The headlines in 2006 were marked by death, scandal and politics: 12 die in Sago Mine disaster. Former Enron executives guilty. Death sentence for Saddam Hussein. Iraq insurgent al-Zarqawi killed. War in Lebanon. Nuclear saber-rattling in Iran, North Korea. "Crocodile Hunter" killed. Former Beatle in divorce battle. Trans-Atlantic terror plot foiled. Ex-Russian spy poisoned. Megachurch preacher in sex scandal. Democrats win midterms.
Use the links below or to the right to look back at some of the top stories from the past 12 months. And cast your vote for the top story of 2006.
Sago Mine disaster
Joy turned to sorrow in three short hours for relatives of a dozen men trapped in the Sago Mine in West Virginia. Just before midnight January 4, miners' families thought the men had survived their ordeal. One miner was rushed to a hospital as church bells rang in celebration for their survival. But by 3 a.m. January 5, a mine official said there had been a tragic "miscommunication," and that the other 12 were dead after 41 hours underground.
• Grief, anger as all but one miner found dead | Gallery | Audio slide show
• Miner's final note: 'Tell all I'll see them on the other side'
• Sole Sago Mine survivor heads for Miracle Road
Hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in more than 140 cities in at least 39 states, demanding that the nation's estimated 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants get a chance to live the American dream. In Washington, the House and Senate passed vastly different versions of immigration reform, but a comprehensive bill proved elusive before the November midterms. Instead, Congress approved a 700-mile fence along one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border, which Bush signed into law 12 days before the election.
• Rallies call for illegal immigrant rights | Gallery | Interactive
• Bush OKs 700-mile border fence | Map
Paul McCartney and Heather Mills said they were separating after four years of marriage. Mills, who has a young daughter with McCartney, was expected to claim a large share of the former Beatle's fortune. Newspapers published alleged court documents claiming McCartney mistreated Mills; Sir Paul vowed to "vigorously" defend himself. Elsewhere, Britney Spears and Kevin Federline split up, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt went to Namibia to have their baby, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had a child and got married, and Madonna sparked controversy by adopting a Malawian baby.
• McCartney and wife to separate | McCartneys set for 'battle royal'
• Alleged court filings: McCartney mistreated wife
After four years of investigations, 16 weeks of testimony and six days of jury deliberations, Enron former Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling and founder Kenneth Lay were found guilty of conspiracy and fraud. The former executives were convicted of misleading the public about the financial health of Enron, whose 2001 collapse symbolized a wave of corporate fraud that swept the country. Lay, 64, died of coronary disease on July 5 while awaiting sentencing. Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in prison on October 23.
• CNNMoney: Lay and Skilling's day of reckoning | Special report
• CNNMoney: Enron founder Ken Lay dies | Skilling gets 24 years
Two 500-pound bombs ended the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most-wanted insurgent in Iraq. Acting on a maze of intelligence and tips, the military targeted a "safe house" north of Baquba in which the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was staying. Air Force F-16 warplanes launched the bombs, reducing the house to rubble. A Jordanian-born Sunni militant with a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, al-Zarqawi was believed to have the blood of thousands on his hands as leader of the group behind numerous beheadings, assassinations and bombings.
• U.S. military: Al-Zarqawi was alive after bombing | Gallery
• Airstrike ends weeks of hunting for al-Zarqawi
• Al-Zarqawi death seen as one victory in long war
World Cup final
Italy won a penalty shootout 5-3 to lift the World Cup for the fourth time after Zinedine Zidane was sensationally sent off for head-butting Marco Materazzi. The French captain was shown the red card in the final match of his career near the end of the final, which was tied 1-1 after extra time. A few months later, Materazzi broke his silence, telling Gazzetta dello Sport it was a remark he made about Zidane's sister that provoked the incident. Materazzi said that when Zidane offered to give him his France jersey in response to persistent shirt-tugging by the Italian, he had replied: "I would prefer your sister."
• SI.com: France's Zidane wins Golden Ball | Special report
• SI.com: World Cup Blog: The bitter end
• Zidane sees red as Italy win Cup | World Cup 2006
Mumbai train blasts
A series of seven explosions killed at least 186 people and wounded about 700 others on crowded commuter trains and stations during evening rush hour in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai. India has accused Pakistan's intelligence agency and a Pakistan-based Islamist militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, of involvement, but Pakistan and the group have denied any links. In November, Indian police charged more than two dozen people in connection with the attack, including 13 in custody.
