Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Chrenkoff. Many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their strong and continuing support for the series, and thanks to all of you who suggest links, comment, publicise, spread the news and link to it.
In the fortnight that saw the massive assault by American and Iraqi troops on Fallujah, the flare up of violence elsewhere throughout the Sunni Triangle, the execution of Margaret Hassan by her kidnappers, not to mention the controversy over a Marine shooting dead a wounded insurgent, it's hard to believe that anything positive might have also been happening in Iraq.
Yet, fortunately, neither Fallujah nor even the Sunni Triangle are the whole of Iraq, just as violence and bloodshed are not the whole story of Iraq. Lt Col Victor Zillmer of Lindale, Texas, recently volunteered to return to Iraq as the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers in Baghdad. His impressions of the country today seems to be shared by many in Iraq outside of the media:
"As I expected, it was not a total war zone with massive explosions and burning vehicles everywhere as commonly portrayed in the press. It was typical Baghdad, only the traffic was even worse. The economy must be doing much better over here, for the streets are jammed with cars of every description, with many of them newer and better condition than when I left in May. As compared to 18 months ago when I first arrived, the traffic has increased a hundredfold."
As the old joke goes, sometimes a cigar is just cigar. In Iraq, contrary to the impression one can often get from watching the news, for most part a car is just car, not a carbomb, and as Lt Col Zillmer says, there are a lot of them driving around. Here are some stories of Iraqis trying to, often under difficult circumstance and against great odds, journey towards a better and more normal life.
- January is just around the corner and Iraq is slowly getting into the election mode:
"Car bombs explode almost daily and insurgents still control parts of the Sunni Triangle, where they regularly attack U.S. troops. But across the country, voters and politicians are quietly taking the first step toward holding elections in less than three months.
"Political parties, candidates and voters started registering this week for elections planned by the end of January for the National Assembly. 'It is a completely new experience for us to have a democratic and free exercise in Iraq,' says Talal Madhat Serri, a leader of the Assembly for Iraq party."There now are at least 150 political parties that represent every niche of the population, from communists to prisoners. Only 40 to 50 will meet party registration requirements, says Abdul Hussein Hindawi, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. Among the requirements for parties participating: a minimum 500 members. Voter rolls will be based on lists used for the food ration program started by Saddam Hussein during sanctions in the 1990s."
- The election date has been set for 27 January 2005. So far, the Iraqi Electoral Commission has certified the applications of 24 parties and political movements, thus enabling them to take part in the elections. "Fareed Ayar, the official spokesperson of the Commission, [said] that the commission has the task of studying more applications, which reached 54, 43 of which were applied to national electoral office, six to the governorates' electoral center, and five applications for individuals, to be certified as political entities." You can see the list of certified parties at this blog.
- Abdul Hussain Hindawi, the head of the Electoral Commission is upbeat about the challenges: "All the Iraqi people want the elections... We are very optimistic and very realistic at the same time. We know that there will be a lot of difficulties... (Iraqis) want a legitimate power and they want to close this chapter which they have endured for more than 50 years." The report notes that "almost 14 million of Iraq's 25 million people have been enrolled as voters... Hindawi estimates up to 15 million may be eligible to vote."
- Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission has decided to allow the Iraqis leaving overseas to participate in the election. "Millions of Iraq's most well-educated citizens fled the country during the oppressive reign of toppled president Saddam Hussein. Many have returned to the country since the collapse of his regime after last year's US-led invasion, but more than three million Iraqis remain overseas." $90 million out of $340 million allocated by the Iraqi authorities for the conduct of the election will be spent to give the overseas Iraqis the opportunity to vote. To make it happen the International Organization for Migration has signed a memorandum of understanding with Iraqi Electoral Commission to implement an Out of Country Voting Program. The IOM will conduct voter registration for overseas Iraqis in 14 countries around the world. The registration will follow a different timetable to that inside Iraq, and will involve a shorter time period closer to the election time.
- Overall, Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund has allocated $871 million in 2004 for democracy support and various governance and elections programs throughout Iraq. This is a $180 million increase on previous commitment and the additional funds will go towards:
"- $40 million to ensure the Iraqi Electoral Commission has the technical capacity to run and certify free and fair national elections;
- $20 million for a nationwide elections monitoring program, bringing the total for this activity to $45 million;
- $100 million to support local and provincial government institutions, bringing the total for this activity to $234 million; and- $20 million to support Iraqi Interim Government national institutions, bringing the total for this activity to $41 million."
- The report adds that "the $871 million also includes $30 million for the National Endowment for Democracy to provide technical assistance and training for moderate and democratic political parties in Iraq."
- Other assistance and offers of assistance to help with the conduct and security of the election keep flowing in. The European Union is providing an additional 20 million pounds ($38 million) towards technical advice and support for the election. At a recent meeting in Brussels, "[Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi [was] given the full red-carpet treatment normally accorded to a world leader... The warm welcome from all EU leaders is a mark of European solidarity in the rebuilding of Iraq, despite continuing deep divisions over the legitimacy of the war. Explaining the reception being given someone who is technically still only an interim leader of his country, one EU official said: 'This is a sign of our determination to help Iraq on the road to democracy'." There are also high hopes for the election among Iraq's neighbors. According to Jordan's Prince Hassan, former crown prince and uncle of King Abdullah, "Doing it right in Iraq is so important for the region as a whole. It will create a positive climate, a new dynamic, and a precedent for citizens' empowerment."
- While the Indian government's hands are tied by the parliamentary resolution preventing the deployment of military and civilian personnel to Iraq, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has once again made it clear that "India is ready to contribute to the electoral process early next year in Iraq." Such contribution would most likely take the form of training provided in India for Iraqi election officials. Georgia, meanwhile, will be increasing its troop number from 159 to 850 to provide additional security for the United Nations personnel engaged at the election.
