Monday, June 13, 2005

Good news from Iraq, part 29 

Note: Also available at "The Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman, and all of you for your continuing support. Please also note that because of the change in publishing schedule brought about by last week's Memorial Day weekend, this issue contains good news and positive developments from the past three week, and not two, as is usually the case.

"You can't fix in six months what it took 35 years to destroy." These words, spoken by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq's first democratically elected Prime Minister in half a century, should be inscribed in three-foot tall characters as a preface to all the reporting from Iraq. Sadly, the underlying reality all too often seems to escape many reporters caught in the excitement of "now".

In an opinion piece in "Christian Science Monitor", A. Heather Coyne concurs with the gradualist view:
Having spent the past two years in Iraq, first as an Army officer and now as the head of the Iraq office of the Washington-based US Institute of Peace, I am struck by the determination and steadiness of Iraqis as they struggle to build a stable, democratic country, and by the continuing, firm commitment of Iraqis to participate in - and manage - that process.

In spite of a constant threat from the various insurgencies over the past year, Iraqi government agencies, political parties, and civil society organizations have gradually expanded their capabilities and activities. They will tell you how much more they could have done had they not been constrained by security threats or - almost as important - the lack of reliable infrastructure, but what they have accomplished already is admirable, as is their unflagging determination in the face of these threats and constraints.

There is a phrase I hear in almost every conversation with Iraqis that captures the mood of this process: hutwa bi hutwa, or "step by step."
Below, some of those often overlooked or under-reported steps that people of Iraq and their foreign friends have been taking over the past five weeks.

SOCIETY: Samir al-Saboon, the Sunni head of Iraq's National Security Agency, has recently shared the results of latest opinion research in Iraq, taken in May:
Recent polling data shows that fully two-thirds of Iraqis believe their country is headed in the right direction, Saboon said. While a poll in January showed only 11 percent of Sunni Muslims in Iraq shared that view, that percentage has since grown to 40, he said...

Recent polling data shows that fully two-thirds of Iraqis believe their country is headed in the right direction, Saboon said. While a poll in January showed only 11 percent of Sunni Muslims in Iraq shared that view, that percentage has since grown to 40, he said.
Politically, the biggest task on the calendar is preparing Iraq's new democratic constitution by August this year. The committee to draft the document will be composed of 69 members: 55 members of the assembly, 13 Sunni representatives, and a member of a small Mandean sect. "Around half the Sunni representatives will be members of political parties and the others representatives from Sunnis regions, mainly in the centre and the west of the country." The 13 will be chosen by the Sunni community, not the Assembly or the committee. The committee's head is Shi'ite cleric Hummam Hammoudi, and his deputies a Kurdish legislator, Fouad Massoum, and a Sunni Arab lawmaker, Adnan al-Janabi.

Among the foreign offers of help, Indian government has volunteered its expertise to help draft the constitution.

Speaking of constitution drafting, there is already some good news:
Shiite legislators have decided not to push for a greater role for Islam in the new Iraqi constitution out of concern that the contentious issue will inflame religious sentiments and deepen sectarian tensions.

Instead, the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition that won the most seats in January’s elections, will advocate retaining the moderate language of Iraq’s temporary constitution that was drawn up under the auspices of the American occupation authority.

Humam Hamoudi, the Shiite cleric who heads the 55-member constitutional committee that will draft the new document, said that any attempt to debate the issue of Islamic law could ignite a firestorm of competing sectarian demands and that the brief references to Islam in three paragraphs of the temporary constitution should be left untouched.

"These paragraphs represent the middle ground between the secularists and those who want Islamic government, and I think the wisest course of action is to keep them as they are," he said in an interview at his Baghdad home. "Opening up the subject for discussion would provoke religious sentiments in the street."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jaffari has restated to the Assembly his government's vision - most importantly, "the political programme of the interim government set up following elections has the objective of building a federal, pluralist Iraq while respecting human rights and public freedoms."

In northern Iraq, after some initial delays, the local Kurdish assembly opens for business:
Parliament in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq has held its first session in the northern city of Irbil.

After recitations from the Koran, all 111 deputies took oaths of office under Kurdish national flags.

Iraq's President, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, attended the session, as well as the newly-elected President of the autonomous region, Massoud Barzani.

The two men who lead rival parties have effectively ruled the Kurdish region since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
Down south, the minority Sunnis are finally organizing themselves politically, thus ending their boycott of Iraq's democratic politics:
The newly created Sunni alliance, which has not adopted a name, will open its first office in Baghdad, with branches later in other cities.

"The decisions taken by this body will be shared by all Sunnis parties and movements, Islamists, independents, merchants, military officers, heads of tribes and workers," said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of the Sunni Endowment.

The charitable organization was one of three main Sunni groups to back the formation of the new organization. The others were the influential Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Islamic Party.

"We decided to establish this Sunni political and religious organization to speak on behalf the Arab Sunnis. We all have to work for the sake of Iraq to get this country out of this hard situation," said Sheik Lawrence Abid Ibrahim al-Hardan, 47, who is from restive Anbar province west of Baghdad.

Sunnis said they hope the organization will give them more of a say in Shi'ite-dominated Iraq and help bring the minority together ahead of new elections in December.
For extensive coverage see this report from "Al-Mendhar". In a related development, Sheikh Dr. Ali Al Fares Al Dailami, secretary of the Sunni-based Iraqi and Arab Clans’ Council has announced that his body will be entering into alliance with the former PM Iyad Allawi to “create a national alliance that includes various national forces in preparation for going into the coming elections process.”

USAID continues to support the parliamentary process through education (link in PDF): "A USAID partner providing support to the Iraqi National Assembly (INA) conducted the fourth in a series of general orientation sessions for INA members. The session was attended by 17 members of the "Iraqi List” (former Prime Minister Allawi’s list), the United Iraqi Alliance (including al-Dawa party, the National Independent Bloc and Al Fadheela Islamic Party) and independent members of the National Assembly. The program focused on the role of individual members of a legislature in a democratic society and tools to become effective representatives of the people. Topics of special interest included basic parliamentary functions and duties, rights and responsibilities of members of INA, powers and privileges, interpersonal skills development, and the importance of information-gathering and tools for public outreach. The seminar also included a presentation on the role of caucuses."

Turkey is likely to hold more courses for Iraqi politicians, given by the governing party, the opposition, the Supreme Court of Elections, and the Political Sciences Faculty and Middle East Public Administration. Meanwhile, between May 17 and 25, "the Government of Japan has been conducting election management training for 14 personnel who belong to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq headquarters in Baghdad or its branch offices in the Governorates of Al-Muthanna, An-Najaf, Washit and Dahuk."

There is also more assistance from the European Union to help improve Iraqi governance and administration:
The six men seated around the white classroom table -- including the pudgy Foreign Ministry attache, the former army captain, the man with the sad, brown eyes who introduced himself vaguely as a "director general" -- were the unlikely vanguard of Iraq's bold new experiment in democracy.

"What's most important are the principles," said Jean-Pierre Massias, the head of this University of Auvergne training program for senior Iraqi officials. "The rule of law. Checks and balances. Compromise. How local governments can be a tool to prevent conflicts. How to administer a country."

After bitterly dividing over the war, Europe is uniting to help reconstruct Iraq, and these civics lessons in central France are part of that effort. Plans are in the works to coach about 750 Iraqi judges and prison guards on Western law and to hold an international conference in Brussels. European programs to train Iraqi security forces are mostly taking place outside the turmoil-torn country. The same stipulation is tied to a French offer to drill 1,500 Iraqi troops and police.
Various UN programs and initiatives are also helping Iraqi administrators build capacity
- Specialists from the Ministries of Education (MoE) and Health (MoH) participated in a week-long training workshop on school sanitation and hygiene education.

- 16 female staff members from the MoE and Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA) undertook a 20-day study tour in Egypt, looking at all aspects of Early Childhood Development programmes.

- MoE participants developed a pilot project to cater for the learning needs of 50,000 children during a 3-day workshop on the Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP). This was a first opportunity for ministry staff from Baghdad and Northern Iraq to meet with each other and share experiences.

- 20 MOLSA social workers from 3 northern Governorates took part in a 2-week course representing the fourth phase in the Social Workers Training Course.

- 14 Iraqi journalists completed a four week intense journalism course from the American University of Cairo, increasing to 67 the total number of journalists who have participated in this course.

- 22 staff from the Ministry of Electricity participated in a training course in Japan and Korea. The engineers and technicians were trained in maintenance and assessment techniques for thermal generating power units; the backbone of Iraq’s power system.

- 4 staff from the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works completed an inter-country training on emergency water & sanitation disinfection.

- The Mine Risk Education Operational Plan for the Centre and South of Iraq resulted from a 3-day workshop held in Amman. The MRE Operational plan to be overseen by the National Mine Action Authority (NMAA) represented an important contribution to educating Iraqis to live safely in contaminated areas.

- 17 participants from 8 Governorates learned to develop rainfall and run off models for watershed catchments at a week long workshop held in Cairo with visiting American professors.

- Iraqi government administrators and policy makers from the water sector and the Ministry of Environment attended a workshop sharing the Jordanian water governance experience with participants from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Central Asia.

- 20 senior staff from the Ministry of Water Resources benefited from a project cycle workshop to enhance their water-related project management techniques.

- 23 representatives from the region including 2 Iraqi staff from the Ministry of Planning completed a workshop in Amman to enhance their skills and expertise in resource capacity management within the Contract Research and Development field.
Iraqi government can also draw on the expertise of its many expats. Here's a typical story:
More than 23 years ago, Basam Ridha Alhussaini escaped Iraq, fleeing the regime that had killed his two brothers for refusing to join the ruling Baath Party.

Today, Alhussaini returns to his homeland to begin working as an adviser to new Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

The San Dimas resident will play a role in the future of the wounded country, in its democracy, its rebuilding and its new beginning.

Alhussaini, 42, politically active in Iraqi-American relations, plans to remain in Iraq for at least six months, until a constitution is approved and a permanent national assembly is elected.

"Iraq is making a big turn historically, and I want to be a part of this," Alhussaini said. "I'm leaving my family and going to a hostile environment, but to me it's worth being part of that."
USAID, meanwhile, is assisting with the development of better and more modern administration (link in PDF):
USAID’s Iraq Economic Governance II (IEG II) program is working closely with Iraqi government counterparts to reform taxes and install a new, computerized budget system across the country. A transparent and functioning tax and budget system is essential to ensuring equitable collection and use of tax revenues. The Financial Management Information System (FMIS) has been installed at 44 government sites across Iraq, with staff fully trained in the new equipment’s use. The system is an online, automated accounting and budget system with a constantly updated database that is used by all branches of the Iraqi government. By July, FMIS will be up and running at 57 sites. IEG II recently completed all software training in Amman for technicians from nearly all the FMIS Phase I sites. Hardware was also recently installed in the Ministry of Planning and data center build-out work was completed for the Ministry of Finance.
Meanwhile, another first for Iraqi society and political system:
A former Iraqi minister will appear in court on Wednesday in the first government corruption case to be brought since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Layla Abdul Latif, labour minister in Iyad Allawi's interim government, faces a preliminary hearing into allegations that she misused public money. She denies any wrongdoing.

The case is one of five to emerge so far from investigations conducted by Iraq's anti-corruption authorities as they try to tackle what international watchdogs have described as rampant corruption in post-war Iraq.
Reuters is wrong - under Saddam, government corruption was not prosecuted, it was a way of life.

In cultural heritage news, half of the artifacts stolen from Iraqi museums following the liberation have been now recovered.

Iraqi athletes continue to prove that they can achieve excellence without the added incentive of Uday Hussein's torture chambers. Most recently, Iraqi weightlifters have scored 22 medals at the Arab Weightlifting Championships in Amman, Jordan.

