Monday, September 13, 2004

Good news from Iraq, Part 10 

Note: It's hard to believe but it's the tenth instalment already. When I originally got sick and tired of the media negativity back in May and decided to find out about some positive developments in Iraq, I never expected that the original post would become a series, and the series would take me so far. Thanks to all those who supported the effort, in particular James Taranto at the "Opinion Journal", Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, guys at Iraq the Model, Joe Katzman at the Winds of Change, Dean Esmay, Tim Blair, Blackfive and countless other blogs and individuals. I only compile - you spread the good news.

Also available at the
"Opinion Journal" and the Winds of Change.

A few days ago, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released its long-awaited report on the situation inside Iraq. The Washington think-tank's assessment, titled "Progress or Peril? Measuring Iraq's Reconstruction," has been summed up by one newspaper in
a sentence: "Iraqi Optimism Endures but It Is Fragile."

Coincidentally, a similar headline about
the American attitudes would not be out of place. But whereas the fragility of Iraqi optimism is a function of continuing violence and reconstruction pains, the American optimism is under the constant assault from the negative media coverage, nowadays amplified in the political echo chamber of the presidential election campaign.

For the media, the past two weeks in Iraq have not been good: more hostages taken and executed, continuing sabotage of oil infrastructure, military clashes and terror attacks, and the US death toll crossing the painful milestone of a 1000. But a lot more has been happening in Iraq every day - the steady progress towards normalcy that does not make for snappy headlines and exciting news footage. The Arabs have an old saying: the dogs bark, but the caravan is moving on. The Iraqi caravan is certainly on the move, and here are some of the stories you probably didn't hear for all the barking.

SOCIETY: The free and democratic elections are still a few months away, but the people of Iraq are already looking forward to the opportunity of electing their own government. The Iraq office of the International Republican Institute has recently released the results of an
August poll of public attitudes inside Iraq, conducted by the Independent Institute for Administrative and Civil Society Studies (the International Republican Institute, by the way, is not a part of a vast right-wing, neo-con conspiracy, but a " non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing democracy, freedom, self-government and the rule of law worldwide"). Among the results:

"More than 77% of respondents feel that 'regular, fair elections' would be the most important political right for the Iraqi people and 58% feel that democracy in Iraq is likely to succeed. When asked about the upcoming elections, 62.2% expressed confidence that their ballot selection would be kept secret and above 75% felt that the elections would reflect the will of the Iraqi people.

"Iraqis remain optimistic about the future and committed to seeing Iraq through her democratic transition. 50% disagree with the statement that 'my life was better before the war.' In contrast to daily media reports of the hardships of today's Iraq, more than 70% of respondents would not leave their country if given the opportunity to live elsewhere. An overwhelming majority express an optimistic streak that belies foreign naysayers, with 75% expressing hopefulness about the future...

"Government officials and governing bodies have also earned the trust of the Iraqi people. President Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawer and Prime Minister Ayed Allawi are 'completely' or 'somewhat' trusted by 68% and 60.6% respectfully. While IRI's July/August poll showed that Iraqis were concerned with security, the Iraqi Police and Army are well-placed to deal with these concerns, with 80.3% and 71.6% of respondents expressing trust for the Iraqi men and women trying to bring about peace. The Interim Government of Iraq (IGI) is trusted by 65.1% of Iraqi citizens. Iraqi courts and judges -- critical in implementing the rule of law in Iraq -- maintain the trust of 64.4% of respondents."
Arguably, the Iraqi people would have a far more pessimistic attitudes had their been exposed to the same media diet as we are in the West (for the complete results of the poll, see here).

While the Iraqis will not have a chance to vote for another few months, the progress towards democracy and good governance continues to gather pace. On September 1, the new
Iraqi National Assembly has officially sat for its inaugural meeting. Chosen from among 1,300 delegates to the national conference only a few weeks ago, the 100 members of the Assembly were sworn in during the meeting and Fuad Massum, a Kurd, was chosen as the Assembly's first speaker. Also, four vice-presidents have been appointed by the Assembly: "They are Shiites Joad al-Malaki, from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Rassam al-Awadi, from Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord, along with Nasser al-Aani, a Sunni from the Iraqi Islamic Party and Hamid Majid Mussan, who chairs the Communist Party." The Assembly has decided that in the future all decisions will be taken by a simple 50% plus 1 majority.

January 2005 poll will elect a 275-member National Assembly, which will in turn, among other tasks, draft a new constitution. As they elect the National Assembly, the Iraqis will be also asked to vote for 18 provincial governments, and in the north for the Kurdistan regional assembly. The preparations for this historical event are already well underway:

"Iraq's electoral commission is confident polls will go ahead in January, even if it means using Saddam-era ration cards to help draft voter lists and shipping ballot boxes in from Mexico.

" 'We face great challenges but we are trying our best. We have a lot of work to do but postponing the elections beyond January 31 does not even pass our minds,' said Farid Ayar, one of eight members of Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission... '[The terrorists] can do whatever they want with their bombs but we are not moving the elections'."
The commission is expected to launch an advertising and educational campaign to teach Iraqis about elections. Says Ayar:

"Iraqis never voted under Saddam. It was all rigged. He won referendums by 110 percent. Now we have to use ink, voting ID's, booths. We brought ballot boxes and booth curtains from Mexico as samples because we don't have ballot boxes in Iraq. If our factories can't make them on time we will have to buy them abroad."
The commission is also investigating the ways to allow Iraq's prominent expatriate community to participate in the elections.

