Monday, August 02, 2004

Good news from Iraq, part 7 

Note: This round-up, the seventh in the series, is also published by the Wall Street Journal's "Opinion Journal." Many thanks to James Taranto for continuing to publicise the good news in the mainstream media. Also, thanks to Jeff Jacoby at the "Boston Globe" for publicising the previous installment. And as always, very warm thank you to all the readers who send in links to good news stories, fellow bloggers who publcise the news, and all the visitors who come by and encourage others to do so.

Over a month into sovereignty and Iraq still continues to generate a flood of bad news stories, at least as far as the mainstream media are concerned. Foreign workers keep getting kidnapped and occasionally executed; terrorist bombs continue to explode throughout Baghdad and other cities, although the victims are now overwhelmingly Iraqi civilians. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, learned commissions deliver their reports, providing the media with fresh opportunities to talk about intelligence failures and strategic blunders.

And yet, for every foreigner taken hostage there are stories of hundreds of Iraqis who can now enjoy in many different ways their regained liberty. For every terrorist attack with all its terror and bloodshed there are countless stories of courage, determination, and resourcefulness on the part of the Iraqi people. And for every intelligence failure by the government agencies then, there is an intelligence failure by the media now. Which is why you are likely to have recently missed some of the stories below.

SOCIETY: Despite the best (or rather the worst) efforts of al Qaeda affiliated jihadis and Baath Party nostalgics, Iraq is steadily moving in the direction of representative democracy. The
national convention is yet another step towards the next year's elections:

"Skulking in the dirty corridor of a courthouse, Shaka Khudaya waits to hear if he will be one of 1,000 Iraqis chosen to take part in an unprecedented trial of democracy later this month. Small selection teams across Iraq's 18 provinces are pouring over piles of hand-written applications and nominations from people wanting to participate in a national conference that will pick a sort of interim Iraqi parliament...

"[T]he conference in Baghdad will bring together 1,000 semi-elected people from Iraq's rich ethnic and religious mix to pick a 100-member interim national council that will serve until January elections. The new body will have the power to approve Iraq's 2005 budget, veto legislation with a two-thirds majority and question ministers over policy.

" 'This is just a step towards democracy because it is not based on direct elections but it is a step in the right direction,' said Fuad Maassum, the head of a preparatory committee that is organising the conference."
There are problems and delays to be sure, but the people's conference certainly has got a momentum on its side (the delay is at least partly due to the United Nation's request). Yet, while we celebrate Iraq's slow journey towards democracy, we should always remember the courage of ordinary people who are making the ultimate sacrifice in order to help rebuild their country: in just the two weeks after the transition of sovereignty, six members of Baghdad city council have been assassinated by the enemies of freedom and democracy. It's a testament to the determination and commitment of Iraqi community leaders that they are not giving in and giving up despite the very real and immediate risks.

Some areas of Iraq, like the
Kurdistan, are much further advanced along the road to normalcy, as one of the best correspondents out of Iraq, Nicholas Rothwell of "The Australian" writes: "The construction of an open, democratic, Western-oriented society may be an elusive dream in the rest of Iraq, but it is a solid reality here. The Kurds even control their own territory with their Peshmerga militia, separate from the Iraqi armed forces." Speaking of Kurdistan, the Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has recently received a much needed political boost when the leaders of the two main Kurdish political parties have publicly put their support behind him: "The Kurds, whose areas enjoy relative peace, see it in their interests to provide the interim government the support it needs to succeed in its battle against insurgents and terrorists. Allawi has openly supported Kurdish autonomy in the country and recognized their current semi-independent status."

