Saturday, April 16, 2005
"For 455 years, the papacy passed uninterrupted from one Italian to another until the Polish pope, John Paul II. Now, after 26 years, many Italians think it is time to get back in office - for fear that changes in the Roman Catholic Church may close the door on them for good...C'mon, guys. You've monopolized the office for almost five centuries; it's really time to share more. Also, there's hardly any Catholics left in Italy, so it might be an idea to give the Papacy to a country where the Church is something more than a cross between a museum and a family heirloom.
"Few experts think another loss for the Italians will knock them out as papal contenders forever, but it seems sure to shatter the notion, reinforced by so many centuries of dominance, that Italians are preternaturally the best men for the job.
"Some here think that shattering would be a mistake. 'There is a vocation, an Italian charisma,' said Vittorio Messori, an Italian writer who collaborated on the pope's 1994 book 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope.' 'The Italians have a tradition of centuries behind them, they know how to do the job of pope, it's in their DNA'."
"A Sydney man has told how he had wanted to discuss architecture and the weather with US President George W Bush but had ended up creating a major security scare in Washington.I guess if you don't enjoy living in Australia, creating a security incident and getting deported back is not a particularly smart way to go about things. Also, it pays to do some basic homework and find out that the President doesn't actually live in the Capitol building. On the other hand, it's amazing to think that early in the US history, people could walk from the street into the White House and ask to see the President. How much times have changed.
"Wen Hao Zhao, 33, said he had not wanted to cause alarm when he stood outside the Capitol building in Washington DC on Tuesday with two suitcases by his side and demanded to speak to the US president.
"Mr Zhao told reporters at Sydney airport he had not enjoyed living in Australia and had wanted to raise his concerns and chat generally with Mr Bush. 'Just to speak about normal topics like weather, like architecture and buildings,' he said. 'Basic things about his family, his daughters about myself'."
"[Arriving back to Australia] Mr Zhao walked off the United Airlines flight from San Francisco carrying the remnants of his luggage that security officers had blown up fearing his suitcases contained explosives."Almost makes me feel sorry for him.
"The two-hour town hall-style meeting on Thursday evening marked the start of his push to promote the constitution, which is intended to reform EU decision-making after the admission of 10 new members last May. However, the 'no' campaign is leading in the opinion polls, and analysts suggested Chirac's debate with 83 carefully selected young people would not reverse the trend."Town hall-style meeting? Facing real people? Carefully selected but still unconvinced after two hours? What is the world coming to? Next time will have to select more carefully.
There was an obligatory appeal to trans-Atlantic rivalry: "In the face of a growing world power that worries the French, and which is carried by an ultra-liberal current, facing the United States and the large emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil and South America and Russia, the European Union has to equip itself with 'useful rules.' These powers, we will not face them individually, France does not have that capability. That is why Europe must be strong and organized in order to oppose that evolution." Well, at least he's honest.
There was an appeal to local pride - by voting "no", France would become a "black sheep" in the European family; "France would cease to exist politically."
There was an appeal to local self-interest: "Today, our political power alone, within Europe, allows us [the French] to defend our interests. If tomorrow we were to vote no, we would no longer have any power."
There was also a blatant stealing from the late Pope John Paul: "Do not be afraid!" Granted, the Pope was pro-EU, but his vision of the Union as "Europe of [sovereign] nations", united by their common Judeo-Christian heritage, was a far cry from Chirac's vision of quasi-socialist superstate ruled from Brussels. The very reason why the Pope gave his tacit support to the "yes" vote in Poland's referendum on joining the EU was precisely because he believed that the inclusion of New Europe in the Union would swing the balance of power away from the Franco-German bureaucratic axis.
This could be one of those turning points. It will be interesting to watch.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Tim Blair notes now that an American is involved in Food for Oil, the media will cover the story to death.
Don't miss Ali's piece on the second anniversary of the liberation of Baghdad.
Blackfive apologizes to Eason Jordan.
Bill Roggio takes a look at the insurgent assault on Fort Gannon.
Publius Pundit has the latest from Ukraine.
Bloggledygook celebrates his Hungarian heritage: who put the Hun in Hungarian?
GeoPolitical Review investigates evidence that the UN falsified the report about its peacekeepers in Congo.
At Sophist Pundit, the first Carnival of Revolutions is up.
Chester reviews the new film, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"
Pundit Guy analyzes a new opinion poll in favor of blog censorship.
Bruce Chang blogs about the need for more Taiwanese self-defense.
Random Probabilities continues to pursue the story of a possible sale of WMD materials by Spain to Venezuela.
John Rosenthal observes the strange love affair between one of Belgium's most popular newspapers and the Iraqi "resistance."
Tom Elia witnesses David Horowitz's encounter with the "tolerant" left at the University of Texas, Austin, campus.
"Dictator X is/was worse than Saddam - why didn't we invade his country?"or
"There are many dictatorships around the world - so why pick on Iraq?"Next time you're on the receiving end of this sort of an argument, most likely from one of your left-wing friends, try this response:
"Global warming is the main environmental problem facing us today; I think we should concentrate our resources on fighting it, instead of spending any money on combating air pollution [or any other environmental cause]."Or try this:
"There are so many challenges in our society: the growing gap between the rich and the poor, corporate greed running amok, sex discrimination, racism, and same-sex couples still can't legally marry [to mention just a few]. Because we can't solve all these problems at the same time, we shouldn't try to solve any of them."When you hear "but, but, but..." in response, start running.
"I have a photograph from Iraqi Kurdistan that I sometimes hope might appear in my memoirs above the caption, 'Birth of the Iraqi tourist industry.' It shows two men, Kanan Mufti and Ken Herwehe, looking over the plain of Gaugamela, where, 2,336 years ago, Alexander won his third and decisive victory against Darius. Gaugamela, with its turreted elephants and scythed chariots, had always been one of my favorites among Alexander's battles. It was the first great clash of East and West in Mesopotamia. Kanan is head of antiquities in Iraq's Arbil governorate, and Lieutenant Colonel Herwehe was at the time one of the senior U.S. commanders in the region. I had introduced them at Herwehe's headquarters in Arbil, hoping that together we could find the site of the battle. Kanan provided 11 sources, ancient and modern, rolled up in scrolls or pressed flat in large folios, to help us. Herwehe contributed a large table and a U.S. military aviation ground escape map.Oliver Stone, eat your heart out.
"A couple of hours of gluey tarmac and jolting riverbeds and back roads took us to the base of the Jabal Maqlub, where Alexander had camped overlooking the huge plain Darius needed to accommodate his army of hundreds of thousands. Features described by the ancients—mountain passes, hill flanks, and the great plain—stood suddenly revealed before us, all in their proper places, as the Mesopotamian geography yielded its secrets like a dusty cuneiform. I wanted to visit the ridge from which Darius had lost an empire. But Herwehe said it looked like land mine country. 'Saddam's officers were good at reading the terrain,' he said. 'War hasn't changed so much since Alexander's day'."
"The U.S. Army will reduce its force of 57,000 soldiers in Germany by two-thirds as part of a government strategy to address the threat of terrorism worldwide... The cuts will begin early next year with the move of some soldiers from Germany to the U.S., from where they eventually may be redeployed to Iraq or other regions."According to another report:
"The proposed troop reduction would result in only four of the 13 main operating bases remaining. The four bases would be Wiesbaden, in central Germany, which would become the European headquarters for U.S. ground forces, Kaiserslautern in western Germany, Grafenwoehr in southern Germany and Vicenza in northern Italy... The number of U.S. Army barracks and installations would drop from 236 to 88 with the reorganization."Here's some free advice for the US military policy planners:
1) Shift East: I'm glad that after 60 years, the US has finally worked out an exit strategy from Germany. The continuing presence of the occupation forces has been clearly unpopular among the German population, and with the security situation now quite stable, it had already served its purpose.
Seriously though, the challenges facing Europe in the foreseeable future will be demographic, multicultural and economic - not military. Stationing the US forces in Western Europe serves no strategic purpose and no longer engenders good will and friendship with the locals.
But don't abandon Europe altogether - shift East instead, to countries such as Poland and Romania which for a whole range of reasons - political, military, economic - actually want to host the US installations on their territory. The benefits are many: it would solidify the new alliances, convince New Europe that the US means business, help local armies to better integrate with the 21st century fighting machine, generate plenty of good feeling on the grass-roots level, and it would put the US closer to the Middle East and the increasingly unstable Russia's "near abroad."
2) Be careful about North Asia: As troops are being withdrawn from Europe, there is a temptation to also close the door on another Cold War deployment in South Korea.
The US should tread very carefully here. With China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan all within a striking range of each other, North Asia remains the most dangerous hot spot in the world today. And the tensions are on the rise: the North Korean nuclear issue remains unresolved as is the long-term future of the Pyongyang regime; the specter of forcible reunification with the mainland looms even larger over Taiwan; and the relations between China and Japan are nosediving, ostensibly over Japan's inability to come to terms with its war-time past, in reality over a whole range of geo-strategic issues such as Japan becoming increasingly close to Taiwan and resource exploration in contested waters.
North Asia, of course, boasts some of the world's largest and best equipped armies, not to mention two existing nuclear powers, with all others also wanting to join the club. Just as a region-wide conflagration in the Middle East would be quite disastrous, starving the world economy of oil, a similar conflict in the increasingly economically important North Asia could also have quite devastating international effects.
So perhaps now is not the time to disengage from North Asia, although pulling the US troops away from the Korean DMZ is long overdue. It never made much sense to have 37,000 American troops as a trip-wire along the border; it makes even less sense now.
3) Build on Central Asia: Situated strategically between the Middle East and China, increasing military presence in Central Asia helps to accomplish the political and military encirclement of both. As an added bonus, it's a great choke point for the oil and gas flow into China.
Not that the Pentagon needs my advice on this, having been slowly moving into the region in the aftermath of September 11 (by the way, is Kyrgyzstan the only country in the world to have the pleasure of hosting both an American and a Russian military base?). And more is obviously still being done, as evidenced by Secretary Rumsfeld's third trip to Azerbeijan in 15 months, and the recent offer from President Karzai:
"Catching U.S. officials slightly off guard, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said yesterday he is seeking a long-term security partnership that could keep U.S. troops there indefinitely and make permanent the military relationship that began when U.S. forces invaded his country in 2001."Off guard or not off guard, the Administration must be pretty happy that amongst the world-wide tide of anti-Americanism there are still countries out there that are asking the US not to leave.
By the way, it's outside of all the regions discussed above, but Northern Australia offers unequalled opportunities for, at the very least, storage installations.
Here's the video of the segment, courtesy of the Political Teen (hat tip: Ian).
Well, as Jan Haugland from Secular Blasphemy tells me, there's another angle to the story:
"The government, however, has been less consistent in their own appointments. Only 26 percent of top government bureaucrats appointed between July 2003 and June 2004 were women. This fell short of the preceding government's appointments in 1999-2000 by six percentage points."I say, now we'll have to shut down the Norwegian government.
As Jan points out, however, it is actually Norway's centre-right government, which is fighting for boardroom quotas. Just wait when the left-wing opposition gets in the power.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) satellite TV station KurdSAT reports on a grave uncovered in the eastern part of Al-Salman Administrative District in the city of Al-Samawah, south of Baghdad. It contains a large number of bodies of women, children and elderly people, mostly Kurdish, most, it is thought, from the nearby prison built by Saddam in 1983.
Another grave is discovered on the banks of the Euphrates in Muhiya, in Nasiriyah, in the south of the country. This one is said to contain dozens of bodies (25 exhumed so far), presumably of the Shia.
Somewhere out there, still unexcavated is a giant mass grave containing the credibility of all the "peace advocates", the "compassionate" and the "concerned" of the West. As Mark Steyn wrote more than two years ago, before the shooting started: "As far as Saddam's subjects are concerned, the 'peace' movement means peace for you and Tony Benn and Sheryl Crow and Susan Sarandon, and a prison for them." The lucky ones, that is.
In Iraq, Sheikh Hareth al-Dhari, president of the Association of Muslim Scholars, has issues what looks like reasonably unequivocal condemnation of terrorism. Unlike in the past, in addition to condemning what the Association sees as terrorism coming from the Coalition and Iraqi security forces as well as political groups, Sheikh al-Dhari also condemned
"the terrorism of the intelligence of the numerous countries that have an interest in dividing Iraq and keeping it weak"(while still including the obligatory reference to the Israeli Mossad) and
"the terrorism of the forces that claim resistance, and the honorable resistance renounces them."As al-Dhari wrote, "We peacefully reject the occupation and object to terrorism in all forms, whether by an enemy of a friend, especially when this terrorism is aiming at the innocent, institutions, security and cultural establishments and the leaders of thought."
The reference to security is quite momentous, as it represents the first condemnation by the Sunni religious establishment of violence against Iraqi army and police.
Meanwhile, across the eastern border, Iran's Parliament Speaker Gholamali Haddad Adel has slammed Iranian state TV for airing programmes insulting Jews:
"[Adel] added his voice Wednesday to a Jewish deputy's criticism of the state broadcasting for airing serials which he said were insulting the ancient diaspora in Iran.Love's not going to break out around Iran anytime soon, as the Speaker's defense only related to Iranian Jews, to be distinguished from Israeli Zionists - but it's a start. Maybe the mullahs have finally come to the conclusion that Iranian the economy would be functioning much better right now if all the Iranian Jews were working in Teheran instead of Beverly Hills.
" 'Insulting Jews and attributing untrue materials to them in TV serials over the past 12 years have not only hurt the feelings of the Jews, but they have, one can say with conviction, led to the migration of a considerable percentage of them,' Jewish MP Maurice Mo'tamed told the parliament session."
One never knows with those sorts of reports whether the April Fool's Day comes with a slight delay through the Middle East or whether we're seeing first baby steps in the right direction, but we can only remain hopeful.
"The Washington Post's Dana Milbank gives the game away:Which reminds of that delightful quote from "Yes Prime Minister", that the British Foreign Office (their equivalent of the State Department) is so called because it represents the interests of foreigners. You can think of it as a diplomatic equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome.Most Republicans skipped the hearing, leaving Democrats largely unchallenged as they assailed Bolton's knack for making enemies and disparaging the very organization he would serve."That would be the U.N.--but of course the American ambassador to the U.N. is supposed to serve America, not the U.N."
"One thing that's interesting is that the President likes artists who don't like him. What we're talking about is a lot of great artists from the 60s and 70s. This is basically boomer rock 'n' roll and more recent music out of Nashville made for boomers."Aside from a pretty broad generalization (OK, maybe all boomer artists are unreconstructed leftists, but country music, boomer-oriented or not, tends to be a lot more patriotic), I'm amused by the assumption that it's natural to only listen to music by people who share your politics. Hey, if that's the case, I wouldn't be able to listen to U2, Simple Minds, Big Country, Live, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Morrissey, Manic Street Preachers and many, many others.
