Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The last post 

Here we go - as foreshadowed a few week ago, it's the time to say good-bye.

I'm not one for making speeches (at least not for myself), so let me just say: thank you. Thank you for all your support and encouragement, for reading and linking to my stuff, and for coming back. Blogging has been a great adventure for me for those past eighteen months. I've always enjoyed writing, and I've always enjoyed politics. Blogging allowed me to combine these two passions and reach tens of thousands of people around the world. Most importantly, the traffic has not been one way only. It's getting to know so many of you - via other blogs, via comments, via email - that has made it so very worthwhile. It has not been an easy year for me this year, but you all made it better.

You have to accept this collective appreciation, since there are too many of you to thank individually - but everything I said on the occasion of my first blogiversary a few months ago still stands.

And, as a nice bonus, you've all managed to clock up three million visits on this site since it started on March 31, 2004. I didn't expect that would happen before my retirement, so it definitely made my day.

I'm signing off, but the war goes on. I rejoice in the scope and quality of the blogosphere that is able to provide you with so many alternatives to my blog. I'm sure you'll enjoy much good reading in the future. My thoughts will remain with all those on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom and democracy.

So, thanks again, God bless, and keep in touch.


Good news from Iraq, part 35 

Note: Also available from "The Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. As this is my last contribution to the series, an extra special thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman, as well as to countless readers and bloggers for your support and encouragement right from the beginning.

Note 2: This is not the last Good News briefing.

A team led by Joe Katzman (Winds of Change.NET) has gathered to continue them. Many bloggers have just joined in. So has the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a bipartisan Washington think-tank that includes more than a few names you'd recognize.

This is the new site. Bookmark it!

They're off to a great start, and I hope you'll continue to support them by regularly visiting and linking their briefings. Meanwhile, the new site is still developing, and the team is still growing. Regular contributors, sysadmin talent, and even just tips on stories of interest will help them grow and succeed.

It has been almost a year and a half since I first started compiling the often under-reported and overlooked stories of positive developments in Iraq and Afghanistan. With some major changes and events having occurred in both countries over that time, and with the constitutional referendum in Iraq and a parliamentary election in Afghanistan still ahead, it is time to say good-bye. I have no doubt that good news will continue to come out of the Middle East and Central Asia - and is likely to continue to lose prominence to stories of violence, mayhem, dislocation and crisis - but a change in my work circumstances will unfortunately prevent me from chronicling such good news in the future. The trend has been set, however, and I'm sure that others will rise up to the task of filling the news void and redressing the imbalance of negativity.

Big thanks go to James Taranto, the editor of "The Opinion Journal", who alone of the mainstream media had the courage, imagination and foresight to provide the forum for the good news. If the American press and networks had more editors like James, I'm certain that such a large proportion of the public would not be getting increasingly disillusioned with their news providers. As they don’t, it's a huge loss, both for the media and for the public. Big thanks also to all the readers for your support and encouragement.

I do not know how Iraq and Afghanistan will look like in five or ten years time, but I hope for the best. If, despite all the horrendous problems and challenges, both countries manage to make it through and join the international family of normal, decent and peaceful nations, it will be all due to the amazing spirit and commitment of the majority of their people, and to the crucial help of the Coalition members, both those in and those out of uniform. If that does indeed happen, many will wonder just exactly how these two countries, seemingly only in the news when the blood flows, have ever managed to get there. But you, who have read these round-ups for the past year and a half, will not be surprised.

So here's another two weeks' worth of stories from Iraq that the great majority of news consumers will rarely get to hear.

SOCIETY: A new opinion poll from Iraq paints a picture of the population that is politically aware, eager to make democratic choices, and optimistic about the future:
A public opinion poll conducted by the Iraqi Center for Development and International Dialogue concerning the constitutional process and the next elections showed that 88 percent of polled Iraqis intended to participate in the referendum on the proposed permanent constitution. The poll also showed that 6 percent of them have not decided whether to participate in the referendum or not and 5 percent did not wish to participate. While 30 percent of the sampled Iraqi citizens supported the establishment of a federal system, 84 percent expressed their support for women's rights...

The poll surveyed the opinions of 3,667 people, aged 18 years and older. They represented 3,708 families in the Governorates of Al-Sulaymaniyah, Ninawa, Al-Ta'mim, Diyala, Baghdad, Babil, Karbala, Wasit, Salah-al-Din, Al-Najaf, Al-Qadisiyah, Al-Muthanna, Dhi Qar, Maysan, and Al-Basrah. Males represented 53 percent of the sample and females 47 percent. The results of the poll also showed that 88 percent believed in the need to hold the referendum under the present circumstances, 10 percent did not believe so, 2 percent did not respond, and 10 percent did not view the referendum as something important. About 34 percent of the sample thought that Iraq was not an independent and sovereign country, 23 percent felt that the constitution did not occupy their attention or fulfill their aspirations, and 13 percent said that the country did not need democracy at this time. About 61 percent thought that the security situation is inappropriate and 27 percent felt that foreigners were forcing them to amend the constitution at this time.

The results of the poll showed that 40 percent of the 5 percent who did not wish to participate in the referendum were not interested in politics, 26 percent were not interested in the constitution, 17 percent did not feel that the security situation was good to hold the referendum, and 12 percent thought that the time was not appropriate for writing the constitution. About 30 percent supported federalism, 45 percent supported the establishment of a central government, 23 percent a federal government, 16 percent a decentralized government, and 13 percent did not express an opinion. This confirms the relative closeness between those who want a central government and those who want a decentralized government.

About 42 percent supported the need to make Islam a main source of legislation and 24 percent supported the need to make Islam the only source of legislation. About 13 percent thought that no laws that contradict Islam should be enacted and 14 percent thought that Islam is one of the sources of legislation. About 84 percent supported granting women all freedoms without contradicting Islam and 13 percent believed that the rights of women should be guaranteed through equality with men. About 60 percent supported maintaining the present percentage of women representation in parliament (25 percent), 21 percent thought that women should have 33 percent representation, and 14 percent thought that there should be equal representation of males and females.

Regarding the natural resources, the poll showed that 50 percent believed that the central government should distribute these resources in a relative way and 19 percent believed that an independent body established by the constitution should handle the distribution. About 12 percent supported distributing the resources according to percentages specified by the constitution between the federal government and the regions, while 8 percent believed that the government of the region that possesses the resources should distribute them. About 52 percent thought the constitution should be impartial, establishing the basis for justice and equality. While 35 percent thought this was extremely possible, 5 percent did not think so and 7 percent did not respond to the question. About 78 percent of the polled citizens expected the security situation to improve after the approval of the constitution, 15 percent expected the situation to remain the same, and 2 percent believed that the security situation would become worse. About 85 percent of the polled Iraqis showed interest in the next elections and 10 percent did not show any interest. About 82 percent responded that the purpose of the next elections is to elect a new parliament, 6 percent said it is to choose local councils, and 2 percent said it is to choose a national assembly for the Kurdistan region.
And here you can read about another, less scientific but far more ranging survey conducted by the Civil Alliance for Free Elections, a conglomerate of 76 NGOs, an outcome of more than 1,000 workshops attended by 43,000 Iraqis in all of the country’s 18 governorates between July and August. Among some of the results:
Almost 44 per cent of survey participants said they favoured federalism, while about 35 per cent preferred a more limited role for local and regional governments. About 21 per cent said they wanted a centralised authority.

Still, more than 68 per cent said they wanted the central government to be in charge of the revenues from natural resources, namely oil, and distribute it to the regions. Under the draft constitution, control of these funds will be shared between Baghdad and the regional authorities...

The survey showed that nearly 65 per cent of Iraqis supported Islam being cited as a source of legislation – in other words not the only one - as set out in the draft constitution. Reflecting the position of more religious Shia and Sunnis, just over a quarter said that it should be “the main source”, while around nine per cent said they would rather religion had no influence on lawmaking.

As for the draft constitution’s requirement for 25 per cent of lawmakers to be women, around 35 per cent of respondents agreed with this and just over 37 per cent preferred the figure to be higher. Ten per cent said they did not welcome female participation at all.
As to the constitution draft itself, American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad provides a good summary:
The draft enshrines values and structures that should aid Iraq's democratization, as well as its lasting stability, freedom and prosperity. It contains an enlightened synthesis of universal values and Iraqi traditions. It states that no law may be enacted that contradicts "the established provisions of Islam," "the principles of democracy," and "the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this constitution" -- rights that are far-reaching. This formula requires that Islam be interpreted to be consistent with democracy and human rights.

The draft states that all Iraqis are equal before the law regardless of "gender, race, ethnicity, origin, color, religion, sect, belief or opinion, or economic and social status." It protects the rights of personal privacy; the sanctity of the home; public trials for criminal defendants; and the freedoms of movement, expression, association and political organization. It states that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty. It prohibits extrajudicial punishment, group punishment, property seizures without compensation, and intellectual, political, or religious coercion.

The draft guarantees women the right to participate fully in public life. In fact, it requires that electoral laws ensure that women hold no less than 25 percent of seats in the legislature. It prohibits all "forms of violence and abuse in the family" and "tribal traditions that are in contradiction with human rights." It accords Iraqi citizenship to all children of Iraqi mothers -- a provision that is revolutionary in this region...

While some leaders wished to make Islam the source of legislation, the draft makes Islam a fundamental source of legislation. At the same time, the draft guarantees "the freedom of belief and religious practice" and holds that "each individual shall have the freedom of thought, conscience, and faith"...

The draft postpones any decision to create federal regions beyond the Kurdish area until the next Assembly is seated, a key Sunni Arab demand. Because Sunni Arabs will participate in the December election, they will participate in deciding this issue.

The draft also provides a balanced solution on the control of resources in the context of federalism. It states that oil and gas resources belong to the people; that the federal government, with regional and provincial governments, will manage current resources and equitably share revenue; and that together they will develop a strategy for managing future discoveries based on market principles and encourage investment.
As Khalizad says, "A central achievement of this process is that the draft came about through negotiation, not the exercise of violence. In essence, we can say that politics has broken out in Iraq."

The Sunnis are getting increasingly motivated for participation in the electoral process. This from Samarra:
During Friday sermons, mosque Imams in Samera (120 km north of Baghdad) have called the residents of the city to hurry in registering at the registration centers under the supreme commission for the elections to participate in the coming plebiscite on the constitution and the elections following it.

Sheikh Mahmoud Al Saud, preacher of Al Nour Mosque in the center of Samera, said, "Assisting in the achievement of the works of the employees of the supreme commission for the elections is a sacred duty that everyone should perform." Sheikh Al Saud described the process of voting on the plebiscite as "a crucial mission." He confirmed the full support on behalf of the religious institutions for participation in the coming voting.
And Dyiala province:
During the Sunni Conference in Diala province, Dr. Adnan Al Dailami, president of the conference of Sunnis in Iraq stressed the necessity of cooperation, refraining from personal inclinations, rejecting sectarianism and racism, calling for the unity of Iraq and Iraqis, participating in the plebiscite on the constitution and the elections as they would define the identity of Iraq, and cooperating with the general commission for the elections...

