Monday, September 27, 2004
The past two weeks continued to be tumultuous in Iraq. More hostages taken, more hostages beheaded, more suicide bombings, more sabotage, more fighting, all unfolding against the background of an increasingly bitter Presidential election campaign and a chorus of intelligence experts, politicians and pundits expressing grave doubts about the future of the country.
And then there was the media coverage. In the midst of all the carnage and chaos overflowing the front pages of our newspapers and the TV screens, "Newsweek" chose to run an overview of the current situation in Iraq, titled appropriately "It's Worse Than You Think". Having for quite some time closely followed the mainstream media's reporting from Iraq, it struck me that this is hardly possible.
In the same week that "Newsweek" published its panic attack, the editorial board of a less worldly "Kansas City Star" met up with a group of five Iraqi journalists visiting the United States on a tour organized by the State Department. During the discussion with his Iraqi colleagues E. Thomas McClanahan of the "Star" asked them what they thought about the media coverage of Iraq:
"The response was amusing in a way. Perhaps out of tact, our visitors (they asked that we not use their names) said they hadn't seen much U.S. coverage. Most couldn't speak English. But coverage by the Arab media, they said through translators, presented a distorted picture.
"One member of the group, the only woman, said the pessimistic tone of Arab coverage was making things worse by encouraging terrorists and demoralizing those who supported democracy. Another journalist, a man in a dark suit, said the insurgents 'don't represent the Iraqi people.'
"Arab reporters, said a third, 'try to give the impression that it's hopeless. If you watch the satellite channels from Arab countries you would imagine there's no rebuilding going on'."
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi echoed these sentiments recently when he spoke before the United States Congress: "I have seen some of the images that are being shown here on television. They are disturbing. They focus on the tragedies, such as the brutal and barbaric murder of two American hostages this week... Yet, as we mourn these losses, we must not forget either the progress we are making or what is at stake in Iraq. We are fighting for freedom and democracy, ours and yours. Every day, we strengthen the institutions that will protect our new democracy, and every day, we grow in strength and determination to defeat the terrorists and their barbarism."
There are two Iraqs at the moment; both equally real and consequential. The Iraq of never ending strife - the insurgency, terrorism, crime, and all too slow pace of reconstruction makes for interesting news stories and exciting footage. The Iraq of steady recovery, returning normalcy and a dash of hope rarely does.
By the way, the "Newsweek" story did not mention even one positive development in Iraq. So here is another story - Iraq: "Maybe Not Quite As Bad As You Thought." Read the stories below in addition to - not to the exclusion of - all the bad news. Only by knowing both sides of the story you can make an informed judgment about how things in Iraq are really going.
SOCIETY: A free and democratic election in January will mark a symbolic transition of Iraq from the dictatorial past towards a more hopeful future. Just as important as the change in political processes is the change in attitudes; to succeed, Iraq needs to acquire not just the democratic veneer but also a democratic mind-set. As Iraq's "Al-Sabah" newspaper reports, the National Assembly seems to be on the right path, taking very seriously its role in scrutinizing the government's performance:
"The national assembly undertakes its most important tasks in reviewing the government's decisions and question officials in the government, to get acquainted with their performance and causes and outcomes of failures. High ranking source at the assembly affirmed that the minister of interior will be the 1st minister to be questioned about the background of security deterioration in addition to other accusations in employing his relatives in new positions at the ministry."Precarious security situation and cronyism needless to say are not good, but open discussion and scrutiny are, and neither has been practiced openly in Iraq until very recently.
Meanwhile, the BBC Arabic conducts this vox populi from Iraqi women. While the concern about security is a common thread, another one is a strong streak of optimism about the country's future. Says Essraa, an 18-year old student: "The most important development to come out of the war was freedom. We were denied it, especially freedom of thought. This to me is very important. Another important consequence was our ability now to access modern means of communications, such satellite and computers. Satellite television was banned under the previous regime because Saddam wanted to keep Iraq isolated from the rest of the world so he could have total control over Iraqis. Computers were available before the war, but the prices were prohibitive. Now, thanks to our ability to access the internet, we are able to contact our relatives abroad and to talk to them without fearing the eavesdropping of the 'mukhabarat' (the previous regime's secret intelligence service). "
Samira, a 31-year old engineer, adds: "In my view the impact of the recent war, despite its many negative sides, was less severe than that of earlier ones. I think the negative aspects that have come to the surface were not caused by the war as such or by the American occupation alone. Rather, these things happened because of the change of the governing regime. A fall of a regime is not a small matter. " Fawzia, a 36-year old teacher says: "On the positive side, we saw an increase in our incomes. Teachers, too, have enjoyed a rise in their salaries, with the result that the practice of private tutoring is on the decline. Teachers now do want to teach and look after their pupils. Among other positive developments have been the refurbishment of school buildings, the printing of new school textbooks and the provision of free stationary to pupils. The cost of food is lower now too and we are now free to say what we want to criticise without fear." And this from Um Samir, a 51-year old housewife: "The last war was not as big a catastrophe for our people and for my family as the Kuwait war, which brought us much pain. And despite the fact that electricity is in short supply and that there is fear because of the security situation, our material situation has improved a lot."
