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Good news from Iraq, 9 May 2005

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Note: Also available from "The Opinion Journal" and Chrenkoff. As always, many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their support for this project, and to everyone helping with suggestions, feedback and publicizing the "Good news".

Presidents and Prime Ministers every day receive countless letters, both from their own citizens and from overseas. In most cases, such correspondence is a vehicle for complaint and indignation; anger and frustration motivate more people to communicate with leaders than hope and gratitude. All this makes the recent letter written by Iraq's new president Jalal Talabani to Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair all the more momorable:

I cannot begin to explain my emotions, after over five decades of personally fighting for and promoting democracy and human rights, to witness a nation take its first steps towards a dream. Now the democratically elected parliament has honoured me, a Kurd, with the post of Presidency. This is a symbol of the promise, integration and unity of the new Iraq.

So writes Talabani, reminding Blair to remember the past: "Let nobody mislead you, the Iraq that we inherited in April 2003, following the British and American led liberation, was a tragedy. The Ba’athist criminals had starved the country of an infrastructure and the people of their freedom. Apart from the Kurdish safe haven, Iraq was a playground for thugs and a prison for the innocent."

But just as important, according to Talabani is to keep the present in focus: "Building a democratic federal Iraq is a difficult, and slow, but rewarding process. Those who doubt the swiftness of transition must keep in mind that a state such as Iraq is a cultural, ethnic and linguistic mosaic that was only ever held together by brute force, thus, political speed can kill."

Talabani's message is to keep things in perspective, that by concentrating on numerous challenges we shouldn't lose sight of the other narrative: one of slow and often painful change unfolding across the country. Below are some of the stories from the past two weeks of Iraq's journey.

SOCIETY:

  • Iraq's democratic institutions are slowly taking shape. On April 27, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has announced his proposed Cabinet, consisting of 36 members: "The Cabinet... would have 17 Shiite Arab ministers, eight Kurds, six Sunni Arabs and one Christian, fulfilling promises by leaders of the Shiite majority to share power among ethnic and religious groups." In fact, when you compare them to the ethnic make-up of Iraq, these Cabinet numbers quite faithfully reflect the size of various ethnic groups in Iraq. The Cabinet also includes six women: "Suhaila Jaafar as Minister of Migration and Displacement, Jwan Massoum as Minister of Communications, Nasreen Berawari as Minister of Municipalities and Public Works, Narmin Othman as Minister of the Environment, Azhar al-Sheikhli as Minister of State for Women's Affairs, and Bassima Boutros as Minister of Science and Technology."

  • The Cabinet (still with some vacancies remaining outstanding) has been approved by the National Assembly on the following day, which as many reports noted, was Saddam's birthday. If you want more information about the composition of the Cabinet, you can read this profile of its key members.

  • The new regulations for Iraq's parliament are also now in place: "The National Assembly has finished drafting a legal regulation which defines the way its members work, the role of its speaker, and its oversight and control of the executive authority. Deputy speaker Hussein al-Shahrestani said the draft was unanimously approved by assembly members. Lawyer Maryam al-Rayes said that under the rules, parliament has the right to question the presidency board (the president and his two deputies), cabinet ministers and any other official in the executive."

  • With the formation of the new government, the previously obstinate Sunnis are now starting to change their tune. Their two major political parties, the Iraqi Sunni Accord and the Iraqi Islamic Party, have recently announced that they will contest any future elections. Also this:

    Sunni Endowment head Adnan al-Dulaimi has called a conference of reconciliation, to be attended by political and religious leaders from all parts of the spectrum. The objective is to secure an agreement to end bloodshed and to work towards dialogue. Al-Dulaimi also told media outlets they should not contribute to sectarian conflict by biased and exaggerated reporting.

  • Meanwhile up north, the rationalization of the Kurdish political and administrative landscape continues:

    Iraqi Kurds will hold separate elections to choose a president for their self-rule region, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said.

    Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said the elections for the president will be part of the parliamentary vote expected to take place once the regional Kurdish governments merge.

    The region is administered by two governments, one in Sulaimaniya, where Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan holds power and the other in Arbil, a territory run by Barzani's KDP.

    With Talabani elected the President of Iraq, observers believed the presidency of the Kurdish region will automatically go to Barzani. But Barzani, in his latest interview with the newspaper, showed little interest in becoming the first leader of a unified Kurdish autonomous region.
  • More rationalization is underway: five left-wing Kurdish political parties are merging into one political entity.

  • As for the whole of Iraq, the growing cooperation between the United States and the European Union will hopefully bear more fruit in the future, starting with this coming gathering:

    The U.S. and European Union conference on coordinating the Iraq rebuilding effort will take place in Brussels in the latter half of June... The conference was planned during President George W. Bush's visit to Brussels in February as part of the U.S. and EU rapprochement over Iraq. It will focus on three issues: bolstering democracy, strengthening rule of law and integrating Iraq into the world economy... The two-day conference would include 60 to 70 participants, including those from the United States and European Union... The meeting would not seek to raise new aid money but look to coordinate existing aid.

  • European countries are already assisting in many ways. For example, the officials at the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry have meanwhile received some valuable training from the Human Rights Center in Nottingham University in Great Britain. And USAID continues its support for building Iraqi democratic institutions and civil society. Among most recent activities (link in PDF):

    - From April 9-16, trainers and international consultants from the State University of New York’s Center for International Development (SUNY/CID) led an in-depth Basic Parliamentary Skills training program for 22 senior staff members of various Transitional National Assembly (TNA) departments including Personnel Affairs, Protocol, Accounting and Auditing, Media, and Coordination...

    - A USAID partner is finalizing its Constitutional Information Packages that will be distributed to all civil society organizations interested in understanding and contributing to Iraq’s constitutional process...

    - After a careful review of all micro grant applications, USAID’s partner providing support to the Transitional Government finalized the selection of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ready to implement proposed projects, all related to civic education and input into the national constitutional process.

  • Speaking of foreign ties and assistance, moves are underway to make Sulaymaniyah and Tuscon "sister cities":

    Qubad Talabany looks at Tucson and sees much to remind him of his native city in northern Iraq. 'There are many similarities between Tucson and - Sulaymaniyah - the elevation, the climate, a city surrounded by mountains, the size of the population. Sulaymaniyah also borders another country,' said the son of newly elected Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.

    But Qubad Talabany, the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Washington, D.C., plans to see his hometown mirror Tucson in more culturally significant ways and is working to make it happen through the federal "Partners in Peace" program...

    "This partnership is something that has raised a lot of excitement in Sulaymaniyah and Iraqi Kurdistan," said Talabany, a 27-year-old British-educated diplomat. "We call it planting the seeds for a stronger partnership that covers all aspects of life - a political partnership to an economic partnership and most importantly a cultural partnership where people in Arizona and Tucson can learn a little bit about Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq"...

    The Tucson-Sulaymaniyah link is one of three partnerships announced last year between U.S. and Iraqi cities. Other partnerships are being created between Denver and Baghdad and Dallas and Kirkuk.

    The program will begin with efforts to link the University of Sulaimani's agricultural school with its counterpart at the University of Arizona when two Kurdish professors visit June 10, said Sharon Hekman, who is working with the project.
  • Read also this story of ingenuity and necessity, as "Kurds build homes and make tools with remnants of weapons Saddam once used against them."

  • Cultural life is reviving, too. One year in the making, a conference for Iraqi intellectuals and artists has been held in mid-April under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and the UNESCO: "A number of workshops were held during the conference in the Babylon Hotel. They dealt with book publishing, archaeology and heritage, the national theatre, cinema, fine arts, architectural heritage and the relationship between culture and the media. The security situation aside, conference participants described this meeting, as a golden chance for the rebirth of Iraqi culture as all sectors of Iraqi society and culture were represented. Book fairs and concerts were held in conjunction with the main event."

  • Read also this report how women in conservative Karbala are getting liberated through city's internet cafes.

  • And in a cinematic achievement, "an Iraqi film will compete at the Cannes Film Festival for the first time, vying for the top prize against veteran directors and past winners." Iraqi Kurd Hiner Saleem's "Kilometer Zero", which looks at Kurdish-Arab relations in Iraq, is among 20 movies from 13 countries selected for the competition. Meanwhile, for the first time in 30 years, Iraqi film has won a major prize: "Gheir Salih" ("Of no use"), directed by Udei Rasheed, was the favorite at the 18th Cinema Festival in Singapore.

ECONOMY:

  • Good news for Iraqi economy as inflation keeps falling:

    Inflation rates declined in March in comparison with rates in the preceding month, according to Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafidh. The headline rate inflation, which includes the cost of fuel, transport and consumer goods, had fallen by 6% in March, Hafidh said... The plunge is widely believed to be the result a substantial drop in fuel prices following huge imports from neighboring countries. Hafidh said fuel prices had dropped by 48.6% in March in comparison to April.

