Saturday, January 08, 2005
I've been much castigated by some readers of my previous round-up for deeming a libertarian condemnation of foreign aid a "stupid" quote. I still think that "stupid" is a subjective judgment to which I'm entitled (just as my readers are entitled to disagree with me), but let's ditch the "stupid" tag and just say, here is another collection of strange, unfortunate, or just plain batty statement and opinion from around the world (many thanks to all the readers who suggested links):
1. Helicopters yes, hookers no: Hilmy Bakar, spokesman of Indonesia's Islamic Defender Front, which is conducting its own aid mission in the devastated areas:
"It's OK that aid from the United States is here... If they open bars, sell alcohol or open prostitution centers, then we will fight them."Little does Bakar know that a second American aircraft carrier is now on the way to the region, bringing in field bars and demountable brothels to set up around Aceh.
2. Setting the priorities right: From a press release, United Nations, "UN Response To Tsunami Focuses On Large And Small" Saturday, 1 January 2005:
"[In Sri Lanka] UNFPA is carrying out reproductive health assessments."The assessment will conclude that dead people can't reproduce. An international conference will be called to deal with the problem. A permanent commission will be established.
3. Media alert: In a now notorious case of "foot in the mouth" disease, CNN's Jonathan Klein boasting about his channel's preparedness to cover the disaster said that with producers and correspondents already stationed around the globe, CNN was
"able to flood the zone immediately"CNN staff is expected to breeze in the next time a hurricane strikes.
Along the same lines, an unfortunate headline from the "Times of Malta":
"Indonesia tsunami victims hunt food, flood hospital"And speaking of inane headlines, News Ltd discovers a previously unknown South-East Asian country:
"Tsunami devastates Dicaprio"The United Nations is currently sending an assessment team to Beverly Hills.
4. Let them eat icecream: Greek playboy and jetsetter Taki Theodoracopulos, one of the regulars at Gstaad, Switzerland, is not happy about the arrival of a certain American celebrity:
"Poor Phuket got a tsunami, and we got Paris Hilton."The uncharitable might wish Taki to now experience a tsunami to help better compare and contrast.
5. US bankers flood Asia: Australian conspiracy nutcase Joe Villas dares to ask the question we've all been dying to ask (or not) - "Did New York Orchestrate The Asian Tsunami?" (and he's not talking about "a butterfly flapping its wings in New York causing a hurricane in Asia" either):
"With Afghanistan and Iraq already lost, the Wall Street bankers were all desperately looking for other ways to control our world, when suddenly and very conveniently, the Sumatran Trench exploded. Trick or Treat?... It is beyond any doubt that a giant tidal wave (tsunami) smashed its way through South and South East Asia, and still had enough legs to continue all the way across the Indian Ocean to Africa, where it killed and injured a few hundred more. So the only question we must ask, is whether this tsunami was a natural or man-made catastrophe? A natural event would be horrifying enough, but if the tsunami was man-made, then we are unquestionably looking at the biggest single war crime in global history."And if the moon was made of cheese we would be looking at the greatest pizza topping in the universe.
6. "Kill the all and let God sort out his own": Centerpiece blog doesn't seem to realize there are better ways of fighting the war on terror:
"When a story appears describing what has happened to a citizen of Sumatra, we don't know whether to cheer (another Islamofascist that will not now be able to fly to American and attack us) or to mourn (another blameless fellow human is gone)."Forgetting for a moment that it's Indonesia's Aceh and not Saudi Arabia (with its 15 out of 19 of September 11 hijackers) which has been hit by the tsunami, thank God the war against terrorism is not in the hands of people who would "destroy the country in order to save it".
7. Wasn't like that in my family: Sheikh Fawzan Al-Fawzan, a professor at the Al-Imam University in Saudi Arabia confuses Christmas with season's holidays:
"These great tragedies and collective punishments that are wiping out villages, towns, cities, and even entire countries, are Allah's punishments of the people of these countries, even if they are Muslims.It came as a shock to me, having been brought up as Polish Roman Catholic that it was really supposed to be all about fornication and perversion. Thanks to Sheik Al Fawzan, at least I now know the true meaning of Christmas.
"Some of our forefathers said that if there is usury and fornication in a certain village, Allah permits its destruction. We know that at these resorts, which unfortunately exist in Islamic and other countries in South Asia, and especially at Christmas, fornication and sexual perversion of all kinds are rampant. The fact that it happened at this particular time is a sign from Allah. It happened at Christmas, when fornicators and corrupt people from all over the world come to commit fornication and sexual perversion."
8. Every publicity is bad publicity: Robert Kuttner writing in the "Boston Globe" (hat tip: James Taranto) doesn't see any role for private initiative:
"The US government ranks near the bottom of tsunami aid givers when national income is measured against assistance. So President Bush, in line with his general view of privatization as panacea, is enlisting private charity to fill the gap. A parade of corporations has lined up to reap some easy publicity."Even if true, it's called "the invisible hand", self-interest translated into public benefit. But it's a free market thing; Kuttner wouldn't understand. Somehow I don't think the victims really care - pious indignation has always been the privilege of the safe and well off.
9. This is a stick-up: Jonathan Freedland in the "Guardian" wants to force compassion:
"Today's British companies enjoy some of the lowest tax rates outside America. Now they have the best of both worlds: low tax and no guilty expectation of philanthropy. They can keep almost all their money to themselves... Maybe we ought to turn to the big companies and say: you can no longer have it both ways. Either you give as generously as we do - or we will take it off you in tax. Either way, it's time to start paying."The theologically inclined might observe that charity, if forced, is no longer charity and certainly not a virtue.
10. Moral equivalence alert: Kurt Nimmo at The Progressive Trail:
"Imagine millions of people driving around with magnetic car ribbons declaring support for the tsunami that ravaged south and Southeast Asia, killing upward to a hundred thousand people. Youd probably think those people are sadistic mental cases in need of treatment and medication. And yet millions of Americans display 'support our troops' ribbons on their cars, even though 'our' troops are daily killing and torturing innocent Iraqisat checkpoints, in their homes, on the street, at demonstrations, and in Bushs gulags such as Abu Ghraibupward to a hundred thousand of them have died to date, possibly more."Even I am left speechless sometimes.
11. More butter, please: Egbert F. Bhatty in the "Washington Dispatch" finds the bright side of the catastrophe:
"Every dollar that goes to tsunami relief is a dollar that cannot be sent to bomb Iraq. There is no money in the national kitty. Bush has given it all away to his rich friends. So he has to make a choice: bombs for Iraq or butter for the Asian poor."That's probably a fair arguments for more natural disasters.
12. Another artificial tsunami: John Pilger can always be relied to say something stupid, and he doesn't disappoint this time either:
"This other tsunami is worldwide, causing 24,000 deaths every day from poverty and debt and division that are the products of a supercult called neoliberalism."In the next Pilger dispatch: North Korea - the breadbasket of the world.
13. Going for the Pulitzer: The Egyptian nationalist weekly Al-Usbu' has publishes an investigation by correspondent Mahmoud Bakri, titled "Humanity in Danger":
"Was [the earthquake] caused by American, Israeli, and Indian nuclear testing on 'the day of horror?' Why did the 'Ring of Fire' explode?... The three most recent [nuclear] tests appeared to be genuine American and Israeli preparations to act together with India to test a way to liquidate humanity."Damn those Hindu Zionist.
14. The dumbest rhetorical question of the year: goes to Kofi Annan touring Aceh:
"You wonder where are the people? What has happened to them?"As soon as the UN realizes what happened to all the people, I'm sure they'll be sending an assessment team. Emergency aid will follow in six months' time.
Friday, January 07, 2005
Who's giving what: As at the Jakarta aid summit, the grand total of government pledges stands at $3.7 billion, with another $630 million flowing into the region from private sources. Some of the highlights (and there are far too many cases to list individually):
Australia becomes the largest single donor with A$1 billion aid package composed of A$500 million in direct assistance and A$500 million in concessional loans.
The European Union: "The European Commission pledged an additional 350 million euros ($462 million) over three years... The European Union also proposed a 1 billion euro concessional loan through the European Investment Bank to help finance reconstruction efforts."
And this, from a seemingly unlikeliest place:
"Afghans donated blood on Wednesday for the victims of last weeks devastating tsunami, and the government asked the US military to help it send war-hardened doctors to the disaster zone. About a dozen medics and a planeload of medicine and equipment would leave for India and Sri Lanka as soon as possible, the Defence Ministry said. 'We have our own problems, but we are part of the family of nations,' said ministry spokesman Gen Zaher Mohammed Azimi. 'The people of Afghanistan are saddened by this disaster'."Just goes to show that you're never too poor or troubled not to show some charity and human spirit.
Steven Spielberg and his family have donated $1.5 million.
Soccer's international governing body FIFA has set up a $3 million aid fund.
In Hong Kong: "More than 760 prisoners in the high-security Stanley Prison, where some of the city's most hardened criminals are locked up, have donated HK$141,788 (US$18,178) after learning of the Dec. 26 catastrophe."
And in Denmark, "homeless alcoholics" are collecting for the victims. "Living in Blue Cross shelters across Denmark, a Nordic welfare state, [they] have collected almost 19,000 crowns ($4424) in a drive launched in protest against the government's initially 'stingy' donation of 10 million crowns."
Barcepundit is disappointed with the official Spanish response.
Meanwhile, Chuck Simmins keeps a tally of donations by "stingy Americans" (link in PDF).
And for all the (mostly) left-wing critics castigating governments and businesses for the inadequate response:
"The United Nations and international donors on Thursday faced an unusual problem as they sought to rally help for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami: not a shortage of money, but a surfeit - or at least far more promised cash than they can use in the coming months.On the ground: "U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has flown over the worst scenes of devastation from Asia's tsunami and said it was more horrifying than wars he had witnessed during decades as a soldier." Others, however, still find the United States to be more horrifying that the tsunami.
"An outpouring of public donations and government pledges from around the world has created an embarrassment of riches. The $5bn (3.8bn, £2.65bn) promised amounts to about $1,000 for each of the estimated 5m people affected, much more than the typical annual income of a Sri Lankan fisherman or an Indian villager, let alone an African peasant. [emphasis added]
"UN officials do not want to stop the money flowing, but they admit that it poses some unexpected challenges, not least because the pledges are already five times greater than the $977m appeal launched on Thursday by Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, for emergency tsunami relief efforts over the next six months."
Meanwhile, there is one place in the region where the extent of the catastrophe is unknown to the outside world: Myanmar, formerly known as Burma:
"Superstition, distrust and a secretive military regime are making it difficult to assess the death toll and damage from the Dec. 26 tsunami in Myanmar, a country ruled by dictators since 1962. 'There's an age-old superstition that if there's a big natural disaster, there's going to be a new king or a regime change,' says [human rights activist] Stephen Dun of Seattle. 'That's one of the reasons they're keeping a big blanket on this whole situation'."Change of government in Myanmar? Let's hope so. It clearly would be a case of something good coming out of a tragedy.
The aid diplomacy: In Indonesia, the American aid is being received with gratitude:
"American tsunami relief aid is being welcomed in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country and a nation that has been critical of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.But it doesn't stop those who aren't actually affected from being the armchair critics:
"As Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Sumatra island Wednesday, survivors, aid workers and others expressed gratitude for American aid. Some said it fostered a feeling of brotherhood, and, that like any helping hand, could bring the two nations closer. Others felt it could help America's tattered image in the Muslim world.
" 'America is the police of the world. But at the same time, they are helping us. And we are grateful,' said Mohamed Bachid Madjid, peering from a bridge into the rubble-cluttered Aceh River. 'It's not true that Muslims hate America'."