Other minorities, too, continue to breathe easier. 180,000
Assyrian Christians, for example, celebrate their holiday in peace and joy:

"The Sunday morning attacks in a Baghdad neighborhood weren't the kind that people might expect in this violence-plagued nation. Armed with buckets of water balloons, grinning children hurled them for hours at each other, unwary pedestrians and passing cars... Sunday was an Assyrian Christian festival commemorating mass baptisms by Jesus and the apostles."
Iraqis are also now free to remember their past. The recent discovery of the remains of former president Abd al-Kareem Qassem, murdered during a Baath Party coup in 1963, is bringing unexpected joy to many: "For many Iraqis - especially the poor - Qassem's short-lived regime was a golden age, the first time they had a president who cared about them. They see his rule as a time free of the neglect that preceded it as well as the wars and repression that came after."

Not content just with their own democratic process, Iraqis are becoming increasingly split on
the US presidential poll: " 'The Democratic party is just a party of slogans: they only call for freedom,' says Muath Karra, an eyeglass salesman. 'But George W. Bush, he is brave, and he is a man of action. I hope he wins this election, because he is a genius - and brave'. Muhammed Shammari, a taxi driver, is a Kerry man. 'We want John Kerry to win, because George W. Bush brought harm to America and all the world under the pretext of launching the war on terror,' he says. 'And generally, the Democratic Party is better than Republicans'...

"Two months ago, independent Iraqi pollster Sadoun Dulame asked 3,075 Iraqis from all over the country which US candidate they preferred. Most Iraqis scorned the question, but about 15 percent responded passionately - almost all Bush backers.

" 'When we asked this 15 percent why they cared, they said, 'Because the American election will affect conditions in Iraq,' ' says Mr. Dulame, director of the Iraqi Center for Research and Strategic Studies. 'They prefer that Bush stay. Because if Bush leaves, maybe the Democrats will adopt a new policy, and not pay so much attention to Iraq.'

"In a perfect reversal of US demographics, the Bush lovers tended to be more educated and clustered in cosmopolitan areas. Call them Red Iraqis. 'Most of them were intellectuals,' says Dulame. 'US intellectuals, maybe most of them adopt Democratic values. But in Iraq, that's the reality'."
The early modern Westerners might have had the right idea that on the other side of the world things tend to be upside-down.

To get the numbers right in the new Iraq, the government is spending between $60 and $100 million and employing 150,000 teachers to conduct the
new census in a single day. The data from the Saddam era is too outdated and too biased to provide an accurate picture of today's Iraq: "The 1997 census did not count the three Kurdish provinces then separated by the no-fly zone, nor an estimated 4 million Iraqi refugees. This also was the height of the 'Arabization' program, in which Kurds, Turkmen and other minorities were forced to list their ethnicity as 'Arab' or risk losing their homes, jobs or lives." As Nuha Yousif, census manager in Iraq's Ministry of Planning says: "In the old days, the census was conducted for the interests of the government... People will want to participate in the census because they know that this time it is information to build the new Iraq." In many ways we in the West, too, look at Iraq through the prism of Saddam's census figures; now finally we might all acquire a different, better view of the country.

As Iraq reenters the world stage, its citizens are once again
free to travel overseas:

"Under Saddam Hussein's 24-year regime and in the war's aftermath, [overseas] ventures were difficult and expensive, if not impossible. So since the interim Iraqi government began issuing new passports this month, countless Iraqis have lined up to get one.

"The new passports look like the old ones, complete with green covers bearing the national emblem. The difference is that Saddam tightly controlled who received a passport and where people could travel, if they could travel at all. So far, Iraq's new government has imposed few restrictions. It already has lifted a ban, based on Islamic law and imposed by Saddam, on women traveling alone.

" 'During the old regime, there were very strict conditions,' said police Maj. Khamis Ibrahim, the deputy manager of one of Baghdad's five passport offices. 'But these days, there are no such restrictions'."
It's the seemingly little things, which we in the West take for granted that make so much difference to those newly liberated.

