Saturday, February 19, 2005

It's a dangerous world out there... 

...and bloggers are blogging about it.

The Faces of G writes about the new "alignments".

Chuck Simmins thinks China will have to go to war.

Joe Gandelman watches Russia flirting with Iran.

Transatlantic Intelligencer notes that France and Germany really aren't our allies.

And Fausta listens in to one of the architects of the Patriot Act to cut through all the misinformation and misunderstandings.


Sexual assault in the military - putting the numbers into perspective 

"A nonprofit victim's support group reported... that sexual assaults continue to occur among members of the armed services stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Bahrain.

"The Miles Foundation said it has received 307 reports of sexual assaults from soldiers deployed overseas since units were deployed in their respective locations...

"The Miles report said that 104 of the cases they've been informed of had been reported to military authorities, including chaplains, command criminal investigators and medical personnel."
Even one case of sexual assault is a tragedy and one too many. Is the situation among the troops, however, better or worse than among the wider population back at home?

In 2001, there were 248,250 rapes and sexual assaults in the United States reported to law enforcement agencies. This comes to just under 85 reported cases per 100,000 population per year.

The Miles report lists 104 reported cases* over two years out of the total population of almost 200,000 troops stationed throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. This comes up to about 25 reported cases per 100,000 population per year.

You also have to consider that 100,000 soldiers does not equal 100,000 population back home, because that civilian 100,000 also includes women and children, whereas 100,000 soldiers are overwhelmingly men between the ages of 18 and 50. If you want to arrive at a figure of sexual assault in the United States per 100,000 men in the relevant aged bracket, you have to multiply 85 by around three (or maybe even four), to get ca. 250 sexual assaults per 100,000 men between the ages of 18 and 50 (as they constitute somewhere between a third and a quarter of the total population).

Thus, the sexual assault rate in the armed forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, however unfortunately high, is still at least ten times smaller than the rate in the general population in the United States.

So far, no one has yet tried to use sexual assault statistics to blacken the name of the American armed forces serving overseas. While the above figures are pretty rough, bear them in mind in the future, just in case the far-left does decide to start portraying the US troops as rapists, in addition to being thugs and torturers (the usual post-Abu Ghraib spin).

* We can effectively only work with reported numbers, as the total number of cases is guesswork. The Miles report above lists over 300 cases of which 100 were reported. Overall, some think that only one in six sexual assaults ever gets reported.


Life imitates Chrenkoff 

Chrenkoff, October 2004:


"This letter might come as a surprise to you, as we are both complete strangers. I got your name and contacts from a business associate of mine who recommends you as a trustworthy person. Due to my position as President of the Republic of Iraq, and due to generosity of the United Nations, I'm in a position to search discreetly and diligently for a foreign partner that could assist us concerning a business matter, which will be of mutual benefit to all. We do require your assistance in the disposition of some US$10,000,000,000.00 (ten Billion United State Dollars) coming into our account as part of the Food For Oil programme."
Information Week, February 2005:
"A variation of the infamous Nigerian scam starring Saddam Hussein and various henchmen is circulating via e-mail... Spam hitting the U.K. is offering a share in the private fortunes of Hussein and his closest aids in return for hiding large amounts of money in British bank accounts.

"The millions were supposedly made by senior Iraqi officials during the oil for food program of the United Nations. The e-mail goes on to claim that the recent elections in Iraq put the legal wheels in motion to seize the money, requiring the ex-aids to search for another hiding spot for their ill-gotten gains.

"The e-mail opens with, 'I am Dr. Samir Hassan leading counsel to some member of the deposed former president of Iraq Saddam Hussein is soliciting for private individual who will be willing to keep some million of dollars stash in their private hoses [sic] in their secret places of this cabinet ministers'."
Remember: stash the cash in your hoses, and when you turn on the tap it will be raining money.


The second casualty 

Jeremy Scahill's take on the Eason controversy at "The Nation": "Shooting the Messenger". Writes Scahill:
"[Eason's] comments quickly ignited a firestorm on the Internet, fueled by right-wing bloggers, that led to Jordan's recanting, apologizing and ultimately resigning after twenty-three years at the network... But the real controversy here should not be over Jordan's comments. The controversy ought to be over the unconscionable silence in the United States about the military's repeated killing of journalists in Iraq."
Is Scahill really saying that right-wing bloggers are not only professionally killing media executives, they are actually targeting them?

Somebody release the Scahill tape!