- While everyone is awaiting the January election, democracy continues to be built from the ground up throughout Iraq. USAID's Local Governance Program (LGP) (link in PDF) is directed at "promoting representative citizen participation in governance; strengthening the management skills of city and provincial administrations and civic institutions; promoting advocacy and participation of civil society organizations; enhancing leadership skills; and serving as a recruiting tool for future leaders." The program has recently reached a milestone, with 750,000 Iraqis participating in Democracy Dialogue Activities. Read also this report from Iraqi bloggers about their participation in the Friends of Democracy program aimed at spreading democratic ideals among the Iraqi people.
- In a victory for transparency and the rule of law, the authorities are introducing new regulations to make politicians more accountable: "Iraqi officials, starting with the President of the Republic, will have to declare their assets to a new transparency commission set up to fight graft and corruption. 'Starting from January 2005, all Iraqi officials including the president will have to publicly declare their assets and account for them,' said the commission's head Radhi Daraji. 'My commission has set the principle that no one is above the law as its prime target, therefore everyone will be held accountable in the light of outstanding laws and regulations,' he said." The commission will conduct independent investigations to check the veracity of declarations.
- In media news, "on the airwaves freedom of speech is flourishing and the topic is love, not politics." Baghdad's Radio Dijla continues to thrive, offering the younger audience the only late-night phone-in talk show where all sorts of problems can be aired and advice sought. "The host is Majid Salim, 40, a former Ba'ath Party radio DJ born again as an Iraqi Oprah Winfrey. He believes his show is helping by allowing Iraqis to confront their love lives. 'We're trying to build a country. You can do that by helping people strengthen relationships.' Salim's advice is more conservative than one would expect to hear on a Western radio station. He does not field calls of a sexual nature, and believes marriage is the answer to most troubled courtships. He gives his advice with old Iraqi proverbs and quotes from the Koran."
- On a more serious note, a new TV channel is being launched to counter negative media coverage:
"The Iraqi satellite channel Al Fayhaa, launched in Ajman recently, aims at providing accurate, objective, timely and comprehensive news and information to help Iraqis learn how to use their new-found freedom as their country moves towards democracy.
" 'Since the fall of Saddam Hussain, it's quite clear that the Iraqis are receiving Arabic propaganda led by giant satellite government and non-government TV stations, such as Al Jazeera,' Mohammed Al Tai, General Manager of the channel told Khaleej Times.
" 'These Arabic TV stations are broadcasting information which is both inflammatory and alarming, inciting hatred and violence among the Iraqis against the West and coalition forces. It's a media battle and at this point the Iraqis are alone and unarmed because there is no independent TV station to broadcast material representing different points of view,' he said."He added that Al Fayha station aimed at supporting the Iraqi people in this media battle by providing accurate, objective news and information to help Iraqis learn how to use their new freedom to move towards democracy."
- Meanwhile, Iraqis are giving their vote of confidence in the future:
"Iraq is a dangerous place. But not all the shooting at night is hostile. Much of the noise on weekends comes from wedding celebrations, where the joyful firing of weapons is a tradition.
"Though firm national statistics aren't available, the number of marriages each month is believed to have increased at least 20% since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime - and by some estimates has almost doubled. Violence doesn't seem to have dampened the trend. Thursday, as fighting raged in Fallujah and a car bomb went off in Baghdad, hundreds of people lined up outside the al-Karakh courthouse in western Baghdad to file marriage contracts.
"The Family Court judge there, Shaker Mahmoud al-Najar, says the court approves about 20 to 30 marriage contracts a day, about double prewar numbers."The reasons have little to do with love. Experts say an increase in government salaries and an end to compulsory military service, which frees more young men for marriage, are behind the spike."
- Lastly, Farah Murrani, a Baghdadi veterinarian, and Brendan Whittington-Jones, from Thula Thula Game Reserve near Durban, South Africa, are spending four months at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs, getting a crash course on how to rebuild Baghdad Zoo. Following large scale looting, "U.S. soldiers occupying the Iraqi capital pitched in to rescue animals.
"They helped herd three of six lions that escaped after a mortar shell blew open their paddock. They added malnourished lions and cheetahs owned by Udai Hussein, deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's son, to the zoo's collection.
"Marines joined Murrani and Whittington-Jones for a raid of a racing stable hiding more than a dozen of the 70 Arabian horses stolen from Saddam Hussein's stables."The partnership with the U.S. soldiers provided the link that brought them to Colorado Springs. They forged a friendship with Army Reserve veterinarian Maj. Sam Berringer of Monument, who told them about his hometown zoo, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, as they struggled to bring modern management and animal care to the Baghdad Zoo."
- Now Murrani and Whittington-Jones are getting good training and the best professional advice to enable them to make it all happen back home.
- There is some good news regarding the huge overseas debts accumulated as a result of Saddam Hussein's misrule:
"Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, has secured assurances from various countries, including the U.K. and Germany, that they would support the cancellation of a large part of Iraq's $120 billion foreign debt burden. However, the pledge was only partial. 'We're not talking about just forgiving debts; we can't be that generous anymore,' said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. 'But we do want to make sure that Iraq's substantial resources aren't used just to pay off debt, but to rebuild the country. We want to contribute to that.' "The pledge signaled a turnaround from the bitter mood earlier this year, when many questioned why countries that had opposed the war should pay to repair the damage."
- Russia, too, is ready to come onboard with a reduction in Iraq's $3.4 billion liability.
