Saturday, April 30, 2005

Next year, Saigon, again 

There are still a few outposts of tyranny left:
"Thousands of Vietnamese took to the streets of Ho Chi Minh city to celebrate 30 years since the communist victory that ended what is known as the 'American War.'

"On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into what was then called Saigon -- the capital of U.S.-backed South Vietnam."
But is one of the last few remaining communist regimes in the world perhaps getting a bit soft in the old age?
"Vietnam baked a four-ton cake for more than 1,000 Liberation Day babies and breaking with the military ceremonies of the past, the nation staged a parade without a real tank in sight...

"Concerned that too visible a show of 'triumphalism' could harm crucial economic ties with the United States, now Vietnam's biggest trading partner, Hanoi made sure this year's celebrations were as much about the future as the past...

"In a testament to a surging economy, many shops advertised anniversary sales offering '30 percent off on the 30th'."
That's the beautiful thing about fighting a liberal free-market democracy like the United States - even if you win, you lose.

Another report added: "Three decades after the last U.S. helicopters left a city once known as Saigon, a parade marking the communist victory featured logos of American Express and MasterCard, and the nation's president touted the country as a great place for overseas investors to do business."

Or as MasterCard would say:

Ejecting American imperialists out of the country: 2 million dead

Building communist utopia: 1 million refugees, hundreds of thousands of "reeducated" political prisoners, basic human rights suppressed, economy ruined while the rest of Asia is thriving

Admitting after three decades that your stupid communist policies have failed and the experiment is just about over: priceless.


Genghis Glenn 

In his latest "Opinion Journal" piece, Daniel Henninger described the "conservative-to-libertarian bloggers" who "swept across the Internet" as "a virtual Mongol horde."

Glenn Reynolds writes that some of his readers are objecting to this label, but he essentially agrees with Daniel: "Mongols drove all their enemies before them, feared nothing but lightning, and were so much faster than their opponents that they could ride around the outside of a besieged fortress faster than the defenders could redeploy on the inside. Sound familiar?"

As probably one of only a few bloggers with any Mongol blood in them, I feel eminently qualified to comment. Well, not really eminently, and my Mongol heritage reaches back to the 16th century, when my Polish family intermarried with some Tartars who were much sought after by the noble families of what was then the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on account of being very good with horses and hunting dogs, but that's the beautiful thing about our "Mongol horde" of the blogosphere - everyone can fire their arrow into the fray.

Mongols might have indeed been, as Glenn says, fearless warriors who drove circles around their enemies (often literally), which does remind one of a blogswarm sweeping upon a fortress of the mainstream media, but regardless of this "shock and awe" image, the MSM might actually wish that bloggers were Mongols.

Why, you might ask? Because Mongols proved to be a flash in the pan. They came seemingly out of nowhere, spread panic for a hundred or so years, built the world's largest empire - and then disappeared. Or rather, they got absorbed by their conquered. At the risk of sounding patronizing, Mongol culture (both material and intangible) and religion were pretty simple affairs with nothing much to offer the settled civilizations that fell under their domination from China to Russia and the Middle East. But Mongols, in turn, became increasingly fascinated by their new subjects. The nomad conquered the settled, but the settled eventually conquered the nomad - Mongols "sold out" and went native - some became Buddhists, some became Muslims, but virtually all got absorbed by their host societies.

Now, wouldn't the mainstream media just love to know that the current blog assault on its news and ideas monopoly is just a momentary heartache and nothing really to worry about - the blogs will swarm, they will terrorize and pile up a few media skulls, but soon enough the best ones will be absorbed into the mainstream and the rest will disappear back into the depths of Internet from where they came.


Friday, April 29, 2005

Congratulations, Iraq 

Iraq gets - its first democratically elected government approved by the National Assembly.

Saddam gets - a great birthday present (see above).

South Korean newspaper gets - it wrong: "Iraq has its first elected government since the fall of Saddam Hussein." Make that since Saddam was about ten years old.

Chrenkoff gets - his first reprint in an Iraqi newspaper.


Coming back soon 

Apologies for sparse blogging - my mother just came out of hospital after a surgery, so that takes priority. The normal operations will resume soon.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

"The WaPo" rewrites history 

First, it was "The New York Times" rewriting history, now "The Washington Post"'s Susan B. Glasser joins the revisionist brigade in her article discussing the recent terrorism report from the US National Counterterrorism Centre:

"Terrorist incidents in Iraq also dramatically increased, from 22 attacks to 198, or nine times the previous year's total -- a sensitive subset of the tally, given the Bush administration's assertion that the situation there had stabilized significantly after the U.S. handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government last summer."
Actually, there have been some recent claims from the US military in Iraq that the security situation has improved after the January 2005 election. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't recall the Bush Administration making assertions about the improving security situation following the June 28, 2004 handover of authority from Bremmer to Allawi. The second half of last year has, after all, seen the bloody assaults against Al Sadr in Najaf and against the jihadis and neo-Baathists in Fallujah. So quite the opposite, actually - I recall stories such as this, from mid-September 2004:

"President Bush warned on Saturday that deadly guerrilla violence in Iraq and Afghanistan could worsen in the coming weeks as the two countries move toward national elections."
In late September, Cheney was saying pretty much the same thing:

"The level of violence will be high during this period of time [in the run-up to the election] because they're desperate. They know the window's closing."
And in December:

"The US president, George Bush, admitted today he expected violence in Iraq to continue in the run-up to the country's elections next month, with no halt to the killing of 'hundreds of innocent' citizens."
So much for fair and balanced reporting. I don't expect a correction though.


Fondly remembering dinosaurs 

Nostalgia for the Soviet Union is not restricted just to Vladimir Putin and a large section of the Russian population but also pops up among Egyptian - you guessed it! - intellectuals (albeit on the occasion of Putin's historic visit in the land of pyramids):

"In the 1960s and 70s, Egypt hosted thousands of Russian troops and technicians and their families, but their most visible presence now is in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, where Russian tourists flock to the beaches on cheap flights.

"It saddens those who cherish the memory of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president who built the alliance with Moscow. 'The Soviet Union helped build Egypt as an economy and nation independent of the colonial powers,' said Ahmed Thabit, a Cairo University professor of politics.

" 'From the Soviet times, we have the High Dam, we have the factories of heavy industry,' said Thabit, a member of the Nasserite Party and of Egypt's new reform movement, Kifaya. 'All we see from the Americans is blue jeans, soft drinks and hamburgers'."
Actually, Professor Thabit, that's what you get from American businesses, because your own younger generation wants to consume all these things. From the American government Egypt gets some $2 billion "aid" a year (or $50 billion since 1975) - enough to build a good-sized dam or a factory a year. Maybe you should ask the Egyptian government what's happening to all that money (and let's hope that the good professor is not representative of the Egyptian opposition and "new reform movement".

If the Egyptians aren't getting much out of that $2 billion, and - looking at the amount of anti-American propaganda that spews out of official and semi-official sources in Egypt - the Americans aren't getting much out of that $2 billion, maybe it's time to stop equipping the Egyptian armed forces and spend the money on a serious and far-ranging economic reform and restructure package. Egypt has got enough dams and heavy industry - the twentieth century's pyramids - what it needs is a way to channel its people's energies into more productive avenues and a way to achieve meaningful integration with global economy.

