Saturday, October 16, 2004

Are we feeling sorry yet? 

Getting readers of the leftie British "Guardian" pester American voters in the most marginal county of the most marginal state is not the only nuisance political campaign going on at the moment. Hot on the heels of the letter campaign to persuade the poor people of Clark County, Ohio, to "do it for the rest of the world" and vote for Kerry, comes this initiative to show the unsuspecting Iraqis that not all Americans are crazed warmongers who invade foreign countries and torture prisoners:
"More than 2,000 people opposing the war in Iraq, including the father of an American beheaded by terrorists, are sending Iraqis personal photos with protest messages to show 'what Americans are really like.'

"The pictures, from all around the country, are meant to be a counterpoint to the infamous images of Americans abusing Iraqi prisoners. Each photo shows at least one sign, usually handmade. Some specifically criticize U.S. actions in the war while others simply extend sympathy to Iraqi civilians.

" 'With deep shame, we apologize for the suffering our country has brought to the people of Iraq,' says a banner in a photo showing 11 people in Vancouver, Wash. Three elderly people in Minneapolis declare, 'All our children long for a new day.'

"Michael Berg, whose son Nicholas was executed last spring by an al-Qaida-affiliated group, holds a sign in his photo that says, 'I am sorry and ashamed for the tremendous loss my government has caused the Iraqi people.'

" 'I truly feel that what the United States government has done to the once-sovereign nation of Iraq is atrocious and shameful,' he said in a phone interview. Berg, whose opposition to the war predates his son's execution, will be in Washington on Wednesday when the project is formally unveiled by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

"The peace group, which organized the project, said it wants Iraqis to know that most Americans were shocked by the photos of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqis prisoners and many regret a war being waged in their name"...

" 'We thought it would be great if we could speak as ordinary Americans to ordinary Iraqis,' said [the campaign organiser Hossein] Alizadeh. 'Since the United States went in there, the Iraqis have seen nothing but violence, so they have a very negative opinion of Americans. We hope that after they see these photographs, they will pause for a second and think, "At least we have a few friends, there are people who care about what's happening".'"
That should cheer up Saddam, who's feeling a bit down after his recent hernia operation. In case the peaceniks run out of ideas for more signs to share with the people of Iraq, here's some more ideas:
"Liberation - never again!"

"Democracy for the rich, not just for all"

"We support your sovereign right to be killed by your own government"

"Stop outsourcing! Only Iraqi torturers for Abu Ghraib"

"We're deeply sorry for bringing you the opportunity to elect your own government"

"Freedom is overrated"

"Sorry to have destroyed your thirty-year idyllic life under the world's greatest madman"

"You all look much better in mass graves, anyway"

And one especially for the Kurds: "Smile, it's only gas"
In moments like this, I always cast my mind back a few years ago, when the streets were teeming with marches for human rights in Iraq, and peace activists were busy organising vigils, sit-ins and letter-writing campaigns against Saddam's oppression.

Then I wake up.

(hat tip: Lucianne)

Update: You can see a typical photo of sign-hugging peaceniks at Powerline. Hindrocket writes: "Frankly, I find it hard to imagine how Iraqis will react to this scheme. Probably it will confirm their impression that America is a rather weird place. I do think I can predict how our troops will respond, however. I think they'll share my contempt."

I think the US troops in Iraq should start their own campaign: I can see pictures of Marines and Army personnel holding signs saying "Apologies not accepted, assholes" or "Next time you need to protect your freedom, call somebody else". Every bleeding heart who sent a pictorial apology to people of Iraq deserves to receive this sort of message back from out troops.

Update II: Tim Blair has more on the "Guardian" fiasco - the insurgency is spreading and the Brit daily is increasingly stuck in a quagmire.

Update III: Tim Blair (yes, him agian; can't seem to get rid of him) has got the whole peaceful rouges gallery of photos with his hilarious commentary. Check it out.


Spinning Poland - again 

Poland is in the news again, marginally (if you blink, you'll miss it), as the Prime Minister Marek Belka clarifies, against the backdrop of a parliamentary confidence motion against him, Poland's position on the presence of its troops in Iraq. According to Belka, the Polish Army presence will be scaled down following the Iraqi elections in January, and overall, Poland "will not remain in Iraq an hour longer than the common sense dictates, than it is needed to achieve our mission's goal, to give back Iraq to the Iraqis, give security to the world."

The decision to start withdrawing troops immediately after the election rests on an assumption that with the democratically elected government in place, the Iraqis will be increasingly taking charge of their own internal security, and Poland will therefore be far from the only country scaling down its troop levels. The debatable aspect of Belka's plan is whether the government should commit itself to a fixed timetable based on the most optimistic scenario, without taking into account the actual circumstances on the ground in January and after. The rest of the Prime Minister's statement, however, is pretty non-controversial; after all no one wants to stay in Iraq longer than it's necessary.

But nowadays even the most obvious and non-controversial statements will still fall victims of spin.

Take for example UPI, which finishes its report with this observation: "Following its withdrawal, Poland will become the second major European nation, after Spain, to pull out of Iraq." Except, of course, that Poland is not withdrawing altogether but merely scaling down the troop levels. We don't know yet which country will become the second major European nation to follow in Spain's footsteps.

The "International Herald Tribune", meanwhile, published this vaguely attributed statement of opinion: "Government officials said Mr. Belka's speech could be an acute embarrassment to President Bush." But surely not on its face - only if it's spun to embarrass the President. The "IHT" also opened the report with this statement:
"Prime Minister Marek Belka of Poland narrowly survived a vote of confidence on Friday after telling Parliament that 'we will not stay in Iraq an hour longer than is needed'."
This is sadly quite misleading, as it gives the impression that the vote of confidence revolved around the question of Iraq, and that Belka only survived the vote after promising to start withdrawing the troops.

In reality there was substantially more to the confidence vote than foreign policy, namely economic management, transition to Euro, leadership style, and government appointments. I'm hardly surprised that the media has zeroed in on Iraq, as it's the most relevant aspect of the debate for the Western audiences (other news services also gave the impression that Iraq was the major if not the only issue in the confidence vote). From the local perspective, however, the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" did not mention Iraq until the sixth paragraph of its story on the vote (link in Polish). The Western media also missed the fact that the biggest issue behind the confidence motion were the alleged contacts between some Polish post-communist politicians and Russian security services (link also in Polish). In fact the story cited above, as well as this one, both from major Polish news providers, don't mention Iraq at all in the context of the confidence vote.

As to the second point, Belka survived the vote on the support of his own party and his coalition partners. Most of that block supports the deployment in Iraq. But so does most of the opposition, which voted against Belka.

So again, there is more - and at the same time, less - to the story than what the media would want you to think. Oh well, another intelligence failure.


Around the world in 51 blogs - the biggest edition ever 

That time of the week, again... Well, it's a lie - the round-up usually comes out on Sunday, but I've been pretty lazy about blogging today (I tip my proverbial hat to bloggers who can write several posts a day, rain, hail or storm - my blogligation hasn't progressed that far yet). By the way - as always - don't be shy if you have a post of your own that you think deserves a wider attention; just drop me an email and I'll see what I can do.

In Australia, Tim Blair brings the latest on the "Guardian"'s assault on Clark County voters.

Azazel at Boils My Blood has a handy guide for all those confused by voting for the Australian Senate (and that includes many Australians).

The Currency Lad takes Mark Steyn to task.

And Mike Jericho at his newly-renamed multi-author A Western Heart blog takes O'Reilley to task.

In the United States, on Instapundit, plenty of discussion about Mary Cheney.

Powerline writes: don't look at the polls, look at where the candidates are campaigning.

Joe Katzman at the Winds of Change rounds up the clueless and the classless of the campaign.

Blackfive writes about soldiers becoming citizens.

Dean Esmay weighs in on the "Stolen Valor" controversy.

Michelle Malkin blogs about Democratic bigotry. It's only a scandal if the Republican do it.

Captain's Quarters has a readers' competition to guess what this election's October Surprise will be. What if the surprise will be the lack of any surprise?

Roger Simon is among the very few novelists voting for Bush - which comes as a real surprise, doesn't it?

Patterico writes about Willie Horton and Mary Cheney.

Dan Drezner's chances of voting for Kerry have increased to 80%. Andrew Sullivan's happy; Greg Djereijan isn't.

Transatlantic Intelligencer watches the inevitable corrections as the "New York Times" reports about Germany, anti-Semitism and the Arabs.

Baldilocks asks: would you rather date Bush or Kerry?

Peter Schramm at No Left Turns writes about Bush and African-American churches.

At Moderate Voice a mega round-up of reactions to the third debate - it just goes on and on and on...

TigerHawk muses on whether a hawk can support Kerry (Dan Drezner would say yes - see above).

Photoshop blogging by Daniel Klein (a recovering liberal - welcome to the fold) - just in time for the Halloween: John Kerry - trick or treat? (fantastic image - check it out).

And Pacetown updates you on the Presidential pumpkin poll.

Brainshavings also provides a third debate round-up.

Pieter at Peak Talk looks at domestic policies of the two contenders and sees two centrists.

Pejman has more thoughts on the debate.

At Silent Running a debate we'd all like to see (an animation).

Bad Hair Blog, meanwhile, watches Kerry debate himself.

MuD & PHuD is scared by medical microchips.

CenterFeud muses on Kerry as Chamberlain.

Editors in Pajamas can't recommend "Team America".

Heard Here notes that the press if finally taking more note of the Oil for Food scandal.

GeoPolitical Review evaluates the American involvement in Oil for Food fraud.

Christopher at Catholic Kerry Watch says that Kerry demonstrates his utter disrespect for Catholic morality.

Pajamasphere offers for your reading and research pleasure the transcript of the third presidential debate in an easy to look at side-by-side format.

In Europe, Tomas Kohl looks at the Democrat campaign and sees the birth of "tax-and-cure liberalism."

Barcepundit notes that for the Spanish Socialists, US troops are not good enough for a military parade - but the French and the Wehrmacht veterans are.

Blithering Bunny is annoyed at government trying to force people to save for the old age.

Cicada says we can all rest easy - according to BBC the terrorist threat is a fantasy. I'm having deja vu to the Cold War.

And Talking Hoarsely watches BBC defend the French.

In Asia, Simon World travels Asia by blog - as always, plenty of links.

In the Middle East, Iraq the Model sees parallels between Al Sadr and the medieval Assassins.

Zeyad at Healing Iraq blogs about the roots of Iraqi secularism and sectarian trends in Iraqi society.