Violence, migration, violence: Saturday's stream of consciousness 

Is new wave of European migration about to hit Australian shores? (hat tip: Joseph G)
"It is not just Britons, fed up with overcrowding and poor weather, who look to another continent for a new life. Across the Channel, the Dutch middle classes are quitting clogged roads and street violence in numbers unheard of in living memory.

"Australia is a top destination for a wave of migration among educated Dutch people, sparked by racial strife and increasing unrest in the Netherlands. The murder of homosexual populist politician Pim Fortuyn and film-maker Theo van Gogh are seen as linked to the exodus. More people left Holland in 2003 than arrived."
Give me your scared, your middle classes,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
Escaping the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the overcrowded, tempest-tost (or a least bad weather-tossed) to me
I lift my lamp beside the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
(with apologies to Emma Lazarus)

Indeed. But somebody forgot to tell the Brits and the Dutch just how dangerous Down Under really is - and I don't mean sharks, snakes and spiders, either:
"While the US is the murder capital of the world, Australia still has the worst prevalence of crime among 17 industrialised countries, according to a United Nations-sponsored survey... The 2000 International Crime Victims Survey used a telephone survey to assess the prevalence and incidence of crime in industrialised countries. About 30 per cent of Australians told researchers they had been victimised one or more times in 1999, compared with 26 per cent in England and Wales, 21 per cent in the US and 15 per cent in Japan."
Local stats suggest you're now more likely to get beaten up than have your wallet stolen: "Property crimes such as breaking and entering and vehicle theft traditionally accounted for much of Australian crime, but that is changing. There were 145,420 violent crimes in 1996. By 2002, the figure had grown to 198,722 – and 80 per cent were assaults."

The experts know what to blame: "Youth unemployment, alcohol and the active, mobile Australian lifestyle could be contributing factors to the violence, according to criminologists." But how about lead?
"Lead left in paint, water, soil and elsewhere may not only be affecting children's intelligence, but may also cause a significant proportion of violent crime, according to a US researcher."
Remember all the theories how the Roman Empire declined and eventually fell because the aristocracy got lead poisoning from using lead pipes and utensils? Well, maybe not, but is sounded pretty good at the time.

At least, you couldn't blame the fall of Rome on violent computer and TV shows games, although you can always blame them for today's real-life violence: "Children are more likely to act aggressively or feel upset after they have watched violent films or television programs. British scientists have also found that children who passively watched television were as likely to be distressed by violent images as those who played interactive computer games."

But there might be positive spin-offs, as James Dunnigan notes at "Strategy Page":
"For generations, troops spent hours playing cards with their buddies. Now, the favorite form of interaction is playing against another GI on a video game, or putting together a network and doing a multiplayer session of a violent video game. The army and marines even provide modified versions of commercial games for training purposes. The commercial games often depict incorrect combat procedures. The modified versions show how to do it right, and not make a mistake that could get you killed in combat."
So, at the end of our journey we come back to the beginning: Islamofascism and how to react. Some flee, some fight.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Quotes of the day 

"Kurds will oppose setting up an Islamic republic if this question is asked by other political forces in Iraq... Of course we are a Muslim people and we must respect our Muslim identity but we cannot pit religion against democracy."
Adnan Mufti, a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

"What Kurds want is a republican regime founded on the principle of rotation of power, with a parliamentary system, a separation of powers and a separation of religion and the state."
Sami Shursh, the unofficial minister of culture within the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

(courtesy of the


Welcome to Harvard 

The prestigious Harvard University will be hosting a group of six students from Baghdad and Basra, four men and two women, who will attend meetings, interact with other students, and generally experience life of a busy American campus. The six will also attend, I kid you not,

"the conference course Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1203, 'Gender and the Cultures of US Imperialism'"
which will probably explain to them the evils of the system that made it possible for them to leave Iraq and visit an American university to be lectured on the evils of the system that... Anyway, bringing six Iraqi students to Harvard is expensive ($20,000); it would have been far cheaper to leave Saddam in power and just keep the Baath news channel on.

But the main reason that the Iraqi students are coming to Cambridge, Mass, is to attend the Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN), described as "an annual simulation of the United Nations" (hopefully without massive fraud, mass rapes of underage girls and turning a blind eye to genocide; although what that leaves the United Nations with is not clear). The idea behind the Model UN is to bring together 2,100 students from 15 countries around the world and to seemingly randomly assign them to represent other countries; or as Matthew R. Smith, the current secretary-general of HNMUN puts it, "to look at international relations with other’s eyes" (thus the Iraqi will actually represent Australia).