In a similar vein, Ahood Aabass, 42, who became one of Iraq's first elected officials and the first female elected to the new governing council in Basra, and who is now visiting the United States together with Tamara Sarafa Quinn, director of Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq, reminisces about Saddam's days, when "[h]er children went to schools that were without windows, doors and toilets, and where teachers made as little as $3 a month to teach. Water in her city of Basra had worms in it, and women had little, if any, right to freedom... Both women said great strides have been made in education, human rights, health care and infrastructure improvements. Iraq has seen schools reopened, refurbished and re-painted. Some 159,000 new desks were distributed to the schools, millions of new textbooks have been printed and 20 million Iraqi citizens now have clean water and sanitation amenities they didn't have before. Teachers are also now making between $300 and $500 a month to teach, which Quinn said is a great deal to the Iraqis." Aabass and Quinn have this to say to the people of the United States:
"We have very good things happening in Iraq because of help from America. I am very thankful and grateful for our liberty and our freedom because with (America's) help, we can get Saddam Hussein out of our country. I feel very sorry for the families who gave their sons and their daughters who were killed in our country. They are putting their lives on the line to help us."As Iraqis face the future, they also try to find ways to deal with their recent past. Read this fascinating story about de-Baathification classes for the functionaries of the previous regime:
"On this day, many of the roughly 100 students in attendance are from the education sector - the school principals, administrators, and officials from the Ministry of Education. They were level eight functionaries - the most senior Ba'ath party officials allowed to remain at their jobs, because they have skills that Iraq needs.In media news, a useful initiative comes from an expected source:
"The class can get emotional. Part of the curriculum includes showing the students photos of mass graves, many of the people victims of Saddam Hussein's massacres of the Kurdish population after the Gulf War.
"Mr. al-Furaiji says in a previous session, he showed his students a photo of a Kurdish woman holding her child who had been killed by chemical weapons. He says, one of the students stood up and said, 'It makes me sick to think I was a member of the Ba'ath party'."
"It has been nearly a month since the Kurdistan Communist Party first began broadcasting a daily program on relationship issues facing Kurdish youth. It is the first time such a controversial programme has been broadcast in Kurdistan. Some religious leaders have expressed their opposition to the programme, but the programme is proving to be highly popular amongst the younger audience.In sports news, following the Cinderella story at the Olympics, Iraqi soccer reaches another milestone: "Macclesfield versus Grimsby may not be the most fashionable of fixtures, but those who watch this weekend's clash at Moss Rose could witness a piece of sporting history. If, as expected, Jassim Swadi Fayadh makes his debut for the hosts, he will become the first Iraqi to play League football in England."
"The presenter of the programme, Mr Bahez Husain speaking to KurdishMedia.com, said 'The idea of this programme first came to mind when I heard a religious man advising the younger generation not to use mobile telephones as it is a sin. I decided to encourage the young people in my city, Sulemani, to telephone me on their mobiles, to express their views on different issues that they face.' The program allows young people to express their emotional problems, anonymously. Until recently, such 'forbidden' issues were not discussed.
"Mr Hussain said, 'The programme has been a huge success. I receive over 100 telephone phone calls during each programme. Unfortunately, due to the shortage of time, I can only deal with 30 to 40 calls in each show.' The programme has already influenced a youth union and a women's union to open a friendship club and a Cafeteria for couples here in Sulemani."
It's not just the senior soccer team that is making waves internationally: Iraqis team has defeated Bangladesh 3-1 to secure a quarter-finals place in the Asian Football Cup under-17s championships. Inspired by their current idols, Iraq children can finally dream of becoming soccer stars - without the fear of torture:
" 'I love Iraq,' says five-year-old Amir Hussein as he practices with friends at the pitch on Abu al-Nawas Street, a once-popular promenade on the banks of the River Tigris, now deserted amid the persistent insecurity gripping the capital.To assist in this development, "Britain is investing in youth soccer in Iraq, hoping the world's most popular game can build links between the two countries. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced the plan on Wednesday. Called 'Football United,' the program involves the Foreign Office and the national soccer associations from Iraq and Britain. The Foreign Office said the 250,000-pound (US$450,000, ?367,000) investment in youth soccer in Iraq would culminate with a series of tournaments next spring involving players from all over the country. 'Football is by far the most popular sport in Iraq,' Straw said. 'This is a wonderful opportunity to assist with the development of youth football in Iraq, and to lay the foundation for continued and stronger ties between the British and Iraqi sporting communities'." Iraq is also for the first time sending delegation to the International Youth Sports Summit, "an annual workshop promoting health and physical fitness for children."
"Amir shares the same ambition as 10-year-old Hussein Ali Jaber and the rest of the 120 children who gather for weekly training on a playing field that was once reserved for the security agents of Saddam Hussein. 'I want to represent Iraq. I love football and I love to play with my friends,' says Hussein...