Grayhawk from Mudville Gazette is blogging live from Iraq.

Athena at Terrorism Unveiled is walking the streets of Damscus and doesn't like it.

In Africa, Ethiopundit writes on how war makes folks poor.

Also, welcome this week's new kids on the blog, Red Mind in a Blue State, by Tony Iovino of Long Island, New York; Right Intentions ("A disenfranchised former liberal democrat opines on politics, the sad state of legacy media, and voting Republican for the first time ever"); and Darn Floor, by Drew from Wisconsin.

And as always, don't forget Homespun Bloggers - if you're a blogger yourself, why not join and get additional exposure?


Friday, October 15, 2004

Charity for the new millennium 

For all those of you who have moved beyond sponsoring a six year old girl in Botswana so that her village can drill a water well, or a Peruvian urchin to give him and his siblings a chance to escape the cycle of poverty - here's a new cause: Adopt a Sniper.


Damned Yankees 

This really reads like a story from the "Onion":

"Jennifer Locke, a bright-eyed blonde New Yorker, drags on her cigarette and nods to pals at the American University of Paris. She'd be just one of the gang but for a deep, dirty secret. At 21, living among the fractious French who mostly revile President Bush, Jennifer Locke votes Republican.

" 'I'm always the one on the other side,' she lamented with a bitter laugh, recounting the insults and near violence she draws out when she champions Bush. 'There are 800 students in this school, and I think I'm the only one who admits to being Republican,' Locke said. That is likely an exaggeration, she acknowledges. But, she adds, it's close enough."
Who will stand up for Europe's newest persecuted minority?

You can also read
this long screed about how the European populus doesn't dig America and/or Bush anymore.

"America is different now... It rules by force, not by the weight of respect. There's a sense of 'do what I say and not what I do.' It was always so open. Now it seems to us totalitarian," says a French hairdresser, showing total lack of understanding of what totalitarianism is (France, of course, had the good fortune to avoid the Soviet variety, and the Nazi occupation was the lightest in Europe. A piece of trivia for you: the first German soldier to be killed by the Resistance did not die until fourteen months into the occupation).

"Americans are fed propaganda, and they say it's democracy," says British film-maker based in Paris, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the American media market if far more diverse than the European one.

"Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes, 29, on leave from Norway's Socialist Left party to run his 'tellhim.no' Web site, posted a letter to Bush, saying Norwegians respect America's 'strength, generosity and creativity.' But, he added, four out of five Norwegians oppose the war because Bush's policy 'only fosters resistance'," forgetting that resistance is what happens during conflict.

(if you like some more solid, poll-based research, as opposed to anecdotal evidence, you can check out
this story.)

What all of this comes down to is that Europe still doesn't seem to realise that there is a war going on and that the United States is currently waging it on their behalf, too. Europe has a long and proud history of deluding itself about own security, up until 1914 that a major war between continental powers was no longer possible, then after 1918 that World War One was really "the war to end all wars", and during the 1930s that appeasement would work against Hitler. In all these cases Europe chose naivete and wishful thinking over realism, and in each case ended up badly disappointed.

It was only during the Cold War that most of the Western Europe, for most of the time, was scared enough of the Soviets to allow a dose of common sense to creep into the European affairs (those of us with longer memories, however, will be wary of trying to see that era as a golden age of steadfast trans-Atlantic unity - the truth was much more complicated than that, whether you recall France pulling out of NATO in the 1960s, or the huge controversies over the placement of American tactical nuclear missiles in the 1980s). Even then, though, one gets the impression that the whole nostalgia about the "old America", the gentle giant that listened to the allies and respected everyone's views, boils down to the fact Europe came to be too used to and too comfortable with the United States that generously provided Western Europe with a no-questions-asked security umbrella.

European anti-Americanism is sadly nothing new, certainly not a post-S11 and post-Iraq development, as
John Rosenthal reminds us in today's "Opinion Journal" (if you're a regular reader of this blog, you would have been introduced to John's work some time ago). It has always been all too pervasive among large sections of European elites, but certainly seemed to have spread more widely among the general population.

The problem is that for America, the 1990s ended on September 11, 2001 - something I
wrote about before. The problem also is that for Europe the 1990s still haven't ended. The whole continent is blissfully and peacefully living in a post-modern, post-Cold War utopia, where war is once again unthinkable, the peace dividend never runs out, and the rest of the world (with exception of the Americans) is as enlightened and friendly as the Europeans like to think they are.

Al Qaeda, alas, doesn't share that fantasy, and it's only a question of time before Europe is made the realise it the hard way. When that happens, expect a lot of denial - it won't be the Islamofascists' fault; it's America that will be blamed for provoking them in the first place. But the reality will eventually set in. And the miracle of it all will be the fact that the United States will once again be ready and willing for the thankless task of saving Europe's ass.

(hat tip: readers Steve and Tanker Schreiber)


How many electoral college votes in there? 

Kerry wins the toilet poll in Iraq:

"Amid the decorum of the military, some of the most incisive political debate transpires by the toilet.

"On an airbase in western Iraq, Kerry was set to rout Bush in the November 2 elections after the Massachusetts senator picked up 73 votes to 58 on the bathroom wall.

"However, the vote has come in for criticism amid suspicions Kerry supporters voted more than once due to the identical hashmarks on his side of the column inside the foul, humid brown and green plastic stalls, known as 'Port-a-Johns'.

"The bathroom wall vents a surprising amount of anger over Bush. Much of the bile is dedicated to denigrating Bush's home state of Texas, the land of cowboys and toughness that has come to define his wartime presidency.

"One diatribe says: 'The only thing Bush cares about is a good fight to make a name for himself. If you think he really cares about us you're out of your ... mind. If you really believe 9/11 is related to Iraq then you're just as delusional as the hippie that thinks there will ever be world peace. You're not fighting for America. You're fighting for ... politics. End of story Cinderella.'

"With many voters confused about who to choose, a latrine wall write-in campaign offered some alternatives. Heavy Metal gods Slayer and Rob Zombie received 11th-hour nominations from the men in uniform to run for the White House."
What more can one add?


The one that got away 

I guess maybe letting him out of Guantanamo Bay was a mistake:
"A former Taliban fighter who was freed in March from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is leading a group of militants who have kidnapped two Chinese engineers and threatened to kill them. Tribal leaders called on the Pakistani military Wednesday to use force to free the hostages...

"Mehsud, 28, came back to Pakistan in March after about two years' detention at Guantanamo. He was captured by U.S.-allied Afghan forces in northern Afghanistan in December 2001 while fighting for the Taliban.

"Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the military has released 202 detainees from Guantanamo in the past year or so. Whitman estimated that five to seven are now engaged in terrorism.

"Mehsud, like all others who have been released, was deemed not to be a threat by a panel of U.S. personnel from the Defense Department, State Department and intelligence agencies. 'We do periodic reviews of cases. It's not a perfect process. When we make a determination to release, we can't be 100% sure they will not return to the fight,' Whitman said."
5 or 7 out of 202 is not a bad recidivism rate - if terrorism was a law enforcement problem, that is. Methinks Mehsud might be in trouble, if the Pakistani security forces subscribe to the "one strike, you're out (permanently)" rule.


Thursday, October 14, 2004

A message from an unreal ally 

In the first Presidential debate John Kerry gave us the "global test"; in the third and final one his greatest contribution to geo-strategic thinking was undoubtedly the concept of "real alliances", presumably so called to distinguish them from "unreal alliances":
"But the most important thing to relieve the pressure on all of the armed forces is frankly to run a foreign policy that recognizes that America is strongest when we are working with real alliances, when we are sharing the burdens of the world by working through our statesmanship at the highest levels and our diplomacy to bring other nations to our side...

"I believe the president broke faith to the American people in the way that he took this nation to war. He said he would work through a real alliance..."
I gather from the above that for Kerry a real alliance is some sort of an international kick-ass rainbow coalition, a United Nations with their helmet on and a gun held firmly in their collective hand, linking arms and sharing the burden all the way with the USA. Alas, the truth of the matter is that in every conflict last century, save for the two world wars, the United States always provided the bulk of the fighting force and the resources, be it in Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War or in any of the smaller engagements around the globe. It's a fact of life that Kerry has great problems accepting.

Having personal attachments to two members of the "unreal coalition" (Australia and Poland) I continue to find Kerry's denigration of America's current allies to be tiresome and disappointing, but most of all laughable. John Edwards talks a lot about "two Americas", but it seems that there also "two universes"; the one where most of us live, and the one inhabited by John Kerry. The Kerryverse is a surreal, looking glass world where concepts are inverted on their head and meanings get twisted into cosmic pretzels of nuance.

Thus, the 30 or so nations that have actually put their troops on the ground in Iraq constitute an unreal alliance, whereas the countries that right from the start were working to stop the United States from going into Iraq and a year and a half later are still refusing to contribute any serious military assistance to help stabilize the country - even if John Kerry becomes the President - are the real alliance.

Already in this campaign we've seen fake but accurate documents; I guess now it's time for a real but unfriendly alliance.

(the left got excited when the German Defense Minister Peter Struck referred to Kerry's Iraq plan as "very sensible" and said that he is open to the idea of German troops going into Iraq if Kerry is elected. Alas, that "opening" did not last too long: "German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Wednesday renewed his firm opposition to deploying troops to Iraq, a spokesman said, slapping down hints at a change in policy from his defense minister. Deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg told reporters that Schroeder had told the cabinet 'clearly and unequivocally' that Germany had no plans to send military personnel to Iraq. 'There will be no German soldiers in Iraq,' Steg said." So much for Kerry's real allies.)

(via my fellow Australian blogger The House of Wheels, who was live-blogging the third debate and was mighty offended by Kerry's remarks.)

Update: Daniel W Casey brings us Kerry's recruitment poster for the "real alliance."

Update II: Via blogger Mad Minerva in comments, the news of another John Kerry slur at our current allies, this time Italy. The earstwhile Democrat contender was quoted as saying that the state of the news Iraqi security forces is so bad that even the Italian army could kick their ass.

Be that as it may, the French army would still surrender to them.


Australia's own intelligence failure 

I don't usually just link to opinion pieces and leave it at that, but Greg Sheridan in the "Australian", as always, says it better:

"It's now clear that there does need to be an inquiry, preferably a full judicial inquiry, into the shocking failure of Australia's best-funded intelligence agency. This agency is much better funded than our other agencies, and unlike them has hundreds of well-paid analysts and good career structures.