On behalf of the world's largest democracy, the
Election Commission of India has signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations to assist the Iraqi electoral commission with the conduct of the elections. "In line with the agreement, the Indian Election Commission will help the UN with personnel and expertise to build and administer institutions that can conduct regular elections. Assistance would include procurement of election material, voter registration, training of officials and dispute resolution." German government is one of many around the world donating money to the United Nations for the election-related tasks ($6 million in Germany's case).

Meanwhile, as preparations continue at home, two Iraqi women,
Surood Ahmad and Tagreed Al-Karakoly, are thanking America for making it all possible. Ahmad and Al-Karakoly are currently touring the United States on the invitation of Iraq-America Freedom Alliance, a non-profit organization which attempts to build goodwill between the two countries. "During a news conference, Ahmad said she and her family suffered under the deposed dictator's regime. Her sister, aunt and stepmother were killed when they tried to flee Ahmad's hometown of Kirkuk in 1991. Ahmad was able to reunite with the rest of her family only after the liberation of Iraq, she said. 'For the first time, I can say I'm a Kurdish,' Ahmad said. 'I can say that and not be afraid.' Ahmad, 33, said watching American soldiers drop from helicopters during the war in Iraq 'was like angels coming from heaven.' Al-Karakoly said she is pleased with the progress women are making politically."

And on a lighter note, the intra-governmental relations in Iraq are bound to improve, as Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer
marries the Kurdish Minister Nisreen Barware. Speaking of marriages, the practice is now booming, in another sign of growing optimism among the Iraqi people:

" 'Today I am free, and I will marry the woman I love,' declared 28-year-old Baghdad baker Mohammed Abdullah.

"Soon came signs that the wedding had taken place: the zaghrouta - the traditional ululation of joy - sounded from the courtroom, and a shower of chocolates was tossed into the street by Abdullah's relatives.

"Abdullah is one of the many Iraqis who have got married in what officials say is a post-war wedding boom brought on by rising salaries and the end of restrictions on marriage imposed by the former regime. Before the war, Abdullah could not get married because - like thousands of other young men - he was dodging military service."
Abdullah is just one of many happy newlyweds in Iraq today:

"Salih Thabet al-Azawi, who head a court in north Baghdad's Kadhemiya district, said that between April and June this year, just over 1,100 couples tied the knot in there, compared with the figure of around 200 which would have been average for the same three-month period in previous years.

"According to Azawi, in past years twice as many people were divorcing as marrying. But today, some of the reasons for divorce - such as money problems or the emigration of one of the partners - have faded, and in the last three months only 48 cases have come before him."
After decades of enforced silence, the Iraqis are relishing a chance to speak out. Radio Dijla (Tigris), which went on air in April, continues to go from strength to strength. One of 15 new private radio stations, Dijla is the only one so far to pursue the talk-radio format. It broadcasts for 19 hours a day, and receives 185 calls an hour - more than the station staff can handle - mostly about everyday life's big and small problems.

"Beyond easing the frustrations of daily life, the station provides a chance for Iraqis to talk publicly about politics for the first time in decades. Listeners' calls open a window onto the lives of ordinary Iraqis, whose opinions often go unheard in the frantic pace of bombings, kidnappings and armed uprisings.

" 'After 35 years of people not being able to say what they wanted, we need something that can translate our feelings,' said Imad al-Sharaa, a news editor at the station.

"One such program was broadcast June 30, on the day before Saddam first appeared in court. The program director and host, Majid Salim, asked listeners what they wanted to see happen to him. The answer was something of a surprise for Salim. 'Most people wanted him executed,' Salim said.

"Another time, Salim asked listeners what they thought about the violent insurgency that has railed Iraq. 'We asked them, is it terrorism or is it resistance,' Salim said. 'A very large proportion -- almost 100 percent -- said terrorism. They did not like it'."
And on Iraqi TV, the sign that the broadcaster has truly come of age - an aerobics show. Overall, communications throughout Iraq are improving:

"Under Saddam Hussein, the government saw Iraq's postal service as a great way to spy on its citizens. Receipt of an overseas letter was often accompanied by a summons from authorities asking about foreign contacts. Mail was frequently censored or went missing.

"After a $20 million renovation - half the funds from Iraqi oil proceeds and the rest from the U.S. Treasury - mail service in Iraq now is creeping into the modern world."
There is still a long way to go - as the article notes, "Iraq has only 208 mail carriers to cover its 168,754 square miles. Compare that to the 10,000 letter carriers who serve New York City's 320 square miles." But the Iraqis now have lot of other, previously unavailable communication options open to them in addition to traditional mail:

"Internet cafés are sprouting everywhere, though connectivity in the home is rare. Telephone service, devastated by the war and subsequent looting, is returning. Cell phone service is available now in Baghdad. Satellite dishes are on virtually every home and apartment building, bringing in Arab and foreign language television stations."
After years of neglect, the education sector continues to revive. Foreign assistance is often vital; Italy, for example, is donating 100,000 computers, photocopiers and lab equipment for Iraqi universities. The grant is worth 300 million euros ($365 million). There is also some good news for these gifted Iraqi students: "Nine Iraqis have arrived in Doha to study at Qatar's private 'Education City,' which includes top tier US colleges, under scholarships granted by the Qatar Foundation, a statement said. The group, which studied together for the past six years at Baghdad's School for the Gifted, will begin with a one-year course at the Academic Bridge Programme, said the foundation. The eight hope to study medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, while the ninth is seeking to join the petroleum engineering program at Texas A and M University."

