Monday, October 11, 2004

Good news from Iraq, Part 12 

Note: Also available fom the "Opinion Journal" and the Winds of Change. As always, thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their support for the cause, and thanks to all those who have sent in stories and to all those who are helping to spread the good news.

I struggled to find some good news.

The picture painted by the news stories was bleak: another suicide attack, a shoot-out with armed militants, soldiers dying in an ambush, a man accused of collaborating with the hated occupiers executed by parties unknown, property destruction causing resentment among the locals, hostile noises from the neighbors, another condemnation from international community, and at home political instability and accusations of corruption at the highest level. There was hardly anything about economy and enterprise, nothing about culture and civil society, barely a glimpse of any positive development or an indication that something, somewhere might be going right.

After about ten minutes I gave up trying to find some good news from Israel.

To me, nothing illustrates better the media's inbuilt preference for the negative aspects of life. Even if one were to remove every last ounce of political bias from the Middle East reporting, it is very likely that we would still end up with a never-ending litany of violence, mayhem, and disaster dominating our newspapers and news bulletins - not for any other reason than, as old newshounds like to say, "If it bleeds, it leads." Quite simply, to journalists and editors the world over, stories of terrorism, warfare, conflict, controversy and corruption seem not only more interesting and worthwhile, they also make for a far more spectacular and exciting footage. And so, if Israel, which - particularly by the regional standards - enjoys a thriving democracy, a growing economy and a healthy civil society only ends up in the news for all the wrong reasons, what chance is there for Iraq, which still has a considerable way to go before it catches up to the Israeli standards of security, prosperity and civility?

Here are some stories from the past two weeks that not unexpectedly got drowned out by military offensives, terrorist attacks, beheadings, and the increasingly shrill political debate about who lost Iraq, who can get it back and why should we bother anyway. To point out such good news stories is not to deny or downplay all the problems and challenges, but to provide an additional perspective on the events in Iraq. Despite all the frenzy, only time - and not today's newsmakers - will tell which stories will prove to be of more long-term consequence for the people of Iraq.

SOCIETY: Foreign pundits and politicians might be pessimistic, but the Iraqis are keen to
make their election happen:
"Plans for holding national elections are going ahead as usual and no part of the country will be excluded, the Electoral Commission said. Fareed Ayar, the commission's spokesman said, the January balloting will take place across the country. 'We have no plans to exclude a specific area. Elections will take place every where in Iraq,' he said...

"Ayar urged Iraqis not to pay attention to statements from Iraq or abroad about the balloting process and whether the elections will be comprehensive. He said the commission is independent even of the interim government of Ayad Allawi and its rulings will be binding to all parties.

"He urged officials with interest in Iraqi affairs, whether inside or outside the country 'to be careful when giving statements about the elections.' 'Interpretations which are not based on facts will be harmful to the electoral process,' he said.

"He denied reports that the commission was lagging behind regarding matters like lists of legible voters, voting centers and ballot boxes. He said the commission had already prepared ballot lists 'which have been drawn in accordance to international standards and with the assistance of UN experts.' He said in order to have free and fair elections the electoral lists are kept with the commission and will not be made available even to government officials."
Meanwhile, a group of Iraqis has been traveling overseas to witness - and learn from - the democratic progress in the world's largest Muslim country:

"With extremist bomb attacks, separatist struggles and religious tensions, Indonesia may not be a shining example for Iraq, but the Southeast Asian country now has something else to offer - democracy.

"A group of Iraqi political delegates has spent the past week touring Indonesia at landmark elections in the hope of learning how, even against overwhelming odds, peaceful elections can be a reality.

"In what would have been unthinkable until the end of three decades of dictator Suharto's rule in 1998, Indonesia on Monday staged its first direct presidential elections, a remarkable achievement in the vast archipelago."
In the words of one of the delegates, Akif Khalik Ibraheem of the Iraqi Independent Democrats: "The most important lesson here is not to be deterred by the complexity and difficulty of the task - it can be done... Anyone can see the amount of problems they have and they still get it through with an admirable degree of success, which reassures our hopes for the future."

Whatever final form the Iraqi elections will take, the
European Union has announced it will support the process: "The European Union will support preparations for elections in Iraq even if violence keeps the vote from taking place throughout that country, a spokeswoman said today. Emma Udwin told reporters the EU was spending $36 million in election preparations. The money is being used for everything from training electoral officers to providing voter information for the elections scheduled for January 2005. 'We will support (elections) with money and we will support it with expertise,' Udwin said. 'There is a strong will to see elections take place'."

And the US State Department has launched a
$10 million project to help more Iraqi women become involved in politics: "Several academic and non-governmental organizations will execute projects designed to train potential women candidates about competing in the elections and to encourage women to exercise their right to vote. The grants will also support the establishment of women's networking and counseling centers."

In line with the changing face of Iraq, the Minister for Culture, Mufeed al- Jazairi, has announced a competition for a
new national anthem and flag. According to the Minister, "the new national anthem is ought to be symbolizing the reconstruction of Iraq in harmony with values of faithfulness, patriotism and pluralism. The ministry has allocated 12 millions Iraqi dinars as a prize for the winning text, distributed equally between the poet , the tune-setter and the performer. As regards the contest of the new Iraqi flag, it is ought to symbolize Iraq's integration in all its nationalities, ethnics and cultures as well as representing the civilization of Mesopotamia."

