Two US soldiers die in wave of suicide attacks

BAGHDAD - Suicide bombers killed 17 people - including two American soldiers - and wounded more than 100 in a string of blasts in two Iraqi cities Thursday as a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. troops won final government approval.

The brazen attacks in areas where the U.S. military has struggled for years to maintain order raised questions about Iraq's ability to ensure its own security as the U.S. scales down its own combat role under the newly ratified U.S.-Iraqi security pact, which calls for an American withdrawal within three years.

Zimbabwe declares health emergency

HARARE, Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe declared a national emergency over a cholera epidemic and the collapse of its health care system, and state media reported Thursday the government is seeking more international help to pay for food and drugs to combat the crisis.

The failure of the southern African nation's health care system is one of the most devastating effects of the country's overall economic collapse.

New Rowling book goes on sale around the world

EDINBURGH, Scotland - The latest magical tome by J.K. Rowling has started to fly off bookstore shelves.

Rowling was launching 'The Tales of Beedle the Bard' on Thursday with a tea party for 200 school children at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, where she lives.

The author is donating royalties from the book to a charity, which hopes it will raise millions to help vulnerable children.

Russia's leaders optimistic about ties with US

MOSCOW - Russia's leaders expressed hope Thursday that relations with the United States will improve after President-elect Barack Obama takes office, suggesting the Kremlin would respond quickly to new overtures from Washington.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Moscow welcomed what he described as positive signals from Washington. He indicated that Moscow is encouraged by what it sees as Obama's skepticism about U.S. missile defense sites in Europe - a system Moscow sees as a threat.

- From wire reports