Dr. Hussain Shahristani, an Iraqi nuclear physicist, is trying to rebuild Iraqi science. "The most unlikely element in Dr. Shahristani's quest may be his decision to undertake it in the first place. He came within a hair's breadth of being named prime minister of Iraq last spring. He was tortured by Saddam Hussein's government for refusing to work on an atomic bomb and spent 12 years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, before escaping during the Persian Gulf war of 1991." Now, Dr Shahristani has founded the Iraqi National Academy of Sciences and with 16 other members is trying to resurrect what once used to be the country's thriving scientific culture. A hint for Western scientists: this might be a good cause to support. Read also this series of posts by an Iraqi-American blogger Fayrouz about the work of Fr. Yousif Thomas who is building the Popular University of St. Thomas Aquinas For Human Sciences Studies in Baghdad. The University will be open to "all adults regardless of social or religious status and with no personal restrictions nor fear for taboos." Fr Thomas needs your help too.

More resources, too, become available to preserve
Iraq's historical heritage, as Polish archaeologists donate over $13,500 worth of archeological research tools to the Iraqi Antiquity Office in the Babil Province. "The high tech equipment includes multi-media and technical research and collection items which supports the Babylon museum works as well as country-wide archeological efforts."

In sports news, while the
Iraqi soccer team failed to win the Olympic bronze medal, falling to Italy 1:0 in the playoffs, its unexpectedly successful quest for glory still manage to provide a lot of joy and inspiration to supporters back home: "At the Babylon Hotel, the electricity stayed on long enough Friday night to watch the entire game. None of the players on the field were going to be tortured afterward. Most important of all, the team actually was allowed to play in the Olympics for the first time since 1988...

" 'There is no fear,' said Wasim Sadoun, 23, a ventilation contractor [while watching the game]. 'The most important thing is the players are not afraid. So they're taking risks'... After one player missed a goal with a high ball, Sadoun wryly noted that under the old regime, 'Even if they win, he would go to prison. Now he would be thinking only of prison.'

"The consensus was that, whatever the match's outcome, the team was improving. The equipment is better. New blood is joining the team. And the players are more daring. 'This is a first for us,' [another spectator] Jabel said. 'We are playing for a medal against a European team. In the future, I am sure we will get better, day by day'."
The efforts of the soccer team, while in the end not rewarded with a place on the podium, did receive an official recognition, as "Argentina and Iraq have jointly won the Olympic Fifa Fairplay award which rewards loyalty and good conduct on and off the pitch." The team also received a heroes' welcome on their return to Iraq: "Players were showered with sweets and school boys lined up to have their photos taken with their heroes at a ceremony in Baghdad." Now the team is looking forward to the next challenge. Says the coach Adnan Hamad: "Now we have the World Cup [in 2006] mission and we have to prepare very well, despite the difficult conditions in the country... I think the participation in the Olympics has given extra strength to the players and hope for the future." Playing in the Asian group World Cup qualifiers, Iraq has recently defeated Taiwan 4:1.

And in another victory for Iraqi civil society, the
Boy Scout movement is slowly reviving too, with some essential help from their American counterparts. Young Iraqis will finally be able to enjoy a youth movement in their country that is not an indoctrination vehicle for the Great Leader.

ECONOMY: Good news for the
Baghdad stock exchange, which will shortly undergo much needed modernization: the Army's project and contracting office in Iraq is planning to award the $750,000 to $1.5 million hardware and software deal to automate the ISX.

In oil sector news, some
rationalization is now on the way: "Iraq plans to set up a single national oil business which will incorporate the four existing state-owned operating companies... [T]he Supreme Oil and Gas Council (SOGC) proposed the establishment of an Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) during its first meeting in Baghdad under the chairmanship of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on August 23... [T]he purpose of establishing the INOC was to enable the oil industry to be managed professionally, enhance oil production and de-politicize oil sector operations."

Meanwhile, the sector is attracting
increased foreign interest: "Arabian Oil Co., Japan's largest oil supplier, plans to launch a project to rebuild oil facilities in southern Iraq with a state-run Iraqi oil company... Initially, Arabian Oil will accept trainees from Iraq and begin giving them technological expertise. Arabian Oil aims to use the oil reconstruction project as a stepping stone toward acquiring an interest in a future oil development project in Iraq after the country's political situation stabilizes. If the reconstruction project is realized, Arabian Oil will be the first Japanese company fully engaged in any oil development project in Iraq since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. According to the Arabian Oil officials, a consortium is expected to be formed with Japanese businesses in the steel, construction and civil engineering sectors as the reconstruction work would likely involve crude oil pipelines, storage tanks and oil-shipping ports."

Iraq's foreign trade is expected to receive a long-term boost through this
infrastructure project: "A foreign company will start next year a project to construct 'the Great Harbor of Iraq' in Basrah Governorate with a cost of 14 billion dinars. The Minister of Transportation said that this project is considered one of the biggest Commercial Harbors on Arabian Gulf that will be located on 'Fao' and 'Rass AL- Beesha' area. The first stage is of 20 km length will contain 40 commercial quays that work together to receive big ships. The project will include a free zone, residential and tourism complexes, buildings for employers, buildings for administrations of passports and customhouse, and buildings of services. The harbor will be connected to a net of roads and railways."