- Back home, the Iraqi Government is recognizing the importance of the private sector, previously marginalised by the Saddam regime, which largely monopolised the import industry. The authorities are now liberalizing the country's ossified regulatory framework. In a similar program designed to rebuilt Iraq's private sector from the ground up, "Iraqi government officials and private sector representatives will work with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners under the new Private Sector Development Initiative II (PSDII) to promote employment generation and private sector growth, including the development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME)."
- Business registration procedures are also being streamlined: "A new business registration process is being created and streamlined through USAID's Iraq Economic Governance II (IEG II) program. The registry will improve transparency in procedures for registering domestic and foreign companies in Iraq and will serve as a resource for companies needing information on other businesses, as well as for government entities with responsibilities for licensing and taxing. When complete, the business registry will be fully automated, including web-based applications for registering companies and retrieving information."
- Soon, it will become even easier for the foreign companies and Iraqi businesses to connect together:
"Iraq Procurement, the world's number one Iraqi business summit, is to shortly unveil a new online business forum, designed to establish levels of communication between Iraqi companies and global corporations to aid the development of Iraq.
"The forum provides the exclusive opportunity for Iraqi companies to reach the global market to source suppliers, partners and ideas, maintain communication and open dialogue, allowing them to operate on equal terms with the rest of the world."These companies, denied access to the supply of essential goods and services for so long, are keen to establish business partnerships to meet their increasing demands. Forum members will be granted access to these companies, who will be posting their requirements and providing news of crucial developments within the Iraqi business market."
- There is also progress on closer economic cooperation with Iraq's northern neighbor, before the first Gulf War one of Iraq's main trading partners:
"Iraq has agreed to give Turkish companies a share in its oil projects and has approved the opening of Turkish banks in the country... Turkish Foreign Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen told Anatolia news agency that the two sides had agreed to start negotiations on joint oil production in oil fields in the region of Gharraf in southern Iraq."
- Turkey is aiming to increase its exports to Iraq to $2.3 billion in 2005 from a projected $1.8 billion this year, and increase the overall volume of trade between the two countries to $4 billion.
- In banking news, two Turkish public banks, Ziraat and Vakif, will be opening branches in Iraq. The Korean Bank, meanwhile, has opened its first branch in Irbil, in the Kurdish north, where the South Korean army contingent is currently stationed.
- In communication news, a recent study by Madar Research has estimated that Iraq will register the highest growth rate in the IT sector in the whole of the Middle East - 43% per year. "The study also showed that Iraq's spending on Information technology solutions will make about 8.66% [of] the entire market size in middle eastern countries." Meanwhile, the Iraqi market for cell phones keeps expanding, most recently with the addition of 80,000 new customers in the third quarter of 2004 by Atheer Iraq, the unit of Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Co. To assist in further development of Iraqi communication infrastructure, the Wireless Services in Iraq Conference will be taking place in January 2005. It will "examine the investment, trading and contracting opportunities in Iraq's wireless network." As the report explains, "years of instability, war and economic sanctions have left Iraq with low levels of fixed line telephony services, allowing wireless communications to play a significant part in the country's developing telecommunications market. Six months after the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq investment opportunities are plenty for companies willing to play a role in the rebuilding of Iraq's wireless telecommunications network. With 3 GSM licences awarded in 2004 and opportunities in alternative wireless solutions, the need for wireless infrastructure, masts, antennae, and mobile handsets is pressing."
- Iraqi authorities have allocated $1.2 billion for the development of oil industry throughout 2005. To help along the process of rebuilding and expansion, a mutually beneficial relationships is developing between foreign oil companies and Iraq's rebuilding oil industry:
"International oil companies have launched voluntary efforts to train Iraq's oil workers and provide technical assistance, hoping to generate goodwill and eventually get access to the country's huge oil reserves.
"Companies from the United States, Britain and Russia -- including ChevronTexaco Corp., BP, Royal Dutch/Shell Group and Lukoil -- are paying to send Iraqi oil workers out of the country to teach them the latest techniques in developing and managing oil fields."In addition, Shell agreed to look into the most effective use of the country's natural gas reserves. Chevron is advising Iraqis on two of the country's biggest oil fields now in production, Kirkuk in the north and Rumaila in the south."
- The Iraqi authorities have also signed a cooperation agreement with Australia's Woodside Energy to evaluate potential future oil and gas fields in Kurdistan.
- In another sign of increasing regional cooperation, "Iraq [and] Jordan have signed agreement to extend pipe for Iraqi crude oil via the Jordanian territories of al-Aqaba Port, beside holding agreement to increase volume of oil exchanging between the two countries."
- The authorities are also planning an increased security coverage for the pipelines:
"Iraq is planning a series of security measures, including airborne control, to protect a major pipeline carrying oil to Turkey against frequent sabotage, Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadban [announced]... 'We are working on a program that envisages to place this pipeline under a security umbrella,' Ghadban said after talks with Turkish Foreign Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen... 'In the coming days, we will take measures that will keep (the pipeline) under constant monitoring and control with a security corridor, including control by airplanes,' the minister added."
- In Baghdad, reconstruction has been largely completed on a vital piece of infrastructure:
"The Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) (formerly Saddam International Airport) has been refurbished and repaired as part of a contract from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to Bechtel and SkyLink to rebuild Iraqi airports in Baghdad, Basrah and Mosul. "Commercial airlines, including Royal Jordanian and Iraqi Air, are now using the international airport facilities rehabilitated by USAID; the airport is processing an average of 45 non-military arrivals and departures daily."
- Some work is still continuing on providing lighting for the commercial runway, and in Basra, work has been completed "installing VSAT and radio communications; runway, taxiway, and apron striping; and installing baggage x-ray units and a perimeter fence."
- Air Horizon is one of the airlines which plans to take the advantage of the new infrastructure by starting daily flights between Dubai and Baghdad. You can read more about the airline here.