" The 40-year-old former member of the national squad admits that the number of children joining the club has increased since Iraq's men reached the quarter finals at the Athens Olympics in August. 'Lots of children were eager to play football after the Olympics. It was a great team and most Iraqis had the chance to see guys playing live on television,' says [Amer] Fadel."
Soccer is not the only youth sport growing in Iraq: read this article about how the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division is introducing baseball in northern Iraq:
"It was a perfect evening for baseball. Parents crunched pistachios to the ding of aluminum bats. Soldiers from the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade stood guard at the soccer field-turned-ball diamond, with a Humvee parked at each outfield foul pole and another sitting just beyond the center field fence.These small steps forward might not mean much in themselves but cumulatively they point towards a better future. Every Iraqi child that dreams of becoming a sport star is one less child that dreams of becoming a martyr or a holy warrior. Every group, club or association that springs up across the country helps teach Iraqi people the habits of trust and cooperation, two qualities that are the mortar that binds together every successful democratic society.
"The youngsters - Kurds, Turkomen and one Arab - belted line drives, scooped up grounders - and booted a few, too. Parents cheered as their boys chased down fly balls and hurled them home, where overzealous runners were tagged out."
ECONOMY: The US Treasury Under Secretary John Taylor recently had some good news to report on the success of Iraqi currency reform: "Before the fall of Saddam, the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq used 'Swiss' dinars while the rest of the country used 'Saddam' dinars, Taylor said. Taylor said the exchange rate of the new dinar appreciated about 25 percent in the months following its introduction in late 2003, while prices have been stable and inflation low. 'This stability is providing the basis for much-needed public confidence in the management of its currency,' Taylor said. The under secretary said at the time that the new dinar was introduced, the Central Bank of Iraq was made independent of the Finance Ministry, which had been under the control of the Baathist Party."
There is also good news coming from the Iraqi stock exchange:
"There's an old Arab proverb: Throw a lucky man in the sea and he will come up with a fish in his mouth. As Iraq rebuilds its economy, the country's businessmen are hoping that Mr Taha Ahmed Abdul Salam will prove to be a lucky man.For another look at the Iraqi Stock Exchange see also this story.
"This 40-year-old's onerous task, the lucky fish he's been asked to deliver, is the new Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX), a centrepiece of the country's financial reconstruction. (It's a replacement for the former Baghdad Stock Exchange, a now-defunct plaything of Saddam Hussein's family, especially his late son, Uday.)
"The news so far is good: At a time when many Iraqis find themselves in very stormy seas, the ISX, of which Mr Taha Ahmed is chief executive, is able to report progress."
In trade news, the Ministry of Trade is currently setting up a series of bilateral committees to facilitate commercial relations with the United States, Europe and Japan. In banking news, "National Bank of Kuwait, the Arab lender with the highest credit rating, agreed to buy the Credit Bank of Iraq in what may be the first foreign purchase of an Iraqi lender in at least four decades." Ibrahim Dabdoub, National Bank's chief executive is positive about the future: "Iraq's medium-term prospects are very good, because in the end, this insurgency has to end." The Arab Banking Corporation is also planning to shortly enter the Iraqi financial market.
USAID, which has been doing a lot of excellent work in Iraq, has recently awarded a $20 million contract to BearingPoint, Inc, of Virginia, "to develop and implement international economic practices aimed at improving economic governance in Iraq and developing a policy-enabling environment for private sector-led growth in the country. The three-year contract is expected to assist in reforming tax, fiscal and customs policies as well developing an IMF acceptable monetary policy through building the capacity of Iraq's Central Bank. Under the terms of the contract, BearingPoint will also assist the Iraq Ministry of Finance to develop a modern, well regulated banking sector. BearingPoint will also work with the Ministry to create an environment that promotes private sector-led growth through housing finance reforms and commercial law and institutional reforms." You can also read about the contract here.
Great Britain and China have expressed their willingness to cooperate in rebuilding Iraqi communications infrastructure; Britain wants to build communication networks, while China is interested in training communication specialists. Singaporean e-Sys Group is already unrolling its IT network through Iraq: "Plans are to have multiple channel partners in the country which, despite the present problems, could emerge as one of the bigger regional markets for technology requirements over the medium term." Meanwhile, at the Iraq Reconstruction 2004 conference held at the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre, Batelco has also offered to assist with rebuilding Iraqi telecommunication infrastructure. And Israelis, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians will be able to use their cell phones in Iraq without switching networks, thanks to a roaming agreement reached between the Israeli company Cellcom and Kuwaiti-owned Asiacell, which supplies cellular phone services to Iraq.
In oil news, Iraq is planning to lift its output to 3.25 million barrels per day at the end of next year, from 2.8 million currently achieved. This would bring the oil production to the levels not seen since the outbreak of the first Gulf War in 1990. Overall, according to the Oil Ministry, the authorities are planning "oil infrastructure projects worth $20 billion to boost production and exports... The projects include developing the Basra and Khor Al Amaya oil terminals." Currently, another refinery in central Iraq, capable of processing 200,000 barrels per day is in planning stages.