In other trade news, the United States is placing Iraq on the
Generalized System of Preferences list, which will give preferential, duty-free status to some goods exported by Iraq. Iraq is also preparing to join the World Trade organization, with an intra-governmental committee being formed to facilitate that end.

A boost for Iraq's booming
construction sector, too, as three recently rehabilitated factories of pre-fabricated building materials open for business in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Nineveh. In other construction news, Iraqi authorities continue to work on a whole range of smaller but nevertheless important local projects, such as paving countryside roads in Dyiala governorate, bridge construction in Wasit governorate, building more dams around the country, or more housing construction in Baghdad.

There is also some good
real estate news. Mustapha Abbas, the British-born son of Iraqi immigrants who manages a real estate Abbassi website, is seeing the business picking up: "Under Saddam Hussein's regime, few foreigners were able or willing to invest in Iraqi real estate, and citizens were eager to sell properties at any reasonable price. Now, more than a year after Saddam's ouster, Abbas concedes he's seeing a bit of a real estate bubble. Prices in some neighborhoods have gone up 500 percent since last summer. Foreign companies and Iraqi citizens who fled the country under Saddam's regime are eagerly eyeing land and buildings in central locales. 'Everyone's got this idea in their head that despite the craziness, the properties in the prime locations in Iraq are worth a lot to foreign businesses,' said Abbas. 'You can say to someone that there's so much instability and violence in their area. They say, 'So what, it's going to calm down'.'" It's called a healthy optimism, I think. It will be aided by the fact that the Real Estate Bank of Iraq has commenced providing loans to Iraqis who want to buy their own home. In other banking news, the Central Bank of Iraq has recently approved the operation of three new foreign banks in the country: the Iranian National Bank, Commercial Housing Bank and Bahraini Arab Banking Institute, bringing the number of foreign banks approved over the last three months to 12.

Another opportunity to
showcase and network between Iraqi officials and businesses and foreign companies is coming up soon: "The Bahrain Conventions and Exhibition Bureau (BCEB) is gearing itself up to host three world-class events next month. The combined events - Water Middle East 2004, Power-Gen Middle East 2004 and Iraq Reconstruction 2004 - will be held under the patronage of Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. More than 350 international exhibitors will take part in the events, scheduled for September 13 to 15, at the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre." As for another one of Iraq's neighbors, "[a]t least 350 Iraqi companies have joined a new business centre to be set up in Dubai soon... The centre is being launched under an initiative by General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and UAE Defence Minister, to help the Iraqis still struggling with the reconstruction of their war-torn country." Meanwhile, the Destination Baghdad expo is on line to take place in December, with Motorola, Halliburton and CH2M Hill among those participating in the event.

In transport news, Iraq's national air carrier,
Iraq Airlines, is commencing daily flight between Baghdad and Amman, Jordan. "The airline will be flying a 118-passenger Boeing 737 recently purchased by the company, which has been grounded since international sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1990." And on land, the cooperation between Iran and Iraq is extending to the rail sector, with Iran offering substantial practical assistance in design and construction of new railway links between the two countries.

RECONSTRUCTION: This should help a bit: the Jordanian government recently
unfroze Iraqi funds deposited in the country's banks by Saddam Hussein. After deducting some $250 million owed by the former regime to various Jordanian businesses, Iraq will still be getting back another $250 million to spend on new infrastructure.

European Union is slowly starting to come onboard with reconstruction assistance. "Now that the security conditions have improved, it is easier to provide this aid," said EU Foreign Minister Ben Bot during his recent visit to Baghdad. "Bot said he will meet with his European counterparts next week to push for increased EU involvement in the country, including efforts to train Iraqi police and civil servants and assist with reconstruction, administration and preparations for elections scheduled for January... The EU has committed $371 million in humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Iraq this year. A similar commitment is expected next year."

Great Britain, has recently committed 50 million pounds ($90 million) to specific bilateral aid projects: "Some £20.5m [$37 million] will be spent on capacity building for local government in southern Iraq, where some 8,000 British troops are deployed, and 16.5m [$30 million] on job creation and restoring essential services. Three million pounds [$5.4 million] will go on supporting central government efforts on economic reform particularly with respect to debt relief... Ten million pounds [$18 million] will be split between a civil society project and another on engage citizens in the political process." This new commitments takes to £380 million, or $680 million, the total amount earmarked by Great Britain for specific projects in the liberated Iraq. South Korea is, meanwhile, planning to shortly activate its $2 billion aid package. And Japan will be hosting international donors' conference in October this year.

In the region, the government of
Kuwait has committed $65 million in assistance (including $5 million specifically for Najaf) to go towards construction of new schools and hospitals around Iraq. Since March this year, already some $34 million collected in donations from a Kuwaiti-based humanitarian organization have been distributed to Iraqi government authorities, hospitals and medical clinics, schools, orphanages, and non-governmental organizations. Meanwhile, "[m]ore than 4,000 Iraqi firemen will begin training in Bahrain later this month, in what is believed to be the biggest project of its kind in the world. The Bahrain government is providing the facilities, but the actual training is being carried out by an international company."

Speaking of
Najaf, $500 million ($400 from the United States and $100 million from Iraqi authorities) has been earmarked for reconstruction of the city, which suffered considerable damage over the weeks of recent fighting.