At the end of the conference, the attendees have approved a statement in which they called the province residents to necessarily participate in the plebiscite on the constitution... The conference was attended by a number of clans' chiefs, clergymen and the notables of the city.
The voter registration has been extended by one week in Al Anbar province to give even more Sunnis an opportunity to enroll to vote. The results have been very encouraging:
Election officials tallied figures from three Sunni-dominated provinces, where the voter registration was extended a week in preparation for the Oct. 15 nationwide referendum on the new constitution.

"Turnout was unbelievable and people were very enthusiastic, especially in Fallujah and Ramadi," said Farid Ayar, an electoral commission spokesman in Baghdad. Those cities are Sunni insurgent bastions in Anbar province, which stretches west from Baghdad to the Syrian, Jordanian and Saudi borders.

The large voter signup suggests minority Sunnis are mobilizing to defeat the draft charter, a marked tactical shift from January, when their boycott of the parliamentary election handed control of the 275-member National Assembly to Shiites and Kurds...

The very Sunni clerics who railed last January against an election "under foreign military occupation" are now urging their people to take part in both the referendum and the parliamentary balloting in December...

In Anbar and Salahuddin approximately 75 percent of eligible voters signed up by the Wednesday deadline, election officials said, while cautioning the tally was not final. The percentage figure changed throughout the day as more regions reported.

In Diyala, a Sunni majority province where the count was final, 417,000 of 750,000 eligible voters, or 56 percent, registered, according to Amir Latif, director of the provincial elections commission.
And even the insurgents are planning to swap bullets for ballots: "The armed group of 'The Islamic Army in Iraq', which has announced its responsibility for the kidnapping and assassination of several foreigners in Iraq, has called Iraqis to participate in the plebiscite on the draft of the Iraqi permanent constitution and vote with 'No'."

But politics and political divisions are not the be-all end-all of Iraq, as just one recent example shows: "The Sunni Scholars Council of Falluja has called on the people to donate blood for the Shia victims in the al-Kadhimiya neighborhood, where more 850 people were killed and 323 wounded. The Imam of al-Furkan mosque said that they would like to express the fraternity between the different sects of Iraq and that what happened to the Shia yesterday is a calamity to all of the Iraqi people. Hundreds of people rushed to the hospitals to donate their blood and tens of ambulances made shuttle trips to Baghdad carrying the blood." More on that here.

If the tragic story has its hero, his name is Othman Ali Al Ubaidy, a Sunni from Al Adhamia, who had rescued six Shias from the river before himself drowning (more here). The disaster has also brought out the best of the living:
Hundreds of Iraqis poured into a donation centre in Baghdad on Sunday to offer financial help to families of the victims of Wednesday's stampede.

Many Iraqis, increasingly frustrated at living with everyday violence, have been mourning the victims of the stampede on A'imma bridge, which killed at least 1,005 people mostly women and children.

"We were in pain over the loss of hundreds of our citizens and we decided to turn our grief into benefit," said Tha'ir al- Haznawi, a main organiser of the fundraising scheme.

He said many people had responded especially after state television channel Iraqiya agreed to host the donation centre in its offices near Haifa Street, once a stronghold of insurgents, and devoted almost constant live coverage to the event.

"On the first day, we managed to fill one box with cash donations. On the second day word spread and we managed to fill three large donation boxes," he told Reuters.

Eight-year-old Humam Jasim, himself a survivor of the stampede, was wrapped in an Iraqi flag and carried three cuddly toys. He waited in line to donate his 3,000 Iraqi dinars ($2) pocket money and his favourite toys.

"I came here to give for the martyrs. When I saw this programme on TV I told my older brother that I wanted to go and donate my toys to the children," said Jasim.

Many government ministers and officials have donated one month's salary to the victims' families. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who turned up at the centre on Saturday, pledged to donate all his pay-cheques until the end of the year.

The largest single private donation came from an Iraqi living in the U.S. city of Seattle, who donated $17,000, organisers said, and from Defence Minister Saadoun Dulaimi, who donated the same amount.
The Iraqi National Olympic Committee is now honoring Iraqi champion swimmers who participated in rescuing the drowning people from the river.

With only a few weeks left before the referendum, the United States will stay on the sidelines as a facilitator:
Seeking to promote the ratification of the proposed Iraqi constitution without placing more of an American stamp on the process, the Bush administration is planning to encourage its approval while avoiding a specific endorsement or outright campaigning on its behalf, according to White House officials.

The officials said Tuesday that the United States could help with printing and distributing copies of the proposed constitution throughout Iraq, continue to encourage international support for ratification of the document, press other countries in the region to use their influence with Sunnis in particular to take part in the voting and help the Sunni Arabs talk to Shiite and Kurdish leaders about how the document could be refined.

"We will continue to be a voice and a facilitator of greater understanding between the three communities," said Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser. "But it is their document and they will have to take the lead on this point."
Italy, on the other hand, will be training election workers:
Italy will invest 2 million euro [$2.5 million] for Iraq's upcoming elections, training the local election staff, as it did in the January 2005 elections. The funds, which will be given by Italy's foreign ministry to the UN's election body, will be used for the 15 October referendum on the draft constitution and the 15 December parliamentary elections.

The training seminars for local election staff will be held in Jordan in September, said the ministry's foreign affairs' spokesman Pasquale Terracciano

In September and October, the Iraqi task force of the Italian foreign ministry will also develop a series of programmes for the training of Iraqi journalists and communication experts.
The electoral commission is meanwhile bringing together the heads of all the Iraqi political parties for a conference to discuss the election process. On the streets, there is sufficient interest and ethusiasm about the constitution, that the news vendors were selling pirated copies of the document before the draft has been officially printed by the authorities.

USAID has been assisting constitutional education:
Over the past few weeks, a USAID supported International Advisory Group of 40 constitutional and legal experts worked with members of the Constitutional Committee. Visiting experts continue to meet with the Committee to offer technical advice and produce papers, upon request, on federalism, reconstruction and economic development, and options regarding outstanding issues of disagreement. Other experts have offered on-line advice on the constitutional drafting process.

The Constitutional Dialogue program launched in early July has reached 93,494 Iraqis through some 3,610 dialogues. The program will now transition to the Constitutional Education Program that will ensure Iraqis are aware of the content of the document and the meaning of key legal concepts and issues prior to the national referendum...

USAID representatives recently recruited 180 election monitors for the Voter Registration Observer Program which will monitor the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq’s (IECI) new voter registration process until the end of August. Stationed at nearly 550 voter registration centers throughout Iraq, they will report daily on new registrations and voter correction activities in rotating locations...

USAID hosted the "Women in the Constitution Conference" earlier this month which brought together 456 women from all 18 governorates to discuss the inclusion of women’s rights in the constitution...

Three women’s organizations, supported by a USAID grant program, are educating Iraqis on issues related to women and the constitution. For the past six weeks, the organizations have developed an extensive series of newsletters, activities, and seminars. While additional workshops will continue through August, preliminary numbers show that the three groups have reached over 1,500 individuals from most of the Iraqi governorates.
In the overall election education campaign (link in PDF): "Public education on the Constitutional Process enters the next stage. To ensure that a maximum number of Iraqis will be introduced to the constitution and its key issues prior to the national referendum, USAID partners and local NGOs outlined a program expected to reach between 150,000 and 200,000 Iraqis between the end of August and early October. The program will train 500 facilitators to organize small discussion sessions and large town-hall meetings. In large meetings, local officials and judges will be invited to participate in panel discussions in which the audience will be able to directly ask how they plan to enforce the content of the proposed constitution." USAID is also educating through TV:
The Our Constitution television program helps broaden the national debate on constitutional issues. Since Our Constitution was first shown on July 10, millions of Iraqis have tuned into the prime-time program offering discussions among experts and Constitutional drafters followed by studio debates on key issues from the role of women to the question of an Islamic state. The program’s 32 episodes are produced in the presence of a studio audience of up to 80 people. Subsequent episodes will include live links to audiences in studios across the country. Al-Iraqiya covers virtually all of Iraq through an extensive network of TV stations and satellite coverage.
The UN Office of Constitutional Support has also been assisting in constitution drafting. Read this profile of one of the people involved, the appropriately named New Zealand lawyer Michele Law.

All throughout Iraq in the past few months literally myriads of meetings, conferences, seminars and campaigns were conducted to debate and inform both the policy-makers and the people about the constitution. This is just one example:
Colgate professor Stanley Brubaker, who was in Iraq this summer for a conference about the nation’s constitution, is “cautiously optimistic” that the document hammered out after months of contentious negotiations will be approved in an upcoming referendum.

Brubaker, who teaches political science and directs Colgate’s Washington D.C. Study Group, attended the conference held July 13-16 in Erbil (also referred to as Hawler) in Kurdistan, Iraq.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Hudson Institute, a public policy research organization based in Washington, and the University of Salahaddin, which is in Erbil.

Brubaker and five other scholars of the U.S. Constitution gave eight presentations on various aspects of the American constitutional experience.

“The basic idea was to offer those involved in the process of forming the Iraq constitution insights from the American experience. There are some interesting parallels involving questions of federalism, the relation of religion to the state, and the perennial problems of how to build a stable and decent democracy,” said Brubaker.

“The Iraqis seemed quite interested in learning from our experience -- both our mistakes and our successes,” he added.

About 60 Iraqis attended the conference, including members of parliament, several of whom were on the constitution drafting committee, the mayor of Baghdad, Iraqi judges, members of the Kurdish parliament, and University of Salahaddin faculty members.
Meanwhile, several foreign NGOs are helping to grow the civil society: "Italian Consortium of Solidarity, in partnership with Oxfam-GB and Church World Service-CWS , is carrying out a capacity building project to assist Iraqi NGOs. The project aims at strengthening the managerial skills of staff of grassroots Iraqi civil society organizations and improving their effectiveness in the humanitarian actions. A further intended outcome is to enhance their ability to advocate for the basic rights of the Iraqi population."

Iraqi publishing industry grows without the government censorship:
Under Saddam Hussein, government censors scrutinized manuscripts and shut down publishers if they were critical of the government.

Printers of underground books and magazines, if discovered, disappeared into Saddam's prisons.

Today, the censors have vanished and publishers are free to distribute what they please. The result has been an explosion of demand for foreign books, particularly textbooks and books on technology. Books by moderate Islamic political reformers are also popular, says Saad al-Rubaie, owner of the Al-Nahda bookstore in Baghdad.

Translations of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) are popular and relatively cheap, he says.

But Iraq's book publishers, who once churned out political tomes such as Saddam's speeches, are struggling to compete with the flood of foreign books now available.

"The best chance of making money is in the time of election campaigns. Now it's slow," says Taha Ja'afer, who owns the Al-Munjid publishing house in central Baghdad. Political parties and organizations buy pamphlets, posters and circulars.

There are also dozens of newspapers of differing political stripes published throughout the country. Ja'afer's company publishes 15 newspapers.

The government still controls four book publishers, but most of the action is with the private publishers, who don't work under restrictions. The state printers, now affiliated with the Culture Ministry, must have works approved by a committee that judges their literary merit.

Under Saddam, the Information Ministry had to approve manuscripts. Ja'afer, a poet, once tried getting a book of love poems published. It was denied because it made a reference to a prison, even though he was referring to the "prison of his heart," he says. "It was so difficult getting approval," Ja'afer says.
British archivists have meanwhile helped their Iraqi colleagues to recover some of the old cultural heritage:
On 5 September Dr Saad Eskander, Director General of the Iraqi National Library and Archive was presented microfiche and microfilm of rare Iraqi books and archives by the British Embassy Baghdad in the presence of Maysoon al Dumlaji, Deputy Minister of Culture.

