Monday, October 25, 2004

Good news from Iraq, Part 13 

Note: Also available from the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Great many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their support for the project, and to all the readers sending in links and publicising "Good news".

There are two Iraqs.

The one we more often get to see and read about is a dangerous place, full of exploding cars, kidnapped foreigners and deadly ambushes. The reconstruction is proceeding at a snail's pace, frustration boils over and tensions - political, ethnic, religious - crackle in the air like static electricity before a storm.

The other Iraq is a once prosperous and promising country of twenty-four million people, slowly recovering from physical and moral devastation of totalitarian rule. It's a country whose people are slowly beginning to stand on their own feet, grasp the opportunities undreamed of only two years ago, and dream of catching up on three decades of lost time. Recently,
Annie Sweeney of the "Chicago Sun-Times" had a chance to travel off the beaten media track and visit this exotic country. Her impressions bear quoting at length:
"On a Saturday afternoon in Iraq, between Baghdad and Camp Anaconda, the countryside looks a little like Wisconsin. There are farmers tilling fields and women walking on roads. Freight trains and major highways.

"This wasn't exactly what I expected when I left for the war-ravaged country the first week of September. And initially, it made me feel lousy.

"Here in Chicago I tend to cover breaking crime stories where the action is intense -- grieving victims, burned-out buildings, angry neighbors.

"I expected this type of human drama in Iraq, and apparently others did, too. When I came back after three weeks, all everybody wanted to know was how scared I was.

"Iraq was hot and smelly. It was dirty and dusty. Mortars sometimes boomed in the distance.

"But I can't describe it as scary. I didn't see the hard-core stuff, and a lot of soldiers who live and work there don't, either.

"That's not to say the kidnappings, bombings and airstrikes from U.S. planes aren't wreaking havoc on both Iraqis and American troops.

"It's just there's another side -- a side where the ebb and flow of the day-to-day is so normal, it's almost jarring."
In truth, of course, there is only one Iraq. Even if we don't see it too often reflected in the news coverage, we instinctively know that Iraq of violence and Iraq of recovery can, and do, coexist with each other within the same physical borders. We know that there is nothing mutually exclusive about tragedy and hope, horror and promise, frustration and exuberance. This is true in our own lives; and so it is just as true in lives of whole nations.

As my grandmother who survived the Great Depression, Nazi occupation and decades of communist misrule used to say, things are never as good or as bad as they seem. The media exposes us on a daily basis to the idea that things are not as good as they seem. Below are some stories that suggest things aren't as bad either:

SOCIETY: January is only three months away, and by all indications Iraqis are looking forward to having their elections on time. Iraq the Model blog reports on the latest
opinion poll:
"In a recent poll 80.5% of Iraqis showed that they want elections to be held at time without any delay. The poll that was conducted by Al Sabah center for public opinion studies showed also that 15% were with delaying the elections while 4% did not have any opinion. The poll took the opinions of 850 citizens of Baghdad from different ethnic, social and religious groups who were selected according to the simple random sample method. 40% of those were women."
To insure against any delays, election preparation have been underway for quite some time now. According to election officials, voter registration is expected to commence in November and continue for 6 weeks. The certification of political entities will also commence at the same time and last 4 weeks. This is a necessary first step, as only certified political entities will have a right to field candidates. To that end, candidates and parties will have to fulfill certain criteria:
"1-A list of members qualified for voting that contains no less than 500 individual.
2-An internal regulations document that lists the rules that governs the party's activities.
3-Should have no connection with a militia or an active armed group.
4-Should not receive funds from any militia or active armed group.
5-The political entity should not provoke, take part or encourage terrorist or any criminal activities and violence.
6-The name of the party should not incite hatred or violence and the logo of the party should not contain any religious or military symbols."
This should help ensure that all candidates share the common denominator of a commitment to public order and security. Meanwhile, to improve security during the election period, "[e]ighty-five Iraqi Police Service officers will graduate from the Election Security Course in an International Zone training facility, Oct. 14, as part of the Iraqi government’s ongoing effort to provide security for the country's upcoming elections. The six-day course is designed to augment officer skills with specialty training in effective election security issues. Instruction provides basic knowledge, skills, and conceptional understanding to effectively and efficiently maintain order and assure a peaceful election." More will be needed and more are on their way.

As part of its commitment to
Iraqi pro-democracy forces, "[t]he Bush administration plans to give strategic advice, training and polling data to what it deems as 'moderate and democratic' Iraqi political parties with candidates running in the country's upcoming elections... [T]he administration said it would provide 'strategic advice, technical assistance, training, polling data, assistance and other forms of support' to 'moderate, democratically oriented political parties'." Hopefully one of the parties to be so assisted will be the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party, a brainchild of Iraqi pro-liberation blogger brothers Ali, Omar and Mohammed Fadhil. As the party's manifesto states:
"We believe that we represent an important segment of the Iraqi people that was never organized before under any category as a result of the oppression of the past regime. Now this segment has come to see the necessity to contribute to the building of a new Iraq in a way that is entirely different from the old ways."
A cause certainly worth supporting. Speaking of Iraqis putting their proverbial hats in the ring come January next year, you can also read this profile of female Iraqi candidates: "They have been encouraged by a clause in the interim constitution guaranteeing at least a quarter of the 275 seats in Iraq's new National Assembly to women."

Meanwhile, on
Iraqi university campuses democratic debate is already in high swing - the good, the bad, and the ugly of it - but all an entirely new experience for Iraqi students:
"Within the relatively safe confines of Baghdad's university campuses, a picture emerges of what democracy could look like throughout the country if worries about security hadn't trumped everything else.

"It's not pretty. Indeed, it's messy, uneven and at times angry. Students and professors alike are still learning what democracy is and debating how to execute it on campuses - or whether universities are ready for such debates at all.

"Like American universities, Iraqi campuses provide a haven for open political thought. The discussions are much more progressive than they are off the grounds, in large part because campuses are among the few places that aren't overburdened by security problems."
In the words of Nadhum al Abadi, an engineering professor at al Mustansiriya: "When the change happened, Iraq was like a big prison cell that suddenly opened, and people were finally free and able to express themselves... It was like a pressure pot that exploded... With time, it will calm down."

The growing spirit of openness and engagement within Iraq's new civil society is becoming evident outside of the institutions of higher learning, too. Sloan Mann, who had worked in Iraq this summer as part of a US Institute of Peace conflict management training team is reporting progress in
rebuilding Iraq's human capital:
"I worked to promote cooperation and understanding among Iraq's diverse religious and ethnic groups. Goals of a conflict-management conference included strengthening local capacity to peacefully manage the contentious issues facing society and teaching the fundamental skills facilitators need to conduct intergroup dialogues. The trainees were predominantly from Ramadi, Baghdad, Tikrit, Balad, Mosul, and Kirkuk; 17 of the 41 were women, who livened discussions by forcing the more traditional-minded men to listen to progressive perspectives...

"The trainees' sophistication, candor, and enthusiasm were impressive. In similar discussions one year ago, such nuanced understanding of the issues was absent. Participants had informed opinions on the political situation and debated the structure of planned elections. Although the trainees complained about mistakes made by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the dangerous security situation, they were generally forward-looking and wanting to contribute to the new Iraq. This is a marked change from the victim mentality I encountered immediately after the war.

"Most striking was their willingness to discuss deeply personal experiences. During one session, a participant admitted to carrying out a revenge killing (a tribal tradition still prevalent in Iraq). Another talked of regular beatings during his 15 years in an Iranian jail after he was captured in the Iran-Iraq War. A former political prisoner, accused of being too religious and a threat to the Iraqi regime, described having his toenails pulled out and nose broken repeatedly. All had harrowing tales, yet instead of retreating from public life, these people are choosing to become activists, risking their lives to work for a peaceful Iraq."
While the spirit of civil engagement is growing inside their country, two Iraqis have traveled overseas to show their appreciation to America for making it all possible. Medical doctor Hayder Abdulkarin and Baghdad University professor Athraa Hasoon are currently on a tour across the United States to thank Americans for the liberation:
"Athraa Hasoon, a biology professor... sees improvements at the university where she teaches. 'The lab we have is very, very small and cheap," she said. That is changing. The university is acquiring access to the Internet, microscopes and satellites, she said'...

