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Monday, December 29, 2003
The "major combat" phase was over in six weeks, but the war in Iraq — from its tumultuous prelude to a still-active insurgency — was in the global spotlight throughout the year.
By an overwhelming margin, the U.S.-led invasion and occupation were voted the top story of 2003 in The Associated Press' annual survey of American editors and news directors. Even with voting ending the day before Saddam Hussein's capture, the Iraq story received first-place votes from 280 of the 287 AP newspaper and broadcast members who cast ballots.
The clear runner-up, with five first-place votes and most of the second-place votes, was the Columbia space-shuttle disaster, the explosion that killed seven astronauts during their descent Feb. 1.
This marked the second straight year that Iraq was judged the dominant story — the threat of war and demands for disarmament directed at Saddam ranked No. 1 in the poll for 2002.
Here are 2003's top 10 stories, as voted by AP members:
War in Iraq After months of ultimatums and military buildup, President Bush announced the start of the war against Iraq on March 19. U.S. and British forces quickly seized huge swaths of territory, and by April 7 much of Baghdad was overtaken. Bush declared major combat over on May 1, but shadowy insurgents killed more than 200 coalition soldiers in the often difficult occupation that followed. Saddam was captured Dec. 13.
Columbia disaster The shuttle crew's 16-day research mission ended 16 minutes short of touchdown on Feb. 1 when Columbia disintegrated into fiery debris over Texas. Investigators later said the cause was a chunk of foam insulation that broke off the fuel tank and pierced the left wing on launch day.
California recall Initially, it seemed a long shot perhaps suited to a Hollywood script. But Californians defied expectations by signing enough petitions to set up an attempt to recall unpopular Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, then — after a unique, 135-candidate race — ousted Davis on Oct. 7 and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born bodybuilder turned action-film star.
SARS The first unsettling reports emerged from Asia in February of a new, unnamed disease. Within a few weeks, SARS was a household name. Cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome spread to more than 25 countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. About 8,000 people were infected; roughly 780 died, though health experts generally were pleased with efforts to control the outbreak.
Northeast blackout A computer malfunctioned at an Ohio utility Aug. 14, and North America's worst-ever blackout swiftly spread through eight states and part of Canada. Millions of people lost power, including all of New York City, Cleveland and Detroit.
Improving economy After a couple of trying years, the U.S. economy showed signs of revival — the Dow Jones industrials closed above 10,000 for the first time in 18 months; the third-quarter growth rate was 8.2 percent, the best performance in 19 years. But there was little headway in restoring more than 2 million lost manufacturing jobs, and projections of a record federal deficit kept rising through the year, to $500 billion.
California wildfires Raging wildfires across much of Southern California killed 22 people, scorched nearly 1 million acres and destroyed 4,800 homes and other buildings in October and early November — the most damaging wave of fires in state history.
Bush tax cut In May, Congress handed Bush a major victory by approving $330 billion in tax cuts through 2013 — the third-largest tax cut in history. The measure passed by only one vote in the Senate, after Republican leaders prodded some of their hesitant colleagues.
Elizabeth Smart Nine months after she was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart was found in March in a nearby suburb in the company of a homeless couple who now face kidnapping and sexual-assault charges. By autumn, Elizabeth was back in school — and the subject of a made-for-TV movie.
Democrat campaign The field grew steadily to 10, then dropped back to nine, but poll leader Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, became the focal point of the race for the party's presidential nomination. He won the endorsement of former Vice President Al Gore and became the target of choice for his Democratic rivals in debates and testy TV ads.
David Crary, The Associated Press
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