Meanwhile, Putin's charm juggernaut through the Mid East continues with his
historic visit to Israel. The Soviets were of course the early supporters and sponsors of Israel but switched over to the Arab side in the 1960s (for all the supposedly deeply ingrained Polish anti-Semitism, I'm told of widespread joy in 1967 when "our" Jews kicked "their" Arabs' butts). Putin is desperately trying to make Russia relevant again on the international scene (another example, I guess, of Great Power Deprivation Syndrome), but the fact remains that at the moment the only thing that Russia has to offer is military technology, which it is rather indiscriminately selling to rogues and good guys alike, a sort of Weapons of Mass Distribution. As for diplomacy, for now few will take Russia seriously as a counter-balance to the United States in the region.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Third time lucky? 

Both Bill Roggio and Chester have interesting thoughts about the near capture of Al Zarqawi in a manic pursuit outside Ramadi. One thing's for certain - we are getting close, very close; a few weeks ago, our special forces missed him by what sounds like only few minutes.

But we've got his driver and his bodyguard, as well as his laptop computer, which is bound to contain some treasures. And who knows what else we might find on that hard drive? When the police retrieved the computer belonging to Abdul Aziz, also known as
Imam Samudra, one of the masterminds of the 2002 Bali bombing, in addition to all the usual terrorist materials, the experts had also found pictures of naked white women. So much for pious jihadis - although Samudra claims the photos were planted there to discredit him. Sure, sure, every mother has heard such excuses. So - gay p*rn on Al Zarqawi's laptop, perhaps?


Reason why the Democrats lost the election, part 347 

Senator Edward Kennedy didn't have anything to say on 19 March, the second anniversary of the start of the liberation of Iraq. In fact, he kept quiet until two days later, only to talk about President Bush's judicial appointments.

Senator Kennedy didn't have anything to say on 9 April, the second anniversary of the liberation of Baghdad and the end of Saddam's regime. In fact, he kept quiet until the following day, when he spoke on the occasion of receiving a community award.

On 26 April, Senator Kennedy finally
chose to mark an anniversary:

"The sad anniversary of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal is now upon us. It's an appropriate time to reflect on how well we've responded as a nation."
In just over six months from now, the sad anniversary of the loss of the presidential election will be upon the Democrats. It will be an appropriate time to reflect on how well they've responded as a party. By the looks of it, the thinking hasn't started quite yet.

(in case you were wondering, Senator Kennedy also kept silent
last year.)

Update: With a hat tip to reader Kevin, for highlighting this section of Senator Kennedy's statement:

"Top officials in the Administration have endorsed interrogation methods that we've condemned in other countries, including binding prisoners in painful 'stress' positions, threatening them with dogs, extended sleep deprivation, and simulated drownings."
Ironically, Senator Kennedy himself drowned more people than American interrogators. As James Taranto would write, "Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment".


Book Review: "South Park Conservatives" 

"Fox News chief Roger Ailes on Tuesday defended the top-rated cable news channel from an antiwar heckler while deflecting some good-natured ribbing from former Vice President Al Gore about a perceived rightward tilt at Fox.

"Ailes, during a discussion about the media's role in democracy at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, also endorsed the integrity of many bloggers, a sentiment shared by U.S. News and World Report publisher Mortimer Zuckerman, also onstage.

"CNN's Jeff Greenfield set the spirited exchange in motion by mentioning a Pew study that found that 52 percent of Fox News viewers are Republican and only 13 percent are Democrats.

" 'I don't know the relevance of a Pew study,' Ailes said. 'I do know that 100 percent of the people who work there are liberals.'

" 'What about Herb, the guy in maintenance?' Greenfield joked.

" 'He's downstairs watching Fox,' Ailes shot back."
I chanced upon this exchange as I was making my way through "South Park Conservatives", a delightful new book by Brian C. Anderson, senior editor of the Manhattan Institute's "City Journal". The title derives from a term "South Park Republicans", devised and popularized by Andrew Sullivan to describe a new generation of libertarian hawks, fiercely anti-liberal, anti-elitist and anti-bullshit, and unlike many more traditional conservatives, well at ease in the modern world and its pop culture.

Anderson's book, however, is about lot more than Gen Ys or foul-mouthed anti-PC cartoon characters; as the subtitle suggests, "South Park Conservatives" tells the riveting story of "The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias". There is a cultural counter-revolution going on, Anderson contends, and big networks, established newspapers, pampered academics and self-important talking heads are losing their grip over what the populace sees, reads and thinks. All that thanks to a new breed of entrepreneurs and intellectuals who are braking down old information and ideas monopolies with clever use of new media and commercial opportunities.

Growing out of Anderson's much-talked about 2003 article
"We're not losing the culture wars anymore" (which I remember, in my pre-blogging days, emailing all my friends), "South Park Conservatives" is a quick and quirky trip through the frontlines and trenches of the struggle against the liberal dominance of media, culture and higher education. If you're a political junky with a fast internet connection, a lot of the material gathered by Anderson will already be familiar to you, but the beauty of books is the still unparalleled impact of all the condensed information marshaled together at your fingertips.

Secondly, the events of the last few years have politicized countless millions of ordinary people, and in many cases for the first time exposed them new ideas and new media. For all those people who want to catch up, fill the gaps and get the background on what has been going on, "South Park Conservatives" will offer a perfect primer, doing for the conservative counter-attack in culture wars what William Rusher's "The Rise of the Right" did for conservative counter-attack in the political sphere some twenty years ago.

In his dispatches from the vanguard of the new revolution, Anderson discusses the rise of conservative talk radio, the impact of FOX channel, the growth of anti-liberal entertainment best exemplified by "South Park", the blogosphere explosion, the coming of age of conservative publishing, and retaking of campuses. Personally, having been in love with books since I was five, I took particular liking to the second last chapter. Anderson quotes Adam Bellow, the editor at Doubleday, explaining the rather phenomenal growth of opportunities to publish right-wing books: "Business rationality has trumped ideological aversion. And that's capitalism."

As Anderson himself write, "By no means... has the Right conquered popular culture; television entertainment, especially on the networks, remains mostly liberal in sensibility, and everyone knows where Hollywood stands politically. But it's no longer a liberal monopoly: A new post-liberal counterculture has emerged." Capitalism clearly is yet to triumph in other types of media the same way it did in publishing. It is somewhat ironic that books, being the oldest medium, in the end proved to be the easiest to conquer, while TV and print journalism are fiercely resisting calls for more intellectual diversity. Still, as Anderson shows, technology - some old, some new - can be very liberating and can be always used to circumvent media monopolies. Network TV won't give a chance? That's what cable is for. So is radio. Newspapers too biased? Internet will provide a balance.

And that, in the end, is the best message to take from "South Park Conservatives". Many on the right tend to have a pessimistic outlook on the world and - not without justification - develop a siege mentality. But what Anderson shows through his discussion of the culture wars is that doldrums - and monopolies - never last forever, that for every revolution there is eventually a counter-revolution, and that with optimism, ingenuouity, and technological progress nothing is impossible.