  • This report, meanwhile, takes another look at the unsung success story that is the Iraqi Stock Exchange:

    As the Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX) continues to add new companies and generate interest throughout the world, we take a few moments to look back at the humble beginnings of the ISX, and analyze just why and how the ISX has become a symbol of economic hope in a tumultuous Iraq. Given the nature of the Iraqi insurgency, with attacks on foreigners and Iraqis alike, and targeting almost every institution, every beacon of liberalism, prosperity and freedom - the fact that the ISX remains fully operational, and in fact has expanded ten-fold in terms of the number of companies being traded, is nothing short of remarkable.

  • Kurdistan, meanwhile, continues to boom as a result of its investment-friendly climate:

    Differences between the way Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq promotes investment is prompting businesses to snub Baghdad and turn to the northern region of the country.

    In a sign of the apparent preference for the north, the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry is holding a conference in October in Iraqi Kurdistan for 240 firms interested in investing there.

    Analysts say that there are a number of reasons why firms are presently turning their backs on the Iraqi capital.

    The Sulaimaniyah administration of Iraqi Kurdistan has an Investment Promotion Board that guides and facilitates projects for investors. But in Baghdad, there is no central agency to which investors can turn.

    Furthermore, Iraqi Kurdistan's investment law was drawn up following an examination of similar laws in 23 Arab and foreign countries, said Shilan Khanaqa, media director of the Investment Promotion Board. The law, implemented in March 2004, exempts companies and contractors from paying customs for five years and also provides free land for business projects.
  • In oil news, according to the Iraqi Ambassador in Iran, Mohammad Majid Alsheikh, "following formation of the new Iraqi government, an oil pipeline will join the southern Iraqi city Basra with Abadan, located south of Iran." The ambassador also added that "the Iranian government has already approved the plan for construction of the pipeline carrying 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from Iraq to Iran."

  • In other news of foreign cooperation, "Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. says it has inked a one-year technical cooperation agreement with Iraq's oil ministry. Under the deal, the resource development company will search for oil in Iraq and train local personnel."

  • USAID is working to improve the prospects of Iraqi economy:

    USAID's Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) program supports the development of a competitive and efficient private sector in Iraq through a package of training, technical assistance, consulting, and business entrepreneurship services. Recent activities in support of VEGA objectives have included:

    - Grant activities. VEGA recently approved 16 grants for a total of $111,160, including six grants ($36,950) in Baghdad and 10 ($74,210) in Arbil. Grants were provided to a broad variety of businesses, including a private dental clinic, a sewing workshop, a bakery, a beekeeping operation, a printing press, and an art production venture.

    - Training of trainers. VEGA advisors conducted a "training of trainers" (TOT) workshop for field staff from a non-governmental organization that is working with USAID's Community Action Program. The TOT session in Arbil provided instruction on basic business skills development to 12 NGO staffers from Kirkuk, Samarra, Tikrit, Balad Ross, and Diyala.
  • Economic ties with neighbors keep expanding: "In a fresh sign of improving economic relations, Iran has begun export of cement and iron beams to the war-torn Iraq for the first time."

  • Increasing movement between Jordan and Iraq calls for improved infrastructure: "Jordan and Iraq are to establish a new border center to facilitate the flow of passengers and goods between the two countries... The new center will be located at 4 km inside the Jordanian territory to make more rooms for trucks to enter the country, Jordanian Interior Minister Awni Yervas was quoted as saying. He said the proposed new center will be able to do its job smoothly for the next 50 years, adding that the new center is necessary because of the increasing traffic across the current Karameh border."

  • Meanwhile, a major Jordanian bank is returning to Iraq:

    Arab Bank is currently recruiting employees and preparing to resume operations in Iraq. The bank ran five branches in Iraq and six in Syria from 1947 until 1964 when the banking sectors in the two countries were nationalised.

    As part of its expansion plan, a branch in the Iraqi capital will be reopened before the end of this year... The license for reestablishing a branch in Baghdad was obtained a year ago from the Central Bank of Iraq...

    Arab Bank seeks to link the Jordanian and Iraqi economies, advance commercial and trade activities between the two countries and facilitate banking transactions.

  • Passenger flights between Great Britain and Iraq are set to resume in November, after 15 years.

RECONSTRUCTION:

  • According to the Iraq Project and Contracting Office, in less than one year, over 2,100 Iraq reconstruction projects have commenced, 349 of which are now complete. 40,416 men and women are directly employed on projects run by the PCO, and across the country, nearly 170,000 Iraqis are working on American-funded reconstruction projects.

  • Foreign assistance continues to play an important role in rebuilding Iraq. This report discusses some of the Japanese contribution: "Japan is now providing grant aid totaling $1.5 billion to Iraq to rebuild the foundations of public life covering such areas as power generation, education, water supply and sanitation, health, and employment, as well as to improve security. Up to $3.5 billion in aid will be provided for medium-term reconstruction. Japan has also been providing and will continue to provide cultural and sports assistance. Furthermore, Japan is providing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance through the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces."

  • Denmark, too, is increasing its contribution: "Denmark's government has decided to increase aid for Iraq's reconstruction by an additional 100 million kroner (17 million dollars, 13 million euros). The additional aid brings Denmark's total contribution to the rebuilding effort in the war-torn country to 600 million kroner [$102 million] for the five-year period from 2003 to 2008."

  • In recent reconstruction projects:

  • Money keeps pouring in to reconstruct Fallujah, with another $28 million recently donated to the Iraqi authorities by an international aid agency.

  • "A Directorate of Municipalities in northern Iraq renovated and procured equipment for ten municipal offices through an $83,000 Iraq Transition Initiative (ITI) grant."

  • Basra will receive a face-lift, with street redesign and extension program, assisted by the experts from the Czech Republic.

  • Speaking of urban renewal,

    The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), together with the Iraqi Ministry of Municipality and Public Works and the Construction and Housing Ministry, is holding a two-day round-table meeting beginning tomorrow in Amman, Jordan, on a "Slum Upgrading Strategy for Iraq." The meeting, to be attended by more than 60 participants including high-ranking officials, international experts and representatives from many UN agencies, aims to draw up a strategy paper for policy reforms in housing and urban development that will contribute to improving the livelihoods of up to 1 million people, about 25 per cent of Iraq's urban poor.

  • Here's a similar program in action:

    Iraqi villagers outside Erbil, in the Kurdish northern part of the country, have more to look forward to than just a new home as Spring approaches.

    In a country with a 70 percent unemployment rate, the 800 families who helped build their own homes in a recent housing reconstruction effort may be able to turn these valuable skills into much needed value, such as jobs. A year ago, Counterpart International met with local leaders, elders, and community representatives to identify needs in the war-torn Qushtapa sub-district. Finding themselves without adequate houses, water and sanitation systems, wells, or schools, the communities had a lot to talk about.

    Counterpart worked closely with these leaders and other community members, guiding them through a participatory appraisal process. The organization was able to complement the communities' decision to construct houses and their corresponding infrastructure of water and sanitation systems and primary schools, by providing technical expertise and training in self-built home construction and community infrastructure development.

    Through its country office, Counterpart also regularly monitored and evaluated progress to ensure the quality and sustainability of the program. Today, these 800 families from 39 villages are completing their new homes thanks to technical support that was provided by Counterpart through some $5.4 million from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Families also added local roofing materials to complement UNHCR's building guidelines, making their houses more energy efficient in this colder northern region of the country.
  • And the Ministry of Trade is helping Iraqi newlyweds: "Couples are being offered building materials for homes at a reduced cost to local market prices, as well as the chance for them to pay in installments. This comes at a time when rents are double, or in some cases triple or more, what they were during Saddam Hussein's regime."

  • In education, USAID funding is also repairing some of the recent damage (link in PDF): "Several school buildings destroyed by Coalition Forces during the 2003 conflict are being rebuilt under the Assistance to Civilian Victims of the Conflict initiative of the Community Action Program (CAP)."

  • In other education news, 2,100 teachers and other education employees who in the past lost their jobs for political or other reasons, have been reinstated in Baghdad and eight other provinces. Also, the authorities in Al Sadr city in Baghdad have recently finished renovations of 49 schools, construction of 16 new ones, and complete rebuilding of 6 others.

  • And in higher education, USAID explains the rationale behind its HEAD program and updates on progress achieved so far (link in PDF):

    Iraq’s universities are leading efforts to increase stability and advance democratic progress. Universities provide jobs and opportunities for sound intellectual development to the important demographic of 18-25 year old youth... USAID’s Higher Education and Development Program (HEAD) helps Iraqi universities build strong links with U.S. academic counterparts, creating a campus environment that favors prodemocratic thought and actively involves professors and students in rebuilding the country. The HEAD program is designed to have an immediate impact in constructively engaging youths and intellectual leaders. HEAD builds the capacity of Iraqi universities to act as forces for secular, pro-democratic thought and to provide practical education to the generation of Iraqis now entering the workforce. HEAD is implemented through five partnerships, each including several Iraqi and American universities. The five partnerships include:

    - DePaul University’s International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) is working through HEAD to strengthen legal instruction at three Iraqi law schools. Two law libraries at universities in Baghdad and As Sulaymaniyah have so far been restored with assistance from IHRLI; one more library will be restored at a third university.

