Monday, November 08, 2004

Good news from Iraq, Part 14 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and "Winds of Change." As always, many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for the strong support for this project - and thanks to all the readers and fellow bloggers who encouraged and promoted the series.

Bruce Chapman, of the Discovery Institute, recounted on these pages not long ago how "[b]asking in the sun by the Al Hamra Hotel swimming pool, a Spanish journalist complained to me that 'all my editors want is blood, blood, blood. No context. No politics'."

There certainly has been enough carnage in Iraq to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty editor. Albeit not as bloody as, say, the Darfur region in Sudan, which probably doesn't have hotels with swimming pools, Iraq keeps providing plenty of beheadings, suicide bombings, ambushes and firefights to color red the newspaper pages and nightly news bulletins.

If your regular reading and viewing habits have fulfilled your fortnightly quota of "blood, blood, blood", read the stories below for some "context" and "politics". Yes, there is more to Iraq than just the gore.

SOCIETY: The Iraqi Interim Government is now

Powerline blog, via one of its readers, brings to our attention the results of an
opinion poll, which is not getting any publicity outside Iraq. "[The] poll taken in Baghdad, Mosul and Dehok and published in Iraq on October 25. The poll probably over-sampled Sunnis, which makes its results even more striking:

"63% of Iraqis say that the withdrawal of American and allied forces will not be in the best interest of Iraq, it will undermine the work towards security and control of the country. 27% say that it would be in the best interest of Iraq. 9% had no opinion.

"58% say that terrorists do the kidnappings and assassination of police and soldiers. 9% say that patriots fighting for Iraq carry them out. 32% say ignorant Iraqis who have been brain washed & misled carry them out.

"89% said that the terrorism, kidnapping, beheadings and assassination of police and security forces do not help the freeing of Iraq and the building of a stable country. 6% said that it would help free Iraq and build stability. 4% had no opinion."
It seems that insurgents are failing not only to win popular support but also to slow down the march towards democracy. Iraq's Shia religious establishment have now thrown their weight and moral authority behind the election:

"Ahmed Al Safi, a senior aide of Ayatollah Sistani announced... that 'Those who don't participate in the elections will end up in hell' and he added in his speech 'We must bear the responsibility and we must all participate in the elections because it's a patriotic duty and not doing so is like treason.' He also denied the news that spread about Sistani preparing or supporting a particular list of candidates."
Iraqi blogger Zeyad has more. Buoyed by religious imprimatur, the country's Shia majority is increasingly looking forward to exercising their democratic rights:

"Ayatollah Sistani has... asked his representatives to form committees - comprising members of all faiths - to provide information and guidance to Iraqis in the run-up to the 2005 elections, which he regards as vitally important to the future of Iraq.

"Sheik Adel al-Ramahi, Sistani's representative in east Baghdad and a committee supervisor, has called for the last day of January - voting day - to be declared a public holiday to reduce the chances of people abstaining for work reasons."
Kurdish blogger Kurdo, meanwhile, posts on how the political parties in his part of Iraq are preparing for the elections.

Iraq's free press has certainly been making it difficult for everyone to overlook the coming of democracy:

"Newspapers in Iraq have been offering up a barrage of daily reports and opinion pieces over the past month on a variety of election-related subjects. Politicians and religious leaders 'in the know' have commented on election developments, as the official Electoral Commission has detailed information on the mechanisms established to become a candidate and on voting. Articles have appeared on voter-education seminars that are being offered by political parties and organizations; the likelihood of whether or not expatriates will be allowed to vote from abroad, whether Sunnis will participate in the elections, as well as the political maneuverings as the parties work to forge alliances and place their candidates on election lists that will meet the stringent requirements established by the commission.

"But perhaps the most salient barometer of the 'mood' in Iraq can be found on the editorial pages of Iraq's dailies. Commentaries overwhelmingly support the elections and offer intelligent and well-constructed viewpoints on a variety of election-related topics. Writers regularly demand that the Electoral Commission provide more information on the election process, and call on the Iraqi people to cast their ballots on election day.

"Writers publishing in a variety of newspapers supporting divergent political positions appear to agree on one fact: elections should not be derailed by terrorism and instability. Most contributors have stressed the necessity of holding nationwide polling. But some writers support the idea that partial elections in stable areas would be better than no elections. 'Attaining half or three-quarters of legitimacy, so to speak, is better than no legitimacy at all in order to respond to the doubters and silence the loud voices that keep accusing the government of treason and illegitimacy. They act as if the whole Arab world enjoys legitimacy and as if Iraq is the only exception in the region that has no legitimacy in the middle of [an] ocean of Arab legitimacy,' Latif al-Subayhawi wrote in the 18 October edition of 'Al-Dustur'."
The report notes that "[n]ews of Iraq's upcoming January elections has dominated the pages of Iraq's major dailies in recent weeks, to some extent crowding out the more detailed coverage of the growing insurgency, the presence of multinational forces, and even the workings of the interim administration." Which arguably demonstrates that the Iraqis are fully aware of how crucial the elections are to the future of their country.

The newspapers might be doing their best, but clearly there is no such thing as too much civic education in a country that had suffered under a brutal dictatorship for some three decades. The "Wall Street Journal"'s very own Daniel Henniger reports on the latest cooperative initiative between the Spirit of America and enthusiastic Iraqis. The project is called the
Friends of Democracy and aims "to educate the Iraqi people about the meaning and purpose of democracy before that January election date." Among the specific initiatives:

"- Documentaries. A new Iraqi NGO called Civic Pillar is acquiring, through friends in Holland, documentaries showing (with subtitles in Arabic) other nations' experience with new democracies. For example, 'Milosevic: Bringing Down a Dictator' (made here in 2002 by Steve York with PBS station WETA).

"- Public service announcements. They are soliciting Iraqi celebrities (athletes, artists, authors, actors, poets) to do TV spots explaining what democracy means to them, or urging people to think beyond tribe or sect to the future of a new Iraq. A prime mover here is the new government's Minister of Women's Affairs, Narmin Othman. Though her annual budget is very small, she has contacts in the broadcasting community and wants SoA's help to create spots encouraging women to participate in the elections.

"Relatedly a new initiative called the Iraqi Women's Educational Institute has begun the Women's Leadership Program, which will train 150 Iraqi women around the country in democracy-building skills. Spirit of America hopes to give each woman $1,000 to kick-start their projects at home.

"Via the Internet, the bloggers want to hook up 50 to 100 pro-democracy student groups around the country. Do such groups really exist? The bloggers insist they do. (And who knew before Tiananmen Square or Romania's Timisoara?) They also want to create a central Web site to share documents. Once identified, Spirit of America would like to acquire copiers and paper for all of them.

"Other projects include citizen roundtables and town-hall meetings, which will be taped and distributed to broadcast outlets around the country. They hope to get Iraqis used to the until-now alien idea of free speech and open debate. There are even plans for an Iraqi Federalist Papers. The idea here is to ask a group of Iraqi intellectuals to write on constitutionalism and the rule of law. They would publish a booklet, solicit responses, hold point-counterpoint debates and tape them for broadcast."
Read the whole story and see if you can assist this very valuable project.

With the democratic steamroller gaining speed, even
the United Nations officials are increasingly optimistic:

"Preparations for the crucial January election are 'on track' and the absence of international observers due to the country's tenuous security should not detract from the vote's credibility, the top U.N. electoral expert here said...