Levy's statement is quite revealing - he's surprised that a right-winger listens to "left-wing" music because, I bet, left-wingers don't listen to "right-wing" music. Are Levy, or John Kerry, or Michael Moore, or Paul Krugman into country or Christian rock? I doubt it. Partly, of course, it's a matter of choices available - there is a lot more "left-wing" music out there than "right-wing", but I suspect there's more to it than that.
So much for the myth of an intolerant, close-minded conservative.
What do you think? Am I wrong, and Kerry's iPod is bursting with Toby Keith, Ted Nugent, and Newsboys? How "tolerant" are you in cultural stakes?
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
"British Prime Minister Tony Blair has confirmed at the launch of the Labour election manifesto that he will step down as party leader after a possible third term in office.The more I think about how to best compromise between my head and my heart on this one, the more a Blair victory following by a crushing Labour defeat at the following election seems like a reasonable compromise. Blair deserves to be rewarded not just for being right about the most important political issue of the new millennium but more importantly for exhibiting enormous political courage in doing right, when it would have been so much easier to go with the typical Euroleft flow, of which New Labour is otherwise a part of. That, and we also need to complete the John Howard-George W Bush-Tony Blair trifecta to crush the leftie wet dream about angry electorates punishing their leaders for the Iraq war.
" 'I have said that this is my last election,' Mr Blair, flanked by six ministers including his most likely successor, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, said."
Labour might be generally good on foreign policy (but that's largely due to the power of Blair's personality and convictions), average on economy (at least they didn't dismantle the Thatcher Compact, and Blair had guts to put the unions in their place), and generally dismal on social and cultural issues. They deserve a whipping and the Conservatives have to return to government one day. I just wish that along the way they would get rid off their own trendy right-wing anti-Americanism that's prevalent in some sections of the party.
"It would have been amazing enough, coming from Vedomosti readers, most of whom work for private businesses and have done rather well in post-communist Russia. What was completely incomprehensible was that many were apparently written by 20-somethings. In other words, by a generation that barely remembers the Soviet Union.There are many reasons why people can feel nostalgic about totalitarian past. Many of the "losers" of democratic and economic reforms - pensioners, government employees, workers at inefficient industrial giants - remember fondly the days when the state used to provide them with enough to survive on. Others, particularly the elderly, are by instinct conservative and resent changes that suddenly destroyed the old certainties they've known all of their lives. Others, still, are attracted to the sense of order, purpose and national unity that totalitarianism tries to impose on the populace.
"I have read similar observations from other commentators, journalists and sociologists. It seems that the widespread rehabilitation of the Soviet past, under way in the government-controlled media under President Vladimir Putin, has had its strongest impact on the younger generation of Russians."
The nostalgia among the young, well educated and better off is a far more insidious phenomenon. After all, why would the "winners" of the recent changes long after a society that deprived whole generations of hope, crushed entrepreneurship and imprisoned countless bodies and minds? In this case, the Soviet nostalgia is not a function of crude economic or social factors, but of the acute sense of geo-political loss. This, indeed, is the longing that unites the young and the old, the winners and the losers, in romanticizing the past.
I wrote last year about the Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder, a mental and spiritual condition afflicting the newly liberated societies, where habits learned under totalitarianism make it very difficult for their citizens to adjust themselves to the new democratic and capitalist realities. The nostalgia for the Soviet Union exhibited by the worldly Russian Generation Y is an example of another unfortunate mental condition, the Great Power Deprivation Syndrome.
GPDS does not represent per se the longing for the totalitarian past. Russia's new generation, I'm sure, doesn't think fondly about gulags, mass graves, censorship and lies. No, instead it overlooks all these horrors and aberrations to focus on another aspect of the Soviet past: the superpower status. Totalitarian time in Russia's history, after all, was also the time when Russia truly mattered on the world stage.
As Bayer writes:
"There was no real process of de-Stalinization after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ugly Soviet past was simply swept under the carpet. And now, with the current government touting the positive aspects and achievements of the Soviet Union, those young Russians, educated and well-traveled though they are, have become victims of a history scam.For over seven decades - most of the twentieth century - the Soviet Union was variously respected, feared, hated and admired around the world. She was an integral part of the international system; what Moscow thought and did really mattered. Contrast it with the sorry state today: Russia is still beset by a myriad of problems like she was under communism but without any grandiose consolations: instead she's either ridiculed or ignored by the outside world. No one looks to Russia for inspiration and hardly anyone fears her. It doesn't matter anymore what Kremlin thinks about the liberation of Iraq or some other issue of international importance; the former satellites, meanwhile, peel away one by one, choosing a different, Westernized future.
"These young people are Russia's future, and, infected with this kind of retro ideology, they may prove to be a dangerous future indeed. They have no idea why their country is hated across Eastern Europe and regarded with great suspicion in Western Europe and the United States. Naturally, they are inclined to view this attitude as unfair -- and to feel insulted, picked-on, conspired against.
"There is a real danger here. They are becoming more susceptible to the isolationist, imperialist and xenophobic rhetoric that is being revived in Putin's Russia. And it should be remembered that a deeply felt inferiority complex created very fertile soil in Germany for the Nazi ideology."
The young generation, of course, has no personal memories of the "good old days", but they know that it did not used to be like it is today. It's humiliating, because no one likes to be a part of the losing team.
Great Power Deprivation Syndrome is neither a recent nor an exclusively Russian phenomenon. One of the oldest GPDSs around, one that the international community is still trying to deal with centuries later, afflicts the Arab world. There, nostalgia for the empire that once stretched from the Indian to the Atlantic Ocean is mixed with contempt for the West, which now dominates the Arabs politically, militarily, economically, and culturally.
GPDS is also present within our Western community. Britain's victory in the Second World War have proved to be a Pyrrhic one, leading to the loss of her empire, and with it, her great power status. British case of GPDS, however, has been a mild one, due to the pervasive influence of the left-wing cultural consensus in post-war Britain, which managed to convince the nation that its loss of status was actually a good thing for everyone concerned. France, on the other hand, is still suffering from GPDS, acting as if France still matters on the international stage.
Nostalgia for past glories is not restricted to declining great powers, of course. Most nations look back fondly to some past Golden Age of power and grandeur; the Platonic-Fukuyamian "thymos", desire for recognition, is not just an individual instinct, but it universally grips collective national consciousnesses, too. In most cases it doesn't matter, because - not wanting to sound too callous - in most cases no one cares what some Wherethehellisthatstan thinks, and anyway, such historic longings don't have to cross the line from romanticism to violence. But in some cases, the attempt to regain past status can cause problems, when it slowly draws the rest of the international community into a maelstrom of war - the quest for Greater Serbia did, Greater Syria almost did, and Greater Kurdistan still might. But generally it's the Great Power, and not the Small Power, Deprivation Syndrome that we have to be concerned about, because great powers, even in decline, still maintain a lot more scope to create problems for everyone.
What's the solution? Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder seems by comparison easy to treat; changed circumstances, after all, eventually change most people, and at worst, coming to the fore of new generations untainted by totalitarian life swings the balance in favor of the new. Great Power Deprivation Syndrome is a much tougher nut to crack because it plays on universal human desire that transcends any ideological or ethnic boundaries, namely to belong to a community that is better and stronger than others.
Great-powerdom of Germany and Japan was quite short-lived historically speaking, and in both cases so violently and decisively crushed so as to largely prevent an appearance of GPDS. This is not an option available with Russia. Nor, for that matter, with France.
One of the things that can certainly help is good education that promotes openness and honest historical re-assessment. It seems clear that those former superpowers which dealt squarely with their great power past and the reasons for their decline are generally far less resentful of change and more accepting of their current status. Great Britain and Germany are cases in point. Democracy, of course, helps in that process.
It also seems to me that former great powers which are embraced by their former rivals and neighbors and become well integrated into a web of interdependence fare better than those which remain isolated. Yes, France is still a nuisance but it would be far more so if it wasn't tied down within the European Community. Think also about the different consequences of different treatments that Germany received after the First and the Second World Wars.
Lastly, the ex-greats which are able to reinvent themselves and channel their energies into other pursuits cause less trouble for the rest of the world. See Japan.
Where does all that leave Russia - or for that matter the Middle East? As catastrophic conflicts - fortunately - seem unlikely, we can dismiss that sort of a cure for their GPDSs. An honest self-assessment of the past and the present condition is a pre-requisite for marginalizing both the Soviet and the Caliphate nostalgics and moving forward. We can also hope that the forces of globalization will continue to break down barriers and precipitate greater levels of integration and interconectedness with the rest of the world. And democratic and economic reforms can hopefully channel the energies of the frustrated and alienated populations (and most importantly their middle classes and the elites) into more productive pursuits than lusting for old glories and return to world domination.
None of these remedies are easy or simple, or guaranteed to work in all circumstances, but unless there is a serious effort to pursue at least one of them in Russia and the Middle East, we're unlikely to see the end of troubles any time soon.
Bill Clinton responds, in a now sadly all-too-typical Democrat way: Finkelstein is a self-loathing fag.
"Finkelstein married his male partner in a civil ceremony in Massachusetts in December, with a few of his conservative clients at the nuptial.Welcome back to identity politics, where who you sleep with determines how you vote. It somehow never seems to occur to people like Clinton (or Kerry) that 1) there is more to a person than their sexual orientation, 2) it's insulting to cast homosexuals as bigger single-issue voters than any other demographic, and that 3) one doesn't have to agree with the 100 per cent of a party's policy platform to support that party (hell, if that was the case, we would have 80% of all voters registered as independents).
"'... He went to Massachusetts and married his longtime male partner and then he comes back here and announces this,' Clinton said at a Harlem news conference.
" 'I thought, one of two things. Either this guy believes his party is not serious, and is totally Machiavellian in his position, or there's some sort of self-loathing there. I was more sad for him'."
Clinton, of course, can't point his finger and just say "he's a homosexual" because these things are only supposed to matter to those homophobic Republicans, and he can't say "he's a Republican homosexual" because that would be a bit too tacky and too obvious, but he can always say "he's a self-loathing homosexual", which 1) has the advantage of saying "he's a Republican homosexual" (yeeks!) without actually saying it, 2) aims to discredit Finkelstein in the eyes of those "bigoted right-wingers", 3) for those on your own side who worship "authenticity", it indicates the biggest sin of all - fakiness, and 4) since all real homosexuals are left-wing, it casts Finkelstein in the role of a sell-out, betrayer and a renegade - an Uncle Tom (coming soon, a new classic of American literature: "Uncle Tom's Log Cabin Republicans").
In the new Democrat strategy book you no longer need to kill the messenger, you only have to out him.
(hat tip: Drudge and James Taranto)
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
God knows, what Kerry says actually works better in the Iraqi context:
"Last January too many people were denied their right to vote, too many who tried to vote were intimidated...Maybe Kerry and Jimmy Carter can form a political consultancy and travel the world; Carter can take care of that half of all the elections that are stolen and swear they are actually legit and Kerry can complain of the other half.
"Leaflets are handed out saying Sunnis vote on Monday, Shias and Kurds vote on Sunday. People are told in telephone calls that if you've ever had a Baath party card, you're not allowed to vote."
"Germany's highest ranking female member of parliament has a new theory: the US government set the Catholic pedophilia scandal in motion because it wanted to weaken an already frail pope. That's also why it made Poland its chief partner in the Iraq war: to make the Vatican look bad."The person in question is Antje Vollmer, the Green Party member and, more importantly, the vice-president of Germany's Parliament, the Bundestag.
"As a guest on the weekly talk show 'Berlin Mitte,' Vollmer seemed to be starting off with the right intentions. She spoke of the 'wonderful image' of President George Bush, his son President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton before the body of the pope in St. Peter's Basilica. But then, out of nowhere, she veered straight off a cliff.Of themselves, barely coherent ramblings of a Green Party politician are of a little consequence; however, it is still concerning that a senior German parliamentarian is so detached from reality so as to spout such bizarre conspiracy theories in public without the second thought, just as it is concerning that such talk is now so commonly accepted among the European elites that, as "Der Spiegel" reports, neither the host nor other guests on the show have made any effort to question Vollmer's outburst.
"Her theory? It seems the U.S. had to do something to weaken the influence of the pope, who was an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq. Vollmer finds it all very suspicious that after the war, 'Poland was made a top occupying power in Iraq, naturally to weaken the pope's hinterland. Or how then, of all times, the campaign against the Catholic Church and the pedophilia was started, which was, of course, totally justified, but at this point in time was definitely a tit-for-tat response.' Vollmer found it somehow strange that the US presidents traveled to the Vatican despite the 'tough power struggles'."
Poland, by the way, volunteered to go to Iraq because, unlike Germany, it values its new alliance with the United States. And, sadly, sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have been breaking out as long as I can remember. Certainly long before Karl Rove.
Vollmer, by the way, has a Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology.
A better world in 7 easy steps
The world has changed drastically since Saudi Arabian terrorists killed around 3,000 innocent people on Sept. 11, 2001. The change has been mostly for the better -- the Butcher of Baghdad is imprisoned, UN peacekeeping forces are en route to the Sudan, and major economic markets are stable.
The U.S. response to 9/11 was to take the fight to the enemy, but in a much broader sense than simply locating and capturing Osama bin Laden. The war on terror is a worldwide movement (sans Western Europe) against tyranny and oppression.
As the final Oil-for-Food reports are being published, and as tragic deaths like those of Terri Schiavo and the Pope replace Iraq war headlines, I'm beginning to feel that the progress made since 9/11 could fade away. Oppressed people are rising up around the world, and it's important to continue supporting them. To that end, I've put together a process, or set of steps, that will keep the world on a positive course.
1. Dissolve or radically reform the UN. Just as the League of Nations had proved ineffective at solving world conflicts in the early 20th century, the United Nations is now at a similar crossroads. If the UN continues serving the world, it should only be in a capacity that makes recommendations to those possessing the will to act. An important step in reforming or dissolving the UN is Bush's choice of John Bolton as UN ambassador.
WASHINGTON - President Bush pick of a vocal U.N. critic to be the next U.S. ambassador to the world body was meant to send a message that change is needed there, the White House said Tuesday.The Oil-for-Food scandal (often called Oil-for-Palaces) and recent sex scandals at the UN are alarming, but are secondary reasons for making substantial changes to the organization. More chilling is a deadly pattern that has been repeated over and over again for decades: reports of mass killings, warnings from the UN and other organizations, occasional unilateral action, confirmation of genocide, condemning reports, and finally a movie is made. Let's evolve into a world where there is no material for movie producers wishing to commemorate the needless deaths of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of people.