Trading places with dictatorships and other assorted human rights-challenged regimes sounds like a good idea, although policy-wise it won't create a big culture shock for much of the Western new born isolationist left and the Old Europe representatives. But for the Iraqi six it might at least explain why it took 12 years to liberate them.


Haters don't prosper 

Good luck to Howarghhh Dean in his new role as the unstable chair of the Democratic National Committee. Time will tell whether Dean will be more successful in this managerial role than he was in his presidential nomination run. But I have my doubts about the man who not that long ago famously remarked, "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for."

You see, haters don't really prosper in politics. Yes, they might eventually reach the dizzying heights of power, but they're also likely to then self-destruct, like Icaruses who flew too close to the burning sun of hatred, seeing their dreams go down in flames and their legacies become inevitably tarnished.

Most recently in Australia, we have witnessed the meteoric rise and the meteoric fall of Mark Latham, leader of the Labor opposition, the man widely touted as the great hope of the center-left politics and the future Prime Minister of Australia. Only four months after the election that was his to win, he's out of the leadership and out of the Parliament altogether, bitter and isolated from everyone but two or three of those closest to him. Yes, his final exit was caused by health problems, but it wouldn't surprise me if they in turn, as well as the reason why he in the end failed to win the majority's trust, had something to do with his
driving philosophy:

"I’m a hater. Part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike the other side with intensity. And the more I see of them the more I hate them."
The United States, too, had its famous hater, but on the other side of the political fence. He eventually did realize the futility and damage as he was exiting the White House in 1974, but by that stage it was far too late:

"Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember other may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself,"
he had told the White House staff in his farewell remarks.

It's all too easy to hate in politics; differences can be stark, the stakes couldn't be higher. It's also all too easy to excuse and justify hatred; after all, you can always point to the other side and say - they started it, they hate us, I'm only reflecting it back.

Yet, in the end, those who are best regarded and most fondly remembered are precisely those who can rise above the fray (not always; after all, we're all human; but most of the time). These are leaders like John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and, yes, George W Bush. All of them were hated with a passion by their opponents, all of them had plenty of reasons to hate back and I'm sure they sometimes did, but by and large they did not allow hatred to consume them and become a distraction to the main game. Howard Dean would do well to remember that lesson, but I'm afraid that it might be too late.


Friday reading 

Omar at Iraq the Model blogs about the magic of pajamas. Because in cyberspace no one can see you wear.

Steve Green at Vodka Pundit writes
an ode to the internet. I agree.

Blackfive writes about the new cause celebre,
Lt Pantano.

Dean Esmay's 5 week old son is in hospital with pneumonia. Keep him in your thoughts.

Meanwhile, Greyhawk from Mudville Gazette is
back from Iraq.

And Roger Simon (who's back from hospital) doesn't know what to make of
Ahmed Chalabi.

Chester tackles the topic of the
American drones over Iran.

With Howarghhhh Dean safely in the electric chairmanship of the Democratic Party, John Hawkins brings you the collection of everyone's
favorite Dean quotes.

Sophie Masson blogs about teaching English: "English at school... should be about exposing kids to as wide a variety of literature as possible, to enrich and furnish the mind with a great many layers of things from which in the future they can draw if they actually do end up wanting to 'deconstruct'. Or not, as the case may be. Not everyone wants to deconstruct, despite what many theorists appear to think."

Make sure to drop by
Regime Change Iran blog, for briefings like this one.

Crossroads Arabia blogs about the
Riyadh Declaration against terror.

Eric at No Pasaran! ("Behind the Façades in France") blogs about
why he blogs: "I wouldn't describe myself as angry, but let me say that the answer has to do with injustice, double standards, and the injustice of double standards." Plenty of that, I would say, when you live in the Old Europe.

On a related topic, Proverbs Daily writes that blogs have ushered in
the Age of Accountability.

And speaking of accountability, Bill Roggio informs me that the quest to obtain the release of the Eason tape continues at a special blog put together by him and his fellow media-warbloggers -
War, Truth and Videotape.

Enough! thinks that
Europe is lost.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Nutcase of the day 

It had to happen.

The prize (a tinfoil hat) for the first person to suggest that the former Lebanese prime minister Hariri was not assassinated by either Syria, Islamist terrorists or the organised crime, but by Israel, goes to the resident Australian conspiranoid
Joe Vialls:

"In a desperate attempt to slow down their forthcoming defeat in Palestine, Jewish Special Forces micro-nuke former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, then instruct western media outlets to falsely blame the atrocity on Syria...