" 'International observation is important only in that it's symbolic,' Carlos Valenzuela told The Associated Press... 'I don't think that the process will be less credible without observers, absolutely not. They are not the essence. They are not essential. They are not important. If they can come, fine, of course'."
According to Venezuela the preparations on the local level are progressing according to plan: "Already... about 15 U.N. electoral officers were based in Amman, in neighboring Jordan, and that four experts from the International Foundation for Election Systems, a Washington-based organization, were working in Baghdad. Valenzuela said the electoral commission already has hired 400 electoral officers, of whom more than 300 were stationed outside Baghdad. Close to 6,000 Iraqis were undergoing training to be clerks at 548 voter registration centers across Iraq."

According to UK's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the following
timetable is in place in the run up to the election: "[R]egistration will begin [in November] for voters, parties and candidates... Iraqis will be informed of their status on the electoral rolls when they receive their food ration coupons beginning next week... [V]oters will have until December 15th to straighten out any irregularities... [D]uring the same time period, parties and candidates will register for the election." According to Iraqi Electoral Commission, while no exact date has been set yet, the election is scheduled to take place in the last week of January.

process is already underway: "Adverts splashed across the front or back page of many Iraqi newspapers called on 'political entities - parties, groups or individuals - who want to enter the upcoming elections to contact us and obtain the necessary documents to validate their candidacy'... Some 550 registration centers will be set up throughout the country in the same location or near where Iraqis are accustomed to receiving their food rations - a leftover from a United Nations oil-for-food program."

The voter registration
did commence, as planned, on Monday, November 1. "Today voter registration is starting all over the country... It is going well up until now," said Farid Ayar, the spokesman for Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission. The goal is to achieve the registration level of some 12 million voters - "As many as 120,000 Iraqis are needed to run 30,000 polling stations in January..." You can see the registration information posters here.

While the Iraqi authorities, with assistance from the United Nations and the
European Union, are preparing the logistics side of the elections, the United States is committed to providing additional security for the foreign election workers. Australia will be training and equipping the contingent of 155 Fijian troops, which will provide security for the UN election officials. The Royal Australian Air Force will be flying the Fijian troops to Iraq.

And while the January election will, of course, be the main event, we should not forget that democracy has been making progress on grass-roots level in Iraq for quite some time now. For the latest example, see this story about
city council elections in the town of Sagaron, in the Dibis District.

While violence continues to dominate the reporting from Iraq, here is
a reminder of how much more there is to Iraq than just the trouble spots in the center of the country: "[T]ake another look, this time outside Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle. There is a view of Iraq here that you will rarely see on television or read about in the newspapers. It is the relatively secure and peaceful region of northern Iraq, in Kurdistan." The report continues:

"A number of Kurds spoke to CBN News about their thoughts on the war and America's part in it. One man said, 'We thank George Bush and the Americans for freeing us and freeing Iraq. We ask them to please, help us rebuild our country.' Another reflected, 'To me, the Americans are the friends of the Kurds and friends of the oppressed all over the world.'

"A third said, 'It's not just my life that is much better now, it's the lives of all Iraqis. The Kurdish government is a much better government without Saddam, and it is a good example for other Arab countries to follow.' Still another added, 'The insurgents are scared of the Americans. It will be much better for everyone if the troops stay. If the U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, the situation will get much worse, and there will be more bloodshed'."
Another recent report from the Kurdish north of the country notes:

"Truck drivers here say they are not worried about ambushes; shopkeepers report that security is not an issue; and local residents shrug off questions about violence and kidnappings. 'We have not closed our shutters at night in seven years,' Abdul Wahid Hassan said inside his shop filled with brand-new refrigerators, televisions and air conditioners.

"While cities like Baghdad and Falluja are riven by insurgency, this dusty, sprawling city is part of the other Iraq, a region that stays out of headlines and where life resembles something closer to normalcy... One northern governor talks about promoting tourism, a seemingly outlandish idea in a country gripped by violence but a measure of the security that Kurds feel they have achieved.

" 'People find it very difficult to believe that there is a safe area in Iraq,' said Barzan Dezayee, the minister of municipalities in the regional Kurdish government, who is leading a campaign to raise funds for water and sewage projects. 'We need to convince people that not all of Iraq is Falluja, that Kurdistan is safe,' Dezayee said...

"Today [Kurdistan] provides a glimmer of hope for the rest of Iraq: parents and their children linger at restaurants and shops long after darkness sets in, foreign aid workers walk unarmed through the streets, and the police and most soldiers wear soft hats."
The report rather disingenuous notes that "[w]hile it might be tempting for President George W. Bush to cite Iraqi Kurdistan as an example of what has gone right in Iraq, the relative peace here is not a result of the U.S.-led invasion," forgetting that it is a result of the first President Bush's victory in the Gulf War of 1990/91, maintained for a decade by the US-enforced no-fly zones, and solidified by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Pamela Riley, director of School Partners, an educational program under the umbrella of
Spirit of America, has been intimately involved in efforts to revive Iraq's education system. As she writes, "[i]n December 2003 I became U.S. advisor to Iraq's Ministry of Education. Strapped into a parachute seat, I was flown into Baghdad in a C130 military transport plane, with stomach-turning air maneuvers to avoid mortar and rocket attacks. I immediately began 14-hour work days, seven days a week, in one of the most remarkable missions the U.S. has undertaken since reconstruction of post-World War II Europe." Riley now reports on the progress that has been achieved in the education sector:

"Teacher salaries were raised from $5 a month to a starting salary of $60 and an average of $300 a month.

"A new Minister of Education was appointed who quickly assembled a new senior staff. Some 12,000 teachers and administrators who had been members of the now-banned Ba'ath Party were fired.

"USAID has rehabilitated more than 2,500 schools and trained 33,000 high school teachers in effective and modern classroom management.

"UNICEF and USAID distributed school supplies to more than 5 million students and reprinted textbooks, after removing much of the propaganda from the previous regime.

"The U.S. Congress has allocated $70 million to rehabilitate 1,000 additional schools, and the World Bank has allocated another $60 million. These funds set the stage for school reconstruction for the next three years.

"The U.S. and other donor nations have pledged an additional $150 million for textbook revision, teacher training, and other non-construction projects. Teachers, for example, need to be trained in a variety of teaching strategies to ensure all students learn.

"The Ministry of Education has revised curriculum in the areas of civic education, history, and religion and has appointed a new national curriculum commission to revise curriculum in all subject areas."
As Riley notes, many problems remain: "The most serious obstacle to education reform in Iraq is an overly bureaucratic system and a workforce that has been isolated for 30 years." But the groundwork has been already laid, and with the democratically elected government taking charge in January, Riley hopes a new sense of ownership and accountability will spur further much needed reforms.

Iraq's higher education institutions will, meanwhile, benefit from a
better connection with the outside world:

"Qtel has announced that it will shortly provide internet services to universities and educational institutions in Iraq using the VSAT technology.

"VSAT, which stands for Very Small Aperture Terminal relies on advanced digital satellite telecommunications equipment for data, voice, and video applications. It is one of the most effective technologies used today to meet a diverse set of communications needs providing quickly deployable remote area connectivity.

" 'The International Fund for Higher Education in Iraq' Committee had recently signed a contract with Qtel through Qatar Foundation for providing remote connectivity to 37 locations in Iraq. Qtel's VSAT network will connect universities and other educational institutions within Iraq and be hubbed through the VSAT HUB in Doha, Qatar."
Similarly, LG has won a contract as part of South Korea's reconstruction package, to provide telecom network linking Iraq's 19 universities. And speaking of foreign connections, "Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research (Dr. Taher Al-Baka'a) announced that Iraq agreed with UNESCO for implementing 4 projects in the scope of higher education... [T]hese projects will be financed by Qatar Institution of Education, Science and Society Development."

