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Another Iraqi province was returned to government forces Wednesday by the US military, the second in less than a week. Wasit, on the border with Iran, becomes the 13th of 18 provinces for which Iraq's troops and police now have responsibility for maintaining order. National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said two northern provinces, Kirkuk and Salahuddin, also would be turned over "within weeks."

Casualty figures were rising by the hour Wednesday after a powerful early morning earthquake struck southwestern Pakistan. Authorities said at least 175 people had been found dead, with the injured numbering in the hundreds. An estimated 15,000 others were left homeless after the 6.4-magnitude quake leveled their villages in Baluchistan Province. Strong aftershocks were felt throughout the day. The temblor was Pakistan's strongest in three years. In October 2005, a 7.6-magnitude quake killed an estimated 73,000 people.

Witnesses reported seeing Congolese government soldiers forcibly seizing private cars Wednesday in their haste to flee the eastern provincial capital of Goma. Fighters loyal to rebel Gen. Laurent Nkunda, who has threatened to take the city, could be heard attacking targets less than six miles away with rockets and mortars, causing thinly stretched UN peacekeeping troops to retreat. The government claimed the rebels were being aided by troops from neighboring Rwanda, but the latter denied that.


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