Lastly, this story of one man's passion:
When he belches around Baghdad's old quarter on his spotless Harley Davidson, Kadhem Sharif, a powerlifting champion sporting wrap-around sunglasses, makes for an unlikely sight. And the 53-year-old is fully aware that his passion for one of the most recognizable symbols of the American way of life is not to everybody's liking in post-war Iraq.

But his garage is a carbon copy of any Harley aficionado's den in the United States, complete with posters of naked "babes on bikes." And his collection of 40-plus motorbikes provides a condensed history of 100 years of national turmoil.
But Sharif is not just your average Baghdadi:
Despite the intimidating size of his chest and forearms, the former Iraqi bench-press champion, known to his friends as "Mr. Muscle," now risks an icy reception in insurgent strongholds as his face has become one of the symbols of the overthrow of Saddam's regime.

On April 9, 2003, Kadhem was one of the first to rush to Baghdad's Fardus Square and pictures of the burly Shiite hacking away at the marble plinth of Saddam's giant statue were beamed live around the world in one of the most enduring images of the regime's ouster.

"People in the neighborhood know me. I get on with everybody. U.S. soldiers used to block the road so they could spend some time in my garage," Sharif says.

"They sometimes bring me copies of motorcycling magazines and even bought me leather boots. I'm still in touch with one of them who is saving up all his money to buy my Harley chopper."
ECONOMY: An unlikely economic success story - Iraqi dinar:
The upsurge in violence has worsened conditions for almost everyone and everything in Iraq, but the new currency. The Iraqi dinar is the winner as it has so far weathered the impact of mounting violence and car bombs that would have sent any other country’s currency tumbling.

Since its launch in October, 2003, the new dinar has preserved its value vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar and other major countries. It is probably the only symbol of stability in a car torn by wars, civil strife and violence.

However, Iraqi economists are not surprised to see the currency fending off the political turmoil and the descent into violence, a major characteristic of the past two years.

Thanks, they say, are mainly due to the Central Bank, which is one of the few government branches of the post-war era untainted by corruption. “The (central) bank has pursued sound monetary policies,” says Thuraya Khazraji, Baghdad University’s professors of economics. Other factors leading to the currency’s stability, in her opinion, include “the slight improvement in oil exports and the writing off of 90% of Iraq’s foreign debts.”
Here's another look at Iraq's "rock-steady currency":
Sadoon Hamoud Kathir, professor of economics and administration at the University of Baghdad, attributes this remarkable level of stability to sound government policies – specifically the transformation of the Central Bank of Iraq, CBI, into an independent body, which took place at the same time the new banknotes were issued.

“The most important move the cabinet made was to separate the authority responsible for monetary emission from the government and to make it independent,” said Kathir.

Under Saddam Hussein, the CBI was simply an arm of the executive authority, churning out more banknotes or extending unlimited credit to the government whenever the latter needed money.
Despite numerous obstacles, the banking system is starting to rebuild after decades of Saddamism:
International banks are proceeding with caution in Iraq, building tie-ups with Iraqi partners and slowly expanding operations constrained by security and communications.

Financiers whose banks were awarded postwar licences say the lack of security has prevented a full-scale entry into Iraq but takeovers of local banks have helped handle risk and keep a low profile in country where suspicion of foreigners runs high.

"The game in Iraq now is positioning," said Karim Souaid, head of corporate finance at HSBC, which has been negotiating to acquire the Dar al-Salam bank.

"You won't see Chase Manhattan opening tomorrow on Baghdad square. The business so far has not been lucrative and there is no retail banking or project finance but this could begin in more stable regions," Souaid told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan.

Iraq's banks was nationalised in the 1960s, and most of the 27 million population still keep their cash abroad, especially in the country's main hub Jordan, or under the mattress, although former president Saddam Hussein let private local banks open in the late 1990s.

Efforts are underway to overhaul the system, helped by lifting of the crushing 1990-2003 sanctions, permits for foreign banks and capital requirements for local banks that encouraged them to seek outside investors.

All 17 private banks remain small and deposits of individual banks do not exceed tens of millions of dollars.

But unlike the cash basis of the pre-sanctions era, funds can now be transferred in and out and Iraqi traders have access to letters of credit and letters of guarantee, mainly through the few local banks that have ventures with foreign investors.
Here's another good report:
Shoppers in Baghdad no longer need to carry plastic bags full of cash, as they did after years of international sanctions reduced the value of a 10,000-dinar note with Saddam Hussein's likeness to less than $5.

A year-and-a-half ago, the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) began issuing higher-value currency notes. And it is now trying to help stimulate business around the country by reintroducing coins.

But finance officials eager to move Iraq away from a heavily cash-based society have set their sights on a more ambitious goal: developing banking networks that will allow a shift to an electronic, largely credit-based economy.

Doing away with cash as the main form of payment would reduce the threat of highway robbery, which hinders fund transfers within the country, some bankers say. And in turn, a reliable network for electronic transactions would undercut an insurgency eager to deal in cash and spur reconstruction, finance officials say.

"Your money can't really be stolen when you carry it as a credit card," says CBI governor Sinan al-Shabibi.

Credit cards, like electronic fund transfers, are still a largely theoretical concept here. But with the CBI's help, many of Iraq's banks are buying computers for the first time, while staff members are being trained in Dubai and Jordan in global banking practices.
Iraqi banking system is also receiving assistance from international institutions:
The International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, will provide a $12 million loan to support the SME lending operations of National Bank of Iraq, also known as Al-Ahli Bank of Iraq. The financing represents IFC’s first investment under the Iraq Small Business Finance Facility, which seeks to assist micro, small, and medium enterprises in Iraq through local financial institutions.

Funded by IFC and donor agencies representing the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, and Spain, the $105 million Iraq Small Business Finance Facility provides technical assistance funding to develop Iraqi banks’ capacity for lending to smaller businesses. It also extends term loans to certain Iraqi partner banks for on-lending to small local enterprises.
And in the latest banking developments:
The Trade Bank of Iraq... issued the country's first credit and debit cards, from Visa International Inc., at a ceremony in Baghdad.

Visa cards were given to cabinet ministers, government officials and financial professionals, the bank said. Bank Chairman Hussein al-Uzri presented the first card to Adel Abdul Mehdi, one of two vice presidents and a former finance minister.

The bank said it would issue 30,000 Visa cards in Iraq by the end of the year. The company also plans to install the country's first network of automated teller machines, which would enable cardholders to withdraw Iraqi dinars or U.S. dollars from their accounts.
More about the new credit card here. And in banking-related training (link in PDF), "thirty representatives from six private Iraqi banks received 17 days of credit analysis training at a Jordanian bank. The training was coordinated and funded by USAID’s Private Sector Development II (PSD II) program."

The stockmarket is also making progress:
It's not Wall Street, but it does have its moments. If the concept of buying low and selling high ever excited people, it excites them in Baghdad.

In less than one year, the newly formed Iraqi Stock Exchange has tripled its trading volume, with growth rates unheard of nearly anywhere else.

"The market since it's opening last year is doing very, very well," said Talab Tabuy, a trader. "Excellent, actually."

Tabuy is betting on companies like Baghdad Soda, Hader Marble and Thesar Agriculture. But the real excitement is over Iraq's banking sector, especially Basra Bank.

"When we choose to start our business here, demand was very high so we began just with 15 companies ... now we have about 88," said Taha Abdul Salam, CEO of the exchange.

In just the first seven months, nearly 14 billion shares have been traded, and the number is growing amid hopes foreign investment could drive the market even higher.

The trading frenzy has prompted key upgrades. A new facility is currently under construction about a block from the current location, and magic markers will be replaced by an electronic ticker and a much larger trading floor.
Here's another recent report:
Though barely over 30, Ahmad Walid al-Said has already become the biggest of the hotshots on the noisy floor of the Iraqi Stock Exchange.

As head broker at al-Fawz Co., one of the country's most respected brokerages, and chairman of the Iraqi Association of Securities, he eats, drinks and sleeps the stock market, even when he's not roaming the floor and putting through orders.

"After I finish all this, we go to lunch," he says after the close of the session. "During lunch, we talk about what we're going (to) do the next session. We can't talk about anything but the stock market all day long."

This is one place in Iraq where go-getters are abundant and no one is waiting for a handout. Unlike much of the rest of Iraq, the men -- and a considerable number of women -- who ply their trade here live by a bootstraps philosophy, eagerly profiting from an equities market where daily trading volume has grown twelvefold since Saddam Hussein's fall.
The Baghdad Stock Exchange also reports on the growing number of people investing and trading in Iraqi currency:
The growing number of people investing in Iraq is staggering, but even more surprising is that the majority of these investors are greenhorns, or rookie investors, with little or no experience in foreign or even domestic markets.

The buying and selling of Iraqi dinar is no small market. At least 60 internet sites have been selling dinar by the millions for about a year. A million dinar can cost anywhere from $800 to $1600 USD. EBay.com has hundreds of active dinar auctions listed each day.

Many investors have chosen to open Iraqi bank accounts, rather than hold physical dinar. Yet others have opened brokerage accounts in Iraq, waiting for the ISX, or Iraq Stock Exchange, to allow foreigners to trade shares.

After considering buying Iraq’s currency, many of these inexperienced investors have researched deeply into economic, monetary, and investment issues. Most of them can explain a peg versus a basket peg versus a float, as well as the roles of the IMF, WTO, World Bank, Iraq Central Bank, the Interbank or ForEx market, and foreign taxes. Many of them have made wire transfers into Iraq and communicate with bank and stock exchange representatives. They have researched the companies on the ISX, even having contests to see who can pick the stocks that will rise in value the most.
After decades of statism and isolation, economic education and support are very important aspects of reviving Iraqi economy. British Department for International Development is helping to revive the economic activity in the south of the country:
In the late 1970s, Basra was a thriving economic gateway to the rest of the Middle East. But the city, along with much of the rest of southern Iraq, was badly damaged during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). Economic progress was further hindered by centrally controlled political and economic structures and discrimination against the south by Saddam Hussein's regime.

One of the keys to reducing the current high levels of poverty in the southern governorates and promoting local business initiatives is to remove institutional barriers to private sector growth. Some of the particular problems facing entrepreneurs are:

- Inadequate legislative and tax support to promote economic development.

- A lack of business awareness and management skills after years of isolation from the international business community.

- A lack of business information and services to support and advise new initiatives.

Part of DFID's £20.5m [$37.3 million] "Governorates Capacity Building Programme" focuses on tackling these barriers to economic growth. Private sector advisers are working with governorate administrations, business organisations and individual entrepreneurs to promote the economic environment, and the business skills, that are needed to transform the regional economy. Potential entrepreneurs identify good business principles during a DFID-funded workshop in Basra.
The UK program is funding some important local projects:
The Basra Business Centre has been set up to provide information and training materials for new and growing businesses in southern Iraq. The Centre also aims to improve the flow of communication between the business community and government, in order to stimulate pro-enterprise lobbying of government and promote much needed regulatory reforms. So far, over 150 business information factsheets have been produced, focusing on topics such as marketing, financial management, legal issues, and information technology. The Basra Business Journal, a monthly bi-lingual Arabic/English magazine focusing on local business activities, will be launched in June.