On a smaller scale, an American history professor has started a valuable initiative called
"Books to Baghdad", designed to provide Iraqi university libraries with some new reading and teaching materials: "[Jonathan Roth] said that one of his best friends went to Iraq and learned about university libraries not having recent publications... Roth said he intends the books for the faculty members, who will in turn share the contents with their students. 'I've collected 40 boxes of books so far,' Roth said. Of the boxes, 20 are full of medical textbooks donated by a textbook company. The rest are new or lightly used textbooks or scholarly works." At Jacksonville State University in Alabama, Safaa Al-Hamdani, a professor of biology, has began a program by the same name.

health system also continues to receive help from overseas:

"When he left Iraq in 1980, Hamid A. Al-Mondhiry vowed he would not go back while 'Saddam and his thugs' were in power. Twenty-four years later, he returned to help his colleagues rebuild the Iraqi medical system.

"A specialist in hematology and internal medicine with Penn State College of Medicine, Al-Mondhiry began working with the Iraqi medical community six months before the war started, at the request of the U.S. Department of State. When Iraqi physicians arranged a medical conference, in collaboration with American military physicians, Al-Mondhiry was 'happy and eager to go.'

"With the sounds of gunfire and bombs exploding nearby, Al-Mondhiry and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center colleague C. James Holliman presented papers at the Iraqi Medical Specialty Forum, held in Baghdad. Al-Mondhiry discussed blood diseases and internal medicine topics at the forum, while Holliman, a specialist in emergency medicine, lectured on chest trauma, international emergency medicine and the future of emergency medical services. Gunfights near the conference site and terrorist threats failed to deter 30 invited American physicians and more than 300 Iraqi physicians from participating in the conference."
Much is being done to rebuild the health infrastructure: "Ministry of Health announced allocating 85 billion Iraqi dinars [nearly $60 million] to rebuild and supply hospitals in Baghdad and governorates. The spokesman of Ministry of Health assured that the Ministry allocated 67 billion Iraqi dinars [$46 million] to rebuild and supply number of hospitals in middle and southern Iraq, in addition to number of other projects funded by Japanese government through the participation of Minister of Health (Dr. Ala'a Al-Deen Al-Alwan) in Donors Conference in Tokyo." Elsewhere, 38 electricity generators will be installed in Basra hospitals thanks to a 2.1 million pound [$3.8 million] donation from the Multinational Forces. Mosul University will see the construction of the first bone marrow transplant center in Iraq, thanks to a 1 billion Iraqi dinars [$0.68 million] gift from the Italian government. In Baghdad, twenty four medical centres have acquired new dentist equipment. In Doohuk in the north of Iraq, a 17 billion Iraqi dinars [$11.6 million] program is being implemented "presenting health services to citizens, building new sections in hospitals, building major drugstore, rebuilding Zhako Hospital, rebuilding the Rehabilitation Center of Disabled Children, rebuilding and expanding Nakra Hospital, building number of health centers in Feeshkhaboor and Ma'abad Lalesh, and constructing doctors house in Duhook."

From a human to an animal focus, American veterinarian scientists are discussing the provision of training as well as advice and expertise to
rebuild the vet science in Iraq. Says Keith W. Prasse, dean of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine: "In Iraq the faculty are 25 years out of date because Saddam cut them off from the rest of the scientific world when he came to power in 1979. They're dealing with destruction and inadequate energy supplies, and obviously security is a problem, but their infrastructure and supplies are in reasonably good shape. What's missing there mainly is planning to reestablish services."

Read also this interesting story from the frontline struggle to rebuild
Iraqi civil society: "Sobhi Mashhadani, the general secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), who opposed the war but now backs the occupation, presents a troubling dilemma for the British left." It's a fascinating glimpse of challenges facing Iraq and their repercussions in the political world of the West. Speaking of the industrial relations, you can also read (and even watch) the story of a 62-year-old grandmother, retired Florida Department of Labor worker, Duane Underwood, who for seven months had been helping to rebuild Iraq's Department of Labor.

Humor - a quality frowned upon in totalitarian societies - is making a welcome comeback in Iraq:

"Many Iraqis readily admit that humor is not considered an Iraqi characteristic. Egyptians have a reputation as the jokesters of the Arab world. Iraq is better known as a nation of avid readers. But the unbridled freedoms that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the misery of a constant cycle of bombings, kidnappings and murders have kindled a national sense of humor.

"Much of it is satirical and can be seen in street graffiti that makes fun of everyone, starting with the 140,000 American soldiers in Iraq. Other targets include insurgents, common criminals and political parties. 'The black humor you see on television is the only way for us to vent frustration,' said Qasim al-Sabti, one of Iraq's leading painters. 'We cry one minute and laugh the next when we watch [the latest TV hit] "Alley of the Junkies,"' he said...

"[W]hat Iraqis see in 'Alley of the Junkies' is a far cry from anything seen or watched during Saddam's reign of terror, when Iraqis could end up in jail - or worse - for indiscreet jokes about the president and his family. Now, Iraqis post images on Web sites ridiculing Saddam. One shows him bearded and squatting on the ground, singing about how unfair life can be. Another one shows him lying on his back in a hole - he was captured in December in an underground hole near his hometown of Tikrit - with rats and trash around him. 'You are the only loyal Baathists left for me,' he tells the rodents."
A useful initiative to preserve and make accessible to the world some of Iraq's rich cultural and historical heritage is about to get underway:

"The Field Museum is embarking on a two-year project that could help bridge cultural and scientific barriers exacerbated by the Iraq war. With the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the museum recently began to study, catalog and reconcile the scattered but priceless collections of materials from the famous 5,000-year-old archaeological site of Kish, 50 miles south of Baghdad. Kish is one of the world's oldest cities and site of the earliest evidence of wheeled transport.

"The museum plans to create a digital catalog of the more than 100,000 Kish artifacts held in Chicago, London and Baghdad. The catalog will be made available in English and Arabic on the Internet and in print. Also, a more complete database of all the objects will be created and made available on the Internet. 'This project will make possible, for the first time, a true reckoning of the site's historical and archaeological significance,' said William Pestle, Field Museum Collection Manager and one of the principal investigators on this project. 'It will also serve as a model for intellectual repatriation of exported archaeological collections'."
Iraqis, meanwhile, are increasingly taking to a new sport - baseball:

"Yasser Abdel Hussein tugs his cap and unwinds with the smooth sidearm delivery that's made him the ace of the pitching staff. He looks like a prospect. At home plate, however, Mohammed Khaled seems like he's still on chilly terms with his bat as he crouches, resplendent in a red (yes, red) New York Yankees hat, FUBU muscle shirt and tight bicycle shorts.

" 'It's a game of speed and concentration,' Khaled says after widely missing most of Abdel Hussein's pitches. He connected just twice, and then only by abandoning all technique and swinging one-handed. The 20 young men gathered on a patchy grass field behind Baghdad University's College of Sports Education may not look like much now. But organizers of Iraq's fledgling national baseball team have high hopes."
And they need a lot of help - here's a great opportunity for the baseball-mad Americans to lend a helping (and glowed) hand and thus spread more goodwill in Iraq.

ECONOMY: Iraq is celebrating the first anniversary of the introduction of the
new dinar. John B. Taylor, Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, says:

"One year later, a new currency is circulating throughout Iraq and the Iraqi currency exchange is hailed as a success. The exchange rate is steady, price stability has been restored, and economic growth this year is 50 percent, one of the highest rates in the world. The new Iraqi dinar is a sturdy and secure currency, imprinted with traditional Iraqi symbols -- altogether a great improvement over the flimsy bills with Saddam's face.

