Saturday, October 02, 2004
Martin Peretz is not buying that argument:
"There is something risible in Kerry's faith in these hopeless transactions brokered by Kofi Annan and in the United Nations itself, which is staging yet another tragic, do-nothing performance on Darfur. He surely knows there is no cavalry of Europeans and Arabs about to ride to Iraq's rescue (especially since he intends to withdraw American troops, hardly a move that will give other nations confidence). He surely knows there are no foreign funders willing to bear the financial burden, either. But, if he admits that, then much of his critique of Bush's Iraq policy collapses, and with it his confidence in the honorable community of nations--the kind of phrase of which liberals are fond. Except that the nations to which it refers are neither honorable nor a community nor, in many cases, even nations. Kerry may want to rely on their goodwill, but I don't."(via Instapundit, original alas requires registration).
Kerry once again failed to name - and Bush once again failed to press him to name - any countries that would join Kerry's New and Improved Coalition of the Willing. France and Germany, of course, have already said non and nein respectively to sending any troops, the UN or not the UN and regardless who's in the White House, and most of the Muslim world doesn't seem to be too interested either in supporting the democratic project in Iraq with blood, sweat and tears (not to mention large amounts of money).
Ironically, the first story I saw this morning when I went to Google News was "Annan says Syria, Lebanon fail to comply with UN resolution." Gosh, another UN resolution ignored by the concerned parties? How could this be? Not to worry, the next time it will work.
Ultimately, Kerry's multilateral strategy flounders because it is based on one big piece of wishful thinking. Kerry assumes that the international community is genuinely - as genuinely as the United States - interested in solving the problem in Iraq, in a sense of seeing through that a successful and secure democracy develops there and subsequently throughout the Middle East. Hence, if the international community is currently sitting on its hands and doing nothing it simply must be because they don't like the current occupant of the White House. But the truth of the matter is that the international community is sitting on its hands and doing nothing because half of them didn't see anything particularly wrong with Saddam's regime while he was in power, and the other half who might have had some general moral objections didn't feel strongly enough to actually commit any resources towards changing the status quo. And they still don't.
But the Democratic contender doesn't seem to notice. To paraphrase F Scott Fitzgerald,
"Kerry believed in the international green light (the global test), the orgiastic multilateral future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us in the past, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further... And one fine morning-
"So we beat on, Swift Boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past (that's seared - seared - in Kerry's memory)."
"Scarcely a day goes by without some major new story about Iraq. The visit by Prime Minister Allawi, new kidnappings, campaign rhetoric, the release or killing of those kidnapped, attacks on Americans and Iraqis who cooperate with them, new leaks of reports about what has happened or is likely to happen there. None of these seems to have any significant impact on American opinion."So much bad news and there is still some support for war and George Bush? How can this be? Are people completely dumb, or what? Or has the media overdone it and actually managed to desensitise people to bad news? Or maybe people have some alternative news sources that paint a different picture of Iraq - anything from guys in pajamas to American servicemen and women writing back home?
The general optimism about Iraq and high levels of support for war took a dive in April, when both the Sunni and Shia insurgencies kicked off for good. Since then, the Harris poll results on all the major questions have indeed shown very little change. Overall, people are pretty pessimistic - but as all other polls show, they still prefer Bush.
I guess that means the media will just have to try a little bit harder. I'm far from the first one to suggest that we should prepare ourselves for another Tet Offensive; a concerted insurgent campaign which will prove to be a military disaster for them but which nevertheless will be portrayed as a Coalition defeat.
Friday, October 01, 2004
"We had Saddam Hussein trapped... [The President] said Saddam Hussein would have been stronger. That is just factually incorrect. Two-thirds of the country was a no-fly zone when we started this war. We would have had sanctions. We would have had the U.N. inspectors. Saddam Hussein would have been continually weakening."It's an interesting, and on the face of it, persuasive argument. There is really only one problem with it: it's wrong.
Let's assume that everything went ahead as Kerry would have wanted (call it the "Al Gore wins Florida" scenario): the UN arms inspectors would have been given more time and weeks or months later, at the end of the whole process they would have come back to the Security Council saying: "we found no weapons and we found no evidence of active WMD programs." What would have happened next? Surely not a continuing containment, because if the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction is your only rationale for containing Iraq, whether you are a Democratic Presidential contender or a member of the "international community", once Hans Blix gives Saddam a clean bill of health there is no other reason to continue containment and continue sanctions against Iraq.
With the UN officially announcing "no WMDs here" there would have been a huge push from countries such as France, Germany, Russia and China to close the door on the whole sorry saga and normalize relations with Iraq. After all, if Iraq has fulfilled its obligations to fully disarm under the UN resolutions, there is scarcely any credible reason to keep it from rejoining the family of nations. And so, the oil trade would resume without the corrupt fig leaf of the Oil for Food program and Iraq's old friends would restart their lucrative trade relations with Saddam.
This would be Iraq 2004 if Kerry had his way: Saddam and his criminal family still in power, sanctions and no-fly zones removed, the coffers filling up again, and rearmament as well as WMD programs ready to restart at a moment's notice (see this recent opinion piece by Mahdi Obeidi, the head of Saddam Hussein's nuclear centrifuge program).
So Kerry is wrong - we did have Saddam trapped, but it's Kerry's insistence on WMDs as the litmus test for intervention combined with his preference for the United Nations as the only legitimate arbiter of the legality and desirability of military action against Iraq would have ensured that far from "continually weakening" Saddam would have been allowed to have a fresh start.
As always, Charles Krauthammer put it best:
"Our postwar troubles have made us believe, as if under amnesia, that the choice was between war and some kind of sustainable equilibrium. It was not. The tense post-Gulf War settlement was unstable and creating huge and growing liabilities for America. First, Iraqi suffering and starvation under a cruel and corrupt sanctions regime was widely blamed on the U.S. Second, the standoff with Iraq made necessary a large American garrison in Saudi Arabia, land of the Islamic holiest placesin the eyes of many Muslims, another U.S. provocation. Indeed, these two offenses were cited by Osama bin Laden as the chief justification for his 1998 declaration of jihad against America. Most important, the sanctions 'containing' Saddam were collapsing.As it happens, last night I finished reading memoirs of Uday Hussein's schoolmate who was forced to be Uday's double. It's a surreal, frightening book, and I, for one, am happy that the Saddam-Uday & Qusay transition of power scenario is no longer a possibility.
"That would have produced the ultimate nightmare: a re-energized and relegitimized regime headed by Saddam - and ultimately, even worse, his sons - increasingly Islamicizing its Baathist ideology, rearming and renewing WMD programs, and extending its connections with terrorist groups. The threat was not imminent. But it was ominous and absolutely inevitable."
To bring you up to speed, the left-wing of the Labour Party has put up a motion that Britain should withdraw its troops from Iraq. Had the motion passed, it would have been a humiliation for Blair who has staked so much of his political capital on this cause. In the end, more than 85% of the delegates voted down the motion, affirming at the same time that the Brit troops are in Iraq in accordance with the UN resolution and at the invitation of the provisional government, and would therefore stay there for as long as the Iraqi government wanted them to.
My favorite headline so far comes from ABC: "Blair Avoids Defeat Over Troops in Iraq" which is rather like a headline in 1945 "Allies Avoid Defeat Over War With Hitler."
It wasn't all Blair's charisma and control of the bully pulpit that got him the desired result, although I'm sure there was that too. As it often happens in politics, all sorts of horse-trading went on behind the scenes, and the big four British trade unions are believed to have been convinced in time to support Blair as a payback for an earlier agreement on workers' rights hammered out with the government back in July. Maybe I'm getting cynical in my old age, but I don't think that an impassioned speech by a Kurdish woman "helped swing the vote" either, as papers have it. I've been to enough political conventions in my time to know that most people come with their minds already made up; rhetoric might be memorable and moving but it doesn't move too many votes. Still, here's some of what a Surrey-resident Shanaz Rashid of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and a wife of Iraqi government minister had to say:
"Yes, there have been difficulties. Yes, there have been mistakes perhaps many mistakes. No, you did not find weapons of mass destruction. But for the great majority of Iraqis WMD was never the issue. We don't understand the criticism of your Prime Minister. All we wanted was to be free... I appeal to you all [delegates]... to help us build a new democratic federal Iraq that would respect the lives of human beings."When asked later by the media if she considered some in the Labour Party naive about Iraq, Rashid replied:
"Yes I do think so. They don't know the reality of their lives. They haven't lived through Saddam. They don't know what we've been through. It is not fair of them to ask the British Government to withdraw their forces before completing their mission. They are going to harm the Iraqi people more. They are going to cause more deaths. If they are concerned about the Iraqi children they should not be asking the British Government to leave them alone at the mercy of others. The Iraqi people born 30 or 35 years ago have seen nothing but one kind of rule and that is dictatorship. You cannot just change them in a matter of day and night. People of Iraq have become strangers. We need time to be introduced to each other again. We should be given time to know one another, to see the differences, to see the options and we need all the help in the world to rebuild our home."Mrs Rashid seems to be talking about the Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder.
By the way, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is an observer member of the Socialist International. It's good to know that at least some left-wing parties around the world still know the importance of fighting fascism. They happen to be the parties which have actually experienced fascism first hand, as opposed to the rest who seem to think that it's something that emanates from the White House.
Lastly, Tony Blair has announced that he will seek a third but not a fourth parliamentary term, as he prepares to go into hospital for a heart surgery. The last few years have obviously taken their toll. Speedy recovery, Tony, and God bless.
To kick off the series, Pavel Bratinka from the Czech Republic argues that as the West faces a new opponent, we have failed to learn enough from our previous confrontation with a totalitarian enemy:
The strategic importance of remembrance
In November 1917, a relatively small group of armed Communists took power in some parts of Russia. Their ideology consisted of a set of ideas radically severed from what until then had been considered as basic prerequisite of any societal, political and economic order that aspired to last. The glaring absurdity of the Communist ideology led the overwhelming majority of observers to believe that the Soviet system would soon implode.
But not only did the expected implosion not take place, but – on the contrary – the Soviet Communist power was for decades marching on, conquering country after country until it towered over the world like an invincible ogre. It was only thanks to American military might that the Communist Empire did not conquer the whole world– either by direct invasion or by internal terror unleashed by local Communists.
Seas of ink and mountains of paper were used for texts analysing the Communist Empire. All and sundry specialised departments and institutions – not to speak of innumerable pundits – devoted themselves to the task of observing, analysing and trying to understand the system whose existence shaped the twentieth century. The research was anything but merely academic endeavour as all political establishments and intelligence services outside direct reach of the Communist Empire tried to understand its power.
But seemingly to no avail. It was the mischievous irony of historical proportions and not the accumulated wisdom of Sovietologists that celebrated its triumph. While at the dawn of Communist power almost every observer expected its speedy demise, in its twilight years almost every observer expected it was going to mellow and decay slowly for decades. Very few people predicted its swift disappearance.