In transport news, direct flights are expected to start soon between Iraq and Syria. In addition, "[t]he minister of Transportation singed with his Syrian counterpart during his visit to Damascus an agreement memorandum of activating the joint cooperation in field of transportation by sea, air, land, and railways. The memorandum dictated to facilitate transport of imported goods to Iraqi lands through Syrian harbors, activating Iraqi Company for Naval Navigation, mutual work to implement development programs and exchange expertise and technical studies in scope of harbors, and considering buying a ship to invest in transporting goods." Meanwhile, the first Iraqi Airlines flight in 14 years has flown from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad. Several Turkish airlines are also eyeing the Iraqi market. And Malaysian Merchant Marine Berhad is planning to set up a joint venture company with Iraqi Oil Tankers Company to provide bunker fuel and other shipping services in Iraq and other Arab Gulf ports.
RECONSTRUCTION: The Iraqi authorities are making an effort to better organize and coordinate the reconstruction effort:
"The Iraqi Ministry of Planning has formed a supreme body to lay down reconstruction strategy for the war-torn country... The body would be responsible for laying down an international mechanism to finance the reconstruction projects and to help coordinate the efforts of the Iraqi side and the donor countries in the fields of loans and financing."In the south of the country, a reconstruction conference has already heard some detailed plans for the region's near future:
"Nearly 200 Iraqi and international construction contractors heard this week how reconstruction efforts in the country's southern region will soon quicken, providing a renewed infrastructure and additional jobs. The demands and opportunities that come from the planned massive surge in reconstructing the south served as the keynote of the region's first reconstruction forum at the Basra International Airport...Najaf, which has seen much trouble recently, is now on the receiving end of 12 billion dinars's worth ($8.2 million) of a World Bank grant towards urgent reconstruction works, in addition to 100 billion dinars ($68.5 million) recently allocated from the Ministry of Labor and Municipalities for emergency reconstruction.
"The more than 10 new medical clinics, 400 renovated schools and new police stations planned for the region are slated for construction before the end of the year; each is aimed at improving the aging infrastructure of southern Iraq and adding thousands of jobs across the region."
As physical reconstruction moves ahead, plans for social reconstruction are also being drawn:
"The Planning Ministry and Development Cooperation has discussed the strategy of social development to create suitable environment for comprehensive humanitarian development... Dr. Mehdi al-Hafdhi said that the reform plan includes putting limits for long-term social reform representing in realizing protection and social justice and participation through judicial mechanisms to eradicate poverty, make work chances available and realizing the social incorporation. 'The ministry's middle-term preparations took into consideration the role of the government through shifting to the market economy without neglecting its role in supplying requirements of security, health, primary education,' he confirmed."With more reconstruction projects, foreign donors come up with additional funds. The International International Monetary Fund has hinted at additional emergency financial aid for Iraq later on this year. "IMF experts have estimated that Iraq may be eligible for about 850 million dollars in reconstruction assistance." The talks are progressing well. And international donors have pledged over $2 billion for development of housing in Iraq at a recent conference in Tokyo. Omar al- Farouq al-Damlouchi the minister of housing and construction says the Ministry is planning to construct 2 million units over the next ten years and is currently researching housing needs around the nation.
There is also some much needed relief on the way for Iraqi economy:
"The Paris Club of creditor nations has agreed in principle to a major reduction of Iraq's outstanding debt, with a final announcement expected before the end of this year... Officials from the Paris Club's 19 members, including the United States, France, Russia, Germany and Japan, met last week and agreed to cut Iraq's estimated 120 billion dollars (97.9 billion euros) of debt by at least 50 percent."In electricity news, "[t]Two electricity generators in suburban Baghdad that had fallen into disrepair under Saddam Hussein's regime returned to service today, producing enough electricity to fuel 72,000 Iraqi homes. Iraqi and U.S. engineers brought the seven-megawatt generator in southern Baghdad and the 17-megawatt generator in north Baghdad online this morning." Electricity production now averages 5,000 megawatts. 50 MW were recently added to the grid through efforts of Iraqi engineers at the Baiji power station.
Electricity production is also increasing through the use of new technologies:
"Iraqi labourers have installed a new radiator on a generator air intake. It’s an installation that increases electricity output of the machine by more than 15 per cent by cooling the hot, dry desert air. The radiator, known as a chiller pack to the electrical savvy, came online Monday at the south central Iraq power plant, boosting electricity production from the generator to 24 megawatts, enough to service 72,000 Iraqi homes."The Electricity Ministry is aiming to increase the power production to 25,000 MW over the next five years. After years of neglect and violence, the electricity infrastructure in Iraq is in such state of disrepair that, according to the Ministry estimates, it might require somewhere between $30 and $50 billion to fully upgrade the grid to modern standards. Foreign governments are already assisting, with the United Arab Emirates agreeing to speed up its contribution of $215 million towards rebuilding Iraqi power system.