Now undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, John R. Bolton was announced Monday as Bush's choice for the post. He is likely to face a tough Senate confirmation hearing before Democrats who argue that he has disdained the world body and Republicans who are wary of him.
"The president believes that there is more that needs to be done to make sure that it is an organization that is effective and an organization that is fulfilling its mandate," he said. "There are some areas where it can do much better."
The UN should have been, and should be, breaking this pattern. Instead, the organization has allowed some of the worst human tragedies to occur:
Rwanda: Between April and June 1994, approximately 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda -- an event universally considered genocide. Human Rights
Watch: "The Rwandan genocide of 1994 was one of the defining events of the twentieth century."
On April 21, 1994, the UN removed 90% of its troops from Rwanda, even as the death toll of innocents reached 100,000. From the same report: "30 April: The UN agrees a resolution condemning the killing but omits the word 'genocide'. Tens of thousands of refugees flee into neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania and Zaire." Note that the UN is now omitting the word 'genocide' from Darfur reports in favor of 'genocidal intent.'
Individual countries contributed to the problem: "One week after the murder of the ten Belgian soldiers, Belgium withdraws from UNAMIR." This is almost identical to Spanish and Philippine troop withdrawals from Iraq.
A map of mass killings in Rwanda is necessary to appreciate the scale of the catastrophe.
Despite full knowledge of the situation in Rwanda, the UN did very little, and the few actions taken were counterproductive. HRW's report said, "Even as officials in foreign governments and the U.N. were beginning to acknowledge the organized nature and enormous scale of the killing in Rwanda, they continued to engage in diplomacy as usual."
A new film about the Rwanda genocide, Hotel Rwanda, is in theaters now. The real life main character, Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle in the film), was displeased last month when the world commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz -- for good reasons.
Additional Rwanda resources: here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Cambodia: Led by the infamous Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge committed genocide in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. Approximately 1.7 million people died. Yale University's Cambodian Genocide Project calls it "one of the worst human tragedies of the last century." The maps of mass graves are astonishing.
Movies about the Cambodian genocide include The Killing Fields, made in 1984, and Swimming to Cambodia, made in 1987.
Guatemala: Between 1981 and 1983 around 200,000 people were killed during the Guatemala's period of genocide:
As dictator of Guatemala, Ríos Montt carried out what is known as the "scorched earth" policy. This policy was first established by the man he overthrew, former dictator Gen. Romeo Lucas García, who was president from 1978 to 1982. In the scorched earth campaign, the indigenous Mayans were not only subjected to torture, rape, and execution, but were also forced to flee their homelands into the highlands with insufficient means for survival. Many of those fortunate enough to survive massacres died later from starvation, hypothermia, disease, or bombardment by army helicopters.Guatemala resources: here, and here.
Cuba: UN member nations actively support Castro's deplorable human rights record. The dictator was elected to the UN Human Rights Commission not once, but twice. The second election came in April 2003, immediately after Castro jailed 75 librarians, teachers, and journalists. HRWdescribed the election this way: "U.N.: 'Who's Who' of Human Rights Abuse."
HRW's Tom Malinowski in a speech to the U.S. Senate, September 2003:
Human Rights Watch has been monitoring human rights conditions in Cuba for more than 15 years. Severe political repression has been constant throughout this time. Cuba has long been a one-party state. It has long restricted nearly all avenues of political dissent. It has long denied its people basic rights to fair trial, free expression, association, assembly, movement and the press. It has frequently sought to silence its critics by using short term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, threats, surveillance, politically motivated dismissals from employment, and other harassment.In a 1999 news release entitled "Cuba Silences Dissent with Abuses, Oppressive Laws", HRW refers to Castro's record of abuse as "Repressive Machinery."
Forty years after the revolution, Cuba's Fidel Castro maintains control through intimidation, repressive laws, and by imprisoning dissidents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba only makes matters worse, according to the report Cuba's Repressive Machinery: Human Rights Forty Years After the Revolution. Other international policies toward Cuba have shown more promise, but proved similarly ineffective in the absence of vigorous government support.The same report says that U.S. sanctions are counterproductive. Note that in 1960 Castro, along with brother Raul Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, nationalized all U.S. businesses without compensation.
Cuba's Repressive Machinery details how Cuba's laws deny basic rights such as freedom of expression, association, and movement, and describes the plight of dozens of individuals prosecuted under those laws. The 263-page report also details ill-treatment rising to the level of torture in Cuban prisons. Labor rights are routinely violated in Cuba's expanding foreign investment sector, the report shows, by laws obstructing union formation and requiring state control of hiring.
July 5 (1960): Cuba nationalizes all U.S. companies and properties.More on Cuba: here
July 6: President Eisenhower cancels the 700,000 tons of sugar remaining in Cuba's quota for 1960.
July 8: The Soviet Union announces that it will purchase the 700,000 tons of sugar cut by the U.S.
September 17: Cuba nationalizes all U.S. banks, including First National City Bank of New York, First National Bank of Boston and Chase Manhattan Bank.
Bosnia: Thousands of people were victims of mass killings during the Bosnia-Herzegovina war between 1992 and 1995. Led by U.S. General Wesley Clark, NATO bombed Serbian forces under the command of Serbian "president" Slobodan Milosevic. The UN refused to endorse the end of the genocide. Milosevic is now being tried for war crimes in The Hague.
United Nations peacekeeping officials were unwilling to heed requests for support from their own forces stationed within the enclave, thus allowing Bosnian Serb forces to easily overrun it and—without interference from U.N. soldiers—to carry out systematic, mass executions of hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilian men and boys and to terrorize, rape, beat, execute, rob and otherwise abuse civilians being deported from the area.Bosnia resources: here and here.
Iraq: From 1979 to 2003 hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed by Saddam Hussein and his government. Estimates, almost unbelievably, swing from a few hundred thousand to millions. U.S. government reports are the highest, and reports summarized by Middle East news agencies are the lowest.
Since the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown in May, 270 mass graves have been reported. By mid-January, 2004, the number of confirmed sites climbed to fifty-three. Some graves hold a few dozen bodies—their arms lashed together and the bullet holes in the backs of skulls testimony to their execution. Other graves go on for hundreds of meters, densely packed with thousands of bodies.The Guardian newspaper reported that Blair's assessment of 400,000 remains found in mass graves was overstated, and "only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered." Whatever the true death toll, pictures tell the story of those who didn't survive Saddam Hussein.
"We've already discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair on November 20 in London. The United Nations, the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) all estimate that Saddam Hussein's regime murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people. "Human Rights Watch estimates that as many as 290,000 Iraqis have been 'disappeared' by the Iraqi government over the past two decades," said the group in a statement in May. "Many of these 'disappeared' are those whose remains are now being unearthed in mass graves all over Iraq."
If these numbers prove accurate, they represent a crime against humanity surpassed only by the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Pol Pot's Cambodian killing fields in the 1970s, and the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.
The Kurds suffered heavily under a genocidal Hussein:
"A perfect place for execution," Greg Kehoe, the head of the Regime Crime Liaison Office and leader of the forensic excavation, said Wednesday…"It is my personal opinion that this is a killing field," Kehoe told reporters during a visit to the site south of Mosul…"Someone used this field on significant occasions over time to take bodies up there, and to take people up there and execute them."The killing field described above, and below, is believed to have been used in 1987 or 1988.
Many of the victims wore multiple layers of clothing and carried small personal items like jewelry and medication. One child was found with a ball in his hand.Saddam Hussein is awaiting trial for war crimes and genocide.
The women -- four or five of whom were pregnant -- and children appear to have been killed with a single small-caliber gunshot to the head.
A new report, dated Feb. 17, 2005, from Human Rights Watch says additional evidence has been found linking Ali Hassan al-Majid (a.k.a. Chemical Ali) to "the summary killings of hundreds of Shia Muslims in 1999." He is in U.S. custody awaiting trial.
The report is the culmination of substantial research by the organization, including "interviews with dozens of victims, family members, and eyewitnesses, and also examined documentary evidence and the exhumed remains of mass graves."
In a 36-page report released today, Human Rights Watch documents summary executions, torture, mass arrests and other human rights crimes carried out by former Iraqi government and Baath Party officials in southern Iraq in early 1999. The report, “Ali Hassan al-Majid and the Basra Massacre of 1999,” provides indications of al-Majid’s overall responsibility.Interestingly enough, HRW says the war in Iraq was "not a humanitarian intervention."
A BBC report dated July 23, 2003:
The mild-mannered archaeologist [Ian Hanson] from Bournemouth University has investigated mass graves in Congo, Guatemala, and Bosnia. Now it is Iraq.Mainstream media in the West seem to have missed reports of mass graves, humans thrown into lion pits, ruined livelihoods of marsh Arabs, and the horror of Chemical Ali. The Iraqis missed nothing.
Mr Hanson's team has now left Iraq after a month of investigations…They arrived with a list of 27 suspected mass grave sites…By the end they had confirmed more than 70. No-one knows how many bodies may be buried in them all. The best estimate is 300,000.
The survey of 1,967 Iraqis was conducted Feb. 27-March 5, after Iraq held its first free elections in half a century in January. According to the poll, 62% say the country is headed in the right direction and 23% say it is headed in the wrong direction. That is the widest spread recorded in seven polls by the group, says Stuart Krusell, IRI director of operations for Iraq. In September, 45% of Iraqis thought the country was headed in the wrong direction and 42% thought it was headed in the right direction. The IRI is a non-partisan, U.S. taxpayer-funded group that promotes democracy abroad."Deaths after deaths" is how one Iraqi woman described Iraq prior to the USA's arrival:
Some Iraqis still have not fully adjusted to freedom. When 75-year-old Radiyah Abbas Ali, the matriarch of the al-Zubaidi family, speaks of Saddam, she lowers her voice and looks left and right, as if someone were listening in. "The most important thing is that we got rid of Saddam," says Ali, a mother of 13. "Deaths after deaths, this is what Saddam offered. He did not give us anything."More on Iraq: here.
Sudan-Darfur: The warnings about Darfur are almost identical to those in Rwanda. The organization has not changed its behavior whatsoever, as we saw in Iraq and now in the Darfur region of Sudan. Using terms like 'genocidal intent' to preclude military intervention has cost many, many lives in Darfur. I'm not including data here, as Darfur offers an amazing opportunity to watch the UN fail millions of people in real time. Open a newspaper, browse the web, or follow the links provided here for more information.
2. Adopt and agree upon a definition of genocide. The UN (and the AU) has demonstrated that a new discussion about genocide should commence. New signatures need to be gathered. More importantly, new agreements should be connected to an iron-clad doctrine of military action, regime change, humanitarian aid, free democratic elections, and reconstruction.
Sadly, we don't really need a new definition. We only need to ask UN member nations to live up to expectations. The widely accepted definition of genocide is the one specified by the Genocide Convention of 1948:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:The convention also says the "following acts shall be punishable: (a) Genocide; (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (d ) Attempt to commit genocide; (e) Complicity in genocide.
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The critical element is the presence of an "intent to destroy", which can be either "in whole or in part", groups defined in terms of nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. Thus, the imposition of restrictions during the nineteen-sixties and seventies on reproduction in India, through forced sterilization in many instances, or the continuing restrictions in China, do not constitute genocidal policies as the intent is to restrict the size of groups, not to destroy existing groups in whole or in part. Policies implemented during the Third Reich respecting Jewish, Roma and Sinti groups, on the other hand, were quite clearly genocidal in terms of this article as there was a clearly stated policy indicating the presence of an intent to destroy them... Members of all these groups were processed in extermination camps, were subjected to serious bodily and mental harm, and had conditions inflicted upon them intended to bring about their physical destruction, including starvation in ghettoes, and had measures applied to them intended to prevent births within the group (sterilization).
'Genocidal intent' in Darfur seems to qualify as a punishable offense by the convention.
Prevent Genocide International cites the 1948 genocide convention in its definition of genocide. The humanitarian organization also links to alternative definitions of genocide, which include "one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group," "mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings," "promotion and execution of policies by a state or its agents which result in the deaths of a substantial portion of a group."
3. Return of the Samurai. Japan's time of military cameos on the geopolitical stage is at an end. The country is ready, and with a militant North Korea and corrupt Chinese juggernaut within missile range, the region at large is ready. Most people know that Japan is constitutionally prohibited from "leading war or maintaining a standing army." This portion of Japan's constitution needs to be amended:
Chapter II: Renunciation of War
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.This was wise indeed in 1947, but in 2005, with a nuclear North Korea, 38,000 U.S. troops along the Korean DMZ, and a China that remains a questionable force in the world, the wisdom has faded.
If a militarized North Korea or China is acceptable, it is certainly acceptable, and moreover a necessity, that Japan militarize. In addition to providing much-needed stability in Asia and the world, Japan's economy would benefit greatly from new industry.
4. Remove all U.S. troops from Germany and South Korea. Europe no longer requires U.S. protection from the Soviet Union. If the U.S. military would like to maintain a presence in Germany for strategic purposes, and if Germany is agreeable, fine. Otherwise, it's time to go.
South Korea can take responsibility for its own defense against North Korea. The country can craft additional defensive treaties with the USA and its neighbors, like the newly militarized Japan, to protect itself. Should North Korea attack, the Western world will discuss 21 Days to Pyongyang as we now discuss 21 Days to Baghdad.
5. Cease appeasement of dictators and other oppressive governments. France, Germany and Russia have yet to learn the wisdom of Winston Churchill's words: "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Nations should not be paid to get along. This "positive reinforcement" has a negative consequence, as we saw with Bill Clinton's appeasement of Kim Jong-Il in North Korea. Purchasing regional stability in five-year bites has disastrous long-term consequences. Positive reinforcement should consist of economic concessions that are tied directly to improvements in freedom and human rights, and nothing else.
George Bush and Natan Sharansky are correct, as was Winston Churchill. And Franklin D. Roosevelt: "No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb."
6. Stop talking about developing and using alternative energy sources and start doing it. The U.S.S.R., with an oppressive regime and inefficient economic policies, put a satellite and a human into space before anyone else. The USA put humans on the moon with slide rules. If we can do such amazing feats, then there can be no excuses for our dependency on the black sludge we suck from the earth.
We have technologies now, such as fuel cells, that can easily be developed into safe, reliable means of powering society. Wind, solar, ocean wave, tidal, and countless other methods of energy generation already exist. An immediate change is in order.