The identification of requirements was carried out by the British Library which has been working with the Iraq National Library and Archive to reconstruct its lost collections. The British Library had previously collated an outline list of relevant items in its collection. With funding from the British Government, copies of key documents have now been reproduced and supplied to Iraq on microfilm/fiche . The British Library has established good links with the Iraqi National Library, which they are continuing to develop for the future.
Iraq's new news agency is starting to spread its wings:
A fledgling Internet news service in Iraq called Aswat al-Iraq (Voices of Iraq) plans to expand services in September and begin charging for subscriptions by early 2006, moving it closer to its goal of operating as an independent and profitable news agency.

The Internet service currently is funded by the Reuters Foundation, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation. Its Web site publishes 600 news items a month, mostly in Arabic, which are the work of 30 paid staff writers and reporters from three founding-member newspapers -- al Sabah al Jadid, al Mannarah, and al Mada.

Within the next few weeks, the service will offer news in Kurdish, said Jo Weir, project manager for the Reuters Foundation. By the end of September, an English language desk will be up and running. She said Aswat al-Iraq's supporters believe news in English will attract international media to pay for the service. Early in 2006, the agency will begin charging money for subscriptions. Aswat al-Iraq plans a business news service and an oil reporting service, both of which it hopes will be of interest to foreign media. It is from its English-language service that the agency expects to earn almost all its income.
Meanwhile, USAID continues to train journalists (link in PDF):
Twenty-two Iraqi journalists who make up the core staff of the future National Iraq News Agency (NINA) recently completed a reporting, writing, and editing workshop. The training tasked the NINA staff with managing news reporting from a mock agency environment: the Internet café at a Baghdad hotel transformed into a newsroom. Workshop participants also learned about prudent use of resources and other core editorial management issues. Additional training programs, for both the core staff and additional members, will continue throughout August and September.

NINA – the country’s first private and independent national news agency – is scheduled to start operating in early October. The first major event to be covered by NINA staff is the constitutional referendum on Oct. 15.
In the south, a new media NGO is aiming to foster better media in free, democratic Iraq:
An Iraqi media NGO has been recently established in the southern city of Basra, with an aim to improve and develop local media discourse.

A group of six Iraqi journalists founded the Afaq Media Forum (AMF), which works under the premise that media plays a crucial role in scrutinising and strengthening democratic institutions. Afaq in Arabic means horizons.

"We found it very necessary to establish AMF in response to the fact that Iraqi journalists and media suffer from serious problems," said Adil al-Thamiry, chairman of AMF's executive board.

"Workers in this field have been under the influence of a totalitarian regime. The Iraqi journalists' discourse is in need to be credible in order to be effective."

The AMF put forward a number of proposals to the government, including building a stronger independent press, increasing journalists' participation in public policy and developing a sustainable network of informed journalists.

Promoting international action to defend press freedom, helping young journalists to improve skills and increasing women's participation in the media were other recommendations.
A new radio show is providing a regional first:
The two radio hosts, Majda and Majid, a chattering woman-and-man team, said the subject for the next hour would be childbearing and motherhood, from the first flush of pregnancy to the tribulations of labor.

Majda al-Juburi and Ruwayda al-Khafayie leading a talk show in the Baghdad dialect of Arabic on Al Mahaba. The title means "Cup of Tea"...

The rest of the recent talk show, called "Cup of Tea," went much like that, with the two hosts trading barbed insights.

The station broadcasting it, Radio Al Mahaba, on 96 FM here in central Iraq, could well be the only one in the Arab world devoted to women's issues, its founders say. Started with United Nations financing by an American woman and an Iraqi refugee from western New York, it falls between National Public Radio and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

The station broadcasts programs about marriage, divorce, careers, religion, the constitution, physical abuse and dress codes, all from the perspective of women. The shows are especially sharp-edged in a country where Shiite militiamen in the south harass women without head scarves and religious leaders in Baghdad have pushed for a greater role for Islam - and, consequently, a potential rollback of women's rights - in the new constitution.
In one sign of monumental changes that have taken place in Iraqi society over the past three years, this instead of the torture rooms: "A source at the Ministry of Education said the detainees, especially the juveniles, will be allowed to take part in the final exams to enable them to make use of the democratic experience in deciding their future."

Lastly, baseball continues to grow in Iraq:
The opening pitch of the Northern Regional Junior Baseball Tournament last March was a slow ball that struck the dirt an inch behind home plate, bounced into the catcher's face mask and knocked him to the ground.

For anyone focusing on details, like skill, it may have seemed an inauspicious start. But to the players and the two dozen spectators, most of whom did not know the difference between a ball and a strike, the moment underscored something far more important: Baseball had come to Iraq.

Founded in the fall of 2003 by Ismael Khalil Ismael, a shop owner in Baghdad, the national league has grown to 26 full-fledged baseball teams in 18 provinces stretching from Nineveh in the north to Basra in the south. Using hand-me-down gloves and other cast-off equipment, much of it donated from the United States, the teams play on sandy lots, rutted pastures and soccer pitches.

"I'm doing it for the history of Iraq," he declared.
There are many problems, including infighting among sports authorities, threats from those who don't like "an imported sport", and lack of resources - with Ismael reluctant to ask the Americans for help so as not to become a target of terrorists. Still, this is a perfect opportunity for some grassroots baseball players-to-baseball players support across the world.

ECONOMY: The authorities are working on reviving the economy: "Osama Abdel Aziz, Iraqi industry minister, announced the privatization of the state owned companies within a plan that would be in force and would continue for several years. Abdel Aziz said that the ministry has started in the application of a program for encouraging the private sector, investors and craftsmen to execute industrial projects all over Iraq. The Iraqi minister has pointed out that several companies that were suspended due to the last incidents witnessed in Iraq, such as the former military industries company, have been re-operated and became efficient through converting the type of these companies and making use of the cadres working in them."

Speaking of privatization, USAID has been educating people who will be educating the public:
Twenty-six members of Iraqi economic journalist associations recently attended a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) training on privatization.

The journalists, representing one-third of the business reporters in the country, learned about the significance of privatization and explored its development and implementation in other countries.

With a strengthened understanding of privatization, these journalists can better communicate their expectations and insights regarding privatization to business leaders and the public. As a result of the training, the journalists can identify which countries have successfully undergone privatization and better convey its long-term advantages, including business growth and long-term job creation.
USAID is also training various government employees:
USAID recently conducted a customs workshop for the Iraqi business community. More than 65 members of Iraqi business associations, consumer organizations, and women’s business groups attended the customs, tariff and trade workshop in Baghdad to learn about the modern role of the Customs Department in facilitating trade and law enforcement...

Trade experts from USAID’s IZDIHAR project recently led a three-day training seminar in Baghdad on the specialized topic of Trade in Services for 27 Iraqi government officials. The seminar, which detailed how Iraq will need to make commitments to the General Agreement on Trade in Service (GATS) in order to join the WTO, was hosted by the Ministry of Trade and attended by officials from other Iraqi ministries, including Labor, Finance, Higher Education, Health, Municipalities, Justice, and the Central Bank.
The Jordanian Investment Board, meanwhile, will be cooperating with Iraqi Ministry of Planning to share its expertise in attracting foreign investment and laws and regulations relating to investment.

The government administration is benefiting from the introduction of new systems:
The Iraq Financial Management Information System (FMIS) is online, with 41 of the 54 units in the Ministry of Finance able to access the system.

FMIS is an automated networked accounting and budget execution system, allowing online access and a real-time centralized database for all Iraqi spending agencies.

Already, 35 agencies have used the system to enter previous expense and revenue data, and have reconciled these with the Certified Trail Balances.

Recommendations have already been developed for expanding the system to all remaining 128 spending agencies in the Ministry of Finance by the end of the year.
Major Iraqi bank has slashed interest rates to attract investors:
The state-owned Industrial Bank has cut the interest on loans it extends to Iraqi entrepreneurs by more than half.

The bank’s director, Abdulwahab Habib, said the rate has been reduced to 9% from 20.

The move, he said, was part of government incentives to encourage domestic industry and lure Iraqi entrepreneurs to start up new businesses.

“We want to regain pubic confidence in this sector (the bank) and we promise our clients that further interest rate cuts on our loans are possible,” Habib said in an interview.

Iraqi entrepreneurs are reported to be interested in setting up new businesses or refurbishing the existing ones despite mounting violence and security.
There's also some help for one of Iraq's newer banks:
The board of directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has approved $150 million in financing for a U.S. trust facility established to support efforts by the new Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) to rebuild the Iraqi economy.

OPIC’s financing, which includes an initial $70 million financing transaction coordinated by Citigroup, will guaranty financing by TBI to foreign exporters involved in reconstruction projects. By supporting the bank’s reimbursement obligations, the trust will facilitate the provision of goods and services vital to Iraq’s reconstruction after decades of international isolation.
Up north, Kurdistan launches its biggest tourism project:
Farouq Al Mulla Abdullah, chairman of 'Asia Al Kurdia' company, based in Al Selaimania (350 km northeast of Baghdad) has launched its tourist project under the name of 'City of Beauty', which is considered as the biggest tourist project in the province.

The project consists of a hotel of 28 floors (5 stars) and modern tourist facilities, constructed on a hill in the middle of Al Selaimania city, at the cost of 60 million dollars.

Mustafa Tajir, chairman of the first telecommunication company in Iraq (Asiacell) said, "The lack of investment projects in Iraqi Kurdistan necessitates our hard work to attract foreign investments to the region, through setting investment plans that suit the needs of the region." He confirmed, "The government of the region encourages such investments and offers all legal facilities, for the purpose of attracting foreign investments to the region. As for us (Asiacell), we rely on foreign expertise in establishing our investment projects in the region. As for the finance of these projects, it is self-finance."
Indeed, the Kurdistan is becoming a tourist mecca for Iraqis from the south:
Iraq may not be a likely destination for international tourists for a little while yet, but in the past few months tens of thousands of Iraqis have made their way to its northern provinces in search of a relaxing break.

As the British head to Spain to find sun, and young Americans to Mexico for legal alcohol, Iraqis drive north to Kurdistan lured by a selling point that rarely appears in Western holiday brochures: the opportunity not to get shot.

In a country where there is an average of 80 shootings, bombings and mortar attacks every day, the four northern Kurdish provinces have been a haven of relative calm since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

One of the most popular destinations is Lake Dukan, a giant reservoir in the mountains of Suleimaniya province where altitude also provides respite from the summer’s stultifying heat. Yesterday nearly every hotel room had been booked weeks in advance.

On the surrounding roads families picnicked, while at the lake’s edge a procession of cars drove up throughout the afternoon to unload their cargoes of over-excited children.

The males and young stripped down to their underwear to jump in and start splashing each other. The women sat preparing food.

"I can not put into words what I feel to be here," said Bekal Shakir, 20, as she cradled her newborn daughter. "It is wonderful - quiet and full of water. At home I feel myself to be in prison. I am always stressed and can often lose my temper. So many tragic things happen. But here I feel a different person, I feel happy."