And in a positive development for the rule of law, the Iraqi Cabinet has recently adopted a series of recommendations, including the establishment of a
Constitutional Court to scrutinize domestic legislation in light of the country's highest law.

In media news, Iraqis it seems are becoming a nation of
avid TV viewers, with ever evolving tastes:

"Newly launched Iraqi channels with a focus on domestic affairs now seize more than 20% of the television viewing in Iraq, according to a survey. The survey, by Baghdad University's Centre for Psychological Studies, also reveals that Iraqi TV viewers are no longer as enchanted by major Arab satellite news channels.

"While 64.4% still watch Arabic (non-Iraqi) channels, the viewers have switched away from major television news outlets such as Aljazeera and Alarabiya. Foreign channels broadcasting in Arabic have seen their television market share in Iraq drop to about 13%, the study says. The findings are a blow to the Qatar-based Aljazeera and the UAE-based Alarabiya whose viewing has slumped to 15.1% and 7% respectively, according to the study. On the other hand, the Egyptian satellite channel where entertainment dominates programming attracts the largest number of Iraqi television viewers...

"[Those polled] were also given a list containing nine major Iraqi channels beamed via satellite across the country. More than half of them (53.1%) said they preferred al-Shariqiya, a newly launched 24-hour channel concentrating mostly on Iraqi affairs and domestic series and soap operas. The survey... also finds that 34.2% of viewers watch al-Iraqiya, another satellite channel with an interest on domestic affairs. The US-sponsored al-Hurrah is only watched by 2.7% of viewers, the study shows."
Less rabid incitement from Al Jazeera and the like might go some way towards creating a calmer Iraqi polity.

cartoonists are also enjoying their new-found freedom of speech. "Iraqi cartoonist Muayed Naima had to wait 35 years before he could draw what was on his mind. But since Saddam Hussein was toppled, he has faced new pressure from Islamist militants who have threatened him because his work mocks their violence. He is not put off. 'Oppression is our past. This is about democracy,' Naima said. 'I must continue'." (see one of Naima's cartoons here.) The freedom of expression, of course, also involves freedom to criticize American actions - but what has once been compulsory under Saddam is now only one of the creative options. "Without political understanding, there is no democracy... We have accumulated political naivete because 35 years of dictatorship is enough to forget everything... Satire gives a type of education to the citizen and raises their ability to understand political changes. It's essential," says another Iraqi cartoonist.

In education news,
old school textbooks from the Saddam era will no longer be used throughout Iraqi education system. The Ministry of Education is currently printing 80 million copies of 600 new titles to be used in schools. The World Health Organisation, meanwhile, has allocated $41 million for school nutrition and early childhood care programs that will cover 1.7 million primary school students.

new academic year has finally started in Iraq, after delays prompted by security concerns. According to the Education Minister Sami al-Mudhaffar, some 80 percent of Iraq's several millions of students turned up for the first day of class. One report notes:

"Most students said they were excited to finally get back to school, just so they could be with their friends. And, this year, students will find a broader curriculum of courses, while teachers will have new textbooks to hand out, new lesson plans and new teacher manuals. During the summer, teachers took refresher courses in how to teach and how to behave toward children. According to Ministry of Education officials, it is all part of an effort to reverse the damage caused by the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, who was said to be more interested in the loyalty of teachers than in their ability to teach."
In higher education news, cooperation between Iraqi and overseas universities continues to expand. In one instance, "[a]cademics from Iraq's most respected higher education institution, Baghdad University, will study at the University of Technology, Sydney as part of a new relationship between the universities. Three senior Iraqi academics arrived in Sydney last week to sign a memorandum of understanding which will see UTS and the University of Baghdad collaborate on research projects and set up student and research exchange programs. The idea for the link came from Ban Al-Ani, an Iraqi-born academic at UTS. Formerly a student at UB, Dr Al-Ani, now an IT lecturer at UTS, wanted to offer some assistance to the Iraqi university after it was partly destroyed in the war. 'I was looking for something to do to help Iraq,' Dr Al-Ani said. 'Because I am an academic, the only way I thought I could really help was through academe'."

In an effort to help rebuild Iraq's civil society, British trade unions have moved on from their opposition to war and decided to help their Iraqi colleagues build a free and democratic society. You can find about their initiatives

In sports news,
Iraqi youth soccer team was on the roll in the AFC Youth Championship 2004, with a 3-0 victory over reigning champions South Korea. This was followed by a 2:0 victory over Thailand. Unfortunately, another Iraqi football dream run was ended at the hands (or feet) of Syria, with a 1:0 defeat. This time around, at least, team members will not face torture for their failure to bring home the trophy.

ECONOMY: Iraqi Central Bank is planning to
free up Iraqi dinar to enable overseas transfer and international trade in the currency. Banking professionals, meanwhile, continue to benefit from an training program to bring them up to speed on the latest and the best industry practices: "The Private Enterprise Partnership for the Middle East (PEP-ME), a technical assistance program created, funded and managed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), launched a five-month bank training program recently in Amman, Jordan, for managers of largely private Iraqi banks. Approximately 200 participants are expected to attend the training program, which will run in a series of five workshops... IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, has identified bank training as a key priority for private sector development in Iraq: the financial sector's access to state-of-the-art practices has been highly constrained by years of rigidly statist economic management, successive wars and international economic sanctions."