Enterprise workshops "Introduction to Enterprise" workshops have so far been delivered to 2,000 young adults in Basra and Maysan Governorates. Drawn mostly from Basra University and local schools, the participants are given the opportunity to test their ideas and skills, and build up their networks of business contacts. Follow-up workshops focusing on team-building, problem solving and trade promotion are now running, with 100 young people trained so far and many more signed up for the coming months.
The program is also trying to help women entrepreneurs:
This initiative offers tailored support for women seeking to establish small businesses. It has so far delivered enterprise skills sessions to more than 285 women in Basra, Az Zubayr and Umm Qasr. Women in Enterprise (WIE) has also developed partnerships with the Iraqi Business Women's Association, the Basra College of Engineering, the Basra Widows Committee and the Az Zubayr Technical Institute. With these organisations, WIE will run weekly workshops and business mentoring sessions. WIE is also developing a package of support to help women move on from developing a business idea to establishing a fully registered and trading business activity.
And USAID's Private Sector Development project is also helping to transfer the latest knowledge and expertise (link in PDF): "PSD is working to help Iraqi business leaders become more familiar with the accounting and audit practices of the world’s leading corporations. Major public firms from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands were solicited by the project to share public information about their auditing standards, financial disclosure practices, and annual reports in order to illustrate how multi-national firms operate in today’s world. The first shipment of these reports was recently delivered by the project to a number of universities, professional societies, and Chambers of Commerce in central Iraq, where they will be used as model s of dinancial reporting for Iraqi firms."

Just as drop in the ocean, considering what a problem unemployment continues to be in Iraq, but the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs says is has found work for 115,000 Iraqis over the past six months, mainly in new enterprises.

The Iraqi authorities are conducting talks with Turkish investors about the rehabilitation of steel and cement factories. Speaking of Turkey, the major border crossing between the two countries will be renovated to facilitate the traffic.

And speaking of Iraq's border crossings: "It has been revealed in Jordan that the Jordanian cabinet had approved the establishing of a free zone to invest with a capital reaches to $ 85millions. The spokeswoman of the Jordanian government, the Minister of Culture Mrs. Assma Khadher pointed out during her weekly press release that this project supposed to provide 20,000 work opportunities, indicating that investment in this region includes service, industry, transport and other domains related with effectuating the trade movement between Iraq and Jordan, confirming that JD 64 millions had been allocated to upgrade services at the current customs boarder port and establishing another developed customs boarder port to take into consideration the big and expand daily needs between the two countries a matter that contributes in flowing movement whereas the old port had witnessed daily suffocations."

Iraq's communication infrastructure keeps expanding: "Wataniya Telecom will soon finish rolling out a mobile phone service in central Iraq as its expands in the country despite a violent insurgency, the Kuwaiti company's chief executive said... Harri Koponen, the new Finnish chief executive of Wataniya, said Baghdad and the main population centers in the central region of Iraq would be covered by its consortium's network, adding to a system already built in northern Iraq. Wataniya won a license in 2003 to develop a network in the north of Iraq, and it has gradually extended its coverage into the central region." More here.

Meanwhile, Iraqna, the Iraqi mobile phone subsidiary of Egypt's Orascom Telecom, has just passed a 1 million subscribers mark.

In oil news, the talks are to begin soon with Saudi Arabia about reopening a 1.7 million barrels par day pipeline. "The IPSA-1 pipeline, completed in 1989, was shut in the following year after the start of the Gulf War and has remained closed since. The pipeline goes to the Yanbu terminal near the Red Sea port of Jiddah."

And the Russians are coming - with the Americans: "Russian oil giant LUKOIL is planning to begin joint exploration of the West Qurna-2 oil deposit in Iraq with U.S. company ConocoPhillips... This deposit has estimated recoverable resources (according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates) at 11.3 billion barrels and is in third place in Iraq."

Iraqi authorities will also be seeking assistance of Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil's state-controlled oil company, on ways to increase output.

In transport news, "Iran and Iraq are to be linked by railroad.... A short-term plan envisions a 60 km-long railroad between the cities of Khorramshahr in Iran and the southern Iraqi port of Basra. Another long-term project calls for a railroad to be constructed from Western Iranian city 'Kermanshah' to Iraqi province of 'Diala,'it added. Previously Iraqi transportation minister had said that Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria will be linked by railroad. Once operational the railroad will reduce the cost of travelling for the citizens of these countries and boost economic and trade relations among them."

And Basra airport reopens: "Basra International Airport in southern Iraq opened yesterday for commercial air flights... The airport had been shut since the start of the US-led military action that brought down the Saddam Hussain government in 2003... Four flights per week were scheduled between Basra and Baghdad, he said. Flights would also resume between Basra and Amman, Jordan, via Baghdad. Talks were being held between Iraq’s transport ministry and Gulf Air to begin flights between Basra and Gulf states." The first Basra-Baghdad flight has now taken place:
Some 42 passengers made the 50-minute trip from the Iraqi capital to the southern city, including airways officials and the transport minister. Iraqi Airways intends to operate four flights a week on the route.

Airline officials are encouraging the public to use the flight, which avoids a six-to-seven hour drive through dangerous parts of the country.

Iraqi Airways flight 015 is the first scheduled passenger service to come into operation between Iraqi cities since the end of the war. A return flight on the Boeing 727 will cost passengers $150 (£83).
Lastly, so much for theocracy: "Ministry of Interior in Iraq abolished Saddam's alcohol, night clubs and casinos restriction law which was introduced in the 90's. The law has been abolished because it interferes with and limits Iraqis personal freedom. Businesses, however, are required to obtain a licence from Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Health."

RECONSTRUCTION: On June 22, over 80 countries and international organizations will gather in Brussels to discuss with the Iraqi government its priorities, including reconstruction priorities. The United States and the European Union are co-hosting the event.

Bill Taylor, the outgoing U.S. official overseeing the reconstruction effort in Iraq, has recently given an update on the progress of rebuilding:
Projects were moving ahead despite soaring security costs, which U.S. auditors say can chew up half of the funding. Taylor... gave a more modest estimate and said security costs amounted to an average 10-15 percent of the overall price...

Taylor strongly rejects suggestions the rebuilding program has not had an impact and points to completed projects as proof. He said the United States was paying out about $200 million a week to contractors and $5.3 billion had been disbursed in total of the $18.4 billion. A further $12.9 billion had been "obligated," or put under contract...

Taylor said in the past 10 months, 57 U.S.-funded electricity projects, ranging from big to small, had been completed and 103 more were in progress.
Read this report from Fallujah:
Although the area is still relatively hostile, as is all of the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force is extending power lines and laying water and sewage pipes at a steady pace. Rubble and explosive ordinance - some left over from the fighting and some freshly laid by the insurgents - is being removed. Schoolhouses and hospitals are being fixed and erected. As a bonus, military-age males are receiving good wages to build things instead of blowing up people.

As I traveled through the slowly repopulating city - about half of the original 250,000 are believed to have returned - I saw awesome scenes of destruction. But I also saw thriving markets, stores selling candy and ice cream, and scores of children delighted to see Americans. I did more waving than the beauty queen in the 4th of July parade and the kids squealed with delight when I took their picture - or pretended to.
Speaking about Fallujah, the Iraqi government has allocated $100 million in the first batch of reconstruction expenditure. "An amount of $46 millions has been allocated for building a hospital in the city hold 200 beds and to equip it with the latest constitutional devices in addition to constructing two residential compounds that hold 504 flats, including schools, preschools and a constitutional centre).... Amounts of money have been allocated to build 21 new schools inside Fallujah and lands have been chosen and some of them have started the implementation, and they are expected to be done within eight months by housing and reconstruction ministry’ companies, in addition to reconstruct damaged schools."

And the Telecommunications Ministry is installing a new telephone exchange in Falluja.

Kirkuk, meanwhile, has received another $25 million for various reconstruction projects, of which 71 there are currently underway in the city.

The authorities are inviting foreign companies to tender on a whole range of new projects designed to better link Najaf to the outside world and thus spur more tourism in this religious center. The projects include new airport, railway link, railway station and a modern bus terminal.

In water infrastructure news, a large water program in Baghdad is aiming to improve the situation of the capital's residents:
A new project to increase much-needed water supplies is underway in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, by diversifying the existing supply system and reducing wasteful water usage.

"Baghdad has always suffered from water shortages during the summer season of around 50 percent," Baghdad Mayor Ala'a al-Temeemi told IRIN in the capital.

"Our plan is to activate different water resources, like building more water treatment plants, maintenance works for the old systems and operating or expanding old water canals in the army district east of Baghdad. We will also stop people from wasting water on washing cars or watering plants," al-Temeemi explained.

The project, which was implemented by the government at the start of May, is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Red Cross (IRC) and other NGOs in Japan and Germany. An anticipated 11.8 million Iraqis will benefit from USAID's US $600 million in water and sanitation projects countrywide.

"Before we applied this plan, we had two million cubic [cu] metres a day and we are working to reach three million cubic metres," the operating manager at Baghdad's directorate for water, Abdul-Kareem Aba'as, told IRIN. He added that the World Bank and other countries such as the UK, Australia and Japan had allocated $82 million to finance water projects in Baghdad over the next two years.

"There is a shortage in our neighbourhood every day. We do not have water for three to four hours a day. But it is better now than before when it would continue for two to three days," said May Hussein, who lives in the Bayaah district of Baghdad.
Iraqi Ministry of Municipalities and Labor has recently announced the completion of work on 10 water projects in Al Rasheed district south of Baghdad, including new tanks and pipelines providing water to several villages.

USAID, meanwhile, is progressing with its project to provide water to rural communities throughout Iraq (link in PDF):
USAID supplies potable water to rural Iraqis by digging wells in mid-sized communities. So far, the program has constructed wells at 81 sites; 69 of those sites are now active and 12 have been abandoned due to dry wells or other issues. Operating under the Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Program, this initiative will drill approximately 110 wells in remote locations throughout Iraq. Operations and Maintenance training will be provided to ensure the sustainability of the wells and treatment systems. The project will benefit about 550,000 rural Iraqis at 110 sites.
In other ongoing projects: "The rehabilitation of a major sewage treatment plant in Karbala will make the facilities fully functional and improve public health for the city’s 549,000 residents. Recently, workers poured the foundation slab for the primary effluent pump station, and excavated for sedimentation tanks... Work continues on the revitalization of Baghdad’s water network. Laborers recently laid new pipelines and connected more homes to the city’s water network... With approximately 46 km of pipeline installed and 3,540 homes connected to the system to date, the project is expected to be complete by the end of December 2005." And 60,000 residents in the rural areas of Diyala governorate will very shortly benefit from the rehabilitated water and sewage treatment plant (link in PDF).

Meanwhile, the Iraqi authorities in Basra are working on a range of water infrastructure projects: "Water Department staff in Al-Basra province continues carrying out new water projects in the province to increase the quantity of potable water pumped daily to citizens of the province in a $40.000.000 cost. Engineer Abed Sitar Akef, director of water department, said 'personals of the department undertook changing 10 projects installed in city center, the ability of one of them reach to a quarter million gallon daily, with 1 million gallon projects to become the quantity of supplied water from these projects 10 million gallons daily. In this way we will cover the increasing need for water, besides, maintain the previous projects to insure pumping another quantities equal to the desired quantities'."

In electricity news, soon, Turkey will be tripling its electricity exports to Iraq. "Kartet, a privately-owned company Turkish power company, said in March that it had signed a deal with Iraq’s electricity ministry to increase its export capacity to 1,000 MW from what was then 150-200 MW." The exports are estimated to rise to 350MW by the end of May. Overall, the increased imports from Turkey and Iran will provide electricity for additional 100,000 homes and businesses throughout Iraq. Iran's transmission and distribution company TAVANIR, which currently exports 100MW of electricity a year to Iraq is planning to increase the volume to 170MW by autumn, and to 400MW in two years' time.

And here are more details about the new power station that the Japanese government has committed itself to construct in Samawah city. It will add another 60 MW to the national power grid and more than double the electricity supply in the Al-Muthanna province.

