As 2003 wound down, Saddam Hussein crawled from a hole into the hands of American soldiers, but his homeland remained unsettled amid attacks by anti-occupation insurgents and the daunting needs of rebuilding after sanctions and three devastating wars.
Not all was grim. India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed neighbors at loggerheads for five decades, took tentative steps toward peace. Truces calmed civil wars in several African countries and Sri Lanka, and South Africa finally signed on for a concerted war on AIDS.
But diplomats made little headway in solving the faceoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and a frightening new disease, SARS, appeared. South America began 2003 with a new batch of populist leaders promising better times, but life got no better for the continent's poor.
Despite the capture of Saddam, the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq faces daunting challenges. The economy remains hobbled, with unemployment around 60 percent. While electricity production is near or above prewar levels, oil output, the key to revival, lags due to deteriorated equipment and sabotage.
As insurgents waged guerrilla war, the U.S.-led occupation authority took steps to transfer sovereignty to a transitional Iraqi government by next July. According to a plan announced Nov. 15, that would be followed within 18 months by a new constitution and a government elected by Iraqis.
Islamic extremists added Iraq as a new rallying cry in their campaign against American and other Western influences. Terror bombings blamed on Muslims hit around the globe - killing 45 in Casablanca, Morocco, in May; 14 in Jakarta, Indonesia, in August; and 62 on two days in Istanbul, Turkey, in November.
Osama bin Laden remained at large while U.S. and NATO troops fought a reviving Taliban in Afghanistan. As the year closed, Afghan leaders opened a constitutional convention, looking ahead to elections planned next year.
In May, the United States and others presented a "road map" for bringing peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it wasn't implemented and the continuing violence joined the Iraq war in poisoning the atmosphere across the Middle East.
As public anger ebbed in Europe after Saddam's ouster, France and Germany sought to repair ties with Washington after leading the opposition to attacking Iraq, but bitterness lingered. Britain, Spain, Italy and Poland were among those siding with the Americans, providing troops for either the war or the occupation.
European governments also split over efforts to create a stronger, more united European Union that could emerge as a rival of the United States.
Smaller nations' suspicions of German and French dominance in the EU was a factor in the mid-December collapse of efforts to produce the bloc's first constitution as it expands from 15 to 25 nations in 2004. Other states worried about the possibility of a federal superstate that would eclipse national governments and rights.
Britain's troubles with Northern Ireland persisted as the much-heralded accord of 1998 stalled and hard-line parties on both sides made handsome election gains.
After nearly going to war two years ago, India and Pakistan turned to easing tensions in 2003. Border crossings were reopened, train and air links are expected to resume and the two sides are talking about scaling back military forces along the frontier.
In Sri Lanka, off India's southern tip, the government and ethnic Tamil rebels agreed last spring on a truce in the island's 20-year-old civil war, but peace negotiations have stalled.
An international effort to get North Korea to shut down its nuclear program made little progress, although diplomats hope to convene a new round of talks, perhaps as early as mid-January.
In its first full year under President Hu Jintao, China pressed ahead with its ambitious economic transformation. But it also was the birthplace of SARS, the respiratory disease which threw a scare around the world last winter and looms as a worry for this winter.
After years of international pressure, South Africa's government finally approved a plan to provide free AIDS treatment by 2005. It was the first ray of hope for 5.3 million South Africans infected with HIV.
Africans found ways to quiet civil wars in Liberia, Sudan and Congo, conflicts that had killed more than 5 million people. In Ivory Coast, once West Africa's most stable nation, the government and northern rebels plunged into war, then agreed on power-sharing, but at year's end southerners appeared bent on reopening the fight.
The year also saw the world paying more attention to Africa as a source of oil to lessen dependence on the Middle East. American, European and Chinese companies rushed to get in on an oil boom in West Africa, which analysts predicted would provide a quarter of U.S. oil needs by 2015.
Most economies remained in a slump across Latin America, feeding widespread discontent and even violence.
Rioting drove Bolivia's president from office in October, but Venezuela's populist leader weathered a year of huge demonstrations demanding his resignation. The presidents of Ecuador and Peru also saw their popularity plunge when they couldn't dent joblessness.
Argentina was a bright spot, showing its first economic growth since it plunged into a recession in 1998 that touched off years of political turmoil and unrest in the streets.
Colombia, historically South America's most volatile nation, also showed signs of stability as the government stepped up its war on two leftist rebel groups and negotiated the demobilization of right-wing paramilitary groups that emerged in the 1980s.