Saturday, April 02, 2005

Liberal columnist meets American soldier 

"Which is the real Iraq? The one described by soldiers who say the picture is brighter than the public is being led to believe? Or is it the wasteland of war growing ever more dim?"
This dilemma calls for an anthropological experiment: a liberal columnist tries to get inside the head of a strange, alien creature - the American soldier:
"Army Spc. Paul Schlicher of Fort Lewis says the Iraq he has come to know isn't the same place most Americans keep hearing about.

"I crawled inside his brain to see the situation as he sees it.

"The landscape of brown is what hits a soldier first. The Middle East is surreal, like something out of a fantasy book, a blanket of sand unfurling forever. A thought flashes over and over. What is it that Dorothy said about Oz? We're not in Kansas anymore?

"The Iraqi people leave an impression. Some are good people. Some are less so. Many Iraqis are poor and do not have running water or electricity. They bear the scars, psychological and physical, from the rule of Saddam Hussein. The despot is gone, and the people are so relieved.

"Spates of violence, from random gunfire to suicide bombs to assassinations, still keep Iraqis on edge. But here is the amazing thing: The joy of the people goes on. Their resilience inspires. They may not have much materially and they may have seen horrible things, yet they remain happy, deriving pleasure from their families, their newfound freedom and life itself.

"They are grateful for the presence of U.S. soldiers who are planting seeds of democracy in challenging terrain. Their gratitude makes a soldier's job worth it."
So far so good. Let's just add that this is not the insides of just Army Spc. Paul Schlicher's brain. These sorts of experiences seem to be shared by the overwhelming majority of American servicemen and women coming back from Iraq.

The liberal columnist is even willing to grant the soldier sincerity: "It is clear he sincerely believes everything that comes from his mouth."

But then the doubt sets in:
"I weigh his views -- about Iraq, about the military, about how the media look at the war. I weigh it all against a United Nations report that just came across my desk. The report says malnutrition rates in children under 5 in Iraq have doubled since the U.S.-led intervention. When Saddam was overthrown, about 4 percent of Iraqi kids were going hungry, the report says. That figure is now at 8 percent.

"So, which is the real Iraq? The country described in bleak terms by the United Nations? Or the land of optimism that inhabits soldier Schlicher's mind?

"I'm leaning toward the sobering report over the upbeat point of view as seen through one soldier's eyes."

No answer. End of the column.

Because the negative view always sounds more believable? Because 140,000 American soldiers on the ground in Iraq are too close to the action, too caught up in it all to offer a sober, objective assessment, while the United Nations with hardly any personnel inside Iraq can take a broader, less biased view? Because the "international community" has no agendas, while soldier do? Because the United Nations, which embodies the collective view and wisdom of the whole humanity is naturally more credible than mere individuals?

I don't know. Perhaps I should crawl inside the liberal columnist's brain to see the situation as he sees it. But, call me a chicken-hawk, I'm too scared.


Neoconservatism vs Neopan-Arabism 

Turi Munthe in Lebanon's "Daily Star":
"Palestinians and Iraqis are suffering because the rest of the Arab world feels it owns them and their causes. This misguided sense of ownership emerges from pan-Arabism, which echoes the far older idea of a pan-Islamic umma, or community...

"But if pan-Arabism is based on the idea of a rightful and legitimate union of the Arab world, the idea took on a negative political impetus since it defined itself as against the West (even if the West's behavior has often been a uniting force among the Arabs). Pan-Arabism's 'light unto the nations' principles have been entirely replaced by anti-Westernism, which, justified or not, has had very damaging consequences for the Middle East as a whole.

"This neopan-Arabism today is a hypocritical religion since it implicitly contends that the Arab world is incapable of sorting out its own problems. There is no distinguishing between West-blamers or West-haters in the Arab world, who would have America take sole responsibility for the ills of the region, and those many Westerners who consider the West somehow superior to the Arabs. Both sides are implicitly neocolonialist."
I recall the old saying that the Arabs are prepared to fight the Israelis to the last Palestinian. As another old saying goes, when you point a finger at someone, the other four fingers are pointing at you. We still have a long way to go, but at last there are encouraging signs of change throughout the Middle East. Slowly, the region is discovering that blame-games are merely a substitute for a solution.


Saturday reading 

Tim Blair discovers a perfect place to take care of your troubled child.

911 Families for America's Tim Sumner gives the complete low-down on the "911 flag for sale" controversy - at Mudville Gazette.

Hindrocket at Powerline notes that the "Washington Post" is ducking responsibility.

Dean Esmay has a contest about Che.

Roger Simon continues to pursue the Oil for Food investigation.

Professor R J Rummel, whose work (on "death by government" in the 20th century) so many of us admire, not only has a new blog, but is also launching a freedomist revolution.

With Terri Schiavo now dead, it's still good time to get your facts straight about the case with John Hawkins' Q&A.

John Rosenthal blogs about France, Darfur and the International Criminal Court. John is also shocked at the American cave-in.

Fausta at Bad Hair Blog catches up with an unusual group of college students - those who care about human rights in Cuba.

Sophistpundit wants to start a Carnival of Revolutions - but he needs your help.

Iraqi Expat argues that the problem is not Islam - we should have more discussions like that.

Decision '08 has the exclusive on a new Democrat call for bi-partisanship.

The Fourth Annual War Poetry contest - with some attractive cash prizes - check it out.

Pundit Guy detects more subtle media bias - this time in the choice of the photos of Terri Schiavo - I noticed that too, but their use almost seems counter-intuitive.

Random Probabilities has an interesting insider account from Iraq by a guest milblogger (hat tip: Word Unheard, who also presents a new feature: The Fisker's Whiskers).

New York nuked by the Iranians - the controversial TV ad at Regime Change Iran.

Astute Blogger wonders who the next Pope might be.

Security Watchtower looks at some of the media spin surrounding the UN report about increasing child malnutrition in Iraq.

No Speed Bumps visualizes world peace - but only in a world without tyrants.

Quillnews argues that some otherwise cool head are putting America's energy future in danger.

At the VN/VO, a contrarian view: the revolution will not be blogged.

Kafirnifornia writes: "How can a Republican lose my vote, and lose it quickly? Bash immigrants."

On a new blog, An Ego Driven Life, Michael Schaefer asks, who will stand between sociopaths and our children?


Friday, April 01, 2005

Every day is a scream 

Via James Taranto's Best of the Web (the original link, alas, requires registration), the news of another great performance by the DNC Chairman Howard Dean at a party fund-raiser:

"Dean, a former Vermont governor and former Democratic presidential candidate, called Santorum, a Republican who is up for reelection in Pennsylvania in 2006, a 'liar' and 'right-winger' who actually lives in Virginia.

'He doesn't tell the truth,' Dean told a gathering of about 150 at Bluezette on Market Street...

"Dean joked that Santorum should 'stay in Virginia,' although he added that the senator was 'too much of a right-winger for Virginia. How about Venezuela?'"
Venezuela is actually a bit like Vermont of South America. Seeing that the country is ruled by the arch-lefty America-basher and Castro-lover Hugo Chavez, how about some foreign policy briefings for the man who wanted to be the President?

In an unrelated headline, also quoted today by James Taranto:
"Vermont considers doctor-assisted suicide".

Of the Democratic Party?

Dean, by the way, is
heading down to Australia. Thanks a lot, guys.


Russia watching 

Following up on my post from a few days ago where I wrote:

"As the Soviet Union was an amalgam of numerous republics centered around the core of Russia, so Russia itself is in reality an amalgam of dozens of autonomous republics, regions and ethnic enclaves centered around the core of the old medieval kingdom of Muscovy, the Russia proper.

"What Putin fears - and on that he's probably right - is that the advent of true democracy in Russia itself will mean the territorial disintegration of the state, as everyone from the autonomous Tartar region to Siberia will, for various historical, ethnic, religious, political and economic reasons, seek their own future, free from Kremlin's shackles."
Ukraine's "Kyiv Post" now editorializes:

"It must be unsettling, looking out at the world from the Kremlin. The pleasing view, to which you've so long been accustomed, keeps shifting. Just 18 months ago, the ancient verities still held, with Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan still in the Russian fold, all of them members of a community of nations whose actions were to a large extent dictated by Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been known to wear his nostalgia for a Russian - indeed, for a Soviet - empire on his sleeve, could go to sleep each night lulled by a sense of the rightness of the order of things...

"What we're seeing with these serial revolts is the actual, as opposed to the formal, disintegration of the Soviet Union. It was one thing for the empire to fall apart on paper in 1991. It was another for the former Soviet peoples to reach a spot where they could conceive of a life free of the trappings of Soviet authority: the presence of old-style bosses like Askayev (and Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovych), the rule by stultifying bureaucracy, the endless cynicism, the wretched leftover Soviet rhetoric, the dreary sense of the inevitability of continued USSR-style misrule. It took 13 and 14 years for people to get to the point where they were willing to bury the communist corpse for good."
(for another macro-perspective see this piece by the American Enterprise Institue's Russia expert Leon Aron) Elsewhere, the "Kyiv Post" thinks that Belarus might be the next democratic domino, which will not make Vladimir Putin happy, as he witnesses the evaporation of Russia's "sphere of influence". But, of course, as I pointed out earlier, what's truly at stake is not Russia's informal empire but the very survival of Russia itself.

Territorial disintegration, however, is not the only danger faced by Russia - it's also depopulation of the country. Recently, Mikhail Zurabov, Russia's Health and Social Development Minister raised the alarm about
the country's shrinking workforce, and the social and economic impact this will have:

"After growing for four years, the share of the country's population that is of working age will start to fall away in 2009, Zurabov said at a news conference. But he warned that the flow of workers from former Soviet republics, which has so far helped to mask the country's acute labor shortage, may thin, too...

"Hundreds of thousands of workers from countries such Moldova, Ukraine and Tajikistan are employed in manual jobs in the construction and trade industries in Russia, doing work that Russians snub due to low pay. 'However, as the economic situation stabilizes in these countries, it is becoming difficult for Russia to compete with what these countries pay their own citizens,' Zurabov said."
Just how bad is the situation? Vladimir Yakovlev, the Minister for Regional Development explains:

"In its December 2004 estimated figures, the State Statistics Service put Russia's total working-age population at 79 million out of a total population of 144 million. Out of 20 million Russian men able to work, about 1 million men are currently serving prison sentences, while another 4 million men are serving in the armed forces and the police, rescue and secret services, Yakovlev said. Another 4 million men are chronic alcoholics, while 1 million men are drug addicts, he said."

In the Minister's words: "In a country with a population of 144 million people, soon there will be no one left to work."

Can't get enough of demographics? (it's a fascinating subject that only a few commentators are currently coming to grips with) Have a look at Nicholas Eberstadt's extensive article
"Russia, the Sick Man of Europe", which covers the collapse of Russia's fertility rates, the alarming increase in mortality rate, and the consequent decline of both the life expectancy as well as the population in absolute terms (on a related topic, see Eberstadt's paper where he tries to answer the question, "Does Demography Favor American 'Unipolarity'?").

Hence, Putin is not only fearing territorial disintegration of Russia, but also facing a demographic disintegration. No wonder the situation is so tense.

(Big Cat Chronicles has similar thoughts on
the break-up of Russia, and also has some thoughts on the return of the convergence of the church and the state in Russia. And as always, hat tips to Dan Foty).


Thursday, March 31, 2005

The first blogiversary 


It has been one year since Chrenkoff declared the beginning of major combat operations while addressing a small group of close friends onboard the aircraft carrier Australia.

It's hard to believe that I wrote this
a year ago, 31 March 2004, at 11.37 AM to be more exact:
"Welcome to the Chrenkoff Blog. After years of inflicting my opinions on long-suffering family and friends, first face to face, and then increasingly via email, I decided it was time enough to join the revolution. So stay tuned for unashamedly biased opinion, commentary, late-night musings - pure unadulterated 100% 'Chrenkin' off' about politics, international relations, culture and whatever else takes my fancy - always from the Right side."
Little did I know - or hope - where it will all lead.

It has been a great ride - nah, a fantastic ride for these past twelve months for this Polish-Australian nobody, far beyond what I could have foreseen or hoped for. 1,734,900 visits to my blog so far, and average of about 7,500 visits daily, countless links and appearances on other blogrolls, cracking the Ecosystem's Top 50, a few radio interviews, "Good news from Iraq" and "Good news from Afghanistan" series becoming a regular fixture and crossing over into the mainstream media thanks to
James Taranto at the "Opinion Journal", 385,000 mentions of "Chrenkoff" on Google, as opposed to just a two or three dozen BB (Before Blog).

But by far the greatest thrill of it all has been the chance to (virtually*) meet so many great people, bloggers and readers alike. Internet is a true miracle in motion, and I'm so glad that Al Gore had invented it, as without it we are unlikely to have ever met. You're all my very extended family spanning all continents and all time zones around the world.

(*I did manage so far meet
Tim Blair and a large contingent of Brisbane bloggers in person)

Thank you, thank you, thank you

There are so many people to thank that I shouldn't even try to name them individually, as for every one I might mention there will be at least a dozen who also should be. So please accept my collective thank you for your support, comments, suggestions, stories, ideas, links, publicity, Paypal donations and general blogospheric kindness.

But specifically, thanks to Mrs Chrenkoff for patiently tolerating her husband's strange obsession.

Two Australian blogs were the first ones to put me on their blogroll:
Niner Charlie and Slattsnews. Powerline was the first "big league" blog to do me the honor (thanks heaps, Deacon, Big Trunk and Hindrocket!).

Believe it or not,
Andrew Sullivan was the first major blogger to link to me, twice creating huge spikes in my otherwise very flat traffic in my first two months in the 'sphere. Tim Blair and Glenn Reynolds weren't too far behind. Joe Katzman, of course, invited me to the Winds of Change family to cross-post my good news segments. "Thank you" or "Dziekuje", just to confuse you.

Other big thanks for support go to James Taranto at
Best of the Web, Matthew from Blackfive, Dean Esmay, Omar and Mohammed from Iraq the Model and Ali from Free Iraqi, Mr & Mrs Greyhawk from Mudville Gazette, Michelle Malkin, Roger Simon, Steve Green at Vodka Pundit, Charles at Little Green Footballs, Bill at INDC Journal, and Kathryn at the Corner.

I really should just republish my blogroll, shouldn't it? Just a few more long-standing supporters: Joe Gandelman at the
Moderate Voice, Bill Roggio at the Fourth Rail, Bill at Pundit Guy, Chester at the Adventures of Chester, John Hawkins at Right Wing News, Fausta at the Bad Hair Blog, Franco Aleman at Barcepundit, Francois at Un Swissroll, Clayton Cramer, Peter Schramm at No Left Turns, Lorie at Polipundit, the crew at Silent Running, and everyone at Homespun Bloggers.

And outside the blogosphere strictly speaking:
Andrew Bolt, Jeff Jacoby, Mark Steyn, John and Tom at Real Clear Politics, Michael Ladeen, Jim Robbins, Radek Sikorski, Victor Davis Hanson, Sophie Masson, Margaret at Metrolingua, the frequent guest blogger and links forwarder Dan Foty, email correspondent Mike M., Major Tammes at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, our special correspondent and tireless translator Haider Ajina, and friends at CENTCOM, various embassies and ministerial offices, who have to remain nameless.

