Note: Also available from the "Opinion Journal" and Chrenkoff. Many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman who continue to support the series, and to all readers and fellow bloggers for encouragement and help in spreading the word.
How much difference two years can make. Commenting on the news that Saddam Hussein's nemesis, leader of the people Saddam liked to gas, has now been elected President of Iraq, Mohammed Saleh, a 42-year old Kurd interviewed by the media on the streets of Kirkuk, had this to say: "Today Jalal Talabani made it to the seat of power, while Saddam Hussein is sitting in jail... Who would have thought."
History is, of course, full of delicious ironies. Not the least that the authorities have permitted Iraq's Prisoner Number 1 to watch from his prison cell the swearing in of the new government. While Iraq's new leaders lack Saddam's 99.8 per cent electoral mandates, they certainly make up for it in unscripted enthusiasm and passion. Saddam, meanwhile, who for years inflicted on his captive television audience his rambling speeches and meaningless proceedings of Iraq's "parliament" is now on the receiving end, getting the taste of the real democracy in action.
But while the momentous political events once again monopolized the headlines for the past two weeks, a lot of other positive developments have been taking place across Iraq, mostly out of the media spotlight. Below a selection of some of these stories:
- After weeks of intense haggling between Iraq's political factions, the country finally has its new leadership.
- It started off slowly, with the National Assembly electing its speaker, Industry Minister Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, and two deputy speakers, Hussain al-Shahristani - a Shiite and former nuclear scientist - and the Kurdish leader Aref Taifour. In a novel concept for Iraqi parliamentary politics, the three have been elected in a secret ballot, "with lawmakers allowed to write the names of no more than three of five possible candidates on pieces of paper that were dropped into a box. The ballots were then read out loud and marked down, one-by-one, on a large, white board. Two were left blank. The three top candidates - Al-Hassani with 215 votes, al-Shahristani with 157, and Taifour with 96 - were elected." As the new speaker said upon his election, "it's time for the patient, Iraqi people to be treated with the dignity that God has given them... If we neglect our duties and fail, then we will hurt ourselves and the people will replace us with others." Here you can read the profile of Al-Hassani. As another brief profile also notes, Al-Hassani who spent significant part of his life in the United States, has been a supporter of the assault on insurgents in Fallujah and in the economic sphere is proponent of privatization of government-owned assets.
- A few days after the speakership vote, the National Assembly chose a new president and two vice-presidents. Jalal Talabani, the 71-year old leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have been elected president and former President Ghazi Yawer, a Sunni Arab, and Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shia, have been elected his deputies. "The three candidates received 227 votes, while 30 ballots were left blank." Here you can read the profile of president Talabani, and here of his vice-presidents.
- Just as the timing of the first session of the National Assembly was symbolic, coming close to the second anniversary of the start of the Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as the 17th anniversary of Saddam's chemical weapons attack on the Kurds, the announcement of the deal on Iraqi presidency came just before the second anniversary of the fall of Baghdad to the Coalition forces.
- Faced with these political "the realities on the ground", the Sunni leadership, which stayed out of the elections and therefore from the Assembly, is trying not to repeat mistakes of the past:
"Two years after war dramatically changed Iraq's political landscape, the former ruling minority Sunnis are developing plans to participate in a government formed by elections they boycotted.
"In a significant shift, several Sunni groups that hitherto shunned the political process met last weekend to create a unified front and set of demands that they will present to the Shiite and Kurdish leaders now hammering out a new government.
"The meeting was a reversal for Sunni leaders who have supported insurgents and urged US troops to leave Iraq immediately."The new effort, observers say, appears to be an admission that their strategy - to stop Iraq's election and denounce the formation of a new government - has failed. Bringing the former ruling class into Iraq's emerging power structure, they add, could help quell the insurgency."
- As the report notes, "the significance of the conference was underscored by its attendees. Participants included members of the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of Sunni religious leaders, among them some of the most extreme figures who have influence with the insurgency. Also present were leaders from cities in the 'Sunni Triangle,' including Mosul, Haditha, and Salam Pak, which is bubbling with insurgent activity. Representatives of Waqaf Sunna, the powerful administrating body of Sunni religious affairs, attended as well." It is an important development, if only because it will allow Shias and Kurds to formally negotiate with the Sunni community about the future of Iraq.
- There is also more post-election cooperation in Kurdistan: "The two major Kurdish factions in the north have decided to unite their separate administrations. The Kurds have been running two governments, one in Sulaimaniya and the other in Arbil since the factions fell out in 1995. But the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Jalal Talabani, which swept the January elections in the region, have apparently buried their differences. Barzani has endorsed Talabani's quest to become Iraq's next president and the two leaders have agreed to have one unified government administering the Kurdish region from Arbil."
- While the National Assembly is taking its first few steps, USAID continued to provide logistical support to ease the birth of Iraqi democracy (link in PDF):
"The elected members of the Transitional National Assembly (TNA) were inaugurated on March 16, signaling the beginning of the transitional governance period. Through its Program to Support an Iraqi National Government and Iraqi Transitional Government, USAID and its implementing partners and sub grantees have been providing training and logistical support to TNA members and staffers. Key efforts in preparation for the inauguration included:
"- Working with parliamentary staff in charge of supporting inauguration and orientation activities for the 275 Assembly members"Over 80 staff members have undergone training and participated in the assessment of technical and skill-development needs. The program aims to fully develop the staff capacity of the TNA so that it is institutionalized in preparation for a permanent legislative body."
- The procurement of audio and translation equipment (Kurdish and Arabic) to be used in the parliamentary chamber
- The production in Kurdish and Arabic of a manual on parliamentary procedure
- Trainings for staff on departmental responsibilities
- Outreach specifically targeting women members of the TNA.
- Advisory assistance to the TNA's legal advisor in the drafting of new bylaws.
- USAID also is helping Iraqi policy-makers to think about the future shape of political and constitutional arrangements in their country (link in PDF):
"The Minister of State and Provincial Affairs and USAID's [Local Governance Program] held a National Conference on Federalism and Decentralization from March 13-14, 2005 in downtown Baghdad. The conference was intended to generate fruitful discussions on laying the groundwork for Federalism in Iraq as part of the national referendum process and drafting of the Iraqi Constitution. Approximately 580 participants attended. "LGP sponsored the printing of all conference materials. Staff members from LGP's Policy Reform Team presented on the second day of the conference which was devoted to the formation of Local Government Associations (LGAs). This presentation was well received by conference participants and LGP staff members fielded many questions about institutionalizing LGAs. LGP will submit a comprehensive report on the conference with a more detailed overview of groups in attendance, conclusions, and recommendations."
- In other recent USAID activities (link in PDF):
"The newly elected Iraqi Transitional National Authority (TNA) will write a constitution this year and it is essential that women be involved in the process in order to guarantee their rights. USAID's partner implementing the project to support the TNA and the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution hosted a meeting in late February with 26 women leaders to discuss an initiative to ensure that women's rights are included in the constitution. Over the next year, the implementing partner will work with women elected officials and civil society representatives to educate Iraqis on the importance of constituting women's rights, and to train them in the necessary advocacy and education skills they will need to promote their rights with the Iraqi Government and the society at large."
- The Islamic Development Bank, meanwhile, is promising more assistance towards rebuilding Iraqi government.
- With the new government almost in place, the authorities are keen to confront an endemic problem which is hurting Iraq's economy and damaging public trust in new institutions - launching an anti-corruption drive:
"The head of the country's corruption-busting body, the Commission on Public Integrity, says he is determined to clean up widespread back-handers, bribery and embezzlement that are undermining Iraq's chances of a better future. " 'Next week, we will distribute a form for the declaration of assets to all senior officials in Iraq. They should declare everything,' [said] Radhi Hamza al-Radhi... 'Governors, ministers and those above them should state their assets, shares and any expected inheritance. If anything is seen to have changed, we will ask where it came from and how. If it was legal then okay but if not we will send him to court to get his punishment'."
- USAID continues to support the growth of Iraqi civil society through its Office of Transition Initiatives grants (link in PDF). Among the recent project finances with TI grants: purchase of office equipment and furniture for a cultural center in northern Iraq, conducting English language classes for women, and renovating facilities of teachers' association. Also (link in PDF): workshops for residents of 85 villages about marriage law ("Based on traditional practices, many Iraqis throughout the region enter into illegal marriages which can result in human rights violations and imminent legal confusion."), and equipping numerous human rights and women's rights NGOs.
- Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iraq Freedom Conference has been held, gathering non-sectarian and non-ethnic based groups, organisations and individuals committed to building a democratic and free Iraq.
- Iraqis finally get a chance to rejoin the rest of the world - linguistically. According to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research "the study of foreign languages by Iraqi students has increased drastically since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime... Iraq was disconnected for decades from the external world. Now after the elimination of the Baath regime, many Iraqis want to study foreign languages so that they can get jobs more easily." According to the Ministry, "the Iraqi universities are aware for this trend and consequently many of them have added or expanded the language departments at their university... Many private languages institutions were opened."
- Iraq's most popular TV station is celebrating its first anniversary:
"One year after its founding, Al-Sharqiya satellite channel has become Iraqi households' most favorite television.
"Transmitted over three satellites, the channel has created a remarkable niche in the Arab world, particularly in Iraq. Baghdad University polls have shown the channel's rating soaring and a recent survey saw it grabbing 53% of the highly competitive television market share in the country.
"The channel's success is mainly due to its independence and integrity. Unlike its major rivals, Al-Sharqiya is the country's only independent television that is not associated to any particular group, faction, sect or religion inside or outside Iraq."The 24-hour news and entertainment channel is beamed from two locations, one in Dubai and the other in Baghdad. It employs 250 reporters, cameramen, editors and administrators."
- And on the sports scene, a team from Iraq will be participating in the second Women's Football Championship in Jordan.
- Good news for stabilizing Iraqi economy and implementing much-needed reform: "The International Monetary Fund and new Iraqi government expect to have an economic adjustment program in place in the fall if security improves."
- Good news, too, for Iraqi finances: "Russia will sign an agreement this year finalising a plan to write-off most of the money owed to it by Iraq, a Finance Ministry official said. In November  President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was committed to forgiving 90 percent of Iraq's debts, more than the 80 percent agreed by the Paris Club of sovereign lenders."
- Economic confidence is growing:
"Even in the face of continuing violence, there's a palpable sense of optimism in Iraq these days. The country's post-war election, held in January this year, appears to have boosted commerce and sales in the country - one of several signs that Iraqis are hopeful about their future.
"Baghdad's heavily commercial Karrada Street, for example, has its hustle back. Fala Hassan, a shop keeper on Karrada Street, thinks his customers have turned a corner. Before the election, many of them were fearful and sales were slow, he said. But these days his customers are back, he notes, and their cash is flowing again. 'People were so worried before the election... Now they are less worried about the future,' Hassan said.
"Growing consumer confidence is a small, but critical economic step for Iraq - a country that needs to take many to get back on its feet."There is a ripple effect: Iraqis are enjoying higher salaries and buying big-ticket consumer products, like washing machines. And the growth in sales is leading to more jobs in commercial districts like Karrada Street. The job growth is small, but in a country with 30 percent unemployment, every job counts. And the employment revival is not only seen on Karrada Street. From Baghdad's airport to Sadr City's sewers, more and more reconstruction jobs are now going to Iraqis rather than foreign contractors."
- As economic situation improves, Iraqis are becoming car-crazy:
"Traffic jams in the Iraqi capital are caused by new police checkpoints, old, broken-down cars, lines of customers waiting to fill up at the pumps, and, of course, the more than 426,000 new cars registered in the last two years.
"That doesn't stop Iraqis with newly increased salaries from coming in to ogle cars and buy them, said Ahmed Mohammed 37, manager of the Salman Fak Car Trading lot near Baghdad's National Theater."More than 900,000 cars have been registered across the country in the past two years, according to data from the Baghdad traffic department -- 426,000 of them from Baghdad. Before the war, about 347,000 cars were registered across the country, said Nejim Abid Jabir, a spokesman for the traffic department under the Interior Ministry."
- It's not just restricted to Baghdad: "Iraq's Kurdish minority lives mostly in three northern provinces of Iraq... On the street, drivers are more likely to favor a Hyundai over a high-end Mercedes, however. Sport-utility vehicles and sports cars are few and far between in the capital. Former president Saddam Hussein heavily taxed cars, making them unaffordable for all but a favored few. In addition, a program in which residents could pay money in for 10 years or so and then receive their car just now is starting to deliver the vehicles."
- Speaking of northern Iraq:
"Relative stability and oil wealth are drawing jobs and opportunities to the northern city of Kirkuk, which will soon be the first major city in Iraq to take charge of its own defense...
"While much of Iraq struggles with roadside bombs and suicide attacks, Kurdistan -- the northern region where Kurds enjoyed more than a decade of virtual autonomy within a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone -- is prospering.
"Kurds living abroad have begun to return home to set up new businesses. Construction is booming. And with oil fields containing 40 percent of Iraq's reserves nearby, opportunities are plentiful.
"The multiethnic city of nearly 1 million has begun to attract investment from other parts of Iraq, said Maj. Darren Blagburn, intelligence officer for the U.S. Army's 116th Regiment in Kirkuk. 'We're seeing a lot of businesses move to Kirkuk from Baghdad,' he said."Local security forces, manned mostly by former members of the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, are also more capable than those in other parts of Iraq. As a result, the U.S. Army plans within weeks to make Kirkuk the first city in former Ba'athist-controlled areas to complete the transition from foreign to local protection."
- Unlike in many other parts of the region, where statist theories combined with the dominance of the oil industry made for top-heavy economic development, in Iraq increasingly the "small is beautiful":
"A bus pulled up in front of a restaurant last week and 43 Iraqis got out - but they weren't there to negotiate Cabinet positions. This wasn't politics, it was business. And it wasn't Baghdad, it was Beverly Hills.
"The Iraqis were small-business owners who had come to meet with more than 40 Americans from small to medium-size companies. At Lawry's restaurant, the visitors spent five hours schmoozing with their American counterparts about buying, selling, financing and delivering the goods. Contacts were made, future orders foreshadowed.
"But something more important than deals was in the air: a sense of the future of a country - and an economy that can be built anew only if thousands of ordinary family-owned companies can get on with the construction.
"Big contracts to rebuild oil and electric power industries are essential, of course. But progress will come to Iraq only if private businesses replace the old state monopolies of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.
" 'The successful way to change economies is not to reform state companies but to get a lot of small companies started,' says Robert Looney, an economist with long service in the Middle East who now teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
"The U.S. government now seems to understand this. The U.S. is playing a more useful role, experts say, after the first postwar year when the Coalition Provisional Authority issued a lot of rules that further gummed up Iraq's crippled economy.
"The gathering was co-sponsored by the U.S. Commercial Service, an arm of the Department of Commerce that helps small and mid-size firms with contacts and exports around the world. The goal was to provide a boost for Iraqi and U.S. companies."The other sponsor was the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a phenomenal example of the new Iraq. Founded in Los Angeles only two years ago after the fall of Hussein's regime, it already has 5,700 members, including 300 in the U.S."
- The US government is also providing some concrete assistance:
"This year, the US government will help more than 100,000 American small businesses obtain access to capital through SBA loans. Now it wants to help grow small and medium-size businesses in Iraq.
"The Overseas Private Investment Corp., a federal agency that backs investments in developing countries, teamed with Citigroup to establish a $131 million loan program in Iraq. Iraqi financial institutions will tap these funds to make loans to small and medium-sized businesses.
" 'This facility is critical as a first step toward rejuvenating the private sector of Iraq as it strives to tap the capital markets,' says Ross Connelly, OPIC's acting president and CEO."OPIC provides political risk insurance, loans and loan guarantees to American businesses that invest in new and emerging markets. Fees cover the costs of its programs."
- Under USAID's Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) program, business training seminars are being organized across Iraq, most recently in Sulemyaniyah, directed mostly at female business owners and operators (link in PDF).
- The Iraqi Industry and Mineral Resources Minister, Hajim Alhuseini, has called for a wide-ranging tax reform "to support Iraqi private sector... after the failure of the public sector." More on changing tax policies in Iraq here. And here's some of the recent USAID initiatives in this area (link in PDF). In related financial matters, the talks are underway between the Iraqi and the United Arab Emirates authorities to bring some of the UAE banks into Iraq.
