Monday, March 14, 2005

Good news from Iraq, Part 23 

Note: Is the situation in Iraq getting better? It's not really up to me to answer that question, but I can try to answer another one: is reporting from Iraq getting better? To find out, I decided to look back at the past installments of this series and do a little count. For the sake of simplicity I started with Part 6, which happened to be the first one to be also published by the "Opinion Journal". When printed out, that July 19, 2004 edition of "Good news from Iraq" is 10 and a half pages long, and contains links to 71 "good news" stories. Since then, the length of each installment has fluctuated, but the overall trend has been up. So much so that the "Good news from Iraq" you're reading now is 23 and a half pages long and contains 178 links to "good news stories."

The same trend in evident in my "Good news from Afghanistan". The first installment published by the "Opinion Journal" (and second overall in the series) of July 26, 2004, was 6 and a half pages long when printed out and contained 55 links. The latest one, number 10 of March 7, 2005, is 19 pages long and contains 124 links.

Either there is more and more good news coming out of both Iraq or Afghanistan, or the reporters are getting increasingly optimistic about the situation there, or both. Whatever's the answer, it's good news.

Note II: Also available at the
"Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman respectively for their support, and to all the readers for their help - I appreciate all the links you forward, all the words of encouragement and all your help in publicizing the series.

The Wall Street Journal's very own
Bret Stephens has recently written an intriguing piece about how media can - and often does - get it wrong:

"The cliche is that journalism is the first draft of history. Yet a historian searching for clues about the origins of many of the great stories of recent decades - the collapse of the Soviet empire; the rise of Osama bin Laden; the declining US crime rate; the economic eclipse of Japan and Germany - would find most contemporary journalism useless. Perhaps a story here or there might, in retrospect, seem illuminating. But chances are it would have been nearly invisible at the time of publication.

"The problem is not that journalists can't get their facts straight - they can and usually do. Neither is it that the facts are obscure; often, the most essential facts are also the most obvious ones. The problem is that journalists have a difficult time distinguishing significant facts - facts with consequences - from insignificant ones. That, in turn, comes from not thinking very hard about just which stories are most worth telling."
Perhaps nowhere has this phenomenon been more apparent in recent times as in Iraq, where as Stephens writes, "the media was so busy telling the story of everything that was going wrong in Iraq that it broadly missed what was going right" and thus failed to connect the proverbial dots.

The judgment on Iraq is still out, of course, as it rightly belongs to history and not the media. But just in case you, too, have a little inkling that the media has been missing some stories out of Iraq, and that these missed stories also matter, here's the last two weeks' worth of positive developments and good news from Iraq to balance your picture and perhaps even help you connect the dots yourself.

SOCIETY: The exact political and constitutional shape of the new Iraq will be decided over the next few months by the National Assembly and then by the people of Iraq in a referendum. In the meantime, robust and multi-faceted negotiations continue to form the government and shape the future of the political process. As Iraqi newspaper "Al Mendhar" summarizes it succintly:
"Dialogues on All Levels among Winners, Losers and Boycotters". The National Assembly itself is set to open on March 16 for its first session and before that happens, the Kurds and the Shia have been doing a lot of talking to iron out a common vision for the future.

On the international front, Iraq's northern neighbor is now
onboard: "Turkey has officially accepted the establishment of a federal structure in Iraq. Officials including Turkey's Special Envoy to Iraq, the General Staff, National Intelligence Branch and representatives Foreign Affairs Ministry have accepted the federalism article, the most important article in the Iraqi Temporary Administrative Law that until today had not officially been accepted. An official statement released today says: 'We respect the decisions of the Iraqis. We will not object if the majority of Iraqis demand federalism'."

The growth of democracy in Iraq continues to brings up many
intriguing stories, none more than this one:

"He is, even by Iraqi standards, an unlikely leader - a dentist from Manchester [Great Britain] whose only previous cause was supporting Liverpool FC. Yet Abdallah Al Jibouri, 45, an exiled Iraqi who spent more than 20 years in Stockport, has turned his back on drilling and filling to become the reluctant saviour of one of the Sunni Triangle's most violence-prone troublespots.

"He had originally planned merely to check up on his elderly mother when he visited his home town of Muqtadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, shortly after Saddam Hussein's fall. His Mancunian-accented English, however, ensured that he was pressed into service as unofficial negotiator between American troops and Iraqis, who elected him mayor.

"Much to his astonishment - and, he says, to the dismay of his British wife, Sharon - he also became governor of the province of Diyala, whose population is 1.8 million.

"Local insurgents have paid his leadership the ultimate backhanded compliment: they have tried to kill him 14 times, and have put a $10,000 bounty on his head. 'I came for a visit two weeks after the liberation because I have got my mum and other family here,' said Mr Al Jibouri. 'I just wanted to make sure that they were all right. But I found the whole place was really a mess, with weapons everywhere, even little kids with machine guns.

" 'I began talking to the local sheiks and the US army and we hired some police. I thought I'd go home then but they said, "No, you've got to stay and help us". Of course it's dangerous, and the wife back in Manchester worries, but there are a lot of good people out here and they are worth it'."
To help democracy grow, USAID (link in PDF) is providing training for the National Assembly staffers and funding programmes to increase women's participation in drafting of the constitution. Speaking of women, you can also read this article about their influence and position in Iraqi politics.

The future will belong to the young, and the signs are quite promising. The Iraqi Prospect Organization (IPO), "an organization of young Iraqi men and women based in Baghdad and London working to promote the democracy in Iraq," has recently released the results of its survey of
university students' attitudes to democracy conducted at four Iraqi institutions of higher learning. Among the findings:

"- 75% of those responding stated that democracy had a positive meaning, while 9% stated that it had a negative meeting, and 60% of respondents said that democracy is 'preferable to any other system of government'...

"- Demonstrating some misunderstanding of democracy, only 51% believed that the right to join political parties is an essential concept of a functioning democracy. This is perhaps a consequence of the strict single party nature of Iraqi politics during the reign of the Ba'ath Party dictatorship...

"- 55% of respondents somewhat or strongly opposed the idea of army intervention into politics...

"- Interestingly enough, defying Western perceptions of Iraq and regional generalizations, a large majority of respondents rejected the idea of women being barred from government. 68% of respondents rejected the idea of a secular state, but only 47-51% agreed that religious figures should be allowed to interfere with the workings of the state, perhaps indicating a nuanced understanding of the role of religion in government."
On a less serious level, the new Iraqi TV is mushrooming, with a much more escapist and entertaining fare than the Saddam version:

"No longer are there sequences of the great man letting off his shotgun into the air, reviewing military parades or kissing babies. 'We might as well have stuck a picture of him on the outside of the screen and not bothered to switch the set on,' was a popular jibe.

"When Saddam fell there was a sudden mushrooming of demand for television sets, decoders and satellite dishes. Banned under Saddam's rule, or at least only available to senior Baathists, these were bought as fast as they could be imported at $350 a time.

"Entrepreneurs made millions as new dishes sprang up on apartment blocks. 7 million were sold in less than a year. 'I thought this country was hungry for food,' one Iraqi sociologist told me, 'but they were hungry for television'."
TV can often bring people together, but there are also some hopeful signs that in Iraq, the religion can too. In Amadiyah, in the north of Iraq, a new multiethnic and multi-faith school is bringing together Mgr Rabban Al-Qas, Bishop of Amadiyah, who is running the school, says: "There are Christian and Muslim pupils studying in Aramaic and French. This is the first time in the history of Iraq that Muslim pupils are studying in the language of Christ... We started with 77 pupils and about 40 teachers and support staff... And the school is absolutely free because we want to give poor kids a chance to learn and train." Another ecumenical spot is a cave in the foothills of the Safeen Mountain in the governorate of Erbil:

"Kastro Ishaq lit a candle in the corner of a cave near the northern Iraq town of Shaqlawa. The smoke from the candle rose over the head of Sabah Ismail as he raised his hands in prayer to God.

"Ishaq is a Christian and Ismail a Muslim. In a country divided by ethnic and religious differences, this shrine in the Kurdish region has brought members of the two faiths together for centuries.

"Muslims call the shrine Sheikh Wsu Rahman, while to the Christians it is Raban Buya. 'What is important for both of us is the holy place, regardless of what names it has,' said Ishaq."
Iraq needs more caves like this.

