Saturday, December 11, 2004

Make Michael Moore somebody else's choice 

You can still vote in some categories of the People's Choice Awards. Why not give it a go to make sure that the awards will be genuine people's choice and not a trendy elites' choice?

"Fahrenheit 9/11" for example, is nominated in the favorite movie category. I voted for "Shrek 2" and I would have voted for just about anything but Moore's opus.

If you're so inclined, you can also vote for "The Passion of the Christ" or "Team America" in other categories. The non-movie categories tend to be pretty awful, so if you cast just one vote, make it against the Big Loser.

(hat tip: The Bottom Line)


Geo-strategy watch: focus on East Asia 

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The action:
"The European Union yesterday refused a Franco-German request to lift its arms embargo on China amid fierce disagreements over the country's human rights record and military ambitions...

"Sanctions were imposed in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square massacre. France has led the drive to lift them, deeming it misguided to treat an emerging economic superpower - and the host of the next Olympic Games - as a pariah state.

"Behind the French move is a subtle attempt to draw China into a strategic alliance to counter American power."
(hat tip: Dan)


Item 1:
"Japan took another step away from its post-World War II pacifism yesterday by ending its decades-old ban on military exports and telling defence planners to regard China and North Korea as threats.

"Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet agreed to allow military sales – only to the US and for missile defence – a day after it extended Japan's ground-breaking deployment to Iraq for another year."
Item 2:
"Japanese troops could soon be training with Diggers [Australian soldiers] on Australian soil for the first time as part of a move to forge closer military ties...

"Although only in the early stages, the contentious military training talks, which have not reached ministerial level, are certain to divide war veterans and others in the community.

"It could also pose problems for Canberra's burgeoning relationship with China - including the pursuit of a free trade deal - given ongoing tensions between Beijing and Tokyo...

"Allowing Japanese troops to train in Australia would be viewed dimly by China, which is likely to become Australia's biggest trading partner over the next decade."
As the story points out, antagonizing China is not the only potential downside - Australia's veterans community is strongly anti-Japanese, a testament to the fierce and savage nature of fighting in the Pacific theater, as well as abominable treatment of Allied POWs by their Japanese captors. This is one World War Two legacy which has neither seen a closure nor benefited from reconciliation.

Back to the broader point - watch as France keeps courting China, and Russia keeps courting India, both moves clearly a part of anti-American coalition building. The matters are complicated, of course, by the fact that India and China, in turn, are traditional enemies. I guess nothing in international life was meant to be easy.


Friday, December 10, 2004

I feel like that too 

Australian Prime Minister John Howard doesn't know who to support at the next year's British general election - his Tory namesake Michael Howard, or Labor's Tony Blair:

"I'm conflicted when it comes to the British election... I really wish Tony Blair well because he's been extremely courageous. Leaving personalities and particular policies aside - naturally my longer term affinities are with the other side in Great Britain.

"I think of the three of us [John Howard, George Bush and Tony Blair] he [Blair] had the most difficult internal task in relation to Iraq because his party was deeply divided and a large section of his party was openly hostile to his decision."
It's a tough choice; just like the PM, I'm a natural conservative supporter and it's difficult for me to envisage backing a Labor politician over a Tory. Tony Blair's social and cultural policies leave me cold, but the guy has had the good sense to maintain Margaret Thatcher's economic settlement, and his position on the war on terror and Iraq... well, what can I say - principled and personally courageous, coming from a Labor politician.

Speaking of
John Howard:

"A US soldier serving in Iraq wants Tim Tams [very tasty Australian chocolate biscuits] for Christmas and Prime Minister John Howard is keen to oblige.

"A caller to Melbourne radio 3AW told Mr Howard today she needed his help to get the treats to her sister's husband – an American soldier serving in Iraq. 'We are just wanting some information as far as sending food parcels for Christmas ... he loves his Tim Tams,' Leanne from Sydenham in Melbourne's north-west told radio 3AW. She said the family had been sending parcels to an address in Iraq but they were taking more than six weeks to get there.

"Mr Howard offered to help Leanne get the Australian snack to the soldier. 'I guess we'd want the bloke's name and his unit ... that would be handy, and we'll see what we can do, we'll try to help,' he said."
More help from the alliance partner is on the way.


Spirit of America - Update 3 

DefenceLINK News updates on the progress of the Spirit of America's Blogger Challenge:

"The blogger challenge kicked off Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 15. Already, 162 bloggers have raised more than $52,000 — all of it to go to specific projects these Web operators select, according to Jim Hake, Spirit of America founder.

"The nonprofit group supports grassroots efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and is committed to the concept that winning hearts and minds requires personal — not just governmental — intervention.

"Hake said many of the group's projects support requests made by U.S. servicemembers serving in Iraq for goods that help the Iraqi people. Others directly support Iraqis who are on the front lines of building a better future for Iraq."
Only a few more days of go - so please consider donating.

My blog is now in the
9th position in the overall ranking for the challenge, and the 5th in the individual blogs stakes. You, my dear readers, have so far donated $1065 to the cause, so big thank you on behalf of myself, Spirit of America, our troops and the people of Iraq. Please keep it coming.

And there is now a new giving option for you, as Jim Hake reports - perfect for Christmas time:

"We now support giving 'the Spirit of America' as a gift to your friends and family. Instead of a new necktie for dad please consider making a donation to your favorite Spirit of America project as a gift. When you do, you'll get a certificate to print and give or we'll send an email telling your them about your gift. This is a gift that makes a difference. It also fits all sizes. Guaranteed. You can give a Spirit of America gift here."
Now you don't have any excuses.


The coalition of the crooked and unfree? 

The recent expressions of support for Kofi Annan by the European Union, China, the African Union (and half-heartedly by the United States and Australia) , as well as indeed the General Assembly as a whole which gave him a "rare standing ovation" suggest that, at least as far as the "international community" is concerned, the main mission of the United Nations is not to uphold and promote the highest ethical standards within the world body politic, but to try to provide a block to any actions by the United States. Just as Iraq before, the issue of the UN reform and Kofi Annan's leadership has become a battle of wills between the US and its few allies and the rest of the international community as to who controls the agenda. Any other considerations seem to be, at best, secondary.

Should we expect more from the UN? Should we expect the organization to actually actively promote values such as freedom, democracy, transparency and accountability? Many, particularly conservatives, would say no; after all, the United Nations is not a "club of the democracies," but a club of, well... everyone.

Every year,
Freedom House ranks countries in the world on a 1.0 to 7.0 continuum of Free, Partly Free and Unfree. In the latest such ranking (link in PDF), 89 countries are considered to be Free, of which 39 get the perfect 1.0 score. 56 Countries are Partly Free (between 3.0 and 5.0), and another 49 are considered Not Free (with the scores ranging from 5.5 to the dismal 7.0). Hence, as you look at the composition of the General Assembly, it pits 89 free countries against 105 whose political and human rights climate leaves something (and in many cases very much) to be desired.

You can also look at
Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, which ranks 146 states according to "the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians," based on surveys of countries' residents (it's otherwise impossible to arrive at any "objective" measures of corruption). In the most current ranking, Finland tops the list, with a score of 9.7, while Bangladesh and Haiti, at 165 and 156 respectively, close the list as the countries judged by their own people to be the most corrupt, scoring a disappointing 1.5 each. If we take 5.0 as the median point, only 40 countries in the world are above that line, and 106 below it.

So if you look at the composition of the United Nations' General Assembly it is clearly made up of majority of countries that are struggling in the freedom's stakes and and even greater majority of countries that their own citizens consider to be quite crooked. Any wonder that the UN behaves as it does, both as an international player and in its own internal governance?

A simplistic analysis? Of course. After all, some of America's staunch allies are among the unfree and the corrupt, just as many of America's detractors are both free and clean. Yet, one cannot escape the conclusion that in the end, the United Nations is merely a sum of its parts and its actions merely reflect the nature and the sentiments of the majority of its members.

To put it in simple terms, we are asking countries with their own freedom and democracy deficiencies to be enthusiastic about the spread of democracy and liberty around the world, and we are expecting countries which are corrupt and ethically challenged at home not to tolerate corruption at the highest levels of international governance. It is as if we decided to elect a fair number of residents of penitentiaries to represent us in the Congress, and subsequently expected this august body to legislate meaningfully on law and order issues, much less the Congressional ethics.

That's the crux of the difference between our national governments and the unelected, self-appointed "world government": while neither the American nor the Australian electorate is composed of angels, we the voters don't, nonetheless, expect our elected representatives to live up merely to some average standard of ethics and public morality - quite the contrary, we judge our politicians against the highest possible benchmark - and so often find them wanting. But what can we expect of the United Nations?

Not very much, as some would argue. And this sentiment is not restricted just to anti-UN conservatives, but extends to those who see the UN's primary role to ensure the stability of the international system rather than to work on the expansion of the sphere of freedom and democracy throughout the world. That might or might not be the case, but where does it leave the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a whole host of other human rights covenants and treaties?

In the end, I'm mostly with
Powerline's Deacon on this one when he writes:

"I'm afraid that my views on the U.N., and its reform, are quite cynical. I take it as given that (a) we will not withdraw from the U.N. and (b) we should not cede meaningful power to it. Under these circumstances, I see a scandal-ridden and overtly anti-American U.N. as a plus because such a U.N. minimizes the possibility that the Democrats will persuade voters that we should permit the U.N. to influence our policy. I am confident that the U.N. will continue to answer to this description for a long time."
While I believe that there is a legitimate role that the United Nations can play in the international affairs, just as strongly I believe that the UN should never be in a strong enough position to realistically entertain dreams of turning itself into a genuine world government.

But neither our low expectations of the body, nor indeed our distrust of its ambitions should stop us from arguing that the United Nations can do better. The UN might never become an ethically-charged crusader of international freedom, but at the very least we should expect it to keep its own house in order, if only because a total moral chaos will ultimately prevent the organization from doing some of the good work it does and should be doing.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Holy Mary and Joseph! 

It seems that Madam Tussauds Wax Museum will not be getting too many church group excursions this Christmas seasons, after Britain's senior churchmen and the Vatican have slammed the Museum's celebrity nativity scene, which features David Beckham and his wife Victoria, a.k.a. Posh Spice, as the Holy Couple. But that's not all:

"Tony Blair, George Bush and the Duke of Edinburgh make up the three wise men. Actors Hugh Grant, Samuel L Jackson and comedian Graham Norton play shepherds and singer Kylie Minogue is the angel."
What's surprising about the choice of Bush and Blair for the Wise Men is that, together with all the other picks, it is a result of the poll conducted among the museum's visitors. Wax figures aficionados much be right-wingers; had the poll been conducted among London's Fleet Street press, Bush and Blair would have been lucky to score the roles of the animals at the manger. Not surprisingly, it is this controversial selection which riles the "Asian Age": "Blair, Bush wise men? No way says the Church", even thought the concerned churchmen quoted in all the news stories seem to object a lot more to the idea of a mini-skirted pop star and a scandal-prone metrosexual footballer playing the mother and step-father of God.

Well, at least Madam Tussauds is
still celebrating Christmas.


Turning Palestine into an Arab Tiger 

Rami G. Khouri, executive editor of Beirut's "Daily Star" writes about the Palestinian presidential election:

"Many politicians and commentators around the world, especially in the United States, view this process almost totally through the lens of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and moving toward a negotiated settlement.

"This is a noble and urgent goal that is worth achieving, but such a perspective misses the more important point about the Palestinian presidential election: it represents the birth of modern politics in the Arab world through a credible, legitimate process of contesting power that has not been achieved in any Arab country to date."
Democracy - and the statehood - (probably in that order) will of course both be very positive developments for the Palestinian people, but neither of itself is a magic bullet that will ensure the long-term viable and successful future for the Palestinian nation. In order not to become another sovereign basketcase of which there are already far too many around the world, the future Palestine needs radical economic reform.

