Monday, January 17, 2005

Good news from Iraq, Part 19 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. A traditional warm thank you to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their support for the "Good news" project, and to all of you who are reading it, blogging about it, and cluttering up your friends' inboxes with a link to it.

Marine Cpl. Isaac D. Pacheco of Northern Kentucky enlisted in the Marines on September 12, 2001, and has been serving in Iraq at the Combined Press Information Center. Recently he wrote this for his local newspaper:

"Something struck me as odd this fall as I watched a U.S. satellite news broadcast here in my Baghdad office. Something just didn't seem right. There was the usual tug-of-war between presidential candidates, a story about the Boston Red Sox and a blurb about another explosion in Iraq. The latter story showed the expected images of smoke and debris and people frantically running for cover - images that have become the accepted norm in the minds of many Americans thanks, or should I say no thanks, to the media.

"There were no smiling soldiers, no mention of rebuilding efforts, no heartwarming stories about honor and sacrifice. I could swear I've seen that 'stuff' here.

"I've become somewhat callused to this kind of seesaw reporting because every day I work with the news agencies that manufacture it. However, many service members shake their heads in frustration each time they see their daily rebuilding efforts ignored by the media in favor of the more 'sensational' car bomb and rocket attack stories. Not to say that tragedies don't happen - Iraq is a war zone - but there is so much more happening that gets overlooked if not ignored."
It has been a mission of this fortnightly column, now in its nineteenth edition, to bring to readers' attention all that "gets overlooked if not ignored" in Iraq: the advancements of the political and civil society, the rebirth of freedom, economic growth and reconstruction progress, generosity of foreigners and positive role played by the Coalition troops in rebuilding the country, and unremarked upon security successes. Contrary to some critics, the intention has never been to whitewash the situation in Iraq or to downplay the negative; the violence, bloodshed, disappointments and frustrations are all there for everyone to see and read about in the mainstream media on a daily basis. But to point out positive developments is not to deny the bad news, merely to provide a more complete picture. As voters faced with the defining foreign policy issue of the new millennium we owe it to ourselves to be fully informed about the state of affairs in Iraq. And that means both the car bombs and rebuilt hospitals.

Below is not the full picture of Iraq - merely that part of it you don't often see on the nightly news or the pages of newspapers. This does not automatically make it more - or less important in the scheme of things, merely equally important to consider.

SOCIETY: Throughout Iraq the election campaign enters its
second last week:

"Leaders of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority and other skeptics say it is so dangerous in large parts of the country that it will be all but impossible to hold nationwide elections Jan. 30. Even President Bush recently conceded just 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces are ready for elections.

"But on the busy second and third floors of a building inside this city's heavily fortified Green Zone, dozens of United Nations officials, Iraqi poll workers and monitoring groups - some strolling in and out wearing flak jackets and blue helmets - are hard at work to ensure the elections go on as scheduled."
Read the story of those who are making it happen. You might also find useful this brief guide to how the election will work in practice.

Iraqi women, who due to past bloodshed constitute a clear majority of Iraqi population, are looking forward to building a better future through the democratic process. According to the
latest poll conducted by Women for Women International in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra, "94% of women surveyed want to secure legal rights for women; 84% of women want the right to vote on the final constitution; [and] nearly 80% of women believe that their participation in local and national councils should not be limited." As the report notes, "the most unexpected result of the survey is that despite increasing violence, particularly violence against women, 90.6% of Iraqi women reported that they are hopeful about their future."

Other sections of Iraqi society are also excited about the coming election. On the streets of Baghdad,
democracy makes more converts:

"Just months ago, Fattahlah Ghazi al-Esmaili was penning articles in support of Iraq's Shi'ite uprising as editor for Ishriqat, a newspaper for rebel cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi's Army militia.

"Now the 38-year-old has abandoned his Arab head scarf for a neat beige suit and is out pumping the flesh in his run for parliament at the head of a 180-candidate list representing the impoverished Shi'ites of Sadr City.

" 'Before, we were men of the Mahdi's Army. Now we are men of politics,' says the journalist, who goes by the pen name Fattah al-Sheikh. 'Yesterday, we were out on the streets. Today, we are here campaigning, and hopefully tomorrow, we'll be in the presidential palace'."
It has been a stunning transformation: "Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond of the 1st Cavalry Division, says Sadr City is the safest place in or around Baghdad. About 18,000 people have reconstruction jobs, he says, earning about $6 a day. 'Sadr City is what the future of Iraq can look like,' he says. Those who were once taking up arms are now talking democracy. 'Before, the men were buying black cloth for their (martyrs') banners. Now for the election, we are buying white cloths' for posters, says candidate Fatah al-Sheikh." Even the Iraqi Islamic Party is now cracking: "Iraq's principal Sunni Muslim political party conceded... that its effort to delay Iraq's parliamentary election had failed and that it was preparing a strategy to influence the elected government following the vote on Jan. 30." But still more encouragement is being given to recalcitrants:

"Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiar Zibari said Tuesday the interim government is going to try to bring opposition groups into the nation's upcoming elections. Zibari told reporters in Cairo a reconciliation conference in Baghdad would be aimed at convincing opposition groups to take part in the Jan. 30 elections to select a legislative council that will draft Iraq's new constitution."
And more efforts are being made to ensure that as many Iraqis as possible can meaningfully participate in the poll:

"The Iraqi Election Commission plans to set up polling stations in the violent Anbar province and other problem areas in Iraq, despite insurgent attacks aimed at disrupting elections... The commission said it will establish special procedures to include voters who could not register because of the insurgency.

" 'We have asked the government, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense ... to prepare many forces to guarantee security in all election centers in Iraq,' said Fareed Ayar, spokesman for the commission."
The United Nations representative is optimistic about the prospects of the election:

"Day after day, Carlos Valenzuela faces the same question: Can legitimate elections take place amid the chaos and bedlam that is contemporary Iraq? 'I say, "Of course,"' says the soft-spoken Colombian who is the chief U.N. electoral officer in Iraq. 'Look,' he continues from his tiny office in this fearful capital's fortified Green Zone, 'in my own country we have elections that are not perfect, that have been marred by violence and terrible intimidation. But still people go to the polls. And still the results are accepted as legitimate'."
Valenzuela also comments on the commitment of the Iraqi election workers: "A lot of these people could have other jobs, much less riskier, that probably pay more... But they're here because ... they believe in these elections." Elsewhere, Valenzuela has announced a new plan to make voting easier in the Sunni areas, by allowing people in the troublesome Anbar province as well as in Mosul to register to vote on the same day as the vote itself. He adds: "Nobody has the mandate to postpone the elections. The commission’s own position has been that they will postpone the elections only if it is physically impossible to hold elections. Otherwise they feel they have to do it in the timeframe that was laid down in the law... So far all the technical, logistical preparations are on track, so the commission sees no reason why they should be thinking about postponing. Overall the electoral preparations are going quite well."

Iraqis living overseas, too, are preparing to vote in the election: in
Turkey, they will be able to vote in Ankara and Istanbul; in Australia, in Sydney and Melbourne. Up to 250,000 Iraqis living in Syria, 120,00 living in Iran, 234,000 living in the United States, and 150,000 in Great Britain, and 30,000 in Canada will also get a chance. Even Israeli citizens of Iraqi origin will be allowed to vote: "Anyone who is or once was an Iraqi citizen, even if he was deprived of the citizenship, is eligible to vote... 'There are no restrictions on Iraqis on the basis of religion, race or sex,' said [Sarah] Tosh, [spokesperson for Iraq's out-of-country-voting (OCV) central headquarters] 'This definitely includes those who are Israeli citizens today.' Anyone who has an original Iraqi birth certificate may take part in the vote."