Speaking of Kurdistan, the relatively liberal atmosphere there is
attracting academics from other parts of Iraq: "A growing number of Arab lecturers are taking jobs at universities in Iraqi Kurdistan, an opportunity that was largely unavailable to them under former president Saddam Hussein... Lecturers of Arab ethnicity are now flocking to the Kurdish region to take advantage of its relative security and the high demand for qualified academics. Officials at Sulaimaniyah university say they actively recruit Arabs because they are short of qualified and experienced lecturers."

ECONOMY: "Dr. Hajim Alhuseini, the Iraqi minister of industry and minerals, announced the start of the implementation of a plan to
transit the Iraqi economy to a free market economy."

The authorities are expecting the economic revival to continue: "Dr. Fa'ik Ali Abed-Elrasoul, a deputy at the Iraqi ministry of planning said that the increase in investments may lead to general
growth of about 17 percent in 2005, 15 percent in 2006 and 6 percent in 2007. The deputy expects that income per capita to raise form US$780 per year in 2004 to US$1156 in 2007." Another report reminds us about the improvement in the standard of living due to a significant increase in average salaries. Meanwhile, one estimate puts the figure of direct foreign investment in Iraq over the next few years at $44 billion, mainly in the fields of manufacturing, oil and IT.

private sector, the engine of Iraq's future growth, continues to develop:

"The Iraqi Business Registrar has confirmed that more than 21,000 Iraqi companies have been registered in Baghdad as of January 2005. The Registrar attributed this success to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Iraq Economic Governance II (IEG II) program, which supported training efforts, technical improvements and clarifications of the Company Law.

"The new Business Registry -- which intends to improve transparency in procedures for registering companies -- will provide a valuable resource for companies that need information about other businesses, as well as government entities with responsibilities for licensing and taxing, according to USAID. When complete, the registry will be fully automated, including web-based applications for registering companies and retrieving information."
In other recent USAID efforts (link in PDF), "in close cooperation with Iraqi counterparts, USAID's Private Sector Development II (PSD II) program is continuing work to promote the development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME). Under the Baathist regime, it was often difficult for would-be entrepreneurs to access the resources they needed to start or build business enterprises. The PSD II focus on MSMEs will help ensure that new opportunities are extended to segments of Iraq's population that were previously excluded from economic resources." These activities are concentrating on "assisting banks to develop the capacity to successfully lend to small and medium sized enterprises is essential to putting capital resources into the hands of entrepreneurs," as well as preparing new grants activity.

There is also other
assistance for Iraqi businesses:

"He wasn't sure what to make of it when three U.S. Humvees pulled up in front of his Happy House Furniture factory in the Rasheed neighborhood a couple of weeks ago, owner Omar Abdul Hassan says. A man hopped out of the back of one of the military trucks and started asking him questions about his business, says Hassan, 35. Then, the man offered Hassan a loan to help him buy a bigger factory and hire more employees...

"Gordon Studebaker, the man who visited Hassan, is working on spreading capitalism across Iraq, one business at a time. One-time 'fees' can be charged to business owners instead of interest, the International Executive Service Corps worker says. Successful businesses will then have a chance to grow and hire more people, he says.

"IESC is under the umbrella of the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance, a group of non-profit agencies who will receive $35 million from United States Agency for International Development to do micro-credit lending programs to businesses like Happy House Furniture. The money is expected to be distributed in the next couple of months."
And there's even more: "The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), an agency of the United States Government, and Citigroup have announced the extension of a US$ 131 million lending facility to help Iraqi middle market enterprises tap needed working capital requirements. The project will benefit from a $92.8 million facility provided by Citigroup with a comprehensive guaranty from OPIC. The other $38.2 million derive from a $23.2 million grant by the Coalition Provisional Authority and a $15 million syndicated bank facility arranged by Citigroup. BNP Paribas and HBK participated with $5 million each."

Meanwhile, the
Baghdad stock exchange is growing slowly. On one Sunday in February, "the Iraqi Stock Exchange Authority reported that 852,592,679 stocks, valued ID 3,267,720,284 [$2.2 million], were traded on Baghdad Securities Market by executing 583 transactions... The authority added that the total traded shares included 792,281,065 stocks in the banking sector, 18,001,831 shares in industrial sector, 18,461,860 shares in the services sector and 2,729,778 shares in the agricultural sector." There are now 114 companies listed on the Baghdad Stock Exchange. And the volume of trade keeps rising: "Talib al-Tabatabaie, the Chairman of the Baghdad Stock Exchange, said that the value of the traded stocks on Wednesday session amounted to ID 7 billion [$4.8 mln] compared with ID 5 billion [$3.4 mln] on the previous session. The chairman expects the demand for stocks, particularly the banking stocks, to grow impressively through the upcoming period." Particularly if the laws are amended to allow foreigners to trade on the stock exchange.

In banking, Iraq's Central Bank are is launching the National Company for Limited Financial Services in Basra, which in turn will be issuing the
Al-Fayhaa credit card, first in the south of the country, and then throughout the rest of Iraq. In other developments, "as a first step toward executing the partnership agreements signed amongst Iraqi, Arab and foreign banks, the Al-Ahli Al-Iraqi Bank (National Bank of Iraq) started to issue stocks for subscription equivalent to 120% of the bank's capital. The bank, which had doubled its ID1 billion [$0.68 mln] capital by 450%, also issued bonus stocks for the shareholders. Mr. Ahmed Zaki, Director of the Bank, said that the bank's capital will grow from ID 1 billion [$0.68 mln] to ID 25 billion [$17.1 mln] after completing this stock issuance. He added that this step is very important to activating the partnership with the Bank of Jordan and to develop the banking and credit systems in Iraq."

Western expertise, meanwhile, continues to benefit Iraq' banking sector: "The American chamber of commerce in Jordan, with the assistance of the American embassy and the support of Jordanian al Ahli Bank, held a seminar concerning banking activities in Iraq. More than 80 participants from the Jordan, Iraq, and other states took part in this event. The seminar discussed a number of issues concerning the banking sector in Iraq and the needs of Iraqi bankers in fields such as technology, real estate loans and housing finance."

The Iraqi authorities have big plans for the country's
telecommunications sector:

"Telecommunications in Iraq will become the country's second most attractive industry for investors after oil, communications minister Mohammad Al Hakim predicted...

"However, Al Hakim acknowledged that Iraq needed to get to grips with insecurity before foreign investors would be impressed by its initial 500-million-dollar telecoms reconstruction and privatisation effort. 'We think it will bring a double digit investment, once we provide the right environment,' he told journalists... 'The telecoms sector will be the highest revenue earner for Iraq after oil,' he added, underlining the current low penetration rate -- 4.5 percent -- and the growth potential offered by a young population and network that needs total replacement."
The construction boom throughout Iraq is being sustained through the increasing domestic production of cement: "1.022 million tons of cement were produced during the last 6 months by the factories located all across Iraq." And in the largest construction scheme since the fall of Saddam, an Iranian firm is negotiating to build 10,000 flats for university staff in Baghdad.

The economic boom throughout the
Kurdistan rolls on:

"The contrast between Iraq's Kurdish provinces and the insurgency-wrecked cities to the south is evident in the 100 or so laborers gathered at the main square of this Kurdish town, looking for work. They are among many Iraqi Arabs who have come from unemployment-stricken Baghdad and other cities to earn $10 for eight hours of work in a relatively safe environment. That they are Arabs among historically hostile Kurds suggests that ethnic coexistence is not dead in the new Iraq.

"What draws the laborers, some as young as 14, as well as legions of investors, is a Kurdish economy that is flourishing on investment and capital that has been driven out of the insurgency areas. 'We expect terrorism to continue for another year or two,' said Mohammed Karim, director of the Board for Promoting Investment in Sulaymaniyah. 'We don't hope for this to happen, but if it does continue, the economy of the north will continue to flourish.'

"He said foreign investment, Iraqi capital and laborers continue to flow in. In contrast to the rest of the country, hotels, offices, villas and high-rise apartment buildings are going up at a frenzied pace. An international airport is up and running in Irbil - its first flight took Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia - and Sulaymaniyah's airport is to open this spring.

"Sulaymaniyah, a city believed to have more than half a million people, has big plans for a free-trade zone with offices, hotels and motels for foreign investors."
Just as the Kurdistan, the Shia south of the country is also very different to the Iraq we know from the news:

"The fake palm trees with the Vegas-style lights are still in their places above what was the Dolphin Restaurant on Watan Street, swaying on the roof as garish survivors from the 1980's, when wealthy men from Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia would come to party through the weekend on perhaps the hottest stretch of casinos and nightclubs in the gulf.