It's also the
Iraqi expatriates who are returning back to help rebuild their country:

"For the engineer from Reston, taking a job in Iraq this year meant carrying an AK-47 for protection. It meant working 12-hour days, sweltering through nights with no air conditioning and enduring terrifying, window-rattling bomb explosions. He couldn't wait to go back.

"Ezzeldin Ezzeldin is one of dozens of Iraqi Americans from the Washington area who have been returning to their homeland to work on its rebuilding. Business people and engineers, journalists and professors, they are trying to lend their U.S.-honed skills to a country ravaged by war. "

Iraq's health sector has also been receiving some practical foreign assistance: a team of nine British doctors organized the Management of Obstetric Emergency Trauma (MOET) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has been teaching some valuable lessons around Iraq, while at the same time saving lives:
"A team of UK doctors has helped reduce infant and maternal mortality in Iraq following a pioneering project to improve midwifery practices in the war-ravaged country. They have taught consultants and midwives how to deal with medical emergencies that can arise during childbirth without the need for expensive equipment, which they do not have. It is thought that hundreds of women's and children's lives have been saved since two successive training courses were held in Basra in April."
In electricity news, "U.S. engineers have helped place seven generators on line this month in Iraq, bringing the national electricity capacity to more than 5,300 megawatts - a level that exceeds the country's pre-war capacity of 4,400 megawatts." Said Raad Shalal, a senior Iraq Ministry of Electricity official: "This is very good news. This will help to reduce the shortage of electricity across the country." This 33-megawatt generator started operation on August 30 at the Qudas Power Station north of Baghdad and is now producing enough electricity to service nearly 100,000 homes in the central area of Iraq. A day before, another generator was restarted in northern Iraq, powering 17 megawatts and supplying electricity for 51,000 homes. The two new generators are part of 202 megawatts added to Iraq's national grid in August and 1,574 megawatts since the US Army Corps of Engineers started working on the country's electricity system last year.

other power news, $200 million has been allocated towards a new power generating plant in Najaf. In the capital, the authorities are buying small diesel and gas generators to supplement the electricity supply during periods of high demand, and three districts in Baghdad will be the first ones to shortly get the continuous 24 hour electricity supply.

water projects worth 13 billion Iraqi dinars ($9 million) are being implemented in and around Nasariyah.

HUMANITARIAN AID: Humanitarian assistance continues to flow in from around the world. Sometimes thousands are helped at any one time, sometimes it's simply needy individuals. For example, the people of
Cincinnati have recently provided for some good news story for one little Iraqi girl:

"The 41/2 hours of open-heart surgery performed Wednesday for an 8-year-old girl from Iraq was declared a success. Fatma Saad Abdulaziz was brought to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center last week after months of effort for treatment of a life-threatening heart defect and infection. In early May, her father had brought her to a U.S. military base outside Baghdad seeking help. 'Things went very well,' said Dr. Peter Manning, director of cardiothoracic surgery at Children's, who led the surgical team."
Fatma is now out of the hospital and will spend the next five weeks recuperating with a local family. As the "Cincinnati Inquirer" writes:

"Fatma's is a remarkable story. Even more remarkable, though, is that it is far from unique. It is being repeated almost daily. For example, the Miami Herald reported Wednesday that an 8-year-old Iraqi boy was recovering from surgery in Tampa for a heart defect discovered by U.S. military doctors while treating the boy for accidental burns from a pot of boiling water. On Thursday, seven Iraqi children were taken to Zagreb, Croatia, for operations paid for by the Croatian government.

"Post-war revelations of the horrors wrought by Saddam Hussein - and, yes, of the suffering caused by the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq - have been leavened by tales of generosity and caring. In Framingham, Mass., a "moms' club" is organizing a drive to send toys and medical supplies to a town in Iraq where one club member's husband is with a U.S. medical unit. Operation Iraqi Children, founded by actor Gary Sinise and Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand, assists U.S. soldiers who are building schools in Iraq. It is only one of many volunteer groups that have stepped in.

"Clearly, Fatma's journey to Cincinnati is only a little corner of the Iraq picture, part of a larger story that should not only make us even prouder of our soldiers serving there, but more determined to support efforts that reflect America's best values."
Meanwhile, the American troops coordinate more humanitarian operations with invaluable assistance back home. The residents of Belfast, Maine, have been helping Capt. David Sivret of Calais, the chaplain of Maine's 133rd National Guard Engineering Battalion based in Mosul, to collect backpacks and school bags for Iraqi children. "Recently, Sivret reported the Guard's Alpha Company held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new high school with six classrooms, a teachers' room and -- something new for students -- indoor plumbing with running water. It replaces a small one-room, mud-walled structure. Sivret said Guard units will be building at least three more schools in coming weeks. 'The people there [in the northern rural communities] just love what we are doing for them, in contrast to the rockets and mortars we get here (in Mosul),' he wrote. 'For once it would be good for the news to report the good things that are happening here'." Check the link above if you can help.

The troops of the
1-150th Armor Battalion of the National Guard from West Virginia are also involving their local community: their Operation School Lift is collecting school supplies for the numerous schools that the battalion has recently renovated in Iraq. Money is also being raised to ship over the supplies, particularly heavy items such as desks. If you would like to contribute, see the story for collection points.