USAID is currently working to better prepare Baghdad for the summer months (link in PDF):
USAID partners implementing the rehabilitation of Baghdad’s power distribution substations are focusing their efforts on completing work at eight high priority summer response city substations in order to increase reliable power by the end of June 2005. The two Iraqi subcontractors are making good progress and have completed the installation of one of the mobile substations...

USAID has provided equipment for 37 sites total, of which Bechtel and its subcontractors are working at 25 sites and Ministry of Electricity (MoE) at 12. Some of these new facilities will replace existing substations while others are expansions of the distribution network. Four mobile substations are being provided to support substation loads while the stations are being rehabilitated.
USAID is also reporting that "the refurbishment of two units at a large thermal power station in south Baghdad is nearly complete. This project will add 320 MW of capacity to Iraq’s national power grid when finished."

Significant and steady progress is being made in rebuilding Iraq's once-great education system. Read this indicative report about one school in Baghdad and the changes that have occurred over the last ten years:
Ten years ago, the Al-Thakafa al-Arabia elementary school had broken windows, a shortage of textbooks, and kids whose extracurricular activity was begging on the streets. Pro-Saddam Hussein slogans adorned the walls.

Today it's still a squalid place with filthy toilets and crumbling walls, but at least the teachers have chalk and erasers supplied by the government, and the kids have pencils, notebooks and satchels.

As Iraq battles its insurgency and lurches toward democracy, many judge its future by the strength of its security forces and new government. But another powerful measure is the optimism of the children at schools such as Al-Thakafa in one of Baghdad's poorest areas.

When The Associated Press visited 10 years ago, Iraqis were being impoverished by sanctions and Saddam Hussein was holding a presidential election in which he was the only candidate. In a country where free speech didn't exist, Saddam had opened the doors to foreign journalists to show off the vote, but under stringent supervision.

Returning to the same school more than two years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam, the AP saw striking change.
As this report notes, "destitute Iraqi teachers reclaim their dignity":
Kassim used to teach geography in the morning and spend afternoons repairing shoes in the streets of the central Iraqi town of Azizyah. Those days are over.

Iraq's 300,000 teachers have seen vast changes since the regime of
Saddam Hussein fell in April 2003, and Kassim can now feed his four children without having to cobble a living together.

From an average monthly salary of 10,000 dinars (around two-three dollars at the time) plus food subsidies, they can now earn 300,000-400,000 (200-270 dollars).

The result, says 40-year-old English teacher Jawad Mizhr, is that they can now do their job.

Such is the difference that retired teachers want their old jobs back, if only for a year or two so they can qualify for vastly improved pensions.
The system is slowly being rebuilt with foreign assistance:
Groups like the United Nations children's fund UNICEF and USAID are renewing infrastructure and training teachers to get the level of Iraqi education beyond where it was 25 years ago.

"Iraq's educational system used to be among the best in the region," the UN Development Program (UNDP) said in its 2004 survey of living conditions in Iraq.

But though deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein initially sought to eradicate illiteracy, the combined effects of wars and economic sanctions since 1980 took their toll on teachers and students alike.

In rural areas and among girls in particular, illiteracy is now widespread, but a 5.8-million-dollar USAID program is aimed at turning things around at 84 "model" primary and secondary schools across the country.

In-service training of 100,000 teachers and administrators will "promote child-centered teaching techniques, and introduce state-of-the-art instructional methods in science, math, English and social studies," a statement by the group said.
Various UN agencies are contributing towards rebuilding Iraqi education system: "In April, the comprehensive physical rehabilitation of 24 schools was completed and a further 46 were under construction. 20 schools benefited from fully rehabilitated water and sanitation facilities with an additional 156 schools being worked upon. 18,000 recreation kits were delivered and distributed to schools across the country and the Childcare Institution in Baghdad received essential educational materials for visually challenged children."

In recent USAID initiatives to support Iraqi schools and universities (link in PDF):
- A technical university in Baghdad constructed a Geographic and Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing Laboratory on campus...

- Ten faculty and graduate students from universities in Baghdad and Mosul attended the first International Conference on Islamic Archaeology...

- The Ministry of Education delivered 433,524 school supply kits to 1,870 Iraqi schools. More than 80,000 additional kits have arrived in governorate warehouses and will be distributed to schools in the coming weeks...

- Four Iraqi universities are using resource centers to build the ability of their public health and medical school faculty and staff to measure malnutrition...

- Ninety-four workshops were held throughout Iraq to organize the replacement of rural schools made of mud and reeds with concrete facilities...

- DePaul University has undertaken three law library renovations. This is part of the $3.8 million legal education reform component of USAID’s HEAD program...

- Iraqi law students participated in a post-conflict justice seminar in Dokan. Through assistance from the International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) at DePaul University, the two-day seminar included more than 100 participants from Iraqi law schools and nearly a dozen national and international experts in the field of post-conflict justice.
USAID also continues to support Iraqi higher education by facilitating cooperation between Iraqi and American universities (link in PDF):
More results are in from agricultural research conducted by Iraqi scholars with the support of USAID’s Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program. A research grant program enabled Iraqi scholars to enhance their expertise in agricultural studies. This research addresses high priority needs for the Iraqi agriculture industry. The 18 grants awarded ranged from $5,000 to $30,000 (totaling $205,500) and funded equipment, supplies and support services not otherwise available to Iraqi scientists...

HEAD partner the University of Hawaii recently delivered a shipment of seventeen boxes of current agriculture and forestry publications to strengthen the research resources at two agricultural colleges in Mosul and Dohuk. These publications discuss subjects including soil, agronomy, nutrition, plant protection, agricultural economics and statistics.
Al FAO Engineering Company, meanwhile, under the contract from the Ministry of Education is working on the construction of 62 schools that are distributed in the provinces of Al Basra, Al Najaf, Karbala, al Anbar, Salah Eddin, Thi Qar, Al Diwania and Kirkuk at a cost of 35 billion dinars ($23 million).

USAID programs continue to help revive and modernize Iraqi agricultural sector. In recent initiatives (link in PDF): "Thirteen officials from the Soil Department in the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) completed a training course on researching and studying soil with the support of USAID’s Agriculture Reconstruction and Development for Iraq program... Apple tree seedlings planted in March are growing well; the 15,000 seedlings were provided as part of the Apple Orchard Improvement Project supported by the MOA and USAID... The renovation of five additional veterinary clinics will begin soon through grants from MOA/USAID. These clinics, which serve a total of 345 villages, are often the only source of veterinarian assistance to area farmers."

And "the United Nations has announced a $10 million program to protect farm animals in Iraq from potentially devastating epidemics. The Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency said... it will train veterinarians in disease control and build a number of clinics. The FAO says neglect and war have severely damaged veterinary services in Iraq. There are nearly 20 million cattle, sheep, and goats in the country.

In the end, all stories are personal stories. Read about Karen Lee, A regulatory analyst in the Office of Management and Budget, who worked in the Iraq Project and Contracting Office, first in charge of the water infrastructure reconstruction, then overseeing all six sectors: oil, electricity, public works and water, security and justice, transportation and communications, and buildings, education, and health. Says Lee: "Getting a thousand people drinkable water — it sounds like nothing, but to those thousand people it’s very important... This was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had."

HUMANITARIAN AID: USAID is working to combine practical help with community development: "The Community Action Program works in rural and urban communities to promote democracy and prevent and mitigate conflict. Working directly through partner NGOs and in consultation with local government representatives, USAID is creating representative, participatory community groups to identify critical priorities and implement programs to address these needs". Among the most recent initiatives (link in PDF):
- Seven trash collection projects were recently completed in Baghdad neighborhoods. Following the work, USAID’s Community Action Program (CAP) took several steps to help keep the neighborhoods clean in the future...

- Winter temperatures rarely rise above zero in the mountainous areas of As Sulaymaniyah governorate, and very few schools are heated in winter, leading some children to skip school rather than sit in the cold and drafty schoolrooms. CAP will help one community in the area to buy 300 kerosene oil stove heaters for one of the towns and the surrounding village schools. The heaters will warm schoolrooms and help draw back students...

- After the first Gulf War, Ansar al Islam—a Kurdish terrorist organization took control of a large area in As Sulaymaniyah on the border with Iran. Women and girls were then restricted in their movement and activities and, for more than a decade, girls rarely continued school after the sixth grade. Now, a small town in the governorate, working with CAP, is helping girls and women regain control of their future with the establishment of a women’s center. The Center will be used for classes in sewing, computers, and rug making.
United Nations World Food Program, meanwhile, reports that "a total of 19,196 mt of commodities (including High Energy Biscuits, wheat flour, vegetable oil and pea/wheat blend) have thus far been dispatched into Iraq under WFP’s current emergency operation. The present security situation continues to affect the overland transport of food into Iraq through repeated and unexpected border and road closures. Food for Education - Approximately 3,040 mt of High Energy Biscuits have been distributed under school feeding activities. The final round of the School Feeding design competition was held on 22 May at the Ministry of Education."

The Ministry of Health has announced the allocation of 30 billion dinars ($20 million) from foreign donations to go towards rehabilitation programs for handicapped Iraqis. And Mennonite Central Committee is currently working on two projects: "MCC is helping to fund improvements to a children's cancer treatment center in southern Iraq and the development of a children's cultural center in Baghdad in partnership with several other aid organizations. The cancer treatment center is housed at Ibn-Ghazwan Pediatric and Gynecological Hospital in Basra and is receiving medical equipment, staff training and sanitation facilities. The Iraqi Children's Cultural Center is housed in Baghdad's al-Fanoos al-Sihree Theater, and its staff is receiving training in organizational management, child psychology and performing arts. MCC is contributing to both projects as a member of All Our Children, a partnership of international aid organizations in Iraq."

Sportspeople keep helping each other across continents. The latest story comes from Japan: "The Japan Judo Federation and the Kodokan Judo Institute have donated tatami mats and judo uniforms to the Iraq Judo Federation to help promote the martial art there. The Ground Self-Defense Force, which is conducting reconstruction operations in Samawah, Iraq, delivered the equipment, comprising 168 tatami mats and 140 judo uniforms, which Iraqis began to use immediately." Meanwhile, Iraq’s National Basketball Federation has received a sponsorship from Aramex International, the leading total transportation solutions provider in the Middle East and the Asian Subcontinent.

Not just governments and Non-Government Organizations, but also individuals and communities are trying to assist in any ways they can. Majid Fadhil Sabor, a 10-year old from Al Kut is now coming back to Iraq after a few months stay in Ohio to fit him with prosthetic legs. Read the whole fascinating story.

North Carolina Rotarians are helping Marines help Iraqi people:
A mountain of boxes rises from the flat and dusty landscape of western Iraq but it will be quickly razed by the Marines of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

The boxes, more than 60 of them, are compliments of the Rotarians of the Wilmington (Downtown) Rotary Club in Wilmington, N.C. The boxes, filled with everything from essentials like soap to luxuries like the latest in digital entertainment. It is also interspersed with jerked meat and snacks of every variety. The many goodies will quickly disappear across the dusty expanse of the Al Anbar province.

The task of seeing that the mountain is distributed to those in want - and need - falls to Staff Sgt. Rodney K. Forte, the close battle coordinator here. Who better than the man who controls aircraft in the heat of battle to figure out how to get a mountain of fun distributed throughout hundreds of miles of Iraqi desert - during a war.

Late last year Wilbur D. Jones Jr., director of the Wilmington Rotary Club invited Gen. Robert Milstead Jr., commanding general of 2nd MAW, Forte and a few other Marines to be their guests at a club function. That visit is just one of many elements upon which the Rotary Club’s "Mission Iraq Marine," which currently targets the forward deployed Marine air wing, is built.
This serviceman is helping with the reconstruction and getting his family and friends to help too:
Butch Folsom is assigned to the Programs and Contracting Office Facilities and Transportation Sector, managing the health and education programs in southern Iraq. The unit has already built 600 schools, 50 clinics and two hospitals. According to Folsom, the PCO's goal is to build/rebuild 800 schools in Iraq, most of which will be renovations of existing schools.

