Saturday, December 25, 2004

Many Christmases of 2004 

Merry Christmas!

If this 80 meter-long snow sculpture of Santa has the misfortune to be created somewhere in the United States, considering the recent push to de-Christmas Christmas, chances are that the old Saint Nicholas, to use his proper name, would have been banned and snow-ploughed away. Fortunately, this giant sculpture was created in the officially atheist China so it's likely to be safe until the snow melts. The real Santa, of course, was a resident of the modern-day Turkey, which is really quite poignant is a strange sort of way; as the West chases out Santa from the public square, it begins a process of admitting into its fold his birthplace. As Nicolas Rothwell reminds us:
"Nicholas of Myra, a soft-hearted third-century social reformer with a penchant for redeeming prostitutes and a habit of secret gift-giving, was posthumously transformed into the patron saint of Christmas through an unusual set of circumstances."
No more unusual, though, than those accompanying Turkey's transformation into a member of the European Union. And hopefully just as successfully.

In Australia, it's a hot Christmas. Believe me.

In the United States, it looks like a quiet one:
"In stark contrast to last year's holiday season, when the nation was under heightened alert, counterterrorism officials say there is precious little intelligence "chatter" being picked up about any new plot this year.

U.S. and foreign intelligence and law enforcement services report a continuing stream of vague, lower-level threats from Al Qaeda (search) and other Islamic extremist groups against American interests at home and abroad. But officials say nothing specific and credible has emerged in recent months that would require the government to raise the risk level above yellow, or 'elevated,' the midpoint on the five-level threat scale."
Of course, the weather conditions have done a better job at paralyzing the country than a terrorist attack arguably would. Wait and see if bin Laden comes out with another tape to claim credit for bringing unusual amount of snow onto the land of infidels.

In the Middle East, a bit more Christmas cheer than usual. "Israel freed up travel into Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and handed out candy to Palestinian and foreign pilgrims at roadblocks, the latest signs of warming Israeli-Palestinian relations since the death of Yasser Arafat." One person that did not get candy, nor was allowed to go through the checkpoint, was the Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, a Christian convert. In Iraq, the Marines outside Fallujah were confronted with the sight of the Navy's Bravo Surgical Company personnel sporting elf caps and reindeer antlers going around the Marine camp on a truck and singing carols. And in Afghanistan:

In Ukraine, they celebrate Christmas by going to the polls, and hopefully the third time lucky electing Victor Yushchenko as the new president. Matters are of course complicated by the fact that Ukraine really celebrates Christmas on the Eastern Orthodox time on 7 January.

In the neighboring Russia, the parliament has finally abolished the old communist holiday of the Revolution Day, celebrating the anniversary of the October Revolution (or the Bolshevik coup d'etat). Instead, the Russians will be given ten days off work around the New Year and Christmas (again, Eastern Orthodox one) period. Sounds like a fair swap.

In the Western Europe, meanwhile, it's the 90th anniversary of some memorable events, which unfolded against the horror and the carnage of World War One:
"It was the day when the Christmas message of goodwill to all men brought an unexpected halt to one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history.

"Ninety years ago British and German soldiers put down their weapons, walked out into the desolation of no-man's land and shook hands. In a unique moment of respite from the horrors of the First World War, the troops exchanged gifts, looked at each other's family photographs and played games of football. In some areas the impromptu cessation of hostilities lasted just a few hours, in others several days or even weeks.

"Now a major international film is being planned to commemorate those extraordinary events which have taken on the status of legend."
The older ones among you might remember the video clip to Paul McCartney's 1980s hit "Pipes of Peace", which used this famous story for inspiration.

Peace on Earth.


Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas 

Just a quick note to wish you all a very merry Christmas (or a happy holiday, if you're that way inclined) as well as a great 2005.

I note with interest that a fair proportion of my American readers are at the moment freezing in the run up to Christmas that might turn out to be a bit too white for everyone's liking. I, on the other hand, am sitting in the study behind my computer, looking out the window at a grey cloudy sky. It's a humid, muggy day, with temperatures in the high 30s Celsius, and a distinct possibility of a storm - or at least rain - later on tonight. To be honest, I'm not sure which type of Christmas is better, and I say that having experience both, with many a cool, snowy Christmas in Krakow (having said that, the Polish climate is more temperate than the so called continental climate that most of the North American landmass enjoys, if "enjoy" is the right word).

Thank you to all of you - my regular and less regular readers, as well as my fellow bloggers (and there is a large overlap between the two groups) - for coming here and coming back, for your comments and your criticisms, your links and your support, for your "virtual" friendship. On these sorts of occasions I tend to wallow in cliches, but it has been an amazing ride from the very first day on 31 March 2004 when I posted my first few words. I love writing and I would have been blogging even if I only were to have a dozen readers every day (although I probably wouldn't blog as much); the fact that there are now a few thousand of you every day is an unexpected - and very pleasant - bonus.

Blogging will be very light over the next few days, as various Christmas family gatherings take precedence, and on the Boxing Day I'm flying off with Mrs Chrenkoff for a brief holiday, the first one since our honeymoon some two and a half years ago. I'll try to find an internet cafe up in Airlie Beach, and if Mrs Chrenkoff will allow, I might post (although the preparation of the next "Good news from Iraq" will have to take precedence in my online time - James Taranto from the "Opinion Journal" is a hard taskmaster and so the next installment will be available of Monday, 3 January 2005). Normal blogging will resume on Sunday, 2 January when I'm back in Brisbane. So please, definitely do come back in the new year.

Sometime before then it's likely that the blog will hit its first one million visits. More likely than not, I won't be anywhere near a computer to know the exact moment when that happens and celebrate. However, it won't detract from my satisfaction at reaching this milestone. So thank you once again to all of you who made it possible.

Merry Christmas! Wesolych Swiat!


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Of violins and violations 

A few weeks ago this picture of a violin violation of human rights at an Israeli Defence Force border checkpoint made its rounds of the world media:

We know that Wissam Tayyem, a 29-year old Palestinian from the West Bank was stopped at the checkpoint by Israeli soldiers and made to open his violin case, a reasonable precautions on the part of soldiers who probably grew up on American gangster movies.

After that point the stories diverge. According to the soldiers, Tayyem took out the violin and started playing of his own volition. Not so, according to the Palestinian, who says that one of the soldiers told him to "play a sad song" before he could pass into Israel.

We're unlikely to ever know which version of events is true. Depending on your position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict you're either likely to believe it's yet another case of a Palestinian playing a martyr to the court of world opinion, or another case of an Israeli occupier humiliating his Palestinian victim. In a region suffocating with hatred and drowning in blood this incident, if it happened, would strike one as a relatively minor and insignificant violation of human rights or, perhaps more accurately, human dignity. Yet, as the "Jerusalem Post" writes, it struck a raw nerve within Israel:
"The incident at the checkpoint was filmed by a Machsom Watch [Roadblock Watch] human rights volunteer. It triggered major criticism of the army and shock among Israelis who were reminded of stories of Jewish musicians forced to play for Nazis."
The "Israelis=Nazis" crowd, I'm sure, would have had a lot of fun with this story, though as I wrote not that long ago, the comparisons between the Holocaust and the "Palestinian genocide" are not only morally repugnant, they also fly in the face of facts and logic. The story of Wissam Tayyem, however, has a postscript:
"The story was read by Ofer Mendelovitch, an administrator at the Keshet Eilon Music Center in northern Israel, who decided to invite Mr. Tayyem to participate in the institute's master violin class. Mr. Mendelovitch got permission from the army for Mr. Tayyem to enter Israel and remain at Eilon, a collective kibbutz, for the three-day seminar.

"Mr. Mendelovitch was not put off when he learned that Mr. Tayyem had been playing the violin for only two months, although he has been playing guitar since age 15.

"The master class is for more experienced musicians. Almost 50 violinists, from ages 6 to 29, will participate, with their teachers. 'His level doesn't matter,' Mr. Mendelovitch said. 'We just want to give him a concert stage to play on instead of a roadblock'."
I mention all this not to pass judgments upon the actions of Wissam Tayyem, Israeli soldiers or Ofer Mendelovitch, but to make a general point that bears repeating over and over again: Western societies are not perfect, their citizens are not all angels, and there are always people capable of committing crimes and human rights violations. But by contrast to other, non-free or less-free societies around the world, our Western societies possess powerful self-correcting mechanisms, such as the democratic system of government with a vigorous political opposition, free debate and free media, independent judiciary, and constitutional checks and balances, which mean that such aberrations from the generally high standard we all aspire to live up to are quickly identified, isolated and punished and the wrongs redressed and compensated by the authorities, the citizens or both. This doesn't happen in every single case, and not necessarily as speedily and thoroughly as some would want, but it holds well enough as a general rule.

Abu Ghraibs happen occasionally, but the abuses - relatively minor compared to what happens in other parts of the world - are exposed are their perpetrators punished. Palestinian violinists are stopped at a checkpoint and made to play (of that's indeed what has happened), but then they are invited by the concerned citizenry in the spirit of good-will and reconciliation to share the stage with other musicians.

The self-loathing "blame America/the West" crowd does a huge disservice to the cause of human rights around the world by maintaining that abuses are systemic in our own societies because it diverts the attention from those parts of the globe where such abuses are truly endemic and it downplays the suffering of all those who have to live without the benefit of all the self-correcting mechanisms we in the West take for granted.

It's a moral vanity that's insulting to anyone with an ounce of moral sense, and barely comprehensible to the millions of oppressed and the suffering in dark corners of the world barely illuminated by the angry glow of the left's self-righteousness.


Suicide bombing or homicide bombing? 

Reuters: "Suicide bomber behind Mosul bloodshed"

FoxNews: "Homicide Bomb Suspected in Mosul Attack"

The old debate re-emerges. Many people in the past have objected to the tag "suicide bomber/bombing" because it focuses all the attention on the perpetrator instead of the victims who are, after all, the targets of the attack. The "true" suicide bombing would, of course, be one where only the carrier of the explosives dies.

Is "homicide bombing" a better alternative? Yes, in a sense that the obvious desire of the perpetrators is to kill as many people as possible in as gruesome circumstances as possible. But all terrorist bombings in that sense are homicide bombings, and so if we were to follow this usage we wouldn't maintain a useful distinction between the cases where a person straps oneself with explosives belts or drives a car laden with explosives, and on the other hand the cases when somebody places an explosive device and walks away before the detonation, for one reason or another being reluctant to oneself pursue "martyrdom."

It's probably too much to expect that the media would solve this problem by adopting a similar terminology to that used on those sad occasions where wife/husband kills the other spouse and the children, before taking own life: murder/suicide. Regardless of any questions of conscious or subconscious bias, the media will probably keep going for something shorter, snappier and now - rightly or wrongly - in common usage.

Unless you have some other brilliant ideas?


Around the world in 80 blogs - the Christmas edition 

...in 80 blogs - as somebody who grew up on Jules Verne (our rulers considered him dead enough and safe enough for the country's youth to read), I always wanted to say that!

Wishing all my fellow bloggers a restful and happy Christmas and an successful, exciting, link-rich 2005. Thank you for your support, encouragement, kind words and links since I started on 31 March this year - it's been an absolute ball being part of the blogosphere and along the way acquiring so many "virtual" friends and co-conspirators.

It's unlikely that I will be able to continue "Around the world in X blogs" next year. The time constraints mean that it's proving almost impossible to keep producing all those mega news and links round-ups in the quantities I've been doing it this year. By way of compensation, however inadequate, I'll try to link to good blog stuff on an ongoing basis. So, if you have something particularly original, interesting, insightful, worthwhile, or funny, please let me know.

To make things interesting on this journey, the huge, the big, the small and the tiny, are all mixed together in alphabetical order:

In Australia,
A E Brain looks at the new French bridge, where the line between Great Art and Great Engineering is nonexistent.

Atilla the Pun has the next mission for the blogosphere: find these pictures!

Bastards Inc sings an ode to Retrosexuals.

Wretchard at
Belmont Club asks how exactly did the journalists manage to photograph the execution of electoral workers in Iraq.

Nothing gets
Boils My Blood as worked up as anti-smoking laws.

The Currency Lad presents his very extensive list of his choices for Men of the Year.

