Monday, July 19, 2004
Another fortnight in Iraq, another fortnight's worth of news about terrorism, hostages, military and civilian casualties, faulty intelligence in the run-up to war, and the problems of reconstruction, as our mainstream media continues to focus overwhelmingly on bad news from the Mesopotamian quagmire. And yet, some still think that the latest coverage is actually too positive - as in this Reuters story: "Some U.S. news outlets are treating the 'transfer of power' to Iraqis as a new beginning for the country, even though the situation on the ground seems little altered, experts said." I guess some "experts" will remain "little altered" regardless of the actual situation on the ground.
And yet, there is good news coming out of Iraq, as this compilation of all the positive developments that you might have otherwise missed clearly demonstrates. I started looking out for good news from Iraq over two months ago, having gotten fed up with the unrelenting barrage of negative news coverage, which focused almost exclusively on violence, failure and dashed hopes. The good news is much underreported and not always easy to find, but clearly it's out there, and taken together with the usual Iraq coverage, it paints a much more balanced and, dare I say it, nuanced picture of a country, which is still waking up from a three decades' long nightmare and trying against many odds to become normal.
In many ways, it now falls to the political blogs to do the work one would expect from the mainstream media - to provide a fair and balanced picture of situation in Iraq. It's the blogs that dig up the information, disseminate it, and bring to everyone's attention the more outrageous examples of media bias or carelessness with facts. As John Leo wrote recently, "[w]hat's new about the press is that so many people who follow it with a critical eye now have an outlet to howl about inaccuracy and partisanship. The big media used to be able to shrug off critics like this. Now they can't." Amen.
For the previous parts of "Good news from Iraq" see the top of the side-bar, but here's the latest good news:
IRAQI SOCIETY: A mixed, but generally encouraging picture emerges out of the latest poll of Iraqis conducted the Iraqi Center for Strategic Research and Studies in seven major cities following the transfer of sovereignty:
"Iraqi public has little faith in the new interim government of Ayad Allawi, with only 27 percent approving the formation of his cabinet. However, more than two thirds (81 percent) said they would like Allawi's government to disarm local militias or bring them under its control... [M]ore than half believed that the forthcoming general elections would be 'just and fair' while only 18 percent said they would be 'unfair'...
"66 percent of Iraqis objected to the presence of foreign troops while only 29 percent said their presence was necessary. An even lesser number - 41 percent - said they would feel safe if the troops left...
"Regarding electricity, 64 percent agreed to a question that power supplies were worse than under the ousted leader Saddam Hussein. But 58 percent said the overall economic situation was better than before...
"The poll... reinforces results from earlier surveys that Iraqis dislike any system of government that is based on religious, sectarian or ethnic grounds."
Which is surely encouraging for the future. Not to mention rather under-reported.After the transfer of sovereignty, Iraq re-enters the world stage: "Iraq is preparing to name ambassadors to 43 countries around the world, including neighbors, like Iran and Syria, and Far Eastern and European states." This, according to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari will be a "major step towards the rehabilitation of Iraq's foreign policy." The new government hopes to eventually surpass the total of 77 embassies maintained under Saddam.
On the domestic scene, federalism - arguably the only political system that will make sense in Iraq - is winning converts, and not just in the Kurdish north. The four southern provinces, which produce much of Iraq's oil export income and electricity for domestic consumption, are considering their options in a struggle for better representation: "Why is federalism a dirty word?", asks Mansour al-Tamimi, a member of Basra's governorate council and newspaper editor. "The most successful countries in the world are federal."
In a related development, Iraq's interim President Ghazi al-Yawer has announced plans for a new national high court to adjudicate disputes between the central government and local governments of autonomous regions, mainly in the Kurdish north. The proposed Federal Supreme Court will "control the relationship between the central government and the governments of the regions of Iraq, as related to taxes, administration, resources" and other related issues.