With campaign well underway throughout the country, Iraqi blogger Mohammed at
Iraq the Model provides various election snippets:

"It's been announced that 40 brigades from the Iraqi armed forces are going to be deployed to protect the elections centers through out the country in cooperation with the [Multi National Force].

"During my last tour in the north I saw a lot of electoral education activities as well as campaigns run by individual candidates, individual parties or alliances; seminars, conferences and posters are all over the place...

"In Kirkuk which is considered a sensitive point for many parties because of the mosaic formation of the population (Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Christians)... everyone is trying to prove that he's the best and the more representative...

"In the south, the tribes decided to contribute to the IP and the army efforts in protecting the electoral centers within their regions and this was agreed on after a meeting for the higher commission with the tribes' heads in Hilla and Nasiriyah...

"Most of the parties are focusing now on the universities in an attempt to win the students votes and they're holding lectures and events in the universities to advertise for their platforms and lists. In the city of Najaf, the Hawza suspended the activities of its school and asked the students to stop working on their researches and head to the provinces to encourage the people to vote."
Campaigning is now hitting the media : "In Baghdad, minor parties can promote their candidates in the pages of the many small newspapers circulating there. For example, the radical group Hezbollah's newspaper printed a color calendar featuring its slate of candidates for readers to clip and display. Radio is also filled with election talk from many voices. And in response to charges that the incumbent and the big parties have a decisive advantage, several Iraqi newspapers are offering free advertising for slates. State television says it will offer free airtime."

Television is playing major role in educating the public and breaking down barriers. The story below
could not have happened under Saddam, and still doesn't happen in many other places around the Middle East:

"Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi simply smiled during the live television show when a man called to praise terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Iraqi leader then moved on, offering to find information about a woman's detained son and see why a student didn't get into the graduate program of his choice.

"The surprisingly frank hour-long call-in program, 'The Iraqi Podium,' is a rarity for the region, giving Iraqis the chance to pepper Allawi with questions, from the mundane to the serious. Judging by the show's popularity, Iraqis are taking advantage.

"The show's host, Abdul-Karim Hammad, said he proposed the show to Allawi, who agreed. It may be a campaign ploy as Allawi tries to burnish his image ahead of Jan. 30 elections, but from the nature of the questions, it appears the calls aren't screened.

" 'I told him the one condition, which is that you have to accept anything the people say even if they insult you,' Hammad said. 'He said it was fine, as long as he wasn't criticized personally, but they can say anything they want about his work.'

"The program is broadcast every Sunday on the U.S.-funded Al-Iraqiya television station. Although it is linked to the United States, it's a major change for Iraqis after Saddam Hussein's 23-year reign ended in April 2003. Then, tightly controlled state-run media only praised Saddam, and many Iraqis would not dare criticize the president, even in their homes.

"Other members of the government, including the interior minister and defense minister, have occasionally appeared in similar shows on Al-Iraqiya, but not with Allawi's frequency. Such programs have been aired in Lebanon but the practice is otherwise rare in the Middle East, where leaders are more accustomed to working behind closed doors, without much criticism from their people."
The US-backed Alhurra Iraq TV station is also heavily promoting the election: "Beamed via satellite into Iraqi cities (and elsewhere in the Middle East), Alhurra's election news reports have one overriding message: Vote as if your life depended on it. 'We are telling people why it is important to take part in the elections and how they can decide their own future by voting,' said Alhurra news chief Mouafac Harb. 'We are interviewing people who lost families under Saddam Hussein's rule, who were tortured, and the message is if you do not take part in these elections, they can come back and rule you again,' Mr. Harb [said]... A series of public-service ads also are broadcast repeatedly by Alhurra to encourage Iraqis to vote. One of them shows Iraqi victims of Saddam's terror talking about their suffering, followed by this voiceover and screen caption: 'So the horrors won't recur, be a part of drawing your future. Vote'." Among the programs:

"- 'Iraq Decides,' a weekly show on the latest election news, along with interviews explaining the election process. There is a steady parade of political and religious leaders on this show. 'You see clerics on our channel, telling people to go and vote,' Mr. Harb says. (That's something you never see on the nightly news here.)

"- 'Vote,' a weekly program that shows Iraqis where and how to vote, and what they can expect on Election Day.

"- 'Iraq Today,' daily election news that leads the first 30 minutes of each day's newscasts, which will be lengthened as the election nears.

"- 'Half of Iraq,' a series aimed at encouraging women to participate in the political process."
Another report discusses the coming of political TV advertising to Iraq: "Far from Madison Avenue - in more ways than one - television advertisements are emerging as a crucial element in Iraq's landmark Jan. 30 election...

"When Iraqis head to the polls, they will face a daunting ballot listing more than 230 candidate slates vying for portions of the 275-seat national assembly that will draft the nation's constitution.

"Information is critical, and the primary sources of it are expected to be mosques, word of mouth and television.

"Here, the power of television far outstrips that of radio - plentiful, but hyperlocal - and newspapers, which have proliferated after the fall of Saddam Hussein but still have a circulation of just 300,000 in a nation of 25 million.

"Iraq has more than 20 licensed local TV stations. A recent survey showed that as much as 65 percent of the population has once-banned satellite dishes through which they pipe in popular international channels such as Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and a new favorite, Al-Sharqiya."
USAID, meanwhile, is doing its share help the political and social development in Iraq (link in PDF): "USAID has awarded a cooperative agreement to the Consortium for Election and Political Processes Strengthening (CEPPS) which includes three US NGOs. This agreement has a $50 million ceiling, of which $23 million has been obligated to date. Within this electoral processes grant USAID seeks to achieve the following: Educate voters and promote participation in the electoral process; Build the capacity of Iraqi election monitoring organizations; and Support efforts to monitor and mitigate electoral conflict. USAID also awarded a $40 million cooperative agreement to an NGO to support the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq’s (IECI) administration of the transitional election cycle, which includes the January 2005 elections, the October 2005 Constitutional Referendum, and the December 2005 National Assembly Elections. This program is being implemented at the request of the IECI and in direct coordination with UN activities." Some of recent grass-roots initiatives include: a conference for women politicians, another conference on federalism, as well as training sessions for electoral workers, journalists, and political activists.

Meanwhile, "
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif.,... has traveled to Jordan as part of a four-member bipartisan Congressional delegation to train women running for office in Iraq. Tauscher is a co-chair of the Iraqi Women's Caucus in Congress and will be meeting with 25 to 30 female candidates to help them prepare for the Jan. 30 elections."

A. Heather Coyne, who runs the U.S. Institute of Peace programs is Baghdad, notes some hopeful signs in the work to
rebuild Iraq's civil society:

"- Potential Iraqi leaders continue to apply for the institute's seminars. More than 90% of those who sign up actually attend, even though participation in the program could mark them for death as collaborators.

"- When the institute suggests to Iraqis that Americans could help with such things as ethnic outreach for drafting the constitution or an interfaith dialogue, Iraqis often say they already are performing such tasks.