- In oil news, Iraqi authorities are planning for the future growth of the industry: "The Iraqi government wants to build two new refineries to better handle oil revenues... The new refineries would practically double Iraq's production capacity for gasoline and other oil products to about 1 million barrels per day from approximately 500,000 barrels per day from three aging refineries."
- Meanwhile, Iraq and Kuwait are cooperating to finally resolve a long-standing dispute hampering the full exploitation of rich oil field:
"A joint Kuwaiti-Iraqi commission is studying ways to regulate production from a large oilfield that extends into the two neighbouring Arab nations... The oilfield is known as Rumaila in Iraq and Ritqa in Kuwait. Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein accused the emirate of stealing oil from the Iraqi field and used that as a pretext to invade and occupy Kuwait in August 1990."
- "We have two options. The first is to have joint production operations like in the Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone, and the second is to hire a foreign company for production," says the Kuwaiti oil minister Sheikh Ahmad Fahd Al Sabah.
- Canadian company OGI has announced it had won a contract to develop the Himrin oil field in northern Iraq. "Iraq's oil ministry awarded the engineering and supply tender for the 100,000 barrel a day field to OGI Group, a privately held exploration, development and oil field services company... The interim cabinet also approved OGI's bid... The deal is expected to become binding once the new government is formed, Iraqi officials said."
- Kirkuk, one of Iraq's great oil producing areas, is getting an upgrade in security: "The Iraqi interim government, in conjunction with U.S. forces, is setting up three dedicated oil security battalions to safeguard oil infrastructure in and around the northern city of Kirkuk. In addition, the nascent Iraqi air force, based at a U.S. airfield near Kirkuk, has begun patrolling the area's three major pipelines using Jordanian-built light aircraft equipped with a variety of sensors."
- And one mooted infrastructure project offers benefits that go well beyond the economy:
"When a new Iraqi government finally takes office, it will have in its 'in-box' an economic proposal that touches on some of the country's most sensitive questions: How to reduce violence in the Sunni Triangle, how to manage the country's increasingly tense relationship with neighboring Jordan, and how to expand its oil production and exports.
"This hornet's nest of problems could be eased, proponents argue, by building an oil pipeline through western Iraq to the Jordanian port of Aqaba on the Red Sea. This pipeline would carry 1.2 million barrels of crude a day from the existing pipeline junction at Haditha, northwest of Baghdad, to new loading facilities at Aqaba. Building a pipeline through Iraq's nastiest war zone may sound crazy, but read on."A leading advocate of the pipeline project is an Iraqi Sunni leader named Talal Gaaod. He heads an engineering company based in Jordan called the Tabouk Group, and he's also a prominent member of the Dulaimi tribe that holds sway in Anbar province, which stretches from Baghdad to the Jordanian border. His tribal credentials are important, because it's through tribal-backed security forces that Gaaod thinks he can safely build and maintain a pipeline in what has been the heartland of the insurgency."
- It's early stages yet, but the Jordanian government is interested, as are the Japanese investors.
- In communications, the cell phone network is growing across Iraq: "15 months to happen but Kuwaiti-based MTC has finally launched its official GSM network in Baghdad, to coincide with the recent Telecom Arabia show. How has MTC - which partners with Vodafone - managed this feat in war-torn Iraq? The company claims its 1,800 kilometres of network have been rolled out with the help of a 100 per cent Iraqi workforce... Part of the deal surrounding the granting of its licence was to roll out the GSM network in the south of Iraq before being allowed to cover the capital. As such, MTC Atheer now has over 360, 000 subscribers in Iraq."
- And in transport news, new buses and special traffic lanes set aside for public transport will be used in fight against traffic congestion in Baghdad. Meanwhile, the government-owned General Railway Company is preparing to launch several projects, some of them planned for the past 25 years. "These projects are: Baghdad-Al-Kut, Al-Imara-Basra, [and] Al-Naseriyya-Al-Basra [lines]... The Company [also] aims at connecting Iraq with Syria through Al-Qaim-Dir al-Zur, and also connecting Baghdad with Iran through al-Shuayba-al-Mahmara. In addition, the company will accomplish other projects in the north of Iraq, including Baghdad-Baquba, Irbil-Mosul-Zakho and Kirkuk-Suleimanieh."
- Iraq's biggest reconstruction expo has proved to be a great success:
"A huge exposition opened on Monday in Amman, bringing together almost a thousand exhibitors and thousands more participants interested in getting their foot in the door for the large number of reconstruction projects anticipated in Iraq over the coming years.
"The expo, dubbed Rebuild Iraq 2005, has 985 exhibitors from four countries. The range of products on show is huge, from machines that make plastic bags and paper products, to small hand tools such as screwdrivers and drill bits, all the way to at least one group here that is in the business of selling bridges."Fadi Kaddoura, the project manager for Rebuild Iraq 2005 said that millions of dollars in sales and contracts will likely trade hands over the next few days. While many smaller businesses and sub-contractors come to make purchases and establish contacts, the big money comes from the Iraqi ministries."
- The participants, while mindful of many challenges, seem very optimistic. More here.
- Another foreign donors conference will be held in Jordan in May to hurry up foreign governments on their past commitments to Iraq's reconstruction, of which only $1 billion has so far been given to the Iraqi government. In the meantime, the World Bank has made a grant of $480 million to various Iraqi ministries to finance their operations and programs.
- According to Mehdi Al Hafedh, Minister of Planning and Development Cooperation, Iraq Rebuilding Strategy Authority is currently supervising 121 major reconstruction projects throughout the country, worth $1.8 billion: "20 electricity projects,24 public work projects, 11 education projects, 9 development projects in Baghdad, 8 development cooperation projects, 8 environmental projects, 6 health projects, 6 agriculture projects, 5 water projects, 4 housing projects, 3 higher education projects, 3 labor and social projects,3 industrial projects, 10 transport projects and others."
- In another good news for increased Iraqi participation in the reconstruction process: "According to employment figures compiled by the Project and Contracting Office (PCO), the United States Aid for International Development (USAID), Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP), Military Construction (MILCON) and Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq (MNSTC-I), reconstruction employment has risen to 167,000 in March."
- In recent reconstruction initiatives:
- As part of its "Toward cleaner and more shining Iraq", the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works is spending 136 million dinars ($93,000) on various projects in Almoseib governorate, including paving roads, constructing additional bridges and building public parks.
- Following the recent successful reconstruction programs in Baghdad's Sadr City to provide water and electricity to its previously much-neglected residents, as well as clean up the suburb, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is now conducting further consultation with members of the area's local government to work out plans for the second round of reconstruction projects.
- Throughout Bahgdad and other cities, the Ministry of Electricity is starting a program to improve street lighting.
- In Najaf municipality, 107 billions dinars ($73 million) will be spent in the current year on reconstruction and service provision. $70 million is being spent on local roads, important for religious tourism in this town.
- In the Misan province, a major road building and surfacing program has already finished work on 450 kilometers of roads, with plans for improvements on further 600 kilometers.
- In electricity news, the Ministry of Electricity has issued a directive that power stations which employ permanent maintenance staff have to from now on operate 24 hours a day.
- In growing energy cooperation with Iraq's neighbors, Iran will be increasing electricity exports to Iraq from 90-100 MWs currently to 145 MW by next June. In that time-frame, "the technical procedures needed for connecting the electricity networks of Iran and Iraq [will be completed]. When this goal will be met, the third stage begins, in which Iraq will be able to import larger amount of electricity from Iran, according to its needs." In recent talks with Turkey, it was also agreed to
"accomplish the second stage of the electrical connection project with Turkey. This stage includes increasing of the electrical energy transformed from Turkey to Iraq to 220-250 Megawatts from the end of next June, up from 150-160 Megawatts, which were provided during the first stage. The two sides discussed also the third stage, in which Iraq will import 700-1000 Megawatt, while this will demand to arrange lines of more than 400 Kilo Volt. The Turkish side also promised to study the possibility of connecting the electricity networks of the two countries, in case of fulfilling the third stage."
- More here.
- Among the recent USAID's contributions to rebuilding Iraq's power infrastructure (link in PDF): "Work is continuing on the refurbishment of two units at a large thermal power station in Baghdad. The station's four steam boilers and turbines were each designed to produce 160 MW; however, due to lack of maintenance, the plant is now operating in the 160-170 MW range, far below its fullload rating of 640 MW. The project employs 310 Iraqi workers and covers the rehabilitation of both turbines, the replacement of boiler and turbine controls with a modern, sustainable system, and the refurbishment of the 132kV switchyard. The project also includes rehabilitation of water intake screens, auxiliary mechanical equipment and electrical equipment, electrical cabling, electrical raceways, cable trays and control systems. Upon completion, an additional 320 MW is projected to be available for Baghdad's electrical grid. This project is now 85 percent finished and scheduled for completion this summer."