In rural areas, Folsom found schools that were literally made out of mud and straw, buildings that would more accurately be called huts - with no running water or power.

Although money has been appropriated to rebuild 40 of the "mud schools," the funds do not cover any school supplies or furniture to be used in the schools. The teachers and students in these mud schools for the most part do not have any school supplies. There are no pencils, rulers, pens, nothing.

So while Butch Folsom's job is to build schools, he has taken on as his personal mission to build kids.

Folsom created a group called Mud Schools to help enlist support for the education of Iraqi children and to collect supplies that the children need in the schools. His wife and daughter are heading up the effort here in Warner Robins. Daughter Krista designed a Web site, mudschools.org to help get the word out.
Residents of a Montana town are helping one of their own spread some cheer in Iraq:
Amid his dangerous duties as an infantry machine gunner with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, Caleb Wilson finds time to spread a little cheer to the children of Iraq.

It started when the 23-year-old native of the small northeast Missouri town Philadelphia shared with children some of the treats he received in care packages from home. In a letter to his family, he asked for crayons, pencils and coloring books he could pass out to the children.

The response was quick and overwhelming. Relatives, friends and members of his church, Bethel Baptist of Smileyville, sent a box filled with giveaways. Wilson shared it with other soldiers, who passed out the small gifts to children they encountered on the streets.
So are residents of New York state:
Patrolling the streets of downtown Baghdad, Army 1st Lt. Kevin Norton has learned a couple of facts about Iraqi families.

Parents, he says, are fiercely protective of their children.

And the children are a great source of information on what is happening in each neighborhood.

So to help protect lives and rebuild the country, Norton, a 27-year-old White Plains native, has been leading a charge back home to donate notebooks, footballs and diapers to Iraqi children in need.

Students at his alma mater, Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, have responded to the call with boxes worth of materials to ship overseas.

Their work has helped soldiers gain the trust of local Iraqis. Just a few days ago, a group of Sunni men detained a Syrian suicide bomber and called the Army to pick him up, Norton wrote in an e-mail from Iraq last week.

"In short, our ability to provide for the children is saving our lives," he said.
And kids from California are also doing their bit:
Pupils at Wells Middle School buy a lot of school supplies. But they're not for an upcoming English or art project — they're for children in Iraq.

For the second year in a row, the school has spent a month collecting school supplies to send to U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq, who will in turn pass them along to Iraqi children.

"I think it helps our children very much to become part of something bigger than they are," said Marilyn Carter, chairwoman for Adopt-a-Unit Tri-Valley.
Residents of one community in Idaho are also helping: "Not long ago a Soda Springs pastor serving as a guardsmen in Iraq started a mission, to help kids in Iraq get much needed school supplies. Today, an entire community rallies behind his dream to help others oversees... One box sealed; thousands more to go. A massive assembly of students gathered at Monsanto, all for one purpose: to package up these every day school supplies."

So are communities in Mississipi:
While Mississippi soldiers patrol Iraq's war-torn terrain, Jackson County residents have launched a goodwill mission to make the soldiers' job a little easier.

Jackson County employees, District Attorney Tony Lawrence's Office and Singing River Soccer Club in Pascagoula joined efforts to collect 200 soccer balls for Iraqi children.

The drive started when Staff Sgt. Terry Armstrong, a member of the Mississippi National Guard's 155th Combat Team, described his experiences to his boss in Jackson County.

Armstrong, who works in the appraisal maintenance division of the Tax Assessor's Office, told his director Kevin Hindmarch about the many children who approached his unit asking for "futbol" like the ones Marines had passed out before the 155th arrived, Hindmarch said.

Instead of the usual care package of personal items and goodies, Armstrong asked Hindmarch and his family to send a few soccer balls for the Iraqi children.
A Rhode Island business, working in Iraq, is also trying to contribute in other ways: "A Middletown company is trying help the children of Iraq. Northeast Engineers and Consultants Incorporated has set up the Iraqi Children's Aid Relief Effort. So far, the firm has shipped soccer uniforms, and is planning a major fund-raiser."

And with the traffic going the opposite way, one Iraqi family is settling in North Dakota:
The family of an Iraqi man shot after helping North Dakota National Guard soldiers find roadside bombs is settling near Fargo, with help from a relative and the soldiers themselves.

"The emotions are just starting to set in," said Sgt. 1st Class Shayne Beckert, who has been working to relocate the man's widow and seven children to the United States. "It's the beginning of a new life."

The woman and her children, who are not being identified because of potential danger to their relatives in Iraq, arrived in Fargo on two flights late Friday night and early Saturday.

One of the children is 1 month old, and a 2-year-old girl suffered severe injuries to her right eye April 30, when she was hit by bomb shrapnel as her mother was waiting in line to get a passport for her newborn.
As another report explains,
[Sgt. 1st Class Shayne] Beckert and a fellow guardsman, Capt. Grant Wilz, worked for months to bring the family to the United States, appealing for help on radio and television and contacting Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-North Dakota, who helped arrange the trip.

Pomeroy, who met the family earlier this month during a trip to Iraq, described them as "bright and strong and wonderful," and said their resourcefulness would help them adjust to life in the United States.

Pomeroy said the mother described the journey as "her birthday ... the beginning of a new life."

"This isn't the end of the story. This is the beginning of the story," Pomeroy said. "They don't know English. They have never seen winter."
THE COALITION TROOPS: A milestone for US Army engineers in Iraq:
Engineers in Iraq marked their 1000th reconstruction project with the completion of work at a school in the northern-most province of Dahuk.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division, responsible for oversight of reconstruction in Iraq, renovated the Betas School on the outskirts of the town of Zahko. The school serves 60 students with seven classroom teachers...

Engineers have 840 planned school projects throughout Iraq. To date, 580 school projects are finished and 171 are underway.

Spending on reconstruction projects in Iraq has reached over $5.5B. There are a total of 3,200 total GRD planned projects countrywide, of which 2,389 have begun.
Speaking of engineering projects, US Army is currently engaged in a major infrastructure project in the capital:
In the 9 Nissan District of Eastern Baghdad, two major sewer and water projects are gaining momentum as crews break ground in Kamaliya and Oubaidi.

After completing a thorough site survey, work has begun on a project that will ultimately create a sewer network serving 8,870 homes in Kamaliya, Iraq.

The area has never had underground sewage lines and relies on slit trenches, which leads to sewage pooling in the streets.

"People in Kamaliya are seeing heavy work being done, trenches being dug for the pipes, and it gives them confidence about the city’s future," said Maj. Alexander Fullerton, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Infrastructure Cell officer-in-charge. "The project will really improve public health and help cut down on disease-carrying mosquitoes."

The project will cost about $27 million and will employ 600 local workers at peak construction times.
Troops form Tallil Air Base in Iraq are working on the reconstruction of local areas:
“In short, if you need a construction project done, we do it all,” said Maj. Thomas Niichel, 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron’s Detachment 2 deputy commander here. He is deployed from the Colorado Air National Guard’s 240th Civil Engineer Flight at Buckley Air Force Base...

Part engineer and humanitarian enthusiast, the seamless crew had worked off base on more than 50 missions in the past three months. They have installed water supply pumps and electricity, paved roads and helped Iraqis maintain their water canals.

And they helped deliver tents to Iraqis and coordinate medical attention for injured Iraqi children.

Airman Washington said a memorable job for him was installing electricity in an Army-sponsored doctor’s office in a small Iraqi town.

Before their visit, the doctor was examining and providing health care to local children without lighting and with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees. The Soldiers stationed there did not have a washer, and their bathroom facilities were outhouses.

After the job was finished, the Army doctor thanked them, Airman Washington said. “It felt good, because I knew I made a difference to him.”
A New York state local reports on his work in Iraq:
Schoolchildren in the east Baghdad slum of Sadr City would bring boxes to school - not to use for a diorama or to carry supplies, U.S. Army Lt. Henry M. Jaen explained, but so they would not have to rest their feet in sewage while sitting in class.

Jaen, a Catskill resident, returned in March from a six-month tour in Sadr City and an adjacent group of communities known as 9 Nisan, among the Iraqi capital's poorest and most violent areas.

As the officer in charge, attached to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unit, the 42-year-old reservist helped manage more than $300 million in infrastructure projects in Iraq, including pumping standing sewage out of in-use classrooms.

Jaen, an engineering supervisor at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection's Kingston office, also oversaw sewer system installation, street paving, health clinic construction and the implementation of trash-collection services, all the while contending with car bombings and other insurgent attacks.
The troops recently made a significant contribution to the electricity grid around Baghdad:
Iraqi laborers and General Electric employees recently completed eight months of work on a power plant project which will bring additional electricity to Baghdad.

This project at the Qudas Power Plant outside of Baghdad was supported by Soldiers from 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division and the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We added 90 megawatts of electricity to the Baghdad power grid. That's huge," said Capt. Steve Heinz commander of 3rd Bde., 1st Armor Div.’s Brigade Engineering Supervisory Team.

The project provided jobs for about 50 Iraqi workers and will help bolster the Iraqi economy.
The engineers have also been working on another significant power project outside Baghdad:
Reliable electric service is high on any Baghdad resident’s wish list and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working hard to accomplish that task.

The electric grid in Baghdad was built in the 1950s and 60s, and is in desperate need of modernization and repair, according Henry Shelton, an ACOE engineer who has been working in Iraq since February 2004.

His team’s latest accomplishment was to bring a large electrical substation on-line in East Baghdad, which he said is a big step in the right direction...

The Al Ameen substation is a 400-kilovolt gas-insulated system—a fully-enclosed system that is more durable and reliable than older, open-air substations...

The project cost approximately $100 million to complete, and employed 600 people at its peak...

Substations the size of Al Ameen do not produce electricity or deliver it directly to people’s homes. They distribute power to smaller substations, which are located all over Baghdad, said Shelton.

As such, he said residents will not initially see any difference in the power grid, but that the substation will be a solid foundation that the rest of the grid can be built upon.
Some of the reconstruction projects might seem small, but they are of great importance to local communities. This is one example:
Coalition forces, along with Iraqi leaders, completed a road project here that spans more than four kilometers and cost about $565,000.

"The paving of the Hamourabi village road is great for the community," said Capt. Christian Neels, civil-military operations officer for the Army's 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. "The completion of the road will offer a quicker means of allowing farmers and the local population to get to the market and in the long run, contribute to the economic progress of the area."

Neels added that unemployment in the surrounding towns and the Hey Al Askari area is high. With few jobs available in the community, the roadway will allow the population to get into Baghdad, where employment opportunities are greater, he explained.
This is not the first useful project in the area; previously, "a 3,000-meter waterline that runs alongside the Hamourabi Road was built and works in conjunction with two water towers in the area."

The military authorities also facilitate some important business advice:
Jim Beardsley the former Chief Executive Officer of Master Lock visited 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division as a consultant to help identify ways to kick start Iraq's developing economy.

Beardsley, now an independent business consultant and member of Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance, traveled to several sites in Iraq.

"This is something I volunteered for because I'm very interested in the economic development of Iraq," said Beardsley. "I feel they're [the Iraqi people] at a point where I can help."