"- Students applying for Fulbrights no longer confine themselves to subjects that were safe under Saddam, such as medicine and science. 'Among the youth, both Kurds and Arabs, there is enthusiasm for politics,' notes Phebe Marr, an Iraq scholar and a senior fellow at the institute.

"- Relations among Kurds, Sunnis, and Shia are as bad as they have been in decades, Marr concedes. Yet residents in Kirkuk, which the Kurds lust after, are determined to avoid sectarian violence. They want a peaceful resolution concerning control of the city. And both the Kurds and Shia have resisted retaliating against the numerous horrific provocations from the Sunnis. Many international observers thought such a level of good faith and determination to avoid civil war was impossible.

"- Groups are coalescing on the basis of interests, not ethnic background. Women's groups often look to link forces with other women's groups, for example, and whether a group is Kurdish, Sunni, or Shia doesn't even come up, Coyne says. Issues of ethnicity tend to arise over specific matters, Serwer notes. Sunnis oppose complete removal of Baathists from government because the largely Sunni Baathists have the experience to run the country. But the Shia want the Baathists out because they ran roughshod over the Shia when the Baathists were in power."
Says Daniel P. Serwer, a stabilization expert at the Institute: "This is the most hopeful period [the Iraqis have] had in their history... They don't want to blow it." Other element of Iraq's civil society - the trade unions - are also trying to rebuild in face of the terrorist attacks.

At the same time, Iraqis are trying to deal with legacies of past conflict and oppression. After years, even decades, of exile the
refugees continue to come back to their homeland: "The UN [High Commission for Refugees] is to close several camps for Iraqi refugees in Iran because more than half of the 202,000 exiles have returned home. The UN's refugee body said 42,000 out of 50,000 Iraqis at the centres had left since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Six out of the UN's 22 camps in south Iran are empty and another two are due to close by the end of the month." This exodus is taking place despite the fact that "the agency has discouraged repatriation because of insecurity in Iraq and the border-crossing is riddled with mines."

There are more efforts underway to transform into positive outcomes
Iraq's most dangerous legacy:

"Sixty-three hundred miles from his beloved oaks and squirrels on the University of Richmond campus, biologist Peter Smallwood tries to find new careers for displaced Iraqi scientists.

"The 43-year-old UR associate professor has given up a comfortable job in academia for a year to work in Baghdad, helping idle Iraqi scientists, engineers and technicians turn their talents from developing chemical, biological and radiological weapons for Saddam Hussein to more peaceful purposes.

"Smallwood directs the Interim Iraqi Center for Science and Industry, an inter-governmental organization funded by the U.S. State Department."
In the field of education, USAID's Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program continues to link up American and Iraqi universities (link in PDF). "One of the five partnerships is a cooperative effort between five Iraqi Universities and the State University of New York (SUNY/Stony Brook). The consortium is working to improve faculty training, curriculum and facilities for the study of Archaeology, Assyriology and Environmental Health. Recent activities of this partnership have included:

"- Plans for 35 participants to attend an upcoming training session for environmental health specialists in Amman, Jordan have been established. Applications are currently being reviewed, and women are strongly encouraged to apply.

"- The first shipment of environmental books to Iraq has been completed. Nearly 300 medical and scientific environmental books will be distributed to each of three universities.

"- Laboratory rehabilitation work has been completed at three Iraqi universities. The facilities are now ready to be furnished and equipped."
Meanwhile, on the grassroots level, "the opportunity to pioneer [English Language Teaching] in Iraqi Kurdistan has never been better as English is perceived as a vital tool in education and business and is emerging as the second language in the region. Despite the recent instability in the rest of Iraq, ELT initiatives have taken off in the peaceful and secure Kurdistan Region." And on the general education front:

"More than 80 million school textbooks were printed last year, according to Education Minister Sami Mudhafar. Mudhafar said the books, covering more than 600 titles, were handed out to nearly six million Iraqi students.

"The minister said the content of at least 16 titles was drastically changed to meet the needs of the new era. Texts praising former leader Saddam Hussein, exhibiting sectarian or ethnic supremacy or claiming Kuwait was still part of Iraq were all removed, he said.

"The educational sector, like many other things in Iraq, was an exclusive territory of Saddam Hussein's Baath party. Only party members were allowed to teach and those who refused to join the Baath party ranks were sacked.

"Mudhafar said more than 30,000 teachers the former regime had fired were reinstated in their positions. The minister said demand for both teachers and school buildings was still high in Iraq. 'More than 25,000 qualified graduates have been appointed,' he said."
For something totally different see this unlikely sports story:

"Faisal Faisal's Olympic dream appears to be just that -- a goal far out of reach, almost entirely unrealistic.

"In 2006, he wants to become the first Iraqi athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics, but he can hardly describe the sport, skeleton, in which he hopes to qualify. It's fast and fun and it happens on ice, Faisal said. And in part thanks to the U.S. Olympic Committee, he's been hurtling down an icy track in Lake Placid, N.Y., for two weeks. He's successfully completed, he said proudly, 21 skeleton runs.

"Faisal is, in short, remarkably un-Olympian.

"But skeleton specialists who've watched him over the last two weeks have reached a surprising conclusion about the beginner. Faisal might well debut as Iraq's first winter Olympian at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, some said, because a determination this intense is difficult to doubt."
Lastly, this good animal news:

"One is an Army captain with a master's degree in archaeology. Another is a South African game warden. The third is a young Iraqi veterinarian barely out of school.

"In 2003, soon after coalition forces took control of Iraq, the three faced a seemingly impossible task: restoring the Baghdad Zoo, which had been looted of most everything not nailed down, including the animals.

"Two years later, thanks to their improvisational skills and advice from zoo leaders in the United States and elsewhere, the three have rebuilt what was once the largest zoo in the Middle East."
ECONOMY: On the work front, there has been a slight improvement in the unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2004, with a fall of 1.3 per cent. The unemployment is still a huge challenge for Iraq, in large extent a legacy of the economic mismanagement of the past. As report notes, "The number of graduates without jobs is mounting as only a few those who completed their university studies in the past 15 years could find a decent job in Iraq."

Much needed efforts to reform and reshape Iraq's
tax system continue with valuable foreign assistance: "The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is supporting the development of tax administration, tax policy and customs reform, the latest including a new automated tax accounting module, a policy on the introduction of a new sales tax and a training curriculum for Iraqi customs staff." And to assist business development, the staff of USAID's "Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) program are laying the groundwork for a series of activities in northern Iraq that will work with Iraqis to establish local business centers and business training programs in the area." In other recent initiatives of the VEGA program (link in PDF): Women's Entrepreneur Workshop and New Association in Arbil and a handicapped training workshop.

There's good news for Iraq's
banking system:

"Despite the continuing war and political uncertainty, Iraq's long-suffering financial industry has begun creaking to life. The revival is being led by some private Iraqi banks that have begun using new economic rules, harnessing the surge of reconstruction money and, in some cases, forging foreign partnerships.

"Though the environment here is such that businessmen in suits tote revolvers and hire bodyguards just to check their bank balances, 'The prospects for banking are good, when they fix the problem of security,' said Abdul Muhsin Shansal, chairman of the Iraqi Bureau of Financial and Economic Consultations, a business consultancy in Baghdad. 'We need a complete rebuilding of infrastructure,' he said. 'We need everything from bridges to roads to dams. That's billions of dollars. We'll need banks for all of this.'