In health news, this Baghdad facility is getting some much needed upgrade:
"Melted plastic tubing and heat warped glass vials will soon be a thing of the past for doctors and nurses at Ibn Sina Hospital, the busiest medical facility in Iraq and one of only three Level III trauma centres in the country. The reprieve comes courtesy of the first climate-controlled medical storage facility in Iraq, which opened Sunday only metres from the front door of the hospital. The new warehouse will provide an end to the destructive heat, with enough air-conditioned storage space to store tons of medical supplies to treat the county's most seriously wounded soldiers and civilians."And in order to improve public health throughout the capital, 217,700 billion dinars (nearly $150 million) has been allocated by the authorities for the construction of new sewage system throughout Baghdad. On a much smaller scale, progress is also being made in Basra: "New pipes buried deep in the walls and floors of the revamped Iraqi airport will soon feed the building with enough clean water for the nearly 4,000 Iraqi laborers that will staff the airport and the thousands of travelers that will soon re-fill the once teaming terminal.
"Providing clean water and a viable sewer system for the airport is the final step in a multi-million dollar effort to revive the airport and reopen commercial travel in the southern region.Many smaller reconstruction projects are underway at any given time; for example 2.47 billion dinars ($1.7 million) is being spent on clean-up and rehabilitation in Baaquba; construction of the new Zurbatia border crossing complex on the Kuwaiti border; or construction of new housing units in Baghdad and Kirkuk.
"A $1.3 million renovation project to revamp the water treatment plant is slated for completion by the end of October. The plant was operating at full capacity before the war, pulling millions of liters of water from the nearby river. However, it lacked maintenance and chemicals to render water suitable for human consumption."
There is also movement on the water front, with the Ministry of Water Resources allocating "134 billions Iraqi dinars [$92 million] for cleaning small streams and operating and maintaining the water canals." More dams also continue to be constructed throughout Iraq. And speaking of the environment, "[t]he United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has said it will help Iraq clean up the toxic pollution caused by a decade of conflict. Starting next month, Unep will assess pollution 'hotspots', ranging from oil spills to waste from military vehicles."
HUMANITARIAN AID: While the reconstruction effort aims to provide the longer term solutions to Iraq's many problems, a more immediate assistance to satisfy the most urgent needs of the population is still required. Some of the humanitarian assistance continues to be inspired by the army personnel serving in Iraq, like in this story from North Carolina:
"When Kings Mountain Middle School teacher David McDonald took leave to serve with the National Guard in Iraq, he never expected to end up helping children over there. But through a special bond with a former student, McDonald inspired a community service project that resulted in 1,400 pounds of school supplies being donated for Iraqi children. Five Kings Mountain churches participated in the drive, which is continuing this fall."See the link, if you can assist. And another report notes an overwhelming response to Army Reserve Sgt. Patrick Dugan's call for toys for Iraqi kids. "The response was 'truly amazing,' said Dugan... 'I've received over 350 packages,' he said, so many that the military post office assigned him his own mail bin next to bins for the military units stationed in the city of Mosul.'The pile for me rivals the pile of entire battalions,' he said. Packages came from veterans groups, churches, law firms, Irish organizations, neighbors, families, seniors, children. [Says Dugan:] 'They put priceless smiles on thousands of children and their parents, and also contributed to many smiles and immeasurable joy on the part of us soldiers. The soldiers definitely enjoyed giving as much as the kids enjoyed receiving'."
Other aid efforts are purely civilian-inspired, like this community action in California: "A group of Eureka High School students who love to play soccer want to share this enthusiasm for sports in a country where violence is now overshadowing such pastimes. They've so far collected 150 soccer balls to send to Iraq. 'We figured they don't get the same opportunities,' said Eureka High senior Kellie Siler. She said the soccer balls can be seen as a gift from American students, and may help give Iraqis a positive impression of the United States."
And students from Charlotte Wood Middle School in Danville, California, have recently collected 500 pairs of flip-flop shoes for Iraqi children. "[Principal Sandy] Budde decided on the move after hearing of children walking barefoot on searing hot sand from her son, Marine Lt. Ben Budde, 23, who serves in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division." Thanks to Wells Fargo officials who have donated $10,000 to cover the cost of mailing, the shoes will soon reach Iraq.
Other humanitarian assistance comes from Iraq's neighbors. Kuwaiti Humanitarian Operations Center, for example, has provided almost $9 million dollars in aid to Fallujah between March and August this year and is currently undertaking studies of how to manage a $5 million grant for Najaf. And help comes from Bahrain, too:
"Ten cancer patients in Iraq could soon get urgent treatment, which is currently unavailable in their own country, thanks to an appeal in Bahrain. The patients, some of whom are children, have been diagnosed with life- threatening cancer and are now in desperate need of help.COALITION TROOPS: Comments Col. Gary Bunch, The 51-year-old Colonial Heights resident commands the 172nd Corps Support Group from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma: "The people are very glad that the regime is gone and are so thankful for the chance to have a democratic country and a decent living... It's such a poor country for being so rich, nothing got down past the (former government)." Col Bunch says that "[m]edia reports about the state of post-war Iraq don't accurately portray a hopeful public, one looking forward to elections in January, and the great work being done by American forces." In his words: "In the pictures we've seen it's just not the same as the work the soldiers are doing and the appreciation the Iraqi people have for it... It's happening all over and that's the real story."