"[Hayder] Abdulkarin runs a private clinic in Samawa, in the south of Iraq. He sees 100 patients every day. If that many patients can come to see him, it is a sign of stability in Iraq, he said. 'Each day 30 to 40 to 50 patients asked me about medical advice or management, so if it is not safe, how can all those people come and ask,' he said. 'There is bombs here and there, but this is not in all of Iraq. This is in small areas of Iraq, not all the time and all the day, not all the month, not all the week,' he said. Insurgents come from outside of Iraq, he said. 'The majority of Iraqis, they want peace. And they want someone to help them. They think there is a very strong partner, a very good partner willing to support them, willing to help them,' he said of the United States...

"During Saddam Hussein's rule, 65 to 75 percent of medical equipment supplies were malfunctioning, [Abdulkarin] said. He was restricted from traveling outside of Iraq and is a general practitioner now because he was not permitted to pursue further education, he said. When Saddam ruled, he saw his relatives executed under Saddam Hussein's regime in 2001 at Abu Ghraib Prison and then had to buy the right to take back their bodies, he said."
Hasoon and Abdulkarin are traveling on behalf of Iraq-America Freedom Alliance, an organization advocating for democracy and the dismantling of terrorism. You can read more about the tour here and here.

Riadh Al-Mahaidi is president of the Australian Iraqi Forum and head of the structural engineering group in the department of civil engineering at Monash University, Australia,
reports on the progress in Iraqi higher education:
"Over the past two weeks, a high-level delegation from the University of Baghdad and the Iraqi National Academy of Sciences visited Australia at the invitation of the Australian Iraqi Forum. The delegation was headed by dissident scientist Hussain Al-Shahristani, who spent 11 years in solitary confinement for refusing to join Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. He is now president of the Iraqi National Academy of Sciences. The delegation also included University of Baghdad president Mosa Al-Mosawe and its engineering faculty dean Ali Al-Kiliddar.

"The story they conveyed to us, and to the senior university managements and government officials they visited, carried signs of hope and optimism in the new Iraq. Iraqi universities are functioning regularly despite of all the difficulties they face. The delegation demonstrated how determined they are to revive higher education and to elevate research standards at their institutions. Their commitment was remarkable.

"The group visited seven universities and signed two memoranda of understanding with Monash University and another with the University of Technology, Sydney. A draft MOU with the Australian National University is under review."
The article provides an useful background to the fate of Iraqi universities under Saddam and to the current revival of the higher education sector. Numerous USAID programs are undoubtedly playing an important role in this process:
"In September, work progressed on the installation of equipment to provide Internet access at a major university in northern Iraq. This university had no network to connect the campus buildings, and only 70 of the institution’s 1,000 computers had access to the Internet. The new computer network will improve the communication services inside the campus and with other Iraqi universities and institutions.

"Also under the [Higher Education and Development] HEAD program, three small grants have been approved for faculty of university medical and engineering colleges to engage in two medical studies on appendicitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

"Additionally, the HEAD program supported the participation of two medical college faculty members in an international medical association conference in Scotland in September.

"Finally, under the HEAD partnership with the State University of New York at Stony Brook, more than 1,500 archaeology books have been catalogued and are being prepared for shipment to two major Iraqi universities."
It's not just universities, of course, but the education sector generally: "[t]he World Bank said... it had granted Iraq 60 million dollars to build and repair schools. The deal, signed on the sidelines of a donors' conference in Tokyo, provided the grant to build 100 schools and repair another 140." As another report adds: "This project is complemented by an emergency textbook-printing project financed by the multi-donor trust fund to print and distribute 69 million textbooks for the 2004 to 2005 school year." The authorities are also setting up mobile schools to attract back to education the country's Marsh Arabs.

While teachers and academics are striving to improve the minds of the new generation, Alharith al-Asady is trying to cure their souls. This
Iraqi psychiatrist is trying to steer young angry Iraqis away from the path of violence:
"Iraq's bloody chaos has traumatized many Iraqis, but what troubles one of its top psychiatrists most is the angry young men eager to join the anti-U.S. insurgency.

" 'More of my patients ask my opinion about the guerrillas. They are confused and anxious. Some lean toward the insurgents,' doctor Alharith al-Asady told Reuters. 'Personally I don't see it as a resistance. I call it violence. But the patients trust me so I try and talk them out of it. I encourage them to seek an education,' says Asady, who sees himself as a psychological warrior against violence...

"Contemplating Iraq's future in his spacious office at Baghdad University, he believes it all depends on whether professionals like himself can educate Iraqis after years of dictatorship, invasion and occupation and the daily carnage.

" 'How can Iraqis understand what a human right is when they never had one?' he asks. 'They don't know what the rules are now, what the law is. Everyone does what they want. We can only stabilize the country when Iraqis begin to learn about a new way of life'."
From sublime to ridiculous, Iraqi TV has a new most popular show:
"In the living room of a modest downtown home, a 6-foot-tall drag queen is trying to kiss a 4-foot-tall man. Their antics are interrupted when they are caught by a woman who claims to be the drag queen's mother. 'Cut!' the director yells. The room roars with laughter.

"This is the set of Iraq's most popular television show. Caricateera - or Caricatures - is Iraq's answer to Saturday Night Live, a variety show driven by biting political satire. It's must-see TV for millions of Iraqis every Friday at 2:35 p.m. Thousands more catch the show on bootleg videodiscs, which sell for less than $1.

"The show's popularity stems from the shots it takes at topics ranging from Iraq's interim government and the nation's violence to the lack of electricity and the U.S. military presence. Such criticism was taboo under the regime of former leader Saddam Hussein."
It certainly beats watching the never-ending speeches of the Great Leader.

And in sport, an
ambitious plan for future soccer extravaganza is hatched:
"Preliminary talks have taken place between the Iraqi Football Association and its Jordanian counterpart about a joint attempt to stage football's showpiece tournament [the World Cup], Crown Prince Feisal Al-Hussein of Jordan has revealed. Because Fifa is rotating the World Cup around the world, the next opportunity for the Middle East, which comes under the Asian confederation, would be 2018."
Says Prince Feisal: "A lot depends on what the region is going to look like in four or five years... The situation at the moment would make any bid ludicrous. But I think the next bid for the World Cup is in three or four years. By then, hopefully, things will have improved dramatically."

Soccer fans might also note that
Iraqi football league has finally restarted. "The opening fixture resulted in a 5-1 victory for al-Shurta, which means 'The Police' in Arabic, against Naft-ul-Junoob."

International Monetary Fund is optimistic about the prospects of Iraqi economy:
"[The IMF] predicts a post-conflict economic boom in Iraq this year and in 2005 but admits lending to the country is a big risk because of the fighting and huge debt...

"The organisation says the Iraqi gross domestic product (GDP), or total economic output, should soar 52 per cent this year. Then 17 per cent in 2005 and 9 per cent a year on average from 2006 to 2009.

"The IMF says oil output should climb from 2.1 million barrels per day this year to 3.5 million by 2009.

" 'The authorities' policies have succeeded in promoting overall macroeconomic stability despite the difficult security environment,' the IMF said. 'Inflationary pressures have remained relatively subdued, the exchange rate has remained largely unchanged and gross international reserves have increased by about $3 billion since end-2003.'

"It says its [$463 million] emergency loan to Iraq is expected to galvanise international support for the rebuilding of Iraq, including for relief of foreign debt amounting to more than $120 billion."
Mindful of the importance of fostering private initiative in what until recently used to be a rigid socialist economy, USAID has recently awarded important contract towards developing Iraq's private sector:
"The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced contract awards to The Louis Berger Group, Inc. to stimulate the Iraqi economy through private sector growth, employment generating activities and vocational and technical training programs.

"Under the $120 million award to assist in developing the private sector, the U.S.-based firm will provide assistance in restructuring and privatization of state owned enterprises, developing capital markets, trade policy and business management skills. The firm will also implement activities to promote the development of micro, small and medium businesses...

