U.S. says al-Qaida still able to attack




BAGHDAD &

The top U.S. commander in northern Iraq warned Wednesday that al-Qaida in Iraq was still capable of staging spectacular attacks despite a 50 percent drop in bombings and other violence in his region.




Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling said al-Qaida in Iraq was being pushed north by the increased numbers of U.S. troops that surged into Baghdad over the summer and fall. The insurgents are also being flushed out of Anbar province by "awakening councils" &

groups of Sunni Arab tribesmen the U.S. military has backed to help fight al-Qaida in Iraq and its allies.




He said al-Qaida extremists could still carry out attacks against infrastructure projects such as bridges.




'Mount Santa' to join Lenin, Yeltsin




BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan &

This former Soviet republic has mountains honoring Communist and Russian leaders. Just in time for Christmas, authorities say they plan to name a snowy peak "Mount Santa Claus."




Three climbers set off Wednesday to scale the designated peak and bury a capsule containing the flag of Kyrgyzstan at the summit on Christmas Eve.




Why is a predominantly Muslim and former Soviet land honoring the jolly old elf?




Plans are afoot to hold an international Santa Claus congress in Kyrgyzstan in the summer, Tadzhibayeva said. The country also intends to hold annual games in which Santas from all over the world will test their chimney-climbing, sled-racing and tree-decorating skills.




Other Kyrgyzstan peaks bear the names of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.




Pakistan train crash death toll hits 40




ISLAMABAD, Pakistan &

Authorities lowered the death toll Thursday from a train derailment in southern Pakistan as the damaged rail lines were repaired, allowing services to be restored at the height of the holiday travel season.




Fourteen of the 16 cars on the Karachi Express train jumped the tracks before dawn Wednesday as the crowded passenger train headed from Karachi, capital of southern Sindh province, to the eastern city of Lahore, mainly carrying passengers heading home for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.




Officials initially reported at least 58 dead from the crash near Mehrabpur, a town about 250 miles north of Karachi. But Junaid Qureshi, director of operations for state-run Pakistan Railways, revised the casualty figures to 40 dead and 269 injured, mostly in two cars that were turned into mangled metal and debris.




"" The Associated Press