Dissecting Leftism gets spoofed by a left-wing blog, which gets John Ray pondering on why the left-wing blogs get more traffic and comments.

Fabian's Hammer observes that torture is still endemic in China.

The House of Wheels notes that you don't have to go to university in Australia to encounter socialism.

Kev Gillett blogs from Saigon.

Niner Charlie comments on pro-terrorist art in Melbourne.

Tim Blair has been a bit quiet lately - and in case you were wondering, that's what he's been doing:
Quotes of 2004: April - and every other month. Read on, laugh and cry - I'm not going to link to all twelve posts, just visit his site and keep scrolling.

A Western Heart has more comments about the gay Lincoln theory.

Vox Felisi invites you to a "blog-burst" in January, in remeberance of a very poignant anniversary.

In the United States,
Abstract Musings blogs about picking on the Amish.

The Adventures of Chester thinks that all things considered there are some interesting parallels between the occupation of Japan and that of Iraq.

Fausta at
the Bad Hair Blog is having Lileks-induced interior desecration flashbacks. On a more serious note, she's also keeping an eye on the unfolding saga of the release of the French hostages.

Baldilocks rounds up the latest from fellow milbloggers.

Beautiful Atrocities remembers a remarkable woman executed 60 year ago at Dachau.

The Big Picture tries to make sense of recent AIDS stories coming out of Africa.

Blackfive has a letter from a Marine wife to Harrison Ford.

Matt Margolis at
Blogs for Bush says there is an 11th thing that "Time" magazine should have learned about blogs.

Booker Rising comments on Bill Cosby's libertarian side.

Brain Shavings muses on correlations between faith and politics.

Bunker Mulligan blogs about the "pattern of discontent" in the US forces.

Jeff Jarvis at
Buzz Machine celebrates the fact that blog discussions about religious wars don't have to themselves degenerate into wars.

Captain Ed at
Captain's Quarters notes that (self?-) marginalization of the Democratic Party continues.

Centerfeud writes on why liberalism can't confront jihadism.

Clayton Cramer blogs about the Social Security reform.

The Colossus considers alternatives to Christmas - Saturnalia? Moloch-worship?

Conservatives Anonymous is "sick and tired of seeing the very same people who have opposed military spending since the era of Carter turn around and complain about a lack of good [military] planning."

Country Store looks at the misadventures of the Crown Prince Kojo.

Dean's World, the new Carnival of the Liberated - check out what Iraqi bloggers are taking about this week.

The Diplomad lists the Top Ten Allies he appreciates. As an Australian and a Pole, thanks for occupying 20% of the list.

Bill Roggio at
The Fourth Rail looks at the Iranian strategy against the United States.

Gleeful Extremist ruminates on Rumsfeld.

HoodaThunk? writes about the problem of changing the mind of those who hate us.

Bill at
INDC Journal asks, "Why the Visceral Dislike for Wonkette?"

Glenn Reynolds at
Instapundit is also doing Rummyblogging.

Steve Vincent at
In the Red Zone: "In the 1930s, men volunteered for units like the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in order to fight Fascism in Spain. Today, their tenured sons and daughters sit in comfortable academic seminars where they denounce the 'empire' and its nefarious designs on the planet... Or they create websites like Iraq Body Count, which tallies the number of civilian deaths--without, however, discriminating between those killed by U.S. troops, fascist paramilitaries, disease, crime or tribal disputes. Judging by its home page image of a Stealth Bomber dropping its payload, every death is America's fault."

Iowahawk unveils the ACLU's guide to Christmas-free Christmas.

La Shawn Barber notes the Dems are ready to ease up on child killing spree.

Charles at
Little Green Footballs - contrary to INDC Journal entry above - doesn't have a good word to say about Wonkette.

Mad Minerva argues "Want Christmas? Fight for it."

Masamune is blogging about the fall of Yukos.

Media Lies analyzes Rummy's response to his critics.

Michelle Malkin weighs in on the debate whether Yahoo! should allow a killed Marine's family access to his email account.

Joe Gandelman at
The Moderate Voice has his own blog round-up. He's also proud to bring you a Politically Correct Xmas Carol.

MuD & PHuD is doing some Second Amendment blogging.

Mrs Greyhawk at
Mudville Gazette attends an United Service Organisation concert.

No Left Turns: Montana - a swing state?

Patrick Ruffini blogs about the Democrats' Dixie wish.

Pejmanesque: "Because Atlas May Shrug After All."

Deacon at
Powerline defends Rumsfeld from Andrew Sullivan.

Prairie Fire: you'll pray that the ACLU wins this battle.

The Queen of All Evil blogs about getting gays back into the military.

John Hawkins at
Right Wing News blogs extensively about Social Security reform.

Roger Simon opposes death penalty, except in one case.

Russell Newquist at
RussBlog is inspired by yours truly's "Good news" segments and is starting "Good news from America."

Silent Running: Islamic terrorism in New Zealand? The media fails again.

Michelle at
A Small Victory: "Rudolph is not a cuddly, warm, fuzzy story. Rudolph, in fact, is a tale of pacifism and appeasement and mental abuse."

Solomonia reviews Steve Vincent's excellent "In the Red Zone".

TigerHawk looks at his blog year in review.

John Rosenthal at
Transatlantic Intelligencer thinks the blogosphere got fooled about the real situation in Ukraine - a controversial, but worthwhile perspective. Also, here.

Lots of interesting stuff at Winds of Change:
Joe Katzman blogs about Egypt and the Mubarak problem, and Dan Darling takes a close look at Al Qaeda.

In Europe,
Barcepundit blogs about the politicization of the March 11 terror commission.

Greg Djereijan at the
Belgravia Dispatch blogs extensively about right-wingers bashing Rummy.
Blithering Bunny: "If you go to Vegas from, say, Latvia, you might find it glamorous. But if you go to Vegas having spent many years in Sydney, and you're familiar with the insides of the Leagues Clubs, you won't."

Eric at
Ne Pasaran watches the spin unfold as the French hostages in Iraq are released.

Pieter at
Peaktalk translated some of the Dutch-language reflections of the late Theo Van Gogh.

Tomas Kohl says the EU is harmful to minors.

In Asia,
Simon World encourages you to travel around Asia by blog.

In the Middle East, Omar and Mohammad Fadhil from
Iraq the Model are back in Iraq from their American voyage - refreshed and encouraged by all the support. It's sad to see Ali Fadhil leaving the blog - I hope we'll know soon what's up.

Israellycool blogs about those Swedish children in Gaza.

Athena at
Terrorism Unveiled: up close with honor killing.

In Africa,
Ethiopundit asks what makes some nations "happy" and others "unhappy."

Please welcome the new kid on the blog,
We Won't Get Fooled Again, writings on politics and international relations by a young resident of the great state of New York.

And for something different, Patrick Anderson is song-blogging:
"You Gotta Stand for Somethin' " and "Soldier, Soldier - A Tribute".

As always, don't forget
Homespun Bloggers who are going from strength to strength, attracting more and more members.

Also, have a look at the blogroll, which has been gently cleansed of some blogs that ceased publishing, and quite a few new ones were added.

Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Pacific: not waving, drowning? 

There's a kind of sad irony that today Australia has suffered its first casualty in Solomon Islands, when a 26-year policeman Adam Dunning, was shot and killed while patrolling the streets of the capital Honiara, while no Australian has been killed yet in the far more controversial and dangerous Iraqi deployment.

Solomon Islands, which last year descended into anarchy and virtual civil war, were pulled away from the brink of a total state collapse by the Australian-led
Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The relative peace has now been restored and this small Pacific state is currently in receipt of considerable Australian assistance. It's not just in Afghanistan and Iraq, but mainly throughout its own region that Australia is trying to spread peace, security, democracy and development, from East Timor and Papua New Guinea to Bouganville and Solomon Islands.

Pacific evokes perfect touristy images of white beaches and swaying palms, reefs and atolls, and blue ocean teeming with underwater life. However, there's a lot more to the region than its exotic qualities. Pacific island states remain largely off the Western media's radar, and not surprisingly so, having to compete for news space with the politics of the developed world and continuing troubles in many hot spots around the globe. But Pacific is a region beset by many problems, political and economic. Writes
Helen Hughes of Australia's right-wing think tank Centre for Independent Studies:
"Per capita income has grown at less than 1% a year in the Pacific during the past 30 years. In some islands it has declined. Population has grown at more than 3% a year. The discrepancy between population and income growth lies at the core of the Pacific's problems...

"Since 1970 the Pacific has received US$50 billion - A$100 billion (in 1998 dollars) - in aid. Australia has been the largest donor. But because aid flows are not earned income, they create economic 'rents' that distort economies. Aid flows are fungible. They can be spent on projects and programmes of the recipient's choosing - on consumption rather than investment. Because they bias an economy against the private sector, they undercut employment and growth and lead to corruption. Super-profits from rich mineral deposits similarly create economic rents that also have negative economic effects, leading to public waste."
Elsewhere, three weeks ago, Hughes wrote that
"All is quiet in the Pacific. The past year has seen no coups or new insurrections... But for the 30th successive year, there has been no growth. With aid running at more than $1.5 billion a year to soften the effects of stagnation, Pacific governments continue to opt for inaction.

"Stagnation, poverty and descent into crime and conflict are not inevitable but the result of Pacific governments' policy choices and the implicit support of aid for those choices. The Pacific is rich in resources, has a benign climate and is near the fastest growing markets in the world... Pacific islands could be viable at high standards of living within a generation if they adopted policies that match their endowments."
The problems of Pacific nations are not likely to ever attract a lot of attention; the states in questions are miniscule, populations small, and the region far away from where the international action usually is. Still, the challenges are real enough, and solutions will have to be found if the Pacific paradise is not to become a permanent hell for its people.

Update: On Solomon Islands, you can read this excellent piece by Tom Dusevic in "Time" magazine:
"The chinese covet Nike's Swoosh. America loves the iPod. Australians are hooked on a TV show called Idol. And Solomon Islanders have the cult of RAMSI. An intervention force may seem an unlikely thing to swoon over, but the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands has pop-star appeal across the 992-island archipelago. The freshly minted brand has gained the status of savior and sorcerer with a long-suffering people, who utter the acronym in respectful whispers or with toothy smiles. From the streets of the ragtag capital, Honiara, to remote villages that the modern world has barely touched, a white stranger is instinctively welcomed as a friend rather than a carpetbagger because of ramsi's good works. High on a ridge above Honiara, at a memorial for Allied troops who died fighting the Japanese in the Battle of Guadalcanal six decades ago, Reuben Buarobo, 25, feels he is at last setting sail on his future: 'As long as RAMSI is here things will change,' says the unemployed Malaita islander. 'There will eventually be stable government and everything will be O.K'."
Yes, it's not just Iraq.


Devil's advocates 

Note: Welcome to all the new readers - please stick around and check out the rest of the blog, in particular the latest mega round-up of good - and much under-reported - news from Iraq.

With the recent speculation about the date of Saddam's trial, and following the first meeting between Saddam and one of his defense lawyers, I thought it worthwhile to republish the updated profile Hussein's legal eagles, which "Scotland on Sunday" describes as a "20-strong international legal team based in Jordan [with a] back-up from some 1,500 volunteer lawyers, mostly from Arab countries." As the paper's Ian Mathers continues,
"The legal campaign to save the former Iraqi dictator is being run by Saddam's wife and three daughters. They are funding the campaign using aid cash for the Iraqi people stolen by the dictator in the dying hours of his regime.

"His wife, Sajida Khairallah Telfah, lives in Qatar with her youngest daughter, Hala. Saddam's other daughters, Raghad and Rana, have been granted political asylum in Jordan. From Amman, Raghad pays the bills and takes the lead, holding regular planning meetings with the legal team... However, the devotion of Raghad and Rana to their father is surprising, since Saddam ordered the murder of both their husbands [in 1995]."
The assets of Hussein family members have been frozen after the liberation, but apparently not all; besides, "there has been a rush of Arab lawyers volunteering to help Saddam. Most are working for nothing, but they will gain kudos from a high-profile case which is very popular in the Arab world."