"A separate $88 million award to The Louis Berger Group, Inc. for vocational education is intended to encourage workforce development with an emphasis on vocational training, technical training and employment services."
A Kentucky company, meanwhile, is commencing operations in Iraq to provide job training and placement services. "Under a $17 million subcontract from the Louis Berger Group of East Orange, N.J., ResCare will offer services similar to those it provides in the United States through its Job Corps and career centers... Under the two-year contract, ResCare will employ about 300 workers throughout Iraq... Most will be Iraqis, although a few Americans will be hired... The Job Corps centers that ResCare operates under federal contract with the Department of Labor provide 'last-chance' training for at-risk people ages 16 to 24... and place graduates into jobs." Which, all things considered, should be a good preparation for Iraq's reviving labor market.

There is some good news for the
financial markets, too: "Al-Warkaa Bank bought the largest amount of the new Iraqi bonds yet on October 10 at the Central Bank of Iraq auction. The relatively small bank is surpassing even the largest banks, such as Dar Es Salaam and Credit Bank of Iraq, due to U.S. investor support, the Bank says. New equipment needed to upgrade the Iraqi stock market was delivered in late September. The market has climbed nearly 400 percent since opening and now has over thirty stocks trading two days a week, according to a statement from the company."

currency news, "[t]he Central Bank of Iraq recently issued the 500-dinar paper note... The Central Bank has decided to issue new currency notes in small denominations to facilitate market transactions. With the decision came the addition of the 500-dinar paper note to the current denominations of 50, 250, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 25,000 dinars. According to the Saudi News Agency, the new notes will also include denominations of 25, 50 and 100 dinars." You can see the note's design at the link above.

Many American soldiers are
staking their own money on the long-term prospects of the Iraqi currency: "In drawers and footlockers, servicemembers in Iraq are banking on the future by hoarding millions of Iraq’s year- old currency, the dinar. Many suspect the dinar’s precipitous drop in the past decade could mean a huge rebound ahead. Each dinar was once worth a few dollars; they’re now worth a fraction of a penny apiece."

Iraq's state insurance company is also back in business, after a hiatus of more than a decade. An Iraqi blogger
comments: "For more than a decade before the war the government simply couldn’t afford to commit to such documents because of the wide spread of armed robbery and crime. They couldn't provide insurance for life, cars or houses or anything that matter. They were telling us frankly 'we can't protect you and we won't make it easier for you'. The fact that despite all the violence that Iraq is witnessing the government is now willing to make such a risky commitment tells a lot. It shows that they are willing to perform their jobs despite the risks and costs and it shows a belief in that the security situation is going to improve in the near future or at least it’s not going to deteriorate."

Iraq has officially applied for the full membership of the
World Trade Organisation, after being granted an observer status a few months ago. While the official accession process can take years and will not proceed until the security situation improves, the decision is a positive step ahead as the application process "is considered an important prod for internal reforms and a way to gain the confidence of international investors. Membership also would open Iraq's economy to fierce competition and allow its companies easier access to the world's biggest markets." The United States, meanwhile, has officially removed Iraq form the list of countries under tax credit restrictions.

In other trade news, trade with
Jordan has rebounded to its pre-war levels, reaching JD350 million ($0.5 billion) in the first eight months of the year. Next on the bilateral agenda, "extending an oil pipeline, upgrading border centres, a highway linking the two countries, upgrading port facilities in Aqaba and establishing a free zone area at the border."

And in Baghdad, construction will shortly begin on
nine new shopping malls, which will combine modern facilities with the traditional Iraqi "folkloric" look.

In oil news, there are good prospects for increased
cooperation between Iraq and Jordan: "The Jordanian Council of Ministers decided to start conducting a feasibility study on constructing an oil pipeline linking the Kingdom with Iraq... Minister of State and Government Spokesperson was quoted a saying that the study will be conducted in line with a recent understanding reached between energy officials of both countries. A source at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources said that the pipeline would link Jordan's sole refinery in the industrial city of Zarqa with the Iraqi oil pumping station in Haditha, 260 kilometres northwest of Baghdad."

Meanwhile, as part of the plan to modernize infrastructure and boost production, Iraq will be
inviting foreign oil companies to help exploit its considerable and underutilised reserves:
"The interim government believes it can double oil production by 2010 if it exploits existing facilities and develops new fields. But it thinks that the only way to do this is by involving the West's energy giants. Iraq currently produces under 3 million barrels of oil a day.

"Thamer Ghadban, the country's Oil Minister, said: 'We believe that there is at least 2.5 to 3 million barrels per day of new oil production capacity that could, in the long term, be added to our production levels.'

"In an interview in a Shell newsletter that is distributed to its Middle Eastern clients, Mr Ghadban added that Iraq would open its doors to the oil giants early next year. 'We would like to open a dialogue with international oil companies [IOCs]. We are now formulating our policies ... and we think there is room for IOCs in Iraq - in particular in the upstream because we need new investment'."
The oil companies seem to be equally excited about the prospect of entering the Iraqi market:
"Outside Iraq, the minister's problems are of a very different kind; they stem from the fact that wherever he goes in the world there is a queue of senior international oil company officials jostling to meet him. At the last OPEC meeting, and the subsequent seminar in Vienna in September, Ghadhban faced a deluge of requests for meetings from the moment he stepped out of his room in the Inter-Continental Hotel each morning until late into the night...

"For public consumption, the international oil firms are adopting a general position that the lack of security and an elected government prevent them from going into Iraq in the near term. But that does not reveal the full picture - far from it. Behind the scenes there is perceptible jockeying among the companies to make contacts and develop relations with the Iraqi oil authorities in preparation for future developments."
In related news, Shell has been asked by the Iraqi government to develop a master plan for the country's natural gas sector. "It is unfortunate that in the past the value of gas was not recognized and during oil exploration and production activities gas was considered to be an inconvenience and was flared off... We believe that Iraq could be one of the region's big gas exporting countries and that Iraq might be able to contribute to the supply of gas to southern Europe in the future," says Iraqi oil minister Thamer al-Ghadhban. Meanwhile, ChevronTexaco will provide the Iraqi Oil Ministry with assistance and advice on improving the upstream sector. And a group of Iraqi oil experts will be visiting Aberdeen in Scotland to learn from the North Sea exploration and extraction expertise. "The visitors from Iraq's state-owned Oil Exploration Company are keen to learn as much as possible about advances in computer software and technology. They say oil production in Iraq has been stagnant for years and are keen to catch up."

In transport news, the
prices of flights between Baghdad and neighboring capitals have dropped recently, from $400 to $300 for a one way ticket and from $750 to $600 for a round trip to Amman and $250 for a one way ticket and $500 for a round trip to Damascus.

Iraqi railways are also undergoing much needed upgrades, due to efforts by the Ministry of Transportation and international agencies. The rehabilitation effort will start with the three main railroad stations at Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, and progress over the next two weeks to another 28 of nearly 130 small stations at cities across Iraq. As part of the effort
"the Ministry of Transportation considers standardizing, reviving and modernizing the railroad a vital recovery link for Iraq. Rails now run from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south, a nearly 1,263mile lifeline...

"An anti-aircraft gun on the roof of the Baghdad station made the depot a target during the 2003 ousting of the former regime. A complete modernization of the main terminal is underway and is expected to take about six months to complete.

"Rehabbing of the stations will cost more than $55 million, said Safa Shubat, an engineer familiar with both U.S. and Iraqi railroads. The ministry and other agencies are upgrading the track for safety, as well as rolling stock, he said. Shubat grew up in Iraq and traveled to the United States for degrees in engineering."
Iraq has recently signed an agreement with Syria regarding transport arrangements between the two countries. "The agreement includes providing facilities necessary for transporting goods into Iraq through Syrian harbors and activating the Iraqi Navigation Company for mutual cooperation in implementing an expansion and development program by exchanging experts and technical studies in the field of harbors."

