Monday, February 28, 2005

Good news from Iraq, Part 22 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Many thanks to James Taranto, Joe Katzman, and all of you for your continuing support for the series.

Also note: I'll be on Dennis Prager's show on (please note rescheduling) Thursday, March 10, at 11 AM Pacific time, to discuss, among other things, good news from Iraq. Feel free to listen in if you're in Los Angeles on KRLA-AM station, or - since Dennis's show is syndicated across the US - you might even get it on your local radio station (here's a partial
list), or indeed you can listen in via Internet streaming anywhere in the world.

"After a heroic election day comes the practical business of forming a stable government. And in that sense, the new Iraq is proving to be no different from any other democracy. Iraqis are talking about politics this week, rather than suicide bombers. The political elite is bargaining over who will get what job in the new government, rather than who will get killed by the insurgents. The public mood, at least judging from conversations with Iraqis here, is much lighter than when I visited Baghdad two months ago."
So writes David Ignatius in his recent column. Ignatius could hardly be described as an optimist on Iraq; much can still go wrong, as he and everyday news coverage painfully remind us, but as he writes, "for the moment, Iraq does seem to have turned a corner politically. The most telling sign is that the Sunnis who mostly boycotted the political process are now said to be looking for ways to get back in. One prominent Iraqi describes a recent meeting with leading Sunni sheikhs who complained that they had mistakenly assumed the Americans would lose their nerve, postpone the elections and thereby enhance the power of the insurgents. Now the sheikhs want a piece of the action."

The fact that so many people, and not just the Sunni sheikhs, now want the piece of the Iraqi action perhaps tells us more about the true situation and future prospects in Iraq than most current news reports. As the old saying goes; victory has many fathers, defeat is an orphan. That the waiting room of the Middle Eastern maternity ward is getting increasingly crowded with paternity claimants is a good - if an indirect sign - that the things in Iraq might be going better than one would think based on the mainstream media coverage. Below, some good news and positive developments in Iraq that you might have missed over the past two weeks.

final count by Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, the mainly Shia United Iraqi Alliance has won 140 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly, the Kurdish list 75 seats, and Iyad Allawi's list 40 seats, with minor parties dividing the other 20 seats among themselves. "The Assembly will now choose a president and two vice-presidents, who in turn pick a prime minister and cabinet. The new government will be in power for ten months and is charged with drafting a new constitution." Speaking of the Independent Electoral Commission, it bears remembering among all the heroism of the election day the professional and courageous performance of the Commission itself, which made the election possible in first place. Read this profile of the Commission's work and how it is already preparing for the next challenge - the December election. You can also read the findings on the conduct of the election, based on reports from 10,000 USAID-trained observers reporting from 80% of country's polling stations.
One of the election winners so far are
Iraqi women:

"Eighty-six women will be appointed to the 275 member New Iraqi Assembly to be formed following the first free democratic elections that were held in Iraq on January 30th.

"The female candidates will make up 31 percent of parliament, according to a quota system outlined in the Iraqi temporary constitution stipulating that one in four candidates must be a woman.

"According to the final results, female ministers will fill 46 seats of the 146 seats of the conservative United Iraqi Alliance. On the other hand, 27 female candidates will b among those 75 ministers of the Kurdish Alliance."
Meanwhile bridge-building efforts continue in an attempt to ensure that the election's losers will still be involved in shaping Iraq's future. Interim vice-president and a prominent Shia politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari is encouraging talks with the disaffected Sunnis. "We respect all those who boycotted the elections and we will prove to them that we will deal with them... The constitution won't be complete if the Sunnis don't participate," he says. This conciliatory attitude compliments the growing regrets among some Sunni politicians about the election boycott. Not surprisingly, many in that community are looking towards the future:

"Some 200 Sunni figures in Iraq called on the sides which took part in the recent legislative elections to consider the Sunnis as real partners in the process of formulating the constitution and the current political process in the country.

"Chairman of the Sunni Waqf court Adnan al-Duleimi, in conclusion of a conference held in Baghdad in the presence of tribal chiefs and representatives for the Sunni parties and commissions in 6 governorates, said that Iraq is for the Iraqis. He added that if the Sunnis in Iraq did not take part in the elections, this does not mean they do not want to take part in the political life, stressing the need to work for maintaining the unity of Iraq, its independence and sovereignty, until the day when the American forces will leave the country.

"Al-Duleimi called on the Sunni parties to unify their ranks in order to take part in the next elections in a united list."
The Kurds, meanwhile, are pretty clear on what they want from the future. According to Masud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, "there are talks with various parties on steps to form the government and other matters. The main point for us is Iraq's identity and there can be no compromise on the issue of a federal, democratic, pluralist and united Iraq... Whoever is closest to these principles will be preferred by us ... We have good ties with everyone, but the matter will be determined by the stances that are taken on fundamental issues."

first constitutional conference is taking place in Amman, Jordan, to try to work out in broad terms what the shape of Iraq's new constitution:

"Whether or not to include 'sharia,' or religious law, in the constitution is expected to be a part of the discussion, said Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, an adviser to Ibrahim Jafaari, an interim vice president and a moderate Shiite Muslim now considered to be the top candidate for the post of prime minister...

"The constitutional conference was largely kept under wraps because of security concerns, but it includes foreign constitutional and legal experts, al-Kadhimi said.

" 'Where do religion and civil law intersect?' al-Kadhimi said Sunday. 'Foreign countries are worrying to see the outcome, but we don't see that religion will play a big part in this constitution.'

"Most Iraqis feel they should not impose their personal religious beliefs on others, al-Kadhimi said. In addition, the new assembly's mandated 25 percent female members will serve as a moderating force, Jafaari said. Six interim ministers are women, Jafaari pointed out -- a higher percentage of the 30 ministers than any other public job in Iraqi society.

" 'We need to be a government that represents all groups, all voices, and has justice and respect for basic human rights,' Jafaari said.

"Sunni Muslims who boycotted the election but now want to join in writing the constitution should be invited to help, Jafaari said."
You can read more on the constitutional process here.

In addition to national debate, Iraqis are also taking to
local politics, after the January 30 poll also elected local councils throughout Iraq. USAID is providing assistance to develop that level of government, too (Link in PDF): "The Local Governance Program's Policy Reform Team (PRT) worked to finalize the preparation of a handbook on Local Government Associations (LGA). The handbook will be distributed beginning in February as part of the LGA Toolkit to garner broad support among local councils and Civil Society Organizations for the establishment of either a national LGA or governorate branches. This effort will also be important for preparing delegates from each governorate for a National Conference on LGAs planned for late February. PRT expects that the LGA initiative will lay the foundation for other associations to be formed in Iraq such as a National Association of Mayors or a National Association of Governors."