"Even when America is doing something for Muslims, it comes in for criticism in the Middle East, where resentment and suspicion color thinking about the United States. On the streets of Tehran, the Iranian capital, technician Dariush Darabian accused Americans of 'talking more than they actually do.' Jordanian columnist Aida al-Najjar wrote in the independent daily Ad-Dustour that the United States was exploiting "the suffering of people" to try to improve its image. In the pages of pro-government Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, columnist Salah Montasser scoffed that America's initial allocation of $15 million 'is less than what America spends every minute in its war in Iraq'."Another story from Indonesia:
"The U.S. servicemen have been logging 24-hour shifts in sweltering humidity, but their voices bubble with enthusiasm as they describe the welcome they've received in the most conservative Islamic province of this Muslim country. 'We get lots of smiles, lots of thumbs-up,' says Chief Petty Officer Matthew Schwantz, 29, of Beaufort, S.C. He's part of a squadron that has been flying off the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to bring aid to victims of the tsunami that struck Dec. 26. 'The people are very appreciative'."Other members of the new Coalition of the Willing is also forging closer ties with the region:
"You were the first to phone. You were the first to have aircraft on the ground... That is a gesture I will never forget."That's Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono speaking to Australian prime minister John Howard.
Japan, too, is quite active: $500 million pledged in grants, freezing the debts of tsunami-affected countries (worth some $65 billion), and dispatching its navy (still quaintly known as "the maritime self-defence force") to assist with the humanitarian relief. As "Japan Today" writes:
"By making what many view as a quick and generous gesture, Japanese government officials admit Tokyo hoped not only to assist fellow Asian countries affected by the Dec 26 disaster but also to boost its campaign to seek a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council."Hey, how about a seat for Australia, too?
No wonder the United Nations was getting jealous. Kofi Annan must be pretty happy that the coalition is getting disbanded and subsumed by the United Nations "effort". Time for business as usual?
"The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, insisted yesterday that 'everyone accepted' the UN's leadership in the global drive to bring relief to Asia, as he sought to answer mounting questions over who was heading the aid effort. 'There was clear leadership at the beginning and everyone accepted the UN's leadership,' Mr Annan said in an interview with CNN."The report also contains an interesting perspective on why the Americans themselves seem to be keen to hand the ball over to the UN:
"Other diplomats said there was concern that if the huge relief effort breaks down, the US would prefer not to be in the lead role."Conspiracy theories live on: ...among the Islamic web sites. The latest one: "the annihilation of the Diego Garcia base": "The whole world is wondering about the silence of the American government on the fate of this base, situated at the core of the catastrophe and from where B-52 bombers took off to bomb our Muslim brothers in Afghanistan and Iraq," writes one poster on a message board. "It seems that the base was wiped off the map. But given their difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Americans do not want to announce it so as not to sap the morale of their soldiers," writes another. And this sinister view of America's offer to help set up an Indian Ocean early warning system for earthquakes and tsunamis:
"Certainly we cannot blame the United States for the quake which caused the tsunamis, but we have the right to be amazed by the eagerness of America to install all means of spying and early warning whenever it has the slightest suspicion about the presence of what it calls terrorists,"says Kuwaiti Islamist Hamed Abdullah al-Ali. In other "grass knoll"-ing:
"One conspiracy theorist believes there's more to this than meets the eye. Why would the U.S. send a warship? Why would a senior commander who was previously posted in Iraq be on his way to South East Asia? The lack of previous seismic activity being recorded is also seen as proof of a major cover-up going on.
"The Indian and U.S. military are seen by many as the main cause of the disaster by testing eco-weapons which use electromagnetic waves thus triggering off earthquakes. Other figures of blame range from the Australian to the Thai governments for deliberately failing to respond to warning of the impending earthquake which caused the tsunamis."
Thursday, January 06, 2005
"For the first time in the 11 years that the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal have been publishing the Index of Economic Freedom, the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 freest economies in the world.You can find the complete ranking here.
"In 1998, the U.S. was the fifth freest economy in the world, in 2001 it was sixth, and today it sits at 12th, tied with Switzerland. The U.S. drop in ranking is explained in part by a slightly lower score, but mostly by the good performance among its competitors. The lesson? Stand still on the highway to economic liberty and the world will soon start to pass you by.
"The 2005 Index, released today, ranks Hong Kong once again as the world's freest economy, followed by Singapore and Luxembourg. But it is Estonia at No. 4 that makes the point. This former Soviet satellite is a model reformer, setting the standard for how fast countries can move ahead in the realm of economic liberalization. Ireland, New Zealand, the U.K., Denmark, Iceland, Australia and Chile, all relatively recent converts to free markets, also outpace the U.S. this year."
How ironic, I replied to my friend, that the top four of the world's freest economies consists of an enclave within the last communist empire, a semi-authoritarian Asian city-state, a bank masquerading as a state one third the size of my home city, and a former Soviet republic. There are other ironies on that list: New Zealand, even after a few years of "Red" Helen Clark's rule is still doing slightly better than Australia, a legacy of the far-reaching reforms in the 1980s; and Chile is ahead of the United States, another achievement that no one will thank General Pinochet for.
Here's wishing for "up the chart with a bullet" in next year's ranking for Australia, the United States and Poland.
In no particular order:
1. Them darned monkeys did it: Bestselling author Simon Winchester offers an "ancient Chinese astrology meets modern Western New Age tripe" explanation for the disaster:
"This year just ending - which the all-too-seismically-aware Chinese will remind us has been that of the Monkey, and so generally much prone to terrestrial mischief - has seen killer earthquakes in Morocco in February and Japan's main island of Honshu in October...The good old Mother Earth must be a part of the evil multinational-Bush-neocon conspiracy, as her wrath seems to particularly affect the poor of the developing world. I say to all my left-wing friends, time to boycott Gaia and move to a more tolerant place.
"In recent decades, thanks largely to the controversial Gaia Theory developed by the British scientists James Lovelock, it has become ever more respectable to consider the planet as one immense and eternally interacting living system - the living planet, floating in space, every part of its great engine affecting every other, for good or for ill.
"Mr. Lovelock's notion, which he named after the earth goddess of the Ancient Greeks, makes much of the delicacy of the balance that mankind's environmental carelessness increasingly threatens. But his theory also acknowledges the somber necessity of natural happenings, many of which seem in human terms so tragically unjust, as part of a vast system of checks and balances. The events that this week destroyed the shores of the Indian Ocean, and which leveled the city of Bam a year ago, were of unmitigated horror: but they may also serve some deeper planetary purpose, one quite hidden to our own beliefs."
2. Let them eat sea-grass: David Holcberg, a research associate at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California, demonstrates he's not for any sissy labels like "compassionate libertarian":
"The United States government... should not give any money to help the tsunami victims. Why? Because the money is not the government's to give. Every cent the government spends comes from taxation. Every dollar the government hands out as foreign aid has to be extorted from an American taxpayer first."3. "Christian" charity: The ultra-homophobic Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas proves it has a dirty, one-track mind: "Thank God for Tsunami & 2,000 dead Swedes!!! How many tsunami-dead Swedes are fags and dykes?" Beyond parody.
4. Sounds like yet another case of sour grapes: The former UK International Development Secretary and an anti-Blair rotweiller Claire Short:
"I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate [the aid effort] sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up... Only really the UN can do that job... It is the only body that has the moral authority."As you're reading these words, the UN's "moral authority" is rescuing, feeding and caring for hundreds of thousands of survivors. Meanwhile, in the real world...
5. The sad devastation of the mind: Jeremy Seabrook is seeing things:
"The ruins of Galle and Banda Aceh called forth images of Falluja, Mosul and Gaza. Imperial powers, it seems, anticipate the destructive capacity of nature."How clever of them.
By the way, this is Gaza:
And this is Banda Aceh:
6. If the moon was made of cheese...: It's always morbidly fascinating to watch the mainstream media being attacked for not being sufficiently anti-war. Mike Whitney provides the car-wreck:
"Where was this 'free press' in Iraq when the death toll was skyrocketing towards 100,000?... If Iraq was covered like the tsunami, public support would erode more quickly than the Thai coastline, and Americans would have to buy their oil rather than extracting it at gunpoint. What good would that do? Looks like the media's got it right; carnage IS different in Iraq than Thailand, Indonesia or India."Look at the bright side, Mark: since the tsunami is covered like the tsunami, the public support for natural disasters will erode quicker than your credibility, and so pretty soon there won't be any earthquakes or floods to distract you from your single-minded task of attacking the United States. And it might also come as a surprise to most of us that the US is actually getting its oil for free, as opposed to buying it. I guess the oil companies must be pocketing all the profits.
7. We're from the UN and we're here to help you: Some comments are simply beyond parody - Ray Hanania:
"The Tsunami in South Asia has demonstrated how important the United Nations is to the world, and how political the resentment of Western and wealthy nations like the United States really is. Whether it is Kosovo, Iraq or Palestine, the UN is there to help as the nation's most equipped to help seem driven more by political agendas."Which is why the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo had to stopped by an unilateral US action, Saddam would still be in power today, and the Middle East conflict is in its sixth decade.
8. As long as they're brown people: This, sadly from someone on the political right (hat tip: Tim Blair) Matthew Parris in an opinion piece titled "Imagine there were no cataclysms - what a dull world it would be":
"I watched the TV pictures of the surge of ocean coming ashore, saw the buildings in its path, and had to stifle an inward 'Yes! Sweep them away! Show us how small is Man! Show us how easily this Universe can make matchwood of our dreams!' And no, you do not need to remind me that they were somebody else's dreams, not mine. 'Show us,' I thought, 'how lives and livelihoods can be snuffed out in the twinkling of an eye'."Sadly, we don't need natural disasters to show us "how small is Man"; a op-ed from Matthew Parris will suffice. Sadly also, because Parris makes some good points about human fascination with disaster. Sadly in the third instance, because in real life Parris's enthusiasm for natural disasters would not survive his favorite coffee shop being flooded.
9. Baby-killers to the rescue: George Monbiot thinks that the Americans should just stick to what they do best:
"The US marines who have now been dispatched to Sri Lanka to help the rescue operation were, just a few weeks ago, murdering the civilians (for this, remember, is an illegal war), smashing the homes and evicting the entire population of the Iraqi city of Falluja."
Just for the pleasure of it, too. Better call in the untainted military forces of the European Union to assist. Oops, they can't actually get to the region...
10. On moral superiority of natural disasters: Stan Moore writes why tsunamis are better than the US armed forces:
"Earthquakes may have aftershocks, but tsunamis do not return to attack their original victims or to attack rescuers or resisters of their destruction. The invading U.S. led forces attack 'insurgents' who are resisting the brutal subjugation of Iraqis. Tsunamis do not break in doors in the middle of the night in order to detain, arrest, and confine innocent people for weeks, months or even years. Tsunamis do not detain people for lifetimes as the U.S. military leadership is attempting to do. Tsunamis do not torture people with focused technology in order to 'break them' or cause them to divulge information which may not even be in the possession of the victim."How low is it to compare a jihadi who blows himself up in the middle of a busy street, with an Indonesian farmer whose house has been washed away and his family drowned? Don't worry, the left just keeps digging.
11. Pathetic poseur alert: Kathleen Butler in a letter to "The Wichita Eagle" demonstrates again the pampered self-indulgence of Western middle classes, which so many people around the world who have experienced genuine suffering find so puzzling and infuriating:
"My apologies to the Asian countries suffering from the effects of that catastrophic tsunami. The $350 million is a lot, but we could be sending a lot more if we were not in Iraq and weren't suffering from our own tsunami of the past four years. That killer wave of trillions of dollars in deficits, pre-emptive wars, and zero respect that's been washing over us is called the Bush administration, and we will continue to drown under its effects for years after he is finally gone."Ms Butler might not, but I have a feeling that the residents of the South and the South East Asia, if given a choice, would much rather experience life under the Bush tsunami.
12. The empire strikes back: Egypt's al-Akhbar newspaper proves that as far as the United States is concerned it's heads I win, tails you lose:
"[Washington] uses all occasions and circumstances to consolidate its hegemony, and through all legitimate and illegitimate means... No one is convinced that U.S. motivations are surrounded by humanitarian and moral principles... [The primary American objective is to] consolidate itself as the superpower of the world."The UN, fortunately, doesn't have any imperial ambitions, which means it will start delivering humanitarian aid in about six weeks' time, after the assessment teams report back to headquarters.