The agreement is already bearing fruit, with Syria
lifting restrictions on railway shipments between Turkey and Iraq via a railway line linking all three countries. "The positive outcome we reached on this issue will have a positive impact on our exports to Iraq. It will also decrease to a certain extent the [security] difficulties experienced by transporters," said Turkish Foreign Trade Minister Kursat Tuzmen.

In agriculture, Iraqis are working hard to revive their once famous
date palm industry:
"Dates could again become a big asset to the economy of Iraq, once ranked the world's top producer and exporter of the fruit, which is regarded as a national symbol with deep religious and historic roots. But the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam's draining of vast southern marshes, U.N. sanctions and the most recent conflict have led to the industry's decline.

"Farron Ahmed Hussein, a senior official in the Ministry of Agriculture in Baghdad, said production this year was expected to hover around 600,000 tons. No accurate statistics are available for 2003, when U.S. forces invaded... But... with more crop dusting, fertilizer application and improvement of date palm culture, Iraq had the potential for boosting output to 1 million tons, thus regaining the world's No. 1 spot."
In other agricultural news, the authorities are planning to assist Iraqi farmers by making available 26 billion Iraqi dinars' ($18 million) worth of loans to promote the growth of the industry.

RECONSTRUCTION: The authorities report that the
pace of reconstruction is speeding up: "Army officials responsible for managing reconstruction programs and administering contracts said today that they have so far committed -- or set aside for specific projects -- $10.5 billion in reconstruction monies. Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee briefed reporters in the Pentagon today that $7.7 billion are already obligated, 'which means we have actually signed contracts.' He added that officials also already have more than $1 billion in 'construction work in the ground'."

According to the head of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, Ambassador William Taylor, reconstruction is
progressing well: "Right now there are 28 water treatment plants under construction, and five have been completed. I'll just go through a quick list and then open to your questions. There are 13 sewer projects under construction; one's been completed. There are 72 health care facilities under construction, and 73 more have been completed. There are 3,100 schools that have been rehabilitated. There are five public buildings under construction; one's completed. There are 39,000 police trained and equipped across this country. There are 14,000 Border Police trained and equipped. There are three regular army battalions trained and equipped; eight National Guard battalions trained and equipped; 62 border forts under construction; nine fire stations under construction; 37 electricity distribution substations under construction or under rehabilitation; nine military bases under construction."

And according to Charles Hess, Director of the Department of the Army’s Project and Contracting Office (PCO), there are currently more than
80,000 Iraqis employed on 373 US-funded reconstruction projects in Iraq.

From the Iraqi side, too, the authorities are noting continuing progress. For example, the
Ministry of Labor and Municipalities "has [recently] finished 53 new sanitation projects in a number of Iraqi provinces... in Kerbala, Anbar, Meisan, Basra, Baghdad, Diyala, Saladdin, Ta'meem, Wasit, Babil, Qadissiya, Najaf and Thi Qar... [T]he projects included establishing new sanitation networks, buildings for the sanitation departments in the said provinces, as well as new purification centers and rehabilitating old lines and networks."

The city of Baghdad will benefit from a recent World Bank grant of $85 million for project including water infrastructure, sewerage, and construction. Meanwhile, the Diyala governorate will spend $2 billion from the funds allocated by the United States and local authorities to implement 320 projects throughout the region. The projects will concentrate on the supply of clean water and improving water infrastructure in the region.

And work continues in
Karbala, too: "Ministry of Municipality and General Works allocated 47 billion Iraqi dinars [$32 million] to implement service projects in Karbala'a governorate within the Ministry's investment plan for 2005. The director of Karbala'a Municipality (Mr. Fhadel Abd Own) announced that the department prepared a huge plan which includes covering the city roads costing 7 billion Iraqi dinars [$0.47 million], paving streets costing 18.5 billion Iraqi dinars [$1.2 million], counting the old grounds in city center (which cars can not reach) costing 300 million Iraqi dinars, works of shaping sidewalks with 9 billion Iraqi dinars [$0.6 million], constructing junctions, painting streets within works of engineering Traffic Department costing 585 million Iraqi dinars, constructing perfect games city costing 10 billion Iraqi dinars [$0.68 million], and other service projects limited with one billion Iraqi dinars."

Other vital reconstruction work continues elsewhere around Iraq: repairing the Al-Abboda
floating bridge in Najaf governorate, completion of 53 new sewerage projects in thirteen governorates around the country, opening of the Um Al-Hamam water project in Karbala governorate to supply water to 7,000 households, 85 new water infrastructure project recently completed by the Ministry of Municipality and General Works in 15 governorates; cleaning and developing Al-Khasa River at the cost of 3.5 billion dinars; and reconstruction of the Al- Saqlawiya bridge in Anbar.

This project, meanwhile, will help to bring in more
regional expertise to help with the reconstruction: "Arab Gulf chambers of commerce and industry will set up a Gulf trade center in Iraq to help private sectors in Gulf states win a share of Iraq's reconstruction... 'The new body will help Gulf businessmen to win contracts in the process of Iraq's reconstruction,' [the secretary-general of the Union of Gulf Trade Chambers, Mohammed Mullah] said. Mullah stressed the importance of building bridges and strong relations with the Iraqi private sector, noting that Iraq's business circles welcomed the move and partnership with Arab Gulf states."

There's also more
direct financial assistance coming from Iraq's neighbors: "The President of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) said on Wednesday that the IDB will aid Iraq, one of its member countries, with $500 million for reconstruction efforts in the country and will help ease Iraqs debt to the IDB by extending the length of time for reimbursement of previous loans acquired under Saddam Hussein."

And the president of the
World Bank, James Wolfensohn, pledged that $400 million committed by the Bank for Iraq's reconstruction will start flowing into the country by the end of the year.

In electricity news, progress continues to be achieved in rebuilding Iraq's
power infrastructure:
"The commissioning of the generators in September added 47 Megawatts of electricity to the grid – enough to fuel 141,000 Iraqi homes, adding to the estimated 15 million Iraqi homes already serviced by the national grid... Electricity production in the country averages approximately 5,000 Megawatts, a total that exceeds the pre-war level of 4,400...

"A new 30-kilometer transmission line was also brought online in September in South Central Iraq, bringing more electricity to the region and linking the country’s first new power station to a key substation in the region. The installation of the line and commissioning of the four generators are the latest successes in the $1 billion effort to rebuild the country’s antiquated electrical infrastructure.

"The successes come as weeks of inventory and training were completed to transfer seven electrical stations back to the Ministry of Electricity. The transfer marked the completion of the U.S.-led renovation at the seven sites that put 429 Megawatts on the national grid...

"Six additional power stations are slated to be transferred to the Ministry in October, a move that will return an additional 986 Megawatts of generation capacity – enough to service 2 million Iraqi homes.

"Since arriving in Iraq last fall, the Corps has built more than 1,200 towers, repaired 8,600 kilometers of transmission line and rehabilitated or built enough generators to bring an additional 1,621 Megawatts to the national grid – enough to service 4.8 million Iraqi homes."
And a few days later, further progress was reported in the capital: "A new generator came on line here today bringing enough new electricity to the energy- thirsty country to fuel more than 275,000 Iraqi homes. The new 96 Megawatt generator is the second new generator to come on line at the north Baghdad plant since the reconstruction effort began at the site one year ago. The commissioning brings the total available electricity in the country to nearly 5,300 Megawatts, far exceeding the pre-war level of 4,400."

This is how the American support made the
difference for one power station:
"As part of its efforts to bolster security and the economy in Northern Iraq, the 1st Infantry Division partnered with civilian companies and the Army Corp of Engineers to repair the Bayji Power Plant complex.

"The facility, which is comprised of three power plants, once generated 1,300 megawatts of power. But after the first Gulf War, Iraqi officials were unable to get parts to maintain the plants because of sanctions levied against the country. The three plants were generating a little less than 400 megawatts of power prior the American-led invasion of Iraq last year.

"Since then, coalition forces have worked diligently to repair the complex, which was one of the major power sources in the nation. In August, it was generating about 800 megawatts of power...

"The plant employees 2,000 locals, 1,200 of which are permanent... As of August, the 1st Infantry Division had spent more than $1 million on parts for the plant.