"Along with its cheesy palm trees, Basra has survived years of shelling during the Iran-Iraq war, brutal persecution by Saddam Hussein, total neglect of the local infrastructure, and two invasions by American-led forces. The worn but gracious city that has emerged - the de facto capital of a proud, abruptly liberated and comparatively peaceful south - seems to be in a different country from the grim battlefield that much of Iraq has become.

"And if no inconsiderable number of people here have their way, the provinces of the south, home to rich oil reserves but kept poor by Saddam Hussein, will soon become a separate country, or at least a semi-autonomous region in a loosely federal Iraq. The clear southern preference for profit over politics could make it a place where foreign companies willing to invest hard cash are able to do business."
Read the rest of the report about various plans for Basra's - and the south's - future.

Iraq's ties to its neighbors continue to grow.
The Iraqi-Jordanian free trade zone will be officially opened next month, but it's already attracting businesses and investors. So far, $140 million has been spent on the first stage of the zone, and soon another $70 will be spent to build an airport. The integration within the Gulf region is also gathering pace, with Dubai becoming particularly important commercial centre for Iraqi import and export activities:

"60% of the Iraqi needs from abroad come through Dubai, reported... As for the Iraqi imports of electronics, electrical equipment, cars, construction materials and foodstuff, 80% of them are re-exported to the country through Dubai... Approximately 500 Iraqi companies have been established in Jabel Ali Free Zone, dealing with re-export to Iraq, especially from China and south-eastern Asia countries."
We also shouldn't forget the role of Iraqi expats, many with Western degrees, business experience and capital, in trying to jumpstart the Iraqi economy. Take, for example, Colorado businessman Asad Alsafi, whose doctorate in applied science originally designed a system which allows the Voice of America to broadcast into the Middle East in Arabic. Alsafi, now a CEO of Alsafi Consulting, has recently opened a branch office in Amman, Jordan, to take his business back into Iraq. Alsafi migrated to the US over thirty years ago because "it is the hub of good capitalism"; now's the time to return some of that good capitalism back to his home country.

In transport news, a
new railway line will link Suweih, Sha'abiyya, and Doha ports of Kuwait with Baghdad, via the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasar. "Investments in this project will reach $400 million and... the Kuwaiti government decided to create an incorporated company to be responsible for implementing this project." In other transport infrastructure projects planned for the south of the country, "a sea port in southern Iraq by 2007 with an investment of $5 billion;... building a railroad network to connect these ports with Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran; [and] the building of a railroad to connect Iraq with Saudi Arabia."

Meanwhile, "state-owned Ports Authority has won a $7 million contract to
overhaul the southern terminal of Khor Zubair. It is the first time an Iraqi firm wins a contract to develop a port on the head of the Gulf. Under the contract the company will remove sunken ships and modernize platforms to handle giant tankers. The terminal currently handles the largest portion of Iraqi imports of Liquefied Petroleum Gas or LPG."

Iraq's Transport Ministry has signed an agreement with Jordan's Alya Airways to facilitate
passenger flights between Baghdad and Amman. The authorities are also considering a ban on all cars manufactured prior to 1990 in an effort to fight air pollution. The owners of such vehicles would be compensated by the government.

In oil news, the total Iraqi oil revenues since the fall of Saddam now stand at
$13.4 billion. The Ministry has also announced "two contacts with two international companies to prepare a study for the development of three oil fields... The first contact is with the British company ECL to develop the northern and southern fields at Alramila that started production back in 1951. The second one with Shell to develop Kirkuk fields, which started producing in the year 1934." Also, "Iraq is to establish its first reservoir study center in Baghdad to create a geophysical and geological database for the country's oil fields. The center, established by the oil ministry's reservoirs and field development department, should be operational by June 2005."

new refinery will be constructed in central Iraq, with a production capacity of 30,000 barrels per day. Plans are also being floated about rebuilding an old piece of infrastructure:

"A number of foreign consortia, consisting mostly of US investors, recently contacted Israeli government agencies and government company Petroleum and Energy Infrastructures with proposals to renew the oil pipeline to Iraq. The pipeline runs from Iraq through Jordan to Haifa Bay...

"The projected renewed pipeline will follow the same route as the old one, which operated decades ago. A completely new pipeline must be laid for the purpose, with a much larger diameter than the current 12-inch pipeline. A 40-42-inch pipeline is needed in order to transport large quantities of oil.

"The pipeline is designed to transport oil from Iraq to the Zarqa oil refinery in Jordan, and from there to the oil refinery in Haifa Bay. The pipeline will eliminate the need to use the Suez Canal, which has limited ability to handle large numbers of oil tankers. Excess oil reaching Israel can be transported by tanker from the Haifa fuel terminal to other countries around the Mediterranean, and in Europe."
Last, but not least, the Ministry of Labor is reporting on the success of its training and employment centers, and is preparing plans to expand the network of special workshops to help the handicapped integrate better into the workforce. The work has also almost finished on a new facility for elderly people in Baghdad.

RECONSTRUCTION: US officials are reporting on the
progress of the reconstruction effort:

"Senior U.S. officials responsible for the $21 billion Iraq reconstruction project say work is continuing, in spite of insurgent attacks, and the situation has improved in recent months. The officials spoke from Baghdad to reporters at the Pentagon.

"The officials say they have already spent more than one-quarter of the money allocated for reconstruction projects throughout Iraq, ranging from power plants to water and sewerage systems to schools and military bases. The officials say they will soon launch the 2,000th project of the effort, with nearly 600 projects already completed.

"The head of the Pentagon's Project Contracting Office, Charles Hess, says the effort to rebuild Iraq's facilities has accelerated lately, as insurgent attacks have been reduced."
While sabotage of the reconstruction effort continues, "construction payments, after lagging badly last summer, have reached nearly $6 billion in a total pot of about $21 billion... Construction starts stand at 1,955, with 582 completed... In Baghdad's impoverished Sadr City, where U.S. and Iraqi forces crushed an insurgency last summer, the coalition has put 12,000 Iraqis to work on $300 million worth of projects, including water purification and sewage treatment."

Meanwhile, the World Bank is giving the Baghdad Municipality an
additional $50 million for the continuing upgrade of the capital's public amenities. And there's more reconstruction and development assistance coming from the United Nations.

A new
database listing information about completed and currently undertaken reconstruction projects will help in planning future projects. Another initiative comes courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers:

"A player must know the rules of the game before being able to play well. Conversely, a manager cannot build and guide a successful team if potential, capable players are unaware of the team's requirements. These guidelines are appropriate for the sports world as well as for local Iraqi contractors who want to bid for contracts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Southern District.

" 'As a result of previously held conferences, we have increased, from zero to 250, the number of contractors from which we can draw,' Wes Watson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Gulf Region Southern District oversees Iraqi reconstruction efforts in the Basrah, Tallil and Hillah areas of operation. In order to stimulate the economy throughout their area of responsibility, district employees constantly seek qualified, capable, local Iraqi firms to which they can award construction contracts relating to the rebuilding of Iraq.

"Since many Iraqi contractors are unaware of how to bid for a Gulf Region Southern District contract, the district frequently hosts Contractors' Conferences to acquaint the contracting public with their requirements. The district recently conducted its latest conference in the city of Kerbala."
Meanwhile, "some 65 Saudi companies announced their intention to participate in the upcoming International Exhibition for the Reconstruction of Iraq that is organized by Alriyad Exhibition Company with the cooperation of Jordan Expo Company. The exhibition will be held in Amman on April 8 and expected to lure 850 exhibitors form 42 countries."

Among some of the current projects of
Baghdad Municipality: two new bridges, 15 sporting fields, 11 community centers, government buildings and sewage infrastructure. There are also other projects, such as street paving and reconstruction of damaged buildings. Work is also progressing in the Al Sadr City section of Baghdad, where major road reconstruction and water sanitation projects are currently underway.

Nasiriyah, the local municipal authorities have signed contracts "with Italian and Saudi officials to execute a number of vital projects in the city... The most important of these projects are the construction of a residential complex with 2,000 apartments, the establishment of four hospitals by a capacity of 90 beds per each, the construction of a water desalinizing station and the supply of drinking water to large areas, which suffered from a water shortage for a long time." More work is taking place is Nasiriyah on road construction, sewage and hospitals.

