate meetings between agents and their handlers at places like Starbucks and Pizza Hut. "The agency does not, as a rule, address spurious claims from terrorist groups," CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said. "I think it's worth remembering that Hezbollah is a dangerous organization, with al-Manar as its propaganda arm. That fact alone should cast some doubt on the credibility of the group's claims."
AHMADINEJAD WON'T RETURN DRONE
Iranian President Ahmadinejad did an interview last night with Venezuelan state TV and rejected the U.S.' formal request to return the drone. "The Americans have perhaps decided to give us this spy plane," he said. Alex MARQUARDT notes that the Iranian defense minister says that the downed drone is now Iran's property. "Their plane invaded Iran and Iranian forces reacted powerfully," said Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi according to FARS. "Now, instead of offering an apology to the Iranian nation, they impudently ask for the return of the plane."
UN WARNS OF SYRIA ATTACK
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says "many voices are warning that a major assault" on Homs - already the scene of frequent clashes between security forces and protesters this year - is about to begin, with a military build-up reported. Ms. Pillay's office has received reports that hundreds of tanks and weapons have been deployed over the past few days, dozens of checkpoints have been set up and numerous trenches have been dug. From Kirit RADIA: We pressed the State Dept on why this potential massacre has not generated calls for international intervention - the way Gadhafi's promised slaughter of Benghazi did." (The answer probably has more to do with Syria's place in the complex geopolitics of the region - but US officials won't go there on the record) State Dept spokesman Mark Toner suggested international monitors be sent instead. "It's not an easy thing to do to compare the situation in Libya and the situation in Syria. We are pursuing a strategy regarding Syria that we believe is having an effect. We don't believe in further militarizing the situation in Syria. We don't want to see more violence. We want to see an end to violence. We believe that putting monitors on the ground would help provide the eyes and ears that would allow the international community to put pressure - more pressure, additional pressure - on the Syrian Government to end its crackdown," he said. Alex MARQUARDT reports that army defectors killed seven members of Syria's security forces today, in retaliation for an attack that cost the lives of 11 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. And Syria's Interior Ministry strongly rejected the U.N.'s estimate that more than 5,000 have died in the conflict.
Good news in the war on a global scourge: A World Health Organization report finds that malaria-related mortality rates have fallen by 26% globally since 2000. The decline is even sharper - 33 percent since 2000 - in Africa, where malaria hits hardest.
BELGIUM: GRENADE ATTACK
A hand grenade attack in the eastern Belgian city of Liege has left four people dead and more than seventy more injured. Initial witness reports said at least one man threw up to four grenades at a bus station in the central square of the city around midday Tuesday. Police were on the scene quickly and sealed off the square, where blood was still splattered on the cobblestones. Some unconfirmed reports say the attacker is among the dead.
NBA OWNER TO CHALLENGE PUTIN
It's the huge story across Russia - not only does Vladimir Putin have a growing opposition in the streets - now he has a political challenger as well. The 39th richest person in the world, Russian billionaire and owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, announced Monday he would challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the presidential elections next March. Just last week, Prokhorov wrote in his LiveJournal blog that Putin is Russia's only viable option as Russia's next president. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said - after Prokhorov's statement - that Putin was aware of the businessman's ambitions. Prokhorov said he would unveil his political agenda after he registered as candidate.
MEXICO: BIG DROP IN ILLEGAL CROSSINGS TO U.S.
Arrests of people trying to sneak into the U.S. from Mexico have plunged to the lowest level in four decades, the latest sign that illegal immigration is on the retreat even as legislatures, Congress and presidential candidates hotly debate the issue. Behind the historic drop is a steep decline in the birthrate in Mexico and greater opportunities there relative to the weak U.S. economy. Stepped-up U.S. patrols along the border make it both riskier and more expensive for Mexicans to attempt to enter the country. Government crackdowns on U.S. employers who hire illegal workers also have discouraged immigrants.
Global stock markets vacillated Tuesday as criticism by ratings agencies sparked doubts about a historic European Union plan to fix a massive debt crisis by binding member economies closer together. On Wall Street, stocks are up by nearly 100 points at this hour.
THE FIZZ IS BACK?
The Wall Street Journal reports that the French Champagne industry is preparing for a bumper holiday season, a significant recovery from just two years ago, when it slashed production in the face of the global economic downturn. By the end of September, the Champagne industry had shipped 192 million bottles, and the festive fourth quarter is usually the strongest, accounting for a third to a half of annual bubbly sales. That could put it on track to near the record 339 million bottles shipped in 2007.
PAKISTANI STUDENTS KEPT IN TORTURE CHAMBER?
The BBC reports that about 50 students have been freed from a religious school in Karachi, Pakistan - where some were being kept in chains. Reports suggest the male students, some as young as 12, were kept in what amounted to a torture chamber and now two people who ran the madrassah have been arrested.
CHINA EXECUTES 4,000 PEOPLE PER YEAR
A U.S. human rights group says China executes around 4,000 people a year, the most in the world but half the number it did before ordering Supreme Court reviews of all death penalty cases in 2007. The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation said Tuesday that the decline was revealed at a seminar with Chinese officials earlier this month. By comparison, the United States executed 46 people in 2010.
CHINA NIGHTMARE: ANOTHER TODDLER RUN OVER
It's the second incident of a toddler being run over in China in as many months, today's accident has a slightly happier ending. After a mother leaves her daughter in the middle of the road - her daughter is promptly run over by an SUV but survives, unhurt - and gets help from bystanders. The previous incident stoked rage because no one came to the infant's aid.
MYANMAR'S NEW PROBLEM? TOURISM
The country is opening up and showing a kinder face to outsiders - and backpackers and high end travelers alike are clamoring to get on a plane to Myanmar - but the Wall Street Journal warns that the going is still rough. Tourists face bone-crushing roads, dilapidated vehicles, and a shortage of hotel beds during busy parts of the year with no new major hotel developments since the 1990s.
THE YEAR'S TOP STORIES - BROUGHT TO YOU BY LEGO
Who knew Lego had a newsroom? Thanks to Joe SIMONETTI for flagging this from The Guardian. It's their take on the big stories of 2011. Well done, Lego.