Meanwhile, in the run-up to the next year's poll, the Chief Electoral Officer and seven Commissioners of Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission have finished a two-week study course in Mexico, where international experts and election officials tutored the Iraqi team on topics such as "the standards and principles of credible elections, approaches for dispute resolution..., voter registration..., the registration of political parties, voter education campaigns, and procedures for polling, counting and tabulating results."
Read also this profile of a Kurdish official Bakhtiyar Amin: "Iraq's new human rights minister may be the most potent symbol of post-war Iraq: a member of a long-oppressed minority who has a unique opportunity to prove that Iraqis can put aside ethnic and religious rivalries to come together as a nation."
Speaking of elections, one of the contenders in January's presidential poll thinks Iraqis should look to some unusual role models. Saad Janabi, vice-president of one of Iraq's premier conglomerates, the Janabi Group, has this to say: "We need a business person in politics to rebuild Iraq like the Italian and Lebanese premiers. Stability and security are linked to the economy. We need to have business people in politics." His own personal inspiration: the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and the architect of Lebanon's post civil-war rebirth, Rafiq Hariri.
Before democracy, however, liberty. Freedom of speech revives in Iraq, not always in the tidiest of forms:
"On the brick wall of the parking lot adjacent to one of the largest mosques in the city, several anonymous observers of modern-day Iraq have spray-painted their commentary in black and red. 'Where is the mustache of Saddam?' asked one writer, who was insulting the deposed leader by using an Iraqi expression for challenging one's manhood. Another states that, 'the killing of Americans is halal,' or acceptable under Islamic law. And a third writer scrawled in English that the 'USA Rocks!'In related media news, according to a latest opinion poll, "[m]ore than half of people with access to satellite television in Iraq now watch al-Sharqiya, a new Arabic channel which specializes in Iraqi affairs... 58 percent of viewers in Iraq trust what the new channel broadcasts regarding the situation in the country... More people said they like the programs of al-Sharqiya more than those of any of the major Arab satellite television channels, including al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. Al-Sharqiya was officially launched a few months ago and has attracted a large following in the country due to its concentration on domestic affairs. It is the first satellite channel with a purely local character. It reminds the Iraqis of their good old days and relays a message of tolerance and coexistence as it strives to depict most aspects of the country's diverse society." That's pre-Saddam "good old days."
"Under the former regime, tagging a wall with a controversial political message was punishable by a long jail sentence and, sometimes, execution. The walls of post-Saddam Hussein Baghdad, however, have become a canvas for political dialogue and colorful self-expression."
In the world of education, academic cooperation is growing, both with the Western and neighboring countries. Read also this uplifting story about valuable assistance from the US:
"Biology professor Safaa Al-Hamdani wasn't expecting an avalanche of books when he asked colleagues at Jacksonville State University to help his alma mater in Baghdad restock its libraries. But donations have been pouring in from around the country. 'I never thought it would get this big,' Al-Hamdani said Friday.While we support and cheer on Iraqi academics, let us also remember the risks that those brave Iraqis who want to rebuild their country face every day: a new study has found that around 250 university professors have been killed since April 2003.
"It all began when JSU professors Bill Hug, Kelly Gregg and others joined the effort, collecting spare books off professors' shelves to ship to Baghdad University, which has been drained by decades of brutal dictatorship, war, and international sanctions.
"A story about the book drive last month in The Anniston Star was picked up by other media outlets, and books started arriving from universities all over the country."
Meanwhile, and despite of this, the Ministry of Culture takes on the Herculean task of rebuilding the country's cultural base after decades of dictatorial ravage: "Iraq's Minister of Culture says rebuilding the country's cultural life will be a decades-long process because of the damage done by the Saddam Hussein regime. According to Minister Mufid al-Jazeeri, Saddam Hussein feared intellectuals and people with opinions. It was that fear, according to the minister, that caused the former Iraqi dictator to 'crush Iraq's culture'."