Enthusiasm continues at the reopened
Baghdad Stock Exchange: "If volume of trade at the Baghdad Stock Exchange is a measure, then many Iraqis will still have confidence in a bright future. Ignoring car bomb attacks and roadside bombs, traders flock to Baghdad Stock Exchange twice a week for trade which this week saw a new pharmaceutical company sprout up. In the four-hour trading session more than 400 million shares were traded in the bourse which had remained closed for almost a year after the fall of Baghdad to US troops. Baghdad traders say volume is almost equal to pre-war levels when more than 100 companies were listed."

The employees of the stock exchange are also receiving some
valuable lessons from the more experienced hands: "Twenty-three Iraqi Stock Exchange officials are taking part in a four-day Stock Market Simulation programme at the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance (BIBF), Juffair. The event is being held in co-operation with the Bahrain Monetary Agency and the Bahrain Stock Exchange. It aims to create a broader understanding of the financial services industry by teaching various technical aspects of trading, orders and procedures of the markets. It also aims to create an understanding of portfolio strategy, asset allocation, stock selection process and portfolio performance evaluation. This is the third group from Iraq to attend one of the BIBF's programmes. The earlier groups were from the Central Bank of Iraq and the Trade Bank of Iraq." More on the program here.

Baghdad's scenic riverside is expected to receive a major development boost:

"A number of [United Arab Emirates]-based investors are taking part in a new residential and commercial project, the Baghdad Renaissance Plan, which is expected to be tendered following elections in January...

"Backed by the US Department of Commerce, the Baghdad Renaissance Plan is expected to transform the land next to the Tigris River in central Baghdad into an up-market commercial and residential neighbourhood... [T]he project could take 20 years to complete but, when it is, 500,000 people are expected to occupy its buildings.

"An industry official said that the Baghdad Renaissance Plan will contain commerce, banking, medical, housing, broadcast and IT, exhibition, conventions and cultural centres."
In manufacturing, faced with the construction boom and the resulting shortages of building materials, the authorities are encouraging setting up of private cement factories. The Ministry of Industry and Minerals has already conducted feasibility studies to find the best sites for future factories, taking into account such factors such as electricity supply and transportation facilities. The authorities are also considering a series of measures to encourage the growth of the private sector generally, such as low-interest start-up loans and tax breaks.

In trade news, the
Iraqi and Jordanian governments took an important step in their relations, signing a new trade cooperation agreement to supersede the previous one dating back to 1980. "Noting that the Iraqi private sector had been in the shadow for the last 40 years as the Trade Ministry controlled all trade, [Iraqi Trade Minister] Jabouri added: 'Our economy should be transferred into a market economy and we are ready to work with the Jordanian private sector on joint projects.' For the first time, the meetings included representatives of both sides' private sectors who are expected to discuss possibilities of strengthening trade and starting joint-ventures...

"According to sources at the ministry, both sides are seeking to build a fresh legal platform for the new relations, and are discussing the possibility of signing a Free-Trade Agreement.

"The ministry's Secretary General Farouq Hadidi said Thursday that both countries are expected to sign soon three agreements to protect investments, cooperate on customs, and on dual-taxation, as a base for future agreements.

"He indicated that Jordan is ready to provide its expertise for Iraq's rebuilding, noting that the pharmaceuticals sector is currently studying the best means to boost exports to Iraq to cover Iraqi medical needs. According to Hadidi, further cooperation in the agricultural, health, education and cultural sectors will also be included in the discussions."
The agreement has been finalized on September 25.

Commerce with
another regional neighbor is also on the rise: "Trade between the [United Arab Emirates] and Iraq could reach the Dh3 billion [$820 million] mark by the end of the current year, according to a top Dubai government official. General cargo exported through the Dubai Ports Authority (DPA) to Iraq rose to 408,600 metric tonnes last year, up from 343,900 tonnes in 2002. The full year forecast for this year stands at 611,600 metric tonnes." According to Abdul Rahman Ghanim Al Mutaiwee, director general of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, "[t]he number of Iraqi-owned companies positioned in the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZ) have gone up to 350 this year, compared to 41 last year, reflecting the interest of the Iraqi businessmen in investing in Dubai."

oil news, "Iraq is drawing up plans to involve the private sector and foreign oil majors in its state-run oil industry in order to generate funds for rehabilitation and expansion in the sector estimated at 50 billion dollars over 10 years, an Iraqi oil expert said.

"The government alone cannot come up with enough money to restore the oil industry, 'the power house of the Iraqi economy,' which has been left run down by successive wars and years of UN economic sanctions, Sabah Jumah, a former oil ministry director-general, told a conference on the Iraqi oil sector here."
While a revived state-owned Iraq National Oil Company would maintain the ownership of existing assets, it is foreseen that the private sector would play major role in "new activity, exploration, development of undeveloped fields, major refinery refurbishment, new refinery construction and petrochemicals ... Joint ventures between International Oil Companies (IOCs) and Iraqi private sector companies will be encouraged."

Iraqi authorities are also currently conducting talks with an Irish company
Petrel to refurbish and develop oil installations around Kirkuk and Tikrit.

In other
energy news, "Egypt's Oil Minister Sameh Fahmi says Iraq will become the fifth country in the region to join a natural gas network stretching from Egypt and expected to reach Europe. In remarks carried by Egypt's Middle East News Agency, Fahmi said he and oil ministers from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria agreed to an Iraqi request to join the grid. The ministers didn't say how Iraq will fit in the grid plan, but Syria's oil minister, Ibrahim Haddad, said his country's pipeline will feed the Iraqi one."

