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Casualties are down: Deaths of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians dropped sharply last month to their lowest levels in more than a year, according to Iraqi government and independent sources. The sources differ on the exact numbers, but most agree that civilian deaths dropped nearly by half in September compared with August, from about 2,000 to 1,100. Sixty-six U.S. troops were killed in September, the lowest number since August 2006. The Pentagon credited the troop surge with reducing the levels of violence. “The casualty figures are still too high,” Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox said, but “the trend is in the right direction.” Military officials also said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s recent appeal to Iran to stop funneling weapons to Shiite insurgents could also be bearing fruit. While U.S. deaths are down for the month, they were still far higher in the first nine months of 2007 than in the same period of any year since the war began. So far this year, at least 801 Americans have died in Iraq.

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Darfur, Sudan

Peacekeepers attacked: Rebel groups in Darfur attacked African Union peacekeepers this week, killing at least 11 and wounding dozens. It was the deadliest attack yet on the peacekeepers, who were deployed in 2004 with the blessing of the Sudanese government. Many rebels believe the peacekeepers are sympathetic to the government-backed Janjaweed militias, who drove some 2 million Darfur residents from their homes. U.N. officials said the attack highlights the need for the stronger, joint African Union­–United Nations force that is due in a few months. “We shouldn’t be deflected by this from what we are trying to do,” said John Holmes, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, “or from pressing ahead with the talks process.” The conflict in Darfur has killed some 200,000 people since 2003.

Kampala, Uganda

Plastic ban: A nationwide ban on the import and use of plastic bags has gone into effect in Uganda. Plastic bags litter the landscape, clogging landfills and choking wildlife. To combat the problem, a new law imposes a jail term of three years or a fine of up to $20,000 for anyone caught selling plastic bags. A similar ban has been announced in neighboring Kenya, but the government there is giving shop owners until next January to use up their existing stock.

Islamabad, Pakistan

Pressuring Musharraf: Opposition members of the Parliament resigned en masse this week to protest President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to run for re-election while still serving as chief of the army. Musharraf has promised to relinquish his uniform after he is re-elected. But more than 80 opposition MPs, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, say that’s not good enough. They hope that their absence from Parliament, which along with provincial legislatures elects the president, will tarnish the legitimacy of the vote, scheduled for later this month. Meanwhile, Musharraf agreed to drop corruption charges against former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, paving the way for her return from exile.

Pyongyang, North Korea

Korean leaders meet: South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun strode across the militarized border into North Korea this week for a historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. It was only the second time since the Korean War in the early 1950s—which never officially ended—that the two countries’ leaders have met. During the first meeting, in 2000, Kim was all smiles, and it later emerged that South Korea had paid large sums in aid to get him to agree to the summit. But this week, a year after his country provoked world outrage by exploding a nuclear bomb, Kim was decidedly downbeat. Even “his signature bouffant hairdo” appeared “less buoyant than in years past,” said The Washington Post. Details of what, if any, agreements the two leaders made were not immediately available.

Mashhad, Iran

Welcome, Bush: In mocking reciprocation for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent speech at Columbia University in New York, a leading Iranian university has invited President Bush to speak on its campus. The dean of Ferdowsi University, in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, said Bush should visit to answer questions about human rights and terrorism. The White House did not take the bait. “If Iran was a free and democratic society that allowed its people freedom of expression, and wasn’t pursuing nuclear weapons, and wasn’t advocating to destroy the country of Israel, the president might consider that invitation,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “But I think that we’re not taking it too seriously.”

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