It's not just the majority Arabs who can now breathe easier without Saddam - many previously persecuted ethnic and religious minorities are finding life better in new Iraq. The Kurds, for example, are staging a cultural and linguistic revival:
"Under the Baath Party, the former rulers of Iraq, only Arabic could be used as the language of instruction in Kirkuk, home to a large number of Kurds and Turkmons, as well as Arabs.The ancient Sabaean-Mandean community of some 75,000 believers, which has suffered under the Hussein regime now has a chance for more peaceful life. The Armenian community in Iraq is in a similar position.
"There are now 123 primary schools teaching the Kurdish alphabet, along with 13 primary schools and 13 high schools where all lessons are taught in Kurdish. The number of primary and secondary teaching only in Kurdish will increase to 300 next year, according to Yousif Saeed Ahmed, 61, the head of Kirkuk's Kurdish Study Department."
On the city streets, more evidence of the returning normalcy: "Inspector Adnan Kadhum of the Baghdad traffic police says he noticed the change about 10 days ago: The city's notoriously unruly drivers suddenly started obeying his commands. They stopped when he signaled for them to stop; they went when he signaled for them to go. 'Before, you found hardly anyone listening to you,' the 27-year police force veteran says. Kadhum, 48, spent his days flailing around in 105-degree heat, sometimes waving his pistol in a futile attempt to make motorists follow his commands. 'Now, by barely moving my hand, I get respect'."
Even more importantly, this vote of confidence in the future: "Instability in Baghdad has spurred many people to put plans on hold, abandoning half-built houses and dropping out of college. But despite the unrest - or perhaps partly because of it - the number of marriages has nearly doubled since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003. 'The people I see are not affected by insecurity - I've had a 75-percent increase,' says Muhammad Jawad Talikh, a marriage judge in the neighborhood of Kerrada for the past 32 years. 'Young people are wishing for a better life, so they come to me and get married'."
And in sports news, the Iraqi national soccer team surges ahead, despite meagre resources, and precarious security situation, which has forced its German couch to quit and made other teams refuse to play matches in Baghdad. Nevertheless, the Iraqi team has just managed to secure one of Asia's three qualifying spots for the Olympic Games. It's not just soccer players though who see a better future:
"Iraqi athletes competing in next month's Olympics feel like winners already, Iraq's Olympic chief said on Thursday.ECONOMY: When you are reading these words, Iraq's first bond market has just opened with an auction of around 150 billion dinars (just over $100 million) worth of government debt bought out by Iraqi banks. As the report notes, "Iraqi authorities for the first time are letting free market forces set interest rates in Iraq. The yield at the auction will set an unprecedented benchmark in Iraq, allowing commercial lenders to price loans more rationally." A group of eleven Iraqi bankers, meanwhile, has acquired some important expertise in areas such as "checking and shipping documents, uniform rules for collections, uniform customs and practices for documentary credits, bank-to-bank reimbursements" during a two-week course held by the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance.
" 'Holding Iraq's flag at this important international event is an achievement we are very proud of, all Iraqis are proud of it,' Ahmed al-Samarrai said. Iraq is sending a team of 17 athletes to Athens, many on a special invitation from sports federations and the Games' organisers. The country, widely ostracised in the sporting world after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, was officially suspended from the Olympic movement... Winning medals is hardly the top priority, it's mostly about pride. 'The athletes are always hopeful, but what matters to us is that Iraq is going to participate in the Olympics,' the 63-year-old told Reuters in an interview."
In the oil sector news, the Iraqi authorities are expecting by the end of August to award the first three post-war oil contracts (see also here). Export-wise, expansion into some new markets: "Taiwan's state-run Chinese Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has reached agreement with Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) to import 1.8 million barrels of oil from Iraq... During the rule of Saddam Hussein, CPC tried to import Iraqi oil but all efforts failed, possibly due to lack of diplomatic ties between Taipei and Baghdad." And an Indonesian firm PT Pertamina is planning exploration activities on Iraq's block 3 in the Western Desert, some 100 miles south of Baghdad, which holds about three million barrels of oil (more here).