But what's needed more than a switch to more environmentally friendly -- and less efficient -- forms of energy is a genuine advance in energy. There's more at stake than keeping alive a small clan of pocket gophers, playing politics with the ozone layer, or improving security by removing the Middle East from foreign policies. We need energy sources that are drastically more powerful than what is currently available to continue developing and growing as a species. Discovering and taking advantage of everything the universe has to offer requires much more powerful energy sources than those currently available. We can, and must, do better, for reasons much more important than the environment.
You have probably noticed an interesting pattern in innovation. The greatest periods of innovation are the periods of greatest need. The classic example, World War II, gave us RADAR, jet and rocket power, mass production of pharmaceuticals, and ultimately space technologies which led to satellite communications (cell phones and satTV), GPS and countless other wonderful things. Extreme need led to extreme innovation, for the betterment of everyone. Yet the number of dead and the amount of destruction World War II exacted was not worth the technological advances we enjoy every day.
It would not be so difficult to realize an equivalent level of innovation without the killing. Desire is all we need. The dot-com bubble, and the rise of the web, is an example of extreme innovation without a single shot fired. And with oil playing such a negative role in everyone's life, why are we waiting to launch a massive initiative of energy innovation? Why wait for perceived American "hegemony" or a truly destructive global war to awaken world leaders?
This is not an issue for Greenpeace, PETA, or other ultraliberals. It is a universal issue that can't wait much longer, for dozens of unassailable reasons.
7. Condemn with a united voice the radical
elements of Islam. Damn the politically correct crowd; it is not racism or bigotry to call a killer a killer, or to identify the source of wanton butchery. It is not okay for any Muslims to advocate killing innocent civilians. These radical elements, spawned almost exclusively within Saudi Arabia, and worked into a frenzy in European mosques, approve of killing non-Muslims (and in the case of Takfiris, killing Muslims, too), oppressing women, and the like.
It is time to make a unified stand against this barbarity. It is shameful that this has gone on so long, and it's even more shameful that it's unpopular -- and dangerous! -- to discuss making such a stand.
Most Arabs have clan-based systems -- which died out in the West more than 1,000 years ago. Any historical review shows a clear progression from clan-based systems to despotism, then monarchy and feudalism. Each was a vast improvement over preceding systems. While some Arab countries have laid a framework of constitutional monarchy over a clan system, they are still clan-based. These people have more in common with prairie dogs than most other peoples of the earth.
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's flamboyant leader, had the courage to speak after Iraq's Jan. 30 elections: "This vote can have a positive knock-on effect in all the other Arab countries where there is authoritarian rule, where the situation of women is not one of liberty or dignity, where there are still many steps to take to emerge from the Middle Ages."
But why must we consider Berlusconi courageous for uttering the truth? Sadly, it's not even truthful. Most Muslims (and non-Muslims) in the Middle East have not entered the Middle Ages, let alone taken any steps to "emerge from" them.
Can people move directly from a clan-based system to democracy, skipping monarchy and feudalism? The Scottish Highlanders, the last clan-based people in Western Europe, clung to their system until just a few hundred years ago, and then successfully made the jump to modernity -- and peace.
Should we force Arabs to change? That's debatable. At the very least we must denounce their systems of clans, monarchies, and extreme religious regimes. We should take every opportunity to loudly support opposition to Dark Age cesspools wherever they're found. Fear, greed, and "national security" are the only reasons we have failed to do this so far.
The USA, as leader of the free world, has certainly led the practice of coddling oppressive regimes in the Middle East. Bush claims to have changed these policies after 9/11, but in truth we will not know the depth of what is happening for a long time. And there's no telling what the next president will do.
Sanctions against the clan chiefs and kings, coupled with support of democratic movements -- loud, open support, as Bush is doing now -- can effect change. Those who believe oppressed people like being oppressed should be ignored -- populations always openly support their dictators for fear of the secret police, and always embrace freedom when it comes within reach. We don't need George Bush or Natan Sharansky to tell us that.
Monday, April 11, 2005
1) why on earth would John Kerry's people want to waste their money and advertise on my blog? and
2) why would I want to assist some spineless voters in Vermont (if you're reading this blog, you're not one) to influence a spineless senator from Vermont to block the nomination of a neo-con?
Oh, never mind.
"Oona King was pelted with eggs and vegetables as she attended a memorial to Jewish war dead. Miss King, 37, the black Jewish Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, was attacked as she joined mourners to commemorate 60 years since the Hughes Mansions Disaster, when 134 people, almost all Jewish, were killed by the last V2 missile to land on London."The eggs missed King but hit some of the Jewish participants in the event.
"Miss King, who enraged many of her Muslim constituents when she openly supported the war in Iraq, told the crowd that the attack was one of the 'saddest' things she had ever witnessed.King's east London seat contains some 55,000 Bangladeshi Muslims, who constitute more than half of all the voters - "most of whom bitterly opposed the war in Iraq." And many of them don't seem to share King's sentiments about respect or being lucky to live in Great Britain.
"Clearly angry, she said: 'I think [the eggs] were aimed at me but the sheer ignorance never mind the lack of respect is shocking. They have no idea where their freedom came from and who gave it to them. They don't know they are lucky to be here. That is truly one of the saddest things that I have ever seen. There were people who helped save this country, having eggs pelted at them at a time when they are remembering those they had lost. It is disgusting'."
"Many of the Muslims, especially the young men, now living in Hughes Mansions resented her presence. Ibn Alkhattab, 21, said: 'It will be all about the war. There is enormous anger. No one will vote for her.'Amazing stuff, isn't it? Welcome to Eurabia, except that most Iraqis are actually happy to see Saddam behind bars, unlike Bangladeshi and other non-Arab Muslims who always had the best of both worlds: in home countries they didn't have to suffer under a bloodthirsty maniac like Hussein, and in the West they could enjoy living in a society that allows them to pelt Jews with eggs and actually vote - vote - against somebody they disagree with. Which makes them perfectly qualified to resent that others are now sharing in the freedom they have in Great Britain.
"His friend added: 'She represented these people and then voted for the war. We all hate her. She comes here with her Jewish friends who are killing our people and then they come to our back yards. It is out of order. What do they expect?'"
But that's not all - there is one man out there who's shameless enough to exploit the sorts of scummy sentiments espoused by Ibn Alkhattab and his friend. Yes - it's George Galloway, the lefty parliamentarian expelled from the Labour Party for his infatuation with Saddam. Galloway decided not the recontest his Glasgow seat in Scotland and is moving to King's seat, 400 miles away, to try to ride back into the parliament on the wave of bigotry.
"Later Miss King, the daughter of the black American civil rights activist, Preston King, who was brought up in north London, and Mr Galloway, a factory worker's son from Dundee, traded insults at a constituency event organised by BBC London 94.9FM at a local arts centre.It's neither here nor there, of course, but I don't think there are many women in Iraq with "much darker skins" than King:
"Both candidates, who were vocally supported by large sections of the audience, took every opportunity to attack their opponents.
"Miss King, who said she would not trust her opponent to 'deliver a pizza' far less effective policies, attacked him for his close association to Saddam Hussein and in particular when he flew out to visit the dictator. 'When I come across someone who is guilty of genocide I do not get on a plane and grovel at his feet,' she said to whoops of delight from her supporters.
"He hit back when asked how he felt about challenging one of just two black women MPs in government. 'Oona King voted to kill a lot of women in the last few years,' he replied. 'Many of them had much darker skins than her'."
Galloway, of course, wanted to keep in power the man who killed a far greater number of women, whatever their skin tone.
How much difference two years can make. Commenting on the news that Saddam Hussein's nemesis, leader of the people Saddam liked to gas, has now been elected President of Iraq, Mohammed Saleh, a 42-year old Kurd interviewed by the media on the streets of Kirkuk, had this to say: "Today Jalal Talabani made it to the seat of power, while Saddam Hussein is sitting in jail... Who would have thought."
History is, of course, full of delicious ironies. Not the least that the authorities have permitted Iraq's Prisoner Number 1 to watch from his prison cell the swearing in of the new government. While Iraq's new leaders lack Saddam's 99.8 per cent electoral mandates, they certainly make up for it in unscripted enthusiasm and passion. Saddam, meanwhile, who for years inflicted on his captive television audience his rambling speeches and meaningless proceedings of Iraq's "parliament" is now on the receiving end, getting the taste of the real democracy in action.
But while the momentous political events once again monopolized the headlines for the past two weeks, a lot of other positive developments have been taking place across Iraq, mostly out of the media spotlight. Below a selection of some of these stories:
SOCIETY: After weeks of intense haggling between Iraq's political factions, the country finally has its new leadership.
It started off slowly, with the National Assembly electing its speaker, Industry Minister Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, and two deputy speakers, Hussain al-Shahristani - a Shiite and former nuclear scientist - and the Kurdish leader Aref Taifour. In a novel concept for Iraqi parliamentary politics, the three have been elected in a secret ballot, "with lawmakers allowed to write the names of no more than three of five possible candidates on pieces of paper that were dropped into a box. The ballots were then read out loud and marked down, one-by-one, on a large, white board. Two were left blank. The three top candidates - Al-Hassani with 215 votes, al-Shahristani with 157, and Taifour with 96 - were elected." As the new speaker said upon his election, "it's time for the patient, Iraqi people to be treated with the dignity that God has given them... If we neglect our duties and fail, then we will hurt ourselves and the people will replace us with others." Here you can read the profile of Al-Hassani. As another brief profile also notes, Al-Hassani who spent significant part of his life in the United States, has been a supporter of the assault on insurgents in Fallujah and in the economic sphere is proponent of privatization of government-owned assets.
A few days after the speakership vote, the National Assembly chose a new president and two vice-presidents. Jalal Talabani, the 71-year old leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have been elected president and former President Ghazi Yawer, a Sunni Arab, and Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shia, have been elected his deputies. "The three candidates received 227 votes, while 30 ballots were left blank." Here you can read the profile of president Talabani, and here of his vice-presidents.
Just as the timing of the first session of the National Assembly was symbolic, coming close to the second anniversary of the start of the Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as the 17th anniversary of Saddam's chemical weapons attack on the Kurds, the announcement of the deal on Iraqi presidency came just before the second anniversary of the fall of Baghdad to the Coalition forces.
Faced with these political "the realities on the ground", the Sunni leadership, which stayed out of the elections and therefore from the Assembly, is trying not to repeat mistakes of the past:
"Two years after war dramatically changed Iraq's political landscape, the former ruling minority Sunnis are developing plans to participate in a government formed by elections they boycotted.As the report notes, "the significance of the conference was underscored by its attendees. Participants included members of the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of Sunni religious leaders, among them some of the most extreme figures who have influence with the insurgency. Also present were leaders from cities in the 'Sunni Triangle,' including Mosul, Haditha, and Salam Pak, which is bubbling with insurgent activity. Representatives of Waqaf Sunna, the powerful administrating body of Sunni religious affairs, attended as well." It is an important development, if only because it will allow Shias and Kurds to formally negotiate with the Sunni community about the future of Iraq.
"In a significant shift, several Sunni groups that hitherto shunned the political process met last weekend to create a unified front and set of demands that they will present to the Shiite and Kurdish leaders now hammering out a new government.
"The meeting was a reversal for Sunni leaders who have supported insurgents and urged US troops to leave Iraq immediately.
"The new effort, observers say, appears to be an admission that their strategy - to stop Iraq's election and denounce the formation of a new government - has failed. Bringing the former ruling class into Iraq's emerging power structure, they add, could help quell the insurgency."
There is also more post-election cooperation in Kurdistan: "The two major Kurdish factions in the north have decided to unite their separate administrations. The Kurds have been running two governments, one in Sulaimaniya and the other in Arbil since the factions fell out in 1995. But the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Jalal Talabani, which swept the January elections in the region, have apparently buried their differences. Barzani has endorsed Talabani's quest to become Iraq's next president and the two leaders have agreed to have one unified government administering the Kurdish region from Arbil."
While the National Assembly is taking its first few steps, USAID continued to provide logistical support to ease the birth of Iraqi democracy (link in PDF):
"The elected members of the Transitional National Assembly (TNA) were inaugurated on March 16, signaling the beginning of the transitional governance period. Through its Program to Support an Iraqi National Government and Iraqi Transitional Government, USAID and its implementing partners and sub grantees have been providing training and logistical support to TNA members and staffers. Key efforts in preparation for the inauguration included:USAID also is helping Iraqi policy-makers to think about the future shape of political and constitutional arrangements in their country (link in PDF):
"- Working with parliamentary staff in charge of supporting inauguration and orientation activities for the 275 Assembly members
- The procurement of audio and translation equipment (Kurdish and Arabic) to be used in the parliamentary chamber
- The production in Kurdish and Arabic of a manual on parliamentary procedure
- Trainings for staff on departmental responsibilities
- Outreach specifically targeting women members of the TNA.
- Advisory assistance to the TNA's legal advisor in the drafting of new bylaws.
"Over 80 staff members have undergone training and participated in the assessment of technical and skill-development needs. The program aims to fully develop the staff capacity of the TNA so that it is institutionalized in preparation for a permanent legislative body."
"The Minister of State and Provincial Affairs and USAID's [Local Governance Program] held a National Conference on Federalism and Decentralization from March 13-14, 2005 in downtown Baghdad. The conference was intended to generate fruitful discussions on laying the groundwork for Federalism in Iraq as part of the national referendum process and drafting of the Iraqi Constitution. Approximately 580 participants attended.In other recent USAID activities (link in PDF):
"LGP sponsored the printing of all conference materials. Staff members from LGP's Policy Reform Team presented on the second day of the conference which was devoted to the formation of Local Government Associations (LGAs). This presentation was well received by conference participants and LGP staff members fielded many questions about institutionalizing LGAs. LGP will submit a comprehensive report on the conference with a more detailed overview of groups in attendance, conclusions, and recommendations."
"The newly elected Iraqi Transitional National Authority (TNA) will write a constitution this year and it is essential that women be involved in the process in order to guarantee their rights. USAID's partner implementing the project to support the TNA and the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution hosted a meeting in late February with 26 women leaders to discuss an initiative to ensure that women's rights are included in the constitution. Over the next year, the implementing partner will work with women elected officials and civil society representatives to educate Iraqis on the importance of constituting women's rights, and to train them in the necessary advocacy and education skills they will need to promote their rights with the Iraqi Government and the society at large."The Islamic Development Bank, meanwhile, is promising more assistance towards rebuilding Iraqi government.