"Demand for the new currency has been so strong that the Iraqi government has earned an amazing $5 billion in seignorage [the capital gain generated by the creation of reserve money] during the past year just supplying it... And Iraqis are using the newly-minted dinars to purchase goods -- fresh bananas from the Americas, chickens from around the world, new and used cars -- at stable competitive prices in markets in Basra, Baghdad, Irbil and Mosul."
Meanwhile, the neighborly help for the Iraqi banking system continues:

"The Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance (BIBF) is to offer more training programmes for Iraqi bankers... Three groups of Iraqi bankers have already completed three programmes at the institute, in Juffair, according to BIBF acting director Hussain Ismail. The BIBF is now expanding its training role beyond the region, he told the GDN.

"Among the groups from Iraq who completed BIBF training were 21 senior bankers from the Central Bank of Iraq. They attended a two-week programme on banking supervision at the BIBF, which was run in co-operation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Federal Reserve System. The workshop was conducted by experts from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the IMF."
The Iraqi Central Bank will allow another five Middle Eastern banks to operate in Iraq, making the total of eight foreign banks licensed so far. In other news, "[t]he senior central bank official said the government would issue more Treasury bills to the secondary market to help create viable domestic capital markets and begin the process of trimming massive prewar debt. The central bank auctioned Treasury bills from the beginning of July for the first time in years, so far selling 900 billion Iraqi dinars ($628 million) worth of three-month bills with coupons ranging between 2.5 percent and 6.8 percent to local banks."

Iraqi government is planning to
put its budget in order, after decades of socialist malpractices have succeeded in distorting both the government spending and the economic life of the country:

"The Iraqi government plans to phase out slowly subsidies on basic products, such as oil and electricity, which comprise 50 per cent of public spending, equal to $15 billion, the planning minister said yesterday. Unveiling a three-year economic plan, compiled by in co-operation with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Madhi Al Hafez pledged 'a progressive programme to suppress subsidies...(which) constitute a significant burden on public finances'."
In the past, subsidies were used both as part of Saddam's welfare patronage system, and as a necessary income supplement for Iraqis laboring under the UN sanctions regime. Now, with changed political and economic realities, the government believes it's time for a gradual phase-out:

"Direct and indirect oil subsidies cost Iraq $8bn - $2.4bn of which are spent on imports to satisfy the local market, according to ministry figures. The price of a barrel of oil sold to local refineries is 300 dinars ($0.2) and some 550,000 barrels are sent to the refineries daily to satisfy domestic need. At petrol stations, fuel is sold at between 0.01 and $0.025-per-litre - underscoring the huge expense shouldered by the government.

"Oil in the financial year 2005 is expected to comprise 93pc of the country's revenue, at some $18.1bn. Iraq itself is predicted to generate revenues of $19.4bn which, coupled with external aid, will bring total revenues to $23.7bn... The 2005 budget is based on a price of oil of $26-per-barrel - a hugely conservative estimate, considering the price of oil, which ended the week at a record $55.50 a barrel."
Growth and opportunities are springing up in northern Iraq:

"Instead of waiting for security to improve in blood-stained Baghdad, leading contractor Kais al-Khalidi headed north to Iraq's Kurdish region to invest. The results, the Iraqi engineer says, have surpassed expectations.

"Andraust, an American group in which Khalidi is a shareholder, has agreed with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani to invest $350 million in villas and resorts and a Nestle dairy products factory. 'We expect construction to start by the end of the year and see the first villas rented out in 18 months. Andraust is both contractor and investor,' Khalidi, whose interests range from oil to medical equipment, told Reuters...

" 'The north could be a model for Iraq. Its success in attracting business will put pressure on the rest of the country to improve security and encourage investment,' he said, adding that a tire factory was also under discussion. Bureaucracy in the north, stable since last year's Iraq war, is less than in Baghdad."
Baghdad, meanwhile, is witnessing a property boom: "Trade in property has surged particularly this year when the interim authorities lifted the restrictions Saddam Hussein had placed on the movement of people and sale of houses in the country. Estate agents say the return of expatriates has also fueled the boom in property market. Despite daily attacks and explosions it is now hard to find office space for rent in the capital's main thoroughfares."

To support the construction boom, and at the same time reduce the price of cement, Iraqi authorities will be importing electricity from Turkey to enable
cement factories to operate 24 hours a day at three shift, thus significantly increasing the current output.

In oil news, here's one assessments of the
short to medium term prospects of Iraqi oil industry:

"Iraq's oil production is expected to reach 3.5-4m bpd (million barrels per day) by 2009-10. Sources from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) told Times Business that oil production has already recovered to its pre-war level in 2004 and is expected to reach 3.5mbpd by 2009. With adequate investment and the use of modern technologies, crude oil production could reach over 5mbpd in the long run.

"Iraq has three large refineries - Baiji (constructed in 1982), Basra (constructed in 1972, and doubled in capacity in 1979), and Daura (constructed in 1955) - and several small refineries.

"All refineries suffered severe damage during the Gulf War of 1991, and all are very inefficient. Substantial investment will be required to upgrade existing refineries and expand total capacity before Iraq can meet again the domestic demand for oil refined products.

"In the next few years, Iraq is expected to have to continue to import oil-refined products worth over $2 billion annually.

"Iraq has one of the largest estimated petroleum reserves in the world. Based on old geological surveys, reserves are estimated at some 100-130 billion barrels (about 11 per cent of the world total), second only to Saudi Arabia.

"However, there is widespread belief in the industry that reserves could be even higher. Iraq's oil is good quality and relatively inexpensive to produce; many fields are large, onshore, and have fairly simple geological structures, IMF said."
Iraq's Oil Minister has indicated that two upstream contracts to develop the Khormala Dome in northern Iraq near Kirkuk and Hemrin near Baghdad will be shortly completed after the negotiations in Jordan. "Meanwhile, a third upstream contract for Subba and Luhais fields in southern Iraq has been delayed as the technical and economic aspects of the deals aren't yet ready. Last year, the official noted that the ministry would start development of the fields this year. Production from all the fields would reach 300,000-350,000 barrels per day within two years from the start of development." More foreign assistance to develop the oil sector continues to come in: "ChevronTexaco Corp. signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Iraq's Oil Ministry to provide free technical assistance to upgrade the country's exploration and production industry."

In trade news, increased
regional cooperation is on the cards: "Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi arrived in Jordan on Monday for talks on closer economic and political cooperation between the Mideast neighbors. Allawi, on his third trip to Jordan since taking office in June, will co-chair with his Jordanian counterpart Faisal al-Fayez meetings of a joint committee that sets out cooperation in various areas. Government spokeswoman Asma Khader said the committee will discuss Jordan's contribution to postwar reconstruction in Iraq, the possibility of building a 750-kilometer (470-mile) pipeline carrying Iraqi oil to Jordan and providing security to Jordanian drivers who have been targeted by Iraqi insurgents." In fact, ten such joint committees will be formed to "cover military affairs, security, trade, transportation, oil, energy, finance, communications, education, health and technology. The two sides agreed to join hands in securing financing for urgent infrastructure projects in Iraq in addition to rehabilitating border checkpoints and centers, building a highway between the Jordanian port of Aqaba and the Iraqi border, setting up a free trade zone on the frontier and building a Jordanian pipeline to pump Iraqi crude."