"However, it's clear that it has produced the greatest intelligence failure in our history. With some notable exceptions it has suffered from group-think and a lack of contestability of views. It has failed to challenge orthodox assumptions or test them empirically.

"Although it has many clandestine sources, it is particularly weak on empirical research and field agents. The agency does do a lot of 'humint' (human intelligence) but its sources are too narrow for reliable analysis. Moreover, the recent intelligence failure involved a nation which presents no language difficulties, and is an easy operating environment.

"I am referring, of course, to the Canberra press gallery and its performance predicting, analysing and understanding the federal election. With honourable exceptions, how on earth did they come to the judgment that Mark Latham won the campaign? What was that about Iraq as a sleeper issue? Come again about Medicare Gold being bold and popular?

"These folks should never again have the gall to criticise the Office of National Assessments or the Defence Intelligence Organisation for having a little difficulty penetrating the innermost secrets of totalitarian Arab regimes, when they have trouble penetrating the innermost secrets of the Australian electorate."
As Glenn Reynolds would say, "ouch!" Mark Latham, though, did turn up to be a Weapon of Mass Destruction, at least for his own side of politics.


"Suspected" photo caption 

Today's "benefit of the doubt" award goes to the subeditor in charge of photo captions for the printed edition of the "Australian", for his effort under this photo of the excavations of a mass grave in Iraq (the web version of the "Australian" story unfortunately doesn't contain the photo in question):

"Archeologist Michael Timble, left, and Mr Kehoe view a suspected mass grave at Hatra in northern Iraq"
Should the big trench in the ground filled with 300 or possibly thousands of bodies killed by gunshot wounds turn out to be something else than a mass grave, I wonder what it will be?


Clark County, Ohio - beware! 

Via Tim Blair, comes this news of a British intervention in the American Presidential election, brought to you by the "Guardian" newspaper:

"The result of the American election in less than three weeks could have huge consequences for the whole world. Yet those of us outside the 50 states have had no say in it. Until now, that is.

"It works like this. By typing your email address into the box on this page, you will receive the name and address of a voter in Clark County, Ohio. You may not have heard of it, but it's one of the most marginal areas in one of the most marginal states: at the last election, just 324 votes separated Democrats from Republicans. It's a place where a change of mind among just a few voters could make a real difference.

"Writing to a Clark County voter is a chance to explain how US policies effect you personally, and the rest of the world more generally, and who you hope they will send to the White House. It may even persuade someone to use their vote at all."
So now, in addition to usual emails from "STEVE KABILA, THE SON OF THE LATE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF KONGO PRESIDENT LAURENT DESIRE KABILA" offering a share in $25,000,000, and offers on amazing penis extension pills, the poor people of Clark County, Ohio, will be receiving whining emails from British lefties encouraging them to vote for John Kerry. Where will it stop?

The "Guardian" advises its readers/email pests:

"Be courteous. Remember that it's unusual to receive a lobbying letter from someone in another country. Think about how you would respond if you received a letter from Ohio urging you to vote for Tony Blair - or [the Conservative opposition leader] Michael Howard."
I can certainly think how I would respond, if I were a Clark County resident:

"From: Arthur Chrenkoff
To: xxxxxxxxxx
Re: Please save the world and don't vote for Bush!!!!!!!!

Dear xxxxxxxxx

Get @&*%.

Yours sincerely

Three great Brit bores, John le Carre, Antonia Fraser and Richard Dawkins have already provided us with their emails to unsuspecting Ohio residents. As the old saying goes, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh. Of all the absurdity, I will only quote a paragraph from Dawkins:

"Now that all other justifications for the war are known to be lies, the warmongers are thrown back on one, endlessly repeated: the world is a better place without Saddam. No doubt it is... But that's the Tony Martin school of foreign policy [Martin was a householder who shot dead a burglar who had broken into his house in 1999]. It's not how civilised countries, who follow the rule of law, behave. The world would be a better place without George Bush, but that doesn't justify an assassination attempt. The proper way to get rid of that smirking gunslinger is to vote him out."
They still don't get it, do they?


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

European Parliament rejects free thought 

Fun and games continue at the EU:
"The incoming European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, was on a collision course yesterday with [Members of European Parliament] as he backed Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian commissioner designate who described homosexuality as a 'sin'. .. On Monday, a key committee of the European Parliament voted by a narrow margin to reject Mr Buttiglione's candidature."
This is truly astounding and well into the "thought police" territory, since the European Parliament is denying an EU official the right to hold personal beliefs of religious nature. Buttiglione is thus likely to miss out on a European Commission position because the EP is now moving into business of deciding which moral positions are acceptable.

This is what Buttiglione said during his confirmation hearing:
"I may think that homosexuality is a sin; this has no effect on politics unless I say that homosexuality is a crime."
Buttiglione was nominated for the position of justice commissioner, and as such he would be overseeing civil liberties and minority rights within the European Union. What he said in effect was that his personal views will not influence the performance of his duties to enforce European laws which give protection and rights to various minority groups. But that's not good enough for the European Parliament, which doesn't seem to believe in freedom of conscience for the EU officials, unless they hold politically acceptable views. As Silvio Berlusconi commented:
"The very idea of disputing the freedom of conscience and opinion of a commissioner of Catholic faith, contesting his own secular distinction between morality and law, smells of fundamentalism if not obscurantism."
Now I'm waiting for the EP to reject the nomination for the tax commissioner because the nominee believes in cutting taxes.


Unfair and imbalanced 

Even Fox is not "fair and balanced" - at least considering political donations made by the employees:
"Totaling $25,383, a search of Fox News' contributions turned up donations to Bush and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, along with contributions to Howard Dean and the left-wing Emily's List. Kerry, Gephardt and Wesley Clark also showed up on the list. Of the $25,383 total, $4,930 went to Republicans candidates or committees."
Which means that even people working for this bastion of shameless right-wing propaganda contribute four times as much to the Democrats as to the Republicans.

But the other networks are worse:
"2004 election cycle donations from employees of CBS – which has been embroiled in a scandal over the use of fake National Guard documents to call President Bush's service into question – went to the DNC Services Corp., presidential candidates Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry and Richard Gephardt, and Senate candidates Barbara Boxer and Barack Obama, among others. Of over $111,000 given by network employees, just two $1,000 contributions went to President Bush's re-election campaign.

"NBC's records were similar. Employees of the network spread their money a bit wider, including gifts to Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. The list of employees included producers, attorneys on-air hosts, writers and executives. NBC's contributions totaled $146,585, none of which went to Bush."
And how much is bias worth by way of a campaign contribution?


John Edwards' healing ministry 

During his campaign stop in Newton, Iowa, John Edwards had this to say to the gathered supporters:
"We will stop juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases... People like Chris Reeve will get out of their wheelchairs and walk again..."
The above wasn't, as you might expect, prefaced with "In the name of Jesus..." but it certainly gives you a dose of optimism. If the Kerry Administration will be able to heal the sick and make the lame walk, then maybe they will be able to fix up problems like prostitution or gambling. Oh, and terrorism, too.

Jokes aside, Edwards was talking about the stem cell research, more specifically embryonic stem cell research. But for all his good intentions about improving the nation's health, Edwards has so far managed to make at least one blogger ill. Brainshavings writes: "John Kerry and John Edwards need to fire their advisors and apologize for a shameless lie that cruelly gives false hope to people with spinal cord injuries."

As a layman whose involvement with science had ended in grade 10 of high school, I won't be engaging in technical debates on this complex issue. From what I can gather from reading and conversations with medical scientists, however, there's nothing that embryonic stem cells can contribute to medicine that cannot be obtained from adult stem cells or indeed embryonic stem cell derived from umbilical cords and placentas as opposed to destroyed embryos.

John Edwards is engaging in cynical political game at the expense of the sick and the suffering. Not satisfied with using triple amputees to deliver letters for the Kerry campaign, the Dems are now using the chronically ill and the incapacitated to whack Bush over the head: you see, Bush is mean, because he provokes the terrorists, he makes your gas more expensive, and he sends your jobs overseas. He's so mean, in fact, that he will keep the sick sick for the sake of his extremist moral agenda.

The problem for Kerry and Edwards is that if they keep make healing promises they can't keep, they're likely to end up looking like false Messiahs.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Quagmire, if you can make it 

I'm currently reading Mark W Woodruff's "Unheralded Victory: Who won the Vietnam War?". Highly recommended for history and military buffs, this book makes it painfully clear that the American forces, together with South Vietnamese army and other allies have convincingly won every military engagement of the war, from 1965 to the American withdrawal in 1973, in the process almost completely destroying Viet Cong and inflicting staggering casualties on the North Vietnamese Army. Vietnam War, sadly, is another example of conflict won militarily but lost politically.

In fact, the American armed forces have remained extremely lethal in recent conflicts. In Vietnam, for over 50 thousand Americans killed in action, 1.1 million North Vietnamese troops perished in fighting, the deadly ratio of some 20:1. This is quite similar to another American defeat, Mogadishu in 1993, where the engagement immortalised in "Black Hawk Down" cost the lives of less than 20 American soldiers but anywhere between 500 and 1,000 Somalis. Military actions in Iraq, both during the major combat operations phase as well as during significant anti-insurgency operations ever since, have resulted in similar ratios of enemy deaths. The United States armed forces continue to have the ability to significantly degrade the opponent's fighting capacity. It's what is made of military victories afterwards that's a problem.

When reading Woodruff's book I was struck by how much the Vietnam War resembles the current conflict in Iraq - not in the way that the left says it is - a military quagmire - but in the way the left wants to make it so. What we have in both cases is a highly successful military operation conducted under restrictive rules of engagement, resulting in serious defeat of enemy forces but portrayed by the media as an inconclusive stalemate at best, while at the same time the public support for the action is being white-anted by a small but influential section of the elite.

In the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration realists gave us "Peace with Honour" and condemned the whole of Vietnam to tyranny that continues to this day. Today, their intellectual heirs (if not the original players themselves; Kissinger, after all, is still alive and kicking) have their own designs on "Iraq without illusions." Let's hope and pray that this time around the rush to disengage from the "quagmire" will not again live an Asian country at the mercy of the enemies of freedom.