With the new government almost in place, the authorities are keen to confront an endemic problem which is hurting Iraq's economy and damaging public trust in new institutions - launching an anti-corruption drive:
"The head of the country's corruption-busting body, the Commission on Public Integrity, says he is determined to clean up widespread back-handers, bribery and embezzlement that are undermining Iraq's chances of a better future.USAID continues to support the growth of Iraqi civil society through its Office of Transition Initiatives grants (link in PDF). Among the recent project finances with TI grants: purchase of office equipment and furniture for a cultural center in northern Iraq, conducting English language classes for women, and renovating facilities of teachers' association. Also (link in PDF): workshops for residents of 85 villages about marriage law ("Based on traditional practices, many Iraqis throughout the region enter into illegal marriages which can result in human rights violations and imminent legal confusion."), and equipping numerous human rights and women's rights NGOs.
" 'Next week, we will distribute a form for the declaration of assets to all senior officials in Iraq. They should declare everything,' [said] Radhi Hamza al-Radhi... 'Governors, ministers and those above them should state their assets, shares and any expected inheritance. If anything is seen to have changed, we will ask where it came from and how. If it was legal then okay but if not we will send him to court to get his punishment'."
Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iraq Freedom Conference has been held, gathering non-sectarian and non-ethnic based groups, organisations and individuals committed to building a democratic and free Iraq.
Iraqis finally get a chance to rejoin the rest of the world - linguistically. According to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research "the study of foreign languages by Iraqi students has increased drastically since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime... Iraq was disconnected for decades from the external world. Now after the elimination of the Baath regime, many Iraqis want to study foreign languages so that they can get jobs more easily." According to the Ministry, "the Iraqi universities are aware for this trend and consequently many of them have added or expanded the language departments at their university... Many private languages institutions were opened."
Iraq's most popular TV station is celebrating its first anniversary:
"One year after its founding, Al-Sharqiya satellite channel has become Iraqi households' most favorite television.And on the sports scene, a team from Iraq will be participating in the second Women's Football Championship in Jordan.
"Transmitted over three satellites, the channel has created a remarkable niche in the Arab world, particularly in Iraq. Baghdad University polls have shown the channel's rating soaring and a recent survey saw it grabbing 53% of the highly competitive television market share in the country.
"The channel's success is mainly due to its independence and integrity. Unlike its major rivals, Al-Sharqiya is the country's only independent television that is not associated to any particular group, faction, sect or religion inside or outside Iraq.
"The 24-hour news and entertainment channel is beamed from two locations, one in Dubai and the other in Baghdad. It employs 250 reporters, cameramen, editors and administrators."
ECONOMY: Good news for stabilizing Iraqi economy and implementing much-needed reform: "The International Monetary Fund and new Iraqi government expect to have an economic adjustment program in place in the fall if security improves."
Good news, too, for Iraqi finances: "Russia will sign an agreement this year finalising a plan to write-off most of the money owed to it by Iraq, a Finance Ministry official said. In November  President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was committed to forgiving 90 percent of Iraq's debts, more than the 80 percent agreed by the Paris Club of sovereign lenders."
Economic confidence is growing:
"Even in the face of continuing violence, there's a palpable sense of optimism in Iraq these days. The country's post-war election, held in January this year, appears to have boosted commerce and sales in the country - one of several signs that Iraqis are hopeful about their future.As economic situation improves, Iraqis are becoming car-crazy:
"Baghdad's heavily commercial Karrada Street, for example, has its hustle back. Fala Hassan, a shop keeper on Karrada Street, thinks his customers have turned a corner. Before the election, many of them were fearful and sales were slow, he said. But these days his customers are back, he notes, and their cash is flowing again. 'People were so worried before the election... Now they are less worried about the future,' Hassan said.
"Growing consumer confidence is a small, but critical economic step for Iraq - a country that needs to take many to get back on its feet.
"There is a ripple effect: Iraqis are enjoying higher salaries and buying big-ticket consumer products, like washing machines. And the growth in sales is leading to more jobs in commercial districts like Karrada Street. The job growth is small, but in a country with 30 percent unemployment, every job counts. And the employment revival is not only seen on Karrada Street. From Baghdad's airport to Sadr City's sewers, more and more reconstruction jobs are now going to Iraqis rather than foreign contractors."
"Traffic jams in the Iraqi capital are caused by new police checkpoints, old, broken-down cars, lines of customers waiting to fill up at the pumps, and, of course, the more than 426,000 new cars registered in the last two years.It's not just restricted to Baghdad: "Iraq's Kurdish minority lives mostly in three northern provinces of Iraq... On the street, drivers are more likely to favor a Hyundai over a high-end Mercedes, however. Sport-utility vehicles and sports cars are few and far between in the capital. Former president Saddam Hussein heavily taxed cars, making them unaffordable for all but a favored few. In addition, a program in which residents could pay money in for 10 years or so and then receive their car just now is starting to deliver the vehicles."
"That doesn't stop Iraqis with newly increased salaries from coming in to ogle cars and buy them, said Ahmed Mohammed 37, manager of the Salman Fak Car Trading lot near Baghdad's National Theater.
"More than 900,000 cars have been registered across the country in the past two years, according to data from the Baghdad traffic department -- 426,000 of them from Baghdad. Before the war, about 347,000 cars were registered across the country, said Nejim Abid Jabir, a spokesman for the traffic department under the Interior Ministry."
Speaking of northern Iraq:
"Relative stability and oil wealth are drawing jobs and opportunities to the northern city of Kirkuk, which will soon be the first major city in Iraq to take charge of its own defense...Unlike in many other parts of the region, where statist theories combined with the dominance of the oil industry made for top-heavy economic development, in Iraq increasingly the "small is beautiful":
"While much of Iraq struggles with roadside bombs and suicide attacks, Kurdistan -- the northern region where Kurds enjoyed more than a decade of virtual autonomy within a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone -- is prospering.
"Kurds living abroad have begun to return home to set up new businesses. Construction is booming. And with oil fields containing 40 percent of Iraq's reserves nearby, opportunities are plentiful.
"The multiethnic city of nearly 1 million has begun to attract investment from other parts of Iraq, said Maj. Darren Blagburn, intelligence officer for the U.S. Army's 116th Regiment in Kirkuk. 'We're seeing a lot of businesses move to Kirkuk from Baghdad,' he said.
"Local security forces, manned mostly by former members of the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, are also more capable than those in other parts of Iraq. As a result, the U.S. Army plans within weeks to make Kirkuk the first city in former Ba'athist-controlled areas to complete the transition from foreign to local protection."
The US government is also providing some concrete assistance:
"A bus pulled up in front of a restaurant last week and 43 Iraqis got out - but they weren't there to negotiate Cabinet positions. This wasn't politics, it was business. And it wasn't Baghdad, it was Beverly Hills.
"The Iraqis were small-business owners who had come to meet with more than 40 Americans from small to medium-size companies. At Lawry's restaurant, the visitors spent five hours schmoozing with their American counterparts about buying, selling, financing and delivering the goods. Contacts were made, future orders foreshadowed.
"But something more important than deals was in the air: a sense of the future of a country - and an economy that can be built anew only if thousands of ordinary family-owned companies can get on with the construction.
"Big contracts to rebuild oil and electric power industries are essential, of course. But progress will come to Iraq only if private businesses replace the old state monopolies of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.
" 'The successful way to change economies is not to reform state companies but to get a lot of small companies started,' says Robert Looney, an economist with long service in the Middle East who now teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
"The U.S. government now seems to understand this. The U.S. is playing a more useful role, experts say, after the first postwar year when the Coalition Provisional Authority issued a lot of rules that further gummed up Iraq's crippled economy.
"The gathering was co-sponsored by the U.S. Commercial Service, an arm of the Department of Commerce that helps small and mid-size firms with contacts and exports around the world. The goal was to provide a boost for Iraqi and U.S. companies.
"The other sponsor was the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a phenomenal example of the new Iraq. Founded in Los Angeles only two years ago after the fall of Hussein's regime, it already has 5,700 members, including 300 in the U.S."
"This year, the US government will help more than 100,000 American small businesses obtain access to capital through SBA loans. Now it wants to help grow small and medium-size businesses in Iraq.Under USAID's Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) program, business training seminars are being organized across Iraq, most recently in Sulemyaniyah, directed mostly at female business owners and operators (link in PDF).
"The Overseas Private Investment Corp., a federal agency that backs investments in developing countries, teamed with Citigroup to establish a $131 million loan program in Iraq. Iraqi financial institutions will tap these funds to make loans to small and medium-sized businesses.
" 'This facility is critical as a first step toward rejuvenating the private sector of Iraq as it strives to tap the capital markets,' says Ross Connelly, OPIC's acting president and CEO.
"OPIC provides political risk insurance, loans and loan guarantees to American businesses that invest in new and emerging markets. Fees cover the costs of its programs."
The Iraqi Industry and Mineral Resources Minister, Hajim Alhuseini, has called for a wide-ranging tax reform "to support Iraqi private sector... after the failure of the public sector." More on changing tax policies in Iraq here. And here's some of the recent USAID initiatives in this area (link in PDF). In related financial matters, the talks are underway between the Iraqi and the United Arab Emirates authorities to bring some of the UAE banks into Iraq.
In oil news, Iraqi authorities are planning for the future growth of the industry: "The Iraqi government wants to build two new refineries to better handle oil revenues... The new refineries would practically double Iraq's production capacity for gasoline and other oil products to about 1 million barrels per day from approximately 500,000 barrels per day from three aging refineries."
Meanwhile, Iraq and Kuwait are cooperating to finally resolve a long-standing dispute hampering the full exploitation of rich oil field:
"A joint Kuwaiti-Iraqi commission is studying ways to regulate production from a large oilfield that extends into the two neighbouring Arab nations... The oilfield is known as Rumaila in Iraq and Ritqa in Kuwait. Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein accused the emirate of stealing oil from the Iraqi field and used that as a pretext to invade and occupy Kuwait in August 1990.""We have two options. The first is to have joint production operations like in the Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone, and the second is to hire a foreign company for production," says the Kuwaiti oil minister Sheikh Ahmad Fahd Al Sabah.
Canadian company OGI has announced it had won a contract to develop the Himrin oil field in northern Iraq. "Iraq's oil ministry awarded the engineering and supply tender for the 100,000 barrel a day field to OGI Group, a privately held exploration, development and oil field services company... The interim cabinet also approved OGI's bid... The deal is expected to become binding once the new government is formed, Iraqi officials said."
Kirkuk, one of Iraq's great oil producing areas, is getting an upgrade in security: "The Iraqi interim government, in conjunction with U.S. forces, is setting up three dedicated oil security battalions to safeguard oil infrastructure in and around the northern city of Kirkuk. In addition, the nascent Iraqi air force, based at a U.S. airfield near Kirkuk, has begun patrolling the area's three major pipelines using Jordanian-built light aircraft equipped with a variety of sensors."
And one mooted infrastructure project offers benefits that go well beyond the economy:
"When a new Iraqi government finally takes office, it will have in its 'in-box' an economic proposal that touches on some of the country's most sensitive questions: How to reduce violence in the Sunni Triangle, how to manage the country's increasingly tense relationship with neighboring Jordan, and how to expand its oil production and exports.It's early stages yet, but the Jordanian government is interested, as are the Japanese investors.
"This hornet's nest of problems could be eased, proponents argue, by building an oil pipeline through western Iraq to the Jordanian port of Aqaba on the Red Sea. This pipeline would carry 1.2 million barrels of crude a day from the existing pipeline junction at Haditha, northwest of Baghdad, to new loading facilities at Aqaba. Building a pipeline through Iraq's nastiest war zone may sound crazy, but read on.
"A leading advocate of the pipeline project is an Iraqi Sunni leader named Talal Gaaod. He heads an engineering company based in Jordan called the Tabouk Group, and he's also a prominent member of the Dulaimi tribe that holds sway in Anbar province, which stretches from Baghdad to the Jordanian border. His tribal credentials are important, because it's through tribal-backed security forces that Gaaod thinks he can safely build and maintain a pipeline in what has been the heartland of the insurgency."
In communications, the cell phone network is growing across Iraq: "15 months to happen but Kuwaiti-based MTC has finally launched its official GSM network in Baghdad, to coincide with the recent Telecom Arabia show. How has MTC - which partners with Vodafone - managed this feat in war-torn Iraq? The company claims its 1,800 kilometres of network have been rolled out with the help of a 100 per cent Iraqi workforce... Part of the deal surrounding the granting of its licence was to roll out the GSM network in the south of Iraq before being allowed to cover the capital. As such, MTC Atheer now has over 360, 000 subscribers in Iraq."
And in transport news, new buses and special traffic lanes set aside for public transport will be used in fight against traffic congestion in Baghdad. Meanwhile, the government-owned General Railway Company is preparing to launch several projects, some of them planned for the past 25 years. "These projects are: Baghdad-Al-Kut, Al-Imara-Basra, [and] Al-Naseriyya-Al-Basra [lines]... The Company [also] aims at connecting Iraq with Syria through Al-Qaim-Dir al-Zur, and also connecting Baghdad with Iran through al-Shuayba-al-Mahmara. In addition, the company will accomplish other projects in the north of Iraq, including Baghdad-Baquba, Irbil-Mosul-Zakho and Kirkuk-Suleimanieh."
RECONSTRUCTION: Iraq's biggest reconstruction expo has proved to be a great success:
"A huge exposition opened on Monday in Amman, bringing together almost a thousand exhibitors and thousands more participants interested in getting their foot in the door for the large number of reconstruction projects anticipated in Iraq over the coming years.
"The expo, dubbed Rebuild Iraq 2005, has 985 exhibitors from four countries. The range of products on show is huge, from machines that make plastic bags and paper products, to small hand tools such as screwdrivers and drill bits, all the way to at least one group here that is in the business of selling bridges.
"Fadi Kaddoura, the project manager for Rebuild Iraq 2005 said that millions of dollars in sales and contracts will likely trade hands over the next few days. While many smaller businesses and sub-contractors come to make purchases and establish contacts, the big money comes from the Iraqi ministries."
The participants, while mindful of many challenges, seem very optimistic. More here.
Another foreign donors conference will be held in Jordan in May to hurry up foreign governments on their past commitments to Iraq's reconstruction, of which only $1 billion has so far been given to the Iraqi government. In the meantime, the World Bank has made a grant of $480 million to various Iraqi ministries to finance their operations and programs.
According to Mehdi Al Hafedh, Minister of Planning and Development Cooperation, Iraq Rebuilding Strategy Authority is currently supervising 121 major reconstruction projects throughout the country, worth $1.8 billion: "20 electricity projects,24 public work projects, 11 education projects, 9 development projects in Baghdad, 8 development cooperation projects, 8 environmental projects, 6 health projects, 6 agriculture projects, 5 water projects, 4 housing projects, 3 higher education projects, 3 labor and social projects,3 industrial projects, 10 transport projects and others."