And in south central Iraq, an USAID grant is helping to
renovate women's textile factory.

In electricity news, with summer approaching again, the US authorities will be putting more reconstruction resources
back into the electricity sector. It makes sense at this time of the year, and it also makes sense from the security point of view: "In December, nearly half a billion dollars was put into improving the infrastructure in four 'post-battle' cities -- Najaf, Falluja, Samara and Sadr City. 'These projects showed people they were better off without insurgents in their midst,' said [Bill Taylor, a senior U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad]. 'Our soldiers are getting shot at less there'."

The emphasis, too, is shifting from big projects to a
smaller-scale improvements:

"The bloody handprints found Monday all over the shiny equipment at Al Ameen, the newly opened electrical substation in eastern Baghdad, were not a cause for alarm. In fact, by letting Iraqis in the poor neighborhood around the station ritually sacrifice sheep there, the American engineers who financed the project may be showing that they are willing to try just about anything to get electricity flowing reliably in Iraq.

"The project also shows that the effort to improve the electrical supply in Iraq is finally concentrating on individual neighborhoods, blocks and streets after nearly two years of focusing, with mixed success, on enormous power plants and the high-tension cables that form the backbone of the nation's electrical grid.

"The project, the first major substation completed since the invasion in 2003, is a distribution center that will siphon energy from the national grid and spread it around districts like Sadr City, where aging and overloaded equipment constantly breaks down. The station, put into operation with $60 million of American money, will also help cushion the effects of sabotage, letting electricity flow through alternative routes to consumers if part of the network fails."
After the Iraqi grid deteriorated from 9000 MW in 1991 to 4300 MW in 2003, mostly due to lack of maintenance, the reconstruction authorities will be temporarily shutting down 10 power stations long overdue for a complete overhaul. After the re-opening, this will add another 1300 MW to the grid.

Despite sabotage,
new work is planned to expand electricity infrastructure in Najaf, Falluja and Al Sadar. In the last one of these, the project to construct a modern electricity grid will cost $75 million. Work is expected to be finished next month on a $47 million project to connect the city of Khankin in Dyiala province to Iranian power grid just across the border, thus providing the city and the province with extra 100 MW of power. Similar cooperation with Syria is also progressing. Meanwhile, three new gas-powered stations are ready to add another 600 MW to the national power grid.

USAID is embarking on another power-generation project
in the capital (link in PDF): "USAID is working to provide new generation capacity at the site of an existing mid-sized thermal power plant in southern Baghdad that is serviced by a heavy fuel pipeline and can accommodate expansion. This project is scheduled to be complete in July 2005. The expansion project included the purchase of two combustion turbines rated at 120 MW each and the supply of auxiliary equipment. These turbines will begin light fuel operation in May 2005, with the first synchronization set for June 2005. It is common to use a lighter fuel for initial unit operation but since these fuels are in short supply, the turbines will be converted for heavy fuel operation in June and mid-July 2005. When completed, 215 to 240 MW of electricity will be added to Baghdad's grid." USAID is also training several hundred employees of the Ministry of Electricity, both in Iraq and in Jordan.

United Nations Development Programme, too, is helping with the Iraqi electricity sector: it is facilitating the training of Iraqi engineers in Jordan; supplying equipment, expertise and planning to develop better networks; providing spare parts for maintenance of existing infrastructure, and working on new projects which will add between 180 and 200 MW to Iraq's grid.

In water news, "half of a $36.7 million USAID grant to
UNICEF for health and water and sanitation programs is being used to support water supply and sanitation improvement projects throughout Iraq. As a result of these programs, vulnerable populations are gaining access to potable water and improved sanitation is helping to decrease the incidence of waterborne diseases." Work has also been recently completed by USAID on the rehabilitation of two water treatment plants in Basra (link in PDF), and work continues on the reconstruction of sewage system in Karbala and Mosul. USAID is also providing technical and planning help for the authorities:

"Local Governance Program (LGP) staff and the Baghdad Mayoralty continued to plan the further rehabilitation of the city's water network. The approach proposes a comprehensive analysis of water loss, repairs and maintenance, a water network survey, a computerized Network Information System, and an enhanced water control service. Future work will be conducted based on information processed through the Mayoralty's Geographic Information System (GIS).

"LGP and Mayoralty staff work together to collect and analyze data on water treatment units for the GIS; nearly all data has been collected for 2004. LGT specialists began data analysis and will conduct analysis training for water treatment department staff. To this end, LGP also delivered more than 200 publications to the technical training center at the Mayoralty's Water and Sewage Department and installed 50 computers for the Baghdad governorate Water and Sewage offices."
And to combat water shortages in Baghdad (link in PDF), USAID has commenced "rehabilitating a water treatment plant at Sharkh Dijlah, located on the Tigris River, north of the city. This existing water treatment plant was designed to process 120 million gallons per day (MGD); however, the actual operating capacity was as low as 36 MGD, due to inefficient equipment. USAID is rehabilitating portions of the existing Sharkh Dijlah plant under Phase II and is completing a 50 MGD expansion of the plant under Phase I. The Phase I expansion is expected to be complete in March 2005. Together, these two phases are expected to increase the supply of treated water by over 100 MGD." Work is also continuing on the construction of a new water treatment plant in Baghdad's Sadr City, and on the expansion of water intake structures and a raw water pump station close to that locality.

Public health and sanitation will be assisted through this recent project (link in PDF): "Municipal solid waste specialists from USAID's Local Governance Program(LGP) continued to work with the Baghdad Mayoralty on the development of a landfill in the city's northeast. During the past week, geo-tech testing and survey fieldwork were completed and the Ministry of Defense signed a letter granting permission to proceed with the project. LGP is also conducting ongoing training for Mayoralty staff members on managing and designing effective systems for solid waste collection, transfer, and dumping. Training will provide an opportunity for Mayoralty staff involved in solid waste activities to interact, ask questions, and address issues related to solid waste management. Finally, 658 dumpsters have been received by the Mayoralty." And the Arab Organization for Industrial Development and Mining will be training Iraqi specialists in the latest best-practice environmental and waste management techniques.

Other Coalition nations are also involved in the reconstruction effort in the areas where their troops are stationed. Here is one
Japanese project:

"Last year, the Government of Japan decided to extend to the Governorate of Al-Muthanna grassroots human security grant aid for the Project for the Rehabilitation of Mahdi-Sawa Road in Al-Muthanna...

"The basic infrastructure of the Governorate of Al-Muthanna is particularly under-developed compared with other parts of the country, because of the oppression under the former government, the economy battered by the war with Iran, the economic sanctions after the Gulf War and other factors. Roads and bridges are therefore in extremely poor condition, hampering the smooth traffic of water tank trucks or emergency vehicles and directly affecting people's daily lives. School-commuting roads also need to be improved. To remedy such a situation, it has been decided to provide the present assistance (totaling approximately 2,012,000 dollars or about 220 million yen) for the Road and Bridge Department of the Governorate of Al-Muthanna to asphalt Mahdi-Sawa Road (total length: about 20 km)."
In health, the Ministry of Health has now submitted its development plan for 2005, which is worth 60 billion dinars ($41 million) and includes projects as diverse as establishing a new 200-bed hospital in the province of Maisan; the construction of a burns unit, a consultation clinic, and an emergency unit in Bakuba Hospital; the construction of the Medical City in Baghdad province, and developing Ibn El-Nefees Cardiology and Blood Vessels Hospital in Baghdad province. The authorities are also importing 600 new ambulances from Canada and Saudi Arabia. The first of its kind center for disability in Iraq is getting new equipment at a cost of $5 million; the center will among other things assist 4,000 quadriplegic children. A new center for cancer research and treatment is also being currently planned.

Meanwhile, a
new training institution, expected to open in October, will help to raise the standards of medical care throughout Iraq:

"Sledgehammering a wall of a deserted building inside a US-protected area in Baghdad, Iraqi constructors joined their other compatriots to take another step forward to rebuild the war-ravaged country.

"On the site of the old building, which used to be a center for training special bodyguards for the toppled Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, it would erect an academy that would train professional medical personnel for the country's postwar health system.