Kerry's nuisance 

The blogosphere's alive with the sound of musings - or, rather, teeth gnashing. Today it's about John Kerry's remark that "we have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." I think I understand what in his very tortured and nuanced sort of way Kerry was trying to say, and what he said had a very 1990s nostalgic ring to it: look guys, terrorism, like death and taxes - and the poor - will always be with us, so the best we can do is try to go back to how it was a few years ago, with a few bombs going off here and there, mostly killing some black people and some Muslims in obscure parts of the world most of us couldn't place on the map. In other words, an explosives-laden Palestinian killing Jews at a pizzeria or an explosives-laden Kashmiri separatist killing Hindus at a bus stop - who cares?; an explosives-laden boat once in a while ramming into a US warship on duty overseas - bad but manageable; an airliner ramming into a US skyscraper - definitely bad. In Kerry's ideal world we would go back from the definitely bad to who cares, or at worst, to the bad but manageable.

John Kerry is right in a sense that terrorism cannot be completely eliminated; the best we can do is to marginalise the phenomenon. But he's wrong that we can ever return to previous normalcy - there is no "place" to "get back to" anymore. S11 might not have changed Kerry, but it certainly changed the international state of play. In the past, terrorism was used as a limited tactic to achieve limited objectives (unification of Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, statehood for the Basques, elimination of the "Zionist entity" in favour of a Palestinian state); S11 was not the first, but certainly the most emphatic statement that for some, terrorism would now be used as a total tactic in a total war against the West to achieve a totalitarian objective of a global theocratic super-state. Too bad for Kerry that an Islamist genie is out of the bottle now - to turn terrorism back into a nuisance would require us to completely eliminate the spirit that animates al Qaeda and its cheerleaders and followers. And that will be neither easy nor quick.

Then there was the matter of the analogies used by Kerry to explain his terrorism strategy - "other things we're never going to end," like prostitution and gambling. As Hindrocket at
Powerline wrote, "The reason why those crimes are notoriously hard to eliminate is that they are victimless. They are consensual acts in which a great many people voluntarily engage. How can Kerry possibly see an analogy to terrorism?" Comparing terrorism to car accidents is also a no-no: "car accidents are an unintended by-product of a constructive activity. The automobile has revolutionized and improved life for billions of people. If we, as individuals, were determined to avoid the risk of automobile accidents, we would avoid riding in cars. But the small risk of accident is one that we voluntarily take, in exchange for the extraordinary mobility and freedom we enjoy, unparalleled in the history of the human race."

So what can we compare terrorism to? Violent crime is commonly overused - after all both involve people harming other people; hence we end up with the whole question of whether terrorism is a military or a law enforcement phenomenon. The problem is that terrorism is essentially a political act - to be Clausewitzian about it, one could say that terrorism is an asymmetrical continuation of politics by other means by the people who cannot achieve their objectives through political means.

Terrorism is enough of a problem when pursued to achieve limited objectives, as the decades' long campaigns in Ireland, Spain or the Middle East have shown all too clearly; it will be a significantly greater problem now that it is being pursued to achieve utopian ends.


All dressed up and nowhere to go (electoraly) 

Labor had all the good policies and all the poll- and focus groups-tested strategies:

"Labor made a handover of power between [Prime Minister] John Howard and [Treasurer] Peter Costello a focus of its campaign after internal polling showed it was the fourth-biggest reason for people to switch their vote.

"Labor polling obtained by The Australian shows the thought of a leadership handover to the Treasurer made 40 per cent of swinging voters less likely to vote for the Coalition and 31 per cent much less likely.

"Ten days before the campaign began, extensive polling of Mr Costello's standing found he had a positive rating of only 37 per cent and a negative rating of 50 per cent...Labor was heartened that its strategy was working when Mr Costello's ratings deteriorated during the final two weeks of the campaign."
But that wasn't all: "The Labor research found 64 per cent of voters in marginal seats were aware of [its education] policy within three days of its release and two-thirds of those aware of it had a positive view. The research showed 44 per cent thought their own child's school would be better off and 9 per cent thought it would be worse off. It its understood the schools policy was rated among the top three or four vote-switchers."

By the way, in case you're curious, Labor lost the election.

To fill in non-Australian readers, Labor tried to make an issue of the fact that John Howard, now 65 year old, did not explicitly commit himself to serving the full three year term as Prime Minister and would probably sometime in the near future step down in favour of his deputy, Treasurer Peter Costello. So Labor ran a campaign to the effect that if you vote for Howard, you will get Costello. What Labor failed to realise was that many (swinging voters in particular) were more concern that if they vote for Latham, they will get Latham.

So what happened? Labor seemed to have the fourth and the third top vote switching issues, and while the story doesn't say what number one and two were, methinks the Liberal Party had their fingers on these particular two. As the article says, "Labor's campaign was swamped by the Coalition's message that interest rates would always be higher under a Labor government."

As the old slogan goes, "it's the economy stupid." It's not always right - sometimes there are more important issues, as when your country is under attack, but as the Prime Minister argued, good economy - and good economic management - matter, because without them nothing else is possible. Arguably, what the Labor Party failed to understand was that while Mark Latham has managed to energise the demoralised Labor Party base with his freshness, drive and combativeness (shades of Howard Dean?), he did not have a similar effect on the soft swinging voters who remained apprehensive about his erratic behaviour and lack of experience. The "swingers", being the least ideological of the voters, tend to base their voting decisions on the direct and immediate impact policies and candidates will have on their hip pockets. In this context, Latham was just too risky - he was the biggest switch.


Monday, October 11, 2004

More election news and views 

Apologies for light blogging recently - not that "Good news from Iraq, Part 12" is particularly light - but even though the election is over, there are still some loose ends to be tied, including a nail-biting wait to see whether a friend of mine, Ross Vasta, has managed to unseat Labor's Con Sciacca in the seat of Bonner, in Brisbane's south-eastern suburbs.

Here's my earlier thoughts about the election; below some more reflections:

Was it, or was it not a referendum on Iraq? Many of my readers in the United States have remarked on a very mooted media coverage of John Howard's victory, cynically noting that had the Prime Minister lost, the Americans would have heard a lot more about it. As Tim Blair wrote, "the New York Times, having earlier decided that 'War Plays a Role in Elections in Australia', now believes that Iraq remained in the background during the campaign."

This seems to be a classical case of "heads I win, tails you lose"; if Howard had lost the election it would have been a referendum on Iraq; but since he won, the election was obviously about other issues. This is quite reminiscent of the media spin of the European Parliament election results a few months ago - it seems that the war in Iraq simply cannot be shown as anything other than an electoral liability.

Since I myself wrote that "[t]his election has largely been fought over domestic issues: the economic management, interest rates, health and education spending. My impression all along was that Iraq and terrorism were very much secondary issues, except for the rabid activists and the commentariat who were maintaining the rage while the average person has already moved on," let me just explain myself a bit more, lest I be accused of falling for the mainstream media spin.

Sections of the media and the punditry, together with the rabid left (mostly associated with the Greens) had tried to make Iraq the issue of the campaign. For that small but vocal section of the Australian electorate the election was always going to be the referendum on Iraq - hence the unprecedented attempt to attack John Howard in his own seat of Bennelong. Neither the government nor the Labor opposition would however much oblige, preferring to campaign largely on domestic "bread and butter" issues. This is not to say that Iraq and the war on terror were absent from the campaign altogether: the voters were from the start given a clear choice on these issues. According to Labor, the war in Iraq was wrong and it made us more of a terrorist target. Hence we should pull out our troops by Christmas and concentrate on fighting the war on terror in our region, in cooperation with our Asian neighbors. According to Liberals, the war in Iraq was right and our troops should stay until their mission is accomplished. As for the war on terror, we shall fight it wherever we can, in Indonesia by all means, but in the Middle East too, if necessary.

Voters were quite aware of this choice, and to the extent that the people had voted for the complete policy package, the Liberal foreign policy option has clearly proven to be the preferred one. From that point of view, the pro-war position was victorious on Saturday. But it's also clear that the issue of whom to trust to manage Australia's booming A$800 billion economy had also played on voters' minds, particularly in marginal seats, which are experiencing large housing growth and are therefore more receptive to concerns about the interest rates.

(For those confused about Australia's electoral system I recommend the new Austra-American blog The Raw Prawn, and particularly the post about compulsory voting and marginal seats.)

If the issue of Iraq did not seem to have been on the forefront of the Australian election campaign, it's because by contrast with the US presidential campaign it wasn't there to anywhere near the same degree. But the reasons it didn't need to be as prominent is that the voters have already had three years in which to acquaint themselves with the Liberal and the Labor positions.

The Senate: The Americans are used to either the Democrats or the Republicans controlling the Senate, whether or not the same party also at the same time controls the House of Representatives and the White House. By contrast, in Australia it's very rare for either the Liberal/National coalition or the Labor Party to have majority in the Senate. This is largely thanks to the proportional representation system of voting for the upper house, which results in both the major political forces in Australian politics being consigned to minority positions, with the balance of power being held by minor parties and independents. As you can imagine, this makes it for a very frustrating legislative process - the Liberal Party's program is always at the mercy of political forces which are politically to the left of the Labor Party.

But all that might change soon, thanks to a stunning performance by the Liberals in the Senate elections - the performance in many ways more memorable and consequential than in the House of Representatives poll. For the first time in a generation, since the late 1970s, the Liberal/National coalition might achieve the absolute majority in the Senate, or at worst it will be able to form majority with possible support of the Family First senator from Victoria (I mentioned Family First in my earlier election post). How that will play out legislatively is anyone's guess. It's difficult to see where Family First, which is associated with the Assemblies of God, stands on various specific policy issues; all that's certain is their commitment to assess every proposal through the prism of the impact on Australian families. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the evangelical Christians who form the backbone of the party are not strangers to entrepreneurial spirit and don't apologise for material success. It seems reasonably certain that, at the very least, Family First might prove more amenable to the government's legislative program than the previous holders of the balance of power, the left-wing Democrats and independent Senators.


Good news from Iraq, Part 12 

Note: Also available fom the "Opinion Journal" and the Winds of Change. As always, thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their support for the cause, and thanks to all those who have sent in stories and to all those who are helping to spread the good news.

I struggled to find some good news.

The picture painted by the news stories was bleak: another suicide attack, a shoot-out with armed militants, soldiers dying in an ambush, a man accused of collaborating with the hated occupiers executed by parties unknown, property destruction causing resentment among the locals, hostile noises from the neighbors, another condemnation from international community, and at home political instability and accusations of corruption at the highest level. There was hardly anything about economy and enterprise, nothing about culture and civil society, barely a glimpse of any positive development or an indication that something, somewhere might be going right.

After about ten minutes I gave up trying to find some good news from Israel.