It's not just local government infrastructure that needs complete overhaul: just about every institution in Iraq, from media to justice system, is currently receiving much needed attention. Last year, Florida-based Harris Corp. has been awarded a $96-million contract to
rebuild Iraq's old state media network - TV, radio and a national newspaper - and give it back to the Iraqi people. "Despite violence that has killed 13 of the 2,300 employees of the Iraqi Media Network, Harris has built or refurbished studios in Baghdad, Kirkuk and other cities; created Good Morning Iraq and other original programming; and broadcasts via satellite throughout the Middle East. Iraq's interim government recently awarded Harris a $21-million, three-month contract to complete its work." Read the rest of the report to see how the effort is faring. Meanwhile, on the justice front:

"Building a credible judicial system is just one of the many tasks facing the United States and its allies in Iraq. William Jewell College graduate Steve Hemphill is trying to help. A lawyer and former county prosecutor in southwest Missouri, Hemphill has been in Iraq for more than a year...

"A main challenge in his work, Hemphill said, is bringing Iraq's prisons, which he described as 'medieval torture chambers' under Saddam Hussein, up to international standards. It is not even clear how many prisons Hussein had, he said, because detention centers were spread all over the country."
ECONOMY: Good news for generating some additional revenue for the Iraqi authorities: "Iraq's central bank will be allowed to open a deposit with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which will earn it millions of dollars in vital interest income... US Treasury Under Secretary John Taylor stated that President George W. Bush had issued an executive order last November granting Iraq the right to open the account. 'This enables the central bank to earn income on its reserves, of approximately $5 billion, that will be over $100 million a year. That can be used to improve infrastructure,' Taylor told a news conference in Baghdad during a brief visit."

"Let's say you think that Iraq is headed in the right direction. You want to support its move to a freer society and you have a taste for risky investments. Is it time to put some money behind your hunch?" asks the
"Christian Science Monitor". "Not so fast, most investment experts say. American investors can't buy shares of Iraqi companies and most foreign firms doing work there are too big for their Iraq business to contribute much to the bottom line." But there are many signs of optimism, as the report notes: "Keep an eye on developments, these experts add. The Jan. 30 election - the first step toward drafting the country's new constitution - is not the only nation-building going on...

"For example, some of the ministries that will be responsible for investment and development in Iraq are already up and running. 'These ministries will stay,' says James Loftis, an attorney in Houston who has studied the potential problems of investing and contracting in Iraq. 'It's a situation where the creation of a bureaucracy is a good thing. People are beginning to realize that the government they have there will stay.'

"Then there's Iraq's stock exchange, opened this past June in a former Italian restaurant in Baghdad. For the moment, trading in the 70 listed companies is limited to Iraqis. But demand is growing - trading over three recent sessions reached 50 billion Iraqi dinar (about $34 million) - and there's talk of opening trading to foreigners...

"One factor that should work in Iraq's favor is its people, says Mr. Loftis, who is cochairman of the international dispute resolution practice at his law firm, Vinson & Elkins LLP. Until 1979, when Saddam Hussein took full power, Iraqis were among the most highly educated people in the Middle East, he notes."
Read the whole report. In one indication that Iraqi economy is improving, the gold sales are up: "An Iraqi owner of a gold shop said that there is new atmosphere in the market. He noted that the improvement of the economic situation is the major factor behind the increase in sales. According to him, the purchase of gold is not restricted for weddings and many Iraqis also buy gold to exchange gifts with family and friends."

Economy, which for several decades had been run on socialism-meets-feudalism lines, needs a complete overhaul of its institutions. USAID is one of the major organizations assisting the Iraqis in bringing their economy into the twenty-first century. Among other aspects of their work, USAID is assisting the development and growth of Iraqi
private sector (link in PDF):

"Iraqi counterparts are working closely with USAID's Iraq Economic Governance II (IEG II) program to increase the capacity of the Iraqi electricity and telecommunications industries to adopt international best practices and move towards commercial viability and away from state subsidies.

"Telecommunications - IEG II and its Iraqi partners are opening the telecommunications sector to further private sector involvement, while improving the government's ability to utilize up-to-date information technology (IT) in regulating the sector. To that end, IEG II conducted a two-week governmentwide IT workshop in Amman, Jordan for thirty-seven government information officers, representing all ministries. Workshops discussed the development of a Strategic Information Technology Plan, an e-Government implementation plan and a suitable organizational structure for a Government Information Technology Department. IEG II also recently assisted the Iraqi Telephone and Post Company in studying the costs and benefits of a new billing system and discussed requirements to manage its implementation.

"Electricity - Iraqi electricity regulators are strengthening their ability to bill consumers appropriately. IEG II is supporting this effort and recently conducted research on electrical meters and meter manufacturers in Iraq to explore potential for cooperation with regulators. Meanwhile, Jordanian electricity regulators are cooperating with IEG II and Iraqi officials to provide useful models for Iraqi counterparts and are further discussing potential for crossborder generation and transmission connections."
You can also read this report on the recent work of USAID's Private Sector Development Initiative (PSD II).

In other aspects of USAID's economic work: As part of
investment marketing promotion, "USAID staff are continuing to track processing of the Investment Opportunity Profiles through the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce and the Iraqi League of Foodstuff Merchants. Of the 220,000 Chamber members, the project anticipates profiling 200 additional investment opportunities, mostly in the services sectors." USAID is also helping the Iraqi authorities to establish a government department to deal with the issue of privatization of state-owned enterprises (link in PDF). And USAID is encouraging women's participation in the economy (link in PDF). Most recently, "two local NGOs organized a conference for approximately 100 northern Iraqi women through a grant from USAID's Iraq Transition Initiative (ITI). Conference activities focused on advancing women's participation in economic development, promoting women as business owners and developing networks to support women in their efforts to own and operate businesses."

In financial news,
another foreign bank is moving into Iraq: "Aa'yan Leasing and Investments Company is going to establish a bank in Iraq within the next few weeks, with a capital of 12 million Kuwaiti Dinars... Aa'yan will hold 35% of the bank's capital, while Iraqi strategic investors will hold 51%. Another investor will hold the remaining 14%. The bank will operate according the Islamic Sharia'a (Islamic Law), and will act as a general investments bank, which will serve Aa'yan and other Kuwaiti business in Iraq. The bank will rely on Aa'yan experience in several areas; among them are leasing, estates administration, and logistic activities concerning transportation." In other banking news, Russia's Vneshtorgbank has joined the Trade Bank of Iraq consortium of 18 banks.