- In Basra, meantime, (link in PDF), "installation of water treatment units at
four major power plants... is nearing completion. For years, these plants have been operating without functioning water treatment units. When untreated brackish water
is circulated through boiler tubes, it corrodes the tubes and eventually causes them to rupture. Long term use of poor quality water results in permanent damage to the boiler and heat exchange system, additional power outages, and costly repairs." The project is intended to be finalized by mid-May.
- Water infrastructure is also undergoing reconstruction throughout Iraq. In recent news: an Iraqi firm, owned by the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources, is reporting completion of numerous projects around the country, including the irrigation project at Mahroush in Dyali province and the land reclamation in Alyousefiya.
- Major projects have been completed in Mosul:
"The Water Department in the restive city of Mosul implemented 31 projects last year, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Municipality and Public Works.
"Mohammed Ahmad, the department's head, said more than 19 kilometers of new pipes were extended in Mosul, the northern city which sees almost daily attacks against U.S. and Iraq forces. Mosul is the capital of Nineveh Province which also includes other sizeable towns and districts.
"Ahmad said old pipes were replaced in several towns, new water projects executed and numerous buildings constructed to house officials ensuring 'an uninterrupted flow of water supplies' to the province's nearly 3 million people.
"He said drinking water was available to the whole city and a large portion of villages in the province. Small-scale water purification projects were constructed in several areas inside Mosul and outlying districts, he said."The town of Telaafar, where U.S. troops battle insurgents regularly will soon have a new water project along with Zammar. Ahmad said more than 15,000 kilometers of pipes were extended in provincial towns and villages last year."
- In Karbala (link in PDF), USAID is continuing to work on refurbishment of a water treatment plant, which was in the state of dire disrepair. The project is expected to be completed in September. Elsewhere throughout Iraq, (link in PDF) the work is ongoing on water and sanitation facilities serving rural areas of Diyala governorate, and the trunk sewer systems serving Zafaraniyah, a district in South Eastern Baghdad.
- Meanwhile, in Karbala, the Directorate General for the Maintenance of Projects is planning this years, as one of its projects, to line Al Roshdiya creek-bed. "A source in the Ministry of Water Resources said that the work aims at getting rid of the saltiness of the soil and the treatment of irrigation water for agricultural orchard for delivering water to these lands. He added that the works in the project included lifting 5000 m3 of muddy soil, burying 8000 m3 with dust on all layers, and lining 1200 m2 with regular concrete and executing side outlets in the right side in the number of 12 outlets and 13 penetrated on the left side, in addition to the treatment of the agricultural irrigation water."
- In health, "the Iraqi health ministry affirmed completion of 30 percent of the project to rehabilitate and equip emergency departments at hospitals in Baghdad and other provinces... An official spokesman at the ministry said that it has already working for more than five months on the project to rehabilitate and equip emergency departments in 12 hospitals. He disclosed that the cost for such project reached US$25 million, which was partly funded by the World Bank."
- There is more assistance coming for Iraq's handicapped: "Work has got underway for establishing handicapped institutes. Notably, ministry of health decided to complete them within three months. The ministry sets a strategic plan for rehabilitating handicapped in Iraq. That plan secures establishing five hospitals and more than 38 specialized centers for medical rehabilitation, besides modernizing 10 factories and workshops for limbs and sticks. The ministry's spokesman said that the plan sets until 2007 aims at developing medical rehabilitation services in Iraq and secure enough buildings."
- USAID, in conjunction with other bodies, continues to assist the Iraqi health system (link in PDF):
"Essential health care equipment arrived in emergency rooms and supply houses throughout Iraq to help Iraqis strengthen their health services. This project is being implemented by UNICEF with the support of a $36 million USAID grant. Recent emergency health equipment deliveries include 300 Emergency Health Kits, intravenous fluids and 29,332 tubes of Flamazine cream, a medicine essential in managing burns. "To contribute to combating malnutrition, UNICEF supplied 405 clinical scales for infants and newborns. Since the project commenced, a total of 2,300 scales have been delivered to maternity wards, pediatric wards, and delivery rooms where they are used to register and manage low birth weight infants. To reduce the prevalence of micronutrient deficiency disorders, 76 feeders have been also delivered to wheat flour mills throughout the country. These feeders will allow mills to enrich wheat flour with iron and folic acid, nutrients deficient in diets throughout Iraq."
- "Two Iraqi universities are implementing a research project with USAID support to find preventative procedures for B-Thalassemia, a blood disease prevalent throughout Iraq" (link in PDF). Also, "a Baghdad clinic and medical school training center received new furniture and equipment through the support of their local Community Action Group (CAG) and USAID's Community Action Program (CAP). The center serves about 400 patients daily, approximately 250 Bachelor's Degree students and 20 doctors pursuing higher studies." (link in PDF)
- Baghdad Health Department is increasing this year the number of specialist courses in the fields of "internal, surgery, gynecological and psychological illnesses and nine courses in statistics filed and other eight in nursing field including internal and surgery nursing, children, operations, prevention and other specialties." The aim is to boost the specialist numbers in the fields where there are currently shortages.
- There is also more support for this very valuable institution (link in PDF): "An institute for disabled children in Baghdad renovated its facilities with the assistance of USAID's Community Action Program (CAP). The institute is the only of its kind in Iraq providing care and education for children under the age of 12 who are mentally disabled or have cerebral palsy or neurological impairments. The institute is made up of 10 classrooms, administrative offices, a sports hall, and a physical therapy unit where children receive treatment. The $96,947 project investment from CAP renovated the school improving the ability of the school's principal and social workers to provide quality services to moderately and severely disabled students with different levels of physical and learning ability. This facility will enable children with special needs to realize their fullest potential and to provide them with every opportunity to learn in a decent environment."
- The education system is also trying to catch up to the twenty-first century - with plenty of help from abroad. The authorities have set up the Iraqi Center for Creation and Development - "a platform for Iraqis to learn about the latest development in world technologies and internet... Any individual can come and learn at the center... The center can be beneficial in promoting skills of Iraqi students and helping them to succeed in the domestic job market."
- The Jordanian National Committee for Education, Culture and Sciences, in cooperation with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and the Arab Organization for Education, Culture and Sciences, has held a training course for the members of its Iraqi counterpart. "The course aims at developing the skills and abilities of the Iraqi trainees and supplying them with the necessary expertise to develop the work of their national committees and improve their performance levels."
- "The Ministry of Education has renovated new center for internet and communications in order to upgrade and promote experiences and expertise for employees in the educational sector, besides arranging the modern information to get use from them in he ministry's departments."
- The public library in Karbala has been reopened after extensive renovations costing 1.4 billion dinars. Also in Karbala, 14 schools are being currently renovated, with plans for the refurbishment of another 60.
- In USAID's recent contribution to education (link in PDF): "Iraqi secondary school students welcomed the delivery of 137,112 Education Kits containing basic school supplies. Each kit contains 10 Arabic exercise books, one English exercise book, one drawing book, one lab notebook, one drawing set, 12 pencils, four pencil sharpeners, four erasers, and one ruler. They are now being distributed among 2,014 secondary schools throughout Iraq. The provision of basic school supplies is a component of USAID's Education II program. During the past month, the Education II project also trained more than 3,000 educators in 32 workshops throughout Iraq that covered topics ranging from capacity building within the Ministry of Education to improved teaching techniques for primary school teachers."
- USAID is also providing assistance to Iraq's higher education system (link in PDF). Thanks to USAID's Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program partner the University of Oklahoma, a technical university in Baghdad now has a brand new computer center. Under the same program, a university library in Al Hillah province, which had previously been looted, has now received new books and equipment. The Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID) led by Jackson State University (JSU) has also been modernizing labolatories and providing equipment and textbooks Medicine and Engineering departments at Iraqi universities.
- In other recent initiatives (link in PDF), "a Baghdad university law library has been restored with assistance from the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University. This is the first of three law library renovations that the institute has undertaken as part of the $3.8 million legal education reform component of the Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program. Two more libraries will soon be reopened after renovations."