Update: Judging by the Comments section, I seem to have incurred the wrath of my libertarian readers for including among "the Twelve" the quote from Ayn Rand Institute's David Holcberg, who essentially argues that governments have no right to spend taxpayers' money on foreign aid.
While I sympathize to some extent with the libertarian argument, I stand by my inclusion of the Holcberg quote. This is a purely subjective selection, and you, my dear readers, of course have every right to disagree. While I believe that the size of the government is currently too big and the levels of taxation too high, I don't subscribe to the argument that all taxation is theft. And while I'm skeptical of the value of foreign aid generally (liberating internatioanl trade, as well as political and economic reform within the developing world offer a better solution to poverty - hat tip to my mate Don D'Cruz), seeing how many stupid ways governments find to piss our money against the wall (agricultural subsidies, "arts" spending, and the list goes on), I don't think that providing drinking water and emergency medical aid for people whose lives and livelihoods were totally wiped out is the worst thing that can be done with my tax cheque. So we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
"U.S. military crews are launching more than 100 helicopter flights a day from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln ferrying food, water and medicine to tsunami victims, a task they say is far more satisfactory than the Iraq war that seems only to destroy."Who would have thought?
Meanwhile, this New Zealand soldier (yes, they still exist) is equally strange:
"Returning 'vertical and warm' is the intention of the man who will be New Zealand's sole uniformed representative in Iraq later this month."Wacky, or what?
The big picture: "The United Nations says 'extraordinary progress' is being made. The UN says the total amount of aid pledged had risen to between $US2 billion and $US3 billion ($A2.55 to $A3.99 billion)."
This is a handy list of who's giving what. As the report notes, the aid is coming even "from the world's poorest: Russian town of Beslan - scene of a bloody school siege last year - pledged 1m roubles ($36,000) from the fund set up after the mass hostage-taking; Mozambique - one of the world's poorest nations - has donated $100,000; [and] Nepal and East Timor have also pledged donations."
From Down Under:
"Australia is prepared to spend whatever it takes to help rebuild countries ravaged by the tsunami, Prime Minister John Howard will tell a relief summit in Jakarta today."Most of Australia's effort is directed at Indonesia, which in addition to being the world's largest Muslim country (and the world's largest Muslim democracy), is our nearest neighbor, with a see-saw history of relations. It makes a moral sense, it makes a strategic sense, and it's also an investment in the stability of Indonesia. Hence:
"Australia's response to Indonesia's tsunami tragedy has heralded a new era of close relations between the two countries, the Indonesian ambassador to Australia said yesterday, and would be remembered for 'years to come'. The praise came as the [Sydney Morning] Herald learned that the Prime Minister, John Howard, was the first foreign leader Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, contacted after the disaster."It's not just Australia:
"Rear Admiral Doug Crowder of the US Navy was having trouble making out the words of his Indonesian counterpart, Major-General Bambang Dharmono, over the roar of the two US Seahawk helicopters parked behind them on the military airstrip.As the report notes, "military officers on both sides acknowledged they could not have imagined such close cooperation, especially in such a politically sensitive province [Aceh]. Admiral Crowder said later that he expected the joint efforts would improve the prospects for resuming full military ties between the countries."
"The silvery haired admiral moved closer, his hands still on his hips but his face now within 30 centimetres of the camouflage-clad Indonesian. They were comparing notes on the relief airlifted into Aceh for victims of the tsunami. Admiral Crowder could still not hear.
"So he bowed his head slightly, putting his ear up to General Dharmono's mouth. Then he placed his left hand on the Indonesian's shoulder.
"The image would have been unthinkable two weeks ago."
"The Jakarta summit will be addressed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will deliver a 'message of hope' and make a new appeal for relief funds."It seems, though, that the real "message of hope" is already being delivered (and has been so for quite some time) by the new coalition of the willing, led by the United States - in the words of a Dutch diplomat quoted by the Diplomad blog, which is a must read on the situation in South Asia:
"The US military has arrived and is clearly establishing its presence everywhere in Banda Aceh. They completely have taken over the military hospital, which was a mess until yesterday but is now completely up and running. They brought big stocks of medicines, materials for the operation room, teams of doctors, water and food. Most of the patients who were lying in the hospital untreated for a week have undergone medical treatment by the US teams by this afternoon. US military have unloaded lots of heavy vehicles and organize the logistics with Indonesian military near the airport. A big camp is being set up at a major square in the town. Huge generators are ready to provide electricity. US helicopters fly to places which haven't been reached for the whole week and drop food. The impression it makes on the people is also highly positive; finally something happens in the city of Banda Aceh and finally it seems some people are in control and are doing something. No talking but action. European countries are until now invisible on the ground. IOM staff (note: this is a USAID-funded organization) is very busy briefing the incoming Americans and Australians about the situation."Meanwhile, the United States will double to 90 the number of helicopters currently operating in the region. Since as the UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said, "those helicopters are worth their weight in gold now," that's an awful lot of American gold. In fact, since every Seahawk helicopter weighs 21,700 punds, the contribution is almost 2 million punds of gold (1,953,000 to be exact).
More on the American military's aid effort here. Chester, former Marine officer, is also keeping track of American assistance at his blog. And Britain has offered to send 120 Ghurka soldiers currently stationed in Brunai to help with the aid effort in Indonesia.
In response, this from the UN:
"The post below reports on the impending arrival of Ms. Margareeta Wahlstrom 'United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Secretary-General's Special Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance in Tsunami-affected countries.'The Assessment Team will probably finish its work by the time the emergency is over - but it will be a mighty fine assessment, indeed. Very much in line with the proud UN tradition of solving the problem of genocide by the time no one is left standing (Bosnia? Rwanda? Kosovo? Darfur, anyone?).
"She has spoken! At a large meeting this afternoon, she and the local UN rep, Mr. Bo 'Please Wear Blue' Asplund have announced the arrival of yet another 'United Nations Joint Assessment Team.' But this one is very, very ultra- special. According to the UNocrats, it's not 'just another assessment team.' Oh, no, banish that thought! You see, 'This assessment team will coordinate all the other assessment teams.' In addition, the UN will set up a 'Civil-Military Coordination Office to coordinate [that word! that word!] all military assistance because the military do not have experience in disaster relief (!)'"
In other national contributions: "Germany reportedly is prepared to increase its monetary aid to tsunami victims to $664 million (500 million euros) which could set a record" and Saudi Arabia triples its aid package to $30 million.
In all shapes and sizes: Charles Simmins is tracking private American contributions (link in PDF).
A busker in Australia's mountain resort of Thredbo has raised $9,000 by playing his cello.
George W Bush is raising money - indirectly: "Outland Books, a New York publishing company, said today that it would donate $3 from each internet sale of its popular daily calendar, Presidential (Mis)Speak: The Very Curious Language of George W Bush, to the UN aid agency Unicef." I'm sure his contribution will be misunderestimated again.
Formula One champion Michael Schumacher is kicking in $10 million.
In Burnaby, British Columbia, a Buddhist abbot is selling the local temple, worth C$500,000, to donate the money to the aid effort.
3,000 health care workers around Australia have offered their assistance.
And here's a story on the contribution of Internet businesses.
But this might be too much: "British pop star Boy George is adding his voice to the humanitarian efforts. He'll collaborate with Olivia Newton-John and Robin and Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees on a new charity single. The ballad, titled 'Grief Never Grows Old,' will hit sores later this month."
Business as usual: In Indonesia:
"The Indonesian military is continuing to wage war with separatist rebels in the hills of Aceh as world leaders put the finishing touches to a multi-billion-dollar aid and investment package for the devastated province...What's next? The Thais are angry:
"The rebels claimed yesterday that the Indonesian military has moved more troops into rebel-held territory under the guise of relief operations since the tsunami struck 10 days ago. They say squads of soldiers are preventing hill villagers going to help their relatives on the coast."
"Thailand has fired its chief meteorologist and opened an investigation into why his department failed to issue a tsunami warning last month which might have saved thousands of lives. 'When a quake measured at 8.9-9.0 on the Richter scale struck in Sumatra, it was widely known tsunami can happen,' Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said. 'But why weren't there any alerts? I really want to know the truth'."Maybe they should employ animals, instead:
"French zoologists say many animals seem to have avoided the December 26 tsunami that swept the coastline of the Indian Ocean thanks to acoustic senses that are far more advanced than those of humans.It seems though that most Indian Ocean countries are now keen to have a tsunami warning system. Better late than never.
"Aerial pictures of Sri Lanka's Yala National Park, broadcast on international TV news channels, show it was penetrated by surging floodwater.
"But there were no signs of any dead elephants, leopards, deer, jackals and crocodiles, the species that have given the conservation reserve worldwide fame.
"The footage adds to historic anecdotes about seismic waves, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, in which birds take flight, dogs howl and herd animals stampede to safety before catastrophe strikes."
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
"It's Christmas Eve 2004 and I, along with about 70 other State Department employees and some 24,000 US and Coalition forces are getting ready to celebrate the Birth of Christ in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan! When we read news reports from the States about the growing controversy over the very name of this Holiday, we all have to laugh. Here, in an Islamic State, Americans are allowed to put up Christmas decorations, sing Christmas carols and celebrate Christmas without fear that the Afghan version of the ACLU will demand that we call them 'Holiday decorations' or force us to deny the existence of Santa Claus. My Afghan friends, who universally wish me 'Merry Christmas', just shake their heads when they read stories about a Virginia 7th grader who was asked to leave a school dance for wearing a Santa Claus outfit! So those of us here in an Islamic state will just keep talking about Christmas while you in the States choose you words carefully to make certain the no hint of 'Christmas' escape your lips in a public place."Islamic states, of course, are not quite used to the idea of the separation of church and state, certainly nowhere near to the American extent. But it's good to know that the people of Afghanistan, unlike, say, their Saudi coreligionists, are pretty relaxed about Christianity, too.
"We can argue all day that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant whose defeat and humiliation should evoke no sympathy from us. But he did have a functioning country. There was a government in place. People went to work and to the market and to school in relative safety. Can anyone really believe that the U.S.-spawned anarchy has left the Iraqi people better off?"The beautiful thing about paragraphs like this one is that you don't need to make too many changes to come up with an infinite variety of new versions. Like this one for example:
"We can argue all day that Adolf Hitler was a tyrant whose defeat and humiliation should evoke no sympathy from us. But he did have a functioning country. There was a government in place. People went to work and to the market and to school in relative safety. Can anyone really believe that the Allied-spawned anarchy of the Second World War has left the German people [or Jews or Europeans in general] better off?"An extreme example, perhaps? Saddam was not nearly as wicked as Hitler? Yes, but by the same token the liberation and its aftermath in Iraq pale in comparison with the horror of the Second World War and the desolation afterwards.
The problem with the left is not that it keeps asking utalitarian questions about the costs and benefits of maintaining status quo versus affecting change in places like Iraq. The problem is that after all is said and done there never seems to be a regime horrid and oppressive enough for the benefits of its removal to outweigh the costs. Europeans can thank their lucky star that the Second World War took place sixty years ago and not yesterday.
Make sure to visit, blogroll and make Ali welcome back.
"US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived here [in South Asia] to show the US flag and assess needs in the unprecedented international relief effort under way after last week's Asia tsunami catastrophe...How come when Kofi Annan visits the disaster areas he's not reported as "showing the UN flag?" Beats me. It probably beats the Diplomad too:
"Their trip came with the Bush administration still on the defensive over criticism it was slow to react to the December 26 tsunami that battered a dozen countries across the Indian Ocean and killed more than 145,000 people."
"Day 9 of the tsunami crisis.And this snippet:
"I know I had promised to lay off the UN for a bit... but I can't. As one reader commented on a previous Diplomad posting on the UN, 'it's like watching a train wreck' -- you know it's horrible, but you've just got to look at it.