So join the revolt, and do yourself a favor - get a copy for
"South Park Conservatives" today.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A few from the Middle East 

A few things from the Mid-East that caught my attention:

Egypt: An interesting piece in "The Washington Post" - old undemocratic habits are pretty hard to break for president Mubarak as he hounds his main rival, Ayman Nour. There are some positive signs, though:
"An electoral farce featuring the persecution or jailing of Nour and the ballot-box stuffing widely reported in previous Egyptian elections would eliminate the possibility that Egypt, like Mexico or South Korea, will be led to democracy by its ruling party. It could also scatter the group of young technocrats who, under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, have embarked on an aggressive effort to liberalize the economy and modernize the regime. The prosecution of Nour, one told me, is intended 'to stop the reforms.' Nazif, whose tax and tariff cutting and privatization of state companies have prompted a 130 percent gain in the Cairo stock market since last summer, insists the government is committed to real change. 'We led peace. We can lead political reform,' he said, echoing the phrase President Bush has used for Egypt. He added: 'We don't have any differences' with Washington 'on where we want to be. We might have some differences on the tactics and the pace'."
Interesting, isn't it, how Bush is becoming quotable throughout the region? (hat tip: Alex S.)

Iraq: Astute Blogger has a wager for you:
"I betchya that IRAQ - rife with neojihadist and neobaathist terror and nagged by lingering ethnic divisions (between Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurdish, Shia and the Turkmen), and trying democracy for the first time ! - gets a new constitution before EUROPE does!"
The Saudis: Crossroads Arabia rounds up Crown Prince Abdullah's visit to the Crawford Ranch.

Also, the winner of the Saudi version of "Idol", "Star Academy 2" has been detained by the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - Saudi religious police - after being mobbed by fans at a shopping center - where friendly kisses are considered "improper" (hat tip: Andy B.). This is for all those who think that America is becoming a theocracy.

Iran: Regime Change Iran writes that Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani will be standing again for the presidency at the June election. This is a man widely portrayed in the West as a "moderate", who - as Regime Change Iran reminds us - had once said:
"If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world."
Chester, meanwhile, responds to the Fox's "Iran: The Nuclear Threat" special.


End of an era 

Not with a bang, but with a whimper - and largely a yawn from the media - the Syrian troops have pulled out of Lebanon. It took a bitter civil war to get them there 29 years ago, it took Bush Sr.'s tacit acquiescence in exchange for Syria's support in the first Gulf War to entrench them there, and it took one misfired assassination followed by unyielding pressure from Bush Jr. to get them out. But for that fateful conjunction of a fatal miscalculation by Hariri's enemies and the specter of freedom haunting the Middle East (no apologies to Karl Marx), the UN Resolution 1559 would have remained just as effective as the most of the previous 1558 resolutions.

For another take on the withdrawal see
Decision '08.


Not seeing the forest for the trees 

Compare and contrast:
"[Liberal Democrat leader] Charles Kennedy claimed voters had 'no reason to trust' Mr Blair, while [Conservative leader] Michael Howard repeated his claim that the prime minister was a liar - although he added in an interview with Sky News that he believed that the war was 'probably legal'."
"Iraq’s new president Jalal Talabani has today hailed British intervention in Iraq as one of the UK’s 'finest hours' as he sent a message of gratitude to Prime Minister Tony Blair and the nation’s troops. In a letter to Mr Blair, the Kurdish politician said history will judge him as a 'champion against tyranny'."
In this election, I'm with the Kurds.

Update: It seems that the people of Britain agree more with an Iraqi president than their own opposition leaders:
"British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party has stretched its lead over the main opposition Conservatives into double figures despite fresh anger about the Iraq war, a poll showed today.

"The NOP survey in The Independent pointed towards a record third straight landslide win for Labour at the May 5 poll, with its support base at 40 per cent, compared with 30 per cent for the Conservative Party and 21 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.

"The 10-point lead is double that enjoyed by Blair's party in the newspaper's previous poll a week earlier, with Labour gaining three points and the Conservatives slipping two. The Liberal Democrats remained unchanged."
That's not to say that the majority support the involvement in Iraq, but it doesn't seem that they will punish Blair for it, obviously coming to the conclusion that there is more to the election than just Iraq.

Looking at the result from another perspective, 70 per cent of the Brits intends to vote for the parties committed to keeping troops in Iraq in the near future.

The only major leaders of the Willing who appear to be in some trouble are Berlusconi, who lost badly in local elections a few weeks ago and yesterday managed to put together a new government, and Poland's post-communist social democrats who will be punished for some disastrous domestic policies rather than Iraq and most likely will be replaced by a center-right coalition which is just as much, of not more, committed to the Coalition.


Resurrecting Stalin 

Vladimir Putin gets nostalgic in his address to the Russian people:

"First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century... As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory... The epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself."
No, Vladimir, the creation of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. It led to deaths of tens of millions, enslavement of hundreds of millions and half a century of Cold War with its simmering tensions, frequent violent outbursts, and the ever-present specter of nuclear annihilation. After all this, the collapse of the Soviet Empire was the greatest geopolitical blessing of recent times.

As for the Russian people, maybe these tens of millions shouldn't have found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory in the first place. If you have an official policy of colonizing fellow Soviet republics from Latvia to Kazakhstan with ethnic Russians, you should expect that the locals will feel rather resentful about being swamped by the occupier's ideology as well as its people. Of course I feel sorry for the people themselves, most of were just innocent pawns in Kremlin's geo-demographic chess game, and many of whom were actually born outside of Russia, but as for Putin, as the old saying goes, after you killed your parents you can't ask for leniency on the ground that you're now an orphan.

And the collapse spilling over into Russia - for which read, mainly, but not exclusively, Chechnia - well, the chickens are coming home to roost. Russia itself is as much of an artificial construct as the Soviet Union was, in a sense that it is not, and it has never been, a nation-state in its present borders. The difference is, all the non-ethnically Russian territories had been accumulated before the twentieth century (more here). The similarity is, the accumulated people have long memories, too. As I
wrote before, this indeed is Putin's greatest fear that motivates and informs his every move, domestic and international: the end of Russia herself.

Commenting on the concerted push across Russia to restore Stalin's nameplaces and monuments, historian
Antony Beevor told BBC (hat tip: Joseph Gallick):

"A whole orchestra of drums is being banged in a quite extraordinary way for the 60th anniversary celebrations of what is still called the Great Patriotic War. There is no doubt that the Soviet Union suffered the worst casualties of the war but nobody is prepared to face up to the dark side of Stalinism or indeed communism. There is a rehabilitation of Stalin to a large degree. I am surprised that Volgograd [formerly Stalingrad] has not already been renamed."
It reminds me of the writings of Fluke Kelso, the fictional Oxford academic in Robert Harris's brilliant 1998 thriller "Archangel":

"It is Stalin rather than Hitler who is the most alarming figure of the twentieth century...

"I say this not merely because Stalin killed more people than Hitler - although he clearly did - and not even because Stalin was more of a psychopath than Hitler - although he clearly was. I say it because Stalin, unlike Hitler, has not yet been exorcised. And also because Stalin was not a one-off like Hitler, an eruption out of nowhere. Stalin stands in a historical tradition of rule by terror which existed before him, which he refined, and which could exist again. His, not Hitler's, is the spectre that should worry us.

"Because, you know, you think about it. You hail a taxi in Munich - you don't find the driver displaying Hitler's portrait in his cab, do you? Hitler's birthplace isn't a shrine. Hitler's grave isn't piled with fresh flowers every day. You can't buy tapes of Hitler's speeches on the streets of Berlin. Hitler isn't routinely praised as 'a great patriot' by leading German politicians. Hitler's old party didn't receive more than forty per cent of the votes in the last German election -

"But all these things are true of Stalin in Russia today, which is what makes the words of Yevtushenko in 'The Heirs of Stalin', more relevant now than ever:

'So I ask our government
'To double
'To treble
'The guard
'Over his tomb'
Seven years later, and the situation is even worse than in Harris's fictional account, mostly because Stalin's rehabilitation now seems to be the official priority of the Russian government. And once again, the Western chattering classes which foam at the mouth when Prince Harry dresses up as a Nazi for a fancy costume party, and agonize endlessly whether the new German film "Downfall" makes Hitler look too human, will once again ignore the communist revival going on in Russia. Once again to the disgust of Robert Harris, who while a leftie, is one with a keen sense of history and perspective.