The efforts to create a modern oil industry continue: "The Oil Ministry has put the finishing touches on a draft law that will revive the Iraqi National Oil Company which the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein had abolished." The Ministry also plans to boost exports to about 3 million barrels a day by 2005, in part by drilling 2,000 new wells and constructing a 3,000 kilometer-long domestic gas pipeline.
The industrial production is reviving too. The interim authorities are reluctant to tackle privatisation on a largely scale, preferring instead to wait for the democratically elected government to make such important decisions. In the meantime, however, the government is looking to lease some of its state-owned enterprises in hope of finding a much needed foreign capital.
Even in an uncertain climate there is progress nevertheless. The Ministry of Industry-owned General Southern Fertilizers Company has just entered into a contract with a Japanese company Mitso for construction of a new ammonia factory to provide fertilizers for Iraqi farmers and for export. And several construction companies have been recently put back into operation to cope with the boom in building industry.
Infrastructure-wise, 5 small dams are being built in Al-Sulaymaniyah governorate, and the work continues on digging 157 wells in Arbeel, Kirkuk, Al-Sulaymaniyah and Dhouk governorates. Elsewhere, more work on the Horan dam, 18 kilometers northeast of Al-Rutba, and number of dams in Western Desert and west of Najaf City, both for drinking and agricultural purposes.
Meanwhile, Iraqi railways are introducing a new computerized satellite-based system for the management and control of train traffic. Such systems are standard in North America, but the Iraqi innovation will be a first for the Middle East.
The economic renewal is not all centrally-driven; the regions are trying to attract investment, too:
"Kurdish officials running the regional government in Sulaimaniya say they want to turn their city into a commercial hub in the Middle East. Early this year the government in Sulaimaniya issued an ambitious investment law under which foreign investors are exempt from taxes for five years. Other incentives include the right to transfer profits outside the region and allocation of property without charges."While the authorities make every effort to create a good economic climate, on the micro level it's the average Iraqis who are reaping the benefits of growth. People like Zaqaria al-Kaizi, a 54-year-old employee of Baghdad's water department, who has this to say: "Life is definitely better now than what it was in the Saddam era... Today, I can think of buying a cellular phone as my income has increased from around 20,000 dinars (14 dollars) a month to nearly 50,000 dinars (35 dollars). For many a mobile phone was a dream in Iraq until a few months back." There are many others: "Supermarket owner Ghassan Akram says his profits have doubled since the fall of the regime, thanks largely to abolition of the Office of Economic Security, which prevented the import of certain goods." (read the whole story for profiles of many average Iraqis for whom the liberation has opened doors to unexpected opportunities.)
One also shouldn't forget the role of Iraqi expatriates in rebuilding their country:
"Physician Jamal Fadul fled Baghdad, Iraq, after participating in the unsuccessful 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein. Now that the Iraqi government is privatizing industries once controlled by Saddam, Fadul has gathered $100,000 of his and his brother's savings, along with millions raised from fellow Iraqi Americans, to try to buy three factories and a farm.And to help the Iraqis make the best of the new business opportunities, an explosion in demand for English language teaching:
"Fadul, 47, talks emotionally about the twin opportunities in Iraq: to make money and to rebuild his homeland. 'We believe that there is a good opportunity there to build up a democratic nation, a wealthy country,' said Fadul, of suburban College Park, Maryland. 'That was where we were born, so we would love to see the place that we suffered in grow nice.'
"Iraqis living outside of Iraq are pouring $5 million a day into private enterprises in the country, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Some have launched small efforts: Yasir Shallal, a mechanical engineer in suburban McLean, Virginia, has spent $50,000 to form a company that is trying to sell air conditioning units and construction materials in Iraq. Others, like Boston architect Hisham Ashkouri, are attempting major development projects. Ashkouri is trying to raise $115 million, and has sunk $450,000 of his own money into a hotel and theater complex he wants to build in Baghdad."