"Aside from repairs to the 500-acre complex, security was a major issue. Its fence had gaping holes that serve as a gateway for looters who frequently stole equipment and supplies from the power plant... To remedy that problem, the Big Red One spent $450,000 to build a 12-foot wall around the entire complex. That project created more than 700 jobs for locals, as six different contractors who submitted the lowest bids worked on the wall simultaneously...

"The plant is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2005."
Reconstruction of schools is also progressing around Iraq:
"American officials say the U.S. Project and Contracting Office is completing renovations on about 200 schools, and it soon plans to begin work on 1,000 more. They also say the work is being done without swarms of subcontractors — who the Iraqi government claims have contributed to shoddy work in the past. And it’s all working with a minimum investment in security, thanks to low-profile operations.

"So far, work has focused on the southern part of the country, but will soon move north. The entire project will cost $79 million, or about $35,000 to $65,000 per school. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Iraq’s Ministry of Education and local headmasters decide what the schools need, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signs off on the quality of the completed work before contractors are paid. Iraqis are doing the on-site work so as not to attract attention, saving money on security costs."
The Iraqi authorities are also looking at giving private sector a greater role in health system, in order to increase the number of providers and reduce the costs: "The interim government has set up a committee to draw up a plan to allow private entrepreneurs both local and foreign to invest in the health sector, according to a senior health ministry official. Health ministry's ombudsman, Hadi al-Riyahi, said the committee's task is to come up with suggestions and proposals on how to apply a much-criticized foreign investment law to boost private sector's contribution to boost heath services."

Ministry of Science and Technology will benefit from funds provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency for projects previously suspended due to the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq: "Dr. Rashad Mandan Omar, the Minister of Science and Technology said that the funds are to be invested for the rest of 2004 as well as for the next year 2005, clarifying that the ministry carrying out four projects in agricultural researches domain, get benefit of up-dated techniques in agriculture in addition to more projects to control the contamination."

environment is also high on the agenda: "Ministry of Environment allocated 16.5 billion Iraqi dinars [$11.3 million] to revive marshes and to environment treatment in cooperation with United Nations' program of Environmental Evaluation and Ministry of Planning. The Minister of Environment Dr. Mishckat Mu'min announced that the Ministry is rehabilitating and training staffs for this project and that the Ministry has already carried out with working on this project by allocating money from the Ministry's budget before receiving international donation... The minister also said that the Ministry corresponded with International Bank about financial donation to participate in achieving pollution treatment project in Shat El-Arab."

HUMANITARIAN AID: American civilians, like this group of
high school students from Minnesota, continue to help the people of Iraq: "Students at Hibbing High School are banding together to help out the children of Iraq. Members of Target/SADD are hosting the HHS Iraq Children’s Project — collecting school supplies and small stuffed toys for the children of Iraq... They have also placed collection cans around the school and community to raise funds for postage to send the boxes overseas. The idea was brought up by Joanna Koski, a senior whose aunt is a nurse stationed in Iraq and works with little children through an agency called 'Hearts and Minds.' There is a significant lack of educational materials available for students, Koski said... After hearing that, Target/SADD members decided to get involved. Kaleigh Lindholm, a senior, said the group initially thought of collecting just among themselves. Then they began to think school-wide. 'One little thing expanded,' Lindholm said. Koski said knowing about the situation of the children in Iraq has made her and others take things for granted less."

In New England, North Dakota, school children are
collecting toys for their Iraqi peers. "They've collected several hundred at this point, as well as some money to get them sent off. It costs about a dollar a bear." And toys donated by fifth-garders from Mitchell Elementary School at Albuquerque, New Mexico, will be delivered to Iraqi children via British Royal Air Force helicopter.

A Maine resident, meanwhile, is
helping Iraqi children through sports: "Alan Johnston, a soccer referee in central Maine, recently helped outfit a small band of Iraqi children with soccer balls, T-shirts and shorts after watching kids playing with rocks and metal cans." Johnson, who was employed in Iraq as private security contractor, saw during his travels around the country Iraqi children trying to play soccer in the most difficult of circumstances. He says: "They would play soccer in an open area of dirt and use rocks for goals or (use) pieces of pipe sticking up from the ground... The kids played in their bare feet and would kick anything they could find that would roll." The report continues:
"The children struck a chord with Johnston, who played high school soccer in Greenville and is a high school, college and youth referee. His own children played soccer at Erskine Academy in South China. Johnston contacted Carol Woodcock, executive director of Soccer Maine, who sought out vendors to provide soccer balls, T-shirts and shorts.

"Shipments began arriving last spring and were erratic because Johnston didn't stay in the same place for too long. But he finally had everything in hand last month, and he began doling out the equipment on Sept. 27. Under heavy guard, Johnston went to a dump where he had observed many of the local children scavenging for anything usable and distributed his treasure trove of 48 sets of shorts and T-shirts and 22 soccer balls. 'The kids were ecstatic and they came running from all over,' he said. 'It seemed like (they) were crawling out from under rocks. We had a hard time to control them and get them into a line so I could give (the equipment) out'."
From the other side of the country, an Oregon man is helping Iraqi firefighters:
"A Newport man who's the son of a California firefighter was appalled when he saw a news clip of an Iraqi firefighter going into a blaze wearing flip-flops and a T-shirt - when many American fire departments are blessed with a surplus of equipment. Thom Nelson decided to help. As he was bringing a new fishing boat up the coast from California to his home in Newport, he asked fire departments along the way to donate extra jackets, pants, gloves, helmets, hoses and other gear.

" 'We have an abundance of surplus gear that's no longer up to our standards,' Nelson told the Daily Astorian newspaper. 'If some of this gear helps save some Iraqi's life, that Iraqi would have a better opinion of us, and view us more favorably.'

"Nelson, who has collected more than four pallets so far, hopes to get enough equipment for 10 stations by next month. He said he will send it to Iraq with the help of the National Guard or the relief organization Doctors Without Borders."
In Scotland, Hannan Shihab, a 16 year old Iraqi girl injured by an American bomb is getting face reconstruction surgery. "The teenager was injured in the same bombing attack which blew 12-year-old Ali Abbas’ arms off and left him orphaned. He was also flown to the UK for reconstructive treatment in a case which gained international attention. It is the second stage in Hannan’s treatment after spending some months in the US for initial surgery. St John’s [in Edinburgh] has been chosen to continue the work because of its international reputation in the field of burns and plastic surgery."

Last but not least, America is
repaying its debt to this young Iraqi hero:
"He was a young street orphan in his native Baghdad before being 'adopted' by a U.S. military unit stationed there. Johnny, as officials are calling him, quickly rose to the status of 'American hero' after he warned troops of impending attacks and armed them with key surveillance.

"Now, the United States is returning the favor with a life-saving mission of its own. Johnny, a target on insurgents' wanted posters in Iraq, was whisked Monday night to Omaha, where he will become part of the Girls and Boys Town family.

The 16-year-old will live and study alongside other formerly neglected or abandoned kids and go down in Boys Town history as a rare wartime informant who found refuge on the famous campus founded by Father Flanagan nearly 90 years ago. 'I feel great,' Johnny said after arriving at Eppley Airfield, an American flag peeking out of his shirt pocket. 'Everything is OK'."
THE COALITION TROOPS: In addition to their efforts to provide security and stability to Iraq, the troops continue with reconstruction tasks:
"When Army engineer Capt. Tony Hearn arrived in Iraq in March to survey the sanitation situation, he found large areas of Baghdad were literally 'a mess.'

"Trash was everywhere. Empty lots had become default landfills. Garbage collectors were underpaid. Few trucks were operating because they lacked parts. 'On my first visit to one site, my boot got stuck in the carcass of an animal,' Hearn says.

"Houston native Hearn, 30, is part of the 8th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, a unit responsible for renovating SWET — sewer, water, electricity and trash — in western Baghdad. The unit quickly set about funding $2.4 million in projects to improve trash collection."
Read the whole report to learn how progress is being made on the sanitation front.