"Currently, those banks include two government-owned behemoths, with about 160 branches each nationwide, and 19 private-sector banks - some with shares listed on the Baghdad stock exchange - ranging in size from a single branch to 19. All but one of the banks run according to Western, rather than the more restrictive Islamic, banking principles.

"Many analysts said the industry is in a sorry condition, a legacy of Saddam Hussein's stranglehold on business and a dozen years of United Nations sanctions that prevented many technological advances from reaching the country."
But still more reform for the banking system is on the way: "Iraq's financial and banking sector is expected to witness a significant change during next two years following the restructuring of banks which includes updating of technology, providing technical assistance and capacity building of the financial institutions. This was stated in National Development Strategy (NDS) for Iraq during 2005-07. The NDS has identified immediate and medium-term priorities during the next two year. The basic aim of the strategy is to create an effective operating structure for the central bank to provide services and supervision of the banking system." You can also read how USAID is assisting the Iraqi banking system through its Iraqi Economic Governance II program (link in PDF).

The Iraqi Central Bank is also currently releasing brand
new coins. By way of background, the coins will be put into circulation "for the first time since Saddam Hussein's regime abolished them in the aftermath of the 1990 Gulf War... Coins were scrapped in 1991, when the international embargo sent Iraq's annual inflation rate soaring upward of 1,000 percent. Hyperinflation caused the dinar's exchange rate to fall drastically, thus making coins and small denomination banknotes virtually worthless."

In oil news, "Iraq plans an
investment of approximately $3.75 billion in its oil sector, according to a strategy paper prepared by the Iraqi government."

In transport news, the first post-liberation
flight took place between Baghdad and Basra. "About 50 people were on board the Boeing 737, which landed at Basra international airport... Basra international airport in southern Iraq is due to open to commercial passenger traffic in July following extensive renovation... Iraqi Airways resumed international commercial flights in September for the first time in 14 years, with flights to Amman, Baghdad and Damascus. Iraqi Airways planes were left grounded around the Middle East, in Jordan, Tunisia and Iran, after Saddam made his disastrous decision in 1990 to invade Kuwait." There are now three daily flights between Baghdad and Amman. And the Iraqi Airways have also commenced direct international flights from Iraq to Saudi Arabia, carrying Iraqi pilgrims for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. "The first Iraqi Airways flight took off from the northern city of Irbil, the ministry said in a statement. The airline will have two or three daily flights from Irbil, Baghdad and the southern city of Basra for 12 days. More the 17,000 Muslim pilgrims are expected to take the roundtrip flight, which costs $500."

RECONSTRUCTION: Reconstruction is
picking up pace, according to Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Bostick, the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division:

"1,550 construction projects are under way throughout the country -- compared to just 200 projects under way in June [2004]...

"These reconstruction projects include large, long-term capital projects that address water and sewage treatment facilities, power plants and the oil- distribution infrastructure. They also include smaller community projects that are more visible to the Iraqi people and have an immediate impact on their lives, he said. The focus of these projects is schools, clinics, hospitals, rail stations and police stations, many being rebuilt with funds from Commander's Emergency Response Program funds...

"He estimated that some 130,000 Iraqis are working on the wide range of projects under way throughout the country. The true number is actually larger, he said, when factoring in the behind-the-scenes workers who manufacture the products used on the construction sites."
A useful change in reconstruction procedures is also currently underway, which will additionally benefit Iraqi economy:

"In a shift largely made necessary by the continuing violence in Iraq, U.S. officials in charge of reconstruction projects say they are now hiring Iraqi firms to do many of the jobs once performed by Western contractors. It may have been the anti-Western insurgency in Iraq, which made U.S. officials here realize the capabilities and talent the Iraqis themselves could apply to the country's reconstruction efforts.

"The program director for the U.S. government's Projects and Contracting Office in Baghdad, Robert Slockbower, says the violence, which has severely delayed rebuilding the country in the past year, has helped accelerate the recruitment of Iraqi firms to keep reconstruction efforts on track."
In addition, the emphasis on smaller, local projects continues: "Men in yellow rain coats shovel heaps of black sludge at the bottom of a reservoir used to collect water from the Tigris for treatment and pumping to hundreds of thousands of people in a poor southern Baghdad area. US officials are increasingly highlighting their success with small community projects like the Rashid water treatment plant after work on a lot of major infrastructure projects stalled because of the increased violence...

" 'We hope to finish the work before the spring and summer when people's demand for water is highest,' says Lieutenant Colonel Brian Dosa of the 1st Cavalry Division at the plant in Al-Zafaraniya. He speaks with pride about the half a million dollars that will be invested in works at the plant to increase the water quality and quantity, which currently serves about 300,000 people in the area.

"About 150,000 dollars has been spent on repairing the pumps at the plant which dates back to 1969. No major work or maintenance had been done since then, according to the plant's manager Mohammed Hashim who stands nearby."
Nasreen Berwari, the minister of public works, has announced that this year her ministry will be spending $250 million, in addition to foreign assistance, on major infrastructure projects "in the field municipalities, water purification and sewage systems." Omar Farouq al 'Damlouji, the minister of housing and reconstruction, meanwhile, has announced that his ministry will be constructing 35,000 residential units over the next two years, in addition to building and rehabilitating some 310 schools and transforming presidential palaces into cultural and tourism sites. Almost 25,000 Iraqis will also benefit from loans from the official government housing fund. And the government has also allocated $200 million for direct assistance to private sector companies working in the construction sector to speed up the country's building drive.

USAID is committing another
$200 million for reconstruction projects in southern Iraq. To improve availability of clean water, USAID is also pursuing construction of water and sewer projects in Mosul and Baghdad (link in PDF).

You can also read this profile of
Dave Nash, the retired admiral who worked in Iraq as the director of the Program Management Office, the official American body overseeing the reconstruction effort.

In the
energy sector, "following the near completion of Restore Iraq Electricity's (RIE) quick-recovery renovation projects, the Southern Electric Sector, operating under Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Funds (IRRF), plans to surge into action." Meanwhile, "the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is designing a Power Plant Operations and Maintenance program to provide training, facility assessments, coaching, mentoring, maintenance and plant outage support for Iraq's power plants. The program will also furnish test equipment, special tools, permanent plant equipment, materials and parts." A new substation is being constructed in the province of Irbil; "just two months ago responsibility was transferred to the deputy of the Ministry of Electricity for a completed $27.4 million emergency reconstruction project that restrung 174 kilometers of power transmission line and rebuilt 444 towers. The project was largely responsible for reconnecting the Kurdish power grid to the rest of Iraq."

USAID, meanwhile, is pursuing
other electricity projects throughout the country (link in PDF): "Work is 82 percent complete at a power generation facility north of Baghdad. This project will increase electrical generation capacity by 325 megawatts through the addition of two combustion turbines to the existing substation site... USAID is expanding a thermal power plant in southern Baghdad with a 132 kV connection to the national grid. This project will add 216 MW of generation capacity... USAID's project to increase generation at a major power plant in Babil Governorate is now 40 percent complete... Work is 79 percent complete in the restoration of heat exchangers at four generating stations in southern Iraq."