To me, nothing illustrates better the media's inbuilt preference for the negative aspects of life. Even if one were to remove every last ounce of political bias from the Middle East reporting, it is very likely that we would still end up with a never-ending litany of violence, mayhem, and disaster dominating our newspapers and news bulletins - not for any other reason than, as old newshounds like to say, "If it bleeds, it leads." Quite simply, to journalists and editors the world over, stories of terrorism, warfare, conflict, controversy and corruption seem not only more interesting and worthwhile, they also make for a far more spectacular and exciting footage. And so, if Israel, which - particularly by the regional standards - enjoys a thriving democracy, a growing economy and a healthy civil society only ends up in the news for all the wrong reasons, what chance is there for Iraq, which still has a considerable way to go before it catches up to the Israeli standards of security, prosperity and civility?

Here are some stories from the past two weeks that not unexpectedly got drowned out by military offensives, terrorist attacks, beheadings, and the increasingly shrill political debate about who lost Iraq, who can get it back and why should we bother anyway. To point out such good news stories is not to deny or downplay all the problems and challenges, but to provide an additional perspective on the events in Iraq. Despite all the frenzy, only time - and not today's newsmakers - will tell which stories will prove to be of more long-term consequence for the people of Iraq.

SOCIETY: Foreign pundits and politicians might be pessimistic, but the Iraqis are keen to
make their election happen:
"Plans for holding national elections are going ahead as usual and no part of the country will be excluded, the Electoral Commission said. Fareed Ayar, the commission's spokesman said, the January balloting will take place across the country. 'We have no plans to exclude a specific area. Elections will take place every where in Iraq,' he said...

"Ayar urged Iraqis not to pay attention to statements from Iraq or abroad about the balloting process and whether the elections will be comprehensive. He said the commission is independent even of the interim government of Ayad Allawi and its rulings will be binding to all parties.

"He urged officials with interest in Iraqi affairs, whether inside or outside the country 'to be careful when giving statements about the elections.' 'Interpretations which are not based on facts will be harmful to the electoral process,' he said.

"He denied reports that the commission was lagging behind regarding matters like lists of legible voters, voting centers and ballot boxes. He said the commission had already prepared ballot lists 'which have been drawn in accordance to international standards and with the assistance of UN experts.' He said in order to have free and fair elections the electoral lists are kept with the commission and will not be made available even to government officials."
Meanwhile, a group of Iraqis has been traveling overseas to witness - and learn from - the democratic progress in the world's largest Muslim country:

"With extremist bomb attacks, separatist struggles and religious tensions, Indonesia may not be a shining example for Iraq, but the Southeast Asian country now has something else to offer - democracy.

"A group of Iraqi political delegates has spent the past week touring Indonesia at landmark elections in the hope of learning how, even against overwhelming odds, peaceful elections can be a reality.

"In what would have been unthinkable until the end of three decades of dictator Suharto's rule in 1998, Indonesia on Monday staged its first direct presidential elections, a remarkable achievement in the vast archipelago."
In the words of one of the delegates, Akif Khalik Ibraheem of the Iraqi Independent Democrats: "The most important lesson here is not to be deterred by the complexity and difficulty of the task - it can be done... Anyone can see the amount of problems they have and they still get it through with an admirable degree of success, which reassures our hopes for the future."

Whatever final form the Iraqi elections will take, the
European Union has announced it will support the process: "The European Union will support preparations for elections in Iraq even if violence keeps the vote from taking place throughout that country, a spokeswoman said today. Emma Udwin told reporters the EU was spending $36 million in election preparations. The money is being used for everything from training electoral officers to providing voter information for the elections scheduled for January 2005. 'We will support (elections) with money and we will support it with expertise,' Udwin said. 'There is a strong will to see elections take place'."

And the US State Department has launched a
$10 million project to help more Iraqi women become involved in politics: "Several academic and non-governmental organizations will execute projects designed to train potential women candidates about competing in the elections and to encourage women to exercise their right to vote. The grants will also support the establishment of women's networking and counseling centers."

In line with the changing face of Iraq, the Minister for Culture, Mufeed al- Jazairi, has announced a competition for a
new national anthem and flag. According to the Minister, "the new national anthem is ought to be symbolizing the reconstruction of Iraq in harmony with values of faithfulness, patriotism and pluralism. The ministry has allocated 12 millions Iraqi dinars as a prize for the winning text, distributed equally between the poet , the tune-setter and the performer. As regards the contest of the new Iraqi flag, it is ought to symbolize Iraq's integration in all its nationalities, ethnics and cultures as well as representing the civilization of Mesopotamia."

And in a positive development for the rule of law, the Iraqi Cabinet has recently adopted a series of recommendations, including the establishment of a
Constitutional Court to scrutinize domestic legislation in light of the country's highest law.

In media news, Iraqis it seems are becoming a nation of
avid TV viewers, with ever evolving tastes:

"Newly launched Iraqi channels with a focus on domestic affairs now seize more than 20% of the television viewing in Iraq, according to a survey. The survey, by Baghdad University's Centre for Psychological Studies, also reveals that Iraqi TV viewers are no longer as enchanted by major Arab satellite news channels.

"While 64.4% still watch Arabic (non-Iraqi) channels, the viewers have switched away from major television news outlets such as Aljazeera and Alarabiya. Foreign channels broadcasting in Arabic have seen their television market share in Iraq drop to about 13%, the study says. The findings are a blow to the Qatar-based Aljazeera and the UAE-based Alarabiya whose viewing has slumped to 15.1% and 7% respectively, according to the study. On the other hand, the Egyptian satellite channel where entertainment dominates programming attracts the largest number of Iraqi television viewers...

"[Those polled] were also given a list containing nine major Iraqi channels beamed via satellite across the country. More than half of them (53.1%) said they preferred al-Shariqiya, a newly launched 24-hour channel concentrating mostly on Iraqi affairs and domestic series and soap operas. The survey... also finds that 34.2% of viewers watch al-Iraqiya, another satellite channel with an interest on domestic affairs. The US-sponsored al-Hurrah is only watched by 2.7% of viewers, the study shows."
Less rabid incitement from Al Jazeera and the like might go some way towards creating a calmer Iraqi polity.

cartoonists are also enjoying their new-found freedom of speech. "Iraqi cartoonist Muayed Naima had to wait 35 years before he could draw what was on his mind. But since Saddam Hussein was toppled, he has faced new pressure from Islamist militants who have threatened him because his work mocks their violence. He is not put off. 'Oppression is our past. This is about democracy,' Naima said. 'I must continue'." (see one of Naima's cartoons here.) The freedom of expression, of course, also involves freedom to criticize American actions - but what has once been compulsory under Saddam is now only one of the creative options. "Without political understanding, there is no democracy... We have accumulated political naivete because 35 years of dictatorship is enough to forget everything... Satire gives a type of education to the citizen and raises their ability to understand political changes. It's essential," says another Iraqi cartoonist.

In education news,
old school textbooks from the Saddam era will no longer be used throughout Iraqi education system. The Ministry of Education is currently printing 80 million copies of 600 new titles to be used in schools. The World Health Organisation, meanwhile, has allocated $41 million for school nutrition and early childhood care programs that will cover 1.7 million primary school students.

new academic year has finally started in Iraq, after delays prompted by security concerns. According to the Education Minister Sami al-Mudhaffar, some 80 percent of Iraq's several millions of students turned up for the first day of class. One report notes:

"Most students said they were excited to finally get back to school, just so they could be with their friends. And, this year, students will find a broader curriculum of courses, while teachers will have new textbooks to hand out, new lesson plans and new teacher manuals. During the summer, teachers took refresher courses in how to teach and how to behave toward children. According to Ministry of Education officials, it is all part of an effort to reverse the damage caused by the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, who was said to be more interested in the loyalty of teachers than in their ability to teach."
In higher education news, cooperation between Iraqi and overseas universities continues to expand. In one instance, "[a]cademics from Iraq's most respected higher education institution, Baghdad University, will study at the University of Technology, Sydney as part of a new relationship between the universities. Three senior Iraqi academics arrived in Sydney last week to sign a memorandum of understanding which will see UTS and the University of Baghdad collaborate on research projects and set up student and research exchange programs. The idea for the link came from Ban Al-Ani, an Iraqi-born academic at UTS. Formerly a student at UB, Dr Al-Ani, now an IT lecturer at UTS, wanted to offer some assistance to the Iraqi university after it was partly destroyed in the war. 'I was looking for something to do to help Iraq,' Dr Al-Ani said. 'Because I am an academic, the only way I thought I could really help was through academe'."

In an effort to help rebuild Iraq's civil society, British trade unions have moved on from their opposition to war and decided to help their Iraqi colleagues build a free and democratic society. You can find about their initiatives

In sports news,
Iraqi youth soccer team was on the roll in the AFC Youth Championship 2004, with a 3-0 victory over reigning champions South Korea. This was followed by a 2:0 victory over Thailand. Unfortunately, another Iraqi football dream run was ended at the hands (or feet) of Syria, with a 1:0 defeat. This time around, at least, team members will not face torture for their failure to bring home the trophy.

ECONOMY: Iraqi Central Bank is planning to
free up Iraqi dinar to enable overseas transfer and international trade in the currency. Banking professionals, meanwhile, continue to benefit from an training program to bring them up to speed on the latest and the best industry practices: "The Private Enterprise Partnership for the Middle East (PEP-ME), a technical assistance program created, funded and managed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), launched a five-month bank training program recently in Amman, Jordan, for managers of largely private Iraqi banks. Approximately 200 participants are expected to attend the training program, which will run in a series of five workshops... IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, has identified bank training as a key priority for private sector development in Iraq: the financial sector's access to state-of-the-art practices has been highly constrained by years of rigidly statist economic management, successive wars and international economic sanctions."

Enthusiasm continues at the reopened
Baghdad Stock Exchange: "If volume of trade at the Baghdad Stock Exchange is a measure, then many Iraqis will still have confidence in a bright future. Ignoring car bomb attacks and roadside bombs, traders flock to Baghdad Stock Exchange twice a week for trade which this week saw a new pharmaceutical company sprout up. In the four-hour trading session more than 400 million shares were traded in the bourse which had remained closed for almost a year after the fall of Baghdad to US troops. Baghdad traders say volume is almost equal to pre-war levels when more than 100 companies were listed."