"The Bahrain Cancer Society (BCS), in association with Al Riwaq Gallery and the Bahrain Businesswomen's Society, has raised BD25,000 [$66,555] and is urging people to help support the patients with further donations."
Some troops are helping to make Iraq a safer place: "The Davis Monthan Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team sought out and destroyed 40,000 munitions, and 55,000 pounds of enemy explosives north of Baghdad." There is plenty more of old ammunition and explosives around Iraq that need to be disposed of.
Ten Army Reservists from Maine have, meanwhile, have volunteered to take part in training the new Iraqi army: "The Maine reservists are part of a larger group of Army trainers and drill sergeants with the U.S. Army's 98th Division, 2nd Battalion, 304th Regiment, which has members from Maine to New York, according to Liberty... The soldiers, whose work will involve conducting basic military training and serving as mentors and trainers for Iraq's future military, were given a sendoff at the Armed Forces Reserve Center."
The troops also continue to be involved in the reconstruction effort. The 1st Infantry Division’s Engineers Electricity Ministry Team, for example, is currently overseeing the construction of a health care center for more than 4,000 employees and family members of employees of the Baiji Power Plant. The Team is also overseeing construction of a chemical warehouse to improve operational capacity at the thermal power plant.
Elsewhere, $99,960 worth of work under the Multi-National Forces-Iraq school refurbishment project is nearing completion at the Ibn Al-Athir School. This elementary school in Baghdad, attended by 972, will consist of 48 rooms and 40,000 square feet upon completion.
On a much bigger scale, "[t]he Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Fourteen (NMCB-14) are supplying engineering and quality control to a project awarded to a Turkish contractor who hires Iraqi workers using materials that come from Kuwait and Jordan, making this a truly multinational project. The project is a three-building berthing facility that consists of two 13,000-square-foot, steel-frame prefabricated buildings and the complete renovation of a 3,000-square-foot masonry building."
American soldiers are also at work in this remote location in northern Iraq:
"Soldiers from the 133rd Engineer Battalion are working on a series of projects in the rural village of Hamzan in northern Iraq. The National Guard Soldiers from Belfast, Maine, replaced the village's small mud schoolhouse with a concrete structure. The new school has three classrooms with plumbing and electricity.The 478th Civil Affairs Battalion, meanwhile, continues its good work in Iraq: "The battalion has opened four health clinics, and each one can handle more than 60,000 people, he said. The battalion is working to get a $1.2 million maternity clinic approved and ready for residents. But it was a youth center that drew more enthusiastic responses and large crowds. The battalion revamped a security personnel building into a youth-friendly environment with video games and the Internet. The kids can go there, instead of congregating in the streets, [Spc. Erich] Scholz said. 'You won't believe how many kids are here,' he said."
"As part of an initiative to train former Peshmerga fighters to learn construction skills, the engineers worked with nine former fighters to train them in masonry and carpentry skills during the construction of the school.
"In addition to rebuilding the village school, the engineers brought in a 20,000-liter water tank and a 75-kilowatt generator which will serve the 17 families in the area who do not have plumbing or electricity. They also improved the local roads which were in disrepair."
And around the town of Kalsu, [a]s the summer winds down, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Back-to-School Campaign is revving up, giving the Marines a vehicle to make a difference in the lives of Iraq's children, one classroom at a time."
In the south of the country, Coalition partners are carrying their own reconstruction projects: "In the Multi-National Division Central South area of Babil Province, the Polish-led Civil Military Cooperation team (CIMIC) has completed a $258,000 renovation of Babylon University's 2,000-student law school in Al Hilla... During clashes in the province, almost all University of Babylon equipment, furniture and plumbing and electrical utilities were stolen or damaged, so the first part of the two-phase project focused on repairing the water, electrical wiring and cable systems for a cost of about $79,000. The second stage was completed in mid-September for a total of about $179,000. New furnishings and air conditioners were bought and installed, and a new fence was placed around the building. About 10,000 students attend the University of Babylon."
And some in US forces are overseeing the growth of local democracy:
"If [Ahmed Mutlok]Oda seems unnecessarily timid, consider that no one in Wynot has ever voted before. Oda has no predecessor, no way to know if he's doing it right.In addition to security and reconstruction work, there is also a significant humanitarian aspect to the troops' presence, as this example demonstrates: "Sand and concrete get mighty hot on little toes in the desert. And soldiers in B Company of the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion of the North Dakota National Guard, who see Iraqi children walking barefoot along their routes every day, wanted to make life a little better for some of them." They are, by handing out shoes and sandals to Iraqi kids.
"After Oda, another 145 voters came through, representing almost every household in this tiny village about 15 miles outside of Tikrit. The Wynot City Council elections of Sept. 13 came after months of work and planning by soldiers of Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.