"Early forensic examination indicates this critical nuclear weapon was from the same class and batch used on Bali during October 2002, in a murderous and blatant attempt to force Australians to believe in the entirely fictional 'al Qaeda' and 'Jemaah Islamiyah' alleged terrorist groups."
Vialls adds hopefully on the bottom of the page:

"The author is an independent investigator working alone, and receiving only an inadequate disability pension. If you feel that this report has helped you in any way, or if you would simply like to contribute towards future web space and research costs, please do so by clicking on the button below and making a donation. Thank you."
I'm too scared that clicking the button below will only detonate yet another Zionist mini-nuke.


Yalta, 60 years later 

One of my readers in Warsaw had given me a friendly nudge to remind me that I have forgotten to comment on the 60th anniversary of a significant event in the last century's history: the Yalta conference in early February 1945, at which Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin de facto ratified the post-war division of Europe.

Yalta is a dirty in Poland, and I imagine elsewhere throughout the East and Central Europe, as it stands in the collective consciousness a byword for the abandonment by the West of the whole region to the Soviet domination. This feeling has been particularly pronounced in Poland, which after all had been the casus belli for the Second World War. For Poles, the end of the war marked not the liberation but the replacement of one totalitarian occupation by another (albeit significantly less bloody one). At Yalta, the Allies who went to war to protect freedom and independence of Poland have signed it all away to Uncle Joe; so went the Polish complaint. All that after the six years of bloody sacrifice of the Polish armed forces in the West and the Polish fighters at home, the best organized underground in the whole of the occupied Europe, not to mention six million dead (including three million Polish citizens of Judaic faith).

In truth, the West did not have much room for maneuver; as the saying goes, the facts were created on the ground by the Red Army. The US Army had almost reached Prague, and had Patton and not Eisenhower been in charge, the Allies would have reached Berlin too, instead of being sidetracked chasing ghosts of the "Last Redoubt" in Bavaria. It is, however, unlikely that the West would have been allowed to "keep" all of Germany and the Czech part of Czechoslovakia under any sort of post-war political settlement. As for the rest of the region... The bottom line was the Soviet Union was much stronger on the ground and the West was not prepared either mentally or militarily to go to war against its erstwhile ally over some unpronounceable towns and rivers in the East.

Hence, I'm reluctant to blame the West for "selling out" or "betraying" Poland and the Eastern Europe at the Yalta conference. Short of starting World War Three in mid-1945 there was nothing that the West could have done to roll back the communist domination over the region, and I don't begrudge them that they didn't want to proceed in that direction. What I do resent is the naivete and stupidity of so many of the West's "best and brightest", at Yalta and elsewhere. It is one thing to be realistic and accept the consequences while holding one's nose; it's another to operate under illusion that the Eastern Europeans were the troublemakers, the Soviets weren't all that bad, Stalin could be trusted and that everything would turn out alright.

So as the 60th anniversary of Yalta passes, I remember it not so much as the Day of Infamy as the Day of Folly.


If at first you don't succeed... 

Mohammed of Iraq the Model blog writes about his joy at watching the election results come through, even though he himself did not win a seat in the National Assembly with his Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party:

"I was so happy today while watching the results being displayed on TV although I didn't get the seat I dreamed of. Little parties like ours couldn't compete with the larger ones that own radio and TV networks and had their banners and posters filling the streets while I had to borrow from my friends to pay the 5000 $ registration fees of the party because the support we received for the party from our friends and supporters hasn't reached Baghdad till this moment because of some banking bureaucracy. All we had was 3000 $ to spend on advertising and publicity and managing all the party's affairs.

"Add to this that the candidates of small parties had to accept risking their lives as we made ourselves easy targets for the terrorists; we don't have the adequate personal protection like the famous figures who live in heavily protected quarters and protected by hundreds of bodyguards. While candidates like me live among the people and walk on the streets, in the past few weeks we saw several Iraqi politicians targeted and assassinated, but our participation was more important than anything else because it gave more credit to the elections and we're happy with that role."
My words of advice to Mohammed: don't get discouraged. If you are still interesting in pursuing a political career in the future, don't take the first "no" for an answer, particularly under these initial difficult circumstances.

1) the security situation will keep on improving, which will make campaigning and other political activity safer and easier in the future.

2) persistence pays, including in politics; consider all the setbacks Lincoln and Nixon experienced before getting where they wanted to be.

3) the political landscape in new democracies is very fluid. Political parties spring up, dissolve, reform again; configurations change, new alliances are constantly formed. In Poland, the centre-right has held the government on several occasions since 1989, but each time it has been represented by a new political party or coalition of parties. Of the politicians who were around initially at the dawn of democracy, hardly anyone is still around. All this means that an opportunity to get into politics is not a one-off but a constant.