Thus one would expect that once this unexpected event took place and the Ogre lay dead there will be a great rush for knowledge of what invisible secrets kept the Ogre going for so long and what invisible weaknesses made him to tumble so suddenly. Now when millions of people who were forced to be the flesh and bone of the Ogre are at last free to talk without fear, there is a golden window of opportunity to gather critical mass of information which would demystify the mystery, reveal the secret and decipher the enigma of Communist power.
But there has been no such rush. This lack of interest may perhaps be understandable as regards the huge majority of academics and journalists who derive their right to preach to the ignorant by alleged superiority of their insight. They were proved to suffer from colossal blindness and have thus vested interest in seeing the whole Communist episode forgotten the sooner the better. On the other hand, political and military establishments and security and intelligence services whose prime task is to understand power would be expected to eagerly dissect the Ogre’s corpse – at least in order to be better equipped for future encounters with other unintelligible evils to come. But again nothing is happening. Even sinful lust for some new and yet unknown secrets of the technology of power is inexplicably dormant.
Each year some witnesses pass away and the memories of those who remain are fading. The fact that almost no perpetrators of monstrous crimes of the Communist Empire were brought to trial and punished is a shame, which will haunt our century.
But at least some of the crimes have been documented albeit with horrifying uncertainty of plus million here minus million there. However the fact that those inhabitants of the Empire who were not murdered or imprisoned had to live in self-inflicted moral numbness in order to remain safe from diverse punishments is almost never taken as relevant.
This fact makes the panorama of Communism fatally incomplete because the ultimate crime of Communism is not that it destroyed democracy and the rule of law. Not even murdering its opponents makes it uniquely evil. Nor even its murderous frenzies when people were murdered just to instil terror in those left alive could be regarded as unparalleled in history. Its ultimate crime consisted in forcing millions of people for decades to express publicly and cheerfully their consent with something they regarded as criminal, untrue or idiotic. The numbness was thus for all but few the only way to preserve sanity. But it is exactly this numbness which points to the secret of Communist Power – and to the secret of its undoing as well. So the lack of any research in this regard is not only a dismal moral failure to bring this immense suffering to daylight, but also even less understandable failure of self-interest. The Red Ogre is dead – that is sure - but he was not the last one to threat mankind – he was only the latest.
And, indeed, a new ogre may just be emerging. On September 11 a new hideous inspiration declared itself openly to the world. It achieved that by demonstrating its feasibility. We have to confess we did not think it to be such until it happened. September 11 revealed with glaring clarity that the security establishments in the West were totally blind to some facets of reality out there or, rather, in there - in the workings of human soul. There they are going again.
It is true that this fledgling ogre will be different from the red one in many regards, but I am sure that none of these differences will touch the substance. It is also true that this time military action is being undertaken while the terrorist headquarters are as yet sheltered by relatively very weak states. No such timely action was taken against the Bolsheviks when they were barely standing on their feet. But as the fight against this terrorism will be long, we should not repeat the failure of misunderstanding or, rather, "nonunderstanding" the enemy.
It is therefore high noon for us to subject the enemy to vigorous scrutiny down to the very core from which they derive their moral inspiration, methods of recruitment and infiltration and their hope of ultimate success. This is the only way of arriving at correct strategy of defeating them. I am sure that first fruit of the scrutiny will be an understanding of how the behaviour of us "non-terrorists" could – if not changed as soon as possible - nourish seeming terrorists´ conviction that their undertaking is not doomed to fail. With a bitter feeling of déjà-vu I observe the same silly non-logic at work in too many comments in the public place as I had the displeasure to see during long totalitarian night. There is no place here to elaborate on that point- suffice it to say that authors of the comments derived no lessons whatsoever from the rise and fall of Communism.
But it must be admitted that the poor devils have nowhere to turn for the learning, as there is yet no well-established mass of facts illuminating the innermost essence of that inhuman power.
The best way to compile the required mass is to interview as many witnesses as it is feasible – from most obscure street sweepers up to former top apparatchiks. The interviews should aim at finding out their perception of what was going on, what they really thought about it, why they behaved the way they did, what they were afraid of, whether they hoped for any change, how they regarded outside world, etc., etc.
It should be carried out in several former Communist countries in order to throw light on the extent to which the practice of the regimes was colored by local history, political and social traditions that accrued before the falling of the totalitarian night without, however, touching the substance.
The cost of carrying such project would be infinitesimally smaller that the cost of present war on terrorism. But it would yield immense benefits for its successful conclusion.
Pavel Bratinka can be contacted at bratinka "at" post "dot" cz
Update: John Derbyshire has very similar thoughts, except - predictably - puts it much better than I can:
"John Kerry plus: He does not come across as arrogant and obnoxious as we believe him to be.Fortunately, as it happens, most people tend to be pretty poor public listeners.
John Kerry minus: His positions don't hold together in any coherent way.
George W. Bush plus: He has an air of authority, experience, and purpose I don't recall from 2000.
George W. Bush minus: The President is a dismally poor public speaker."
What can I say, except to repeat once I again what I've written before on those occasions, that is when I started this blog seven months ago I never expected to get where I am now. But it's been a great ride, a great opportunity to inflict my thoughts on an unsuspecting international audience, an a great opportunity to meet (electronically) so many interesting people. There are far too many people to thank - and once you start naming them individually you invariably risk leaving too many others off - so in general terms, to all those who linked and publicized, and all those who came in to read and kept coming back - a big thank you for your help and support (by the way, if you're been linking to me in the past but are not yet on my blogroll, I'm not being rude, it's just difficult keeping track. So as the "Good book" says, "Ask, and ye shall be given").
While I'm loath to do readers' polls (how reliable are they? are you a registered Chrenkoff reader or only a likely Chrenkoff reader? how representative is the sample and what's the margin of error?), I guess now's as good an opportunity as any to tell me what you'd like to see more (or less) at this blog. I'm not at that stage of blog stardom yet when trackbacks would give me a good indication of what I'm doing well (except that the "Good news" series continue to be popular) but I'm starting to have some idea through number (or conversely lack) of comments as to which topics or angles seem to generate most interest. So feel free to help me along and offer suggestions.
While I'm at it - apologies if blogging will perhaps be somewhat lighter than usual until after Saturday, 9 October. We've got election down here, too.
Roger Simon wonder whether this latest Al Zarqawi outrage was designed to coincide with the first presidential debate in the US: "It's hard to know, but it's far from impossible. We do know, the terror mongers have tried to influence elections before, in the very recent past and with regrettable success." Glenn Reynolds tends to agree.
If it is - and if as the common wisdom suggests it's designed to energize the anti-war crowd and thus help Kerry across the line - it might be a risky tactic for the terrorists. I can just imagine this exchange between the two contenders tonight:
John Kerry: Meanwhile, earlier on today in Baghdad another two suicide bombings caused carnage and destruction among our servicemen and Iraqi civilians. Yet at the same time the President insist with maintaining his fiction - which is not shared by many in his own administration, his own intelligence advisers, his commanders on the ground and in fact anyone who has had any direct experience of Iraq recently - the President is maintaining his fiction that things are going well in Iraq, and we are on the right track. This, as security situation deteriorates from day to day, our troops face increasing attacks and take increasing casualties, with no prospect of improvement and no end in sight. Mr President, if this is what you describe as winning the war, then what do you describe as failure?
George Bush: We are fighting against people who murder children in cold blood. We won't abandon Iraqi people to these monsters.
I think I know which line might have just a bit more appeal than the other.
Not that we didn't know it before, but the terrorists in Iraq don't care for the lives of the Coalition soldiers, just as much as they also don't give a damn for the lives of ordinary Iraqi people and for the reconstruction of the country. John Kerry has hell of a job ahead of him trying to convince the voters that his plan will keep these people from taking control over Iraq.
And just to pre-empt somebody's possible comment that the Coalition has killed a lot more Iraqis than the terrorists, I'm genuinely sorry for all the loss of life. I accept that the pain and grief for the relatives and friends is the same whether your loved one is killed by an American bullet or a terrorist bomb. What I don't accept - and will never accept - is that there is moral equivalence between accidentally killing civilians during a battle and purposefully killing civilians to achieve political ends. Neither will I accept the argument that there is no difference whether a life is lost as a result of struggle for freedom and democracy or as a result of struggle for tyranny and oppression. This argument was repugnant in the past, when promoted by the critics of the Cold War, and it is still repugnant today, when hawked around often by the same people now in support of a new case.
Thursday, September 30, 2004
"The Islamic Army in Iraq, holding two French hostages, praised France's stand after it called for a US-proposed conference to address the issue of a US troop withdrawal, in a statement Wednesday on the Internet.France understands your causes alright, such as kicking the United States in the groin. Hence, France has also come onboard the idea of an international conference on Iraq, but only as long as the US withdrawal is on the agenda, and the "representatives of the armed opposition" are included in the discussions. By the way, the French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has been recently quoted as saying that "[t]he Iraqi insurgents are our best allies."
" 'The Islamic Army in Iraq pays tribute to the French government for its positive initiative towards the Iraqi people despite its deplorable history,' said a statement posted on the group's website. 'We hope this heralds a new era of comprehension of our causes and respect for our principles'."
So much for the Franco-American alliance. I think I speak for all of us when I say: dear France, the next time you're invaded by one of your neighbors, feel free to call on Iraqi insurgents to save your ass.
Update: Not that the words above left us in any doubt, but here's one more quote, this time from Philippe Evano, a member of a French negotiating team led by MP Didier Julia: "[The French hostages] have been in safe hands, those of the 'resistance', for about two weeks and their liberation is assured, but their exit is being blocked by the American bombardment in the Fallujah area."
Seriously, why a pretense of an alliance with somebody who by all indications treats our enemies as his friends and allies?
Update II: The Kurds aren't happy - Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massud Barzani has this to say: "[France’s position] is surprising and repugnant as a (world) power demands the participation of a representative of the so-called resistance. That means a representative of terrorism, of terrorists." France has a thing or two still to teach the Kurdish newcomers to the world of democracy: it's undemocratic to exclude people from deliberations, even if they're blowing up children.
British right jumps on the anti-war bandwagon: Kick 'im while he's laying down:
"[Tory leader] Michael Howard has accused Tony Blair of lying over the Iraq war, in the clearest sign yet that the Conservative party is preparing to tap into the anti-war protest during the coming election campaign.It's always sad watching your fellow conservatives play the opportunistic card, particularly if you contrast such behavior with the principled pro-war stance taken by left-wing governments in Great Britain and Poland. It wasn't very popular in either country, but it was the right thing to do. The British and Polish left was right; the British right is now wrong.
"The Tory leader has dismissed the Prime Minister's claim to have been genuinely misled by 'wrong' evidence provided by the intelligence services - and said he deliberately contorted evidence he was provided about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction."