"In this part of the tsunami-wrecked Far Abroad, the UN is still nowhere to be seen where it counts, i.e., feeding and helping victims. The relief effort continues to be a US-Australia effort, with Singapore now in and coordinating closely with the US and Australia. Other countries are also signing up to be part of the US-Australia effort. Nobody wants to be 'coordinated' by the UN. The local UN reps are getting desperate. They're calling for yet another meeting this afternoon; they've flown in more UN big shots to lecture us all on 'coordination' and the need to work together, i.e., let the UN take credit. With Kofi about to arrive for a big conference, the UNocrats are scrambling to show something, anything as a UN accomplishment. Don't be surprised if they claim that the USS Abraham Lincoln is under UN control and that President Lincoln was a strong supporter of the UN."
"More on 'The UNcredibles': WFP (World Food Program) has 'arrived' in the capital with an 'assessment and coordination team.' The following is no joke; no Diplomad attempt to be funny or clever: The team has spent the day and will likely spend a few more setting up their 'coordination and opcenter' at a local five-star hotel. And their number one concern, even before phones, fax and copy machines? Arranging for the hotel to provide 24hr catering service. USAID folks already are cracking jokes about 'The UN Sheraton.' Meanwhile, our military and civilians, working with the super Aussies, continue to keep the C-130 air bridge of supplies flowing and the choppers flying, and keep on saving lives -- and without 24hr catering services from any five-star hotel... The contrast grows more stark every minute."The politics of the aftermath: As BBC writes, "History teaches that disasters can make or break governments and shift international alliances." Read the whole thing.
Disasters, of course, also impact on local ethnic politics, and there's plenty of that in the region. Already, the separatist Tamils in Sri Lanka are complaining that the majority Singhalese government is not doing enough to help them. But other observers are musing "Will disaster stir Sri Lanka peace?"
In Indonesia, the hardest hit province of Aceh has also been the most troublesome for the central government for the past three decades, with its own dreams of independence. And post-tsunami the problems continue. As if chaos wasn't bad enough: "Separatists in Aceh, the Indonesian province ravaged by tsunamis a week ago, today accused the military of using the disaster to step up its campaign against rebels."
Better late than never: "Indonesia said Monday it plans to establish an early warning system for disasters with its neighbours."
Show me the money: The latest from Down Under: "Australia is preparing to take the leading international role in the long-term reconstruction of tsunami-ravaged Indonesia with an aid package worth more than A$500 million [US$388 million] to help rebuild hospitals and schools and restore water supplies in Sumatra. John Howard will fly to Jakarta tomorrow to meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The two leaders are expected to seal Australia's biggest aid package to Indonesia."
One Australian charity, however, is pulling the plug:
"The Australian branch of aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors without Borders) has become possibly the first in the world to ask donors to stop pledging money to its tsunami appeal. The local MSF branch paused its appeal after reaching its $1 million [US$ 0.77 million] target in just three days. It decided it would be breaching its ethical code to collect money if it could not be used for its designated purpose."Another Australian charity, World Vision, has rejected a $500,000 donation (US$ 380,000) from Clubs New South Wales, because the funds "were raised from revenue from gambling and alcohol." It's a free market of charities out there, however, and the donations has now been snapped up by Care Australia.
Meanwhile, the UN is worried there won't be enough money:
"UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and emergency relief co-ordinator Jan Egeland expressed their gratitude for the promises of help from 45 nations. But both said they were concerned that some of the money would not be handed over. 'If we go by past history, yes, I do have concern,' Mr Annan said. 'We've got over $US2 billion, but it is quite likely that at the end of the day we will not receive all of it'."Let's hope there will be as much media and international community scrutiny of this as of the shortfalls in money promised on the reconstruction of Iraq. Then again, I won't hold my breath.
Still, there is a fascinating asymmetry here for a right-winger like me: governments and international community underdeliver and average people overdeliver. The actress Sandra Bullock's donation of $1 million to the American Red Cross certainly puts her in the international league (or certainly better than the Commonwealth Bank of Australia which is donating A$1 million (US$ 0.77 million).
The dregs: I haven't received any "Nigerian scam"-type emails about the tsunami yet, but they're out there:
"Tasmanian police have announced an investigation into a website that purported to be collecting donations for the Red Cross tsunami fund and carried a postal address in the Hobart suburb of Glenorchy.There are dregs, and then there are ghouls: "In Britain, a 40-year-old man was charged in connection to a series of hoax emails sent to friends and relatives of those missing since the disaster. The email informed recipients that their loved ones were dead. Purporting to be from the 'Foreign Office Bureau' in Thailand, it was sent to people who had placed appeals for information on a website set up by the Sky News television network."
"The website, www.incybernet.com, had featured the Red Cross appeal logo, but was inaccessible by late yesterday due to increased web traffic. It claimed to have raised $10,000 for victims of the disaster...
"Emails falsely claiming to be from Oxfam and urging people to donate money were also doing the rounds in Hong Kong, according to police. The fraudulent messages, which claimed to be from the local branch of Oxfam, urged donors to deposit money in a bank account in Cyprus. Hong Kong police said they were unsure whether any money had been raised by the perpetrators."
An "act of God"? Religious leaders ponder on the Almighty's responsibility for the tsunami:
"Sydney's controversial Anglican Dean, Phillip Jensen, suggested it was God's warning that judgement was coming."Hold your fire on that "crazy fundamentalist Christian" talk - other religions are joining in:
"[Jensen's] view [was] echoed... by Melbourne's most prominent Muslim leader, Sheikh Fehmi Naji al-Imam of the Preston mosque... 'We don't understand God's will but we accept it,' Sheikh Fehmi said. 'Islam says disaster comes from time to time to warn people and shake them up, make them realise they have left God too far behind'."And the Buddhist response might even seem a tad nonchalant:
"[Buddhist leader Venerable Lama Choedak Rinpoche] said the tsunami was part of the collective karma of the universe, and could be a catalyst for peace, harmony and generosity. 'To us it seems very big, but when people sweep their driveway they kill hundreds of ants without calling it a tsunami. That kind of suffering and turbulence are happening all the time, and Buddha's explanation is purification of negative karma. It is not the karma of those individuals or punishment by a super-being'."Over the past few days, readers were sharing with me their own anecdotal evidence, gleaned from local churches and internet discusson boards, of the view that the tsunami is God's punishment or warning for, variously, Muslim countries (Indonesia) or sinful countries (Thailand with its sex industry). Far be it for me to comment on matters theological (except to note that divine wrath is hardly a novel concept: see under "Noah's flood") but the tsunami obviously hit not just Indonesia with their Muslims but also Thailand, which is Buddhist, India, which is largely Hindu, and Sri Lanka, which is both, not to mention thousands of Westerners, some of the Christian, I'm sure, and many others post-Christian. And from the sin angle, Aceh is hardly known as modern day Sodom and Gommorah.
For a "Tsunamis are not the wrath of God" view, read today's op-ed piece by Paul Stenhouse, a Catholic priest and journalist.
Meanwhile, the Melbourne "Age" has a readers' poll "Has the tsunami shaken your faith in God?" The results so far:
"No, it is all part of God's plan - 13%The last response is perhaps the most interesting one, indicating not only there are large numbers of atheists among the "Age" readership, but also a confusion among the subeditors of that paper - God's wrath might indeed be supernatural, but no one is suggesting that the tsunami was not a natural phenomenon.
"No, evil things happen despite the power of God - 19%
"No, my faith is strengthened by the world's response - 13%
"Yes, a caring God would never let this happen - 3%
"Yes, I have now lost all faith in God - 1%
"I don't believe in God. This was a natural phenomenon - 48%"
In the end, rather than trying to doubleguess the Lord, the best response for a Christian in situations such as this is to pray for the victims and show some Christian charity towards the survivors.
Monday, January 03, 2005
John Hawkins at the Right Wing News presents the Top 40 Most Obnoxious Quotes of 2004.
In a similar vein, Bob from Accounting has the 2004 Ethnic Cleansing Awards for the 25 worst and most annoying newsmakers of the past year.
Speaking from a State Department experience, John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia gives an inside view of how America administers humanitarian aid - and how in the tsunami case the media have messed up the coverage of the issue.
Logic Times looks at the war's fuzzy math - how many lives lost in Iraq - and how many saved?
Mark Coffey at Decision 08 observes that Kofi Annan still doesn't get the Oil for Food scandal.
Scott at Blithering Bunny visits the bookshop at the Grand Canyon National Park, which created controversy some time ago by selling a creationist book. The damned book is gone, but New Age rubbish is still on the shelves - and this time no one cares.
Meanwhile, at the Homespun Bloggers, the future of blogging is already here. Well, at least one of the futures - radio blogging. Make sure you check it out.
For the latest news and views on Iraqi election, consult Iraqi Election Wire blog.
And check out another satisfied Chrenkoff customer who was inspired to start blogging for himself, at Rock, Paper, Scissor.
Update: Speaking of good news from Iraq, why not check some more from Greyhawk, currently stationed there.
An interesting experiment recently took place in Iraq seeking to uncover a rarely explored aspect of life in the country, writes Jeff Jacoby: "How would Iraq appear if we saw it through not the reporting of Western journalists, but the candid testimony of Iraqis themselves? American reporters accustomed to freedom and the rule of law experience Iraq today as a place of danger and violence. Iraqis who lived under Saddam were accustomed to tyranny, cruelty, and secret police. What do they make of their country today?"
To find out, three Americans (two film-makers and a former Marine) distributed 150 digital video cameras to ordinary Iraqis, asking them to record anything they consider worthwhile and then pass the cameras on to others. The resulting 450 hours of footage from 2,000 Iraqis was distilled into an 80-minute documentary "Voices of Iraq". As Jacoby writes, the documentary "is by turns heartbreaking, exhilarating, and inspiring. The war and its destruction is never far from the surface... But bad as the war is, the horror it ended -- Saddam's 24-year reign -- was worse... Yet for all they have been through, Iraqis come across as incredibly optimistic, hopeful, and enthusiastic. And above all, normal."
Occasionally - but not too often - we catch in the media the glimpses of that other Iraq; the optimistic, hopeful, enthusiastic, and normal one. More often than not, however, our access is restricted to the now very familiar Iraq of constant bloodshed, rampant terrorism, political instability, stalled reconstruction and widespread disillusionment and frustration. Only time will show which Iraq proves to be more resilient and consequential. But for the time being, as the struggle for the soul and the future of the country goes on, it pays to bear in mind that this struggle if far from an one-sided one; that as the violent Iraq strikes, the normal Iraq fights back, on thousands of fronts, and in thousands of small ways. Here are some of these stories from the past fortnight.
SOCIETY: The latest public opinion poll paints a cautiously optimistic picture of Iraq:
"The poll of nearly 2,200 people across most of Iraq found a resilient citizenry modestly hopeful that the Jan. 30 elections will improve life. Iraqis said pocketbook issues such as unemployment and health care are more pressing than the bloody insurgency that claims Iraqi and U.S. lives virtually every day...Not surprisingly, the pessimism about the direction of the country and the coming election is strongest in the Sunni areas. "The poll [also] found nearly 50 percent of Iraqis said religion and government should be separate. Forty-two percent said religion 'has a special role to play' in government, and of that smaller group, slightly less than half said either that the religious hierarchy has authority over political affairs or that supreme religious leaders and political leaders are the same. But by a margin of 52 percent to 20 percent, Iraqis said they preferred a faith-based party to a secular party."
"The poll, conducted Nov. 24 to Dec. 5, found improvements over the last two months in Iraqis' feelings about the country's direction and, to a lesser degree, about the interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi...
"Nearly 54 percent said Iraq is generally headed in the right direction - compared with 42 percent in late September and early October - while 32 percent said it's headed in the wrong direction...
"More than 71 percent of those polled said they 'strongly intend' to vote, and 67 percent said they believe Iraq will be ready to hold elections by the end of January, compared with 24 percent who said the country won't be ready."
