Only five weeks away from the end of his presidency, President George Bush made surprise visits on December 14 and 15 to Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Bush's first stop in Iraq was the Iraqi presidential palace in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, where he participated in talks with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. During the talks, Bush said: "The work hasn't been easy but it's been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace." Talabani called Bush "a great friend for the Iraqi people, who helped us liberate our country."
Speaking near the conclusion of the two-week UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland, on December 11, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who will chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the next Congress, predicated more aggressive participation by the Obama administration in global climate-change talks than occurred during the Bush administration. According to Kerry, "It will be like the difference between night and day."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, while flying on December 11 to a regional military base for international forces in Kandahar, Afghanistan, told reporters aboard his plane that the United States intends to send an additional 20,000 troops to Afghanistan over a 12- to 18-month period. The additional forces will increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 58,000. One extra U.S. brigade combat team of approximately 3,500 troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, is already scheduled to deploy south of Kabul in January. Beyond those troops, Reuters news service quoted Gates as saying: “We’re going to try and get two additional brigade combat teams, in response to [U.S. General David McKiernan’s] request, into Afghanistan by summertime.” General McKiernan is NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan.
Sources within the British Ministry of Defence in London revealed on December 9 that British troops will start pulling out of Iraq in March and that by next summer only about 400 British personnel will remain there. Britain currently has 4,100 troops in Iraq, with most stationed at Basra airport, in southern Iraq. Basra, located just 34 miles from the Persian Gulf, is Iraq's main port and is situated amidst the nation's petroleum producing and refining facilities. A smaller number of British forces making up SAS (British Special Forces) anti-terrorism squadrons in Baghdad are expected to be transferred to Afghanistan to join 8,000 British troops currently engaged in the fight against the Taliban.
During a nationwide call-in program called "A Conversation with Vladimir Putin," broadcast live from a Moscow studio on December 4, the Russian prime minister and former president conveyed a positive forecast for U.S.-Russian relations during the impending administration of Barack Obama.
The Swedish welfare state is far from successful when it comes to integrating immigrants into its economy. Among first-generation immigrants from non-industrialized countries, less than half the adults are active in the labor market. Welfare dependency is nine times higher amongst this group compared to the rest of society.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced on December 2 that the alliance has agreed to a "conditional and graduated re-engagement" with Russia. The top NATO official said that talks with Moscow, which were halted when Russia invaded Georgian territory last August, would resume.
On December 1, the Indian government summoned Shahid Malik, Pakistan's high commissioner, to lodge a formal protest over the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. AFP, the French Press Agency, reported that Malik was handed a message concerning his country's alleged "failure to curb terrorism emanating from its soil." The Mumbai attacks left at least 188 dead and nearly 300 wounded. The attacks took place in several locations, including a railway station, a restaurant, a hospital, two hotels, and a Jewish center.
The piracy that has become rampant off the coast of Somalia is reported in the news almost daily, but the recent hijacking of the Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star and its $100 million cargo brought unprecedented attention to the problem. A November 25 article in the British Telegraph newspaper featured an interview with the ship's chief engineer, a Briton, who told a reporter that the ship's crew had been well treated. The article also reported that the Sirius Star "is currently being held in waters off the lawless pirate-infested port of Haradheere, in central Somalia." The article also noted that the pirates, 10 days after the hijacking, had dropped their ransom demand from $25 million to $15 million, confirming that their motives were primarily economic and that — with negotiations bogged down — they would discount their goods to move them.
Three separate bomb blasts killed a total of 19 people in Baghdad during the Monday morning rush hour on November 24, with one attack killing 13 government employees on a bus on their way to work. In the worst of the three incidents, a so-called "sticky bomb" fastened to the side of a bus carrying a group of employees riding to their jobs at the Iraqi Trade Ministry exploded, causing a fire in which four men and nine women perished. Five other victims were treated at a local hospital.