There are no government figures for how many tourists have visited Kurdistan this summer, but tourism officials believe numbers have increased by 25 per cent.

The Kurdish government has approved 50 new hotels and ordered the printing of guidebooks in Arabic, English and Kurdish.
In latest communications developments throughout Iraq:
Globecomm Systems, a global provider of end-to-end value-added satellite-based communications solutions, has been awarded a one-year contract extension by the Iraqi Telecom & Post Company (ITPC). Through its partners, Globecomm will provide international voice services to the ITPC for phone calls originating in Iraq as well as for calls originating outside of the country...

Asia-cell, which currently claims 800,000 subscribers in northern Iraq, has stated that it expects to have 1 million subscribers by December 22. Meanwhile, MTC Atheer and Iraqna each expect to claim 1.5 million subscribers each by the same point. Combined, the three operators will have invested over US$500 million in expanding their networks by the time their current licences expire. Their efforts will see Iraq with a penetration rate of around 13.5% by the end of 2005.
In transport news, regular flights are set to commence in September to Cairo and London. More here:
Tired of long waits at packed airline check-in counters? Looking for an exclusive holiday destination with guaranteed sunshine, unique historical sites and plenty of adventure? Iraqi Airways may have just the answer.

Beginning next month, Iraq’s troubled national carrier is planning to resume direct scheduled flights from Baghdad International Airport (formerly Saddam International Airport) to London for the first time in 15 years to lure visitors to one of the few countries in the world that has no tourists.

According to Salam Maliki, the Iraqi Transport Minister, regular flights to Heathrow will start in the next few weeks in an effort to rehabilitate the travel industry and to end the country’s decade and a half of isolation from the rest of the world.

Already half a dozen enterprising charter airlines, with names such as Magic Carpet and Ishtar, operate limited services out of Iraq, mainly to neighbouring capitals.

But such is the demand by Iraqi expatriates returning home, Iraqis escaping the violence here and foreigners coming for work that a regular intercontinental service is now thought viable.
RECONSTRUCTION: The United Nations finalizes its contribution to reconstruction:
The United Nations has designated a sum of 965 million dollars to execute its seven-pivot plan for the reconstruction and establishment of Iraq.

Ashraf Qazi, special representative of UN secretary general in Iraq, said that the budget, which was designated by the United Nations, has reached 865 million dollars until last July. The budget was obtained from the main sources of agencies, mutual funding and multi-party funding, and the international facility of Iraq reconstruction fund through the United Nations development. The UN team managed to designate a sum of 350 million dollars from the main resources of agencies and other resources, for the purpose of reconstructing the new Iraq.

He pointed out that the total projects' funds, which was approved by the Iraqi credit fund, under the UN development group, has reached more than 516 million dollars until last July. It is hoped that the international community would supply the Iraqi credit fund, under the UN development group, with additional resources to facilitate supporting the efforts exerted by the organization for the reconstruction of Iraq.
The United Nations is also involved in smaller, capacity-building projects:
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission of Western Asia (UNESCWA) has received US $8.7 million from the United Nations Development Group Iraq Trust Fund (UNDG ITF) for three major development projects aimed at serving Iraq at this stage of reconstruction.

- Electronic Networks - The first project, whose primary stages were completed by UNESCWA, involved establishing networking academies. Four of these academies were established in major Iraqi universities: Baghdad, Mansour, Mosul, and Basra. The centres are considered an important link through which college participants can interact with others locally, regionally and internationally. They can send and receive information through advanced networks. The success of this stage, which cost US $1 million and reaped the CISCO Systems “Against All Odds” Award, led to tasking UNESCWA with the completion of the 2nd stage, i.e. the establishment of local and regional networking academies throughout Iraq, at a cost of US $4 million.

- Training Programs - The second project involves training services provided by UNESCWA over the past year for senior staff at Iraqi ministries for the purpose of capacity-building. A series of training workshops were executed in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aimed at improving the skills of senior administrative staff at the Iraqi Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation in various sectors such as strategic planning, institution-building, task force creation, leadership and information delivery. A workshop was also done for senior staff at the Ministries of Housing and Construction, Municipalities and Public Works, and the Baghdad Mayorality. In cooperation with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), UNESCWA is executing four training workshops for municipal employees from Erbil and Basra on municipal structure, modern administrative techniques, and providing services to citizens within the city concerned. UNESCWA has also embarked on plans to train employees from the Ministries of Justice and of Human Rights and to prepare a series of other training workshops for the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works for the coming year. A total of US $1 million have been earmarked for this project.

- Technology to Fight Poverty - About a month ago, the third project on “Smart Communities” was adopted, with US $2.7 million set aside for this purpose. In this project, UNESCWA will assist poor and marginalized segments of society in the urban and rural areas of Iraq through the establishment of social development centres that provide and facilitate the use of appropriate technology to assist economically by creating jobs and marketing products at a level acceptable to the consumer.
Numerous reconstruction and infrastructure projects are underway across Iraq. For example, the authorities are in the planning stages for the construction of eight new bridges throughout the provinces at the cost of 100 billion dinars ($68 million). On a smaller scale, after some mishaps, Baghdad's Sadr City is getting a new fire station: "
Construction has restarted on Sadr City’s $902,000 Al Sadr Fire Station project, after a recent construction collapse while concrete was being placed. The project is scheduled for completion in March of 2006. This three-story structure is almost 10,000 square feet and features five bays; three for ladder trucks and two for SUVs. It includes a dormitory area for 20 firefighters, dining room for 30, commercial-grade kitchenette to feed 40 people, a training room for 20, a locker room, a control room and a chief’s office.
USAID is helping with reconstruction on the local level (link in PDF):
USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) supports the transition to a participatory, stable, and democratic country. OTI provides quick-dispensing, high-impact grants meeting critical needs—providing short-term employment, restoring basic government and community services, increasing access to information and communication, and encouraging protection of human rights.

An intermediate school for girls in central Iraq rehabilitated its facilities through an Iraq Transition Initiative (ITI) grant... A health clinic in central Iraq renovated its facilities through an ITI grant... A city council in northern Iraq renovated a local radio station through ITI support... Supported by ITI, a local Iraqi NGO implemented an exchange program for civil society leaders... The Department of Education, with support from the ITI, provided furniture and small generators to a series of schools in a central Iraqi city.
The World Health Organisation is assisting Iraqi health system in a variety of ways:
Instability and insecurity are the harsh realities of modern-day Iraq. Consequently, moving forward is not just an option, it is a necessity, which WHO illustrates in its current support to the Iraq MOH through number of crucial tasks: the extension of the national blood transfusion centre is at 90%; 33 projects to rehabilitate over 50 PHC centers in different governorates are currently under implementation (a number have just recently been completed), with the rehabilitation of more than 15 PHC centers still under bidding and WHO is working to construct 19 training halls around Iraq, one for each governorate (18 are currently under implementation)...

WHO’s responsibilities to the Iraqi people entail not just treating existing diseases, but working to prevent their further spread as well. With that clear goal in mind, WHO has taken a significant number of measures to support the MOH in achieving a healthier Iraq. The outcome of this assistance can be seen in the data on communicable diseases received from CDC-MOH Baghdad...: A total of 2,448 cases of Kala-Azar were reported by all Iraqi governorates during the first six months of 2004, and only 1,240 cases were reported in the same period of 2005, meaning that WHO’s concerted support to the MOH Programme has paid off in roughly a 50% decrease in incidence...

In continuing to support the campaign to educate Iraqi’s on essential health matters, 570 health related and scientific publications and CDs were distributed by WHO to: the Medical Colleges Group in the University of Mosul, the High Institution of Health of Al Batool, the Nuclear Medicine Hospitals and the Environmental Researches & Pollution Control Center in Mosul. A more informed Iraq will help contribute to a healthier Iraq.
A successful vaccination campaign has been conducted throughout the country in collaboration between the Iraqi health authorities and international organisations (link in PDF):
In coordination with the Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH), USAID implementing partners, including UNICEF, launched an emergency polio immunization campaign to prevent the resurgence of the disease. The campaign reached 4.7 million children in five days. Detailed micro-planning and micromapping of all districts was conducted to ensure comprehensive coverage. Preliminary figures from all governorates revealed that 90 percent to 98 percent of the targeted children were vaccinated. Iraq has had no known cases of polio in the past four years, despite recent outbreaks in Yemen, Sudan, Egypt, and other countries.

The MOH, drawing from its experience with similar USAID projects, was able to draw on 9,537 professional and volunteer vaccination teams and 1,615 field supervisors deployed from primary health care (PHC) centers throughout the country. USAID partners assisted the effort, providing 10.2 million vaccine doses along with transportation and logistical support to vaccination teams, field supervisors, and independent monitoring teams. Additionally, 4,222 cartons of safety boxes were delivered to collect used syringes and vaccine vials, an important component in vaccine safety and environmental protection.
Work also continues on construction of health clinic throughout the country:
Construction continues on Primary Health Care clinics across Iraq. Partner teams have announced that they are just over half done in the construction of six private health care (PHC) clinics in four governorates.

Fully functioning PHC clinics are a key component in USAID’s work to build a thriving community health sector. Since the beginning of 2004, USAID has sought to help Iraq shift the focus of the health delivery system from inpatient to primary health care, and to improve performance and motivation throughout the system. As with many other developing countries, PHCs are an integral part of the health care system, providing both curative care and preventive services. To date, USAID and partner firms have renovated over 110 PHC clinics and provided skills training for over 2,500 primary health care providers and 700 physicians. Construction on these six clinics began earlier this year.
The Ministry of Health will be spending $300 million to import needed medicines into Iraq.

In education news, the second batch of Iraqi students are in the United States on the Fulbright Scholarships, which were suspended between 1989 and 2003. Read the profile of one of the students, Muhammod Murad.

Work on water projects continues across the country:
Workers completed rehabilitation of the domestic water network in Sulaymaniyah. This project is to rehabilitate the potable water system, intended to improve the efficiency of the system there by 20 percent. The Maissa potable water system, a $21,000 project in Mosul to replace a failed water line, was also completed. Also this week; the $27 million water treatment project in Balad Rooz District of Diyala Province will provide 40km of transmission piping and increase the water treatment plant’s capacity to serve 72,000 families, compared to the current capacity of 1,136 families. The $958,000 Al Baida water supply project, which will provide a new water line from the water tower in Al Warka to the community of Al Baida, began on the 22nd.

Approximately 25,000 Iraqis in the Dahuk, Babylon and Wassit Provinces will get treated potable water, thanks to three million dollars released for local projects. The projects will upgrade 15 systems, each including water wells, compact potable water treatment plants and pumps. Completion dates for the 15 projects vary, but are all scheduled to be finished by January of 2006.
There is also more resources for the capital: "The Council of Ministers has allocated $100 million for the municipality office of Baghdad to avoid the expected sewage flood next winter. The funds are also meant to treat the water pollution of Sadr City and new Baghdad neighborhoods. Governor of Baghdad Husein al-Tahhan said $70 million will be used to treat the sewage system, $26 million for water, and $3 million for the cleaning of the city."

USAID continues its work in Fallujah (link in PDF):
Several water projects in Fallujah have been completed despite the difficulties of working in a conflict area. With the support of local water officials, [Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance] and its partners have repaired or replaced many major components of the city’s water infrastructure:

- Repairs to a main water treatment plant have increased access to clean water for over 40 percent of the population, providing constant water to connected
houses in five districts.

