Kissinger, Mitchell Will Lead

Commission to Probe Sept. 11

Former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger and former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) were appointed to lead a high-profile commission probing the intelligence and security flaws that allowed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to succeed.

President Bush's appointment of Kissinger, 79, ended months of wrangling with Congress over the makeup of the 10-member commission and the scope of its work. It was interpreted by lawmakers in both parties and by families of the Sept. 11 victims as evidence that the Bush administration has come to the view, as the president said on Wednesday, that "we must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September the 11th."

Still, the commission faces a difficult task. Despite the enormous scope of its 18-month inquiry, only $3 million has initially been allocated to cover its costs. And though Kissinger promised a "nonpartisan" inquiry, the panel is equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, and its report is due to be issued in the middle of a presidential election year.

-- Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus

U.N. Weapons Experts

Begin Inspections in Iraq

The first U.N. inspectors landed in Iraq and pledged to push hard in scouring Iraq to determine whether President Saddam Hussein's government still has weapons of mass destruction or has revived secret programs to develop them.

In their first day of work Wednesday, the 17 inspectors visited an engineering center and a military-industrial plant on the outskirts of Baghdad, beginning a mission that could determine whether the Bush administration launches a war against Hussein's government.

Officials said Iraqi authorities were cooperative, allowing the inspectors to quickly enter the two compounds and offering the files, technical data and access the experts sought. The leaders of the inspection teams refused to characterize what they found at the two sites.

Iraq has declared that it no longer possesses any weapons or missiles banned by U.N. resolutions; the United States disputes that.

-- Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Allergy Medication Claritin

To Be Sold Over the Counter

Allergy sufferers can soon get the nation's most prescribed antihistamine without a prescription, the Food and Drug Administration said.

The agency's determination that Claritin is safe enough to be sold over the counter followed an unprecedented petition by an insurance company that wanted to lower its prescription drug costs.

The move has profound ramifications for all allergy sufferers -- including millions of people who use other medicines -- since insurers are expected to swiftly push patients to buy over-the-counter Claritin instead of more expensive prescription drugs such as Allegra.

While insurers predicted big cost savings, doctors warned that patient choice would be severely curtailed, and industry watchers said costs to individual patients might steeply rise.

-- Shankar Vedantam

Women Now Account for Half

Of HIV Cases, Report Says

About half the people infected with the AIDS virus worldwide are women, epidemiologists at the United Nations and World Health Organization said.

The continued spread of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa -- where most new infections have been in women for several years -- is the main engine behind the "feminization" of the epidemic. But the number of infected women is rising elsewhere as well.

Heterosexual transmission is now the main reason for new infections in Western Europe. It's of growing importance in Eastern Europe, where the epidemic has spilled beyond mostly male drug users to their female sex partners, according to the new report.

In all, there are 42 million people living with human immunodeficiency virus infection, according to the report the agency issues each year in November.

-- David Brown

Labor Agreement Reached

In West Coast Ports Dispute

The longshoremen's union and shipping companies announced they had negotiated a new and "historic" six-year contract after a long and bitter labor dispute.

West Coast ports were closed for 10 days in October after management locked the workers out, alleging an intentional slowdown. Some economists estimated the closure cost the U.S. economy, already reeling from recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as much as $1 billion a day.

The contract awards the 10,500 workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union significant increases in pay and benefits.

The agreement allows shipping companies and terminal operators to modernize with new technologies, such as bar-code scanners and integrated computers, that will help make the ports speedier and more efficient.

-- William Booth

FEC Will Allow Candidates

To Pay Themselves a Salary

The Federal Election Commission voted to allow challengers in congressional races to pay themselves a salary from their campaign funds, a move designed to enable more people with modest incomes to run for the House and the Senate.

Republicans and Democrats described the 5 to 1 vote, which overturned past rulings, as a way to level the political playing field for middle-class Americans wanting to run against a senator or representative, whose annual salaries next year will grow to $155,000.

The new rule will also apply to presidential candidates, who theoretically could pay themselves as much as $400,000 a year -- the president's salary -- if they could raise that much money. But presidential candidates who accept public financing, as many serious contenders do, would be ineligible for a campaign-funded salary.

The campaign-financed salaries would be limited, and challengers could receive them only if they raise sufficient donations from supporters. A salary would be limited to the lower of two numbers: the challenger's salary in the previous year or the salary of the office sought.

-- Thomas B. Edsall

WorldCom Accepts Oversight

In Settlement With SEC

WorldCom Inc. reached an initial settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that requires the company to submit to continued federal oversight, but leaves open the question of whether it will be fined after reporting more than $9 billion in accounting irregularities.

The deal is a major step in WorldCom's effort to emerge from bankruptcy after a bookkeeping scandal threatened to send the nation's second-largest long-distance telephone company the way of Enron Corp. and Arthur Andersen LLP.

It was reached less than two weeks after WorldCom hired former Compaq Computer chief executive Michael Capellas as its chairman, chief executive and president.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff approved the deal at a hearing in New York. He said he was satisfied that the company took responsibility for rooting out fraud.

Peter Bresnan, deputy chief litigation counsel for the SEC, said fines would depend on WorldCom's continued cooperation with federal investigators and on the outcome of other investigations.

-- Christopher Stern

and Brooke A. Masters