- But it's not just in Baghdad; in the Kurdish city of Irbil, the construction of a temporary international airport has just been completed. While the permanent airport will be finished over the next three years, in the meantime the facility will generate 5,000 jobs and boost the local economy. The Kurdish authorities in cooperation with Kurdish private sector are close to finalizing a deal to buy or lease 24 airliners to service the airport.
- Lastly, this piece of good news/bad news: "One unlikely side-effect of the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime has been the sad fate of Iraq's hard-working donkeys. These beasts of burden once commanded the same price and prestige as a good second-hand car, but their value has dropped dramatically after the overthrow of Saddam led to an influx of used and stolen vehicles into Iraq."
- It's not just the physical infrastructure that needs to be brought up to date after decades of neglect. The efforts to rebuild the expertise are equally important:
"The World Bank... announced a $7 million grant to train Iraqi senior civil servants in economic planning and public sector management. The two-year program will train hundreds of Iraqi government officials to manage economic transition, social development and poverty reduction, the bank said. " 'Iraq possesses a strong cadre of well-educated civil servants ... who will be instrumental in the government's ability to take on the urgent task of reconstruction and to efficiently manage resources," Joseph Saba, the World Bank's country director for Iraq, said in a statement."
- Meanwhile, the latest and most comprehensive report conducted by the Ministry of Education on the state of education sector in Iraq paints a damning picture of Saddam's legacy of neglect, which the new Iraq now has to grapple with:
"An estimated 60 percent of Iraq's population is illiterate, and at least 25 percent of primary school-age children do not attend school, according to World Bank statistics. It is estimated that half of children do not go on to secondary school. In rural areas the numbers are even higher. Up to half of girls never attend school, according to the Ministry of Education... "One third of all primary schools in the country lack water supply and nearly 50 percent do without restrooms or washrooms, according to the report. Additionally, there are not enough desks, chairs or classrooms. The majority of schools need some form of restoration because of crumbling walls, bullet holes, broken windows and leaking roofs."
- As with every other aspect of life in Iraq, the challenge of the reconstruction effort is not just to repair the damage of the last year and a half, but of the last thirty years. Challenges are huge and it will take a lot of initiatives like this to make a difference:
"To help alleviate the crisis the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with Iraqi and multi-national force officials, is investing $16.4 million to renovate more than 300 schools across the country. The average cost for renovating a school is $50,000, said Jackie Purrington, project manager. 'We received the mission two weeks ago, and we anticipate having all the renovations underway by the end of the year,' Purrington said. " 'Everyone realizes that 300 schools won't solve the problem, but it's a start and there are other organizations and initiatives that are also addressing the lack of schools and equipment. This only the beginning,' said Ross Adkins, a Corps of Engineers spokesman."
- Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has recently announced it will be allocating $25 million a month for implementation of various educational projects at universities and teaching institutes. And USAID is continuing to support Iraqi tertiary sector through series of exchanges and collaborative projects with American universities (link in PDF). Most recently, "fourteen faculty members from the agricultural department of a northern Iraqi university completed a one month, intensive English program, with the support of the University of Hawaii... Three Iraqi university law schools partnered with DePaul University in the U.S. to draft plans for the establishment of legal research centers... A nine-kilometer fiber-optic network has been completed at a northern Iraqi university, with the support of Jackson State University."
- A major reconstruction program is about to commence throughout the country to help repair some vital infrastructure:
"Because of the threat to public health, Iraqi and multinational force officials are initiating a massive $50 million program to rehabilitate approximately 200 water treatment and sewage facilities, said Michael Stanka, a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition to repairing the critical water supply, the program will create hundreds jobs for the local economies."
- Iraq's water and sewerage infrastructure has been dramatically run down through decades of underfunding and neglect; rebuilding it now is becoming a top priority in order to ensure public health and economic well being of the nation. USAID (link in PDF) is contributing to this effort on numerous fronts: it is currently working on the rehabilitation of one of Baghdad's Rustimiyah wastewater treatment plants, which together with two other plants supplies nearly 80 per cent of Baghdadis with water. It is also continuing "clean-up of the Sweet Water Canal, which supplies the city of Basrah with potable water. To date, 34 of 44 pumps have been refurbished, as have six of eleven electrical generators. This project also includes refurbishments to the canal's pump stations, generators, emergency canal repairs, and heavy equipment support for the local Irrigation Department. Work is now 70 percent complete, and is on schedule for completion by mid-December, 2004." And in a smaller project, USAID has commenced its rural water initiative (link in PDF), drilling wells in Diyala and Salah ad Din Governorates for communities of between 1,000 and 5,000 people.
- More reconstruction work will start shortly in Baghdad's Sadr City, one of the historically most impoverished and neglected urban areas in Iraq: "The interim government has earmarked 40 billion dinars [$27.3 million] to renovate Sadr City... Formerly know as Saddam City, the low-income neighborhood was scene of ferocious fighting between the militiamen of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and US-led troops... Redevelopment is part of the terms under which the militiamen agreed to lay down their arms... Ali Laaibi of Baghdad Municipality said four state-run companies would immediately start refurbishing the city. He said priority will be given to sewage schemes, pavement of streets and keeping the narrow lanes of the sprawling city clean and tidy."
- In electricity news, "USAID is constructing twenty-four 33kV/11kV power distribution substations and rehabilitating thirteen substations throughout Baghdad to improve electrical distribution in the area." The work is currently in early stages (link in PDF).