Then there are the comments regulars who make the discussions so interesting and chase away all the moonbats: Dan,
Ninme, Bruce Chang, Brian H, Kate Shaw, Egbert Souse, zeppenwolf, PacRim Jim and many, many others.

God, it feels like the Academy Awards.

Want to contribute to Chrenkoff?

As you know, I'm always keen to publish material from guest bloggers. So, if you are in the military, foreign service, business, politics or anywhere for that matter, and have an interesting story to share with the world (or that small section of the world that reads this blog), I'm more than happy to provide you with a forum. Confidentiality assured, and only three small conditions: no classified material, no defaming people, and keep it civilized. Otherwise - you too can become a Chrenkoff correspondent.

Also, as per a long-standing policy: there are so many of you out there, and I love you all, but blogging is not my full-time occupation and it's simply impossible to visit even a fraction of you regularly - so, instead, I rely on you to drop me an email and let me know when you've posted something particularly worthwhile, interesting, insightful, original or humorous (in fact many of you are already doing just that). In many case I'll link - so don't be shy!

What's in store?

Hopefully a lot. Not the least perhaps, a long-overdue move to a more professional platform and a more professional look. The timing, however, will depend on several other elements in my life sorting themselves out in the near future.

In the meantime, stay tuned for a lot more chrenkin' off.


Another poll from Iraq 

Once again, thanks to our special correspondent and translator Haider Ajina, this one was conducted by the school of political science at the Najaf University, polling 790 people between the ages 18-65 of both sexes and of different educational and socioeconomic backgrounds (and published in yesterday's edition of "Almendhar"):

"62% of those polled said they wanted Islam to be one of the sources of the constitution.

"38% wanted Islam to be the only source for the Iraqi constitution.

"49% support a federal government.

"50% support allowing those who boycotted the election to have input in writing the constitution.

"63% support the multi national forces staying in Iraq for the current time.

"85% expect the new transitional government to succeed in its goals.

"78% expect the new national assembly to successfully write a constitution by the dead line.

"1% said they expect civil war to break out."
As Haider reminds us, Najaf is the most religiously conservative city in Iraq, the home of Ayatollah Sistani and the Shia establishment. It's encouraging that even here, then, the popular opinion is a lot more moderate than all the talk about the "coming theocracy" would suggest.


The culture of death - in Florida and in Hollywood 

With the news that Pope John Paul II is now being fed through a tube in his nose, how long will we have to wait until some idiot calls for (more or less seriously) that tube, too, to be disconnected and the Pontiff allowed to finally die? More thoughtful commentators will no doubt find parallels between the current condition of John Paul II, who made the fight against the "culture of death" one of the missions of his papacy, and that of Terri Schiavo, who in the Pontiff's worldview is becoming one of the victims - or martyrs, some would say - of that culture.

In another Pope-related news, AFP reports that "new documents found in the files of the former East German intelligence services confirm the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II was
ordered by the Soviet KGB and assigned to Bulgarian agents," according to Italian daily "Corriere della Serra".

A few months ago I
wrote that "if I could find out the answer to just one historical mystery of the twentieth century, I would love to know if Agca was a mentally unstable lone gunmen, or whether there was a conspiracy involving the Bulgarian, and perhaps even the Soviet secret service."

Many observers over the years have expressed doubts about the involvement of communist intelligence agencies in the assassination attempt. Some, undoubtedly, because as with everything else they were always prepared to give every benefit of the doubt to the enemy while denying it to their own countries; others, those with less illusions about the Soviet Empire, were nevertheless skeptical that KGB and its Eastern Bloc surrogates would go for such an incredibly high-risk operation.

Soon, we might finally be another step closer to the answer.

Kind of on the topic, don't miss
Bridget Johnson's piece in today's "Opinion Journal" on the Hollywood's continuing infatuation with communism (two more Che movies in the pipeline, following on "The Motorcycle Diaries"):

"Annoying as the Che adulation is, a recent comment by a 14-year-old on an online movie message board was truly disturbing: 'I just saw The Motorcycle Diaries, which further made me question: Why is communism bad?... Young people are told how bad communism is, but we are not told why... The Motorcycle Diaries showed me how Ernesto Guevara wanted to help people... But this did not explain why he was such a "bad" person and apparently deserved to be murdered by the U.S'."
No wonder our younger generation simply doesn't have a clue. Where are the movies about the tens of millions of victims of politics practised by Che? "It seems in all of these dark films there would be no room for heroes, but there are more than could fill the Kodak Theatre and its exclusive stage," writes Ms Johnson. "The boat people who have courted death to flee from Cuba and Vietnam, Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement, Vaclav Havel and his cohorts in the Velvet Revolution, the Hungarian resistance fighters who valiantly tried to keep the Soviets at bay in 1956, those who tried to find any way across the Berlin Wall, a lone man who blocked a column of advancing tanks in Tiananmen Square during 1989's democracy protests."

Hollywood to America: that just soooooo boring and it's like, you know, soooooo last millennium.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Joining the weasels? 

There's some consternation about a foreign policy survey released in Australia early this week. "Australians say U.S. policies as threatening as Islamic fundamentalism," thunders "USA Today". "A majority of Australians ranked the United States near the bottom of their list of favored allied." (hat tip: Jeffery A Norris)

While the survey's results are somewhat ambiguous, it's important to put them in some perspective.

1) The Lowy Institute for International Policy is a left-wing think-tank, which goes unnoted in press reports (one gets the impression that if a similar study was conducted by one of Australia's right-wing think-tanks like the Centre for Independent Studies or the Institute of Public Affairs, the media would certainly alert us to the political inclinations of the study's creators). Now, whether the Lowy Institute is or isn't left-wing ideally shouldn't matter in this context...

2) ...except, as Greg Sheridan, the foreign affairs editor at the "Australian" comments, "public opinion is a wonderfully plastic commodity. In the hands of academic interpreters it can be bent and shaped to prove almost anything. The Lowy Institute poll on Australians' attitudes to international issues shows how the narrow sets of views held by foreign policy academics in Australia will inevitably replicate themselves in answers to questions designed by such folk. In other words, this poll tells us little about public opinion but a great deal about think-tank opinion."

Here's some examples that Sheridan quotes for the Institute's "you get out what you put in" approach to the survey:
"On international law, respondents were asked to choose between these alternatives: 'Australia should rely on international law even though decisions may go against us OR Australia should do whatever benefits us the most in any given situation regardless of what international law says.'

"Not surprisingly, the first alternative gets the majority vote. But what would the answer be to a question phrased: If a group of officials from non-democratic countries with appalling human rights records operating in a UN committee directed Australia to do something the majority of its people thought was wrong, should Australia follow international law even though it involves doing wrong or should it do what it believes is right? ...

"The pollsters' question on Taiwan is even more loaded. Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the proposition: 'Australia should act in accordance with our security alliance with the US even if it means following them to war with China over the independence of Taiwan.'

"Not surprisingly, a majority would not sign a blank cheque for a hypothetical war. A more realistic question would have been: Do you think China is justified in mounting a military invasion of Taiwan, even if it causes tens of thousands dead, in order to reunify it with mainland China?"
3) other questions are not as blatantly skewed, but even then it pays to be careful (you can download the 26-page study in PDF from the Institute's website), if only because polling on foreign policy tends to produce rather schizophrenic results.

Take for instance the "fact" that the United States is towards the bottom of the list of countries Australians have positive feelings about. Forgetting that "towards the bottom" still gives you 58% of Australians with positive feelings towards America, if you select a list of 15 countries and regions, majority of which enjoy very cordial and long-standing - not to mention relatively uncontroversial - relations and historic ties with Australia (such as New Zealand, the UK, or Singapore) and include only a handful of problematic entries (such as Iran and Iraq), you are quite likely in the current heated political climate to end up with the United States towards the bottom of the list.

And while 68% think that Australia takes too much notice of the views of the US in making its foreign policy, 72% think that the US-Australian alliance in either very of fairly important for Australia's security (curiously, even 53% of those with negative attitude towards the US agree).

The survey also - sadly - reflects some highly romanticized views of the United Nations. 65% of Australians have positive feelings about the UN, and 33% think that Australia takes too little into account of the UN's views when conducting its foreign policy. Yet when asked about Australia's right to use armed forces outside its territory, 84% agreed it should be done "to prevent genocide and gross abuse of human rights on the scale of Rwanda, Kosovo or Sudan" - disregarding the fact that in the first two instances the UN did nothing and in the third it is doing nothing - thus creating a major moral quandary for the pro-UN, anti-genocide majority. In defense of Australia, I should note that opinion polls in the US also show substantial, almost religious, faith in and support for the United Nations (see for example here and here).

In the end, there's a lot about those sorts of surveys that's quite meaningless. Of course people prefer peace to war, would rather have international consensus than unilateralism, and think we should do more to improve the environment or eliminate poverty. But when it comes to the crunch, reality tends to be the enemy of the abstract.

As Poles say, situation is critical but not serious.


Tolerating anti-Semitism, but not Jewishness 

What's wrong with some Jewish pride, even if you're not a Jew?

One would have thought not much, except now it seems if you live in the "enlightened" and "tolerant" Europe.

When I was younger and used to follow European soccer leagues, Ajax Amsterdam was one of my favorite teams. For some unknown reason, this team has over the past few decades become associated with Jews, even though its management, players and supporter base don't seem to have any higher proportion of Dutch Jews among them than any other Dutch team. Over time, both the team and its supporters have actually taken with pride to the whole thing, adopting both the name as well as the Jewish regalia (Star of David, the Israeli flag) as part of the club's color.

As the
"New York Times" writes, "for years, the team's management supported that unique identity. But over time what seemed to many people like a harmless - if peculiar - custom has taken on a more sinister tone. Fans of Ajax's biggest rivals began giving the Nazis' signature straight-arm salute or chanting 'Hamas, Hamas!' to provoke Ajax supporters. Ajax games have been marred by shouts of 'Jews to the gas!' or simply hissing to simulate the sound of gas escaping."

Here's what happened next:

"[The club's president] Mr. Jaakke said the trend had bothered the club's management for the past 10 years, and many Jewish supporters have complained that it makes them uncomfortable. Finally, last year, during a period of national debate about the language being used in soccer stadiums, the board decided to take the opportunity to address the issue. One of the main catalysts for that debate was not anti-Semitic chants, but chants calling the well-known girlfriend of an Ajax player a prostitute.

"Mr. Jaakke called a meeting with representatives of the club's two main supporters' associations last year to communicate the management's concerns. Mr. Coronel, the son of Holocaust survivors, spoke to them about how hurtful the language was to Jews. Finally, in his New Year's speech, Mr. Jaakke expressed the management's desire that fans drop their pretended Jewish identity.

" 'Not only Jews are bothered by this,' said Mr. Jaakke, 'I'm not Jewish and I hate it, too.'

"The club has asked an independent committee, headed by the Dutch foreign minister, to discuss the issue and try to come up with a strategy for ending the practice. Mr. Jaakke said there had been some suggestion that fans substitute the word 'Goden,' or gods, for 'Joden,' or Jews, and call themselves 'sons of gods,' on the logic that Ajax was a sort of god.

"Mr. Jaakke conceded that forcing the fans to change their behavior was a daunting task. 'It's difficult for the supporters because it has become part of their identity,' he said. 'Many people are walking around with Jewish stars tattooed on their bodies and they're not Jewish at all'."
While I'm glad that Mr Jaakke is disturbed by anti-Semitism even though he's not Jewish himself (European tolerance is a truly great thing), but I'm far less happy - though not really surprised - that

1) the management seemed to think that calls for gassing Jews was a tolerable level of abuse, but calling somebody a whore was really going too far;

2) when "the club has asked an independent committee, headed by the Dutch foreign minister, to discuss the issue and try to come up with a strategy for ending the practice", the practice they meant was not anti-Semitism but Jewishness; and

3) the club's ultimate solution to the problem is to surrender to thugs and hooligans and abandon an important part of its identity. After all, it's an easy way out for Ajax to jettison Jewishness, since it was not Jewish to begin with - but where does that leave the real European Jews?

(hat tip:
Dr. Judith Apter Klinghoffer)

Update: Compare and contrast with America. Just as there are some Dutch Jews who think that linking Jewishness with a football club cheapens the former, so there some activists in the United States who protest the association of sporting teams with American Indian imagery (think Redskins, Braves, etc.) as demeaning to Native Americans. Here the parallel ends. Missing are sporting fans from opposing teams chanting "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" and "It's time for Wounded Knee again."

Update II: Pieter at Peaktalk has written a long piece about it all almost two years ago - worth checking out by way of background.


Guest blogger: Eastern Europe is worth your penny 

My yesterday's post about Albania has prompted one of Chrenkoff's regular guest bloggers Dan Foty to give a short history lesson about America's most unusual European ally as well as to argue that each one of us can support the friends of the United States in the region - with our tourist dollars.

I'll admit to some prejudice on this topic, since my grandparents were ethnic Vlach immigrants from southeastern Albania.

There's actually been a long-running reservoir of goodwill among Albanians toward the United States. Modern Albania was resurrected in 1912 out of the ashes of the First Balkan War; this was catalyzed by the 1893 Prizren Declaration, but it was to a large degree a Habsburg project - to prevent Serbia from obtaining a coastal region from which Serbia might become a naval power in the Adriatic. At that time, the Dalmatian coast (which is today's Croatian coast) was part of the Habsburg Empire, and the Habsburg fleet was based there; the Hapsburgs saw the strait between the boot-heel of Italy and the Albanian coast as a choke point that they could not let fall under the control of a potentially hostile power, since that could keep their fleet bottled up in the Adriatic and thus out of the Mediterranean.

During the post-WWI redrawing of the map of eastern Europe, Albania was coveted by basically all of the successor states which were forming around her. It was the personal intervention of Woodrow Wilson which saved Albania as an independent state; otherwise, it might have been added to Yugoslavia - or simply dismembered and the pieces distributed to the adjoining nations (much as befell Poland in the late 18th century). Thus, the existence of Albania itself carries an American stamp, and this hasn't been forgotten.

However, the 20th century was horridly cruel to Albania - and Albania can make a claim to being the most abused place on Earth during most of the 20th century, which is of course quite something to say. Post-WWI Albania was not long independent; during the 1920s, Italy gradually took more and more control of the country until by 1939 Albania had basically been annexed by Italy.

(As an aside, if you've ever wondered what drove a politically-ridiculous entity like "Yugoslavia" together, it was really fear in 1918-19 of Italian designs on the Dalmatian coast - a fear amply confirmed by Italian actions in Albania.)

Things went downhill from there. Eventually, like all of Europe, Albania fell under Nazi occupation. In 1945, Albania was taken over (much like Yugoslavia) by the most successful communist guerilla leaders. Sadly for Albania, these were the worst of the worst of the communists, and Albania was effectively occupied by space aliens for the next 46 years. The communist dictator of Albania was the master Stalin-worshiper Enver Hoxha - a monster who should be consigned to the same lower circle of hell as his mentor. It's little-known that in 1949 Hoxha actually reached an agreement with Tito to add Albania to Yugoslavia as Yugoslavia's seventh republic; this deal fell through at the last minute, as the communists were beginning to fall out with each other.