On the general topic, check out
Big Cat Chronicles: "Under Vladimir Putin, the Russian autocracy appears to be once again on the rise. 'Romanov Russia - The Dynasty's Imprint on the Russian National Psyche' is an exploration of one family's autocratic footprints on Russian history and is intended to help current events buffs put modern Russia's seeming return to an autocracy into perspective."


Monday, April 25, 2005

Good news from Iraq, Part 26 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. With thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman, and to all of you for your continuing support for this year-long now project.

Recently, British Broadcasting Corporation decided to conduct a little vox populi around Iraq: "Two years after the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad, marking the fall of the city to US-led forces, BBC Arabic.com asked seven Iraqis for their thoughts on how life has changed for them since the conflict." The results were surprising, certainly for the BBC, whose attitude towards the liberation of Iraq has always been at best lukewarm. They were surprising for me too, not so much in what the seven Iraqis had to say, but that the BBC still chose to run the story.

Here's Saad, 32, sound engineer from Basra: "Iraqis are feeling better. They are breathing the air of freedom. They read, watch and say what they want. They travel, work and receive a living wage. They use mobile phones, satellite dishes and the internet, which they did not even know before... As for terrorism, we are now beginning to unite against it and to defeat it."

Noura, 32, computer engineer from Baghdad and a Christian: "While we lost security after Saddam's fall, we gained our freedom and a chance to build a new society."

Nada, 32, government worker from Mosul: "We never imagined that the Turkmen community would have a political party representing them in Iraq, but this is happening now."

Kaban, 31, electrical engineer from Baghdad: "There have been many changes since the fall of Saddam's regime, but the most important change was that we feel free... However, those who say that security was better in the past are completely wrong. It is true we did not have suicide car bombings in Saddam's era, but our homes did not feel safe from the intrusion of Saddam's security men, who came in the middle of the night to kidnap, kill or rape."

Waala, 25, schoolteacher from Baghdad: "The Sunnis in Iraq do not live in isolation from the political and social circles of life, as many people outside Iraq seem to believe. Nothing has affected our relationships with each other - we face the same problems. This applies to Sunnis or Shia, Christians or Muslims, Arabs or Kurds. Unfortunately, the refusal by some Sunnis to participate in the elections was the cause of some political isolation."

Imad Mohammed, 25, university graduate from Baghdad: "I am no longer worried about losing my dignity or my life. And I am also getting a higher income, like most Iraqis."

Yes, the sample is hardly representative, and the concerns also expressed by the seven interviewees are many, most notably the still precarious security situation. But the sense of new-found hope and optimism cannot be easily dismissed, particularly since it also seems to be reflected in other interviews, opinion polls, and changes on the ground. Here are some stories from the past fortnight that you might have missed.

SOCIETY: Iraq has its first democratically elected government, with the appointment of Ibrahim Al-Jaafari as the Prime Minister. Al-Jaafari is also the first Shia leader in modern Iraq's history. "Jaafari has two weeks to name his cabinet, which will allow the new government to begin work on its primary task: drafting a permanent constitution that would pave the way for elections for a permanent government in December. Jaafari is seen as a moderate Islamist, favoring a strong role for Muslim teachings but reaching out to all of Iraq's communities." As the speaker of the National Assembly said to his colleagues when all the formalities were out of the way: "Your people are looking at you and waiting. So, work!"

In some of the first positive developments after the formation of the new government, President Talabani has came out against any immediate withdrawal of the Coalition troops from Iraq. "I think we are in great need to have American and other allied forces in Iraq until we will be able to rebuild our military forces," he told an interview. He also suggested that Iraq will remain in close cooperation with the United States even after the withdrawal: "We will remain in full consultation and coordination, cooperation with our American friends, who came to liberate our country."

In other positive developemnts, Iyad Allawi's mainly secular Iraqi List will be joining the government of national unity and actively participating in drafting of the constitution. Meanwhile, other Sunnis, outside of the current parliament, are also cautiously moving to embrace the new political realities:
"Unlike many of their supporters, most Sunni politicians now accept Talabani as president. The Iraqi Islamic Party, which refused to take part in the elections, has called on its members to give Talabani a chance. Kheder Mohammed, a party member and Ramadi council member, said, 'In the interests of Iraq, we have to deal with Talabani and his new government free from sectarian, national, or ethnic judgment.'

"Middle-class, educated Sunni Arabs are, it seems, already willing to accept that the appointment of a Kurdish president is an important step towards democracy. 'Educated Arab Sunnis after the election became more accepting of the new political situation in Iraq. They understand that they must be part of politics to reach their goals, so they welcomed the presidency of Talabani,' said Mohand al-Grayri, a political analyst from the Strategic Centre in Baghdad."
In a welcome move toward greater transparency in government (an area somewhat neglected under Saddam), "the newly elected parliament has signaled it would support a resolution under which the public should know about salaries of senior officials. The move comes amid rumors that senior Iraqi officials are on massive monthly salaries of which the Iraqi people are kept in the dark."

USAID continues to provide assistance to develop local governance and civil society through Iraq (link in PDF): "In northern Iraq, 170 participants from three governorates attended 11 training workshops to increase civil society organization (CSO) participation in reconstruction efforts and the drafting of the national constitution"; "a two-day session was conducted in Baghdad in late March for women active within Iraq’s political system on the basics of public speaking and political party advancement. The 48 participants came from a variety of backgrounds"; and awarding micro-grants to Iraqi NGOs working to increase public awareness of the constitution drafting process and the coming referendum.

Even the United Nations now wants to get onto the bandwagon: "The UN Security Council said on Monday that the United Nations would like to provide assistance to the constitutional process in Iraq. In a statement, Council President Wang Guangya of China said council members support UN Special Representative Ashraf Qazi's plans to expand the UN presence in Erbil and Basra of Iraq and, if requested, provide assistance to the constitutional process."

And the European Union is helping in growing the Iraqi grass-roots democracy:
"Europe's new pledge to assist in Iraq's postwar reconstruction is occurring in an unlikely place -- the working-class French town of Cleremont-Ferrand, where the vanguard of Iraq's new experiment in democracy is being established.

"Nestled among rolling hills in central France, it is here that the students - among them a one-time underground journalist in Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- are studying the basics of regional administration. Seated around the classroom table is the man in charge of Iraq's de-Baathification effort who simply identifies himself as a 'department chief.'

"The University of Auvergne is where some of the first pieces of a post-Saddam political landscape are being put together -- and where Europe's pledge to help Iraq in the post-Saddam era is being tested. 'What's most important are the principles,' said Jean-Pierre Massias, who heads the university's project to train the first class of senior level Iraqi officials in the basics of regional governance. 'The rule of law. Checks and balances. Compromise. How local administration is a tool in preventing a conflict -- and how to administer a country.'