In the media sector, a recent survey by Oxford Research International shows that 61% of Iraqis had watched the new
TV channel Alhurra in the previous week. Alhurra, Arabic for "The Free One", is a US-funded Arabic-language broadcaster; "[s]ince it launched on February 14, 2004, Alhurra has quickly established itself as an important resource for Iraqis to get their news - 19 percent of those surveyed cited Alhurra as one of their top three sources of information. Of those people who watch Alhurra, 64 percent found the news to be 'very' or 'somewhat' reliable." By extension, this is not meant to be but undoubtedly is, a good news story:

"Aljazeera has expressed outrage after the Iraqi foreign minister attacked its coverage of events in Iraq and said he was considering closing down the channel's Baghdad bureau."
In other entertainment news, Iraqis are captivated by a new music hit, "Bortuqala" (Orange), with its racy (for Iraq) video. "This song is not only a rare Iraqi hit on the Arab music charts, but also the most erotic thing that many here can remember appearing on their TV screens, bringing delight and scandal to a country that is starved of frivolity and fun."

cultural heritage news, "Global Heritage Fund (GHF) and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities signed a multi-year partnership to jointly develop master conservation plans and training to help conserve Iraq's most endangered and important archaeological and world heritage sites. 'This is a major step toward bringing world-class conservation to Iraq and preventing further loss and destruction,' says Jeff Morgan, executive director of Global Heritage Fund."

In sports news, the Iraqi
soccer comeback continues, after a 3-2 victory over Turkmenistan in the Asian Cup. "Now we are building the new team, the Olympic team," says the new national couch Adnan Hamad. "Hamad's boys no longer answer to Uday Hussein, the psychotic son of the toppled ruler, known to beat the soles of their feet or lock them up for days over slip-ups on the pitch." Which must make it so much easier to enjoy sport. Here's more on the Iraq's phoenix-like soccer team.

Iraqi sport generally is recovering, according to this profile piece in "Time" magazine:

"Last fall, in southern Iraq, a Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) official approached Maurice (Termite) Watkins, 47, at breakfast. Watkins, a professional boxer turned pest-control contractor, had spent the previous six months killing scorpions and camelback spiders around U.S. military bases and reconstruction sites in Iraq. The official, regional coordinator Mike Gfoeller, had heard that Watkins could fight more than mosquitoes. 'What are the odds of you getting an Iraqi boxer qualified for the Olympics?' Gfoeller asked. Termite spoke from the heart. 'About one in a million.'

"Those chances seemed good enough for Gfoeller. Iraq had a new boxing coach, and six months later the country had its Athens-bound fighter - Najah Ali, 24, a flyweight with a computer-science degree from Alrafdean University in Baghdad. Freed from the torturous reign of Iraq's former Olympic CEO, Uday Hussein, and spurred by a trickle of private investment in sports, several other Iraqis will join Ali as unlikely Olympians this summer. For the first time since 1988, Iraq's soccer team has qualified for the Olympics."
And this clincher: "Iraqi women's sports - destroyed under Uday's rule because athletes feared he would rape them - are recovering."

You can also read this story of
Iraqi boxer Najah Ali, who has been training with the US team in Colorado. And just to remind the world of the good old days, the Iraqi Olympic committee has decided to put on display the torture equipment used by Uday on some of their less fortunate predecessors.

Although this should not qualify as a sport, the Baghdadis warm up to the craze of
drag racing by the Tigris river.

Finally, in
animal news, "[t]he last and perhaps the most pampered prisoners of Saddam Hussein's Iraq groggily tasted freedom of sorts yesterday, swapping a gilded-cage existence in one of the former dictator's palaces for Baghdad zoo. Nine lions, the centrepiece of a bizarre menagerie of exotic animals kept by Saddam's son Uday, were tranquillised and moved from the heavily-fortified Green Zone, centre of coalition operations, to a purpose-built enclosure." The enclosure has been funded by the First Cavalry Division.

