Monday, February 14, 2005

Good news from Iraq, Part 21 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. As always, many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their continuing support and to all of you who make this series possible through encouragment and publicity.

Mark Steyn, the joker in the conservative pundit deck, but also in many ways the shrewdest and the most insightful of the lot, wrote in the aftermath of the Iraqi poll:

Like a four-year-old child, the media were so distracted by bright colours and loud noises that they missed the real story. Set fire to a second-hand Nissan and they send a camera crew round to take pretty pictures of the big plume of smoke rising up in the sky.

But the seeds of a democratic culture are harder to spot.
Which is why many of those who for almost two years provided us with a steady diet of disaster and negativity out of Iraq were unprepared and quite clearly taken aback by the spectacle of majority of Iraqis defying the terrorists and insurgents to participate in by large a free and successful democratic election.

Steyn is right; the seeds of a democratic culture are harder to spot, particularly for the media that obsesses with reporting events (explosions, gunfights) as opposed to processes (reconstruction - physical, political, spiritual - of a country and society). The verdict on Iraq remains open. Only time will tell whether Saddam's former fiefdom will become a normal and successful state, perhaps the first Middle Eastern domino to fall for democratization and reform, or whether political and religious entropy will prevail to send Iraq down a spiral of theocracy, or perhaps civil war and territorial disintegration.

Yet, if Iraq does pull through, the signs of slow and gradual progress were always there to see. I have been chronicling them in this series for nine months now, and when majority of Iraqis defied threats and cast their ballots of January 30, I was not surprised; the successful election was not a bolt out of the blue but a culmination of a year and a half of hard work by millions of Iraqis and citizens of the Coalition countries. To use Churchill's formulation, the election, of course, is not the end or even the beginning of the end, but hopefully the end of the beginning. Let us all hope that the journey will continue in the right direction. In the meantime, here are some snapshots from the past two weeks along the way.

SOCIETY: The counting is finished and the results are in. As expected,
three lists dominated the poll: the United Iraqi Alliance (the main Shia group) with 4,075,295 votes or about 48% of the vote, expected to get 140 seats in the National Assembly; the Kurdistan Alliance with 2,175,551 votes or about 26% of the vote; expected to get 75 seats; and Iyad Allawi's Iraqi List with 1,168,943 votes or about 14%, expected to receive 40 seats.

Other lists and parties expected to enter the National Assembly are: the Iraqis list headed by interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer (five seats), the Turkomen Iraqi Front (three seats), National Independent Elites and Cadres Party (three seats), the Iraqi Communist Party (two seats), the Islamic Kurdish Society (two seats), the Islamic Labor Movement in Iraq (two seats), the National Democratic Alliance (one seat), National Rafidain List representing Assyrian Christians (one seat), and the Reconciliation and Liberation Entity (also one seat).

The final figure for the
turnout was around 59%, or 8.5 million voters.

The main Shia grouping, having failed to win an outright majority, will have to enter a
coalition in order to form the government. That process, however, will only be of great interest to politicians themselves.

On the streets of Baghdad, many residents seem unconcerned with which man ends up running the country. Forty-year-old Shiite tailor Sami Shaker Hamza says he could not care less.

He said, "Actually, I do not care who will be prime minister, whether he is a Sunni or Shiite, or from some other sect. I do not care if our prime minister is a Christian. But I hope that prime minister will be fair with the Iraqi people. We are all brothers," he said.

The main concern of residents interviewed was an improvement in security. Thirty-nine-year-old pharmacist Sana Ibrahim Hassan says, who wins is not as important as unity and security. "I hope success. I hope freedom. I hope safety for everybody in Iraq," she said. "And I hope that all Iraqis help one each other, and stand as one hand against enemies."
Provisional results, too, are available from the vote in local council election conducted concurrently with the nation-wide election; they show that in 12 out of 18 provinces the turnout was 65%. With some Sunni provinces still do be counted, "the highest turnout in the northern Kurdish region of Dohuk, where 89 per cent of those registered voted. The lowest turnout was in Diyala province, which has a mixed Sunni and Shiite population and is just northeast of Baghdad, were only 34 per cent of those registered cast ballots."

As far as the
overseas Iraqis are concerned, "some 265,148 Iraqis living abroad, representing 93.6 percent of registered voters in 14 countries, cast their ballots in the election." This is the way the Iraqi expatriates voted: Sistani-backed United Iraqi Alliance received 95,318 votes, or 36.15% of the vote; the Kurdish Alliance List polled second with 78,062 votes, or 29.6% of the vote; and Iyad Allawi's Iraqi List gathered 24,136 votes, or 9.15% of the ballots cast. In the fourth place, with 18,538 votes, or 7.03% of the total, was the National Rafidain List.

The election was not perfect; there was violence and bloodshed, many were intimidated into staying home; far lesser number of people were denied the vote through various technical problems (the Sunnis, for example, might have become the victims of their own threat of boycott, with some politicians now complaining that in certain areas interest in elections exceeded the expectations, so much that polling stations
ran out of ballots. The same problems, however, is also seem to have affected areas of Baghdad, Najaf and Basra, not to mention some Christian areas of the north). But for all the teething problems, it was a remarkable first exercise in democracy, even receiving an enthusiastic endorsement from the UN personnel involved:

Using the term "incredible" several times, the chief United Nations electoral official who led the team giving technical aid and advice for Iraq's national poll on Sunday said today she was "extremely pleased" over what she called 'the biggest logistic exercise' since the invasion of the country in terms of just moving materials around.

"I have participated in many elections in my life," Carina Perelli, chief of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, told a news briefing in New York. "This was probably one of the most moving elections I have ever seen because it was basically people making a very dignified, peaceful demonstration that the will of the people has to be heard."
From the other side of the table, children have the wonderful ability to find the good even in a bad situation; thus, perhaps this cutest comment to come out of the election: Most of the polling stations throughout Iraq were set up in schools and some of them were damaged in terrorist attacks on the day. Such schools are currently undergoing repairs, which is going to delay by a few days the return to school of their pupils. Says 10-year old Laith Mushtaq from the Ibn Sina primary school in Baaqubah: "I'm glad they [the terrorists] hit our school because I don't want to have to wake up early."

There is great hope that the poll will be the mental turning point in the struggle for the future of Iraq. From this perspective, this could be
the most encouraging story to come out of the election:

Through 22 months of occupation and war in Iraq, the word "America" was usually the first to pass through the lips of an Iraqi with a gripe. Why can't the Americans produce enough electricity? Why can't the Americans guarantee security? Why can't the Americans find my stolen car?

Last week, as the euphoria of nationwide elections washed over Iraq, a remarkable thing happened: Iraqis, by and large, stopped talking about the Americans.

With the ballots still being counted, the Iraqi candidates retired to the backrooms to cut political deals, leaving the Americans, for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, standing outside.