One region of Iraq which is certainly thriving economically is the

"The French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported... that foreign investments in northern Iraq are increasing.

"According to this news article, in spite of continued the bombings and kidnappings in Bagdat (Baghdad), northern Iraq is a place where diplomats of Western countries and businessmen from Saudi Arabia are coming to visit. The news article reported that there has been an incredible improvement in the economy of the region. The newspaper wrote that Kurdish businessmen living in foreign countries have started to invest in Northern Iraq and there are also new supermarkets, hospitals, restaurants and milk factories in the region, and that construction of a new American University is continuing in Suleymaniye. The article indicated that administrators in Northern Iraq have handed over areas of land necessary for development to some investors and has offered five year tax breaks to encourage development and investment in the region."
Here's another, similar, perspective on the Kurdistan, a region increasingly attracting internal economic migrants:

"Like thousands of Arabs from troubled southern and central Iraq, Abbas, who left Baqubah several months ago, has found a more prosperous life in the democratic, free-market Kurdish region. Protected from Saddam Hussein's armies for 12 years by a 'no-fly' zone patrolled by U.S. and British planes, the ethnic Kurds in effect raised a nation within a nation. Their clattering cities represent what many want for the rest of Iraq.

" 'There's a big difference between the south and here,' Abbas said, stepping over metal rods and a pile of rocks on an apartment building construction site. 'The Kurds are rich and educated. We're tired of poverty in the south. I look around at all this construction and see many, many Arabs just like me.'

"Authorities say 2,000 to 6,000 Sunni and Shiite Muslim Arabs have migrated to the Sulaymaniya region since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq two years ago. They are laborers, doctors, waiters, professors. There is even a civil aviation engineer hired from Baghdad because the Kurds lacked the experts to build an airport. Reliable statistics are scarce, but estimates suggest that the number of Arab migrants is steadily rising and may total more than 20,000 across northern Iraq, which is home to between 3.5 million and 4 million Kurds. Recent Kurdish history is a lesson in reversal of fortune. Regimes based in Baghdad brutalized the north for generations. Sunni Arabs, who dominated under Hussein, were taught that Kurds were beneath them; the Kurds' political voice was muted, and hundreds of thousands of them were killed."
In oil news, Iraqi Oil Minister, Thamer Ghadban, says that Iraq, is planning to take advantage of having the second (after Saudi Arabia) reserves in the world to expand the oil production to 6 million barrels per day in the next 5-6 years, based on a "comprehensive integrated plan." As the Minister says:

"[We will be] drawing up an integrated, comprehensive plan that proceeds in the direction of expanding the volume of oil and gas explorations in Iraq...

"Iraq is one of the oldest oil countries in the region, but it is the least explored country. The western desert, as a mere example, constitutes one third of the area of Iraq. The studies prepared by Iraqi and foreign companies during the 1990s show that this is a promising area and could be rich with light crude oil.

"Furthermore, the Al-Jazirah region, between the Tigris and the Euphrates [rivers] in western Iraq, next to the Iraqi-Syrian border, is also a very promising region... As for the basin of the Tigris and the Euphrates, there is major exploration work that will be carried out, and this will increase the oil and gas reserves."
In order to reach the production levels of 6 million barrels per day, Iraq is planning to increase the currently available capacity to 3.5 million barrels per day. "This will be achieved by relying on the ministry's effort and finances and by utilizing foreign expertise through regular 'engineering and executive' contracts, while the qualified Iraqi personnel continue to manage 100% of this process." Under the second prong, "Iraqi, Arab, and foreign investments will be utilized to develop the explored oil fields, which number more than 30. Some of these fields are classified as ultragiant fields, and they will be developed to add production capacity of more than 2.5 million b/d of new oil."

Waste not, want not, as an American firm is planning to help Iraq
utilize a resource currently going up in smoke, or at least steam:

"A Texas-based oil company with a potentially lucrative gas processing agreement in Iraq will today announce plans to float on the Alternative Investment Market. Gulfsands Petroleum signed a memorandum of understanding with the Iraqi oil ministry last month to gather and process gas generated by oil fields in the province of Misan. Currently the gas is flared off, an environmentally damaging practice that also wastes a source of natural gas...

"Gulfsands said the construction of a gas gathering system, a natural gas liquids plant and pipelines will be done in two phases over five years. Once completed, the project is expected to produce 46,600 barrels of natural gas liquids a day and 338m cubic feet of dry sweet natural gas a day. Gulfsands said the project is believed to be the largest infrastructure project undertaken by private international investors in Iraq since the war ended in May 2003."
Speaking of energy, the province of Dyiala will benefit from a new cooperative infrastructure project between Iraq and Iran, which will see Iran exporting 370 megawatts of power a year to its neighbor.

Meanwhile, the authorities are chalking up successes in
combating shortages of fuel for Iraqi motorists. "Things are better now. I can get fuel in a short time instead of waiting for 12 hours. I hope it will stay like this and get better," says one driver, Hassen Abd al-Rahman. Along measures to improve distribution and combat black market, the authorities are also considering opening up the gas retail market to private operators.

In transport infrastructure news, "Dubai-based Naran Group has won a Dh18 million (around $5 million) contract to work on the design and development of the
Baghdad Loop Line Railway project... The Baghdad Loop Line Railway project will create a new circular line for Baghdad's urban monorail system and is expected to connect it with the proposed Baghdad metro rail and Iraq's national rail network. 'This is an old project, first initiated around 1982-83. It was postponed by the then government due to political and economic reasons. After the changes, however, the new government is reviewing the important development projects and are prioritising them,' [says the Group's chairman Sabah] Al Shammery." Speaking of railways, "Polish rolling stock manufacturer Fabryka Wagony Swidnica is set to supply some 240 railway container platforms to Iraqi railway operator IRR by the end of June 2005."

And Iraq is becoming
more accessible. "Travelling between the UAE and Iraq has become easier since three airlines began scheduled flights between the two countries. 'Demand for passenger flights between the UAE and Iraq is increasing steadily, especially after the elections in Iraq last month,' industry sources said, adding that more airlines are likely to start passenger flights. At least two airlines - Jupiter Airline and Ishtar Air - started scheduled flights in the past two months and one more - Air Horizon - has announced it will start service on Thursday. John Kein, general manager of Air Horizon, said the airline will operate two weekly flights between Sharjah and Baghdad. "

RECONSTRUCTION: The Iraqi authorities are updating on the
progress of reconstruction effort: "Iraqi planning and development cooperation minister Dr. Mahdi Alhafez announced that for last year's reconstruction projects a sum of US$1.8 [billion] for 121 projects was distributed among all sectors and ministries. The minister added that for 2005-2007, the ministry has prepared a strategy for development that its budget is estimated at US$70 billion. This plan covers all aspects of the economy." The United States and the European Union, meanwhile, are now ready to organize a joint conference on the reconstruction of Iraq.