"The US-funded program, with costs exceeding 4 million US dollars, was part of an effort to train human resources for the Health Ministry, acting minister Muhammed Ali al-Hakim said. 'One of the major priorities for the ministry is training and capacity building of doctors and medical employees,' Hakim said."
Iraqi authorities have also started a drive to recruit back into the health system medical personnel who lost jobs because of political reasons under the Saddam regime.

Western expertise continues to help in the development of Iraqi health system:

"The scene that greeted one Emory nurse when she arrived in the Kurdish territory of northern Iraq could not have been less like a well-stocked Emory clinic.

"Even basic equipment was in short supply, and there were burn victims suffering visibly in the Kurdish hospitals that she visited. 'It was heartbreaking,' said Linda Spencer, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing associate professor.

"The Washington Kurdish Institute, a nonprofit research and educational organization, asked Spencer to travel to Kurdish territory in northern Iraq in August 2003. She spent three weeks visiting hospitals and speaking with Kurdish nurses about developing a continuing education program.

"Two years have passed since then, and Kurdish and visiting nurses are now using Spencer's program. The training she provided could help establish a viable health care system in the tumult of the fledgling and war-torn democracy."
And on the higher level (link in PDF), "USAID's Iraq Transition Initiative (ITI) is providing thousands of grants to support the activities of local government institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Recent ITI accomplishments in the
area of health include:

"- An ITI grant supported the rehabilitation of a health clinic in central Iraq that will benefit 250,000 people. The work will also build the capacity of local medical practitioners and encourage political stability and moderation by demonstrating that positive change can take place in the new Iraq.

"- A $13,000 ITI grant supported the publication of a health care association journal in south-central Iraq. The magazine helps educate health care professionals and the general public on modern practices. Members of the association previously participated in democracy trainings organized by USAID's Local Governance Program, and are now working to reestablish health care facilities and disseminate medical information.

"- A $57,481 ITI grant helped to renovate a primary health care clinic in south central Iraq, providing new windows and doors, roof repair, and the installation of sanitation and water systems. The grant also supported discussions with diverse community groups who identified improved health care facilities as a community priority.

"- An ITI grant valued at $53,163 allowed a second primary health care clinic in south central Iraq to rehabilitate its facilities. The grant provided the labor and equipment needed to install new doors and windows, repair the roof, sanitize the water system and replace damaged tiles."
In education, USAID continues to coordinate aid for Iraqi universities (link in PDF):

"More than 8,500 books have been delivered to five Iraqi Universities with the support of USAID's Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program. The books include disciplines such as engineering, law, medicine, dentistry, art history, anthropology, foreign languages, biology, chemistry, physics, women's studies, and electronics. One of the largest book drives in the world, this initiative has involved book collection and cataloging by discipline, dividing books between the five participating Iraqi Universities, and finally packing and shipping the books to each school. The books have been donated by individuals, book stores, publishing companies, and other organizations from around the globe, ranging from the London Mathematical Society to university students in India. Most donations came from University of Oklahoma students and faculty."
In other recent HEAD initiatives (link in PDF), the Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID), led by Jackson State University, is building capacity of three Iraqi universities in the areas of public health and sanitation. You can also read this story about one of the American academics involved with the cooperative USAID projects to rebuild Iraqi universities, University of Oklahoma professor Tom Owens. "[The Iraqis] have a phenomenal foundation of knowledge. They're well trained, they're educated, they're thoughtful, and they've been denied access to any other opinions for 15 years," says Owens.

In other higher education and training news, a
College for Humanities will be shortly established in the Al-Najaf Al-Ashraf district. The French government is providing 69 doctoral scholarships for Iraqi students in various fields at French universities. Another 10 PhD and 20 master degree fellowships will be offered by Russia.

training courses are commencing in the Althawar city to upskill workers; the courses are taught in English. More training colleges will be established to fight unemployment in Alnaseriyah city. The Royal Scientific Association in Jordan, in conjunction with UNESCO, is organizing computer training courses for higher education and research personnel. Employees of Iraqi Ministry of Education have already recently benefited from a computer training course organized by the Jordanian authorities and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. And a few more donations have eventuated from a recent UNESCO roundtable meeting: "Her Highness The First Lady of Qatar, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Misand, who is a Special UNESCO Envoy for Basic and Higher Education, pledged $1 million dollars donation from QNB in addition to the $15 million she provided to the International Fund for Higher Education in Iraq in 2003; the Republic of Korea pledged $200,000 while Doha Bank pledged $30,000."

Meanwhile, USAID is continuing to assist on the
primary school level (link in PDF): "198,540 Secondary School Student Kits providing basic supplies for learning have arrived at Directorate of Education (DOE) warehouses in 12 governorates. Iraq has 21 Directorates of Education, including four in Baghdad and one in every other governorate... The remaining 326,460 student kits are currently in storage at Umm Qasr seaport and will soon be delivered to DOE warehouses. 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 2,014 schools will receive kits." In other school news, environmental awareness education will no be part of Iraqi school curriculum.

In agriculture,
the United Nations is contributing to the reconstruction of the sector:

"United Nations bodies have begun a series of projects to improve agricultural production in Iraq, including irrigation, fertilizers and the building of skills, the world organization's mission in the country announced today.

"The UN Development Group Trust Fund (UNDG TF) is carrying out a $35 million programme to strengthen basic irrigation and drainage engineering as well as farming skills in Iraq. The programme also seeks to encourage professionals and technicians from different disciplines to work together to benefit farmers.

"For its part the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has distributed 500 tons of fertilizers to nearly 4,000 beneficiaries in Basra, Missan, Muthana and Thi-Qar governorates, and is procuring $6.8 million worth of equipment and livestock under a UNDG TF supported programme."
USAID (link in PDF) continues to assist, too, most recently with its work to build capacity of Iraqi veterinarians ("Agricultural Reconstruction and Development for Iraq (ARDI) program... began distributing 'Vet-in-a-Box' kits in 2004 to veterinary clinics that were rehabilitated earlier by the program. Vet-in-a-Box is a veterinary clinic start-up kit that includes 48 items for rehabilitated veterinary clinics including stethoscopes, thermometers, syringes, scalpels, suture material, dehorners, and other instruments and accessories.") and assisting the Iraqi authorities with the development of a new program to promote olive production.

Iraqi authorities themselves are working to develop the sector: "The Department of Agriculture in Waset started to design
two modern agricultural villages to be built in the district. The two villages are planned to absorb veterinary and agricultural institutes' graduates... Each village will include 100 houses... [and] each graduate will receive a house, a ID 100,000 [$68] monthly salary and [own land]. In addition, the project includes health center, shopping facilities, a police center and other services." The Ministry of Agriculture is making plans for boosting potato production throughout Iraq.

The authorities in Baghdad have started a program of
tree planting throughout the capital to beautify the city and to restore some of its former environment.

And in the continuing efforts to revive the
southern marshlands, thought by some to be the original "Garden of Eden" and drained by Saddam as punishment for the rebellious Shia, high level regional officials are meeting in Bahrain to plot further strategy. "The meeting is a joint effort organised by the Regional Organisation for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Geneva-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Also taking part is the Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Centre, based in Bahrain." By way of some background you can read this story:

"The family of marsh Arabs who had lived in this smashed house was named Tweresh, said Hamid Muhammad Hashim, walking carefully over the fallen bricks in his cracked leather sandals. He had visited them; his cousin used to live right over there, Hashim said, pointing to another ruin sitting amid the rubble of its collapsed roof.

"A dike that Saddam Hussein's government finished nine years ago had drained this marsh, once part of an incomparable ecosystem in southern Iraq spread across 18,000 square kilometers, or 7,000 square miles, that Saddam systematically destroyed.

"After sealing this dike, the government gave families 24 hours to leave and never come back, Hashim said. The ruined houses were left sitting on dusty little hills in a barren and bone-dry desert. He was 15 then.

"But when Saddam's government fell in April 2003, villagers went to the dike and gouged holes in it using shovels, bare hands and at least one piece of heavy equipment, a floating backhoe.

"Since then, something miraculous has occurred: reeds and cattails have sprouted up again; fish, snails and shrimp have returned to the waters; egrets and storks perch on the jagged remains of the walls, coolly surveying the territory as if they had never left."
The revival is under way, with plenty of assistance from international organisations and experts.

HUMANITARIAN AID: About 125 representatives from 70 organizations as well as 16 Iraqi leaders have attended the latest conference organised by the US military in Tikrit. The purpose of the conference was to facilitate the work of
Iraqi charities and Non-Government Organistions in delivering assistance to needy Iraqis.