Civilians are helping, too, of their own initiative. Connecticut's 16-year-old
John Clancy has been motivated into action after listening to news stories from Iraq: "Hearing about the schools in Iraq and how they're all broken down, it made me feel a little overprivileged," he says. John decided to become a part of Iraqi Children, a program founded by actor Gary Sinise and author Laura Hillenbrand:

"[He] submitted a proposal to Office Max on the Post Road, laying out his plan for a sort of partnership with the store. Office Max approved the project and last weekend, Clancy and a few family members went to work. They set up a table outside the store and handed out flyers to customers asking them to pick up one or more of the needed school supplies while inside the store, and to put them in Clancy's baskets on the way out."
The project proved successful beyond John's wildest dreams. "Clancy's mother, Carol, said that she was amazed at how willing people were to help the cause, saying that 'pretty much anybody who went in' the store came out with supplies for the Iraqi children. 'You wouldn't believe the response,' she said, explaining that her dining room is now filled with boxes of school supplies."

THE COALITION FORCES: The Coalition forces maintain their presence in Iraq, working towards security and reconstruction of the country. Fortunately, other assistance is starting to come through. The 12-nation, 57-personnel strong
NATO team now started training Iraqi security forces. "This is a long-term implementation mission, which means that tailored to the needs and tailored to the decisions of NATO authorities, the mission in the future will probably expand to meet the needs of the Iraqi interim government," says Major General Karel Hilderink, commander of NATO’s training force in Iraq. The contingent is based in Baghdad, but its members are sent out to conduct training in various military basis around the country. "The Iraqis being trained are senior officers and commanders who co-ordinate operations between the U.S.-led coalition and the budding Iraqi military." On the training menu:

"While NATO has yet to announce its ultimate strategy for training security forces in Iraq, the alliance already has begun a pilot project schooling dozens of Iraqi senior officials in the ancient art of military management. About 40 alliance personnel - about half of them American - are in the Baghdad area training top-tier military and police leaders on how to lead forces and keep Iraq’s new structures from falling apart."
As John Kerry keeps on disparaging America's allies, the government of Georgia will double its contingent in Iraq by October, from 157 to 300 troops. It might not sound like much, but the sentiment behind the deployment is clear. In the words of Georgian Defence Minister Giorgi Baramidze: "We are strong allies of the United States and we want to become a really strong partner. We are seeking NATO membership so we want to prove that we are there... It is really a necessity to fight against terrorism ... Georgia is much closer to Iraq than other European countries and the United States so we do care about the situation... We have many brave people, but not many resources ... In these circumstances we are only able to send what is most dear to us, live soldiers."

Alongside the civilian reconstruction effort, the Coalition forces continue with their own tasks. In Baghdad, the troops have recently renovated
Abu Nawas Street, one of the capital's once great thoroughfares: "[T]he U.S. Army's 1st Calvary Division have undertaken an ambitious $1 million project to renovate a two-mile stretch of street and park, creating a pedestrian mall with large grassy meadows, lively restaurants and fountains. Every day for a month, soldiers have worked alongside Iraqi laborers hired for $5 a day, shoveling dirt, clearing trash and removing an outdated irrigation system." Elsewhere:

"Marines put aside their rifles and broke out their rulers Aug. 26, 2004, as they checked up on one of their investments in Iraq's future by paying a visit to a small local elementary school. The Marines, reservists from the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, wanted to see the harvest of more than $5,500 they gave the Iraqi government to spend on making improvements to a school in Al Kabani, a fishing village near Camp Taqaddum.

"Purchasing the school supplies was part of an ongoing effort by the unit aimed at improving the quality of life in the village near Camp Taqaddum, the headquarters to the 1st Force Service Support Group, which elements of the battalion provide security for. For years, the children in the town have been using the same makeshift desks and sheets of painted wood used as blackboards, things that if replaced would improve the learning environment for the students, the village's teachers told the Marines in March."
And it's not just education: "Working to rebuild Iraq one village at a time, Marines and a local Iraqi government official here signed several contracts, valued at $146,000, to improve the quality of life for residents of a nearby community Aug. 25, 2004. Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, awarded the contracts to Thayer Hamdallah, the district manager for the Khalidiyah district, to pay for the construction of a water purification system, outdoor lighting, a large generator and even a flagpole with an Iraqi flag for North Al Majarrah, Iraq."

In Baghdad's
Sadr City, the US forces supervise, fiance and often participate themselves in the work to improve the suburb's run-down infrastructure. Just one of many initiatives: "Comprising a huge ditch, two backhoes and a score of Iraqi laborers, this vanguard operation, in a stronghold of the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr, is undertaking the repair of a cracked sewage line that pours rivers of slime into nearby homes." As the Army commander for Baghdad, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli of the First Cavalry Division, says: "If you make Sadr City look wonderful, you're still going to have 2 percent of the people who want to kill us. We need to kill or capture them. But we also need to make sure they don't have the support of the rest of the people."

Sometimes, the reconstruction is less tangible than new buildings or pipelines. Take, for example, the work of
Debbi Heffinger, deployed with the Pennsylvania National Guard's 28th Signal Battalion. Heffinger, who in civilian life is a primary school teacher, has been working with Iraqi education authorities through special conferences to develop education programs and provide assistance in "lesson planning, educational standards, curriculum and methods of teaching." Heffinger, and other American personnel involved in the project, have been receiving assistance from schools back home, whether in the form of valuable know-how or actual school supplies. Heffinger "is working with other battalions to create similar education conferences throughout the Iraqi capital region. Thus far, her group has worked in the southeast district, which includes about 1,300 teachers. The next phase is to turn much of the responsibility for planning and organizing over to the Iraqis. 'We are working with the university here in Baghdad to develop a program where they go out into the schools and teach their own citizens,' she said. 'People within Iraq are stepping up to make their own country a better place to live, and that's what is most important here'."