Newsflash: The war was planned in advance: No, this is not a headline from the "Onion". Writes the "Gulf Daily News": "Blair planned Iraq war months before decision":
"Britain started to plan the invasion of Iraq months before the conflict, according to a report yesterday quoting a leaked Pentagon document. Senior British and US commanders met at a war-planning session in June 2002 and orders to prepare actual military operations were given on October 7, 2002, more than a month before a UN resolution giving a final warning to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the London Evening Standard newspaper reported."Australia, too, stands accused:
"Britain has confirmed Australia was invited to take part in planning for the Iraq war shortly after British and US military officials started preparations nine months before the invasion.Wow, these dudes actually planned the war well beforehand. Instead of waiting for the nod from the international community, they drew up plans weeks in advance. How presumptuous. Of course, had they waited for the nod, Saddam would still be in power today.
"A report in London newspaper the Evening Standard cites a leaked Pentagon document as saying senior British and US commanders met at a 'UK and Australia planning conference' in June 2002 in Florida."
And all that time I thought that this is what governments are supposed to do: plan for future contingencies. Why, during the Cold War NATO must have planned how to stop the Soviet attack on Western Europe years and years before such attack thankfully did not eventuate.
This is the same mainstream media which bitches and moans that the Coalition went into Iraq without a plan to "win peace" - but have a plan to "win war" and they're still not happy.
Them Jews did it: Listening to "His Master's Voice" in Washington, DC:
"British famous writer and journalist Patrick Seale stressed that the U.S. war in Iraq was on behalf of Israel, adding that pro-Israel neoconservatives inside the American administration supported the war on Iraq."I remembering reading Seale's biography of the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal over a decade ago, in which Seale seriously argued that Abu Nidal might actually be an Israeli agent because his actions (such as assassinating more moderate Palestinians) have done so much damage to the Palestinian cause. I guess there's no limit to the cleverness and wickedness of those wily Jews.
Seale is now finding soulmates in Damascus:
"Syria accused Israel of inciting the United States to invade Iraq to deflect attention from its own policies in the region, where it tightens its grip on the Palestinian territories it seized in a 1967 war.United Nations - the political karaoke for the insane.
"In his annual speech to the UN General Assembly, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa accused Israel of 'inciting Americans, first, and then the West, to wage endless wars in the Middle East'."
Sadly, Sami Ramadani, a refugee from Saddam's regime and currently a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, is also not immune from conspiracy theorising a la Seale, when he bowls for the "resistance" in a "Guardian" column:
"The vast majority of Iraqis reject Zarqawi and his ilk - as do the resistance and its supporters in Falluja, Sadr City and across Iraq. Many even suspect that the occupation forces are somehow encouraging the likes of Zarqawi, or at least failing to prevent their crimes, as a way of obscuring the fact that most Iraqis now actively support a patriotic and widespread resistance movement."The Jews run the Americans, and the Americans run al Qaeda - what horror. No wonder that Seale and Ramadani can't sleep well at night.
"The President, using official duties to political advantage in a battleground state, toured Florida orange groves pummelled in three hurricanes since August which killed 100 people and wreaked billions of dollars in damage."The question that many in the media will I'm sure be trying very hard to answer is, just how did the President manage to arrange a series of natural disasters to hit a swing state just in time to provide him with a perfect photo opportunity? Perhaps we should start calling Karl Rove "He Who Controls the Winds."
This is a classic no-win situation as far as the media is concerned: Bush goes to visit the damages areas - he's an opportunist who cynically uses disaster to get himself more exposure. Bush doesn't go - he's ignoring the plight of Floridians, because he's too busy trying to put a positive spin on the disaster in Iraq. But wait - he has to go anyway, because the first debate is taking place in Miami. Imagine the outcry if he just turned up for the debate and ignored the locals: "The President was today accused of putting his re-election ahead of compassion for hurricane victims as he refused to tour the hardest hit areas, choosing instead to continue preparing for tonight's debate."
"Two Italian aid workers released from captivity in Iraq described their abductors as religious men who treated them with respect, asked for forgiveness and gave them a farewell present - English-language volumes explaining the Koran."The two Simonas were obviously lucky to be kidnapped by the Kindness Brigades for the Liberation of Iraq, the pacifist splinter group of the Al Zarqawi organisation. Then again, if the kidnapping was from the beginning just about money and not politics, beheading might never have been an option.
"[Simona] Torretta spoke of her enduring love for the Iraqi people and expressed worries about their hardships. 'We hope that this liberation can represent a symbol of peace,' she said.Even though it seems that the Islamic Jihad Organisation in Iraq, which has originally issued a threat to kill the hostages if Italy didn't withdraw its troops from Iraq within 24 hours, was not actually the group holding the two Italian women, the Simonas decided to stick to the original demand:
"Earlier, Torretta was asked if she had feared for her life. She first said 'yes,' then added that the abductors had reassured them. 'They understood the work we did' for a volunteer group in Iraq, she told reporters.
"Later, the Italian news agency ANSA quoted her as saying the kidnappers eventually asked for pardon. 'They taught us and wanted to teach us about the principles of Islam,' Torretta said. 'They never touched us. They treated us with great dignity.'
"Torretta was clutching a box when she was released, and ANSA quoted her as saying it contained 10 volumes of English translations and explanations about the Koran that the kidnappers had given them."
"[Simona Pari] urged people to 'try to change the very ugly reality there [in Iraq].' When a reporter shouted if that meant pulling out troops, she replied, 'Yes, also withdrawing troops'."If the Stockholm Syndrome is a condition where the hostages start to sympathise with their captors, what do you call a condition where the hostages start to sympathise with people who only claim to be their captors? A fake but accurate Stockholm Syndrome?
"[I]n terms of the number of blogs per Internet users, Poles are right at the top, surpassing American blogger rates two to one, and that's not even counting those Polish blogs that are hosted on American domains, nor is it controlling for the disproportionately large number of Internet users in Poland as compared to elsewhere."There you go, Chrenkoff is only a vanguard of barbarian invasion from the East (or actually, as we prefer to situate ourselves geographically, Center). Professor Camic explains the reasons:
"* We [Poles] think we will all die tomorrow and so we feel compelled to hurry and put down every last word before the reaper comes knocking.I didn't know that Stephen Green was Polish. Anyway, I can also add another reason: while over the last two and a half centuries Poles had their fair share of failed uprisings and insurrections, there's only so many you can go through without totally destroying your own nation, hence writing becomes a convenient, and safer, substitute for direct action, an opposition activity that just about everyone can engage in. And believe me - everyone does.
"* We think we are a nation of poets; unfortunately, when we try our hand at poetry it doesn't come out right and so we blog instead.
"* We are a literate nation. We read a lot of news papers and magazines. We consume the stuff like our souls depended on it. Obviously all that reading makes us want to sound off about what we have just read.
"* Our bloodline got mixed up with an Italian strain many centuries ago during years of conquest and royal travels. We are thus an expressive lot. Just like Italians. There, two stereotypes in one point.
"* We have adventurous palates and we have ravenous appetites for trendy things. We'll try anything that's new and popular elsewhere.
"* Vodka and blogging go hand in hand nicely. Have you ever tried writing a post with a chilled bottle of Wyborowa feeding a martini glass? No? Me neither, but it sounds enticing for a cold winter's night. Or, to a Pole it does. With some pickles and maybe a piece of herring on dark rye. And cold stubby fingers sticking out wooly gloves."
(hat tip: Libercontrarian)
"Just days before Dem presidential hopeful John Kerry is set to take the stage in a debate opener projected to be seen by 70 million, photos show the senator dramatically taking on color. Is it the late September Wisconsin sun during debate prep that has turned Kerry's face to rich pumpkin-colored hues?"Some of Hugh Hewitt's readers had explanations of their own:
"An e-mailer suggests it is just Kerry turning colors for the fall. Another writes that Kerry just wants to declare 'Ich bin ein Pumpkiner.' A third says its a play for the Great Pumpkin vote."But how could everyone had overlooked a very clear Vietnam connection:
(which for all I know, might have been Kerry's codename on his secret mission to Cambodia while wearing his magic CIA hat.)
Update: I'm not the only one talking about Agent Orange.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
"Muslim extremists have been sending us a message for more than a decade. That message can be summarized as 'leave us alone.' Quit funding a right-wing Israeli government that drops American-made bombs on our Palestinian brothers. Stop arming corrupt, despised autocracies across the Muslim world--in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, to name a few--so that we can overthrow them. Let us liberate ourselves. We'll decide whether we prefer secular, modern societies like Turkey, medieval fundamentalists like the Taliban, or something in between. It's our choice, not America's."I've got a challenge for Rall: please quote me any "Muslim extremist" saying "Let us liberate ourselves. We'll decide whether we prefer secular, modern societies like Turkey, medieval fundamentalists like the Taliban, or something in between," or words even remotely to that effect.
It is not, and never has been, the case of just "leave us alone." We are talking here about absolutists with a totalitarian mindset; these are the people who not only want to recreate the Caliphate encompassing all the territories presently or historically held by Muslims, but who take their duty to convert everyone to Islam very seriously indeed. For them it's not just a matter of religious calling (however misinterpreted), but also of survival: they realize that their utopia cannot triumph for as long as the West provides an alternative. Our democratic, decadent and materialistic society provides too much of a temptation for the weak masses to be allowed to peacefully coexists with Islamist states.
Secondly, and returning to my challenge, "Muslim extremists" are not interested in liberation or freedom to choose a political system. The Taliban-style society is the only choice. Now, how an Infertile Crescent of expansionist theocracies stretching from Nigeria to Indonesia is going to make for a safer and more stable international environment is beyond me, but hey, I'm not a cartoonist, so what would I know?
There's plenty more in Rall's piece, mostly about how we have killed a lot more Iraqis than vice-versa, so we're worse than the kidnappers and beheaders. Read the rest if you want to cringe. Rall, however, ends on a positive note:
"Whatever our intentions, and in part thanks to our tactics, Iraqis are increasingly hostile to the U.S... Since July... cutting the heads off of about 20 foreigners has given the Iraqi resistance the results it wants: fewer Americans support the war or believe it's worth the cost. Twenty versus three thousand--it's rough calculus but easy arithmetic."And those twenty heads are price that Rall is happy to pay if it means that his country loses war with terrorists.
"British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said he shook hands with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in New York last week 'by mistake' and because it was 'dark'."Straw explains himself:
"I hadn't expected to see President Mugabe there. Because it was quite dark in that corner; I was being pushed towards shaking hands with somebody just as a matter of courtesy and then it transpired it was President Mugabe."So straw shook Mugabe's hand by mistake - what's Mugabe's excuse?