In the north of the country, "the Kurdish regional government in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, home to Zaytun [South Korean] troops since last September, has offered exclusive bidding rights to South Korean companies to build
three key infrastructures... They are a sewage disposal system, a sports complex and the Saladin University in Irbil. South Korean construction ministry officials inspected the area around Dec. 20 and drafted an assessment regarding costs and construction periods, the official said on the condition of anonymity. The assessment reports said it will require about $1 billion with three to five years construction for the sewage facility, about $70 to 80 million with one to five years for the sports complex, and about $1 billion with five to six years for the university."

In water news, in
Baghdad (link in PDF), "work is 60 percent complete on a project to extensively repair the sewage collection system of a central district of Baghdad. The project will restore critical elements of the sewage collection system and restore sewage flow from the district to wastewater treatment facilities. Work is scheduled to be completed in June 2005 and will improve service for about 1.5 million residents." Also in the capital (link in PDF), "contractors have installed 25kms of pipe to rehabilitate Baghdad's deteriorating municipal water system. USAID contractors are [also] rehabilitating a sewage trunkline in a poor, southeastern Baghdad neighborhood." In Kirkuk:

"The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently completed a $4.1 million refurbishment of the Kirkuk Unified Water Treatment Plant, benefiting over one million residents of Kirkuk City and its surroundings.

"Construction of Kirkuk's Unified Water Treatment Plant began in the early 1980s, but was interrupted due to the conflicts with Iran and Kuwait. In 1993, the plant was completed and commissioned. After several years of operation, however, pipe and tank leaks began contributing to foundation and structural problems.

"Prior to USAID's refurbishment project, which began in January of 2004, the plant produced approximately 22 million gallons of water per day. And the plant did not consistently produce potable water because of system failures and operational deficiencies. Following a year of reengineering, the Kirkuk Water Treatment Plant is capable of delivering 95 million gallons of potable water each day."
And in rural areas (link in PDF), where the access to clean and plentiful water is the most difficult, work continues on the construction of 41 out of the eventual total of 150 wells to serve mid-size communities of between 1,000 and 5,000. Overall, the project will benefit some 500,000 rural Iraqis. Also, "work is 66% complete to rehabilitate the water and sewage treatment facilities serving rural, north-central Diyala Governorate. The plants require rehabilitation and expansion to better serve the region's 60,000 residents. Currently, the water treatment plant is operating below capacity and only provides 33 percent of the water needed for the region." (link in PDF)

Here's also a story of one firm and
one water-related project in Baghdad:

"From their office in Houston, Subhi and Mohammed Khudairi work closely with their father, Aziz, to coordinate a variety of businesses and projects in their homeland of Iraq. They make frequent visits to Iraq, but carry out much of their work from here. Aziz chose Houston as a base because of the city's many energy companies and because he wanted his sons to be educated in the United States...

"The Khudairi Group recently won a contract from the city of Baghdad to replace 40 kilometers of old, rusty pipe in two mahallas, or zones, where residents had complained of contaminated drinking water. The US Army First Cavalry's Eighth Engineer Battalion is overseeing the work in Baghdad, but Lieutenant Colonel Brian Dosa, speaking to VOA by phone from Baghdad, says it is really an Iraqi project.

" 'The actual work for all projects is actually done by Iraqis, Iraqi contractors and Iraqi workers, and the day-to-day supervision and control is also done by Iraqis,' said Mr. Dosa...

"The $2 million water system restoration should be completed by the first week of April. Subhi Khudairi says he would like to see other Iraqi expatriates getting involved in the vital reconstruction of their homeland.

" 'I just hope that more Iraqis throughout the world have the same sentiment and have the same leap of faith that we do and know that if we all put our efforts and our minds in rebuilding the country, band our talents in rebuilding the country, that Iraq will eventually prosper,' he added."
In electricity news, the authorities in Najaf are investigating the possibility of making the province self-sufficient in energy by utilizing the currently existing gas infrastructure. In Baqubah, meanwhile, the energy needs are being met via a powerline supplying 100 MW of electricity from Iran. In other news, "26 power generators will be distributed soon to hospitals and other facilities in the southern city of Basra. These generators along with 12 others were purchased by the Iraqi government using a British donation of $5 million meant directly for the improvement of essential services in the southern districts." And "Iraqi Electrical Industries Public Company signed two contracts to equip the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Water Resources with new electricity generators of different capacities. The cost of these generators was estimated at $7,485,000." In the capital (link in PDF), "work is 38 percent complete on a USAID project to rehabilitate 13 existing 33kv-11kv substations and install 24 new substations in Baghdad thereby improving the distribution and reliability of electricity for more than two million city residential and commercial consumers."

In other infrastructure news, work is progressing on
road and bridge construction in the Missan governorate.

In education, USAID is continuing to work in support of
primary school education (link in PDF): "More than 50,000 Secondary School Student Kits providing basic supplies for learning have arrived at four regional directorates of education. Each directorate is now coordinating with local schools to arrange for their pick-up. During the past two weeks, more than 193,000 kits have been delivered to 10 directorates across Iraq. A USAID partner is facilitating the distribution as part of the second year of programming for the improvement of basic education in Iraq. By the end of the program, more than 525,000 students in 1,656 schools will receive kits. This initiative is being coordinated through Iraq's Ministry of Education. In the past two years USAID partners distributed more than 900,000 kits to primary school students and 1.5 million kits to secondary school students. USAID also supported UNICEF's distribution of 18,000 recreation kits to primary and secondary schools." USAID also facilitated a study tour in Egypt for Ministry of Education officials to learn better practice in textbook production and distribution.

USAID is also supporting the
legal education reform program (link in PDF) through a series of seminars on the rule of law, assisting with curriculum reform, clinical education and providing library and technology support to participating universities.

Thanks to USAID's
Higher Education and Development program (HEAD), Iraqi universities continue to get vital assistance from their Western counterparts. Most recently (link in PFD), "four Iraqi universities are building capacity in Archaeology, Assyriology and Environmental Health... The program partner is the State University of New York (SUNY/SB); recent accomplishments include:

"Archaeology and Assyriology Program - Funding has been authorized to equip a computer training classroom at a participating Iraqi university with 30 tables, 30 chairs, 15 computers, 11 computer trolleys, and high speed internet. Additionally, three Iraqi students currently studying at SUNY/SB attended the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Boston.