In Baghdad, meanwhile, preparations are underway for a
major trade and reconstruction event: "The Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry started preparations to hold Destination Baghdad Exposition DBX in Baghdad International Airport for the period (15-18) December 2004. The Chamber's executive manager (Mr. Omar Ra'ad) said that ten international and Arabic Companies will participate in fields of technology, cars industrialization, communications, oil industry and other industries."

The authorities have further allocated 1.5 billion Iraqi dinars [$1 million] for the construction of permanent exhibition facilities and organisation of
trade fairs and exhibitions to promote commerce. The Baghdad Chamber of Commerce is also lobbying for the creation of a duty free zone in Basra. And at the borders, [t]he Iraqi Customs Service (ICS) is moving forward with customs reform with support from USAIDÂ’s Iraq Economic Governance II (IEG II) project. As key IEG II technical staffs continue to arrive in Iraq, they are working with the ICS to lay the groundwork for comprehensive reform to streamline customs administration."

To further the efforts to rebuild what before the first Gulf War was a significant regional airline, Iraqi authorities are bids by America's Boeing or Europe's Airbus to participate in the expansion of the
Iraqi Airways fleet. In other transport news, the work is nearing a half-way mark on the 150 billion Iraqi dinar [$102 million], 510-km long railway link between Baghdad and Mosul. Meanwhile, down south, "[t]he United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is constructing 72 kilometers of new track and facilities between the Port of Umm Qasr and Shuaiba Junction, located west of Basrah. The construction is approximately 70 percent complete, and is on schedule for completion by the end of November."

RECONSTRUCTION: This BBC report profiles several
unsung reconstruction success stories in Iraq:

"An off-the-shelf power station has arrived in Baghdad, its massive components on flat-bed trucks which drove slowly along the desert highway from Jordan... The new plant will augment, and perhaps completely replace, a battered old Baghdad power station which hardly ever runs at more than 40% capacity... And most Baghdadis will be very happy about it. In time for the high demand next summer for electricity to power ceiling fans and air-conditioners, this plant should be generating constant power 24 hours a day - for a quarter of a million homes...

"In the Baghdad suburb of Zafaraniya, engineers with the US First Cavalry division have managed and financed a fundamental project. A network of new sewage pipes is nearly complete - mains drainage for the first time for around twenty thousand people who previously had only septic tanks. Many can't afford to have the septic tanks emptied regularly, so they fill and overflow into the street. This project is very popular, and it provides jobs for dozens of young men who were previously unemployed. Local people told me that support for the Moqtada Sadr militia dropped off when these jobs became available...

"In Jumhuriya, a very poor district of the southern city Basra, there are pools of sewage lying in the street around the stalls of the main local market. The flies are so bad it's hard to open your mouth to speak. But there's hope here too. The G5 military/civil liaison section of the British army has selected contractors to install pumps to take the foul water away. G5 have also provided new enclosures for market stalls away from the filthy street, and they're helping build a new covered fish market. And in Basra - unlike Baghdad - the military do announce their successes, the army publishes a free weekly newspaper called 'The Minaret', which details progress with projects like the sewage clearance in Jumhuriya. The paper also explains why it all takes so long - and they believe this helps defuse the impatient anger that fuels some of the resistance to the occupation."
Meanwhile, the latest official report concludes that the pace of reconstruction if finally picking up, although problems remain: "Of the $24.1 billion that Congress has allocated for Iraq's reconstruction over the past two years, $13.4 billion has now been obligated to rebuilding contracts, the report said. Three months ago, 30.6 percent of the reconstruction funds had been earmarked for specific projects. Now, that has risen to 40.7 percent, the report said. But only about $5.2 billion has been spent. In the quarterly report released three months ago, about $3 billion had been spent."

This is how the Iraqi authorities have apportioned
$360 million provided by the International Monetary Fund:

"These projects are included in 3 domains, first stage of building abilities program costing $3.6million, projects of supplying school books costing $40 million in addition to 7 projects costing $317 million represented by project of developing structures of rural areas and $20 million to rehabilitate schools buildings.

"The second stage of building abilities program, $7 million to rehabilitate sewerage and water nets in Baghdad city, $60 million for a project of sewerage nets in Al-Sader city, a project of developing sewerage and waters nets in governorates costing $90 million and another project includes rehabilitation of medical sector with $25 million and 5 projects for developing private sector costing $55 million."
And among the constant reminders of the slow pace, fraud and embezzlement, it is nice to once in a while read a story like this:

"[T]he Marines opened [the meeting] with a 'Thank You' to the local contractor who recently saved the U.S. close to $10,000. This amount sounds like pennies when put next to the billions allocated to the rebuilding effort of Iraq, but during a time of strife in many parts of the country, this small gesture is a significant step forward for both Iraqis and Americans.

"The contractor saved the U.S. money by redesigning a water pump system that will bring clean water to an Iraqi village near Camp Taqaddum, a Marine base close to Fallujah and Ramadi. The new system will operate from a cheaper generator of lesser power output than what the contractor initially determined, said Maj. Luke W. Kratky, the information officer for 3/24.

"The initial cost of the project was $39,000, however, refinements saved money that can now be used for other projects, explained Kratky, a Bridgeton, Mo native. The contractor could have pocketed the money and never mentioned it, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dwight Torres, information officer for 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, who headed the meeting. It shows that he is willing to help, and that the Marines can trust him to do good things while they are here, said the 35-year-old Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, native."
October has been a good month for electricity production in Iraq: two new generators outside Baghdad have added another 192 megawatts to the national grid, eight new mobile power stations at Bayji were turned over to the authorities, and an upgrade of conductors on a 41 kilometer transmission line between the Dibis and Old Kirkuk substations has again connected the Kurdish region and the rest of Iraq. The report concludes: "October's production in the country has regularly exceeded 5,000 megawatts, compared to the pre-war level of 4,400. Since arriving last year, the Corps has strung 8,600 kilometers of transmission line, built over 1,200 towers and added over 1,800 megawatts to the grid."

As a result of such efforts there will be a
more reliable electricity supply in Al Sulaymaniyah region:

"[I]t is a region set apart from the rest of Iraq, even the electricity grid is separate. The region is dependent on hydroelectric power, which means when the rivers start to run lower electricity production is reduced.

"Because critical services like the hospital and the water treatment plants require constant electricity, it is the individual homes that are hurt the worse by the shortages.

"A solution proposed by the engineers was the installation of 15 generators capable of supplementing the current power sources. The public works team then was then able to facilitate the 1st Infantry Division funding for the purchase of the generators."
And a new project in At' Tamim Governorate is nearing completion: the new power station will add 325 megawatts to Iraq's national grid by the end of March 2005. It has so far generated 1,200 new jobs. "The first of two combustion gas turbines has already arrived on site and its installation is about 87 percent complete... By the end of 2005, USAID expects to add more than 1700 MW to the grid overall."

To further supplement Iraq's growing electricity needs, Iraqi and Iranian power grids will soon become
connected through West Azerbaijan Power Distribution Company, which already exports electricity to Turkey.

The Ministry of Electricity has recently allocated 100 million dinars [nearly $70,000] for rebuilding
two training centres for its personnel, at Baghdad and Nineveh. "[T]he Ministry plans to train and prepare staffs of engineering, technical, management, languages, science, and computers... [T]he Ministry, through the General Inspector Bureau, will [also] train some financial, legal, and supervision staffs to modern techniques in Egypt."

The Ministry of Municipality and General Works, meanwhile, is implementing
"For Cleaner and Shinier Iraq" program, committing 178.5 billion Iraqi dinars [$122 million] to utilise more than 40 thousand unemployed men around Iraq in various reconstruction and beautification projects. In a similar, but local initiative,

"[t]he 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division has worked with the residents of Baqubah to develop an Adopt-A-Highway program to take back the streets.