By 1960, with Stalin gone from the scene and the "Khrushchev thaw" in progress, Hoxha decided that he had had enough of this "revisionism" - he broke with the Soviet Union and became an ally of China. This lasted for 12 years; by 1972, China was talking pleasantly to the United States and showing revisionist symptoms of its own; Hoxha decided that he had to get rid of the Chinese, so he broke that alliance and announced that Albania would go it on its own.

For nearly 20 years, Albania became a North-Korean-like hermit kingdom, completely isolated from the world and continually propagandizing its population that they lived in paradise and were under constant threat from the imperialist west. During that time, the Wall Street Journal published an article on Albania under the sub-heading "Crabby Country." That name was justified, and was amply supported by the laughable shortwave broadcasts that would come out of the country. As a boy back in the 1970s, before we had the Internet and the web and all that, we had shortwave radio as the best method of international communications. I had interest in Albania for obvious family reasons, but Radio Tirana was (on its own) quite a hoot. Despite the poverty of the country, Radio Tirana came in loud and clear - as loud and clear as Radio Moscow, but a lot funnier. The fulminations were legendary; the general one was to rail against "the American imperialists, the Soviet social imperialists, and the Chinese revisionist imperialists." I think my favorite was a blast at "the Soviet social-imperialistic-bureaucratic police state." Wow, try saying THAT three times fast! The broadcasts always ended with a spookily-cheery valediction of "Good-bye, dear listeners" and a tinny recording of the Internationale.

When communism collapsed in eastern Europe, as far as I know it really did "collapse" in Albania. There was no revolution or dramatic event; the communist government simply expired from complete exhaustion, senescence, and the inability to do anything. Albania was a totally wrecked country - starving, impoverished, and beaten into the mud.

If the new Renaissance in eastern Europe has finally reached Albania, we should all cheer heartily. The greatest glory of Albania (and Albanians) has been survival.

I wish I could recommend some targets for a "buy Albanian" campaign, but nothing comes to mind. The most famous Albanian product is "raki," which is a wonderful cognac-like brandy; it is VERY strong (in the same class as vodka) but, when done right, is very smooth. Perhaps one of the New York readers could actually tell us if Albanian raki is available in New York, and if it can be shipped elsewhere.

I haven't been to Albania (yet), but just from proximity it should indeed have tremendous tourism potential. I have been to the Croatian coast, as nearby as Dubrovnik (and will be there again in June on business - there's at least one picture
here), and my short summary would be "spectacular." The coast there is much like the famous regions of southern Italy - mountainous terrain spilling into the sea. If you look at the other end of Albania, you can see that it's very close to Corfu. So my extrapolation is that if you look at Dubrovnik to the north and Corfu to the south, what's in between must be equally spectacular. That coastline isn't a stranger to history - for example, the Albanian port of Durrës takes its name from the older Roman progenitor of Dyrrhachium. The Romans weren't inclined to building Mediterranean port cities in unpleasant places, and I've seen photos of Roman ruins along the Albanian coast. More recently, Club Med has actually opened negotiations to build a resort near the southern end of the Albanian coast, within site (and transport) of Corfu.

The inland mountains are also said to have potential for ski resorts. There is indeed a great deal of tourism potential in Albania, but it will take time to build up the infrastructure. This comment applies in general to eastern Europe, although many places have made great strides in recent years and are certainly quite acceptable to most western visitors.

On that count, I'll just close with a broader piece of experienced advice. I'm in eastern Europe on business several times a year, and can tell you a good story. Many Americans (and other like-minded westerners) would like to visit Europe, but are irked at the idea of engaging in any commerce with the "weasel countries" of western Europe. The general good news is that you can basically find any of the "European" things (things that Americans go to Europe to visit) that you "traditionally" find in western Europe over in eastern Europe - and generally at about a quarter of the price! Medieval charm? You can find that aplenty in Tallinn (one of the best-kept secrets on the planet) and Krakow. Spectacular seacoast? You can skip the French Riviera and head to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Spectacular mountains? The Carpathians aren't quite the Alps, but they are close, particularly in their highest regions; the Tatra mountains on the border of Poland and Slovakia are wonderful and not nearly as "overrun" as the Alps. History? Eastern European history is an order of magnitude more complicated than western European history; for example, last month I was in a corner of Ukraine which, over the past 100 years, has belonged to Austria (Habsburgs), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the USSR, and now Ukraine. Arthur can probably regale us with numerous stories of the glory days when Poland was the largest and most powerful country in Europe. Food and drink? Wonderful and unique cuisine from the Baltic to the Adriatic, and if you want a good drink there are spectacular beers, wines and vodkas all along the way. My personal favorites are Estonian vodka, Polish and Ukrainian beer, Slovakian and Bulgarian wine (the Bulgarian wines are marginal now but wait another 10 - 20 years and they will be excellent), and Croatian raki (pending the arrival of Albanian raki as good as my grandfather used to make).

It's quite a deal. You can have a wonderful "European" experience at low prices while supporting our allies. Right Arthur?


All eyes on Russia 

Interesting times in what used to be the former Soviet empire:

"The shock waves from Kyrgyzstan's lightning revolution are spreading around the former Soviet Union - and into the heart of Russia - leading analysts to wonder which regimes might be next to face the peoples' wrath.

"Recent days have seen a spate of copycat protests launched by opposition groups that were perhaps hoping their own local authorities might fold and flee under pressure, as did Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev when demonstrators stormed his Bishkek complex last week.

"About 1,000 people rallied last Friday in the capital of Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs the last Soviet-style dictatorship in Europe, to demand his resignation. Police quickly dispersed the crowd and dispatched the ringleaders to prison.

"Two Russian ethnic republics, Ingushetia and Bashkortostan, have seen mass street demonstrations this week directed against Kremlin-installed leaders. Even in remote Mongolia, the former USSR's Asian satellite, hundreds of protesters gathered last week to 'congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers' and demand a rerun of last June's disputed parliamentary polls.

"Some experts see a common thread among these upheavals that began 17 months ago when Georgians overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze in a peaceful revolt and continued with Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution' late last year.

" 'Every situation is different, but a single process is unfolding,' says Valentin Bogatyrov, a former Akayev adviser and director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Bishkek. 'Kyrgyzstan is a kind of trigger that will spread this unrest to our neighbors, and beyond. We are witnessing the second breakup of the Soviet Union'."
This is precisely the reason why Vladimir Putin has been so paranoid about the democratic revolution sweeping in and around the Commonwealth of Independent States. Those who think that Putin's aversion to true liberal democracy is a function of his KGB past and of the fear of losing his quasi-autocratic power miss the much more important point.

As the Soviet Union was an amalgam of numerous republics centered around the core of Russia, so Russia itself is in reality an amalgam of dozens of autonomous republics, regions and ethnic enclaves centered around the core of the old medieval kingdom of Muscovy, the Russia proper.

What Putin fears - and on that he's probably right - is that the advent of true democracy in Russia itself will mean the territorial disintegration of the state, as everyone from the autonomous Tartar region to Siberia will, for various historical, ethnic, religious, political and economic reasons, seek their own future, free from Kremlin's shackles.

Thus Putin, a nationalist rather than a nostalgic commie - is not fighting merely for his own political survival (although there is that too, of course) - but much more importantly he's fighting for the very survival of Russia as a state.

The stakes in this game are truly great.

Which will make the official Moscow celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two so fascinating to watch. Leaders of Ukraine, Lithuania and Estonia have already
declined the invitation to participate; Yuschenko ostensibly because he's got his own celebrations to attend to in Kiev, Adamkus and Ruutel arguably because for their countries the end of the war meant the end of independence and incorporation into the Soviet Union rather than liberation. 49 other countries as well as the heads of the UN and the European Commission are still coming, but many under a large cloud, including leaders of countries "liberated" by the Red Army in 1945.

Poles as well as the Balts, for example, are furious at Putin's recent interview in which the Russian president called the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 "the right response" to the "Munich conspiracy" against the Soviet Union by France, Great Britain, Italy and Germany. The Pact, of course, made the Soviets, together with the Nazi Germany, the original aggressors of World War Two, and co-conspirators in the extinguishment of independence of Poland, as well as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

This is going to be a very hot Eurasian summer.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Three cheers for Albania... 

...a better ally than France and Germany.

Cheer I: Fatos "Terrific" Tarifa, Albania's ambassador to the US:
"The announcement several days ago Albania -- a small country with limited resources -- was sending an additional 50 well-trained troops to Iraq came as a surprise to some observers. But it really should not have surprised anyone...

"Albania is probably the most pro-American country on Earth. It showed its support of the United States early, when it initially sent 70 commandos to join the Coalition of the Willing's effort to bring peace, stability and free elections to Iraq. These new troops bring to a total of 120 Albanian soldiers serving in Iraq.

"From a country with only 3.5 million people, the troops -- the flower of Albania's youth -- represent the best Albania has to offer. Why does Albania do this when it could have avoided President Bush's call for support, or when it could have dropped out as others have done when the going got tough? The answer is not difficult to find. If you believe in freedom, you believe in fighting for it. If you believe in fighting for freedom, you believe in America.

"Unlike people in other countries in Europe and elsewhere, the Albanian people have not forgotten what it is like to live under tyranny and repression."
Unlike France and Germany.

Cheer II: Tirana's mayor Edi Rama:
"The mayor's reclamation of Rinia Park four years ago and his subsequent bulldozing of nearly 500 illegal structures on the city-owned banks of the Lana River didn't earn him many friends among the shadowy masters of Albania's enormous underground economy. He's received death threats and was once woken up by the sound of bullets ricocheting off the walls of his home.

"But for most locals, Mr. Rama is something of a superstar. He's not just the country's most popular politician; he's one of the most famous Albanians alive. Eight in 10 of Tirana's residents approve of his aggressive cleanup campaign, for which he earned a 2002 United Nations Poverty Eradication Award.

"Last year he was named World Mayor 2004 by the London-based City Mayors website, after garnering more votes than the mayors of Mexico City, London, and other major cities."
Which is pretty sweet, considering the Mayor of London in the arch-commie "Red" Ken Livingstone.

Cheer III: Albanian men and women - because at 2.37 children born per woman, Albania has the highest fertility rate on the otherwise dying continent of Europe (one of Mark Steyn's pet topics: "By 2050, Estonia's population will have fallen by 52 per cent, Bulgaria's by 36 per cent, Italy's by 22 per cent."). Albania is, by the way, some 70% Muslim, 20% Orthodox and 10% Catholic.

Why can't they make more countries like that?

(multiple hat tips: Dan Foty)


A nice endorsement for Wolfowitz 

...from Indonesia.

Or more precisely
Jusuf Wanandi, co-founder, member, trustee and Senior Fellow of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, in today's "Jakarta Post":

"I met Paul Wolfowitz for the first time when he was head of Policy Planning at the State Department, and then again as Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific in the early 80's. We became close friends when he was ambassador in Jakarta from 1986 to 1989. He remains a friend of Indonesia, although he has not had the opportunity to visit Indonesia many times since he left Indonesia and joined the government. He was one of the best U.S. ambassadors in Indonesia since I have been following U.S. affairs when Marshall Green was ambassador in 1965.

"Not only was he an official representative of the U.S. President, dealing with the Indonesian government and bureaucracy, but he was also actively engaged with Indonesian society. Everything he did was full of enthusiasm. He has shown his empathy for the Indonesian people and its diversity in his dealing with many groups in society. He showed his empathy to the Indonesian people when, at his farewell address, he mentioned the need for flexibility and openness in the Indonesian political system under president Soeharto.

"This has created strong reactions among the elite and the Indonesian government particularly. He was one of the few Western ambassadors who kept a close relationship with Muslim groups and was the first Western ambassador ever to have been invited to give a lecture at Muhammadiyah University in Jakarta. He was delighted to learn about their progressive ideas and interpretation of Islamic teachings...

"Will he be good for Indonesia as the World Bank president? For sure, he is a person that has great empathy towards a developing Muslim country that is trying hard to make democracy work and would like to modernize the country by efforts to alleviate poverty, educate the people and keep them healthy.

"We might argue about his methods to achieve democracy in the Middle East, especially Iraq, but he has the right idea that change has to happen in that region towards modernization, democracy and economic development. With the elections in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, a start has been made, but the outcome is still a question mark. So many things still have to fall in place, and they need luck in the future to secure sustained freedom and democracy, peace and modernization."
Which all clearly makes him an unsuitable candidate for the task of the president of the World Bank, an organization which "provides loans, policy advice, technical assistance and knowledge sharing services to low and middle income countries" - kind of like Indonesia - "to reduce poverty."


The Food for Oil gets oilier 

Roger Simon has a scoop on the Oil for Food investigation. Linked to by everyone now, including yesterday by Drudge, which must have created quite a spike in Roger's traffic - we all have some concept of an Instalanche, but not many bloggers have experienced a Drudgelanche.

And who says that blogs don't break news? I suspect that as the blogosphere develops, we're going to see a lot more of that.

One day the story of the Oil for Food scandal will be made into a book, and if there is any justice in the world, Claudia Rosett will get a Pulitzer for her tireless quest to expose the corruption in high and low places. In fact, who better to write the story than Claudia and Roger, the mystery writer extraordinaire - it has everything: international corruption, oil, dictators, shady businessmen, nepotism; even an elderly aunt conveniently falling down an elevator shaft.


Another one 

Only two days and three months after the first mega-earthquake and tsunami in South Asia, the region trembles again. It was another major one, 8.7 magnitude, and hundreds might be dead, buried under the rubble, but - thank God - it doesn't seem to have been followed up by a repeat big wave.

Pundit Guy has a round-up of everything you need to know about the latest tremors.

Will keep you updated if the situation develops.


Monday, March 28, 2005

The book tag 

What's next? One of those "Chocolate or icecream?" and "What's your favorite color?" 40 Things You Don't Know About Me chain-emails sweeping the blogosphere? (It's chocolate and blue, by the way).

I have been tagged. Michael Totten tagged (among others) Tim Blair, who (among others) tagged Shelly on the Telly, who (among others) tagged Wog Blog, who (among others) tagged me. OK, so here's the questions, and here's the answers.

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

"The Asbestos Pages: Business Directory for Firemen" - all you other paper suckers can burn while I shall inherit the world.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

No (How boring. Or how normal).

The last book you bought is:

"Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriotism and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871" by Adam Zamoyski. Not because he happens to be Polish, but because he writes such fantastic narrative history. Zamoyski tells a fascinating story of the birth of political romanticism, of both the internationalistic and the nationalistic varieties, which over the course of a manic century of revolutions, uprising and wars gave birth to terrorism, nihilism and later communism and fascism. Zamoyski is an iconoclast and myth-shatterer; I can't remember the last time I read so much interesting material between two covers, and needless to say, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

The last book you read:

"Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey" by Isabel Fonseca. A fascinating book about the most marginalized and the most mystifying of Europe's peoples.

What are you currently reading?