"After dividing bitterly over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the European Union is finally coming together to help out in the country's reconstruction. The assistance is taking a myriad of forms, from training Iraqi security forces -- primarily outside the country -- to the Paris Club creditors' agreement last year to write off roughly 80 percent of Baghdad's debt."
While the assistance is arriving from overseas, it is the Iraqis themselves who have the toughest and most dangerous job of trying to make their democracy happen. For example, you can read this profile of Mohammed Musabah, the new governor of Basra: "In the streets of Basra and Baghdad, jokes are sometimes made about words that sound as though they were imported with the U.S. invasion -- 'pluralism' and 'transparency,' for instance. Musabah seems to take them seriously. 'The rule of law will reign,' he told the delegation, 'not the rule of tribes'."

And speaking of personal accounts, don't miss this profile and interview about rebuilding the education system in the new Iraq and about the state of the country itself:
"Mahdy Ali Lafta is an Iraqi teacher. But in 1979, 10 years into his career in Baghdad schools, Saddam Hussein came to power and Mr Lafta, because he wouldn't support the dictator, was forced out of his job. He spent the Saddam years teaching friends, family and neighbours, and doing a little private tuition. Mostly, he found other ways to make money, like driving a taxi in the city...

"Mr Lafta, 57, is married, has a 15-year-old son, and lives in Baghdad, where, following the fall of Saddam, he now does something once unthinkable. He is head of the Iraqi Teachers' Union (ITC), set up for all of Baghdad's teachers east of the river Tigris...

"How would he describe the state of Iraqi education when Saddam fell? 'In one word? Disastrous,' he says."
Now there is hope. Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Iraq the Model blog report on the growth of blogging, as Iraqis from all walks of life and all parts of Iraq are finding their voices and taking the opportunity to link up in virtual communities with like-minded others around the country:
"The electricity department in Najaf... decided to start an Arabic blog to introduce the citizens of Najaf to the department's activities and the hardships it encounters while attempting to restore full power supply for the city... An agricultural engineer [is] using his blog to talk about problems facing agriculture in his area and he's urging his colleagues to start their own blogs to create a network that provides solutions for agricultural problems (who would think that blogs can fight termites!!). Here's an organization that cares for the marshes and the authors talk in their blog about the suffering of the people of the marshes under the past regime."
The growth of blogging is not really all that surprising, as Baghdad is experiencing the explosion of internet cafes.

And Iraqi sporting triumphs continue, this time without the extra motivator of Uday's torture chambers: "The glamorous Iraqi weightlifter Harim Taha has achieved another significant achievement for his country Iraq, and for himself too, when he scored three gold metals in the current Islamic Solidarity Championship in Saudi Arabia. Our glamorous weightlifter has achieved those medals in the snatch and the clean and jerk. The other Iraqi weightlifter Mohamed Abdul Moneim could manage to achieve three medals, gold, silver and bronze."

ECONOMY: In a sign of growing economic confidence, the real estate prices in Baghdad are on the way up:
"Residential real estate prices in Iraq's capital have quadrupled in many parts of the city, says Ali al-Difaie, 54, manager of a government office that processes property deeds. Difaie and real estate agents say the rise is driven by an increase in income since the U.S.-led invasion two years ago and the liberalization of building and property laws...

"Statistics are hard to come by, but Difaie says an average 3,000-square-foot home in Baghdad's upscale Mansour district sells for $300,000 now. That is four times the Saddam-era prices. Prices are similar in other middle-class neighborhoods around the capital, Difaie says."
The prices have initially risen following the liberation, but then were driven down by the security problems. Following the January election and improving security situation, the trend is up again.

Baghdad Stock Exchange is another good performer in recent times:
"Though barely over 30, Ahmad Walid al-Said has already become the biggest of the hotshots on the noisy floor of the Iraqi Stock Exchange.

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

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

"Welcome to the one place in Iraq where go-getters are abundant and no one is waiting for a handout. Unlike much of the rest of Iraq, the men and considerable number of women who ply their trade here live by a bootstraps philosophy, eagerly profiting from an equities market where daily trading volume has grown twelvefoldsince Saddam Hussein's era.

"The stock exchange may be one of post-war Iraq's few success stories, with its expanding trading volume and increased market capitalization."
The stock exchange is still miniscule, even by the regional standards, but it's expanding and the pace of growth is bound to increase with new laws now in place allowing foreigners to invest in listed companies.

The Iraqi economy can only hope to develop and prosper if it integrates with the rest of the world and Iraqi businesses develop ties with their counterparts in more developed countries. Fortunately, many are working towards that end:
"According to expatriate businessman Raad Ommar, the reconstruction of war-ravaged Iraq is much more than rebuilding a war-shattered infrastructure. It is... 'an investment in the future of a country that is painfully recovering from decades of misrule.'

"Ommar, who serves as chief executive officer of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IACCI), made his comments during a recent networking seminar in Beverly Hills that provided a 43-member Iraqi trade delegation with the opportunity to meet with Southern California-based companies interested in forming joint ventures and other business partnerships…

"The organization... has 5,700 members on its rolls, including more than 300 in the US and maintains offices in Baghdad and Arbil, Iraq and Amman, Jordan. Its US headquarters in located in Glendale, near Los Angeles."
USAID, meanwhile, continues to assist in setting up a proper legal and regulatory framework for Iraqi economy. In most recent initiatives of the Iraq Economic
Governance II (IEG II) program
(link in PDF): training course on information technology (IT) for 10 officials from the Federation of Iraqi Chambers of Commerce; assisting "to support judicial training in matters of commercial law, developing options for dedicated commercial courts, IT assessment and development, assessment of infrastructure rehabilitation needs"; and help in drafting the new Commercial Agencies Law and commercial maritime law, as well as building an integrated database of Iraqi legal materials.

Post-election there is finally more movement on the oil front:
"Iraq has invited international companies to drill new oil wells in its south and evaluate the state of export terminals there, oil officials and executives said... After a series of failed tenders, the projects could mark the first step toward overhauling the facilities and help restore production in the region, which accounts for all of Iraq's oil exports.

" 'We could be seeing the start of business in Iraq. They have issued tenders for wells before, that were cancelled,' an oil executive preparing to bid for the project said. 'The tenders are small but significant because they involve transporting expensive equipment and workers. It will indicate whether southern Iraq is safe for operation and the potential for larger work,' he said."
$3 billion has been allocated by the authorities for upstream and downstream investment and is awaiting release upon the formation of the new government.

The authorities, meanwhile, have concluded initial talks with 17 international companies about construction of a $2 billion new oil refinery with a daily capacity of between 250 and 300 thousand barrels. According to the Oil Ministry, the finance for the project would come from the company which ultimately wins the bid, with money being repaid from ongoing oil production so that Iraqi budget doesn't bear any financial burden.

There is also good news from the south: "Production from the southern oil fields has recently reached 1.1 million barrels a day, according to Jabbar Ali, head of the Southern Oil Company. The rate is close to what the company produced before the war and is one of the latest success stories of an industry torn by wars and sabotage. 'It (the figure) is a great achievement and has come in record time,' Ali said. He said the company had plans to further increase the output but he declined to give a figure. Insurgents have recently directed their attacks on oil pipelines and installations but they have failed in efforts to harm the fields in Basra, currently the most prolific in the country."

In transport, train services from Mosul have resumes after extensive renovation work of railway lines linking the city to other centers in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the north of the country is talking first slow steps in linking via air with the rest of the region:
"The departure lounge is tiny, but the inky stamp - 'Republic of Iraq, Kurdistan region' - on travellers’ passports is real enough.