The employees of the stock exchange are also receiving some
valuable lessons from the more experienced hands: "Twenty-three Iraqi Stock Exchange officials are taking part in a four-day Stock Market Simulation programme at the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance (BIBF), Juffair. The event is being held in co-operation with the Bahrain Monetary Agency and the Bahrain Stock Exchange. It aims to create a broader understanding of the financial services industry by teaching various technical aspects of trading, orders and procedures of the markets. It also aims to create an understanding of portfolio strategy, asset allocation, stock selection process and portfolio performance evaluation. This is the third group from Iraq to attend one of the BIBF's programmes. The earlier groups were from the Central Bank of Iraq and the Trade Bank of Iraq." More on the program here.

Baghdad's scenic riverside is expected to receive a major development boost:

"A number of [United Arab Emirates]-based investors are taking part in a new residential and commercial project, the Baghdad Renaissance Plan, which is expected to be tendered following elections in January...

"Backed by the US Department of Commerce, the Baghdad Renaissance Plan is expected to transform the land next to the Tigris River in central Baghdad into an up-market commercial and residential neighbourhood... [T]he project could take 20 years to complete but, when it is, 500,000 people are expected to occupy its buildings.

"An industry official said that the Baghdad Renaissance Plan will contain commerce, banking, medical, housing, broadcast and IT, exhibition, conventions and cultural centres."
In manufacturing, faced with the construction boom and the resulting shortages of building materials, the authorities are encouraging setting up of private cement factories. The Ministry of Industry and Minerals has already conducted feasibility studies to find the best sites for future factories, taking into account such factors such as electricity supply and transportation facilities. The authorities are also considering a series of measures to encourage the growth of the private sector generally, such as low-interest start-up loans and tax breaks.

In trade news, the
Iraqi and Jordanian governments took an important step in their relations, signing a new trade cooperation agreement to supersede the previous one dating back to 1980. "Noting that the Iraqi private sector had been in the shadow for the last 40 years as the Trade Ministry controlled all trade, [Iraqi Trade Minister] Jabouri added: 'Our economy should be transferred into a market economy and we are ready to work with the Jordanian private sector on joint projects.' For the first time, the meetings included representatives of both sides' private sectors who are expected to discuss possibilities of strengthening trade and starting joint-ventures...

"According to sources at the ministry, both sides are seeking to build a fresh legal platform for the new relations, and are discussing the possibility of signing a Free-Trade Agreement.

"The ministry's Secretary General Farouq Hadidi said Thursday that both countries are expected to sign soon three agreements to protect investments, cooperate on customs, and on dual-taxation, as a base for future agreements.

"He indicated that Jordan is ready to provide its expertise for Iraq's rebuilding, noting that the pharmaceuticals sector is currently studying the best means to boost exports to Iraq to cover Iraqi medical needs. According to Hadidi, further cooperation in the agricultural, health, education and cultural sectors will also be included in the discussions."
The agreement has been finalized on September 25.

Commerce with
another regional neighbor is also on the rise: "Trade between the [United Arab Emirates] and Iraq could reach the Dh3 billion [$820 million] mark by the end of the current year, according to a top Dubai government official. General cargo exported through the Dubai Ports Authority (DPA) to Iraq rose to 408,600 metric tonnes last year, up from 343,900 tonnes in 2002. The full year forecast for this year stands at 611,600 metric tonnes." According to Abdul Rahman Ghanim Al Mutaiwee, director general of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, "[t]he number of Iraqi-owned companies positioned in the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZ) have gone up to 350 this year, compared to 41 last year, reflecting the interest of the Iraqi businessmen in investing in Dubai."

oil news, "Iraq is drawing up plans to involve the private sector and foreign oil majors in its state-run oil industry in order to generate funds for rehabilitation and expansion in the sector estimated at 50 billion dollars over 10 years, an Iraqi oil expert said.

"The government alone cannot come up with enough money to restore the oil industry, 'the power house of the Iraqi economy,' which has been left run down by successive wars and years of UN economic sanctions, Sabah Jumah, a former oil ministry director-general, told a conference on the Iraqi oil sector here."
While a revived state-owned Iraq National Oil Company would maintain the ownership of existing assets, it is foreseen that the private sector would play major role in "new activity, exploration, development of undeveloped fields, major refinery refurbishment, new refinery construction and petrochemicals ... Joint ventures between International Oil Companies (IOCs) and Iraqi private sector companies will be encouraged."

Iraqi authorities are also currently conducting talks with an Irish company
Petrel to refurbish and develop oil installations around Kirkuk and Tikrit.

In other
energy news, "Egypt's Oil Minister Sameh Fahmi says Iraq will become the fifth country in the region to join a natural gas network stretching from Egypt and expected to reach Europe. In remarks carried by Egypt's Middle East News Agency, Fahmi said he and oil ministers from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria agreed to an Iraqi request to join the grid. The ministers didn't say how Iraq will fit in the grid plan, but Syria's oil minister, Ibrahim Haddad, said his country's pipeline will feed the Iraqi one."

As the final step in renovation of the
Basra Airport, "new pipes buried deep in the walls and floors of the revamped Iraqi airport will soon feed the building with enough clean water for the nearly 4,000 Iraqi labourers that will staff the airport and thousands of travellers." With that work completed, the airport is preparing to open for business: "Airport is to be opened for international navigation and planes for transporting commodities in limited numbers by the end January 2005... [T]he flights of the passengers will start by the end March 2005... [and] the airport will make flights available round the day and in all meteorological circumstances by end July 2005."

Iraqi Airways, after their re-debut recently, are looking to expand. Its previous incarnation was operating in a vastly different commercial climate, where government-owned airlines could rely on endless subsidies to stay in the air. Now, the challenges for the revived airline are even greater: "We are looking at this as a business... We don't want to subsidize anything. We would like to operate just like any normal private operator. We would like to make a profit," says Atta Nabeil, Iraq's interim deputy minister of transportation.

Iraqi railways are also undergoing modernization, with the installation of a new wireless communication system linking trains, stations and rail offices. Most of the equipments involved in the project was provided by a Turkish company MEFAX.

The economic revival is slowly trickling down through Iraqi society. As
Father Nizar, a Catholic priest working in Iraq reports, "Not all is bombs and violence":

"The work of rebuilding homes, schools, and roads continues but there is not much other work around except state jobs where there has been some improvement. Under Saddam, state workers were paid 3,000 dinars, or 2 US dollars, which was enough to buy 2 kilos of meat. Today state salaries range from 250,000 to 500,000 dinars, which suffices to keep a family... These higher salaries have boosted the local economy because many state workers can afford to have work done on their homes and buy home appliances something they had not done for at least 15 years.

"Children and students are getting ready to start a new school year despite fears of terrorist attacks on schools. In my town this is a time of weddings and we have as many as six every day. This week we celebrated 25. This year we have 200 new families.

"Food supplies are not a problem: the markets sell everything, even fruit rarely seen before such as bananas. Food prices are acceptable and accessible to all...

"Eighteen months after the fall of the regime, people now realize that a change was necessary. I have spoken with many people of all ages and not one of them said they would like to return to the past."
RECONSTRUCTION: Iraq has recently settled a $81 million debt owed the International Monetary Fund, thus opening the way for the Fund's assistance. The Fund has now approved $436 million in an emergency loan to Iraq, the first even in the IMF's history, hoping that "its backing would generate additional international economic support, including debt relief." Switzerland has recently released back $9 million belonging to the former regime and previously held in Swiss bank accounts. The money will be used for reconstruction purposes.

Reconstruction effort is speeding up with
the Iraqis themselves providing direction and resources:

"The cabinet ministers have allocated two billions dollars or equivalent to 300 billions Iraqi dinars for the reconstruction projects in four Iraqi cities. Dr. Abdul Ukhuwwa al- Timimi the economic committee advisor at the cabinet indicated to the four cities namely Tikrit, Kirkuk, Diyala and Suleimaniya, saying that the priority was given to Diyala. About $720 millions were allocated for the security and economic projects and the remaining sum was distributed on three other cities. Al- Timimi clarified that these prepared projects include repairing water, sewerage and electricity systems."
Among the next round of projects financed from the American, Iraqi, and non-government sources, "[m]ore than $900 million [will go towards] assisting in the construction of more hospitals, schools and government buildings throughout Iraq. The figure represents the building or renovating of 150 primary healthcare centers, 19 hospitals including a children's hospital in Basrah and 1,200 schools including 16 new contemporary, secondary schools and five major Iraqi Ministry buildings. Work is slated to begin October 17 on the primary healthcare centers, and more than 30 will be under construction by November 14. Another 30 are forecasted to start by December 12, and each is expected to take nearly nine months to complete."

Najaf, in particular, major progress has been made, with a $150 million project to reconstruct the Najaf Training Hospital recently completed, and four additional health centres being constructed over the next six months at the cost of $389 million. Meanwhile, the damage that Imam Ali's shrine sustained in recent fighting has now been completely repaired.

Najaf also provides a good example of the new
Accelerated Iraq Reconstruction Program (AIRP) in action. The AIRP projects, managed by the Projects and Contracting Office (PCO), are typically smaller community-level initiatives which tend to be finalized faster. There are 18 such projects currently underway in Najaf, totaling $5.7 million. They include: "governate buildings; five pedestrian bridges; rehabilitation and relocation for local garages and markets; four new public health centers; infrastructure upgrades for the electrical grid; and various sewer, water and drain projects." The latest one involves the provision of three garbage trucks worth $434,000 to be used to remove refuse from the vicinity of the Imam Ali Shrine. More on Najaf reconstruction here.

Another locality that has recently seen some fighting,
Samarra, is also getting reconstruction funds, to the tune of $50 million.

There's also a lot of activity in
Nasiriya: "There has been a flurry of construction in the southern city of Nasiriya in the past few months, according to municipal officials. The officials say their city has been relatively quiet in comparison to other restive areas in the country which have recently seen an upsurge in violence.

"Head of Nasiriya Municipalities Muhsen Haddab said projects worth 3.7 billion dinars are currently under construction and many more will be started soon. The interim government has allocated more than 11.8 billion dinars to upgrade municipal services in the city, one of the most impoverished in the country."
According to officials in Nasiriya, 6,000 new job opportunities have been recently created, with more to come. Italy, whose troops are based in the town, has also been providing funds for reconstruction, most recently "$15 million to revive part of the Nasiriya marshes which once covered an area of 3,500 square kilometers." More on the Italian donation here.