"Environmental Health Program - An Environmental Health Education and Resource Center in southern Iraq received its first shipment of lab equipment and environmental health library material. Also, Forty Iraqi professors, physicians and graduate students are participating in an 11-day environmental health training course to introduce the newly established Environmental Health Education and Resource Centers."
Many ties being built between Iraqi and American universities are results of the institutions' own initiative. Roger Williams University has recently announced "that it has created a cultural exchange program with Basra University that it believes is the first formal partnership between an American and Iraqi university. Roger Williams has set up a scholarship for a Basra University student, and hopes to bring a student and a marine biology professor to its Bristol campus in fall 2006. The private school also has sent $10,000 worth of laptops, microscopes, books and other materials to Basra University."

UNESCO, meanwhile, is gathering international experts and decision-makers at a conference to prepare a blueprint for the rebuilding of Iraqi universities.

In health,
France has offered to train Iraqi medical personnel, particularly nurses. Iraq is also organizing its first conference on the health of mother and child.

new initiative aims to bring more interest to the task of reconstruction:

"The Iraq Development Program looks to aid Iraq as an economic force, improving the lives of the Iraqi people as the country establishes itself with the rest of the world. It will play a key role in promoting business in Iraq and enabling the necessary transfer of technology into the country.

"This week saw the formal launch of the Iraq Development Program, which will hold its inaugural summit in Amman, Jordan on 28-30 June 2005. The summit will provide the opportunity for international companies to hold face-to-face discussions with senior Iraqi officials and business leaders. These discussions will facilitate opportunities for improving contacts in the region, the supply of essential goods and services and the undertaking of a number of crucial projects."
Also in Jordan, "over 50 Saudi companies are set to take part in the second Iraq Reconstruction Exhibition, Rebuild Iraq 2005, slated for April 4 to 7 in... Amman... The exhibition will bring some 800 participants from nearly 40 countries under one roof. Kuwait, which hosted the first Iraq Reconstruction Exhibition, will be participating along with the UAE, Qatar, Lebanon, Tunisia and others." And Iraqi Ministry of Municipality and Labor is organizing an international conference to discuss reconstruction in the fields of water, sewerage and service projects.

palm date industry was once the world's largest. "The decline in numbers started in the 1950s when extensive groves were lost to urbanization. But the largest lost occurred in the three decades of the rule of the Baath party when huge concentrations with millions of trees were destroyed. Iraq accounted for nearly two thirds of total world production before Saddam Hussein's regime during which the number of date palms is believed to have plunged to 4 million from 14." Now the Iraqi cabinet has approved the Agriculture Ministry's plan to revive the industry, what the Minister Susan Ali Majed described as "the largest national campaign to plant date palm trees and breathe life into neglected groves."

USAID is also playing a role in reviving agriculture through its
Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI) (link in PDF): "ARDI has awarded 71 grants worth $4.28 million to support development and economic growth in the agriculture sector. Since 2004, 5,809 fulltime and temporary jobs have been created in Iraq through this program which targets government and non-government organizations to build national and local capacity, creating permanent and temporary positions for economic security. To date, 465 women and 889 men have received permanent employment and 440 women and 4,120 men have increased family income through temporary employment resulting through ARDI grants." USAID is also making important contribution to the education of future agriculture specialists:

"The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL) is now available for students and professors at a second university in northern Iraq, thanks to support from USAID's Higher Education and Development (HEAD) Program. The TEEAL CD-ROM library contains over 140 agriculture-related journals from 1993-2003, and will greatly assist research and teaching at these universities.

"This second library will directly benefit more than 765 students and faculty, and will be made available to visitors from other agricultural colleges. Through this library, agricultural departments at all Iraq’s universities will have access to the most important papers published in the agricultural sciences.

"The TEEAL library installation is part of a HEAD partnership between the University of Hawaii, Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and two northern Iraqi universities. The HEAD Agricultural Sciences partnership is helping Iraqi universities revitalize academic programs and rehabilitate research infrastructure such as critical online resources."
In other recent initiatives (link in PDF), USAID specialists are inspecting farming equipment throughout Iraq to identify and facilitate repair of damaged machinery; others are conducting workshops for farmers to help them deal with plant and animal diseases.

Lastly, some good news on the
environment front:

"One of the world's greatest marshland habitats - and home of an ancient culture - is beginning to show the first signs of recovery after decades of systematic destruction under Saddam Hussein.

"An international scientific assessment of Iraq's drained wetlands, the first since they were partially reflooded after the downfall of Saddam, has found that the giant reeds are growing once more and the water birds and otters are returning. However, ecologists told the American Association for the Advancement of Science yesterday that some parts of the Iraqi marshes may never recover fully because of a build-up of salt in the soil during the time when they had been artificially dammed or drained."
THE COALITION TROOPS: In addition to providing security, the troops continue to be engaged in a whole range of reconstruction activities as well as humanitarian efforts.

Parts of the 1st Infantry Division are currently stationed near the town of Balad. Here are a few examples of the work that the troops are doing to help the locals:
four new schools have been built and ground broken for another 8, with $1 million spent on construction and school supplies so far; the troops have assisted with development of local government, including drafting civic charters, administrative law development and mentoring councilors; most recently a $325,000 Joint Coordination Centre has been constructed to enable "enforcement, army, Balad Emergency Services Department, radio stations, newspapers, water and electrical department, and the administration of health" to better and quicker respond to crisis situations.

Read also this report about all the good work that
Navy Seabees ("we build, we fight") are doing: "The force is supervising more than $130 million in construction contracts awarded to Iraqis. They are also fortifying U.S. bases, improving living quarters for U.S. personnel, installing armor on Humvees and running an apprentice program for Iraqis."

The troops are also lending a hand to rebuild
health infrastructure in some forgotten corners of the country: "In the small village of Marina, in northern Iraq, multinational forces have completed $35,000 worth of renovations on a clinic that now sees 40 to 50 patients daily. The clinic opened its doors in December. Mayor Majeed Said Salih said the support his town has received from multinational forces has been overwhelming. 'The people see the good work that is coming from multinational forces and are more inclined to support a progressive and democratic Iraq,' Salih said."

In the south, in the port of Umm Qasr,
Capt. William "Josh" Miller and his colleagues are working on many local projects, including a railway linking the port with the rest of Iraq. As he says, "I can't wait for the day that system is down real smooth... That will be success in my little world."