For the best overview of election preparations see this piece from "USA Today": "The white bed sheet, punctured and strung between a tree and a utility pole, carries just a few words of hand-painted Arabic script. 'Every vote is more precious than gold,' it says - common words in a normal election campaign. But White House political guru Karl Rove would abandon his TV ad budget for the power in this banner and thousands more like it. It's not just words but a fatwa, a decree, from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims. Vote, it says, or you have shirked your religious duty." Then there is this ad on Iraqi TV: "[It] declares January 30th is Iraq's 'date with fate and duty.' It shows masked gunmen confronting an elderly man in an alley. He stands firm and is joined by others who eventually outnumber the militants. As the Iraqi national anthem swells in the background, the ad proclaims, 'We are not afraid. We are not alone. Our power is in our unity'."
With the election less than a month away, we now know the final state of political play: in the final figures released by Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, 73 political parties, 25 individual personalities and nine coalition groups will be competing for the 275 National Assembly seats. All these political entities will together field some 7,200 candidates running on 107 separate electoral lists. Among them, one of Iraq's oldest political parties, the communist party, long suppressed by Saddam Hussein.
And speaking of political parties and Iraq's new found-freedoms, you can also read this profile of the Fadhil brothers, the people behind the popular blog Iraq the Model, as well as candidates at the election: "What makes these two men [Omar and Mohammed] -- and a third brother, Ali, a pediatrician -- a refreshing presence on the Internet is that they are not professional bureaucrats or polished writers. They are a family of Sunni Arabs describing what they see and feel -- a revolutionary development in a country where Internet access had been previously restricted to a few government-approved sites and e-mailers were subject to arrest for hostile correspondence." Ironically, the communist party and the pro-Western Fadhil brothers could be seen as the opposite poles of the political spectrum, yet their commitment to democratic election and struggle to build the new Iraq make them strange bedfellows in the confrontation with jihadis and neo-Baathist insurgents.
The order in which all the parties will appear on the ballot paper has been determined by a random draw of balls from a drum. "United Nations envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, pulled the first balls from the drum on Monday, as hundreds of candidates looked on expectantly, in a process designed for maximum transparency in the country's first democratic election in nearly 50 years. 'Today is a great day in the history of your great nation,' Qazi told a crowd gathered in a room at a conference centre that used to be part of Saddam Hussein's presidential complex. 'It is truly in the interests of every Iraqi citizen, whatever their political views, to participate in this electoral process. It is the only way forward'."
Such sentiments are echoed on the ground by ordinary Iraqis: as insurgents target election infrastructure, Ali Waili, a 29-year old taxi driver from Karbala speaks out for the silent majority of Iraqis: "I swear to God, even if they burn all the elections centers, we will still go and vote... We have been mistreated for a long time, we have been tortured for a long time."
USAID, meanwhile, is providing extensive assistance in local governance and administration, civic education and election preparation. Among the recent varied highlights (link in PDF): "Salah Ad Din's Local Governance Program (LGP) staff held three democracy education conferences for 225 Iraqis. These conferences focused on human rights and the relationship between Islam and democracy"; donations of furniture and computer equipment for the Ninawa Governorate Council Secretariat; a week-long software training seminar for the officials and staff from local councils and government departments in Babil Governorate; production of electoral education information and the capacity building of the electoral administration under a $50 million program.
In the run-up to military action in March 2003, many anti-war activists were predicting that the Coalition invasion will lead to a humanitarian and a refugee disaster. In reality, not only have the hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of refugees did not materialize, but ever since, the old Iraqi refugee problem has been gradually solving itself:
"Until the spring of 2003, the Islamic Republic of Iran hosted over 202,000 Iraqi refugees, by far the largest registered refugee population from Iraq in the world. The majority were living in Iranian cities and settlements. About 50,000 of them, like Mohammed, stayed for many years in the 22 camps scattered across Iran's western provinces.As Iraqi refugees and exiles are coming back, many areas of their homeland don't resemble the chaotic picture seen every night on the news. Kuridstan remains peaceful and buzzing with activity; an example of what the rest of the country could aspire to: "Western businessmen move freely around the region's capital, Irbil, and American soldiers eat in restaurants without their body armour. In the crowded foyer of the Sheraton, Kurdish businessmen and politicians discuss reconstruction work." It's not just peace and growing prosperity, but also free intellectual climate which is attracting people to Kurdistan:
"Since last year, more than half of all Iraqi refugees in Iran - an estimated 107,000 people - have returned to their homeland. Most of them have gone back of their own accord, some 12,500 with UNHCR assistance. The rate of departure has been even higher among refugees staying in camps, with more than 80 percent of them choosing to repatriate. This has led to a drastic fall in the overall camp population to 8,000 from 50,000. Six out of 22 camps are now empty, another two are expected to be closed by the end of the year. Of the remaining 14 camps, many are already near empty."
"Kurdish students living in Iraq's neighbours are flocking to universities in the Kurdish areas to escape repression at home and to benefit from the opportunities they say the region offers.Elsewhere in Iraq, the insurgent dreams of civil and ethinic strife are not eventuating:
"The University of Sulaimaniyah alone has so far accepted more than 110 Kurdish students from neighbouring countries, mainly Iran and Syria, under a programme that reserves five per cent of all places at Iraqi Kurdish universities for high school graduates educated elsewhere.
"The foreign students receive free tuition and accommodation and a 100 US dollar allowance each term.
"Thirty-year old Farzeen, a first year student at Sulaimaniyah's media college from the Iranian town of Saqiz, said education in Iran is expensive in Iran and freedom of speech limited. 'You can't express any political beliefs or air your views freely or you end up in jail, especially if you are a Kurd,' said Farzeen."
"Despite increasing reports of deteriorating relations between Kurds and Arabs in many areas of Iraq, the notorious Baghdad district of Sadr City has become an unlikely example of harmony among the two groups.And in the media news, "the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) has set up training courses in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil to teach locals the basics of objective news reporting. Selected for their writing and analytical capacities from among 80 applicants, the 20 participants in the second course IWPR has run in Iraq's Kurdish north are learning about interviewing and writing techniques and the ethics of journalism. When the two weeks' training ends, they will be encouraged to continue working for IWPR as freelance reporters." Says Hiwa Osman who runs the course: "The most common complaint Iraqis make about coverage of their country is that it is shaped by outside factors... Western reporting is still shaped by divisions into pro and anti-war camps, and al-Jazeera and other Arab TV stations talk about Iraq as though it was a purely Sunni Arab country... By teaching these people, IWPR's idea is that they will be able to make their own voices, and their own priorities, heard by the outside world."
"Stories of Kurds being attacked or forced to move from their homes in cities in the so-called Sunni Triangle have become commonplace, as have reports of harassment of the Kurdish community in certain Baghdad neighbourhoods and even in the eastern province of Baquba.
"But thousands of Kurds continue to live peacefully with Arabs in one of the capital's poorest slums, frequently described as a no-go area for Coalition troops."
ECONOMY: As Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi was recently visiting Washington to participate in the second meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Joint Economic Commission, there was plenty of good economic news to report: the International Monetary Fund was estimating Iraq's economic growth for 2004 to surpass 50 percent, and the country continued to enjoy low inflation, a stable currency and strong foreign exchange reserves.
At the meeting itself, a wide range of initiatives to help strengthen and grow Iraqi economy has been discussed:
"The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has agreed to establish 100 agricultural support sites throughout Iraq to strengthen crop and livestock production. Programs are already in place to revitalize historically important agricultural industries such as date production in central and southern Iraq and fish farming in the restored Iraqi marshlands.You can also read in some details on the work USAID is doing to upgrade and modernize Iraq's tax system (link in PDF).
"Iraq's oil sector also will benefit from training programs and technical exchanges established under the terms of two bilateral memorandums of understanding signed during the meeting... The Iraqi officials also discussed their plans to restructure the oil industry in order to create opportunities for private and foreign investment.
"The United States offered to provide technical support for Iraq's banking sector. This support would include assistance in restructuring the state bank and supervising commercial banks as well as in training commercial bank officers in loan management. The U.S. Treasury and USAID will also help the Iraqi government establish a mortgage finance program to support its plans to build 30,000 new residential units in the Baghdad area during 2005.
"The U.S. and Iraqi officials studied the need to boost private-sector job creation, and the United States reported on a USAID program to distribute 16,000 small-business loans over the next six months. USAID also plans to establish 11 new vocational education centers and 10 new job placement centers across the country."
Perhaps the most important piece of good economic news, following up on the recent decision by the Paris Club nations to forgive 80% of $40 billion owed by Iraq to member countries, is that the United States will be going beyond the 80% and will write off 100% - or $4.1 billion - of the debt owed by Iraq to the US. Speaking of international finance, Iraq "has cleared all overdue service payments to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) as of December 16... Consequently, the country's eligibility for new operations has been reinstated. Iraq's arrears to IBRD amounted to around $110 million, of which approximately $53 million was overdue principal payments. Clearance of these arrears will raise IBRD's FY05 net income by around $74 million."
In trade news, "Iraq and Jordan decided... to establish a free-trade zone 20 kilometers away from their borders... The first stage includes establishing 500 square-kilometers of the 2000 square-kilometers specialized for this project, noting that the area will be a starting point for many Iraqi products, which will reinforce economic relationships between the two countries.
David R Francis of the "Christian Science Monitor" provides this overview:
"You can tell things are changing in Iraq by the traffic. Thousands of families have bought used cars from abroad - clogging city streets and boosting smog. Many Iraqi families have been able to afford the cars - and move from poverty to middle-class respectability - because the government has doubled the salary of its million or so workers.Not surprisingly in this general favorable economic climate, Iraqi business owners are showing a great deal of optimism in the future:
"It's a sign that, despite the daily mayhem caused by the insurgency, Iraq's economy is quietly gearing up from its war-time low in 2003. How quickly it's picking up speed - and whether the momentum is adequate to dampen the insurgency by providing jobs for idle Iraqi men - is hotly contested. What's clear is that oil alone won't turn the tide: Small business and manufacturing need to revive.
"Iraq's economy has expanded 40 to 50 percent this year from war-depressed 2003, says Alan Larson, undersecretary for economics in the US State Department. He predicts double-digit growth in 2005."
"Eight of 10 Iraqis businesses say Iraq's economy will grow over the next two years, and almost half felt the business climate was better than under Saddam Hussein, according to a recent survey.Lebanese traders who deal with Iraq are optimistic, too:
" 'Security is the first concern, but people thrive in the midst of catastrophe everywhere,' said John Zogby, whose organization conducted the poll on behalf of an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce...
"Pollsters conducted face-to-face interviews with 454 Iraqi owners or managers between Oct. 17 and Dec. 3, a period of major violence as U.S. forces battled guerrillas for control of Fallujah. They found almost 70 percent were optimistic for post-Saddam Iraq...
" 'There was incredible optimism, particularly among Sunnis and Kurds,' said Zogby International's Hala Kotb. 'The results are consistent across demographic groups.' Businesses also want clear rules and better governance although the top two nonsecurity needs cited were English-language training and computer skills."
"A leading Lebanese merchant said... that the country's trade with Iraq was barely affected by the current unrest there. The head of the Gathering of Lebanese Merchants with Assets Held in Iraq, Abdel-Wadood Nsouli, said that the only difference was that the consignments of goods destined to the war-torn country were now 'loaded on Iraqi trucks rather than Lebanese ones.'In oil news, "Iraq hopes to produce 3.5 million barrels of oil a day by the end of 2005, Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi said... 'Actual production of oil depends on pipelines, if they are functioning or not,' Mahdi said, adding that 'we could achieve 2.5 million of production per day and we expect to reach 3.5 million, maybe by the end of 2005'." To assist in that goal, the governments of Iraq and the United States have signed two memoranda of understanding that provide "for technical cooperation in the areas of energy analysis, energy technology and energy training and education with a focus on capacity building in Iraq. The participants anticipate carrying out these activities through a consultative mechanism, and through the exchange of experts, participation in workshops, exchanging technical information and training... [They also provide for] cooperation in training and capacity building in Iraq's oil sector. Under this understanding, the parties will cooperate in developing training programs in basic business management, English language and information technology. In addition, the program anticipates technical training provided by private sector firms and professional societies, and in longer-term training provided through U.S. and Iraqi universities."