ECONOMY: As planned, Iraq has opened its
bond market, with the issue of the first post-war debt. 150 billion dinars ($104 million) were raised in three-month treasury bills at 5.5% interest rate. "Demand was healthy," according to the central bank's Chief Economist Mudher Kasim. As another report explains, "Iraq's three-week-old government is selling debt to help pay local banks $3 billion of debt that dates from Saddam's rule and to reduce its reliance on international loans and revenue from oil. The government plans to hold twice-monthly auctions to raise as much as $1.2 billion by year-end. 'It shows the sophistication of the Iraqi banking system,' said Richard Segal, research director at Exotix, a London brokerage for emerging market securities, including Iraqi debt."

Meanwhile, the Iraqi
stock market continues to expand: "The miniature Liberty Bell clanged. Elbows flew. Sweat poured down foreheads. Sales tickets were passed and, with a flick of the wrist, 10,000 shares of the Middle East Bank had more than doubled in value. The frantic pace Sunday of those first 10 minutes of trading typified the enthusiasm behind the Iraq Stock Exchange - a new institution seen as a critical step in building a new Iraqi economy." That's after an already impressive start, when more than 500 million shares were traded on the first day - "more than the Baghdad Stock Exchange ever achieved." At the end of the second session, 560 million shares changed hands and the aggregate share price of companies being traded rose to $2.66m, up from $2.21m at the start - a healthy 20% increase. In fact the Iraqi stock market is proving a success for all involved:
"Emad Shaker Abdul Al-Jabar, 41, had a good day after the cop-cum-broker made three time's his monthly salary by selling off shares bought just one week ago on the revamped Iraq Stock Exchange.

" 'It's simply fantastic. I sold shares worth five million dinars (3,500 dollars) and made a profit of more than two million dinars (1,600 dollars) in just one session. What a great day,' exclaimed Abdul Al-Jabar.

"The bourse, which opened on June 24, enjoyed record trading volumes on its sixth session to date, with more than two billion shares swapping hands. 'The volumes seen Sunday are simply historic,' Taha Ahmed Abdulsalam, chief executive of the exchange, told AFP. 'This is despite the primitive system we have. Imagine what it would be once the electronic trading terminals come,' he said referring to a plan to shift from the old-fashioned paper system to a fully automated trading floor.

"Iraq's stock exchange is a product of more than a year's work by 12 brokerage firms and banks that jointly own it. It has 27 listed companies, with about 100 more due to go public in the next six weeks."
Not surprisingly, Talib Al Tabatabie, chairman of the stock exchange, is optimistic about his country's future: "Iraq is a very rich country potentially... It needs only efforts to redevelop it again and you will have one of the richest countries in the Middle East... Iraq is by all means a futuristic country. ... I have a strong faith that the economy of Iraq will be one of the healthiest, strongest economies in the Middle East and that of course will be reflected in the stock exchange... If I am to be permitted to dream... Iraq will develop into the Japan of (the Middle East), and it wouldn't take a long time." As the Middle Eastern saying goes, from your mouth to God's ears.

As reported earlier, the Iraqi authorities are planning to
lease its state-owned factories for the time being, before the first democratically-elected government tackles privatisation early next year: "Eight factories will be up for bid by next week, said [Industry Minister Hajim] al-Hassani, who spent the last 25 years in the United States, where he earned a doctorate in agriculture and research economics from the University of Connecticut. He later ran an investment management firm in Los Angeles." Some of the factories up for lease include the Al-Zawra'a complex of electronics, electrical and mechanical plants.

To facilitate foreign investment,
Private Sector Development Department was created within the Ministry of Commerce. Also, the newly formed Iraqi Business Council, based in Abu Dhabi, in United Arab Emirates, is working with the Iraqi government to provide advice, information and support for investors who want to assist in reconstruction. The Iraqi Business Council is planning to organize a conference in Baghdad in January next year to showcase to international investors economic opportunities in Iraq. Meanwhile, the first British-Iraqi chamber of commerce has been formed during a procurement conference in Amman, Jordan. The Iraqi-American businesspeople are also contributing to the revival of economic life in their homeland.