4) Iraq-specific, moderate Sunnis are much in demand in politics; this is a great opportunity and it's only a matter of getting noticed and building useful contacts over time.

The next election is just beyond the horizon.


Blocked by Websense 

Our Afghan correspondent, Major John Tammes, stationed at the Bagram Air Base, reports that the signal folks up there have installed Websense, which is now blocking access to Chrenkoff and many other blogs as "message boards and clubs".

Drawing on the collective wisdom and experience of the blogosphere, is there any way to unblock access through Websense?

By the way, if you're in California, Major Tammes thinks you might be interested in this function:

"American Support For Afghanistan would like to present a night of fundraising fun and entertainment

"Saturday, February 19th at 7:00pm at University of California Santa Barbara in the Multicultural Center

"All proceeds from this event will be used towards the delivery of wheelchairs and school supplies to Afghanistan.

"Please join us in enjoying the history and tradition of Saaz Afghan Fusion Ensemble. Watch as they bring to life a rich heritage of Afghan Music with a weaving tapestry of vibrant colors that transcends historical and cultural boundaries.

"Don't forget to stay for the raffle as we raffle away gift certificates to your favorite restaurants and prizes from most fashionable stores.

"Reception will be from 7:00pm - 7:30pm (appetizers will be served)

"Tickets: students $20, general public $40

"Pre sales tickets: students $15, general public $35

"Tickets can be purchased at: AS Ticket Office, 805-893-2064 and Arlington Theater, 805-963-4408

"For more info please call 805-455-4066

"Download Flyer: http://www.neatpixels.com/flyer.pdf

"American Support for Afghanistan is a non-sectarian, non-governmental and strictly apolitical non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and continuing development of Afghanistan. Our mission is to contribute to the development of Afghanistan through direct funding and providing material goods for healthcare and educational services. For more information please visit our website at www.asanonprofit.org"


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

New poll from Iraq 

Our correspondent Haider Ajina translates some of the results of the latest poll conducted in Baghdad by "Al Sabah":
"Do you believe that democracy will help solve Iraq’s Political, Security and Financial problems?

Yes - 82.1%
No - 15.3%
Don’t know - 2.6%

"Would you consent to a Kurdish President?

Yes - 69.8%
No - 27.3%
Don’t know - 2.9%

"Do you believe that the Kurds will secede from Iraq over the next 10 years?

Yes - 35.4%
No - 53.9%
Maybe 9.1%
Don’t know - 1.6%"
Speaking of Iraq, two good opinion pieces by two good commentators. Amir Taheri:
"The supposed total exclusion of the Arab Sunnis from the National Assembly did not happen, either. Arab Sunnis account for some 15 per cent of the Iraqi population and are a majority in four out of 18 provinces. In three of those provinces the voter turnout was below 30 per cent, and in one, Anbar, dropped to 2 per cent. But only half of the Arab Sunnis live in those provinces. The other half, in Baghdad and other major cities, voted in larger numbers.

"Based on their demographic strength, the Arab Sunnis should have 42 seats in the 275-seat transitional National Assembly. The final results show that the new assembly will have 49 Arab Sunnis sitting in it. Of these 40 were elected on the Shia-led and the Kurdish lists, plus the list headed by Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister. Five were elected on a list led by Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawer, the Arab Sunni interim President, while four more won within smaller alliances. If we add the Kurds, who are also Sunni Muslims, at least 110 members of the assembly are Sunnis."
Check out also Ralph Peters with his no-nonsense look at the election and its implications (hat tip for both articles: Real Clear Politics).

And make sure to read Patrick Ruffini's excellent post about the election, complete with a special Patrick-made map of the results.


The friendly face of fundamentalism 

Meet the Kuwaiti fundamentalists - pro-American, anti-terror Salafis (Salafism is a name for a puritanical orientation within Islam, of which the Saudi Wahhabis are but one example). An interesting profile from the "Christian Science Monitor":

" 'All the Kuwaiti people are against terrorism and its destructive actions,' says Abdullah Fadli, a student of the Koran with a long straggly beard and wire-rimmed glasses. 'Those who call themselves radicals are nothing more than criminals and deviants.'

"In contrast to the pervasive anti-American sentiment found in many Arab countries, most Kuwaitis tend to have a benign view of the US, a legacy of Washington's role in driving Iraqi occupation troops out of their country in 1991. They reject the brutal insurgency in Iraq and regard the presence of some 25,000 American troops in Kuwait as a necessary bulwark against external threats.