• At least 174 killed in Indian train blasts | Gallery
• On the scene: People were hanging from the train
• World reacts to Mumbai blasts | Special report
Israel launched a series of bombing raids into Lebanon after Hezbollah forces crossed into Israel, killing three soldiers and abducting two more, a move the Israeli prime minister called an "act of war." A month later, a cease-fire took effect, and displaced civilians began returning home. About a million people on each side of the border were displaced, officials said. The conflict left 908 dead and 3,877 wounded in Lebanon, and 159 dead and more than 1,000 wounded in Israel, authorities in the two countries said.
• Israel authorizes 'severe' response to abductions | Special report
• Lebanon truce holds despite clashes | Interactive: Mideast conflict timeline
An outbreak of E. coli bacteria in spinach killed at least three people and sickened 199 others in 26 states. An elderly Nebraska woman, a Wisconsin adult and a 2-year-old Idaho boy died in the outbreak, which was found to originate in spinach grown in three California counties. Federal officials said they determined that the first illness happened August 2, and recommended that consumers steer clear of any raw spinach. Across the country, the leafy green disappeared from grocery shelves and salad bars as producers recalled shipments.
• E. coli spinach scare increases to 21 states
• Spinach fields combed in search for E. coli clues
• 3rd death linked to E. coli outbreak from tainted spinach
Trans-Atlantic plot foiled
Terrorists were in the "final stages" of a plot to simultaneously blow up as many as 10 jets leaving Britain for the United States when British and Pakistani authorities teamed up to thwart the attacks, officials said. It was believed the plotters planned to mix a sports drink with a gel-like substance to make a potent explosive that could be ignited with an MP3 player or cell phone. News of the plot created travel chaos, as flights were canceled and passengers were forbidden from bringing liquids on board.
• Plane plot involved 'explosive cocktail,' official says
• Agent infiltrated terror cell, U.S. says | Travel chaos as flights canceled
• Police: Plot to blow up aircraft foiled | Gallery
JonBenet Ramsey arrest
John Mark Karr was arrested in Thailand in connection with the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, a 6-year-old beauty pageant contestant whose beaten and strangled body was found in the basement of her family's Colorado home 10 years ago. Karr, 41, told reporters he was with JonBenet the night she died and that her death was an accident. Karr was extradited to Colorado, but his admission only deepened speculation about whether the soft-spoken schoolteacher committed the crime. Almost two weeks later, officials abandoned their case against Karr after DNA tests failed to link him to the case.
• Suspect arrested in JonBenet case | Gallery | Timeline | Questions
• No DNA match, no JonBenet charges | Special report
• Karr: 'I've never harmed a child' | Patsy Ramsey dies
Iran nuclear standoff
Iran defied a United Nations deadline calling for the Islamic republic to halt its nuclear activities or face sanctions. Tehran insists its program is for peaceful purposes only, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed not to give in to Western interests. But the Bush administration suspects Iran is using its nuclear program to develop weapons, and President Bush has called for worldwide isolation of Iran until it "gives up its nuclear ambitions." China and Russia -- both veto-wielding members of the Security Council -- have been reluctant to sanction Iran, and Moscow proceeded with arms deals with Tehran.
• U.N.: Sanctions loom, Iran keeps enriching
• Iran seeking to become Mideast superpower
• Archive: Iran disregards U.N. deadline
'Crocodile Hunter' killed
Steve Irwin, the enthusiastic "Crocodile Hunter" who enthralled audiences around the world with his wildlife adventures, was killed by a stingray barb that pierced his chest while he was shooting a TV program on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia. Irwin, 44, is survived by his wife, Terri, and their two children, Bindi Sue and Robert. "The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet," Irwin's manager and friend John Stainton told reporters. "He died doing what he loved best."