"The Magic Carpet airlines’ flight from Arbil to Beirut, Lebanon, is the first step towards Iraqi Kurdistan achieving an international airport, as the Kurds seek to join the modern world after three decades of oppression and isolation...

"At Dollars 700 (Euros 540, Pounds 370) for a one-way ticket, the flight to Beirut is beyond the pocket of most Kurds and carries a mixture of Arab, western and Kurdish businessmen. But the psychological impact is immense for a people who associate aircraft with bombs."
RECONSTRUCTION: The very successful Rebuild Iraq Expo 2005 has concluded in Amman, Jordan. Relates one report: "Even while security products and services are one of the main business opportunities and growth sectors in Iraq, business people and investors in all sectors are optimistic that the situation will improve, and the reconstruction effort will accelerate."
"The energy in Amman is contagious. Ali Sharif runs a contraction company in Najaf, Iraq. Though he still sees problems, they are not as widespread as often portrayed. 'The security is not very bad. Only in a small region in Iraq the security is bad, in the north, in the south we feel that it is good, very very good.'

"Sharif described the developing economy as almost boundless with opportunity. 'We give advice to different companies to start work in Iraq because the country is like a well, a deep well - whatever you put in it, it will not be full. At the same time, the Iraqi market is very wide.'

"Sharif added: 'For 40 years not many companies have come to Iraq because of the sanctions and because Iraq was blocked. There is need in all sectors, and there is a lot of money and capital flowing into Iraq.'

"One businessman, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the international media is partly to blame for the misperceptions of the conditions in Iraq. He explained the situation to a small group of reporters at the event: 'In Iraq, there's a bit of a problem with journalism. What you all report, and what we see, it's not sometimes the same thing. There's a difference between what I see on CNN, and what I see right next door. The difference is night and day. They dwell on the negative, and we in Iraq, especially all over the country, we are dwelling on the positive'."
More here. Very importantly for the future development of Iraq, a 200-strong delegation representing Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and many of Iraq's universities and research institutions have also participated in the Expo.

Meanwhile, "companies in Europe led by Germany have set up the Rebuild Iraq Recruitment Programme to create jobs for Iraqis, according to a Rirp statement. An online portal matches-up companies with Iraqi employees to work for them in Iraq. Rirp has an office in Baghdad to coordinate prospective candidates."

There is a change of guard at the top of the main reconstruction body: "More than 2,000 construction projects totaling $12.4 billion have been started by the Iraq Project and Contracting Office and its recent director, Charlie Hess. Hess retired in a ceremony April 5 in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes after turning over the job of rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq to Maj. Gen. Chip Long, former commander of the National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division. Long served almost a year as deputy director of PCO before taking over the reins March 25 as Hess departed Iraq."

At the same time, further adjustments are being made to the reconstruction policy and procedures:
"The State Department has ordered a major reevaluation of the troubled $18.4 billion Iraqi reconstruction effort, blaming problems on early decisions to hire US companies for major infrastructure projects.

"In a report to Congress last week, the State Department said reconstruction officials will cancel several planned water and electricity plants and shift $832 million to focus on immediate job creation and training for Iraqis.

"The new approach would also place a strong emphasis on spending remaining funds to contract with Iraqi companies, which have experienced fewer problems with insurgents and have lower overhead than US multinationals."
More here.

As the reconstruction progresses, thousands of people like Rhode Island's Blake D. Henderson are working hard to make it happen:
"Last June, when he made his first trip to Baghdad, Blake D. Henderson asked one of his Iraqi bodyguards what he thought about the prospects for democracy in his homeland.

"The answer was a simple shrug.

"But when Henderson, the president of Northeast Engineers & Consultants Inc., got off a plane at Baghdad International Airport about 10 months later, the smiling bodyguard approached him saying, 'Iraq is beautiful! Iraq is free!'

"The change in that man's outlook along with the improvements Henderson has seen across the capital city through his company's work - including plans to overhaul the sewer system and the installation of new radar and navigational aids at the airport - make all the dangers of doing business in a war zone worth it, he said."
In recent reconstruction projects across Iraq:

In Fallujah, the Ministry of Municipality and Works has carried out a number of service projects at a cost $800,000, including rehabilitating eight pumping stations, sinking new pupms and rebuilding administration infrastructure in the city.

Up to $500 million is being spent on various reconstruction projects in and around the city of Samarra, including construction of a new bridge linking to the industrial district, building new rainwater channels and making improvements to the irrigation system.

The United Nations will be helping with the construction of a 200-apartment housing complex in the Nasiriyah province.

In a similar vein, the Kuwaiti government will spend $3 million in Najaf to build 120 apartments for families of those "who died in the fight to liberate their country from the rule of Saddam Hussein."

Speaking of Najaf, $100 million will spend in the province on many reconstruction projects, including rebuilding schools and hospitals.

In electricity news, the Ministry of Electricity is implementing measures to stabilize the oscilation of electric current in its powerlines system. The Ministry of Electricity is also currently in talks with the Ministry of Finance to reinstate in their positions some 4,000 Iraqis who lost their jobs under Saddam for political reasons. Needless to say, these qualifies people are badly needed to continue rebuilding the power network in Iraq.

In recent USAID projects (link in PDF) to improve access to electricity across Iraq, "work is nearly complete on an activity allowing Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) to achieve 100 percent electrical selfsufficiency freeing up power for the national grid." And rehabilitation of the Doura power plant in southern Baghdad continues: "Although its four steam boilers and turbines are each rated at 160MW, all have been poorly maintained for many years to the point where they can not be operated at full-load without risk of further damage. As a result, the plant has operated far below its full-load rating of 640MW." In another, more grass-roots oriented project, "the Community Action Group (CAG) of a town in Karbala’ Governorate selected as a development priority the rehabilitation of their electricity network which was destroyed in the April 2003 hostilities. Under USAID’s Assistance to Civilian Victims of the Conflict initiative of the Community Action Program (CAP) the CAG will receive funds to provide them with a new main electrical transformer and other repairs to their electric network."

In water news, the Iraqi authorities have announced the new $14 million program to improve water infrastructure in the three most restive Sunni towns, Latifiya, Yousifiya and al-Rasheed. "[Zaki Mattar of Baghdad’s Water Department] said his department 'will construct 24 water projects to provide one million gallons of water a day.' New water pipes will be extended in the area to carry drinking water even to remote villages in the area, he said. Contracts for the implementation of the 24 projects are ready and will be announced 'in a few days,' he said. Eventually, the department will lay a nearly 17-kilometer long network of pipes in the three towns, Mattar said."

In other ongoing projects, "USAID’s work to rehabilitate the Rustimiyah North Wastewater Treatment Plant is about 86 percent complete. One of the plant’s two processing lines is expected to start up next week after the completion of work on its biological treatment units." (link in PDF)

Meanwhile, in an effort to provide a cleaner and more reliable supply of water throughout rural Iraq, drilling began on another four well sites. Part of the USAID's rural water initiative, the work is already underway at 74 sites, and in total 110 new wells are planned, set to benefit 550,000 Iraqis living in remote areas of the country.

You can also read this interview with Hussein Rasol Jasem, manager of Al Samawa Water Department, about various reconstruction projects going on in the city.

In education, a new initiative will soon be reaching millions of Iraqi schoolchildren:
"Iraq's Ministry of Education (MoE) is establishing a new education television channel in April to give primary and secondary school students the option of taking additional lessons at home and for those who are not attending school due to insecurity.