In addition to official security and infrastructure work, many soldiers find themselves providing humanitarian assistance to those in most need.
Dr. Timothy Mullett, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve who served as a surgeon with the 874th forward surgical team, took on some additional duties during his 90-day service around Kirkuk in the Kurdish north:

"Mullett and two other military doctors spent three days in a mobile clinic near the town of Dibbis, in a predominantly Kurdish area of the country. With three Iraqi doctors, they examined some 800 people, treating everything from diarrhea and dehydration to high blood pressure. Mullett also helped put on a daylong medical symposium for 10 Iraqi doctors, who came to the Kirkuk base to learn about trauma treatment."
In a similar action, the Army has recently conducted health screening in the city of Al Kush, which in addition to treating Iraqi patients, has assessed the medical needs of the community. It's just one of many similar examples.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iraq's first
safe house for battered and abused women is now open, thanks to the initiative of Army Capt. Stacey Simms, who had worked for the 352nd Civil Affairs Command. With a $75,000 annual budget, this facility which can house up to 16 women is providing aid and comfort at an undisclosed location in the capital. "The safe house not only provides temporary protection, but also educates the family that abuse is not acceptable. If an Iraqi woman is raped, the shelter can protect her from honor killings - an accepted cultural practice in some parts of Iraq. To date, five women, including one with five children, have taken advantage of the shelter."

Also in Baghdad,
478th Civil Affairs Battalion attached to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, has started distributing humanitarian aid among the population of suburbs most affected by the recent fighting. Says Sgt. 1st Class Felipe Azua, 478th CA noncommissioned officer in charge of the projects: "Many people in Iraq are unsure of what we are doing here. So, they go by what other people say. When they see us out there repairing their electric stations, sewer systems or passing out food, they can actually see for themselves that we are here to help and that has a huge impact... The food drops that we do are a good example of how we get the word out."

Lastly, read this story of a group of
hospital corpsmen, from K Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, who for the past six months have been providing medical care for the 7,000 detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison. "The corpsmen gave the same quality of care to the detainees that they would normally give to American service members. The Army doctors they worked for even went out in town to purchase medications that they did not have on-hand... 'We were dealing with detainees that the day before were possibly blowing up or killing Americans,' said [Petty Officer 2nd Class Travis R.] Neher. 'You were staring that person in the face and you knew what they had done because sometimes they would tell you.' Nevertheless, the docs still had a job to do. 'You had to go around that ... and actually treat them as a human being instead of looking at them as the enemy'."

DIPLOMACY AND SECURITY: As free Iraq resumes normal relations with other countries, an
encouraging sign of future possibilities: "A powerful lobby is developing in Baghdad to promote the idea of diplomatic relations with Israel, the new Iraqi ambassador to Great Britain told Haaretz on Thursday.

"Dr. Salah al-Shaikhly, who was appointed two months ago, said that the issue will be raised after the general elections, and 'now is not the right time.' Al-Shaikhly told Haaretz that he did not have 'any problem with Israel or Israelis who wish to visit Iraq,' but he also noted, 'I really don't know what is the position of as yet, but you should know there is a strong lobby working for you in Iraq.'

"When asked if he was referring to the Americans, Al-Shaikhly responded, 'No, I mean Iraqis, in Iraq, who want to establish relations with Israel, who are in favor of this idea. But the current situation is so uncertain, so volatile that any attempt to push this through, at this point, will most certainly backfire'."
On the security front, while sporadic fighting and terrorist activity continue, there are also some positive developments. In Baghdad, there are indications that the public support for insurgency might be waning: "Overwhelmingly residents of the war-torn area voiced their frustration and anger at the militia, noting that they were tired of the civilian casualties, tired of being without basic services and wanting nothing more than to get back to their normal life," says Cpl. Benjamin Cossel with the 1st Cavalry Division. And from Najaf, more evidence emerges of the behavior of al Sadr's militia during the recent fighting - see this post by Iraqi blogger Zeyad. And another Iraqi blogger, Omar, reports on the recent statement by Iraqi clerics condemning the atrocities committed by al Sadr and his followers while in control of Najaf.

The Iraqi security apparatus is playing an increasingly important role.
Iraqi police force is at the forefront of struggle for better order, most of the time under difficult conditions and at great personal risk:

"Iraqi police cadet Meqdad al-Izzawi once served Saddam Hussein as a navy officer. Now, he says he is taking one of the most dangerous jobs in the new Iraq because he wants to serve his people.

" 'My hope is to execute the law in Iraq and restore stability to the Iraqi people, because we never enjoyed security, even under Saddam Hussein,' said the 28-year-old al-Izzawi, one of 1,559 Iraqi recruits attending basic police training at a U.S.-run camp in the Jordanian desert.

"Like al-Izzawi, fellow Iraqi recruit Abdul-Razzaq al-Qaissi signed up for the new police force because he was incensed by growing terrorism at home by insurgents and foreign fighters, including Jordanian militant Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi.