In Baghdad's tea shops and on its street corners, the talk turned to which of those candidates might form the new government, to their schemes and stratagems, and to Iraqi problems and Iraqi solutions. And for the United States, the assessments turned unfamiliarly measured. "We have no electricity here, no water and there's no gasoline in the pumps," said Salim Mohammed Ali, a tire repairman who voted in last Sunday's election. "Who do I blame? The Iraqi government, of course. They can't do anything."

Asked about the U.S. military presence, Ali chose his words carefully. "I think the Americans should stay here until our security forces are able to do the jobs themselves," he said, echoing virtually every senior U.S. officer in Iraq. "We Iraqis have our own government now, and we can invite the Americans to stay."

The Iraqi focus on its own democracy, and the new view of the United States, surfaced in dozens of interviews with Iraqis since last Sunday's election. It is unclear, of course, how widespread the trend is; whole communities, like the Sunni Arabs, remain almost implacably opposed to the presence of U.S. forces. But by many accounts, the election last week altered Iraqis' relationship with the United States more than any single event since the invasion.
This report, too, reaches similar conclusions while focusing on Iraq's Shias:

During Friday prayer services last fall, the streets outside various mosques in the sprawling slum of Sadr City were the scenes of furious anti-American and anti-Iraqi government preaching. The clerics' bodyguards, soldiers in the Shia insurgent group called the Mahdi Army, were clad in black and carried their pistols holstered on their hips.

Preaching on Friday to more than 3,000 men at the Mohsen mosque, radical cleric Nasser al-Saadi had absolutely nothing to say about the U.S. military presence, including the tank parked a few hundred yards away. His only mention of the Iraqi government was to criticize officials he alleged to be corrupt. There was not a gun in sight.
Another consequence of the recent election seems to be the growing popularity of the concept of federalism:

Proponents of the federalist system say Baghdad could control matters of national defense and foreign policy, leaving all other issues up to the governorates. They cite the relative prosperity and stability of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region as proof that federalism can work in Iraq. The Kurds have ruled themselves since their region fell out of former president Saddam Hussein's control after the 1991 Gulf War. Supporters of federalism say provincial leaders will be more responsive to their local constituents and be better stewards of their tax money.
Read how increasingly the Shias, too, are warming up to the idea. The task of writing the country's new constitution and thus determining the shape of Iraq is in the hands of the newly-elected National Assembly. We won't know for some months what that shape will be like, but so far there are plenty of positive indications that the process will be broad based. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the top candidate of the United Iraqi Alliance, says: "We don't want anyone to be marginalised. We want everyone to take part in writing the constitution... We will defend the rights of all minorities and all groups no matter how small they are... We want to work with [the Sunni groups]... Even those who didn't take part in the elections, we are ready to cooperate with them. We will work to make them part of the political process, in writing the constitution and also to take part in the responsibility of running Iraq." And at least some in the Sunni community are responding positively to such overtures:

In a bid to avoid marginalization, a group of Sunni Arab parties that refused to participate in the election said Saturday they want to take part in the drafting of a permanent constitution a chief task of the new National Assembly. 'The representatives of these political bodies that did not participate in the elections have decided in principle to take part in the writing of the permanent constitution in a suitable way,' a statement from the group said. The groups were mainly small movements and it was not clear whether they represent a major portion of the Sunni Arab community. The initiative was spearheaded by Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, who ran for a National Assembly seat. Pachachi told CNN that he had talked with Shiite and Kurdish leaders about a role for the Sunnis in drafting a new constitution "and they all welcomed this idea."
Or as this report notes:

Bakar Humam Hammoudi, a leader of one of the Shiite religious parties that are poised to become the country's most important political force, sips tea in his garden on a springlike day. As he speaks of a new, inclusive Iraqi politics in the sunlight, the brutal realities of the war seem far away.

He's waiting for important guests - a large delegation of Sunni clerics and politicians. "They're coming because of the success of the elections," says Mr. Hammoudi, a senior member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). "I think most of our differences can be solved with talk. We're determined to build a coalition government."

Since Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, hardly a day has gone by without high-level contacts between Iraq's majority Shiites and the Sunni Arab minority that made up Iraq's governing elite under Saddam Hussein and is fueling the country's insurgency.
Let us hope the process continues. Returning to the election, it is appropriate to recognize the prominent positive role the new Iraqi TV has played in the run-up to the poll:

Despite Iraq's incessant power shortages, television played a powerful role in the elections, in terms of encouraging Iraqis to vote, promoting the various political groups and providing non-stop coverage of the proceedings.

Iraqis not only got to vote in the multi-party elections for the first time in 50 years, they also got to watch themselves do it and hear instant analysis from their countrymen.
The report notes some of the contributions by the main Iraqi networks: "In the lead-up to the elections, Al-Sharqiya, a popular Iraqi satellite TV station, played non-stop advertisements urging the Iraqis to take part in the polls... Iraqiya, the government-financed television station, gave each of the 111 tickets running parliamentary slates free two-minute slots to promote themselves to voters... On Election Day, TV stations offered non-stop coverage of the events from around the country and commentary from around the world."

Many organizations and groups have also been working hard for months to create the vital civic infrastructure for the democratic process.
USAID has been one of them (link in PDF):

The United States provided more than $40 million in technical and commodities assistance to help the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq conduct elections. Japan pledged $40 million and the EU pledged $38 million for the election effort.
In preparation for the elections, USAID supported several Iraqi civil society organizations in their efforts to encourage Iraqis of all backgrounds to go to the polls in the upcoming elections.

In early January, a non-partisan coalition of 76 civic organizations from across Iraq, developed projects all over the country as part of their media campaign. The ongoing projects include distribution of informational pamphlets on the elections, posters, and trainings motivating Iraqis to vote even in rural areas.

The coalition also produced two TV spots that featured a Sunni cleric and a Shia cleric to target potential voters from their communities to encourage them to take part in the elections.

Prior to the elections, USAID NGO partners finished training thousands of elections monitors. Over 220 core election monitors - which USAID's partners have been training since November with some collaboration with the European Union - in turn trained as many as 12,000 domestic monitors.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq reported that as of January 26, approximately 55,000 domestic elections monitors and political party monitors had been accredited to date, including those trained through the USAID-supported process.
Democracy-building is not restricted to a macro level: read this story about Mark Johnson, deputy public defender from Riverside County, California, who helped to draft the first city charter and constitution for the Baghdad province.

Now the nation-rebuilding really begins. And
the next generation of Iraqis is, if anything, even more optimistic about the future than their elders:

Ali Rawi is one of the thousands of children in Iraq cut off from the technology and information commonly available in other countries. 'I want to learn like other children my age all over the world. I hope that very soon I can talk with a foreign child in the same way he or she does, with future reflections and experience of living in a place without war,' [said] 14-year-old Ali...