" 'The resistance in Iraq are all followers of Saddam Hussein and have nothing to do with jihad and Islam,' says Mubarak. 'We support stability and it is very important for the American forces to stay for the time being.'

"Abdullah agrees. 'The interests of Kuwait are related to the interests of America,' he says. 'The position of Kuwait is very different to other Arab and Islamic countries'."
Now, wouldn't it be nice to read words like these more often? Granted, as the article notes, not all Kuwaiti fundamentalists are peaceful, and Salafism itself is not exactly a recipe for liberal democracy, but in a region beset by so many challenges, people like Abdullah and Mubarak are far from our biggest problem.


Winds of change blow through Lebanon? 

An interesting perspective on the assassination of Lebanon's Rafik Hariri, courtesy of Lee Smith at "Slate":

"The place chosen for his death will remind everyone that the Syrians have a vicious sense of irony. His motorcade was immolated between the five-star Phoenecia Hotel and the as-yet-unfinished St. George Hotel and Yacht Club, which abuts the city's famous seaside corniche, where residential, retail, and hotel properties fetch hefty sums of money. In the wake of Lebanon's 15-year civil war, Hariri played a key role in developing this property, which, in turn, made him a billionaire, a major political force in Lebanon, and a regional player with important patrons in both Saudi Arabia and Europe. Apparently, the message behind the murder of this real-estate and media giant is that no one in Lebanon really has power, Syria only leases it out."
Read the whole thing; Lee, who just returned from Lebanon, writes that the country is another domino currently swaying in the wind created by the American furious entry into the region:

"The Lebanese opposition has materialized now largely in response to American and European pressure. It's an index of how bad Syria really is that President Bashar Assad's regime got the United States and France to agree on policy, as they did with 2004's U.N. Security Resolution 1559, demanding that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon immediately. And yet, arguably, what has most emboldened Lebanese opposition figures is the presence of U.S. forces on the Syrian border in Iraq."
I'm too young to remember when Lebanon was the most moderate and most successful Middle Eastern state (certainly the most successful multi-ethnic and multi-religious state) and Beirut was known as Paris of the Middle East (that was the time when comparing something to Paris was a compliment). I do remember how the country descended into chaos and violence between 1975 and 1990, although to call the conflict a civil war is to forget about the role that Syria, Israel, Iran (via Hizbollah) and the Palestinians have played in that decade and a half of mayhem. And I certainly remember how Syria made the final move to consolidate its control over Lebanon while Bush Sr looked away as the price of Syria's involvement in the anti-Iraqi coalition of the first Gulf war. Ever since, Lebanon has been a fiefdom of the Assads. Now, it seems, Bush's son is trying to undo some of the damage. Or he better, argues Smith:

"The White House has maintained that success in Iraq would have ripple effects throughout the region. As it turned out, this is true. The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq indicated that the United States meant business, a posture that encouraged the Lebanese opposition to challenge Syria. But the ripple effect also works the other way. If opposition figures are assassinated in Beirut, this is a message that, for all its power, the United States can't always be there to protect you. Even worse is that if the Bush administration does nothing about Hariri's murder, the message will be that Washington cannot and will not protect you at all. It will be very hard to get people in the region to work with the United States if everyone believes that there is no difference between sticking your neck out and handing an executioner his weapon. It will cost Washington prestige among its allies in Iraq and show convenient 'friends' like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that the White House is so vulnerable there is little price to be paid for ignoring it."
Which is why recalling the US ambassador in Damascus might only be the first step.


The Kid sprays again 

Hate his music, love his politics - or the lack thereof. Say hello to Kid Rock in his repeat appearance at Chrenkoff. Rap-rock's bad boy has given an interview to "Playboy" (of course, who else?), and in it another spray at the anti-Bush, anti-war crowd:

"I'm not educated enough to speak about it (the war), and I don't think any of these other motherf**kers are, either.

"I'm pretty sure Janeane Garofalo's and that chick from the Dixie Chicks' educations don't stretch that far.

"Look up Condi Rice or George Bush's education, where they went to school. They've been doing this shit their whole f**king lives, while we've been out dicking around with guitars, entertaining people.

"F**kers in Hollywood who want to use the camera to be like, 'Guess who I'm f**king now?' and 'Oh, stop the war!' - all that shit just makes me sick."
An entertainer who doesn't think he's an expert on politics, economy or the environment - now that's refreshing.