- Meanwhile, this report summarizes the health legacy of Saddam's years:
"Inadequate sanitation, purification of water, nutrition, and health care have taken their toll on the health of Iraqis. The rates of liver diseases, including hepatitis B and diphtheria, increased under Saddam Hussein, and the cancer rate tripled between 1984 and 2004... "The mortality rate for infants and children more than doubled from 1990 to 1998. The United Nations (U.N.) had imposed sanctions on Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the impact on Iraq's people and economy was devastating. Half a million children under age 5 were reported to have died between 1991 and 1998. To provide some humanitarian relief, in 1997 the U.N. established the Oil for Food program in Iraq. This allowed Hussein's government to sell some of its oil in exchange for U.N.-approved food and medical supplies. However, the benefits were limited because, experts claim, only a third of the oil revenue was used for the intended purpose. The sanctions were finally lifted after Hussein was ousted in May 2003."
- Challenges are numerous, but the determination to improve the situation is equally strong:
"Iraq's new minister of health, Ala'adin Alwan, M.D., faces enormous challenges. He has a budget of nearly $1 billion this year from Iraqi oil revenue; $578 million of it will go for pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, and the rest for operations and maintenance, said James Haveman, a former senior advisor to the interim Ministry of Health in Iraq. He also was the health advisor to former Ambassador Paul Bremer, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority until the interim government was installed in May.
"The United States contributed nearly $900 million for health care in 2004, 'including $498 million for the construction of new primary care centers and the renovation of 18 maternal and pediatric hospitals to reduce the number of infant and maternal deaths,' said Haveman. 'About $17 million will be used for training health care staff, $300 million for new equipment, and $50 million for the new hospital in Basra,' added Haveman.
"He observed that when he arrived in Iraq in 2002, 'the ministry's budget was $16 million for 26 million people under Saddam Hussein. This was a 90 percent reduction from a decade earlier.'
"A priority of the health minister is overcoming shortages of medical supplies and equipment allegedly stolen 'under the corrupt U.N.-administered Oil for Food program, which was shut down,' said Haveman."Corruption was widespread under Hussein's regime, and 'medical supplies and equipment often disappeared out the back door,' said Haveman. To combat corruption, independent inspector generals have been installed in each of the ministries."
- Among the recent work by USAID to improve the Iraqi health system (link in PDF): "Work has resumed in recent weeks on equipping primary health care centers throughout Iraq through USAID's Health Systems Strengthening Program. Recently, 52 health care centers in Kirkuk, As Sulaymaniya, and Arbil Governorates received primary health care kits. The kits contain approximately 60 items of basic medical equipment, office furniture, and laboratory equipment for improved provision of essential health services. So far, 383 kits out of a target of 600 have been delivered to care centers across Iraq." Also, "crews are preparing the ground for a new pediatric teaching hospital in Basrah." More on that here.
- Reconstruction of the much neglected agricultural sector also continues:
"An Arizona agri-research firm is supplying wheat seeds to be used by farmers in Iraq looking to boost their country's homegrown food supplies. Phoenix-based World Wide Wheat Co. is teaming with three U.S. universities to provide 1,000 pounds of wheat seeds to be used by Iraqi farmers north of Baghdad. World Wide Wheat and the universities are donating their research and the wheat seeds to the Iraqi effort so farmers there can find out which seed strains work in that country's climate and topography. The farmers will grow wheat strains that can be used to make pasta as well as bread. The half ton of seeds translates into crops for about 20 acres, which will be monitored to see which types of wheat grow best."
- As the report adds, "the wheat seeds that coalition military forces are distributing to Iraqi farmers are akin to those used in Arizona, which has a similar desert climate to the Middle Eastern nation." A similar project to boost yields and decrease Iraq's reliance on imports, is currently underway under the aegis of Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and USAID's Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI):
"Under the campaign, 1,500 tons of wheat seed has arrived in Mosul. ARDI procured the seed to assist the MOA to distribute high quality, certified seed to as many farmers as possible. A total of 4,000 tons will be delivered soon.
"ARDI and MOA officials in Arbil, Dahuk and As Sulaymaniyah have also agreed to include wheat extension demonstrations as part of the 2004 to 2005 campaign."ARDI will work with extension departments in each governorate to establish 48 demonstration sites. According to USAID, the purpose of the wheat extension demonstrations is to show the advantages of application of proper amounts of fertilizer, the use of seed drills, good seed and application of herbicides."
- Also, this story, from Al Sulaymaniyah: "The rehabilitation of a fruit orchard station in As Sulaymaniyah Governorate has begun; the project will clean and weed 320 donums (1 donum = 2,500 square meters) of land. Once complete, the orchard will provide seedlings for local farmers and will generate income... Also, work is progressing on the installation of four sheep dipping tanks. The work is supported by a recently awarded grant from United States Agency for International Development's (USAID)Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI)."
- You can read this update on the international effort to bring back to life Iraqi marshlands, drained by Saddam as a collective punishment for Marsh Arabs:
"With funding from Japan, Italy, Canada and the United States, the program will launch an international restoration effort. The Iraqi government is running the project with cooperation from the U.N. Environment Programme. Scientists plan to use environmentally sound technologies to develop sanitation and water treatment systems, restore the natural water cycle to the marshes and attempt to resurrect the ecology and local society in the process. "Some progress has already been made. Once Saddam was expelled from Baghdad, Marsh Arabs breached dams and canals to re-flood a large area of the wetlands in 2003. 'Forty percent of the marshes are now inundated with water,' [Dr. Azzam] Alwash [director of the restoration Eden Again project] said. 'Some areas have recovered very well, and other areas are doing very poorly'."
- In the end, it might cost several hundred million dollars to reverse Saddam's ecological vandalism.
- USAID (link in PDF) continues to provide wide-ranging assistance and aid throughout Iraq. Among many other programs. it continues to work with children: "Summer camps were organized for children and adolescents in 24 locations in Basrah Governorate. The camps were planned as forums for socialization, learning, recreation, and peace-building. Around 2,800 children and adolescents, 30 teachers and 14 volunteers from the Red Crescent participated."