To facilitate
trade between Jordan and Iraq, the Jordanian government has considerably eased travel restriction placed on the fleet of 5,000 trucks, which before the war carried much of the trade between the two countries. The restrictions have been put in place in the aftermath of Saddam's toppling.

In the oil sector news, Iraq is planning to extend a
pipeline through Jordan, as part of the effort to increase the oil exports to 5.3 million barrels per day by the end of the year. The Jordanian route will complement Iraq's two main existing pipelines: to Turkey and through Basra to the Persian Gulf. A similar plan for a Jordanian pipeline has been floated during Saddam's reign, but no progress was made then. Now, with increasing economic and political cooperation between Iraq and Jordan, it's no longer a pipe dream, so to speak. Iraq and Syria have also signed an agreement whereby "Syria is to supply kerosene, benzine and liquefied gas in exchange for Iraqi crude." Iraq has also raised the possibility of resuming oil exports via Syria to Lebanon, through a pipeline disused since 1980, when Syria and Iraq broke off their relations over Damascus' support of Iran. Along the other border, officials from Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil ministries will form a committee to discuss oil operations and cooperation between the two countries. And Russia is providing training to Iraqi oil specialists to assist in reviving the country's oil industry.

This, by the way, is the story of
how it all happened for the Iraqi oil industry, against many odds:
"In recent months, Iraq's oil production has grown to more than two million barrels per day. At this rate, current oil output and oil exports now exceed post-invasion predictions. Experts had argued that funding shortages, lack of security, the problems of stabilizing a legitimate government, and technology shortfalls would severely limit Iraq's output. Despite the odds, Iraq's daily output reached a post-invasion record of 2.5 million barrels in March.

"A number of factors enabled Iraq to increase its output. Most significantly, Washington gave Iraq US$2.3 billion (S$3.9 billion) to restore its oil production. After the invasion, no one expected Iraq to get loans, let alone outright grants. Instead, US$2.3 billion was invested directly into its oil sector. To protect the oil fields and other facilities, the Americans dedicated a massive, overwhelming force of soldiers and private contractors. The level of protection was unprecedented even compared to Saddam Hussein's regime.

"On the technical side, the Bush administration hired the world's best oil service companies to revamp Iraq's technologically challenged oil fields. They still have a long way to go, but significant improvements are already evident. Moreover, the war didn't change the quality of Iraqi fields, which are still among the richest in the world and can produce oil with relatively little effort and investment."
In telecommunication news, the 45,000 cell telephone subscribers in southern Iraq will soon be able to talk to other parts of the country, as Atheer Tel, a joint venture between a private Iraqi company and Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Co, which provides a cell phone network to 13 cities in southern Iraq, will link up their network with Orascom Telecom Holding of Egypt, which operates in central Iraq, and Asia Cell, which works in northern Iraq.

Iraqi post is also improving, after a U.S. postal team spent six months in the country to help revamp the country's postal system: "Domestic mail that once took weeks to reach its destination is getting there in days, and the time for international deliveries is going from months to weeks."

RECONSTRUCTION: As this "New York Times" story notes, the reconstruction of Iraq is progressing
"one well after another":
"Across the hardscrabble Iraqi countryside, dozens of modest construction initiatives, many so tiny and inexpensive that they could be called microprojects, are generating at least a taste of the good will that Congress envisioned when it approved billions of dollars for grandiose rebuilding plans that have mostly been delayed.

"Typical of the little projects is a hole in the ground that was being dug last week by an ungainly contraption, chugging along with big, spinning wheels and an enormous weight that smacked the muddy earth again and again outside the isolated village of Khazna, south of Mosul."
Sometimes it's low-tech, sometimes it's high tech. The Italian government has announced recently that it will provide Iraq with an Intranet system to link all the government departments. "Iraq was devastated by the former regime... That is why today's agreement on information technology is of vital importance for us to create an infrastructure in the first stage of reconstruction," said Rashad Omar, minister of Science and Technology in the new Iraqi government.