The 1st Infantry Division, meanwhile, has recently hosted an
Engineering Summit for 100 military and civilian specialists involved in the reconstruction effort. "This summit is important because it brings together all of the decision makers in one room so we can discuss things that have worked, things that haven’t worked so well, what needs to get fixed and how to fix them," says Maj. Kip A. Korth, the liaison officer for the 1st Infantry Division with the Gulf Region District North United States Army Corps of Engineers.

The troops also continue with their
good will missions: "Smiling children, shouting joyfully, filled a nearby school as Soldiers distributed stuffed animals, clothes, book bags and school supplies during a civil affairs mission in Al Anwar village Oct 9. Soldiers from the 4th Corps Materiel Management Center sponsored the $32,000 reconstruction of the village school this summer and returned to help the children start the school year with new school supplies donated by the American public." Since January this year, the 13th Corps Support Command-sponsored Civil Affairs has contributed $4.2 million to local infrastructure projects around Camp Anaconda, including reconstructing schools, building medical clinics, and constructing water treatment projects in neighboring villages.

Elsewhere in Iraq, "
Utah National Guard's 115th Engineer Group got to work, distributing pencils, paper and notebooks to the 350 students, and five boxes of classroom supplies for the teachers" at the Ao Mustafah elementary school in An Nasiriyah. "The poverty of the people is unimaginable," says Col. Edward Willis, the group's commander and outside the National Guard life, a science teacher at West Jordan High School. "The 80 Utah engineers are supervising the reconstruction of eight schools in the ancient Fertile Crescent of southern Iraq. Each school has 300 to 600 students." Charlie Company, Task Force 1-18 Infantry (the 1st Infantry Division) has also been delivering toys for Iraqi children.

And here's the result of a
private initiative by an American serviceman: "When Spc. Michael Tingue arrived in Bayji, Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division’s Task Force 1-7 in March, he saw the conditions that children in this war-torn country had to live in. More importantly, he saw that he had the opportunity to help. With a self-inspired determination, he began a personal campaign to gather clothes, toys and school supplies for the impoverished people of Iraq... As word spread, the project gained momentum on its own, and its inertia continues as boxes still continue to pile in. At its peak, Spc. Tingue was receiving approximately 20 boxes every other day for almost two weeks. The rate has now slowed to about five boxes a week, but they still continue to come in months after that first letter."

In a
similar operation, "[o]ne soldier in Iraq has proved that one simple e-mail calling out for help can make a big difference. Army Sgt. Addie Collins, who works for American Forces Network, sent a message asking her family not to send her care packages. Instead, she asked, send packages of used and new shoes for children in Iraq.
"That message has been forwarded not only throughout the United States but also to Okinawa, where staff members at the U.S. Naval Hospital rallied for the cause. The e-mail has netted Collins more than 10,000 pairs of shoes for the Kicks for Kids program, she said in a phone interview Tuesday. Almost 900 of those came from the hospital here."
Effort continue to ensure that even the remote parts of the country receive medical supplies: "Soldiers from the 133rd Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Heavy) headquartered in Gardiner, Maine, handed out $6,000 worth of medical supplies to Sidakan Village in northern Iraq... The Sidakan Village is located near the Iranian border. This area is covered with land mines left over from the Iran-Iraq War. On average, one person a day in the area suffers injuries due to land mines. The materials needed to treat these trauma patients were part of the donated items. As part of the supplies, the clinic was given equipment needed to care for female patients during pregnancy and child birth. Before receiving the new equipment, doctors at the clinic had to listen to the heartbeat of an unborn child by placing an ear on the mother’s stomach. They now have stethoscopes thanks to the donations."

American soldiers are also
helping Iraqi amputees:
"Sgt. Chris Cummings saw the young man standing on the side of a road in Baghdad. The teenager was balancing on one crutch. Most of his right leg was missing. 'Pull over,' Cummings said to his driver.

"The Humvee stopped next to the young man. Cummings would later recall that the amputee, Ali, looked intimidated when he saw a U.S. military vehicle stop in front of him. Through a translator, Cummings was able to find out the boy's name and that he had lost his leg in a hit and run accident with a truck two years ago. The 15-year-old did not know yet that Cummings had something special to offer. 'He was our inaugural patient,' said Cummings."
Cummings, a member of the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion, and in his civilian life a technician who manufactures and sets prosthetic limbs and braces for amputees, is now helping injured Iraqis to walk again. "When army officials found out about Cummings' civilian job, they knew he had to meet Mississippi National Guard Captain Steve Lindsley of the 112th Military Police Battalion. Lindsley is a prosthetist with the Mississippi Methodist Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. Lindsley had already conceived of an 'Operation Restoration' and the Army was looking for ways to help bring the project to fruition." And the news is good:
"Since encountering Ali a month ago, Cummings has met nearly 50 patients in Baghdad. Most lost their limbs years ago, in accidents or in wartime. Some have injuries that date back to Iraq's bloody eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. A few trace their wounds to the U.S. invasion last year and its aftermath. Amputees who come to Operation Restoration get the work done for free. The Army donated $44,000 to the project, and Lindsley's hospital donated medical supplies and equipment."
The troops have also helped to save the life of this Iraqi girl: "An 8-year-old Iraqi girl is recovering from a poisonous snakebite thanks to timely help from U.S. military doctors stationed in Tallil. Doctors from the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, treated Nahida Radi, whose condition quickly deteriorated after the snakebite... The girl was bitten by a blunt-nosed viper while she was tending sheep on her family's farm, the doctors said. Her father, police officer Nafil Radi, said he could not get medical help until he was directed to military doctors at the nearby Tallil air base."

Sometimes humanitarian aid takes
different forms: "Although they usually patrol a southern portion of Baghdad's slum commonly called Sadr City searching for insurgent activity of the Muqtada militia, on Oct. 6 they did something entirely different: they handed out chickens. The Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, out of Ft. Riley, Kan., attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, passed out 300 frozen chickens to residents along a road in their sector that is one of the poorest parts of what is notoriously the poorest area in Baghdad."

And as always, it's not just the Americans. Other Coalition troops are also contributing to the
reconstruction effort in their sectors of the country:
"In its first reconstruction project in Iraq, the South Korean troops that began operations here last month are working with cultural experts to restore one of the oldest castles in the world, troop officials said Friday.

"The castle in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, which was built centuries ago and is now home to squatters, is being reconstructed by the South Korean troop unit, Zaitun (which means 'olive' in Arabic), officials said...

"South Korean military officials said they will consult with Korean archeologists and members of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on the castle project.

"For the restoration, the troops plan to employ about 50 locals to help them collect rubbish from around the castle’s walls. The troops will also be repairing sewage systems, rebuilding houses and teaching locals. Electric generators, heaters, clothes and other daily necessities will be provided to people of the area, the officials said. The troops are also considering putting up residential buildings for homeless people from the castle area."
South Korea now has almost 3,500 troops in Iraq, making it the third largest contingent after the United States and Great Britain.

DIPLOMACY AND SECURITY: The United Nations has restored Iraq's
voting rights at the UN General Assembly after waiving the payment of overdue dues. Iraq has also been officially removed from the US State Department list of states supporting terrorism.

There are positive developments in the struggle for
internal security, as Iraqi authorities increasingly take prominent role in resolving conflict situations: "The Mehdi Army militia led by Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr agreed to hand over weapons to Iraqi police... under a deal that could defuse the Baghdad flashpoint of Sadr City... [Meanwhile] Falluja delegates said the city wanted to take part in the elections and could accept the return of Iraqi security forces."

The disarmament was
progressing well in Baghdad:
"In the teeming Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, machine guns, mortar launchers and ammunition were trickling in to police stations under a five-day test agreement that could clear the road for a lasting truce in one of the major flashpoints of the Iraq insurgency...

"Weapons were handed in mostly by intermediaries, in exchange for cash, at one of three police stations serving as drop-off centers that had been cordoned off by police and Iraqi national guard. US troops were also present at the sites...