Iraqis discuss their constitution 

A very important event is taking place in Amman without much fanfare and publicity. So far only the newswire agency UPI has reported on it, and only the "Washington Times" and "World Peace Herald" have picked up the story.

What's all the non-fuss is about? Top Iraqi politicians are gathered in the Jordanian capital right now together with foreign experts to try to iron out the general shape of the new Iraqi constitution:
"Whether or not to include 'sharia,' or religious law, in the constitution is expected to be a part of the discussion, said Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, an adviser to Ibrahim Jafaari, an interim vice president and a moderate Shiite Muslim now considered to be the top candidate for the post of prime minister.

"Jafaari is No. 2 on the United Iraqi Alliance list of politicians which took an estimated 47 percent of the vote in a Jan. 30 election to seat a new 275-member assembly. The constitutional conference was largely kept under wraps because of security concerns, but it includes foreign constitutional and legal experts, al-Kadhimi said.

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

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

"Sunni Muslims who boycotted the election but now want to join in writing the constitution should be invited to help, Jafaari said.

"In fact, Jafaari's message of inclusiveness and reconciliation is similar to that of other top prime minister candidates, from Adel Abdul Mehdi, a key member of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, currently interim finance minister and No. 6 on the Alliance list to and Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite Muslim who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years and is No. 5 on the list.

"When explaining the role religion should play in the new constitution, Mehdi uses the example of a religious doctor whose beliefs have nothing to do with his job other than making sure he does it well. Mehdi was said to have withdrawn from furious negotiations surrounding the post Tuesday after receiving major concessions from other politicians."
The Constitutional Convention it might not quite be, but it certainly sounds promising. Pity that the media doesn't seem to be paying much attention.

My best wishes for Iraq's Alexander Hamiltons, Benjamin Franklins and James Madisons.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

What to make of the Red-Green alliance 

(Updated, see below) An interesting discussion is currently underway about the growing alliance of the far left and Islamofascism. Writes Nelson Ascher at Europundits:
"[The] Western left, not only in Europe, but in Latin America and even in the US itself, has a clear goal: the destruction of the country and society that vanquished its dreams fifteen years ago. But it does not have, as in the old days of the Soviet Union, the hard power to accomplish this by itself. Thanks to this, all our leftist friends' bets are now on radical Islam. What can they do to help it? Answer: tie down America's superior strength with a million Liliputian ropes: legal ones, political ones, with propaganda and disinformation etc. Anything and everything will do."
And Wretchard at Belmont Club comments:
"Islam is 1000 years older than the Left; its population burgeoning while the Left is aborting itself into demographic extinction. More fundamentally, any honest Leftist must realize that his movement and its aspirations are rooted in the very West it seeks to destroy. Communist totalitarianism is the doppelganger of secular freedom; and the serpent in the garden must know that the desert, so hospitable to Islam, can only be a place of death for it. The Left may have embarked upon a journey of revenge. They will find suicide."
I remain skeptical. Clearly, no commentator out there thinks that some among the Western left find Islamism an attractive political partner because they hate their own society so much they would rather see it replaced by a Muslim theocracy (although Ascher comes very close to suggesting that since the revenge against the triumphant West is now the moving force behind the left, it doesn't really care what comes after, as long as it can destroy the enemy). But I think that "Islamofascism as a battering ram" theory espoused above, while not as far-fetched as "Socialists for sharia", also misses the mark. I don't believe that the far left are the ultimate realists who would support the Islamist assault on their own societies in order to weaken the domestic political, economic and social structures to a sufficient degree so as to allow a painless takeover by the left to complete the revolution.

Islamofascism is irrelevant to the left's designs because the left doesn't believe that Islamofascism matters per se. It is not a problem, but a symptom of a problem. The problem is the West, and when it gets fixed, the symptoms will vanish, too. For the left, Islamism is an understandable reaction to Western (or more specifically, American) policies and actions: the support for Israel, the thirst for oil, support for Muslim autocrats, economic exploitation, cultural imperialism, militarism and interventionist foreign policy, unilateralism and political hegemony. Eliminate all of these and reduce the United States to a status of an appendage of the United Nations, a sort of an American Union, and Islamism will disappear, too. Because there is such a huge overlap between the grievances of the left and grievances of Islamofascists, and because the critique of the Western society is so often indistinguishable between Berkeley and Beirut, for the left, therefore, Islamofascism is not a weapon or a tool as much as a propaganda exhibit and a debating point.