"Miller, 31, works to make that happen every day as a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Stationed at Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq, the 1991 Crystal Lake South High School graduate helps to rebuild transportation and communication infrastructure by overseeing projects and giving contracts to
local workers.

"For each project, Miller travels to the site and meets with local government officials and engineers. He talks with them about the project they need completed, which building codes apply, how much it will cost, and how their needs have changed since assessments were done more than a year ago...

"One month of Miller's six-month stay in Iraq is complete, and he already has seen the benefits of his work. 'Congress appropriated all this money, and I actually put the money in the people's hands,' he said. 'You see the fruits of your labor in the construction they're doing. You see life coming back to it. You see stores opening.'

"Miller also saw progress through the Iraqi elections Jan. 30. He met with Iraqis on a project site the day after the elections. 'It was truly one of those experiences that will stay with you forever,' he wrote in an e-mail. 'We entered the room and shook hands. They all had purple fingers from voting the day before. They couldn't thank us enough for allowing them the opportunity to vote. To be a part of history like that was something else'."
In Baghdad, the troops are helping the forgotten orphans and widows of the Iraq-Iran war: "Reconstruction is now full swing in a section of Baghdad known as 'Iraqi Village.' Numerous recreational facilities and utility projects are completed, and others remain under way, thanks to work over the past year by National Guard Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 303rd Armor Regiment, 81st Brigade, from Kent, Wash." You can also read how the soldiers helped to introduce the local democracy into "Iraqi Village."

Work aside, the private initiatives by the troops continue to touch lives of Iraqis in need. Take this story about a serviceman from

"Capt. Scott Southworth took his soldiers to a Baghdad orphanage in 2003 to befriend the children.

"Immediately, a small boy with cerebral palsy befriended him, crawling across the floor to sit next to him. Within a few weeks, Southworth knew he had to bring the boy, Ala'a, home to Wisconsin.

"More than a year later, Southworth returned to Iraq to pick up the 11-year-old and take him back to Mauston, where Southworth now works as Juneau County district attorney.

"The single 32-year-old knew the alternative for Ala'a was life in a government orphanage with little chance of adequate medical care or an education."
Or this one from Iowa:

"Corey Johnston, a native of West Liberty and an Army Ranger and medic with the 519th, set up an Iraqi border-patrol aide station in northern Iraq. While he was working there, he heard about a five-year-old Kurdish boy who needed heart surgery. The boy's uncle shoved some medical records at Corey and from there, the Iowan felt a responsibility to see what he could do for the child. It took more than a year of work by Corey and his mother, Cindy Yerington to convince the military, the hospital and financial supporters to bring the boy to Iowa."
In another medical intervention, "five-year-old Noor Abd Al-Hady Hassan captured the hearts of Utah Army National Guard soldiers stationed near her home in southern Iraq so much that they arranged for the little girl to come to Maine so doctors can evaluate her own, damaged heart."

There's more medical help from our

"LTC Robin J. DeLeon, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at the Boise VA Hospital who is currently serving in Iraq, also sees his deployment as an opportunity to do more than tend to the troops whose health needs are his primary duty. He and other U.S. medical people in uniform are applying their skills and exercising compassion in outreach to the Iraqi people.

"Currently stationed with the Texas National Guard at Talill Air Base in Iraq, DeLeon runs a small Troop Medical Clinic for the troops in his brigade. In addition to this, he says that he, his medics and PAs participate in small missions for the local Iraqi people."
Lt Col DeLeon is also organizing a collection of shoes for Iraqi children. See the story for details if you can help.

Read also this story of California's
11th Marine Expeditionary Unit who are saying goodbye to the people of Najaf, including Iklas Hakak, 25-year woman injured in last year's fighting.

And lastly, a story of
police to police help: "Old bulletproof vests will be going from the Red Bluff Police Department to Iraqi police, through a program drawing support from departments nationwide. Fresno police began a program called Operation Brotherhood of the Badge... Donated vests, helmets and equipment from police departments is collected and taken to Iraq." To date, about 6,000 vests have been sent to Iraq.

SECURITY: While caution is in order ("It is difficult to base a definitive conclusion on statistical data that changes virtually by the day," says Col. Robert A. Potter, a spokesman for the coalition forces), this report notes a
positive trend:

"As of Monday [21 February], the 28 coalition forces killed from hostile fire or roadside bombs in February represented the lowest fatality rate since last March, according to iCasualties.org. The daily average of 1.33 soldiers killed in hostile actions after the election compares to 2.42 during the previous 10 months, based on Philadelphia Inquirer calculations."
There is also good news from the previously restive Mosul:

"Senior clerics in the restive city of Mosul have pledged to oust elements seeking violence from their mosques. They also denounced killing of innocent Iraqis whether Muslims and non-Muslims and all attacks targetting local security forces.

"The clerics made the pledge during a meeting with Mosul's governor Duraid Kashmoula who told them that there will be no let-up in the fight to clean Mosul of what he described as 'the stray and corrupt gang.'

"The clerics distanced themselves from violent factions and insurgent groups that have terrorised Mosul's nearly 1.7 million inhabitants... 'We call on all the citizens of Mosul to remain steadfast in the face of terrorist and criminal elements and cooperate with the authorities and security services to put an end to violence,' the clerics said in a statement following the meeting."
Meanwhile, a TV campaign against the insurgents continues:

"Iraq's U.S.-backed interim government is stepping up its propaganda war with insurgents by broadcasting videotaped interviews with suspects who appear to confess to killings, rape and theft on the orders of guerrillas.

"The offensive was launched in recent weeks on state-run Iraqiya television, which broadcast lengthy interrogations of Iraqis it said had carried out terrorist acts under the direction of 'Abdullah', described as a criminal with close ties to Syria."
"Time" magazine reports on secret talks being conducted between the American officials and representatives of the Sunni insurgency aimed at ending the violence. " 'We are ready,' says [the Iraqi go-between] 'to work with you.' In that guarded pledge may lie the first sign that after nearly two years of fighting, parts of the insurgency in Iraq are prepared to talk and move toward putting away their arms--and the U.S. is willing to listen." (the Defence Department, however, is denying that any such talks are taking place.)

Iraqi armed forces continue to expand:

"- On Jan. 6, the traditional Iraqi Army Day, U.S. officials stood up nine divisions across central and northern Iraq, from Tikrit to Kirkuk to Sulimaniyah. Under the Iraqi army structure, a full division is about 15,600 men, and a battalion is 896 soldiers, similar to the U.S. Army...

"- As of January, there were about 56,000 Iraqis in military forces organized into 90 battalions across Iraq...