" 'The idea of this channel is similar to the educational TV established during the 1970s. We are going to present the entire curriculum for all grades, along with scientific programmes which are useful for the students,' Baha'a Yehyah, director of the education channel, told IRIN in the capital Baghdad.

"The channel will broadcast for at least six hours a day, seven days a week. 'Specialised supervisors in the education field and good teachers will participate in preparing the programmes and teaching lessons,' Yehyah added."
And what happened to the old education channel? "Television-based learning was stopped in 1993, during Saddam Hussein's time, when his son, Uday, took most of the equipment for his own television channel."

The Ministry of Education is actively supporting Iraqi Scouts by helping to establish Scout camps around the country and buying equipment for the groups. The Ministry has also established a unit within the Directorate General for Academic Curricula to work on incorporating human rights education throughout Iraqi schools.

USAID is involving the locals in the reconstruction effort (link in PDF):
"Throughout Iraq, over 4,600 community members have participated in 55 workshops to organize the replacement of rural schools made of mud and reeds with concrete facilities. During the workshops, held by local Departments of Education in 16 governorates, community members completed written surveys pledging in-kind contributions of materials and labor to support school construction and pledged a variety of support including potable water tanks, electrical fixtures, labor for school construction and evening security. Workshop attendees included representatives from the local mud school, the Parent-Teacher Association, and other community members."
Qadisyah University will be undergoing extensive renovation and expansion, including establisging "three colleges (Law and Engineering colleges in Diwanyah and Agriculture College in Samawa) in addition to new scientific departments (Chemic department within Science College, and Financial and Banking science department within Administration and Economic College), referring to the opening of Relics Searching project in College of Arts."

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has launched eight new training centers in the areas of the country experiencing the highest unemployment levels.

Education is a continuing process. Recently, employees of the Ministry of Labor have been participating in training courses to bring them up to speed with new IT technology and increase English-language proficiency.

This extensive report by "The Star-Ledger" profiles the often torturous road of the Iraqi health system, as it tries to cope with reconstruction, violence and personal danger for its staff:
"Some two years after the U.S.-led invasion and the end of the Saddam Hussein era, the country's gains -- and challenges -- can be detected in the emergency rooms of hospitals such as Medical City and Al Yarmouk where trauma patients receive treatment.

"Medical City, along with the medical community in general, has made material strides. Doctors' salaries have jumped from as low as $120 a year to between $3,000 and $4,000. Last year, the average annual income in Iraq was $800.

"Medical City is a sprawling central Baghdad complex with a staff of 2,140 that treats about 100 emergency patients and 3,000 other patients per day. Its budget has increased from about $360,000 in the second half of 2003 to $3.3million last year, not including funds from some nonprofit international aid groups that prefer to give directly to hospitals rather than to the Ministry of Health, Mostafa said.

"Hospitals now include Internet cafes where doctors can look up the latest medical information online or request advice from a physician abroad.

"And Iraq's health care industry has access to far more funds and better supplies than it did under the last dozen years of Saddam's rule. Doctors no longer have to smuggle under the radar of United Nations sanctions black-market cancer drugs or the latest equipment."
In Diwanyiah province, "the Ministry of Health has initiated the implementation of large number of health projects specialized to rehabilitate hospitals and setting up large number of health clinics." While many projects are currently in various stages of completion, "the health clinic in al-Shafia district have been accomplished, fever section in al-Daiwania Teaching Hospital, besides establishing primary clinic center at al-Hakeem Quarter."

In Fallujah, a joint US-Iraqi committee has been formed to supervise reconstruction of health facilities in the city, at a cost of about 9 billion dinars ($6.2 million). "The project includes reconstructing and rehabilitating general Falluja Hospital and main health center on an 800 M. square in addition to three other centers in Falluja neighborhoods." More here.

The authorities will construct two new hospitals in the poorest sections of Baghdad, a 400-bed hospital in Sadr City and the second, 200-bed one in the Shaab District.

The Ministries of Higher Education and Health have agreed to jointly organize special training courses in Iraqi technical colleges and other institutes to train students in health technology.

In agricultural news, in Arbil, "the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and the General Directorate of Horticulture, Forestry and Rangelands began reforesting areas which were either burned by central government armies in the 1990s or over-harvested by residents for fuel wood."

In other developments: "Through grants awarded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Agriculture Reconstruction and Development for Iraq (ARDI) program, two agricultural media centers in Arbil and As Sulaymaniyah governorates now have equipment needed to serve Iraqis involved in agricultural work. Media centers serve as the publicity arm of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) Agricultural Research and Extension Centers. The centers produce reference and training materials for farmers, and publications and reports for the General Directorate of Research and Extension."

And in other recent initiatives of the ARDI program (link in PDF): making available "a grant to provide 240 small farms in central and southern Iraq with simple and inexpensive drip irrigation kits to demonstrate efficient water use"; procuring eight grain cleaners and 20 wheat seed processors for use around the country; and continuing work on rehabilitation of 24 veterinary clinic throughout Iraq.

HUMANITARIAN AID: USAID's Assistance to Civilian Victims of the Conflict Initiative of the Community Action Program (CAP) "supports medical assistance for individuals injured as a result of Coalition Force operations and for facilities destroyed either accidentally by bombing or intentionally when the buildings were suspected as being used by anti-Coalition Forces." Among CAP's recent initiatives (link in PDF):
"- An architecture student at a Baghdad university who lost his arm when his house collapsed during Coalition fighting is receiving a prosthetic hand and therapy sessions with the assistance of the CAP program.

"- Eighty-five disabled people in Maysan Governorate received wheelchairs through a Wheelchair Distribution Project. To complement this project, 37 buildings in the town, including health centers, the court house, the main post office and several schools, have been selected to receive wheelchair ramps. Along with construction, the local organization will coordinate several activities to highlight the rights of disabled members of society.

"- A Ninawa’ village health center that was suspected as being used by anti-Coalition Forces was completely demolished in March 2003. The center was empty at the time and no one was injured; however, the closest hospital is 40 km away. A $46,049 grant supported the rehabilitation, enabling 2,500 people in the area to obtain the medical and health services they need.

"- The CAP team in Karbala began working with a Community Association in May 2004 to construct a health clinic at the University, which is now open to students and faculty members injured during Coalition Forces attacks on insurgents in the area in December 2003 as well as to residents of nearby communities, many of whom have also been victims of the military incursions, insurgent attacks and increased criminal activity.

"- A physical therapy center in Karbala governorate will be rehabilitated with CAP support. The center is the only of its kind in Karbala and sustained looting and damage in April 2003 and years of neglect under Saddam’s regime. As a result, the center is ill-equipped to treat patients, including 90 persons that were injured by Coalition Forces military operations.

"- CAP will provide equipment to improve the medical services available to 20,000 people in a town in Salah ad Din governorate; to date, there have been 17 civilian victims of Coalition military activity in the town. The total project value will be $46,350, and will benefit 30 war victims, over 20,000 town residents, and an additional 20,000 in surrounding villages."
While various government organisations continue to provide humanitarian aid, often the help for Iraqis in need is a result of actions by individuals, community groups and Non-Government Organisations. This Iraqi boy, for exmaple, is getting the gift of walking again in the United States:
"Ten-year-old Majid Fadhil is a long way from his home, his parents and his six siblings in Kut, Iraq, getting a very special gift — artificial legs and the ability to walk again.