All this may sound like semantics, but I believe therein lies the major difference between the Cold War and today: in the past, the left supported international communism and liberation movements because they were its ideological keen and the left was hoping for the worldwide victory of its idea. Nowadays, the left supports Islamism (to the extent it can be said to "support" Islamism) not because it hopes for Islamism's triumph but, quite the contrary, because it expects Islamism's eventual demise.

Update: Thanks for the great discussion. One more very obvious point: this is precisely the reason why the left doesn't have a plan for fighting the war on terror - because, after all, why would you want to fight the symptoms when you can fight the cause? And this is also why the left's plan for the Middle East consists almost solely of the Palestinian statehood, at best in addition to, at worst to the exclusion of the Jewish state. How many other left-wing policies for the region can you name?


The case for reading beyond the headline 

Are you as sick as I am of this sort of reporting?

The title: "Australia concedes ex-Guantanamo detainee was tortured in Egypt"

The first para: "The Australian government has conceded allegations by former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mamdouh Habib that he was tortured in Egypt may be true." [my emphasis]

And what Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer actually said: "For all I know he may have been badly treated in Egypt but we don't know because the Egyptians have still not conceded to us that they held him."

More on Mamdouh Habib and his torture odyssey at
Tim Blair's.


Iraq - what's next? 

If you are confused about what the recently announced results of the Iraqi election mean, and what's in store in the short to medium term future (and many in the media seem to be, too), do yourself a favor and read James Robbins's latest piece in National Review Online. A few key points to keep in mind:

"The fact that the United Iraqi Alliance did not win an outright majority is good news. They will have to make a coalition with one or more of the smaller parties in order to form a government. A two-thirds majority (184) is required to elect a prime minister and president, so that means attracting over fifty votes, assuming the 16 parties that make up the Shia list stick together."
Since Iyad Allawi's list is expected to win only around 38 seats, this means the Sistani-backed Alliance can effectively only pair up with the Kurds to do business, and the Kurds represent the most moderate and pro-Western element of the Iraqi mix. It is, of course, possible to cobble up a coalition involving the Alliance, Allawi's people plus extra votes from among the mini parties which have won a few seats each, but that might prove to be too difficult an exercise to accomplish in the first place, not to mention to keep alive for a year.

"The groups receiving the largest numbers of votes are not technically parties but assemblages of parties, some of which are larger and more influential than others. Each party coalition will now have to decide how many seats go to each of their constituent members. Some of the smaller parties are likely to receive only token seats, the majority going to the dominant partners. It will be difficult for those who are shut out this way to make much of a case since there is no certain method of determining how much each party's supporters contributed to the coalition's total. This will lead to intense bargaining among the various groups for the limited numbers of seats. It will be interesting to see if the coalitions maintain their cohesion when the assembly convenes. There are no rules that will force the parties to cooperate while governing, and variations on the blocs may emerge as issues are debated, particularly the new constitution."
The lists elected to the National Assembly are loose coalitions hastily put together in the months leading up to the election; they are light years away from being political monoliths like the established American political parties. Hence the lists, including Sistani's Alliance, are likely to fracture over time. A similar process has taken place in Poland in the aftermath of democratization. The umbrella group of "Solidarity" might have won the first democratic election, but a few years later the post-communists were back into power as "Solidarity" dissolved into myriad of big and small political parties. This process of evolution and reconfiguration continues to this day, more than 15 years later.

There are both good and bad aspects to it, and I'll be the first to make a "brave" predictions that whatever happens over the next twelve months, it will be another case of heads-I-win-tails-you-loose for the (mostly) left-wing critics of the war: if the main Shia block doesn't fracture, we'll be hearing complaints about the authoritarian and oppressive Shia dominance; if the lists do fracture, we'll be hearing about the political chaos and instability.

And perhaps most importantly:

"Drafting the permanent constitution is the principal, though not only, mission for the transitional national assembly... A referendum will then be held no later than October 15. The referendum is one of the key checks on the process of formulating the new basic law. It must be approved by a majority vote, and must not be rejected by two-thirds of the voters in three or more provinces. This gives Kurds and Sunnis a practical check on the will of the majority; they can defeat a constitution they disapprove of by marshalling local opposition and forcing a rewrite. This should deter more radical members of the UIA [United Iraqi Alliance] from suggesting a sharia-based constitution, which probably would not receive support from the majority of the Iraqi population anyway."
Similar considerations apply to another recent media and commentariat (shared by much of the Arab media) panic about Iraq becoming another Iran. But that deserves a post of its own.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Good news from Iraq, Part 21 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health, there is good news from
southern Iraq:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The troops are also involved in building the
security infrastructure:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

border security personnel are also receiving training:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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