His words reflect some of the expectations of Iraq's youth in hoping for a better future. They share a longing for prosperity and have an optimistic of the future for their country, according to a survey carried out in 16 governorates last year, by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).

The study shows that children are expecting a change in future life, despite the difficult situation in Iraq and widespread insecurity. The survey carried out with the Iraqi Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, interviewed 19,610 youths about their views of tomorrow's Iraq.

The results showed that 3.7 percent of the respondents said life in Iraq was getting worse, but that 62 percent were optimistic, hoping to achieve success in their social life, education and work...

Many youngsters said they now felt they were connected with the outside world and have access to more information. One way was through increased availability of satellite television after the war ended in April 2003.
However, as Iraq is opening the new chapter, it is at the same time facing to the legacy of its past:

Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) in Baghdad is setting up a National Centre for Missing and Disappeared Persons (NCMDP) to help relatives find out what has happened to their loved ones.

The new programme being developed by the MoHR, will examine bones samples recovered from mass graves, as well as establishing a register of names of those reported missing since 1978 in Iraq. Families will be given the opportunity to provide blood for DNA testing to check against samples taken from bodies found in mass graves.

According to the MoHR officials, nearly one million Iraqis are believed to have disappeared during Saddam Hussein's regime and a large number are believed to be buried in the 228 mass graves discovered so far. The majority disappeared during the Gulf war in 1991 and the subsequent Shi'ite uprising in the south of Iraq, officials said.
In another aspect of dealing with the past's dangerous legacies, "the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has contracted the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) to provide technical advice to the Iraqi National Mine Action Authority (NMAA). UNDP trained seven technical advisers last month in Amman, Jordan, before their deployment to Iraq. UNICEF also conducted a two-day workshop with its counterparts and NMAA, developing a draft action plan for mine risk education. The UN has also been active in supporting clearance activities realized by Minetech International (MTI) and Danish Demining Group (DDG) in Basrah."

Canada, meanwhile, is providing assistance towards
building free and robust media sector in Iraq: "Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew, on behalf of International Cooperation Minister Aileen Carroll, today announced that Canada will provide $500,000 to the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS). The funding, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), will help build and strengthen the capacity of media in Iraq and the region." Says the Minister: "Freedom of the press and a dynamic civil society are essential to democracy and good governance in Iraq... This initiative will allow us to provide Canadian expertise to build up capacity in support of Iraqis' aspirations of a democratic future."

Women for Women International, a group founded by Iraqi-American Zainab Salbi, is linking Western and Iraqi women in order to assist the latter. Read the interview with Salbi about the work of her organization as well as the situation in Iraq and the aspirations of Iraqi women.

ECONOMY: Iraqi dinar
continues to appreciate against US dollar, which now buys 1250 dinars, instead of the pre-election 1460.

Good news also continues for Iraq on the
debt forgiveness front: "Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to waive most of Iraq's outstanding debts. Abu Dhabi's crown prince Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayid al-Nahayah told US Special Envoy James Baker that the UAE will write off the bulk of the debt, according to news reports. The debt is estimated at some $4 billion. Earlier Qatar made a simple promise: 'Qatar will waiver the bulk of Iraq's debt and will, at the right time, consider forgiving all of it,' the country's foreign ministry spokesman said."

Modernization of the economy - a truly Herculean task, considering the dual legacy of state socialism and prolonged conflict - is also underway.
USAID is assisting in many different areas (link in PDF). "[The] Private Sector Development Initiative (PSD II) are supporting the establishment of a government privatization entity to oversee any national privatization program." Privatization white paper has already been completed. "Under USAID's Iraq Economic Governance II (IEG II) program, advisors are working to improve Iraq's tax policy, tax administration, and customs system." Also, "since February 2004, the IEG II program has worked to install the Financial Management Information System (FMIS) in approximately 50 Iraqi government institutions. FMIS is an automated networked accounting and budget execution system with online access and a real-time updated centralized database for all spending organizations in Iraq."

In other
recent activities (link in PDF), USAID advisers under the Private Sector Development II program (PSD II) are providing assistance to the government to help Iraq meet the entry requirements into the World Trade Organisation. Most recently, the advisors have been preparing the conformity assessment in the area of trade-related intellectual property, identifying reform steps, and conducting capacity building training. The PSD II and the Iraq Economic Governance II (IEG II) programs are also conducting a range of activities in the area of banking and banking reform.

Iraqis might have to wait some time before these reforms bear fruit on the ground level of economic activity, but some areas of the country, like the north, are already

"You see this can of coke," said supermarket owner Jamal Mohamed Rahim. "Two years ago, you would have had to pay seven Iraqi dinars [approx US $1.00] for it to be brought from Turkey. Now, we buy from Dubai, for less than a third of that."

Like the rest of Iraq, the Kurdish-controlled north was debilitated by sanctions between 1991 and 2003. And it wasn't just the international community blocking commerce with the outside world. The regime in Baghdad also did its best to undermine efforts by the autonomous Kurdish authorities to develop economically.

The few international goods on the market in the north were smuggled in from Turkey, Iran or Syria, mainly by a small clique of wealthy businessmen with close links to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). These two parties still divide the north between them.

"Before the war, importers had to pay tariffs to the KDP and the PUK, as well as at the border," Rahim told IRIN. "Now there is a five dollar charge per truck coming into Iraq. That's all."

The resulting decrease in price has been accompanied by a rise in wages in some sectors. Before the war, low-ranking civil servants would have been content to earn the equivalent of $20. Now, they complain at anything lower than $300, observers say.

The result, according to carpet importer Ahmed Haji Rasul, has been a radical change in consumer taste. "In the past, people made do with what they could afford," he told IRIN in the Sulaymaniyah bazaar. "Now they want colour-coordinated house interiors, European stuff. We've had to start importing from further afield."
Speaking of the north, Orascom Construction Industries is investing $300 million to build a cement plant in the Bazian area of Kurdistan. OCI is already rehabilitating the largest cement factory in the north, the Tasluja cement plant near Suleimaneyah City. Iraqi is currently experiencing a construction boom, and cement and other building materials are in short supply, so any addition to the local output will be very welcome. It's not just cement, though; commercial ties between Iraq and the outside world are growing very fast, with Iraq welcoming foreign investment with a five year tax holiday, followed by a tax rate of 3.2%.

In communications news, "Iraq is to invite bids for
two telephone licences, saying it wants to significantly boost nationwide coverage over the next decade... The firms will install and operate a fixed phone network, providing voice, fax and internet services... The ministry said that it wanted to increase Iraq's 'very low telephone service penetration rate from about 4.5% today to about 25% within 10 years.' It also hopes to develop a 'highly visible and changeable telecommunication sector'."

In oil news, the Iraqi government has made clear that rebuilding the oil industry is a
top post-election priority. Every aspect of the industry will be undergoing change; from repair teams that will be mobilized much quicker than in the past to repair damage caused by sabotage, through increasing imports, to building more gas stations to improve distribution.