UNICEF is distributing
emergency water supplies (link in PDF):

"Throughout the month of January, UNICEF distributed about 21 million liters of drinking water in Baghdad through water tankers. Approximately 20 million liters, benefiting 180,000 people, were provided mainly in the eastern parts of Baghdad city, where water services have been almost completely disrupted for some time. UNICEF also provided water tankering services in the Western part of Baghdad for several days, after a bomb blast created a serious leak in the water main of one of the two major water treatment plants, which serves about half the population of Baghdad. This emergency response provided approximately one million liters of water to about 40,000 people."
"UNICEF's distribution of water also continues in Fallujah where some 67,000 Internally Displaced Persons were provided with 10.7 million litres of drinking water."

Private actions throughout the United States are also playing an important role on the grassroots level. This from

"Oak Grove Lower Elementary first-grader Mackenzie Kendrick drew a card filled with hearts and squiggle lines to send to children in Iraq on Friday. But it was the message inside that nearly brought a tear to her teacher, Mary McCoy's eyes. 'We know you guys are sweet,' Kendrick's card said. 'We have some shoes for you. I hope you guys are safe. I hope you have a nice day. We are doing this from the heart.'

"McCoy's class at Oak Grove is participating in Operation Shoe Share, a humanitarian effort in which students donate shoes to Iraqi schoolchildren, many of whom do not own any. Operation Shoe Share started as the result of an online posting by Sgt. Lamar Price with the 278th Regimental Combat Team at Camp Caldwell in Iraq."
From Illinois: "Almost every species of the animal kingdom along with imaginary figures are represented in the hundreds of Beanie Babies piled in the office at Northpoint Elementary School. Students have brought the stuffed animals by the armful as part of the Beanies for Baghdad effort to support the troops in Iraq. They were inspired in part by their art teacher Matt Thomas, who served in Iraq for seven months before returning in October."

Brownie Girl Scout from
Delaware County are also contributing: "Their mission was to load 3,500 pounds of clothes, blankets and soccer balls onto a truck for shipment to Iraq. The girls from Brownie Troop No. 9 based in Lansdowne collected the items, made donations themselves and enlisted some corporate donations. The entire troop took part in collecting and sorting the items, but only a few girls were excused from school for the morning to help in the loading. The massive project grew from a conversation between assistant leader Christine DuBois-Buxbaum and 1st Lt. Timothy Jones, who is now serving in Baghdad, Iraq. Lt. Jones' daughter, Raven, is a troop member."

And students from
North Carolina are collecting school supplies for their Iraqi peers: "A community service club at Butler High School is going to collect school supplies and send them overseas to children in Iraq. The club's vice president, Jasmin al-Baghdadi, came up with the idea. 'We took that initiative and said: "You know what" This is something we can do to help these children, because education is their future,' al-Baghdadi said."

In a first operation of this kind, Japanese Air Self-Defense Force plane has
transported a 5-year-old Iraqi girl with a congenital heart defect to Kuwait, en route to the United States for a life-saving surgery. Read also this story of a Maine surgeon who is saving the life of an Iraqi girl with pro bono treatment. And here's the story of an Iowan man who sponsored a 5-year old Iraqi boy and his father to come over to the United States for the boy's life saving surgery. You can also read about the good work of Air Serv International, which provides humanitarian flight operations in and out of Iraq.

Private initiative from inside Iraq is also aiming to assist the
older Iraqis: "The Humanitarian Association of Retirees in Iraq is expected to inaugurate in the next few days a new non-profitable consumer market aimed at supplying the retirees with durable goods though convenient installment payments. Mr. Abdulredha Al-Shayaa', Head of Association, said that the Association has undertaken all necessary measure to assure this market's success based on agreements signed with several trade companies. He added that this initiative aims to enrich the purchasing power of the Iraqi retirees. It enables the retirees to buy durable commodities based on their financial abilities, the official said." And in Basra, the Shams Aldoha Association is planning to construct a new orphanage and establish recreational and therapy programs for the orphans.

THE COALITION TROOPS: More than ever, the involvement of the troops in
reconstruction of Iraq continues, as this report explains:

"Scott Walton studied government history in college. The U.S. Army trained him as an armor officer. He knew nothing about water-treatment plants or electrical substations.

"But in his year as a cavalry company commander in Iraq, Capt. Edward S. Walton has spent as much time dealing with electrical power, sewage and garbage collection as he has fighting the insurgency. He's now a resident expert in what the Army calls SWET - sewage, water, electricity and trash.

"President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have spoken recently of shifting the emphasis in Iraq from combat to training the nation's security forces. But equally important to the military effort, top commanders say, is a vast sweep of projects designed to improve the basics of day-to-day life.

"Soldiers such as Walton are at the forefront of a long, tedious and often frustrating endeavor. Building water-treatment plants and setting up garbage-collection routes is hardly glamorous, and work is regularly brought to a halt by insurgents. But the infrastructure projects are the third pillar of the U.S. exit strategy, along with battling insurgents and training Iraqi forces."
Returning troops can already look to many achievements left behind:

"Utah National Guard soldiers returning home on Saturday recounted their yearlong deployment in Iraq - overseeing the construction of schools, Iraqi police stations, watchtowers and security checkpoints and paving the Main Supply Route, dubbed 'MSR Tampa,' a road all U.S. convoys must travel.

" 'MSR Tampa was nothing more than a goat trail when we got there,' said Sgt. 1st Class Jay Howard, of West Jordan. 'The dust got so thick that there were several head-on collisions.' Howard was among 80 soldiers from the guard's 115th Engineer Group who landed at the Air Guard Base near Salt Lake

"Among their souvenirs is a metal spike painted gold, used in a ceremony marking the paving of MSR Tampa after two Iraqi contractors, working from the north and south, met. The ceremony at the Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq was reminiscent of the 1869 celebration of the driving of a golden spike that linked the transcontinental railroads at Promontory Summit in northern Utah."
Read also about the everyday dangerous work of the "Apache Bomb Hunters" of the 467th Engineer Battalion who cruise local roads, detecting and disarming roadside bombs.

Meanwhile, the
Georgian (the country, not the state) contingent is set to more than double, going from 300 to 850 military personnel, with the new troops protecting the UN buildings and personnel throughout the country.

Good news for the American troops - but still a long way to go to guarantee security for all Iraqis:

"American troop deaths in Iraq fell to the lowest level in seven months in February, preliminary Pentagon statistics show. Initial tallies show 58 U.S. troops were killed in February, the smallest number since July.

"One of the reasons for the drop in U.S. casualties seems to have been the decision by insurgents to shift their attacks toward Iraqi security forces and other Iraqi targets. For example, a suicide attack on police and army recruits in Hillah, south of Baghdad, on Monday killed at least 125.

"Senior U.S. commanders have said the war may be entering a new phase. Among the reasons they have cited:

"- The Army and Marines have dramatically improved their ability to electronically jam remotely detonated roadside bombs.

"- The military is getting better intelligence on the insurgents. 'We have had a lot more intelligence tips since the election,' said Gen. John Abizaid, who commands all U.S. forces in the Middle East.

"- Abizaid also said the insurgents were able to field only an estimated 3,500 attackers during nationwide elections Jan. 30. Prior estimates had put the number of insurgents at roughly 20,000."
Meanwhile, Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, reports that the bomb-making abilities of Iraqi insurgents have declined recently, possibly as a result of multiple arrests of key leaders and bomb-makers. Gen. Casey also reports that the overall level of violence is dropping: "Last week was the lowest level of attacks since April."

The American troops, meanwhile, are constantly
adapting their tactics in dealing with the local population. As "US News & World Report" explains: "American officers train for years on infantry tactics, how to maneuver on an enemy and lead soldiers into battle. But some of the most crucial challenges for American soldiers today may be the human interactions for which they are often less prepared. In many cases, these have gone badly. Raids on Iraqi homes, for instance, have very likely generated as many enemies as they have captured. But the best young officers are finding ways, as Shaw has done, to turn even bad situations into opportunities. And, belatedly, the Army is adapting. Many of the officers most recently sent to Iraq have been given crash courses in how to work with local leaders to win their support." Read the rest of the report on the lessons of Afghanistan being currently applied in Iraq.