"The strong turnout completed a turnaround in how Wynot residents view the U.S., according to the company commander, U.S. Army Capt. David Krzycki. 'This was probably the most anti-coalition town in sector when we first got here,' he said. 'Kids and adults were throwing rocks at us and calling us names. But we established a knock-and-talk program, where we'd go to six to eight houses per night. We'd ask people what they needed and what they thought of us. Eventually they realized we're here to make their way of life a little bit better'."
Elsewhere, the residents of Tal Afar have recently received $8,500 worth of medical supplies: "In an effort to help these people, Soldiers from the 416th Civil Affairs Battalion Public Health Team and the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) Surgeon purchased medical supplies such as blood transfusion sets, intravenous fluids, needles, gauze and bandages which will be used to treat the civilian casualties that have resulted from terrorist activities in the area. Multi-National Forces also gave an extra $5,000 to the Ministry of Health to purchase anesthesia, medication and other medical supplies for the residents of Tal Afar."
And read this story of Spc. Ed Martinez, of North Conway, New Hampshire: "He is one of the lowest ranking men in his unit, but one New Hampshire National Guardsman ranks high in the hearts of an Iraqi family." During his travels through southern Iraqi villages he noticed a 1-year old boy with club feet:
" 'I knew looking at this boy that it would be almost impossible for him to live any sort of normal life,' Martinez said. 'He would be condemned to a real minimal existence.' Martinez took a photo of Adjir Abdullah to the company surgeon. After working through a maze of red tape and going from one doctor to another, he and the surgeon found a pediatric orthopedist serving in the U.S. Army. 'We had to break a lot of rules,' Martinez said.SECURITY: While media attention remains focused on the so called "no go zones", where it is said that even the Coalition troops dare not venture, many of the past hot-spots seem to be becoming a lot safer and a lot less hot:
"Martinez then returned to the village to convince the boy's family to go ahead with surgery. 'They told us they don't trust Americans because we don't do what we say,' Martinez said.
"The boy's family eventually agreed to the surgery, and after a lengthy procedure to correct the Adjir's feet, his uncle confided in the soldiers and thanked them. 'He said, "Adjir would never have had a chance under the old regime. Now he has a chance,"' Martinez said. '"The old regime only cared about themselves".'"
"A billboard bearing Saddam Hussein's blasted-away face still welcomes motorists to the city once honored - now stigmatized - as his hometown. But these days Tikritis show little of the ex-dictator's storied defiance of the U.S. military.The residents of another former hot-spot, Najaf, are becoming more vocal:
"Tikrit was the epicenter of Iraq's Baath Party hierarchy and the al-Nassiri tribe that filled the party's upper ranks, making this city an important U.S. invasion target and a rebellious occupation conquest. But in the past few months, Tikrit has quietly slipped off the map of Iraq's trouble spots."
"Each day, hundreds of residents turn out to shout down rebel Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. They blame him for leaving Najaf in ruins and blame his henchmen for slaying as many as 300 people.And normalcy returns to another locality in Iraq:
" 'Muqtada is garbage and his people are all crooks,' demonstrators chanted Friday. That's an extraordinary slur for a man who is the son of an assassinated spiritual leader and merits the honorific, Sayyed, as a descendant of the prophet Muhammad.
"This kind of outburst was unthinkable three weeks ago, when al-Sadr and his armed followers ruled Najaf and its holy shrine and led a nationwide insurgency against the U.S. occupation. He flouted centuries-old tradition to defy the key spiritual leaders of Iraq's Shi'ite majority. He drove them into seclusion and their followers into fearful silence.
"Now, the besieged have turned the tables, raising questions about how deep and broad al-Sadr's support actually is. Al-Sadr posters and pictures tacked up around the city streets and neighborhood shops have been torn down. The police, whom al-Sadr's fighters drove from their Najaf and neighboring Kufa compounds last spring, have now packed their jail cells with the cleric's followers."
"A year and a half ago, Ari Askanda would have been risking death selling Western music and DVDs from his small shop on the main street of Biyara in Iraq's Kurdish zone. Now he even sells alcohol under the counter.Not any more. In Baghdad, meanwhile, the locals are taking security with each other: "More than ten al Thawra clan chiefs met today with a city council member at the Baghdad City Council headquarters to discuss an agreement to cease hostilities in eastern Baghdad. No American or Multi-National Forces representatives were in attendance."
"This remote mountain region near the Iranian border was a stronghold of Ansar al-Islam, a militant group linked to al Qaeda and Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born militant thought to be behind a wave of suicide attacks in Iraq."
The public support - and recruitment - for the police force remain at high levels, despite obvious dangers the job involves: "The applicants just keep coming for a job that may be the deadliest in Iraq, perhaps in the world. Since the war's end, 700 Iraqi police officers have died. This week alone, a car bombing outside Baghdad's central police station took 47 lives. It was followed hours later by an assault on a police van in a city north of Baghdad that left 11 policemen and their driver dead." But this seems to be having little impact on Iraqis:
"The motives of those willing to take Iraq's most dangerous jobs reflect not only a desire to feed their families, but a vision of a self-sufficient nation that doesn't rely on American troops for its security.The professionalisation of Iraqi police force continues. Read this story of British Brigadier Andrew Mackay who is providing the Iraqi Ministry of Interior with assistance to rebuild and modernize the force:
"In the battle for Iraq, insurgents are targeting the new police - attempting to undermine support for the interim Iraqi government cooperating with the US. But Iraqis generally hold their own security forces in high esteem. Even though these forces are rebuilding, opinion polls show higher respect for and confidence in the new Iraqi forces than in the US-led forces."