- Baghdad University is also expanding the range of its postgraduate programs.
- Thanks to open borders and generosity of foreign benefactors, some of Iraq's most gifted can now continue their studies overseas:
"Nine Iraqi students have arrived at Education City to take up scholarships granted by Qatar Foundation. The group, which has studied together for the past six years at Baghdad's School for the Gifted, will begin their university career with a one-year course at the Academic Bridge Programme. Alongside other high-potential students, they will have intensive coaching in the core skills required for admission to Education City's top-flight universities, including maths, computer skills and English language. Eight of the scholarship students hope to study medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College-Qatar, while the ninth is seeking entry to the prestigious petroleum engineering programme at Texas A & M University-Qatar. The students' tuition and living expenses will be entirely met by Qatar Foundation for the duration of their academic programmes."
- In agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organisation will be cooperating with the Iraqi authorities on reclaiming land in Baghdad and other provinces that have suffered from desertification. "This projects is expected to employ many Iraqis who will work in preparing nurseries for different types of plants."
- The Ministry of Agriculture has recently announced "a work plan to implement a national program to prepare maps for assessing environmental and agricultural needs in all provinces... The main objective of the program is to locate production areas for strategic crops, and determine the area for agricultural investments, provide needed support for local projects such as equipment, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides." More here.
- "Ten officials from Water Resource Departments in five Iraqi governorates attended a training course in Amman, Jordan with support from ARDI. The course, prepared and delivered by staff from the Jordan Valley Authority (JVA) and Jordanian universities, covered principles of water resource management. The course lasted eight days, with four days devoted to lectures and training and four days for field trips to local farms and the JVA headquarters to observe the control center, operation room, and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA)." (link in PDF)
- The Ministry has also signed a contract for the import of 11 multi-purpose agricultural airplanes, to be used for aerial spraying against pests. German harvesters will also be imported to help in the coming harvest.
- USAID is helping some of those most in need throughout Iraq (link in PDF): "USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is distributing Livelihood Packages to displaced families in south and west Kirkuk. Local Community Development Groups helped OFDA assess the community and prioritize the families in greatest needed. Over 2,300 family packages have been distributed among the displaced population. These packages include blankets, clothes, heaters, cookers, and plastic sheeting - non-food items, which would help people stay warm and dry during the winter. In addition more than 50 jobs were created during procurement, with additional jobs being generated during the distributions."
- In America, grass-roots actions to help Iraqis continue. From Pennsylvannia:
"In a hot and dusty village near Bayji, Iraq, surrounded by miles and miles of desert, at least 50 Iraqi kids are wearing new sandals that were bought right here in Bucks. The springtime chill doesn't lend itself to thinking about open-toe weather just yet, but a month-old goodwill project that's collected 250 pairs of sandals has got Northampton residents doing just that. "The project, Brad's Sandalmania, was the brainchild of Council Rock graduate Brad Raudenbush, 22, who was sent overseas in June for service in Iraq. The Temple University criminal justice major wrote in a recent e-mail that he thought of distributing sandals to promote goodwill among Iraqis after checking out some Army photos of the region he was heading to."
- From Oklahoma:
"Beanie babies can save a soldier's life. In fact, they can save a number of them, said Denise Rozell and her 10-year-old daughter, Destiny Fulsom. A few weeks ago, Rozell and Fulsom, a fifth grader at Westwood Elementary, were watching the evening news when they saw an interview with a soldier in Iraq. The soldier told how their convoy spotted an Iraqi girl on the side of the road and they recognized the girl because one of the soldiers had given her a Beanie Baby a few days earlier. The Iraqi girl proceeded to point out to the soldiers where all the land mines were located, Rozell said. "The news sparked an idea in both Rozell and Fulsom's minds. 'We started thinking about all the beanies in the house and thought "Why don't we send them to soldiers",' Rozell said. Rozell got in touch with Barbara Luttmer, who works at the Morrison American Legion Auxiliary. Luttmer knew how to send the beanies to the soldiers because the auxiliary had sent supplies to troops in the past. Starting March 21, Rozell and Fulsom began to collect the Beanie Babies by putting a drop-off point at Westwood Elementary. A mother of three children, Rozell has also received help from co-workers who have volunteered to help with the process."
- Students from DeLong Middle School in Wisconsin are collecting and sending school supplies to Iraq.
- Meanwhile, a new program is launched by the Iraqi authorities to help those most disadvantaged:
"A new programme to assist the poorest and most disadvantaged members of Iraqi society was launched recently by the Minister of Public Works and Social Affairs, Leila Abdul Lattif.
"The project employs a team of six psychologists who travel the streets of the capital under police guard, searching for the destitute, orphans, the elderly and disabled homeless. Most have no means of support other than begging. They are offered refuge at a centre called 'The Mercy House'.Here, a variety of support services are offered by professional and volunteer workers, including doctors and psychologists. Each person who accepts assistance is given an individual psychological assessment and their difficulties are analysed. An individual programme is then worked out to help them cope with whatever issues have resulted in them being on the streets."
- "I believe that it's the best programme that the Iraqi government has ever developed. In this centre you really can explore the minds of your patient and in the meantime feel happy that you are giving the possibility for each one to have a better future," says Dr Ibraheem Kassem, a Mercy House volunteer.
- This Iraqi action aims to do good and bring people together at the same time:
"Shiites and Sunnis sat side byside as blood filled bags through plastic tubes, hoping their donation will help whoever needs it.
"Dozens of Iraqis, from all walks of life with different sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, lined up Sunday outside a blood donation station set at the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party which initiated the blood donation campaign.
" 'The goal of such a blood drive is to achieve the unity of the Iraqi people, under humanitarian actions,' [said] doctor Alaa Maki, also a member of the party... 'The donated blood will be distributed to all Iraqis no matter who they are and we also call for other Iraqi parties and humanitarian institutions to do the same to save the lives of Iraqi patients and wounded people while living together in peace,' said Maki while busy helping the donors."The Iraqi National Center for Blood Donation is facing an acute shortage of blood since the tide of violence in the already war-ravaged country sees no sign of easing away. The Iraqi hospitals are also in need of medicine and medical appliances. The blood donation campaign, designated to help address the problem, is expected to last for several days. 'Nothing can better fraternize the divided Iraqis than blood,' [said] doctor Abdul Wadod Khaled."
- The Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence, the body responsible for managing environmental engineering and construction projects for the US Air Force, has awarded over $71 million-worth of reconstruction contracts in Iraq in March. "Since the year began, AFCEE awarded more than $173 million worth of work to contractors in Iraq. Air Force and civilian employees worked on repairing underground pipelines; built schools, government buildings and military facilities; and rebuilt existing facilities this month. Last year, AFCEE awarded $1.2 billion worth of work in Iraq in order to help rebuild the country's security and justice infrastructure."
- The troops continue to be involved in numerous reconstruction projects around Iraq. In Baghdad, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has nearly completed a $6.5 million project of cleaning the Zeblin line of sewage pipes:
"According to Mike Mitchell, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) project engineer, sewage backups into the streets and homes of the residents of Baghdad create a hazardous environment.
" 'Particularly hazardous considering the Baghdad sewer systems harbor hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, methane, unexploded ordnance and fecal born-diseases, among numerous other hazards.'"The intent of sewer line cleaning is to remove foreign materials from the lines and restore the sewer to a minimum of 95 percent of the original carrying capacity or as required for proper seating of internal pipe joint sealing packers."
- Bryon Johnson from Camp Speicher near Tikrit reports: "These folks, they're incredible... They're doing some really cool stuff here. Just in this area alone, I counted 93 schools that they're working on. They have 22 electrical plants or power stations. Seventeen railroads. Nine health clinics. Eight fire stations. Four court houses. That's just what I know about."
- In Bayji, the troops are working on the local power plant:
"As March draws to a close, temperatures in Iraq are on the rise. Getting more electricity on the national grid is of foremost concern as the summer months draw near. An international team of engineers and technical professionals at the Bayji power plant has spent the past nine months working to get an additional 270 megawatts of power on the grid, which is enough energy to power more than 200,000 Iraqi homes and businesses. "In April 2004, a $64 million contract was awarded to Odebrecht-Austin, Joint Venture to rehabilitate two gas turbine units, each capable of generating 135 megawatts of power. After months of hard work, the units had 'first fires' Feb. 25 and March 11 and started applying power to the national grid March 3 and 16. Final reliability tests are being performed, and the project will be transferred to the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity this month, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said."