Baghdad, the municipal authorities have signed a contract worth $260 million with a number of Western, Arab and local companies for the reconstruction of water, sewerage, electricity and other city services.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labor and Municipalities has recently allocated
170 billions dinars ($116 million) from the World Bank to implement 14 infrastructure projects around Iraq. The initiatives funded include "seven rehabilitation water projects besides constructing new institutes in the cities and projects for water purification in the rural region as well as four projects for the structural promotion include paving the road sides and road isles as well as rehabilitating the folkloric markets."

Al Rashid water treatment plant which services 250,000 residents in the Zaphernia district of Baghdad is currently undergoing renovations. "The need for the renovations was identified through the 8th Engineer Battalion's work with local Iraqi leadership. Baghdad-based engineers worked with the plant's director to complete an initial survey for the project's scope and cost." The plant is 50 years old and has suffered in the recent looting. Speaking of water infrastructure, the Ministry of Municipalities and Labor has allocated over 2 trillions Iraqi dinars ($1.4 billion) for 16 major water projects around the country.

Not just the Zaphernia district, but the rest of Baghdad will also enjoy
cleaner water:

"Until this summer, most of Baghdad's wastewater was being dumped directly into the Tigris River, the main water supply for the capital's 4.7 million people. 'We have killed the Tigris,' says Ali Labeeb, an official with Baghdad's public works department. And the Tigris has been killing Baghdadis. At least five died from water-borne illness over the summer. Now, after 12 years without sewage treatment, the capital's plants will be soon be in operation - a big step toward addressing health problems caused by contaminated water."
As the report concludes: "Sanitation is improving in the capital. Iraq's Health Ministry and UNICEF officials have distributed water-purification tablets and health-education literature. Only a few cases of hepatitis E have been reported since, Abid says. One of Baghdad's sewage treatment plants began operating in June. Another, scheduled for completion Oct. 15, will restart in February, the U.S. Agency for International Development says. Once all the plants are working next year, 80% of Baghdad's wastewater will be treated."

Iraq's interim President Ghazi Yawer has "launched a
plan to rebuild Basra, the country's second largest city. Basra, home to nearly 1.5 million people, is among the most impoverished in Iraq as it bore the brunt of the three major wars in the past three decades. Yawer said he would set up a 'South Reconstruction Commission' that will shoulder the reconstruction of the southern city." Reconstruction also continues in many small ways in more remote parts of Iraq, for example construction of 6 bridges, 6 roads & 2200 residential units in Al-Muthanna.

In electricity news, positive and overdue effort is underway to involve the
private sector in the industry: "Iraq has approved plans to partially privatize its state-controlled power sector, according to Electricity Minister Ayham Samaraai. 'The private sector is (currently) involved in the construction three giant power plants,' the minister said. It is the first time the country allows private entrepreneurs to set up electricity generating stations. The minister said one such plant was being built in the autonomous region of Kurdistan with a capacity of 600 megawatts. A private firm will soon begin collecting electricity bills in at least three Iraqi provinces, he said."

Iran, meanwhile, became the first of Iraq's six neighbors to
connect to Iraq's power grid and start supplying energy into Iraqi market. "Iran has extended a 60-kilometer long power line from its major Serbeel power station to the Iraqi power generating plant at Himrin in the north. It took the Iranians four months to construct the pylons, towers and lines necessary for the project. The linkup with Iranian national grid is good news for the border province of Diyala which has been suffering from chronic power outages. The project is supposed to make available an additional 1,000 megawatts to the national grid, according to Ibrahim, the director-general." As the story concludes:

"The electricity imports from Iran are expected to boost total national power output in the country whose current needs are estimated at more than 7,500 megawatts. The ministry says it has boosted the national grid nearly to 5,000 megawatts recently. Maximum the rickety national grid could produce when former leader Saddam Hussein was in power were 3,703 megawatts. Despite the substantial addition, it is estimated that the country still runs a deficit of more than 2,500 megawatts."
Hence the importance not just of rehabilitating the domestic grid but also increased energy cooperation with neighbors. Syria is another one of Iraq's neighbors that the authorities are looking towards renewing energy cooperation with.

Japan has commenced a second round of the training course for Iraqi electricity professionals, to pass on the latest expertise on operation and maintaining power grids. And lastly, $33 million has been committed by the authorities over the next three years towards better security for the country's electricity system.

More funds were also recently committed to an area much neglected in a country still experiencing considerable population growth: the Ministry of Municipality and General Works has allocated 7.5 billion Iraqi dinars ($510 million) for
town planning throughout Iraq.

As part of developing human infrastructure, 4,000 Iraqi Civil Defence employees are heading to Bahrain for
fire-fighting training. And in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, "[m]ore than $80,000 of firefighter personal protective equipment was delivered on Monday to Iraq's Tikrit Fire Department. Task Force 1-18 provided the fire department with the fire turn-out gear and safety equipment after Capt. Aaron Coombs, commander of C/1-18 recognized that the Tikrit Fire Department lacked the personal equipment to safely and efficiently perform firefighting duties. Task Force Vanguard turned to the Commanders Emergency Relief Program for help."

In a move that will assist Iraqi agricultural infrastructure, the Egyptian government has offered its help and expertise to upgrade Iraq's aging
irrigation system. Meanwhile, in Amman, Jordan, international experts and donors have met recently to map out the action to revive Iraq's southern marshlands. The marshlands have, under Saddam's watch, shrunk from 22,000 to just one thousand square kilometres, partly as a result of deliberate strategy to punish rebellious Marsh Arabs. The Japanese government is now providing $11 million towards the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) project to revive this ecological wonder of the Middle East. "Restoring the marshlands will not be done in one day. It will be a long-term project. It will create employment in the southern part of Iraq and of course, it may [contribute to the] return of the people who used to live there," said the Japanese Environment Minister Yuriko Koike at the meeting in Amman.

Major La Varney of the 1st Cavalry Division reports on progress in Baghdad: "I think we're already seeing a turning point in most of the communities, despite what may be prevalent in the news... The markets are full of people shopping, driving. The open-air markets are completely full, the streets are packed with people driving up and down selling all kinds of stuff. Kids are back at school. Soccer fields are being used that used to be trash heaps." Major Varney is a member of the Governorate Support Team, working with top advisers to Baghdad Mayor Alaa Mahmood al-Tamimi on coordination of infrastructure projects. He's got plenty of good news to report, from restoration of services, to training fire and emergency services and breathing new life into some of Baghdad's old landmarks.

Elsewhere in
the capital, the American soldiers are working towards a cleaner environment: "As a part of the effort to improve the quality of life in the Al Mansour district, the Soldiers of the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion attached to the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team presented 10 garbage trucks to the local community last week. Local contractor purchased the trucks for $5,500 each. Ten more trucks will be delivered to the communities in the Abu Ghraib and Kadhamiyah in the near future."

Not all of the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion's work is
as serious: "Troops... visited children in a local community recently to drop off new soccer balls. Thirty Iraqi children were outfitted with brand new soccer equipment, donated by a group of 50 residents in the Tulsa, Okla., area. Holly Nester, an employee of WilTel Communications, organized a fund drive to purchase the equipment for the kids. She gathered more than $1,500 in donations to purchase soccer balls, socks, shin guards, cleats and water bottles, and to cover shipping costs for the equipment. Nester was born in Kuwait and was raised in Iran until the late 1970s. She approached Sgt. Richard Porter, 425th battalion sergeant, and an employee of WilTel at their Los Angles office, with the idea of donating soccer equipment to Iraqi children."

The troops are also
helping Iraqi farmers:

"Multi-National Forces are currently planting seeds for the future of agriculture in the Ninevah Province. In cooperation with the universities of Texas A&M, Colorado State, Kansas State and the World Wide Wheat Company, Multi-National Forces will distribute more than 1,000 pounds of wheat seeds to Iraqi farmers by October.

"The Ninevah Province is considered to be the wheat belt of Iraq, producing 50 percent of the country's wheat. Over the past 10 years, this region has not been able to keep up with Iraq's wheat demand. During the Saddam Hussein regime, farmers were expected to continuously produce wheat, never leaving their fields fallow. This tactic degraded the soil, leaving few nutrients for the next year's crop, increasing the chances for crop disease and fungus, and eventually resulting in fewer yields.

"To help this area's wheat yields meet demands, leaders from the World Wide Wheat Company in Arizona began meeting with agriculturalists from Texas A&M, KSU and CSU to determine what wheat species would best survive Iraq's arid climate. They chose several winter wheat variants from Arizona because the state's climate is very similar to Iraq. Once the seeds arrive in Iraq, Multi-National Forces will give them to the Ninevah Directorate of Agriculture, who will distribute them to area farmers. Lt. Col. John Maxwell, food and agriculture team leader for the 416th Civil Affairs Battalion, said the Iraqis will plant the seed variants in test plots to see which species show the most potential."
Elsewhere, "[s]oldiers from the 345th Tactical Psychological Operations Detachment, Dallas, Texas, and 425th Civil Affairs Battalion, Santa Barbara, Calif., of the 2nd Brigade Combat team, 10th Mountain Division, recently worked with Iraqi veterinarians to provide vaccinations and other shots for Iraqi livestock. The shots will provide healthier livestock for farmers. The shots provide protection against diseases such as foot and mouth disease, parasites and other diseases--diseases that are a major problem in Iraq, said Maj. Sam Barringer, 425th CA veterinarian."

Other Coalition troops are also contributing to the reconstruction effort: "Over 1,400 Iraqi children will benefit as two primary schools located near Al Hillah in the Babil Province have been rebuilt and renovated. Both projects were managed by the Polish Civil Military Cooperation from Camp Babylon. Upgrades at the Aden School in the village of Oufy cost more than $72,000 and include plastering the walls, repairing the stairs, building additional facilities and providing school items.

"The Ar Rusafi School in the village of Abu Gharaq is being completely rebuilt. There has been no school reconstruction since 1978, and it was almost completely destroyed from years of neglect. The total cost of the project is estimated at $53,500. Both of these works were conducted by local contractors from Al Hillah that employed more than 130 Iraqis."
Other schools benefit, too: "Anaconda-based Soldiers are helping local Iraqi children start the school year with new schools and school supplies during October. Soldiers from the 29th Signal Battalion kicked off the new school year Oct. 2 by distributing school supplies to 130 children in Al bu Hassan. The first day of classes at the battalion sponsored $78,000 new school was made extra special by the visiting Soldiers' donations. Continuing the supply donations for the month of October, the 226th Medical Logistics Battalion delivered school supplies and sports equipment to 120 students at Al Hydria School Oct. 4. Under Operation Anaconda Neighborhood, Soldiers from LSA Anaconda will distribute school supplies to more than 3,800 students at 10 local schools during the month of October."