"When Saryas Jamal, 34, began working in the accounting department of Asia Cell, the major mobile phone company in northern Iraq, he found that he had to deal daily with managers who do not speak Kurdish, the only language he speaks. All business was conducted in English, so Jamal quickly realised that he had to learn the language in order to communicate with his bosses and be a useful employee. He now spends several hours a day trying to get to grips with it.RECONSTRUCTION: Much has been written about the reconstruction effort, most of it focusing on underperformance and underdelivery of promised service and infrastructure. To improve the situation, a change in strategy:
"Like Jamal, other Iraqi Kurds are flocking to English classes, either out of necessity or personal choice. English-language classes are a booming business in Sulaimaniyah, where private language centres and all-English schools are popping up all over the place. The English language department at the University of Sulaimaniyah has had to expand its programme to accommodate 100 new students. Bookstores have a hard time keeping English instruction books in stock."
"David Nash is in a quandary. He has an $18.4 billion US grant to help rebuild Iraq. But an unhappy public could mean two years before the impact of those huge US-funded reconstruction projects kick in.Any given day, between 30,000 and 60,000 Iraqis are working on the 1,200 reconstruction projects currently underway. As part of the reconstruction effort, Iraq's first modern landfill is being developed in south-west Baghdad. "The site will have the capacity to handle 2230 cubic meters of waste per day and will serve the needs of two million of Baghdad's residents. The $22 million project which currently employs over 2100 Iraqis from the Al Rashid and Al Doura districts of Baghdad will meet international standards for waste management, a first in Iraq. The site will include built-in leachate collection systems, drainage, gas and surface water controls to protect both the groundwater and environment around the site." A second landfill is currently being developed by USAID, north of Baghdad. As one report observes:
"The solution of the retired US Navy admiral, in charge of one of the largest rebuilding projects in history, is for his Iraq Project and Contracting Office to launch hundreds of smaller projects that will have a quick impact on public expectations.
"They will range from renovating a playground in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit to repairing pipes in Sadr city, where Imams keep reminding worshippers that the 'Americans have done nothing for you'.
"Nash said such projects, which Iraqis pick, will involve more Iraqis in rebuilding and dispel impressions that their country, which has the world's second-largest oil reserves, is being milked by large US companies that were awarded billions of dollars of contracts, such as Halliburton Co."
"It's not every day that a group of poor, uneducated Iraqis breaks into cheers for a high-ranking American official. That's what happened Tuesday when the U.S. reconstruction chief strode up to hundreds of workers who'd been hired to help dig Iraq's first environmentally sound landfill, in southwest Baghdad."COALITION TROOPS: Lee Raynor, managing editor of the Free Press, publishes these words from her son who is serving in Iraq. They seem to reflect a very common sentiment:
"You know we've had bombings, kidnappings and killings. The trouble is that nobody seems to remember that's what happens when you fight the enemy. It looks like the insurgents aren't the only ones we're fighting here, though. Now we have to fight a negative press too.You can also read about the 13th Corps Support Command's efforts on the ground: "With lightning speed, the convoy of armored Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles descended on this tiny hamlet in the volatile Sunni triangle, guns poised and soldiers pumped. But instead of attacking insurgents or seizing weapons, these U.S. troops rapidly installed an impromptu medical clinic and started taking temperatures and checking pulses." Or about Sgt. Abubakar Senge, a civil affairs soldier in the U.S. Army Reserve, as he "walks through the secondary school with his rifle slung across his chest, his helmet hanging off his arm and a notebook in his hand, inspecting the work he hired an Iraqi builder to perform... Senge is responsible for rehabilitating 60 long-neglected and looted schools in a west Baghdad neighborhood."
"You aren't reading about the positive things we see every day. They aren't telling you about the Iraqis who talk to us and tell us how much better their country is now that Saddam is gone. Or how they bring us little treats and try to get us to eat their food."