The construction of
150 new health clinics will commence soon at the cost of $37 million. "The new centers... are not meant to serve the health needs of urban centers alone. Many of them... will be constructed in towns, districts and villages whose inhabitants normally find it difficult to visit major hospitals. At least 21 of these centers will be supplied with maternity and emergency wards and will be open round the clock... Each center will have its own ambulances and annexes which will include, among other things, houses and flats for the medical staff and employees." Meanwhile, in the capital, "the Ministry of Health has allocated ID 67 billions [$46 million] to restore and rehabilitate three hospitals in Baghdad as well as developing family welfare project. The official spokesman of the ministry announced that the ministry has allocated 15 ID billions [$10 million] to rehabilitate the Central Children Hospital in Baghdad whereas the hospital will be developed by adding an infrastructure to it to be a completed and developed hospital. The ministry allocated ID1, 2 billions [$0.8 million] to rehabilitate al-Karkh General Hospital as well as rehabilitating al-Yarmouk Teaching Hospital, indicating that the ministry is seeking through this step to provide medical services for all citizens especially Baghdad's residents who constitutes half number of Iraq's population."

There's also more assistance coming for the Iraqi agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture and USAID's Agricultural Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI), for example, are working to
improve mechanization of Iraqi farming. In other recent initiatives of the ARDI program (link in PDF): launching 24 new demonstration sites in the three northern governorates of As Sulaymaniyah, Arbil, and Dahuk, renovating veterinary clinics, and increasing land availability for farmers in the Ninweh governorate.

networking opportunities are coming up soon for those involved in reconstruction: "More than 750 participants from 30 countries are expected to participate in a major fair in Jordan in April to meet Iraqi businessmen to rebuild the war-wrecked country, organisers said yesterday. Rebuild Iraq 2005 is aimed at providing international firms a 'safe and ideal venue to present their products and transfer the much needed technology to Iraqi businessmen', a statement said." Meanwhile, the achievement in reconstruction work will be officially recognized later on this year:

"The Iraqi-British Business Council will honour individuals and organisations who have made an outstanding contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq at a ceremony in June. The Iraq Reconstruction Awards Ceremony will take place at the Iraq Procurement Summit 2005, to be held in Amman, Jordan from June 28 to 30.

"The ceremony will be organized to honour the hard work and integrity of those people who have strived above and beyond the call of duty in all sectors of the Iraqi economy.

"The awards will be split into a number of categories, these will include: humanitarian aid; public works; trade; transport & communications; oil, gas and petrochemicals; agriculture; health and welfare; education; housing, construction and infrastructure; water and irrigation; science and technology; electricity; finance and planning; security and justice; municipalities and regional development."
HUMANITARIAN AID: Humanitarian assistance continues to roll in from Japan:

"Japan... will disburse about 10 billion yen (US$97 million...) in aid to help war-ravaged Iraq fund public services and buy ambulances and police vehicles.

"With that spending, Tokyo will exhaust all but US$100 million... of a total of US$1.5 billion... in aid pledged for Iraq's reconstruction... Tokyo's aid will enable Iraq's Health Ministry to buy 700 ambulances worth 5.83 billion yen (US$56.60 million...). Iraq's Home Affairs Ministry plans to spend 2.62 billion yen (US $25.45 million...) on 150 police buses and 500 police motorcycles...

"For southern Iraq's Muthana province, where about 550 Japanese non-combat troops are based for a humanitarian mission, Tokyo set aside 866 million yen (US$8.41 million...) for medical equipment at 32 health clinics and 658 million yen (US $6.39 million...) for garbage-collecting vehicles."
And Turkey has recently delivered $1 million worth of humanitarian aid to be distributed by the Red Crescent society.

USAID is heavily involved in the provision of humanitarian assistance through its Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). Among the
recent highlights (link in PDF):

"Ninawa Governorate: More than 3,400 families have received winter items. Distributions began December 23 and will be completed by mid-January.

"Salah Ad Din Governorate: 1,000 families have received winter packages. The distribution began on December 7 and distributions will continue through January benefiting more than 3,300 families.

"Diyala Governorate: More than 18,000 IDPs and returnees received emergency supplies including 840 barrels used for the delivery and storage of kerosene. A total of 1,500 barrels valued at USD $30,000 have been procured for the region.

"At' Tamim Governorate: distributions began on November 28 for more than 6,000 families. Some 2,000 families have received the winter packages to date. All distributions are expected to be completed by mid-January.

"OFDA has supported the distribution of 100 Livelihood Assets Packages (LAPs) to IDP families in Diyala Governorate. In total, more than 100 families received the packages valued at $31,000. A second distribution by OFDA's implementing partner distributed 20 additional LAPs valued at $6,200 to remote villages in Diyala Governorate. The content of supply kits provided to IDPs varies according to their needs, but may include items such as blankets, towels, cooking equipment, a radio, containers for water, a kerosene heater, soap and detergent, or a small stove...

"OFDA projects in northern Iraq increased access to potable water for an estimated 1,975 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and vulnerable persons in Arbil Governorate, and 1,785 IDPs and vulnerable persons in Ninawa Governorate.

"OFDA has completed seven shallow wells and installed water pumps in schools in one region of Diyala Governorate, benefiting approximately 700 students. In another village in the governorate, a deep water well has been completed and a water tank was installed. Construction of the pump house is still in progress. Following completion of the water system, 350 residents will have access to clean water."
In Kirkuk, a local initiative is helping the city's young people:

"Set up a year ago, a Save the Children-run youth centre... is looking to expand its activities. Established in a mixed Turkmen-Kurdish quarter on the city's eastern edge, the cultural centre started working out of an old Baathist youth club in September last year. Catering to young people over the age of 14, it has a library, a sports hall and Internet room. At any one time, staff say, between 70 and 200 people are attending courses it offers in computing, art and music...

"Heartened by the success of the centre, manager Suhad Abdullatif has a couple of new projects she wants to implement. So far, the sporting facilities on offer have been weighted towards men. It's an imbalance that female users of the centre have commented on and one she hopes to remedy early next year with a gym for women... From 12 December, the centre began hosting the first book fair Kirkuk has seen since liberation. Due to run for two months, the fair is based on one which took place in Sulaymaniyah, a Kurdish city an hour and a half to the east."
The determination and hard work of two Americans is starting to make a real difference for the Iraqi health system:

"Alex Garza, an Army Reserve captain and emergency room doctor from Missouri, saw firsthand how hopelessly outdated Iraq's medical libraries were. Back in the United States, David Gifford, a retired Army colonel and physician, learned of the problem from a physician friend stationed in Iraq.

"Unbeknownst to each other, the two men thought of a plan: to modernize Iraq's health care system by getting up-to-date medical textbooks and journals into the hands of Iraqi professors and students. Garza and Gifford eventually joined forces, and soon medical schools, publishing houses and people around the globe donated boxloads of medical literature to the war-scarred country. More than 100,000 items have been collected so far.

" 'This is really a big change,' said Thamer Al Hilfi, a tuberculosis specialist and professor at the University of Tikrit College of Medicine. 'Everyone here - doctors and students - feel like they are born again.'