- Around Ramadi, the troops are rebuilding the important dam system:
"Iraq's Ramadi Barrage, on the Euphrates River, is to be repaired at a cost of $3 million. 'The repair work is scheduled to begin mid-April or May, pending SPCO approval and contractor selection, with a completion date of mid-April 2006,' said Brian Anderson, US Army Corps of Engineers project engineer. 'Repairing the barrage will provide jobs for the Iraqi people and ensure that it will operate properly for its designed purposes, which are irrigation and flood control,' Anderson said. "Barrages in Iraq are of critical national importance and key infrastructure significance for its people. The Ramadi Barrage is part of a sensitive system designed for flood control and irrigation storage that consists of the Warrar Inlet Canal structure, Al Duban Regulator and the Habbaniyah Reservoir. During the 1991 Gulf War, seven of the barrage's gates were damaged by air-to-ground missiles. The damaged gates were left in the down position resulting in a loss of performance, particularly during floodwater periods."
- Taskforce Baghdad is meanwhile working together with local contractors on a number of projects. Local roads are being widened not only to improve traffic, but also make it more difficult for the insurgents to successfully plant roadside bombs; in other areas water station is being renovated and water pipes laid in order to provide water to several neighborhoods.
- The troops are also assisting with the development of the education infrastructure:
"Millions of dollars in Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Funds are being spent to repair and reconstruct schools throughout Iraq. The majority of the reconstruction work is being done by local Iraqi companies.
" 'The future of any country lies with its children,' said Linda Carter, construction representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Kirkuk area office. 'Schools are instrumental in the proper development of our children. It's difficult to learn in buildings that are overcrowded and in disrepair.'
"Currently, over $2 million is being spent on 38 school renovations in the province of Kirkuk. There is an additional $1.4 million available that is expected to be used on eight more schools. That contract is currently out for bid. So far, three schools have been completed, and an additional eight are scheduled for completion this month."The schools being reconstructed were selected from a priority list provided by the province's Director General of Education. The DG provided a list of 80 schools in need of renovation and repair. The plan is to do as many schools as possible with the available $3.4 million."
- In addition to reconstruction, soldiers are also using connections back home to assist Iraqi schools: "Soldiers in the 155th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq are soliciting help from folks back home to wage a different kind of battle, one for young hearts and minds. Members of the team have established an adopt-a-school program that aims to link Iraqi children with students in Mississippi schools, Lt. Col. Tommy Fuller, the 155th's chaplain, told The Associated Press by satellite phone from a base in the Northern Babil province."
- Support for Iraqi health service also continues:
"The four Humvees rumbled down the street and turned into an empty lot. The soldiers dismounted, scrutinized the dirt and rocks for hidden bombs, and scanned windows and rooftops for hidden gunmen.
"Then, one Humvee pulled up to a driveway and backed up to a building where some men and boys were waiting. The building was a clinic, and inside the Humvee were boxes of medical supplies.
" 'They go through 100 syringes a day,' said Dr. (Capt.) Mike Tarpey of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment."Supporting health care is a priority for the 42nd Infantry Division, which began its one-year deployment to Iraq in February. While U.S. troops provide most of the muscle and means, they also try to bring local Iraqis into the mix. The men at the clinic were local officials and clinic workers, who it is hoped will get some credit for the delivery."
- Here's a similar action: "As the convoy pulled into the Janain neighborhood, people started to come out of their houses. The speakers on top of the psychological operation's Humvee announced the Soldiers' arrival. The message was simple - the Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, were there to provide medical assistance to the residents. The medics set up a makeshift aid station to treat the residents as an area was cordoned off with concertina wire March 9." Such actions not only provide much needed medical assistance to Iraqi who might otherwise have problems accessing it, but also present to local another side of the Coalition troops.
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region South, meanwhile, is managing the renovation and rebuilding of hospitals in the south of the country. As one of its recent projects, under a $10 million contract a 260-bed maternity and pediatrics hospital in Tallil will be thoroughly renovated. "Every portion of the 260-bed hospital will be touched... The contract also includes new operating suites, tons of new medical equipment, and many donated medical supplies. We are re-equipping the entire facility," says Bob Hanacek, GRS resident engineer.
- The security infrastructure is not forgotten throughout Iraq:
"Once the Basrah firm, Mott McDonald, completed its assessments of 13 police stations throughout Maysan Province, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region South, or GRS, awarded contracts to local Iraqi construction firms to implement the planned renovation reconstruction. These 13 stations represent only the beginning of the program as additional stations undergo assessments in the future...
"Based upon the size of each station and the renovations required, individual station reconstruction costs will range from $65,000 to $180,000.
"Renovations to the initial 13 stations will directly improve the security and working conditions for approximately 1500 police in Maysan Province. However, the construction upgrades will serve to have a ripple effect, thereby delivering benefits that extend far beyond the police station walls." 'Approximately 800-1200 Iraqis will be put to work in conjunction with the renovation program,' said [construction manager Ken] Derickson, 'thereby stimulating the local economies throughout Maysan Province'."
- You can also read this interesting profile of Kevin Gerdes, a lieutenant colonel in the Minnesota National Guard and "mayor" of Taji, the former home of the Hammurabi Division of the Republican Guard and of a Saddam memorabilia museum, now shared by the US and Iraqi troops, as he overseas the renovation of the base before its handover to local soldiers.
- The troops are also playing important role in helping to build Iraqi democracy on the grass-roots level:
- There is also time for private humanitarian initiatives. There is, for example, this fine effort to help the limbless victims of past violence:
"One day last year, while driving a Humvee along the dusty roads of Baghdad's Green Zone, Capt. Steve Lindsley spotted two young Iraqi men, both amputees and tottering on makeshift crutches.
"And so, Lindsley found the first two patients for Operation Restoration, his makeshift prosthetics clinic for Iraqi civilians funded in part by Plymouth, Minn.-based Otto Bock HealthCare.
"Ali, 14, had lost his right leg above the knee in a hit-and-run traffic accident seven years earlier. And Taleb, 20, was a child when his leg was amputated below the knee, because of complications from a cancerous tumor. Neither had ever received proper prosthetic care.
"Lindsley, of Monroe, La., was deployed to Iraq as a logistics officer with the Mississippi Army National Guard's 112th Military Police Battalion. But his civilian job as clinical manager at the prosthetics and orthotics clinic at Mississippi Methodist Rehabilitation Center was never far from his mind.
" 'While in the Green Zone, I started seeing Iraqis walking around; some of them didn't have limbs. That was where I decided that I needed to try to help,' he said."So Lindsley and his friend, Sgt. Chris Cummings, set up a free clinic in the huge basement kitchen of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. 'The palace has been bombed and wasn't in very good condition, the lighting was poor, the electrical substandard,' Lindsley recalled. 'We made do'."
- And helping doesn't stop when the troops go home:
"When Joseph Yorski was serving a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq, he noticed Iraqi police had little protection compared to his peers in the New Britain Police Department. Upon his return, the officer decided to help fellow law enforcement officials by spearheading a movement to outfit Iraqi police with old, surplus equipment instead of following regular procedure, which calls to destroy it.
"Yorski, a member of the 143rd Military Police Company and an 11-year veteran of the Police Department, oversees property. He said he took matters into his own hands when asked by acting Chief William Gagliardi to destroy surplus police equipment, which ranges from riot gear to reflective vests."Teaming up with America Supporting Americans -- a nonprofit organization that encourages law enforcement agencies and individuals to donate used police equipment -- Yorski collected an extensive amount of gear that will be shipped to Baghdad."
- The allies are also doing their bit. Here's the contribution from the 400-strong Slovak contingent: "According to a Defence Ministry spokesperson during the 19 months it has been operating in Iraq, Slovakia's sapper unit has deactivated, by hand, mines over an area of 140,000 square metres, this equates to about 28 football fields. Plus, a much larger area has been demined using the help of specially-designed equipment. They have found and deactivated some tens of thousands of munitions and grenades."
- A company of soldiers from Azerbeijan, together with US Marines, is providing constant protection for Haditha Dam, one of the most important pieces of infrastructure in Iraq, which provides electricity for a third of the country. And here's the story of the El Salvadorean contingent, representing the only Latin American country with troops in Iraq.