There is a great deal of
anticipation about the future potential of Iraqi oil industry: "Firms from Europe and the United States are working free on certain engineering and training projects to get their feet in the door. The companies are forging these arrangements with Iraq's Oil Ministry to help train Iraqi engineers and study ways to tap more of the country's vast oil reserves, estimated to be either the second- or third-largest in the world." As the report observes:

The companies' ties to Iraq are growing. In the past two months, the Oil Ministry has signed a flurry of agreements to study the potential of the underdeveloped oil fields and train Iraqi engineers in the latest technology and techniques.

Royal Dutch/Shell Group, signed an agreement with the ministry Jan. 14 to study the vast Kirkuk field, estimated to hold 8.7 billion barrels of reserves. Shell also will help draft a master plan for tapping Iraq's natural gas.

Shell will do the work free as a way to strengthen its links with the ministry, said Simon Buerk, a spokesman in the firm's London headquarters. "It's our aspiration to build a relationship with the Iraqis," he said.

BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, signed a contract this month to study the Rumailah oil field near Basra. ExxonMobil Corp. signed a memorandum of cooperation last fall, laying groundwork to provide the ministry with technical assistance and conduct joint studies.

An Iraqi-Turkish consortium won a contract in late December to help develop the Khurmala Dome oil field. ChevronTexaco has been flying Iraqi oil engineers to the United States for training since last year. It describes the program as a goodwill gesture. 'We made it clear there will be no quid pro quo,' said Don Campbell, a spokesman.
At the moment, Iraq is ready to award contracts worth $450 million to boost its oil production capacity. Already, "development of the Suba-Luhais fields in the south and Hamrin field in the north may add as much as 200,000 barrels a day to the country's oil output capacity of 2.8 million barrels a day."

RECONSTRUCTION: More assistance has been offered from
the European Union: "The European Commission has proposed an additional package of euro 200 million [$256 million] to assist with the reconstruction of Iraq... This new contribution is a further indication of the Commission's determination to support the political and economic transition in Iraq. The proposal comprises three key elements and a reserve fund: euro130 million [$166 million] to boost essential services and jobs; euro 15 million [$19 million] for technical assistance to help build Iraq's capacity in the important areas of energy and trade; and euro10 million [$12.7 million] to support the political process, perhaps including help in drafting the new Constitution. Euro 45 million [$57.5 million] will be held in reserve to allow a flexible response to changing circumstances on the ground and to respond to the needs identified by the new Iraqi government formed after the elections on 30 January."

The election seems to have generated an eruption of international good will.
German government, for example, has now expressed willingness to help in rebuilding Iraq, particularly in the areas of government administration and the new constitution.

On the ground, reconstruction continues in
the Medical City (at the cost of $15 million); al-Majar al-Keeber district in Meisan province (street construction, energy projects, building new schools at a cost of $0.68 million); at the Baghdad International Airport where the renovation of air traffic control center and tower is expected to be completed soon (link in PDF); in the municipality of Al-Majid where the Japanese authorities are donating $200,000 to improve local roads; and in Samawah where the Japanese government is also donating $670,000 to provide modern equipment for Samawah General Hospital.

In electricity news, USAID continues to progress with various
rehabilitation projects (link in PDF): "USAID's project to increase generation at a thermal major power plant in Babil Governorate is moving forward and is now 56 percent complete... To date, USAID's rehabilitation efforts at the power plant have increased net capacity by 355 MW. When rehabilitation efforts are complete in May 2005, it is expected that the total increase in capacity will be approximately 500 MW... Work is [also] continuing on the refurbishment of two units at a large thermal power station in south Baghdad... Upon completion, an additional 320 MW is projected to be available for Baghdad's electrical grid." In Basra governorate(link in PDF), "work to rehabilitate heat exchangers and water treatment systems is now complete at two of four thermal power plants."

The United Nations is now becoming more active in the reconstruction effort, most recently delivering $800,000 worth of spare parts for the
Hartha power station in Basra, in order to increase the station's capacity by 40 megawatts.

In the water sector, there is good news for the residents of
Baghdad, where the infrastructure is under immense strain from growing population and environmental pollution: "The Baghdad Municipality has signed a contract for the purchase of 10 drinking water stations to meet needs of the city's nearly five million people, according to the mayor. Alaa al-Tamimi estimated Baghdad's needs for drinking water at 3.2 million liters a day. He said the stations were expected to arrive next month and that 'they should treat enough water to satisfy needs'."

In various water-related
USAID projects (link in PDF): "Last month, engineers completed work on the rehabilitation of a wastewater treatment plant in Diwaniyah, a major city in Al Qadisiyah Governorate... Installation of chlorinator piping continues at the Najaf Water Treatment Plant." When finished, the plant will provide most of the drinking water for this city of over half a million. The restoration work has also started on the water treatment plant in Karbala; "repairing this plant is particularly important because, in addition to providing clean water to Karbala residents the plants supplies potable water to an estimated three million religious pilgrims to the Al-Hussein Shrine in Karbala each year." Meanwhile, back in Baghdad (link in PDF), "work is continuing on the rehabilitation of Baghdad's Rustimiyah wastewater treatment plant. The plant is one of three major wastewater treatment plants serving nearly 80 percent of the capital city's residents. The three plants' treatment capacity steadily eroded under years of neglect prior to liberation and was further impacted by looting after the 2003 conflict. Prior to the rehabilitation of one branch of the Kerkh treatment plant in June 2004, none of Baghdad's sewage was being treated."

All such stories are in many ways personal stories, like this retired firefighter from Des Moines, Iowa, is heading to Iraq to work as fire chief for the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office and train the next generation of Iraqi
firefighters. Or this Tennessee resident and a 35-year veteran of the Tennessee Valley Authority is sharing his expertise with the Iraqis to help them rebuild the energy sector.

In health, there is good news from
southern Iraq:

Improvements in the state health system in southern Iraq, which have meant greater efficiency and a wider availability of medicine, are giving hope to local residents. According to medical staff in the area, the working environment has been improved and conditions are now better than during Saddam Hussein's regime.

They claim that there is still a lack of medicine but shortages are less severe than before. "We have lack of some emergency materials but I can say that it's something normal or as in other countries," Dr Khalid Shakarchi, pharmacist at a public hospital, told IRIN in the southern city of Basra.