    - The Al Sharaka project, led by the University of Oklahoma, works with five universities in Iraq to strengthen research capabilities. More than 10,000 books were delivered to five Iraqi Universities through a “Books Beyond Borders” within the Al Sharaka partnership.

    - The Jackson State University-led Mississippi Consortium for International Development is working with Iraqi universities to improve access to international academic resources and strengthen research capabilities. A local area network was installed to link buildings at one northern Iraqi university through an intranet and to provide faculty and researchers access to international counterparts through a high-speed Internet connection.

    - University of Hawaii support enables Iraqi universities to connect farmers with international best practices and modern farming methods. About 150 faculty attended a series of seven workshops at ICARDA and the American University in Beirut (AUB) on topics such as Statistics and Experimental Design, Soil and Water Resources, Forestry Sciences, Agricultural Engineering and Technology Transfer.

    - The State University of New York at Stony Brook (SUNY/SB) is strengthening the quality of education at four Iraqi partner universities in archaeology, Assyriology, and environmental health. Fifty-six faculty and graduate students attended 10 weeks of intensive lectures, IT instruction and field trips in Amman, Jordan.

  • In electricity news, "The Ministry of Electricity has signed two contracts with private sector to build electricity generators stations in the northern region; the capacity of each one is 200 MW."
    USAID, meanwhile, updates on the progress of one of its projects in Baghdad (link in PDF):

    Work is continuing on the expansion of the electrical generation capacity of the Baghdad South Power Plant. The scope of work for the project involves the installation of two new 120 MW turbines and accompanying skids, modules, switchyard, busduct, transformers, and embedded conduit systems. Currently, 45 Iraqi electricians working extended shifts are preparing the necessary power cables for the first new turbine and installing low and medium voltage switchgear. Work on the fire fighting system and the exhaust stack sound muffler has been completed. Work is continuing on grounding, fire protection piping, acoustical enclosures, and gas piping to the main unit breakers.
  • As the report notes, "the first turbine to be installed should begin light fuel operation in June 2005, with the second turbine scheduled for July 2005. The turbines will be ready for heavy fuel operation and be substantial completed by November 2005. When completed, 212 MW will be added to the Iraq grid. All work at the site is expected to be completed by December 2005."

  • In water and sanitation, work continues on numerous USAID projects around the country ("An anticipated 11.8 million Iraqis will benefit from USAID's $600 million in water and sanitation projects"):

    in Karbala, the work is focusing on "placing prefabricated reinforcement systems, formwork, and concrete for compact unit foundations. Installation of a new low lift pump and refurbishing of piping and valves is ongoing at the intake works"; the project will be completed in September 2005;

    in Baghdad, the Baghdad Water Distributions Mains project is "modeling the distribution system to collect data and conduct a survey of major water mains in the city and the extensive repair and replacement of mains, distribution pipes and valves"; some 32 kilometers of pipe have already been laid and the project is scheduled to be completed by December this year;

    in Diyala governorate, "civil and electrical work is underway at water and sewage treatment plants serving... [the] governorate which require rehabilitation and expansion to better serve the region's 60,000 residents"; the project is 70 per cent complete and will be finished in May.
  • Meanwhile in the north, one project has been recently completed:

  • USAID and the US Army have completed work to rehabilitate Mosul's water treatment and sewer systems. In support of the Army's efforts to install diesel generator systems and rehabilitate Mosul's six water treatment plants and eight pump stations, USAID worked to clear the city's sewer and storm-drain systems and provided trucks and other equipment including pumps and pump control systems, valves, penstocks, pipes, spare parts, tools, and electrical equipment. USAID also provided welding training to water treatment plant operations and maintenance staff. With the completion of this project and the re-commissioning of the elevated tanks, Mosul will have 24 hours of water available.
  • In agriculture, this from USAID: "The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and USAID's Agriculture Reconstruction and Development for Iraq (ARDI) program are working to improve productivity in Iraqi orchards. Preparation has begun on 24 farms in Dahuk governorate participating in an olive orchard improvement project aimed at enhancing olive production and improving the skills and income of beneficiary farmers. To increase earning potential, MOA/ARDI will provide seedlings from nurseries in the region, using popular varieties that have a large domestic market. When field preparation is complete, each farmer will receive 300 olive seedlings."

  • USAID is also working to improve the standard of agricultural education throughout Iraq:

    USAID is strengthening agricultural research and education in Iraq through a partnership between agriculture colleges at the University of Hawaii and Iraqi universities. The Higher Education and Development (HEAD) partnership is training faculty and students, improving laboratories and other facilities, and equipping libraries.

    Eleven professional development and planning workshops were recently held for 250 Iraqi university faculty members. The workshops, taught by leading agriculturalists around the world, provided faculty with training in agricultural statistics, experimental design, technology transfer, soil and water sciences, field crops, animal sciences, agricultural engineering and forest science.

    Six Iraqi graduate students participated in study abroad programs at an American University. The students improved their English language skills, visited research centers and conducted advanced research projects. The students also participated in a three week library skills training class which will allow them to teach others how to utilize the electronic resources being integrated into their universities at home.

    The program is also supporting the rehabilitation of greenhouses, libraries and computer facilities that are critical for conducting modern agricultural research. In addition, $205,500 in small grants has been awarded to 18 faculty from Iraqi agriculture and forestry colleges to conduct research in priority areas such as pesticide and fertilizer use.

  • A joint project between the United Nations and the Japanese government is now underway to save Iraq's ecologically most significant area:

    United Nations efforts to help restore the marshlands of southern Iraq, considered by some to be the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden, after they were massively damaged by the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein, have moved a step closer with the identification of six pilot project sites.

    At all six sites environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) will be used to see how they perform in restoring the environment and providing clean water and sanitation to 85,000 people living there, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) official Monique Barbut told a meeting yesterday held on the margins of the thirteenth session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in New York.

    The $11-million project, funded by the Government of Japan, aims to bring wetland management skills to local people and communities, heirs to the 5,000-year-old civilization of the Babylonians and Sumerians, with "low tech" less polluting ESTs which include restoration of reed beds and other marshland habitats that act as natural, water-filtration systems.
  • By 2003 some 93 per cent of the marshland had disappeared; but a year later, around one fifth has already been reflooded (or two fifths according to the Iraqi authorities).

  • Here's more, including the details of an ambitious proposal to power up the re-watering operation.

HUMANITARIAN AID:

  • Spirit of America is starting a new initiative to build ties between two educational systems:

    Spirit of America announces the successful launch of the America-Iraq School Partners Program pilot. The program creates partnerships and friendships between American and Iraqi schools.

    The America-Iraq School Partners Program pilot features 13 American schools in Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, New Hampshire, Illinois, California & Germany and 17 schools in Basrah, Baghdad and Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. More than 1500 elementary school children are participating in the pilot. The America-Iraq School Partners Program is designed to build understanding and friendships between Iraqi and American children, assist the development and improvement of education in Iraq and to demonstrate that the Iraqi people are not alone in their struggle to establish a free and peaceful society.

    The core purpose of the School Partners program is to establish connections and communication between the participating schools. Communication includes student-to-student, teacher-to-teacher and principal-to-principal communication. American schools may provide gifts of friendship to their partner schools in Iraq such as supplies, books or equipment. This is at the discretion of the American school and would be expected to be funded privately by the school's parents, students, local businesses and community.
  • USAID is helping the victims of recent, and not so recent fighting (link in PDF): "The Community Action Program (CAP) will supply 206 wheelchairs and 50 sets of crutches for disabled people in a Salah Ad-Din governorate city where some of the fiercest street battles outside of Fallujah took place. Thirty civilian victims of Coalition fighting were identified in need of wheelchairs in addition to other persons with disabilities (PWDs) who had lost limbs or limb functions due to disease, previous wars, or accidents. An Iraqi NGO partner did a survey of all PWDs in the city, noting the type of disability and any special needs."

  • An Iraqi boy is returning home after a successful surgery:

    It was an emotional day of goodbyes, and a day of surprises, for an Army Ranger from West Liberty and the Iraqi boy whose life he helped save.

    A farewell reception for Rebaz and Subhi Shamsadeen was held Saturday at University Hospitals. Rebaz, 5, a Kurdish boy from northern Iraq, was born with a hole in his heart, a genetic defect that killed an older brother. He and his father have been in eastern Iowa since Dec. 30, 2004, when they secured their visas, found the doctors who could perform the life-saving operation and the money to help pay for it.