- Despite dangers, many Western humanitarian groups are still providing help in rebuilding Iraq and assisting the underprivileged. Andy and Albana Dwonch of Portland (Washington state)-based Mercy Corps are typical of the courageous and resourceful volunteers. They have spent the past 14 months working with Iraqis to implement various aid programs:
"They... encouraged by the accomplishment of $12 million in Mercy Corp aid that has helped rebuild schools, clinics, water systems and other community institutions in three provinces around the south-central city of Kut... 'The people, they see what the development means,' Albana Dwonch said. 'They are taking ownership of the work, and they don't want anyone to take that away from them'...
"Mercy Corps efforts... have been aided by dialogue with political, tribal and religious leaders that began when the aid staff first arrived in Kut and still continues, Dwonch said. That dialogue included followers of al Sadr, whose leaders offered to protect aid efforts after the spring insurgency flared. 'Sadr's group was doing some good things in town, organizing charity for poor people,' Dwonch said."During [August], Mercy Corps, with the help of a $1 million grant from Nike, organized soccer tournaments for middle- and high-school students. The tournament was suspended during the three-day peak of fighting and then resumed."
- Says Andy Dwonch: "We feel that there are some little success stories out there... Stories that aren't getting told."
- Other private initiatives continue, like this one to help Iraqi doctors: "A University of Tulsa professor and a former student who is now in Iraq are working to make sure doctors in the war-torn country have the latest medical know-how. Psychology professor Joanne Davis is working with former T-U student Isaac Shields, an Army lieutenant leading a medical platoon in Baghdad." Professor Davis and Shields are collecting medical textbooks and journals to send to Iraqi doctors who in many case have been cut off from the lastest medical expertise for the past twenty years.
- On a much lighter note, the Kiwanis Club from Illinois has collected 5,000 toys for the Charlie Company Marines in Iraq to distribute to Iraqi kids at Christmas.
- The troops continue their valuable work to improve local infrastructure. This from the 1st Infantry Division in Tikrit: "Company B, 1st Battalion 18th Infantry recently completed two Commander's Emergency Relief Program (CERP) projects in Northern Tirkrit... Company B held grand openings at the Al Aola Primary School and the Salah Din Rehabilitation Hospital... Both CERP projects were proposed by local leaders. The Al Aola School project was worth more than $25,000 and completely refurbished the school with wiring and plumbing repairs, paint, window replacement, tile repairs and new furniture... The Rehabilitation Hospital is the only hospital of its kind in Iraq. The physical therapy performed here is crucial to healing the many Iraqis who have suffered injuries resulting from the insurgency." And 264th Engineer Group, together with Shujaa Company Contractors, has recently completed the CERP project to build a water treatment plant for the residents of Al Washash village.
- The assistance given by the troops is not always material; sometimes it extends to financial advisory: "About 45 employees from treasuries throughout the Salah Ad Din Province are undergoing training in Tikrit, Iraq, to streamline financial operations in the region.
"Capt. Christopher B. Emery, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 106th Finance Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, recently paid a visit to the main treasury in Tikrit to observe training firsthand. The Treasury Automation Project is the brainchild of the 106th Finance Bn., and comes with a price tag of $334,000. Funding derived not from Multi-National Forces, but the Development Fund for Iraq, money seized from Saddam Hussein's regime... "Treasury employees are learning basic computer skills in accounting, cash management, forecasting and budgeting... 'When we first went out into the treasury, everything was hand written, memos signed and hand delivered all throughout the province,' Emery said. 'Now with the Internet they are able to send budget and policy updates almost instantaneously'."
- The Coalition forces also continue to engage in missions to improve the health of Iraqis. This from Baghdad: "Task Force 1st Battalion, 161 Infantry, of the 81st Brigade Combat Team and attached to 1st Cavalry Division , recently provided medical and dental supplies to neighborhoods in Baghdad on a Medical Civil Affairs mission. Nearly 240 Iraqis, mostly women and children, were treated for minor injures or illnesses. TF 1-161 Soldiers also distributed toothbrushes, toothpaste, and shoes during the day-long mission." And from outside Baghdad: "A medical team, composed of Soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment and 210th Forward Support Battalion, treated minor medical ailments of residents of a small village outside Baghdad. 'This is an opportunity for us to go out and assess the medical situation of the people of a village in our area of operation, and to provide as much medical care as we can while we are over there,' said 1st Lt. Peter Olsen, 4-31 Infantry medical platoon leader."
- Sometimes, it's "helping Iraq one friend at a time": thanks to the efforts of the 264th Engineer Group, little Tariq Ziyad who suffers from spina bifida will be given medical treatment in the United States.
- Elsewhere, American troops are providing a complete package of assistance to Iraqi communities: "The unit has only been in-country for nearly three months, but already the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion is making an impact in Ad Duluiyah, a small community about an hour north of Baghdad. Attached to the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, the 426th started assessing the town's infrastructure, schools, water treatment facilities and the like shortly after arriving in Iraq." Following the complete assessment, reconstruction will begin according to the level of urgency.
- The Coalition troops also continue to support Iraqi schools. Soldiers from the 30th Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division recently delivered school supplies to schools in the Al Neda tribal area: "The Karam-Chaloub and Sahab School received supplies donated by the employers, churches, friends, and families of the 30th Brigade Combat Team. The donations were sent from the United States and include pens, pencils, paper, book bags, and much more." Soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion 18th Infantry and soldiers from the 201st Iraqi National Guard Battalion, meanwhile, delivered some school supplies to more than 200 students in the town of Owja, near Tikrit. Owja, the former hometown of Saddam Hussein "remained strongly anti-coalition until late this summer. Recently, residents have seen the positive results that Coalition Forces and their Iraqi Security Forces counterparts are having in their town. Coalition Forces have recently repaired a critical water pumping station in the town. Other projects underway include a new town park, street lights, and a new police station." And 220 children in four kindergartens in Tuz have also received supplies from the American troops: "In eastern Diyala Province and the Tuz area Coalition Forces have spent more than $600,000 in support of educational projects and more than $400,000 is allocated for future projects."