Straw also added that "[t]he fact that there is a serious disagreement between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom does not mean that you should then be discourteous or rude." Somebody should tell that to Mugabe, who only a week ago drew a rousing applause from the delegates when he told the United Nations General Assembly: "Iraq today has become a vast inferno created by blatant and completely illegal and defiant acts of aggression by the United States, Britain and their allies... We are now being coerced to accept and believe that a new political-cum-religious doctrine has arisen, namely that 'there is but one political god, George Bush, and Tony Blair is his prophet'." Mugabe, of course, was not discourteous or rude, he was merely expressing what these days passes for conventional wisdom around the "international community."
"This guy is a nut-job, but a subtle enough nut-job that my very intelligent brother buys his BS. He often quotes others so he can say to critics, 'I didn't say that, someone else did.' But by quoting them, he is clearly promoting their views. Because of his subtlety, he seems far more dangerous to me than the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O'Reillys of the world who have become caricatures of themselves." [my emphasis]There is even a poll attached, and you can vote on the question "Who is the most dangerous (influential) right wing pundit?" - choosing from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Joe Scarborough, or... me! At the time of writing this I'm trailing badly with only one vote, so please, please, please...
VOTE FOR ME!
...because I want to be "the most dangerous right wing pundit", even if it's just a Daily Kos readers' poll.
After you're done, you can "Read on to see how [Chrenkoff] belittle's [sic] the Daily Kos." Since I've already been accused of belittling the Daily Kos, what the hell: how about you learn to spell.
"mrboma" takes particular offence to this intro to one of my "Good news from Iraq" posts:
"As 'Boston Globe' columnist Jeff Jacoby writes, 'The press tends to emphasize what's going wrong in Iraq because of an inbuilt bias for the negative - only the plane that crashes, not the 999 that land safely, make news. The result is that while the bad news in Iraq gets reported everywhere, the reports of good news you have to look for.' For the sake of fairness, one might add that in Iraq it's perhaps 10 or 20 planes that crash, yet even with that caveat the mainstream media coverage often gives ones the impression that the whole Iraqi air fleet has gone down in flames."What's wrong with it?
"His analogy is, of course, absurd to the extreme. If 1 in 1000 planes crashed, no one would fly because it would be far too risky. If the crash rate was 1% to 2%, as he says the failure rate in Iraq is, that would mean multiple crashes per day at every major airport!" [emphasis in the original]What can I say, except: cheer up, for goodness' sake; this is an analogy, not a maths lesson. The Oxford Dictionary defines analogy as "partial likeness between two things that are compared." I think most people can see the basic point, but for the Daily Kos readers I promise in future to use the actual numbers.
And there's more there, if you're looking for some amusement.
Update: Thank you to all the kind readers who eight hours later made me the "most dangerous right-wing pundit" on a comfortable 55%. I bet there are many Daily Kos readers scanning right now through that post thinking "Who the @#*$ is Arthur Chrenkoff when Rush Limbaugh is sitting at 13%?" Ah, the little things in life...
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Now, before hanging my head in shame and despair for failing to provide my blog with enough "stickiness", as marketing people would say, in order to attract and keep the visitors' attention for longer than it takes to yawn and click to something else, this problem is not just restricted to this humble site.
For the Blogfather Glenn Reynolds himself, the average visit length is 2 seconds. Andrew Sullivan also scores 2 seconds. The Volokh Conspiracy has more attentive readership with an average of 33 seconds per visit.
And the short attention span is not restricted to the right: Daily Kos scores only 4 seconds.
I know that we live in a very fast society, but I'm sure we're not all speedreaders, and 2 seconds might not be enough to judge whether a particular post is interesting enough to read. A brief visit to a blog would suggest to me somebody coming in, realizing there haven't been any updates since the last visit and leaving - the problem is, however, that all the blogs in question are updated reasonably frequently.
It's a blogosphere mystery. Any suggestions from readers? Then again, if you have read thus far, you probably don't know why other leave after 2 seconds.
Update: I never quite expected the magnitude of response, but this post has generated tons of interesting discussion. I apologise if the above has come across as a whinge and a tantrum along the lines "why aren't people reading my work?!" - that wasn't my intention; I was genuinely curious about this problem.
All the answers are there in the comments section - as with just about everything under the sun, the causes of the "2 second" phenomenon are numerous and varied; some technical, some to do with people's reading and browsing patterns. I certainly finished off much wiser than I had started yesterday. A few weeks ago the blogosphere demonstrated to Dan Rather's displeasure how it actually works - by linking and utilising expertise and opinion of thousands of individuals around the world - something that simply wasn't possible until recently. This discussion is yet another example of the power of the networks. Thanks to all who participated and offered suggestion - and to those who at the same time took the opportunity to tell me they enjoy my work. I'm glad to hear and I hope you'll keep on coming back.
One of the names I mentioned was Chris Hitchens, the former enfant terrible of international socialism and a Trotskyite superstar, and now one of the loudest voices in the fight against Islamofascism. I don't know if Chris will ever officially find a new home on the right, but this recent interview offers a very good glimpse into his mind and soul; all the better since it has been conducted by a leftie journalist friend who can't help still liking Hitch but despairs at the fact that Hitch's new stance is helping those, ugh, ugly right-wingers. A few choice quotes - on the "root causes" of terrorism:
"Some people on the left tried to understand the origins of al-Quaeda as really being about inequalities in wealth, or Israel's brutality towards the Palestinians, or other legitimate grievances. 'Look: inequalities in wealth had nothing to do with Beslan or Bali or Madrid,' Hitchens says. 'The case for redistributing wealth is either good or it isn't - I think it is - but it's a different argument. If you care about wealth distribution, please understand, the Taliban and the al Quaeda murderers have less to say on this than even the most cold-hearted person on Wall Street. These jihadists actually prefer people to live in utter, dire poverty because they say it is purifying. Nor is it anti-imperialist: they explicitly want to recreate the lost Caliphate, which was an Empire itself.'And on neo-conservatives:
He continues, 'I just reject the whole mentality that says, we need to consider this phenomenon in light of current grievances. It's an insult to the people who care about the real grievances of the Palestinians and the Chechens and all the others. It's not just the wrong interpretation of those causes; it's their negation.' And this goes for the grievances of the Palestinians, who he has dedicated a great deal of energy to documenting and supporting. 'Does anybody really think that if every Jew was driven from Palestine, these guys would go back to their caves? Nobody is blowing themselves up for a two-state solution. They openly say, "We want a Jew-free Palestine, and a Christian-free Palestine." And that would very quickly become, "Don't be a Shia Muslim around here, baby."' He supports a two-state solution - but he doesn't think it will solve the jihadist problem at all."
"He explains by talking about the origins of his relationship with the neconservatives in Washington. 'I first became interested in the neocons during the war in Bosnia-Herzgovinia. That war in the early 1990s changed a lot for me. I never thought I would see, in Europe, a full-dress reprise of internment camps, the mass murder of civilians, the reinstiutution of torture and rape as acts of policy. And I didn't expect so many of my comrades to be indifferent - or even take the side of the fascists'...Read the whole thing (hat tip: Jeremy Chrysler).
" 'That's when I began to first find myself on the same side as the neocons. I was signing petitions in favour of action in Bosnia, and I would look down the list of names and I kept finding, there's Richard Perle. There's Paul Wolfowitz. That seemed interesting to me. These people were saying that we had to act.' He continues, 'Before, I had avoided them like the plague, especially because of what they said about General Sharon and about Nicaragua. But nobody could say they were interested in oil in the Balkans, or in strategic needs, and the people who tried to say that - like Chomsky - looked ridiculous. So now I was interested'."
Update: Speaking of neo-cons and Jeremy Chrysler, he would like to refer you to a quiz, so you can find out if you are a dreaded neo-con or not. Sadly, according to the test, I'm not, so I can't vouch for its accuracy.
"Labor candidate [for the seat of Fairfax in Queensland] Ivan Molloy posed with a machine gun supplied by Muslim extremists and has said Australia should be turning its military on both itself and the US.You can also check out the story for a nice photo of a younger Dr Molloy and his very own "band of brothers" (or brother, since there is only one other guy with a machine gun in the photo).
"Dr Molloy has also claimed Muslim guerilla groups should not be labelled terrorists.
"The group he posed with in the Philippines in 1983 has recently been linked by Washington to Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network."
In Molloy's defence, back in 1983 he might not have exactly been an Islamofascist groupie - what the report identifies as the "Moro Liberation Front" was at that time in the middle of a protracted process of splitting up into two groups: the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a more traditional, albeit still Islamic, "national liberation movement" of the type that always made Western left-wing intellectuals swoon, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a more explicitly jihadi group, which is still around and still in the news, having in the late 1990s become an al Qaeda affiliate in East Asia. Thus, Molloy can claim that he has always sided with the oppressed Third World groups in general, and not necessarily Islamic extremists.
But why defend Molloy. The man might not be a MILF stooge, but he's certainly a camp follower of every anti-American crusade around. As the "Courier Mail" story goes on to say:
" 'I don't want to get caught in the trap of saying I am sympathetic but I would say I understand their causes,' Dr Molloy said yesterday. But Dr Molloy said groups which resorted to violence should not be stereotyped as 'terrorists' by people who did not understand their side of the argument. 'It is no good to call them all terrorists. You have to look at the side they came from,' he said.The man is a disgrace, and Mark Latham should have the balls to disendorse him as his party's candidate - otherwise he will be seen as supporting the sort of shrill blame-and-hate-America-first rhetoric he has tried to disassociate himself from of late.
"In December 2002, Dr Molloy blamed Australia and the US for terrorism. 'If the West in general and the US in particular are really serious about stamping out terrorism and state promoters of this activity, we would be turning our guns not only on the Russians, Chinese, Irish, Spanish, French, virtually all our allies and even back on ourselves, but most importantly also on the US itself,' he said in a public speech...
"The Coalition [Government] last week demanded the Labor Party disendorse Dr Molloy as its candidate for the Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax after he backed his wife, state [Member of Legislative Assembly] Cate Molloy, in blaming the US for the Bali bombings.
"Dr Molloy, an academic at the University of the Sunshine Coast, posted on an Internet chat room in April 2002: 'I have spent much time in Asia and Central America researching and supporting many popular struggles against oppression.'
"Last week, Labor was forced into damage control after Dr Molloy publicly backed comments by his wife that [Government Members of Parliament] were responsible for the deaths of Australians and Balinese in the Bali bombings."
Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd is quite clear: "We offer no quarter, we offer no compromise and we offer no negotiation [with terrorists]... Murderers, mass murderers... must be destroyed... and we will destroy them." But Labor's candidate in Fairfax doesn't even think that these people should be "stereotyped" as "terrorists".
This farce has to end.
Update: Even the "Australian" today is harsh: "Ivan Molloy is no terrorist, just a bit of a dill." And he's still the candidate.