In another good news for increased Iraqi participation in the reconstruction process: "According to employment figures compiled by the Project and Contracting Office (PCO), the United States Aid for International Development (USAID), Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP), Military Construction (MILCON) and Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq (MNSTC-I), reconstruction employment has risen to 167,000 in March."
In recent reconstruction initiatives:
As part of its "Toward cleaner and more shining Iraq", the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works is spending 136 million dinars ($93,000) on various projects in Almoseib governorate, including paving roads, constructing additional bridges and building public parks.
Following the recent successful reconstruction programs in Baghdad's Sadr City to provide water and electricity to its previously much-neglected residents, as well as clean up the suburb, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is now conducting further consultation with members of the area's local government to work out plans for the second round of reconstruction projects.
Throughout Bahgdad and other cities, the Ministry of Electricity is starting a program to improve street lighting.
In Najaf municipality, 107 billions dinars ($73 million) will be spent in the current year on reconstruction and service provision. $70 million is being spent on local roads, important for religious tourism in this town.
In the Misan province, a major road building and surfacing program has already finished work on 450 kilometers of roads, with plans for improvements on further 600 kilometers.
In electricity news, the Ministry of Electricity has issued a directive that power stations which employ permanent maintenance staff have to from now on operate 24 hours a day.
In growing energy cooperation with Iraq's neighbors, Iran will be increasing electricity exports to Iraq from 90-100 MWs currently to 145 MW by next June. In that time-frame, "the technical procedures needed for connecting the electricity networks of Iran and Iraq [will be completed]. When this goal will be met, the third stage begins, in which Iraq will be able to import larger amount of electricity from Iran, according to its needs." In recent talks with Turkey, it was also agreed to
"accomplish the second stage of the electrical connection project with Turkey. This stage includes increasing of the electrical energy transformed from Turkey to Iraq to 220-250 Megawatts from the end of next June, up from 150-160 Megawatts, which were provided during the first stage. The two sides discussed also the third stage, in which Iraq will import 700-1000 Megawatt, while this will demand to arrange lines of more than 400 Kilo Volt. The Turkish side also promised to study the possibility of connecting the electricity networks of the two countries, in case of fulfilling the third stage."More here.
Among the recent USAID's contributions to rebuilding Iraq's power infrastructure (link in PDF): "Work is continuing on the refurbishment of two units at a large thermal power station in Baghdad. The station's four steam boilers and turbines were each designed to produce 160 MW; however, due to lack of maintenance, the plant is now operating in the 160-170 MW range, far below its fullload rating of 640 MW. The project employs 310 Iraqi workers and covers the rehabilitation of both turbines, the replacement of boiler and turbine controls with a modern, sustainable system, and the refurbishment of the 132kV switchyard. The project also includes rehabilitation of water intake screens, auxiliary mechanical equipment and electrical equipment, electrical cabling, electrical raceways, cable trays and control systems. Upon completion, an additional 320 MW is projected to be available for Baghdad's electrical grid. This project is now 85 percent finished and scheduled for completion this summer."
In Basra, meantime, (link in PDF), "installation of water treatment units at
four major power plants... is nearing completion. For years, these plants have been operating without functioning water treatment units. When untreated brackish water
is circulated through boiler tubes, it corrodes the tubes and eventually causes them to rupture. Long term use of poor quality water results in permanent damage to the boiler and heat exchange system, additional power outages, and costly repairs." The project is intended to be finalized by mid-May.
Water infrastructure is also undergoing reconstruction throughout Iraq. In recent news: an Iraqi firm, owned by the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources, is reporting completion of numerous projects around the country, including the irrigation project at Mahroush in Dyali province and the land reclamation in Alyousefiya.
Major projects have been completed in Mosul:
"The Water Department in the restive city of Mosul implemented 31 projects last year, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Municipality and Public Works.In Karbala (link in PDF), USAID is continuing to work on refurbishment of a water treatment plant, which was in the state of dire disrepair. The project is expected to be completed in September. Elsewhere throughout Iraq, (link in PDF) the work is ongoing on water and sanitation facilities serving rural areas of Diyala governorate, and the trunk sewer systems serving Zafaraniyah, a district in South Eastern Baghdad.
"Mohammed Ahmad, the department's head, said more than 19 kilometers of new pipes were extended in Mosul, the northern city which sees almost daily attacks against U.S. and Iraq forces. Mosul is the capital of Nineveh Province which also includes other sizeable towns and districts.
"Ahmad said old pipes were replaced in several towns, new water projects executed and numerous buildings constructed to house officials ensuring 'an uninterrupted flow of water supplies' to the province's nearly 3 million people.
"He said drinking water was available to the whole city and a large portion of villages in the province. Small-scale water purification projects were constructed in several areas inside Mosul and outlying districts, he said.
"The town of Telaafar, where U.S. troops battle insurgents regularly will soon have a new water project along with Zammar. Ahmad said more than 15,000 kilometers of pipes were extended in provincial towns and villages last year."
Meanwhile, in Karbala, the Directorate General for the Maintenance of Projects is planning this years, as one of its projects, to line Al Roshdiya creek-bed. "A source in the Ministry of Water Resources said that the work aims at getting rid of the saltiness of the soil and the treatment of irrigation water for agricultural orchard for delivering water to these lands. He added that the works in the project included lifting 5000 m3 of muddy soil, burying 8000 m3 with dust on all layers, and lining 1200 m2 with regular concrete and executing side outlets in the right side in the number of 12 outlets and 13 penetrated on the left side, in addition to the treatment of the agricultural irrigation water."
In health, "the Iraqi health ministry affirmed completion of 30 percent of the project to rehabilitate and equip emergency departments at hospitals in Baghdad and other provinces... An official spokesman at the ministry said that it has already working for more than five months on the project to rehabilitate and equip emergency departments in 12 hospitals. He disclosed that the cost for such project reached US$25 million, which was partly funded by the World Bank."
There is more assistance coming for Iraq's handicapped: "Work has got underway for establishing handicapped institutes. Notably, ministry of health decided to complete them within three months. The ministry sets a strategic plan for rehabilitating handicapped in Iraq. That plan secures establishing five hospitals and more than 38 specialized centers for medical rehabilitation, besides modernizing 10 factories and workshops for limbs and sticks. The ministry's spokesman said that the plan sets until 2007 aims at developing medical rehabilitation services in Iraq and secure enough buildings."
USAID, in conjunction with other bodies, continues to assist the Iraqi health system (link in PDF):
"Essential health care equipment arrived in emergency rooms and supply houses throughout Iraq to help Iraqis strengthen their health services. This project is being implemented by UNICEF with the support of a $36 million USAID grant. Recent emergency health equipment deliveries include 300 Emergency Health Kits, intravenous fluids and 29,332 tubes of Flamazine cream, a medicine essential in managing burns."Two Iraqi universities are implementing a research project with USAID support to find preventative procedures for B-Thalassemia, a blood disease prevalent throughout Iraq" (link in PDF). Also, "a Baghdad clinic and medical school training center received new furniture and equipment through the support of their local Community Action Group (CAG) and USAID's Community Action Program (CAP). The center serves about 400 patients daily, approximately 250 Bachelor's Degree students and 20 doctors pursuing higher studies." (link in PDF)
"To contribute to combating malnutrition, UNICEF supplied 405 clinical scales for infants and newborns. Since the project commenced, a total of 2,300 scales have been delivered to maternity wards, pediatric wards, and delivery rooms where they are used to register and manage low birth weight infants. To reduce the prevalence of micronutrient deficiency disorders, 76 feeders have been also delivered to wheat flour mills throughout the country. These feeders will allow mills to enrich wheat flour with iron and folic acid, nutrients deficient in diets throughout Iraq."
Baghdad Health Department is increasing this year the number of specialist courses in the fields of "internal, surgery, gynecological and psychological illnesses and nine courses in statistics filed and other eight in nursing field including internal and surgery nursing, children, operations, prevention and other specialties." The aim is to boost the specialist numbers in the fields where there are currently shortages.
There is also more support for this very valuable institution (link in PDF): "An institute for disabled children in Baghdad renovated its facilities with the assistance of USAID's Community Action Program (CAP). The institute is the only of its kind in Iraq providing care and education for children under the age of 12 who are mentally disabled or have cerebral palsy or neurological impairments. The institute is made up of 10 classrooms, administrative offices, a sports hall, and a physical therapy unit where children receive treatment. The $96,947 project investment from CAP renovated the school improving the ability of the school's principal and social workers to provide quality services to moderately and severely disabled students with different levels of physical and learning ability. This facility will enable children with special needs to realize their fullest potential and to provide them with every opportunity to learn in a decent environment."
The education system is also trying to catch up to the twenty-first century - with plenty of help from abroad. The authorities have set up the Iraqi Center for Creation and Development - "a platform for Iraqis to learn about the latest development in world technologies and internet... Any individual can come and learn at the center... The center can be beneficial in promoting skills of Iraqi students and helping them to succeed in the domestic job market."
The Jordanian National Committee for Education, Culture and Sciences, in cooperation with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and the Arab Organization for Education, Culture and Sciences, has held a training course for the members of its Iraqi counterpart. "The course aims at developing the skills and abilities of the Iraqi trainees and supplying them with the necessary expertise to develop the work of their national committees and improve their performance levels."
"The Ministry of Education has renovated new center for internet and communications in order to upgrade and promote experiences and expertise for employees in the educational sector, besides arranging the modern information to get use from them in he ministry's departments."
The public library in Karbala has been reopened after extensive renovations costing 1.4 billion dinars. Also in Karbala, 14 schools are being currently renovated, with plans for the refurbishment of another 60.
In USAID's recent contribution to education (link in PDF): "Iraqi secondary school students welcomed the delivery of 137,112 Education Kits containing basic school supplies. Each kit contains 10 Arabic exercise books, one English exercise book, one drawing book, one lab notebook, one drawing set, 12 pencils, four pencil sharpeners, four erasers, and one ruler. They are now being distributed among 2,014 secondary schools throughout Iraq. The provision of basic school supplies is a component of USAID's Education II program. During the past month, the Education II project also trained more than 3,000 educators in 32 workshops throughout Iraq that covered topics ranging from capacity building within the Ministry of Education to improved teaching techniques for primary school teachers."
USAID is also providing assistance to Iraq's higher education system (link in PDF). Thanks to USAID's Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program partner the University of Oklahoma, a technical university in Baghdad now has a brand new computer center. Under the same program, a university library in Al Hillah province, which had previously been looted, has now received new books and equipment. The Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID) led by Jackson State University (JSU) has also been modernizing labolatories and providing equipment and textbooks Medicine and Engineering departments at Iraqi universities.
In other recent initiatives (link in PDF), "a Baghdad university law library has been restored with assistance from the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University. This is the first of three law library renovations that the institute has undertaken as part of the $3.8 million legal education reform component of the Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program. Two more libraries will soon be reopened after renovations."
Baghdad University is also expanding the range of its postgraduate programs.
Thanks to open borders and generosity of foreign benefactors, some of Iraq's most gifted can now continue their studies overseas:
"Nine Iraqi students have arrived at Education City to take up scholarships granted by Qatar Foundation. The group, which has studied together for the past six years at Baghdad's School for the Gifted, will begin their university career with a one-year course at the Academic Bridge Programme. Alongside other high-potential students, they will have intensive coaching in the core skills required for admission to Education City's top-flight universities, including maths, computer skills and English language. Eight of the scholarship students hope to study medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College-Qatar, while the ninth is seeking entry to the prestigious petroleum engineering programme at Texas A & M University-Qatar. The students' tuition and living expenses will be entirely met by Qatar Foundation for the duration of their academic programmes."In agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organisation will be cooperating with the Iraqi authorities on reclaiming land in Baghdad and other provinces that have suffered from desertification. "This projects is expected to employ many Iraqis who will work in preparing nurseries for different types of plants."
The Ministry of Agriculture has recently announced "a work plan to implement a national program to prepare maps for assessing environmental and agricultural needs in all provinces... The main objective of the program is to locate production areas for strategic crops, and determine the area for agricultural investments, provide needed support for local projects such as equipment, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides." More here.
"Ten officials from Water Resource Departments in five Iraqi governorates attended a training course in Amman, Jordan with support from ARDI. The course, prepared and delivered by staff from the Jordan Valley Authority (JVA) and Jordanian universities, covered principles of water resource management. The course lasted eight days, with four days devoted to lectures and training and four days for field trips to local farms and the JVA headquarters to observe the control center, operation room, and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA)." (link in PDF)
The Ministry has also signed a contract for the import of 11 multi-purpose agricultural airplanes, to be used for aerial spraying against pests. German harvesters will also be imported to help in the coming harvest.
HUMANITARIAN AID: USAID is helping some of those most in need throughout Iraq (link in PDF): "USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is distributing Livelihood Packages to displaced families in south and west Kirkuk. Local Community Development Groups helped OFDA assess the community and prioritize the families in greatest needed. Over 2,300 family packages have been distributed among the displaced population. These packages include blankets, clothes, heaters, cookers, and plastic sheeting - non-food items, which would help people stay warm and dry during the winter. In addition more than 50 jobs were created during procurement, with additional jobs being generated during the distributions."
In America, grass-roots actions to help Iraqis continue. From Pennsylvannia:
"In a hot and dusty village near Bayji, Iraq, surrounded by miles and miles of desert, at least 50 Iraqi kids are wearing new sandals that were bought right here in Bucks. The springtime chill doesn't lend itself to thinking about open-toe weather just yet, but a month-old goodwill project that's collected 250 pairs of sandals has got Northampton residents doing just that.From Oklahoma:
"The project, Brad's Sandalmania, was the brainchild of Council Rock graduate Brad Raudenbush, 22, who was sent overseas in June for service in Iraq. The Temple University criminal justice major wrote in a recent e-mail that he thought of distributing sandals to promote goodwill among Iraqis after checking out some Army photos of the region he was heading to."
"Beanie babies can save a soldier's life. In fact, they can save a number of them, said Denise Rozell and her 10-year-old daughter, Destiny Fulsom. A few weeks ago, Rozell and Fulsom, a fifth grader at Westwood Elementary, were watching the evening news when they saw an interview with a soldier in Iraq. The soldier told how their convoy spotted an Iraqi girl on the side of the road and they recognized the girl because one of the soldiers had given her a Beanie Baby a few days earlier. The Iraqi girl proceeded to point out to the soldiers where all the land mines were located, Rozell said.Students from DeLong Middle School in Wisconsin are collecting and sending school supplies to Iraq.