- In other school missions: in Samarra the 411th Civil Affairs of Danbury, Connecticut, is identifying schools in need of rebuilding (out of 26 assessed over the past months, 16 will be further assisted with reconstruction and supplies). Elsewhere in Samarra, Bravo Company, Task Force 1-26 Infantry is sponsoring a local school. In North Central Iraq, soldiers of Multinational Force are delivering to children school supplies collected in the United States. And at the Al-Alam Primary School near Tikrit, members of Task Force 1-18 not only handed out school supplies but also staged a rock concert for students as an extra-curricular activity that many cash-strapped Iraqi schools cannot otherwise afford.
- A lot of assistance depends on generous contributions from back home. One American servicewoman from Texas is reporting back to her home community about the success of a school supply action:
"Army 1st Lt. Brittany Meeks, who called on the city last May to help reconstruct Iraq's educational institutions, is now offering a personal thank you to Katy. Earlier this year, in a letter addressed to the Katy Times, but written to the Katy community, Meeks asked the city to help her platoon combat poverty in Iraqi schools through a school supply drive she dubbed, 'Operation School Hope.' In a recent letter updating the community on the drives' progress since April, Meeks said Katy residents, along with other Americans, have donated over 1.5 tons of school supplies and a half a ton of toys, sports equipment and candy for Al Tawa'an Primary School in Western Baghdad."
- Meanwhile, another American serviceman is staring an action to provide Iraqi doctors with valuable learning resources:
"Fifty boxes of medical books and journals will be sent to Iraq this week in a humanitarian effort that grew out of one soldier's concern that doctors in that war-torn country have inadequate reference material.
"U.S. Army Lt. Isaac Shields, a former University of Tulsa student who is a liaison between Iraqi hospitals and the Army, said medical libraries in the country's hospitals and clinics did not have more than a dozen books each."In July, he sent an e-mail about his concern to his former teacher, Joanne Davis, a Tulsa assistant professor of psychology... 'As soon as I got the message, I was like: "OK, let's go. What do we do?"' Davis said. She started calling psychologists and doctors she knew to ask for donations. When students returned for the fall semester, she recruited about 10 to ask other colleges, libraries, hospitals and publishing houses for more materials published within the past decade. They also collected money to pay for shipping."
- There is also plenty of scope for creating good will and building relationships with the locals. For example, to help celebrate the end of Ramadan, "the 209th Iraqi National Guard and the 30th Brigade Combat Team donated shoes, food and money to the city councils of Tuz and Sulayman Bak, which in turn was distributed to poor families... At the same time, the Iraq Department of Border Enforcement and the 30th BCT delivered Ramadan gifts to the poorest families in 14 villages, which included Baba Kurz Ad Din, Al Hizam, Alasafa, and Fajjim Villages." Elsewhere:
"Col. Randal A. Dragon, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, hosted an Iftar meal for the leadership of the Salah Ad Din Province Monday night at the governor's house in Tikrit.
"Dragon showed the 1st Infantry Division's respect for Iraqi religious customs and traditions by hosting the dinner which followed the sun-set prayers during Ramadan. One hundred government, tribal and religious leaders shared the Iftar meal - which consisted of roasted meats, rice, vegetables, lentils, dates and juice ‑ with 2nd BCT Soldiers."Following the meal and social time with many of the provincial leaders, Dragon announced he had arranged for the purchase of 800 kerosene heaters to give to the Imams of the province. This was done to fulfill another pillar of Islam, giving to the poor during the month of Ramadan."
- Of course, it's not just the American troops that are assisting local communities with reconstruction: "El Salvadoran Battalion in Iraq works on reconstruction projects in different communities of the Babil province, including Al-Ibrahimiya, Al-Madhathiya, Al-Hashimiyah, Ashimiya, Al-Qasim, At-Taliyah, Al- Kilf and Ash-Shumali. The development of these projects will benefit 128,000 Iraqis in these areas. Priorities are: furnishing schools and health centers, improving roads, installating water pumps, water treatment, repairing old water systems, constructing a steel girder bridge and improving living conditions of Iraqi forces." More on the El Salvadorean contribution here.
- On his recent trip to Europe, Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had a chance to meet with Pope John Paul II who will be praying for a good election and peaceful future for the people of Iraq.
- Two decades ago the relations between Iraq and Syria were severed over the ideological differences between different strains of Baathism practiced in the two countries. Now, Syria and Iraq are re-establishing diplomatic relations. I'm also happy to report that Iraq is resuming diplomatic relations with Australia, with Ghanim Taha Ahmad al-Shibli, the former Iraqi ambassador to the US and Iran who spent much of the 1980s and 1990s in exile in the US, appointed as the new ambassador.
- Back inside Iraq, as the insurgency drags on, the fighters - both local and foreign - are losing support:
"The fighters came to Fallujah last year with piles of cash, strange accents and a militant vision of Islam that was at once foreign and fearsome to residents emerging from nearly 30 years of Saddam Hussein's secular regime.