"Before the two Americans stepped in, most of Iraq's medical books were at least two decades old and several editions out of date. The more recent ones were photocopies of medical textbooks housed at the Ministry of Health in Baghdad. Topics such as AIDS and the latest surgical techniques were wholly absent from the editions Iraqis medical students were using, Garza said."
Their action has been a huge success: "Publishers that had planned to destroy their old editions donated them instead. Medical schools started campus book drives, collecting books that students would have otherwise resold. Individuals from around the world sent material. WebMd Corp. donated 3,000 copies of its 2003 surgery and internal medicine textbooks, valued at about $500,000. Among the largest medical school donors were the University of Tennessee and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, which sent more than 2,000 textbooks and journals each."

And the efforts of this
Idaho 17-year old have also paid dividends:

"Thanks to the generosity of Monsignor Donovan High School students, teachers and the business community, 900 children who will attend two newly rebuilt schools in Baghdad will have pencils to write with and paper to write on. They also will have arts and crafts supplies, sporting equipment, backpacks, lunch boxes and educational games and toys...

"Courtney Good, a 17-year-old junior at the Toms River school, launched the project called 'The Innocent Child' with her honors Christian service class. Good's father, R. Scott Good, is employed by Washington Group International Inc., and currently is working in Iraq with the company to help rebuild the country's infrastructure... 'After talking to my dad in Iraq, I wanted to do a service project that would help the innocent children in that country,' said Good."
Another hero is even younger: "Stories of heroes are common in Iraq. The daily struggles of life in a combat zone have borne thousands. Our Servicemen and women usually dominate these stories, but one in particular involves a hero who doesn't wear a uniform at all, at least not a military uniform. This one is dressed to play soccer and he's 10 years old. Jared Jolton was home in Colorado, when the Soldiers with the 39th Brigade Combat Team's 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry, were lining up their convoy at Camp Taji, Iraq, for their day's mission on Dec. 11. Although physically on the other side of the world, it was Jared's vision that led to the mission to deliver a 5-ton truck full of soccer balls, clothing and equipment to some of the more needy children in Iraq."

Collection of
toys for Iraqi children also continues:

"When Mary Green started collecting Beanie Babies to send to children in Iraq, the Holland woman set a goal of sending 2,000 of the stuffed toys overseas.

"Then the goal grew to 5,000. Then 10,000. Now, more than 17,000 Beanie Babies later, donations still are streaming in. And the mission of Operation Beanie Babies has expanded beyond Iraq.

" 'It's just awesome what people are doing,' Green said. 'It's overwhelming.' Green, whose nephew is a U.S. Army staff sergeant stationed in Iraq, began collecting the Beanie Babies this fall, and started sending the toys to Army Capt. Stacy Trethewey Nelsen, a Holland native also stationed in Iraq.

"Nelsen, who is working as a social worker in Iraq, began distributing the Beanie Babies to soldiers to give to Iraqi children while on patrol. She said the gestures are meaningful to the children who have received them."
An Iraqi boy is receiving medical help in the United States: "An 11-year-old Iraqi boy whose legs were blown off below the knees by a bomb blast near his home underwent surgery... in Akron to prepare for prosthetic legs. Doctors say Majid Fadhil Sabor needed the surgery done at Akron Children's Hospital to remove bone shards that would otherwise make wearing prosthetic limbs painful. Sabor lives about 100 miles from Baghdad. Doctors expect him to recover from today's operation within 10 days. A specialist on the team said the boy could be walking within one month."

THE COALITION TROOPS: In addition to providing security throughout the country, the troops are also engaged on a daily basis in many other tasks, helping with reconstruction of infrastructure and engaging in humanitarian work. The US troops in
Kurdistan are doing a lot of good work:

"Here in Irbil Province, part of what is commonly called Kurdistan, the people came to know the Americans as friends.

"First with Alpha Company and then with Charlie Company, the 133rd labored hard here to build health clinics and schools and community centers. The soldiers repaired old roads and created new ones, cut ribbons while local television cameras rolled and brought candy and school supplies to legions of smiling children.

"They dined with local leaders, haggled with savvy contractors and, on virtually every project, made sure that the finished product co-mingled American and Iraqi sweat and ingenuity."
Read the whole long piece.

The support of the US troops for Iraqi education system continues. Near
Mandali, soldiers from Task Force 150 participated in renovation of the Hamilathania Primary School. "The attendees handed out school supplies to children. The small boxes were filled with pencils, crayons and a variety of supplies that are needed for the students to be successful. The supplies were donated from people in the United States... The 30th Brigade Combat Team, the coalition unit responsible for Mandali, has spent more than $870,000 USD on projects in eastern Diyala and the Tuz area and there are plans to spend almost two million more US Dollars on future educational projects." Another school has been opened in South Hiteen village thanks to the assistance of the Task Force 2-11 Field Artillery. And "the construction of four schools in Iraq's northern-most province, Dahok, began in early January. On December 28, 2004, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in cooperation with local government officials, awarded $1.3 million for the construction of two 12-room two-story schools, one six-room kindergarten and one nine-room secondary school. All work will be done by Dahok province contractors."

Health system is often the beneficiary of the reconstruction and humanitarian assistance by the troops. "In the small village of
Marina, northern Iraq, the people now have a functional health clinic. Multi-National Forces completed $35,000 worth of renovations on the clinic that sees 40 to 50 patients a day." Soldiers of the 116th Brigade Medical Team have recently conducted their first medical assistance visit in Lower Jawaala, near Kirkuk. The mission - "to improve the health of the local populace, provide feedback to the Ministry of Health, and to establish and strengthen the town's future health care capability" (more on the visit here). Another village near Kirkuk, half-Sunni Arab, half-Kurd Allo Mahmoud now also has a medical clinic, thanks to the work of 116th Brigade Combat Team.

Some of the missions are purely humanitarian. For example, Marines and Soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division have recently distributed humanitarian aid in a town Kurdish village of
Al Taash, located southwest of Ramadi. "During the operation, members of the brigade passed out more than 9,500 humanitarian daily rations, 4,500 blankets and more than 3,000 pairs of shoes to more than 400 households. In all, the daylong mission served to improve the lives of more than 4,000 people." In Kirkuk, Task Force Danger soldiers have assisted Iraqi charity organization Al Salama to distribute aid donated by the American public.

Much of the humanitarian effort is a result of private initiative. To that effect,
a new group is currently being formed: "In the midst of tsunami relief, not to be forgotten are the needy in Iraq. A group of individuals hoping to form the first chartered Noncommissioned Officers Association, or NCOA, in Pacific Air Forces plan to kick off an Iraq charity drive Monday. 'It's for Iraqi people in general. We're looking for clothes, toys, any school supplies that people are willing to donate - used or new, as long as it's in good condition,' said Staff Sgt. Larry Behrens, a 35th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter and the group's acting president."

The Coalition troops are also working on vital technical infrastructure projects. "Spc. Kashamba Busby, a Soldier with the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion in Baquba, is coordinating several interrelated projects that will significantly improve the
telecommunications network in Diyala. She is working with local government officials, business leaders, American development experts, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division to ensure that all of the residents across the province hear a dial tone when they pick up their phones. Thanks to her efforts, it will be easier for them to dial the right number every time." The work involves reconstruction of a microwave station in the town of Sheik-Shnaif, building supply depots, and construction of several smaller UHF stations throughout the governorate.