"Sadr City, home to 2.5 million people, has been devastated by six months of fighting between the US army and Sadr's militia. Intense air strikes and street skirmishes are believed to have sharply reduced the militia's ranks from more than 10,000 followers to less than 2,000 since April, the US military says."
This is how it worked out in practice for one Baghdad resident: " 'I've given up my weapons, I'm with the interim government now,' said Ahmed Hashem... after handing over 22 rocket-propelled grenades. 'We want peace and I won't fight the Americans.' Hashem got $1,100 (612 pounds) for his arsenal under a plan that pays $50 for any AK-47, rocket-propelled grenade or mortar round." Confounding the critics, the buyback has been deemed a success:
"A government plan to entice Iraq's biggest Shiite militia to turn in its weapons in return for cash here has brought in enough arms in its first week that Iraqi officials extended the program on Sunday and said that it might be spread to other cities.

"The cooperation with the buyout has raised hopes that the militia's leader, Moktada al-Sadr, would continue his turn toward entering the country's democratic process.

"Underscoring the buyout's progress, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi ventured into the heart of Baghdad's hostile Shiite district to salute the militia, the Mahdi Army, for surrendering more than 1,000 of its heavy weapons in the past week. As Iraqi troops nearby assembled stacks of surrendered weapons at a soccer stadium in the district, Sadr City, Dr. Allawi said he was 'thrilled' and urged more progress."
As another strategy to demilitarise the society, the Ministry of Labor is also working to provide employment opportunities for militiamen who give up their arms.

(For another perspective on Iraq's changing security situation see this

Foreign security assistance still continues to flow in. At a recent meeting, the
NATO members have agreed on a detailed plan to train Iraqi security personnel. "NATO drew during a meeting for its 26 representatives in Brussels a detailed plan to establish an academy to train senior Iraqi police officers under the leadership of the American general David Betrous, who is currently leading a multi national training force." This project is in addition to the training programs already ran by NATO in Iraq.

Some Iraqi officers will be
trained overseas: "The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will train Iraqi army officers in Norway and Germany next month... Some 20 Iraqi army officers are expected to go to Stavanger in southwestern Norway for a week's training at NATO's newly-created Joint Warfare Center... [A]nother group of Iraqi officers will undergo military doctrine instruction at a NATO center in Oberammergau, southern Germany."

There is also assistance for the
medical needs of Iraqi security forces: "An $18.6 million Multinational Security Transition Command - Iraq construction project slated to bring 11 new Iraqi armed forces medical clinics at seven Iraqi forward operating and training bases commenced major operations in late August and is now in full swing. The project, providing the newly formed Iraqi medical corps with new facilities at various locations throughout the country, will complete the first clinic at the Al Kasik base in Northern Iraq in mid-December with the final facilities in the country coming on line at the end of January 2005."

While overseas assistance is of course still needed and appreciates, increasingly the
training duties for the security forces are being filled by the Iraqis themselves: "More than 300 people became Iraq's newest Iraqi National Guard members after completion of a 13-day boot camp. With the graduating class of 04-07, Iraq took one step closer to its complete independence as Multi-National Forces transferred responsibility of the ING Academy to the command of the ING at ceremonies held here, Oct 7. Prior to the transfer, the academy fell under the control of the First Team's 39th Brigade Combat Team, though instructors for the academy came from all over the Division."

Baghdad, the International Zone training facility has recently graduated 32 Iraqi Police Service officers from the Basic Criminal Investigation course and another 85 from the Election Security Course. Meanwhile the largest class so far has graduated from the police course in the neighboring Jordan:
"The Iraqi Police Service will graduate 1,137 police recruits from a police basic training course at the Jordan International Police Training Center in Amman, Jordan, Oct. 14...

"It is the single largest graduation of Iraqi officers from the basic training course. Since establishing the formal training requirements for police recruits at the center, approximately 5,700 officers have completed training at the school.

"The eight-week training program -- divided into general policing and operational policing components -- runs recruits through intensive basic police education in modern methods..."
With the recent graduation of the fresh batch of Iraqi police officers, "[a]n estimated 6,857 Iraqi police have graduated from the Jordanian academy in the past year and have been trained by a team drawn from 16 countries, including Jordan and the United States. Jordan agreed with Iraqi authorities to train some 32,000 policemen by the end of 2005."

More assistance is reaching Iraqi police, thanks to a new support program: "A shipment of standard-issue police gear was distributed in the past week to Iraqi Police Service officers in Irbil as part of a newly founded police gear exchange program initiated by Multinational Security Transition Command - Iraq police advisors helping the Iraqi government to train, mentor, and equip its police forces.
"The program - still in the early establishment stages - delivered riot helmets, ballistic vests, batons, flex cuffs, protective masks, various office supplies, an evidence kit, and duty belts complete with various keepers, holsters, clips, and pouches. The equipment was donated by the Los Angeles School Police Department as part of an exchange program intended to link police stations in America with sister stations in Iraq."
The Baghdad Public Service Academy also took a delivery of 10,000 9mm Glock pistols for the distribution to Iraqi Police Service recruits attending training. This initiative is part of the Multinational Security Transition Command's program that recently distributed another 10,000 pistols.

The Iraqi police force is now acquiring more
counter-insurgency teeth:
"To add an immediate strike-force capability to Iraq's police forces, the Ministry of Interior -- in one of the Iraqi interim government's first self-initiated security force moves since the June 28 sovereignty handover -- has begun forming six police commando battalions.

"Initially stood up some six weeks ago, two battalions of highly vetted Iraqi officers and rank-and-file servicemen were operational within two weeks and performed with great distinction in anti-Iraqi force counter-operations in four recent insurgent hotspots, officials said.

"The force now has a third battalion in training, with a fourth and fifth recruited a week ago but yet to undergo initial training. Recruiting prior-service professionals, officials said, was designed to allow immediate employment of the battalions, putting to work personnel from the former regime's Special Forces elements and other specialty units."
Iraqi forces are also taking more responsibility for maintaining the security of their national borders: "The Iraqi border patrol took over responsibility for protecting southern oil installations... days after insurgents carried out their latest attack aimed at hampering oil exports, a commander said.
"At least 200 officers were deployed along a 100-mile stretch between the southern Iraqi cities of Nasiriyah and Basra, said Brig. Ali al-Moussawi, commander of Iraq's southern borders. He told The Associated Press his men assumed responsibility from a U.S.-based private security firm that had employed Iraqi, British and American guards to protect southern oil installations since the end of U.S.-led military operations in Iraq last year."
As this story suggests, border security is improving across the board: "Iraqi police patrols, in cooperation with the national guards, have arrested 42 illegal Iranian and Afghan infiltrators, local newspaper Baghdad reported Sunday. The border police patrols in the Wasit governorate arrested 13 Afghan infiltrators that had entered into the country through the borders in Shihabi region, a police source was quoted as saying. He added that the infiltrators entered Iraq with the pretext of visiting the holly sites in the governorates of Karbalaa and Najaf. The police patrols also arrested 18 Iranian infiltrators, who had entered the country through the borders of Mendily. In the governorate of Babil, the Iraqi national guards also arrested 10 Afghan infiltrators at a checkpoint at Al Iskandariyah town, 50 km south of Baghdad, who admitted that they had entered into the country illegally with the help of some smugglers." Further 73 Afghans were arrested by Iraqi National Guard in Ummarah, south of Baghdad, and handed over to police on suspicions of terrorist activity.

The security is also increasing along the mountainous northeastern border
border between Iraq and Iran, with the Iraqi troops of the Department of Border Enforcement conducting more patrols together with the Coalition forces. The task should get easier with this logistics assistance: "The 292 miles of Iraq-Iran border within 2nd Brigade Combat Team's area of operations should see a boost in security as Iraq's Department of Border Enforcement were supplied an additional 44 new vehicles on Sept. 19. All of the new vehicles, which consist of 2004 Jeep Liberties, Chevy Trailblazers and Nissan pick-up trucks, will be dispersed to DBE units in five districts bordering Iran."

To assist in surveillance task, Iraqi air force is getting some
additional aircraft:
"The Iraqi air force's 70th Squadron will take possession of the first two SAMA CH2000 light air surveillance aircraft, Oct. 29, in Basrah, as the first delivery of an eight – and possibly 16 aircraft – addition to the force.