"When villagers saw the cloud of dust from an approaching U.S. convoy, they hoped Iraq's new powerbrokers had come to solve problems: a broken well, a dilapidated school. But the U.S. soldiers, mindful that their eventual departure hinges on robust local governments, directed villagers to local officials and elected representatives - a mind-bending concept for Iraqis formerly accustomed to all power flowing from Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
"In modern Iraqi history, local governments have hardly been the place to solve problems. Other groups - the former dictator's Baath Party, the Iraqi army, tribal leaders, clerics - have been far more relevant to daily life. 'In Saddam's Iraq, everyone was encouraged to look to the center - and to a lesser degree the party - for action,' said Phebe Marr, author of 'The Modern History of Iraq.'
"The United States is now using millions of reconstruction dollars to repair the capabilities and image of local governments, a central component to an Iraq free of strongmen or bureaucrats who cater to segments of a diverse and fractured society. 'Everything we do, we try to put the Iraqi army, Iraqi police, and local government at the forefront and give them the credit,' said Capt. Chris Chang, a native of Los Angeles and a civilian affairs officer in the 278th Regiment of the 42nd Infantry Division."City councils have emerged as a new power, channeling U.S. funds for reconstruction projects that pay local residents to build schools, hospitals and other public facilities."
- There is good news for the Coalition troops as casualties decrease:
"The rate of U.S. deaths in the Iraq war has fallen sharply since the historic January elections as American military leaders tout progress against the insurgency but warn of a long road ahead.
"March is on pace for the lowest monthly U.S. military death toll in 13 months, and the rate of American fatalities has fallen by about 50 percent since the parliamentary elections in which millions of Iraqis defied insurgents to cast ballots..."Since the election, the rate of U.S. military fatalities in Iraq has been about 1.7 per day, compared to about 3.4 per day from November to election day -- a 50 percent drop. It is also about one-fifth lower than the rate experienced from the start of the war until the election."
- And: "There are between 40 and 60 incidents each day in the country, they said, sharply down from the terrorist effort in the week of the Iraqi elections in January. Even this doesn't tell the whole story. Of those incidents, roughly half have no effect. This means terrorists launch an attack, but no lives are lost, nor is any property damaged."
- On a micro level the story is very similar: "Aid stations around the 2nd Brigade Combat Team's sector in eastern Baghdad are reporting a drop in the number of trauma cases compared with the 3rd Infantry Division's predecessor. Army officials said the sharp decline is due, at least in part, to the changed operational picture. When the 1st Cavalry Division was here, it took heavy casualties while combating a sustained uprising in nearby Sadr City. In the first month of the 1st Cav's deployment - April 2004 - officials reported 125 casualties. In March 2005, the full first month on station for the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd BCT, officials reported 10 casualties."
- In related news, Pentagon has received offers and ideas from 1,100 companies on methods to defuse roadside bombs and car bombs. "The Pentagon sought new technologies and approaches in a broad area announcement March 2. The deadline for responses was April 4... A Joint IED Task Force created to focus on the solutions to the problem will narrow down the best ideas and ask for more details within 30 days. Contractors will have another month to get back to them, and then full-blown proposals will be solicited for the most promising ideas. The task force will spend $11 million on the immediate purchase of technologies and $20 million on procurement that results from other final proposals. It also has $25 million in reserve for promising capabilities."
- Insurgency, of course, is not over, with the Iraqi security personnel and civilians now bearing the brunt of violence. The levels of violence can still rise again, like they have done in the past. Still, the trend is encouraging. The cautious mood is reflected in this recent assessment:
"The Iraqi resistance has peaked and is 'turning in on itself', according to recent intelligence reports from Baghdad received by Middle Eastern intelligence agencies.
"The reports are the most optimistic for several months and reflect analysts' sense that recent elections in Iraq marked a 'quantum shift'. They will boost the government in the run-up to the expected general election in May.
"Though the reports predict that violence against coalition troops and local forces is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, at least two Middle Eastern intelligence agencies believe that recent 'backchannel' initiatives aimed at persuading Sunni Muslim tribes in western Iraq to cease their resistance are meeting with some success."The talks are aimed at driving a wedge between so-called Iraqi nationalist elements of the resistance and radical Islamic militants."
- Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan says that while the terrorist attacks organized by the Al Zarqawi network continue, the number of attacks by native insurgents has dropped substantially. In a perhaps related development, the Ministry of Interior has announced that the crime rate in Baghdad had fallen by 40 per cent in March in comparison with the previous month. The officials credit increased cooperation from the citizens in reporting criminal and suspicious activity.
- Better intelligence is also helping the Coalition and Iraqi security forces to acquire a more comprehensive picture of the insurgency:
"A Pentagon official said there are questions about how many insurgents are hard-core fighters as opposed to 'fence sitters' who might participate in an attack but then lie dormant for weeks at a time. 'There are many part-timers who will quit fighting under the right conditions,' the official said.
"Officials now think that criminals make up more of the insurgents than first thought, meaning many are driven by money, not ideology. And commanders are seeing more foreign fighters because fewer Iraqis are willing to commit themselves to attacks."The suspicion that there is a large number of semicommitted insurgents was bolstered by the enemy's failure to disrupt the Jan. 30 elections, when 8 million Iraqis went to the polls."
- The recent joint Iraqi-American raid on the insurgent base at Lake Tharthar is seen as having important implications, in addition to the body count: "Among documents found were instructions for the home-made bombs that have plagued coalition forces. Others contained names of Iraqi officials, including two interim ministers who have been informed. Identity documents indicated that among the insurgents were citizens of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and the Philippines." And here you can read more about Iraqi interrogations of suspects.
- The propaganda war against insurgents and terrorists continues to enthrall the Iraqis:
"Looking cowed and frightened, a bruised young man looks into the television camera and stammers replies to questions from an unseen interrogator. Yes, he says, he was paid to kidnap foreigners in Baghdad. No, he was not a mujahid (holy warrior); just a common criminal cashing in on Iraq's climate of fear.
"The man, described as a captured insurgent, is making a public confession on a TV program on Iraq's government-run al-Iraqiya television station called 'Terror in the Hands of Justice.' Twice daily, Iraqis watch fascinated as a procession of alleged Islamist guerrillas reveal the details of terrorist operations on what can be described as an Iraqi variation on 'America's Most Wanted.' One man said he had stalked 10 college girls who were translators for the U.S. Army, then raped them and killed all of them. Another described how he had beheaded several hostages after first practicing on animals.
"The program has a double aim of showing Iraqis their tax dollars at work: in other words, Iraq's security services making headway in combating the mainly Sunni Muslim insurgency. The second aim is to undermine the mystique of a sinister force that had spread terror among ordinary Iraqis, and to embolden people to come forward with information.
"In the early shows the prisoners were non-Iraqi mujaheddin from other Arab countries who claimed to have crossed into Iraq from Syria to fight in the insurgency. But more recently 'Terror in the Hands of Justice' has focussed on Iraqis, showing mostly petty criminals who claimed to have been lured into the insurgency with promises of payment for taking part in kidnappings and guerrilla operations.
"A report in Thursday's Financial Times said the television program has discredited the mujaheddin and their professions of religious fervor by showing captured insurgents who said they were homosexuals -- still not a socially acceptable group in much of the Middle East. As a result, the word mujahid 'once worn as a badge of pride by anti-American insurgents has become street slang for homosexuals,' the paper reported. Some of the captured guerrillas confessed to holding gay orgies. Recently, Abu Tabarek, a preacher, confessed that insurgents had held morally deviant parties in his mosques."Few Iraqis seem to doubt the program's authenticity. Iraqis have actually recognized individual prisoners as their attackers, or even as former friends and acquaintances."
- Says Abdul Kareem Abdulla, 42, a Baghdad shop owner: "I watch the show every night, and I wait for it patiently, because it is very revealing. For the first time, we saw those who claim to be jihadists as simple $50 murderers who would do everything in the name of Islam. Our religion is too lofty, noble and humane to have such thugs and killers. I wish they would hang them now, and in the same place where they did their crimes. They should never be given any mercy." You can read another report about the show here.
- In another sign that the insurgents are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis, "hundreds of power workers shouting 'No, no, to terror!' marched through Baghdad... to protest attacks that have killed dozens of their colleagues... Lined up behind a black banner with the names of slain power workers, protesters demanded an end to attacks on electricity stations and oil pipelines - targets in an insurgent effort to weaken the economy and undermine the U.S.-led coalition and interim government."