These visits allow Iraqi business owners and entrepreneurs to discuss the development of their businesses in a free economy with subject matter experts and worldwide leaders in industry.
As the report notes, " VEGA is the world's largest consortium of economic growth volunteer organizations providing technical expertise in private sector development. Collectively, VEGA has more than 350 years of experience in mobilizing American volunteers to support economic growth in developing countries (including post-conflict and transition), and in designing and implementing successful technical assistance projects across the spectrum of economic growth activities worldwide."

Units also continue to assist reviving Iraqi education system. The troops are rebuilding old schools throughout the provinces:
Headmasters at three mud schools took charge of their new brick and concrete replacement schools as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Southern District signed the schools over to the education minister in the Babil Province after local laborers completed the three projects May 15.

All three mud school replacement schools boast 12 classrooms instead of the usual six, according to Valerie Schaffner, Buildings, Health and Education project manager for the mud school replacement projects. The usual six-classroom design was geared to smaller rural areas, servicing about 100 students, and the schools in Babil - Yaum Al Huria; Al Masoodi and Al Ma’rij - serve 275, 370 and 590 students respectively.

“The cost was about $160,000 per school,” said Schaffner. “That includes storage space, student and teachers’ bathrooms, electricity for fans, a partially paved playground area and a security fence around the school.”
Health system is another area of concern. In a typical action to fill some of the gaps:
Iraqi and U.S. Army medical officers examined more than 500 residents who came to a Salman Pak clinic, providing medical advice, treatment, and prescription medication in a medical civil action project May 12.

“The main purpose of a MEDCAP is to provide simple medicines and treatment for simple wounds and conditions, while assessing the overall health of the people,” said Maj. Rick Smudin, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, team leader. “It’s a good opportunity to build trust and support for our Soldiers and the Iraqi forces in the neighborhood.”

The clinic was run by Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, Iraqi Intervention Forces and C Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry at a forward observation building about a mile outside the main city of Salman Pak. Several of the rooms were cleaned and furnished in order to accommodate the mission and, although space was limited, all residents who came to the clinic were able to receive medical care.
In a more lasting contribution, "Colonel Mike Thornton, commander of the American forces in Al Najaf province said that his forces have completed the works of renovating the children hospital in Al Najaf. Development included building X-ray and nutrition habilitation rooms, in addition to overhauling the halls."

Sometimes rapiring damage is just as important:
Since the middle of March, Team 4, Detachment 4, 5th Civil Affairs Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD), has played a vital role in Haditha. The city is known as one of the hottest spots in western Iraq.

During Operation New Market, which began on the night of May 23, the main objective of the CAG team, led by Maj. Matthew D. Chisholm, Team 4 leader, was to assess recent damages done to Haditha Hospital. The hospital was damaged earlier in the month when insurgents occupied the building. The team also wanted to talk to the staff to see how the hospital was functioning and ask locals their opinions about personal care.

"It is very unfortunate that the hospital was involved in the situation," said Chisholm, a San Diego native. "After an attack such as this one, the CAG team has to stop and look at the overall situation. We immediately begin to get things running, like communications and laboratory capabilities. The next closest hospital is Hit, so people need this hospital to get care."

Damage to the one-story hospital occurred when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was driven into an outside wall during a firefight with Marines from 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. Only the service wing, kitchen, laundry, storage room and private patient ward sustained severe fire damage and no civilian casualties occurred.
The Civil Affairs Group is now working on renovation and restocking of the hospital.

The troops also act as facilitators:
The two young boys had terrible medical problems.

They urgently needed heart surgery, which requires skilled surgeons with modern technology in a sterile hospital setting. But such things are not available in Baghdad, where they live.

So their sorrowful families watched in despair and frustration as both boys -- Fadi, 3, and Sajab, 9 -- began turning blue because of inadequate blood circulation in their small bodies. They were dying and there seemingly was nothing to do.

Until Col. Chet Wernicki stepped in.

He arranged to have them bused last month to Amman in neighboring Jordan, where doctors donated their services, a hospital charged minimal fees and several wealthy Iraqi businessmen handled the bills.
As Col Wernicki says, "They are recovering at home now and my people couldn't be happier. Not much publicity comes from these cases, which is understandable because there's so much violence and tragedy in Iraq, but this is what we do."

Read also the story of Illinois' Sgt. Melanie Lettimore, who's been working hard to organize a hearing aid for a 3-year old Iraqi boy.

And here's a story of Marine Corporal Justin R. Molgaard, whose daily job it is to disburse payments to Iraqis working on reconstruction projects, as well as Iraqis whose property has suffered damage in fighting.

It's not just the American troops - other Coalition partners are also playing their part in providing security and helping with reconstruction of Iraq. Here's a contribution from Kazakhstan: "Kazakhstan Peacekeeping battalion’s EOD unit conducts humanitarian mission in Iraq within the MND CS in Al Kut by giving assistance to Iraqi people to reconstruct their land after the war. It passed 2 years since Kazakhstan started helping to Iraq. During this period more than 3 million mines and other Un-explosive Ordinances (UXO) were destroyed. All this UXOs are very dangerous for the local people and for Coalition members."

Here's from Estonia:
One small European country is playing a major role in keeping supply convoys safe while moving through Iraq.

Each day, hundreds of trucks travel the streets of Iraq carrying cargo bound for military installations and forward operating posts.

One of the ways the Army is minimizing the risk involved in delivering supplies to Soldiers in Iraq is through a joint operation that includes Soldiers from 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., and a platoon of Estonian infantrymen.

The two units work together keeping each other safe while patrolling Gazalia Village, a 15-kilometer section of road in the heart of Western Baghdad that is known to be a hot spot for improvised explosive devices.
From Ukraine:
A combat training and assessment detachment from the 7th Ukrainian Detached Mechanized Brigade (DMB) in Iraq conducted a combat efficiency analysis of Iraqi military units, deployed in the area of responsibility of the Ukrainian Army. About 1,000-soldier-strong Ukrainian contingent is located in the province of Wazit, in southwest Iraq.

At the beginning of his assignment to Iraq in October 2004, Colonel Serhii Chuchula, chief of the detachment said, “the 800-man unit of the Iraqi National Guard (ING) was badly equipped and poorly trained.”

Under the Ukrainian soldiers’ or peacekeepers’ initiatives a decision about the formation of additional ING units was taken. Due to the efforts of Ukrainian instructors, the Iraqi Armed Forces’ 27th Infantry brigade battalions were fully manned and trained (Iraqi National Guard troops were renamed to the Armed Forces of Iraq on February 8, 2005).
And the Bosnians are also coming in, in an experiment of as much importance for the future of their own country as for that of Iraq:
Serbs, Croats and Muslims who completed training this month for the first army unit bringing together Bosnia's warring factions of 10 years ago leave for Iraq on Wednesday to join U.S.-led coalition forces.

The 36 volunteers -- including one woman -- are their country's future joint army in embryo, trained to destroy unexploded ordnance and ammunition in a mission expected to last two turns of six months.

Sifet Podzic, head of the Bosnian armed forces general staff, said that after a 10-day acclimatisation in Kuwait, the platoon will be deployed in Iraq's Sector West near the city of Falluja, under the U.S. 8th Marine Engineering Battalion.
The deployment will, in many ways, be a test of things to come for Bosnia: "The ethnically-mixed unit is exceptional for Bosnia where up to 200,000 people were killed in its 1992-95 war. Bosnian and Western officials see it as a litmus test of the country's ability to forge a single army, without which it will never be allowed to join NATO."

And the Australian troops continue to be well received by the locals:
Australian troops stationed in southern Iraq were welcomed with open arms when they visited a market in the village of As Samawah.

Australia has 450 troops deployed in al-Muthanna Province to assist a contingent of engineers from the Japanese self defence force and provide training for local security forces.

The commanding officer of the al-Muthanna Task Group, Lieutenant Colonel Roger Noble, said last night a dozen personnel had been mobbed by friendly locals on their first visit to the village.

"There was genuine warmth from the people, (who) reacted to Australian soldiers and they have welcomed us in the best way," Lieutenant Colonel Noble told The Australian.
Traditional Australian Army slouch hat with emu plumes, worn instead of helmets, has also proved to be a huge hit with the locals. "Concerns about local reactions to the deployment were raised at the time because, unlike the Japanese soldiers, the Australians would be armed, which could provoke local sensitivities to the occupation. Those fears have so far proved unfounded, with soldiers warmly welcomed across the region, and the risk of attack from insurgents now considered minimal."

Lastly, this good news report for the American soldiers: "Speed, technology and advancements in armor have made the battlefield in Iraq one of the most survivable in the history of warfare."

SECURITY: An interesting survey paints the picture of Iraqi women's threat perceptions around the country:
An Iraqi official survey showed that 40% of Iraqi women considered the criminals represent an actual danger for their lives, while 12% of them considered that the coalition forces represent their main threat. 46% of the surveyees did not point out any direct threat for them...

As for the provinces, 85% of women in provinces of Al Selaimania, Arbil, the Kurdish Dahuk (north) and Al Mothana (south), pointed out that they were not exposed to any direct threat against them, while 91% of women in Maisan province (south) considered that criminals are the only source of threat for women in Iraq, compared to 73% in Zi Qar (south) and 65% in the capital of Baghdad. More than 40% of women in Waset and Karbala (center) confirmed that criminals represent a danger against them. More than half of the women of Al Anbar province (west) and Salah Eddin (north) considered that the coalition forces are the greatest danger against them.
There are increasing signs that some of the insurgents might we willing to come in from the cold:
Former electricity minister Ayham al-Samarie told The Associated Press the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Army of Mujahedeen or holy warriors were ready to open talks with the Shiite-led government aimed at eventually joining the political process.

The claim appears consistent with comments from a senior Shiite legislator, Hummam Hammoudi, who told the AP last week the government had opened indirect channels of communication with some insurgent groups.

The contacts were "becoming more promising and they give us reason to continue," Hammoudi said without providing details.

Al-Samarie, an Illinois Institute of Technology graduate who holds dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, said the two groups represent more than 50 percent of the "resistance."
While some insurgents are reconsidering their position, the last three weeks have witnessed the largest operation so far conducted by the Iraqi security forces - Operation Lightning - involving, according to government sources, some 40,000 Iraqi security forces combing through Baghdad, in search of insurgents and terrorists.

This was one of the earliest successes: "Iraqi and U.S. soldiers arrested a former general in Saddam Hussein's intelligence service who was also a member of his Fedayeen secret police during a raid in western Baghdad, the scene of some of Sunday's heaviest fighting. 'He now leads the military wings of several terror cells operating in the west Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliyah,' the military said in its announcement about the former general." Also on the first day of operation, 500 suspects were arrested and several weapons caches uncovered.

Overall, during the Operation Lightning so far, 887 arrests have been made, 608 mobile and 194 permanent checkpoints set up around Baghdad, and 38 arms caches recovered. "The operation [was] the biggest Iraqi-led offensive since Saddam's ouster two years ago. Before it began, authorities controlled only eight of Baghdad's 23 entrances. Now all are under government control." For more on what the Operation looked like to one resident of Baghdad see here, as well as check other successes of the sweep.

As part of the Operation Lightning, a sweep by Iraqi and American forces in Latifiyah, 30 kilometers south of Baghdad, has netted another 108 suspects. A similar operation around Taji, north of Baghdad, has also resulted in arrests and weapons confiscations.

And the Interior Minister has announced another two massive security operations will be underway after the end of the Operation Lightning.

Meanwhile, moving away from Baghdad, First Lt. Tad Tsuneyoshi, a rifle platoon leader with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Air Assault) reports on the changes occurring in the former hot-spot of Ramadi:
Since the elections, kids have been going to school on a regular basis. Their laughter fills the air while they play, as we pull guard duty on our towers. People are able to go to work. People's attitudes change when they are able to work and support their families instead of cowering in their homes.