"The news sparked an idea in both Rozell and Fulsom's minds. 'We started thinking about all the beanies in the house and thought "Why don't we send them to soldiers",' Rozell said. Rozell got in touch with Barbara Luttmer, who works at the Morrison American Legion Auxiliary. Luttmer knew how to send the beanies to the soldiers because the auxiliary had sent supplies to troops in the past. Starting March 21, Rozell and Fulsom began to collect the Beanie Babies by putting a drop-off point at Westwood Elementary. A mother of three children, Rozell has also received help from co-workers who have volunteered to help with the process."
Meanwhile, a new program is launched by the Iraqi authorities to help those most disadvantaged:
"A new programme to assist the poorest and most disadvantaged members of Iraqi society was launched recently by the Minister of Public Works and Social Affairs, Leila Abdul Lattif."I believe that it's the best programme that the Iraqi government has ever developed. In this centre you really can explore the minds of your patient and in the meantime feel happy that you are giving the possibility for each one to have a better future," says Dr Ibraheem Kassem, a Mercy House volunteer.
"The project employs a team of six psychologists who travel the streets of the capital under police guard, searching for the destitute, orphans, the elderly and disabled homeless. Most have no means of support other than begging. They are offered refuge at a centre called 'The Mercy House'.
Here, a variety of support services are offered by professional and volunteer workers, including doctors and psychologists. Each person who accepts assistance is given an individual psychological assessment and their difficulties are analysed. An individual programme is then worked out to help them cope with whatever issues have resulted in them being on the streets."
This Iraqi action aims to do good and bring people together at the same time:
"Shiites and Sunnis sat side byside as blood filled bags through plastic tubes, hoping their donation will help whoever needs it.THE COALITION TROOPS: The Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence, the body responsible for managing environmental engineering and construction projects for the US Air Force, has awarded over $71 million-worth of reconstruction contracts in Iraq in March. "Since the year began, AFCEE awarded more than $173 million worth of work to contractors in Iraq. Air Force and civilian employees worked on repairing underground pipelines; built schools, government buildings and military facilities; and rebuilt existing facilities this month. Last year, AFCEE awarded $1.2 billion worth of work in Iraq in order to help rebuild the country's security and justice infrastructure."
"Dozens of Iraqis, from all walks of life with different sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, lined up Sunday outside a blood donation station set at the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party which initiated the blood donation campaign.
" 'The goal of such a blood drive is to achieve the unity of the Iraqi people, under humanitarian actions,' [said] doctor Alaa Maki, also a member of the party... 'The donated blood will be distributed to all Iraqis no matter who they are and we also call for other Iraqi parties and humanitarian institutions to do the same to save the lives of Iraqi patients and wounded people while living together in peace,' said Maki while busy helping the donors.
"The Iraqi National Center for Blood Donation is facing an acute shortage of blood since the tide of violence in the already war-ravaged country sees no sign of easing away. The Iraqi hospitals are also in need of medicine and medical appliances. The blood donation campaign, designated to help address the problem, is expected to last for several days. 'Nothing can better fraternize the divided Iraqis than blood,' [said] doctor Abdul Wadod Khaled."
The troops continue to be involved in numerous reconstruction projects around Iraq. In Baghdad, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has nearly completed a $6.5 million project of cleaning the Zeblin line of sewage pipes:
"According to Mike Mitchell, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) project engineer, sewage backups into the streets and homes of the residents of Baghdad create a hazardous environment.Bryon Johnson from Camp Speicher near Tikrit reports: "These folks, they're incredible... They're doing some really cool stuff here. Just in this area alone, I counted 93 schools that they're working on. They have 22 electrical plants or power stations. Seventeen railroads. Nine health clinics. Eight fire stations. Four court houses. That's just what I know about."
" 'Particularly hazardous considering the Baghdad sewer systems harbor hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, methane, unexploded ordnance and fecal born-diseases, among numerous other hazards.'
"The intent of sewer line cleaning is to remove foreign materials from the lines and restore the sewer to a minimum of 95 percent of the original carrying capacity or as required for proper seating of internal pipe joint sealing packers."
In Bayji, the troops are working on the local power plant:
"As March draws to a close, temperatures in Iraq are on the rise. Getting more electricity on the national grid is of foremost concern as the summer months draw near. An international team of engineers and technical professionals at the Bayji power plant has spent the past nine months working to get an additional 270 megawatts of power on the grid, which is enough energy to power more than 200,000 Iraqi homes and businesses.Around Ramadi, the troops are rebuilding the important dam system:
"In April 2004, a $64 million contract was awarded to Odebrecht-Austin, Joint Venture to rehabilitate two gas turbine units, each capable of generating 135 megawatts of power. After months of hard work, the units had 'first fires' Feb. 25 and March 11 and started applying power to the national grid March 3 and 16. Final reliability tests are being performed, and the project will be transferred to the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity this month, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said."
"Iraq's Ramadi Barrage, on the Euphrates River, is to be repaired at a cost of $3 million. 'The repair work is scheduled to begin mid-April or May, pending SPCO approval and contractor selection, with a completion date of mid-April 2006,' said Brian Anderson, US Army Corps of Engineers project engineer. 'Repairing the barrage will provide jobs for the Iraqi people and ensure that it will operate properly for its designed purposes, which are irrigation and flood control,' Anderson said.Taskforce Baghdad is meanwhile working together with local contractors on a number of projects. Local roads are being widened not only to improve traffic, but also make it more difficult for the insurgents to successfully plant roadside bombs; in other areas water station is being renovated and water pipes laid in order to provide water to several neighborhoods.
"Barrages in Iraq are of critical national importance and key infrastructure significance for its people. The Ramadi Barrage is part of a sensitive system designed for flood control and irrigation storage that consists of the Warrar Inlet Canal structure, Al Duban Regulator and the Habbaniyah Reservoir. During the 1991 Gulf War, seven of the barrage's gates were damaged by air-to-ground missiles. The damaged gates were left in the down position resulting in a loss of performance, particularly during floodwater periods."
The troops are also assisting with the development of the education infrastructure:
"Millions of dollars in Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Funds are being spent to repair and reconstruct schools throughout Iraq. The majority of the reconstruction work is being done by local Iraqi companies.In addition to reconstruction, soldiers are also using connections back home to assist Iraqi schools: "Soldiers in the 155th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq are soliciting help from folks back home to wage a different kind of battle, one for young hearts and minds. Members of the team have established an adopt-a-school program that aims to link Iraqi children with students in Mississippi schools, Lt. Col. Tommy Fuller, the 155th's chaplain, told The Associated Press by satellite phone from a base in the Northern Babil province."
" 'The future of any country lies with its children,' said Linda Carter, construction representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Kirkuk area office. 'Schools are instrumental in the proper development of our children. It's difficult to learn in buildings that are overcrowded and in disrepair.'
"Currently, over $2 million is being spent on 38 school renovations in the province of Kirkuk. There is an additional $1.4 million available that is expected to be used on eight more schools. That contract is currently out for bid. So far, three schools have been completed, and an additional eight are scheduled for completion this month.
"The schools being reconstructed were selected from a priority list provided by the province's Director General of Education. The DG provided a list of 80 schools in need of renovation and repair. The plan is to do as many schools as possible with the available $3.4 million."
Support for Iraqi health service also continues:
"The four Humvees rumbled down the street and turned into an empty lot. The soldiers dismounted, scrutinized the dirt and rocks for hidden bombs, and scanned windows and rooftops for hidden gunmen.Here's a similar action: "As the convoy pulled into the Janain neighborhood, people started to come out of their houses. The speakers on top of the psychological operation's Humvee announced the Soldiers' arrival. The message was simple - the Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, were there to provide medical assistance to the residents. The medics set up a makeshift aid station to treat the residents as an area was cordoned off with concertina wire March 9." Such actions not only provide much needed medical assistance to Iraqi who might otherwise have problems accessing it, but also present to local another side of the Coalition troops.
"Then, one Humvee pulled up to a driveway and backed up to a building where some men and boys were waiting. The building was a clinic, and inside the Humvee were boxes of medical supplies.
" 'They go through 100 syringes a day,' said Dr. (Capt.) Mike Tarpey of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment.
"Supporting health care is a priority for the 42nd Infantry Division, which began its one-year deployment to Iraq in February. While U.S. troops provide most of the muscle and means, they also try to bring local Iraqis into the mix. The men at the clinic were local officials and clinic workers, who it is hoped will get some credit for the delivery."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region South, meanwhile, is managing the renovation and rebuilding of hospitals in the south of the country. As one of its recent projects, under a $10 million contract a 260-bed maternity and pediatrics hospital in Tallil will be thoroughly renovated. "Every portion of the 260-bed hospital will be touched... The contract also includes new operating suites, tons of new medical equipment, and many donated medical supplies. We are re-equipping the entire facility," says Bob Hanacek, GRS resident engineer.
The security infrastructure is not forgotten throughout Iraq:
"Once the Basrah firm, Mott McDonald, completed its assessments of 13 police stations throughout Maysan Province, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region South, or GRS, awarded contracts to local Iraqi construction firms to implement the planned renovation reconstruction. These 13 stations represent only the beginning of the program as additional stations undergo assessments in the future...You can also read this interesting profile of Kevin Gerdes, a lieutenant colonel in the Minnesota National Guard and "mayor" of Taji, the former home of the Hammurabi Division of the Republican Guard and of a Saddam memorabilia museum, now shared by the US and Iraqi troops, as he overseas the renovation of the base before its handover to local soldiers.
"Based upon the size of each station and the renovations required, individual station reconstruction costs will range from $65,000 to $180,000.
"Renovations to the initial 13 stations will directly improve the security and working conditions for approximately 1500 police in Maysan Province. However, the construction upgrades will serve to have a ripple effect, thereby delivering benefits that extend far beyond the police station walls.
" 'Approximately 800-1200 Iraqis will be put to work in conjunction with the renovation program,' said [construction manager Ken] Derickson, 'thereby stimulating the local economies throughout Maysan Province'."
The troops are also playing important role in helping to build Iraqi democracy on the grass-roots level:
"When villagers saw the cloud of dust from an approaching U.S. convoy, they hoped Iraq's new powerbrokers had come to solve problems: a broken well, a dilapidated school. But the U.S. soldiers, mindful that their eventual departure hinges on robust local governments, directed villagers to local officials and elected representatives - a mind-bending concept for Iraqis formerly accustomed to all power flowing from Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.There is also time for private humanitarian initiatives. There is, for example, this fine effort to help the limbless victims of past violence:
"In modern Iraqi history, local governments have hardly been the place to solve problems. Other groups - the former dictator's Baath Party, the Iraqi army, tribal leaders, clerics - have been far more relevant to daily life. 'In Saddam's Iraq, everyone was encouraged to look to the center - and to a lesser degree the party - for action,' said Phebe Marr, author of 'The Modern History of Iraq.'
"The United States is now using millions of reconstruction dollars to repair the capabilities and image of local governments, a central component to an Iraq free of strongmen or bureaucrats who cater to segments of a diverse and fractured society. 'Everything we do, we try to put the Iraqi army, Iraqi police, and local government at the forefront and give them the credit,' said Capt. Chris Chang, a native of Los Angeles and a civilian affairs officer in the 278th Regiment of the 42nd Infantry Division.
"City councils have emerged as a new power, channeling U.S. funds for reconstruction projects that pay local residents to build schools, hospitals and other public facilities."
"One day last year, while driving a Humvee along the dusty roads of Baghdad's Green Zone, Capt. Steve Lindsley spotted two young Iraqi men, both amputees and tottering on makeshift crutches.And helping doesn't stop when the troops go home:
"And so, Lindsley found the first two patients for Operation Restoration, his makeshift prosthetics clinic for Iraqi civilians funded in part by Plymouth, Minn.-based Otto Bock HealthCare.
"Ali, 14, had lost his right leg above the knee in a hit-and-run traffic accident seven years earlier. And Taleb, 20, was a child when his leg was amputated below the knee, because of complications from a cancerous tumor. Neither had ever received proper prosthetic care.
"Lindsley, of Monroe, La., was deployed to Iraq as a logistics officer with the Mississippi Army National Guard's 112th Military Police Battalion. But his civilian job as clinical manager at the prosthetics and orthotics clinic at Mississippi Methodist Rehabilitation Center was never far from his mind.
" 'While in the Green Zone, I started seeing Iraqis walking around; some of them didn't have limbs. That was where I decided that I needed to try to help,' he said.
"So Lindsley and his friend, Sgt. Chris Cummings, set up a free clinic in the huge basement kitchen of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. 'The palace has been bombed and wasn't in very good condition, the lighting was poor, the electrical substandard,' Lindsley recalled. 'We made do'."
"When Joseph Yorski was serving a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq, he noticed Iraqi police had little protection compared to his peers in the New Britain Police Department. Upon his return, the officer decided to help fellow law enforcement officials by spearheading a movement to outfit Iraqi police with old, surplus equipment instead of following regular procedure, which calls to destroy it.The allies are also doing their bit. Here's the contribution from the 400-strong Slovak contingent: "According to a Defence Ministry spokesperson during the 19 months it has been operating in Iraq, Slovakia's sapper unit has deactivated, by hand, mines over an area of 140,000 square metres, this equates to about 28 football fields. Plus, a much larger area has been demined using the help of specially-designed equipment. They have found and deactivated some tens of thousands of munitions and grenades."
"Yorski, a member of the 143rd Military Police Company and an 11-year veteran of the Police Department, oversees property. He said he took matters into his own hands when asked by acting Chief William Gagliardi to destroy surplus police equipment, which ranges from riot gear to reflective vests.
"Teaming up with America Supporting Americans -- a nonprofit organization that encourages law enforcement agencies and individuals to donate used police equipment -- Yorski collected an extensive amount of gear that will be shipped to Baghdad."
A company of soldiers from Azerbeijan, together with US Marines, is providing constant protection for Haditha Dam, one of the most important pieces of infrastructure in Iraq, which provides electricity for a third of the country. And here's the story of the El Salvadorean contingent, representing the only Latin American country with troops in Iraq.
SECURITY: There is good news for the Coalition troops as casualties decrease:
"The rate of U.S. deaths in the Iraq war has fallen sharply since the historic January elections as American military leaders tout progress against the insurgency but warn of a long road ahead.And: "There are between 40 and 60 incidents each day in the country, they said, sharply down from the terrorist effort in the week of the Iraqi elections in January. Even this doesn't tell the whole story. Of those incidents, roughly half have no effect. This means terrorists launch an attack, but no lives are lost, nor is any property damaged."