    The duo will return to Iraq Monday, but Subhi Shamsadeen said he was grateful for everything he and his son had received while in Iowa.

    "For me, it's like a dream," he said through an interpreter, Iowa City resident Faramarz Shahsar. "I couldn't believe we could come to the United States for the surgery. I love these people."

    The Shamsadeens' journey began in August 2003, when Sgt. Corey Johnston was working his second tour of duty in Iraq as an Army Ranger medic. Based near Mosul, which is in predominantly Kurdish territory in northern Iraq, he worked with First Lt. Farook Khalid Shamsadeen, Rebaz's uncle.

    "He told me about this kid and asked me if I could do anything," Johnston said, citing a list of questions the Iraqi gave him in English, Farsi and Kurdish.

    Johnston, who will return to Iraq on May 7, made some inquiries and told the story to his mother, Cindy Yerington, back home in West Liberty. Yerington spoke with others and soon, the pieces started coming together for bringing Rebaz to Iowa for the operation.

  • Then there is the story of this Iraqi girl:

    The changes in Eman Hashim are easy to spot. One year after the marathon surgery that transformed her face - and her life - the 14-year-old Iraqi girl has an upper lip and can close her mouth. Her brown eyes, once so wide apart that she had trouble seeing straight ahead, are more centered on her face. She has the beginnings of a normal nose.

    Eman still has a major deformity, which doctors hope to fix during a second operation next week. But newfound confidence and hope are already in her smile and voice, once just a meek whisper.

    "I am more comfortable with myself," Eman said Monday, the morning after flying into Norfolk. "I am more happy." She and her father, Khalid Hashim, spoke through a translator.

    Eman is a patient in the World Care Program run by Operation Smile, a Norfolk-based nonprofit that helps children all over the world. Eman spent two months here last year and will stay for about a month this time. Her surgery is scheduled for a week from Wednesday at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters.

    Doctors hope to build Eman a new nose, using a small amount of bone from her skull and skin from her arm. They also plan to create a lid for her left eye. The operation should take about 10 hours, about half as long as last year's surgery, said Dr. William Magee, Eman's plastic surgeon and the founder of Operation Smile.

  • Meanwhile, the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Bahrain, has offered free medical treatment to a number of Iraqis who couldn't receive required medical attention back home:

    Mr Teaney and Mrs Weller,who are husband and wife, sponsored the patients' travel expenses, as well as their accommodation costs in Bahrain.

    The money was raised by Mr Teaney and Mrs Weller when they took part in the New York Marathon in November 2003.

    The couple raised $140,000 (BD52,920) and initially this was to be used to re-build and provide facilities for a school for the hearing impaired, nursery and affiliated orphanage in Iraq.

    But because of logistic difficulties, they were unable to go ahead with the project.

    They later found out about the Hope and Support Fund for Iraqi Cancer Patients campaign and were able to get involved.

  • Sometimes the gestures may seem small, but they come from the heart:

    Trainee beauticians at a Scottish college have been pampering an Iraqi teenager who was badly burned during an air attack in her home country. Students at Telford College in Edinburgh invited Hannan Shihab, 17, who has been undergoing plastic surgery, to their training salon...

    The students and staff offered Hannan, from Baghdad, the treatment after reading about her situation in newspapers.

    Hannan was at home with her parents, two brothers and sister on 7 April, 2003, when a bomb from a US military aircraft exploded nearby. The vibration from the blast knocked a kerosene lamp onto her bed, setting it alight.

    The teenager suffered horrific burns but there was a limit to what doctors in war-torn Iraq could do.

    Katrina Turner, from Bonnyrigg, became aware of her plight and persuaded experts to treat her at St John's Hospital in Livingston.

    Hannan recently underwent reconstructive facial surgery at the hospital and students invited her for treatment to boost her confidence and self-esteem.

  • Throughout the United States, local grass-roots efforts continue to assist the people of Iraq in many different ways. This from Louisiana:

    We can think of no better example of the caring nature of the people of Acadiana than the extension of Operation Care Bear to the war-torn country of Iraq. A group called Acadiana Women set out to brighten the lives of Iraqi children after Sgt. Jeanne Crochet of Lafayette, member of the Louisiana National Guard's 256th, 199th Charlie Med, based out of St. Martinville, asked for help for the needy young ones. Next came a request from Spc. Andrew Malaxonis, also with Charlie Company, for Care Bears he could give to ambulance drivers, medics and Marines to distribute on patrol, to help them reach out to Iraqi children. Acadiana Women is a group known for sewing and stuffing bears for Acadiana children who are ill. Following requests from the 256th members, they have sent about 120 bears to Iraq each month since December, giving of their time and making a significant investment in postage and other costs of shipping.

  • From Michigan:

    A story indicating that a Beanie Baby may have saved the lives of members of a convoy of U.S. Marines in Iraq has encouraged a Roscommon merchant to continue her campaign to send the toys to deployed U.S. servicemen. Mary Lou Bryce of Sandbar Designs said she planned to send two boxes of Beanie Babies to Iraq Wednesday. She already had shipped seven boxes since last fall... Among the dolls in this week's shipment is the entire Beanie collection of 16-year-old Roscommon resident Sara Brigham. Bryce said Brigham and other recent donors were inspired by a story reported by CNN last month.

  • And Louisiana:

    Americans take for granted a lot of little things: toothpaste, toys, shampoo and candy. Those are the kinds of items U.S. service personnel serving in Iraq write home asking for -- not for themselves but to give to Iraqi civilians.

    Sabrina Jagneaux, a receptionist at Acadian Ambulance Service Inc. in Lafayette, said employees pack care boxes filled with simple items such as toiletries, small toys and stuffed animals about every two weeks to send to co-workers who have been deployed .

    About 30 employees of Acadian Ambulance are serving abroad as paramedics.

THE COALITION TROOPS:

  • In addition to their security work, the Coalition soldiers are also trying to assist Iraqi people in many different ways, most notably in reconstruction.

  • The troops are reporting successes in the Salah ad Din province - and this report offers an excellent snapshot of efforts that are being replicated every day on the ground across Iraq with the assistance of the Coalition personnel:

    Visible signs of progress are everywhere - most notably the Bayji gas turbine upgrade, renovated schools, transportation projects and new health clinics.

    The Bayji project places an additional 260 megawatts of electrical power on the national grid. The rehabilitation project totaled $54 million.

    School renovations top the list of reconstruction efforts in Salah ad Din. Last month, 31 schools were completed, with 10 of those in the Samarra District. April projections are for another 44 schools to be completed.

    The renovation projects in Salah ad Din will affect over 13,000 Iraqi students and boost the local economy in the form of labor, materials and subcontracts. The use of local contractors and local labor has been instrumental in inspiring pride in the local communities and injecting money into the local economies, according to Multi-National Forces.

    Two transportation projects, the train stations in Heliwat and Al'Fat'ha, were completed last month. The transportation infrastructure improvements include reconstruction of over 26 kilometers of village roads in remote areas of the province, creating all-weather roads to support the reliable transportation and delivery of goods and services to hundreds of local Iraqis. The projects include replacement of failed drainage structures, repair to the road sub-base and placement of an asphalt concrete road surface.

    Two primary health clinics in Salah ad Din province were started in March. Seven additional planned clinics are nearing their start date. The clinics are being sited in local cities and villages to provide Iraqis with direct access to health care.

    Two electrical substation projects have started in the province, the beginning of a $20 million contract for five substations and one feeder line. These projects will upgrade the existing distribution network of power throughout the province.

    There are more than 475 projects in progress, with over 180 projects forecast completed, and 99 projects forecast to begin this month.

  • Around Baghdad, the troops of the 3rd Infantry Division are also involved in numerous local programs:

    An Army task force composed of engineers and civil affairs personnel have spearheaded the rebuilding of Iraq's economy by working hand in hand with Iraqi people. Together they are making substantial progress in the reconstruction of the new Iraq.

    The Essential Services Team for the 1088th Engineer Battalion, 256th Brigade Combat Team is composed of the civil affairs personnel from 2nd Brigade, 10 Mountain Division, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and C Co., 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion.

    Project Payment and Management Sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Carl Griffin, from Denham Springs, La., with 1088th Eng. Batt., tracks the weekly progress of each project and assesses projects managed by local contractors. Since April, EST has started 54 new projects that range from running water lines to a house in a village to cleaning up trash that has built up over the years. With a purpose to help the Iraqi people rebuild its economy, the 256th EST and its counterparts are providing a way for this nation to get back on its feet. While these projects are helping to rebuild Iraq, they have provided 3,142 jobs to the locals within their area of responsibility. .