Palestinians are widely seen as amongst the best educated and the most entrepreneurial of Arabs. They have long history in the Middle Eastern commerce, and at least until the first Gulf War, Palestinians used to virtually run the oil sheikdoms while the native elites enjoyed the fruits of their underground bounty. It would be an understatement to suggest there is a great hope around the world that the Palestinian people, if given a state of their own, will finally be able to concentrate their enormous energies (in the past wasted in fighting against Israel and their fellow Arabs) on building a better future for their people. I will be the first to admit that
I have written so myself in the past:

"Sovereignty and peace might finally give the Palestinian people a chance to resurrect themselves, and being among the best educated and the most hardworking people of the Middle East, a chance to channel their energies, creativity and passion into making up for the decades of lost time and finally building a normal, decent future for their next generations."
But all that energy and potential of the people will be wasted should the Palestinian state become mired in the economic malaise that strangles the region. It's ironic - and sad - because after all for centuries "Arab" was synonymous not just with "warrior" but also "trader", and the Arab empire was in many ways a commercial empire. Yet the Middle East today is a wasteland of underperforming socialist economies, with even the oil rich nations having arguably wasted all the potential for creating sustained growth on consumption and welfarism. Entrepreneurial spirit can all too easily be crushed by statism - and there's a plenty of that throughout the Middle East.

It's not just an Arab disease, of course, even in the regional context. Jews, who for centuries were caricatured as callous usurers and Shylocks, and in the modern age as greedy capitalists, have disappointed economically when given a state of their own. True, by regional standards Israel is thriving, but by comparison to other developed nations it's a socialist basketcase. What happened? All the greedy capitalists didn't move to Israel, preferring to stay in places where security and economic climates were far more favorable; those who did make Israel their home decided that socialism was a way to go (although that might hopefully be
changing now).

Thomas Sowell is not the only social scientists to have written extensively about the disparity between the economic performance of ethnic groups in diaspora and back in their ancestral homes. Jews and Palestinians are far from the only ones to thrive in foreign countries and underperform at home - you might as well also look at the Armenians, Lebanese, Indians or Chinese. The Irish, of course, provided another example of this phenomenon - quite successful throughout the New Worlds, but their homeland remaining a poverty-stricken backwater. Until recently, that is: for the past two decades Ireland has been introducing some far-reaching economic reforms with the result that this once sick man of the continent is now one of the wealthiest and most dynamic economies in Europe, with for the first time in centuries more people coming in than emigrating. What it shows you is that the willingness to succeed is not enough if the economic structure does not support it.

Palestine can succeed, too, but it cannot just count on the enthusiasm of her people - it positively needs to let them flourish. It would be tragedy if Palestine was to become yet another rigid, corrupt, statist, cronyistic cleptocracy. Palestinians don't just need free elections, they need free market.

Note: Why not check out the work of
Minaret of Freedom Institute?


Guest Blogger: Mesopotamia Redeemed, Part 5 

In today's fifth part of guest blogger Daniel Foty's series of the forgotten legacy of ancient Mesopotamia, a look at how Sumeria became Babylonia, and the coming of the reformer Hammurabi. As Daniel writes, Hammurabi's famous legal code, for many years thought to be the world's oldest, of course wasn't - merely the culmination of work started centuries before by the ancient Sumerians.

A lot of food for thought, as efforts continue to re-introduce the rule of law to the land where it first arose more than four thousand years ago.

For earlier parts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Mesopotamia Redeemed, Part 5

Throughout its existence, Sumerian civilization was well acquainted with the various Semitic peoples whose origins were in the deserts to the west of Mesopotamia. Occasionally, various Semitic tribes would invade Sumer as either raiders or conquerors. But during the same period, many Semitic tribes established permanent settlements and cities to the northwest of Sumer, further up the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Many of these cities became quite powerful, and as described earlier, by the beginning of the 23rd century B.C. the Akkadian king Sargon had established a far-flung empire which included Sumer, Akkad, and other lands much further afield.

During the early part of the 2nd millennium B.C., the city-states of Akkad once again began to grow in strength and power; soon, Akkad would once again take political control of Sumer. However, in contrast to Sargon's empire, this time the rise of the Semitic city-states to the north would effectively be permanent; ethnically Semitic kings and kingdoms based in northern Mesopotamia would come to dominate the Fertile Crescent for many centuries.

At the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C., the political structure in Akkad was much the same as it had usually been in Sumer; the main political entity was the city-state. As had also been the case in Sumer, the various city-states were at times very cooperative and at other times very competitive, and occasionally one ruler and city-state (such as Sargon the Great of Agade) would establish hegemony over Akkad and even further afield - and also like in Sumer, these larger empires rarely long outlived their creators.

However, great and essentially permanent changes were in the offing for Mesopotamia, although undoubtedly this wasn't obvious at the time. In the early part of the 18th century B.C. (about 1792 B.C.), Hammurabi became king of the city-state of Babylon - which, coincidentally, was situated not too far from the long-abandoned site of Sargon the Great's capital of Agade. Hammurabi proved to be an exceptionally able and energetic leader, and his reign as king of Babylon lasted for some 42 years. Apparently, his policy of territorial expansion proceeded slowly, for most of his reign being confined to the immediate vicinity of Babylon. However, by 1764 B.C., Babylon had become a very strong power; stunningly, Hammurabi led Babylon to victory over the nearby city-state of Eshnunna, which had formed a powerful alliance with the perpertually-dangerous (to Mesopotamia) tribes of Elam and Subartu. Hammurabi was able to follow each success with another one, and by 1762 B.C. he is described as having made himself king of all of Sumer and Akkad. When he moved an army well up the Euphrates valley in 1759 B.C. and defeated the city-state of Mari, he became ruler of all of Mesopotamia and a rather far-flung empire.

Following Hammurabi's death in 1750 B.C., the old pattern emerged once again of Mesopotamian empires fragmenting after the passing of their founders. Shortly after Hammurabi's death, several of the more remote provinces were able to successfully break away from Babylon's empire. However, in contrast to its predecessors, the Babylonian state was much better organized; Babylon was able to retain control over the main "heartland" of Sumer and Akkad in Mesopotamia. From this point forward, political control in Mesopotamia passed forever from that of city-states, and was instead to be found in larger empires and kingdoms which were able to maintain control over large swathes of territory for extended periods of time. The "Old Babylonian Empire" which Hammurabi founded lasted well into the 16th century B.C., and its successor the Kassites assumed political and dynastic control in Babylon but otherwise retained the empire and its functionalities.

Hammurabi and the founders of the Old Babylonian Empire were well aware of the earlier successes of their Semitic cousin Sargon the Great; the kings of the Old Babylonian Empire claimed to be Sargon's successors and saw their kingdom as the lineal descendant of Sargon's empire. Of similar significance, the territory of Akkad, which drew its name from Sargon's capital city of Agade, came instead to be referred to as Babylonia, in recognition of the new seat of power in the region.

Of course, Hammurabi is now best known for the introduction of a code of laws in Babylon. Seemingly in direct reflection of the changes in the political landscape of Mesopotamia, the origins of Hammurabi's code are an inversion of its Sumerian predecessors. In the cases of both Urukagina of Lagash and Ur-Nammu of Ur, both men came to the kingship of their cities following a period of harsh and autocratic rule, and were brought to power with the intent of instituting reform. In both cases, the first order of business was to restore the threatened political and territorial integrity of the state; it was only after that was accomplished that both Urukagina and Ur-Nammu were able to turn their attention to formalizing the processes of internal reform in, respectively, Lagash and Ur - most clearly embodied in the law codes which they promulgated and the abuses (detailed in the codes) which they were seeking to abolish.

In contrast, Hammurabi introduced his code very early in his reign, apparently during the very first year. Until rather recently, this seemed to be an astounding achievement - since for many years Hammurabi's code was the oldest known law code and was thought to have been created from scratch. However, it is now known that Hammurabi's code had Sumerian predecessors, that these law codes were well-known in the society of Hammurabi's time, and that Hammurabi made extensive use of these earlier codes in formulating his code. This should not be seen as a denigration of Hammurabi as a "copy-cat" who merely used earlier work without imagination. It is now clear from the archaeological record that Sumerian law codes and the Sumerian legal system had been astonishingly successful in Sumerian society over a number of centuries before Hammurabi; it is likely that Hammurabi sensibly made use of the successful aspects of Sumerian society which were readily available. It is also likely significant that Hammurabi promulgated his own law code so early in his reign; undoubtedly, he had studied the law codes which had been produced in Sumer over many centuries, and came to the throne with the clear intent of establishing a similar style of the "rule of law" in Babylon - essentially, as his first order of business.

Hammurabi's code is interesting in and of itself - for what it tells about the society of 18th century B.C. Babylon and the various intricate legal and social matters which confronted the Babylonians. In addition, Hammurabi's code is a direct descendant of Lipit-Ishtar's code; while little of Lipit-Ishtar's code has been reconstructed, most of Hammurabi's code is now known - so it likely tells us a great deal about its predecessor. These issues will be considered in Part VI.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Deja vu 

A delightful post from the Iraq the Model crew about their first encounters with blogosphere politics:

"I only knew about the left side of the blogosphere months after we started. I thought that the right side was the whole thing, as in the beginning I thought we were just posting our thoughts 'into the darkness' and get lots of visitors without having any idea where they come from except Iraqi blogs. Later we found about the major blogs such as Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Buzz Machine, LGF, Tim Blair, Roger Simon, Right Wing News... etc and for long months I thought these were the only major bloggers! I didn't know because these were the sites linking to us and from where we got lots of visitors and when I used to go to their sites I would find a somewhat similar list. It turned out to be that the other side top bloggers rarely if ever mentioned us or other Iraqi blogs except for the very anti-American ones. I realized lately that the blogosphere was divided into two major parts with very few bridges.

"When I started looking at the 'enemy' I found out that most of them were not that horrible! They disagree with us and our friends and supporters on the right side but they feel no shame in reporting good things that can actually show their points of view as being not valid. Then I looked back at our blog index after getting many remarks like 'just look at to whom these guys link! Instapundit and Chief Wiggles!' and, 'Can you believe an Arab Muslim would link to LGF?? With their extreme anti-Arab, anti-Muslim tone!' and I was thinking, 'Why not!? What's wrong with that? They support Iraq in her struggle! And how can they be anti-Arab if they support us?!'

"It was really confusing to me in the beginning that liberals would not support the change in Iraq (remember we were isolated so we didn't know much about that) even though they were against Bush, as it's over now and any humanist should (in my mind) support democracy and peace in Iraq. Besides, I've always considered myself a liberal! On the other side, I had a bad impression that many of the people on the right were fanatics and racist! How much did we learn in this year!"
I quote it because it reminded me of my own culture shock when I first encountered the Western political world, way in the pre-blogosphere era, some 16 years ago.

Living for the first fifteen years of my life behind the Iron Curtain, I - and many others, even those older and wiser - had a somewhat skewed view of the world. For us, the world was divided into the communist part and the capitalist part, the East and the West. The communist world was dreadful, and 90 per cent of us imprisoned inside desired nothing more than to see the Evil Empire crumble and fall. Then there was the legendary West, the world of democracy, freedom and capitalism, inhabited by happy people who enjoyed their liberty and prosperity and were as hostile to communism as indeed we were. The Party told us the West was the Enemy. But we knew that was not the case; since we wanted to be like the West, The West couldn't be our enemy, it was only the enemy of our communist overlords, and therefore our friend. The world seemed so simple then.