"The Middle Ages" by Morris Bishop; an oldie (well, 1969) but a goodie. Everything you wanted to know about the medieval society, if you don't mind very accessible style and no referencing.

Five books you would take to a deserted island.

This is really unfair - only five?

Has to something by Paul Johnson, probably "A History of the American People".

Robert Massie's "Peter the Great" - could this be the best historical biography ever written? (thanks to one of the readers for the correction; I confused my Massies - Robert is a historian, Alan a novelist)

P. J. O'Rourke "Holidays in Hell" - the book that politicized me and turned me into an active, raving right-winger after I picked up a copy for 50 cents at a local pawnshop in 1993.

F. Scott Fitzgerald "The Great Gatsby" - I'm not much of a fiction person* (particularly not "quality" fiction or literature) but this is an old favorite of mine (and if "Gatsby" falls victim of Fahrenheit 451 or gets too soaked in the ocean, then Karl Hasek's "The Good Soldier Svejk").

For the fifth it will be a toss-up between Piers Brandon's "Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s" (because every decade deserves a book like that) and Alexandra Richie's "Faust's Metropolis: A History of Berlin" (because every city deserves a book like that).

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Again, a tough one.

Roger L Simon - because it will be interesting to find out what a writer reads.

Stephen Green - to find out what books go well with vodka.

Steven Vincent - to give him a break from blogging about serious stuff like Iraq and the Mid East.

* except Stephen King, Dan Simmons, Phil Rickman, Robert Harris, Alan Furst and Jack McDevitt. On the positive side, blogging always makes you discover new writers, like Roger Simon or Sophie Masson.


Good news from Iraq, Part 24 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Big thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman respectively, and to everyone who contributes and supports this series.

Something strange took place a few days ago in Doura, a working-class suburb of Baghdad. So much so that even the "New York Times" had to sit up and take notice:
"Just before noon today, a carpenter named Dhia saw a troop of masked gunmen with grenades coming towards his shop and decided he had had enough.

"As the gunmen emerged from their cars, Dhia and his young relatives shouldered their own AK-47's and opened fire, police and witnesses said. In the fierce gun battle that followed, three of the insurgents were killed, and the rest fled just after the police arrived. Two of Dhia's young nephews and a bystander were injured, the police said.

" 'We attacked them before they attacked us,' Dhia, 35, his face still contorted with rage and excitement, said in a brief exchange at his shop a few hours after the battle. He did not give his last name. 'We killed three of those who call themselves the mujahedeen. I am waiting for the rest of them to come and we will show them'."
The "New York Times" was wrong - this was most certainly not "the first time that private citizens are known to have retaliated successfully against insurgents" (see, for example, this story from January and this one from a few days ago, also quoted below) - but then again, as far as Iraq is concerned, this was far from the first time that the "NYT" has caught onto a trend long apparent to many other observers.

As the old saying goes, one swallow does not make a spring, even if a very angry one and armed with AK-47, but the indications are that in the new, post-election environment, more and more ordinary Iraqis are standing up to be counted in the fight for the future of their country. Violence, hardship and frustration there are still aplenty in Iraq today, but a lot of positive developments have also been taking place for quite some time now. Below, a round-up of some stories you might have missed over the past two weeks. Maybe the "New York Times" will report on these trends in a few months' time.

SOCIETY: "We are part of history," said Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, a candidate for oil minister, as the National Assembly opened for its first, ceremonial, session on 16 March to swear in the 275 members. As one report noted, the timing was quite symbolic, seeing that it comes just after two years since the liberation of Iraq has begun. Fuad Masoum, a Kurdish delegate, has also reminded everyone of another poignant piece of symbolism: it was the 17th anniversary of Saddam dropping chemical weapons on Kurdish cities, including Halabja (on that same anniversary, the Ministry of Human Rights has made a proposal that 5 per cent of all future oil revenues should be set aside to care for the victims of Saddam's regime).

The Sunnis, who because of the boycott and violence have missed out on greater representation in the National Assembly, are uniting politically in order not to miss the boat completely in shaping the future Iraq: "Outgoing interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawir he has formed a committee of leading Sunni Muslim figures to negotiate for posts in an eventual Shia-Kurd coalition government. 'In order to avoid multiple efforts, we have decided to form a committee that would preserve a role for Sunnis in the next government,' he said."

While Iraq's new political structures and arrangements are slowly taking shape, USAID has been providing considerable assistance to prepare the necessary National Assembly infrastructure (link in PDF):
"In anticipation of the Transitional National Assembly’s (TNA) inauguration, USAID’s implementing partner, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), has been working with Iraqi parliamentary staff in charge of supporting inauguration and orientation activities for the 275 Assembly members. Following recent training sessions in Baghdad and Amman, NDI continued last week to provide ongoing advice and materials on parliamentary procedures and staffing models and sample organizational charts.

"A sub-grantee, the State University of New York, Center for International Development (SUNY/CID), prepared studies on parliamentary rules and procedures and NDI completed the handbook orientation manuals for Members of Parliament. Once translation into Arabic and Kurdish is completed, the manuals will be provided to each member of the Assembly during upcoming NDI orientation seminars. A team of SUNY/CID trainers also came to Baghdad last week to follow up on staff training activities. By the time the TNA is inaugurated, over 80 staff members will have undergone training and participated in the assessment of future technical and skill-development needs."
There has also been more assistance for the newly elected women members of the National Assembly (link in PDF). On a lower level of governance, USAID's Local Governance Program is working with local governments throughout Iraq to improve service-delivery, train staff and build the necessary expertise (link in PDF). Among recent initiatives: renovating Tax Office, producing payroll database at the Education Directorate, developing accounting system for the Health Directorate, and building databases for the Municipality in Basra governorate; training agricultural staff in Wasit governorate; and providing management training for the Kurdish Regional Government staff.

While democracy is being born, a new opinion poll from inside Iraq paints an increasingly optimistic picture for the future:
"The survey of 1,967 Iraqis was conducted Feb. 27-March 5, after Iraq held its first free elections in half a century in January. According to the poll, 62% say the country is headed in the right direction and 23% say it is headed in the wrong direction. That is the widest spread recorded in seven polls by the group, says Stuart Krusell, [International Republican Institute] director of operations for Iraq. In September, 45% of Iraqis thought the country was headed in the wrong direction and 42% thought it was headed in the right direction. The IRI is a non-partisan, U.S. taxpayer-funded group that promotes democracy abroad.

"Pollsters did not survey three of Iraq's 18 provinces because of security and logistical concerns. Two of those omitted, Anbar and Ninevah, are predominantly Sunni Muslim. A third, Dahuk, is mostly Kurdish. Krusell said that even if those areas had been included and 100% had expressed negative views, the poll would still have shown that most Iraqis believe that the situation in their country is improving...

"The poll showed that Iraqis are almost evenly split over the role of religion in government, with 48% favoring a 'special role' for religion, but 44% saying religion and government should remain separate. A plurality of 47% say religious leaders should have the greatest input in writing the constitution.

"Krusell said that is not surprising since Iraq is predominantly Muslim but that 'it doesn't translate into support for Sharia,' or strict Islamic law. Of those polled, 22% say the constitution should ensure 'the Muslim identity of Iraq' but only 4% say Sharia should be the most important element."
For a general comment on the state of the Iraqi psyche, you can also read this extensive report from the "Boston Globe": "In land of fear, hope takes root". Young people, too, are committed to democracy and better future, albeit still somewhat confused as to many details:
"The poll, conducted by the Iraqi Prospect Organisation among more than 800 university students and published on Monday, said many of Iraq's youth had a poor understanding of democracy, coloured by their experience of Saddam Hussein's rule and today's widespread instability...

"Conducted at universities in the capital Baghdad, Basra in southern Iraq and Mosul to the north between December 1 and January 29, the poll showed 60 percent of those interviewed thought that democracy was preferable to any other kind of government. Democracy could give better education, jobs and wages for more of the population, they said. Ninety-one percent said living without fear was essential to democracy, but freedom of speech and political participation ranked lower.

"There was strong support for women in government and 68 percent rejected a one-party state. But only 55 percent opposed army intervention in politics and 56 percent were against parliament being abolished in favour of the president...

"The majority of young Iraqis did not support the separation of religion and state, the report showed."
However, another recent poll in Baghdad showed that almost 84 per cent of respondents were against implementing Sharia and instituting an Islamic government. As a curious aside, a latest study of 1,000 Iraqi adolescents in 10 Baghdad neighborhoods has found that - counter-intuitively - "the more the teenagers felt that their country and city were unsafe, the more frequently they reported strong self-esteem."

Civil society struggles to be reborn throughout Iraq. Dyali province has held its first conference for 81 non-government organizations and associations that sprung out since the downfall of the Saddam regime to work for individual rights and public good. Western help is essential to that process. The International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) at DePaul University is heavily involved:
"The Legal Education Reform project has been conducted in Iraq for the last 18 months and involves 11 law schools. Its main focus is to assist in training law professors in rule of law principles within a country seeking to rebuild basic institutions following decades of a brutal, authoritarian regime. The program highlights a central role of rule of law -- human rights and democratic ideas -- within the country by establishing close working relationships with a broad array of Iraqi legal professionals.

"IHRLI's work in Iraq also includes a project in cooperation with the American Bar Association and the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit organization working to strengthen and expand democracy worldwide. The partnerships' collaborative work will help the new Iraqi legislature draft a constitution. IHRLI will prepare a briefing book in Arabic on major legal issues facing the drafters. The institute also will soon sign a new contract with the U.S. Department of State to develop a comprehensive program for human rights education in Iraq."
USAID is also helping through its transitional grants for Iraqi NGOs (link in PDF). Among recent initiatives: helping two NGOs in northern Iraqi to improve services for local senior citizens, funding training and outreach activities for women, supporting women's newspaper, and helping to equip a human rights NGO.

Across the Middle East people have a lot to complain about; in Iraq they have the unparalleled opportunity to read and write about it:
"Iraq's National Assembly adjourned within about 90 minutes of opening to great fanfare Wednesday.

"A day later, Iraqi newspapers poked fun at what many of the new publications called a hasty retreat of the country's political leaders after they had heralded a new era of democracy.

"Al-Sabah, one of Iraq's leading newspapers, featured a photograph of puffs of smoke rising from the mortar blasts outside the assembly during its opening ceremonies. The tongue-in-cheek headline: 'They met, but they did not agree to meet again.'

"Such headlines would not have been tolerated under Saddam Hussein. Their brashness — in bold type — is among the surest signs of the country's new freedoms."
The new Iraqi media is already among the most diverse in the region, but it can benefit from a lot more foreign assistance and expertise, such this initiative from Canada:
"The federal government has hired a Vancouver-based agency to train people for one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq - journalism.

"It's part of Canada's contribution to building democracy in the volatile country. The Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society will begin training Iraqi journalists next month in Lebanon, where it says the security situation is much less volatile...

"Three days of intensive training for 30 people is scheduled in Beirut in mid-May, when an election campaign is underway in that country."
Meanwhile, USAID is training journalists through its Iraq Civil Society and Media Support Program (link in PDF).

USAID is also helping to develop sport and recreation throughout the country through its Community Action Program (link in PDF). Most recently USAID has organized a sports and folklore carnival north of Basra, renovated a sports stadium in At’ Tamim province, and renovated a gym at a sports complex at a Qadissiyah Teachers’ College. Speaking of sport, soccer fans in Iraq and Australia are preparing themselves for a friendly clash in Sydney.

Lastly, this good news story:
"It is hard to imagine how startled Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of Basra, Iraq, has been to discover that she is the hero of two American children's books.

"Ms. Baker, who rescued 30,000 books just days before the city's main library was burned during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, has sent e-mail messages recently to thank the authors for 'showing us Iraqis as an educated people' and says she was surprised but also happy that the books 'describe the truth.'

"Both books - 'The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq' by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt), for children in the lower grades, and 'Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq,' a graphic-novel account by Mark Alan Stamaty (Knopf) for the middle grades and junior high schools - were inspired by a July 2003 report of the rescue by Shaila K. Dewan of The New York Times.

"Mr. Stamaty sets up his version of the story with a character saying, 'It's not necessary to see through walls or fly or have any superpowers at all to be a real-life superhero.'

"The newspaper article told of Ms. Baker, a 50-year-old librarian, who saw government officials using the Central Library in Basra as offices for war preparations, making the building vulnerable to attack. She began quietly removing books. After British forces entered the city and the officials fled, the library was left undefended. With the help of workers from the Hamdan restaurant next door, she, along with shopkeepers, friends, neighbors and co-workers, managed to save 70 percent of the collection. The library mysteriously burned a few days later and Ms. Baker subsequently had a stroke."
ECONOMY: "Christian Science Monitor" has recently published a reasonably balanced profile of the situation in Iraq two years after liberation. You can read all about the security problems, slow pace of reconstruction, the frustration and nostalgia for the "good old day", but below are a few things that are going well:
"While unemployment is about 48 percent, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Labor and Social Affairs, salaries are higher for the jobs that are available, typically ones linked to the government. Salaries of teachers, bureaucrats, and policemen, have gone up, as have pensions. The starting salary of a policeman is about $220, enough for a family to live on and, to many Iraqis, worth the risk of being targeted by insurgents. Some pensioners and teachers have seen their income grow tenfold.

"As a result, many families say they can now afford meat with most meals and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. This, despite prices that have spiked by about a third on some food items, including meat, fruits, and vegetables, according to merchants in Baghdad. But canned foods, soft drinks, and bananas, virtually taxed out of existence before the war, are now available at a fraction of their Hussein-era prices.

"Electronic equipment has also been flying off the shelves since the war opened borders once shuttered by sanctions.

"Many Iraqis can also afford a mobile phone, a modern convenience banned under Saddam Hussein. Egyptian-owned Orascom Telecom, which provides mobile-phone service to Baghdad and central Iraq, had 82,000 subscribers at the end of 2003, the year the company began operating in Iraq. By November 2004, it had signed up 480,000 subscribers and is now planning to reach 1 million subscribers by the end of this year by spreading its services to southern and northern Iraq, according to the company's website."
The Iraqi government has revealed its investment priorities for the near future: "Iraq has allocated 7,550 billion Dinar [$5.17 billion] from the current budget to investment. This amount accounts for 21.4 percent of the total Iraqi budget. A report issued by the Iraqi finance ministry showed that the private sector got the highest percentage of allocations, i.e. 937 million Dinar [$0.64 billion]. It was followed by the service, construction and transportation sectors. The report also indicated that the allocations for the public sector distributed as follows: 59.6 percent for oil, 8.5 for electricity and 7 per cent for high education."

Meanwhile, in another piece of good economic news, inflation in Iraq is falling dramatically.

Considerable assistance is currently being provided for Iraq's banking and financial system. USAID and Citigroup are providing a grant worth $131 million ($92 million from Citigroup, with the remainder from USAID) to Iraqi medium-size businesses "in order to help them to meet their financial obligations." USAID is also helping Iraq to develop a modern, efficiently administered tax system:
"USAID’s Iraq Economic Governance II (IEG II) program is continuing to work with Iraqi government counterparts to build their capacity to implement tax and customs reform. Recent activities in support of this objective have included:

"- Customs reform. Six customs officials completed training in Jordan on the operation of a new automated Reconstruction Levy system. The levy is a 5% tariff on nearly all imports, helping to finance Iraqi government reconstruction efforts.