As the final step in renovation of the
Basra Airport, "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 labourers that will staff the airport and thousands of travellers." With that work completed, the airport is preparing to open for business: "Airport is to be opened for international navigation and planes for transporting commodities in limited numbers by the end January 2005... [T]he flights of the passengers will start by the end March 2005... [and] the airport will make flights available round the day and in all meteorological circumstances by end July 2005."

Iraqi Airways, after their re-debut recently, are looking to expand. Its previous incarnation was operating in a vastly different commercial climate, where government-owned airlines could rely on endless subsidies to stay in the air. Now, the challenges for the revived airline are even greater: "We are looking at this as a business... We don't want to subsidize anything. We would like to operate just like any normal private operator. We would like to make a profit," says Atta Nabeil, Iraq's interim deputy minister of transportation.

Iraqi railways are also undergoing modernization, with the installation of a new wireless communication system linking trains, stations and rail offices. Most of the equipments involved in the project was provided by a Turkish company MEFAX.

The economic revival is slowly trickling down through Iraqi society. As
Father Nizar, a Catholic priest working in Iraq reports, "Not all is bombs and violence":

"The work of rebuilding homes, schools, and roads continues but there is not much other work around except state jobs where there has been some improvement. Under Saddam, state workers were paid 3,000 dinars, or 2 US dollars, which was enough to buy 2 kilos of meat. Today state salaries range from 250,000 to 500,000 dinars, which suffices to keep a family... These higher salaries have boosted the local economy because many state workers can afford to have work done on their homes and buy home appliances something they had not done for at least 15 years.

"Children and students are getting ready to start a new school year despite fears of terrorist attacks on schools. In my town this is a time of weddings and we have as many as six every day. This week we celebrated 25. This year we have 200 new families.

"Food supplies are not a problem: the markets sell everything, even fruit rarely seen before such as bananas. Food prices are acceptable and accessible to all...

"Eighteen months after the fall of the regime, people now realize that a change was necessary. I have spoken with many people of all ages and not one of them said they would like to return to the past."
RECONSTRUCTION: Iraq has recently settled a $81 million debt owed the International Monetary Fund, thus opening the way for the Fund's assistance. The Fund has now approved $436 million in an emergency loan to Iraq, the first even in the IMF's history, hoping that "its backing would generate additional international economic support, including debt relief." Switzerland has recently released back $9 million belonging to the former regime and previously held in Swiss bank accounts. The money will be used for reconstruction purposes.

Reconstruction effort is speeding up with
the Iraqis themselves providing direction and resources:

"The cabinet ministers have allocated two billions dollars or equivalent to 300 billions Iraqi dinars for the reconstruction projects in four Iraqi cities. Dr. Abdul Ukhuwwa al- Timimi the economic committee advisor at the cabinet indicated to the four cities namely Tikrit, Kirkuk, Diyala and Suleimaniya, saying that the priority was given to Diyala. About $720 millions were allocated for the security and economic projects and the remaining sum was distributed on three other cities. Al- Timimi clarified that these prepared projects include repairing water, sewerage and electricity systems."
Among the next round of projects financed from the American, Iraqi, and non-government sources, "[m]ore than $900 million [will go towards] assisting in the construction of more hospitals, schools and government buildings throughout Iraq. The figure represents the building or renovating of 150 primary healthcare centers, 19 hospitals including a children's hospital in Basrah and 1,200 schools including 16 new contemporary, secondary schools and five major Iraqi Ministry buildings. Work is slated to begin October 17 on the primary healthcare centers, and more than 30 will be under construction by November 14. Another 30 are forecasted to start by December 12, and each is expected to take nearly nine months to complete."

Najaf, in particular, major progress has been made, with a $150 million project to reconstruct the Najaf Training Hospital recently completed, and four additional health centres being constructed over the next six months at the cost of $389 million. Meanwhile, the damage that Imam Ali's shrine sustained in recent fighting has now been completely repaired.

Najaf also provides a good example of the new
Accelerated Iraq Reconstruction Program (AIRP) in action. The AIRP projects, managed by the Projects and Contracting Office (PCO), are typically smaller community-level initiatives which tend to be finalized faster. There are 18 such projects currently underway in Najaf, totaling $5.7 million. They include: "governate buildings; five pedestrian bridges; rehabilitation and relocation for local garages and markets; four new public health centers; infrastructure upgrades for the electrical grid; and various sewer, water and drain projects." The latest one involves the provision of three garbage trucks worth $434,000 to be used to remove refuse from the vicinity of the Imam Ali Shrine. More on Najaf reconstruction here.

Another locality that has recently seen some fighting,
Samarra, is also getting reconstruction funds, to the tune of $50 million.

There's also a lot of activity in
Nasiriya: "There has been a flurry of construction in the southern city of Nasiriya in the past few months, according to municipal officials. The officials say their city has been relatively quiet in comparison to other restive areas in the country which have recently seen an upsurge in violence.

"Head of Nasiriya Municipalities Muhsen Haddab said projects worth 3.7 billion dinars are currently under construction and many more will be started soon. The interim government has allocated more than 11.8 billion dinars to upgrade municipal services in the city, one of the most impoverished in the country."
According to officials in Nasiriya, 6,000 new job opportunities have been recently created, with more to come. Italy, whose troops are based in the town, has also been providing funds for reconstruction, most recently "$15 million to revive part of the Nasiriya marshes which once covered an area of 3,500 square kilometers." More on the Italian donation here.