"March is on pace for the lowest monthly U.S. military death toll in 13 months, and the rate of American fatalities has fallen by about 50 percent since the parliamentary elections in which millions of Iraqis defied insurgents to cast ballots...
"Since the election, the rate of U.S. military fatalities in Iraq has been about 1.7 per day, compared to about 3.4 per day from November to election day -- a 50 percent drop. It is also about one-fifth lower than the rate experienced from the start of the war until the election."
On a micro level the story is very similar: "Aid stations around the 2nd Brigade Combat Team's sector in eastern Baghdad are reporting a drop in the number of trauma cases compared with the 3rd Infantry Division's predecessor. Army officials said the sharp decline is due, at least in part, to the changed operational picture. When the 1st Cavalry Division was here, it took heavy casualties while combating a sustained uprising in nearby Sadr City. In the first month of the 1st Cav's deployment - April 2004 - officials reported 125 casualties. In March 2005, the full first month on station for the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd BCT, officials reported 10 casualties."
In related news, Pentagon has received offers and ideas from 1,100 companies on methods to defuse roadside bombs and car bombs. "The Pentagon sought new technologies and approaches in a broad area announcement March 2. The deadline for responses was April 4... A Joint IED Task Force created to focus on the solutions to the problem will narrow down the best ideas and ask for more details within 30 days. Contractors will have another month to get back to them, and then full-blown proposals will be solicited for the most promising ideas. The task force will spend $11 million on the immediate purchase of technologies and $20 million on procurement that results from other final proposals. It also has $25 million in reserve for promising capabilities."
Insurgency, of course, is not over, with the Iraqi security personnel and civilians now bearing the brunt of violence. The levels of violence can still rise again, like they have done in the past. Still, the trend is encouraging. The cautious mood is reflected in this recent assessment:
"The Iraqi resistance has peaked and is 'turning in on itself', according to recent intelligence reports from Baghdad received by Middle Eastern intelligence agencies.Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan says that while the terrorist attacks organized by the Al Zarqawi network continue, the number of attacks by native insurgents has dropped substantially. In a perhaps related development, the Ministry of Interior has announced that the crime rate in Baghdad had fallen by 40 per cent in March in comparison with the previous month. The officials credit increased cooperation from the citizens in reporting criminal and suspicious activity.
"The reports are the most optimistic for several months and reflect analysts' sense that recent elections in Iraq marked a 'quantum shift'. They will boost the government in the run-up to the expected general election in May.
"Though the reports predict that violence against coalition troops and local forces is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, at least two Middle Eastern intelligence agencies believe that recent 'backchannel' initiatives aimed at persuading Sunni Muslim tribes in western Iraq to cease their resistance are meeting with some success.
"The talks are aimed at driving a wedge between so-called Iraqi nationalist elements of the resistance and radical Islamic militants."
Better intelligence is also helping the Coalition and Iraqi security forces to acquire a more comprehensive picture of the insurgency:
"A Pentagon official said there are questions about how many insurgents are hard-core fighters as opposed to 'fence sitters' who might participate in an attack but then lie dormant for weeks at a time. 'There are many part-timers who will quit fighting under the right conditions,' the official said.The recent joint Iraqi-American raid on the insurgent base at Lake Tharthar is seen as having important implications, in addition to the body count: "Among documents found were instructions for the home-made bombs that have plagued coalition forces. Others contained names of Iraqi officials, including two interim ministers who have been informed. Identity documents indicated that among the insurgents were citizens of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and the Philippines." And here you can read more about Iraqi interrogations of suspects.
"Officials now think that criminals make up more of the insurgents than first thought, meaning many are driven by money, not ideology. And commanders are seeing more foreign fighters because fewer Iraqis are willing to commit themselves to attacks.
"The suspicion that there is a large number of semicommitted insurgents was bolstered by the enemy's failure to disrupt the Jan. 30 elections, when 8 million Iraqis went to the polls."
The propaganda war against insurgents and terrorists continues to enthrall the Iraqis:
"Looking cowed and frightened, a bruised young man looks into the television camera and stammers replies to questions from an unseen interrogator. Yes, he says, he was paid to kidnap foreigners in Baghdad. No, he was not a mujahid (holy warrior); just a common criminal cashing in on Iraq's climate of fear.Says Abdul Kareem Abdulla, 42, a Baghdad shop owner: "I watch the show every night, and I wait for it patiently, because it is very revealing. For the first time, we saw those who claim to be jihadists as simple $50 murderers who would do everything in the name of Islam. Our religion is too lofty, noble and humane to have such thugs and killers. I wish they would hang them now, and in the same place where they did their crimes. They should never be given any mercy." You can read another report about the show here.
"The man, described as a captured insurgent, is making a public confession on a TV program on Iraq's government-run al-Iraqiya television station called 'Terror in the Hands of Justice.' Twice daily, Iraqis watch fascinated as a procession of alleged Islamist guerrillas reveal the details of terrorist operations on what can be described as an Iraqi variation on 'America's Most Wanted.' One man said he had stalked 10 college girls who were translators for the U.S. Army, then raped them and killed all of them. Another described how he had beheaded several hostages after first practicing on animals.
"The program has a double aim of showing Iraqis their tax dollars at work: in other words, Iraq's security services making headway in combating the mainly Sunni Muslim insurgency. The second aim is to undermine the mystique of a sinister force that had spread terror among ordinary Iraqis, and to embolden people to come forward with information.
"In the early shows the prisoners were non-Iraqi mujaheddin from other Arab countries who claimed to have crossed into Iraq from Syria to fight in the insurgency. But more recently 'Terror in the Hands of Justice' has focussed on Iraqis, showing mostly petty criminals who claimed to have been lured into the insurgency with promises of payment for taking part in kidnappings and guerrilla operations.
"A report in Thursday's Financial Times said the television program has discredited the mujaheddin and their professions of religious fervor by showing captured insurgents who said they were homosexuals -- still not a socially acceptable group in much of the Middle East. As a result, the word mujahid 'once worn as a badge of pride by anti-American insurgents has become street slang for homosexuals,' the paper reported. Some of the captured guerrillas confessed to holding gay orgies. Recently, Abu Tabarek, a preacher, confessed that insurgents had held morally deviant parties in his mosques.
"Few Iraqis seem to doubt the program's authenticity. Iraqis have actually recognized individual prisoners as their attackers, or even as former friends and acquaintances."
In another sign that the insurgents are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis, "hundreds of power workers shouting 'No, no, to terror!' marched through Baghdad... to protest attacks that have killed dozens of their colleagues... Lined up behind a black banner with the names of slain power workers, protesters demanded an end to attacks on electricity stations and oil pipelines - targets in an insurgent effort to weaken the economy and undermine the U.S.-led coalition and interim government."
From the files of civilian-military cooperation: "An Iraqi citizen's tip March 23 led to the arrest of a suspect in an improvised explosive device attack in Dawr... A coordinated car-bomb attack involving three vehicles heading for the Mussayib police station in Ramadi was derailed March 21 when citizens noticed the drivers were not from their local area and helped Iraqi police stop the cars."
In and around Mosul, the Iraqi and the Coalition forces increasingly rely on tips from the locals to fight the insurgents:
"Although the Iraqi army and elements of the Washington state-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, have managed to prevent major attacks locally since the Jan. 30 elections, their success depends on residents' cooperation, said Capt. Mike Yea, 29, from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment...But as both the Iraqi and the American military authorities are arguing, they need more cooperation before better security situation can start translating itself into a better quality of life for the locals. Also in Mosul, a change in public mood: prior to the election, there was only one hotline for the locals to report terrorist activity, and as the authorities admit, "it wasn't used all that much." Now, there are five hotlines operating, and because of demand the authorities need more.
" 'We rely heavily on town leaders to find out about terrorist activities,' Capt. Yea said, adding that his unit has had particular success acting upon local tips in As Shura, a town that recently had a reputation as an insurgent haven.
"Now, U.S. forces at As Shura get as many as six tips per night, said 1st Sgt. Darren Kinder, 40, from the Delta Company, 52nd Infantry. Sgt. Kinder's unit, attached to the 2nd Battalion, maintains round-the-clock presence at an outpost downtown. 'Some tips pay off, some don't,' Sgt. Kinder said. 'We've asked the local populace to step up, and they've been responding fairly well'."
Speaking of hotlines:
"Fatma peeked out the window of her Mosul home and saw masked men lobbing mortars at a nearby Iraqi army base for the third time. She decided it would be the last.Iraqi security forces are playing an increasingly important role in providing security throughout the country: "Today, there are some 4,000 Iraqis patrolling 10 Baghdad neighborhoods in place of U.S. forces. If the turnover is judged successful, a second wave of Iraqi soldiers is due to deploy into other neighborhoods in August." More here.
"As she telephoned to report the men, Fatma became one of an increasing number of Iraqis tipping off the authorities. Officials say it's a sign the country's fledgling security forces are winning the trust of citizens, turning them against the insurgency.
"U.S. and Iraqi officials say they have seen an increase in calls in recent weeks, especially after Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, although there were no overall figures available on how many people have offered information. In a sign the phenomenon is gathering momentum, some Iraqis told The Associated Press that when they called in information, they were told others already had reported the same incident.
"The growing willingness of Iraqis to cooperate with officials is perhaps also a testimony to the insurgency's own mistakes, which have cost it the sympathy of some. Many say they simply are tired of violence that has overshadowed their lives or claimed people they love."
Training of Iraqi security forces also continues. At Hawk Base, near Camp Taji, Iraq, Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 1st Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division are training Iraqi Army units. " 'The Iraqis complete two weeks of training here,' said Capt. Daniel K. Getchel of Vale, Oregon, a 4-1 FA officer supervising the training at Hawk Base. 'We train them to get proficient, and then turn the company back over to their unit.' Getchel said the Iraqis start with individual skills. 'They work on skills like patrolling, reacting to contact, casualty evacuation, and basic soldiering skills,' he said. Then, the Iraqi troops move on to squad-level tasks, and finally work on training at the company level. 'They're working well together," said Sgt. Cozae C. Banks, an Atchison, Kansas native and member of the 4/1 FA training cadre."
Military Police are in turn training the Iraqi police. Says Capt. Jeffery Withers, commander, 41th MP Company, Fort Hood, Texas: "With the help of MPs, the academy is adequately training about 3,000 police per quarter... Iraqi police instructors work with Coalition instructors to train the police cadets in small classes to get better results... We're providing a quality police officer to go out on the streets and ensuring that they can self-sufficiently and securely police their own country."
Another American unit being partnered with the Iraqi police for the purposes of training is the 42nd Military Police Brigade, Fort Lewis, Washington:
" 'We work hand-in-hand with Iraqi police instructors. They're learning how to instruct their own people,' said Staff Sgt. Gary R. Rigsby, instructor, 411th MP Company, Fort Hood, Texas.
"The Course is eight weeks long and the cadets go through many areas of training. 'Some of the classes the Iraqi cadets go through is a law week; a human rights class on how to treat personnel; a use-of-force class; a weapons training class where they learn how to use a Glock-19 as well as a an AK-47; and an (anti-terrorism) class,' Rigsby said.
"The academy, with the help of MPs, is graduating about 3,000 cadets per quarter. The attrition rate is at around 10 percent, said Capt. Jeffery Withers, commander, 411th MP Co."
Here's more about new police recruits. Read also about the German contribution to training Iraqi army engineering unit.
In other recent security successes:
numerous weapons caches uncovered and insurgents killed in failed attacks on the Coalition forces on March 24;
on March 25, "Iraqi soldiers backed by US helicopters killed several suspected insurgents and seized 121 more in a dawn raid yesterday, capturing tonnes of explosives earmarked for attacks on the holy city of Karbala", or to be more precise, "3 tons of TNT, 624 rifles, 250,000 light ammunition rounds, 22,000 medium ammunition rounds, 193 RPG launchers, 300 RPG rockets, 27 82mm mortar tubes and 155 82mm mortar rounds";
the arrest of by the soldiers of the Iraqi 1st Army Brigade, 6th Division, of an Iraqi police master sergeant "accused of being the leader of a terror cell. The suspect is also believed to be responsible for the bombing of the Al-Baratha Mosque";
destruction by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and an Iraqi Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team of a large arms cache in Al Kut;
between March 17 and 24, the 2nd Marine Division have detained a total of 147 suspected insurgents throughout the Anbar province and has recovered numerous weapons caches;
on March 28, "U.S. soldiers discovered eight weapons caches near a U.S. military supply route south of Baghdad March 27. The soldiers used metal detectors to find the hidden weapons, which included 58 assorted artillery and mortar rounds, 11 rocket-propelled grenade heat rounds and three RPG launchers. The Americans also uncovered six RPG anti-personnel rounds, 1,000 6.3 mm primers, a machine gun, an AK-47 rifle, and more than 400 rounds of ammunition. Other munitions found include 100 time fuses, 39 booster charges of various sizes, 10 blasting caps, five mortar fuses, two armored vests, detonation cord and a wide assortment of electronic equipment."
the capture in late 2004 (and only recently revealed) of a senior aide to Al Zarqawi. The man has a dual American and Jordanian citizenship and is suspected of helping to coordinate and finance terrorist activities throughout several cities in Iraq;
detaining 26 suspects in operations around Mosul and Tal Afar on March 30 and 31. "Meanwhile, U.S. Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion and 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, responded to 15 separate weapons cache sites approximately 12 kilometers southeast of Camp Fallujah March 29" (more here);
detaining of six insurgents after an unsuccessful attack on an US Army patrol near Ad Duluiyah;
"Task Force Liberty Soldiers detained seven people suspected of a rocket attack near a Coalition Forces base near Hawija about 3:30 p.m., March 29. The TF Liberty combat patrol was investigating the suspected point of origin of the attack when it detained five people in a vehicle. They were in possession of a video camera containing footage of terrorists firing mortars, a pamphlet on firing mortars, and mortar and rocket firing data. Two others were detained near the Coalition Forces base and are suspected of observing the impact of the rocket attack";
killing by the Iraqi Army of 17 insurgents in eastern Diyala province on April 4, while sustaining only 1 dead;
detaining 24 suspected insurgents, mostly by the Iraqi forces, around Mosul on 2 and 3 April.
As the Iraqi Minister for Human Rights Bakhtiar Amin said about the proceedings of the National Assembly: "There will be a place in jail for Saddam and the 11 to watch the TV to understand their time is finished, there is a new Iraq and that they are no longer ruling the country; so they can understand that in the new Iraq, people are elected and they are not coming to power by a coup d'etat."
The reaction? "Saddam Hussein watched the televised election of Iraq's new president from his jail cell yesterday and was 'clearly upset', a senior official said."
Well, it was all worth it for that alone.