Most of the bullet holes have been covered up and the city has a different look and feel. It feels awkward, however, as we all grew up in combat here in the city. It is a good awkward. Now the people talk to us about how their area is free of terrorists and criminals. And for the first time, I believe them.

One of the strangest occurrences happened on a night mission about a month ago when we rolled out of our gates on the way to a raid target. Our lead vehicle became stuck in a volleyball net. There were people out playing soccer and volleyball in the streets.

People were gathered and talking story around their houses. A couple of months ago, people gathering during darkness were considered to be possible enemy.

We went out a couple days later to remind the people that there was an Iraqi-imposed curfew still in place. However, at house after house, we were told they were out because they felt safe. They were out doing normal things because we had taken the bad guys off of the street. And we were thanked for our efforts.
And in Mosul:
Gain the trust of the people, and you’ve won more than half the battle. At least that’s what soldiers in Mosul say. In an evolving quest to defeat insurgents in Iraq, soldiers must find a balance between hard fighting and soft handshakes.

“We’re out building a rapport with the population and that is turning into intelligence that we use to track down the enemy,” said Capt. Jeff Vanantwerp, commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade (Stryker Brigade Combat Team).

Over a lunch of piping hot pita bread, roasted chicken, potatoes, eggplant and lamb-topped pizza, Vanantwerp, 29, sat with a restaurant owner to learn of new developments.

“All the men in your neighborhood need to make an agreement that if you ever see foreigners committing a crime, you have to go out and scare them off,” he said through a translator. “And you need to call us.”

The tall, lanky, blond-haired captain has largely gained the residents’ trust, and they sometimes quip that “on the streets, he’s a Mosuli,” the restaurateur said, laughing...

“This neighborhood is what we’d like to see the rest of Mosul become,” 2nd Lt. Dave Beaudoin, 23, said of the al-Mansoor area of about 6,000 residents, whose polling place had the highest voter turnout for the Jan. 30 elections. The few bombings and small-arms fire encountered when they first arrived in October have all but stopped, he said.
Outside Kirkuk, meanwhile, Iraqi Army soldiers with 1st Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division have taken over control of Forward Operating Base Dibbis from US troops. And the Nemer (Tiger) Unit of the Iraqi 2nd Brigade was officially given control of the Rasafa area of Baghdad.

New elite counter-terror unit is being set up: "On the prime minister's instructions, high-ranking and specialist officers have been selected to lead a unit formed by the ministries of defence and internal affairs to tackle and eliminate terrorism. The unit has started making setting plans to stop the infiltration of insurgents from abroad, protect key national facilities, and look into the reasons why breaches of security occur. The unit has gathered intelligence about insurgents who have fled from hotbeds of tension to other towns. Thanks to leads provided by members of the public, it was able to arrest insurgents in al-Madain alleged to be the strike force of Abu Musab al-Zarkawi. The unit is asking people to call in on its hotline to report anything unusual."

Read this story about Iraq's elite - and most popular - security force:
Abul Waleed rifled through a pile of papers, considering the latest accusations against the elite brigade of Iraqi police commandos he leads from a dusty fortress.

The complaints against the Wolf Brigade were the usual: excessive force, renegade patrols, kidnapping, murder. The charges came from Iraq's most powerful Sunni Muslim leaders, and Waleed clearly relished reading them. It's precisely this take-no-prisoners reputation that has made his unit the most feared and revered of all of Iraq's nascent security forces.

"The Muslim Scholars Association? They're infidels," Waleed said, tossing his detractors' complaints into the wastebasket. "The Islamic Party? Humph. More like the Fascist Party."

No matter how many complaints about heavy-handedness pile up on Waleed's desk, there's no changing the fact that the Wolf Brigade rules public opinion in a country desperate for Iraqi heroes. With its televised humiliation of terror suspects and its dapper uniforms, the brigade restores some of the national pride stripped away by war and foreign occupation.

Yesterday, eight members of the elite unit were killed in a pre-dawn ambush on their 20-vehicle convoy in downtown Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, police 1st Lt. Nadar Adil said.

While the nation's fledgling police and armed forces are derided as corrupt or incompetent, the Wolf Brigade is the exception. Its logo is a snarling wolf, and its TV show, "Terrorists in the Grip of Justice," is the most watched program in the country. Harassed parents silence noisy children with threats to call the Wolves. Housewives swoon over their "broad shoulders" and "toughness."

"Every time I see them in the street, I feel safe," said Ahmed Kanan, 25, who works at a menswear shop in Baghdad. "I feel that we have a country with a government."
Security forces are having no problem attracting recruits:
More than 23,000 young Iraqis in the southern province of Dhiqar have responded to a call to set up a new battalion to protect the province.

The provincial authorities have been swamped with applications, Governor Aziz Kadhem told the newspaper.

He said the authorities had asked for maximum 1,000 volunteers but “we have received more than 23,000 applications so far.”

The new force will be based in Nasiriya, the province’s capital and home to more than 550,000 people.

Nasiriya, on the Euphrates River, is relatively quiet but, according to Kadhem, the new force is needed to bring stability across the province.
Training and equiping of Iraqi security forces continues. An Iraqi military academy with a long and proud tradition revives:
The Iraqi Military Academy Al Rustamiyah re-established its training and educational programs last January with a class of 135 cadets...

The Iraqi leadership modeled IMAR after England’s famous Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where its training and curriculum produce some of the world’s finest officers. The British and the Iraqi military have very old ties here – the British oversaw the construction of IMAR’s first buildings in 1924. When the first Gulf War began in 1991, the British and Iraqis were forced to break their long-standing professional relationship.

The academy is located six miles southeast of Baghdad. With a $100 million budget and detailed planning, IMAR will develop into a great training environment, according to Academy officials. The academy’s over-arching priorities include the completion of all building projects with the assistance of over 1,000 Iraqi workers and contractors; the training of the Iraqi staff to take over all logistics functions; the deployment of selected cadets and instructors to British military schools for eight to 12 week courses; and the commitment to training excellence within the instruction.

The rigorous training happens over a concentrated one-year period with three phases. Once the cadets complete the first four-month phase, they are given increased privileges such as moving into four to six-man room barracks.
Speaking of British ties, a group of 40 Iraqi Army officers has arrived at the British Army's Infantry Battle School at Brecon in Powys, Wales. "The 40 junior officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) have been chosen for the training by their commanding officers because of their potential to make good teachers at their own military academy. The army said the group would be taught leadership skills, instructional techniques and undergo team building exercises." Britain is also sending 400 additional troops to help train Iraqi security forces.

US personnel are begining to train Iraqi bomb-disposal experts:
54 elite Iraqi soldiers... have begun explosives ordnance disposal school, the first group to enter the school since the free elections in January. The soldiers will learn how to deal with ever-increasing attacks on civilians, government officials and coalition forces by insurgents using improvised explosive devices.

Once they complete the three-month training, the soldiers will begin taking over explosives disposal responsibilities for coalition EOD troops who are supporting the war on terrorism.

The EOD training is just one more step in what has been a long road for the soldiers who are making history in Iraq. Assigned to the 1st Iraqi Army Brigade, a National Guard unit, they began basic training in November and then took over sector responsibilities near the Tigris River and then here.
In addition to army, police forces are also growing. "The Iraqi Police Service graduated 167 police officers from advanced training and specialty courses at the Adnan Training Facility, May 19... The courses consist of Basic Criminal Investigations with 58 graduates, Interview and Interrogations with 21 graduates, Critical Incident Management with 25 graduates, Violent Crime Investigation with 29 graduates, Mid-level Management with 19 graduates and Basic Computer Skills with 15 graduates." Overall, in May 4,516 police officers graduated from basic police training courses in Al Kut, Sulaymaniyah, Al Hillah, Jordan and Baghdad. On June 2, Iraqi police graduated another 121 police officers from advanced and specialty courses at the Adnan Training Facility.

US Military Police are also providing some additional training to Iraqi police:
Military law enforcement has instituted a police officer survival course to hone the skills of Iraqi police and further establish an emergency response force in Baghdad.

Many of the police officers who are going through the course will become part of the Emergency Response Force. These teams will be specially trained in reacting to special situations in Baghdad.

“We are training the response team to be able to respond and control emergency situations,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Starsky Smith, non-commissioned officer-in-charge of training, 401st Military Police Company, Fort Hood, Texas.

The beginning phase is a five-day course and is taught by a military police squad from the 401st MP Co., 720th MP Battalion, 42nd MP Brigade. The course involves first aid, searching vehicles, removing suspects from vehicles, handcuffing techniques and improvised explosive device and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device awareness.
You can also spend a day with a police trainer, Contingent Commander Michael J. Heidingsfield. Czech authorities, too, have offered to train several dozen future Iraqi police trainers, in addition to the work already being done by 10 Czech trainers working in Amman, Jordan.

Meanwhile, the first part of a 27 million pounds ($49 million) weapons transfer from the British government to Iraqi army has taken place. "The equipment gifted to the Iraqi security forces includes guns; ammunition; protective/public order and urban operations equipment; global positioning systems; binoculars; communications systems; underslung grenade launchers; and search equipment, including baggage X-ray machines, metal detectors and protective armoured Land Rovers."

Construction of security infrastructure continues:
Officials from the Gulf Region South (GRS), the Iraqi Border Patrol (IBP), Multi-National Forces Southeast (MND-SE), the Project Contracting Office (PCO) and the contractor celebrated the first border fort opening in southern Iraq May 10 at Al Zaid, on the Iran-Iraq border.

The border fort, turned over to the IBP last week, had been 80 percent renovated and was completed in the middle of March. Renovations included new sanitary facilities, living quarters for the border guards, several guard towers and a renovated roof. There are 23 border forts in the Basrah Province, with an additional six scheduled to be completed and turned over this week. The southern district currently has 59 border posts slated for renovation.
Same goes for police stations:
Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Basra Palace Resident Office, in conjunction with representatives of the Iraqi Police Department, the Iraqi National Guard and members of the Danish Police Department, celebrated the Al-Hartha Police Station opening on April 23 with a traditional Iraqi ceremony and beginning of renovations at the Qarmat Ali Police Station April 24 with donations to the police force in honor of the effort. A third police station opened April 25 in the Missan Province...

The two openings complete 31 finishes of GRS’ successful police station renovation program, now with 167 project awards and 191 assessments completed.
200 Seabees, Naval engineers, are also heavily involved in various security construction projects throughout Iraq:
Seabees assisted in the construction of 19 major Iraqi military facilities and more than 60 smaller bases in support of Iraqi Security Forces engaged in defending their homeland from terrorists, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Hicks, Engineering Director, Coalition Military Assistance Training Team...

Most Seabees work as project managers on major construction projects such as the $64 million contract at the Baghdad Police College. The College is a major compound undergoing many projects while still functioning as a training facility, said U.S. Navy Lt. Tamanh Duong, a Seabee project manager. Low water pressure on the entire campus forced officials to pursue contract bids to tap into a new water line from off-site, according to a multinational forces report.
In the north, the city of Suleimaniyah is staying safe due to vigilance of its residents:
Sulaimaniyah security officials credit vigilant residents for ensuring this northern city stays free of the violence that plagues the rest of Iraq.

Up to 70 people call the authorities each day to report suspicious incidents. Though some tips don’t check out – such as the car with blood on its tires that turned out to be from the chicken slaughtered in honour of the new vehicle – others have saved lives .

In August 2004, a suicide bomber in a black BMW was planning to hit the popular Sulaimaniyah Palace hotel where many foreigners stay, IWPR was told by a security official who wished to remain anonymous. It was information from hotel guards, residents and security forces that foiled the attack, the source said.