Or about Capt. Alex Fyfe, a civil affairs officer with the 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery, who having noticed "children playing soccer on dirt fields with bare feet and improvised balls" around Mosul, contacted his high school soccer coaches and friends in Rocky Point, New York, and organized a successful collection of sports equipment for Iraqi children. And here's more sports equipment for Mosul - in the words of Congressman James Sensenbrenner:
"It gives me great pleasure to note that thanks to the kindness of the people of Wisconsin, Concordia ultimately collected 275 soccer balls, 600 uniforms, 200 pairs of soccer shoes and various other items. Furthermore, through a letter from the Commander of the 139th MPAD at Camp Freedom in Mosul, Iraq, I learned that this equipment was distributed to the Mosul Soccer League on June 11, when the league held its grand opening celebration at Mosul Stadium. The impact of this donation is best summarized in the words of an Iraqi coach who said to the Commander, 'During these difficult times, soccer is providing a respite for young and old alike. People can put aside their differences and simply enjoy sport'."There are also the British soldiers doing their share of good work in the south of Iraq:
"When the soldiers of 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery's E Battery were deployed to Basra in March this year after months of intensive training, they felt they were prepared for everything.It's not just the Coalition soldiers who aiding the reconstruction; much of the humanitarian effort comes from a grass-roots determination back home to make a difference. A little Iraqi girl is being treated by American plastic surgeons: "Jafar is grateful to Americans, God, doctors, nurses and all the people she and Sara have met, from the Lebanese interpreter who accompanies them everywhere, to those who have made arrangements for a stay in Galveston that could last up to six months. She is also forever indebted to Samaritan Purse, the nonprofit, nondenominational Christian organization contacted by the now dissolved Coalition Provisional Authority." There are many others.
"They weren't. It was clear this was going to be no ordinary day at the office. In front of Battery Sergeant Major Kenny McMillan, shimmering in the dry blistering heat of the Iraqi sun, were three derelict buildings, a wheelbarrow and a spade. Behind him was his boss.
" 'So, five classrooms, offices, an accommodation block, a kitchen, rest areas and a mosque please. Oh and ... we need them in four weeks. OK?' "
And lastly, this story of an unexpected transmutation:
"When Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, a pair of monuments stood as symbols of his iron-fisted domination: towering bronze statues depicting a heroic Saddam as the mighty conqueror, on horseback, sword aloft. But U.S. troops blew the statues off their pedestals after the invasion of Iraq, giving the soldiers who pulled Saddam out of his hiding hole a keepsake to bring home.SECURITY SITUATION: In many old flash-points, the mission accomplished for the US troops. Read this story of how the soldiers from the 37th Armored Regiment's 1st Battalion took on Muqtada al Sadr's Shia militiamen in Karbala and won:
"The 50-foot-tall statues were melted down and recast by a skilled Iraqi artist who turned them into a new memorial that depicts a GI mourning his fallen comrades while a young girl tries to console him. The new statue, mounted on a black granite base, is the centerpiece of an Iraq war memorial being built outside the 4th Infantry Division's museum at Fort Hood in central Texas."
"During three weeks in May, the 600-soldier battalion destroyed al-Sadr's forces in some of the most intense combat since the fall of Baghdad. The Bandits, as they are known, killed as many as 400 militiamen, disbursed the rest and switched gears to restore the collapsed local security forces with a multimillion-dollar training and rebuilding program.Al Sadr himself seems to have caught the democratic bug: "Since the guns fell silent in June, the group led by Muqtada al-Sadr has sought to distance itself from violence and rebuild ties with top clerics. And it is considering throwing its weight behind candidates in elections scheduled for January. 'We are undergoing a transitional phase,' said Abbas al-Robai, a close al-Sadr aide. 'We are taking a very close look at ourselves and our work'."
"And they did it without damaging the two holy Shiite shrines, where al-Sadr's men sometimes set up firing positions. Today, buildings within 200 yards of the ornate, gold-domed structures are pockmarked with bullet holes. Not the shrines."