The Iraqi government has earmarked $1 billion in its 2005 budget to help
modernize crumbling Baghdadi utilities. The problems are, of course, older than the Coalition invasion: "Modernization of Baghdad grounded to a halt in 1980 when the country's former dictator Saddam Hussein launched a ruinous war with Iran that continued for 8 years. The city's basic services are in shambles and streets in several low-income quarters are inundated with heavy water." The Coalition and Iraqis aren't just repairing the damage of the last twelve months but of the last 24 years.

Meanwhile, a positive development for the
Kurdish north: "Keidel & Co., an international systems and management advisory practice, and Schottenstein Zox & Dunn (SZD), a Columbus, Ohio-based law firm, have developed the Kirkuk Foundation in order to help create long-term peace and stability in Kirkuk, potentially Iraq's most volatile province. The Kirkuk Foundation is a $100 million nonprofit entity created to identify and build socioeconomic reform."

Egyptian-Iraqi joint stock company has been recently formed with a capital of $10 million to undertake reconstruction operations in the areas of infrastructure, irrigation and electricity.

While foreign countries and businesses provide the capital and expertise, the Iraqi private sector aims to contribute indispensable local knowledge. One such business is
Hire Iraqis, a bilingual job site devoted to linking Iraqi job seekers with companies engaged in the reconstruction of Iraq. Its founder, a 25 year-old Iraqi-American Ahmed Almanaseer tells me that "[t]o date we have registered 500 job seekers and 40 companies, since our website went live in June. What makes HireIraqis.com unique is that we focus exclusively on the Iraqi job market. We have also started an aggressive advertising campaign aimed at registering quality job seekers, and are quickly becoming widely known in Iraq. We presently have an office in Baghdad and have hired 3 Iraqi employees. We plan to expand to Iraq's other major cities soon." The invisible hand moves once again around Iraq to generate beneficial outcomes for everyone involved.

In the reconstructing Iraq,
more opportunities for women, too. Says Rep. Jennifer Dunn, co-chair of the Congressional Iraqi Women's Caucus:
"One particular incident that is still fresh in my mind took place during a visit by a group of remarkable women who are leaders from Iraq. One of the leaders in the group pulled me aside to discuss the need for professional training opportunities for women. At the end of our conversation, desperate to secure U.S. support for Iraqi women, she gave me her wedding ring as a reminder of how important this funding was for the women of her country. I promised to return her ring when the grant to establish a women's center in Mosul was awarded.

"I recently learned that several U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) grants have enabled a new Center for Iraqi Women to open its doors in Mosul. It is now offering counseling on women's health issues, business advice, employment and political training, and social and family services.

"Now that the women's center has become a reality, I am happily returning the wedding ring to this remarkable woman who is ready to stand up to the challenges to make her nation a better place."
Good news for retired government employees too, who recently received rises in their pensions of between 10 and 90%.

HUMANITARIAN EFFORT: Sometimes it's on a grand scale. You might remember the reports in
previous installments of "Good news" about the efforts to restore the marshlands in southern Iraq, which Saddam had drained as punishment for Marsh Arabs' support of the failed uprising in 1991. Now, the United Nations has announced a $11 million project to further progress the restoration of these largest wetlands in the Middle East (according to some, the site of the Garden of Eden) and to provide fresh drinking water for their inhabitants. "Satellite images released by the United Nations in 2001 showed that 90 percent of the original wetlands had been lost and experts feared the entire wetlands could disappear by 2008." Not anymore. You can read all about the restoration of marshlands at Eden Again, and here's more about the quickening pace of restoration.