Baghdad, the municipal authorities have signed a contract worth $260 million with a number of Western, Arab and local companies for the reconstruction of water, sewerage, electricity and other city services.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labor and Municipalities has recently allocated
170 billions dinars ($116 million) from the World Bank to implement 14 infrastructure projects around Iraq. The initiatives funded include "seven rehabilitation water projects besides constructing new institutes in the cities and projects for water purification in the rural region as well as four projects for the structural promotion include paving the road sides and road isles as well as rehabilitating the folkloric markets."

Al Rashid water treatment plant which services 250,000 residents in the Zaphernia district of Baghdad is currently undergoing renovations. "The need for the renovations was identified through the 8th Engineer Battalion's work with local Iraqi leadership. Baghdad-based engineers worked with the plant's director to complete an initial survey for the project's scope and cost." The plant is 50 years old and has suffered in the recent looting. Speaking of water infrastructure, the Ministry of Municipalities and Labor has allocated over 2 trillions Iraqi dinars ($1.4 billion) for 16 major water projects around the country.

Not just the Zaphernia district, but the rest of Baghdad will also enjoy
cleaner water:

"Until this summer, most of Baghdad's wastewater was being dumped directly into the Tigris River, the main water supply for the capital's 4.7 million people. 'We have killed the Tigris,' says Ali Labeeb, an official with Baghdad's public works department. And the Tigris has been killing Baghdadis. At least five died from water-borne illness over the summer. Now, after 12 years without sewage treatment, the capital's plants will be soon be in operation - a big step toward addressing health problems caused by contaminated water."
As the report concludes: "Sanitation is improving in the capital. Iraq's Health Ministry and UNICEF officials have distributed water-purification tablets and health-education literature. Only a few cases of hepatitis E have been reported since, Abid says. One of Baghdad's sewage treatment plants began operating in June. Another, scheduled for completion Oct. 15, will restart in February, the U.S. Agency for International Development says. Once all the plants are working next year, 80% of Baghdad's wastewater will be treated."

Iraq's interim President Ghazi Yawer has "launched a
plan to rebuild Basra, the country's second largest city. Basra, home to nearly 1.5 million people, is among the most impoverished in Iraq as it bore the brunt of the three major wars in the past three decades. Yawer said he would set up a 'South Reconstruction Commission' that will shoulder the reconstruction of the southern city." Reconstruction also continues in many small ways in more remote parts of Iraq, for example construction of 6 bridges, 6 roads & 2200 residential units in Al-Muthanna.

In electricity news, positive and overdue effort is underway to involve the
private sector in the industry: "Iraq has approved plans to partially privatize its state-controlled power sector, according to Electricity Minister Ayham Samaraai. 'The private sector is (currently) involved in the construction three giant power plants,' the minister said. It is the first time the country allows private entrepreneurs to set up electricity generating stations. The minister said one such plant was being built in the autonomous region of Kurdistan with a capacity of 600 megawatts. A private firm will soon begin collecting electricity bills in at least three Iraqi provinces, he said."

Iran, meanwhile, became the first of Iraq's six neighbors to
connect to Iraq's power grid and start supplying energy into Iraqi market. "Iran has extended a 60-kilometer long power line from its major Serbeel power station to the Iraqi power generating plant at Himrin in the north. It took the Iranians four months to construct the pylons, towers and lines necessary for the project. The linkup with Iranian national grid is good news for the border province of Diyala which has been suffering from chronic power outages. The project is supposed to make available an additional 1,000 megawatts to the national grid, according to Ibrahim, the director-general." As the story concludes:

"The electricity imports from Iran are expected to boost total national power output in the country whose current needs are estimated at more than 7,500 megawatts. The ministry says it has boosted the national grid nearly to 5,000 megawatts recently. Maximum the rickety national grid could produce when former leader Saddam Hussein was in power were 3,703 megawatts. Despite the substantial addition, it is estimated that the country still runs a deficit of more than 2,500 megawatts."
Hence the importance not just of rehabilitating the domestic grid but also increased energy cooperation with neighbors. Syria is another one of Iraq's neighbors that the authorities are looking towards renewing energy cooperation with.

Japan has commenced a second round of the training course for Iraqi electricity professionals, to pass on the latest expertise on operation and maintaining power grids. And lastly, $33 million has been committed by the authorities over the next three years towards better security for the country's electricity system.

More funds were also recently committed to an area much neglected in a country still experiencing considerable population growth: the Ministry of Municipality and General Works has allocated 7.5 billion Iraqi dinars ($510 million) for
town planning throughout Iraq.

As part of developing human infrastructure, 4,000 Iraqi Civil Defence employees are heading to Bahrain for
fire-fighting training. And in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, "[m]ore than $80,000 of firefighter personal protective equipment was delivered on Monday to Iraq's Tikrit Fire Department. Task Force 1-18 provided the fire department with the fire turn-out gear and safety equipment after Capt. Aaron Coombs, commander of C/1-18 recognized that the Tikrit Fire Department lacked the personal equipment to safely and efficiently perform firefighting duties. Task Force Vanguard turned to the Commanders Emergency Relief Program for help."