The Secretary of Health in Basra, Dr Ra'ad Salman, who took up his post two months after the March 2003 war, told IRIN that he believed cities in southern Iraq would soon have the best health system in the country as a result of positive cooperation between British forces and the Iraqi interim government.
Says Kathem Hussein, a local patient at Al-Faiha'a General Hospital who had undergone an operation for an appendicitis: "The health situation is better now. We were dying like flies with no medical care and no one to ask about us. But now the situation is much better, thanks to the new [interim] government." Speaking of public health, the Iraqi Nutritional Research Institute (NRI) has introduced new testing equipment in order to improve the quality of food in Iraq, both imported and home-grown. "The NRI is part of the Iraqi Ministry of Health (MoH) and staff up until now have been working with outdated equipment which didn't always provide accurate results. Sometimes tests had to be repeated to ensure accuracy. As a result doctors claim many people fell ill from eating tainted food."

education (link in PDF), "with funding from USAID, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is implementing a comprehensive package of activities designed to help Iraq meet Millennium Development Goals in public health, sanitation and education. In the education sector, UNICEF's activities are focused on ensuring that Iraqi children stay in school, providing safe and effective learning environments, and supporting education reform. As part of its efforts to support the MOE in education reforms, UNICEF updated findings from a national school survey last year; an analytical report on this survey (Volume II) was recently completed and submitted to the MOE for final approval. Out of 18,000 on order, 12,945 sports and recreational kits for primary and intermediate schools were delivered to the MOE as part of a joint UNICEF/MOE initiative." Specifically, "the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is currently carrying out comprehensive rehabilitation of 84 schools and water and sanitation facilities in 20 schools while the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has delivered the first set of textbooks and reference books, obtained under the Qatar Fund for Higher Education, for different university libraries."

USAID's Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program continues to support partnerships between American and Iraqi universities. Among the recent highlights of the involvement by the
University of Hawaii (link in PDF): PhD places for Iraqi students, intensive English courses for Iraqi academics, and support for the agriculture faculties.

agriculture (link in PDF), "USAID's Agricultural Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI), in close coordination with the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) have established winter crop technology demonstration programs in ten governorates throughout Iraq." In other recent ADRI initiatives (link in PDF): planting 56 wheat demonstration sites throughout Northern Iraq, establishing date palm nurseries, rehabilitating agricultural machinery, renovating veterinary clinics, and conducting vaccination programs.

HUMANITARIAN AID: USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has been active in cooperation with Iraqi authorities to provide humanitarian assistance to people of
Fallujah (link in PDF):

To support the returnees in reintegrating into the community, each returning family will receive a heater, fuel rations, and an immediate payment of 150,000 Iraqi dinars (USG $100), provided by the Iraqi government. The Ministry of Oil reports that kerosene and liquid propane gas distributions are going well, but there is some concern that demand might exceed supply if the number of returnees jumps significantly.

Distributions to IDP sites around Fallujah by implementing partners began December 20 and are continuing as planned. Approximately 36,290 families (more than 250,000 people) have been reached. Since November, USAID/OFDA and partners have assisted more than 204,000 Fallujah IDPs. An additional 6,000 plastic containers for kerosene, 10,000 tarpaulins, 450,000 plastic bags (for breakdown of bulk supplies into family size rations), and 20,000 blankets have been delivered to the IIG through one of USAID/OFDA's partners for distribution to IDPs. The [Iraqi Interim Government] also plans compensation for each house destroyed or damaged during the fighting. Meanwhile, security measures, including a nightly curfew and ID checks, will continue to safeguard incoming citizens.
More assistance has been also made available to those affected by last year's fighting in Najaf, Tal Afar and Samarra. And assistance, by way of distribution of Livelihood Asset Packages and kerosene to those in need, continues throughout the governorates of At' Tamin and Diyala (link in PDF).

Help for
Iraqi schools is also coming from a neighbor: "Abu Dhabi National Hotels, its customers and business partners are helping thousands of youngsters in Iraq receive vital schooling. An ADNH initiative in partnership with UNICEF has raised AED67,000 [$18,000], which will pay for nearly 6,000 Iraqi children to go back to school for at least one year... UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Education in Iraq to improve conditions. The UNICEF Iraqi Children Fund aims to raise $30 million to help as many as five million school students in Iraq; money raised will go towards the rehabilitation and construction of 12,500 schools."

Catholic charity
Caritas is also active throughout Iraq: "Caritas-Iraq estimates that in the postwar period it has helped 1 million Iraqis, especially through its programs of prevention and struggle against infant malnutrition, health care, and the reconstruction of water purification systems," according to the charity. "The 2005-2006 Work Plan, designed by Caritas-Iraq, will cost about $2.8 million. It includes a pediatric program to combat infant malnutrition. Started in 2002, the program aids 12,000 children and 8,000 mothers every month. The rehabilitation of health services in the most remote rural areas is another objective mentioned in the plan. In particular, a program has been launched to care for the physically and mentally handicapped. Caritas-Iraq estimates that there are in the country more than 1 million physically or mentally disabled people whom it has been helping since 2003. Another objective for 2005-2006 is a plan for water purification and sewage. Caritas-Iraq is implementing a program of inverse osmosis to purify water, through the installation of six water treatment plants in the south of the country. The objective over the next few months is to undertake small water purifying projects and construct latrines in small rural communities, health centers, and schools. The Catholic institution plans to launch a program this year to enlarge its network of volunteers throughout the country, especially among the young."

In addition to non-governmental organizations, much of the humanitarian effort continue to be generated on the grass roots level. In
Stamford, Connecticut, for example, the locals have pooled their resources to help the troops help the Iraqi children:

With military-like precision, Petty Officer Grace Roman was on a humanitarian mission Thursday night. She opened, folded and taped the bottoms and sides of boxes at Westy Storage Centers here so U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps members could fill with them school supplies for Iraqi children.

"Children are the ones who get hit the worst by war, and this is our way of showing we care," said Roman, a senior at Trinity Catholic High School.

Roman was among a dozen Sea Cadets on deck at Westy on Thursday night, where a long table in the lobby overflowed with pencils, spiral notebooks, markers, Jolly ranchers, M&Ms, shampoo, crayons and bears -- lots of bears. The Southwestern Connecticut Council of the Navy League donated the items to be shipped out to the Army's 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad.
And people of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, have responded to a plea from a local, Mike Hart who worked with the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion in Iraq, and collected 3,000 pounds of supplies for internally displaced Iraqis.

THE COALITION TROOPS: One of the most effective ways of supporting grass roots efforts in Iraq is
the Commander's Emergency Response Program. Each command sector of operations throughout Iraq can provide funds for local projects run by the locals to help in reconstruction and fostering growth:

The projects must not exceed $500,000 and must demonstrate an important public need. To date, 44 projects have been completed with 58 more in progress or in the process of being submitted. More than $17 million has been spent or allocated by CERP for these important, community enhancements. In fact, the program has been so successful that Iraqi Interim Government officials have agreed to fund and administer 17 projects previously slated for funding by CERP. These projects, totaling $5.9 million, include drainage improvements, irrigation, school renovations, and the construction of a fine arts institute.
Three recent examples of the program in action:

In Taji, four villages are being touched by a program to provide 12 school buses and more than 9,000 school uniforms. As the Ministry of Education is enforcing uniform standards for all female students in primary and intermediate grade levels, now many less fortunate Iraqi girls will be able to attend school. According to U.S. Army Col. Richard Hatch, MNSTC-I SJA, "This is one the best uses of CERP money I have seen yet." Twenty schools will benefit from the $429,000 program. The buses and uniforms will be procured through local vendors. Planners expect delivery by the end of February.