"U.S. hails al-Qaida death, but wants more"There's just no way to keep those greedy Americans happy. Then this, from the "Coloradoan":
"Survey says U.S. is split, but united"As James Taranto (hat tip) comments: "Is That Anything Like 'Fake but Accurate'?" Lastly, there is this confusion from the "Australian" about the Labor opposition leader Mark Latham's children policy:
"Latham's childcare free day"Latham is not proposing a day without childcare, like some community awareness campaign along the lines of "Care Free Day" or "Smoke Free Day"; he wants the government to give parents one day of childcare per week free of charge (i.e. with the taxpayers picking up the tab) - the headline should read "Latham's free childcare day."
Monday, September 27, 2004
The "Guardian" has an interesting article on the topic:
"Sipping red wine on a hillside terrace high above Vienna, Helmut pointed to the Polish church next door, convinced that the epic drama played out here in 1683 still spoke to central Europeans down the centuries.I'm always on the lookout for the Polish connections, and this one arguably is one of the less well known in the West. In 1683, the last of the great Polish warrior kings, John III Sobieski, led his coalition of the willing, consisting mainly of Polish troops, to relieve the Turkish siege of Vienna. In a famous cavalry charge, the Polish huzars smashed Kara Mustapha's army against the gates of the Austrian capital. Vienna was the last throw of the dice for the Turks; after that the Ottoman Empire would never again be a threat to European states. Ironically, when Poland's ever grateful neighbors, Russia, Prussia, and yes, Austria, a hundred years later partitioned between them the Polish kingdom, thus wiping it off the map until 1918, Turkey was the only country which did not recognize this international rape. As Norman Davis wrote in his "Heart of Europe":
" 'I know one Turkish bloke,' said the Viennese social worker. 'He's got two wives. Neither of them can speak a word of German. He beats them up. He's got two sons as well. They're terrified of him. They're just different from us. We're Christians. They're Muslims. And these Muslims are getting more and more extreme. It's time to make a choice. I'm against it.'
"What Helmut is against, like two out of three Austrians, is Turkey joining the European Union. Gerhard, the landlord serving him his wine, joined in eagerly. 'This is Europe and we're in danger of losing our identity with all these people from Turkey and Africa. We Christians are losing our faith while the Muslims are getting more fundamentalist.'
"Neither man wanted to give his full name. Both were keen to dwell on history. The place they were sitting, a hillside north-east of Vienna, was where 321 years ago last week the Polish king, John III, after a plea from the Vatican, marshalled a huge Roman Catholic army and went galloping down the mountain to save Christendom, Europe and Austria, routing the Turks, raising the 61-day Ottoman siege of Vienna, and halting the Turkish advance into the European heartland."
"The 'Sick man of Europe' remembered the Dead. Throughout the nineteenth century at the gatherings of the Diplomatic Corps of the Sublime Porte [the Ottoman empire], the Ottoman chef de protocol would call on His Excellency, the Ambassador of Lechistan [as Poland was known to Turks], to step forward, and an aide would announce his regrets for the ambassador's temporary indisposition."Just one of those nice little stories that shows decency is not always absent from international politics.
Polish historical anecdotes aside, the possibility of Turkey's ascension to the European Union is bound to continue to generate debate in the Old World. There are powerful arguments that greater integration with liberal Europe will help Turkey, already a democratic and comparatively secular state, to become even more so, thus providing more inspiration and example for moderate Muslims elsewhere. Working against this lofty vision is the wide-spread sentiment alluded to in the "Guardian" piece: many already feel the Islamic presence on the continent is too strong, even without adding a whole nation-full of Muslims to Europe's existing ethnic mix. This is what's at stake here: will Europe be able to Westernise its Muslims before the Muslims succeed in Islamicising Europe. Stay tuned.
The past two weeks continued to be tumultuous in Iraq. More hostages taken, more hostages beheaded, more suicide bombings, more sabotage, more fighting, all unfolding against the background of an increasingly bitter Presidential election campaign and a chorus of intelligence experts, politicians and pundits expressing grave doubts about the future of the country.
And then there was the media coverage. In the midst of all the carnage and chaos overflowing the front pages of our newspapers and the TV screens, "Newsweek" chose to run an overview of the current situation in Iraq, titled appropriately "It's Worse Than You Think". Having for quite some time closely followed the mainstream media's reporting from Iraq, it struck me that this is hardly possible.
In the same week that "Newsweek" published its panic attack, the editorial board of a less worldly "Kansas City Star" met up with a group of five Iraqi journalists visiting the United States on a tour organized by the State Department. During the discussion with his Iraqi colleagues E. Thomas McClanahan of the "Star" asked them what they thought about the media coverage of Iraq:
"The response was amusing in a way. Perhaps out of tact, our visitors (they asked that we not use their names) said they hadn't seen much U.S. coverage. Most couldn't speak English. But coverage by the Arab media, they said through translators, presented a distorted picture.
"One member of the group, the only woman, said the pessimistic tone of Arab coverage was making things worse by encouraging terrorists and demoralizing those who supported democracy. Another journalist, a man in a dark suit, said the insurgents 'don't represent the Iraqi people.'
"Arab reporters, said a third, 'try to give the impression that it's hopeless. If you watch the satellite channels from Arab countries you would imagine there's no rebuilding going on'."
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi echoed these sentiments recently when he spoke before the United States Congress: "I have seen some of the images that are being shown here on television. They are disturbing. They focus on the tragedies, such as the brutal and barbaric murder of two American hostages this week... Yet, as we mourn these losses, we must not forget either the progress we are making or what is at stake in Iraq. We are fighting for freedom and democracy, ours and yours. Every day, we strengthen the institutions that will protect our new democracy, and every day, we grow in strength and determination to defeat the terrorists and their barbarism."
There are two Iraqs at the moment; both equally real and consequential. The Iraq of never ending strife - the insurgency, terrorism, crime, and all too slow pace of reconstruction makes for interesting news stories and exciting footage. The Iraq of steady recovery, returning normalcy and a dash of hope rarely does.
By the way, the "Newsweek" story did not mention even one positive development in Iraq. So here is another story - Iraq: "Maybe Not Quite As Bad As You Thought." Read the stories below in addition to - not to the exclusion of - all the bad news. Only by knowing both sides of the story you can make an informed judgment about how things in Iraq are really going.
SOCIETY: A free and democratic election in January will mark a symbolic transition of Iraq from the dictatorial past towards a more hopeful future. Just as important as the change in political processes is the change in attitudes; to succeed, Iraq needs to acquire not just the democratic veneer but also a democratic mind-set. As Iraq's "Al-Sabah" newspaper reports, the National Assembly seems to be on the right path, taking very seriously its role in scrutinizing the government's performance:
"The national assembly undertakes its most important tasks in reviewing the government's decisions and question officials in the government, to get acquainted with their performance and causes and outcomes of failures. High ranking source at the assembly affirmed that the minister of interior will be the 1st minister to be questioned about the background of security deterioration in addition to other accusations in employing his relatives in new positions at the ministry."Precarious security situation and cronyism needless to say are not good, but open discussion and scrutiny are, and neither has been practiced openly in Iraq until very recently.
Meanwhile, the BBC Arabic conducts this vox populi from Iraqi women. While the concern about security is a common thread, another one is a strong streak of optimism about the country's future. Says Essraa, an 18-year old student: "The most important development to come out of the war was freedom. We were denied it, especially freedom of thought. This to me is very important. Another important consequence was our ability now to access modern means of communications, such satellite and computers. Satellite television was banned under the previous regime because Saddam wanted to keep Iraq isolated from the rest of the world so he could have total control over Iraqis. Computers were available before the war, but the prices were prohibitive. Now, thanks to our ability to access the internet, we are able to contact our relatives abroad and to talk to them without fearing the eavesdropping of the 'mukhabarat' (the previous regime's secret intelligence service). "
Samira, a 31-year old engineer, adds: "In my view the impact of the recent war, despite its many negative sides, was less severe than that of earlier ones. I think the negative aspects that have come to the surface were not caused by the war as such or by the American occupation alone. Rather, these things happened because of the change of the governing regime. A fall of a regime is not a small matter. " Fawzia, a 36-year old teacher says: "On the positive side, we saw an increase in our incomes. Teachers, too, have enjoyed a rise in their salaries, with the result that the practice of private tutoring is on the decline. Teachers now do want to teach and look after their pupils. Among other positive developments have been the refurbishment of school buildings, the printing of new school textbooks and the provision of free stationary to pupils. The cost of food is lower now too and we are now free to say what we want to criticise without fear." And this from Um Samir, a 51-year old housewife: "The last war was not as big a catastrophe for our people and for my family as the Kuwait war, which brought us much pain. And despite the fact that electricity is in short supply and that there is fear because of the security situation, our material situation has improved a lot."
In a similar vein, Ahood Aabass, 42, who became one of Iraq's first elected officials and the first female elected to the new governing council in Basra, and who is now visiting the United States together with Tamara Sarafa Quinn, director of Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq, reminisces about Saddam's days, when "[h]er children went to schools that were without windows, doors and toilets, and where teachers made as little as $3 a month to teach. Water in her city of Basra had worms in it, and women had little, if any, right to freedom... Both women said great strides have been made in education, human rights, health care and infrastructure improvements. Iraq has seen schools reopened, refurbished and re-painted. Some 159,000 new desks were distributed to the schools, millions of new textbooks have been printed and 20 million Iraqi citizens now have clean water and sanitation amenities they didn't have before. Teachers are also now making between $300 and $500 a month to teach, which Quinn said is a great deal to the Iraqis." Aabass and Quinn have this to say to the people of the United States:
"We have very good things happening in Iraq because of help from America. I am very thankful and grateful for our liberty and our freedom because with (America's) help, we can get Saddam Hussein out of our country. I feel very sorry for the families who gave their sons and their daughters who were killed in our country. They are putting their lives on the line to help us."As Iraqis face the future, they also try to find ways to deal with their recent past. Read this fascinating story about de-Baathification classes for the functionaries of the previous regime:
"On this day, many of the roughly 100 students in attendance are from the education sector - the school principals, administrators, and officials from the Ministry of Education. They were level eight functionaries - the most senior Ba'ath party officials allowed to remain at their jobs, because they have skills that Iraq needs.In media news, a useful initiative comes from an expected source:
"The class can get emotional. Part of the curriculum includes showing the students photos of mass graves, many of the people victims of Saddam Hussein's massacres of the Kurdish population after the Gulf War.
"Mr. al-Furaiji says in a previous session, he showed his students a photo of a Kurdish woman holding her child who had been killed by chemical weapons. He says, one of the students stood up and said, 'It makes me sick to think I was a member of the Ba'ath party'."