In a move that will assist Iraqi agricultural infrastructure, the Egyptian government has offered its help and expertise to upgrade Iraq's aging
irrigation system. Meanwhile, in Amman, Jordan, international experts and donors have met recently to map out the action to revive Iraq's southern marshlands. The marshlands have, under Saddam's watch, shrunk from 22,000 to just one thousand square kilometres, partly as a result of deliberate strategy to punish rebellious Marsh Arabs. The Japanese government is now providing $11 million towards the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) project to revive this ecological wonder of the Middle East. "Restoring the marshlands will not be done in one day. It will be a long-term project. It will create employment in the southern part of Iraq and of course, it may [contribute to the] return of the people who used to live there," said the Japanese Environment Minister Yuriko Koike at the meeting in Amman.

Major La Varney of the 1st Cavalry Division reports on progress in Baghdad: "I think we're already seeing a turning point in most of the communities, despite what may be prevalent in the news... The markets are full of people shopping, driving. The open-air markets are completely full, the streets are packed with people driving up and down selling all kinds of stuff. Kids are back at school. Soccer fields are being used that used to be trash heaps." Major Varney is a member of the Governorate Support Team, working with top advisers to Baghdad Mayor Alaa Mahmood al-Tamimi on coordination of infrastructure projects. He's got plenty of good news to report, from restoration of services, to training fire and emergency services and breathing new life into some of Baghdad's old landmarks.

Elsewhere in
the capital, the American soldiers are working towards a cleaner environment: "As a part of the effort to improve the quality of life in the Al Mansour district, the Soldiers of the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion attached to the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team presented 10 garbage trucks to the local community last week. Local contractor purchased the trucks for $5,500 each. Ten more trucks will be delivered to the communities in the Abu Ghraib and Kadhamiyah in the near future."

Not all of the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion's work is
as serious: "Troops... visited children in a local community recently to drop off new soccer balls. Thirty Iraqi children were outfitted with brand new soccer equipment, donated by a group of 50 residents in the Tulsa, Okla., area. Holly Nester, an employee of WilTel Communications, organized a fund drive to purchase the equipment for the kids. She gathered more than $1,500 in donations to purchase soccer balls, socks, shin guards, cleats and water bottles, and to cover shipping costs for the equipment. Nester was born in Kuwait and was raised in Iran until the late 1970s. She approached Sgt. Richard Porter, 425th battalion sergeant, and an employee of WilTel at their Los Angles office, with the idea of donating soccer equipment to Iraqi children."

The troops are also
helping Iraqi farmers:

"Multi-National Forces are currently planting seeds for the future of agriculture in the Ninevah Province. In cooperation with the universities of Texas A&M, Colorado State, Kansas State and the World Wide Wheat Company, Multi-National Forces will distribute more than 1,000 pounds of wheat seeds to Iraqi farmers by October.

"The Ninevah Province is considered to be the wheat belt of Iraq, producing 50 percent of the country's wheat. Over the past 10 years, this region has not been able to keep up with Iraq's wheat demand. During the Saddam Hussein regime, farmers were expected to continuously produce wheat, never leaving their fields fallow. This tactic degraded the soil, leaving few nutrients for the next year's crop, increasing the chances for crop disease and fungus, and eventually resulting in fewer yields.

"To help this area's wheat yields meet demands, leaders from the World Wide Wheat Company in Arizona began meeting with agriculturalists from Texas A&M, KSU and CSU to determine what wheat species would best survive Iraq's arid climate. They chose several winter wheat variants from Arizona because the state's climate is very similar to Iraq. Once the seeds arrive in Iraq, Multi-National Forces will give them to the Ninevah Directorate of Agriculture, who will distribute them to area farmers. Lt. Col. John Maxwell, food and agriculture team leader for the 416th Civil Affairs Battalion, said the Iraqis will plant the seed variants in test plots to see which species show the most potential."
Elsewhere, "[s]oldiers from the 345th Tactical Psychological Operations Detachment, Dallas, Texas, and 425th Civil Affairs Battalion, Santa Barbara, Calif., of the 2nd Brigade Combat team, 10th Mountain Division, recently worked with Iraqi veterinarians to provide vaccinations and other shots for Iraqi livestock. The shots will provide healthier livestock for farmers. The shots provide protection against diseases such as foot and mouth disease, parasites and other diseases--diseases that are a major problem in Iraq, said Maj. Sam Barringer, 425th CA veterinarian."

Other Coalition troops are also contributing to the reconstruction effort: "Over 1,400 Iraqi children will benefit as two primary schools located near Al Hillah in the Babil Province have been rebuilt and renovated. Both projects were managed by the Polish Civil Military Cooperation from Camp Babylon. Upgrades at the Aden School in the village of Oufy cost more than $72,000 and include plastering the walls, repairing the stairs, building additional facilities and providing school items.

"The Ar Rusafi School in the village of Abu Gharaq is being completely rebuilt. There has been no school reconstruction since 1978, and it was almost completely destroyed from years of neglect. The total cost of the project is estimated at $53,500. Both of these works were conducted by local contractors from Al Hillah that employed more than 130 Iraqis."
Other schools benefit, too: "Anaconda-based Soldiers are helping local Iraqi children start the school year with new schools and school supplies during October. Soldiers from the 29th Signal Battalion kicked off the new school year Oct. 2 by distributing school supplies to 130 children in Al bu Hassan. The first day of classes at the battalion sponsored $78,000 new school was made extra special by the visiting Soldiers' donations. Continuing the supply donations for the month of October, the 226th Medical Logistics Battalion delivered school supplies and sports equipment to 120 students at Al Hydria School Oct. 4. Under Operation Anaconda Neighborhood, Soldiers from LSA Anaconda will distribute school supplies to more than 3,800 students at 10 local schools during the month of October."