So just who exactly would volunteer to defend one of the most repulsive characters to walk the pages of recent history? Quite an interesting, and disparate group of people, by the looks of it; some probably doing it for money, others for publicity, still others because of their anti-American ideological convictions or a sense, particularly prevalent among the Arab members of the team, that Saddam is actually innocent, a sort of a Middle Eastern version of O J Simpson. Let's take a closer look at the devil's advocates:

Tom Hughes, a solicitor from Tiverton, in Devon, England, is a surprise entry. The "Guardian" comments:
"The married father-of-three was approached... to join the team 'to review principles of international justice surrounding the forthcoming trial'. Information on Mr Hughes from the Law Society shows not a specialist in international law but a typical country solicitor: areas of expertise include crime (including motor offences); family law; general litigation; debt and money advice; employment; and neighbour disputes."
Doesn't sound like much of an international law background, but the "neighbour disputes" experience might come in handy when defending Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. The missing link is Hughes' one year stint at a law firm in France, where he met the French member of the "S team," Emmanuel Ludot.

Of Emmanuel Ludot little is known outside his own country, except a for his penchant for controversial cases. In the past he represented a cancer sufferer suing over the Chernobyl disaster. In case you were wondering the suit wasn't against the Soviet Union but the French government for allowing people to consume food possibly contaminated by the radioactive fallout over France. According to one recent report, "Mr Ludot... called the Iraqi penal code 'Stone Age legislation' and said it was ill-suited to Saddam's case." One would have thought it was very well suited.

Ludot, in turn, is closely associated with another French member of the team, Jacques Verges, famous - or notorious - as defender of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and international terrorist Carlos the Jackal. Charmingly, he "is said to have been a friend of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader behind Cambodia's genocide." Verges has long legal history:
"In World War II, he earned a reputation as a war hero with General Charles de Gaulle's Free French resistance, but later he became a Communist.

"During the Algerian war of independence, he defended Algerians accused of terrorism against France. One of his clients was Djamila Bouhired, who was sentenced to death in 1957 for planting bombs in cafes in Algiers. He managed to have her sentenced commuted, and married her when she was released in 1962.

"Later, in the 1970s, he became the champion of extremists from both left and right, defending Palestinian violence against Israel and neo-Nazi bombers."
Verges also represented himself as defending Slobodan Milosevic, a claim angrily rejected by some of Slobo's fans, who resent Verges' past association with Muslim extremists. In addition to acting for Saddam, Verges is also representing Muhammad al-Jundi, the Syrian driver of the two kidnapped French journalists. Al-Jundi has been rescued from his captivity by the American troops in Fallujah in November, but he's still suing the US authorities because, as he claims, following his rescue he "was taken in handcuffs to a military base where he was beaten and kicked... thrice threatened with mock executions and tortured with electric shocks... [as well as] denied medicines and forced to sleep on a pile of plastic rice sacks." Al-Jundi now resides in Paris, "under French protection."

Another team member is British-based Giovanni di Stefano, multi-millionaire and former controversial director of Dundee football club. And a lawyer, apparently. One report says that "Mr di Stefano, who once reportedly said he would have been prepared to represent Adolf Hitler, lists road rage killer Kenneth Noye among his past clients." He is currently representing "43-year-old Mr [Jeremy] Bamber was handed a life sentence for the murders of his adoptive parents, sister and her twin six-year-olds in 1986."

Di Stefano has in the past rubbed shoulders with some interesting characters. He had this to say about the late Serbian ethnic cleansing mass murderer Arkan: "He loved me very much as a human being. And I liked him as a person. He had good morals. He was a good person. And I'm not ashamed of saying it." He also claims to have met Osama bin Laden in Baghdad in 1998 (!): "He had a handshake like a woman. He had a soft voice. He spoke like a priest." Di Giovanni's legal qualifications have been queried by a Court of Appeals judge and he has been previously convicted of fraud.

Swiss barrister and academic Marc Henzelin seems a lot less colorful by comparison. A lecturer at the universities in Geneva and Hong Kong, Henzelin specializes in international criminal law. In the past he has represented Iraqi-based Iranian mudjahedin, Argentinian arms dealers, and Saddam's nephews and nieces whose Swiss bank accounts were frozen by the authorities.

Then there is American academic (Professor of Human Rights Law at American University in Cairo) and lawyer Curtis Doebbler. Doebbler is a former legal advisor to the Palestinian Authority, and has been representing suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay (or as this note delightfully puts it, he "served as an advisor to the Taliban on the laws of war"). As Doebbler says himself:
"I am a pacifist in so far as I will not use force to achieve political ends and in principle I reject the use of force by both governmental and non-governmental actors. At the same time, I can understand the frustrations of those individuals who turn to the use of force when they or others with whom they identify are being oppressed and have no adequate means of legal recourse...

"I ardently oppose American and more broadly western neo-imperialism which is being imposed through the exploitation of the majority of the people of the world and the economic and military dominance of the United States. I believe that all people have a right and a duty to take all necessary measures to end the United States' inhumane dominance of the lives of billions of people."
In other words, one of those violent pacifists. You can also read this extensive profile of him, where Doebbler comes out as an equal opportunity defender, offering his service to George W Bush, should the President ever face a war crimes tribunal.

Another American (by naturalization) member of the team is Clive Stafford Smith, an anti-death penalty activist, who over the last quarter of a century, successfully defended some 300 clients from execution. Most recently, Stafford Smith has been a beneficiary of a grant by Soros Justice Foundation to "organize a coalition to promote enforcement of constitutional and human rights in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (home of a U.S. military base and prison); to produce a best-practices manual for litigating the cases before military commissions; and to write about a selection of Guantanamo prisoners" (hat tip: Little Green Footballs). Having recently met with two Britons held at Guantanamo, Stafford Smith said of his experience, "I don't think I've ever been as depressed coming out of Death Row as I was leaving that place. It was terribly shocking."

Stafford Smith already had an opportunity to contribute to Saddam's defense:
"A 50-page brief prepared for the defense team by British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith argues that US law should prevail in any trial of Saddam and his 11 captive aides because the trial is effectively being taken at Washington's behest... The lawyer charged that the Iraq Special Tribunal set up by the US-led coalition last December amounted to 'victors' justice' creating 'inherent illegality and bias'."
Lastly, Saddam's defense team even gets a more glamorous celebrity member:
"A daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has joined a 20-member defense panel for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the team's chief Mohammad Rashdan announced yesterday.

" 'Aysha Qaddafi, who holds a doctorate in law, has called us offering to join the team, and we welcomed that. She is now member of the defense panel for the Iraqi president,' Rashdan [said]."
The Calcutta "Telegraph" is not very kind to Miss Qaddafi:
"Aisha, in her mid-20s, has been variously described as a 'law graduate' and a 'law professor'. Other than her pin-up good looks and blonde locks, not much is known about the daughter of the leader of Libya."
Regardless of her actual qualifications, judging by the photo at least she will add the newsworthy glamour to the team. Which might be exactly the plan for our PR-conscious times.

So far, there seems to be one sad omission from the "S Team":
"Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark said... that he would represent Saddam, but added it was unlikely an international court would let a foreigner who didn't speak Arabic and wasn't trained in the Arabic legal tradition to appear in an Iraqi court."
Ramsey Clark - because no cause is too disgusting.

Looks like it's going to be an interesting trial.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

"Until then..." 

As Christmas approaches, remember our soldiers over there and their families back home.

A wonderful and moving presentation (Macromedia Flash required) (link fixed)

(hat tip: Kary)


Conan the Libertarian's suspect maths 

The Governator demonstrates why - aside from the constitutional restraints - it might be difficult for him to win the Republican presidential primaries, and if he does, to win the election:

"California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested in a German newspaper interview published Saturday that the Republican Party should move 'a little to the left,' a shift that he said would allow it to pick up new voters.

"Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has taken an unorthodox approach since winning office last year - standing by a promise to toe a conservative line of fiscal matters while veering left on social issues such as gay rights and the environment.

"In an interview with Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, Schwarzenegger said that 'the Republican Party currently covers only the spectrum from the right wing to the middle, and the Democratic Party covers the spectrum from the left to the middle.'

" 'I would like the Republican Party to cross this line, move a little further left and place more weight on the center,' he was quoted as saying. 'This would immediately give the party 5 percent more votes without it losing anything elsewhere'."
Fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, combined with a fair dose of star power has been a political winner for Schwarzenegger in California. This formula is clearly the base of his drive to move the GOP "a little bit" to the left and gain that extra 5 per cent of the popular vote. The problem is that the rest of the country is not necessarily like California. I doubt whether the mix of Hollywood glamour and libertarianism would work particularly as well anywhere else in America.

The other problem, of course, is that in real life it's very difficult to gain 5 per cent more votes "without losing anything elsewhere." Again, this might not be a problem for Arnie in California, which is not particularly well known as a conservative stronghold and a bastion of Christian right, but if throughout the Mid-West or the South you move a little bit to the left (presumably on social, not economic, issues) you might or might not gain that extra 5 per cent from the "middle", but you're also very likely to lose 5 per cent or more from the right, when social conservatives and evangelical Christians decide to sit out that one election, refusing to have to choose between two candidates, neither of whom reflects the values they hold dear.

A charismatic movie-star Californian governor can make it big on the national scene. As Ronald Reagan himself would acknowledge, some of his social views would not necessarily win him a standing ovation from the Moral Majority, which is why he instead chose to appeal on issues that were unifying rather than divisive both to the Republican base, and more broadly to the general centre-right constituency: smaller and less intrusive government, promoting opportunity and enterprise, patriotism and strong foreign and defense policies.

Arnie could do worse than to try repeat this winning formula.


Those compassionate outsiders 

Abraham Lincoln was gay, or so argues psychology professor Clarence Tripp in his book "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln", to be released in the US in January.

Some would say that Abe was too ugly to be gay. Personally, I couldn't care less whether he slept with his neighbors and bodyguards; his greatness as president is totally independent of and unrelated to what he did, or didn't do in bed. Also, I am getting a bit sick and tired of this sort of thing:
"Tripp, an influential gay writer who died two weeks after completing his manuscript, claims Lincoln reached puberty at nine and became a sexual 'outsider', which supposedly influenced his decision to fight for the emancipation of slaves."
Yes, it can happen, even on the large scale - after all, American Jews - feeling themselves victims of prejudice and "outsiders" of sorts - were at the forefront of the fight for civil rights for African-Americans; but reducing every political stance to a personal psychodrama just doesn't cut it with me. People can actually feel compassion and empathy for others - feel their pain - and act on it, without being themselves scarred by post injustices.

Wilberforce and his contemporaries who fought to end of slave trade were not gay, and nor was Reagan with his quest to give freedom to people of Eastern Europe. Neither were they abused as children, or bullied at school or otherwise persecuted. As amazing as it might seem to psychology professors, we as human beings can take certain positions because we have an innate moral sense and the abstract conception of right and wrong.

But this equation "outsider=fighter for justice" works too well politically and rhetorically for the left to be let go. After all, today's left is a rainbow coalition of victims, a coalition of groups (or at least the activists from these groups) who feel themselves marginalized and discriminated against by the "mainstream". It's only natural that the left should maintain the monopoly on compassion.

Alas, the real world is far more complicated. The Jews have survived the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust, which according to the left's psycho-history should make them the ultimate compassionate outsiders of today. But instead, according to the left, the Jews are just thugs oppressing and persecuting Palestinians. I have lived under a totalitarian government, which makes me keen to see other people around the world liberated - but to the left I'm just a warmonger. Figure that one out.


An ode to smaller blogs 

It's always nice to have fellow bloggers crossing into (how shall I say it?) more mainstream media outlets. La Shawn Barber has her first article on National Review Online, paying tribute to many smaller blogs which played their role in the downfall of Dan Rather, and whose role has escaped the media attention as their big guys focused on our big guys (Instapundit, Powerline, Little Green Footballs).


Monday, December 20, 2004

Viva Berlusconi 

A brilliant summary from a profile piece in a Polish magazine (only in hard copy):
"Europe considers him a bribe-taker, a clown, a simpleton, and a sleazebag with manners of a hairdresser. Why is then Silvio Berlusconi the longest serving Prime Minister in Italy's history?