"It has been nearly a month since the Kurdistan Communist Party first began broadcasting a daily program on relationship issues facing Kurdish youth. It is the first time such a controversial programme has been broadcast in Kurdistan. Some religious leaders have expressed their opposition to the programme, but the programme is proving to be highly popular amongst the younger audience.In sports news, following the Cinderella story at the Olympics, Iraqi soccer reaches another milestone: "Macclesfield versus Grimsby may not be the most fashionable of fixtures, but those who watch this weekend's clash at Moss Rose could witness a piece of sporting history. If, as expected, Jassim Swadi Fayadh makes his debut for the hosts, he will become the first Iraqi to play League football in England."
"The presenter of the programme, Mr Bahez Husain speaking to KurdishMedia.com, said 'The idea of this programme first came to mind when I heard a religious man advising the younger generation not to use mobile telephones as it is a sin. I decided to encourage the young people in my city, Sulemani, to telephone me on their mobiles, to express their views on different issues that they face.' The program allows young people to express their emotional problems, anonymously. Until recently, such 'forbidden' issues were not discussed.
"Mr Hussain said, 'The programme has been a huge success. I receive over 100 telephone phone calls during each programme. Unfortunately, due to the shortage of time, I can only deal with 30 to 40 calls in each show.' The programme has already influenced a youth union and a women's union to open a friendship club and a Cafeteria for couples here in Sulemani."
It's not just the senior soccer team that is making waves internationally: Iraqis team has defeated Bangladesh 3-1 to secure a quarter-finals place in the Asian Football Cup under-17s championships. Inspired by their current idols, Iraq children can finally dream of becoming soccer stars - without the fear of torture:
" 'I love Iraq,' says five-year-old Amir Hussein as he practices with friends at the pitch on Abu al-Nawas Street, a once-popular promenade on the banks of the River Tigris, now deserted amid the persistent insecurity gripping the capital.To assist in this development, "Britain is investing in youth soccer in Iraq, hoping the world's most popular game can build links between the two countries. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced the plan on Wednesday. Called 'Football United,' the program involves the Foreign Office and the national soccer associations from Iraq and Britain. The Foreign Office said the 250,000-pound (US$450,000, ?367,000) investment in youth soccer in Iraq would culminate with a series of tournaments next spring involving players from all over the country. 'Football is by far the most popular sport in Iraq,' Straw said. 'This is a wonderful opportunity to assist with the development of youth football in Iraq, and to lay the foundation for continued and stronger ties between the British and Iraqi sporting communities'." Iraq is also for the first time sending delegation to the International Youth Sports Summit, "an annual workshop promoting health and physical fitness for children."
"Amir shares the same ambition as 10-year-old Hussein Ali Jaber and the rest of the 120 children who gather for weekly training on a playing field that was once reserved for the security agents of Saddam Hussein. 'I want to represent Iraq. I love football and I love to play with my friends,' says Hussein...
" The 40-year-old former member of the national squad admits that the number of children joining the club has increased since Iraq's men reached the quarter finals at the Athens Olympics in August. 'Lots of children were eager to play football after the Olympics. It was a great team and most Iraqis had the chance to see guys playing live on television,' says [Amer] Fadel."
Soccer is not the only youth sport growing in Iraq: read this article about how the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division is introducing baseball in northern Iraq:
"It was a perfect evening for baseball. Parents crunched pistachios to the ding of aluminum bats. Soldiers from the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade stood guard at the soccer field-turned-ball diamond, with a Humvee parked at each outfield foul pole and another sitting just beyond the center field fence.These small steps forward might not mean much in themselves but cumulatively they point towards a better future. Every Iraqi child that dreams of becoming a sport star is one less child that dreams of becoming a martyr or a holy warrior. Every group, club or association that springs up across the country helps teach Iraqi people the habits of trust and cooperation, two qualities that are the mortar that binds together every successful democratic society.
"The youngsters - Kurds, Turkomen and one Arab - belted line drives, scooped up grounders - and booted a few, too. Parents cheered as their boys chased down fly balls and hurled them home, where overzealous runners were tagged out."
ECONOMY: The US Treasury Under Secretary John Taylor recently had some good news to report on the success of Iraqi currency reform: "Before the fall of Saddam, the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq used 'Swiss' dinars while the rest of the country used 'Saddam' dinars, Taylor said. Taylor said the exchange rate of the new dinar appreciated about 25 percent in the months following its introduction in late 2003, while prices have been stable and inflation low. 'This stability is providing the basis for much-needed public confidence in the management of its currency,' Taylor said. The under secretary said at the time that the new dinar was introduced, the Central Bank of Iraq was made independent of the Finance Ministry, which had been under the control of the Baathist Party."
There is also good news coming from the Iraqi stock exchange:
"There's an old Arab proverb: Throw a lucky man in the sea and he will come up with a fish in his mouth. As Iraq rebuilds its economy, the country's businessmen are hoping that Mr Taha Ahmed Abdul Salam will prove to be a lucky man.For another look at the Iraqi Stock Exchange see also this story.
"This 40-year-old's onerous task, the lucky fish he's been asked to deliver, is the new Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX), a centrepiece of the country's financial reconstruction. (It's a replacement for the former Baghdad Stock Exchange, a now-defunct plaything of Saddam Hussein's family, especially his late son, Uday.)
"The news so far is good: At a time when many Iraqis find themselves in very stormy seas, the ISX, of which Mr Taha Ahmed is chief executive, is able to report progress."
In trade news, the Ministry of Trade is currently setting up a series of bilateral committees to facilitate commercial relations with the United States, Europe and Japan. In banking news, "National Bank of Kuwait, the Arab lender with the highest credit rating, agreed to buy the Credit Bank of Iraq in what may be the first foreign purchase of an Iraqi lender in at least four decades." Ibrahim Dabdoub, National Bank's chief executive is positive about the future: "Iraq's medium-term prospects are very good, because in the end, this insurgency has to end." The Arab Banking Corporation is also planning to shortly enter the Iraqi financial market.
USAID, which has been doing a lot of excellent work in Iraq, has recently awarded a $20 million contract to BearingPoint, Inc, of Virginia, "to develop and implement international economic practices aimed at improving economic governance in Iraq and developing a policy-enabling environment for private sector-led growth in the country. The three-year contract is expected to assist in reforming tax, fiscal and customs policies as well developing an IMF acceptable monetary policy through building the capacity of Iraq's Central Bank. Under the terms of the contract, BearingPoint will also assist the Iraq Ministry of Finance to develop a modern, well regulated banking sector. BearingPoint will also work with the Ministry to create an environment that promotes private sector-led growth through housing finance reforms and commercial law and institutional reforms." You can also read about the contract here.
Great Britain and China have expressed their willingness to cooperate in rebuilding Iraqi communications infrastructure; Britain wants to build communication networks, while China is interested in training communication specialists. Singaporean e-Sys Group is already unrolling its IT network through Iraq: "Plans are to have multiple channel partners in the country which, despite the present problems, could emerge as one of the bigger regional markets for technology requirements over the medium term." Meanwhile, at the Iraq Reconstruction 2004 conference held at the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre, Batelco has also offered to assist with rebuilding Iraqi telecommunication infrastructure. And Israelis, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians will be able to use their cell phones in Iraq without switching networks, thanks to a roaming agreement reached between the Israeli company Cellcom and Kuwaiti-owned Asiacell, which supplies cellular phone services to Iraq.
In oil news, Iraq is planning to lift its output to 3.25 million barrels per day at the end of next year, from 2.8 million currently achieved. This would bring the oil production to the levels not seen since the outbreak of the first Gulf War in 1990. Overall, according to the Oil Ministry, the authorities are planning "oil infrastructure projects worth $20 billion to boost production and exports... The projects include developing the Basra and Khor Al Amaya oil terminals." Currently, another refinery in central Iraq, capable of processing 200,000 barrels per day is in planning stages.
In transport news, direct flights are expected to start soon between Iraq and Syria. In addition, "[t]he minister of Transportation singed with his Syrian counterpart during his visit to Damascus an agreement memorandum of activating the joint cooperation in field of transportation by sea, air, land, and railways. The memorandum dictated to facilitate transport of imported goods to Iraqi lands through Syrian harbors, activating Iraqi Company for Naval Navigation, mutual work to implement development programs and exchange expertise and technical studies in scope of harbors, and considering buying a ship to invest in transporting goods." Meanwhile, the first Iraqi Airlines flight in 14 years has flown from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad. Several Turkish airlines are also eyeing the Iraqi market. And Malaysian Merchant Marine Berhad is planning to set up a joint venture company with Iraqi Oil Tankers Company to provide bunker fuel and other shipping services in Iraq and other Arab Gulf ports.
RECONSTRUCTION: The Iraqi authorities are making an effort to better organize and coordinate the reconstruction effort:
"The Iraqi Ministry of Planning has formed a supreme body to lay down reconstruction strategy for the war-torn country... The body would be responsible for laying down an international mechanism to finance the reconstruction projects and to help coordinate the efforts of the Iraqi side and the donor countries in the fields of loans and financing."In the south of the country, a reconstruction conference has already heard some detailed plans for the region's near future:
"Nearly 200 Iraqi and international construction contractors heard this week how reconstruction efforts in the country's southern region will soon quicken, providing a renewed infrastructure and additional jobs. The demands and opportunities that come from the planned massive surge in reconstructing the south served as the keynote of the region's first reconstruction forum at the Basra International Airport...Najaf, which has seen much trouble recently, is now on the receiving end of 12 billion dinars's worth ($8.2 million) of a World Bank grant towards urgent reconstruction works, in addition to 100 billion dinars ($68.5 million) recently allocated from the Ministry of Labor and Municipalities for emergency reconstruction.
"The more than 10 new medical clinics, 400 renovated schools and new police stations planned for the region are slated for construction before the end of the year; each is aimed at improving the aging infrastructure of southern Iraq and adding thousands of jobs across the region."
As physical reconstruction moves ahead, plans for social reconstruction are also being drawn:
"The Planning Ministry and Development Cooperation has discussed the strategy of social development to create suitable environment for comprehensive humanitarian development... Dr. Mehdi al-Hafdhi said that the reform plan includes putting limits for long-term social reform representing in realizing protection and social justice and participation through judicial mechanisms to eradicate poverty, make work chances available and realizing the social incorporation. 'The ministry's middle-term preparations took into consideration the role of the government through shifting to the market economy without neglecting its role in supplying requirements of security, health, primary education,' he confirmed."With more reconstruction projects, foreign donors come up with additional funds. The International International Monetary Fund has hinted at additional emergency financial aid for Iraq later on this year. "IMF experts have estimated that Iraq may be eligible for about 850 million dollars in reconstruction assistance." The talks are progressing well. And international donors have pledged over $2 billion for development of housing in Iraq at a recent conference in Tokyo. Omar al- Farouq al-Damlouchi the minister of housing and construction says the Ministry is planning to construct 2 million units over the next ten years and is currently researching housing needs around the nation.