I was sixteen and a half years old when I arrived in Australia in November 1988. I had so many other things to do with my time (like learn the language, for starters) that the political reality did not hit me straight away. It dawned on me slowly over time: my old Polish world-view was a sham. Or at least half of it was. The part about the overwhelming majority of my fellow residents of the Evil Empire wanting freedom and democracy was still right. The part about the West being full of... well, Westerners, wasn't.

You can imagine my shock and disappointment upon discovering that only a minority of the inhabitants of the Free World were truly committed to the ideas of liberal democracy, capitalism and anti-communism. Another minority was in various shades and degrees opposed to, or critical of, one or more of these concepts, and the group in the middle was largely indifferent and disinterested - not quite alienated from their own society, but too busy or too bored to fight against its enemies.

My innocence was truly lost.

Why are so few truly appreciative of the bounty of freedom and prosperity they're sharing in? I thought to myself. Why are so many hostile to their own society and so open to the visions of the enemies of democracy and liberty? Why do so many think that the West is worse or at least no better than the "prison of the nations" that most of my fellow prisoners wanted to escape from? Sure, the West wasn't perfect - what is? - but it was a hell of a lot better than any alternatives. Idiots like Noam Chomsky who spouted their theories of moral equivalence - "sure, the Soviet Union is bad... but the United States is no better" - could only do so because they never actually had to live in societies they were comparing America to. But all this nuttiness was sadly not restricted to extremists like Chomsky; many other, softer and gentler people would equally, if not as violently, argue about the faults of their own society from a position of blissful ignorance about life in other parts of the world.

I'm sixteen years older now, and a bit wiser about the ways of the world, the politics and society. Things don't shock me anymore, but they still disappoint me. So I'm not surprised that the guys from Iraq the Model thought for a long time that the blogosphere was an exclusive domain of people of good will, and that no one in the free and democratic West could possibly support Saddam the Tyrant, or at least wish upon the long-suffering Iraqi people that they continue to suffer under bloodthirsty, mad despotism.

I'm not surprised - I've been there, too. I can tell you that you'll never be able to get rid of that bitter taste in your mouth, but it will only make you fight even harder for what's right, and appreciate your good brothers-in-arms even more.

So thank you to all you good people - whom I would call, if I were still an innocent child, the Westerners - for extending your hand of friendship to me over the years. And thank you for doing the same now to the Fadhil brothers at Iraq the Model and countless others in Iraq. There might not be "the West" we all imagined was there, but there certainly are the free people of the West. You restore our faith.


All democracies are equal, but... 

There's just no way to make some people happy. Take for example Balaji Reddy, Special Correspondent of "India Daily", who editorialises today:

"Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq have something in common. It is called dictatorship in the name of democracy."
I'm sure that Mr Reddy was just as concerned and outraged when Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq were all examples of dictatorship in the name of dictatorship. Which wasn't, as you may recall, all that long ago - some thirteen years for Ukraine, three for Afghanistan and one a and a half for Iraq. Of course, had the United States not been involved in all three cases, Mr Reddy would still be able to enjoy the comfortable status quo.

Apparently without any irony, Mr Reddy uses quotes from Russian president Putin to condemn the trend towards "democracy [being] used to cover dictatorships." I'll leave you to make any appropriate comments.

And finally, this clincher at the end:

"In the Islamic countries, people are skeptical about the Afghan elections."
Why not challenge the Islamic countries to put aside skepticism and show Afghanistan how it can be done better?

India remains the world's largest democracy, which also obviously makes her the largest in the developing world. A little more sympathy to democratic aspirations of other peoples and a little bit less condescension wouldn't perhaps go astray.


The realignment? 

I don't particularly like the word "realignment" - it tends to be overused by editors and pundits who are desperately looking for an element of drama and movement to enliven otherwise dull political stories.

It also tends to be overused by the realists school for whom much, if not everything in the international relations revolves around power balancing, i.e. constant realignments to check the hegemon. In politics, real realignment, in the true sense of a radical and enduring change in the configuration of forces, is quite rare; people, movements, nations simply don't change their mind all that often; or at least not as often as pundits and realists would think. The Soviet Union's transition from the self-proclaimed bulwark against the fascism, to Nazi Germany's partner under the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, to fascism's mortal enemy back again comes to mind as a clear enough example, although even in that case the realignment was purely tactical - the essential Soviet ideology and their attitude towards the rest of the world did not change throughout the whole process.

But what we are witnessing now could be the real thing - the first monumental post-Cold War "realignment". For quite some time I have been pondering on a curious configurations that have emerged in the aftermath of September 11 (and I mean configurations both on the nation state level as well within the states). The war on terror/war in Iraq coalition of the willing unites (among others) American neo-conservatives, British Third Way practitioners and Eastern European post-communists. You can call them the radical forces of the world. Lined up against them is another curious coalition that brings together American paleo-conservatives as well as many libertarians, British High Tories, much of the international and institutional left as well as the statist right. You can call them the reactionary forces of the world.

All this brought back memories of reading Virginia Postrel's 1998 book "The Future and its Enemies." Postrel essentially argued that the old labels of "right" and "left" are no longer useful, as the political landscape is increasingly divided between the opposing world-views of "stasis" and "dynamism", each based around attitudes to economic and scientific progress. Thus, Postrel wrote, we shouldn't be surprised to see coalitions of conservatives and radicals arguing against globalisation and liberalisation - or conversely, classical liberals and social democrats supporting free trade.

I wonder whether - to the extent that Postrel's thesis holds true - we are seeing a similar phenomenon on the international scene. The labels of "left" and "right" still hold true to some extent but they don't explain everything (of course, they never did explain everything). Yes - the war on terror and in Iraq can be seen as being driven by the "right-wing" forces (such as the American, Australian and Italian governments), just as the opposition is in the hands of "left-wing" forces (the German government, the United Nations bureaucracy). But that's far from the whole story - Tony Blair is not really a right-winger, while Jacques Chirac supposedly represents the centre-right of the French politics.

No, the configuration that has recently taken shape in international politics on one side unites all those who believe in a positive change to be brought about by the spread of democracy and liberty, while on the other side we see the proponents of the status quo who feel they themselves and/or the international system are threatened by too much unpredictable change. And that in turn has led to civil wars within both the right and the left, splitting political movements that were never monolithic to start with. This story of the recombination of the progressive right and left, and on the other side the conservative right and left, is the very obvious and therefore very under-reported political story of the last three years.

How long will the current configuration last? My guess is that it will for quite some time, partly because the event which brought it together in the first place - the war on terror - will not end any time soon, and partly because the issue of America's role and influence in the world, which ultimately underpins all the major international controversies of the modern world, will not disappear in the near future, either.

I'm sure that some might accuse me of overplaying the idealism card and putting too much store in the power of ideology as the motivating factor in world politics. Having just finished reading George Friedman's "America's Secret War" (highly recommended) and dipping from time to time into the Stratfor analysis, I know that many instead see geo-politics and cold hard Machiavellian realism as the driving forces behind the international events. Thus, Great Britain sides with the United States as a way of balancing the united Europe; Poland and other central and eastern European states do so to balance the continental hegemony of the Paris-Berlin axis; France, Germany, Russia and the United Nations, in turn, work together to balance the United States. From this perspective, events such as the war on terror don't provide the ideological spurs for actions of states and non-state actors but merely excuses and opportunities to engage in certain predetermined courses of action - for example, if there was no war in Iraq, France would find some other issue to battle the United States over in order to try to bring the hyper-power down at list one rung.

Of course, there is much to be said for this sort of analysis, but again, it's not the full picture. The realists have always downplayed the role of abstract ideas in international politics, just as the idealists have underestimated the influence of realpolitik considerations. The current realignment, too, is partly a function of cold strategic calculations, but I have no doubt that it is also to a large degree motivated by beliefs and attitudes that go far beyond the lowest Machiavellian common denominator.

I would at this point use the old cliche "watch this space", but if you do, be prepared to watch it for many years to come.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

What will the Shia do? 

That's the big question of Iraq 2005, isn't it?

So far, Grand Ayatollah Sistani has proved himself to be a consummate politician. He and the Shia establishment seem to understand very well that the best way to make the Americans leave Iraq is not to fight them but to have a democratic election. Hence, Sistani has tacitly allowed the Americans and the Iraqi authorities to crush the Al Sadr uprising, thus eliminating the uncontrollable upstart opposition to Sistani's authority and a potential source of disruption in the run-up to the election. There was also no repeat of the shows of solidarity between the Shias and the Sunnis we have witnessed during the first major flare-up of violence back in April. This time, the Shias stood back in silence as the Coalition moved against Fallujah. Since the end of the Al Sadr uprising, the south of the country remains relatively peaceful and troubles-free.

The Shias constitute 60% of the population of Iraq. The arithmetic alone suggests they are likely to play the dominant role in any democratically elected government. In the recent months, Sistani has been able to oversee the formation of an
electoral alliance between the two largest Shia parties the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Daawa, as well as some Kurdish and Sunni parties. By all accounts it should be a formidable electoral force.

So what will happen should the Shia parties win the majority in the National Assembly? Sistani is a proponent of the
"quietist" school, which in contrast to Khomeini-style mullahocracy, doesn't seek direct religious control of the political sphere. Still, can the Shias work within a pluralistic, democratic environment in which the minorities are protected from the tyranny of the majority? Will the Iraqi Shias, after centuries of oppression and domination by the minority Sunnis, be tempted to exact revenge once in power? And will the Sunnis peacefully accept a Shia-dominated government, even if it shows restraint towards them?

A few days ago, some
600 leaders from five Shia provinces in south-central Iraq met in Najaf to discuss the push for greater local autonomy. In this, and similar other meetings that have been taking place throughout Iraq in the past year or so, might lie the roots of the best possible scenario for the post-election future of Iraq: robust federalism.

Hardly anyone would want to see Iraq disintegrate as a state, but most would like to see the country's ethnic and religious mosaic accommodated in some sort of an arrangement that doesn't leave anyone too aggrieved and unhappy. Having a central government in Baghdad with a narrow range of responsibilities (largely foreign relations and defense), complimented by a considerable degree of autonomy within the three main regions of the country (Kurd, Sunni and Shia), including taxation and provision of public services, would arguably create a political climate of national unity, without any group feeling oppressed and controlled by the others.

Federalism has worked to various degrees of success in the United States, Australia, Canada, and Germany. It could work in Iraq too, where the local conditions make it an even more important than in any advanced Western democracy.


"Root causes" make a comeback 

Tony Blair and Pervez Musharraf agree on the need to root out the root causes:

"The leaders of Britain and Pakistan agreed that the world could not defeat terrorism by force alone, and that it must move quickly to remove its 'root causes' such as poverty and political grievances...

"Though Musharraf backed 'fighting terrorism head-on militarily,' he said there needed to be a 'strategic long-term' approach that included the resolution of political disputes and ending poverty and illiteracy. 'I'm very sure that the situation in the world now is ripe for resolution of these political disputes,' he said."
By all means, resolve the political disputes such as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or the Kashmiri question, because it makes good sense to finally resolve these issues, even if just for the sake of the long-suffering people who have to live there, if not for the sake of world stability and peace or the assuage our Western consciences. But it will not solve the problem of Islamist terrorism, whose vision is total and all-encompassing and therefore not in danger of ever running out fresh specific grievances once the old ones disappear.