    "We currently have 162 projects that we are tracking that are spread throughout the 3rd Infantry Division's Area Of Responsibility," said Griffin. "These projects consist of electricity, water, health, government, agriculture, humanitarian assistance, fuel, transportation, sewage, trash and academics. Even though all issues are important and are being addressed, our main concern right now is the lack of electricity, water, sewage removal and trash collection in our areas," said Griffin.
  • Read also this first-hand report from a Seabrook police officer Michael Cawley is currently with an Army Reserve unit in Iraq, as he describes progress being made in the town where he serves.

  • The troops in central Iraq have also contributed to improving the fuel situation of ordinary Iraqis:

    New gas pumps and gas stations, repairs and increased security have now eliminated long lines at Iraqi Government gas stations in Task Force Liberty's area of operations in central Iraq.

    Begun last December, the improvements were coordinated and supervised by the 42nd Infantry Division's Oil Team. The 42nd Infantry Division is the command and control element for Task Force Liberty, and Multi-National Division, North Central Iraq.

    "Now Iraqis don't have wait six to 12 hours to get fuel," said Maj. Brian Paolillo, 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, who is in charge of the 42nd Infantry Division's Oil Team.

    The team is responsible for oil security and infrastructure development in Task Force Liberty's Area of Operations, Paolillo said - coordinating $15 million worth of oil security and infrastructure projects at any one time.

    This includes the recent gas station and security improvements. The team coordinated with Iraqi contractors to repair and replace existing pumps, replace tanks and build four new gas stations.

    The team also coordinated with the local Iraqi government agencies to provide Iraqi police escorts for fuel tankers - protecting them from hijackers and black-marketers, and as Paolillo put it, ensuring the "tankers get from the depot to the station."

  • Meanwhile, another valuable water project is nearing completion:

    The near-term completion of a project in the Al-Rasheed district will provide more than 100,000 villagers with fresh water.

    The $500,000 project began six months ago and employed 36 people, including 30 from the local area.

    In the 2nd Kurtan village, which has roughly 5,000 residents, there hasn't been a source for purified water since it was formed, according to Capt. Christian Neels, the civil-military operations officer for 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment.

    Sheik Alwan Kartan, a local tribal leader who has participated in the project since the beginning, said that the villagers who had cars could go to the adjacent areas to get water. Those without vehicles had to get their water from the canal that connects to the river, putting them at risk for disease.

  • The troops continue to support Iraqi school system. In Fallujah, renovations have been completed and official opening held at Children at the Palestine Primary School. "The $28,000 project started in March. Repairs were made to the damaged walls, doors and classrooms and electrical wiring. The money also went toward new doors, exhaust fans, six water tanks, a water pump and toilets for a student bathroom." In other recently completed projects:

    - The Aabid and Nahda Schools also were refurbished for $28,000 in early April. The repairs included installing new doors, water tanks and a water pump and repairing electrical wiring and removing of broken glass. - Repairs to the Mina Primary School for Girls and the Janeen Secondary School for Girls were completed in March for $24,000.
  • Assistance to schools also continues on an ad hoc basis. "The mayor of Balad Ruz delivered school supplies to students in two schools within Balad Ruz April 27 in Diyala Province. He was escorted by lraqi police and Soldiers from Task Force Liberty's 278th Regimental Combat Team. The supplies were donated and mailed by Soldiers' family members in the United States." And Task Force Liberty Soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 278 th Regimental Combat Team, were recently distributing school supplies to students at Al Ferzdaq School in Diyala Province, which teaches 1,000 students.

  • In addition to their normal work, the troops also try to help Iraqi schools of their own initiative, like in this instance: "School supply drives are common in August and September, but this is April. Of course, these students aren't in a typical situation. Members of the 224th Engineering Battalion are putting together a school supply drive to help Iraqi students. The supplies will go to students in Ramadi, a town close to the 224th's main base. Capt. Dan Maeder is in charge of the drive. It's an appropriate selection since Maeder's civilian job is principal of Pekin Middle School." See the story for details if you can help.

  • And from Minnesota: "Relatives of soldiers serving in Iraq with an Austin National Guard unit are reaching out to the Iraqi children. The Family Readiness Group was formed to support the families and relatives of members of Austin's 434th Transportation Company. The group has begun 'Operation Yellow Ribbon' to collect items to be donated to children in Iraq. The group is looking for donations of clothing, sports equipment and money to help ship the donations to Iraq."

  • The troops are also helping with medical needs of Iraqi people. In Najaf:

    The Najaf Teaching Hospital renovations, performed by local Iraqi contractors, are part of a major rebuilding project overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division.

    Rehabilitation efforts focus on the main hospital building and consist of repairing damaged floors, walls and ceilings; improving mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; and upgrading emergency power and sewage treatments, for an estimated cost of $15 million.

    The seven-story Najaf Teaching Hospital, built in 1982, features 420 patient beds and 13 operating theaters, and is part of a campus used to train physicians and healthcare personnel throughout Iraq. Currently, the facility educates 250 undergraduate students - 50 of whom are pharmaceutical students.

    Rather than waiting until the May 2006 proposed project completion date, the Corps split the hospital renovation project into three phases.

  • Phase one has already been completed. In Thineeyah:

    Armed with school supplies and multivitamins, Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division sponsored a medical civil affairs project held at Al Nassir School here April 12.

    The team provided basic medical assistance to children and adults as part of the ongoing effort by multi-national forces to help rebuild Iraq.

    Once the patients were seen by the physician or physician assistant, they received various gifts or a care package containing toys for the children and dental hygiene products and toiletries. School supplies and treats were freely given out to the delight of young Iraqi children; additionally, several pairs of shoes were given along with apparel.

  • Read also this story of a reluctant "doctor": "Brad Banks has no aspirations of becoming a doctor. The Army Reserve second lieutenant is content being a respiratory therapist at Mayo Clinic Scottsdale and serving his country. The man whom Baghdad residents call 'Captain' is their doctor figure -- whether he likes it or not." The report explains:

    Because of his medical background, Banks was approached by a sergeant to work with the Iraqi people to find solutions for their medical needs. Banks created the volunteer position on Sundays that no other soldier has taken on. After word of Banks' presence spread, he became a modern-day pied piper. People kept showing up on Sundays. Banks tried to connect them with what goods or services he might be able to. That's more than enough for the poor who gather at the Al Rasheed district advisory council building. Banks sets up a makeshift clinic in a conference room of the structure once used as a hunting lodge by Saddam Hussein's son Uday.
  • There are also other, often less tangible way, in which the troops are having an impact on Iraqi people. In Saddam's hometown on Tikrit, the locals get an unusual experience: an opportunity to share a radio station with the US troops and engage in talkback with the local commander:

  • One caller wants to know why she can't attend the trials of her family members. The next claims his house was robbed of 3 million dinars after a raid, and he wants it back. A third asks about Western medical attention for a critically ill child.

    On the live call-in radio show, the main guest is the head of the U.S.-led occupation in Tikrit, the callers are local residents, and the questions they ask tell the story of the occupation in Iraq.

    "There's just so many ways that we can defeat the insurgency," says Lt. Col. Todd Wood of the 3rd Infantry Division after the show last week. "One of the ways is to change perception. If we can do that, the people will change."

    Wood, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 70th Infantry Regiment, deals daily with infantry patrols, bankrolls local improvement projects and directs raids on suspected insurgents.

    But he thinks one of the most powerful tools at his disposal is the live radio show on FM 96.5, on which he stars each Thursday afternoon.

    He arrives early in a heavily armored convoy. Soldiers enter the radio station on the edge of Tikrit ahead of him. When he walks in, he is armored and helmeted but also cheerful. The unscripted hour that follows can be congratulatory or combative.

    Wood loves it either way.

    The armed forces radio station, called "the Rock of Tikrit" by American troops in town, allows several hours of local break-in programming each day. Wood's show is one of the most popular, for Iraqis and Americans, and is rebroadcast two to three times each week.

    It is hosted in Arabic by Mushir Hassan, and Wood takes calls with the help of his translator, talking to callers about the American presence in Tikrit as well as the complexities of the military bureaucracy and nascent Iraqi justice system.

  • Another officer, further north, is performing other valuable services:

    Back in Idaho, Lt. Col. Anthony Wickham works as the Army National Guard liaison to the state government. His primary responsibility is to develop disaster plans for emergencies such as fires, blizzards and floods. Here in Iraq, however, Wickham, 45, of Boise, is a military liaison of a different sort. His primary responsibility is to mediate among the various ethnic factions battling for control of Kirkuk. He is working to help prevent the ultimate man-made disaster: civil war.
  • In Hamrin, meanwhile, "Task Force Liberty's 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, and the town of Hamrin celebrated the opening of a new soccer field with an inaugural game between two local teams in early April in Diyala Province. When Hamrin's existing soccer field flooded, the town’s twelve adult soccer teams had nowhere to play. With unemployment at an estimated 60 percent, it was vital that the men of Hamrin had somewhere to play. In addition to providing a recreation facility, this project also employed eight local men for 10 days and gave Coalition soldiers the opportunity to interact with local Iraqis in an informal setting."