"- In the 1st ID's area of responsibility, the number of battalions increased to 20 from eight or 10 when the division arrived a year ago...

"- At a facility near Tikrit, between 300 and 350 Iraqi soldiers graduate every 28 days, or about three battalions in one year.

"- Smaller training centers in Iraq and Jordan graduate from 50 to 100 soldiers a month."
"All across Iraq, Iraqi and U.S. officers are working together to train the country's new army. That effort is being expanded to involve thousands more American trainers, and tens-of-thousands of Iraqi soldiers, with the goal of giving full responsibility for Iraq's security to the new army as soon as possible," says one report. Here is how it is working out in one instance:

"The tanks lined up on a huge expanse of concrete are painted the color of sand. Iraqi soldiers stand in front of each tank, with their U.S. trainers nearby, all in their desert camouflage combat uniforms.

"Their Iraqi commanding officer, sporting a beret and a graying mustache, beams with pride. 'This project, I think, is the most successful that we have in the Iraqi army right now, because we combine together the American offer of their help and our, let's say, experience that we had before,' he said.

"The officer, Staff Brigadier Bashar Mahmoud Ayoub, served 27 years in the Iraqi army, before retiring in 1994. He came back last year. 'I have the experience and the power,' said Brigadier Ayoub. 'I want to create once again a new army. I want to give them all my knowledge. I want to give them all my experience. After that, we can retire.'

"Staff Brigadier Ayoub was given command of the new Iraqi army's only tank unit in mid-January. Just two weeks later, the unit rolled dramatically into Baghdad to help secure the national election. In a country where foreign tanks and other military vehicles are everywhere, it was the first time the Iraqi armor had been on the streets since the fall of Saddam Hussein, nearly two years ago. 'We went inside Baghdad for three days,' he added. 'And the people were so proud and happy to see the Iraqi army once again, especially the tanks and the armored vehicles'."
There is plenty of work ahead: "Brigadier Ayoub's job, and those of other Iraqi and foreign officers training Iraq's new army, is not an easy one. The soldiers are a mix of those who served in the old army and new volunteers. The new arrivals know nothing of military skills or discipline. And the experienced soldiers are accustomed to a very different military one woefully short of supplies, even bullets, and which required blind adherence to orders from the top." But as the report notes, the challenge is being met more and more successfully.

This report from
"the Island", a training facility near Tikrit, also discusses many challenges ahead in training the Iraqi forces, but also many positive signs. "Unlike at U.S. Army boot camp, U.S. trainers at The Island [also] devote much of their time trying to undo ethnic and religious tensions, the residue of Saddam's corrupt, divide-and-rule culture."

Despite the inherent dangers of the job, the armed forces are having
no trouble attracting recruits:

"An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 men arrived by foot, bus, and other vehicles by sun up Feb. 14, at an airfield outside an Iraqi army base in an effort to join the Iraq’s army, officials said.

"Of that, close to 5,000 made it through a screening process that led them onto the base, which is home to several thousand Iraqi soldiers and a contingent of U.S. service members. Most will be transferred to other bases in Iraq to supplement existing units, officials said...

"During the screening process, potential recruits were given a literacy test, physical condition check, and questioned about prior military service. Once inside the base, they went through a medical screening and received uniforms, boots and other military-related clothing...

"Many recruits showed up with proof that they were serving when Saddam Hussein's regime fell and they were subsequently released from duty. Former Iraqi army Maj. Hussien Ali Kadhun, 48, traveled about an hour and a half by bus to rejoin. 'I want to serve my country and fight the terrorists,' he said, through a translator. Ali Kadhun said he graduated from a military college in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in military science. He returned to school to study law shortly after his release from the army in 2003."
Still, recruitment campaigns continue:

"To confront the daily images of violence, Iraq has launched a new media war - trying to win Iraqi hearts and minds and battle insurgents with the power of American-style advertising.

"One slick commercial, used to recruit police, conveys the message: It's safe enough to join, even though insurgents attack every day. Another ad shows police as heroes - the chance to save a school from a bomber seen as an incentive for police who earn only $200 a month.

"Broadcasting the messages is Saddam Hussein's old TV station, rebuilt with an initial $100 million grant from the Pentagon. The station is now run and funded by the Iraqi government, assisted by American advisers who want to build on optimism following last month's elections...

"The ads, mostly U.S.-produced and Iraqi-funded, run every half-hour, calling on Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis to unite and rebuild. Because Iraq is still so chaotic, there's no real data to indicate whether these positive broadcast messages are having any impact, but new studios and equipment mean they're reaching at least 85 percent of Iraqis.

"So far, people seem receptive to the ads, such a contrast to the images of violence and to the insurgents' own cruel media campaign, often featuring footage of hostages. 'It's encouraging,' said one student in Baghdad. 'They provide needed role models'."
Iraqi blogger Mohammed at Iraq the Model reports his personal observations on the changing security climate:

"I... noticed that Iraqi soldiers on other checkpoints started friendly conversations with the people and this is a good indication; searching isn't enough alone, bridging the gaps is what really matters. Security will not be achieved if the people do not cooperate with the authorities and I think now it's due the time for the people to take bigger role in a nation-wide action against terror.

"A few days ago a coalition convoy was patrolling our district and they were stopping every other hundred meters talking to the people and distributing key chains and leaflets that carry secure phone numbers for the people to use in reporting criminal activities and this is a smart idea as key chains are always in one's hands or pocket and phones are a reliable contact route and I think using the internet and e mails for the same task is another option that can be helpful as it's untraceable and people, especially the educated segment use the internet very often and they would feel more secure comfortable that way than with the phones.

"I have no estimations about how many people will provide information that way but I feel that the rate has increased after the elections. Moreover, the Iraqi media is also playing a good role in exposing criminals and there are some local channels that broadcast the confessions of arrested terrorists.

"I think that the local TV station in Mosul has done a good job recently and the people are now even more disgusted from the doings of the terrorists and the terrorists reaction by attacking the station's HQ more than once in the past days indicates that they're really pissed off from this station's shows."
In the most recent additions to the forces: fourteen Iraqi policemen have recently graduated from a SWAT training. "To date, 142 officers have previously completed the course and are operating in various areas throughout Iraq, including Baghdad, Basrah, Najaf and Kirkuk." In another batch, "the Iraqi Police Service graduated 272 officers today from seven specialty training courses taught at the Adnan Training Centre located in Baghdad. The advanced training is part of the Iraqi government's ongoing effort to train up its security forces. The courses, consisting of basic criminal investigation, interview and interrogation, incident command system, internal control investigation, executive leadership, first-line supervision, and first responder radio training ran 32, 39, 15, 29, 12, 12 and 133 students respectively." On February 17, another 1,491 police officers graduated after completing the thirteenth basic police training course conducted at the Jordan International Police Training Center. "To date, 11,158 police officers have completed the course which is taught by police trainers from Iraq, Jordan, Canada, Sweden, Slovenia, Austria, Finland, Czech Republic, Singapore, Poland, Slovakia, Australia, Hungary, Belgium, United Kingdom and United States."