"Never had justice system given one person so much attention. Over 1,500 court proceedings, 83 indictments, 15 major trials, 530 searches, 10 million pages of transcripts, one million page of documents. So far everything in vain.... Why have the Italians twice elected such a demon as their Prime Minister and why are they ready to do it again?"
Why indeed? Maybe another 10 million pages of court transcripts and the left will learn the answer. Than again, maybe not. After all, they have the uncanny ability to underestimate their political opponents, lulling themselves into false comfort by repeating their mantras (stupid... unsophisticated... cowboy... simpleton... clown... stupid...). They did it with Reagan, they did it with George W, and they're doing it with Silvio. And I hope they keep on doing it.

Here's to Berlusconi and the Italian end of the Coalition of the Willing.


The year's most annoying liberals 

John Hawkins at Right Wing News published "The 3rd Annual Twenty Most Annoying Liberals In The United States: The 2004 Edition". A sample - Kitty Kelley at number 16:

"There are lots of Bush bashing books out there this election, but none were more vicious, trashy, or inaccurate than Kitty Kelley's wretched tome. Sure, I know, I know, Kelley is to literature what Martha Stewart is to Nascar, but still, she deserves a mention because rarely has anyone made so much money selling books that wouldn't meet the standards of the National Enquirer."
Make sure you check it out. Who are your choices for the "Most annoying liberal?" - or to make it even more exciting, as well as to demonstarte that our bunch is not above healthy and humurous self-criticism, who is the "Most annoying conservative"?


Good news from Iraq, Part 17 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Thank you to James Taranto and Joe Katzman respectively for their support for this project, and to all of you bloggers and readers who in various ways have kept it going for 17 installments now. You can be sure that "Good news from Iraq" will be returning early in the new year.

The newest member of the international democratic leaders club, Afghanistan's
President Hamid Karzai, recently had some words of encouragement and advice for the Iraqi people on their hard road to a better future: "They must go to polls. They must take this opportunity, elect their people to parliament, and have a government of their own, and have peace... The major lesson in Afghanistan was that the Afghan people wanted change, from the tyranny of terrorism. The Iraqi people also will gain nothing if they allow these people to come from outside and destroy their lives."

We will know soon enough to what extent the Iraqis as a whole have listened to this advice, but as of six weeks from the poll the indications are that the "silent majority" is keen for the election to mark a clean break from the past and a beginning of a new Iraq. It's not just in the political sphere that the Iraqis, with the assistance of the Coalition forces, governments and organizations, are trying to make progress. In the economy, reconstruction, infrastructure, health and education, cultural life and security, work continues everyday, often under dangerous and difficult circumstances and just as often considered not newsworthy enough to compete with the insurgency and the growing pains of a country just starting to lift itself up after three decades spent under the boot of a bloodthirsty megalomaniac. Below are some of these stories of the past two weeks.

SOCIETY: The election campaign has
officially kicked off on Wednesday, 15 December, the day voter registration finished across Iraq. In the words of the current Prime Minister Iyad Allawi who announced his candidacy at the head of his Iraqi National Accord movement: "We strongly reject the injustice and separation of the past and we are working towards national unity." Allawi called the election "the precious dream stolen by tyrants".

Iraqis seem to agree. The
latest poll of 5,000 people taken in and around Baghdad, suggests that an overwhelming majority is prepared to make a clean break with the past and pursue democracy - now. Some of the specific results:

"What will you base your vote on?
Political agenda - 65%
Factional origin - 14%
Party Affiliation - 4%
National Background - 12%
Other reasons - 5%

"Do you support dialog with the deposed Baathists?
Yes - 15%
No - 84%
Do not know - 1%

"Do you support the postponing the election?
Yes - 18%
No - 80%
Do not know - 2%

"Do you think the elections will take place as scheduled?
Yes - 83%
No - 13%
Do not know - 4%"
With just over a month to go, preparation for the election day are picking up the pace: "At the offices of Iraq's election commission, workers scurry to field phone calls, greet sheiks and politicians, and prepare for the country's nationwide election Jan. 30. The pace borders on frenetic," says one report. "Registration of voters is under way. The registry is based on records of Iraqis who receive monthly food rations under a program that began in the early 1990s, when the nation was under U.N. sanctions. Today, rich and poor Iraqis alike still receive rations. 'Nobody could tell lies to Saddam. So it was a correct record. Whoever lied was killed,' said [Farid] Ayar, [the electoral commission spokesman]. Registration forms are delivered to citizens through food-ration agents linked to 542 distribution centers across the nation of 22 million to 27 million people."

While the totalitarian obsession with record keeping has made it easy to register votes within Iraq, the International Migration Organization will be trying to ensure through its
Out-of-Country - Voting for Iraq program that Iraqis living in fourteen foreign countries can also register over a one week period a fortnight prior to the voting. As part of the overseas vote effort, the Jordanian authorities have announced they will set up a center to count ballots from the estimated 100,000 Iraqis residing in the country.

Here, meanwhile, you can find the updated list of over
220 registered parties and independent candidates (entities) which will contest the election. The registered entities are, in turn, expected to field some 5,000 candidates running on 83 candidates list: "Nine of the lists were submitted by alliances of political parties, 47 by individual parties and 27 by independents."

One of the parties which will be participating in the poll is the
Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni party that until recently has been threatening to boycott the poll. You can also read this report about the aspirations of smaller parties, which hope to capitalize on the public distrust of established politicians.

This is how the elections
are expected to progress:

"Campaigning begins... Wednesday [15 December] and must end 48 hours before polling booths open.

"Iraq's election laws treat the entire country as a single constituency. A party or alliance will win seats in the National Assembly based on the percentage of votes its' list receives nationally. The system gives those candidates ranked high on the slate most chances to be voted in...

"According to electoral laws, at least one in every three candidates on a single list must be a woman.

"Once all lists of candidates are submitted, the electoral commission will begin printing some 60 million ballots - in three different colors - for the 275-member National Assembly, the provincial councils and a national council for Kurdistan, Ayar said. The symbol of each political party or alliance will appear on the ballot along with the name of each group's leader.

"About 9,000 polling stations, with up to five booths in each, are expected to open on election day.

"To be eligible to vote, a person must be an Iraqi citizen, entitled to reclaim citizenship or eligible for citizenship. Voters are required to show an ID to prove they were registered on voter rolls that were based on a food rations database, created in the 1990s. Heads of families collecting the monthly rations have been asked to check the details of their households.

"Representatives of political parties, electoral commission staff and observers will monitor proceedings on election day. The commission has also invited the United Nations and several countries to send monitors."
In case of violence proves particularly disruptive, the authorities are considering a proposal to extend voting over a two or three week period in order to give everyone the maximum opportunity to vote.

As the campaign unfolds throughout Iraq, in Switzerland a large team of workers continues to
compile Iraq's new electoral roll:

"A team of Arabic and Kurdish speakers in this Swiss city are racing to compile a register of voters for Iraq's elections by the end of December... Manpower, a temporary employment agency [has been] contracted to help draw up the national register...

"Amid escalating violence in Iraq, a huge exhibition centre in Geneva has become the unusual location for the compilation of the voter lists, which are vital to the success of the polls...

"Iraq's electoral commission hired Manpower to recruit people with the right skills to correct names and dates in Arabic and Kurdish on a database of information about Iraqis who are eligible to vote. Despite safety concerns and difficulties in acquiring permits, the agency managed to hire enough staff and is now helping a group of companies oversee the compilation process in the exhibition centre, Palexpo...

"Some 200 people hired by Manpower were Swiss, another 200 had permanent residency in the country and the rest had temporary permits... The workers are split between two eight-hour shifts from 6:00 am until 10:00 pm as they race against the clock to get the job done...

"The electoral lists are being drawn up on the basis of food ration cards distributed by the United Nations under Saddam Hussein's regime, when the World Food Programme oversaw distribution under the UN's oil-for-food programme. Iraqis started registering in about 600 offices around the country on November 1 and have six weeks to come forward to be included on the electoral register. The lists are then scanned and sent to Geneva where they are corrected and entered on computer... They will then be returned to Iraq for use in polling booths.

"The exact size of the Iraqi population and the number of voters is unknown. The last national census under Saddam Hussein's regime in 1997 said there were 23.8 million inhabitants in the country."
Other foreign assistance for the election continues to flow in. Canada has offered to train election officials in Iraq and to help monitor the vote. Japan will be training 10 Iraqi electoral officials from Baghdad and Muthana province. Germany, meanwhile, is assisting with electoral education: "A new radio program is about to hit the airwaves in Iraq focusing on the upcoming elections scheduled for the end of January. It's radio for Iraqis, by Iraqis, with a little help from [the German broadcaster] Deutsche Welle." The report continues:

"Even getting to this hotel conference room in Amman, Jordan was at times a life-threatening trek for some of the young Iraqi journalists. Those who came from southern or central Iraq had to make long detours around hotspots like Fallujah or Ramadi. Those from the north had to travel through Turkey and Syria to Jordan.

"But they were willing to embark on the sometimes dangerous journey because they are all committed to one thing: making radio for their fellow Iraqis.

"In this case, they'll be making Election Radio, a project funded by Germany's foreign ministry and coordinated by Deutsche Welle. Starting in mid December, the Iraqi journalists gathered in this hotel will be sending in reports from the ground daily to create a 30-minute program of current information over the upcoming vote in Iraq.

"The 19 journalists taking part in the project come from all 18 of Iraq's provinces. When they return, they will start producing radio packages and interviews that have been discussed with coordinators at Deutsche Welle.

"The reporters will then send their finished pieces in MP3 digital format to Berlin, where they are turned into the half-hour moderated program in Deutsche Welle's studio. The completed program is then sent back to Iraq, again by MP3, to local partner stations where it is broadcast."
While Canada and Japan are training electoral officials, Denmark is providing training for some of the candidates:

"About 100 candidates for Iraq's first popular election in decades traveled to Kuwait on Saturday for a seminar about the democratic process.

"The men and women were bused from the southern Iraqi city of Basra for the two-day event organized by Denmark's government. Two of the candidates are running for the national assembly, while the rest are candidates for local offices.

"The candidates will attend lectures by experts from the United Nations and Denmark about Iraq's election law, the role of political parties, campaigning and how the vote will be conducted."
USAID, too, is contributing to training and capacity building in the run up to the election (link in PDF):

"A USAID partner recently organized a conference on the electoral process for 46 participants from 27 parties. Representatives from the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) gave a presentation on voting and individual and party registration procedures. The two-hour Q&A period that followed the presentation provided answers to participants' questions on coalition-building, security concerns, governorate versus national registrations, election monitoring, IECI staffing, women candidates, out-of-country voters, ethnic balances in the city council, and numerous other technical issues relating to the election process."
And in another program,

"The first of three Iraqi election monitoring training academies was recently held in Amman. The five-day event brought together 26 Iraqi civic leaders from the Coalition of Non-Partisan Election Monitors for training on the specifics of Iraqi election law, best practices for monitoring, and how to develop and present a unified campaign statement. The academy also included special presentations from the United Nations on election preparations and regulations as well as a presentation from IFES on election violence mitigation. The final day included participatory mock exercises involving scenarios such as an error-plagued polling station.

"The participants of the conference are now responsible for recruiting and training an additional 100 monitors. The new monitors will work under the leadership of the Iraqi Election Information Network (EIN), which will serve as the domestic monitor coordinating umbrella. Using this train-the-trainer method, EIN hopes to train 5,000 to 8,000 Iraqi monitors for the January election."
And in a less material way, Muqtadah Al Sadr's uncle, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Sadr, executed by Saddam in 1980, is providing Iraqi and Arab democrats and human rights activists with inspiration in their struggle for constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law.

While not surprisingly much attention has been recently given to training candidates and election officials, a seminar in the Czech Republic is aiming to
help Iraqi judges in their task of rebuilding the country's independent judicial system:

"The Iraqi judiciary is corrupt, inept and relies on barbaric methods to inflict violent punishments on those with the misfortune to enter its chambers. Wrong, very wrong.

"If there is one thing instructors at the second training seminar for Iraqi judges learned at the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (CEELI) in Prague, it's that Iraqi judges were well-prepared to resurrect a democratic legal system.