- More than 5 km of sewage pipe network were repaired or replaced. Local officials have been trained in the proper maintenance of the pipe network system.

- The installation of new pumping and treatment equipment in al Shuhada brought the station to full capacity. Now, over 15,000 people have regular access to treated water.

The repairs represent major steps in renovating the city’s collapsed water infrastructure. Neglect and violence had destroyed major building facilities and left some pumping stations operating below 20 percent capacity. The return of 90% of displaced residents added severe strain to the surviving local infrastructure and threatening a health crisis.
Read also Iraq's Water Resources Minister Latif Rashid speak about the legacy of decades of neglect, the current challenges and prospects for the future.

In electricity news, several projects currently underway will soon benefit residents around the country:
A $13 million electrical distribution project in Sadr City began recently. When complete, an estimated 128,000 people will have a reliable source of electricity. The project includes installation of power lines, 3,040 power poles, 80 transformers, 2,400 street lights and power connections to individual homes, complete with meters.

Construction started on the $3.8 million Al Rayash Electricity Substation project in Al Daur District of Salah Ad Din Province, located between Tikrit and Bayji. The project, which is expected to be completed in early December, aims to provide reliable service to 50,000 Iraqi homes and small businesses.

An electric distribution and street lighting project in Daquq was completed on August 17, providing new overhead distribution lines and street lighting in the community.
And in agriculture, USAID is helping to revive beekeeping and at the same time helping those most in need: "USAID trained 183 Iraqis in beekeeping basics in an effort to help vulnerable groups gain a sustainable income. Participants included 44 widows, 79 poor farmers, and 41 people with disabilities. The relatively inexpensive costs of maintaining an apiary and the sustainable income produced from its products makes beekeeping an ideal income generator for populations with few options. The grant will also provide the necessary equipment to establish apiaries."

HUMANITARIAN AID: The recent bridge disaster has generated a lot of foreign and local assistance for the survivors and victims' families. Kuwiati authorities have donated 12 tons of emergency medical supplies, as well as $10 million. The United Nations has donated emergency grant packages and medical supplies, and World Health Organisation donated drugs, medical supplies and counselling support.

USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is helping those most in need throughout Iraq (link in PDF):
USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is implementing a project in Fallujah to assist the residents of the Al Jubail neighborhood... As of August 15, OFDA has distributed 520 tents, 1,040 blankets and mattresses and 520 kerosene lamps and water tanks in the Al Jubail neighborhood. The installation of latrines is on-going...

In coordination with an Iraqi NGO, OFDA is implementing a project to support 1,000 farming families in 29 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) returnee villages around Kirkuk. Through this project, 750 hectares of land has been prepared for summer vegetable planting. The project also includes the provision of seeds, spare parts for tractors, extension services and advice to the farmers...

With the support of an Iraqi NGO and OFDA, 300 children from various neighborhoods in Kirkuk city participated in a one month series of activities to explore the issues of diversity, participation and communication through activities such as games, drawing and writing stories...

OFDA representatives recently completed a 16 week public health campaign targeting more than 100 villages populated by 2003 conflict IDP returnees in Arbil Governorate.
The plight of the disabled is improving throughout Iraq:
Before the war, people with disabilities in Iraq were often cared for at home. Government-run facilities were run down and understaffed. Families had little confidence in them.

Over the past couple of years, new equipment and better training have changed that. "Families are becoming more aware of the importance of developing skills of the handicapped to enable them to be an active part of society," says Layla Kadhum Aziz, a Labor and Social Affairs Ministry official.

After suffering under years of sanctions and war, schools that help people with disabilities have access to modern equipment from abroad and better training.

Students at the Al-Amal Institute, a school for deaf and mute people in Baghdad, learn on new computers provided by the Japanese government. The teachers have better training.

Students are provided transportation from their homes to the school, which has 208 registered students and 24 teachers. Before the war, families were responsible for transportation.

Students are drilled through basic math and writing problems and use computer workshops to improve communication skills.
An American charity is helping Iraqi schoolchildren:
As children in the United States go back to school, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is preparing a shipment of school supplies for children in Iraq.

Staff at MCC's Material Resources Center in Ephrata will be loading a container with school kits on Monday, Aug. 29. A total of 24,000 school kits will be shipped to Iraq in two containers.

School kits are colorful cloth bags containing notebooks, a ruler and an eraser, along with regular and colored pencils. MCC is currently seeking donations of school kits for children in Sudan, Honduras, Jordan, Zambia and other countries. MCC shipped more than 90,000 school kits to 13 countries last year.

MCC's shipment to Iraq also includes 4,200 relief kits, which contain basic hygiene items. Relief kits will be distributed to Iraqis who have been displaced by urban warfare, and school kits will be distributed to children in low-income neighborhoods of Baghdad. The total value of the shipment is $360,000 U.S. Information on donating school kits, relief kits and other items can be found at www.mcc.org/kits.
Meanwhile, a consortium of church charities, Action by Churches Together International (ACT), is also helping with a variety of projects throughout Iraq:
ACT members, the International Orthodox Charities (IOCC), the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), have been responding to this emergency during the last two years with the support of the ACT Alliance. IOCC is proposing to continue supporting the Iraqi population in rehabilitation and furnishing of schools and institutions for orphan and handicapped children; vocational training for youngsters and distribution of essential food; and hygiene items. MECC is proposing to continue providing food and non food assistance to the Iraqi war refugees located in the Ruwayshed camp in Jordan; and NCA is proposing to continue supporting small infrastructure and water and sanitation projects.

In spite of the security situation, IOCC and NCA have been able to continue working inside Iraq. They have established offices in the country, operating with Iraqi staff that are supported and monitored by regional offices located in neighbouring countries.
A Wisconsin agricultural company is helping troops in Iraq help the local farmers:
With all of the destruction in Iraq, Garst Seed Company, through its donation of corn seed, hopes to plant seeds of growth by assisting U.S. armed forces in an important humanitarian effort through the Amber Waves mission.

Amber Waves began in January 2005, with the 3,500 members of the 155th Brigade Combat Team. Its mission is to establish peace and restore the Iraqi economy by building schools and aiding Iraqi farmers. Amber Waves introduces new methods for raising animals and crops, the biggest source of income for Iraqi farmers.

"As a civilian high school agriculture teacher and a farmer, I understand what these farmers are feeling. They are great people and only want to raise crops and livestock to make a living and provide for their families," says 155 BCT Agriculture Officer, Capt. Jesse J. Cornelius.

Kevin Coey, founder of Farmers Independent Research of Seed Technologies (F.I.R.S.T.), read about the request for crop seeds from Capt. Cornelius in a magazine article. Coey thought that the F.I.R.S.T. program, which is an organization of farmers who evaluate seed products, could assist Iraqi farmers for growing seasons to come.
A soldier from New York state is getting his community to help bring soccer to Iraqi children:
A soldier from Fairport serving in Iraq is spearheading a new youth soccer team in that country. Army Captain John Agnello hopes to reach kids there through the universal language of sport.

140 boxes of soccer equipment are making their way from Western New York to the Middle East for an Iraqi youth soccer program. The donation from Dick's Sporting Goods was coordinated by Captain John Agnello. The field artillery officer from Fairport New York, who is now stationed in Baghdad and spoke to us by phone.

"We're working with this gentleman named Amu Babba who is the, they call him the Pele of Iraq. He started a soccer league, youth soccer league that is going to be linked directly to the Olympic team in the future."

The league will involve several hundred kids, boys and girls ages 10 to 18. These kits contain soccer balls, cones, a clipboard and jerseys. Pretty much everything a coach or team would need to get a program up and running.

Along with donating the equipment, Dick's is paying for shipping. The army recruiting company in Amherst is working with the post office to get the equipment packed up and sent off.

"I think this will mean a lot. It's a very poor country and this gives the children an out you know, something other than violence," says Captain Shane Moyer, the
Army Recruiting Company Commander.

"The president always says you know it's easy to win the war but it's hard to win the Peace and maybe this might help," says Doug Rifenburg, Dick's community marketing coordinator.
And people of Michigan are similarly donating sports items:
Operation Freedom Goal has sent more than 1,000 pieces of sports equipment to Iraq from mid-Michigan, officials say.

State Rep. Roger N. Kahn's drive to donate soccer balls, footballs, basketballs and baseballs, among other sports equipment, to the Middle Eastern nation scored with area residents, his office said.

The summer drive sent the goods in four shipments to Michigan-based soldiers to distribute to Iraqi children...

Kahn said he started the collection drive when U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey J. Allen, a military police officer from Beaverton in Iraq, asked Kahn for help to bring sports equipment to the Persian Gulf nation.
New York state scouts are also helping: "As Rockland students are preparing their notebooks and pencils for the upcoming school year, so are some Iraqi students thanks to donated school supplies from local Scouts. School supplies that Junior Girl Scouts from a Pearl River troop sent to Iraq with Pearl River native Lt. John Reynolds of the Army's 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, were recently distributed to Iraqi children."

THE COALITION TROOPS: To get some idea just exactly what the troops are doing in Iraq besides trying to provide security, read this profile of Col. Larry McCallister and the reconstruction work that the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region South is doing under his command:
One could say Larry McCallister was a cattleman from just outside of Houston down Texas way, and they would be somewhat correct. But then again a person would be much more accurate in saying that he grew up on his parent’s farm where they raised beef cattle in Texas County outside of Houston, Missouri.

An individual could also say that as a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Colonel, he is the quintessential, military professional. In that they’d be right on target.

This slender, physically fit, 49 year old Soldier heads the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region South (USACE-GRS) out of Camp Adder on what was once called Tallil Air Force Base in Iraq. His responsibilities are massive; the accomplishments of his team are huge.

His native State’s reputation for spawning those of dogged determination and hard work, such as President Harry Truman, could not be more appropriate. His is one with well honed skills and a determined drive who capably leads his team in a wide array of Iraqi reconstruction projects.

In not much over a one-year period, the Gulf Region South (GRS) team has completed new or rehabilitation efforts on 309 of 355 schools, are presently working on 60 medical clinics with another 21 projected, and have completed three hospitals while laboring on nine more. In addition to those efforts, they have completed six of 45 oil related projects, 23 of 64 border forts, four of 12 courthouses or prisons, seven of 16 Iraqi military projects, 19 of 29 fire stations and 121 of 198 police stations...

They are also working on four airports, three bridges, have completed three of seven port projects and have finished 3,767 miles of roads. In the pool of water projects, they have finished one of two irrigation efforts, a wastewater treatment facility, 22 of 25 water distribution projects and 26 of 28 water treatment plants.
The troops have succeeded in turning Baghdad's Sadr City into an oasis of peace and quiet:
Crammed into armored Humvees heaving with weapons, Lt. Col. S. Jamie Gayton and his soldiers were greeted by a surprising sight as they rolled into one of Baghdad's poorest neighborhoods.

Men stood and waved. Women smiled. Children flashed thumbs-up signs as the convoy rumbled across the potholed streets of Sadr City.

It was a far more welcoming scene than the urban war zone of a year ago, when U.S. troops and black-clad guerrilla fighters battled in the narrow alleys of the squalid slum.