Calm returns to many parts of Iraq that haven't been so quiet lately. This, in Baghdad's notorious Sadr City: "After 10 weeks of fierce combat, an odd sense of normality has returned to this capital's most embattled neighborhood. The break in running clashes between U.S. troops and Shiite Muslim militiamen loyal to outspoken cleric Muqtada Sadr has brought a tenuous peace to the sprawling district known as Sadr City. By most accounts, Sadr's declaration of truce two weeks ago was a collateral benefit of Iraq's return to a semblance of self-rule." In other sectors of the capital
"there are signs, subtle and tentative, that Baghdad residents are cautiously emerging to reclaim normal lives. A new playground has been attracting children and their parents. A new auto-racing club has been holding weekly drag races. Bingo games have returned to the exclusive Alwiyah Club near Fardos Square, where Saddam Hussein's statue fell 15 months ago."And a "Christian Science Monitor" reporter "sees brisk watermelon sales, and other signs of normalcy on a hot July night" in Baghdad: "Adnan, whose English is rough but effective, said he wanted me to witness the greater degree of optimism on the Iraqi streets since the US handover of power to an interim Iraqi government. Though there have been many attacks since June 28, the overall level of violence in and around Baghdad seems much lower. I've heard precious little gunfire or mortars launched in the evenings during the past week. The silence is so rare in Baghdad that it feels strange."
The Iraqi press also reports improvements in security situation across the country:
"Local correspondents for Azzaman, the country's most influential newspaper, have been filing reports recently on how law and order is slowing returning to various parts of the country.All this, as the activities of "insurgents" become increasingly unpopular among the Iraqi people: still more tapes of masked men with guns and rocket propelled grenades go air on Arabic TV, but this time the script is different. One, from a group calling itself "Salvation Movement", has this to say to the al Qaeda terror master in Iraq: "The apostate, criminal Zarqawi and his henchmen must leave Iraq immediately." The second group, "Seif Allah" (the Double-Edged Sword of God), also threatens to kill Zarqawi, accusing him of "treachery and allegiance to the (deposed) regime of Saddam Hussein" and vowing to "pursue Zarqawi and his supporters everywhere they go".
"The newspaper's correspondent in Basra says shops remain open in the city until mid-night amid conspicuous presence of police and security forces. 'Life and security are returning to Basra,' Azzaman reported, saying that the city had seen no major act of sabotage and terror since the handover of sovereignty.
"A measure of success is the latest imposition of customs rules on Basras ports and the closure of several illegal export and import outlets. The authorities report that customs officials have collected more than 5 billion dinars in tariffs on goods entering the country in Basra in the past two weeks. The city streets are flooded with cars, nonetheless, Azzaman says, traffic police have managed to restore some order and traffic lights are working again.
"In the northern city of Mosul, the security forces seem to be almost in full control following devastating car bomb attacks last month. The city is divided into security zones and latest sweeps have resulted in the seizure of scores of foreign fighters and huge amounts of weapons. Night life is returning to the banks of the Tigris River in the city and residents have started frequenting summer cafes and restaurants."
It's not just ordinary Iraqis who are sick and tired of being blown-up by jihadis:
"Tension appears to be rising between the homegrown Iraqi resistance and the foreign Islamist fighters who have entered the country to destroy the American military here.More on that here. Fallujah, too, provides the evidence of a shift in public sentiment:
"Evidence has emerged in sniping between groups on Arabic television and Web sites, and in interviews with Iraqi and American officials, as well as from members of the resistance and people with close ties to it. All speak of rising friction between nationalistic fighters and foreign-led Islamists over goals and tactics, with some Iraqi insurgents indicating a revulsion over the car bombs and suicide attacks in cities that have caused hundreds of civilian deaths."