"In standing up the balance of the aircraft, the Iraqi air force will receive two CH2000 airplanes per month - deliveries kicking off in December - with final deliveries completing the $5.8 million acquisition at the end of March 2005.

"The SAMA CH2000 is a two-seat single engine-prop airplane equipped with forward looking infrared – a multi sensor imager offering high performance, precision, and high level imaging . The aircraft will also be equipped with state-of-the art communications systems guaranteeing continuous and secure air and land communications using various band widths. The craft are capable of day and nighttime missions."
Speaking of border protection, Iraq's nascent navy might be starting from scratch but the new version is at last getting proper training: " 'I have been a sailor for 22 years, but no one ever bothered to teach me how to navigate properly or tie knots,' said Haqi Ismail, 39, a toothless sailor, who described how in the former navy he had been sunk on three separate occasions. 'I chose to sign up this time because I want to serve my country the only way I know how,' he said before rushing to the side of the boat to throw an orange life-preserver into the sea to rescue a sailor-dummy who had 'fallen' overboard in one of many drills carried out during the day. With another 130 people working at its headquarters, the new navy already has enough staff to guard the country's limited territorial waters without external help, but this will not happen until it gains in experience and buys more boats."

Meanwhile, the
new Iraqi special forces are proving themselves under fire: "Last week, the Iraqi SWAT team and other members of the Iraqi security forces (about 800 men combined) backed by U.S. Marines (about 1,300) launched an offensive aimed at retaking guerilla strongholds south of the Sunni Triangle... within Babil province... The offensive continues this week, with Iraqi SWAT commandos and Douglas's Marines attacking guerilla bases, and resistance forces launching progressively weakening counter-attacks." Says captains Thomas "Tad" Douglas, commander of a Marine Force reconnaissance platoon and a reconnaissance and surveillance platoon working with the Iraqis: "The Iraqis are performing well-above my expectations. Their strengths are their aggressiveness and mobility, and we are enhancing those strengths."

Fallujah is one of the places around the country where the Iraqi units are playing an increasing security role: "The US army is training more than 8,000 Iraqi troops to be at the forefront of the coalition's threatened assault to wrest back control of the rebel stronghold of Falluja. A division made up of three brigades of special counterinsurgency troops from the new Iraqi army is being prepared to join an attack on the city of 300,000 people... 'The key to a successful capture of Falluja and holding it secure is the use of well trained Iraqi forces. The people there will never accept anything else,' said a US military commander in Baghdad." After initial disappointing performance of Iraqi army units earlier this year, some necessary changes in structure and tactics were made: "Iraqi Intervention Force (IIF) battalions have since been created. Its members have been recruited in the full knowledge that they may be asked to fight fellow countrymen. A battalion of the IIF was used in Najaf in the summer and another last month to help to retake Samarra." In both cases, with much success.

As a result of increasing Iraqi and Coalition pressure, it seems that foreign terrorists are starting to
outstay their welcome, even in Fallujah:
"Fearful of a large-scale U.S. attack, native insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallujah are turning against allied foreign fighters... The disputes have spilled over into harsh words and sporadic violence, with Fallujans killing at least five foreign Arabs in recent weeks, witnesses told the newspaper.

" 'If the Arabs will not leave willingly, we will make them leave by force,' said Jamal Adnan, a taxi driver who left his house after the house next door was bombed by U.S. aircraft targeting foreign insurgents. One of the foreign guerrillas killed by local fighters was Abu Abdallah Suri, a Syrian and a prominent member of Jordanian dissident Abu Musab Zarqawi's Jihad group. His body was found Sunday, shot in the head and chest following a chase by a carload of tribesmen."
Similar message comes through in this report: "Iraqi guerrillas resentful of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's growing influence are giving the government information putting security forces hot on his trail... 'The Iraqi insurgents have watched Zarqawi's people grab the limelight and gain ground. They are angry. So some are coming forward with information,' [said] National Security Advisor Mowaffaq al-Rubaie..."

The security situation also seems to be improving in another
former hot-spot:
"Soldiers with B Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry walk through the streets, accompanied by two gun trucks. During the mission, time is made to speak with members of a youth soccer team and buy ice cream cones for grateful children. Company leaders speak with merchants offering everything from watermelon to hubcaps. Virtually every resident stops and stares at the passing throng, most of them smiling and waving. After an hour on patrol, the Soldiers turn and head back to their forward operating base.

"The situation would be unremarkable, if not for the location. Less than two
weeks prior, anti-Iraq forces controlled Samarra and most of the residents stayed inside out of fear. 'We couldn't have walked through this area a week ago without being shot up with RPGs,' said 1st Lt. Greg Longo, a B 1-14 platoon leader from Calumet, Mich. Claims have been paid for damage to homes, and uniforms have been bought for a local youth soccer team. 'We're winning over those folks that may have been borderline before,' Longo said. 'It's night and day as far as their reception toward us now and before'."
And in Saddam's hometown on Tikrit, this joint operation breaks new ground: "The Tikrit Iraqi National Police and Emergency Service Unit, 201st Iraqi National Guard, and Task Force 1-18 conducted Operation Mandarin Squeeze on October 14. This operation was a cordon and search in the highest urban concentration of Tikrit. Its purpose was threefold: deny insurgents sanctuary, promote the Tikrit job corps program, and assess essential services... More than 600 homes were searched and more than 150 job corps cards were handed out. The job corps card can be exchanged for an employment opportunity in the city. The people’s overall reaction to this operation was extremely positive. In many cases, the residents invited Soldiers into their homes for tea. The people of Tikrit want peace and stability and realize that the presence of insurgents in their neighborhoods inhibits progress."

Elsewhere, a victory in the war on terror also translates into a victory in the
war on drugs:
"Coalition troops have seized $30 million worth of heroin intended for sale on Iraqi streets by rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the former commander of the 9,000-strong Polish force in south-central Iraq says.

"Lt. Gen. Mieczyslav Bieniek said the militia was using the drug profits 'to pay for action' against coalition forces and that some members of the Mahdi's Army were 'under the influence [while] fighting us.'

"The Polish commander was in Washington last week and said that the heroin trade was so pervasive that militia members were known as the 'pink army' — named after the red plastic bags they use to peddle the drugs. Military reports from southern Iraq, as well as State Department and Iraqi sources, have said militants also were using and selling amphetamines in Najaf and Baghdad."
Some other recent successes of Iraqi security forces include: detaining 17 suspected insurgents after foiling a car bomb plot in Mosul; the largest so far ammunition seizure of some 1,500 artillery shells; the arrest of 23 terrorist suspects and foiling another car bomb plot in Tal Afar; the arrest of 135 Iranian and Pakistani nationals who were trying to infiltrate into Iraq; and breaking of a kidnap ring in Kirkuk.

Michael Young writes in Beirut's
"Daily Star":
"As America's efforts in Iraq have hit deep sludge, one can measure the ambient gloating on the Richter scale. But the real question lies elsewhere: If America fails in Iraq, if its soldiers pack up and leave for home, is that really so desirable for the Iraqis in particular and Middle Eastern democrats in general?

"Maybe the question is prompted by too many smug observations that the U.S. is an empire that, by its imperial nature, can do no right - this from Arab academics who have long sunk their teeth into American tenureship. Maybe it comes from too many remarks that since President George W. Bush's administration has not done well for the Palestinians, it cannot possibly do so for the Iraqis. Or maybe it comes from a realization that for many people, especially in the Middle East, the war in Iraq is not about Iraqis or democracy at all; it's about watching America stumble...

"There is no withdrawal option in Iraq today that would truly benefit the Iraqis. Even the most ardent foes of America must recognize, if Iraqi interests rather than Washington's humiliation top their agenda, that it must succeed in its endeavors... Meanwhile, some might want to consider that applauding American setbacks is tantamount to wishing Iraq the very worst."
One could paraphrase the old saying that the anti-American world opinion is prepared to fight the United States to the last Iraqi. Iraqis deserve better than that and the stories above offer some hope that they might confound those who would see them merely as pawns in a cynical game of "kick the hegemon."


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