  • It's not just the American troops, which are helping Iraqis with security and reconstruction. Australian troops in Taji, for example, have been training Iraqis in transport and logistics:

    A team of Australians in Taji, Iraq, graduated the first class of Iraqi soldiers, April 18, in an Iraqi Army supply, transportation and maintenance schoolhouse they helped complete in March. The team implemented a five week course at the Iraqi Army Support and Services Institute, with lessons for both Iraqi officers and noncommissioned officers... When the team arrived in Taji to set up the institute, they had to start from the ground up. The buildings on the training grounds were empty and had no power or water. They repaired the buildings that were still structurally sound, then did everything necessary to get the school off the ground, from building cement walls to ordering post-it notes.
  • So far, so good for the Australians: "Venturing out for the first time in numbers, Australian troops have been greeted on the streets of the Iraqi city of Samawah with smiles, waves and official word they are welcome."

  • And recently, among the Romanian troops in the Dhi Qar province, "the transfer of authority ceremony was held in Camp Mittica between 812th Infantry Battalion 'Carpathians Hawks' and newly arrived 2nd Infantry Battalion 'Calugareni' from Bucharest... Starting with 10th of February, Romanian 2nd Infantry Battalion 'Calugareni' was involved in several CIMIC operations distributing furniture, equipment and appliances to 4 primary and secondary schools located in Suq ash Shuyukh şi Al-Ukaika. The materials worthing aprox.10.000 USD were donated by the Italian Foreign Ministry. A few days later, a primary school in Al-Chabaish received furniture and teaching equipment worthing aprox. 3000 USD.The materials were also donated by the Italian Foreign Ministry."

SECURITY:

  • Pentagon notes one positive overall trend:

    There are more than 155,000 "trained and equipped" members of the Iraqi security forces, and trends are clearly positive... Between 1,500 and 3,000 more soldiers and police are joining the country's forces weekly... Some of the Iraqi units are doing quite well. The Iraqis have far better human intelligence than the coalition does... What's more, U.S. troop strength in Iraq went under 140,000 this week with the completion of the rotation of forces in and out of the country... This is down from the 170,000 American troops in Iraq in January. In Kuwait, the number of U.S. troops is also down to 14,000.
  • In fact, "the American military has set a target of December for handing over responsibility for security to Iraqi army and police units, says a classified document being circulated among senior officers." Iraqi security sources are predicting that large scale American troop withdrawals should be taking place by the middle of next year.

  • The struggle against the insurgency and terrorism goes on. A raid in late April, which killed five and captured three suspected members of Al Zarqaqi's network in Baghdad, also netted a letter allegedly written by Abu Asim al-Qusaymi al-Yemeni, member of al Qaida in the Land Between the Two Rivers:

    The letter advocates jihad and praises "the sheik" for being "a thorn in the mouth of the Americans," the military said. But it also speaks of low morale, weakening support for the insurgency, and the incompetence of many militant leaders, the statement said. The author also reportedly admonishes the sheik for abandoning his followers since Fallujah - an insurgent stronghold that was the subject of a major US-led assault in November.
  • More on the letter here.

  • Increasing "Iraqization" of security is paying off:

    The Iraqi platoon slips in darkness down a path from an abandoned rail yard to a cemetery in Haifa, a Baghdad district long notorious for insurgent ambushes.

    Wearing mismatched uniforms and carrying old Kalashnikov assault rifles, the soldiers step nimbly along a street that runs between a clutter of stone tombs. Watching for attackers down every alley, they halt approaching cars and scan rooftops with flashlights. A beam of light sweeping over one wall reveals some unusual but welcome Arabic graffiti: "The ING is strong."

    It's a reputation the soldiers of the 302nd Battalion seek to solidify in Haifa, now their turf. A former Iraqi National Guard (ING) unit that U.S. officers consider one of the most capable units in the Iraqi army, the 302nd formally took charge early this year in Haifa, part of a growing swath of central Baghdad being turned over to Iraqi forces...

    Haifa offers a window on the benefits and risks of the U.S. push to shift responsibility for security to Iraqi forces.

    In 15 months of street fighting here, the 1,000-man battalion has lost 26 men to assassinations, suicide bombings and block-by-block combat, a higher fatality rate than the U.S. military has suffered here or in all of Iraq. But in recent weeks, attacks have fallen off sharply. Insurgents still sometimes throw grenades down narrow alleys at the soldiers or fire a few rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle and run. But they're attempting little else here, at least for now.

  • Iraqization is also paying off in Fallujah:

    Calm is returning to Fallujah courtesy of the residents of this one-time haven for insurgents who are helping Iraqi security forces keep the city safe. Police and National Guardsmen are now able to walk freely in Fallujah, and inhabitants say they are finally enjoying peace after months of living in fear.

    Security officers credit the city's citizens for the change. "The people help us and provide us with information about the terrorists," said Abbas Yousif, a National Guardsman. "The Iraqi police and National Guard carry out their duties easily, and they are in full control of the city."

    Muhsin Ali, a fellow National Guardsman, agrees that with the people's " said Ali. "Our relationship with them is good"...

    Reconstruction is happening at a slow pace and militants still operate on the outskirts of Fallujah, but residents say peace has returned to the city centre.

    Thair Mustafa, who sells electrical equipment, said life has returned to normal. "Before the terrorists would kill any member of the Iraqi police and National Guard," he said. "But now [they] roam around and people are happy with them coming, as they organise fuel distribution."

    Omer Sami, a taxi driver, said before the American assault on the city, residents "endured terrible days at the mercy of murderers". He said the insurgents prevented men from having their facial hair removed or having western- style haircuts. "Thank God the heroic Iraqi army saved us from those murderers, and we now live in peace and stability," said Sami.

    Musafir Sood, a civil servant, said life under the insurgents was similar to the Taleban regime, the Islamic government that once ruled Afghanistan. "We were afraid to talk or have discussions with those armed men as they might kill us," said Sood. "Thank God we got rid of them."

  • Read also this profile of Iraq's toughest counter-insurgency commander:

    In a country of tough guys, Adnan Thabit may be the toughest of all. He was both a general and a death-row prisoner under Saddam Hussein.

    He favors leather jackets no matter the weather, his left index finger extends only to the knuckle (the rest was sliced off in combat) and he responds to requests from supplicants with grunts that mean yes or no. Occasionally, a humble aide approaches to spray his hands with perfume, which he wipes over his rugged face.

    General Adnan, as he is known, is the leader of Iraq's most fearsome counterinsurgency force. It is called the Special Police Commandos and consists of about 5,000 troops. They have fought insurgents in Mosul, Ramadi, Baghdad and Samarra.
  • As the report concludes, "The successes that the counterinsurgency has enjoyed are in no small part because of Adnan's commandos. With American forces in an advisory role, the commandos, as well as a few other well-led units, inflicted more violence upon insurgents than insurgents inflicted upon them."

  • Despite constant dangers, Iraq's new policemen are standing firm:

    At least four policemen died and 22 were wounded when insurgents bombed a police academy, the latest victims in a campaign to cripple US-backed efforts to set up new Iraqi security forces.

    But as the death toll from almost daily attacks on Iraq's fledgling forces continues to mount, those who have the daunting task of facing down insurgents remain resolute.

    "Give us the weapons the American troops have, and we'll do better than them," said Baghdad police officer Ayad Abed Mehdi, 45. "We are stronger than the terrorists. We have to fight them face to face"...

    Despite the risk, new recruit Mohammed Jazel, 22, likes the generous 175-dollar monthly salary which allows him to buy pricey items such as fruit and soft drinks. "I have my eyes open 24 hours in case there's an attack," said Jazel, who joined Baghdad's police force in March 2004. "I want to help make the country peaceful, and I like the salary," he added.

    "We feel we are strong now, but the government needs to trust us," said Haidar Sendan, 32, another new police recruit who served in the army under former president Saddam Hussein. "Saddam remained in power for 35 years because he had a strong security force," he said.

    "It's dangerous when we leave our jobs at night to go home," said Saad Hamid, 34, another Baghdad officer. "We are suffering. Our friends have been kidnapped or killed. But now we have an opportunity to work as police."
  • The training of new security forces continues. In April, The Iraq Police Service graduated 2,872 police officers. "There were 320 police recruits from the Sulaymaniyah Regional Academy; 138 from the Basrah Police Academy; 1,488 from the Jordan International Police Training Center; and 926 from the Baghdad Police College. The Baghdad class included five female police students." So far, "more than 30,800 police recruits have completed the eight-week training course developed for new recruits. An additional 36,000 police officers have completed the three-week Transitional Integration Program course that provides officers with prior police experience a condensed version of the longer basic police training course."

  • A new elite unit is being formed to combat terrorism:

    The i.ct.f (the Iraq counter-terror force) is under formation now as part of the special operations brigade of the Iraqi army while Iraq will have the biggest anti-terror training field in the Middle East...