"Nsouli said that Iraq, which headed the list of importers of Lebanese goods, bought '17 percent of Lebanese exports.' He said that Lebanon's exports to Iraq had exceeded, up to the end of August 2004, $194 million. Nsouli added that merchants were hopeful that 'this figure could even be doubled'."
The Iraq authorities have awarded the first post-war oil contracts:
"Turkey's Everasia won the contract to develop the Khurmala Dome field in the north and Canada's Ironhorse Oil & Gas Inc will develop the Himrin field...You can read more about it here. Larger contracts involving major international oil players are expected to be awarded after the January election. ChevronTexaco, which is waiting for the stabilization of the political and security situation before commiting to projects in Iraq, is nevertheless already training and equipping Iraqi oil workers.
"The projects aim to realize Khurmala's potential to produce 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) and raise output at the Himrin field. The ministry is still studying offers for another contract to raise the output of the Suba-Luhais field from 50,000 to 180,000 bpd.
"The contracts involve constructing new flow lines, building gas separation stations and measures to stop water emerging from wells. Drilling will be done by the ministry's digging division."
In transport infrastructure news, the second international airport in Iraq, in Basra, is expected to open for business in July 2005, after some necessary renovation work is completed: "The facility, in the southern part of the country not far from Kuwait, will be on the receiving end of a $5 million renovation... The airport largely escaped the ravages of looting -- it still contains art work and other amenities -- but it needs a complete upgrade to all of its systems before it can start supporting air travel and cargo. It will also receive state of the art passenger and baggage security screening equipment." Says Nolan Smith, assistant area engineer for the Basra office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region South: "The airport was never really functional. It was never formally opened to large commercial flights, primarily because of war. But now, it could open up to cargo flights in the very near future."
Meanwhile, the Iraqi authorities have announced their decision to build another international airport, in Najaf, which will considerably facilitate the traffic of Iraqi and foreign pilgrims as well as goods to the holy sites of Shiism.
Lastly, these encouraging words from Lt Keith Curran of the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, who relates his experiences of working with Iraqis on the reconstruction of their country: "One thing that we have taken notice of is capitalism taking hold. The contractors that we deal with are figuring out that if they work hard and provide us with the service that we need, then they can make some good money" - the attitude that was in short supply in the economically oppressive climate of Saddam's Iraq.
RECONSTRUCTION: A major infrastructure reconstruction project of vital importance to Basra has been recently finished:
"The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) completed the $23 million rehabilitation of southern Iraq's Sweet Water Canal. The project was conducted on behalf of Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources with Bechtel Corporation serving as the prime contractor.As the Basra project finishes, another ambitious one, in Erbil, is commencing:
"The massive cleansing and repair of the 149 mile waterway also included the $12 million refurbishment of 13 water treatment plants and the repair of the RZero pumping station that sends water from the canal's reservoir through a network of pipelines leading to residential, commercial and agricultural users.
"The Sweet Water Canal has been a primary source of fresh water for the city of Basrah since 1996. Butlack of maintenance caused sediment to accumulate in sections of the canal and pumps to break because of the turbidity. When USAID undertook the rehabilitation, the canal's embankments were cracked and many mechanical and electrical components in the pumping stations were beyond repair.
"The completed USAID project improves the quality and nearly doubles the quantity of fresh, potable water produced for the 1.75 million of the Basrah region. The training of local plant managers insures proper maintenance in the future, according to USAID."
"Work has begun on a $100 million water project that could bring 6,000 cubic meters of clean drinking water to the people of Erbil every hour starting the end of next year. The water project is designed for an ultimate capacity of 10,000 cubic meters per hour.Speaking of water infrastructure, "the World Bank signed a $20 million grant agreement... with the interim government of Iraq to bring water to rural communities by improving water supply, sanitation, irrigation and drainage systems. The Emergency Community Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project (ECIRP) will repair essential water infrastructure networks in Iraq's low-income, rural areas through labor intensive, small-scale civil works programs. Approximately 25 water development programs to upgrade water supply, sanitation, irrigation and drainage infrastructure across the country will be financed under the project, generating much needed employment in poor communities, according to World Bank."
"The project, which will be built in multiple phases, includes a potable water treatment plant, an intermediate booster station, a storage tank and pipeline. The city has wanted a new plant for 20 years, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
"Since the summer, five Iraqi contractors have been laying the groundwork for the multi-million dollar project. So far workers have completed base camp construction, geological and topographical surveys and grading work for the new pipeline. Currently the project employees close to 140 Iraqis but the goal is to employ 1,000."
In other recent progress of the work to upgrade Iraq's water, sewage and irrigation systems (link in PDF):
"Work is moving forward on the expansion and rehabilitation of a water treatment plant in Baghdad. The plant is one of two main water treatment plants that serve 4.7 million Baghdad residents. Work is being conducted in two concurrent phases that will add about 100 MGD of capacity...There is also more progress to be reported on the transport infrastructure front. On land, the reconstruction of a crucial rail link between Basra and the port of Uum Qasar is 78 per cent complete and in line to be finished in January this year. "In recent months the U.S. Agency for International Development(USAID) installed 29 planned culverts and repaired ten railway gatehouses along the track. Track reconstruction is being complemented with training for Iraqi Republican Railway (IIR) staff."
"A water system rehabilitation and modeling project is helping to reduce leakage and thereby improve the quantity of potable water delivered in Baghdad. The project scope includes data collection, numerical modeling of Baghdad's water distribution network, and replacement of damaged sections of the pipe in the distribution network...
"Work is continuing on the rehabilitation of a wastewater treatment plant in An Najaf that will treat sewage for approximately 141,000 of the city's 563,000 residents. The project is 85 percent complete and a Process and Plant Operation training module is in progress...
"USAID's rural water initiative will install approximately 150 wells in remote locations throughout Iraq. Since construction began in October, the project has drilled 25 wells in northeastern Iraq and workers are preparing to complete 15 more... Equipment including 52 generators, 600 fiberglass tanks, and 37 reverse osmosis units has been ordered. Design work is scheduled for completion in all 17 governorates by August 2005 and is expected to benefit a total of 750,000 individuals. The project is scheduled for completion in November 2005."
Speaking of Uum Qasar, the work continues on the upgrade of the port facilities. The projects currently underway include: developing an operations centre for the port, developing additional berth capacity for containers, electrical upgrade of the port facilities, and removing unexploded underwater ordinance from the harbor.
To assist with the development of Iraq's electricity sector (link in PDF), "USAID is designing a Power Plant Operations and Maintenance program to provide training, facility assessments, coaching, mentoring, maintenance and plant outage support for Iraq's power plants. The program will also furnish test equipment, special tools, permanent plant equipment, materials, and parts... Ultimately, the implementation of this program would raise the overall operating standards, safety standards, and the reliability of the plant output, thus enabling more megawatt hours to be produced. Training will be provided for 250 staff from the Ministry of Electricity and will be conducted outside of Iraq."
In Baghdad's Sadr City, despite a tense stand-off with those still loyal to Muqtada Al Sadr, there is increasing progress in reconstruction of this most neglected urban area in Iraq:
"Lakes of sewage-blotched stagnant water and piles of rotting garbage still dot the streets of Sadr City. But for residents of Baghdad's vast Shiite Muslim slum, it is the filth they don't see that gives them hope. 'Just a few days ago, you couldn't walk this street because the sewers were overflowing. Now they've taken care of it,' said a mattress merchant in his mid-50s, who identified himself only as Abu Mustafa. 'As long as there is security, the rest will follow.'And from another report:
"Modest reconstruction and cleanup efforts are proceeding in the district, home to two million, thanks to seven weeks of relative tranquillity after months of violence. A tenuous peace agreement has held since mid-October, when firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr told his Mahdi militia to lay down its arms. Thousands of workers have cleared fetid trash from about half the streets of Sadr City as work on $134 million in projects finally forges ahead."
"Residents of Sadr City, long seen as the poorest and smelliest neighbourhood of Baghdad, woke up one recent morning to the sound of something they had never heard before - steamrollers and other street paving machines. Not only that, but much of the rubbish piled high around their suburb during fighting between the Mehdi Army and US forces just a few months ago has now been cleaned up. Residents can be seen walking with their children in the streets jammed with vehicles.In another Sadr City overview,
" 'We hope to have more services here now. We have always been neglected, but this street paving makes us feel hopeful,' [said] Ali Chakheawar, 28, a teacher who lives near the road construction... 'The most important thing is the sewers - they haven't started fixing them yet and they are broken.'
"So little maintenance had been done in Sadr City over the last 30 years that just a block away from the paving project cars negotiate what looks like a rutted dirt road. Open sewers line the street. 'It was usual not to have paving before,' [said]Yusuf Ali... watching with his friends as steam rose from the newly poured asphalt. 'Of course this makes us think that things will get better.'
"The US military and Sadr City government officials expect to spend more than US $100 million to fix broken sewers, mend water pipes, pave roads and keep things clean, [said] Mohammed Hamid, municipal engineer for in frastructure services."
"the government has released a large portion of the funds allocated for the reconstruction of Sadr City in Baghdad, according to Labor Minister Leila Abdul-Latif... Abdul-Latif said Iraqi ministries now had access to 57 billion of the 90 billion dinars (approx. $60 million) and $200 million the government had earmarked for Sadr City.Other areas outside of the capital are also benefiting from foreign assistance: "General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defense Minister, has donated 40 service vehicles to the city of Basra. The fleet of 10 fire engines, 10 ambulances, 10 garbage trucks and 10 sewage trucks was presented to Wael Abdul Latif Hussain, Iraq's Minister for Governorate Affairs." And major reconstruction effort is set to begin in 2005 in the province of Wasit, a region centered around the town of Kut and bordering Iran. "We hope to implement scores of service projects and upgrade the infrastructure in the province in 2005. The state of security and stability the province enjoys has made the situation here different from that in other areas in the country," says Governor Mohammed Ridha.
"The ministries involved include electricity, education, health, interior and labor, she said. The remaining 33 billion dinars will be made available next year, she said. In addition to local currency allocations, the government had spent $200 million on projects in Sadr City. Upgrading the city's sewage network has so far cost $150 million, Abdul-Latif said. The remaining $50 million had gone to drinking water projects, she added...
"Abdul-Latif said the city has been divided into 'eight blocks for smooth implementation of the scores of reconstruction projects.' Each block, she said, will have its own police station, firefighting unit, schools and other amenities."
More networking among those interested in reconstruction of Iraq will be soon taking place in Jordan:
"Following on from the major success of this year's events held in the UK and Jordan, Iraq Procurement is delighted to announce details of Iraq Procurement 2005 - Amman, which will continue the project's support for the economic development of Iraq and the realisation of the enormous trade and investment potential of the country...Meanwhile, the US Army is also facilitating cooperation and information sharing between participants in the reconstruction program:
"At the last event, held on 22-24 November 2004, corporate executives were able to meet with Iraqis to discuss the overarching needs of Iraq's key industry sectors, while the meetings between international and local companies saw much business conducted and many relationships formed, which should prove fruitful to all parties concerned."
"Military members, U.S. civilians and Iraqi officials charged with improving public works in northeastern Iraq gathered Dec. 12 to discuss issues and offer solutions in the country's rebuilding process.And the Japanese government is providing another reconstruction grant of 10 billion yen ($96 million):
"The 1st Infantry Division's Engineer Brigade hosted the public works conference at the Hotel Ashur on Lake Dokan. Coalition and Iraqi officials involved with improving water, sewer and irrigation infrastructure within Salah Ad Din, Kirkuk, Diyala and As Sulaymaniyah presented updates. Concerns and viewpoints on public works projects and issues within the four provinces were shared.