"We're making a huge impact," Gayton said as his men pulled up to a sewer station newly repaired with U.S. funds. "It has been incredibly safe, incredibly quiet and incredibly secure."

Sadr City has become one of the rare success stories of the U.S. reconstruction effort, say local residents, Iraqi and U.S. officials. Although vast swaths remain blighted, the neighborhood of 2 million mostly impoverished Shiites is one of the calmest in Baghdad. One U.S. soldier has been killed and one car bomb detonated in the last year, the military says.

The improvements are the result of an intense effort in the wake of the street battles last August with fighters loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr. Within a month, U.S. officials decided to make Sadr City a showcase for rebuilding, and increased spending to $805 million in a neighborhood long neglected under
Saddam Hussein.
Read the rest of this very long and informative article, including these lessons:
Unlike elsewhere in Iraq, where the reconstruction fell under the purview of a hodgepodge of U.S. civilian agencies, the American military provided sustained, focused leadership in a limited geographic area. That focus provided the oversight needed to coordinate the military's efforts with those of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Pentagon's Project and Contracting Office, the primary reconstruction agencies.

The rebuilding also held more immediate significance among mid-level commanders in the field than among higher-level Pentagon officials preoccupied with fighting the war. The field officers focused on short-term, high-visibility projects such as cleaning up trash and digging wells, instead of massive new water treatment plants or power stations that take years to build. They also hired local Iraqi contractors, who in turn employed many of the militia members who had once battled U.S. troops.

Finally, unlike the U.S. multinationals contracted to build large infrastructure projects, the military did not have to rely on expensive security contractors for protection. That enabled soldiers to more easily communicate with Iraqis, monitor progress and overcome problems.
The troops are also helping to improve the city of Baqubah:
Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment are helping to bring fresh drinking water, consistent electricity, paved roads, and sewage systems to the city of Baqubah and its suburbs.

Working with Iraqi officials in the Diyala Province, Task Force Liberty Soldiers are planning and producing projects that will improve the Iraqi peoples way of life.

"We’re really focusing in on high impact projects, "said Capt. Neil Orechiwsky, civil-military operations officer of Task Force 1-10 and a native of Philadelphia. "Things like water projects that will impact tens of thousands of Iraqis that have never have fresh water in generations, sewage projects where there has never been sewage before because typically you’ll see sewage running through the streets. We’ve got plans to address sewage in every major district through out the city, fresh water filtration plants, electrical substations things that are going to affect a lot of people over a large amount of area."
The military will also be helping to ensure longer-term water supply for people in and around Basra:
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), two million Iraqi citizens in Basra and the surrounding area will have a constant and reliable source of water when the Basra Sweetwater Canal (SWC) system upgrade is complete.

Two million dollars of the Iraq Reconstruction Program’s $18.4 billion was released this week to purchase electrical equipment for Pump Station Two, to include breakers, a mobile substation, switchgear, wire and towers to provide permanent power to Pump Station Two. All materials are scheduled for full delivery by May 2006.

Pump Station One currently has permanent power, as well as back-up generator capabilities.

USACE describes the Sweetwater Canal—also known as the Um Qasr—as a 238 km man-made canal that begins in Ash Shatrah, 60 km north of An Nasiriya on the Gharraf River, and runs to slightly west of Basra.

The canal "was constructed under difficult conditions with limited resources more than a decade ago. Although originally designed to be fully concrete lined, due to lack of funds and construction materials at the time of construction, 40 percent of the canal is partially unlined and structurally unstable, resulting in leakage, bank collapse, breaches and other issues," USACE Gulf Region Division's LuAnne Fantasia reported.

A second contract will be advertised and awarded to a local Iraqi contractor for construction and installation of the permanent power system for Pump Station Two, with the USACE providing quality assurance oversight.
Read also this story of Barry Stuard and Michael Osborne from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region South’s Diwaniyah Residence Office (DRO), who are working as project engineers to assure the quality of construction on sites.

The troops continue work on the large Najaf Teaching Hospital project: "Phase III of the $10 million Najaf Teaching Hospital project began this week with a symbolic "ground-breaking" ceremony on the second floor of the hospital. This phase of the project includes civil, mechanical, electrical and plumbing rehabilitation throughout the facility. The contract also includes a physicians’ residence building, sewer treatment plant, a morgue, storage and garages, and remodeling of the main entrance to the hospital."

The troops also continue to support Iraqi schools: "Five hundred children in a community west of Al Hillah will start school in a newly renovated school, thanks also to the Coalition forces in the Central-South Division, who finished work on the Abu Gharaq School this week. Other Coalition forces built a playground Aug. 19 for the children of the Tesin Orphanage in Kirkuk. Soldiers built the playground out of discarded auto parts, welding the various parts together. Coalition civil affairs Soldiers spent a busy day with the local leaders, delivering school supplies and then assessing the Musala and Al Sader Primary Schools. Six school construction and renovation projects were started this week, while two others in Dahuk Province were completed."

There are other projects in the pipeline, by the army engineers:
The Corps’ Gulf Region South District (GRS), led by Col. Larry McCallister, is a prime example of the focused, community-by-community effort helping provide better environs in which these children may learn the Iraqi equivalent of “the three Rs: readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmatic.” In Arabic, the equivalent is “ekra, ektom, and hesab.”

The variety of work being done on these schools varies from project to project. The actual determination of how much will be done is made by the local Provincial Regional Development Councils. In some cases, it may be a $24,000 rehabilitation project of adding two rooms and upgrading or building a new toilet as are being done at the Saniyah School for Girls and at the school of Shahama.

As in the Diwaniyah neighborhood of Thalthah, it may be a totally new facility of nine rooms and a rest room facility costing $93,000. In many cases, however, it seems not nearly enough. Having been so stated, Barry Stuard, construction representative, and Michael Osborne, project engineer, both of the Diwaniyah Resident Office, recognize anything is better than what typically existed.

McAllister affirms this sentiment saying, “Yes, there is so much more that we wish we could do but, tragically, virtually all manners of this country’s infrastructure have been unattended for nearly three decades. As generous and giving as the U.S. and its Coalition partners are, there is only so much that can be done at this point.
There are also humanitarian missions:
As part of a Coalition and Iraqi stability-and-support operation, several truckloads of humanitarian assistance rolled out from a forward operating base in southern Baghdad to provide Horajeb residents with basic food items, medical supplies, and recreational items Aug. 17. Toys and soccer balls were donated by friends and family members of the U.S. forces.

The mayor of Muqdadiyah, Coalition forces and Iraqi Soldiers delivered critical medical supplies to the Muqdadiyah Women and Children’s Hospital.
Or like this one:
Iraqi Army and U.S. Soldiers from Task Force Baghdad recently teamed up to bring medical care to residents of the Abu Ghraib district in west Baghdad.

Even as the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division prepares to take over operations from the 256th Brigade Combat Team, they hit the ground running with a humanitarian mission.

Led by the Iraqi Army, the mission provided food and medical aid to Iraqi citizens in the most impoverished area of Abu Ghraib. Soldiers from 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and brigade civil affairs along with medical staff handed out toys and school supplies to children...

A normal mission like this sees about 150 to 300 people in a few hours. However, this particular mission was a huge success, said 1st Lt. Aaron Ashoff, 1/11th ACR civil affairs officer.

"We saw and treated over 500 people today, making this mission a success in every sense of the word. To our knowledge, this is the largest number our brigade has seen to date," said Ashoff, of Pittsburgh.
This Texan servicemen explains his unit's help:
The Civil Affairs Team which includes SPC "Doc" Moses of Brownwood recently received some good news. Funds should soon become available, which will allow the start of the bidding process for projects. In turn, more Iraqis can become involved in rebuilding their country.

"I look forward to seeing the projects get off the ground," SSG Paul Farr said in a newsletter distributed to friends.

"This week we were able to go to different villages and let the medics do their thing. In fact, in one village we visited, the medics saw so many patients -- 65 total -- they ran out of medication. Now I ask you, where else but Iraq could 65 civilians walk into a classroom converted into a treatment room and be seen by two competent medics...

"The medics are doing an outstanding job with limited resources and the people show a lot of gratitude when we visit their villages," Farr said.
And the Air Force has made one life-saving trip easier:
Although Baher, 8, looks like a happy, healthy boy on the outside, the joint Iraqi and U.S. Air Force C-130 aircrew, who gave him the ride of his life Aug. 22, knows he isn’t healthy - at least for now.

Baher and his mother, Afaf, are headed to New Orleans, La., to repair a hole in his heart via a new program called Operation Mend a Heart.

“I was very happy to (be a part of the aircrew to) help him,” said Iraqi Air Force Navigator Atiya, Squadron 23 (Transport), whose name is protected.

Atiya was one the C-130 crewmembers who flew Baher from Baghdad International Airport to Basrah Air Station on the first leg of his journey.

He has reason to sympathize.

“I have three boys myself,” said Atiya, who held Baher on his lap to show him the airplane’s control panel. “They’re 11, 10 and 5.”

From Basrah, Humanitarian Operation Center (Kuwait) Army Civil Affairs were waiting to whisk the family to Kuwait to pick up the proper visas and paperwork.
It's not just the Americans. Here's the recent contribution from three of the allies:
The 5th Infantry Battalion of the Bulgarian Army trained Iraqi Army Soldiers in engineering and medical responses, and held a live-fire exercise this week. Medics from the Bulgarian contingent also provided regular assistance to local citizens who needed medical treatment.

Ukrainian military advisers and instructors completed training for the 3rd Battalion of 3rd Infantry Brigade of the Iraqi Army, which will take control from the Ukrainians in the Wassit Province next month. Currently, ISF are manning joint-security checkpoints and conducting patrols with the Ukrainian troops.

A new Salvadoran contingent started its duty in the central-south region of Iraq on Aug. 20. The 380 soldiers, stationed at Al Hillah, will focus on civil-military cooperation , humanitarian assistance and training and advising the ISF. The last rotation of Salvadoran soldiers organized and conducted 85 projects to help Iraqi people, including water supply and sewage systems, education, health care, public security and transportation.
Here's how one Salvadoran soldier remembers his mission:
It was dangerous at times, as servicemen fired their guns in the air to warn against possible attacks.

But for at least one Salvadoran soldier — whose countrymen are the only Latin American soldiers left in Iraq — the six months he spent helping to build schools, drinking-water systems and clinics in Iraq were worth the time away from his family.

"The public works projects benefit humble Iraqis, among them children, and that was really gratifying and kept us from questioning our mission," he said.

"There is still so much need, so much work to do," Rivera said, adding he was glad a fresh batch of soldiers sent to replace him and others would continue the work on rebuilding bridges, roads and public buildings.

He returned to El Salvador on Wednesday, and the rest of his group arrives Friday.

He said the other troops shared his belief that it was important to help rebuild Iraq, and they ignored international criticism that it was time for them to pull out of the country.
And this Australian Air Force Reservist and a doctor remembers his time spent on a military base in Balad:
"About two thirds of patients were troops or Iraqi army or police and about one third were local civilians.

"People would also bring us their very sick children because ... we had a high-level medical facility. The local health system does its best in very difficult circumstances.