In An Numaniyah, the Haji Jalal Women's & Pediatric Hospital will receive funding for clinic supplies including: ultrasound equipment, a centrifuge, refrigerators, an incubator, oroscopes, ophthalmoscopes, stethoscopes, sphygmomanometers, nebulizers, various monitors and other useful medical equipment. The $176,000 project is underway.

In Al Kasik, nine important projects are in the works including renovating the village school, constructing a road from the village to Temarat, constructing an elementary school, building four clinics, repairing the village well, stringing a power line and building a water factory, a soccer field, and a park for children.
West of Baghdad, the 256th Brigade's 1088th Engineer Battalion is improving electrical, water, sewage and medical services for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis:

The 1088th is responsible for more than $11 million in humanitarian aid projects throughout the area. The projects directly benefit Iraqis where they live. "Our biggest project is a nine-kilometer pipeline that will bring clean drinking water to Suba al Bor," [Army Capt. Jessy] Yeates said.

The former regime built the village to house about 25,000 veterans of the Iran- Iraq War. It now has a population of three times that amount. "Because of the demand, they have no water pressure in places where pipes run," Yeates said. "There are other homes with no distribution system or water."

The project brings water from a canal. The pipeline starts at 18 inches in diameter and changes down to 12 inches. "For whatever reason, they don't use water towers here," Yeates said. "So narrowing the pipe and putting in a pumping station will increase the water pressure to the population."

Local Iraqis did the work on the line. Iraqi engineers at Baghdad University did the quality control and served as consultants for the project. All that needs to happen is for generators to fire up, and clean water will start flowing in Suba al Bor...

In other areas, infrastructure is poor or non-existent. In Abu Jadhial, the unit is investing in installing new substations and transmission lines. They are also hooking up houses to lines correctly. In some cases, inhabitants had tapped in to the power lines using concertina wire. "All of that is going to be dependent on getting the national electrical grid on line," Yeates said.

Most of the money being spent is in water projects. He estimates that by the end of February all people in the region, with very few exceptions, should have clean drinking water. Another project is putting a four-kilometer long pipeline in to the village of Hor al Bash.

The unit is also working on refurbishing schools. There are 17 schools in Suba al Bor. Sixteen of those need major work, and the unit is contracting for the work.

The unit built an addition on the local medical clinic in Suba al Bor, too. "When we first got there, you couldn't find a doctor or a patient," Yeates said. "We invested $200,000 in equipment, funded the addition, got a hold of two ambulances and a pick-up truck for them. The place is jumping. There is already talk of building a pediatric portion for the clinic."
Near Ramadi, the US Corps of Engineers is involved in nearly 400 reconstruction projects worth more than $5 million. Says Lt. Col. Randy Turner: "Projects include new and rehabilitated schools, border forts, schools, police stations, fire stations, water supply and sewage, train stations, bridges, hospitals, health clinics, electrical transmission lines and substations, etc."

The troops are also active on the reconstruction effort throughout the
southern Iraq:

In the southern half of Iraq, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on projects ranging from increasing the capacity of the electrical grid to building bridges and replacing 38 mud-walled schools with new buildings...

[Col. Roger] Gerber is commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' regional command that covers nine southern providences and is made up of about 100 Corps of Engineers employees who volunteered for duty. His staff also includes 98 Iraqi engineers.
The troops are also involved in rebuilding Iraq's energy sector:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with the Program and Contracting Office, is rebuilding various gas-oil separation plants, in the South Rumulia and West Quarna oil fields of southern Iraq.

The program's goal is to provide three million metric tons of Liquid Petroleum Gas to meet the needs of the Iraqi people. To achieve this objective, the Corps and the project team will restore the functions of 12 GOSPs scattered throughout southern Iraq.
As the report notes, "presently, the project is in the detailed engineering and procurement phase. Many of the components germane to these facilities are specialized pieces of equipment and require significant periods of time to fabricate and deliver to the jobsite. During the second half of 2005, installation and construction will start. The project team is working hard to have these facilities performing at their design capacity by Dec. 31, 2005."

The troops are also involved in building the
security infrastructure:

An estimated $25 million is being spent to construct 100 new border forts along the northern borders of Iraq, as well as rehabilitate and enhance numerous points of entry. In several northern provinces, 34 forts are currently under construction and 66 others are planned to start in the coming months...

The 133 Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) is overseeing the renovations of 27 existing forts and the construction of 15 new ones, while the Corps is providing construction management and quality control for the 100 new forts and the points of entry. Work is ongoing in four northern provinces.
In the district of Rustamiyah on the outskirts of Baghdad, soldiers of 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery have been engaged in a whole range of activities, from rebuilding infrastructure, renovating schools, to food distributions. Local farmers have also received assistance. Says Capt. David Haynes, Alpha Battery's commander:

We have about 4,000 acres of farm land in our area... We have mapped out several hundred of the farms which mostly consist of small 10 to 20 acre lots. Being that it is primarily farm land out there, we decided to focus on the agricultural piece so, prior to the harvest last year; the battalion delivered 375 tons of seed and fertilizer out to the farms in this area... We also helped the community found the United Farmers of Iraq Co-operative... The Co-op will give them better prices on their seed and help them distribute their crops after harvest. The division has purchased some farm equipment to be delivered once this facility is completed Feb. 15th... The price of the Co-op was $150,000, which included construction of the building, furniture and computers for the offices. We built it, but it will be run by the farmers in this area and was approved by the Ministry of Agriculture. This way, we are helping the people legitimize their own government by working with them as well.
One change in the local community particularly stands out in Hayes's mind: "Each family in Iraq gets a monthly stipend of rations. One of the farmers we went to give a humanitarian assistance bag to, said he no longer needed it. Since we had given him the seed as well as the irrigation, his crops had done so well that he had not needed to get his rations for that month. He also did not want to take the humanitarian aid bag if someone else needed it more. That has been one of our biggest success stories."

Meanwhile in the south, "Marines who appear to have tamed the once-volatile Shiite holy city of Najaf finished handing out the last of some
16,000 payments Monday to local families for damages, injury and deaths that occurred during brutal fighting in August. The Camp Pendleton-based 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit... has paid nearly $10 million in condolence payments since the Marines clashed with Shiite militia in August, officials said. For several months, the unit has paid cash to compensate Iraqis for deaths, injuries or property damage that resulted from weeks of brutal fighting that ravaged this city of 600,000 last summer. The payments, which have been used in past wars, are known as solatia."