There is also some much needed relief on the way for Iraqi economy:
"The Paris Club of creditor nations has agreed in principle to a major reduction of Iraq's outstanding debt, with a final announcement expected before the end of this year... Officials from the Paris Club's 19 members, including the United States, France, Russia, Germany and Japan, met last week and agreed to cut Iraq's estimated 120 billion dollars (97.9 billion euros) of debt by at least 50 percent."In electricity news, "[t]Two electricity generators in suburban Baghdad that had fallen into disrepair under Saddam Hussein's regime returned to service today, producing enough electricity to fuel 72,000 Iraqi homes. Iraqi and U.S. engineers brought the seven-megawatt generator in southern Baghdad and the 17-megawatt generator in north Baghdad online this morning." Electricity production now averages 5,000 megawatts. 50 MW were recently added to the grid through efforts of Iraqi engineers at the Baiji power station.
Electricity production is also increasing through the use of new technologies:
"Iraqi labourers have installed a new radiator on a generator air intake. It’s an installation that increases electricity output of the machine by more than 15 per cent by cooling the hot, dry desert air. The radiator, known as a chiller pack to the electrical savvy, came online Monday at the south central Iraq power plant, boosting electricity production from the generator to 24 megawatts, enough to service 72,000 Iraqi homes."The Electricity Ministry is aiming to increase the power production to 25,000 MW over the next five years. After years of neglect and violence, the electricity infrastructure in Iraq is in such state of disrepair that, according to the Ministry estimates, it might require somewhere between $30 and $50 billion to fully upgrade the grid to modern standards. Foreign governments are already assisting, with the United Arab Emirates agreeing to speed up its contribution of $215 million towards rebuilding Iraqi power system.
In health news, this Baghdad facility is getting some much needed upgrade:
"Melted plastic tubing and heat warped glass vials will soon be a thing of the past for doctors and nurses at Ibn Sina Hospital, the busiest medical facility in Iraq and one of only three Level III trauma centres in the country. The reprieve comes courtesy of the first climate-controlled medical storage facility in Iraq, which opened Sunday only metres from the front door of the hospital. The new warehouse will provide an end to the destructive heat, with enough air-conditioned storage space to store tons of medical supplies to treat the county's most seriously wounded soldiers and civilians."And in order to improve public health throughout the capital, 217,700 billion dinars (nearly $150 million) has been allocated by the authorities for the construction of new sewage system throughout Baghdad. On a much smaller scale, progress is also being made in Basra: "New pipes buried deep in the walls and floors of the revamped Iraqi airport will soon feed the building with enough clean water for the nearly 4,000 Iraqi laborers that will staff the airport and the thousands of travelers that will soon re-fill the once teaming terminal.
"Providing clean water and a viable sewer system for the airport is the final step in a multi-million dollar effort to revive the airport and reopen commercial travel in the southern region.Many smaller reconstruction projects are underway at any given time; for example 2.47 billion dinars ($1.7 million) is being spent on clean-up and rehabilitation in Baaquba; construction of the new Zurbatia border crossing complex on the Kuwaiti border; or construction of new housing units in Baghdad and Kirkuk.
"A $1.3 million renovation project to revamp the water treatment plant is slated for completion by the end of October. The plant was operating at full capacity before the war, pulling millions of liters of water from the nearby river. However, it lacked maintenance and chemicals to render water suitable for human consumption."
There is also movement on the water front, with the Ministry of Water Resources allocating "134 billions Iraqi dinars [$92 million] for cleaning small streams and operating and maintaining the water canals." More dams also continue to be constructed throughout Iraq. And speaking of the environment, "[t]he United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has said it will help Iraq clean up the toxic pollution caused by a decade of conflict. Starting next month, Unep will assess pollution 'hotspots', ranging from oil spills to waste from military vehicles."
HUMANITARIAN AID: While the reconstruction effort aims to provide the longer term solutions to Iraq's many problems, a more immediate assistance to satisfy the most urgent needs of the population is still required. Some of the humanitarian assistance continues to be inspired by the army personnel serving in Iraq, like in this story from North Carolina:
"When Kings Mountain Middle School teacher David McDonald took leave to serve with the National Guard in Iraq, he never expected to end up helping children over there. But through a special bond with a former student, McDonald inspired a community service project that resulted in 1,400 pounds of school supplies being donated for Iraqi children. Five Kings Mountain churches participated in the drive, which is continuing this fall."See the link, if you can assist. And another report notes an overwhelming response to Army Reserve Sgt. Patrick Dugan's call for toys for Iraqi kids. "The response was 'truly amazing,' said Dugan... 'I've received over 350 packages,' he said, so many that the military post office assigned him his own mail bin next to bins for the military units stationed in the city of Mosul.'The pile for me rivals the pile of entire battalions,' he said. Packages came from veterans groups, churches, law firms, Irish organizations, neighbors, families, seniors, children. [Says Dugan:] 'They put priceless smiles on thousands of children and their parents, and also contributed to many smiles and immeasurable joy on the part of us soldiers. The soldiers definitely enjoyed giving as much as the kids enjoyed receiving'."
Other aid efforts are purely civilian-inspired, like this community action in California: "A group of Eureka High School students who love to play soccer want to share this enthusiasm for sports in a country where violence is now overshadowing such pastimes. They've so far collected 150 soccer balls to send to Iraq. 'We figured they don't get the same opportunities,' said Eureka High senior Kellie Siler. She said the soccer balls can be seen as a gift from American students, and may help give Iraqis a positive impression of the United States."
And students from Charlotte Wood Middle School in Danville, California, have recently collected 500 pairs of flip-flop shoes for Iraqi children. "[Principal Sandy] Budde decided on the move after hearing of children walking barefoot on searing hot sand from her son, Marine Lt. Ben Budde, 23, who serves in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division." Thanks to Wells Fargo officials who have donated $10,000 to cover the cost of mailing, the shoes will soon reach Iraq.
Other humanitarian assistance comes from Iraq's neighbors. Kuwaiti Humanitarian Operations Center, for example, has provided almost $9 million dollars in aid to Fallujah between March and August this year and is currently undertaking studies of how to manage a $5 million grant for Najaf. And help comes from Bahrain, too:
"Ten cancer patients in Iraq could soon get urgent treatment, which is currently unavailable in their own country, thanks to an appeal in Bahrain. The patients, some of whom are children, have been diagnosed with life- threatening cancer and are now in desperate need of help.COALITION TROOPS: Comments Col. Gary Bunch, The 51-year-old Colonial Heights resident commands the 172nd Corps Support Group from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma: "The people are very glad that the regime is gone and are so thankful for the chance to have a democratic country and a decent living... It's such a poor country for being so rich, nothing got down past the (former government)." Col Bunch says that "[m]edia reports about the state of post-war Iraq don't accurately portray a hopeful public, one looking forward to elections in January, and the great work being done by American forces." In his words: "In the pictures we've seen it's just not the same as the work the soldiers are doing and the appreciation the Iraqi people have for it... It's happening all over and that's the real story."
"The Bahrain Cancer Society (BCS), in association with Al Riwaq Gallery and the Bahrain Businesswomen's Society, has raised BD25,000 [$66,555] and is urging people to help support the patients with further donations."
Some troops are helping to make Iraq a safer place: "The Davis Monthan Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team sought out and destroyed 40,000 munitions, and 55,000 pounds of enemy explosives north of Baghdad." There is plenty more of old ammunition and explosives around Iraq that need to be disposed of.
Ten Army Reservists from Maine have, meanwhile, have volunteered to take part in training the new Iraqi army: "The Maine reservists are part of a larger group of Army trainers and drill sergeants with the U.S. Army's 98th Division, 2nd Battalion, 304th Regiment, which has members from Maine to New York, according to Liberty... The soldiers, whose work will involve conducting basic military training and serving as mentors and trainers for Iraq's future military, were given a sendoff at the Armed Forces Reserve Center."
The troops also continue to be involved in the reconstruction effort. The 1st Infantry Division’s Engineers Electricity Ministry Team, for example, is currently overseeing the construction of a health care center for more than 4,000 employees and family members of employees of the Baiji Power Plant. The Team is also overseeing construction of a chemical warehouse to improve operational capacity at the thermal power plant.
Elsewhere, $99,960 worth of work under the Multi-National Forces-Iraq school refurbishment project is nearing completion at the Ibn Al-Athir School. This elementary school in Baghdad, attended by 972, will consist of 48 rooms and 40,000 square feet upon completion.
On a much bigger scale, "[t]he Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Fourteen (NMCB-14) are supplying engineering and quality control to a project awarded to a Turkish contractor who hires Iraqi workers using materials that come from Kuwait and Jordan, making this a truly multinational project. The project is a three-building berthing facility that consists of two 13,000-square-foot, steel-frame prefabricated buildings and the complete renovation of a 3,000-square-foot masonry building."
American soldiers are also at work in this remote location in northern Iraq:
"Soldiers from the 133rd Engineer Battalion are working on a series of projects in the rural village of Hamzan in northern Iraq. The National Guard Soldiers from Belfast, Maine, replaced the village's small mud schoolhouse with a concrete structure. The new school has three classrooms with plumbing and electricity.The 478th Civil Affairs Battalion, meanwhile, continues its good work in Iraq: "The battalion has opened four health clinics, and each one can handle more than 60,000 people, he said. The battalion is working to get a $1.2 million maternity clinic approved and ready for residents. But it was a youth center that drew more enthusiastic responses and large crowds. The battalion revamped a security personnel building into a youth-friendly environment with video games and the Internet. The kids can go there, instead of congregating in the streets, [Spc. Erich] Scholz said. 'You won't believe how many kids are here,' he said."
"As part of an initiative to train former Peshmerga fighters to learn construction skills, the engineers worked with nine former fighters to train them in masonry and carpentry skills during the construction of the school.
"In addition to rebuilding the village school, the engineers brought in a 20,000-liter water tank and a 75-kilowatt generator which will serve the 17 families in the area who do not have plumbing or electricity. They also improved the local roads which were in disrepair."
And around the town of Kalsu, [a]s the summer winds down, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Back-to-School Campaign is revving up, giving the Marines a vehicle to make a difference in the lives of Iraq's children, one classroom at a time."
In the south of the country, Coalition partners are carrying their own reconstruction projects: "In the Multi-National Division Central South area of Babil Province, the Polish-led Civil Military Cooperation team (CIMIC) has completed a $258,000 renovation of Babylon University's 2,000-student law school in Al Hilla... During clashes in the province, almost all University of Babylon equipment, furniture and plumbing and electrical utilities were stolen or damaged, so the first part of the two-phase project focused on repairing the water, electrical wiring and cable systems for a cost of about $79,000. The second stage was completed in mid-September for a total of about $179,000. New furnishings and air conditioners were bought and installed, and a new fence was placed around the building. About 10,000 students attend the University of Babylon."