"I went away with a very high regard for local people. More than 95 per cent are making the best of a bad situation. They just want to get on with their lives and not have ongoing conflict."
The Czechs, meanwhile, have been helping to train Iraqi police: "Four Slovak police officers returned on Tuesday from Jordan where they have been training Iraqi colleagues, part of Slovakia's contribution to war-ravaged Iraq's reconstruction. According to Slovak interior minister Vladimir Palko, the training took place at the international police training centre near Jordan's capital Amman, where the United States set up a training team with Britain and Slovakia. To avoid sensitive issues the Slovak police officers did not speak with their trainees about religion, culture and the political situation in Iraq, the head of the Slovak police contingent operating in Jordan, Stanislav Vanco, said. In the next two years the progamme is set to train 31,000 Iraqi police officers."

Here's also a good report about the Estonian contingent which patrols the Abu Ghraib district.

SECURITY: Security situation throughout the country is not as clear cut - or rather clear cut negative - as the general tenor of the media coverage would suggest. In western Iraq, for example, Sunnis loyal to the government battle Al Qaeda supporters:
Two Sunni Arab tribes, one loyal to al Qaeda and the other to the government, clashed in western Iraq, killing at least 20 people and wounding scores, clerics and hospital officials in the town said on Saturday.

The tribes fought months ago and violent confrontations erupted again on Friday and Saturday near Qaim, where U.S. Marines launched several offensives to root out insurgents from May to July.

Clerics in the town say members of the Karabilah tribe -- allied to al Qaeda -- attacked homes of the rival Albu-Mehel tribe -- many of whom are members of Iraq's new security forces in their province of Anbar.

Witnesses from the town said the tribes were involved in intense firefights and mortar attacks in the streets. The U.S military confirmed that two tribes were fighting but had no information on casualties.
With the American support:
U.S. warplanes bombed alleged safe houses of Abu Musab Zarqawi's fighters near the Syrian border Tuesday in one of the strongest uses of air power in months, backing what leaders of one Sunni Arab tribe described as an unprecedented tribal push to drive out Zarqawi's forces...

The clashes between Sunni Arab tribes and insurgents, coupled with growing vows from Iraq's Sunni minority to turn out in force for upcoming national elections, in a small and localized way meet one of the strongest U.S. hopes for defusing the insurgency. U.S. military leaders have repeatedly expressed the hope that public anger at insurgent violence would deprive insurgents of their Sunni base of support, and that the disaffected Sunni minority would look instead to the political process to defend their rights.

A tribal leader near the Syrian border, Sheikh Muhammed Mahallawi, said his Albu Mahal tribe opened the latest fighting against Zarqawi's insurgents after the foreign-led militants kidnapped and killed 31 members of his tribe to punish them for joining Iraqi security forces.

"We decided -- either we force them out of the city or we kill them," with the support of U.S. bombing, Mahallawi said by telephone...

Tribes in the Anbar province region have clashed sporadically with Zarqawi's fighters at least since May, usually in revenge for Zarqawi killings of tribal members seen as collaborating with U.S. forces or the Iraqi government.

In Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, tribes earlier this month took up arms to block Zarqawi's movement from enforcing his ultimatum for all Shiite Muslim families to leave the city. Fighting there killed several fighters on both sides. An Iraqi commander in Zarqawi's group, al-Qaida in Iraq, said Monday that the group had dropped the ultimatum so as to keep Ramadi as a base for his fighters.
Meanwhile, calm descends on Diyala valley:
In the fertile "bread basket" of central Iraq's Diyala valley, roadside-bomb attacks have nearly stopped.

This ethnically complex patchwork of towns, villages, fields, and orchards, which US commanders call a "little Iraq," has seen its share of insurgent activity since 2003. But nowadays, the local Sunni Arabs appear inclined to climb aboard the US-backed political process, rather than trying to derail it through violence.

The relative peace in the breadbasket is the result of a carefully managed transition from US to Iraqi security responsibility, US and Iraqi commanders say.

While roadside-bomb attacks in July were down more than 30 percent compared to the same month last year, the drop has been especially drastic in August. The local Iraqi Army unit, the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, officially took the lead in a roughly 1,158 square-mile battle space, containing nearly 300,000 residents, on July 31.

"We're responsible for actual security, and it is going well," says the unit's commander, Col. Theya Ismail al-Tamimi, a former intelligence officer under Saddam Hussein who has gained the Americans' respect by keeping constant pressure on the insurgents. "Attacks are a fraction of what they were," says Colonel Theya, as he is known to both his own troops and the Americans.

US troops recently closed down one of their forward operating bases near here, "since the area was so calm," Lt. Col. Roger Cloutier, a US battalion commander, says.
There are also important lessons from Qayyarah:
When Lt. Col. Bradley Becker stepped forward, it was to offer a valedictory message to a room full of Sunni and Kurdish shieks and imams gathered at Forward Operating Base Key West for a regional security meeting.

It was, in some strange way, very much like a graduation.

Becker's 2nd Battalion of the 8th Field Artillery Regiment has been in Quayyarah in northwestern Iraq for 11 months and they are preparing to hand over to a new unit from Alaska.

"I was new to this area and I thought I had come to rebuild the infrastructure and rebuild your villages," he said from the podium, an interpreter at his side. "I found myself in a fight with a very determined enemy."

In November, just a month after arriving in Iraq, Becker, along with battalion commanders across the northwest, found his troops defending against an insurgent attack that was stunning for its organization and breadth.

In two days, insurgents conducted nearly simultaneous attacks on 44 Iraqi police and army posts. Almost all of them folded, many of them with a single shot being fired.

The Iraqi police went from about 7,000 members down to 300 in two days.

The Iraqi army disintegration across the region was nearly as dramatic.

"I only had seven platoons. I thought, I can't cover this," Becker recalls.

He had a little unexpected help.

One former Ba'ath party official, a man known as Shiek Rahd, climbed to the top of his local police station and with some neighbors manned guns and drove off attackers.

Rahd is now a highly respected Iraqi army battalion commander, and an early target of insurgents. They blew his car up; he lived. A rocket-propelled grenade meant for him tore his driver's leg off; he lived.

"He's the second baddest man in Iraq," smiles Becker. "I have to remind him I'm still here."
As the report notes, "across Iraq, a counter-insurgency strategy has emerged in almost organic fashion at the battalion level. Its authors say that -- after two and half years of fighting -- it finally seems to be yielding results." Read the rest of this very interesting article.

In Mosul, one American unit is fixig potholes - and saving lives:
With a name like Task Force Ripper, the mission would seem to be some sort of bloody, covert operation that strikes fear into the hearts of enemy forces in Iraq.

The Germany-based 94th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) mission - named for rapid pothole repair, or RPR - does take place under the cover of night, but the purpose is to save lives, not take them.

About 10 soldiers from the battalion, along with other soldiers who provide security at the sites, go out into Mosul several times a week to rob insurgents of hiding places for roadside bombs. The battalion's companies A and B and Headquarters Support Company run the missions.

The crews patch potholes and, in some instances, craters left from roadside or car bomb blasts to prevent the same hole from being used for another bomb - a common practice among insurgents.

"We've gotten some intelligence that the [insurgents] are not happy, because we are doing this and making their job a lot harder," said 1st Lt. Young Chun, 2nd Platoon leader, Company B, 94th Engineers.
Meanwhile, the training and readying of Iraqi army and police to take over greater security role continues. For example, "in the Combat Leaders Course at the Diyala Regional Training Facility, Coalition Soldiers worked with their Iraqi counterparts to train soldiers from the Iraqi Army’s 5th Division to be better battlefield leaders. Training during the 14-day course builds on the Iraqi soldiers’ basic military knowledge and skills. Most of the instruction is performed by Iraqi cadre, and Coalition Soldiers are more supervisors, observing and instructing when needed."

The troops are also training Iraqi army medics:
Medics with the Division Support Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division are helping train the Iraqi Army in combat medic skills.

Sgt. Matthew J. Carver and Spc. Richard J. Fourroux, combat medics with the 550th Area Support Medical Company, Brigade Troops Battalion, DSB, are leading the efforts to train new Iraqi Army recruits to be full combat medics.

Carver, who is from North Wilkesboro, N.C., and Fourroux, from Denver, are directing a five-week course that requires Iraqi medics to train to a similar standard as U.S. Army combat medics.

The first class graduated 15 medics on July 26 to add to the Iraqi fighting force.

Fourroux said his experiences in Iraq have come "around full circle."

Today, his mission is vastly different from that during his rotation in Operation Iraqi Freedom 1. When he deployed to this country for the first time, Iraqis were the enemy. Now, he is preparing them for the future security of their nation with a more stabilized force.

As of July 26, the course has now shifted to the "train the trainers" phase-instructing qualified Iraqi Soldiers to teach their own forces, said Carver.
Police continue to get trained too: "The Iraqi Police Service graduated 282 police officers from advanced and specialty courses Aug. 25 at Iraq's Adnan Training Facility." On September 1, the Adnan Training Facility graduated another 175 police officers in advanced and specialty courses.

Those already trained are playing an increasing security role around the country. For example, "Iraqi security forces will provide the primary security for the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum and the December elections, a U. S. commander in Baghdad, Iraq... In a news briefing, Army Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said that because Iraqis will be mainly responsible for security, U. S. forces in the area will be increased only by about 2,000 troops for the referendum and elections."

The American forces have officially handed over the control of Najaf and their former base over to Iraqi army: "Lt. Col. James Oliver, the U.S. commander of Forward Operating Base Hotel, handed the ceremonial keys to the installation to the new Iraqi commander, Col. Saadi Salih al-Maliky. About 1,500 Iraqi soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 8th Division marched by."

Also, "Coalition forces turned over Camp Zulu in As Suwayrah, Iraq, to the Iraqi Army on Aug. 21. The division’s 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade will be permanently housed there. This is the twenty-fourth base to be turned over to the Iraqis, returning the land to the government elected by the people."

The new Iraqi air force has recently flown its first mission:
Iraq's nascent air force carried out its first military mission when it flew two battalions of Iraqi troops into a troubled zone in the north of the country, a U.S. military spokesman said...

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that three C-130 Hercules cargo planes this week redeployed troops belonging to the 2nd Iraqi Division from the Kurdish city of Irbil to Tal Afar near the country's northwestern frontier with Syria.

"This was the first use of the Iraqi air force," Lynch said...

The air force is now gradually being resurrected with the help of instructors and aircraft donated by the United States, Jordan and other countries.

It now has in its inventory a handful of used C-130s, along with a squadron of light reconnaissance planes and transport helicopters. Although the newly formed squadrons have been in training for the past year, they are still not fully operational.
Construction of security infrastructure continues. Police stations continue to be built: "Construction also started on two new police station projects in Fallujah and one in Muthanna Province. Each of the two-story facilities in Fallujah measures more than 35,000 square feet and includes a dorm area for 100 police officers, offices, a holding cell, conference room, kitchenette, armory and covered courtyards. The Al Khider Police Station construction project in Muthanna Province provided new perimeter walls, replaced roof systems, installed a 528-gallon water tank and piping for potable water storage, and restored electrical and masonry work to the existing police station in Al Khider."