“The citizens contact [us] when they observe any abnormal, suspicious acts and we respond to their call very quickly,” said Brigadier-General Khoshawist Jamal, who manages the communications centre for the Sulaimaniyah administration's security department. “The citizens are like an alert eye for us in protecting Sulaimaniyah.”

Shop owner Raheem Sabir is typical of those determined to keep the city, the seat of the administration run by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main Kurdish parties, free of bombings and bloodshed.

“If I have the slightest suspicion about any strange or abnormal car or person, I will inform security officials immediately,” said Sabir.
In stories of increased public cooperation with security authorities:

"On May 17 in eastern Baghdad, Iraqi citizens tipped off local police to a terrorist bomb threat for the second time in two days. The civilians noticed a suspicious vehicle parked near a neighborhood mosque and then alerted an Iraqi army unit. Iraqi soldiers arrived and cleared the area. The bomb exploded, causing no injuries or damage";

The same day, in the Salman Pak neighborhood of Bahdad, "Iraqi citizens flagged down an Iraqi Army patrol in central Baghdad and handed over four hand grenades and 14 mortar charges they said they found while working in the area";

And again, on the same day in the same neighborhood, another tip from a local led to the seizure of a weapons cache consisting of 1,500 pounds of ammunition and explosives, and including "more than 250 mortar rounds, seven rockets, one rocket warhead, 40 anti-tank mines and 47 rocket-propelled grenade rounds [as well as] three missiles, detonation cord and numerous primers, detonators, grenades and bomb-making materials." "This is the largest cache I have seen here," says said Staff Sgt. Brandon Gold, C Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, senior scout;

On May 22, "an Iraqi citizen told Iraqi Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division about two people suspected of planning and carrying out a car-bomb attack near a military base in central Baghdad. An Iraqi patrol went to the site, cordoned off the area and detained two suspects... Another Iraqi citizen’s tip helped Task Force Baghdad Soldiers find 14 mortar rounds in east Baghdad";

On May 27, a patrol by Task Force Baghdad soldiers "reportedly received a tip from an Iraqi, who directed the soldiers to a plastic bag on top of a barrier. The bag contained a 130 mm round. Officials said the informant told the soldiers the name of the individual who placed the round and where that individual lives";

Also on May 27, "soldiers from 1st Battalion, 155th Infantry Regiment, 155th Brigade Combat Team, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), captured a man who was waiting to detonate an improvised explosive device near the Al-Shahaba Mosque in Jarf As Sakhr, Iraq. An informant notified U.S. Soldiers of a man acting in a suspicious manner. When the Soldiers arrived on scene, they observed him squatting on the side of the road. He fled on foot and was wounded when Soldiers fired at him";

Acting on a tip-off, Iraqi police uncovered a large weapons cache on a farm in the al-Dora district outside Baghdad on March 28;

"A suspected weapons smuggler led Task Force Liberty Soldiers to a pair of cache sites near Tuz on May 28. Soldiers from the 278th Regimental Combat recovered 75 60mm mortar rounds, two 81mm mortar rounds, two mortar tubes, one rocket-propelled grenade launcher, 17 RPG rounds and five anti-tank mines at the two sites";

On May 28, in the east Baghdad a tip from a local who saw a terrorist place a roadside bomb alerted a Task Force Baghdad patrol, which defused the explosive;

"An Iraqi citizen's tip led Task Force Baghdad soldiers to a weapons cache in the Kanun district of east Baghdad on May 31. When the soldiers followed up on the Iraqi's tip, they found nine anti-personnel mines that appeared to be in their original packaging... In western Baghdad, another Iraqi citizen approached a patrol of Task Force Baghdad soldiers to tell them about a roadside bomb. The local national led the soldiers to a red wire running across a road";

On June 1, an Iraqi child alerted American soldiers about something sticking out of the ground, which turned out to be a mortar round; later on that day, an Iraqi civilian "walked into a police station and told the officers he'd seen men in a white Mazda hiding what looked like bombs near the side of a road in northwest Baghdad. The police investigated and found two artillery rounds at the location identified by the tipster"; on June 2, local residents informed Iraqi police about insurgents placing a roadside bomb on the road to New Baghdad;

On June 5, tips from Iraqi citizens led to rescue of a kidnap victim, recovery of two sacks of ammunition dumped by the insurgents in a field, and a recovery of an arms cache.

In other recent security successes:

"Pressure from Iraqi Army and Task Force Liberty units operating near Bayji has led to the surrender of wanted Iraqi terrorist Nabil Badriyah Al Nasiri, according to Capt. Hussein Ali Suleman, commander of Company C, 201st Iraqi Army Battalion. Badriyah, who is from Bayji, surrendered to the 201st Iraqi Army Battalion in Tikrit May 2. He is suspected of being a terrorist cell leader responsible for recent vehicle borne improvised explosive device attacks against Iraqi police, and other terrorist activities designed to undermine stability in and around Bayji, Tikrit and Samarra";

"Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 6th Division, Iraqi Army found nearly 100 sticks of the plastic explosive C-4, false identification cards and vests and belts that would have been used for suicide attacks during a night raid in north central Baghdad May 8. Four terror suspects were detained in the raid near the town of Al Waziriah, including a man suspected of designing and manufacturing improvised explosive devices";

The arrest by Iraqi police on May 16 in Kirkuk of suspects implicated in an earlier shootout;

On May 17, "Task Force Baghdad Soldiers captured 13 suspected terrorists in three early morning raids carried out in west and central Baghdad. One of the suspects was specifically targeted for possible involvement in a terror cell in central Baghdad"; the same a weapons cache has been located in the Salman Pak neighborhood;

"Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces performed cordon and search operations in Heychal Salama resulting in the detainment of 150 suspected anti-Iraq forces May 17"; 110 of these suspects were held for further questioning;

The capture in Baquba on May 17 by Iraqi security forces of Ismail Budair Ibrahim al-Obeidi, a terrorist close to the Al-Zarqawi network;

On 18 May, "Iraqi security forces have captured alleged car bombing expert Ali Saleem Yousif in Mosul. He is reported to be close to the leader of the Abu Talha terrorist network, connected to Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi. Yousif is said to have provided the car bombs used in suicide attacks on Mosul";

Joint Iraqi-American raids in Mosul on May 18 netted 10 suspects;

Two terrorists killed (including one while attempting to place a bomb) and 18 suspects detained during various raids in Baghdad on May 19; five more were killed and 10 more captured the following day;

A week-long sweep in mid-May by the Polish and the Iraqi troops in south-central Iraq resulting in 190 suspected insurgents being detained and weapons and ammunition seized (more here);

"Task Force Baghdad units nabbed 15 terror suspects during six early-morning raids conducted throughout Baghdad on May 22. One of the raids, in central Baghdad, netted two suspected terrorists and $6 million dollars in US currency";

In a massive joint American-Iraqi sweep of Abu Ghraib district in Western Baghdad, 285 suspects were detained on the first day (May 22) of Operation Squeeze Play;

The arrest by a detachments of the 1st police division in Al Basra province of an organized gang specializing in murder and looting cars in the border region of Safwan;

"Security forces arrested an insurgent leader, Mohammed Daham Abid Hamadi, in a raid carried out in Baghdad on May 23. A government statement said Hamadi was an Islamic extremist who runs a group called the Lewa al-Numan - the Numan Regiment- in the town of Ramadi. The group is said to be responsible for attacks on civilians and the security forces, and Hamadi himself accused of killings and of a series of kidnappings of officials and businessmen, with the aim of collecting ransom money to fund his own group and also to provide other insurgent organisations with funds and weapons";

The arrest on May 24 in Baquba of Al Zarqawi's secretary, Ali Agha Omar;

The new offensive commenced on May 10 in western Iraq by 1,000 American troops; "The American troops killed at least 10 suspected militants in Haditha, a Euphrates River city of 90,000 people one of whom told the Marines that insurgents had recently killed her husband. Speaking inside her home through a military interpreter, the woman moved her finger across her throat as she begged that her name not be used, indicating she could be killed for talking to U.S. forces. She later helped cook a breakfast of eggs and bread for the handful of Iraqi soldiers helping guard the street". As the operation progressed, the troops killed 14 insurgents and captured 30 others, found four machine guns in a local school, located numerous arms caches, precision-bombed a terrorist safe house and released an Iraqi man kidnapped and tortured by foreign fighters. More on the operation here.

The discovery by the Iraqi security forces of the biggest car bomb factory yet, with enough materials to construct 70 car bombs;

On May 27, on six occasions Task Force Baghdad soldiers located and defused roadside bombs;

"Task Force Baghdad Soldiers captured 15 terror suspects in three early-morning raids conducted throughout the capital May 28";

Eight suspects arrested and a terrorist hideout destroyed when a weapons cache exploded during a shootout with American troops near Husaybah on May 31;

"The Iraqi police, supported by army officers, raided the al-Kubeisi Sunni mosque in Baghdad on Wednesday [1 June]... Inside the mosque, the security forces are reported to have found large quantities of arms and money, belonging to militants killed by the police two days earlier. The blitz was carried out after a group of militants opened fire on a police station from the mosque. The insurgents are said to have used the mosque's minaret as a post for their snipers to fire on the officers from the police station in front of the place of worship";

300 Hawn mortar shells, regularly used by insurgents, found in Karbala on 1 June by the Iraqi police;

17 alleged terrorists arrested by the police in raids in al-Radwaniya, al-Latifiya and al-Muhawi, outside Baghdad on 2 June;

The arrest in Mosul on June 4 of suspected Al Zarqawi deputy Mullah Mahdi and five other suspected terrorists, Mahdi's brother, three other Iraqis and a Syrian; on the following day, the police arrested the key aide and financier to the chief of Al Zarqawi's cell in Mosul, Mutlaq Mahmoud Mutlaq Abdullah, also known as Abu Raad;

The discovery of the largest underground network of insurgent bunkers in an old rock quarry north of the town of Karma, Anbar province; the complex was uncovered during search for weapons caches, 50 of which have been discovered over the three days of operations;

On June 2, "Iraqi soldiers and coalition forces captured 29 terror suspects, including three targeted for their involvement in terror cells, during a series of recent raids throughout Baghdad. Weapons, passports and bomb-making materials were also seized. The largest of the raids took place in the Karb De Gla district in southern Baghdad, and netted 18 suspects, including two of the three targeted terrorists, as well as Iraqi military uniforms and bomb-making materials";

59 suspects arrested by the Iraqi and American forces during Operations Woodstock/Uhaser Sunday conducted on June 5 in the northern Babil province, south of Baghdad;

The same day in the capital, American troops of Task Force Baghdad have arrested three insurgents after a shootout with police, recovered guns from a car, and disarmed six roadside bombs before they could detonate;

20 suspects arrested in a joint American-Iraqi operation in Tal Afar on 6 June; "U-S and Iraqi military commanders met with nearly 80 local tribal elders in the area yesterday. They agreed to work together to end violence and rebuild the city's police and local government services"; you can read more about the operation here.

Marine Lt. Colonel Bern Krueger has been flying helicopters along the Euphrates for the past few months. Recently he wrote back to the people of his home town:
I don’t see what you see on the news... As I travel hundreds of miles each night, I don’t see the violence that you see in the media. Sure, it exists, and is very real to those near it. But it is sporadic, unorganized, and often isolated. It is not everywhere. There are not great pillars of smoke peppering the landscape. There are no riots or mass panic sweeping through the towns. There are no fiery infernos burning houses and schools to the ground, no barrages of mortar fire raining destruction upon the communities, and no raging mobs displaying hate or screaming anti-American propaganda. Sure, it is out there. But it is in small pockets, concentrated in small areas. Overall the country is quiet, silently and eagerly trying to repair an infrastructure damaged by war and neglect and trying to return to some sort of normalcy not seen in decades.
And so, step by step it goes.


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