Power infrastructure is also on the agenda, often on a micro level, supplementing the large scale civilian reconstruction effort. For example, "soldiers from Company A, 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, brought electricity to a village in northern Iraq. The village of Alkishki is a small rural community of approximately 250 located in the mountains of northern Iraq. The people live in mud hut homes and make their living primarily in agriculture. The $50,000 project involved erecting electrical poles and placing wiring in addition to adding a junction box and transformer to connect Alkishki village to the nearby villages' power grid. Local contractors were hired to complete the project."

The 411th civil affairs public works team together with the 1st Division engineers and the ministry of electricity has recently completed the construction of a
chemicals warehouse at the Bayji Power plant. "This facility meets specifications needed to minimize both the chance of an accident and the impact if one occurs. The site is able to hold at least 14 days worth of supplies for all needed chemicals, a significant improvement over previous stores."

And in
Mosul, soldiers of the 133 Engineer Combat Battalion (1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) are working with local contractors to improve local roads: "The total cost is $2.25 million with 810 jobs created. The roads were previously asphalt and in poor condition. In conjunction with this work, the groups will add concrete surface drainage cross gutters. The total cost is $250,000 with another 90 jobs created."

The troops' reconstruction contribution also extends to improving the security infrastructure throughout the country. For example, $340,000 has been recently spent to renovate the
Erbil Police Training Academy. "Currently 300 students live and train at the academy full time. There are accommodations to train and house another 100, who travel in from other city police agencies for courses that last between one and eight weeks. The academy trains both professional and semi-professional personnel for law enforcement positions within the municipality and governorate." And in Owja, south of Tikrit, the renovation of a police station is nearly complete and ahead of schedule. "The police station in Owja is one of six similar projects conducted by Task Force 1-18 to enhance the functionality and professional appearance of the region's police."

Some of the reconstruction assistance is
not as tangible as a new school or a water treatment plant, as this story shows:

"Delta Detachment, 106th Finance Battalion, continues to work hand in hand with local Iraqi banks in an effort to stabilize and improve local confidence in an ailing Iraqi banking system. Through meetings with the Kirkuk Provincial bank managers, the finance detachment, along with civil affairs elements, has made significant strides with the banking system...

"Both finance and civil affairs quickly noted that the people of Kirkuk and its surrounding regions must be able to walk into a bank whose physical appearance portrays confidence, competence and security. Most recently, Delta Detachment, in conjunction with civil affairs elements and the 2-25th Brigade Combat Team, has organized renovation projects of two major state run banks located in Kirkuk.

"First, Delta Detachment has coordinated to have major infrastructure improvements made to the Kirkuk Real Estate Bank. Of all the banks in Kirkuk, this bank was damaged the most during the war as the majority of the bank was burned and looted. The new renovations will concentrate on electrical, plumbing and customer-service-oriented construction. This includes cashier windows for the bank tellers and meeting areas for the bank supervisors. This bank already services 1,100 homeowner mortgages...

"Additionally, the finance detachment has coordinated for similar renovations for the Rasheed Branch Headquarters in Kirkuk. This bank, the Rasheed-Al Wahed Huxarian Bank, services approximately 190,000 banking individuals, government accounts and private businesses. Much needed infrastructure improvements will further assist in gaining popular confidence in the use of pension accounts, savings deposit accounts, loans and other services."
The troops are also working to strengthen security at university campuses throughout Iraq:

"No nation on the planet boasts better university campus security programs and departments than the United States. In the fledgling, democratic country of Iraq part of the overall security and police training operation is the creation of campus security forces at Iraqi universities. This is just one of the untold stories of US nation-building efforts in the war on terrorism.

"Soldiers from the 416th Civil Affairs Battalion's higher education team are working to improve security around Mosul's schools. The team handed out thousands and thousands of dollars worth of security equipment such as body armor, megaphones, flashlights, reflective vests and metal detectors to the security guards from Mosul University. The 416th, an Army reserve unit based in Norristown, Penn., arrived in northern Iraq in February and is working with the Iraqi people to improve living conditions in the local area."
Lastly, read this story by an American Army journalist of an Iraqi boy "adopted" by an American unit:

"If the Army had an adopt-a-child program, Logan would be the poster child. For more than a year, the 13-year-old boy, who contends he's 13 and a half, has lived and worked with Coalition forces at a forward operating base in Mosul. The boy speaks four languages and his official title at the FOB [Forward Operating Base] is translator and supervisor, but he is a Soldier at heart.

" 'I love American Soldiers. I want to help them in every way possible, because without them we (Iraqis) would have nothing,' said Logan, who also speaks Turkish, Arabic and Kurdish and is currently learning Spanish. 'When Saddam ruled Iraq, he would kill somebody for speaking English or Kurdish. Things were very bad, but now we are much happier and I can speak all my languages freely.'

"Not a day goes by that Logan doesn't use his four languages. At the FOB, he helps Soldiers with more than 50 workers, who maintain buildings, electricity and plumbing."
SECURITY: There are increasing signs of fraying of the relationship between the home-grown Iraqi insurgents and Al Zarqawi's Al Qaeda group:

" 'We have concrete information that a sharp division is now broiling between' Iraqis waging a nationalist war and foreign Arabs spurred by militant Islam, said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. 'They are more divided than ever.'

"Al-Rubaie said one reason was the perception among Iraqis that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whom bin Laden endorsed as his deputy in Iraq, was of little help during the American onslaught on the Iraqi insurgent hotbed of Falluja in November. 'Al-Zarqawi and his group fled Falluja and let the Iraqis face the attack alone,' al-Rubaie said."
One of the counter-insurgency weapons is an old favorite of law enforcement agencies world-wide: a simple anonymous phone hotline:

"Leads generated through a hotline to report insurgent activity in Iraq demonstrate that the Iraqi people want to bring an end to the violence against innocent civilians and critical infrastructure, a top officer in the Army's 1st Cavalry Division told reporters in Baghdad today.

"Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Hammond, the division's assistant commander for support, said the tips hotline received more than 400 calls during the past few months. These enabled the coalition to take prompt action - from freeing several women who had been kidnapped for ransom to identifying and destroying vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices Hammond said 'were rigged and ready to explode.'

"Billboards throughout Baghdad promote the hotline as a way for the Iraqi people to 'fight the war in secret' without fear of reprisal, Hammond said. Because of a campaign of intimidation aimed at Iraqis helping to move their country forward, 'people were virtually paralyzed to reach out for help,' he noted. Now, thanks to the hotline campaign, 'people today are picking up the phone and calling us. They are sharing information,' the general said.

"Hammond said the hotline and its success have 'hit a nerve with the insurgents' who regularly vandalize billboards promoting the campaign. But Hammond said the 200 billboards around Iraq are replaced as quickly as they're destroyed. 'I'm not going to stop,' he said."
According to prime minister Allawi, the Iraqi successes are also becoming considerable: "Numerous members of 'Jaysh Mohammed,' or Mohammed's Army, said to be a loosely knit group of former Baath Party officials, former Iraq army leaders and foreign fighters, are being interrogated by investigative judges and will be tried in court, Allawi told journalists. Most were picked up as a result of work done by Iraq's fledgling intelligence service, which has been working for about four months."

You can also read this
first-hand reporting from an American military lawyer with the 1st Armored Brigade about a new program by the US forces to help reintegrate ex-detainees back into Iraqi society through a system of "half-way houses."