"This was the second conference of this nature, hosted by the division's Engineer Brigade. The first was held at Lake Dokan in September and focused on electrical power."
"Of the amount, 8.45 billion yen (81 million dollars) will go to health and home affairs ministries of the Iraqi interim governmentas funds to buy 700 ambulances, 150 police buses and 500 police motorcycles to improve the security situation all over Iraq...There is, of course, more to reconstruction than sewage system and power production; the efforts to rebuild country's education and health systems are just as important. In the former sector, USAID is providing reconstruction assistance to Iraqi schools through its Community Action Program. In some of the recent initiatives (link in PDF), "a secondary school serving 700 girls in Baghdad Governorate was rehabilitated by a $55,330 CAP project... Through this project, the aging facility underwent both renovations and modernizations, including a major overhaul of the school's plumbing, wiring and fixtures. Finally, the school received a new coat of paint, windows and doors... In Qadisiyah Governorate three school rehabilitation projects were recently approved by Community Action Groups in Qadisiyah Governorate. The projects will benefit a total of 900 families and 1,575 children."
"Japan will also allocate 866 million yen (8.3 million dollars) for the government of the southern Iraqi province of Muthana, where Japanese troops are stationed, to buy medical equipment for 32 local primary health centers.
"The remaining 658 million yen (6.3 million dollars) will be for the city of Samawah, the provincial capital, to buy garbage-collecting equipment such as vehicles and containers."
Other foreign aid is also arriving to benefit Iraq's university sector:
"Four containers of laboratory equipment, along with supplies of up-to-date reference and textbooks, are on their way to Iraq as part of an international effort to revitalize the country's universities and its higher education system under a nearly $6 million programme jointly sponsored by the United Nations.This report provides the background the action:
"The consignment, due to arrive in Baghdad before the end of the month, consists of $4.6 million of equipment and materials for medical and related disciplines as well as for engineering and $1 million in textbooks. It was organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Fund for Higher Education in Iraq initiated by Qatari First Lady Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Misnad."
"A Qatar-backed initiative to rebuild Iraq's decimated higher education system has been given fresh impetus following a recent meeting in Paris between the main funding body and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).USAID, meanwhile, is continuing work to improve Iraq's tertiary sector through its Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program, which links American and Iraqi universities in cooperative ventures. Some of the recent highlights (link in PDF): "A third Iraqi research center now has access to an electronic library database, allowing the center to use a vast body of research and learning tools. The database, created by EBSCO Publishing, provides access to over 8,000 academic journals, magazines, and other publications... A partnership between the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook and Iraqi universities is helping modernize the fields of archaeology, Assyriology and environmental health and to reconnect academics in these disciplines to the international community... Through a partnership between the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, and two northern Iraqi universities, the Hawaii Institute for Educational Partnerships (HIEP) performed 31 searches for 22 researchers from three northern Iraqi universities and delivered 120 articles electronically in November... The same partnership involving the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources is providing training in computer and internet skills to 20 women agricultural staff from an Iraqi University."
"Discussion during the top level meeting revolved around the determination of HRH Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, to push through plans to accelerate the implementation process and restore Iraq's universities and technical colleges.
"In a major development there was commitment from several countries to provide money for the first time to support the work of the International Fund for Higher Education in Iraq, the body in charge of financing the initiative. This followed an earlier pledge from Qatar to provide scholarships for Iraqi students to pursue higher education, with particular emphasis given to studies in medicine and industry, areas critical to Iraq's recovery."
Reconstruction of Iraq's health sector also continues apace. In one of the recent developments, "a software firm which grew out of Manchester Royal Infirmary is celebrating orders worth more than 33.5m pounds to supply hospitals in Iraq. The latest contract clinched by bosses at B-Plan Information Systems is worth 750,000 pounds. B-Plan, which is now based at Manchester Science Park, will work with Iraq's health ministry to instal network connections at 25 hospitals in and around Baghdad."
Iraq's agriculture is another previously much neglected area which is now receiving significantly more attention. The Iraqi authorities are launching an ambitious plan to boost the country's olive oil production:
"There should be 30 million more olive trees in the country in 2014, Minister of Agriculture Sawsan Sherif has announced.In the animal husbandry sector, "Genus, the bovine genetics company, has won the first of a series of contracts to supply an Iraqi wholesale company with bull semen. Genus beat competition to re-open the supply of semen through the Iraqi wholesale company HMBS, which is one of the largest private sector companies in Iraq." As report notes, "the Iraqi market, although small by European standards is both fast growing and highly priced."
"If the ministry's olive tree program succeeds, Iraq will turn into a major o
live oil producer in the Middle East. The program, once completed, will perhaps be the greatest success story for the post-Saddam agricultural development as it boosts the number of olive trees in the country from one million to 31.
"Currently, olive groves are mainly available in the northern parts of the country, particularly in Mosul. But Sherif said she wanted to see olive groves dotting the whole of Iraq in about 15 years. To lure farmers to plant more olive trees, the ministry is subsidizing the cost. The price of a sibling is 150 dinars in Baghdad (one U.S. dollar buys 1,500 dinars)."
USAID (link in PDF), too, is progressing with several current programs to help mechanize Iraqi agriculture, improve the poultry industry and re-introduce beekeeping.
HUMANITARIAN AID: The humanitarian aid and assistance for Iraq's young and old continues to come in many different shapes and sizes and from many different directions.
Sometimes, it's businesses, which are lending a helping hand "SonoSite Inc. of Bothell has donated one of its hand-carried ultrasound units to a civilian hospital in Iraq. The device was included in a shipment of medical supplies delivered by the U.S. Army this week to a hospital in Haweja, about 30 miles west of Kirkuk, Iraq."
The other times, it's the whole communities. This from the Cincinnati area:
"When Gray Middle School announced it was having a one-week clothing drive for Iraqi citizens, three bags came in the first two days. 'I was about to cry,' said Sheila Levi, who organized it with fellow language arts teacher Anna Marie Tracy. 'After that, we went around and honestly begged.'Elsewhere, some 150 soccer balls donated by the students of Spring Hill High School in Texas will be making their way to Iraq shortly, to be distributed by the US troops to Iraqi children. "Longview City Councilman Jay Dean said he helped kick off the campaign after a request by Capt. Clinton Alexander, a 1992 Spring Hill High School graduate who is serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq."
"It worked - and then some. Nearly 35,000 pounds of clothes - enough to fill a 40-foot-long semi-truck - were piled in the gym Monday morning as 350 eighth-graders sorted and stuffed them in bags to be shipped.
"The clothes also came from students at Gray, Erpenbeck and New Haven elementaries, and boxes set up at local banks. The bags will be shipped to Iraq in early January, where they will be unloaded into the arms of Iraqis."
Meanwhile, residents of a refugee settlement near Dahuk have recently received seven trucks-worth of food products purchased by the Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA) and delivered by Multi-National Forces Soldiers. "The residents of the village are all refugees who were forced to flee their homes when their villages were destroyed by the former regime. According to the mayor, Waheed Abdi, there are currently more than 1,000 people living in the village, including approximately 700 school-age children."
Other countries, too, are contributing to the effort, both on the government and non-government levels. The Russian government, for example, will be coming onboard with four plane-loads of blankets, tents and heaters as an emergency package. And a Japanese NGO Save Iraqi Children has been awarded the Human Rights Award of the Nagoya Bar Association for 2004 for their work in bringing medical support to Iraqis in need. "The NGO has sent medical and pharmaceutical products and medical equipment to Iraq, and has accepted doctors and medical technicians from Iraq for training sessions in Japan... From January to October, it sponsored an Iraqi boy, Abbas A-Ali Al-Malky, 6, who suffers from leukemia, so that he could receive medical treatment at Nagoya University Hospital.
THE COALITION TROOPS: Security is but one aspect of the mission of the Coalition forces in Iraq. Alongside military presence and combat role, significant effort goes on an ongoing basis into reconstruction work, to supplement the civilian effort, as well into more informal humanitarian work and relations building with people of Iraq.
The Coalition forces' commitment to helping Iraqi health system continues. In Hawija, "medics from Task Force 1-27 Infantry helped improve the healthcare of this city's main hospital by donating about $35,000 worth of medical supplies on December 6. The donations included a hand-carried SonoSite ultrasound system, orthopedic limb stabilizers, and also a number of pediatric and intravenous medications that will be used to provide inpatient and outpatient services to the city's more than 80,000 residents."
There is a great deal of cooperation and joint planning with local Iraqi health professionals to ensure that the assistance is well targeted. This initiative is indicative of the effort:
"More than 20 Iraqi doctors and medical personnel from across the Salah Ad Din Province gathered here with their U.S. military counterparts for a health advisory counsel conference.The troops continue to provide supplies for Iraqi schools and schoolchildren. Students at Mulaeid Village School in the Diyala Province have recently received supplies donated as part of Operation Iraqi Children, distributed by soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team. Elsewhere, "soldiers in A Company of the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion recently participated in one more leg of Operation Backpack Iraq. Soldiers from A Company distributed 140 backpacks to an Iraqi school just off of Highway 1 near Balad. The soldiers also distributed 20 boxes of donated school supplies they received throughout the year from various schools and individuals in North Dakota."
"The Salah Ad Din Health Advisory Counsel has been in effect since the 1st Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team began operating in the province last February, said Capt. Vincent Mase, 2nd BCT's surgeon.
"The conference was the first official meeting for Iraqi doctors and Coalition Forces to discuss a range of issues as well as gain insight into problems faced by the health care system during the country's rebuilding process. During the daylong conference, everything from hospital organizational overview to the role of nurses in healthcare was discussed. Lectures on hospital logistics, personnel and sanitation were also given.
" 'Over $1 million dollars has been infused in infrastructure and equipment in support of Salah Din health care and extensive educational programs have been instituted for primary responders such as Iraqi firemen and police services,' Mase said."
Douglas Hottle, of Lebanon, Pennysylvania, a judge advocate general serving with the 372nd Engineering Group, is involving his local community in collecting school supplies for Iraqi children. "Hottle was part of a group of soldiers who, in October, distributed $75,000 worth of school supplies to Iraqi children. Those supplies had been collected largely from Iowa by Maj. Chuck Larson, of Cedar Rapids, a fellow JAG who is an Iowa state senator. Larson founded the collection project under the name Operation Iraqi Hope. Through e-mail messages, Hottle said he moved to start his own collection after the October distributions wiped out the stockpile that Larson had collected."
In Baqubah, meanwhile, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division, upon receiving request from the local community, has engaged a contractor and 25 local workers to refurbish the co-ed Termathy Thubyani School, which was damaged in recent terrorist activity. "The contractor did an excellent job, not only by fulfilling all of the terms of the statement of work, but by carrying out additional repairs at no cost, including the installation of a new front gate and light fixtures in the classrooms."
Assistance provided by the troops to local Iraqi communities is quite wide-ranging; not surprisingly, any one mission can be quite multi-faceted, covering reconstruction, medical assistance, civic affairs, as this item shows:
"On Dec. 7, a TF 1-27 Inf. humanitarian mission, which included meetings and donations, was carried out in the Abassi region.In addition to supporting local schools and hospitals, the troops also give their time and resources to implementing infrastructure projects. Near Balad, for example, "soldiers from the 1st Combat Support Command Troop Support Battalion joined local leaders in opening a new water filtration system in Al Anwar Village... The new system will provide fresh clean water for more than 500 villagers. The $70,000 project was funded by the Army and completed by local labor under the supervision of the Ad Dujail City Council."
"Capt. Robert Bockholt, a fire support officer, attended a weekly city council meeting with Abassi sheiks to discuss projects and problems within the local populace. 'We talked about all the points that we had to discuss -- security issues, project funds, basically civil affairs issues,' Bockholt said.
"At the same time, Capt. Patrick Sherman, a physician assistant, walked over to the Abassi hospital to check if it was in need of medical supplies or had issues to be dealt with.