" 'When I met judges in Baghdad in 2003 and in Prague, they were much more sophisticated than I expected,' said Judith Chirlin, a judge at the Los Angeles Superior Court whose most recent case involved rock star Rod Stewart's cancellation of a concert tour in South America. (He lost).

"Chirlin was one of five international legal experts at a two-week training program for 50 judges that kicked off Nov. 26."
The seminar is organized by the Sweden-based the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) with financial support from the Czech and British governments, and aims to provide Iraqi judges with additional education and support on topics such as human rights, DNA testing of evidence, ethics, media freedom, community outreach, and court procedures.

You might remember from the
previous installment the news about the establishment of Iraq's Commission for Public Integrity, the official body set up to investigate and fight public corruption using a public hotline for tips. This is how one report describes the Commission working in practice:
"In a country where corruption has been part of the government culture for so long, it's tough to keep up with all of the complaints -- up to 10 per day. Posters on the street now urge people to report financial abuse. Once callers knew they would be anonymous, the calls came in fast and furious. Investigators have already opened 121 cases based on tips from the hotline.

"One man looking at a poster said Iraqis are tired of the corruption, because they know it hurts them. 'This may be new for Iraqis, but I hope it will succeed,' said Abdul Karim Fakhri, 38, the manager of a supermarket. 'We want someone to fight this corruption'."
From politics to education, the interest in computers and information technology is spreading among the young generation of Iraqis: "During Saddam Hussein's iron-fisted rule, owning a computer was theoretically allowed but remained the privilege of the elite and Saddam's cronies." Now in Baghdad, the Karrada Cultural Centre for Youth Computer Teaching has opened in a villa which once belonged to one of Saddam's bodyguards. Safa el-Din al-Sultani, who runs the centre, "admits that the centre would have not been established without the help of the US military and explains that the idea of teaching children sprung to his mind following the fall of the former regime in April 2003. 'The Americans welcomed the idea and they gave us 37 computers and ten play-stations,' he recounts. 'Iraq is considered to be an under-developed country. We have ignorance here and there are no centres to inform adults and youths about computers, which have become an essential element in our life,' he says."
"More than 130 Iraqi boys and girls, aged 8-14, from 17 different schools in the Karrada area attend a two-hour computer course every day, delivered by fresh university graduates who volunteer to teach the children...

" 'The children are eager to learn. They want to know how to use computers, how to play games and how to draw,' says Mithal Alaa, 27, who studied at the Nationalist Computer Science Centre under the old regime. 'We teach these children for free. Most of them come from families who cannot afford to have a computer in there homes,' she said."
Iraq's neighbors are also trying to help the next generation reach their full potential:

"Shaikh Mohamed bin Issa Al Jaber, chairman of MBI International, signed an agreement with Taher Al Buka'a, Iraq's Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, to support a post-graduate study programme for Iraqi students. Under the agreement MBI will fund 60 post-graduate scholarships for Iraqi students from next year. The students will complete their education in universities in the UK."
The government of South Korea, meanwhile, has contributed $200,000 to the International Fund for Higher Education in Iraq, established by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) and UNESCO with an initial donation of $15 million from Qatar: "Despite the instability in Iraq, the [Foundation] Committee has made great progress and achieved many of the objectives, he said. The Committee has provided opportunities for Iraqi faculty members to attend training programmes in European and Middle Eastern universities. Internet connection to Iraqi universities and supply of computers, science equipment and books are part of the agenda. 'Around 100 faculty members are currently undergoing training at various universities and the lab equipment and books are scheduled to be delivered in a fortnight,' [director of the Fund, Bader Abdullah] al-Darwish said. The Committee chairman pointed out that Sheikha Mozah has provided seats to a group of gifted Iraqi students at the branch campuses of Weill Cornell Medical College and Texas A&M University in QF's Education City."

In media news, Iraq will be getting its first Arabic music
FM station when the United Arab Emirates' based Channel 4 Radio Network commences transmission at 98.8 FM. The company "will manage the operations of the radio station, which will initially cover a population of eight million within a 100 kilometre radius of Baghdad. In time, the promoters expect to cover the whole of Iraq." In another development, "Telkonet, Inc., working in commercial powerline communications (PLC), announced that it will support the execution of a U.S. State Department sponsored program to establish the Baghdad Media Center. The program will run through the International Republican Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy. Telkonet will work with several U.S. and Iraqi partners to implement a fully operational media center in the Iraqi capital dedicated to expanding civil programs, educational opportunities and training initiatives throughout Iraq."

Together with the growth of other freedoms in the new Iraq,
Iraqi workers are also discovering freedom of association:

"Iraqi labour unions making their global debut at a conference in Japan are seeking tips on their tough task -- how to make workers aware of rights suppressed for years by Saddam Hussein.

"Five trade union leaders from Iraq attended the 18th World Congress of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which began on Sunday in the southwestern resort city of Miyazaki.

"It was the first-ever appearance of Iraqi organised labour at a congress of ICFTU, which meets every four years. Saddam only allowed a government-run union and persecuted the underground labour movement.

"Since the collapse of the regime, at least 10 independent trade unions have been set up in Iraq."
Lastly, an innovative program is attempting to kill two birds with one stone: help improve the traffic management in Baghdad and integrate the disabled into the society:

"At a busy traffic junction in the Bayaa neighbourhood of the capital, Akram Alewi raises one hand to stop vehicles, while directing another stream of cars forward with the other, a whistle in his mouth ready to pull up offending motorists.

"It may sound like an every day scene, but there is one slight difference: Alewi has been confined to a wheelchair since 1986 when he lost both legs, fighting in the Iran-Iraq war.

"The forty-year-old volunteer, one of a growing number, has been helping the municipality's traffic department since the end of the war in April 2003. 'Before the fall of the regime I worked at the same junction, selling cigarettes to add to my disabled person's pension. I got just 27,000 dinars (18 US dollars) every three months and I have five kids, so it was never enough,' said Alewi. 'I started off helping out the young traffic policemen after the fall of Baghdad, when everything was chaotic. There were hardly any officers and even when they were there, people didn't take any notice of them'."
"Karim Abas, the traffic officer in charge of this area of Baghdad, says he encourages his new band of volunteers, 'They do a good job organising the traffic, people seem to respect them'."

ECONOMY: There is good news for Iraq's future within the international training regime, as the
World Trade Organisation's 148 member states approve request by Iraq to open membership negotiations. "Iraq... which [is] struggling to emerge from conflict, now faces several years of negotiations with other trading nations to adapt [its] laws and trade flows to global trade rules before [it] can hope to join the WTO." Says Iraq's trade minister Mohammed Al Jibouri: "We believe that these measures [the WTO negotiations and writing off Iraq's debts] and other positive economic initiatives on the part of the international community will help bring stability and security to my country."

Meanwhile, in a
baptism of economic fire, "the Iraqi Central Bank has succeeded in maintaining the exchange rates of the Iraqi dinar against the US dollar and other foreign currencies, despite a huge demand for the dollar by the market."

In Baghdad, there is an
unexpected spin-off from the US election:

"The good news and the bad news are the same in Iraq: America isn't leaving. A sign of how this resolve to stay the course is playing out in the minds of some Iraqis comes from the local real estate market.

"An Iraqi businessman was negotiating several months ago to sell a prime piece of commercial real estate in central Baghdad. He had tentatively agreed on a price with a Kuwaiti investor, who planned someday to build an electronics superstore on the 3,000-square-meter property. But after President George W. Bush was re-elected in November, the Iraqi jacked up the price by 25 percent. The prospect that a re-elected Bush administration would stay and fight - and ultimately stabilize Iraq - had instantly made his property more valuable."
Basra and its surroundings, meanwhile, are hoping that the January election will provide a similar stimulus for a local revival:

"Iraq's south produces about two-thirds of the country's oil, but is today its poorest region. Now some federalist-minded local officials are tying hopes for revival to their country's shakily unfolding democratic process. 'We can develop Basra like Dubai or Hong Kong, that's what we want,' says Abdul-Hafiz al-Atti, Basra's deputy governor. It would help if the city received a cut of Iraq's oil revenues. 'Even 5 per cent is enough to compensate Basra for the last 35 years,' he says."
The unemployment rate in Iraq fell from 28 per cent at the end of 2003 to 26.8 per cent during the first half of 2004. To help tackle this still unacceptable level of unemployment, a two-day conference sponsored at the Iraqi government's request by the International Labor Organisation "brought together more than 60 representatives of government, employers and workers in Iraq, as well as representatives of local authorities, civil society, UN agencies, the World Bank and international donors" who have been working on plans to reduce this economic and social problem.

Meanwhile, the US authorities are trying to help Iraqi
female business owners:

"The Iraq Projects and Contracting Office (PCO) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a conference for woman-owned businesses at the Baghdad Convention Center November 29 to outline procedures necessary to follow to learn about potential contracts in Iraq and for bidding on them.

" 'This is a huge culture shift for most businesses in Iraq. We want to give owners and managers of woman-owned businesses an understanding of our processes and procedures so they will have an equal opportunity to bid on the various contracts for construction and services that we have available,' said Shirley Wilson, deputy director of the contracting office for the Gulf Region Division of the Corps."
Similar seminars are being planned for Basra and Mosul.

In oil news, the Southern Oil Company of Basrah recently took ownership of the restored
water injection system at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant. This $225 million-project was necessary in order to continue extraction from the field: "As the oil is extracted, the reservoir loses pressure... To preserve the life of the reservoir, water is injected into the rock to replace the pressure created by the oil." The Missan province, also in the south of the country, is planning some major energy developments:

"Relative stability in the southern city of Amara has encouraged private entrepreneurs to draw plans for the construction a refinery, a power plant and a liquefied gas factory.

"The local branch of business and industry chambers in the city has set up a 'consultancy board to energize the role of the private sector,' said Ali Jaber. 'We are preparing for the construction of a refinery and have submitted a feasibility study to the Ministry of Oil,' Jaber, who leads Amara's business chambers, said.

"Jaber said the city entrepreneurs were also planning other projects 'among them an electricity generation station.' Amara is the capital of the Province of Missan where some of the richest undeveloped Iraqi oil fields are situated."
Continuing the focus on the south of the country, "Kuwait and Iraq have reached an initial agreement on a KD238 million ($809 million) deal to supply Kuwait with 200 million cubic feet of gas per day. 'We have agreed on the gas project, which is expected to begin in October after infrastructure is rehabilitated and upgraded,' Essa Al Oun, undersecretary at Kuwait's Energy Ministry said. The project will be divided into two phases, the first of which will supply Kuwait with 35 million cubic feet daily of Iraqi gas beginning October, followed by another 165 million cubic feet daily within the next two to three years, Oun said."

In the Kurdish north of the country, meanwhile, Eagle Group of Iraq, the Kurdish oil entity, will benefit from the cooperation with
Heritage Oil Corporation in developing the oil and gas potential in the region. For Micael Gulbenkian, Chairman and CEO of Heritage Oil Corporation, the new cooperative venture is like coming back home:

"Because of my family's centuries-old links to Iraq and the region, I have been able to visit Iraq regularly during the last two years. My great grandfather and great uncle were closely associated with the development of the Middle East oil industry. In fact, the Gulbenkian family was fundamentally involved with the establishment of Iraq Petroleum Company in the 1920s and the drilling of the first well in Kirkuk in 1927. My father for decades since the 1950s was associated with the development of the Iraqi Oil industry and, by investing in numerous social and development programs played a very important role in the fields of education, health, arts and science for the benefit of the Iraqi people. I have been touched with the warm reception I have enjoyed within Iraq in general and the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in particular. As a result of my family's historical connections in the area, this joint venture could have the ability to transform Heritage Oil Corp. in the short to medium term."
Russia, too, is "ready to lend the country a helping hand in modernizing its installations and developing new fields."

In transport news, more work is on the cards to give Iraq
another international airport:

"Iraqi and multinational officials are moving forward with plans to upgrade Mosul's Airfield to a Category I airport. The International Civil Aviation Organization designates Category I airports as those properly equipped to host international commercial flights.