In stories of security cooperation from the locals:

"Based on information provided by an informant, a drug dealer with ties to the insurgency was captured during a U.S. raid in the Taji area on Aug. 7";

"Iraqi Police Service officers on patrol received a tip from a local citizen concerning a suspected weapons cache in the Zohour District of Baghdad. Police uncovered 68 mortar rounds buried in a field. The munitions were transported to Boob Al Sham Police Station. This was the second significant cache find in the same area in two days - 32 mortar rounds were discovered Aug. 21";

"Iraqi army and coalition forces, working together and independently, took 19 suspected terrorists into custody while conducting a series of combat operations in and around Baghdad on Aug. 21. Tips received from Iraqi citizens led to the detention of 12 of the 19 terror suspects";

"A local Iraqi citizen reported two males using a car to emplace improvised explosive devices (IEDs) here August 23. The individual gave a detailed description of the vehicle and the two individuals in it. This information allowed Coalition Forces to find and capture two suspected IED installers. Coalition Forces confiscated three 130 mm rounds and wire from the vehicle";

"Task Force Liberty Soldiers captured two known terrorists suspected of financing and enabling terrorist acts in North-Central Iraq in a pair of overnight raids Aug. 25 and 26. The first suspect was detained in Ad Dwar after Soldiers received a tip he was attending a meeting there. The second terrorist was captured along with two other suspects northwest of Hawija";

"Coalition forces killed Abu Khallad, a major facilitator of foreign fighters and suicide bombers into northern Iraq, during operations in Mosul on Aug. 25. Multiple intelligence sources and tips from concerned citizens led multi-national forces to a location in Mosul where known foreign fighter facilitator Khallad, a Saudi national, was located. Upon arrival at that location, multi-national forces stopped his vehicle, a gunfight immediately ensued, and Khallad and an unidentified terrorist were shot and killed";

"Three North African terrorists were killed during security operations in northern Mosul August 27th. Tips from concerned citizens and recently acquired intelligence led Multi-National forces to the safe house where they found and killed the foreign terrorists. Abu Mujahir, Tunisian, was a facilitator of foreign fighters and foreign suicide bombers in the Mosul area. He is also alleged to have received and dispersed money from Abu Khallad to finance fighters under his control. Abu Khallad’s death at the hands of Coalition forces was officially reported on August 27th. Abu Dur, Algerian, was subordinate to Abu Muhajir and helped him to direct foreign fighters as well as numerous bombing attacks in the Mosul area. Abu Uthman, Algerian, another subordinate of Abu Muhajir and a foreign fighter facilitator." More than 100 foreign terrorists have been killed or captured in the Mosul area over the past six months;

"Task Force Baghdad Soldiers detained five suspected terrorists during a routine patrol on the evening of Aug. 27. The U.S. Soldiers were assisted by local residents who pointed out an unfamiliar white sedan which they said did not belong in the area. Soldiers from C Company, 295th Infantry Battalion, 48th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division cordoned off the area and searched the vehicle. Inside the car, they discovered a large weapons cache which included a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, two RPG rounds, four AK-47 rifles, a machine gun, six body-armor vests, 23 hand grenades, and other significant evidence";

In Kirkuk, "four Iraqi citizens contacted Iraqi and Coalition forces August 29 to report observing a driver of a truck use a cell phone just as an improvised explosive device was detonated. They stopped the truck and waited for help to arrive. These brave Iraqis received a cash reward and were recognized for their assistance";

"Multi-National Forces, acting on multiple intelligence sources and tips from concerned citizens, raided a suspected terrorist location East of Al-Amiriyah, capturing several terror suspects and destroying a weapons cache on Sept. 2. During the raid, 12 suspected terrorists were detained";

Another tip on the same day led soldiers to discover a roadside bomb near Balad;

Based on tips from locals, "Task Force Baghdad Soldiers detained seven suspected terrorists during an early-morning raid Sept. 2, in the western al-Rashid district of Baghdad";

Acting on a tip, soldiers rescued American hostage Roy Hallums, who has been held by his captors for ten months. He was rescued from a farmhouse 15 kilometers outside Baghdada on September 7.

The fight against insurgents and terrorists continues on many fronts, most often out of the media spotlight. All in two days' work (23 and 24 August):
Task Force Freedom soldiers killed several terrorists and detained four suspected terrorists in their Iraq areas of operation today and Aug. 24... The soldiers, from 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment also seized explosives and other materials used to demolish an Iraqi army vehicle in eastern Mosul on Aug. 24...

In Baghdad, Iraqi security forces responded to two separate incidents where police and civilians were attacked by anti-Iraq forces on Aug. 24, according to a multinational forces report. Soldiers with 4th Battalion, 1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, tracked and killed two of the attackers and captured another suspect, who had attacked a Baghdad police station with small-arms fire. In another incident, insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades attacked an Iraqi policeman and a civilian in their vehicles. Iraqi police pursued those suspects, killing one attacker.

Iraqi soldiers with 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division, uncovered a 152 mm artillery shell beneath a dirt mound in Mosul. In a related incident, Iraqi soldiers found 14 artillery rounds one kilometer northwest of the Kirkuk traffic circle.
And the following day (August 25):
U.S. soldiers from Task Force Liberty and Iraqi army soldiers captured six terrorists during a joint raid in Barwannah... The troops also discovered two weapons caches, containing one 82 mm mortar system, 14 rocket-propelled grenades, three remote-control detonators, and two assault rifles.

Task Force Liberty and Iraqi army soldiers killed a suspected terrorist was killed and wounded and captured another when the individuals fired on the combined force. In another incident, Task Force Liberty soldiers captured two key terrorists in a pair of overnight raids Aug. 25 and today. The terrorists are suspected of financing and enabling terrorist acts in north-central Iraq...

Iraqi security forces and coalition forces from Task Force Freedom Aug. 25 and today detained 16 individuals suspected of terrorist activity in western Mosul...

In another raid, U.S. soldiers from 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, detained nine individuals suspected of terrorist activity at a checkpoint in Rawah.

Soldiers from 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, captured one individual suspected of terrorist activity during a raid east of Tal Afar...

Soldiers with the 4th Iraqi Army Division concluded Operation Lightning Strike, which consisted of a series of cordon and search missions in Abayach, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.

Soldiers discovered the command end of a command-wired improvised explosive device and traced it back to the explosive device. The IED was a 130 mm round rigged for detonation. An explosive ordnance disposal team destroyed the IED in place. Soldiers detained one male suspect at the scene.

Elsewhere, Iraqi police discovered and cleared a small cache of munitions in Tuz, 110 miles north of Baghdad. Police found three 122 mm Russian rounds, one 120 mm Russian mortar, nine 82 mm Russian mortars, one 82 mm Chinese mortar, and one rocket-propelled grenade.
And August 27:
Soldiers with 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division, and elements of Task Force 5-7 concluded Operation War Paint Dakota, which led to the capture of five suspected insurgents. All five detainees were transported to a nearby forward operating base for questioning...

Elsewhere, Iraqi army soldiers assigned to the K-1 airfield in Kirkuk discovered a cache three kilometers northwest of Forward Operating Base Warrior...

Multinational forces from Task Force Freedom detained 18 suspected terrorists and seized a weapons cache in Mosul.
On the last point see here for more details.

In other recent security successes:

"Coalition forces rescued a hostage being held by terrorists, captured the kidnappers, and seized weapons from a terrorist safe-house during a cordon-and-search operation Aug. 18 in the Muthana Zayuna district of central Baghdad";

"Iraqi security forces and Task Force Baghdad soldiers captured a suspected bomb emplacer, three suspected kidnappers and six other terror suspects in a series of combat operations carried out Aug. 20";

"Multinational forces raided a suspected terrorist hideout in Ramadi Aug. 23 and captured a pair of known terrorists. Captured were Durayd Jassar Khalifah Hamud, also known as Abu Jabbar, a known terrorist leader and weapons dealer; and Ali Husayn Muhammad Jasim, also known as Khalid Nazal or Abu Umar, a known IED cell leader";

Airstrikes launched on August 26 in western Anbar province against an Al Qaeda safe house believed to house some 50 terrorists;

Eleven suspects arrested in Khalis on August 26, and two wounded insurgents arrested in Hit near a site of a roadside bomb explosion; other explosive devices also cleared in Hit and Mosul;

"Iraqi Army forces and U.S. Soldiers detained 24 suspected terrorists during a cordon and search mission southwest of Iskandariyah Aug. 29... Additionally, Soldiers of the 150th Engineer Battalion, 155th Brigade Combat Team, detained 12 suspected terrorists in the village of Owesat Aug 29th";

"Multi-National Forces raided a suspected terrorist location in the Hillah area Aug. 29 and captured Ayad Adnan Away Samir, a key terrorist facilitator in the Fallujah area";

Several terrorists killed in three precision air strikes on safe houses in Husaybah and Karabilah in western Iraq, on August 30;

Five Saudi nationals killed in clashes with American troops throughout Iraq in early September;

Thirty two suspected terrorists arrested by Multi-National Forces from Task Force Freedom on September 1 and 2 in Mosul and Tal Afar;

"Task Force Liberty Soldiers stopped an imminent ambush in Ad Duluiyah Sept. 2 and detained the four would-be attackers... During questioning, the detainees provided the location of four more terrorists, who were also subsequently detained, in Ad Duluiyah";

Two members of a roadside bomb cell, including its leader, arrested near the town of Al Amiriyah on September 2;

A bomb making cache discovered and destroyed by soldier north of the Operating Base Kelsu on September 4;

"Iraqi security forces and Task Force Baghdad Soldiers detained more than 50 terror suspects on the evening of Sept. 4 and in the early-morning hours of Sept. 5 in Baghdad";

"Iraqi security forces supported by coalition forces conducted a joint search for known terrorists in Dali Abbas Sept. 5 and detained five suspects." Weapons and explosives were also found. Two roadside bombs were also defused on the same day in the Hit area, and eleven suspects arrested in northern Iraq;

"Task Force Liberty Soldiers detained six terrorists suspected of carrying out a mortar attack against a Coalition base near Balad at about 5 a.m. Sept. 5. Eleven terrorists were killed when the task force responded to the attack. Four of those eventually detained were wounded in the counter attack. Troops located two groups of attackers with a Coalition unmanned aerial vehicle and engaged them. The UAV was also used to track the wounded, who were observed being loaded into two vehicles at one of the mortar sites";

Three foreign fighters arrested and two others killed during a raid on a foreign fighter safe house in the Karabilah area on September 5;

"Coalition forces conducted an air strike against an al Qaeda terrorist safe house in the western city of Jaramil Sept 7, further disrupting terrorist sanctuaries and activities in Iraq. Abu Ali, a senior al Qaeda facilitator of foreign fighters, was believed to be in the house at the time of the strike. Ali has been linked to other al Qaeda terrorists and facilitators in the Hit, al Qaim, Karabilah and Husaybah. Additionally, he had al Qaeda connections in the Mosul area, to include Abu Talha, who was captured in June, and Abu Khallad, who was killed in August";

On September 7, "a joint U.S.-Iraqi force punched deep into Tal Afar, a key insurgent staging ground near the Syrian border, and the Iraqi army said Thursday it arrested 200 suspected militants in the sweep - three-fourths of them foreign fighters."

And so the struggle goes on every day, on the battlefield, on construction sites, in classrooms and newsrooms, inside every heart and mind in Iraq. The whole world is watching the greatest experiment of the new millennium; the people of Iraq and the men and women of the Coalition are living it every day. May it succeed.


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