"Yet out of custom and necessity, tribal locals offered their Arab guests sanctuary and were repaid with promises to help keep American forces out of the town. This week, with U.S. troops battling their way through the Sunni Muslim stronghold, several Fallujah residents said it had been a grave mistake to trust the foreigners who turned their humble stand against foreign occupation into a sophisticated terror campaign."Once admired as comrades in an anti-American struggle, foreign fighters have become reviled as the reason U.S. missiles are flattening homes and turning Iraq's City of Mosques into a killing field. Their promises of protection were unfulfilled, angry residents said, with immigrant rebels moving on to other outposts and leaving besieged locals to face a superpower alone."
- As the report notes, the population is not necessarily swinging its support behind the Coalition and Iraqi authorities, but the alienation of insurgents from the people they were supposed to be fighting for is undoubtedly good news. Anther report, however, paints a much starker picture of reality in Fallujah:
"Such is the fear that the heavily armed militants held over Fallujah that many of the residents who emerged from the ruins welcomed the US marines, despite the massive destruction their firepower had inflicted on their city.
"A man in his sixties, half-naked and his underwear stained with blood from shrapnel wounds from a US munition, cursed the insurgents as he greeted the advancing marines on Saturday night. 'I wish the Americans had come here the very first day and not waited eight months,' he said, trembling. Nearby, a mosque courtyard had been used as a weapons store by the militants."Another elderly man, who did not want his name used for fear the rebels would one day return and restore their draconian rule, said he was detained by the militants last Tuesday and held for four days before being freed. He described how he had then sought refuge in a friend's house where they had huddled together clutching Korans in silent prayer for their lives as the massive US bombardment put the insurgents to flight. 'It was horrible,' he told an AFP reporter. 'We suffered from the bombings. Innocent people died or were wounded by the bombings. But we were happy you did what you did because Fallujah had been suffocated by the Mujahidin. Anyone considered suspicious would be slaughtered. We would see unknown corpses around the city all the time'."
- And elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle, as fighting erupted again in another insurgent stronghold, Ramadi, "Sunni clerics at several mosques called on residents to kick out bands of armed men who have come from outside the city, claiming that the clashes inside Ramadi were impoverishing its citizens."
- Border security is being straightened on two fronts. Soldiers with the 276th Engineer Battalion from the Virginia National Guard are building 15 forts to help seal the border with Syria and prevent smuggling and infiltration. The project spans 150 miles and will help to establish a permanent security footprint along the porous border. Kuwait is also looking to replace the sand wall along the 217 kilometer long border with Iraq with a more secure and durable barrier.
- Training of Iraqi army continues. Some of it is being conducted overseas: "Forty-two Iraqi army officers commenced studies at the Centro Alti Studi Difesa military college in Rome, Italy, Nov. 8, as part of the multinational effort to assist the Iraqi government to train its armed forces' leadership. The mid-level group of officers - comprised of Iraqi captains and majors - will negotiate a roughly three-and-a-half week course of instruction at the Italian school before returning to Iraq the first week of December." NATO has also finally approved the plan to train 1,000 Iraqi officers a year in a proposed military academy outside Baghdad. Some 300 NATO trainers are expected to be involved in the project.
- The Coalition forces continue to assist the Iraqi authorities with construction of appropriate infrastructure for Iraq's new army: "Current construction efforts at the country's myriad of armed forces bases, National Guard facilities, and police academies located throughout the country total more than $1.07 billion. The figure includes roughly $870 million committed to the continued major stand-up of armed forces bases at Al Kasik, Taji, An Numaniyah, Kirkuk, Kirkush, Al Rustamiyah, and Umm Qasr - all already operational. Projects include training centers, barracks, headquarters facilities, medical clinics, shoot houses, fuel points, force protection facilities, electrical grids, airfields, logistic centers, water lines, a military academy, mosques, perimeter security, and other various construction. The projects employ nearly 7,300 Iraqi civilian workers."
- Foreign contributions to arming the new Iraqi army and security forces continue to roll in. In the latest development, Great Britain is giving Iraq 2.5 million pounds' [$4.4 million] worth of arms, ammunition and body armor: "The gift will include 3,200 AK47 assault rifles, two million rounds of ammunition and 4,200 sets of public order equipment including riot shields, visor helmets, leather gloves, shin and knee protectors, flame retardant overalls and batons." Meanwhile, soldiers of Task Force Danger, 1st Infantry Division, have recently delivered 63 new police cars to Irawi police throughout North Central Iraq (the cars come partly from a donation by the Japanese government and partly from the funds of Iraqi Interior Ministry). The supplies from the Multinational Security Transition Command - Iraq also continue to arrive into the hands of Iraqi security forces:
"Since Nov. 1, the rollout has included 2,919 AK-47 assault rifles, 4,210 helmets, 107 PKM machineguns, 832 RPK machineguns, 7,850 sets of body armor, 11,000 field jackets, 50 Glock pistols, 100,000 RPK/PKM machinegun rounds, 2,400 9mm pistol rounds, 300,000 AK-47 rounds, 600 tactical vests, 30 computers, 300 kneepads, 50 radios, 15,763 pairs of running shoes, 20 holsters, 20 Walther 9mm pistols, 1,300 army t-shirts, and 19,782 desert combat uniforms."
- Robert B. Charles, the assistant secretary of state at the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, reports on the progress in building the new Iraqi police force:
"The State Department's International Police Training Center in neighboring Jordan, merely nine months old, is a desert miracle. Training focuses on basic policing skills, democracy, riot control, counterterrorism and simple willingness to fight for the future. Iraqi police trained there set the standard. They are determined to keep Iraq's future free. They are Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds. They are men and women. They are from north and south, east and west.
"To date, eight full classes have passed through the intensive eight-week
Bosnia-Herzegovina, the country which not that long ago also experienced the ravages of conflict and was saved by an American-led intervention, has expressed willingness to send troops to Iraq. And Georgia, another country which experienced internal conflict over the last decade and a half, is increasing its contingent in Iraq from 159 to 850.