"On November 27 officials awarded a $10.3 million contract to construct a new air traffic control tower and install new runway lights and navigational aid equipment, all critical components that will help bring the airfield up to international standards. Renovations at the airfield's terminal have been underway since July. There are also plans to renovate the airport taxiway and update the weather forecasting equipment."
And in the work on Iraq's railway network, as USAID reports (link in PDF),

"the refurbishment of the rail track connecting Basrah with Umm Qasr port is 78 percent complete. 1,260 sleepers - the rail components used to reinforce the track - were recently delivered to the site and the mining, crushing and placing of foundation gravel is nearly done. In recent months USAID installed all 29 planned culverts and repaired ten railway gatehouses along the track.

"Track reconstruction is being complemented with training for Iraqi Republican Railway (IIR) staff. The final training plan was selected from competing proposals last week. By teaching IRR staff best practices in track construction and maintenance, USAID is supporting the sustainability of Iraqi rail restoration.

"Upon completion of the project in January, 2005, the weight-bearing capacity of the rail line and train speeds will increase significantly. Iraq needs safe and effective transportation networks, and rail remains the least expensive way to move grain, fuel and other bulk cargo around the country. The railway was barely operational prior to the conflict, suffering frequent derailments, accidents, and delays."
RECONSTRUCTION: There is plenty of - underreported - good news about the Iraqi reconstruction effort from USAID: "[Andrew Natsios, the administrator of USAID] said the United States has completed or is working on 7,000 assistance projects in Iraq, efforts that he said largely have been overlooked because of the focus on security problems... While foreign news media tends to focus on the insurgency in Iraq, 'the more mundane work that we do in reconstruction is not covered as well, or as much or at all, in some cases', [says Natsios]." Among the highlights of USAID's contribution to building the new Iraq:

"- Reconstruction of the port of Umm Qasr, which was essentially closed for more than 20 years. Now 50 ships offload there every month.

"- Substantial overhauls of the power grid have produced an increase of more than 10 percent in megawattage compared with the prewar figure. 'Right now, we have between 11 and 15 hours per day of electricity in almost all areas of the country that are electrified, and by the end of 2005 our expectation is we will be at 18 to 20 hours,' [Natsios] said.

"- Rehabilitation of nine sewage treatment plants is expected to lead to an increase of treated waste water by 250 million gallons per day by the first quarter of 2005.

"- More than 3 million children under the age of 5 have been immunized, and 700,000 pregnant women have been educated in neonatal care. In addition, high-protein biscuits and fortified milk have been distributed to more than 450,000 children and 200,000 pregnant and nursing mothers.

"- Some 2,500 schools have been repaired as of March and 32,000 teachers trained."
Natsios adds that the United States had already spent $3.6 billion of $18.4 billion approved by Congress for reconstruction, and currently projects accounting for an additional $9.4 billion are in the planning stages or had already been approved. "Our work in Iraq is the largest reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan," he says (note that most current sources put the money already spent at only $2 billion).

Meanwhile, "U.S. officials announced... they would try to begin 150 more construction contracts in Iraq by the end of [December]. They have begun work on 363 schools, 16 military bases, 88 border posts, 41 clinics and 14 hospitals, among other projects, according to the Defense Department."

Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Bostick, who heads the Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division, which together with the Project and Contracting Office administers and conducts most of the reconstruction projects, updates on the
progress being made in reconstruction program:

"Bostick explained $12 billion of [$18.4 billion] will go toward physical construction projects and the rest toward 'non-construction type' projects and supplies. He estimated that about $2 billion has been disbursed so far and expects another $2 billion more to be spent by the end of December.

"Thus far, 57 healthcare centers and 343 schools are under construction, and 12 hospitals are being renovated, Corps officials explained. Other significant project starts include those to generate electricity and to treat water and sewage throughout the country.

"In addition, about 75 kilometers of roads are also being built, and renovation work is continuing on railroad stations around the country. And there are 12 new police stations and 120 border posts under construction."
The recent speed-up in reconstruction work is in part due to the change in tactics: "The United States has shifted to smaller, low visibility projects from the high-profile, more expensive ones originally planned and the approach is paying off, said Charles Hess, head of the Project and Contracting Office in Baghdad. 'We have taken all the smaller ones we planned and moved them to the front of the queue. We can get out there with these and have more impact,' said Hess, whose office is in charge of much of the U.S.-funded reconstruction work in Iraq...

"As of Wednesday, Hess said, a daily average of about 100,000 Iraqis were employed on U.S.-funded projects and he expected this would peak to 140,000-150,000 by next summer. Dirt had been turned on 1,167 projects worth about $3 billion and 70 to 100 new ones were starting each week. Of the $18.4 billion, he said, $2 billion had been paid out and $9.6 billion legally contracted with companies to do work."
From outside the United States, the World Bank has recently signed on a major reconstruction assistance deal:

"The World Bank signed three contracts for Iraqi reconstruction and health projects worth 145 million dollars.

"The deals for a 65-million-dollar Baghdad water and sanitation project, 25 million dollars for emergency health and 55 million dollars for private sector development were signed in Amman in the presence of Baghdad Mayor Alaa Tamimi.

"World Bank representative Joseph Saba said the grants were part of the 400 million dollar Iraq trust fund administered by the institution."
From June 13-16, 2005, a series of exhibitions, workshops and seminars is expected to provide networking opportunities for businesses and agencies participating in rebuilding Iraq: " 'Gateway to Iraq - Exhibition, Business and Investors Summit', a major event to support the reconstruction and economic development programme of Iraq, and to create awareness of the vast investment and trade potential in that country, will be launched in Dubai... The 'Gateway to Iraq' Exhibition will bring together under one roof regional and international companies, offering a range of products and services related to the reconstruction effort in Iraq, and also any company looking to join the list of suppliers who will be supporting the lead contractors in Iraq. Exhibitors will represent a broad spectrum of sectors and interests including Construction & Transportation, Water & Sewage, Oil & Gas, Electricity & Power Generation, Communications &amp;amp;amp;amp; Information Technology, Healthcare & Education, Agriculture & Food, and Non Governmental Organisations."

Meanwhile, back on the ground, what a difference a few months can make in one of the country's
worst hot-spots:

"The outdoor markets are busy again and the gridlocked traffic is back. The bands of excited children who walked behind local militiamen heading to battle in the fall now clamor around machinery laying down new water pipes.

"After spending much of the year as a battlefield between militiamen and U.S. forces, Baghdad's Sadr City district is now embracing peace and reconstruction. Anticipation is high for what the residents of the mainly Shiite district say is their overdue empowerment through elections Jan. 30.

"Workers in orange jumpsuits are laying asphalt in dozens of potholes dug by the fighters to conceal roadside bombs meant to kill American soldiers. The clerics who replaced their turbans and robes with track suits to join the fight are back in mosques and seminaries."
Meanwhile, some $120 million dollars has been committed to the reconstruction of Al Anbar province, which included Fallujah:

"Marine civil affairs units are making damage assessments throughout the city and progress has been made in restoring some key infrastructure like water and power...

"Officials say as the city is cleared of insurgents and unexploded ordnance, announcements will be made that heads of families will be allowed back district-by-district to inspect their homes and businesses...

"Addresses on food ration cards issued before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq will be used to verify each family resides in the district being opened.

"US navy Rear Admiral Raymond Alexander says military personnel will be in the city to hand out damage claims forms. 'If their house is damaged, we're going to let them turn in a claim. Their house may be gone, do they want to rebuild or take that cheque and go somewhere else?' he said."
Navy Reservist from Wisconsin, doctor John Williams of Marshfield is now in charge of rebuilding the health infrastructure throughout the province.

Iraqi Planning Ministry has received 5.7 billion dinars ($3.9 million) to develop projects to
redesign and modernize the cities of Kirkuk, Hilla and Kut. Following the successful tendering process to redevelop the city of Najaf, foreign firms will also be welcome to submit their proposals in this latest round. "[Ministry official, Riyadh al-Wazir] said his department's plans included the drawing of new designs for most Iraqi cities. Most Iraqi cities lack modern sewage systems and suffer from chronic shortages of basic public amenities. Oil revenues in the 1970s and 1980s fuelled a reconstruction boom across the country but most of the development was haphazard and poorly planned. 'We want to give each city its special Iraqi identity,' Wazir said. Wazir said his engineers were drawing on experience collected by world organizations such as U.N. Development Program and the World Bank."

Every dollar helps, and the Iraqi government will have a few more of those to spend on reconstruction as
100 million pounds recovered by the British government from the funds hidden away in the West by Saddam is returned to the Iraqi government.

Reconstruction work is currently progressing elsewhere throughout the country. In the
Kirkuk province several major projects have already been finished and several more are underway at a total cost of $8 billion. USAID, meanwhile, reports (link in PDF) that "the rehabilitation of a water treatment plant in northern Iraq that will provide clean water to 375,000 At' Tamim residents is 82 percent complete. The plant is more than 10 years old and suffered operational and structural problems before USAID's work began." And elsewhere

"In south central Iraq USAID will soon begin to expand and refurbish a faulty 30-year-old water treatment plant in Karbala that has long experienced structural failures. Before the existing facility is repaired, compact water treatment units will be installed nearby to allow continued water service while the rehabilitation is completed. The Karbala project is scheduled for completion in July 2005. Repairing this plant is particularly important because it supports millions of visitors and religious pilgrims each year. The spring pilgrimage to visit a shrine located near the treatment plant is part of religious life for many Iraqi Muslims."
In Najaf, meanwhile, USAID's Community Action Program

"has developed 90 projects in 77 communities in Najaf governorate valued at $3.6 million. Initiatives have directly benefited 865,769 Iraqis in addition to 654,403 indirect beneficiaries. Recent Najaf projects include the construction of a health clinic that will serve a combined population of 52,500. The area is located near a shrine that is frequented by many religious visitors each year. A local municipality will donate the land for the clinic, which will be equipped with triage services, a waiting room, an x-ray room, a laboratory, a dental office, and examination rooms.

"Community Action Groups in Najaf have also developed projects to build maternity wards near existing health care centers. One $17,000 project will construct and equip a maternity ward with examination and recovery rooms and a pharmacy, serving 84,000 Iraqis. A second $50,000 maternity ward will serve 80,000 people in three communities."
A major plan to help Iraqi health infrastructure is currently underway:

"The Iraq Project and Contracting Office (PCO) hopes to improve the healthcare situation in Iraq through its Buildings, Health, and Education Sector (BHE). The sector plans to renovate 19 hospitals and build 150 primary healthcare centers (PHCs) throughout Iraq by January 2006...

"The PHCs will be 15,000 to 21,500 square feet in size and will have physician clinics, dental offices, radiography departments, vaccination centers, labs, pharmacies and classrooms. Some of the PHCs will also include an urgent care center and a birthing center.

"The equipment provided will cover air conditioners to X-ray machines, patient beds, examination tables, microscopes, incubators, wheelchairs, scales, heart monitors, sterilizers, resuscitation units, defibrillators, pediatric blanket warmers, refrigerators, mammography units, water purifiers, ultrasound equipment, ventilators, stretchers, surgical instruments, dental chairs and dozens of other items.

"Overall, the PCO will spend more than $700 million on healthcare-related construction and medical equipment in Iraq. This includes $225 million to construct PHCs; $149 million to renovate hospitals; $50 million to construct a pediatric hospital in Basra; $60 million for equipment for hospitals; $70 million for equipment for PHCs; and $165 million for training and general distribution of hospital equipment."
The US is also funding the training of medical personnel - and not just doctors and nurses, but also "receptionists, medical technicians, orderlies, medical records clerks, medical maintenance personnel and others" throughout all 18 governorates. And in the northern governorate of Diyala, USAID and an international NGO are continuing to do a lot of good work to improve the local health infrastructure (link in PDF):

"- Training 22 doctors in Ninewa, and 18 doctors and 36 nurses in Diyala'.

"- Providing community outreach health services by establishing six mobile health teams that provided health services to 2,906 patients, provided antenatal care to 176 pregnant women, and vaccinated about 1,116 children and pregnant women in Diyala' Governorate.

"- Rehabilitating a primary healthcare center in Mosul, which had been closed by the Ministry of Health due to lack of funding for rehabilitation. The center will be handed over to the Directorate of Health in Mosul and about 364 IDPs (52 IDP families) will benefit from its services.