"- Financial Management Information System. IEG II recently completed an orientation and computer skills training course in Amman, Jordan for 18 officials from various governorates and ministries that will be using a new Financial Management Information System.

"- Tax administration. IEG II advisors are assisting the Iraqi Tax Commission (ITC) in creating new tax forms. Advisors recently completed a final draft of an upgraded tax return form and a draft guide for the income tax return. Both the guide and the return form are now being translated into Arabic."
There's more hope for the Iraqi banking system with this infusion of foreign capital:
"In its first major investment in Iraq's banking sector, the World Bank's private-sector lending arm said on Thursday it would buy a minority stake in Credit Bank of Iraq in partnership with Kuwait's biggest bank, National Bank of Kuwait.

"The International Finance Corp, which has $18 billion invested in private-sector projects in developing countries, said the acquisition was critical to revive Iraq's banking sector, which for years was under state control and in dire need of fresh capital.

"In 1991 Saddam Hussein allowed private Iraqi banks to operate but were prohibited from conducting international transactions. A crippling economic embargo and over-regulation inflicted huge damage on the banking system, which includes 17 private banks and two main state banks."
USAID, meanwhile, continues to assist with capacity building in the banking industry:
"USAID’s program advisors work with the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) to improve its ability to conduct macroeconomic policy and supervise banking within the country. Recent activities in support of this objective have included:

"- Bank Supervision. Eight representatives of the CBI Bank Supervision Department are receiving training in accounting and financial reporting standards. IEG II advisors also developed a course in credit analysis that will include representatives of the International Monetary Fund, the Central Bank of Jordan, Banc du Libon, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

"- Government Securities. The CBI, with IEG II support, is taking the first step toward the development of a secondary debt market by recapitalizing its negotiable treasury bills.

"- Macroeconomic Policy. Advisors finalized a briefing for the CBI Board of Directors on the status and composition of Gross Domestic Product for the final two months of 2004.

"- Inter-bank Payments. IEG II staff working with the U.S. Department of Treasury developed a position paper on the infrastructure necessary to support a fully functional inter-bank payment system. Contractors working for the Department of Treasury will implement the inter-bank payment system."
USAID is also assisting with the development of micro-finance industry (link in PDF). The Housing Bank for Trade and Finance in Jordan is also providing training for Iraqi bank employees in the field of credit services. And "eight representatives of the CBI Bank Supervision Department are receiving training in accounting and financial reporting standards. A course in credit analysis will include representatives from the International Monetary Fund, the Central Bank of Jordan, Banc du Libon and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York." USAID is working in cooperation with Iraqi authorities to improve training infrastructure:
"The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) is working with the Vocational Training and Employment Services (VTES) program to improve vocational training and employment services in Iraq.

"Under this United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program, VTES will build the capacity of MOLSA to operate a network of training and employment centers. Although the centers already exist, the services they provide do not currently meet these needs.

"The training centers will develop vocational training in the job skills most needed in Iraq today, such as wood working, metal working, English language and other skills, according to USAID.

"Employment centers will help connect Iraqi workers with companies that are hiring, and help ensure that MOLSA is aware of the current needs of the private sector."
The executive manager of the Iraqi stock market, Taha Ahmad Abedelsalaam, informs that the volume of trade is increasing, with 151 billion shares of 85 listed companies currently being traded. Foreign investors have now been allowed to enter Iraqi market and buy up to 49 per cent of shares in any listed Iraq company.

With Iraqi insurance companies free to market whatever products they like, a large number of such companies are now offering a wide range of products to consumers. In addition to the standard life insurance, some of the new products include an insurance program against terrorist activities, looting and theft.

In communications, "according to the latest figures, the number of telephone landline subscribers throughout Iraq is 982,561 and the number of cell phone subscribers is 1,659,638. This combined total of 2,642,199 is 214 percent greater than the number of active landline subscribers before the war. Meanwhile, Internet subscriptions have risen 8 percent to 140,293 over the month of February 2005." The Ministry of Telecommunications has recently unveiled a plan to provide an additional one million telephone lines by the end of 2006, with an extra million new lines being added every year up to 2015 to bring the number of land lines throughout the country to 10 million. In the meantime, the Ministry is reporting on renovation and installation of several phone exchanges throughout the country.

Faced with such growth in the growth, Egyptian telecommunication concern Orascom Telecom is doubling its investment in Iraq to $220 million and is planning to extend its cell phone network to the north of the country.

In good news for trade, "Jordan and Iraq are placing the last touches on an agreement to set up a free trade zone... The Iraqi ministries of trade and industry and transportation have almost completed the draft agreement, which stipulates setting up the free trade zone at the border half inside Iraq and half inside Jordan."

In oil news, the Oil Ministry "is preparing long term plans to increase the level of oil production to 3.5 million b/d [barrels per day]...The cost of implementing of these plans would be US$4 billion, and that the production increase will be gradual. According to the plans, it will be achieved by 2007... The ministry also set plans to increase the production level of liquefied natural gas (LNG) with the cooperation of leading foreign companies." Speaking at the 14th Middle East Oil & Gas Show and Conference (MEOS 2005), held at the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre, Iraqi Deputy Oil Minister Ahmed Al Shamma has invited 280 companies from 21 countries which are taking part in the exhibition to take part in developing Iraqi oil industry. According to the Deputy Minister,
"there is a need to drill 200 new wells this year to maintain Iraq's 3.6 million barrels per day production of oil... There are also 13 storage tanks which need rehabilitation. Export facilities in the Gulf must also be upgraded and expanded... Two gas fields are to be developed soon and they will be followed by two others later."
"The biggest project in the upstream industry is the development of 10 oil fields with a total output of 2.5m barrels per day, which is expected to be initiated in the near future. 'In refining, a proposed large refinery with an output of 200 to 300 thousand barrels per day is being discussed with international companies and GCC contractors', [said the Deputy Minister]." Speaking of that refinery, it is to be situated in Al-Masib area of southern Iraq and should be completed within two and a half years. A number of international companies from the USA, China, Italy, the UK, Czech Republic and Canada are competing for the project. More on this $2 billion project here. The talks with interested companies have already begun in Jordan.

The authorities have recently signed $50 million contracts with Indian and German companies to transport gas from Basra to Alnaseriya Almoseib, outside Baghdad. Under a three-year, $3.8 million program, the government of Norway is preparing to assist the Iraqi oil industry with "training and education for Iraqi oil officials, setting up regulations for oil field operations and accounting for the income."

In transport news, a major infrastructure project around Baghdad gets a go-ahead:
"The Iraqi ministry of transportation announced the start of the implementation of the ring railway project around Baghdad. Engineer Faris Mahmoud Hamndi, the head of the engineers at the General Company Of Railways, said that the project will be connected to main railroads in the country.

"He revealed... that the project requires the building of 112 km double railroad around Baghdad. According to him, transportation trains will not be allowed in Baghdad. The passenger trains, however, will go into Baghdad via special tunnels.

"Engineer Hamndi expressed his hope that this project will be beneficial in alleviating the traffic jams inside the capital, reducing car accidents, minimizing environmental pollution and increasing the capacity of goods transportation."
With improvement in security around Mosul, work is resuming on the railways in northern Iraq. Meanwhile, down south, the renovations of Uum Qasr port have been completed: "All channels leading to the seaport were cleaned and deepened so they can allow the passage of large ships... Fours quays were constructed and a number of special cranes were repaired. In addition, deck number 10 was rehabilitated and is operational. Deck number 12 was also repaired in order to be able to absorb ships that transports grains. The source indicated that a special operation room was established to facilitate the communications process with the ships."

Authorities at the Irbil airport are confident that their airport will be soon accredited by the experts as an international facility:
"The authority responsible of the airport implemented what is needed to meet these requirements by building special taxiways and building modern control tower at the cost of US$9 million...

"Irbil airport is considered an important airport for the Kurdish areas. [The authorities] expect it will attract investors and it will ease the export and import activities... Irbil airport has signed many agreements to launch flights to Dubai, Amman, Baghdad and European destinations.

"The expansion of the airport is expected by the end of 2006 with a total cost of US$105 million. This will enable the airport to handle with 4-5 million passengers annually. In addition, the authorities hope to establish a Kurdish military college with the assistance of the Jordanian Airlines."
Iraq is also getting a new airline, Tiba Aviation, which will be shortly recruiting Iraqi pilots and engineers and acquiring a new fleet.

RECONSTRUCTION: As reconstruction picks up speed across Iraq, the effort shifts to decentralize the process and bring it to the local level, as this example from the north of the country shows:
"A new organisation, the Agency for Reconstruction & Development for Sulaimani, has been set up by the authorities in northern Iraq to promote economic development in the Sulaimani region. It has a broad remit, mostly reconstruction, with a strong focus on water and sewage projects, residential, school and hospital construction, and mining (the region is rich in marble and minerals).

"The agency has already identified a number of priority projects and is looking for contractors to implement the work. It is also keen to have contact with companies interested in investing in the region, and have also developed a series of incentives that include land and tax concessions. Over the longer term, it is looking at developing the regions privatisation and economic development policies.

"Ideas currently being looked at include developing the regions rail and other transport networks, developing power generation and developing export orientated manufacturing including textiles, agriculture and agri-business."
Baghdad Municipality will be now supervising all the USAID projects in its area in order to provide for better coordination between various agencies and bodies involved. An United Nations project also aims to streamline the administration of reconstruction work:
"With help from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funding from the World Bank International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (IRFFI), a dozen Iraqi civil servants are taking a 10-day training session in tracking donor aid.

" 'The Iraqi administration needs a clear picture and understanding of where rehabilitation projects are being implemented, who is the funding source, what sectors are involved, in which region, and how they link to other aspects of reconstruction such as the National Development Strategy,' said Annie Demirjian, UNDP focal point for the project launched today in Amman, capital of neighbouring Jordan."
You can read more about this initiative here.

Meanwhile, in Jordan, "hundreds of Arab and foreign firms are expected to take part in the largest yet Iraq reconstruction fair in Amman, event organizers said on Tuesday. 'This is the biggest event in the Jordanian capital. We expect 900 companies from 43 countries to participate in the Rebuild Iraq 2005 fair that will take place from April 4-7,' said Fadi Kaddoura, the project manager of the event said." Another report notes that the fair will attract "the largest international support ever extended to any trade event in the region." And speaking of Jordan, "a spokesman for the Iraqi American Chamber of Commerce and Industry has announced that it had opened its first branch outside Iraq in the Jordanian capital of Amman. He revealed that this branch's main objective is to encourage Arab and foreign businessmen to invest in Iraq."

In some recent reconstruction projects: Tenders and Projects Department within the American Development Agency for the Reconstruction of Iraq is aiming to implement 2,500 reconstruction projects throughout this year, compared to 1,800 in 2004. Roads in the Abu Ghraib districts will be renovated and paved under a new scheme from the Ministry of Municipalities and Works. On top of the reconstruction work on water, power and education in Fallujah, the Iraqi government will be spending $100 million to compensate its residents for damage suffered in recent fighting. Projects are also planned for the Alahwar (Marshland) region, including "paving and asphalting major roads, building and repairing schools, improving health services and providing electricity to the citizens." You can read more about the plans for the marshlands here. South Korean government has donated $6 million worth of machinery and equipment to the Iraqi Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works for various reconstruction projects. In the Wassit province, the authorities are reporting all the reconstruction activities planned for 2004 as completed (including road paving program and construction of a sports stadium and a supermarket).

In electricity news, the Ministry of Electricity has announced that the level of 5,000 MW has been reached and the Ministry plans to provide Iraqis with 18 hours of electricity a day by adding further 1,500 MW over the near future.

In another step towards connecting Iraq to the regional power infrastructure, a 124-mile powerline will link the al-Risheh power grid in Jordan and the Ukashat area in western Iraq. Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Libya have already linked their electricity grids, with Lebanon and Turkey expected to follow soon, and with Iraq also becoming the beneficiary of energy imports from Jordan and Egypt. Within 6 months, Turkey's Black Sea Wholesale Electricity Trade (KARTET) Company will be increasing its exports of energy to Iraq from 200 to 1,000 MW. Turkey will also be helping with the rehabilitation of power lines. And Iran will soon be exporting 100 MW of electricity to Iraq.

The Ministry of Electricity has announced plans to allow foreign companies to operate in Iraq's electricity market. The plan envisages foreign companies building an owning power stations, from which the authorities will be buying electricity. To expand the private sector involvement, the Ministry has also recently signed a contract with a private company for the construction, with the help of Japanese companies and Arab investors, a power station with a capacity of 150 MW.

The dreaded Halliburton, meanwhile, delivers on a significant electricity project: "KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton has announced the completion of its Al Ameen power substation project, the largest substation in Iraq, outside of Baghdad. The Al Ameen power substation, key to Iraq's ability to provide efficient power distribution throughout Baghdad and the rest of the country, is one of three awarded reconstruction projects KBR has received. Work on the Al Ameen substation project, valued at $59.4 million, began in March 2004 . The substation is now under the operation of Iraq's Ministry of Electricity."

In Basra, the authorities have added three power stations (11\33 KV) and are planning to build 5 transformers in other provinces. In Baghdad, the Ministry has allocated $75 million for the renovation of electricity grid in Sadr City.

The Ministry of Water, which looks after Iraq's dams, is reporting on its successful contribution to electricity production around Iraq. Under normal circumstances, hydroelectricity contributed between 15 and 20 per cent to the national power production, but recently that has increased to 40 per cent.

USAID is close to finishing the electrification of a vital piece of Baghdad transport infrastructure: "Work is nearly complete on the restoration of Baghdad International Airport Electrical Substation #1 which controls airstrip lighting on the commercial side of the airport. The power facility was bombed and badly damaged during the war. Switchgear and constant-current regulators were damaged beyond repair. Although the building that houses the substation remains intact the old 500 kVA emergency diesel generator that provides standby power must be removed and replaced." Work is also nearly finished on the expansion of a power plant south of Baghdad (link in PDF).

It's not just physical infrastructure as USAID is providing vital training for the electricity specialists:
"Another round of trainings has recently begun under the Power Plant Operations and Maintenance Training program of USAID’s Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction program. The goal of the program is two-fold. First, it is meant to be a short-term source of spare parts and technical support services to alleviate some immediate problems within the Ministry of Electricity’s power plants. Secondly, for long-term improvement through training, it will establish a tradition of best operational practices and modern management techniques.