- From the files of civilian-military cooperation: "An Iraqi citizen's tip March 23 led to the arrest of a suspect in an improvised explosive device attack in Dawr... A coordinated car-bomb attack involving three vehicles heading for the Mussayib police station in Ramadi was derailed March 21 when citizens noticed the drivers were not from their local area and helped Iraqi police stop the cars."
- In and around Mosul, the Iraqi and the Coalition forces increasingly rely on tips from the locals to fight the insurgents:
"Although the Iraqi army and elements of the Washington state-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, have managed to prevent major attacks locally since the Jan. 30 elections, their success depends on residents' cooperation, said Capt. Mike Yea, 29, from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment...
" 'We rely heavily on town leaders to find out about terrorist activities,' Capt. Yea said, adding that his unit has had particular success acting upon local tips in As Shura, a town that recently had a reputation as an insurgent haven."Now, U.S. forces at As Shura get as many as six tips per night, said 1st Sgt. Darren Kinder, 40, from the Delta Company, 52nd Infantry. Sgt. Kinder's unit, attached to the 2nd Battalion, maintains round-the-clock presence at an outpost downtown. 'Some tips pay off, some don't,' Sgt. Kinder said. 'We've asked the local populace to step up, and they've been responding fairly well'."
- But as both the Iraqi and the American military authorities are arguing, they need more cooperation before better security situation can start translating itself into a better quality of life for the locals. Also in Mosul, a change in public mood: prior to the election, there was only one hotline for the locals to report terrorist activity, and as the authorities admit, "it wasn't used all that much." Now, there are five hotlines operating, and because of demand the authorities need more.
- Speaking of hotlines:
"Fatma peeked out the window of her Mosul home and saw masked men lobbing mortars at a nearby Iraqi army base for the third time. She decided it would be the last.
"As she telephoned to report the men, Fatma became one of an increasing number of Iraqis tipping off the authorities. Officials say it's a sign the country's fledgling security forces are winning the trust of citizens, turning them against the insurgency."The growing willingness of Iraqis to cooperate with officials is perhaps also a testimony to the insurgency's own mistakes, which have cost it the sympathy of some. Many say they simply are tired of violence that has overshadowed their lives or claimed people they love."
"U.S. and Iraqi officials say they have seen an increase in calls in recent weeks, especially after Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, although there were no overall figures available on how many people have offered information. In a sign the phenomenon is gathering momentum, some Iraqis told The Associated Press that when they called in information, they were told others already had reported the same incident.
- Iraqi security forces are playing an increasingly important role in providing security throughout the country: "Today, there are some 4,000 Iraqis patrolling 10 Baghdad neighborhoods in place of U.S. forces. If the turnover is judged successful, a second wave of Iraqi soldiers is due to deploy into other neighborhoods in August." More here.
- Training of Iraqi security forces also continues. At Hawk Base, near Camp Taji, Iraq, Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 1st Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division are training Iraqi Army units. " 'The Iraqis complete two weeks of training here,' said Capt. Daniel K. Getchel of Vale, Oregon, a 4-1 FA officer supervising the training at Hawk Base. 'We train them to get proficient, and then turn the company back over to their unit.' Getchel said the Iraqis start with individual skills. 'They work on skills like patrolling, reacting to contact, casualty evacuation, and basic soldiering skills,' he said. Then, the Iraqi troops move on to squad-level tasks, and finally work on training at the company level. 'They're working well together," said Sgt. Cozae C. Banks, an Atchison, Kansas native and member of the 4/1 FA training cadre."
- Military Police are in turn training the Iraqi police. Says Capt. Jeffery Withers, commander, 41th MP Company, Fort Hood, Texas: "With the help of MPs, the academy is adequately training about 3,000 police per quarter... Iraqi police instructors work with Coalition instructors to train the police cadets in small classes to get better results... We’re providing a quality police officer to go out on the streets and ensuring that they can self-sufficiently and securely police their own country."
- Another American unit being partnered with the Iraqi police for the purposes of training is the 42nd Military Police Brigade, Fort Lewis, Washington:
" 'We work hand-in-hand with Iraqi police instructors. They're learning how to instruct their own people,' said Staff Sgt. Gary R. Rigsby, instructor, 411th MP Company, Fort Hood, Texas.
"The Course is eight weeks long and the cadets go through many areas of training. 'Some of the classes the Iraqi cadets go through is a law week; a human rights class on how to treat personnel; a use-of-force class; a weapons training class where they learn how to use a Glock-19 as well as a an AK-47; and an (anti-terrorism) class,' Rigsby said."The academy, with the help of MPs, is graduating about 3,000 cadets per quarter. The attrition rate is at around 10 percent, said Capt. Jeffery Withers, commander, 411th MP Co."
- Here's more about new police recruits. Read also about the German contribution to training Iraqi army engineering unit.
- In other recent security successes:
- numerous weapons caches uncovered and insurgents killed in failed attacks on the Coalition forces on March 24;
- on March 25, "Iraqi soldiers backed by US helicopters killed several suspected insurgents and seized 121 more in a dawn raid yesterday, capturing tonnes of explosives earmarked for attacks on the holy city of Karbala", or to be more precise, "3 tons of TNT, 624 rifles, 250,000 light ammunition rounds, 22,000 medium ammunition rounds, 193 RPG launchers, 300 RPG rockets, 27 82mm mortar tubes and 155 82mm mortar rounds";
- the arrest of by the soldiers of the Iraqi 1st Army Brigade, 6th Division, of an Iraqi police master sergeant "accused of being the leader of a terror cell. The suspect is also believed to be responsible for the bombing of the Al-Baratha Mosque";
- destruction by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and an Iraqi Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team of a large arms cache in Al Kut;
- between March 17 and 24, the 2nd Marine Division have detained a total of 147 suspected insurgents throughout the Anbar province and has recovered numerous weapons caches;
- on March 28, "U.S. soldiers discovered eight weapons caches near a U.S. military supply route south of Baghdad March 27. The soldiers used metal detectors to find the hidden weapons, which included 58 assorted artillery and mortar rounds, 11 rocket-propelled grenade heat rounds and three RPG launchers. The Americans also uncovered six RPG anti-personnel rounds, 1,000 6.3 mm primers, a machine gun, an AK-47 rifle, and more than 400 rounds of ammunition. Other munitions found include 100 time fuses, 39 booster charges of various sizes, 10 blasting caps, five mortar fuses, two armored vests, detonation cord and a wide assortment of electronic equipment."
- the capture in late 2004 (and only recently revealed) of a senior aide to Al Zarqawi. The man has a dual American and Jordanian citizenship and is suspected of helping to coordinate and finance terrorist activities throughout several cities in Iraq;
- detaining 26 suspects in operations around Mosul and Tal Afar on March 30 and 31. "Meanwhile, U.S. Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion and 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, responded to 15 separate weapons cache sites approximately 12 kilometers southeast of Camp Fallujah March 29" (more here);
- detaining of six insurgents after an unsuccessful attack on an US Army patrol near Ad Duluiyah;
"Task Force Liberty Soldiers detained seven people suspected of a rocket attack near a Coalition Forces base near Hawija about 3:30 p.m., March 29. The TF Liberty combat patrol was investigating the suspected point of origin of the attack when it detained five people in a vehicle. They were in possession of a video camera containing footage of terrorists firing mortars, a pamphlet on firing mortars, and mortar and rocket firing data. Two others were detained near the Coalition Forces base and are suspected of observing the impact of the rocket attack";
- killing by the Iraqi Army of 17 insurgents in eastern Diyala province on April 4, while sustaining only 1 dead;
- detaining 24 suspected insurgents, mostly by the Iraqi forces, around Mosul on 2 and 3 April.
As the Iraqi Minister for Human Rights Bakhtiar Amin said about the proceedings of the National Assembly: "There will be a place in jail for Saddam and the 11 to watch the TV to understand their time is finished, there is a new Iraq and that they are no longer ruling the country; so they can understand that in the new Iraq, people are elected and they are not coming to power by a coup d'etat."
The reaction? "Saddam Hussein watched the televised election of Iraq's new president from his jail cell yesterday and was 'clearly upset', a senior official said."
Well, it was all worth it for that alone.
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