"Each day, more than 100 workers take to the streets as part of the program. This program has greatly reduced the trash and debris in the streets. Not only are these workers cleaning up the streets, but also they are making the streets safer for coalition forces and innocent Iraqis.

"Since the program started, Adopt-A-Highway workers have identified and reported a total of 47 improvised explosive devices to the Iraqi police. These workers are identifying potential roadside bombs and taking them off the street, preventing the needless loss of lives of innocent Iraqis.

"This program has provides local Iraqis with a source of employment and has instilled the pride of a clean and safe Baqubah."
Not just in Baqubah, the reconstruction work continues elsewhere throughout the country: cleaning irrigation channels in Al Anbar governorate; working to improve water quality in Thi-Qar governorate; digging up 51 new wells in Kirkuk; the implementation of 14 new reconstruction projects in Karbala; constructing new water installations around Babylon; building new water quality testing facilitiesin Basra; implementing $25 millions' worth of new projects in Samarra; restoration of marshes in Thi-Qar governorate; and the reconstruction of a major water treatment plant in At' Tamim Governorate.

Not just the infrastructure, but also the country's
agriculture is in dire need of rebuilding:

"A major Date Rejuvenation Project, supported by the U.S. government, is currently underway across the country and the PCO says it is 'proud to be a small part of this very important agricultural renaissance'...

"Iraq was previously famous for its date palms and dates counted amongst the country's major exported products. Under Saddam Hussein's regime the number of date palms decreased from 14 to 4 million."
Most recently, the PCO "supplied one ton of palm dates to the municipality of Al-Tashree. This municipality is responsible for the local administration of the Iraqi nationals that live in the International Zone in Baghdad. The dates, harvested from the grounds surrounding one of Saddam Hussein's Baghdad palaces, will be distributed amongst the poor of the International Zone."

Non-Government Organisations and charities continue to provide much needed assistance for the people of Iraq. This is a typical case: "On October 24, 2004, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) office in Turkey delivered eight tons of essential medicines to the Western Ninewa Province of Iraq. The medicines will assist three major public hospitals and 37 primary health clinics serving approximately 770,000 people in the cities of Telafer, Sinjar, Al-Ba'aj, and surrounding areas."

Then there is this useful initiative from
Switzerland's Agency for Development and Cooperation:

"The Swiss development agency is pressing ahead with a rehabilitation centre for the disabled in Fallujah, despite ongoing violence in the Iraqi city. Some 4,000 people in the area are thought to have disabilities as a result of the wars in Iraq.

"The centre will be part of a network of rehabilitation centres, which the Iraqi Handicapped Society - a local non-governmental organisation - plans to set up around country in the next few years... [T]he long-term goal is to set up a rehabilitation centre for the disabled in each of the country's 18 governorates. Building work is due to start soon and will be carried out by local contractors."
Individuals and small groups back home also continue to bring much needed assistance - and cheer:

" 'I don't know where we're going to put all these,' Pam Mack said today. 'We have a thousand Beanies.' Mack is part of a trio of Ironwood women trying to scare up Beanie Babies to send to Iraq for distribution to Iraqi children by members of the U.S. military... Friends Tricia Doan and Lynda Van Rossum round out the Beanie brigade. They are not only collecting the dolls, but raising money to ship them to Iraq (at a cost of about 60 cents each)."
People of Alabama, meanwhile, continue to help by collecting school supplies as part of Operation Iraq Children. Check both stories to see if you can assist.

THE COALITION TROOPS: The Coalition forces continue to assist with reconstruction. In

"Citizens of Bayji made great strides in becoming a more self-sufficient city with the official opening of four different projects between Sept. 21 and 25. The projects included the Al Bayji Bridge, Municipal Housing Asphalt Plant, Joint Coordination Center and Hijaj Medical Clinic.

" 'These projects have helped establish an unstoppable momentum for the city of Bayji,' said Lt. Col. Kyle McClelland, Task Force 1-7 Commander. The Al Bayji Bridge and MHAP, which were both opened on Sept. 21, cost a combined $500,000 to construct and are expected to bring great benefits to the citizens of Bayji."
Elsewhere, "[e]ighty-nine projects worth more than $3.2 million are currently underway or have been completed in Al Qadisiyah province since August. In an effort to stimulate the local economy, which directly benefits Diwaniyah families, the majority of projects are contracted to local businessmen and local laborers in order to develop and keep the wealth in the area. Funding for all projects comes from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit Commander's Emergency Response Program." In Samarra, meanwhile, Task Force 1-26 Infantry was continuing their work on renovating the local soccer stadium.

It's not just rebuilding the physical infrastructure, but also sharing expertise, like these troops training
Iraqi firefighters:

"A siren pierces the early evening night calling attention to the bright yellow firetruck speeding toward a pillar of smoke in the distance. People here are accustomed to the sounds and sights of the emergency response crews as they hurry to save lives and property, but this crew is different.

"Instead of U.S. servicemembers deployed to Iraq driving the 10-ton firetruck to its destination, the men behind the wheel have a far more compelling interest in their destination, because they are Iraqi guards.

"As part of a program to help rebuild Iraq, the 506th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron's fire department graduated 19 Iraqi students here Oct. 13 after completing a three-day first responder, first aid and firefighting course. In all, more than 284 people have received this training which began in February."
There is also training for law enforcement agencies. Sgt. Jon H. Fouts, an artilleryman from the New Hampshire Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery Regiment is also a Military Policemen, who in civilian life is a Captain in the New Hampshire Department of Corrections. "Fouts brought with him a wealth of knowledge from his civilian occupation and put it to use [in Dyiala] as the primary instructor for the [Transitional Integration Program] academy, a department within the police academy designed to retrain Iraqis who had already worked as police officers under the Baath regime. The focus of the TIP academy is the de-Baathification of the officers as well as the teaching of Democracy, human rights, policing and investigative techniques."

The troops also continue to provide humanitarian assistance throughout regional Iraq. This is a typical
example: "Medics from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division (L) participated in Medical Assistance Visits Oct. 10-12. These visits enabled many Iraqi citizens to have access to quality health care. The team, comprised of members of Task Force 2-11 and the 225th Forward Support Battalion, accompanied Iraqi physicians from the Dibis Clinic to the remote villages of Gazwachan, Gaisuma and Kaaf. During the visits 627 Iraqi men, women and children were afforded the opportunity to see a physician and discuss their health and other concerns. The visits were coordinated through the Ministry of Health for the Region of Dibis. Medical supplies were supplied by the ministry or donated by non-governmental agencies and the U.S. Army." In Samarra, American specialists are providing advice to local doctors on how to best meet the medical needs of the locals. And in Balad, "[s]oldiers from B Company, Task Force 1-77 'Steel Tigers', conducted a grand opening ceremony for the recently completed Al Zahara Health Clinic."

Then there is plenty of assistance for
Iraqi schools: "More than 700 backpacks filled with school supplies brought smiles to the faces of students at the Al Zubaida primary school for girls Oct. 19. Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's Apache Troop, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 5th Brigade Combat Team made the delivery to children in the southern Baghdad Al Rashid District." More backpacks were handed out by Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division and Iraqi National Guard soldiers in Al Wynot. In a similar action, "[t]he 426th Soldiers delivered office supplies and sports equipment worth $8,100 to Azmir Primary School, Perzin Primary School, Perzin Secondary School and Diarbakir Primary School. The supplies included computers, printers, furniture and soccer balls. With a grant from the United States Agency for International Development, the 426th also renovated the Irbil Youth Union, which serves about 150 to 200 teenagers each day." There was even more backpacks here: "Members of the 13th Corps Support Command staff, Special Troops Battalion, Corps Distribution Command, 84th Engineer Battalion and 81st Brigade Combat Team distributed nearly 1,000 loaded backpacks to schoolchildren in Bakr Village, Iraq." Operation Crayon continued at Halima Al-Sadeea Elementary School in Kirkuk. And the soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division's 121st Signal Battalion have recently built an auditorium for an all-girl primary school in Al Dawr, also distributing school supplies, toys and clothes.