"The total electrical generation capacity for Iraq’s thermal and combustion power infrastructure is nearly 10,000 MW although it has generally performed at 35%-50% of rated capacity (3,500 to 5,000 MW). Classroom training has begun for 239 Iraqi staff in tiers corresponding to their O&M management level in the Ministry of Electricity (MoE). Tier 1, for five senior ME staff, imparts leadership and strategy training at General Electric’s Center for Excellence in the United States. Tier 2 trains 36 plant managers in leadership, advanced plant management and electrical business development at the University of Georgia in the US. Tier 3, train-the-trainer instruction, teaches combustion plant and thermal plant operations to 83 senior power plant staff - foremen and other plant supervisory personnel - at the University of Jordan in Amman. Finally, Tier 4 for 115 plant operators and technicians includes training on calibration and boiler and water chemistry at the University of Jordan. On-the-job-training at several Baghdad thermal plants is also included. The first Tier 3 class has already completed its four week training at the University of Jordan. A second Tier 3 class began training in late February 20. This Tier will also be receiving 'Train the Trainer' instruction."
More training for Iraqi electricity workers is being conducted with the assistance of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.

In water news, the authorities are working on a new water project in the province of Al Kut, which at the cost of 72 million dinars ($51,000) and after three years will be providing the local residents with 10,000 square meters of water per hour. Part of the project involves replacement of the old water pipes and construction of 13 water reservoirs.

In the province of Wasit, the authorities are spending 28 billion dinars ($19.1 million) on various projects. "The most important of these projects is building 22 water assembly facilities with a capacity of 1 million gallons per facility in different neighborhoods... These projects consist of building a 385-kilometer long water transport system and a 55-kilometer long water pipelines system." Significant proportion of a 3.5 billion dinar program ($2.4 million) has already been implemented, including "the construction of irrigation channels and water dams to prevent the waste of water."

Outside Karbalah, in areas suffering from water shortages, the authorities will be installing 8 pumps, each with capacity of 0.5 mln liters per day, and each servicing 5,000 people. The Iraqi Water Authority has started work on a program to dig 1,500 new water wells in northern Iraq in the districts of Kirkuk, Irbil, Sulaimaniya and Dahok. "Last year, the authority executed 106 wells by $1 million costs in Kirkuk, 21 wells in Irbil, 7 wells in Dahouk and 7 wells in Sulaimaniya."

USAID continues to work on improving access to rural water (link in PDF):
"Work is in progress at 48 sites on USAID’s rural water initiative, which extends water for drinking and irrigation to mid-sized communities that had previously lacked reliable sources. Contracts have been awarded for reverse osmosis units and water treatment plants and USAID is considering a proposal to add a hygiene training program to the original work plan. Site investigations for unit installation are being conducted in Wasit, Karbala, Dahuk, Tamim, and Kirkuk, and the security situation is being monitored in areas that are not currently accessible. The initiative will install 110 units in remote locations throughout Iraq, filling the gap in water service for approximately four million rural Iraqis who live in regions where water is either scarce or of poor quality."
USAID is also involved in a whole range of other water-related projects. Among them: the rehabilitation of the Rustimiyah North Wastewater Treatment Plant in Baghdad, which is about 80% complete; modeling the distribution system and repairing, replacing and installing new water pipes in Baghdad's Sadr City; as well as work in Babil province to connect local residents' potable water network to the city's water system.

Longer term, people in the most arid areas of Iraq will also benefit from American space technology:
"There are plenty of wells in Iraq, but Saddam Hussein's regime contaminated them with dead animals... How do you quench someone's thirst when there is plenty of water, but not a drop of it is drinkable?

"It's a question NASA researchers have pondered for nearly two decades, but villagers in Iraq and tsunami victims in Asia will get a taste of their answer as early as this fall - before any astronaut in space does.

"Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has been testing a device intended for the space station that would recycle an astronaut's own sweat, respiration and even urine into drinking water purer than any found in a tap.

"It could be two years before the water system - as large as two refrigerators - is loaded onto a shuttle to serve an American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut living in space. But smaller and simpler versions will soon be put to use on earth. Reno, Nev.-based investment firm Crestridge and the charity Concern for Kids are developing the systems for humanitarian purposes in nations lacking a reliable water supply, starting with Iraq and southeast Asia."
It's not just the physical infrastructure that is getting reconstructed - the human capital is also being slowly rebuilt, thanks to expert assistance from overseas. The Jordanian Environment Association is launching training courses for the employees of Iraqi Ministries of Environment and Municipalities to train them in the best recent practice in the fields of public health and environment. Japanese government, in conjunction with the National Electric Power Company, is organizing training for 30 Iraqi electrical specialists "to introduce practical skills such as cable jointing and optical fiber splicing to facilitate smooth rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the field of electricity." Domestically, the Iraqi National Center for Administrative Planning and Development is now playing important role in training government officials, offering last year 94 courses in IT and management to improve efficiency and productivity of the public sector. And Iraqi firefighters, too, have benefited from training:
"Iraq's firefighters are better off today than they were under the regime of Saddam Hussein – when fire service was largely ignored.

"Because firefighters received little or no training, they merely contained fires. When called on to fight fires, they lacked the basic equipment their stateside brothers take for granted. Fireproof gear, hardhats, oxygen tanks and mask, even an ax were rare or nonexistent.

" 'Originally, firefighters during Saddam’s time were given all the odd jobs,' said Bruce Edwards, a firefighter trainer with Skylink. 'Whatever anyone didn’t want to do, they got the firemen to do it.' Skylink has instilled a lot of pride in the Iraqi firefighters and is training them extensively to operate as a qualified fire department, he said."
As the report notes, "thanks to Iraqi Ministry of Interior and Coalition Forces, Baghdad will benefit from 35 new or rehabilitated fire stations that will accommodate approximately 25 firefighters and 11 daytime administrative staff members."

In urban planning news, "[the Ministry of Municipality and Public Works'] Urban Planning Department had allocated ID 7 billion [$4.8 million] to prepare designs and studies for building new cities in different Iraqi districts... The ministry's engineering companies had [also] completed the designs to modernizing the historical, religious and tourist Iraqi cities of Al-Kut, Mosel, Irbil, Najaf, Karbalaa and Basra... $100 million was allocated to finance the design plans for these important Iraqi cities." Speaking of urban development, in Baghdad the authorities are currently engaged in a program to rehabilitate the capital's public parks and to construct new ones.

The efforts are also being made to involve the whole communities on the grass-roots level in the reconstruction process. This conference, called "New Dawn", is giving Iraqi Non-Government Organisations a chance to network, exchange ideas and gain advice for developing strategies on reconstruction programmes:
"Local NGOs in Iraq recently took part in the second conference held in the country on reconstruction ideas, agriculture, water resources and security.

"The event gave NGOs a chance to meet with the few international counterparts left in Iraq, due to insecurity, and exchange information on reconstruction and programme ideas.

"The conference, which took place in the city of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, was hosted by Iraqi officials from four provinces; Salah al-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk and Sulymaniyah, along with 30 Iraqi NGOs and some International NGOs such as Mercy Hand, the US Institute of Peace and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

" 'This conference is periodically held every six months where Iraqi NGOs from the north, middle and south gather to share in the reconstruction of the country through acquaintance of other countries progressing in different fields such as agriculture, security and even administration matters,' [said] Maj. Loyed Navarro from the 24th Infantry Division of the US army."
On the agenda this time: education, agriculture, natural resource development, as well as human rights, input into drafting the constitution and the fight against corruption.

Health infrastructure, much neglected over the past few decades continues getting upgraded. As part of its plan to construct 150 new health centers across Iraq, the authorities have recently opened 4 new clinics in the province of Missan. In the province of Diyala, a new 400-bed hospital is under construction and 12 clinics will be built in the province's villages. USAID's Community Action Program team has constructed a health clinic at the university of Karbalah. Under the same program, an intensive care unit has been added to a local hospital in At’ Tamim governorate (link in PDF). USAID is also providing funding to combat dysentery in northern Iraq. Baghdad's second largest hospital has been recently renovated and resupplied thanks to USAID's assistance (link in PDF).

Alqadeseya University's medical college has established "a unit for Endoscopy surgery for spinal cord. This unit is considered to be the first of its kind in Iraq... The unit will be used for both educational and treatment purposes... One of the Iraqi doctors participated in a special seminar in Europe to understand how the unit works in order to use it appropriately in Iraq." At Kadissa University, meanwhile, a new surgery unit has been opened at the college of medicine.

In education news, the British Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research "has agreed with the Iraqi Academicians Association in the UK to hold a global conference dedicated to discussing means of rehabilitating higher education and scientific research sector in Iraq and ensures its needs." The Ministry of Education has set aside 60.6 billion dinars ($41 million) for the reconstruction of Basra University. This includes "the establishment of the university presidency building, at a cost of 4 billion dinars [$2.7 million], fine arts theatre, historical studies college library, faculties of pharmacy, medicine and law, Basra university location services, a central library, lectures halls complexes, new departments in the faculty of engineering and other projects. The time limit for executing those projects does not exceed 20 months."

The work continues on a 14.5 billion dinar ($10 million) project to construct science and media colleges at Baghdad University. The Ministry of Education has allocated $50 million for the implementation of education projects throughout Basra governorate, including rehabilitation of 29 schools.

In recent examples of foreign assistance for the Iraqi higher education system, this initiative from DePaul University:
"The law library at Baghdad University in Iraq has been restored with assistance from the International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) at DePaul University. This is the first of three law library renovations that the institute has undertaken as part of its Raising the Bar: Legal Education Reform in Iraq program, which focuses on rebuilding legal education in Iraq and which is funded by a $3.8 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The libraries of the universities of Sulaimaniya and Basra soon will be inaugurated as well."
Meanwhile, a consortium of five universities led by the University of Oklahoma is delivering the equipment for a Global Information System/Global Positioning System (GIS/GPS) laboratory and a child nutrition laboratory at Iraqi universities (link in PDF). You can also read how the University of Hawaii and the State University of New York are helping Iraqi academics, students, and faculties in the areas of agriculture, forestry, environmental health, archaeology and library services (link in PDF).

The Ministry of Education has recently employed 7,000 university graduates as teachers, guides and librarians. Some of them are former employees dismissed for political reasons under the Saddam regime. In An Najaf province, USAID will be helping local Parents and Teachers associations and communities to replace mud and reed schools with proper concrete buildings.

In agriculture, in Diyala province, USAID's Community Action Programme (link in PDF) is helping local farmers to set up beekeeping and calf fattening cooperatives. USAID is also assisting with the growth of the date palm industry:
"Representatives from the Agricultural Reconstruction and Development for Iraq (ARDI) program met with the Director General from the State Board for Date Palms of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) to discuss four proposals to improve date production and date palm breeding.

"In 2004, ARDI provided $250,000 to assist the MOA’s National Program for the Improvement of Date Palms (now the State Board for Date Palms) to establish 21 mother orchards in the 13 date-producing governorates in order to preserve varieties, create a gene bank and produce new offshoots for regeneration.

"Now the MOA wishes to expand the area of 16 of the 21 mother orchards already established and to add additional mother orchards to increase available plant stock with ARDI assistance."
In Nasiriyah and Al Sadr district of Baghdad, the Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, and of Agriculture, in conjunction with World Food Organisation and Italian Onedo Organisation, are planning a series of initiatives aiming at reducing unemployment and generating growth in the areas of palm tree, livestock and tomato cultivation.

HUMANITARIAN AID: British NGO, Baby Lifeline, is organizing training seminars for Iraqi doctors: "The medical training conference will include scientific meetings and discussions with the participation of 90 Kuwaiti doctors regarding mother and embryo health, including several practical exercises. The general manager of Basra health department, Dr. Raed Salman, said that international conferences of this kind contribute to knowledge and information exchange, which is very important for Iraq, which was isolated from the rest of the world during the last 20 years." Says Judy Ledger, founder and chief executive of Baby Lifeline: "Delegates have been telling me that this is the sort of event they've wanted and needed for so long. When the first Iraqi delegates came through they were so excited to be here with colleagues from all over the country. The idea is the people here over the next three days will be able to disseminate what we're teaching them to their colleagues, so we're not just showing how it's done in the UK, we're also educating them so they can educate others." And Dr Ali Kubba, an Iraqi consultant community gynaecologist at Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine, in London, adds: "Iraq's healthcare system has endured severe challenges in past and present times, and women bore the brunt of the service's degradation. As Iraq emerges from the catastrophes of recent years, the care of women and children must top the agenda here." More about the conference here.

Red Crescent society of the United Arab Emirates is donating $250,000 for the construction of an orphanage in Sadr City in Baghdad. The society is already providing support to some 6,000 Iraqis. The UAE are also providing considerable humanitarian assistance to the residents of Fallujah.

Throughout the United States, private local initiatives are involving whole communities in helping Iraqi people. This, from Pittsburg, as part of the Operation I CAN, Iraqi Children Assistance Network:
"Karissa Dougherty was excited about shopping for school supplies in January -- not for herself, but for children in Iraq. Karissa, 5, of Forest Hills, is learning about giving in Teresa Thompson's kindergarten class at St. Maurice School through a project that distributes educational supplies to children in Iraq...

"The effort to get school supplies for Iraqi children was started by 1st. Lt. William Diefenbach of the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery, after he met with teachers and students at five schools while serving in the Tikrit area of Iraq, according to the network's Web site.

"Thompson estimates the five boxes stacked in her classroom weigh 50 to 60 pounds each after the school's two kindergarten classes brought in donations for two months. The packages will be mailed in the new few weeks."
Another report explains: "The project consists of a nonprofit charity put together by the 411th Civil Affairs Army Battalion, which solicits school supplies and other items that soldiers distribute to school-age children. Operation I Can has gathered 20,000 tons of school supplies and raised $10,000 dollars as a nonprofit charity."

This from Arkansas:
"To some children, a pencil can mean the difference between being rich and poor. That's the lesson students at Goza Middle School recently learned through a project to gather school supplies for the children of Iraq.

"According to Officer Steve Escalante, the school resource officer at Goza, the idea for the project came from Officer Don Cleek, a fellow school resource officer who recently concluded a year-long tour of duty in Baghdad, Iraq.

"Arkadelphia Police Chief Al Harris said the project's inception came from a package he had sent to Cleek which contained a few pencils with the police department's logo on them. 'They were the kind we give away at the fair. I had a few left over,' Harris said.

"Cleek told Harris the pencils were very popular with the children. 'Word got out that he had pencils and the kids just mobbed him,' Harris said.

"Since re-establishing schools is one of the duties of American soldiers in Iraq, Harris and Cleek came up with the idea to get Escalante and the students at Goza involved in the project. Competing as home room classes, the students at Goza began collecting school supplies to be sent to the children of Iraq. More than 600 items were collected."
Meanwhile, this good-will action for Iraqi children in proving a huge success:
"Melissa Capone was busy Saturday, packing teddy bears and writing letters for Iraqi orphans, when she realized the children might not read English. 'I tried to draw teddy bears, but I'm not so good at drawing teddy bears,' the 10-year-old said. 'I wrote to some little boy, and I told him my name, and I made a picture of me and him, and I did that for a little girl. ... If we sent them teddy bears, I thought it would make them feel a lot better.'

"For four hours Saturday, 12 girls from the Girl Scouts of Palm Glades Council packaged teddy bears to send to orphans in Iraq. Robert Gordon, director of the Boca Raton-based American Health Association, usually collects about 15,000 teddy bears to distribute in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities during winter holidays.