The Islamist rage is supported by the twin pillars of deep-seated resentment and totalitarian vision. There is the general sense of shame and humiliation that an once powerful Islamic world is now dominated by the infidels, politically, militarily, economically, and culturally. The second and connected issue is the desire to re-create a theocratic Caliphate that will first encompass and subsequently expand the Islamic world. The West has to be fought because its vision is totally incompatible with the Islamist one - in this context the Great Satan essentially means the Great Seducer, and thus ultimately a spiritual threat. Its democracy, liberalism, and materialism will always lead good people astray from the one true path; hence for the fundamentalist Umma to survive and thrive the temptation has to be permanently eliminated - either by the annihilation or, preferably, the ultimate conversion of the infidel world.

The question of poverty and illiteracy as root causes of terrorism is a red herring. Haitians don't fly planes into American skyscrapers, they sail on leaky boats so that their children can one day work in them; Namibians don't strap themselves with explosives and detonate in restaurants or embassies. The jihadi elite, like every revolutionary vanguard, is drawn from among the better educated and the more materially comfortable sections of the Islamic society. Sadly, in many cases it's the schools and universities that are the breeding grounds of Islamist terrorism, not dirt-poor mountain villages.

So when leaders like Blair and Musharaff talk about eliminating root causes of terrorism, what they really should mean is eliminating root causes for some of the support that terrorism enjoys. It is certainly an arguable proposition that resolving some of the long-running political disputes might lower the temperature of the Islamic world; it is just as certainly not true that it will eliminate terrorism.

Terrorism will be with us for a long time to come - certainly for as long as men keep entertaining their totalitarian visions while at the same time enyoying limited support for and equally limited means of implementing them.


Monday, December 06, 2004

Best blogs - and Chrenkoff 

John Hawkins at Right Wing News has just announced the results of a bloggers' poll to find out the winners of the Third Annual Warblogger Awards for 2004. Lots of good winners and runners-up in many different categories - make sure to check out what almost fifty bloggers (including Chrenkoff) thought were the best amongst our ranks.

Thanks to all the people voting for my blog in the Wizbang Blog Awards - I don't have much chance of catching up to Tim Blair in the Best Australian/New Zealand blog category - still, you can vote more than once - in fact you can vote once every 24 hours, and there's still a few days to go before the poll closes. So, as they say - vote early and vote often.

Also, if you have some spare change, support the Spirit of America through the Blogger Challenge link on top of the side-bar. Think of it as your Christmas gift for Iraq.

And, lastly, congratulations to a reader from Toronto, Canada, who was the 888,888th visitor to Chrenkoff earlier today.


Good news from Iraq, Part 16 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. As always, many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman respectively, and to all the others who support the series.

Also: If you would like to contribute to rebuilding Iraq, why not consider donating to the Spirit of America's "Friends of Iraq" appeal and help our troops help the Iraqi people (the link on the side-bar to your right).

It takes a lot to get a man of God annoyed and
Louis Sako, the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, is a very frustrated man these dyas: "It is not all death and destruction," says the Archbishop. "Much is positive in Iraq today... Universities are operating, schools are open, people go out onto the streets normally... Where there's a kidnapping or a homicide the news gets out immediately, and this causes fear among the people... Those who commit such violence are resisting against Iraqis who want to build their country."

It's not just the terrorists who, according to His Eminence, are creating problems for Iraq: "[January] will be a starting point for a new Iraq... [Yet] Western newspapers and broadcasters are simply peddling propaganda and misinformation... Iraqis are happy to be having elections and are looking forward to them because they will be useful for national unity... Perhaps not everything will go exactly to plan, but, with time, things will improve. Finally Iraqis will be given the chance to choose. Why is there so much noise and debate coming out from the West when before, under Saddam, there were no free elections, but no one said a thing?"

Lastly, the Archbishop has this wish for the international bystanders: "Europe is absent, it's not out there; the United States is on its own... [Europe] must help the Iraqi government to control its borders to prevent the entry of foreign terrorists, [but] also provide economic help to encourage a new form of culture which is open to coexistence, the acceptance of others, respect for the human person and for other cultures... Europe must understand that there is no time to waste on marginal or selfish interests: The entire world needs peace."

Archbishop Sako's frustration is increasingly shared by other Iraqis, who can hardly recognize their country from the foreign media coverage. Westerners, too, both military and civilians, upon their return are often finding to their surprise and concern they had lived and worked in a different country to that their loved ones, friends and neighbors back home saw every night on the news. "Our" Iraq is a place of violence, uncertainty, and frustration; "their" Iraq all that, too, but also so much more: work and renewal, hope and enthusiasm, new opportunities and new possibilities. Here are the last two weeks' worth of stories you might have missed while watching "our" Iraq on the news:

SOCIETY: After initially canvassing various other dates, Farid Ayar, spokesman of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, has announced that the election will take place on
January 30. Says Abdel Hussein al-Hindawi, the head of the Electoral Commission: "These are the first free, multi-party elections since 1954 and I can tell you that according to our 6,000 electoral agents throughout the country, there is a real fervour (to vote) even in the Sunni regions." The numbers involved in the exercise are considerable:

"Nearly 14 million voters are eligible to go to the polls, according to the number of ration cards issued to adults by Iraq's commerce ministry under the UN programme 'oil for food' in the days of Saddam. But there are newcomers who have returned home after Saddam's fall in April 2003. They will be able to register to vote by showing two identity documents proving their Iraqi nationality. In addition, some three million Iraqis living overseas, many of whom fled the regime, will also be able to vote from January 28 to 30 in 14 countries. These are Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United States.

"Iraq is spending 250 million dollars for this landmark election. Voting papers are being printed in Switzerland to avoid counterfeiting, and a company will distribute them to the 9,000 polling stations which will be equipped with 40,000 ballot boxes. Each voting list will have a number and a logo."
Adds Hindawi: "We have banned any emblem showing violence or religious symbols... Under this rule, we have rejected one list which depicted a tank, another which opted for a Koran with a sun, and a third which had mass graves."

Elsewhere, Hindawi adds that voters will have sufficient opportunity to acquaint themselves with
party logos: "We will have an electoral campaign where each entity has to inform voters who they should vote for the party. The campaign will run from Dec. 15 to Jan. 28. For example, the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (a popular conservative religious party) may already have a logo that people recognize, so they'll use that in the media campaign." There might be a lot of these logos to learn, as the authorities have approved of 156 political parties to run in the election (rejecting 56 parties that failed to fulfill necessary criteria). "The Iraqi Islamic Party is one of those approved. The Sunni group had threatened to boycott the election to protest the U-S-led assault on Fallujah but later decided to participate."

Among the 156 political parties registered is the
Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party, the brainchild of Iraqi bloggers, the Fadhil brothers. Read Ali Fadhil's wonderful and moving post about a dream finally achieved: "You can't imagine the thrill and happiness I felt when I held the document that state that the 'Iraqi pro-democracy party' is registered and approved as a political entity that has the right to participate in the upcoming elections!... That was not a dream, it's for real and it didn't happen in the 'free and independent' Iraq at Saddam's time, it happened 3 days ago in 'occupied Iraq'."

Another registered party is the
Iraqi Nation Democrat Party. The party is run by Mithal al-Alusi, Iraqi politician who created a controversy by being the first to visit Israel a few months ago. Says Alusi: "We are keeping Iraqi interests in sight. These interests includes strategic relations with the United States and also ties with Israel... The style of rule of Sadaam Hussein must change in the direction of closeness with Israel... The Iraqis need to deal with various Israeli companies - particularly those of the half million Iraqis in Israel - from the standpoint of supporting peace and Iraq." The report goes on quote "Al-Hayat newspaper [which] reported... that the Iraqi National Congress party, under the leadership of Ahmed Chalabi, will join Alusi's new party, since he has officially declared the demise of his previous party. He added that a few men of Muqtada al-Sadr, the extremist Shi'ite leader, have joined him as well."

In an effort to boost the poll's chance of success in the Sunni areas of Iraq, the authorities have
extended the deadline for the registration of political parties for one more week after the registration had finished everywhere else throughout Iraq. As a fallback option, however, "Iraq's interim government is considering leaving some seats on the elected national assembly vacant so troubled districts that may not vote in the January elections could still get an opportunity to participate later." Elsewhere, though, security plans are now being put in place to safeguard the election process. The city of Diwaniya, and the province of al-Qadisiya, provides an example:

"Security forces in the southern city of Diwaniya have drawn up a plan to protect voters and polling stations from attacks by insurgents. The plan, among other things, includes a substantial increase in the number of police patrols to guard the seven polling stations in the Province... 'We would like to coordinate efforts by all security forces. Police officers, the army, the National Guard and other security organs will try to work as a unified body in the run-up and during the elections,' Major Saadi Saleh, commander of the National Guard in the city, said."
The democratic bug has certainly bitten hard in al-Qadisiya, with 1,600 candidates competing to fill the seats allocated to the province in the National Assembly. In the Najaf province, some 2,200 candidates are competing for the allocated spots.

The last few days have witnessed the start of an
electoral awareness campaign on television - Iraqi-style:

"Iraq has drafted in a local comedian to star in a series of adverts designed to drum up enthusiasm for elections due next month.

"The set of four TV spots, launched on Wednesday, feature a popular Iraqi comic encouraging Iraqis to think positively about their elections and ensure they are registered to vote.

"In the first one the comedian, known as Udai, is talking to his much taller girlfriend who mischievously reminds him that he'd said things would get better after the elections.

"Employing plenty of innuendo, Udai tells her Iraq's recent difficulties have been keeping him down but after the elections are successful he'll grow much bigger."
Meanwhile, the logistical support for the election continues to flow into Iraq. China will donate $1 million worth of supplies. In Switzerland, meanwhile,

"hundreds of people in... Geneva are working around the clock to ensure that voting in Iraq can go ahead as planned on January 30. They have been employed to fulfil a contract won by recruitment agency Manpower to establish a database of information contained in the country's electoral rolls...

"Before polling can take place, the authorities have to sift through the existing registers of voters as part of efforts to ensure that the elections are as free and fair as possible. By the end of last week, Manpower had recruited 'over 1,100' of the 1,400 temporary staff it needs to create an electronic database of all the names and addresses contained in the election registers...

"The project being carried out in Geneva is not the only Swiss connection to January's election in Iraq. The ballot papers to be used by millions of Iraqis are being printed in Switzerland."
USAID also continues to support the election process with funding and expertise:

"The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announces support to the Iraqi election process through a cooperative agreement to the Consortium for Elections and Political Process (CEPPS), a consortium of three U.S. non-governmental organizations, and a $40 million grant to the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to support the Independent Election Commission of Iraq (IECI).

"The CEPPS consortium consists of the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and IFES and is supporting civic involvement in the upcoming Iraq elections scheduled for late January 2005. Specific areas of support are (1) voter education, which includes educating voters on broad issues of democracy, participation, and elections, (2) providing Iraq election monitors, and (3) conflict prevention."
USAID is also working to help build Iraq's constitutional structure (link in PDF):

"Two seminars on the rule of law in Iraq were held in October as part of a university partnership led by DePaul University to improve legal education in Iraq. The first seminar was titled 'The New Iraqi Constitution' and was held in Baghdad. The second rule of law seminar was also held in Baghdad and more than 47 participants attended, including three university Deans, faculty members, judges, and lawyers. These seminars are part of a series of seminars on rule of law which began in September. They are supported by USAID's Higher Education and Development (HEAD) Program for Iraq which is being implemented through five different university partnerships - each with a separate academic focus."
USAID's Local Governance Project, meanwhile, is operating on the grass-roots level to help improve local administration and standards of governance throughout Iraq. Some of its latest projects include the renovation of tax offices for Al Basrah governorate, implementing a new computerized personnel and salary system for the employees of Baghdad Mayoralty, donations of computer equipment, and introduction of decentralization projects in various governorates around the country.

