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A year that began with great hope in Iraq took a deadly turn in February, then rattled along until November and December, when a U.S. election sweep and competing voices on what should be done left huge questions for the Middle East.

In Afghanistan, it was a year of transition, as command of the overall military mission passed from the United States to NATO.

Before the year began, 2006 had been dubbed the “Year of the Police,” in which American trainers were to focus on bringing the Iraqi police forces up to speed. Officials had talked about a troop reduction in the second half of the year.

But when insurgents bombed a Shiite shrine in Samarra in late February, everything changed. The news became dominated by horrific sectarian violence and increasing attacks against American troops.

Some notable events:

Jan. 5: More than 130 Iraqis and seven U.S. soldiers are killed in suicide bomb attacks and combat on one of the deadliest single days since the war began.

Jan. 6: The New York Times reports that a classified Pentagon medical study revealed that as many as 80 percent of the Marines who died of torso wounds in Iraq could have been saved if they had better body armor. Marine Corps officials say the newspaper took the study’s conclusions out of context. Side armor and other additions are widely distributed.

Jan. 20: Preliminary election results from the Dec. 15 Iraqi parliamentary elections are announced. The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance captures 128 of the 275 parliamentary seats but falls short of the two-thirds majority it needs to rule without a coalition. Eleven other parties win seats in the election. Weeks of negotiations ensue as the parties vie to name a prime minister.

Jan. 23: A report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction finds evidence of fraud and mismanagement.

Feb. 12: The Shiite-led coalition picks Ibrahim al-Jaafari to head the first full-term government since Saddam’s ouster. Months of political intrigue follow as Jaafari fights to keep his interim title.

Feb. 15: A Senate report finds the U.S. spent $16 billion on reconstruction in Iraq, but electrical generation, sewage service and water production lag below prewar levels.

Feb. 22: Insurgents detonate bombs inside the Askariya shrine in Samarra, touching off huge reprisal attacks.

Feb. 28: Canadian Brig. Gen. David Fraser takes command of coalition troops in southern Afghanistan from U.S. Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry.

March 15: Saddam Hussein testifies for the first time in his trial on charges of crimes against humanity.

March 16: American and Iraqi military forces launch Operation Swarmer, targeting insurgent strongholds near Samarra. It is the largest air assault mission of the war.

March 16: Time magazine reports that a criminal investigation into the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Iraq, is under way. The military originally said many of the civilians were killed by an insurgent bomb.

March 29: Abdul Rahman, who was sentenced to death in Afghanistan after converting to Christianity, is granted asylum in Italy.

March 30: U.S. journalist Jill Carroll is freed, 82 days after being kidnapped in Baghdad.

April 4: A second case is filed in Iraqi court against Saddam Hussein, this time on charges of genocide, for wiping out thousands of Iraqi Kurdish villagers in 1998.

April 22: Nouri al-Maliki, from one of the leading Shiite parties, is elected by parliament as prime minister.

April 30: Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general, is pursuing 72 separate investigations into alleged corruption by reconstruction firms.

May 6: Some 1,300 Iraqi and American troops launch Operation United Front, which sweeps through the Ameriyah district of Baghdad. Numerous weapons caches and insurgents are seized.

May 29: Violent riots break out in Kabul, Afghanistan, after an accident involving a U.S. military truck and civilian vehicles.

May 31: The military announces it has brought into Iraq some 1,500 soldiers of the 1st Armored Division. The troops had been in Kuwait since November 2005 as a “call forward force.”

June 7: Al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is killed when Air Force F-16s bomb a safehouse near Baqouba. Zarqawi was blamed for some of the most brutal attacks on military and civilian targets since the war began. His death is hailed as a major victory for the American military and fledgling Iraqi government.

June 14: Nouri al-Maliki announces the launch of Operation Together Forward, a plan to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad. The plan is to put some 70,000 extra U.S. and Iraqi forces on the streets of Baghdad.

June 20: The booby-trapped and mutilated bodies of Pfcs. Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker are recovered near Yusafiyah, four days after they were seized in an attack near a checkpoint. A third soldier, Spc. David J. Babineau, was killed in the attack.

July 3: Former soldier Steven D. Green is charged in a U.S. federal court of raping and murdering an Iraqi girl in Mahmudiyah before murdering her family and burning the bodies. Four other soldiers are charged in a military court of rape and murder on July 8.

July 11: The Army announces it is discontinuing its multibillion-dollar deal with Halliburton, responsible for contract services in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

July 13: Muthanna province in Iraq becomes the first to be handed over for full security responsibility by Iraqi forces. Gen. George Casey, commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, hails the transfer as an historic event and an important milestone.

July 15: Coalition forces kick off a huge offensive in Helmand province, Afghanistan. U.S. forces push down from the north as Canadian and British soldiers push up from the south.

July 27: The first trial of Saddam Hussein ends after nine months.

July 27: The military command in Baghdad says it will extend the deployment of the 172nd Stryker Brigade and move it from Mosul to Baghdad, as part of Operation Together Forward.

July 31: NATO assumes command of coalition military units in southern Afghanistan, marking the “most dangerous and challenging” mission in NATO’s 57-year history.

Aug. 3: Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, says sectarian violence in Iraq could deteriorate into civil war.

Aug. 30: Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. general in Iraq, estimated that Iraqi security forces would need another 12 to 18 months before they could take over from American troops.

Sept. 3: U.S. and Iraqi troops capture a senior leader of the al-Qaida in Iraq. Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al Saeedi is alleged to have masterminded the shrine bombing in February.

Sept. 3: U.S. Marine Gen. James L. Jones, NATO’s supreme allied commander, asks for more equipment and troops against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. The request continues to go largely unfilled by year’s end.

Sept. 4: Two U.S. military aircraft accidentally fire on a Canadian platoon operating in southern Afghanistan, killing one soldier.

Oct. 5: The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force takes command in the east of Afghanistan, completing its command of all forces throughout the country.

Oct. 19: Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top U.S. spokesman in Iraq, says Operation Together Forward has not reduced levels of violence.

Nov. 3: Newspapers report a last-minute insertion into the military authorization bill signed by President Bush will shut down the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction in 2007. The office reported millions of dollars in waste, corruption and poor project oversight.

Nov. 5: Saddam Hussein is convicted by an Iraqi court of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death for the execution of 148 men and boys in the Shiite town of Dujail.

Nov. 8: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigns. His final day at the Pentagon is Dec. 15.

Nov. 23: Car bombs kill at least 161 people and injure 257 in Baghdad’s Sadr City.

Nov. 26: The Iraq war now equals the length of the U.S. involvement in World War II.

Dec. 6: The Iraq Study Group recommends U.S. talk with Syria and Iran, focus on training Iraqi troops and scale down its presence drastically in 2007.

Dec. 19: Bush says of the war in Iraq: “We’re not winning, we’re not losing.”

Dec. 21: Eight Marines are charged in the slaying of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq.

Dec. 25: The deaths of six U.S. servicemembers in recent days push the Iraq war’s death toll beyond the number of victims in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Dec. 26: An Iraqi appeals court upholds Saddam Hussein’s death sentence in the Dujail case. He is executed on Dec. 30.

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