It's not just the marshlands, as Iraq will follow the American practices in managing Mississippi river to
better take care of its own Tigris. As the Iraqi water resources minister Abdel Latif Rashid said after his recent trip trip to the United States and Europe:
"We have visited the Mississippi in Louisiana to see certain projects along the river, which is the largest in the United States... and has a flow 40 times that of the Tigris, even in the summer... Several of these projects could be useful for us, especially in the area of flood prevention, water transportation, dams and the deterioration of riverbanks."
Individuals and communities in the West continue with their grass-roots efforts to help people of Iraq. There is the wheelchair-bound Victor Renard Powell who has teamed up with Jackson, Mississipi-based National Guard soldiers stationed in Iraq and their families to distribute 8,000 backpacks to Iraqi school children as part of the Open Hearts Mission (more here). There is also this story of a 12-year old Mousa Mousawy, and his surgery at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, which will give Mousa a chance to walk again. " 'I would just like to walk around without somebody holding my hands,' Mousa said shortly before going into surgery. Doctors performed a five-hour operation on the boy, cutting tension on his spinal cord that, in recent weeks, had left Mousa unable to walk. 'If we waited another month,' said Dr. Saadi Ghatan, the neurosurgeon who led the operation, 'he would be wheelchair-bound permanently'."

On a far larger scale, the Bahrain office of the US firm Dyncorp has supplied $6 million worth of
medical equipment to Iraq, after being approached by US Army Lieutenant Colonel John Hustleby of the Humanitarian Operations Centre in Kuwait. And Church World Service, a cooperative ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations, is continuing its "All Our Children" campaign to provide vital aid to Iraq's most vulnerable children (you can find out more about the program here).

COALITION FORCES: Sometimes in the war against local terror,
cash is the best weapon. "I have met two guys now who say, 'I don't love you and I don't hate you. But somebody's offered me $200 to set up a mortar or a (roadside bomb), and there's a bonus if we kill you,' " says Lt. Col. Randall Potterf, the civil-affairs officer for the Army's 1st Infantry Division. The American money is now neutralizing some of those opportunistic causal terrorists. But the funds are also going to many other purposes:
"Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sinclair, commander of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment in Tikrit, said he had paid $500 so a driver could get his car repaired, paid 'benevolent' money to the family of a victim of violence, paid people to clean streets, bought soccer uniforms for a team and repaired a swimming pool, among other expenditures. Other officers have given money to ice-cream vendors, chicken farmers and hardware suppliers to get their businesses going."
Sadly, for the Iraq's poorest, the American presence, even without cash hand-outs, is proving to be an unexpected boon: "The Americans have the best garbage. We're very happy with it," says Fadhel Khalaf, as he and other slum dwellers scour for "food, boots, tarps, construction supplies, wooden pallets, jerry cans and other items that military personnel discard in the mistaken impression that they are no longer useful." Let us hope that the new Iraq will generate better opportunities for its most disadvantaged citizens than Saddam's ever did.

Sometimes, the Coalition troops find themselves faced with unusual tasks that require a lot more than precise delivery of fire-power. Take for instance
North Carolina National Guard's 30th Heavy Separate Brigade, stationed in north central Iraq, which has to moderate and adjudicate the land disputes between the Kurds and the Arabs who had previously displaced them.

Other Coalition troops continue with equally
important tasks: "During eleven months of their work in Iraq, the Slovak military engineer unit has manually cleared of land mines area of 73,000 square meters and almost 51,000 square meters using the mine clearing vehicle Bozena. With a special mine-clearing tank T-55C over 225,000 square meters were cleared." Slovakia has about 100 military engineers currently in Iraq. The Japanese contingent similarly has done a lot of good work, supplying 11,400 tons of water, repairing 20 kilometers of roads, providing medical advice at four local hospitals, and repairing eight local school. There are 550 Japanese troops stationed around the city of Samawah since January this year. Their work is certainly appreciated by the local Iraqi religious leaders.

In addition to their security work and official reconstruction assistance to Iraqi people, Coalition troops continue with their private humanitarian efforts. These are people like
Sgt. Gabe Medina, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who heads Operation Pencil Box near Tikrit, distributing school supplies to Iraqi children. More about the troops and their work to help ordinary Iraqis on the website of Spirit of America, and here you can find a profile of Jim Hake Jr., technology and media industry businessman who founded this great charity, which is helping American soldiers to make a difference in Iraqi lives.