The soldiers have also bought some
much needed cheer to children from a small Iraqi town: "What could make 220 Iraqi girls smile? Try a new playground. Sure, it's certain to brighten any youngster's day, but these girls truly appreciate the equipment because their original play set had been stripped for its sheet metal. For Soldiers from the 121st Signal Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, constructing the playground was pure pleasure. Bringing the project to fruition was an example of team effort. The play set was broken down and labeled to be reassembled at the all girls' school in Ad Dwar." Elsewhere, the troops are also trying to improve recreation options for Iraqi youngsters:

The Duke of Wellington once said that "the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton" - a reference to the belief that competitive sports contribute to the formation of a nation's character. In this country the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and USAID's Office of Transitional Initiatives (OTI) are teaming up to ensure that the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people is won on the playing fields of Diyala.

They are cosponsoring a series of reconstruction projects that will transform dilapidated sports clubs, soccer fields and gymnasiums into new, modern facilities whose use will certainly enhance the quality of life in the province and may contribute to the new democratic character of this country.
And the efforts to deliver Beanie Babies to Iraqi children continue. "Eight-thousand is what we've delivered, and I've delivered them everywhere. We've brought them all over Iraq. I just received another 15 boxes in the last few days," says Air Force Lt. Col. Howard Seid. More here.
SECURITY: In many ways, the greatest security success of the past few weeks was ensuring that the insurgents did not succeed in derailing the election. The precautions on the day were quite stringent, and therefore not sustainable in long term, but the terrorist offensive was also undoubtedly blunted by the security crackdown which saw the arrest of
202 suspected insurgents, including some foreign fighters. Four insurgents were also killed in shootouts on the election day. Most incidents that took place were confined to Baghdad and parts of the Sunni triangle. In Najaf, on the other hand, there were no incidents reported at any of the 240 polling stations within the city. Neither were any incidents reported in nearby city of Kufa.

Stories like this one are emerging, too: "Inhabitants of an Iraqi village killed five insurgents who attacked them for taking part in the country's historic election... The insurgents launched the raid after earlier warning the inhabitants of Al-Mudhiryah, south of Baghdad, against taking part in Sunday's vote, said a police captain who requested anonymity." The village is mixed Sunni-Shia one.

No one is expecting that the election will make insurgency suddenly disappear, but there is hope that the situation will keep on improving. This report from Baghdad notes
"a cautious sense of security" returning to the city where one quarter of Iraq's population lives:

All that could change with a single deadly car bomb in the heart of the city or sustained mortar fire on the Green Zone. Already a brief lull that followed Sunday's election was shattered by insurgent attacks that killed nearly 30 people around the country. But most of those attacks were far from the capital, and after years of war, sanctions, military occupation and insurgency, Iraqis have grown used to a level of violence that many people would find intolerable.

For the time being, Baghdad is quieter than it has been, and the people of this once vibrant capital have been trying to enjoy it. The capital's streets were clogged with traffic for most of the day Thursday. Noisy wedding processions of cars festooned with plastic flowers held back traffic in many parts of the city. Outdoor markets in some neighborhoods were bustling, children played in parks and crowds of well wishers gathered outside tour operators' offices waiting for relatives and friends returning from the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
There is also this report:

With a hero who gave his life for the elections, a revived national anthem blaring from car stereos and a greater willingness to help police, the public mood appears to be moving more clearly against the insurgency in Iraq, political and security officials said.

In the week since national elections, police officers and Iraqi National Guardsmen said they have received more tips from the public, resulting in more arrests and greater effectiveness in their efforts to weaken the violent insurgency rocking the country.

None of the officials said they believed the violence was over... But officials in Baghdad said a relative lull in violence in the capital has fueled the sense that something has fundamentally changed since the vote. A change of attitudes in Baghdad could make a crucial difference in the battle against the insurgency, and a buoyed sense of civic pride is already beginning to change the way the public treats the police, authorities say. 'They saw what we did for them in the election by providing safety, and now they understand this is their army and their sons,' said Sgt. Haider Abudl Heidi, a National Guardsman wearing a flak jacket at a checkpoint in Baghdad.
Progress is also being made in the number one hot-spot of the past year, Fallujah:

An unexpected measure of success came on election day last week. Nearly 8,000 people here defied insurgent threats and voted, according to US military officials. That figure accounts for 44 percent of all votes cast in Anbar Province, which includes the Sunni triangle, where antielection feeling was so strong that less than 7 percent voted at all.

Iraqis say the result shows how secure Fallujahns are beginning to feel, and note with added surprise that more than a few said their ballot was for Iyad Allawi, the US-backed interim prime minister who ordered the Fallujah invasion.

"It's better that the Americans are here," says Abdulrahab Abdulrahman, a teacher who carries a folder containing a compensation claim for the damage to his house. "I have the freedom to be a student, or whatever I want to be." The mujahideen "are gone," he says, clearly pleased, standing on a street strewn with rubble. "They are finished."

Children wave at the marines, and accept candy that the men keep in cargo pockets, alongside stun grenades and extra rifle magazines. Many adults wave, too, though some look sullenly past.
Read the whole fascinating article. More on the current situation in Fallujah here and here: "[1st Lt. Sven] Jensen said the U.S. presence is paying off. After the battle, patrols often discovered big caches of weapons, he said. The haul last week: one automatic weapon found in the trunk of a vehicle. 'Safest city in Iraq,' said one of his Marines, Cpl. Daniel Ferrari."

And so, in addition to military actions, the
propaganda offensive against terrorism continues:

In one scene, the videotape shows three kidnappers with guns and a knife, preparing to behead a helpless man who is gagged and kneeling at their feet.

In the next, it is one of the kidnappers who is in detention, his eyes wide with fear, his lips trembling, as he speaks to his interrogators.

"How do I say this?" says the kidnapper, identified as an Egyptian named Abdel-Qadir Mahmoud, holding back tears. "I am sorry for everything I have done."

In the first week after the elections, the Iraqi Interior Ministry and the Mosul police chief are turning the tables on the insurgency in northern Iraq by using a tactic -- videotaped messages -- that the insurgents have used time and again as they have terrorized the region with kidnappings and executions.

But this time, the videos, which are being broadcast on a local station, carry a different message, juxtaposing images of the masked killers with the cowed men they become once captured.
Here's another tactic:

The Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq is using the "Small Rewards" program to collect information or non-lethal assistance that results in the capture of a person, weapon or documents on a wanted list. The effort, officials hope, will identify and capture insurgent weapons and explosive-making materials.

Rewards are given to foreign nationals and Iraqi citizens (including members of the Iraqi army and police) who provide qualifying information. The Small Rewards program is designed, over time, to reduce the capabilities and threats associated with insurgent activities. All informants are kept strictly confidential...

The [Small Rewards Review] Board's chairman, also the approval officer, can authorize an award of up to $2,500. Once rewards are approved, the reward monies are normally received by the informant within 48 hours.