Japanese Self-Defence Forces, in conjunction with the official Japanese aid agency, will be repairing a sports stadium in Samawah, where the Japanese troops are based. "The 40 million yen [$0.35 million] project is expected to generate a large number of jobs for local people in the southern Iraqi city during the about four months it lasts."

Coalition troops are also
compensating Iraqis for loss and damage suffered during fighting:

"Marines from the 11th MEU dispatched a mobile payment team to neighborhoods in Najaf for 10 hours yesterday, making $176,180 worth of 'on the spot' solatia and collateral damage payments to Iraqis caught in the crossfire when multinational and Iraqi security forces battled Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia in August.

"The mobile team, which visited neighborhoods throughout the city for a second time this week, was created to expedite payments and ensure all Najafis have the opportunity to get paid for legitimate damage... Since [September 20], more than $570,000 has been paid to 533 Najafis. Payments will continue as long as needed to meet each valid case. Condolence payments, or solatia, are given to express sympathy for injury or death. Collateral damage repair payments are intended to cover damage to homes, businesses or other property."
DIPLOMACY AND SECURITY: In a helpful sign that sometime in the future their relations might become normal, the first official contact between Iraq and Israel took place at the United Nations, when the Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi shook hands and chatted with Israeli ambassador Silvan Shalom. The alphabetic seating arrangement at the UN facilitated the contact. "According to [the ambassador's] spokesman, Shalom and Allawi spoke for a few minutes and exchanged wishes for a day when it would be possible to establish diplomatic ties."

Back home, following the transfer of sovereignty in late June, Iraq has also now regained the control over its
territorial waters, "with the U.S.-led coalition handing over responsibility for safeguarding adjacent seas to the country's navy. The handover was celebrated with the raising of the Iraqi flag at a naval base in the southern Persian Gulf port of Umm Qasar. U.S., British and Iraqi officers attended the ceremony."

To provide coastal security,
Iraq's Port Authority has formed its very own protection formation, Rapid Intervention Force. "The force is based at Umm Qasr, the country's main port which currently handles about 50 percent of external trade." In addition, the Iraqi Coastal Defence Force (ICDF), has also been recently constituted. The ICDF is 412-strong and has been trained by British, Australian, US and Dutch troops. As the Commander of the Australian Defence Force contingent in the Middle East, Brigadier Peter Hutchinson said: "The efforts of the Australian training team have been outstanding and the fact that the new ICDF can now take full responsibility for protecting its territorial waterways is due in no small part to the work of this training team... This small group of sailors was responsible for the development of an effective training program which included seamanship, engineering drills, damage control, fire-fighting and search and rescue." The ICDF commenced its operations on October 1, patrolling Khor Abdallah and Umm Qasr port.

Iraq's land borders present significantly greater security challenge. To meet the security needs, the first class of cadets from the Department of Border Enforcement has
graduated from its training course in late September:

"Instructors from Jordan and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security trained 451 Iraqi students in a variety of classes: Border Police Classes 1 and 2 - a basic training course for border guards; the Border Police Supervisors Class; the Customs Police Class; the Customs Supervisors Class; Immigration Classes 1 and 2; and General Instructors Classes 1 and 2.

"The students who went through the four-week course varied in age and ethnicity, representing many tribes and regions across Iraq. The class was composed of near-equal percentages of Shiia and Sunni Arabs, and smaller percentages of Kurds. Also, there was one Christian student and a few from other ethno-religious backgrounds. About 50 percent of the cadets had military experience, 46 percent had prior academy experience, and 74 percent had prior police experience...

"[U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq] said much effort has gone into determining where to set up the DBE posts. 'In partnership with your leadership, we have gone from province to province, determining where each of the over 300 border forts needs to be located. Some 41 are complete, and over 75 are under construction,' he said. The goal is to have more than 180 border forts completed by the end of the year, and Petraeus said the rebuilding of infrastructure would continue, but that was not the only thing that needs to be done for the DBE to succeed."
More on border forts here. The border security forces are also getting better equipped: "The Iraqi Border Patrol (IBP) battalion received 40 Jeep Liberties and 1,500 body armor vests last week, equipment that will further their ability to ensure the safety and security of Iraq as its citizens prepare for elections in January... The body armor vests were purchased by Task Force Olympia with funds from the Commander's Emergency Response Program at a cost of $832,500. The vehicles were purchased in Baghdad by Multi-National Security and Transition Command, Iraq."

Meanwhile, a new element was recently added to the Iraqi security forces mix, when the training commencing at the An Numaniyah, south of Baghdad, of 1,500 recruits for the first three battalions of the Iraqi Police Service's
Public Order Battalions (POB), one of two branches in the new Civil Intervention Force (CIF). In time, nine battalions of 400 men each are envisaged. Their task will be to deal with large scale public disturbances as well as insurgency.

Assistance for the Iraqi security forces continues to arrive in both small and big ways. The
Irbil Police Department, for example, will be able to more effectively deploy its officers after receiving $90,000 worth of motorcycles from the Multinational Forces. Germany, meanwhile, will supply Iraq's army with 20 armored Fuchs vehicles and 100 light military trucks. And NATO has agreed to set up a permanent military academy in Iraq.