    The commander of the brigade said that four consecutive courses are arranged in order to select the most eligible elements among the applicants for joining this highly specialized force.

    From 809 applicants, only 350 have passed the primary tough tests which are called (the selection) and it's planned to select only 100 men after passing through another intensified course of training and this group will be sent outside the country to receive further training for two month by trainers from the MNF about handling terror threats and fighting terror cells.

    The remaining 250 who will fail to pass the last course will be joined to the commandos forces of the army...

    The anti-terror training center will be the 1st of a kind in the Middle East as the source said where members of the i.ct.f will receive training about urban war tactics and the members of this unit will be equipped with highly advanced American weapons and equipments. 10 of the best qualified men from this unit are going to chosen to train other special forces units for the Iraqi army including commandos, paratroopers and quick response units.
  • American troops are playing an important role, sharing their expertise with their Iraqi colleagues. Soldiers of the 6th Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division are currently training 1,000 servicemen from the Iraqi Army's 1st and 3rd battalions to enable these troops to take over the security of the Green Zone in the capital. Meanwhile, soldiers from the 3rd Forward Support Battalion, Task Force Liberty, will soon be working with the 202nd Battalion, Iraqi Army to establish within the Iraqi unit a system comparable to the Army's sections of responsibility: personnel, intelligence, operations, supply and logistics, and communications.

  • US Army is also helping with equipment. The Iraqi Border Patrol at Suleymaniyah received more than 40 new Toyota Landcruisers with radio systems on April 12. Meanwhile, "more than 800 protective vests and more than 350,000 7.62mm rounds were issued to the Iraqi army at a Task Force Liberty base near Samarra."

  • German Defense Minister Peter Struck has also offered more assistance in training Iraqi personnel, during his visit to a facility in the United Arab Emirates where German soldiers are "training members of the Iraqi army to become trainers themselves."

  • This is merely a tip of the iceberg, but "more than 85,000 mines, cluster bombs and projectiles left from wars waged by the ousted Baath regime and U.S.-led forces have been removed in Iraq. The Iraqi Organization for the Elimination of Mines said an area of more than 4 million square miles across Iraq has been cleared."

  • The TV campaign against terrorists is gaining momentum, building on successes of previous shows:

    A crowded market, a suicide bomber with hands chained to the steering wheel, and, suddenly, in a blare of sirens, police bar his way - a new television ad tells Iraqis how they can fight the insurgency.

    The ad urges viewers to help police catch "terrorists before they kill innocent people" by phoning a hotline to report anything suspicious.

    In a country where deadly car bombs provide daily reminders of insurgent attempts to destabilize the new government, the ad has struck a chord with both insurgents and people on the street, said Hussein al-Tajer, advertising manager for Al-Iraqiya state television.

    Since the ad was first broadcast a week ago, insurgents have made anonymous phone calls and sent e-mails threatening station workers, calling them "infidels" and "collaborators", Tajer said.

    But others have sent e-mails thanking the network, originally set up by the Americans after the invasion two years ago. "We have received many threats saying we are agents for the Americans," Tajer said. "But nothing will improve this country unless we work against the terrorists."

    The interior ministry and intelligence services launched the ad campaign to capitalize on the success of a television show called "Terrorists in the Grip of Justice", said Iraqiya station manager Ahmad al-Yassery.
  • There's another useful TV show that is currently hitting Iraqi airways: "The Iraqi Media Network's "COPS" program aired April 24 in Kirkuk, allowing local police officials to discuss security issues impacting the area and local citizens to call in and voice concerns. Traffic during the day and night-time patrols were discussed during April 24's episode."

  • As a result, the public cooperation against terrorists and insurgents is increasing. Among others, the telephone tip lines are receiving more calls:

    Deep in the heart of Camp Liberty, not far from Baghdad International Airport and situated in an unassuming building on Saddam Hussein's famed game reserve, is one of the 3rd Infantry Division's strategic weapons against the insurgency - a hot line for tips...

    Television commercials, billboards, business cards and even keychains are used to promote the telephone hot-line campaign in Iraq.

    "It allows Iraqi people, who might not be comfortable with the newly established Iraqi police or Iraqi army, an avenue to give information. They want to help. They want to do something," said Sgt. Maj. Jerry Craig. He runs the Joint Coordination Cell, the official military name of the hot-line center.

    Craig spoke highly of his unit, lavishing praise on his translators. He said the unit receives 50-60 calls a day. About 15 of those calls deliver some type of a result. The Joint Coordination Cell launched the first operational hot line last August. With its success, other bases have instituted call centers around the country.

  • The most notable recent instance of civilian cooperation against the insurgents concerned the group that shot down the helicopter carrying civilian contractors:

    An Iraqi civilian helped Task Force Baghdad soldiers find and apprehend six terrorists suspected of shooting down a civilian Mi-8 helicopter April 21, coalition officials in Baghdad, Iraq, announced today.

    "The Iraqi citizen told the soldiers he knew where the blue KIA pickup truck the terrorists used during the attack was parked and led them to the site," a Multinational Force Iraq release stated. "When the soldiers got there, several other local residents confirmed the first tip and showed the soldiers where the terrorists lived."

    Soldiers started to search two houses at 12:30 a.m. today. At the first house, they captured three men and confiscated bomb-making material. At the second house, the unit detained three more suspects involved in making improvised explosive devices, officials said, adding that all six men were taken into custody for questioning.
  • More suspects as well as weapons and plans were seized following days. In other recent cases of civilian cooperation:

  • In Diyala province recently, "acting a tip from a local civilian, Iraqi army and Task Force Liberty soldiers raided a fish farm in Abu Nehal... and seized a weapons cache"; also: "During feast hosted by the mayor of As Sadiyah in Diyala Province April 10, a fisherman told Task Force Liberty Soldiers about mortar tubes that were hidden at a nearby lake. The Soldiers recovered two half-buried 60mm mortar tubes that are suspected of being used in recent attacks on a nearby Coalition Forces base and Iraqi army checkpoints."

  • On April 22, "an Iraqi citizen saved the lives of Soldiers and civilians in west Baghdad by pointing out an improvised explosive device to a Task Force Baghdad unit before terrorists could detonate the bomb... Later in the day, local Iraqi citizens in the Salman Pak area turned a weapons cache over to Iraqi Police officers. The Iraqis turned in 30 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, 50 mortar rounds, 100 fuses, 100 feet of detonation cord and TNT to the Iraqi Police."

  • Based on a local intelligence source, soldiers from the 210th Battalion, Iraqi army, and Task Force Liberty's 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry have located a weapons cache in Ad Dujayl on April 21;

  • "An Iraqi noncommissioned officer led Coalition Forces to the location of one of his relatives April 24, who turned out to be a high-value target accused of participating in recent beheadings."

  • "A tip from a local citizen led Iraqi officers from the Waffa Police Station to a weapons cache in a field next to an Al Kafal gas station, according to a multinational forces report. An intelligence unit from the police station recovered 75 Russian-made Katushya rockets from the field during the operation. The munitions were turned over to an explosive ordnance disposal team for disposal."

  • Based on a tip from an informant, "the 203rd Iraqi Army Battalion and units of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Liberty, conducted a joint raid in Ashaki April 26 that resulted in the detainment of four suspected anti-Iraqi force members";

  • Recently, an Iraqi civilian brought five artillery rounds and wire to a Coalition Forces base near a town of Muqdadiyah, after seeing an insurgent placing the rounds as a roadside bomb.

  • In other recent security successes:

  • "An Iraqi army unit discovered a weapons cache in the Baghdad's Salman Pak area on April 18. The stockpile included mortars, rockets and two cars outfitted to serve as vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. The Iraqi security forces-led mission involved elements from the Iraqi army, police and public order brigades."

  • Several suspected insurgents arrested in operations in Kirkuk on April 19-20;

  • "Task Force Liberty's 278th Regimental Combat Team conducted a combat patrol of the abandoned railroad southeast of As Sadiyah and found 152 rockets scattered on the ground April 20. Explosive ordnance disposal personnel were called on to remove the rockets. Rockets like those found here have been used to create improvised explosive devices."