" 'Al-Zarqawi and other terrorists are a source of concern to my countrymen and we have to put an end to their actions,' said al-Qaissi, 28, who served as a soldier in the domestic security division of Saddam's dismantled army, guarding vital institutions, like government offices and diplomatic missions in Iraq."
With Western assistance, more and more Iraqi police officers find their way onto their beats. Says a British brigadier who is helping to rebuild the force:

"Why would anyone want to be a police officer in Iraq? It's dangerous, no question. But there has never been a problem recruiting. We're training 5,000 new officers every eight weeks.

"Obviously, one reason is the pay: $220 a month is a lot here. But most officers say they want to serve their country. They want to build a better Iraq. Their nation has such potential; fulfilling it requires security, and they want to be part of that...

"We were late to recognize that without an effective police force, we're going to be here a lot longer. But now we have 500 international police advisers and 200 police trainers. The FBI and DEA have arrived to teach intelligence. We've put 23,000 officers through leadership courses at three different levels."
Meanwhile, the police force is chalking up some successes, like breaking up the biggest kidnapping ring in Baghdad, responsible for taking several government officials and scientists for ransom. The gang was composed of criminals amnestied by Saddam Hussein in 2002. In a related, albeit this time moral, victory, the most senior Sunni religious body in Iraq, the ulema, has issues a fatwah, declaring hostage-taking to be un-Islamic and ordering that all hostages be released.

It's not just the police, but also the army, which is proving their worth. "The Iraqi security forces, every day, are proving themselves more capable and more fit," says Air Force
Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, the multinational forces' deputy operations director. The report notes that "[b]esides being called in to restore law and order in Najaf and elsewhere across the country, Iraq's security forces also have been responsible for discovering a number of explosive devices and weapons caches in recent weeks. For example, Iraqi National Guard members found a huge cache of weapons and ordnance Aug. 26 during a joint raid conducted with U.S. Marines on a home near Haswah, according to a Multinational Force Iraq news release. About 132 107 mm rockets were seized during the raid, the release stated, as well as seven 57 mm rockets, 10 AK-47 assault rifles, seven 125 mm tank rounds, five rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 124 RPG rounds, 200 mortar rounds, bomb-making materials and improvised explosive devices." Another report notes: "Joint U.S. and Iraqi forces have arrested 500 suspected insurgents in a major raid in the majority Sunni town of Al-Latifiyah, south of Baghdad. The raid -- the first undertaken in the Sunni triangle by the new Iraqi interim government -- highlights the increasingly frontline role of Iraqi forces in security operations."

Meanwhile, a new Iraqi
army base re-opens:

"The Iraqi flag was raised over the newly refurbished and rebuilt forward training base here Sept. 1 in a ceremony on the station's parade grounds, signaling an end to the roughly $165 million coalition project. The opening coincides with the arrival of the Iraqi Intervention Force's 3rd Battalion recruits, who join two other battalions currently training at the base. Numaniyah will serve as the Iraqi army's 2nd Brigade headquarters. The base is a step toward rebuilding the nation, said the 5th Division commander...

"In addition to serving as a much-needed training base for the Iraqi armed forces, the base employs roughly 2,000 workers from surrounding areas. Local citizens have been in on the project from the ground up, helping or employed in many critical aspects including school construction and refurbishments, medical assistance and water projects. Joining bases in Kasik, Kirkuk, Taji and Kurkush, Numaniyah may also include base housing for soldiers' families. Two base dining facilities will be complete in the coming months, as well, with the capacity to feed roughly 3,000 soldiers each."
There are also signs that strengthened border security and greater cooperation with neighbors is paying off. Saudi border guards have recently arrested a number of Saudi as well as other Arab nationals attempting to illegally cross into Iraq. Meanwhile, members of Iraqi border security forces have received some valuable assistance: "Members of the Iraqi Border Patrol battalion in Diyanah, Iraq, received 25 sets of night vision goggles and 10 Jeep Libertys August 28 from Multinational Forces. The night vision goggles were purchased by Task Force Olympia with funds from the Commander’s Emergency Response Program and cost approximately $101,000. The goggles will be used to assist the IBP in conducting night patrols to capture smugglers near the border. The vehicles were donated by Multinational Corps-Iraq so the IBP soldiers will have enough vehicles to conduct multiple missions at the same time." And the Iraqi pilots who will fly surveillance missions over southern Iraq, monitoring oil and power installations, have commenced training in Basra.

Lastly on security topics, a positive development for the future of security cooperation between the US and the liberated countries, as American officials conduct talks with authorities in Iraq and Afghanistan to involve these countries (as well as other Central Asian states) as part of the
national missile defense initiative.

And so another two weeks pass in Iraq, with the media attention largely diverted away from the positive and the encouraging and towards the sensationalistic and the tendentious. I'll leave the last words to
Mohammed A.R. Galadari, writing in the United Arab Emirates' "Khaleej Times":

"Highlighting violence alone is not the role of the media. We have to see the brighter side too, and report them faithfully. That is how the reader/viewer gets a clear picture. Our effort should not be to create situations in which people are carried away by their emotions. What helps people in the long run is important. That needs to be projected. There comes the question of professional integrity and responsibility. Can the Arab media claim to be conducting itself in a fully responsible way, in relation to the developments in Iraq?"
An important question that needs be asked not just in Arab newsrooms, but everywhere else around the world.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?