"Last year he decided to solicit more for orphans in Iraq. He received 50,000 stuffed animals from around the United States, and sent 5,000 over last year to a U.S. military officer who uses them to spread good will."
And Don Harding from Spokane Valley, Washington, has so far collected 60 soccer balls to send to his son serving in Kirkuk for the distribution to Iraqi children.

THE COALITION TROOPS: In addition to civilian contractors and Iraqis themselves, the Coalition forces continue to play a prominent role in the reconstruction effort. As this report indicates, the pace of reconstruction is picking up:
" 'We didn’t realize how badly the infrastructure had decayed under Saddam Hussein,' said a senior U.S. Central Command official. 'Iraq’s infrastructure — its oil, water and electricity — were rubber-banded and glued together.'

"Today, restoring Iraq’s infrastructure has become a critical component in the path to success in Iraq, and the United States has committed $18.4 billion to the reconstruction effort.

"Under the Gulf Region Division’s supervision, more than 1,500 reconstruction projects are under way throughout Iraq, with another 650 already completed, Kosich said. Ultimately, the Army Corps of Engineers expects to oversee a projected 2,900 projects -- a 'phenomenal increase' over late June, when contractors were 'turning dirt' on just 200 projects, he said.

"Projects range from large infrastructure projects -- power plants and wastewater and water treatment facilities, and oil projects, for example -- and small-scale projects such as street repairs, new or improved health clinics, schools, and police and fire stations.

"Other projects provide vital facilities for Iraq’s security forces: military bases for the new Iraqi army and Iraqi National Guard, police stations, ports of entry and border forts, among them, Kosich said.

"Examples of the reconstruction projects run the gamut. In Baghdad’s Al Ameen district, a new $2.7 million sewage and wastewater project replaces open trenches and malfunctioning lagoons and moves sanitary waste from the neighborhood.

"Throughout Iraq, the Corps’ Gulf Region Southern District is putting $4 million to work building and furnishing new schools to replace mud-and-reed huts used as schoolhouses for poor children of the country’s rural areas. And more than $10 million is being invested in rebuilding and paving almost 200 kilometers of rural village roads in four northern Iraq provinces.

"As these and myriad other projects proceed, they’re bringing the Iraqis another tangible benefit: jobs and the opportunity to provide for their families. More than 170,000 Iraqis are employed in reconstruction jobs, up about 40,000 from just last month, Kosich said."
At the forefront of the reconstruction effort and interaction with Iraqis are civil affairs units. This story profiles the work of one of them:
"Since the onset of the war in Iraq, stories about explosions, gunfire, terrorism and the loss of American troops have regularly permeated the news. Less publicized is the work of civil affairs units whose role is critical to the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom. These reservists bring to the combat environment not only their military skills, but also their expertise in city planning, law enforcement, teaching, carpentry and business.

"One such 'peacemaker' is Spc. Judy Aiksnoras of Oxford. A member of the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based in Danbury, Spc. Aiksnoras was deployed to Iraq last September. She currently is engaged with her unit in projects geared towards stabilizing the province of Diyala.

"The 20-year-old resident of Perry Lane... noted that the goal of the Civil Affairs Battalion is to help civilians by rebuilding schools and recreational facilities, creating a government, teaching them new skills and helping them establish a better way of life.

"Spc. Aiksnoras' responsibilities include building soccer fields, chess halls, wedding halls, small amusement parks and weight-lifting facilities - not with hammer, nails and physical grit, but by contracting the projects and seeing them through. Her job entails collecting information - photographs, financial estimates and blueprints - on the various projects, which she then assembles into packets and submits to superiors for approval. Once a project is sanctioned and underway, she follows its progress until it is complete."
From Basra, Lieutenant Colonel Norman Grady reports on the success of reconstruction work:
"When Lieutenant Colonel Norman Grady got to Basrah, Iraq, over a year ago, it was a dry and barren wasteland. Now, thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, progress is being made by leaps and bounds.

" 'In a little over a year plus, we've helped bring their electrical production back up to pre-war levels and beyond. We've helped do the same thing with the oil infrastructure program, bring it back up to pre-war levels and beyond,' said Grady, a deputy commander for the Southern District in Iraq...

" 'Because we were able to migrate to where we employed more Iraqis in the construction side, they also associate that with greater opportunities for employment,' Grady said.

"Grady says his camp was constantly hit with mortar rounds and rockets attacks, but they refused to let insurgents stop the rebuilding process. 'They found that they just didn't slow things down,' said Grady. 'The program was so huge that we could just move the effort some place else and keep building.'

"Some of the construction projects they've accomplished in months would have taken years over here, and that's helping Iraq get back on its feet."
In Najaf, the US forces have so far overseen a completion of $10 million-worth of reconstruction projects, "including water pumping stations, maintaining electricity power stations, building and maintaining a large number of schools, organizing the internal parks in the city, building and overhauling a large number of medical centers, purchasing many vehicles for the security authorities, using the money in overhauling all institutions of Najaf province and purchasing various furniture."

In Fallujah, "the I Marine Expeditionary Force Engineer Group (I MEG) officially stood down Friday, and was relieved by the 30th Naval Construction Regiment (30th NCR), in a Transfer of Authority ceremony held at Camp Fallujah, in western Iraq." Both the Marines before them and Seabees now are involved in a whole range of reconstruction projects: "Currently, there are 77 reconstruction projects funded with $66 million for the city of Fallujah. Another 52 projects have been identified and are under consideration as well."

In Tikrit, the troops from the 3rd Infantry Division at Forward Operating Base Dagger have donated five new ambulances to the local health service. "Before we had ambulances from the old regime. The ambulances we had were not very fast, making it difficult for us to respond quickly during an emergency. The new ambulances are great. I hope we can get more of them in the future," says Thamer Najim Abdulla, the local ambulance driver.

You can also read this story about the work of one unit in Baghdad:
"Riding through the streets of Mahalla, a crowded neighborhood on Baghdad’s east side, Army Lt. Col. Jamie Gayton and his soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Troops Battalion are carrying out a quiet mission — but one Gayton believes is going a long way toward winning the peace in Iraq...

" 'I have the best job in the world,' said Gayton, whose battalion oversees a wide variety of infrastructure projects under way in the 2nd Brigade’s operating area in eastern Baghdad. 'I go where the projects are happening, so people are ecstatic.'

"While much of the brigade’s focus is fixed on battling insurgents who threaten Iraq’s security, Gayton and his battalion are countering the threat in a different way: by winning the Iraqi people’s support for the coalition...

"They work through local sheiks, neighborhood advisory councils and municipal authorities to identify local needs — which are many in what he called the “have-not” neighborhoods in eastern Baghdad who received little more than promises from Saddam Hussein.

"After identifying needs, the soldiers coordinate with potential funding sources, including the Iraqi government, the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds committed by the U.S. government and overseen by the Defense Department’s Program Contracting Office, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Office of Transition Initiatives and nongovernmental agencies among them.

"Most contracts awarded require that the work be done by Iraqis from the local community being served. This, Gayton explained, helps ensure much-needed jobs for Iraqis, while making local community members active players in the improvements."
The troops continue to contribute to building Iraqi security infrastructure. "The 127th Military Police Company has spent more than $3 million on infrastructure and force-protection improvements during the past 10 months at the 19 Iraqi police stations it monitors in northwest Baghdad, said Army Capt. Kevin Hanrahan, the unit’s commander. An effective, stable Iraqi security force is key to a withdrawal of U.S. forces, he added... During the year, the MPs made steady progress developing and training the Iraqi police, Hanrahan said. He credited the progress to upgrades in facilities and equipment delivered by the U.S. Army. Fortifying those 19 stations was a top priority. The buildings had to be capable of withstanding terrorist attacks so the Iraqi police could conduct business."

Other troops help to keep vital infrastructure going:
"If there was one day during his deployment that Army Master Sgt. Ray Puckett knew that he was making a contribution here, it was when the lights shone in Baghdad on election day, Jan. 30.

"Puckett, an Army reservist with a Roanoke, Va.-based 80th Training Division unit, is a member of the Emergency Reaction Pipeline Repair Organization, a five-member task force poised to respond immediately to sabotage against Iraq’s pipelines.

"The oil and gas lines, which keep Baghdad’s lights burning, its heaters pumping and its vehicles moving, are considered a strategic target by terrorists committed to disrupting progress in Iraq.

"An estimated 250 attacks have blown apart pipeline infrastructure, causing the electrical grid to sputter and eroding the Iraqis’ confidence in the reconstruction effort under way. Dealing with the aftermath of the attacks has also eaten into funds earmarked for reconstruction projects and deprived Iraq of desperately needed export revenues.

"One major attack, during the last week of January, threatened to leave Baghdad in the dark during Iraq’s national elections Jan. 30. But thanks to a quick response by the Emergency Reaction Pipeline Repair Organization and its partners here, the voting proceeded without disruption."
Read the whole thing.

Sometimes the projects are small and very local. In Abu-Dashir, located in the Al Rasheed province, "soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment and 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, teamed up with a local contractor to clean up the roads and repair a broken sewage pipe... News about the sewage work spread fast and within minutes, more than 60 children surrounded the work site. Soldiers distributed soccer balls and other items to keep the children away from the work."

And sometimes, the soldiers' work is quite ephemeral: "For many in Iraq, democracy is a bitter pill to swallow. For U.S. soldiers, who are trained to fight and win battles, propping up the new democracy while discreetly putting an 'Iraqi face' on events has been a delicate task. For soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, part of the 42nd Infantry Division’s Task Force Liberty, practicing diplomacy is one of the main jobs."

The troops are also trying to deal with the consequences of past violence across the country. This is how the Army's "condolences payments" program is working out in practice:
"Every other Wednesday and Thursday, the bereft and the aggrieved form a long line on the dusty roadway outside the fortified U.S. military compound in Baqubah...

"Iraqi men and women, and occasionally children, wait in blinding sunshine or dreary rainfall to present damage claims to the U.S. military. Their cases range from the tragic to the mundane: A widow says her husband was killed during an American combat operation. A father reports his young son lost an arm in American gunfire. A farmer's cows were killed, a house was damaged, a car was wrecked, windows were broken.

"A determined complainant with enough perseverance might wait several hours to be searched and then escorted inside the barbed wire and blast walls to speak to a military legal officer. In more than half the cases nationwide, legal officers say, a cash payment is made — up to $2,500 for a death, $1,500 for an injury and $500 for property damage.

"Under the informal 'condolence payments' program launched in mid-2003, the U.S. military does not claim to compensate Iraqis for their losses. It does not admit guilt or acknowledge liability or negligence. It is merely saying, in effect, 'We sympathize with your loss,' as one judge advocate general officer put it.

"Military legal officers say a condolence payment is a gesture that expresses sympathy in concrete terms. 'The program is designed not to make up for anything but to acknowledge that there has been a tragedy or some sort of damage,' said Capt. Emily Schiffer, chief of administrative law for the Army's 1st Cavalry Division. 'It's an expression of sympathy and condolence to a family. Obviously, it's the right thing to do to kind of bridge the gap between the two parties'."
Some aren't placated by such gestures, but many are: "Ibrahim Makoter, 43, who said his car flipped over and was badly damaged when it was hit by a U.S. armored vehicle in Baghdad in August, said he was gratified by the U.S. response. He said a U.S. military policeman righted the car, apologized and told him where to file a claim. A month after filing, he was paid in cash. 'This is something we aren't used to seeing,' Makoter said." As the report notes, "for all its shortcomings, the program seems to pay tribute to the tribal tradition of 'blood money' for loss of life or property... The program is so informal and decentralized that total payout figures are difficult to obtain. An Army spokesman said about $2.2 million was paid from mid-2003 to mid-2004, but he said he could not find current figures — or the number of claims filed or approved. An officer with the Army comptroller's office in Baghdad said about $450,000 had been paid in greater Baghdad since June."

Soldiers are also involved in humanitarian work:
"A parade of human tragedy awaits Lt. Brad Banks every Sunday at the Al Rasheed district advisory council building. Little boys in urgent need of heart surgeries he cannot perform. A boy whose withered legs he cannot straighten. An older woman facing the wrath of her family because she cannot bear children. They come to see Banks every Sunday at a makeshift health clinic he sets up in a conference room in a building once used as a hunting lodge by Saddam Hussein's son Odai.

"Banks is not a doctor. And he makes that abundantly clear to the people who come to see him. It doesn't matter. For the desperately poor people in this rundown Baghdad neighborhood, the 38-year-old civil affairs officer is the only hope they have. His job description is simple enough: Help people who need medical attention get it. Most of the people have been diagnosed by a local doctor but are either unable to afford the treatment or the treatment for their condition is not available in Iraq.

"But after four months working in a society with only the most rudimentary medical establishment, Banks has begun to realize that his job only sounds simple on paper. 'People come here thinking that we're going to have a magical cure or give them a pill to pop and it will be all better,' Banks says. 'If only it were that easy.'

"Banks is a medical service corps officer and his military training is limited strictly to hospital administration, not the practice of medicine. He speaks only a few Arabic phrases and uses a translator to communicate with his patients."
But it doesn't stop Lt Banks from trying to help - read the whole story. Meanwhile, Staff Sgt. Jessica Kelly, from Lafayette, Louisianna, and her unit are trying to help an Iraqi boy paralyzed at the start of the war in an explosion. "When his mom kisses me and praises Allah that I’m here, I can’t think of a more noble cause to be away from my own family, than to be doing this," says Sgt Kelly.

Its not just the American troops, but other allies, too, continue to play important role. USAID's Local Governance Progarm is working with "Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) army groups from Poland and El Salvador to prepare them to better administer infrastructure development projects in South Central Iraq" (link in PDF):
"LGP specialists are meeting with Basrah governorate officials to prepare over 30 projects for proposal to the Polish Multinational Division's CIMIC. The LGP council trainer met with 10 Basrah council leaders to identify projects to propose to CIMIC. The Polish CIMIC has significant funds and the will to invest in the governorate but has few engineers on staff. LGP has many engineers but no money to fund infrastructure projects so bringing the two together for short, defined purposes is beneficial for both organizations.

"Specialists also recently completed the construction of a database of contractors who have worked with LGP for the benefit of the newly rotated El Salvadoran Battalion’s CIMIC unit which is now responsible for infrastructure projects in southern Babil governorate. The Salvadoran CIMIC can save time and money by working with proven contractors and tested Iraqi businesses."
SECURITY: One of top American officers in Iraq notes an improving security environment:
"The top Marine officer in Iraq said... that the number of attacks against American troops in Sunni-dominated western Iraq and death tolls had dropped sharply over the last four months, a development that he called evidence that the insurgency was weakening in one of the most violent areas of the country.

"The officer, Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, head of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, said that insurgents were averaging about 10 attacks a day, and that fewer than two of those attacks killed or wounded American forces or damaged equipment. That compared with 25 attacks a day, five of them with casualties or damage, in the weeks leading up to the pivotal battle of Falluja in November, he said."
Experts also note the terrorists' change of tone:
"It is an all-too-familiar ritual. Hours after an attack on an American convoy or an Iraqi police patrol, a brief statement begins appearing on Islamist Web sites claiming the attack was carried out by fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Iraq's most wanted man.

"But in the past two weeks, something has changed.