  • On April 20, soldiers of the 206th Battalion, Iraqi Army, while on operation in the village of Imam Monsoor in Diyala Province discovered a weapons cache and detained five suspects. "The cache was found behind a false wall under the stairs and consisted of four assault rifles, one machine gun, one bolt-action rifle, several ammunition magazines and cans of ammunition for the weapons";

  • Disarming of two roadside bombs by Iraqi and American forces in Baghdad on April 21, and discovery of two arms caches; one containing "45 mines, 37 cases of ammunition, eight rockets, guns and rocket launchers," and another with "200 mortar rounds, small arms and other explosives";

  • In Diyala province, on 23 April, the 204th battalion of the Iraqi army discovered a arms cache with 88 artillery shells and other materials used in manufacturing roadside bombs. Two other weapons caches were also located in the province on the same day; "the 1st contained 15 pounds of TNT, 13 (82 mm) mortar rounds and a small number of 100 mm artillery shells, while in the 2nd location, 21 shells of 100 mm caliber were found and a large number of IEDs of different sizes";

  • "U.S. soldiers nabbed 11 suspected insurgents during an April 18 raid conducted south of ad Dujayl, in Salah ad Din province. An Iraqi citizen told the soldiers that suspected insurgents in the area were selling weapons and making IEDs. A search uncovered eight rocket-propelled-grenade rounds, two RPG launchers and materials for making IEDs";

  • "In Kirkuk, a police patrol disarmed an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] placed near a stadium used a camp for accommodating Kurdish refugees and in Hawijah (south of Kirkuk) 17 wanted terrorists were detained";

  • On April 22, Task Force Baghdad Soldiers "detained 13 suspected terrorists, including a woman allegedly tied to al-Qaeda terrorist leader Abu Musab-al-Zarqawi";

  • On April 23 in Mosul, soldiers with the 101st Iraqi Army and Company A, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry captured Taha Al-Hadidi, an insurgent suspected in killing three Iraqi Army soldiers in February;

  • The arrest in Samawa of a terror cell which has been carrying out operations in Baghdad. "The leader of this group Omar Attimimi was arrested in a previous operation. The members of the group were arrested while they were trying to purchase weapons and ammunition from a specialized gang of smugglers that works in Samawa";

  • "Task Force Liberty Soldiers detained four individuals suspected of attacking their combat patrol with an improvised explosive device near a village southeast of Baqubah at about 1:20 a.m. April 24. The Soldiers searched the area after the IED detonated ineffectively, and found a set of wires leading into the village of Jasim Abu Habbah. The four suspects were found with a detonator and all tested positive for high explosives";

  • The recent interception of Al Zarqawi's computer and 80,000 euros (about US$104,000); "Finding the computer, said the official, 'was a seminal event.' It had 'a very big hard drive,' the official said, and recent pictures of Zarqawi. The official said Zarqawi's driver and a bodyguard were taken into custody.");

  • "Coalition forces captured 18 suspected terrorists during a search-and-seizure operation conducted April 22-24 in Babil province";

  • Raids in Baghdad on April 24-25, which netted four suspected insurgents, including members of an execution cell in Kharnabat Village;

  • "Iraqi army and Task Force Liberty Soldiers detained two suspected terrorists in As Sadiyah in Diyala Province during a series of raids the night of April 25. The individuals are suspected of being members of a terrorist cell and were detained with equipment used to make identification cards and terrorist propaganda. Two other individuals were also detained during the raid";

  • Two weapons caches discovered in mosques in Musayyib and Najaf on April 25;

  • On 26 April, soldiers from the 101st Iraqi Army Battalion captured in Mosul Salim Awfi Al-Zubai, a suspected insurgent commander, and his four brothers;

  • "Iraqi police officers stood their ground and captured three armed insurgents against an attack by anti-Iraqi forces at Mufrek Police Station April 26";

  • Iraqi and American soldiers captured two suspected terrorists in As Sadiyah in Diyala Province in night raid on April 25. "The individuals are suspected of being members of a terrorist cell and were detained with equipment used to make identification cards and terrorist propaganda';

  • The arrest by an Iraqi Emergency Response Unit team with Coalition forces support of three individuals suspected to be involved in kidnapping in Al Wasity in Kirkuk Province on April 26. "A previous kidnap victim identified one of the detained suspects as her captor";

  • "The Iraqi Army's 6th Battalion, 3rd Brigade found a cache in a small village northwest of Jisr Naft in Diyala Province April 27. After receiving small-arms fire, the IA lead element cordoned off the area for a search. The search yielded a book on bomb making, improvised explosive device-making materials and two weapons";

  • On April 28, soldiers from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) detained six suspected terrorists and seized a number of weapons during operations in Mosul;

  • Five members of Al Zarqawi's network killed and three captured during the April 28 raid in Baghdad. One of those killed was Abu Rayyan, the Saudi leader of a Baghdad-based car bombing cell;

  • 15 suspected insurgents detained and 44 assault rifles seized during a combat patrol by Task Force Liberty soldiers northwest of Bayji on April 29;

  • The arrest of suspects implicated in the abduction and murder of the Irish aid worker Margaret Hassan;

  • "Task Force Liberty Soldiers detained two individuals for shooting at a Coalition Forces base in Hawija at about 9:45 a.m. April 30. Shots were fired from the suspects’ vehicle, which sped off at a high rate of speed toward Hawija. An unmanned aerial vehicle followed the vehicle to a location in Hawija, and a combat patrol was dispatched to detain the individuals and seize the vehicle";

  • Discovery by the US Marines and Iraqi troops of multiple weapons caches in the Fallujah-Ramadi area during the week up to May 1, "including thousands of mortar rounds, over 600 grenades and 200 pounds of explosives";

  • Unearthing by the Iraqi troops of an old but serviceable anti-aircraft gun buried in the yard of a mosque in Karmah on May 1. The imam was arrested and some insurgent propaganda seized;

  • On 1 May, a "man exploded his red Kia sedan roughly 15 feet from a barrier to a coalition base in east Baghdad, Iraq. The car bomb failed to detonate properly and the vehicle caught on fire. Soldiers manning the gate reacted quickly and saved the driver... An initial investigation revealed that terrorists had kidnapped the driver's family and that he was forced to carry out this suicide-bombing mission to protect his wife and children";

  • "A raid by more than 550 coalition soldiers in western Baghdad netted 16 suspected insurgents armed with five AK-47 assault rifles and another machine gun with a long-distance scope. Their alleged crimes include 'assassinations, beheadings and kidnappings' of Iraqis, the military said";

  • The US forces killed in a fire-fight 12 suspected members of Al Qaeda in western Iraq on May 2. "Nine men killed were heavily armed with assault rifles and hand grenades... Three more people were killed by a coalition airstrike on the camp. Coalition forces found fake identification cards, foreign currency and other things which the U.S. military said linked the people at the camp and on the truck to Zarqawi's network";

  • A raid on the village of Udaim, 110 kilometers north of Baghdad, by 300 Iraqi soldiers and 260 American troops, leading to arrest of sixteen suspects;

  • A massive three-day raid on a 70,000-people town of Karmah, where every house and business was searched by the troops, netting 30 detainees and several weapons caches;

  • On May 2, "Iraqi police sources have announced the arrest of 28 people suspected of killings and violent acts. United States forces backed by Iraqi forces, meanwhile, announced the arrest of 84 suspects in a raid in Baghdad. Shirzad Moofri, chief of police in the Raheem Awa precinct of Kirkuk, said his forces had arrested two insurgents working for Jihad and Tawhid, two groups linked to al-Qaida's Iraq operation. He said the detainees confessed to attacking a US headquarters and killing seven American soldiers."

  • Twelve insurgents killed in a clash with American and Iraqi forces at a checkpoint in Ramadi on May 3;

  • The capture on May 3 of another one of Saddam's relatives: "Iraqi security forces captured a son of one of Saddam Hussein's half brothers, who allegedly financed the insurgency, in a raid on suspected militants near the ousted dictator's hometown, the government said Wednesday. The operation took place earlier this month near Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, 80 miles north of Baghdad. Several other suspected militants were arrested in the raid, which netted authorities a cache of explosives... Ayman Sabawi is the son of Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, a half brother of Saddam's, who served as a presidential adviser before the U.S.-led invasion. Al-Hassan was captured Feb. 26 this year".

As Iraq's president Talabani wrote, "We honour those who sacrificed their lives for our liberation. We are determined out of respect to create a tolerant and democratic Iraq, an Iraq for all the Iraqi people. It will take time and much patience, but I can assure you it will be worth while, not only for Iraq, but for the whole of the Middle East."

As always, if you have any suggestions for the future editions, please email goodnewsiraq “at” windsofchange “dot” net.

3 TrackBacks

Tracked: May 9, 2005 11:41 AM
Arthur's Mail from Mudville Gazette
Excerpt: Yes, there's been plenty of other things happening in Iraq, aside from the recent terror campaign. Read all the stories that the mainstream media has - again - largely ignored: Chrenkoff Opinion Journal Winds of Change Arthur...
Tracked: May 9, 2005 7:07 PM
Excerpt: Areas of interest covered in Arthur's news on Iraq include information on events related to the Iraqi society, economy, reconstruction, humanitarian aid, security, and also the Coalition troops.
Tracked: May 9, 2005 8:30 PM
Excerpt: Arthur Chrenkoff's biweekly roundup of "good news from Iraq" (also available here and here.) excerpts a striking and eloquent letter from new Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. (The complete text of the letter is ...

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