This Marine, meanwhile, is helping to bring some
cheer to Iraqi orphans:

"The children who wandered the streets and slept in the orphanages in Diwanijah, Iraq, had been stripped of everything: their homes, their parents, their belongings and their toys. The least that Lt. Christopher Smith could do, he thought, was find them some toys.

"Smith, a Cerritos resident and Marine infantry platoon commander, has committed himself to bringing smiles to the faces of the children in Diwanijah, a central Iraqi city south of Baghdad , which he is responsible for patrolling.

"During a routine patrol, he came upon run-down day-care centers and impoverished children, some homeless, some living in orphanages. Struck by the living conditions, he spearheaded 'Operation Orphan' last month to bring simple toys and games to children in Iraq."
With the help of his City Manager back home, Smith's action quickly gathered numerous contributions: "21 boxes of deflated sports balls, jacks, jump-ropes, markers and other toys and games were packed up and ready for delivery... The project has since grown to a nationwide campaign. As much as $12,000 worth of toys are streaming in from all over California, as well as Texas, New Jersey, Washington, and Florida." See the story for details, if you would like to help. Ryan Schorer, an Army Reservist from Florida, is similarly organising family, friends and volunteers from his area to send backpacks and supplies to children in Iraq. "When he left Iraq, more than 1,000 book bags had been collected and shipped and were ready to be delivered to elementary students."

The troops are also engaging in
good will gestures such as this: "The mayor of Balad Ruz, Mohammed Maroof Hussein, and representatives from the Multinational Forces from eastern Diyala province, gave out 1000 prayer rugs to 21 Imams from mosques around the Balad Ruz district... The gift of the rugs came on the second year the mayor and multinational forces wanted to help the local people of Balad Ruz celebrate the holy month of Ramadan." Since last March, the Multinational Forces have spent nearly $300,000 to repair and build new mosques for both the Shia and Sunni communities in towns of Balad Ruz and Qazania, in addition to over $800,000 spent on other civil projects throughout the district.

And there are plenty of
consequences of fighting to deal with: "On Oct. 25, Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit distributed more than $570,000 in condolence and collateral damage repair payments to demonstrate goodwill to Iraqis caught in the crossfire during fighting in Najaf August 2003. Payments began on Sept. 30 and have resulted in a total of $1.9 million paid to more than 2,660 Najafis since then. Payments will continue as long as needed to meet each valid case. Condolence payments, known as solatia, are being paid to express sympathy to those injured or who lost a family member during the fighting. Collateral damage repair payments are intended for Iraqis who experienced damage to their home, business or other property."

Lastly, you can also read about how the
Dutch troops do it in Samawa:

"In a neighborhood without lights, its pockmarked dirt streets and open sewers faintly visible under the full moon, the Dutch soldiers began a foot patrol on a recent evening. After getting out of their soft-top vehicles, the soldiers entered a street, wearing no helmets and pointing their guns down, chatting with Iraqis clustered in front of their homes.

" 'Hello, Mister!' some boys cried out, and they followed the soldiers to the bend in the road. Driving through the town later, the Dutch called out 'salaam aleikum' to pedestrians. Many Iraqis, adults and children, waved at them.

"Part neighborhood police officers, part social workers, the soldiers managed to practice in Iraq what the Netherlands has come to call the Dutch approach to patrolling. Scarred by national shame over the Dutch peacekeepers who proved powerless to stop Bosnian Serbs from rolling into the UN enclave of Srebrenica in 1995 and killing thousands of Muslims, the Dutch have nonetheless managed to keep a soft touch, honed in Afghanistan and now on display in this small town on the Euphrates."
DIPLOMACY AND SECURITY: There are growing indications that the Coalition and the Iraqi forces are winning the psychological war against the insurgents. This, in turn, translates into victories on the ground, as this story about Fallujah and the rest of the Sunni Triangle indicates:

"US forces said the arrested Zarqawi aide was a 'relatively minor member' of the network who 'had moved up to take a critical position as a Zarqawi senior leader' because of the attrition of other militants in the airstrikes.

" 'This is the first time there is evidence that intelligence gathering [in Fallujah] is really improving,' says Mustafa Alani, a security and terrorism expert at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. 'The reason is that human intelligence is much improved. There is some cooperation, so Iraqis are now part of the process'...

" 'The major difference is [insurgents] are not enjoying the same support and sympathy as in April,' says Mr. Alani. 'There is a major shift in people's perception after they see Samarra stable. People are sick and tired [of fighting]'."
There seems to be a general softening of attitudes across the Middle East - sort of: "The US remains the principal 'bad guy,' but the realities of an ugly war are leading to a more ambivalent attitudes towards the insurgency.

"Even Lebanon's Hizbullah, a Shiite Islamist group that Washington says is a terrorist organization, has criticized the extremists. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's secretary-general, said recently: 'Indiscriminate and arbitrary acts are not resistance. The true resistance should protect its people and not kill them.'

" 'In general the Arab people are with the Iraqi resistance,' says Ahmed Sheikh, editor in chief of Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel that has often been criticized by US officials. 'But the feedback we get is that people are very opposed to attacks like the killings of the 49 Iraqis. People know they're trying to feed their families and say it's haram [forbidden]. Attacks on US forces, though, are seen differently'."
Yes, there is still a long way to go. But maybe this has something to do with the changing attitudes:

"According to Quds, Al-Arabiya, Middle East Broadcasting Company, Lebanese Broadcasting Company and Al-Iraqiyah television were forced from Fallujah by [the insurgents] because they were accused of providing biased coverage to Coalition forces by refusing to air insurgent stock footage of alleged civilian casualties. In discussions with Coalition officials, reporters from both Al Arabiya and MBC acknowledged threats to correspondents and indicated that some correspondents had withdrawn from Fallujah for their own safety and were reporting via phone from outside the city."
In Najaf, too, the atmosphere seems to be improving:

"More than a month after a U.S.-led offensive against the militia of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the historic core of this holy city remains a sealed-off zone of devastation and rubble. Yet many residents accept the damage as the price of restoring stability. 'We all live with hardships, but the people of Najaf are pleased with the tranquility and stability they are enjoying now,' said Sayed Baqir Qubbanchi, a high-ranking cleric here. 'This is much better than the time of war'...

"Despite misgivings about the devastation, there is much relief in this war-weary town that the young men in black with Kalashnikovs and grenade launchers appear to be gone - at least for now. The Shiite guerrillas were unpopular with large segments of Najaf's generally conservative, business-oriented populace, which relies on a religious tourist trade that evaporated with the fighting.

"Large-scale U.S. reconstruction projects were launched immediately after combat ended in the city of 500,000 about 100 miles south of Baghdad. Throughout Najaf, schools, clinics and other facilities are being refurbished as part of the U.S.-funded rehabilitation plan, which includes extensive repairs to roads, sewers and water infrastructure."
The Coalition forces are capitalising on the more favorable strategic environment, often experimenting with tactics, like this unorthodox military commander does:

"[Col. Dana J.H.] Pittard, commander of an American infantry brigade in the once insurgency-rife province of Diyala, is outspoken and his tactics don't always follow the textbook. But he believes they have produced a 'recipe for success' at Baghdad's vital northern gateway. It includes everything from driving wedges between rebel factions to forbidding his troops to be rude to Arabs.