And lastly, this unlikely
celebrity good news story:
"Denzel Washington has launched a one-man campaign to celebrate American troops returning home from the conflict in Iraq. The movie star fears not enough is being done to welcome soldiers - who have risked their lives - back home, and insists Americans should show young men and women how proud they are of them."
SECURITY SITUATION: Still dangerous, but improving. Freedom and democracy unfortunately have many enemies, and the new Iraqi authorities don't mince their words, either; as Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari commented recently, "I think what is happening regarding Iraq's relations with its neighbours has other dimensions as some these countries may want to fight America in our country, but we end up paying the price." In an ideal world, Iraq could expect better from its neighbors; to paraphrase the first rule of medicine, at least do no harm.

Security is increasingly
in the hands of the Iraqis: "The legions of American soldiers who not so long ago erected checkpoints and roared across the capital, guns pointed out of their Humvees, have diminished. In their place, Iraqi officers are manning checkpoints and swooping down on suspected criminal gangs. Led by their American counterparts, Iraqi soldiers are combing through palm groves in search of weapons caches. One vanguard unit of the new Iraqi Army, known as the Iraqi Intervention Force, is allowed to patrol the streets without Americans."

Speaking of the Iraqi Intervention Force, you can read more about them
in this profile. The Force is expected to eventually number 6,500 troops ready to suppress insurgency in urban areas:
"Certainly, this looks more like a real Iraqi army than three previous efforts by the U.S.-led coalition that I visited over the past year. The officers have decades of experience in the old Iraqi army; many of them seem to be good leaders who try to inspire their men, rather than browbeat them. And it helps, too, that since June 28, the army has been part of a sovereign Iraqi government. The Iraqi officers can now describe [Lt. Gen. David] Petraeus and the other Americans as advisers, rather than occupiers.

"Lt. Col. Ali Malekey has just arrived at the Intervention Force's training camp at Taji, just north of Baghdad. He's an enthusiastic soldier who rattles off U.S.-style statistics on his battalion's readiness: ambush preparation, 60 percent ready; convoy protection, 70 percent ready.

"Malekey's most encouraging news is that many of his ex-officer friends are now asking how they can get into the new army."
Read also the story of Iraqi Second Battalion, which patrols Doura, one of Baghdad's rougher neighborhoods: "In the past people on the streets did not greet us. Now we get a good reaction. They welcome us. Maybe they are proud of us," says Maj. Mehdi Aziz. More here about the US Army efforts to build the new Iraqi army from scratch.

It's also the American civilians who are providing security training to new Iraqi authorities; there are now several hundred American policemen sharing their expertise with their Iraqi counterparts; men like
Chris Hurley of Shawnee, Oklahoma, a tribal police officer and a reserve sheriff's deputy who will teach Iraqi cops more about investigating crime. The Iraqi policemen, meanwhile, continue with their jobs despite all the dangers.

As always, you can read more about Iraqi security operations at the excellent
Iraq the Model blog.

The new Iraqi authorities are now also able to freely buy equipment for their armed forces, as both the US and the European Union
lift their long-standing arms embargo against Iraq. And the new Iraqi air force is expected to take delivery of its first two aircraft, Seabird Seeker made by a joint Jordanian-Australian venture, which will start surveillance over Iraq's oil fields.

Last, but
not least, "Iraq has asked the UN nuclear watchdog agency to send inspectors to conduct an inventory of the country's nuclear material, and the agency's head says UN arms experts should also return to finish their job."

Finish the job - this indeed seems to be the key phrase. Iraq, which a few decades ago had so much promise for a decent future, stagnated under Saddam. All the unfulfilled hopes of Iraqi people hibernated under the Baath Party rule; now with the tyrant removed it's time to finish the job. The Coalition forces and friendly governments are still there to help, but with sovereignty now transferred, the work of building a normal country belongs increasingly to the Iraqi people.


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