And in an effort to strengthen the integrity of government and administration, the Commission on Public Integrity has set up a
phone hotline where citizens can lodge complaints about the public corruption.

Refugees continue to make their way back to Iraq in time for the election:

"After weeks of standing in line every day at the immigration office, Zainab Ahmed, an Iraqi who lived in Iran for the last 18 years, finally got the required official's signature this week to start getting her identity documents back.

"Like thousands of other Iraq residents, Ahmed, 65, and her family of seven were kicked out of Iraq by former president Saddam Hussein. She moved back months ago, but lives with her son-in-law -- her house is occupied by another family told to move there by Saddam. 'This is my homeland, all of my relatives are here,' said Ahmed, when asked why she moved back. 'But I have no house, no furniture, nothing but some blankets to sleep in.'

"Families like Ahmed's have been returning since the fall of the regime, but now up to 1,000 people per day are making the trek, said Sorya Isho Warda, Iraq's minister of displacement and migration. Statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also indicate a huge rise in returnees, many repatriated by UNHCR. Up to 1 million people may have come back so far, Ahmed said. Official statistics put the number at more than 116,000, Warda said."
Iraqi women, meanwhile, continue with their struggle for greater rights and freedoms in the new Iraq. Read this profile of Zainab Al-Suwaij and Ala Talabani, two Oraqi feminist activists and their multi-faceted work on behalf of their fellow countrywomen. Al-Suwaij, who went into exile to the US after the failed uprising in 1991, "created the American Islamic Congress with the goal of promoting moderation and tolerance within and outside the Islamic community. After the American occupation of Iraq she has also spent 14 months there working to develop projects focused on improving the educational system - her schools for dropouts have a 97 percent rate of success - and empowering Iraqi women." Together with Talabani, Al-Suwaij successfully lobbied the authorities on a number of projects, including greater political representation for women and protecting women's legal rights.

The authorities are also trying to deal with the
human rights legacy of the Saddam years. According to Bakhtiar Amin, Iraq's human rights minister, "Iraq has 1.5 million people handicapped by war wounds, or crippled physically or mentally by Saddam's forces. Another 1.5 million are internally displaced. And a million have simply disappeared off the face of the earth." Challenges are enormous:

"Amin said he also hopes to discover how, since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Germany has handled the files kept on millions of citizens by the dreaded Communist Stasi secret police. Iraq has a similar need to archive, catalogue and document the atrocities of the Saddam era.

"Just as in former Communist East Germany, Saddam's police kept information about everyone in a highly controlled and militarized society, Amin said.

"As a result, he told a news conference, 'Iraq's genocidal policy is the most documented in the history of mass murder. We have documents about the deportation of villages and the suppression of political opponents in Iraq and abroad'."

"So far Iraq has recovered enough documents to cover 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) of shelf space, but they are widely scattered, while 17 ministries lost their entire archives. Amin says Iraq needs to recapture its memory by creating a national archive. At the same time, he promised documents would be used to prosecute Saddam's trial."
Great Britain is helping with the task:

"Thirty-four Iraqi medics, academics and police officers arrived in Britain in October to study forensic archaeology at Bournemouth University so they could identify their dead and gather evidence of genocide in their homeland.

"When they return in February they will face the constant threat of being killed by members of the old Baathist regime who may want to stop them uncovering the true extent of mass killings in Iraq.

"Seven of the group agreed to be interviewed about the project, paid for with nearly £1 million [$1.9 million] of British Government funds, on condition their identities were protected. Many of them count friends or members of their own families among the estimated 300,000 people who disappeared during Saddam’s reign of terror."
Iraq will also receive other valuable foreign assistance to help deal with the tragic legacy of dictatorship:

"Bosnia's International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has announced its plans to assist Iraq in identifying missing persons, following a visit to Sarajevo by Iraqi interim human rights minister Bakhtiar Amin, who expressed hope that Bosnia's tragic experience could prove useful in identifying exhumed bodies in Iraq. The ICMP said it would donate its forensic Data Management System (fDMS), a unique electronic database that tracks the process of exhumations and identifications from site reconnaissance and exhumation to the identification of remains, notification of family members, and final burial. According to the ICMP, there are believed to be between 300,000 and one million missing persons in Iraq - 10 times more then in all the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Most of the missing are believed to be buried in mass graves, and several mass grave sites have already been found and exhumed."
Of the less painful past, Iraqi historical and cultural heritage continues to be recovered and returned to rightful owners:

"Police in Iraq's southern city of Nasiriyah, some 350 km south of Baghdad, retrieved 70 stolen antiques and gave them back to the city's museum... Nasiriyah's antiquity protection police force, which was established to prevent the smuggling of the ruins and antiques, managed to seize 70 stolen antiques of the ancient times in the regions of Oma and Jokha with the help of the Italian police."
Meanwhile, a Providence, Rhode Island, resident was recently sentenced for his attempt to smuggle 4,000 year old artifacts out of Iraq.

Also a part of Iraq's rich historical mosaic, other faiths continue to survive inside the country, despite the attempts by jihadi zealots to drive them out. In
Mosul, the Christian community is rebuilding churches and chapels destroyed in recent terrorist attacks. Some valuable assistance is now coming from Iraqi Christian living overseas. In Florida, St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in Weston is collecting money for rebuilding destroyed churches in Baghdad. Muslim organizations, including the local branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have offered their help in raising the awareness of the issue and collecting funds. "This is a shame to hear about it... By Allah, if I don't condemn it, I will carry the sins," says Sofian Abdelaziz, director of the American Muslim Association of North America.

Alan P. Larson, the Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs, provides an useful overview of the economic situation in Iraq before and after the liberation:

"In 1979 Iraq had a per capita living standard on a par with Italy. By the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, Iraq had the GDP of an impoverished developing country and had become the most heavily indebted nation in the world. This grim legacy, compounded by a serious security situation, poses big hurdles to economic development.

"Despite these problems, the Iraqis are persevering and succeeding. Iraqi policies made it possible for economic output in the first ten months of 2004 to be 51.7% higher than in 2003. Per capita income in 2004 is projected to be $780, up from approximately $500 in 2003.

"The Iraqi government has set forth a solid medium-term economic plan. The newly independent Central Bank is keeping inflation in check, with the consumer price index rising only 5.7 percent in the first eight months of 2004 compared with 46 percent in 2003. The new dinar has appreciated 27 percent against the dollar in the past year."
Says Larson: "The economic progress Iraqis have achieved so far, under very difficult circumstances, testifies to their competence and courage. This holds especially true for the men and women who make up the new Iraqi government, who, at great personal risk, are busy building their vision of a democratic and free Iraq."

On the international front, there is more
good news for Iraq: "The United States, Germany and other G7 nations agreed... to write off up to 80 percent or $33 billion of Iraq's Paris Club debt, which could pave the way for a wider international accord, officials said." That means, for example, that Australia will forgive Iraq the $1.1 billion owed. The deal might have another good financial spin-off for Iraq: "The accord with the Paris Club, which holds about $42 billion in Iraqi debt, may help pave the way for Iraq to receive about $8 billion in aid from the IMF and World Bank." The Kuwaiti government, meanwhile, will be asking the parliament to approve an 80 per cent cut in Iraq's $16 billion debt, a reduction in line with the Paris Club decision. Iraq's debt to Russia will be reduced from around $10.5 billion to between $1 billion and $700 million. And Saudi Arabia has now also expressed willingness to make substantial cuts in Iraqi debt.

Despite security concerns,
Baghdad Stock Exchange continues to move ahead:

" 'There's a lot of interest,' said Mazin Aziza, who represents one of the 13 Iraqi banks now listed on the exchange. 'People like to buy and sell on the exchange. We wait for security to improve. Then there will be much more trading'...

"The exchange operates as an independent entity under the scrutiny of the Iraq Securities Commission but counts on the financial support of the Finance Ministry as well as the enthusiastic advice of experts in the American Embassy in the Green Zone, a few blocks away...

"More than 70 companies are now listed on the exchange. By now these firms have issued more than 100 billion shares, and anywhere from 100 million to 500 million shares are traded in a session (in comparison, volume on the New York Stock Exchange was a little less than 2 billion shares on Friday)."
The numbers are still small, dwarfed by Iraq's oil-based economy, but Taha Ahmed Abdul-Salam, chief executive of the exchange, is optimistic: "I believe the Iraqi economy is growing by steps, not in a hurry... On the Iraqi exchange, sometimes you see the shares are moving very fast, but the economy is slow. I believe in the future."

USAID continues to provide assistance to improve economic governance throughout the country through its
Iraq Economic Governance II Program and Local Governance Program (link in PDF). Among the latest initiatives:

"Advisors are continuing with the implementation of a government-wide Financial Management Information System, an automated accounting and budget execution system with online access and a centralized database. The system is already in use at the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Interior, and in Babil Governorate offices...

"[Another] IEG II project is working to improve utilities regulation and encourage the use of information technology in the government...

"Local Governance Program (LGP) staff in northern Iraq conducted a seminar on tourism and economic development for officials from the Ministry of Municipality, a Dahuk Governorate university, the Dahuk Tourism Office, the Ministry of Tourism, and representatives from private sector companies...

"During the last month, newly arrived IEG II staff conducted several meetings with bank executives from Iraq's two largest state-owned banks. These meetings provided a venue to discuss technical issues such as upcoming training events, work plan design, and status and plans of restructuring activities."
In oil news, "Iraq, the fifth-largest oil producer in the Middle East, will spend more than $1 billion next year to increase oil production capacity by about 15 percent to 3.25 million barrels a day, an Iraqi official said. 'The budget is fixed for priority projects to build new export pipelines and complete modifications to our refineries,' Abdulilah al-Amir, a foreign relations adviser to Iraqi Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadhban, said." The authorities are also planning to build a new refinery in the town of Zakho, in the Kurdish north, close to the Syrian and Turkish borders and along a pipeline route to Turkey. Iraqi authorities are currently conducting talks with Norway towards building a greater cooperation in the oil industry. And the Ministry of Oil has announced that it has shortlisted five foreign companies to study the giant Rumaila oil field in the south and another four to study the oil fields around Kirkuk.

The US Army Corps of Engineers is, meanwhile, onto the second leg of it
Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO) program (the first stage consisting of renovation of existing oil infrastructure):

"The new program goal is to increase liquid petroleum gas (LPG) production to 3,000 metric tons. 'This is what we think of as propane,' said [Marcia] Meekins, [oil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' southern district]. 'And, of course, the reason they (Iraq) want to increase their production is that now, they have to import it. They want to decrease their reliance on imports.'

"The Corps' role in the new program involves managing the construction, and making sure it's done on time and correctly. 'Our projects are on a longer timeframe, but then again we will produce some amazing results,' said Greg Waner, PCO, Basrah area project manager for the oil program. 'Our program will have the potential of having the biggest effect on the Iraqi people than any other money spent by PCO because we are going to create jobs and pump a lot of money into the economy when it's all said and done.'

"Waner said that the project has several goals, one of which is to work toward increasing Iraq's crude oil production to three million barrels a day. The average crude production now is roughly two million barrels."
Overall, one report concludes that "the Iraqi petroleum industry, despite frequent sabotage attacks and other disruptions, is managing to pump a steady stream of oil, providing a much-needed cushion to international markets and a silver lining to the insurgency-riven aftermath of the US-led invasion. Problems still haunt the industry, including a major pipeline rupture last week. Even so, Iraq has been a reliable supplier this year."