Information leading to the capture of more expensive munitions or wanted insurgents can net up to $50,000. Rewards from $50,000 to the top award of $200,000 must be approved by the Defense Department. Larger rewards require additional approval and take 45 days for payment. Informants may choose cash or an in-kind benefit as a reward under the Small Rewards program.
Once captured, there is also a way out for former insurgents who want to make amends. Read this story of the Civil Education Center which offers rehabilitation service for former prisoners to put them on the straight and narrow.

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in charge of training and equipping the Iraqi forces, has recently reported on
progress and successes in the endeavor:

Iraqi forces have assumed security responsibility for 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces... He said Iraq's progress in developing its security forces was vividly on display during [the] elections there... Roughly 130,000 Iraqi security personnel were on duty on Election Day. Petraeus said Iraqi forces secured all 5,200 polling places with two rings of security. Throughout the day, several Iraqi forces died preventing "suicide-vest bombers from blowing up large numbers of those standing in line to vote," he said.

The general explained that Iraq has 136,000 trained and equipped security officers within the ministries of Interior and Defense. Some 79,000 Interior Ministry troops include regular police; members of special police commando, public order and police mechanized battalions; border guard units; and 'dignitary-protection elements.' Defense Ministry forces number 57,000 and include troops in the regular Iraqi army, intervention force, National Guard, air force, navy and special operations.

Petraeus said it's important to consider the number of operational combat battalions. "Fighting an insurgency puts a premium on units (rather than) individuals," he said, adding that there has been substantial progress in manning operational battalions. As of today, 90 battalions among the various types of security forces have completed training, and 88 of them are conducting operations. Two army battalions that completed training Feb. 3 will be conducting operational missions within two weeks, he said.

Few of these units are fully equipped and fully manned, but these issues are being solved. Within the next week, more than 3,500 individual replacements will complete their training, bringing the average unit strength to "well over 80 percent," Petraeus said.

Many countries are involved in efforts to improve Iraq's security forces. About 45 U.S. adviser and support teams work with Iraqi army, intervention force, special operations forces, navy and air force units, as well as with certain special police units. U.S. teams also work with Iraq's basic training and noncommissioned officer training centers and regional and national police academies.

Officials also are making strides in equipping the Iraqi forces. Since July 1, Petraeus' command has issued 79,000 pistols, 60,000 assault rifles, 94,000 sets of body armor, 5,900 vehicles, 20,900 radios, 2,400 heavy machine guns, 54,000 Kevlar helmets, and 79 million rounds of ammunition.
In some of the recent illustrations of the trends listed by Lt Gen Petraeus: training of Iraqi security forces continues. Most recently, 212 direct recruit replacements graduated from the Iraqi Training Battalion in Al Kasik; and the training of Iraqi Air Force personnel has commenced onboard American C-130 cargo planes. Also, "Direct Recruit Replacement program graduated its largest class of Iraqi Army recruits to date Feb. 5 at An Numaniyah, Iraq. The DRR program began in November 2004. The class of 2,867 graduates will serve with the 3rd and 5th Divisions of the Iraqi Army. The DRR program 'allows us to provide soldiers with prior military experience to rapidly fill unforeseen vacancies in the Iraqi Army'."

This report about the latest batch of 2,000 recruits going through
Baghdad police academy notes that despite all the dangers involved in the job, "the academy, all gravel, prefabricated houses, concrete barriers and barbed wire east of Baghdad, is swamped by applicants." In Samarra, meanwhile, Task Force Danger soldiers are training the local police force, set to eventually number 1200.

border security personnel are also receiving training:

An undisclosed number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have voluntarily been in Iraq since at least August teaching members of the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement how to secure the frontierlands...

Just as American soldiers have been given the task of readying an Iraqi militia to keep the peace in what some would refer to as a day-old democracy, CBP officers have also been busy schooling Iraqi border police on how to keep terrorists and arms out of the country.

At least 1,600 Iraqis have been trained at the Jordan International Training Academy in Amman, Jordan, said Mike Villarreal, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman. Another class will commence early this month. They are learning "border security, defensive tactics, vehicle searches, as well as basic customs and immigration activities," he said.
And 49 police officers graduated from an interim Highway Patrol Academy in Al Mehaweel. "Currently, there are approximately 600 highway patrol officers on the force, which is slated to reach 6,300 officers in July 2006." Even Spain is currently considering training Iraqi police and civil servants on its own soil.

Equipment is also flowing in, including some heavier one like
helicopters: "Iraqi air force officials welcomed the arrival of two UH-1H Huey helicopters Feb. 1 to Taji Air Base. The completely refurbished helicopters will provide airlift support and important troop-moving capabilities for the growing Iraqi air force command. A gift from Jordan, this is the first in a series of scheduled deliveries to occur during the next 12 months. A total of 16 UH-1H aircraft are slated to arrive in Iraq by February 2006. The Iraqi flag is displayed on the fuselage of both aircraft."

Overall, in the aftermath of the election, the Iraqi soldiers are taking an increasingly visible profile in security roles. For example, soldiers from the 24th Battalion, 6th Brigade of the so-called Iraqi Intervention Force are starting to take over the American positions in
Mosul. Iraqi civilians are also more eager to cooperate with the security forces: a roadside bomb was recently defused in northeastern Mosul after a tip from a local resident; (even) in Fallujah two tips in one day from the public led to a raid on an insurgent safe house (leading to arrest of four suspects and confiscation of weapons) as well as seizing an arms cache.

In the "dogs that didn't bark" stories of attacks that don't get reported because they get prevented, read this report about the hard and dangerous work do the
63rd Explosive Ordnance Battalion, originally from Fort Dix: "Unit officers said the 49 teams under their control neutralized 2,217 roadside bombs and 49 car bombs. Remote-controlled robots aided in the operations. They seized and destroyed a total of 2.2 million pounds of enemy ammunition."

In other recent security successes: the capture of another
two of Al Zarqawi's lieutenants, including his chief of operations in Baghdad; the recovery of a significant arms cache in Baiji; the capture of seven insurgents responsible for mortar attack on the US embassy in Baghdad; the capture of one of Saddam's generals, Khamis Masin Farhan Ugaydi, suspected of financing and coordinating insurgent activity; the arrest in the border province of Muthana of eight Saudi nationals suspected of terrorist activities; the freeing by the US army of four Egyptian hostages; detaining 22 suspected insurgents around Mosul; the arrest of a suspect implicated in beheading hostages; and detaining 18 members of Iranian-backed, Lebanese-based Hizbollah terrorist group.

As the previously quoted Mark Steyn wrote about the election, "Iraq was a home of the brave this weekend and will be a land of the free." If that does indeed happen, it will be because the Iraqis, the Americans and many others have succeeded in building solid foundations for growth over the last year and a half, while the media was distracted with other, more important things.


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