Police stand guard at the main gate of the Washington Navy Yard on Sept.  17, a day after a military contractor killed 12 people there.  (Jason Reed/Reuters)

It’s both tempting and impossible to end a year by summarizing it. But based on the stories that Washington Post readers clicked most in the past 12 months, two narratives stood out in 2013: a government plagued by spending gridlock and intelligence leaks, and a string of ever more senseless mass tragedies.

These were the biggest stories of 2013, according to Washington Post readers:


Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad run during clashes with Free Syrian Army fighters in the Alleramoun labs area of Aleppo on Dec. 29. (George Ourfalian / Reuters)

Syria’s brutal civil war has raged on for more than two and a half years, killing more than 100,000 and driving 2 million people into refugee camps. But the conflict grew more visible in the international community this year as the U.S. and others debated international sanctions, and even a possible military intervention, to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons on his people. Assad eventually agreed to turn over chemical stockpiles to inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, for which the OPCW earned the Nobel Peace Prize. (And yet, the war continues into 2014.)


Navy Yard

On Sept. 16, a government contractor named Aaron Alexis opened fire in an office building in Southwest D.C.’s Navy Yard complex, killing 12 and wounding four. The rampage raised questions on how contractors are vetted — particularly as it became clear that Alexis suffered from serious delusions and had been arrested for several gun-related incidents before. One of the families filed a negligence suit against the government and two contractors last month.


Fiscal cliff

On New Year’s Day last year, Congress approved a plan to avert the dreaded fiscal cliff — a package of automated tax increases and spending cuts that would, analysts predicted, wreak havoc on the economy. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be much of a solution. Congress has since come up against a number of other spending- and debt-related crises, including an October government shutdown that shuttered dozens of agencies and sent millions of “nonessential” federal employees home for two weeks. Expect the next showdown just six weeks from now, when Congress comes up against another debt-ceiling deadline.


NSA revelations

An advertisement thanking NSA leaker Edward Snowden appears on the side of a Metrobus in downtown Washington in November 2013. (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pessphoto Agency)

Former government contractor Edward Snowden rocked the National Security Agency — and made the public more paranoid — with revelation after revelation about the kind of data the U.S. government collects on its citizens and allies.


Newtown shootings aftermath

It was still 2012 when 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 children and six adults. But anguish over the tragic massacre echoed into 2013, when advocates pushed for tougher gun laws — and the families of the victims began trying to recover.


Boston marathon bombing

Two pressure-cooker bombs placed near the finish line of the Boston Marathon injured more than 250 people and killed three, including an 8-year-old boy. The suspects, 26-year-old Tamerlan and 19-year-old Dzhokar Tsarnaev, were brothers and Chechen immigrants who had lived in the United States for most of their lives. While Tamerlan was killed following a shootout with police after the bombings, Dzhokar is still awaiting trial in Boston.


Pope Francis

Pope Francis delivers the Urbi et Orbi Christmas Day message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. (Ettore Ferrari / European Pressphoto Agency)

The Catholic church’s likable 266th pope was elected to the post in March and has made headlines for his humility and reform-mindedness ever since. Among other things, the pontiff made conciliatory remarks about atheism and famously embraced a disfigured man in St. Peter’s Square.