Arguably, this is at least partly due to hard work and determination of a
new generation of experts who are trying to rebuild Iraq's oil production:

"Amid Iraq's rusty refineries, sabotage and fuel shortages, there is a new breed of savvy bankers, hands-on oil managers and western-educated engineers who believe oil can help build a dynamic, modern nation which will inspire the Middle East."
As the report notes, the challenge is not only to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed through neglect, war and sabotage, but to avoid the "rentier economy" trap that most oil-rich countries tend to fall into: "Countries rich with oil export it and use the proceeds to finance the state and the ruling elite. There is no need to tax the population or let them be represented. The results include a weak private sector and an education system that does not generally produce qualified graduates." With the ongoing democratic and economic reform in Iraq, there is hope that the benefits of the oil economy will be used more wisely and shared by more people than in the past.
In communication news, the Internet infrastructure is developing surprisingly well around Iraq, according to an
Iraqi blogger: "Internet service had recently reached the small town where I work which is practically in the Iraqi marshes area. The service was limited in the past few months to the governmental facilities like the hospital and the town hall but now it's available for public use in a neat, small internet cafe' from which I'm posting these news."

In Suleymaniyah, in the Kurdish north, an
employment boom is taking place:

"The stable security situation has led a number of foreign companies to set up in the region, offering job seekers an alternative to the public sector or unskilled manual labour for the first time in years. While government jobs may have traditionally been people's first choice because of the cachet they carry here, a significant number of graduates are now tempted by the higher wages offered in the private sector.

"The combination of strong private and public sectors has led to a manpower shortage in an area which used to suffer from high unemployment. 'Before the fall of Saddam's regime, there was high unemployment because the government was basically the only employer,' explained Mahdi Shera, media manager for the Investment Support Board. 'Now they are actually having to compete with the private sector for employees'."
Says taxi driver Yusuf Nureddin "I don't need to work for the government because I'm earning around 20,000 dinars per day, which is enough to look after my family." The job opportunities are attracting increasing numbers of people from outside the region, including expatriate Kurds. Elsewhere in Kurdistan, an interesting government program is causing a car boom:

"A few kilometres east of the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, in an area as big as a football stadium, drivers are lining up to watch their cars get crushed in the jaws of a wrecking machine.

"The piles of crushed vehicles are now stacked as high as three-storey buildings, following a decision by the governing authorities to use financial incentives to get environment-damaging old vehicles off the roads.

"In areas under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, party, one of the two controlling parties in the Iraqi Kurdish region, the authorities have ordered all cars built before 1995 to be taken off the road and destroyed. In return, drivers are given a cash loan to help them upgrade to newer models.

"Buses and taxis are also covered by the ruling. Bus owners are getting cash advances of seven million Iraqi dinars (5,000 US dollars) to buy models produced after 1995, while taxi drivers are offered four and a half million Iraqi dinars to upgrade...

"The advance is just that, and car owners are supposed to pay the money back to the government in quarterly installments over a seven-year period. To guarantee that people pay up, the government uses the driver's property as collateral. As a result, anyone who doesn't own property can't get the cash."
Kurdistan might soon have the most modern looking roads in the region outside of the oil Gulf kingdoms.

RECONSTRUCTION: In Amman, Jordan, the
Iraq Procurement 2004 forum and exhibition have recently opened, "providing the opportunity for Iraqi businessmen to meet with representatives of global companies hoping to play a role in the rebuilding of the war-stricken state... An exhibition hosting over 50 regional and global companies will be held on the sidelines of the forum, providing the companies with the chance to display their products. During the three-day event, certain projects in the fields of IT, healthcare, energy production, telecommunications, banking, agriculture, water and sewage system will be presented to foreign investors."

Reconstruction is currently successfully progressing in
some old hot spots: "Just weeks after the Bradley's 25mm guns were clearing Anti Iraqi Forces from the streets of Samarra and restoring order, economic activity was climbing to new heights, store fronts booming with goods for sale, market places bustling with movement, and decades old trash, rubble, and graffiti disappeared as it was being carried away by a robust and motivated work force. To many, it had transformed itself into a new city, made up of smiling faces that showed few signs of lingering animosity." Read the whole long article to find out how this was achieved.

In another former hot spot,
Nasiriya, peace brings employment growth:

"More than 32,000 jobs have been created in the southern city of Nasiriya in the past few months, according to a provincial official. Kareem Adhab, head of Nasiriya Employment Center, said the creation of so many jobs was only made possible after the return of peace and stability to the city. Nasiriya, home to about 550,000 people, is the provincial capital of Dhi Qar, where the ruins of ancient cities Ur and Larsa are located. Most of the newly employed people are given permanent contracts, according to Adhab, who also said the promising employment figures did not include recruits who have opted to join the country's fledging security forces. He expected the provincial authorities to employ thousands more people to meet demand for the much-awaited-for reconstruction campaign."
The next on the list is, of course, Fallujah: "Together, the United States and the Iraqi government have earmarked as much as $100 million for the reconstruction effort in Fallujah, according to Ambassador Bill Taylor of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office... He said that the reconstruction will likely begin with infrastructure projects aimed at restoring basic services. Specifically, he identified a need to repair electricity distribution lines, sewage lines and water treatment facilities. Once basic services are restored, reconstruction efforts will turn to schools, clinics and solid waste management, he said." The work is already under way:

"The next invasion of this battered city has begun. Teams of reconstruction experts have set up shop in the municipal government complex downtown, having commandeered a former youth sports complex to serve as their headquarters. There, they have launched a crucial, large-scale effort aimed at rebuilding a city that was devastated during the U.S.-led offensive to take control of the longtime rebel stronghold."
Read also this report on the challenge of rebuilding the relationships with locals, as reconstruction money starts flowing in.

In addition to civilian effort, the Coalition troops are also contributing to restoration of vital infrastructure throughout Iraq. Here are few examples:

In the Al Hawjia region, local residents now have a
steady supply of drinkable water, thanks to recently completed 411th Civil Affairs Battalion projects. "The primary source of drinking water for the whole district comes from a plant that was built in the 1970's. Since that time almost no maintenance or replacement parts have been provided to the facility. This has led to the degradation of pumps, generators, filters and other mechanical parts. The facility's condition was so dire that the next mechanical failure would most likely have resulted in complete plant shutdown and loss of water to the entire city. Under current operating conditions, less than half of the 40,000 in the city and outlying areas of Hawija were receiving water." Thanks to the renovation work by the soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division that's no longer a problem.

In Balad, Task Force Danger Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division and the Al Huda Company are
constructing new roads, including new highway from Balad to Baghdad, as part of a $985,000 Accelerated Iraqi Relief Program (AIRP) project.

The US Army Corps of Engineers and the Programmes and Contracting Office in Baghdad are also expected to shortly issue contracts worth $36 million to Iraqi firms to renovate some 76
train stations throughout the country. Speaking of rail infrastructure, an USAID program is constructing a 72 kilometer railway line between the southern port of Umm Qasr and Shuaibah junction near Basrah. The project should be completed by January 2005 (link in PDF).

In electricity news, work to increase the output of a power station in
Babil is now one third complete. "Built in the early 1980s, the plant was generating about 435 MW a day when USAID began work in spring 2004. After additional maintenance work in the fall and spring to increase generation by 250 MW, the plant's total output will reach nearly 1,000 MW." Meanwhile, east of Baghdad, work is commencing on a new facility that will use natural gas for the power generation.

Reconstruction of physical infrastructure is also being complemented by initiatives to further educate and train the local specialists. In a new program from
Jordan, "the National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) will start training and rehabilitating around 40 Iraqi electrical engineers in a few days at a cost of $220,000. The company will cover 15 per cent of the cost and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will finance the balance... Company officials expect they will be able to train around 200 Iraqi officials by the end of 2004 and early 2005." The Water Authority of Jordan (WAJ) and Japan's International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will also be training 20 Iraqi engineers from Baghdad Municipality.

Assistance continues to flow in from
Iraq's neighbors:

"Kuwait has allocated $40 million as a grant for developing the education sector in Iraq, the Iraqi Education Ministry announced... Iraqi Education Minister Dr Sami Al-Mudhafar... disclosed that the ministry prepared a comprehensive plan to invest the sum in construction and maintenance of schools in addition to execution of projects in Baghdad and others governorates.

"Kuwait had earlier presented a grant of $11 million to the health department in Al-Basra governorate as a contribution to development of health services in the governorate.

"The Chairman of the Humanitarian Operations Center, Retired Lieutenant General Ali Al-Moumen, has said in previous statements that Kuwaiti aid to the Iraqi people since the country's liberation last May reached the sum of $204 million while aid from international institutions and other governments through the centre reached an additional sum of $422 million."
A large part of the effort to rebuild the country's health system consists of upskilling Iraqi doctors who, in most cases, have been for many years cut off from the latest overseas medical developments. As part of that strategy, "the Japanese government will invite 10 doctors from the southern Iraqi city of Samawah and its vicinity to Japan from next Wednesday for training in infectious disease prevention as part of its reconstruction assistance for Iraq." Already, "in March and October this year, Japan and Egypt jointly provided medical training for a total of 215 Iraqi doctors at Cairo University."

Provision of water and good hygiene are an important part of improving health infrastructure, as this
local program demonstrates (link in PDF):

"A new initiative to provide water and sanitation systems as well as hygiene awareness is improving sanitary conditions for the residents of 21 villages in eastern Kirkuk as well as the southwestern part of As Sulaymaniyah Governorate. This initiative is being implemented by an international NGO in partnership with USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. This project is supporting well drilling, construction of water storage and distribution networks, provision of household latrines, and is addressing health and hygiene education and awareness and delivering some basic health interventions."
Just as Iraqi doctors need to catch up with the rest of the world after years of isolation, so do Iraqi academics and teachers. To help them, British academic institutions continue to provide assistance for Iraqi universities:

"The AOC-British Council Further Education Iraq Group was launched in February this year following discussions with Dr Hamadi and the president of the Iraqi Foundation for Technical Education.

"Its vision is to help develop a 'restructured, modernised and responsive' vocational education system along regional lines to support the skills needed to reconstruct Iraq.

"A total of ten UK FE colleges are so far involved in providing expertise in areas such as management, exchange programmes and standardised qualifications for teachers, and developing teaching and learning methods and the curriculum.

"Books and learning materials are also being provided by organisations such as British Education Suppliers Association and The British Publishers Association."
There is also support for rebuilding Iraq's emergency services. Iraqi authorities and the Multinational Forces are spending nearly $20 million to bring 28 fire stations up to modern standards. Says Michael Stanka P.E., a civil engineer and project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: "Years of outmoded operating practices, a lack of funding, a decade of sanctions and insurgent attacks on reconstruction projects have left Iraq's fire fighting capability in dire straits; in many cases fire stations are falling apart and equipment either doesn't exist or it doesn't work. Combine that with a lack of proper training and poor maintenance and you have all the ingredients for a disaster. This project will restore the stations to their original conditions, and in most cases modernize them. It will also give the Iraqi people confidence in their local government's ability to protect their property."

And in the environmental field, USAID continues its work on restore Iraq's
southern marshlands (link in PDF):

"Under USAID's Iraq Marshlands Restoration Program (IMRP), progress is being made on several fronts in an overall effort to restore the social, economic, and environmental systems for Iraq's marsh dwellers. IMRP is supporting three successful agricultural production initiatives in Al Basrah, Maysan, and Dhi Qar Governorates. These include sorghum production, date palm farming, and planting of wheat, barley, and broad bean plants. IMRP monitoring teams also continue to collect data on wildlife, water quality, and water flows as areas drained under the old regime are allowed to flood again. To provide highprotein and nutritious feed for marsh livestock, a total of 26 sites have been planted with alfalfa. This is an increase from the original plan for 15 sites, and brings the total land area to 80 acres."
HUMANITARIAN AID: It will clearly take years to rebuild the damage of decades of destruction and neglect. In the meantime, emergency aid continues to play a vital role, filling in the gaps. For example, there is some assistance coming for Iraqi hospitals:

"More than eight tons of donated medical supplies will leave Detroit next week bound for a storage depot in Baghdad, Iraq, to help the interim government there resupply war-torn civilian hospitals... The materials were donated by doctors and hospitals. The shipment was organized by local Iraqis.