According to US officials, "Iraq now has 141,761 members in its
security forces. This is up from about 136,000 trained and equipped in time for the Jan. 30 election. The forces include the army, police and the border patrol. The Iraqi military has 59,689 servicemembers: 58,992 in the army, 186 in the air force and 517 in the navy." Iraqi security forces are also assuming more control over the security of their own country:

"In a few days the control of Bataween, a densely and low-income quarter in the heart of Baghdad, will be solely Iraqi forces' responsibility, according to a senior National Guard officer. Brigadier Abdujabbar Khalaf said by the transfer of Bataween to Iraqi authority, his forces will be in full control of four major areas of Baghdad.

"Khalaf, commander of National Guard 40th Brigade, said his troops recently were intensifying their presence in Baghdad and have recently foiled two suicide bomb attacks. 'Our troops receive intensive training on how to search houses and storm trouble spots. They currently receive courses on how to use the Internet and other electronic gadgets to boost their confidence. It is the first time we have such things in the Iraqi army,' he said.

"Iraqi troops are now fully in charge of security in the district of Adhamiya, the old Muthana Airport and the restive al-Haifa Street."
Overall, "the US military has already begun to transfer authority to Iraqi security forces in 14 of 18 provinces in the country." Speaking of Haifa Street, meet one of the officers now in charge of policing the area:

"On April 9, 2003, Mohammed Faik Raouf aimed his surface-to-air missile launcher at a US Apache helicopter and pulled the trigger. The weapon failed and the chopper was unharmed.

"The day marked the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime, but only a temporary end to Raouf's military career. Now he's back in action as a general in the new US-trained Iraqi army...

"His beat covers Haifa Street, a rebel hotspot regarded as the most dangerous district in Baghdad. But it is on a symbolic level that the general's territory is most important...

"Mohammed, who was an air defence commander in Saddam's army - he likes to boast that he shot down a US fighter jet over Baghdad in the 1991 Gulf War - is being watched with interest. The 39-yearold general, who speaks good English, clearly relishes the role he has been given.

"And despite the dangers his new role brings, he is living up to the expectations of his US army trainers...

"The general stopped on several occasions, closely surrounded, as ever, by his bodyguards, to listen to locals' complaints about the lack of electricity, running water and security. 'I'm not a traitor, I'm a good guy, but I need to get the terrorists out of this country,' he told one group that gathered around him."

With all that concerted action, what used to be the most dangerous street in Baghdad in now getting a lot safer:

"The back alleys and dense apartment buildings of Baghdad's Haifa Street once were all the protection that Saad Jameel needed after he lobbed grenades at Iraqi policemen or fired machine-gun rounds at American convoys.

"He'd strike at will, dip into a warren of bullet-pocked storefronts and hide among neighbors he's known all his life. Confident and safe, Jameel sometimes chuckled as the troops he had just ambushed fired blindly at an attacker who was long gone.

"One day last month, however, Jameel's name turned up on a most-wanted list broadcast on al-Iraqiya, Iraq's state-run television channel. He was amazed at how much the authorities knew about him: his leadership of an insurgent cell on Haifa Street, his involvement in a string of attacks on Iraqi security forces, even his aliases.

"Jameel's safe zone crumbled as the U.S. and Iraqi forces he'd battled went on the offensive with patrols, mass arrests and a hotline for informants. He fled his neighborhood, his cell was paralyzed, and half his men were taken into custody.

"For the first time, Jameel conceded in an interview earlier this week, insurgents along Baghdad's meanest street are feeling squeezed."
Meanwhile, the Iraqi authorities are reporting successes from the hot-spot of Mosul:
"Iraqi troops have spread their control over Mosul, according to Interior Minister Falah al-Naqeeb.

"Insurgents controlled Mosul, the country's second largest city last November, after overrunning its 12 police stations. 'Mosul was on the point of collapse from the security point of view and under threat from organized gangs,' the minister said in an interview.

" 'The Interior Ministry was forced to take urgent measures, ferrying troops and commandos who have managed to return tranquility and stability to the city,' Naqeeb said. The minister said the troops have now established 'an intelligence and information' gathering center in the city which is receiving full cooperation from residents. The rallying of the city's nearly 1.7 million people behind Iraqi troops, according to Naqeeb, has been the catalyst for the latest success in Mosul.

"He said the troops have seized 500 suspects 'who were members of Mosul's most dangers armed gangs.' Of these, 200 were 'ring leaders who administered terrorist groups financed from abroad,' he said. He said his ministry had evidence that the suspects were responsible 'for crimes of kidnapping, murder, explosions and car bombs.' He said the ministry's specially trained commando units carried out house-to-house searches in the city and broke up 'scores of (criminal) cells and networks'."
Read also this briefing from the Iraqi Minister for Defence about the progress being made in building Iraqi army.

The training of
Iraqi Air Force is getting into gear, with Iraqi pilots being trained on their new fleet of C-130 transport planes. And in Samarra, a US Airman and a Marine are helping the Iraqi troops in setting up their communications networks.

You can also read this story how soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, are
helping to train 305th Battalion, an Iraqi Army unit at Camp Volunteer in Baghdad. Says 1st Lt. Yarub al-Taweed, 305th security platoon leader. "Our unit has come a long way over the past year - and our responsibilities have increased accordingly... When we formed the unit, we didn't have vehicles or armor, and now we've got (body) armor with plates, trucks and heavy weapons. We've had a lot of success on patrols because of our training, but mostly because we know the areas, we know the people and speak the language."

In Kut, the
Ukrainian troops "had finished training the first class in military engineering. The spokesman added that 680 Iraqi soldiers from four battalions had spent a month in training on how to treat explosives and mines, and expanding their skills in other military spheres." Germany, meanwhile, "is going to offer the financial assistance to Iraq in the field of clearing land-mines... The assistance will amount to 674,000 euro [$0.9 mln]. This sum will be granted to a German organization that will train and offer the needed knowledge and experience for a special staff to clear mines in Baghdad and its vicinities... In the last few months technicians were trained in Jordan for this purpose... A 1 million square meters were [already] cleared from mines , and 14 tons of explosives were destroyed."

The training is not just restricted to military matters: "As Iraq's new army continues to form and grow, the effort to build an accompanying justice system took a historic step forward Feb. 23 with the first-ever
Military Law Conference. Held at the Baghdad Convention Center, the conference brought together Iraqi civilian judges who have been appointed to serve as military judges for cases involving criminal charges against members of the Iraqi Armed Forces, members of the Iraqi Judge Advocate Corps and the local Baghdad Bar Association, as well as retired judges and other dignitaries... One of the main purposes of the conference was to discuss how to handle serious criminal issues and breaches of discipline."

In other
non-combat related training, "Germany pledged... to beef up its UAE-based military support for Iraq, while also signing an agreement to provide the UAE with 32 specially-equipped reconnaissance vehicles. Under agreements signed on the final day of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's week-long tour of the Gulf region, the German military is to establish a battalion-strength combat engineers unit in the UAE to help train Iraqi forces in road repairs. The new unit will receive 2 million euros (2.6 million dollars) worth of equipment including ten heavy-duty transport vehicles. Iraqi forces will also be equipped with ambulance vehicles as well. Germany's military is also to provide training, in Germany, to Iraqi troops in removing and disposing of ordnance." As another report reminds us, "the UAE-German cooperation began on November 17, 2004 when 122 Iraqi personnel were trained to operate, repair and maintain Daimler-Chrysler trucks. The UAE undertook to bear the cost of 100 trucks, in addition to the cost of transporting them from Germany to the UAE and then to Iraq. The UAE further covered the expenses of 40 trainers and translators from Germany in addition to the expenses of the Iraqi trainees."

Ukraine, which will be withdrawing its troops around October this year, will maintain military advisors and specialists in Iraq and will help to arm the Iraqi army and train its personnel in Ukraine.

In late February, the Iraq Police Service graduated
1,993 new police officers from the 8-week basic police training courses (259 police recruits from the Sulaymaniyah Regional Police Training Center and 1,734 recruits from the Baghdad Police Academy, including 46 female police recruits). "To date, more than 25,000 police recruits have completed the 8-week training course developed for new recruits. An additional 35,000 police officers have completed the 3-week Transitional Integration Program (TIPs) course that provides officers with prior experience a condensed version of the longer basic police training course." In early March, the security forces graduated 72 police officers from the Emergency Response Unit course, 292 police officers from advanced and specialty courses at the Adnan Training Facility, and 27 officers from the Special Weapons and Tactics training course.