On the ground, a
community policing program is bringing US personnel and Iraqi policemen together: "[Capt. Guillermo] Rosales, a Marine reservist who lives in Chicago and works for Motorola Corp., leads 43 Marines in the Combined Action Platoon, charged with bringing community policing to hostile pockets of Iraq. CAP Marines are in charge of befriending and sometimes living with residents to try to earn their trust, cultivate intelligence sources and help local militias fight the enemy. Known as 'the Peace Corps with guns,' the CAP program--created during the Vietnam War--was touted as one of the more successful counterinsurgency efforts in that conflict. In Vietnam the Marines lived in villages. In Iraq they mingle with the U.S.-trained Iraqi National Guard." The experience from back home comes in handy:

"Rosales has seen it before: tough guys using threats and terror to cower neighborhoods. To Rosales, the tactics used by Islamic insurgents in this southern suburb of Baghdad are strangely reminiscent of those used by gang members in Pilsen, his old Chicago neighborhood. There, he said, they used drive-bys and 9 mm handguns. Here they use car bombs and assault rifles."
The new Iraqi armed forces are increasingly proving their worth on the battlefield: "Bloodied by weeks of suicide bombings and assassinations, Iraqi security forces emerged Sunday to patrol Samarra after a morale-boosting victory in this Sunni Triangle city, and U.S. commanders praised their performance. American and Iraqi commanders have declared the operation in Samarra, 100 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, a successful first step in a major push to wrest key areas of Iraq from insurgents before January elections." More in this report:

"Iraqi special forces commander Fadel Jameel's men charged toward Samarra's sacred golden-domed mosque dodging bullets in an operation that he said showcased the Iraqi military's readiness to take on rebel enclaves in the countdown to January elections...

"His unit -- the 36th special forces commando battalion -- had just poured out of pick-up trucks Friday into enemy fire and reclaimed the Imam al-Hadi mausoleum, revered by Shiite Muslims around the world. There they captured more than 30 men as part of the largest joint US-Iraqi military offensive since the 2003 invasion. Saturday, Jameel's men recaptured the city's hospital which they said had been abandoned by Sunni Arab insurgents overnight.

"Jameel and his men swaggered. It was a sharp contrast from the last major offensive on a rebel-held city, Fallujah last April, when the 36th battalion, demoralised and angry, pulled out after a week. 'People have distinguished between right and wrong. They are committed... Before people were confused,' said Jameel."
Among the successes of the Samarra campaign, the Iraqi forces have captured 48 foreign fighters, included 18 Egyptians, 18 Sudanese and one Tunisian national. They were among more than hundred insurgents taken prisoner during the operation.

There are also signs of increasing willingness on the part of local leaders to try to solve security problems in cooperation with the central authorities.
Iraq the Model blog translates the reports from Iraq's Arabic-language press:
"Four tribes' chiefs promised to declare a threat to the militants in Fallujah that they should turn themselves to the authorities peacefully or the tribes will fight them. At the same time many citizens in Fallujah stated that they are willing to participate in the upcoming elections...

"Rafidain.net reported governmental sources saying that four tribes in Baghdad, Ramadi, Tikrit have promised to destroy the terrorism foci in the city of Fallujah after knowing that the American troops are preparing a major assault in the next couple of weeks.

"Same sources confirmed that a meeting was held between the chiefs of Al Hamamda tribe in Ramadi, Al Juboor in Tikrit, Al Gareer in Yousufyia and a branch from Al Janabyeen in Latifyiah to discuss situations in Fallujah, the flow of terrorists from outside Iraq into the city and the role of clerics in provoking violence and justifying murder and kidnap in the name of Islam. The chiefs showed determination to end this situation either peacefully or by force.

"Same sources pointed out that thousands of armed men from these tribes are ready to sweep the city of Fallujah, and that they have received letters from many respectable figures in Fallujah including some clerics that plead to the Iraqi tribes to save the citizens of Fallujah from the deteriorating condition under the rule of armed gangs and terrorists."
Similar local cooperation was also reported in the run up to the action in Samarra:

"Tribal leaders in the city of Samarra met with government officials prior to this week's U.S. and Iraqi assault on insurgents there, agreeing to help drive the terrorists out, according to the new government's top security official...

"[Iraq's minister of state for national security Qasim] Dawoud said the new Iraqi government was intent on meeting with tribal and social figures in war-torn towns such as Samarra, Najaf, Fallujah and Basra to garner local support for ousting insurgents. In the case of Samarra, Dawoud said the government met with about 110 local leaders, who then asked for military intervention and pledged cooperation on Tuesday to 'purify the land of Samarra of these terrorists'."
Among other recent successes of Iraqi security forces: the arrest of 50 suspected terrorists of various foreign nationalities in a sweep of a Baghdad locality; foiling of three roadside bomb attacks in Mosul and Tal Afar; the capture of one of Al Zarqawi's key lieutenants in Fallujah; and foiling by members of the 203 battalion of the Iraqi National Guard of a kidnap attempt of six Turks. There's also a victory for gender equity: "Around 88 Iraqi women have joined the Iraqi army basic training course in Jordan. The women will receive training courses in Amman under the supervision of the Jordanian army in coordination with the US army."

And in another
"swords into ploughshares" moment, the authorities are planning to convert many of the presently disused army camps in Baghdad and around the country into housing estates.


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