"Wally Jadan, president and chief executive of the Southfield-based Arabic content radio and television network Radio and TV Orient, hopes to organize more shipments in the coming months along with a mission by Iraqi physicians living in Metro Detroit."
Elsewhere (link in PDF), "Six boxes of nursing manuals and medical reference
materials collected by Jackson State University and the Mississippi Consortium for
International Development (JSU/MCID) were recently delivered to faculty members
of the medical, dental and nursing colleges at three northern Iraqi universities." The
Near East Foundation, meanwhile, is making its fourth shipment of medical supplies valued at $890,000.

And on a more personal scale, a 14-month old Iraqi girl,
Fatemah Hassan, is returning home from Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where for the past six month she has been receiving treatment for a large hemangioma, a tumor-like dense group of blood vessels that sometimes can restrict the airways. The transport back was provided courtesy of the US Army.

Not all aid is restricted to schools and hospitals: the
Iraqi police will be receiving some potentially life-saving help because of the work of this Illinois resident: "As part of his job to oversee seven police stations in Baghdad, Army Captain Erik Archer realized his stations' lacked supplies such as computers, paper and pens. The 25-year-old Mundelein native sent e-mails to Chicago area police departments to ask for help. Mundelein Police Chief Ray Rose responded and told Archer he had 39 old bulletproof vests -- valued at 500-dollars each -- in storage. The Mundelein police department then started collecting old bulletproof vests from several other departments including the Chicago Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives." The first of the vests are now on the way to Iraq.

Other humanitarian actions also continue to be
inspired by the US troops currently serving in Iraq:

"A letter from an Indiana soldier in Iraq that included photographs of impoverished children -- and a plea to help them -- has prompted an American Legion post to begin shipping toys overseas to brighten the youngsters' lives.

"CM-1 explosives expert Bill Halliday mailed the letter and photos last month to Jerry Prevatt, commander of the Burton Woolery American Legion Post 18 in Bloomington. 'There are lots of kids in Iraq who are poor and hungry and see things every day I hope my kids never have to see,' he wrote. 'I don't need anything for myself, but I'd like some things for these kids -- games, books, anything at all will help. I'll pass them out to the kids on the way to my missions'.
" The first of many shipments is now on the way - check the story for details if you can help. Firefighters of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, are sending gift packages for American soldiers to give out to Iraqi children. "The idea of sending toys to Iraq came from a letter that firefighter Peter Rice received from former resident Tarren Windham, who is stationed in Fallujah with the First Marine Division."

Meanwhile, this
North Carolina teenager was inspired by her father serving in Iraq:

"Many teenage girls have plenty of shoes, and Niki Streussnig is no different. The 14-year-old from Gastonia has hundreds of pairs.

"But they are not for her. 'What we basically are doing is collecting shoes, or any other stuff, to help the Iraqi children,' she said Friday."
Niki's Little Feet Society is now in full swing, but she needs your help with shipping. And in Muscatine, Iowa, children from Muscatine High School were inspired by the visit of two soldiers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District to collect over 100 backpacks full of supplies to send to Iraqi children.

Also in

"The Keokuk Rotary Club is seeking donations to help pay to get a boy from Iraq to Iowa City for surgery to repair a hole in his heart.

"Sgt. Corey M. Johnston, an Airborne Ranger medic from West Liberty, identified 5–year–old Rebaz Shamsadeen, who was born with a hole in his heart, as someone who could be helped by treatment at an American hospital.

"Johnston arranged for doctors in Iowa City to volunteer to do the operation at no cost. But he needs some money for minimal hospital costs and expenses to get the child to Iowa."
See the details of the story if you can help. Elsewhere, Brenda Liebengood, of Flint, Michigan, is making her son Kirk's Christmas wish come true by organizing presents that Kirk, currently serving in Iraq, can hand out to Iraqi children. Calvary Wesleyan Church in Harrington, Delaware, is aiming to have 300 gift packages to send to to the needy in Iraq and Afghanistan. And students from Florida State University are collecting school supplies to contribute to Operation Iraqi Children. Inspired by the Operation, the Eastern Kentucky University's Office of Volunteerism has so far collected about 200 kits (backpacks filled with school supplies) which will be shortly sent to Iraq: "Trina Day, EKU's president of Alpha Phi Sigma, decided to help out when she found out there was a small youth group that collected $600 for the cause. 'My big idea was, what can 18,000 people do,' said the 31-year-old undergraduate, referring to the students of EKU. 'It isn't about the war; it's about helping kids'."

And the
Fall Mountain School District in Claremont, New Hampshire has collected 1,200 pairs of shoes for Iraqi children to be distributed by soldiers in the 744th New Hampshire National Guard Transport. All shoes were disinfected, courtesy of a local business No More LLC, which manufactures an antibacterial and antifungal spray that neutralizes shoe odors.

THE COALITION TROOPS: There are many ways of making Iraq safer for the future. In one of those valuable initiatives, the Coalition troops continue with clearing Iraq of unexploded munition. Near
Tikrit, "working closely with the 201st Iraqi National Guard Battalion, more that 30 Bravo Company 'Predator' soldiers worked with more than 40 ING soldiers for two weeks to clean up the area. More than 1,000 rounds of highly explosive artillery ammunition were destroyed during the operation." Iraqi National Guard soldiers also conducted classes in local schools to teach children about dangers of ammunition.

The troops also continue to support the growth of local democracy. In Balad, the 1st Infantry Division has renovated former Baath Part headquarters at a cost of $100,000 and transformed the building into the
Balad Municipal Building, which now houses both the city and district council, and a media center with a newspaper a radio station.

The troops are working to restore not just the physical infrastructure, but also the human one. In Tikrit, for example, Bravo Company, 411th Civil Affairs Battalion has cooperated with the Provincial Governor to establish an
"On the Job" training school: "Here, students receive job-specific training in one of several fields including masonry, carpentry, ceramics and casting, electrical and sewing. The courses last 30 days and are taught by members of the trade who are already established in the local community." The school recently graduated its first class composed 110 men and women. Each one received a $50 voucher towards starting their own business.

There is also strong support for Iraq's health care system. Soldiers from Task Force 1-77 Armor (1st Infantry Division) together with members of the 203rd Iraqi National Guard Battalion were recently delivering medical supplies to the
Balad General Hospital. Elsewhere, the troops are providing training opportunities for Iraqi doctors:

"Two Iraqi physicians doing post-graduate training were given the opportunity to intern at Charlie Company's Aid Station. These physicians had already completed a 9-month rotation at Baqubah General.

"Both students shadowed the provider on call, focusing on Emergency Room and Trauma practice. They also were able to get some hands-on in assisting with the medical screening for Iraqi Army recruits. They saw a significant amount of trauma, and although the interns were a little timid at first, they were anxious to learn."
The internships are expected to continue for one student or physician per week.

And there's also help for schools. In Tikrit, the 701st Main Support Battalion has
sponsored two schools, the Al Barudy Primary School and the Al Barudy School for Girls, the first girls' school in northern Tikrit, among other things providing them with supplies: "The 701st MSB did not complete this project on its own. Key contributions of school supplies came from Germany, where the Wurzburg American Middle School, also sponsored by the 701st, put together packages of school supplies for their Iraqi counterparts." Says 1st Lt. Scott Preusker, the battalion civil affairs officer, of her visit to school: "The girls were very interested in speaking to the female officers and had many questions about their leadership roles in the US military."

Baghdad, soldiers from A Company, 1st Battalion, 153rd lnfantry Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and Detachment 1, 1st Battalion, 206th Field Artillery Regiment, attached to Company A, 1-153rd, delivered the stuffed toys and school supplies to children at the Ayn Al Mali Kindergarten in the Babil neighborhood. And in Al Neida area, "the Al Sa'ad and Hamalathania schools received supplies donated by churches and the families of the 30th Brigade Combat Team. The donations were sent from the United States and included individual supplies for the students, black boards, and class room items that were given to the teachers."

In addition to work on schools and hospitals, infrastructure projects continue, like this one in the village of Albu Bali, where Marines from the 372nd Engineer Group together with local contractors constructed a
new water treatment plant for 500 residents.

The troops are also involved in many
charity actions: "The 201st Iraqi National Guard Battalion, the Police's Emergency Service Unit and Charlie Company, Task Force 1-18 Infantry gave children's clothing away to needy families in Tikrit during the second week in November. Family members in Germany and the United States sent the clothing to Iraq. They gathered it as part of Charlie Company's plan to donate to the poor at the conclusion of Ramadan." Tikrit, Saddam's home town and once very hostile to the Coalition is now relatively peaceful and quiet.

Balad, meanwhile, soldiers from the 111th Signal Battalion, a National Guard unit from Abbeville, S.C., donated numerous clothing items and school supplies to befriended local postal workers and their families. Another distribution is planned shortly. In Daquq, the 1st Infantry Division troops from the Forward Operating Base Grant have presented the town with a renovated Youth Centre:

"After months of renovation, the Youth Center was returned with everything from new paint and windows to ping pong tables and ten brand new computers with high-speed Internet access. Now the children of Daquq will be able to participate in several sports to include soccer, boxing, volleyball, feather ball and weightlifting with new equipment purchased for the facility by [Multi-National Force]."
And in Najaf, "Marines from the 11th MEU distributed more than $1.1 million on 22 November in condolence and collateral damage repair payments to demonstrate goodwill to Iraqis caught in the crossfire during fighting... this August. Payments began on Sept. 30 and have resulted in a total of $4.7 million paid to more than 8,300 Najafis since then. Payments will continue as long as needed to meet each valid case. Condolence payments, known as solatia, are being paid to express sympathy to those injured or who lost a family member during the fighting. Collateral damage repair payments are intended for Iraqis who experienced damage to their home, business or other property."

DIPLOMACY AND SECURITY: In further evidence of the fraying of relations between the insurgents and the community, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi lashed out at Islamic scholars in a taped message, accusing them of
betrayal of insurgency:

"You have let us down in the darkest circumstances and handed us over to the enemy... You have quit supporting the mujahedeen... Hundreds of thousands of the nation's sons are being slaughtered at the hands of the infidels because of your silence.

"You made peace with the tyranny and handed over the countries and the people to the Jews and Crusaders... When you resort to silence on their crimes, when you refused to hold the banners of Jihad and Tawhid, and when you prevented youth from heading to the battlefields in order to defend the religion.

"Instead of implementing God's orders, you chose your safety and preferred your money and sons. You left the mujahadeen facing the strongest power in the world... Are not your hearts shaken by the scenes of your brothers being surrounded and hurt by your enemy?"
A recent internet posting, apparently authored by an insurgent commander Abu Ahmed al-Baghdadi, while boasting of recent attacks throughout Iraq, paints a worrying picture of the insurgency:

"The new message opens with a plea for advice from Palestinian and Chechen militants as well as Osama bin Laden supporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 'We face many problems,' it reads in Arabic, 'and need your military guidance since you have more experience.'