"In April, with anger swelling at the US occupation and a Marine-led assault on the Sunni city of Fallujah, thousands of Shiites provided assistance to their Iraqi brothers in the city. But the city west of Baghdad is no longer a sympathetic rallying place for a unified Iraqi resistance. It is now seen as run by intolerant and exclusivist Sunni imams who are seeking to turn it into a haven for Al Qaeda ideologues... Many Shiites... have stopped supporting it."Despite fears about civil liberties (itself a great sign of how much the things have changed in Iraq since last year), the new security measures introduced by authorities are meeting with general approval from the public. "We agree with any kind of procedures they take for the sake of security. We agree because Iraqis want only security - nothing more," says Walid Hassen, an engineer from Baghdad.
The change in public attitude is in large part due to the presence and actions of the new Iraqi security forces. Large numbers of Iraqis continue to volunteer to join, despite the obvious risks involved. Read their stories here. Women are also volunteer in increasing numbers. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has announced that families of security personnel killed in action will receive a lifetime wage on top of a one-off compensation payment currently in place.
There are some internal security successes already: In Baghdad, "Iraq's minister of the interior Falah al-Naqib announced that the Iraqi police detained 527 suspected persons in a vast mopping up operation by the security forces in Bab al-Sheikh, one of the Iraqi capital suburbs." the operation was largely targeted against kidnappers. Says Colonel Adnan Abdul Rhaman, the interior ministry's chief spokesman: "This is the largest operation for the interior ministry since the fall of Saddam Hussein." As the article notes, "[c]rime soared during the US-led occupation as convicts, released by former president Saddam Hussein, roamed free and a violent insurgency sprung up." As an Iraqi blogger notes, there is actually a connection between these two factors.
And in Kirkuk, the Kurds have captured 15 foreign militants, including a man believed to be Hemen Banishiri, the second-in-command of the al Qaeda affiliate, Ansar al-Islam. Overall, according to the Iraqi minister of human rights Bakhtyar Amin, the number of Arab and other foreign fighters currently detained in Iraq has reached 99: "26 Syrians, 14 Saudis, 14 Iranians, 12 Egyptians and 9 Sudanese... [as well as] persons of Jordanian, Yemeni, Tunisian, Moroccan, Lebanese and Turkish nationality."
It's not just about fighting the terrorists, though: "Security officials in Iraq say a sting operation has recovered hundreds of stolen artifacts destined for overseas black markets. The artifacts were illegally dug up from archeological sites around the ancient city of Babylon, about 90 kilometers south of Baghdad. A senior official in Iraq's interior ministry, General Muhssin Ali, says Iraqi police recently received a tip from an informant about a gang, which had been digging up Babylonian artifacts and trying to sell them to smugglers."
There are also external security successes: "Iraq's nascent border police have apprehended more than 60,000 foreigners in the past seven months. The foreigners, most of them Iranians, were trying to enter Iraq illegally, according to major-general Nadhim al-Haj, commander of Iraqi border guards." There's also movement on the Western border, as Syria and Iraq agree to work together to strengthen border security and prevent infiltration of jihadis into Iraq. How sincere Syria is, is open to question, but it's a good sign that Assad feels that at least he has to try.
Some old symbols also get a make-over: "The new Iraqi administration is trying to remake the image of Abu Ghraib prison, the notorious jail on Baghdad's western outskirts where a worldwide scandal began." The prison is now under Iraqi authority.
Last, but not least, the new Iraq renounces any nuclear ambitions of its predecessor. In the words of the Prime Minister Allawi, "Iraq has no intention and no will to resume these (nuclear) programmes in the future. These materials, which are potential weapons of mass murder, are not welcome in our country and their production is unacceptable." Meanwhile, Iraqi weapons scientists are being offered jobs by the American government to keep them out of mischief of using their expertise for WMD proliferation.
And so, Iraq, July 2004: numerous challenges, but also determination to forge ahead; continuing danger and violence, but also increasing prospects for peace. And among the sea of negativity on our TV screens and pages of our newspapers, more and more glimmers of good news to strengthen our hope for a better future for the long-suffering people of Iraq.