The focus is
not just on security: "The southern city of Nasiriya, home to some of the country's most fascinating archaeological sites, will soon have a special police force to guard its antiquities. A small group of 25 police officers has already ended a three-week intensive course on how to mount ambushes and hunt down smugglers and illegal diggers whose numbers are reported to have mushroomed recently. The batch received training at the hands of Italian experts currently, shouldering the task of raising a special force to guard against the smuggling of antiquities in the country. Italian forces and police stationed in Nasiriya organised the course in which the Iraqi officers were also trained on the use of light weapons. Abdulamir al-Hamdani, Nasiriya's antiquities chief, said he was hoping the Italians will eventually train up to 300 Iraqi police officers the department has raised to protect Nasiriya's antiquities."

Meanwhile, the training of 770 Iraqi police, prosecutors and prison officers, conducted under the auspices of the European Union (the 10 million euro - $13.4 mln- EU Integrated Rule of Law Mission for Iraq or
EUJUST LEX), will commence in June and last for one year under the leadership of Stephen White, the former senior Northern Irish police officer.

The arming of Iraqi security forces continues, too. The first two of the expected 50 U.S.-made
Armored Security Vehicles have arrived in Iraq for the 8th Mechanized Police Brigade in Taji. "The first 20 of an order of nearly 400 new ambulances are being delivered to the 1st Division of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Special Forces units. Another 200 ambulances are expected by the end of March, with the remainder scheduled for delivery by May." The Iraqi army will also benefit in longer term from the fact that US Marines are planning to leave most of their equipment behind in Iraq when they withdraw from the country - some of it will be scrapped, but those pieces still in good condition will be sold on to the Iraqi authorities.

Meanwhile, "the Ministry of Interior... started in establishing an
intelligence operations, communication and control center, by equipping it with satellite cell phones and modern computers... The ministry transferred one of its bases to be the location of that center, which is considered the first project of its kind in Iraq... The center [is expected to] play a great role in fighting sabotage operations, as it enables police forces to receive instant and direct reports from all over Iraq, in addition to securing direct contact with the Ministry of Interior, to supply with concurrent necessary information in the course of its activities... This center would provide police forces, which are spread all over Iraq, with the latest information and security reports, in addition to providing with them with instant support."

In the stories of "community policing": "A group of Huriyah citizens
captured four terrorists who were responsible for ambushes against security forces in Iraq along Highway 6. They kept hold of them Special Police Commandos could pick them up... Residents gathered outside to greet the commandos with applause. An announcement from the Mosque loudspeakers welcomed the arrival of the Iraqi Police." In one day of recent operations, Iraqi citizens led the troops to a roadside bomb north of Ar Ramadi, and to two weapons caches in Fallujah. Elsewhere, "opposition to the insurgency apparently boiled over into bloodshed yesterday 25 miles south of Baghdad as the townsmen of Wihda attacked militants thought to be planning a raid on the town and killed seven."

The general public attitude towards insurgents and terrorists seems to be swinging away from passivity and towards open anger, as evidenced by the recent
anti-terrorism rally in the aftermath of the deadly Hilla suicide bombing, as well as the condemnation of the attack (and attacks against civilians generally) by the main Sunni group, the Muslim Scholars Association (there are also reports that the Association is acting as an intermediary in negotiations between the authorities and some insurgent groups). You can also read this report on the growing public anger at the insurgents ("Iraq's majority Shiite Arabs and ethnic Kurds have long criticized the largely Sunni Arab insurgency, portraying the militants as terrorists, loyalists of the Saddam Hussein regime and foreign fighters. But the insurgents are now also being criticized publicly by prominent Sunnis, including opponents of the U.S. presence.") and more on the aftermath of the Hilla bombing. The latest polling from Baghdad also indicates the overwheliming determination of Iraqis to combat terrorism in their midst.

Meanwhile, as this report notes,
"Insurgent confession videos transfix Iraqis":
"A distraught mother, dressed in black, stares into a TV camera and declares, 'I smashed the terrorist' with a shoe. 'He killed my son.' The camera then focuses on the alleged murderer, Mohammed Adnan, who is facing the grieving woman and her sobbing grandson. The teenage boy says that Adnan, whose left eye appears swollen, was dressed as a police officer when he came to their home last fall and took his father away, never to be seen again.

"The professional-looking videotapes, which began airing recently on the government-owned Iraqia television network, are among the most dramatic in an ongoing series of insurgent 'confession' videos that have galvanized Baghdad. The one-hour tapes are a sort of reality TV program whose aim is to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Aired twice a day, they serve as a counterpoint to the now-familiar images shot by insurgents of cowering hostages and beheadings. They are also a centerpiece of an intense government campaign designed to convince an edgy population that the fledgling Iraqi government and its hard-hit security forces are making Iraq safer."
As the report notes, "The video clips are a big hit in entertainment-starved Iraq... The program's popularity has not been lost on insurgents, who have launched a public relations counter-offensive denouncing the tapes as a hoax and threatening in pamphlets to impose 'God's justice' on staffers of the government-funded network." You can also find out more about the TV campaign in this article. Iraq the Model blog has more, including some photo stills of the show and partial transcripts.

In other security successes: the capture of
Mohamed Najam Ibrahim, the head of one of Al Zarqawi's cells, thought to be responsible for a string of recent beheadings; the capture of seventeen suspects and several weapons caches throughout Anbar province in just one day of a security sweep (bringing the total detained to 104); the capture by the Syrian authorities of Saddam's half-brother and an insurgency financier, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan (number 36 on the 55 most wanted list) together with 29 other Baath Party officials; detaining of 35 suspected insurgents in Mosul; killing of 8 and capture of 11 insurgents by the Iraqi army at an insurgents checkpoint outside Baghdad; the capture of several insurgents, including the group's leader and his deputies, in a village outside Baghdad; locating and destroying an underground bunker with a weapons cache in Kirkuk; capture of "scores" of insurgents and weapons caches across the Anbar province, Mosul and Basra by the American, Iraqi and British troops; the capture of a suspected bomb-maker in Diyala province; the arrest of 66 suspects in the week-long operation in Samarra (more here); the arrest of over 100 suspected insurgents and seizing weapons in North Babil province; numerous arrests and seizure of huge weapons caches in Mosul ("The largest included four anti-aircraft missiles, 116 rocket-propelled grenades and 11 launchers, five AK-47 automatic rifles, more than 200,000 rounds of ammunition, several complete mortar systems of various sizes and several dozen rockets."); and successful repulsing of insurgent attacks also around Mosul. Overall, there are now 10,000 suspected insurgents and terrorists in Iraqi and Coalition custody throughout the country.

Remember Monsignor Louis Sako, Catholic Chaldean-rite Archbishop of Kirkuk?
The last time we've met him, the Archbishop was mightily annoyed at the Western media for concentrating on the negative news out of Iraq and ignoring all the positive developments. A few months, and an election later, His Grace is perhaps more sanguine about the news coverage but no less committed to letting the rest of the world know how the things are moving ahead in his country:

"Iraq is rich not only in petroleum, but also for its agriculture and tourism potential. For years, the country had been impoverished by the regime which had turned Iraq into one big military barrack. Now, the economy is picking up and all sort of goods are on the market. During the embargo, nothing was available. Things have improved also in terms of salaries. For example, at one time a university professor earned just 10 dollars a month and was thus forced to find other ways to make ends meet, such as selling newspapers, driving a taxi, and so on. Instead, now, depending on various factors, he earns somewhere between 700 and 1400 dollars per month."
As Archbishop Sako notes, it's not just the economic development, but reconstruction and democratic growth that are making strides in Iraq: "A new Iraq was born, but it's still an infant facing many risks and challenges. It needs help to grow. This is a task for the entire international community and in particular Arab states because, for better or for worse, what goes on in Iraq has an impact on the rest of the region and because generally Iraq has a role to play as an example for the rest of the Middle East. Personally, I think this impact is already playing out and I'm referring to Lebanon and Egypt, to elections in Saudi Arabia and more. I think Iraq's future will be much better. I think democracy and pluralism will develop in an Iraq where everyone will be able to freely find fulfillment. In my opinion, compared to other countries in the region, Iraq will be able to experience great growth and a very sound economy, given the resources it has. Many Iraqi who expatriated will return to invest their money."

Together with the Archbishop, we can only say "amen".


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