IRAQ: THE WAR ENDS
-BIG PICTURE…Down came the flag. The bags were packed. The Secretary of Defense - who flew in for the ceremony - said: "To be sure, the cost was high - in blood and treasure for the United States, and for the Iraqi people. Those lives were not lost in vain - they gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq." And Martha RADDATZ - veteran herself of twenty tours of wartime Iraq - reports that after nearly nine years, 4,487 US deaths, 32,226 wounded and $712 billion spent, U.S. officials formally marked the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq by casing the U.S. military flag in Baghdad.
-THE CEREMONY…Panetta told the Iraqis, "your dream of an independent and sovereign Iraq is now a reality." Mike GUDGELL adds that the last U.S. military unit in Baghdad provided security for the ceremony. It was their last mission and possibly the last of the conflict. There were Apache attack helicopters providing air cover and the constant drone of helicopters and aircraft is largely gone. More from RADDATZ: "After this ceremony, the U.S. headquarters no longer exists. A momentous day…" Martha was the lone reporter to fly to and from the ceremony with the last American commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin, and U.S. Ambassador Jim Jeffrey. Martha reminds us that Austin was part of the invading force eight and a half years ago - and then part of the so-called surge. Today Austin was the man who closed the door on the war. Also in attendance today, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey - who also deployed twice to Iraq - with the first troops in and then to lead the training of Iraqi forces.
-THE LONG ROAD HOME…4,000 troops remain - they're packing up, and heading south. We have followed soldiers from southern Iraq all the way back to Fort Hood and Fot Bliss.
-THE IRAQIS…Nick SCHIFRIN has been reporting on the Iraqis' reaction to the pullout. A female architect at a construction expo in Baghdad insists Iraqi security forces can protect the country - and that it's a good thing the US is leaving; a taxi driver and an aspiring actor/director whose family struggled at the height of the war - recalls that as a result of the war, his children have learned to differentiate between a mortar and an IED. Overall - Iraqis seem proud to be free of the U.S. presence, though also anxious about the nation's ability to keep a fragile peace.
VIETNAM: HANOI TOWERS FIRE
A massive fire broke out in a pair of skyscrapers in the Vietnamese capital. The buildings are home to a Center for Telecommunications. There are reports of people trapped - as many as 20 on the top floor. The towers are 33 storeys high. According to a Vietnamese online news service. The fire is out. Only ONE building was on fire. All people trapped in the Towers were rescued; 15 people injured. An electrical fire appears to have started in the basement and believed to be the cause. The building is under construction.
CHINA: VILLAGE IN REBELLION
As Karson YIU reports, a tense standoff between villagers and local authorities is continuing in southern China's Guangdong province. The BBC's Martin Patience reports from Wukan that both police and villagers have set up checkpoints around the village today. The BBC also notes that China's internet censors have blocked searches relating to the village of Wukan.
SYRIA: "SHOOT TO KILL"?
Alex MARQUARDT flags the Human Rights Watch report which names 74 commanders and military and intelligence officials who it says "ordered, authorized, or condoned widespread killings, torture, and unlawful arrests" during the country's uprising. This mirrors a general charge made in a U.N. report last month. The rights group urged the U.N. Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court and impose sanctions against officials implicated in the report. MARQUARDT also adds that there are unconfirmed reports of twenty-seven soldiers and security forces killed early this morning in three attacks around Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. That would make it one of the deadliest attacks against security forces by the opposition. (Note: Alex MARQUARDT was in Deraa last week - has plenty of material)
PUTIN Q AND A
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held his annual question and answer session with the Russian public, amid protests over his rule and election fraud. It didn't disappoint. Putin said the United States wants to dominate other countries and that the world is tired of taking orders from Washington. "Sometimes it seems to me that America does not need allies, it needs vassals," Putin said. He said that Russia would like to be an ally of the United States but that "people are tired of the dictates of one country." The Guardian's live blog notes that Putin thought the protesters' white ribbons were condoms - and calls John McCain "crazy," adding: "I think he has blood of innocent people on his hands. He took part in Vietnam War." The call center doing the Q and A has received over 1.5 million calls.