Japanese Self-Defence Forces, in conjunction with the official Japanese aid agency, will be repairing a sports stadium in Samawah, where the Japanese troops are based. "The 40 million yen [$0.35 million] project is expected to generate a large number of jobs for local people in the southern Iraqi city during the about four months it lasts."

Coalition troops are also
compensating Iraqis for loss and damage suffered during fighting:

"Marines from the 11th MEU dispatched a mobile payment team to neighborhoods in Najaf for 10 hours yesterday, making $176,180 worth of 'on the spot' solatia and collateral damage payments to Iraqis caught in the crossfire when multinational and Iraqi security forces battled Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia in August.

"The mobile team, which visited neighborhoods throughout the city for a second time this week, was created to expedite payments and ensure all Najafis have the opportunity to get paid for legitimate damage... Since [September 20], more than $570,000 has been paid to 533 Najafis. Payments will continue as long as needed to meet each valid case. Condolence payments, or solatia, are given to express sympathy for injury or death. Collateral damage repair payments are intended to cover damage to homes, businesses or other property."
DIPLOMACY AND SECURITY: In a helpful sign that sometime in the future their relations might become normal, the first official contact between Iraq and Israel took place at the United Nations, when the Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi shook hands and chatted with Israeli ambassador Silvan Shalom. The alphabetic seating arrangement at the UN facilitated the contact. "According to [the ambassador's] spokesman, Shalom and Allawi spoke for a few minutes and exchanged wishes for a day when it would be possible to establish diplomatic ties."

Back home, following the transfer of sovereignty in late June, Iraq has also now regained the control over its
territorial waters, "with the U.S.-led coalition handing over responsibility for safeguarding adjacent seas to the country's navy. The handover was celebrated with the raising of the Iraqi flag at a naval base in the southern Persian Gulf port of Umm Qasar. U.S., British and Iraqi officers attended the ceremony."

To provide coastal security,
Iraq's Port Authority has formed its very own protection formation, Rapid Intervention Force. "The force is based at Umm Qasr, the country's main port which currently handles about 50 percent of external trade." In addition, the Iraqi Coastal Defence Force (ICDF), has also been recently constituted. The ICDF is 412-strong and has been trained by British, Australian, US and Dutch troops. As the Commander of the Australian Defence Force contingent in the Middle East, Brigadier Peter Hutchinson said: "The efforts of the Australian training team have been outstanding and the fact that the new ICDF can now take full responsibility for protecting its territorial waterways is due in no small part to the work of this training team... This small group of sailors was responsible for the development of an effective training program which included seamanship, engineering drills, damage control, fire-fighting and search and rescue." The ICDF commenced its operations on October 1, patrolling Khor Abdallah and Umm Qasr port.

Iraq's land borders present significantly greater security challenge. To meet the security needs, the first class of cadets from the Department of Border Enforcement has
graduated from its training course in late September:

"Instructors from Jordan and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security trained 451 Iraqi students in a variety of classes: Border Police Classes 1 and 2 - a basic training course for border guards; the Border Police Supervisors Class; the Customs Police Class; the Customs Supervisors Class; Immigration Classes 1 and 2; and General Instructors Classes 1 and 2.

"The students who went through the four-week course varied in age and ethnicity, representing many tribes and regions across Iraq. The class was composed of near-equal percentages of Shiia and Sunni Arabs, and smaller percentages of Kurds. Also, there was one Christian student and a few from other ethno-religious backgrounds. About 50 percent of the cadets had military experience, 46 percent had prior academy experience, and 74 percent had prior police experience...

"[U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq] said much effort has gone into determining where to set up the DBE posts. 'In partnership with your leadership, we have gone from province to province, determining where each of the over 300 border forts needs to be located. Some 41 are complete, and over 75 are under construction,' he said. The goal is to have more than 180 border forts completed by the end of the year, and Petraeus said the rebuilding of infrastructure would continue, but that was not the only thing that needs to be done for the DBE to succeed."
More on border forts here. The border security forces are also getting better equipped: "The Iraqi Border Patrol (IBP) battalion received 40 Jeep Liberties and 1,500 body armor vests last week, equipment that will further their ability to ensure the safety and security of Iraq as its citizens prepare for elections in January... The body armor vests were purchased by Task Force Olympia with funds from the Commander's Emergency Response Program at a cost of $832,500. The vehicles were purchased in Baghdad by Multi-National Security and Transition Command, Iraq."

Meanwhile, a new element was recently added to the Iraqi security forces mix, when the training commencing at the An Numaniyah, south of Baghdad, of 1,500 recruits for the first three battalions of the Iraqi Police Service's
Public Order Battalions (POB), one of two branches in the new Civil Intervention Force (CIF). In time, nine battalions of 400 men each are envisaged. Their task will be to deal with large scale public disturbances as well as insurgency.

Assistance for the Iraqi security forces continues to arrive in both small and big ways. The
Irbil Police Department, for example, will be able to more effectively deploy its officers after receiving $90,000 worth of motorcycles from the Multinational Forces. Germany, meanwhile, will supply Iraq's army with 20 armored Fuchs vehicles and 100 light military trucks. And NATO has agreed to set up a permanent military academy in Iraq.

On the ground, a
community policing program is bringing US personnel and Iraqi policemen together: "[Capt. Guillermo] Rosales, a Marine reservist who lives in Chicago and works for Motorola Corp., leads 43 Marines in the Combined Action Platoon, charged with bringing community policing to hostile pockets of Iraq. CAP Marines are in charge of befriending and sometimes living with residents to try to earn their trust, cultivate intelligence sources and help local militias fight the enemy. Known as 'the Peace Corps with guns,' the CAP program--created during the Vietnam War--was touted as one of the more successful counterinsurgency efforts in that conflict. In Vietnam the Marines lived in villages. In Iraq they mingle with the U.S.-trained Iraqi National Guard." The experience from back home comes in handy:

"Rosales has seen it before: tough guys using threats and terror to cower neighborhoods. To Rosales, the tactics used by Islamic insurgents in this southern suburb of Baghdad are strangely reminiscent of those used by gang members in Pilsen, his old Chicago neighborhood. There, he said, they used drive-bys and 9 mm handguns. Here they use car bombs and assault rifles."
The new Iraqi armed forces are increasingly proving their worth on the battlefield: "Bloodied by weeks of suicide bombings and assassinations, Iraqi security forces emerged Sunday to patrol Samarra after a morale-boosting victory in this Sunni Triangle city, and U.S. commanders praised their performance. American and Iraqi commanders have declared the operation in Samarra, 100 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, a successful first step in a major push to wrest key areas of Iraq from insurgents before January elections." More in this report:

"Iraqi special forces commander Fadel Jameel's men charged toward Samarra's sacred golden-domed mosque dodging bullets in an operation that he said showcased the Iraqi military's readiness to take on rebel enclaves in the countdown to January elections...

"His unit -- the 36th special forces commando battalion -- had just poured out of pick-up trucks Friday into enemy fire and reclaimed the Imam al-Hadi mausoleum, revered by Shiite Muslims around the world. There they captured more than 30 men as part of the largest joint US-Iraqi military offensive since the 2003 invasion. Saturday, Jameel's men recaptured the city's hospital which they said had been abandoned by Sunni Arab insurgents overnight.

"Jameel and his men swaggered. It was a sharp contrast from the last major offensive on a rebel-held city, Fallujah last April, when the 36th battalion, demoralised and angry, pulled out after a week. 'People have distinguished between right and wrong. They are committed... Before people were confused,' said Jameel."
Among the successes of the Samarra campaign, the Iraqi forces have captured 48 foreign fighters, included 18 Egyptians, 18 Sudanese and one Tunisian national. They were among more than hundred insurgents taken prisoner during the operation.

There are also signs of increasing willingness on the part of local leaders to try to solve security problems in cooperation with the central authorities.
Iraq the Model blog translates the reports from Iraq's Arabic-language press:
"Four tribes' chiefs promised to declare a threat to the militants in Fallujah that they should turn themselves to the authorities peacefully or the tribes will fight them. At the same time many citizens in Fallujah stated that they are willing to participate in the upcoming elections...

"Rafidain.net reported governmental sources saying that four tribes in Baghdad, Ramadi, Tikrit have promised to destroy the terrorism foci in the city of Fallujah after knowing that the American troops are preparing a major assault in the next couple of weeks.

"Same sources confirmed that a meeting was held between the chiefs of Al Hamamda tribe in Ramadi, Al Juboor in Tikrit, Al Gareer in Yousufyia and a branch from Al Janabyeen in Latifyiah to discuss situations in Fallujah, the flow of terrorists from outside Iraq into the city and the role of clerics in provoking violence and justifying murder and kidnap in the name of Islam. The chiefs showed determination to end this situation either peacefully or by force.

"Same sources pointed out that thousands of armed men from these tribes are ready to sweep the city of Fallujah, and that they have received letters from many respectable figures in Fallujah including some clerics that plead to the Iraqi tribes to save the citizens of Fallujah from the deteriorating condition under the rule of armed gangs and terrorists."
Similar local cooperation was also reported in the run up to the action in Samarra:

"Tribal leaders in the city of Samarra met with government officials prior to this week's U.S. and Iraqi assault on insurgents there, agreeing to help drive the terrorists out, according to the new government's top security official...

"[Iraq's minister of state for national security Qasim] Dawoud said the new Iraqi government was intent on meeting with tribal and social figures in war-torn towns such as Samarra, Najaf, Fallujah and Basra to garner local support for ousting insurgents. In the case of Samarra, Dawoud said the government met with about 110 local leaders, who then asked for military intervention and pledged cooperation on Tuesday to 'purify the land of Samarra of these terrorists'."
Among other recent successes of Iraqi security forces: the arrest of 50 suspected terrorists of various foreign nationalities in a sweep of a Baghdad locality; foiling of three roadside bomb attacks in Mosul and Tal Afar; the capture of one of Al Zarqawi's key lieutenants in Fallujah; and foiling by members of the 203 battalion of the Iraqi National Guard of a kidnap attempt of six Turks. There's also a victory for gender equity: "Around 88 Iraqi women have joined the Iraqi army basic training course in Jordan. The women will receive training courses in Amman under the supervision of the Jordanian army in coordination with the US army."

And in another
"swords into ploughshares" moment, the authorities are planning to convert many of the presently disused army camps in Baghdad and around the country into housing estates.


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