"- Undertaking a community outreach health promotion initiative using volunteer educators and reaching 3,049 returnee beneficiaries in Northern Iraq and 5,677 IDP beneficiaries in Diyala' Governorate. The NGO's strategy was to identify individuals among IDPs and host populations to provide them training and orient them on health promotion in their communities and villages.

"- The NGO trained 20 community health volunteers in districts of Ninewa and Erbil, and 18 community health volunteers in Diyala'."
Progress is also being made in improving the health of Iraqi children, who have suffered greatly under the sanctions regime throughout the 1990s so that Saddam could make a political point. Over three-million children under the age of five have now been immunized and children are also now receiving twice yearly doses of Vitamin A, which are expected to reduce child mortality rates by more than twenty percent.

USAID is also helping Iraqi farmers through its Agricultural Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI). Some of the
recent activities include (link in PDF): helping authorities build capacity to collect accurate agricultural data, conducting wheat seed manipulation programs to increase yields, expanding farming tracks, and renovating a veterinary clinic. USAID's Community Action Program, is also assisting: "An animal vaccination campaign has begun in 1,058 At' Tamim villages. With the facilitation of USAID's Community Action Program (CAP), 56 unemployed veterinarians will vaccinate 780,000 sheep and 500,000 chickens that are at risk of pox and Newcastle disease, a highly contagious bird disease that is endemic to Iraq."

Operation Iraqi Children, a brainchild of actor Gary Sinise and Laura Hillenbrand, author of the book "Seabiscuit: An American Legend," has become one of the most successful humanitarian actions directed at Iraq. The idea of helping Iraq's next generation came to Sinise during an United Service Organistaion tour in Iraq in November 2003: "I went to this school, and I saw what it did for the troops to go out there and visit these kids and to see these smiling kids... These soldiers had helped to rebuild the school. So when they showed up, the kids just ran out and threw their arms around the soldiers. And the troops are very protective of kids at the school. I just saw a lot of good will there that day, and I wanted to reinforce that in some way."

"So he told the troops that he would gather and ship school supplies back to them so they could take them to the children.

"In this endeavor to foster good will between U.S. troops and the Iraqi civilians, he and Hillenbrand started an OIC Web site. It was their way of showing people how they could help support the troops and the Iraqi children at the same time. And the response from the military and the public has been terrific...

"The American public has also embraced the organization. 'We get stuff every week, every day from all over the country,' [Sinise] said. 'Now we're asking for blankets, which they need - (they) desperately need blankets over there. At night it's very, very cold.'

"Sinise said donations of blankets, shoes and other winter items are being collected for shipment after the holidays because of the high volume of packages shipped at this time of the year.

"The program wouldn't have become as big as it is without some help, Sinise said. That help comes in the forms of People to People International and the Veterans of Foreign Wars."
Meanwhile, from Michigan, this smaller but also successful action:

"Beanie Babies are on the ground in Iraq. The humanitarian effort Beanie Baby Aid -- launched by three Ironwood women to get the dolls into the hands of Iraqi children -- has been a success.

" 'He says they're working,' said Tricia Doan, mother of Army Lt. Anthony Doan. Doan wrote to his mother, asking that she use his income tax return to purchase Beanie Babies for distribution by soldiers to children. She shared the idea with friends Pamela Mack and Lynda Van Rossum.

"In one month some 5,000 Beanie Babies have been donated. Some 3,000 of them arrived in Iraq Wednesday [1 December], via Air Force cargo plane."
More beanie babies were collected by students from St. Martin's Lutheran School in Annapolis. And cheerleaders from Saguaro and Horizon high schools and from the Desert Storm Elite gym in Scottsdale, Arizona, have also participated in the "Beanies for Baghdad" action. 800 teddybears, meanwhile, have arrived from North Dakota to the Forward Operating Base Speicher, with thousands more to come.

Students from the Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in
Stoughton have been, in addition to baking and sending cookies to American troops stationed in Mosul, also sending school supplies to distribute to Iraqi children. Students at Glendover Elementary school in Lexington are putting together boxes with schools supplies for their Iraqi peers. And students from Franklin Middle School, Idaho, are participating in the "Operation Iraqi Children" by raising finds to buy school kits for Iraqi students.

Students from the
University of Maryland Baltimore County are also doing their bit for Iraqi schoolkids: "Students in the combined Lutheran and Episcopal Ministry at UMBC have joined together with students from the Johns Hopkins University Interfaith Center in collecting and donating school supplies to elementary school children in war-ravaged Iraq. Crayons, colored and regular pencils, paper, markers, notebooks, glue sticks and binders from UMBC were delivered to the Hopkins campus on September 27. The project was originated by Hopkins alum Alexander Kuhns, who graduated in 1997 and who is currently serving in Mosul as an Arabic interpreter for the U.S. Army."

And First Lt. Timothy Jones has inspired Delaware County's
Brownie Troop No. 9, of which his daughter Raven is a member, to also help Iraqi children: "Spurred by UNICEF figures showing the toll war is taking on Iraqi children, the Brownies are collecting clothing, blankets and soccer balls to mail to the children... 'They have already collected between 200 and 300 boxes and it continues to go on. I just thought maybe it's going to be 9, 10, 11 boxes something like that. I would never have imagined hundreds of boxes. It's great though. That's more children that's going to be able to receive something, some clothing or maybe a soccer ball,' [Jones] said."

Humanitarian aid also continues to reach Iraq from its neighbors in the region. A fifth
Red Crescent Society relief ship from the United Arab Emirates has reached the Iraqi port of Oum Qasar with 400 tons of relief aid, including 20 containers of medical supplies.

THE COALITION TROOPS: The Coalition troops are contributing in a significant way to the
reconstruction effort, alongside numerous government and private initiatives currently in place: "The Iraq Project and Contracting Office (PCO) with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced... that the U.S. government has surpassed the 1,000 construction start mark one month ahead of their year-end goal. The reconstruction team has delivered 1,051 construction starts to-date. 'We're thrilled to have achieved this goal in spite of insurgent activity,' stated PCO Director Charles Hess. 'At the same time, while it is an important mark, it's just a mark on the wall. There are going to be many more. As of today, we have 1,051 projects that have actually started construction, or "turned dirt." Our new goal is 1,200 by the end of the year'."

The 1,050 projects include: schools (363), public health clinics (41), hospitals (14), railroad stations (58), border posts (88), port of entry (6), fire stations (20), police stations (17), military bases (16), water (67), electricity (58), oil (19), sewer (24), roads (66), and various other (194).

Army Corps of Engineers is specifically involved in a number of security-related reconstruction projects: "Iraq's border-post project is one of the first steps to protecting the country from the influx of insurgents. Construction continues on the borders between Iraq and Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. More than 90 border posts are either under construction or complete... Refurbishing police stations also remains a big focus of the reconstruction... At least 27 stations and 10 vehicle checkpoints have been identified for refurbishment in a province in southern Iraq. Police cadet training has started on a military base in south central Iraq, and work continues on the many police stations in the southern district. Teams have started to assess the needs in different areas, and a direct funding apparatus has been put in place to enable rapid construction of the facilities. Five fire station sites have been identified, and 13 more are being assessed in both the Maysan and Basrah provinces."

Troops continue to work to provide vital infrastructure throughout Iraq. Soldiers from Task Force 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, for example, have recently renovated the
Al-Ahabab water treatment plant that provides water for 2,000 local people. The plant hasn't been operational for years. In Sheik Jamil village, near Balad, soldiers from the 13th Corps Support Command Special Troops Battalion have open a new water filtration plant to serve 500 local residents. In Gazaliya, a city of some 250,000 residents, the 1st Cavalry Division's 91st Engineer Battalion has so far spent $1 million on fixing the town's run-down sewer system. The effort also helps to stimulate the local economy: "One of the stipulations in all our projects is that 90 percent of all unskilled labor must be hired from the local area because we try to give jobs to as many people as we can," says Lt. Col. Chris Martin, the battalion's commander.

Meanwhile, a valuable project involving
paving a major section of Iraqi transport network has been recently completed:

"Iraq's first national highway running from its northern borders to the Persian Gulf in the south was completed Dec. 5 with the driving of a golden spike.

"Main Supply Route Tampa, also called Highway or Expressway One, was completed by a combined effort of coalition and Iraqi forces led by the 115th Engineer Group of the Utah National Guard.

"The golden spike ceremony was patterned after one in Utah 135 years ago when the world's first transcontinental railroad was joined in Promontory Point. The ceremonial driving of a golden spike completed the final link of the railroad on May 10, 1869, joining the U.S. Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

"The golden spike ceremony for the Iraqi highway was performed by representatives of both Iraq and the coalition. Maj. Gen. Walter Natynczyk, deputy commander of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, hammered the railroad spike into the center of the pavement with a representative of Iraq's Ministry of Housing and Construction."
The report explains by way of background: "Prior to the paving project, 143 kilometers of the 1,020-kilometer road were unpaved. The U.S. Army adopted the project in cooperation with Iraq in November 2003. Now, at least one lane of asphalt covers the center of Iraq from the northern borders of Turkey and Syria to the southern border of the Persian Gulf. The road construction had never been completed due to difficulties such as the war with Iran, the Gulf War, and issues Saddam had with people of the area, said the Iraqi ministry representative... Since there was no working asphalt plants to produce the materials needed for the road, Iraqis and Coalition Forces shipped bitumen, the naturally occurring tar used successfully for more than 6,000 years in the fertile crescent, and processed it and worked together to pave the road."

A considerable amount of humanitarian work in Iraq is done through Civil Affairs Battalions attached the US forces. Here, for example, you can get a brief snapshot of all the good work that the
411th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based in Danbury, Connecticut, is doing in support of the 1st Infantry Division in Diyala province.

The Coalition troops are continuing to support the Iraqi health system, from providing valuable supplies to training for medical personnel. In a
typical action, "874th Forward Surgical Team (FST) of the 225th Forward Support Battalion, 2nd BCT received 13 Air Force 463L pallets of humanitarian supplies for local hospitals in the Kirkuk Province. The donated equipment came from a civilian hospital in Columbia, SC." The Public Health Team of the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion has been distributing supplies, including textbooks and medical equipment at the Kirkuk Teaching Hospital. Soldiers from Task Force 1-21 Infantry recently delivered medical equipment to the Kirkuk General Hospital. Soldiers of the Task Force Tacoma, meanwhile, have been helping a doctor in Balad:

" 'We delivered the medical supplies to a local doctor who's not affiliated with the Government,' said Capt. John Ramirez, TF Tacoma, 81st Brigade Physician Assistant. 'He cares for a lot of the local people in the community right out of his house.' Ramirez said donating to this doctor was particularly important because he takes care of many Iraqis who can't afford to go to a local government hospital either because of distance or lack of money."
In Baqubah, thanks to the teamwork between the local community and the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion publics works team, the local health clinic has been thoroughly renovated and is now operational.

The troops also continued to support Iraqi schools and schoolchildren: near
Baqubah, soldiers of the C Company, the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion, 1st Infantry Division distributed 200 backpacks filled with school supplies donated by family and friends back in the US. Soldiers from the 601st Aviation Support Battalion visited the Al Salam School and the Hemrin School near Tikrit with school supplies and other gifts for students. In villages outside of Dibbis, soldiers from Battery C, Task Force 2-11 Field Artillery, along with Iraqi police and airmen, distributed 165 donated school supply bags and refurbished desks at the Qaradara and Baihassan elementary schools: "The school supplies were part of an ongoing Operation Crayon mission that 2nd Brigade Combat Team has been carrying out since September." The Al Shebebea School in Owja has been recently renovated, thanks to the efforts of Alpha Company, Task Force 1-18 Infantry. And Hazaban Primary School in Suleymaniyah has received new kerosone heaters from the soldiers of the civil affairs unit of Task Force Danger.