"A Harvard-educated military aide to former President Clinton, the colonel from El Paso, Texas, also believes that contrary to what some military analysts think, a conventional U.S. Army unit with the right training, tactics and mind-set can defeat the rebellion.

"While Pittard and others acknowledge the insurgency remains active and could again worsen, he points to evidence of a sharp decrease in attacks in the largely agricultural region of some 1.7 million people.

"Roadside and car bombings, while still a serious threat to his 6,000 soldiers, fell 60 percent from their June peak while direct attacks plummeted by 85 percent, according to the military. As mortar and rocket strikes on Camp Warhorse, headquarters of Pittard's 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, have subsided, body armor no longer has to be worn at all times and outdoor volleyball and basketball courts have come into use."
The change in tactics also translates into changes to training of the Iraqi security forces:

"The Pentagon is making a key change in its approach to providing trainers for the fledgling Iraqi army in hopes of getting Iraqis to take control of their nation's security sooner. For the first time since the U.S. military began training Iraqi security forces more than a year ago, the Pentagon is giving a lead role to an Army Reserve unit that specializes in soldier schooling, but has never performed that mission abroad.

"Up to now, the Iraqi army has been trained by a hodgepodge of U.S. infantry and other units. The Army says the decision to send the 98th Division - one of seven units in the Army Reserve that specialize in training other soldiers - will stabilize the effort. The 98th will have a 12-month tour. The division is sending about 700 of its 3,600 part-time soldiers to provide a mixture of training, including basic combat skills and the development of a noncommissioned officer corps, its commander, Maj. Gen. Bruce Robinson, said."
The Iraqi National Guard continues to be armed and equipped by the American troops: "Multi-National Forces donated about $500,000 worth of equipment to Iraqi National Guard soldiers... Soldiers from the 104th, 105th and 108 ING Battalions received 2,100 body armor vests with plates." Overall, the October assistance included "more than 12,000 AK-47s, nearly 12,000 sets of body armor, 265 vehicles including heavy trucks, 41,000 pairs of desert boots, more than 4 million 9mm pistol rounds, 25 Walther 9mm pistols, approximately 4,500 various-make 9mm pistols, 60 PKM machine guns, 5,248 grenades - including 4,000 smoke grenades, 110 aircrew life vests, 22,637 9mm Glock pistols, 594 RPK machineguns, almost 3,000 handheld radios, more than 6,350 Kevlar helmets, 2001 Berretta 9mm pistols, 18 ambulances, 21,000 sets of desert uniforms, 17,000 pairs of running shoes, 460 sleeping bags, four pallets of medical equipment, 322,000 shotgun shells, and roughly 12 million AK-47 rounds."

The Iraqi National Guard
medics are also receiving training from their American counterparts. Medical training for high-casualty emergencies is also being provided: "The training consisted of Soldiers' reaction to an improvised explosive device on a military convoy, evacuating casualties, medical evaluation and treatment, and air medical evacuation procedures. The medical teams were combined between the ING medics and the Multi-National Forces-Iraq medics to simulate how a real emergency might take place in a joint operation."

And the US Army is also training
female Iraqi National Guards: "Soldiers from New York National Guard's Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment have already trained five females who have taken the initiative to join the ranks of Iraqi National Guard soldiers. 'It's important for me to do this because it is the first time for freedom for the women in Iraq,' said Intisar Abbod, a 24-year-old female ING soldier. 'So I can feel that'."

Training and other assistance is being provided not just by the American forces. "
Ukraine has agreed to train members of the country's new army and repair and modernize its weapons... Ukraine has 1,500 army personnel in Iraq as part of the US-led multinational forces. Under the deal, Ukraine will provide military training for Iraqi troops and overhaul the country's heavy weaponry." Similarly, Poland has signed a military cooperation agreement with Iraq, under which Poland will train Iraqi army and supply equipment. And the first batch of twenty Iraqi security personnel started to receive training at the Joint Warfare Center of NATO in Stavanger, Norway: "The eight-day course, which is the first training conducted outside of Iraq, has been tailored to meet the needs of mid- to high-ranking Iraqi security personnel... The course focuses on the function of an operational-level headquarters and includes instruction on crisis management, command and control of forces, the operational planning process, and integration of all aspects of civil-military cooperation, including liaison with the UN and other international organizations."

Iraqi police force, too, continues to be on the receiving end of foreign assistance. In
Samarra, for example, "[p]olice here are much safer now, following the construction of six new fortified police stations. Engineers assigned and attached to the 1st Infantry Division built one station a day for six days beginning Oct. 11, and spread them evenly throughout the city. The stations cost about $100,000 apiece, according to Sgt. 1st Class Armondo Cadena, a combat engineer and platoon sergeant with C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. Much of that money went to ensuring security. 'They will withstand rocket-propelled grenades, car bombs, and mortars,' Cadena said." In other assistance, Multi-National Forces recently installed 17 mobile vehicle radios in Iraqi Police Service vehicles in the northern city of Bayji.

There's also practical training: soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, with assistance of US Civilian Vanguard International Police Advisors, are training Iraqi National Police on
Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM) skills in Tikrit.

The increased presence and professionalism of the Iraqi security forces are bringing results on the battlefield with insurgents. Around
160 Arab fighters have recently appeared in Iraqi courts on terrorist charges. The Egyptian, Iranian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Syrian, Yemenite and Moroccan nationals face death penalty if convicted under the Iraqi law. "The Arabs have been referred to Iraqi courts and the verdicts against these foreigners are due to be pronounced soon for acts of terror they carried out in Iraq," said Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan said. The 160 are a part of a larger group of some 3,000 suspected insurgents arrested in recent security operations across Iraq, according to the Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Among those arrested are said to be one of Izzat al-Duri's deputy and his assistant (al-Duri, a former vice-president, is the suspected leader of Baathist insurgents).

Some of the other recent security successes include: the arrest by Iraqi security forces of a suspected
al Qaeda operative in Najaf; the killing in a Fallujah air strike an aide to Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi; foiling by the Saudi authorities on an infiltration of Iraq by four Saudi nationals; the arrest by the Syrian authorities of several Kuwaitis planning to enter Iraq in order to join the insurgency; capture by the Iraqi SWAT team and US Marines of 18 insurgents in the town of Haswah; foiling of a car bomb attack in Mosul due to a tip from the community; the arrest of 94 suspects trying to illegally infiltrate from Iran; and the recent capture of another two Al Zarqawi operatives.

James S Robbins writes about the dearth of good story reporting from Iraq:

"You can glean scores of interesting stories from the web if you search enough, from service-member blogs, public-affairs websites, and some local papers, especially in military towns. Most of the reporting comes from the units in the field, the people close to the scene who live it daily and know the facts. Nevertheless, it seems as though you cannot give away a good news story about our military in Iraq. The mainstream press is not interested. However, I am betting that most Americans are."
Judging by the response to this now almost regular column, they certainly are. I would venture a guess that part of the explanation why the American involvement in Iraq continues to enjoy a majority popular support is that a significant number of people throughout the country have stopped relying on the mainstream media for all the news from Iraq. To paraphrase the Spanish journalist, people are no longer satisfied just with "blood, blood, blood" from their newspapers and TV channels. Increasingly, they are looking for "context" and "politics" too, and finding them elsewhere.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?