• 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin dead | Thousands mourn 'Crocodile Hunter' | Gallery
Amish school shooting
A heavily armed truck driver barricaded himself in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, killing five girls execution-style before killing himself, police said. The killer told his wife he had molested children 20 years ago and was dreaming about doing it again. He brought lubricant to the schoolhouse, but there was no evidence the victims were sexually assaulted. It was the nation's third deadly school shooting in a week. In Colorado, a 53-year-old man sexually assaulted hostages before killing a 16-year-old student and then himself. And a high school student in Wisconsin was suspected of killing his principal after being disciplined for carrying tobacco.
• Fifth girl dies after Amish school shooting | Gallery
• Police: School killer told wife he molested family members
• Slain Amish girls laid to rest | Interactive
North Korea nuclear test
North Korea's official news agency reported the country had performed a successful underground nuclear test. Five days later, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on North Korea as punishment for the test. North Korea rejected the resolution and walked out of the Security Council chamber. The test came three months after North Korea test-fired six missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 rocket believed capable of reaching the western United States. The Taepodong rocket failed after 40 seconds, but the United States denounced the tests as "provocative."
• U.S. calls for sanctions against North Korea | Timeline
• North Korean test 'went wrong,' U.S. official says | Special report
• Archive: Fears of an arms race chain reaction
Yankee's plane crash
New York Yankees' pitcher Cory Lidle was killed when his plane crashed into a Manhattan high-rise and burst into flames. The National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report said a slight wind and a tight turning radius were factors in the crash, which also killed flight instructor Tyler Stanger. Investigators have not determined who was flying the plane at the time of the accident. One resident of the apartment building was seriously burned when the plane crashed into her apartment on 30th floor. Lidle had just finished the 2006 season with a 12-10 record.
• Yankees pitcher killed in crash of small plane | Gallery | Map
• A pitcher's passion for flying held his tragic fate | Tributes pour in for pitcher Lidle
Megachurch preacher scandal
The Rev. Ted Haggard was forced to resign as leader of the Colorado megachurch he started more than 20 years ago after its investigative board said he was guilty of "sexually immoral conduct." In a letter to members of his New Life Church, Haggard admitted to "sexual immorality" and called himself "a deceiver and a liar." He also admitted to buying methamphetamine. The scandal became public when Mike Jones, a former prostitute, told reporters Haggard paid him for sex over three years. Jones said he spoke out because of Haggard's support for a state amendment banning same-sex marriage.
• Church forces out Haggard for 'sexually immoral conduct' | Reaction
• Evangelical confesses to 'sexual immorality' in letter | Gallery
• Haggard's 'restoration' won't come easy
Saddam Hussein verdict
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and two other defendants were sentenced to death by hanging for a brutal 1982 crackdown in the Shiite town of Dujail. Hussein was executed December 30 and was buried the next day in the same cemetery as his sons, who were killed in a 2003 firefight with U.S. forces. Since Hussein was toppled as Iraq's leader, the country has been plagued by insurgent and sectarian violence, and some are calling it a civil war. A December report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group called the situation "grave and deteriorating" and recommended changes in U.S. policy.
• Iraqis react to Hussein death sentence | Gallery | Audio slide show
• Witness: Saddam Hussein argued with guards moments before death | Obituary
• Special report: Saddam Hussein Execution | Iraq in Transition
Democrats win midterms
Democrats took control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in a dozen years in the 2006 U.S. midterm elections, and President Bush and top Democrats quickly promised to get along despite a rancorous campaign. The election results were seen as a referendum on Bush, the war in Iraq and congressional scandals. The day after the vote, Bush announced that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would be stepping down by the end of the year.
• Democrats win House, promise new direction | Special report
• Bush, Dems promise cooperation as Senate shifts | Exit polls
• Archive: Bush extends olive branch
Ex-Russian spy poisoned
Former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko died in a London hospital on November 23; large doses of polonium-210 were found in his body. Litvinenko, 43, was a longtime critic of the Russian government, which he blamed for his sudden, fatal illness. Russian authorities denied any role. Traces of the radioactive material have been found at Litvinenko's home, places he ate and where he held meetings just before falling ill, authorities say. Traces also were reported on British Airways planes, a London soccer stadium and the British Embassy in Moscow. British police said they are treating the death as a murder.
• Russian former spy dies | Police: Spy death now murder probe
• Spy's widow points finger at Russia | Timeline