Soldiers are also engaging in humanitarian work to bring immediately relief to people's lives. In the Shia section of
Baghdad, for example, "every day since the Mahdi Militia turned in their weapons in October, there have been dramatic decreases of hostile activity in Sadr City allowing the Soldiers of Task Force Lancer to assist with re-building the neighborhood. Day in and day out, Task Force Lancer has been conducting missions such as: giving out sheep, frozen chickens and humanitarian-aid bags; protecting kerosene and propane stations and escorting sewage trucks to remove pools of sewage from the streets." Says Staff Sgt. Chad Sandoe, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion: "[Food items] are very well received... We have no problems with giving them out, because we get large crowds when we arrive. Soldiers also get into it by passing out candy, toys and school supplies they receive from donations back home to the kids. The big thing about it is that since hostilities have subsided, we are trying to give something that makes an immediate impact on the people. The major projects we are undertaking are not as visible and take time."

Also in
Sadr City, soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team "teamed up with local children and cleaned a trash-covered area in the middle of an eastern Baghdad neighborhood, converting the land into a park. Infrequent visits from the city's trash trucks and no trash bins for people to use had resulted in what was turning into a trash dump, threatening the health of those living nearby.

"Seeing U.S. vehicles entering the area, local children ran to meet the soldiers and ask for candy, which soldiers often bring for them. This time, however, the soldiers distributed tools that the children could use to help in the cleanup. 'Kids always approach us and want candy, but this time we had something for them to do. We wanted to encourage the local children to help themselves by using the rakes and shovels we provided to help clean up,' [1st Lt. Gerald] Kubicek said. 'Since there were a lot of kids out there, we gave school supplies as a token of our appreciation after the work was done.'

"Kubicek said getting the neighborhood energized was essential to the success of the project. 'We tried to draw the community together by getting different families to help us with this project,' he said. Since trash disposal had been the problem that made the field unusable in the first place, a trash pit was constructed so families have a centralized place for refuse.

"The following day, a local contractor delivered two swing sets and other playground equipment, giving local kids a place to hang out and play soccer, the Iraqi national pastime. 'Now we have a nice, open park, two swing sets, and a place for them to deposit their garbage, instead of having it laying all over the place,' Kubicek said. 'We have a vested interest in giving something back to the Iraqi people. Projects like this one are a reminder that the American people are here to help'."
But it's not all big projects and mass actions, as individual soldiers keep helping individual Iraqis. These are people like Doug Stenberg, staff sergeant with the 744th Transportation Company, a Hillsboro New Hampshire resident who never took "no" for an answer in his attempts to obtain proper medical attention to nine-year old Zaharra suffering from a cleft palate and a tumor on her upper jaw. Stenberg's persistence finally paid off after his superiors agreed for military doctors to perform for free an operation that would cost Zaharra's family $1,000. But Stenberg is not alone:

"In a similar story last month, soldiers from the 197th Field Artillery Brigade, headquartered in Manchester, helped 14-year-old Lamia Kareem, an Iraqi citizen, get the surgery she needed to have a tumor removed from the side of her liver.

"In another, Stephanie Riley, of Penacook, a chief nurse and major with the 157th Air Refueling Wing of the New Hampshire Air National Guard, spent extra time caring for a toddler who Marines found abandoned and injured in a field in Fallujah. Her husband, Shawn, volunteered to adopt the child but said the couple later found out 'it just would be a near impossibility' because there is no government structure in Iraq through which they could do it legally. Stephanie Riley helped transport the little girl to Germany for care. 'She was the sweetest little thing that just liked to be held, not afraid of anyone,' she said in an e-mail to friends and family. 'One of the many heartbreaking stories that has come out of the war'."
Other Coalition partners are also continuing their humanitarian and reconstruction work throughout Iraq. "The Japanese Cabinet has made the decision to continue the activities of the Self Defense Forces (SDF) centering on humanitarian and reconstruction assistance by revising the Basic Plan on the measures based on the Special Measures Law on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq. Activities of the SDF such as water supply, medical services, as well as rehabilitation and maintenance of schools and other public facilities, have restored and enhanced the basic infrastructure for the life of local residents and also contributed to their job creation." The Japanese forces are based in the Al Samawah region.

increasing cooperation to deny the northern Iraq as a sanctuary to Kurdish rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), considered to be a terrorist organization by Turkey, The United States and the EU.

While everyone's attention continues to focus on the Sunni Triangle, the rest of Iraq is full of "dogs that didn't bark."
Kirkuk is one of them:

"When the government of Saddam Hussein fell after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, Kirkuk was predicted to be ground zero in an Iraqi civil war. Nearly equal parts Arab Muslim, Kurd and Turkmen, with a number of Iraqi Christians as well, the groups were expected to clash viciously for power, prestige and wealth, setting the stage for a battle that could quickly spread nationwide.

"But instead, even as violence and insurgency rages all around it, Kirkuk has defied the odds, becoming one of the most peaceful cities in Iraq. Its economy is growing; its police force is considered a model for the rest of the nation; its City Council meetings are lively and attended by the public."
Read how it all happened and the role that the US troops are playing in the city: "Unlike in most Iraqi cities, where soldiers live on outlying posts and enter city limits predominantly for patrols, several hundred troops in Kirkuk live in 'safe houses' in the city center. Neighborhood kids swim in their pool; the soldiers send their local interpreters to pick up food from restaurants.

"Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion of the 21st Infantry Regiment is one such example. The soldiers live in a sprawling compound in eastern Kirkuk. In nearly a year of living there, they have not taken a single mortar round or attack from a rocket-propelled grenade.

"The soldiers know their quadrant of the city as well as any local. Every day they visit schools, talk with religious leaders, visit clinics to check that medical supplies are coming in."
Throughout the country, Iraq's own new security forces are playing increasingly prominent role in maintaining order and fighting the insurgents and terrorists. The foreign assistance in training and equipping continues to be essential for the development of these domestic forces. During his recent visit to Iraq, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has officially opened NATO headquarters in Baghdad: "Several hundred instructors due in the country will be protected by a NATO force, with the aim of training 1,000 Iraqi officers a year. NATO agreed to send a military training mission to Iraq in principle in June, but struggled for several months to agree the details. It is now rushing to deploy up to 400 instructors in the country ahead of the crucial elections. Lindqvist said NATO at present had 20 instructors in the country and the rest were being trained for the job."

At Forward Operating Base Paliwoda, Capt. Christian Cosner, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force 1-77 Armor, reports on the progress of the training of the
203rd Iraqi National Guard Battalion: "The three companies we're responsible for had just graduated basic training when we first got here and since then, they've become a lot more competent at conducting their missions... They've made our presence here much easier in that they're able to go into the cities and converse with populace because they identify with the ING... They know the people and can gain their trust, which is a great way of gathering intelligence."

Training of Iraqi police continues, too.
66 police officers graduated from special courses ran at the Adnan Training Facility, in the International Zone. "Officers spent two to three weeks negotiating the specialty skill courses intended to augment the standard eight-week police training all officers undergo prior to service and three-week integration training for prior service officers." Another 140 officers graduated from the same facility more recently. And 914 officers - including 52 female officers - graduated from Basic Police Training Courses at the Baghdad Public Safety Academy. In other police training news, FATS Inc has been awarded contract to provide high level training to Iraqi police involving advanced firearm simulation.

Australia has been asked by the Iraqi authorities to extend its training of police and military personnel to also cover
intelligence and security services. According to Australia's Defence Minister, Senator Robert Hill, "[Security] Minister [Qassim] Da'ud wants to train a group of new young leaders, possibly within Australia, in the field of intelligence and security, in order to subject them to alternative cultures and a new way of law enforcement that is different to the brutal techniques used by the Saddam Hussein regime... Minister Da'ud said one of Iraq's big challenges was to develop a new psychology within the intelligence and security units after three decades of dictatorship." Australia is also considering providing additional resources for training of Iraqi security forces. These will take the form of a 50-strong defence team to help train supply and transport personnel in the new Iraqi armed forces. "Defence Minister Robert Hill said this marked a shift in the Australian Defence Force's training role in Iraq from combat-operations training to providing specialist logistics skills. Senator Hill said the new 3rd Australian Army Training Team Iraq would replace Australians who have been training members of the new Iraqi army and navy and who will be back in Australia by February."

Meanwhile, the equipping of the new Iraqi security forces continues. In
November, for example, the rollout consisted of

"more than 2 million RPK/PKM machine gun rounds; 1.2 million 9mm pistol rounds; 2.8 million AK-47 rounds; 450,000 12 gauge shotgun rounds including 200,000 slug rounds; 999,000 5.6mm rounds; 48 shotguns; 1,000 various-make 9mm pistols; nearly 1,000 RPK and PKM machineguns; 1,120 smoke and riot grenades; roughly 1,900 9mm Glock pistols; 5,400 AK-47 assault rifles; 20 Walther pistols; 78 rocket propelled grenade launchers; 16,000 sets of body armor; more than 7,400 helmets including 150 riot helmets; 44 French-designed Panhard M3 armored personnel carriers; four T-55 Russian-designed heavy tanks; 18 multi-purposed armored vehicles; and four Comp Air 7SL light reconnaissance aircraft.

"The rollout also included nearly 200 vehicle and handheld radios; 150 night vision goggles; some 11,000 field jackets; 3,000 cold weather jackets; 2,200 mattresses and beds; 40,000 desert combat uniforms; 11,000 pairs of running shoes; 300 kneepads; 600 tactical vests; 1,000 holsters; 9,500 t-shirts; 1,200 binocular pairs; 1,000 handcuff sets; 20 blunt trauma suits; 1,450 compasses; 132 GPS positioning systems; 800 'MAG' lights; 750 whistles; 4,150 hats; 344 first aid kits; 2,000 canteens; 1,500 police shirts; 2,000 police uniforms; two 2-ton trucks; 14 ambulances; 10 Russian-made GAZ heavy transport trucks; 15 Chevy trucks; 20 Chevy Trailblazers; four dodge Durangos; and 52 Chevy Lumina police sedans."
The British Defence Ministry also announced a 3.6 million pounds ($7 million) assistance package, which will include "438 AK47 grenade launchers with 18,400 rounds of ammunition, 5,666 9mm pistols with 850,000 rounds, just under one million assorted blank rounds for training and radio equipment."

To increase security along the main highway linking Baghdad with Amman, Jordan,
four airplanes will be used for surveillance, giving the security forces on the ground the eyes in the sky. On the ground, meanwhile, "in an effort to discourage insurgents from re-entering this former rebel stronghold, Soldiers from the 216th and 9th Engineer Battalions constructed three traffic control points around Ad Duluiyah in November."

In recent security successes of the Iraqi and the Coalition security forces: the arrest of a
bomb maker and two accomplices at Al Duluiyah; detention of 56 suspected insurgents in a joint US/Iraqi action at the village of Bi'aj near Syrian border, and another 66 in the town of Avgani near Tal Afar; the capture in a raid on a sports complex in the east of Baghdad of "several suspected senior level transnational terrorists, including key leaders, operatives, and financiers"; the arrest of 20 suspected insurgents in three Al Rashid District neighborhoods in Baghdad; discovery in in palm groves near Baqubah of weapons caches consisting of "10 mortar tubes, 50 artillery rounds, 193 mortar rounds, 162 rocket propelled grenades, 21 blocks of plastic explosive, 3,840 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition, and boxes of mortar, RPG and mine fuses and propellants"; detention of 22 suspects during a joint American/Iraqi operation in northern Iraq; uncovering by the Danish troops near Basra the largest arms cache found by them so far; the killing of Hassan Ibrahim Farhan Zyda, an aide to Al Zarqawi, and capture of his Zyda's deputies; and further arrests of suspected insurgents at Rasheed, south of Baghdad, following an unsuccessful attack on a police station. And the Iraqi and the Coalition forces continue to successfully foil insurgent attacks.

Terrorism, violence and insecurity continue to plague Iraq, and the pace of reconstruction and the economic reform try the patience of people who, having suffered so much, are starved for a better life. Yet amongst all this, there is good news coming out of Iraq. Soon, the Iraqis will have the opportunity to elect their government and thus institutionalize the process of reform taking place over the last year and a half. A few among them want to turn back the clock to before March 2003, other want to turn it back by hundreds of years, and they will stop at nothing to achieve their dream. Let us hope that the other dream - that of the silent majority of Iraqis - will in the end prevail.


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