"Every day now, new messages appear on the Web offering encouragement to resistance fighters, and last week, al-Zarqawi's group started an Internet magazine, complete with photographs and 43 pages of text. Other Islamist groups are joining the effort, including one calling itself the Jihadist Information Brigade.

"The recent flurry of propaganda from Iraq has a distinctly defensive sound.

"The violence here has not let up, but the relatively peaceful elections, and the new movements toward democracy in other Arab countries, appear to have had a dispiriting effect on the insurgents, terrorism analysts say.

" 'I think they feel they are losing the battle,' said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, an American nonprofit group that monitors Islamist Web sites and news operations. 'They realize there will be a new government soon, and they seem very nervous about the future'."
Read the whole thing. Meanwhile, the televised confessions of alleged terrorists and insurgents continue to be a big hit on Iraqi TV:
" 'This is a hot one and comes with a special recommendation from the interior minister himself,' says a man with a prosthetic arm tossing videotape on Karim Abdul Jabbar’s desk.

"In a cramped room filled with rows of archived tapes at Iraq’s state-owned television station Al-Iraqiyah, Jabbar and two other technicians are busy formatting and editing taped confessions of alleged insurgents and criminals for the nightly show 'Terrorists in the Grip of Justice.'

" 'Saddam cut off Bassem’s hand because he was a money changer,' says the thin and greying Jabbar, 42, as he lights up a cigarette and rewinds footage of a purported Saudi admitting to having come to Iraq for Jihad (holy war). 'This show is therapeutic for people.'

"The programme, which has been on the air for less than a month, has already stirred up Iraqis. Many want the alleged criminals and terrorists parading on the screen to be publicly executed, while a few say it is government propaganda to sully the image of the true resistance fighters and to portray them as a group of psychopaths and criminals beholden to foreign powers, mainly Syria.

"Iraqi officials and those behind the programme say they have a moral duty to the public to show the culprits of the car bombings and killings that plague Iraq two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein."
Things are improving on Baghdad's dangerous Haifa Street:
"Nearly two years after American troops captured Baghdad, Haifa Street is like an arrow at the city's heart. A little more than two miles long, it runs south through a canyon of mostly abandoned high-rises and majestic date palms almost to the Assassin's Gate, the imperial-style arch that is the main portal to the Green Zone compound, the principal seat of American power...

"In the first 18 months of the fighting, the insurgents mostly outmaneuvered the Americans along Haifa Street, showing they could carry the war to the capital's core with something approaching impunity.

"But American officers say there have been signs that the tide may be shifting. On Haifa Street, at least, insurgents are attacking in smaller numbers, and with less intensity; mortar attacks into the Green Zone have diminished sharply; major raids have uncovered large weapons caches; and some rebel leaders have been arrested or killed.

"American military engineers, frustrated elsewhere by insurgent attacks, are moving ahead along Haifa Street with a $20 million program to improve electricity, sewer and other utilities. So far, none of the work sites have been attacked, although a local Shiite leader who vocally supported the American projects was assassinated on his doorstep in January.

"But the change American commanders see as more promising than any other here is the deployment of large numbers of Iraqi troops. American commanders are eager to shift the fighting in Iraq to the country's own troops, allowing American units to pull back from the cities and, eventually, to begin drawing down their 150,000 troops. Haifa Street has become an early test of that strategy."
The US forces are also getting increasingly better at neutralizing the Improvised Explosive Device threat. With a string of arrests of bomb-making experts, "US soldiers in the Baghdad area have located a larger than ever number of IEDs before they detonate, due partly to what is described by one intelligence officer as 'sloppy ordnance work by second-tier contractors'."

The Iraqi authorities are reporting on successes in the hotspot of Samarra:
"In the days since Iraqi forces rolled in to sweep out insurgents, citizens here are showing support for the operation by streaming to local checkpoints to personally deliver information to help the mission along.

"Citizens also are flooding the telephone lines to the office of Iraqi Gen. Adnan Thabit, security adviser to the Ministry of Interior, to express their gratitude for the show of force and tips on insurgent activity.

"More than 1,500 members of Iraqi police forces -- police commandos, a local public order battalion and local police forces -- arrived in the city March 4. Iraqi-led patrols have netted more than 80 suspects so far, officials said.

" 'The people of Samarra used to be afraid of the anti-Iraqi forces,' said Iraqi Gen. Rashid, commander of the 1st Brigade police commandos. 'They couldn’t tell us any information. Now their fear is gone.'

"Rashid said one citizen offered information about 17 targets, and in some cases, citizens personally led force members to suspects. 'Citizens say when we see the commandos work hard, we want to bring information about the terrorists,' Rashid said.

"Of the suspects in custody, officials have confirmed 38 as active anti-Iraqi fighters. Three have been identified as leaders of a terrorist cell in Samarra responsible for the deaths of 11 Iraqi police officers, seven Iraqi soldiers, three interpreters and two contractors, officials said. In addition, two primary leaders confessed their roles in burning Iraqi citizens’ homes, building two improvised explosive devices that hit U.S. tanks and three other IEDs that hit U.S. Humvees."
Even in Fallujah, the situation is slowly improving:
"Piles of rubble still line the streets here, but a few shops have opened on the main drag, schools are finally in session and a compensation program to help families rebuild made some token initial payments this month.

"Four months after the assault on Fallujah, in the center of Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland, American forces working to rebuild the city say they're seeing some progress, albeit limited, in a city that's still blockaded and under a curfew.

"Even a little progress is an important development in a city that's been a major test for the American presence in Iraq."
Iraqi forces are playing an increasingly prominent role in fighting terrorism:
"Eyes peering through slits in black masks, the commandos creep up the floors of the Baghdad apartment building, ready to pounce. Their target is Omar Tamimi, an insurgent believed to have carried out the January assassination of the governor of Baghdad province. Until recently, the responsibility for such high-profile operations has been shouldered by teams of elite U.S. troops. But on this night, the American commandos are playing a support role to members of the new Iraqi army's Counter Terrorism Task Force, a unit the U.S. is training to take on more counterinsurgent dirty work. The early stages of the operation unfold smoothly. One team of troops stops on the second floor, the other continues to the third, where they place explosive charges against a thin wooden apartment door. Two booms in quick succession echo in the concrete stairwell. The doors shatter inward in a storm of wooden splinters, and the Iraqi and American troops, identically outfitted with US-made M4 carbines, night-vision goggles, boots, uniforms and body armor, burst in.

"Inside the troops find children and three women, one of them elderly, cowering on the floor. The Iraqi forces search the apartment and find three men. They turn up Tamimi's identification papers, but not the target himself. After cuffing the adults—including the women—with plastic ties, the Iraqi commander grills them about Tamimi, but gets nowhere. Then an Iraqi officer begins chatting with the children; before long one of them reveals that Tamimi had been in the apartment moments before the troops rushed in. 'He's still here,' the officer tells the Americans. Soon a Green Beret is heard yelling and laughing in the kitchen. Under the sink he'd kicked a thin wall. Behind it was Tamimi, a thin sketch of a man, curled into a ball.

"Operations like the one that netted Tamimi earlier this year provide a glimpse of what U.S. commanders hope will be the future of combat in Iraq."
Insurgents are also facing increasing vigiliantism from within the community:
"When more than 80 bodies were found last week at four different places in Iraq, a fifth gruesome discovery attracted little notice.

"In the violent city of Ramadi, a center of Sunni insurgent activity 60 miles west of Baghdad, the bodies of seven men were found lined up in an unfinished house on the western outskirts of town, according to eyewitnesses.

"Unlike the corpses elsewhere, which were mostly Iraqi police and soldiers, the bodies in Ramadi apparently were foreigners, fighters working for Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings, kidnappings and assassinations.

"Each of the seven had been shot in the head or torso. The bodies were secretly buried in a local cemetery, the witnesses said.

" 'My cousins are the ones who killed them,' said Jabbar Khalaf Marawi, 42, a former army officer and Communist Party member in Ramadi. Marawi said the slayings were carried out by members of his Dulaimi clan in retaliation for the Oct. 2 killing of a clan leader, Lt. Col. Sulaiman Ahmed Dulaimi, the Iraqi National Guard commander for Ramadi and Fallujah, by al-Zarqawi's group."
In the end, however, while the public rage against terrorists is welcome, it will be up to professional security forces to fight insurgency. On this front the news is positive, too, as training of Iraqi security forces continues to gather pace: "The US military has trained and equipped over 145,000 Iraqi security troops, the Army's top civilian official said. The Iraqis trained were organized into 96 battalions, including 52 army and 44 police battalion, Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey told a news briefing at the Pentagon. In addition, some 50,000 Iraqis were either being trained or awaiting training, he said."

In most recent contributions to the growth of the Iraqi forces:
"With the graduation of nearly 1,500 soldiers at the Kirkush Military Training Base on March 20, all 27 battalions of nine brigades in the new Iraqi army are now operational.

"Graduations last week at Numaniyah sent more than 3,000 new soldiers to units throughout Iraq, officials said, and next week, another 600 soldiers are expected to graduate from the Iraqi Training Battalion – adding roughly 5,000 new soldiers to the Iraqi army ranks."
Also, over 2,900 Iraqi soldiers graduated from the Direct Recruit Replacements program at the Iraqi Training Battalion at Kirkush Military Training Base. "These graduates, who all have prior military service, spent three weeks in basic skills refresher courses with concentrations in traffic control points, local security patrols, and fixed site security." Subsequently, "several hundred men who showed up at the front gate of an Iraqi Army base in southeast Iraq immediately after the country’s Jan. 30 elections graduated March 17 from basic combat training. The 766 volunteers, who had no prior military experience before seeking to join the Army, went through eight weeks of training conducted by elements of the Iraqi Training Battalion and the 5th Division. In addition, 2,500 Direct Recruit Replacements graduated March 17 at the same base. The DRR soldiers, who have prior military experience, go through a three-week refresher course."

Iraqi military is also receiving non-combat training: "The first class of the new Iraqi Army Support and Services Institute kicked off March 21 with 153 students from the 1st Division of the Iraqi Intervention Force. The students are divided into six classes – transport supervisors, wheeled maintenance, armored maintenance, supply supervisor, basic logistic officers for supply and basic logistic officer for maintenance and transport. The 30-day training program is being taught by a Coalition Force team made up of 12 officers and 17 enlisted personnel." The course is designed to give the Iraqi Army logistical self-sufficiency.

You can also read this postcard from the training, as new and improved system kick into gear:
"The scene would have been unremarkable at any training base in the U.S. military: A group was learning squad tactics, and drill sergeants were standing by correcting them as needed.

"What made it remarkable was they were Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi drill sergeants. What’s more, they were doing it in Saddam Hussein’s hometown as part of the new Iraqi army’s 4th Division.

"The Iraqi drill sergeants learned their craft from the best in the world. U.S. drill sergeants 'trained the trainers' as part of the 4th Iraqi Army Division Training Academy. U.S. Army Maj. Donald E. McArdle, a member of the 42nd Infantry Division from the New York National Guard, is the academy’s commandant. But as with every other job here, he has an Iraqi counterpart. Iraqi army Lt. Col. Shaker Faris is McArdle’s opposite number, and he is working to take away the major’s job."
Police force is also expanding. On March 17, "the Iraqi Police Service graduated 156 police officers from advanced and specialty courses at the Adnan Training Facility... as part of the Iraqi government’s ongoing effort to train its security forces. The courses consist of Basic Criminal Investigations with 21 graduates, Interviews & Interrogations with 22 graduates, Internal Controls with 25 graduates, Violent Crime Investigation with 40 graduates, Kidnapping Investigation with 15 graduates and Critical Incident Management with 33 graduates." A day earlier, 144 new policemen graduated from the Al Kut Regional Training Academy. "To date, more than 25,000 police recruits have completed the eight-week training course developed for new recruits. An additional 35,000 police officers have completed the three-week Transitional Integration Program course that provides officers with prior experience a condensed version of the longer basic police training course."

There's training, too, for police special forces: "The Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Civilian Police Assistance Training Team (CPATT) is approaching the halfway point in training and fielding Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams to each governorate. Seven teams are trained and equipped; two others are currently in training. The program is designed to provide a SWAT team for each of 20 major Iraqi cities, with at least one in each governorate. Each team consists Iraqi police officers, including a captain in command."

In recent security successes throughout the country: the arrest of a female member of Al Zarqawi's network in Iraq; the arrest by the Iraqi security forces in the village of Hib Hib of 30 suspected insurgents "including the suspected leader of a bomb-planting insurgency cell and a man suspected of murdering a mayor and plotting the assassination of his successor" ("It was the first battalion-sized operation conducted by the U.S.-trained Iraqis in Diyala province in north-central Iraq"); the arrest of a Saudi national would-be suicide bomber preparing an attack on a military base near Kirkuk; the discovery of three arms caches by an Iraqi unit which has just be trained in the use and supplied with metal detectors; the foiling by Iraqi highway patrol officers in Dhi Qar of a kidnapping and, in two separate incidents, capturing hijackers in Dhi Qar and Basra; the discovery of three weapons caches in Mosul and Tal Afar; the capture by Iraqi security forces of 81 suspected insurgents in the Ninveh province and discovery of a weapons cache in the Missan province; the arrest of one of Saddam's bodyguards and one of his relatives, suspected of financing the insurgency; disarming a road-side bomb and the arrest of suspected bombmakers near Forward Operating Base Kalsu; the dismantling of three roadside bombs in Baghdad thanks to a tip from a local; the capture of a terrorist, Ramzi Hashem, who confessed to assassinating former head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Mohammed Baker al-Hakim, in a car bomb in Najaf more than a year ago, and who was planning the assassination of Grand Ayatollah Sistani; killing of 24 insurgents in a skirmish near Baghdad; the discovery of 24 buried roadside bombs in south Baghdad; killing and arrest of insurgents while planting several roadside bombs in Salah Ad Din province and Baghdad; killing of 17 and arrest of 13 suspected insurgents by Iraqi police anti-terrorism unit in a clash in Mosul; the arrest of nine suspects and recovery of an arms cache following an unsuccessful roadside bomb attack in Baghdad; recovery of arms caches (including one containing 70 land mines) in Miqdadiyah and Baghdad, following a tip from a local; locating and destroying of an insurgent training camp in a joint Iraqi-American operation in southwestern Salah Ad Din province, with reports of up to 85 Baathist insurgents and foreign terrorists killed in the operation ("At the scene, the commandos found documents indicating that there were Syrians, Algerians, other Arabs and at least one Filipino among the insurgents."); recovering by Iraqi troops of two arms caches and foiling a kidnap attempt at a Baghdad bank; and detaining by Iraqi troops around Mosul of some 80 suspects.

And so the struggle for the body and soul of Iraq goes on, from Iyad Allawi down to carpenter Dhia with his AK-47 and masses of other, nameless Iraqis erecting new hospitals, creating free media or setting up new businesses to employ locals; all with a lot of help from people of good will from around the world. On the other side, throat-slashers, saboteurs and suicide-bombers. Regardless of whether we supported or opposed the war, or what we think of the current American policies, for the sake of Iraq let's hope that the Dhias get one better over the masked gunmen.


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