And some in US forces are overseeing the growth of local democracy:
"If [Ahmed Mutlok]Oda seems unnecessarily timid, consider that no one in Wynot has ever voted before. Oda has no predecessor, no way to know if he's doing it right.In addition to security and reconstruction work, there is also a significant humanitarian aspect to the troops' presence, as this example demonstrates: "Sand and concrete get mighty hot on little toes in the desert. And soldiers in B Company of the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion of the North Dakota National Guard, who see Iraqi children walking barefoot along their routes every day, wanted to make life a little better for some of them." They are, by handing out shoes and sandals to Iraqi kids.
"After Oda, another 145 voters came through, representing almost every household in this tiny village about 15 miles outside of Tikrit. The Wynot City Council elections of Sept. 13 came after months of work and planning by soldiers of Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.
"The strong turnout completed a turnaround in how Wynot residents view the U.S., according to the company commander, U.S. Army Capt. David Krzycki. 'This was probably the most anti-coalition town in sector when we first got here,' he said. 'Kids and adults were throwing rocks at us and calling us names. But we established a knock-and-talk program, where we'd go to six to eight houses per night. We'd ask people what they needed and what they thought of us. Eventually they realized we're here to make their way of life a little bit better'."
Elsewhere, the residents of Tal Afar have recently received $8,500 worth of medical supplies: "In an effort to help these people, Soldiers from the 416th Civil Affairs Battalion Public Health Team and the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) Surgeon purchased medical supplies such as blood transfusion sets, intravenous fluids, needles, gauze and bandages which will be used to treat the civilian casualties that have resulted from terrorist activities in the area. Multi-National Forces also gave an extra $5,000 to the Ministry of Health to purchase anesthesia, medication and other medical supplies for the residents of Tal Afar."
And read this story of Spc. Ed Martinez, of North Conway, New Hampshire: "He is one of the lowest ranking men in his unit, but one New Hampshire National Guardsman ranks high in the hearts of an Iraqi family." During his travels through southern Iraqi villages he noticed a 1-year old boy with club feet:
" 'I knew looking at this boy that it would be almost impossible for him to live any sort of normal life,' Martinez said. 'He would be condemned to a real minimal existence.' Martinez took a photo of Adjir Abdullah to the company surgeon. After working through a maze of red tape and going from one doctor to another, he and the surgeon found a pediatric orthopedist serving in the U.S. Army. 'We had to break a lot of rules,' Martinez said.SECURITY: While media attention remains focused on the so called "no go zones", where it is said that even the Coalition troops dare not venture, many of the past hot-spots seem to be becoming a lot safer and a lot less hot:
"Martinez then returned to the village to convince the boy's family to go ahead with surgery. 'They told us they don't trust Americans because we don't do what we say,' Martinez said.
"The boy's family eventually agreed to the surgery, and after a lengthy procedure to correct the Adjir's feet, his uncle confided in the soldiers and thanked them. 'He said, "Adjir would never have had a chance under the old regime. Now he has a chance,"' Martinez said. '"The old regime only cared about themselves".'"
"A billboard bearing Saddam Hussein's blasted-away face still welcomes motorists to the city once honored - now stigmatized - as his hometown. But these days Tikritis show little of the ex-dictator's storied defiance of the U.S. military.The residents of another former hot-spot, Najaf, are becoming more vocal:
"Tikrit was the epicenter of Iraq's Baath Party hierarchy and the al-Nassiri tribe that filled the party's upper ranks, making this city an important U.S. invasion target and a rebellious occupation conquest. But in the past few months, Tikrit has quietly slipped off the map of Iraq's trouble spots."
"Each day, hundreds of residents turn out to shout down rebel Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. They blame him for leaving Najaf in ruins and blame his henchmen for slaying as many as 300 people.And normalcy returns to another locality in Iraq:
" 'Muqtada is garbage and his people are all crooks,' demonstrators chanted Friday. That's an extraordinary slur for a man who is the son of an assassinated spiritual leader and merits the honorific, Sayyed, as a descendant of the prophet Muhammad.
"This kind of outburst was unthinkable three weeks ago, when al-Sadr and his armed followers ruled Najaf and its holy shrine and led a nationwide insurgency against the U.S. occupation. He flouted centuries-old tradition to defy the key spiritual leaders of Iraq's Shi'ite majority. He drove them into seclusion and their followers into fearful silence.
"Now, the besieged have turned the tables, raising questions about how deep and broad al-Sadr's support actually is. Al-Sadr posters and pictures tacked up around the city streets and neighborhood shops have been torn down. The police, whom al-Sadr's fighters drove from their Najaf and neighboring Kufa compounds last spring, have now packed their jail cells with the cleric's followers."
"A year and a half ago, Ari Askanda would have been risking death selling Western music and DVDs from his small shop on the main street of Biyara in Iraq's Kurdish zone. Now he even sells alcohol under the counter.Not any more. In Baghdad, meanwhile, the locals are taking security with each other: "More than ten al Thawra clan chiefs met today with a city council member at the Baghdad City Council headquarters to discuss an agreement to cease hostilities in eastern Baghdad. No American or Multi-National Forces representatives were in attendance."
"This remote mountain region near the Iranian border was a stronghold of Ansar al-Islam, a militant group linked to al Qaeda and Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born militant thought to be behind a wave of suicide attacks in Iraq."
The public support - and recruitment - for the police force remain at high levels, despite obvious dangers the job involves: "The applicants just keep coming for a job that may be the deadliest in Iraq, perhaps in the world. Since the war's end, 700 Iraqi police officers have died. This week alone, a car bombing outside Baghdad's central police station took 47 lives. It was followed hours later by an assault on a police van in a city north of Baghdad that left 11 policemen and their driver dead." But this seems to be having little impact on Iraqis:
"The motives of those willing to take Iraq's most dangerous jobs reflect not only a desire to feed their families, but a vision of a self-sufficient nation that doesn't rely on American troops for its security.The professionalisation of Iraqi police force continues. Read this story of British Brigadier Andrew Mackay who is providing the Iraqi Ministry of Interior with assistance to rebuild and modernize the force:
"In the battle for Iraq, insurgents are targeting the new police - attempting to undermine support for the interim Iraqi government cooperating with the US. But Iraqis generally hold their own security forces in high esteem. Even though these forces are rebuilding, opinion polls show higher respect for and confidence in the new Iraqi forces than in the US-led forces."
"Trainers were brought in to help the rebuilding of the Iraqi police force, specialists in every field. They started from scratch, identifying officers that could be trusted to command the new units, establishing structures, setting up police academies and even building the classrooms.And: "Under the old regime, a police officer could commit a rape or a murder and walk back into his old job on his release from prison, according to Colonel Muhannad Amin from the internal affairs department, who is tasked with investigating police officers. Now they will be out." Which surely ranks as an improvement.
"Seven months into the job, they are finally tackling the task that they hope will set them on course to a fully effective police force: getting rid of the dead wood. In a room on the tenth floor of the ministry of interior, men are clustered round lap-top computers and sophisticated fingerprint scanners...
"Each computer package cost $15,500 and they will have 400 of them, paid for out of a $13 million budget for this qualifying committee project alone. It is a drop in the ocean compared with the overall cost of the policing operation. Brigadier Mackay reckons he has spent $1.5 billion since he arrived, the largest police training mission ever undertaken."
The service - and the sacrifice - of Iraqi policemen is rewarded with generous benefits: the families of police officers who have died in the line of duty receive an one-off payment of 1 million dinars and continue to receive the equivalent of a policeman's salary until what would have been the deceased's 63rd birthday.
Iraq's neighbors are also helping rebuild the police force: "Bahrain and Iraq signed an agreement Wednesday for the Bahraini interior ministry to train Iraqi Civilian Defense recruits. The Gulf News Agency, GNA, said Bahrain would train 4,000 Iraqi civil defense members as part of efforts by the Bahraini and Iraqi governments to boost relations and serve mutual interests." And India, too, is offering to help retrain Iraqi police.
NATO members, meanwhile, have reached a compromise to expand the mission to train Iraqi security forces personnel. The number of NATO personnel engaged in training is set to increase from 50 currently on the ground in Iraq, to around 300.
The training and assistance seems to be bearing fruits on the ground. Some of the recent successes of Iraqi security forces include: the capture of four suspected senior al Qaeda operatives; freeing by the Iraqi police of seven hostages, including Turks, Iraqis and other Arabs; freeing by Iraqi security forces of another Jordanian hostage; the arrest of a kidnapping gang and interception on the road between Amara and Baghdad of a lorry-full of munitions and explosives; arrest of over 50 Afghans trying to infiltrate Iraq through Iran; and preventing a suicide bomb attack in western Baghdad. Iraq the Model blog also reports on some self-help by Iraqi passers-by who made a citizens arrest of six Syrian nationals responsible for a bomb explosion. Lastly, without any input from Iraqi security forces, a group of insurgents has accidentally blew themselves up while constructing an explosive device in the Wasit Province.
In another positive security development, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan has said that "Iran has reduced its interference in Iraq's domestic affairs and ended support of Shiite radical cleric Moqtada Sadr."
Lastly, in another "swords into ploughshares" moments, 50% of buildings in Al-Towaitha Nuclear site have recently been transformed to civilian use.
The reconstruction and normalisation of Iraq is a slow and gradual process. The pace of change is not helped by the fact that Iraq, like many other recently liberated societies around the world, is suffering from a Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder.
For the Westerners, it is a difficult condition to understand. We take so many things for granted - from comedians being able to joke about the President, to the assumption that the next government employee we encounter will not be expecting a bribe from us - that we are quite ill equipped to fully comprehend what life under a totalitarian system must really be like, much less what mental and spiritual legacy its victims have to labor under long after the statues of the Leader are pulled down.
Bad habits that people consciously or otherwise pick up to help them better fit in and survive under a dictatorship prove quite troublesome and counter-productive once the shackles finally fall off. Distrust of the authorities and fellow citizens, the hand-out mentality, lack of initiative and self-responsibility continue to linger among the Iraqi people. This - the damage done to individual psyche - and not just to the physical infrastructure and institutions of the country, is what we have to always keep in mind when assessing the progress of reconstruction and democratisation in places like Iraq. If things aren't moving ahead as fast as expected, if cooperation is lacking and trust hard to find, and if the population seems apathetic and disengaged, it's the fallen regime having its final chuckle from beyond the grave.
The task of reconstruction is not just about adding more megawatts to the power grid or renovating another school. Just as importantly - if not more so - it is about changing attitudes, habits and ways of thinking. In many ways liberating minds is a far more difficult task than rebuilding the physical infrastructure.
The obstacles are considerable, challenges huge, but day by day the Iraqi people, assisted by the Coalition and people of good will from around the world, are slowly forging ahead with the task of reconstructing their country - and more importantly - reconstructing themselves.