"The problems, the message says, are the result of losing the insurgent safe haven of Fallujah to U.S. troops. It says the insurgency was hampered as checkpoints and raids spread 'to every city and road.' Communications broke down as insurgents were forced to spread out through the country.

"The arrest of some of their military experts, more 'spies willing to help the enemy,' and a dwindling supply of arms also added to the organizational breakdown, it reads."
According to military analyst Tony Cordesman, "This particular memo asks for strategic advice, but it makes it very clear in the text that what they really want are volunteers, money and more munitions." Another report about the posting notes that its author is also bemoaning the heavy losses suffered by the insurgents in recent actions in Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul, and Ramadi.

The old Shia hot-stop of
Najaf, meanwhile, is now enjoying some peaceful times: "Iraqi police are in full control of the holy city of Najaf, the governor Najaf Province said. Adnan al-Zurqi said the nearly 600,000 inhabitants in the provincial center, Najaf, now enjoy peace following large-scale disturbances in August. He said peace has returned to the province with people going about their daily work without any difficulty. Zurqi made the remarks as he laid down the foundation of a new building for the city's National Guard battalion. 'The citizens in Najaf today can perform their daily duties with ease and in peace - thanks to the National Guard,' he said." And in a related development, "approximately three months after decisive combat operations ended in Najaf, the 11th MEU commander declared today that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have formally assumed local control of An Najaf province."

Not just in Najaf but also elsewhere throughout the country, the Iraqi security forces are increasingly taking on more tasks. For example,
2,000 Iraqi National Guardsmen have been recently deployed to protect vital oil infrastructure around Kirkuk.

American personnel in charge of training the Iraqi army are becoming
more optimistic about the success of their mission. Good training is translating into good outcomes on the ground:

"Iraqi security forces performed much better in recent fighting in Fallujah and other towns than they did in battles in the spring, U.S. officials say, but some units remain ill-equipped and infiltrated by spies.

"That is the initial assessment of military officials and outside analysts in the wake of two weeks of fighting in Iraq in which a Marine-led force secured Fallujah and other U.S. forces put down uprisings in Ramadi, Mosul and Baqouba."
Says Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command: "The Iraqi security forces have fought well... The way they performed in Fallujah clearly shows that there are a core of fighters in the Iraqi security forces that are prepared and capable of operating independently in war-fighting operations that does give us confidence that our efforts to train the Iraqi security force can be successful."

The training continues both in Iraq and overseas. Some alternative ways of
police training are being currently trialed: "the employment of contracted civilian International Police Liaison Officers or IPLOs, a solution that has previously met with success in areas such as Bosnia and Kosovo. Working in close association with the Soldier's of the First Infantry Division's Task Force 1-7 (TF 1-7), these IPLOs in Bayji, Iraq, provide the required expert capabilities and are helping the Bayji and Sharqat Police to become a capable, professional law enforcement agency." Read the whole article about how the IPLOs are working on the ground in Iraq.

The Iraqi armed forces, meanwhile, can now benefit from
mobile training: "The Multinational Security Transition Command - Iraq began dispatching nine, five-member training teams to the Multinational Force's six major subordinate commands, Nov. 28, to assist in the training of Iraqi brigade and division senior staff officers. The teams - comprised of U.S. Army personnel - will run Iraqi Army and National Guard officers through 30-day training cycles before rotating on to new staffs at the discretion of the various MSC commands. All trainers were formerly instructors at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College or Combined Arms Service Staff School."

At a military base in Nu'maniyah, 140 kilometers south of Baghdad, the first batch of 6,000 troops of Iraqi
rapid reaction force graduated recently. "The graduates were trained as quick reaction forces to launch defensive and offensive operations in emergencies all over Iraq." And in a more life-saving mode, "in an effort to augment the Iraqi Security Forces' battlefield and operations medical support capability, the Multinational Security Transition Command - Iraq is working with Iraqi officials to finalize a 'combat lifesavers course' for Soldiers and police in service. The course - designed to teach skills in providing advanced first aid - has already ran 18 Special Police Commando Battalion Soldiers through the instruction in November with future iterations to kick off in the coming weeks."

Overseas, "
Italy has hosted 42 Iraqi army officers for studies at the Centro Alti Studi Difesa military college in Rome. The Iraqi officers consisted of captains and majors who would spend three and a half weeks in school before returning to Iraq during the first week of December." Norway, meanwhile, is sending additional 20 army instructors to Iraq. In the region, a company from the Iraqi Army's 17th Battalion, 7th Brigade, 5th Division, is also training with Egyptian troops at the Mubarak Military City training facility near Alexandria. The training will involve "individual movement technique, squad movement, land navigation, basic rifle marksmanship, rifle qualification, and platoon and company attack and defense training including live fire exercises with their Egyptian counterparts."

Equipment continues to flow in for the new Iraqi security forces:

"Since Nov. 15, the 12-day rollout through Nov. 27 includes 2,120 riot and smoke grenades; 4,085 AK-47 assault rifles; 1,000 various-make 9mm pistols; 16 computers; 14 ambulances; 2,338,600 AK-47 rounds; 600 tactical vests; 800 9mm Glock pistols; 1,260,000 9mm pistol rounds; 1,020 holsters; 4,574 pairs of running shoes; 278 RPK machineguns; 5,292 sets of body armor; 39,486 sets of desert combat and other uniforms; 20-9mm Walther pistols; 9,839 t-shirts; 5,445 helmets; 10 Russian-made GAZ heavy trucks; 1,208 binocular pairs; 1,050 handcuff sets; more than 1,750,000 PKM/RPK machinegun rounds including 248,000 tracer rounds; 20 blunt trauma suits; 1,476 compasses; 132 GPS satellite systems; 800 MAG lights; 750 whistles; 44 rocket propelled grenade launchers; 124 PKM machineguns; 4,150 hats; 52 Chevy Lumina police sedans; 344 first aid kits; 149 vehicle and handheld radios; 2,046 canteens; 450,000 12 gauge shotgun shot and slug rounds; 991,000 5.56mm rounds; 150 riot helmets; 48 shotguns; two two-ton trucks; four Dodge Durangos; and 20 Chevy Trailblazers."
On a heavier end of the scale, the Iraqi army has received 38 French-designed Panhard M3 armored personnel carriers, donated by the United Arab Emirates. Another six are due shortly. "The Iraqi Armed Forces have recently began adding a significant armored element to its ranks with the delivery, Nov. 22, of four T-55 Russian-designed heavy tanks and 18 multi-purpose armored vehicles (MTLBs) to the Army's 1st Mechanized Brigade also located at Taji. Another 22 tanks and MTLBs are scheduled to arrive this week in addition to the six remaining Panhard M3s."

Air Force, too, is acquiring new equipment: "The United Arab Emirates delivered four Comp Air 7SL aircraft to Basrah Air Base... to be used by the Iraqi Air Force. The aircraft were a gift to help Iraq's air force continue to build its operational capability. Three more Comp Air aircraft will be delivered within the next two weeks."

In Najaf, construction work began on a new
$1.8 million barracks facility for the 405th Battalion, 50th Iraqi National Guard Brigade. "Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I) is funding the project. A local contractor was awarded the project." And throughout Iraq, the US troops will spend some $22 million to renovate 240 police stations over a six month period. One example of the initiative in action is the recent opening of a new police station at Hatamia Village: "The police station is a newly constructed building that provides critical infrastructure to the police force of the local village. Iraqi contractors built the new $65,000 facility, which was sponsored by the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, Army Materiel Command and the 13th Corp Support Command civil affairs staff."

Weapons and munitions continue to be recovered throughout the country, for example this

"Multi-national forces from the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) unearthed Nov. 22 one of the largest weapons caches ever found in northern Iraq, about 45 kilometers south of Mosul in the village of Shafa'at.

"During their patrol, Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment discovered huge stockpiles of weapons and munitions, including an anti-aircraft gun, 15,000 anti-aircraft rounds, 4,600 hand grenades, 144 VOG-17M anti-personnel grenade launchers, 25 SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, 44 SA-7 battery packs, 20 guided missile packs, 21 120mm mortar rounds, two 120mm mortar tubes, 10 122mm rockets, six 152mm artillery rounds and two 57mm artillery rounds.

"Soldiers also discovered a building full of explosive-making materials. The three-acre site is secure and still under investigation with more weapons and munitions discoveries expected."
This, however, pales next to the amount of weaponry and ammunition recovered from Fallujah - according to Marine Lieutenant Colonel Dan Wilson, "the sheer amount of caches we've found would stun you... You could literally take over this country with the number of weapons we've found."

"Marine combat engineers and explosives experts were again scouring homes yesterday amid the battered streets in south Fallujah's Shuhada district, where the day before gunmen traded shots with units trying to seize two homes that were later found to be hiding nearly 700 mortar shells...

"For more than an hour yesterday a daisy chain of marines passed mortar shells - from 60mm rounds the size of a small water bottle to large 120mm mortars and artillery shells that had to carried in both hands - to a waiting truck as a convoy of vehicles snaked its way through one ruined neighbourhood cleaning out weapons caches.

"Elsewhere, an AFP correspondent saw a captured arsenal laid out in the dirt on the edges of another neighbourhood: rockets and antiquated shotguns jumbled next to clean, well oiled assault rifles, heavy machine guns and several homemade bombs."
The largest weapons cache in Fallujah so far has been found inside the Saad Abi Bin Waqas Mosque compound. Other reports note that the troops in Fallujah have uncovered nearly as many homemade explosive devices (650) as they have uncovered throughout the rest of Iraq over the past four months.

Increasingly, local cooperation is bringing positive results - in
Samarra, soldiers from the Task Force 1-26 Infantry were distributing fliers about the danger of explosive devices when ten minutes into the exercise they were approached by a local boy who pointed them to an IUD in an nearby alley. "Task Force 1-26 Soldiers investigated and found one 155mm artillery round and one 120mm mortar round, wired as a phase II IED." Read also this fascinating relation from a raid on two Iraqi villages to check for insurgent activity: "We didn't leave the villages as Warriors, but as guests."

In other recent security successes: the arrest of over
100 suspected insurgents in Baghdad ("Among the 104 detainees, most were Iraqis but some were from Syria and other Arab countries... Nine of the total had escaped from Fallujah"); a seizure of a senior insurgency commander in the Anbar province; detaining 38 insurgent suspects in a raid near Kirkuk; the arrest of one of Al Zarqawi's top commanders in Mosul; the capture of five foreign fighters who escaped from Fallujah and were preparing attacks around Basra; the arrest of 116 suspects in a sweep southwest of Baghdad; the arrest of 57 suspects throughout Mosul and Ad Dawr, the town where Saddam was captured last year; rounding up 32 suspects and uncovering a stockpile of more than 500 artillery rounds by Iraqi and Coalition troops south of Baghdad; rounding up another 24 suspected insurgents in an operation around Tal Afar; and the arrest of 210 suspects in a week-long sweep through the so called "triangle of death".

And from the war on terror to the war on drugs, the border police in southern Iraq seized
52 kilograms of hashish destined for Saudi Arabia.

As Archbishop Sako, quoted at the beginning of the article, says: "The Middle East needs help to rediscover peace and usher the Muslim countries into contemporary society, with its foundation of democracy and freedom. If the Iraqi model fails, it will be a disaster for everyone. These terrorist groups will gain strength around the world."

It would be dangerous and very unwise to ignore or downplay all the bad things happening in Iraq right now; but it would be equally dangerous if without hearing other voices and other stories from inside the country we were to give up and walk away, leaving Iraqis alone to try to secure their future. The bombs are deadly, but the perception that in Iraq today there is nothing else but the bombs could prove even deadlier in the long run - for the Iraqis, the Middle East, and the West.


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