Increasingly, the security duties around the country are being taken by Iraqi army and police force. To better enable them to perform their tasks, the security forces are currently undergoing restructure. Read all about the changes
here. In addition to the absorption of Iraqi National Guard units into the country's new army, the 4th Iraqi Army Division has just been established. Overall

"Iraq's military has rapidly expanded and sent forces throughout the country in an effort to ensure security for the Jan. 30 elections. Iraqi and U.S. officials said that over the last six months the Iraq Army has grown in size and capability. They said that from a nascent force in July 2004, the army now operates nine divisions throughout Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Over the next few weeks, officials said, a range of new units would be launched in both the army and air force. So far, the Iraq Army and Intervention Force consist of 18 battalions, a major increase from one battalion in July 2004. By late February, nine additional military battalions were scheduled to become operational, officials said. They said several of the battalions would be ready in time for national elections, scheduled for Jan. 30."
There's more news on the security infrastructure front:

"After nearly a year of work, officials recently celebrated the completion of a $4.6 million project which renovated nine fuel bunkers that serve as one of Iraq’s most secure sources of fuel.

"The fuel bunkers built in the early 1980s by Yugoslavians are located on a former Iraqi air base where MiG pilots once trained. The installation is currently being used as Logistical Support Area Anaconda for multinational forces but will eventually be returned to the Iraqi military...

"The bunkers securely store aircraft jet-A fuel, diesel and motor gas... Now that the system is operational a 6,000 gallon truck can pull up curbside and fill up in 12 minutes."
The Zahko Military Academy in northern Iraq will shortly be renovated at a cost of $5.2 million. "Before the Iraqi freedom war, we only trained cadets from Kurdistan. Since the war we have begun to train cadets from all provinces of Iraq. For instance, cadets from Baghdad, Baquba, Kut and Mosul are sent here for training by the Ministry of Defense," says the Academy Commandant Maj. Gen. Shihab Duhoki. Adds Rich Maskil, the project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Northern District: "The collaboration between the Kurds and Arabs is a great thing. It's a big difference going from Saddam Hussein's campaign against the Kurds to where we are now -- the Kurds and Arabs training and fighting together to provide security for a free Iraq." And in Tikrit, the new headquarters for the 30th Brigade, Iraqi Army have recently been opened.

arming of the Iraqi security forces also continues: "NATO is helping ship military hardware including guns and possibly tanks for use by Iraqi security forces, at the same time as expanding its training mission in Baghdad... NATO military experts are seeing if they can provide transport for 77 T74 tanks offered by alliance member Hungary to Iraq, along with a growing list of equipment from other countries." Meanwhile, in early January, the 1st Infantry Division has presented their 4th Iraqi National Guard Division counterparts with vehicles and other equipment: 10 four-wheel drive pickups and four Mercedes Benzes, 200 uniforms, cold-weather jackets, and protective vests with plates, 20 radios, and some weapons.

police officers continue to hit the Iraqi streets: "The Iraqi Police graduated 1,938 specialized police officers; 1,190 Public Order Police and 748 Mechanized Police officers Dec. 30. The officers completed intensive five week training programs conducted at the Civil Intervention Force Academy... The 8th Mechanized Police Brigade is a paramilitary police force designed to battle insurgents and assist local law enforcement officials dealing with serious insurgent threats or major criminal activity. The unit is equipped with 'BTRs,' wheeled armored vehicles with fire power capable of full-combat operations." You can also read how the Iraqi police are training with American military and civilian instructors near Samarra.

As US general in charge of the training effort sums it up, "the job is tough, but it is a mission that must be accomplished before coalition forces can leave Iraq. And, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, [adds],
progress is being made":

"There are 20 battalions in the Iraqi army today. A total of 27 will join the service by the end of February. The Iraqi National Guard and its 42 battalions also are being integrated into the army. Specialized Iraqi army units also are forming and undergoing training, including a special operations unit, a counter-terrorism unit and a mechanized brigade.

"The Iraqi police force is a prime target for insurgents. Hundreds of Iraqi police have been killed in terrorist attacks. 'If they didn't matter, then they wouldn't be important targets,' Petraeus said. There are now 53,000 Iraqi police trained and equipped, and the police academies will start graduating 4,000 officers each month."
In more "dogs that didn't bark" stories: "An Iraqi police station in southeast Mosul came under attack by multiple rocket propelled grenade fire during a coordinated effort by insurgent fighters to overrun the station. The Iraqi Police successfully repelled the attack. This is the fifth attack on the station this week. Each attack has resulted in defeat for the insurgents and a victory for the Iraqi Security forces. This is the twelfth time since Nov. 10 that insurgents have tried but failed to overrun police stations here. Since Nov. 10, no police stations here have fallen into the hands of insurgent fighters." In another failed attack, "an insurgent attempting to emplace an improvised explosive device near a school in Ar Rutbah wound up being the victim... Members of the Iraqi National Guard witnessed an insurgent emplacing an improvised explosive device and engaged with small arms fire causing the insurgent to prematurely detonate the improvised explosive device, which instantly killed him. Insurgents in a white Toyota pickup truck approached and engaged the ING personnel with small arms fire after the improvised explosive device detonated. The ING personnel repelled their attack."

In Baghdad, the troops are
getting better at stopping terrorist attacks. According to Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, for every car bomb that explodes, another one is located and defused. "Despite almost daily attacks on Iraqi security forces that have killed hundreds of officers, Chiarelli said Iraqis continue to want to join the National Guard and police force. There have been reports that many Iraqis were deserting their posts for fear because of the insurgent campaign. 'We're having no problems recruiting and keeping our units filled up, and that is a good thing, and it is truly amazing,' Chiarelli said. 'They want to get out there'."

Mosul, "an Iraqi child led Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, to a large cache of weapons in an abandoned building during a patrol in western [part of the city] that consisted of 30 60 mm mortars, 21 rocket propelled grenade rounds, dynamite, various roadside bombs and components, five RPG launchers, more than 100 mortar fuses, grenades, ammunition and intelligence documents. Soldiers also discovered a stolen fuel truck in the configuration stages of a truck bomb." In Kirkuk, the soldiers from the 208th Iraqi Army Battalion and American Task Force 1-21 Infantry discovered and dismantled an Improvised Explosive Device. "Iraqi Army soldiers noticed a blinking light emitting from a cement block."

In other recent security successes: rounding up of
49 suspected insurgents in Tiktit; the capture of a key member of the Al Zarqawi network in Mosul (more here); multiple seizure of arms caches in Rutbah and Ramadi, as well as prevention of several terrorist attacks in these cities; the arrest by the Iraqi National Guard south of Baghdad of 228 suspected insurgents including Hatem al-Zawbai believed to be the head of the 1920 Revolution Brigades; seizure of three weapons caches in Sa'dah; detaining of 49 suspected insurgents near Ad Duluiyah; seizure of several arms caches and detention of 15 suspected insurgents in Al Anbar province; capture of 17 suspected insurgents around Mosul; detaining 14 people wanted to insurgent activity around Mosul and another 11 around Baqubah.

Only time will tell where the future of Iraq lies - more violence and decline, or more of the overlooked and ignored stories that Cpl. Isaac D. Pacheco writes about. If media has the tendency to report mostly the bad news, we can only wish the people of Iraq the future where their country rarely graces the pages of our newspapers. The election coming up in only two weeks' time is hopefully the first tentative step on the road to that boring future. But the Iraqis who survived numerous wars and decades of oppression would, I think, agree: boring is not bad.


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