"Trainers were brought in to help the rebuilding of the Iraqi police force, specialists in every field. They started from scratch, identifying officers that could be trusted to command the new units, establishing structures, setting up police academies and even building the classrooms.And: "Under the old regime, a police officer could commit a rape or a murder and walk back into his old job on his release from prison, according to Colonel Muhannad Amin from the internal affairs department, who is tasked with investigating police officers. Now they will be out." Which surely ranks as an improvement.
"Seven months into the job, they are finally tackling the task that they hope will set them on course to a fully effective police force: getting rid of the dead wood. In a room on the tenth floor of the ministry of interior, men are clustered round lap-top computers and sophisticated fingerprint scanners...
"Each computer package cost $15,500 and they will have 400 of them, paid for out of a $13 million budget for this qualifying committee project alone. It is a drop in the ocean compared with the overall cost of the policing operation. Brigadier Mackay reckons he has spent $1.5 billion since he arrived, the largest police training mission ever undertaken."
The service - and the sacrifice - of Iraqi policemen is rewarded with generous benefits: the families of police officers who have died in the line of duty receive an one-off payment of 1 million dinars and continue to receive the equivalent of a policeman's salary until what would have been the deceased's 63rd birthday.
Iraq's neighbors are also helping rebuild the police force: "Bahrain and Iraq signed an agreement Wednesday for the Bahraini interior ministry to train Iraqi Civilian Defense recruits. The Gulf News Agency, GNA, said Bahrain would train 4,000 Iraqi civil defense members as part of efforts by the Bahraini and Iraqi governments to boost relations and serve mutual interests." And India, too, is offering to help retrain Iraqi police.
NATO members, meanwhile, have reached a compromise to expand the mission to train Iraqi security forces personnel. The number of NATO personnel engaged in training is set to increase from 50 currently on the ground in Iraq, to around 300.
The training and assistance seems to be bearing fruits on the ground. Some of the recent successes of Iraqi security forces include: the capture of four suspected senior al Qaeda operatives; freeing by the Iraqi police of seven hostages, including Turks, Iraqis and other Arabs; freeing by Iraqi security forces of another Jordanian hostage; the arrest of a kidnapping gang and interception on the road between Amara and Baghdad of a lorry-full of munitions and explosives; arrest of over 50 Afghans trying to infiltrate Iraq through Iran; and preventing a suicide bomb attack in western Baghdad. Iraq the Model blog also reports on some self-help by Iraqi passers-by who made a citizens arrest of six Syrian nationals responsible for a bomb explosion. Lastly, without any input from Iraqi security forces, a group of insurgents has accidentally blew themselves up while constructing an explosive device in the Wasit Province.
In another positive security development, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan has said that "Iran has reduced its interference in Iraq's domestic affairs and ended support of Shiite radical cleric Moqtada Sadr."
Lastly, in another "swords into ploughshares" moments, 50% of buildings in Al-Towaitha Nuclear site have recently been transformed to civilian use.
The reconstruction and normalisation of Iraq is a slow and gradual process. The pace of change is not helped by the fact that Iraq, like many other recently liberated societies around the world, is suffering from a Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder.
For the Westerners, it is a difficult condition to understand. We take so many things for granted - from comedians being able to joke about the President, to the assumption that the next government employee we encounter will not be expecting a bribe from us - that we are quite ill equipped to fully comprehend what life under a totalitarian system must really be like, much less what mental and spiritual legacy its victims have to labor under long after the statues of the Leader are pulled down.
Bad habits that people consciously or otherwise pick up to help them better fit in and survive under a dictatorship prove quite troublesome and counter-productive once the shackles finally fall off. Distrust of the authorities and fellow citizens, the hand-out mentality, lack of initiative and self-responsibility continue to linger among the Iraqi people. This - the damage done to individual psyche - and not just to the physical infrastructure and institutions of the country, is what we have to always keep in mind when assessing the progress of reconstruction and democratisation in places like Iraq. If things aren't moving ahead as fast as expected, if cooperation is lacking and trust hard to find, and if the population seems apathetic and disengaged, it's the fallen regime having its final chuckle from beyond the grave.
The task of reconstruction is not just about adding more megawatts to the power grid or renovating another school. Just as importantly - if not more so - it is about changing attitudes, habits and ways of thinking. In many ways liberating minds is a far more difficult task than rebuilding the physical infrastructure.
The obstacles are considerable, challenges huge, but day by day the Iraqi people, assisted by the Coalition and people of good will from around the world, are slowly forging ahead with the task of reconstructing their country - and more importantly - reconstructing themselves.