Training is also being provided to Iraqi
border guards:

"A team of US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents has been deployed inside Iraq to train border security staff enabling them to control entry points into the country and improve security, which remains problematic. One thousand five hundred border guards attended the first day of training at the new camp...

"A camp has been built inside Iraq so that trainers from the CBP can offer their knowledge and support to those who have not had a chance to receive tuition outside Iraq. The new facility is designed to complement the efforts of a similar scheme run at the Jordanian International Police Training Centre (JIPTC) camp in neighbouring Jordan. More than 2,100 Iraqi border control officers have already been trained there since August 2004."
Iraqi navy is also expecting a boost in the future: "A contract has been signed for six new Iraqi navy ships to be built in Iraq by Iraqis and in support of the local Baghdad economy. Al Uboor class patrol boats will enter service in six months, with other ships hitting the water in 18 months. Funded by the interim Iraqi government's 2005 defence budget, the ships will cost approximately $15 million. The ships will patrol Iraqi territorial waters."

We can now also hopefully expect more
foreign involvement in training Iraqi security forces: "U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld won pledges from members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to expand training programs for Iraqi security forces, helping mend a rift with European nations over the war. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he's on track to secure expertise or cash to back training from each of the 26 nations in the alliance by the time the group's heads of state meet on Feb. 22. Currently, 10 are providing support." Specifically, "15 countries had pledged to send training staff to Baghdad. Others -- including those such as France and Germany who opposed the war -- had offered training outside the country or support in financing the operation." You can read the list of all the individual contributions here.

Australia, too, is
increasing its Iraqi contingent by 50 per cent, or some 450 troops, which will work alongside the Japanese forces in the south of the country and provide security for Japanese engineers assisting in reconstruction. The Australians will also engage in training of Iraqi security forces. Macedonia, which already has a small contingent in Iraq, is also increasing its presence to provide more military trainers.

There is already a significant non-Coalition input into
training of Iraqi police force:

"For Mahmoud, danger is a part of everyday life. The 27-year-old Iraqi policeman still remembers one September day with absolute clarity. He was part of the motorcade accompanying Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Nakib through the streets of Baghdad when a car suddenly pulled into their path. As Mahmoud and his men jumped out of their Jeeps, the car's driver opened fire. Returning fire with their machine guns, the bodyguards killed the attacker. The interior minister was unharmed...

"Flash forward five months later. Mahmoud's in a different place but faces a similar situation. This time, two heavy sedans are stopped by a road block in a parking lot. With tires squealing, the drivers jerkily reverse, hit the brakes, the cars spin out and race off at full speed. Then a loud whistle blows. 'Well done,' a brawny man yells, 'next!' The cap he's bearing sports Germany's official symbol, the eagle, and the initials of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA), Germany's equivalent to the FBI. He's working with the Iraqis as a police trainer, and he's set up the road block as part of a training simulation. But instead of conducting the training somewhere in terror-shaken Iraq, this time it's on a heavily guarded military base in the United Arab Emirates.

"Mahmoud is one of 30 Iraqi policemen currently participating in German's training project for the Iraqi security forces... So far, the German BKA officers have provided training to more than 400 Iraqi policemen over the past several months, equipping them with the know-how they'll need to do their jobs once they return to Iraq."
Canada will be sending 30 specialists to train Iraqi armed forces at a base in Jordan. The European Union is also coming onboard: "EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels approved a plan to train 770 senior Iraqi police officers and judges in the EU and in countries near Iraq. The mission, due to start mid-2005, could be extended to Iraq if security allowed. 'This is the first united EU action ... which goes beyond the monetary, the economic aid that we have offered,' EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told a news conference." And Turkey is donating $100,000 to NATO's Iraq Fund and opening its facilities for the training of Iraqi military personnel.

In further evidence that when life gives you lemons you make a lemonade, "huge concrete security barriers in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, are being given
a colourful facelift, after local artists clubbed together to paint the unattractive, yet highly necessary blocks... [The barriers] are being brightly painted with symbols of freedom and of Iraqi traditions." Says artist Sundus Yassin: "If you cannot remove this barrier at least you can create an impression of peace against the true utility of this concrete. It is the least we can do for our people." "I was very surprised when I was passing by one of these huge concrete blocks and saw all the colours. It was really difficult to believe that something so ugly, which reminds me of the US troops everywhere, could bring sympathy and fun. If they do that all over the city, for sure people will feel more comfortable with the barriers," observes a passerby Suzane Hamoudi.

In other security successes: the capture of
Al Zarqawi's military advisor Abu Waleed; the capture of another two members of Al Zarqawi's organization, brothers Hutheyfa and Mohammed Abdul-Jabbar; detaining of 53 suspected insurgents in one day's sweep around Latifiyah, Baghdad, and Mosul; the capture or killing of three terrorists within the Al Zarqawi organization responsible for producing websites depicting execution of hostages; the recovery of a huge cache of weapons stored under the house in the International Zone in Baghdad; the discovery and disarming of five improvised explosive devices by the US troops throughout Baghdad during four separate patrols in the city on February 12 alone; and a car bomb is located and defused in Mosul thanks to a tip from a local resident.

Read also this story of
Faouzi Hamade, American of Lebanese descent working as s translator in Iraq, who stopped and disarmed a woman in Baghdad as she was about to throw a hand grenade into the crowd. And lastly, this report about dealing with deadly legacies of Iraq's three recent wars:

"The authority responsible for de-mining has cleared 34,890,527 square meters from mines and other explosion devices. The source added that 473,158 tons of war materials were destroyed... The destructed equipments reached 218,866 pieces."
Writes Ignatius in the previously quoted op-ed: "I discussed the transition with Muwaffak al-Rubaie, who has been serving as national security adviser in the interim government. A Shiite with close ties to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Rubaie is likely to hold a post in the new government. The freewheeling political discussion was delightful for its ordinariness. It was what you'd find in any democratic country - yet it would have been punished by torture or death under Saddam Hussein." I'm struck by this phrase "delightful for its ordinariness". In a country that has gone through so much over the last few decades, ordinariness is indeed perhaps the best we can wish for the long-suffering Iraqis.


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