"About an hour later, the convoy made up mostly of Soldiers from the Mortar Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, TF 1-27 Inf., headed to a small village near the Tigris River called Shajarah. There, Sherman and Sgt. James Scaggs, a combat medic donated $500 worth of medical supplies to the newly revamped Shajarah hospital, while Bockholt inspected the construction of the building."
Down south, meanwhile, "Navy Seabees attached to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Najaf completed their part in a major road expansion project in Kufa today. The work was done at the request of Najaf Province's governor, Adnan al-Zurufi, as part of a larger government road expansion project. The project consisted of widening 3 km of a major thoroughfare between Najaf and Kufa, turning the two lane road into a four lane road. Seabees leveled and grated the ground, laid a rock and sand mixture as the road's sub-base, and the rolled and compacted the sub-base. A local contractor will be hired to asphalt the additional two lanes."
In Tikrit, meanwhile, the troops are running an employment program, which boasts some positive community as well as security spin-offs:
"In it's second month, the Tikrit Job Corp is both helping to keep Tikrit clean and helping prevent many unemployed former soldiers from supporting the insurgents. More than 300 people are employed clearing the streets and vacant lots of Tikrit and neighboring towns of debris and trash. One local worker said 'everyone wants to be proud of their home. I do also and will do whatever I can to help.'The troops are helping with rebuilding Iraqi agriculture:
"Chronic un-employment in Tikrit of numerous discharged, former Iraqi military soldiers and officers, posed a significant security problem. Task Force 1-18 determined that jobless former soldiers were very likely to support or join the insurgency. Clearly this posed a more dangerous threat given their training on weapons and explosives. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sinclair, the Task Force 1-18 commander challenged his staff to find a solution.
"The Vanguard Civil Military Operation team decided to create a Job Corp in Tikrit. The answer was inspired by the public' s works projects of the 1930s depression in the United States. Using the Commander's Emergency Relief Program, Task Force 1-18 hired a local contractor to implement the project. The plan called for more than 400 former military to be guaranteed a steady job for more than six months."
"The 256th Brigade Combat Team, which includes about 3,000 Louisiana soldiers and 1,000 from other states, is helping the people of Iraq revitalize their agricultural system through 'Operation Amber Waves.'There is also lighter side to the American-Iraqi relations:
"Soldiers in Iraq and local council members are distributing high-quality wheat seed in the predominantly rural sector just west of Baghdad...
"Maj. Carrie Acree of the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion attached to 2nd Battalion, 156th Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team, has been building a relationship with the Agur Quf Najia council, whose area covers 99 percent of the sector in which the 2nd Battalion operates.
" 'Iraq's wheat seed has been degraded tremendously because the farmers harvest their grain and then use the same wheat to replant,' Acree said. 'What they have right now is fit for livestock,' Acree said.
"Operation Amber Waves is intended to bring that wheat grade back up to where it's good for human consumption."
"When Army Capt. Alex Fyfe arrived in Iraq, he saw a land of dust and rocks, but it conjured memories of plush green fields from his days playing soccer and lacrosse in Rocky Point...Meanwhile, a Christmas treat is proving a big hit in Iraq:
"All it took was an idea, a few e-mails and many generous souls to fulfill Fyfe's vision. Fyfe, 26, served as a liaison between the U.S. Army and 10 village governments around Mosul in Northern Iraq during his one-year stint that ended Nov. 5. Fyfe, now home for the holidays, invited officials of each village to an early March meeting to see what services the Army could provide to improve their lifestyles.
"Most asked Fyfe for essentials - drinking water, electricity and medical supplies - but one asked about developing a youth soccer program. Fyfe later saw barefoot Iraqi children kicking a ball made of straw near some Army tanks and knew he had to reach out to them.
" 'I know I am only one person, but I wanted to make a difference in any way I could,' said Fyfe, a 1996 Rocky Point High School and 2000 West Point graduate. 'I really tried to make it a better place. It has been such a rewarding feeling.'
"After unsuccessfully attempting to obtain supplies from athletic-equipment companies, Fyfe e-mailed Rocky Point boys soccer coach Al Ellis on March 15. A week later, Ellis, the Suffolk County Soccer Coaches Association and Long Island Junior Soccer League members had shipped two boxes of supplies. The campaign continued. Word spread.
"Fyfe estimated he received about $30,000 worth of equipment - soccer balls, jerseys, socks, cleats, corner flags, and even a package from Japan."
"Bobs Candies, which bills itself as the world's largest candy-cane maker, gets regular feedback from customers who relish its candies at Christmas and the rest of the year. But company officials were surprised when they received a letter that said America's traditional holiday candy also is a big hit with U.S. soldiers and the children of Iraq.Toys given out by the troops to Iraqi children bring cheer and joy - but sometimes they also bring something more - read this incredible story via an email from a Marine Sergeant in Iraq.
"Mary Helen Dykes, secretary-treasurer of the company, said she did not know how the soldiers got their first batch of Bobs' candy canes, but after receiving the letter the company sent 3,000 more. 'He told us how they enjoyed them and said they were great to pass out to the kids,' she said.
"To show their appreciation, some of the children provided the soldiers with information on 'bad guys,' Dykes said."
The Coalition's very presence is also providing a boon for some enterprising Iraqis:
"From his pavement perch at the Bab al-Sharki peddlers' market in Baghdad, Sabir Hassan is among a growing group of Iraqis who spend their days selling cast-off items from the United States-led Coalition military.Literally anything that US troops no longer use is much in demand.
"Well-leafed fashion and sports magazines thrown out by Coalition soldiers make up most of his inventory, which he buys from people working in US army camps. At around 1,500 dinars, one US dollar, each, they aren't cheap, but business is booming.
" 'There is a big demand for these magazines. Even although they are long out of date, Iraqis have been so deprived of this kind of thing that they are happy with whatever they can get,' Hassan said. High school student Omar Adnan is one of his customers. Though Omar doesn't understand English, he buys the magazines to look at life in the US. 'It makes me laugh to see the kind of luxuries they have,' he said."
SECURITY: While violence continues to plague some areas of Iraq, while others which in the past used to be major hot-spot are getting a new lease of life. The 1st Infantry Division reports from Samarra:
"Until two months ago, this moribund city was being held hostage by insurgents. But 1st Infantry Division and Iraqi National Guard troops forced out the rebels.Meanwhile, recruitment and training of the Iraqi security forces continues. In Hawijah, the new temporary Iraqi Armed Services Recruiting Center has recently opened with the aid of the American troops. The centre has been set up after complaints from local Sunni community leaders who felt left out from the process and pointed out that the nearest recruitment centre was located three hours away in a predominantly Kurdish area. "In addition to new computers, the U.S. Army provided concrete barriers and guard towers to help secure the site. Also, renovations to the inside of the abandoned building were supported by the Army's project that cost an estimated $60,000. Another $34,000 is expected to be spent on further improvements. Many of the local leaders, as well as Iraqi Army members, were on hand for the open house and thanked the Task Force 1-27 Soldiers."
"Now, Samarra, a once-thriving holy city of some 200,000 people, is in the early stages of a massive facelift. Thus far, Coalition Forces have spent millions of dollars repairing the infrastructure. Millions more will be spent on other major projects in the coming months in hopes of making Samarra a hub for tourism in the future, one officials said optimistically.
"There are plans to build or repair sewage systems, schools, government builds, streetlights, bridges and the like. Additionally, the 1st Infantry Division recently repaired the door at the main entrance of the famous Golden Mosque. Rebels damaged the door during the clash between the insurgents and Coalition Forces. While rebuilding the city, the coalition is simultaneously breathing life into Samarra's sour economy by employing locals to refurbish their own city.
"Samarra is not without its challenges. But driving through the heart of the city, which has an open market that stretches several miles, one gets the sense that life is passable and the citizens are working to return to normalcy."
Those recruited continue to receive training. In Tikrit, "the sixth Iraqi National Guard basic training class graduated December 18 from the Iraqi National Guard Training Academy... The class of 329 graduates was the first to participate in the newly modified four-week course. The ING soldiers were the first to use the new obstacle course as well as spend extra time on rifle marksmanship and first aid."
Germany, meanwhile, has committed itself to training additional 300 Iraqi soldiers early this year. The training will take place in the United Arab Emirates. In addition, "German Deputy Defence Minister Peter Eickenboom and his Iraqi counterpart Bruska Shawish agreed... to accept Iraqi officers at a German military academy in Hamburg, a German official said. Germany also offered to train Iraqis in bomb disposal and that offer was being examined... In November, Germany offered 100 trucks plus spare parts in conjunction with the training of Iraqi military truck drivers that is now coming to an end in the UAE. It also offered 20 Fuchs armoured personnel carriers."
In addition to army, the strength of Iraqi police force is growing too. In mid-December, the eleventh batch of Iraqi police officers graduated from training in Amman, Jordan. "The representative of the 1,421 Iraqi trainees thanked Jordan for its support for the Iraqi people as well as its contributions to achieving security and stability in Iraq and the region at large." Further 74 officers have graduated from two advanced instruction courses at the Adnan Training Facility, where they covered basic criminal investigation and civil disorder management. And another 101 policemen graduated into Iraqi Police Service's
"Emergency Response Unit": "The four-week training runs recruits through SWAT-type emergency response training focusing on terrorist incidents, kidnappings, hostage negotiations, explosive ordnance, high-risk searches, high-risk assets, weapons of mass destruction, and other national-level law enforcement emergencies."
The training is provided by hundreds of dedicated people like this FBI veteran from Colorado:
"Daniel Bradley talked about liberty in a palace once owned by Saddam Hussein's son, in a movie theater the dictator once used for private screenings, in front of an audience whose job it once was to enforce the Iraqi leader's brutal will.In recent security successes: "Iraqi Security Forces defeated two separate attacks in Mosul by anti-Iraqi insurgents as they attempted to ambush an Iraqi National Guard patrol and seize a police station in northern Iraq"; the capture of remote-controlled rockets smuggled in from outside Iraq for use against election infrastructure; the capture of two senior al Qaeda operatives active in Iraq; seizure of another significant arms cache near Ar Rutbath; and the defeat by Iraqi security forces of an attack on a police station in Mosul ("This is the sixth time since Nov. 10 where insurgents have tried but failed to overrun police stations"). In addition, 353 foreign terrorists are currently in custody in Iraq. This total includes "61 Egyptians, 59 Saudis, 56 Syrians, 40 Jordanians, 35 Sudanese, 22 Iranians, 10 Tunisians, 10 Yemenis, eight Palestinians and five Lebanese, among others."
"An FBI agent from Colorado Springs, Bradley was in Iraq to help train police officers who will be the nucleus of law enforcement in the new nation, to prepare them for the task of establishing order and protecting human rights in a country that has seen little of either in a long time.
" 'Their lives have changed drastically. They went from having absolute control to being high-risk targets,' Bradley said. 'Their decision to remain in their position as law enforcement officers spoke in great depth of their desire to see their country move to its next phase'...
"Bradley developed strong respect for those who risk their lives for the equivalent of $180 a month. 'That takes a tremendous amount of courage,' he said. 'I certainly think these individuals have a deep concern for their country.'
"Most of the 50 in the class had served under Saddam. They knew the fundamentals of law enforcement; Bradley taught them about organized crime, the role of police in fighting terrorism, and human rights under the law - a concept that hasn't been too big in Iraq since Hussein's Baath Party seized power in 1968.
"Basic U.S. legal practices, such as the requirement that a judge approve a search warrant, were alien to officers whose job it had been to preserve the regime first and serve the community second."
And so Iraqis continue on their journey. The situation is difficult and dangerous, no doubt, but for the first time in a generation there is hope and there are real possibilities of a better future. As the election approaches and building of the new country continues, the shape of things to come in Iraq is not entirely new and certainly not an alien imposition. It is here, after all, on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates more than four millennia ago that concepts such as rule by consent and the rule of law made their first appearance in the history our civilization. The new Iraq will hopefully be able to recapture and reincorporate into its fabric that lost legacy.