MADE IN JAPAN, GOOD FOR AMERICAN JOBS
USA Today reports that more than 407,000 jobs in the U.S. can be traced to Japanese automakers and their dealers, reports the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association. And nowadays, Japanese makers are producing most of the cars they sell in America in North America - 68% altogether.
CHINA IMPOSING NEW, HEAVY TARIFFS ON U.S. VEHICLES
Speaking of cars, China has imposed new tariffs on U.S vehicles, increasing trade tensions with the Obama administration. The new tariffs on SUVs, midsized and large American cars add more than 20% to import prices.
PRESIDENT ZARDARI OUT OF HOSPITAL
The Associated Press of Pakistan reports President Zardari was discharged from the hospital in Dubai Wednesday night and moved to his residence in Dubai where he is recuperating it is unclear when he will head back to Islamabad. Reports have been all over the map as to what exactly ailed the Pakistani leader - there were many who said he had suffered a minor stroke.
GADHAFI'S DAUGHTER DEMANDS PROBE INTO FATHER'S DEATH
Moammar Gadhafi's daughter has asked the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) whether an investigation has been launched into the killing of her father and brother Motassim, and if not, why not. The family requested the inquiry almost immediately after seeing those grisly pictures of the Libyan leader's final hours.
ITALIAN TRADE UNIONS TO STRIKE
Three Italian trade unions are protesting austerity measures today, just as Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti calls for a confidence vote on the austerity package set for Friday.
JACQUES CHIRAC GUILTY
A French court has found former President Jacques Chirac guilty of embezzling public funds, creating false job contracts and misusing public funds while he was the mayor of Paris. The AFP reports that Chirac is unlikely to face prison time.
SWEDEN IN SHOCK AS 10-YEAR-OLD ADMITS STRANGLING 4-YEAR-OLD BOY TO DEATH
The Times of London reports that a ten-year-old boy has confessed to killing a four-year-old by strangling him with a skipping rope after an argument. The boy's confession came after a 59-day investigation into the playground killing in the southern village of Ljungby which has transfixed Sweden.
GLOBAL HEALTH: PAKISTAN'S POPULATION SURGING, BUT BIRTH CONTROL IS A TOUGH SELL
The Washington Post has a compelling read out today about the ongoing struggle over birth control in Pakistan. Some public and private agencies in Pakistan are advocating contraception to curb the country's surging population - but today, just one in five Pakistani women ages 15 to 49 uses modern birth control. Contraception is shunned under traditional social mores that are fiercely defended as fundamentalist Islam gains strength. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani: "Do we want to become the fifth-largest nation with large segments of the population falling below the poverty line who are uneducated and unhealthy?"
BOOTLEG LIQUOR KILLS 107 IN INDIAN VILLAGE
The Times of India reports that a tainted batch of bootleg liquor has killed 107 people and sent 50 more to the hospital in the West Bengal region of India. Most of the dead were poor laborers, rickshaw-pullers and hawkers, who fell ill after consuming the liquor laced with toxic methanol.
RARE - AND TINY - BRONTE BOOK FETCHES $1M
From Joe SIMONETTI: It was written by the Jane Eyre author when she was 14 years old. It measures only 1 ½ x 2 ½ inches (so small you need a magnifying glass to read it). It's an unpublished second issue titled Young Men's Magazine and was sold at Sotheby's to Musee des Lettres in Paris for more than $1 million.
NEW ZEALAND SEAL NAMED "LUCKY" WANDERS INTO HOME
Another cute animal story from New Zealand. A baby seal that's been named "Lucky" (because he managed to cross a busy road, climbed a flight of stairs, through a cat flap, then onto a sofa for a nap) surprising the homeowner. The seal has since been returned to the sea. Checking for access to video (although it appears to have aired on a non ABC partner. There were still photos)