"Majid was hurt while walking home from school in Kut, in southeastern Iraq, with a younger cousin and other friends in February 2004. The cousin stepped on something — it's not clear whether it was a roadside bomb planted by Iraqi insurgents, a stray grenade or a landmine — and triggered an explosion. His cousin was killed. Majid lost his legs just below the knees.

"He's shown remarkable progress. He took his first steps on his prosthetic legs in January. After physical therapy to rebuild thigh and back muscles he had not used for more than a year, he was walking by himself in a matter of weeks — well enough that he was able to enroll in the third grade." As the report notes, Majid is learning English quickly: "His standard greeting is now: 'What's up, dude?'"
India , too, is also giving help to sick Iraqi children:
"Close on the heels of providing world-class health care facilities to patients from overseas countries, India has also emerged as the destination for children from countries like Iraq and Lebanon. The relatively low cost treatment provided by Indian hospitals has led to the development of medical tourism in the country.

"Madras based Frontier Lifeline Heart Foundation is proving to be one such hospital centre being undertaking complex heart surgeries of poor children from countries like Iraq and Lebanon...

"In 2004, the multi-speciality hospital treated 20 Iraqi children with various heart ailments as a goodwill gesture and also conducted free heart camps for school children in the city."
THE COALITION TROOPS: The Coalition achieves a symbolic first in its reconstruction work:
"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) called the awarding of a construction contract earlier this month in southern Iraq sociologically ground-breaking because the winning bid was submitted by a female-owned business.

"With recent contracting initiatives for the reconstruction effort, the Corps offers opportunities to female-owned businesses as well as those from local provinces when awarding construction and renovation contracts...

"At a preconstruction conference, the Iraqi company owner, her mechanical engineer, civil engineer and manager – all female - and male translator were acquainted with the Corps’ contracting and construction management procedures."
The troops can also chalk up a major accomplishment that will help the Iraqi electricity infrastructure:
"Altogether, it weighs more than 700 tons and is affectionately known as 'MOAG,' or the 'Mother of All Generators.'

"The gigantic, German-built piece of machinery required a U.S. military escort to reach its new home: A U.S.-financed electrical power plant going up outside Kirkuk, an oil center in northern Iraq.

"In what U.S. officials describe as one of the most logistically complex operations of the Iraqi reconstruction effort, the 260-megawatt combustion-turbine generator was transported 640 miles — including a 240-mile detour around a destroyed bridge — from the Jordanian border through Anbar province, a vast western region that is a hotbed of the anti-American insurgency.

"Planning for the trip started in September and was kept secret. The huge generator set out in a 30-vehicle convoy March 21, officials said. Moving at 5 mph, it reached its destination April 2."
As USAID explains (link in PDF): "The turbine is part of a larger project to bring increased reliable power to the Iraqi power grid which includes the installation of two Westinghouse Siemens Combustion Gas Turbines, a V-64 and a V-94. Combined, these turbines will add 325MW to the national grid. The V-64 arrived earlier and is contributing 65MW of power. With the gantry crane on site, the new turbine is being unloaded and moved to its foundation. The Taza site, south of Kirkuk, was chosen as the location for the new turbines because it is a major hub of the national grid and because of its proximity to a 15km pipeline extension that provides the plant’s gas supply." More here.

The troops also continue to help Iraqi schools:
"Amid the danger for U.S. troops and civilians in Iraq there's also plenty of hope: The American mission includes reconstruction projects that are revitalizing parts of Iraqi society, especially the schools.

"Iraqi schoolchildren are eager to learn, and many people say the country's school system is one of the bright spots in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion two years ago.

"One of the success stories is the Fine Arts Institute for Girls in Baghdad. After a $60,000 renovation, students are flourishing in their new environment. The school's headmistress, Karima Hassan Ahmad, says with fresh paint, new supplies and a place to display their artwork, they're expressing themselves like never before. 'We feel we are more, we have a freedom now,' she said, 'and we need this freedom to do something to our society.'

"A number of parents in Iraq were encouraged by January's elections, and more are sending their children to school these days. As a result, the need to get schools and classrooms up to par is now greater than ever.

"So far, one unit — the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division — is helping. The soldiers have spent $5 million of American taxpayer money to rebuild nearly 50 schools, including the Art Institute.

"But there is still much to do. Most of Iraq's schools are still run down and out of date. According to the Ministry of Education, 5,000 additional schools are needed, and repairs are required at 80 percent of existing ones."
As BBC backgrounds the challenge:
"Iraq used to have one of the highest levels of literacy in the Arab world and one of its best education systems, but two decades of war, sanctions and funding shortages under Saddam Hussein have turned it into one of the region's worst.

"One of the positives is the number of children going to school. Iraq has one of the highest percentages of children attending classes in the Middle East, according to the United Nations.

"But few of these children are getting a decent education. Many of the best teachers fled abroad during Saddam Hussein's rule and have not returned. Many schools lack basics such as books and desks and even buildings. At least a quarter share premises with other schools, according to the Ministry of Education."
Reversing the devastation of the past two decades will not be easy.

Some of the initiatives to help Iraqi schools are less formal than erecting new buildings:
"The 155th Brigade Combat Team is calling on all schools in Mississippi to help rebuild Iraq by participating in a newly developed program, Adopt-A-School... In conjunction with their efforts as American soldiers in restoring the Middle Eastern country, the 155th Brigade has developed an Adopt-A-School program to link schools in Iraq with schools in Mississippi...

"The program is still in its first month of existence, according to Lt. Col. Tommy W. Fuller. 'The soldiers got excited about the program and have also involved churches and other organizations,' Fuller said... Fuller also hopes this program will build a foundation upon which Iraqi families and American families can both grow. 'We may not be able to change the minds of the adults, but we can change the minds of the children,' Fuller said. 'I do not know too many parents who mind if you provide help to their children. We want to win the hearts and minds of the children, parents and educators of the schools we adopt'."
Improving public health is also high on the list of priorities:
"For many Iraqis who live in rural villages, having enough water to get by has always been good enough. 'They might bathe once a week, and they don’t do laundry like we do,' said Dr. (Capt.) Mike Tarpey of 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment. 'The people are not used to having clean water like we are. It’s true with most Third World countries.'

"Part of the U.S. military’s goal is to change that way of thinking. If more Iraqis had clean water to use, there’d be less hepatitis and gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea. So the military is working with local contractors in north-central Iraq to build water-cleaning facilities at villages along the Tigris River such as Hardania and Bichigan."
Meanwhile in Fallujah:
"The three-story hospital in downtown Fallujah sits empty and abandoned, but with funds allocated through the Commanders Emergency Response Program and a private donor, this is about to change. 'This is truly a collaborative effort here. It was great creative problem solving to address the immediate needs of Fallujah,' U.S. Army Col. Terry Parker.

"The Taleb Janabi Hospital, a privately-owned facility, will receive $150,000 in response progrram funds and the owner, Dr. Taleb Janabi, will contribute an additional $50,000. This case is unusual because typically response progrram funds can only be spent on public projects. However, this is the only hospital within the city."
In other ongoing health reconstruction projects in Fallujah:
"- Fallujah General Hospital is slated to receive a new x-ray machine and a CT scan, diagnostic equipment used to generate anatomy imaging, in the next couple of weeks from the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

"- Three medical clinics have been rehabilitated and opened and five new clinics are scheduled to be built, according to the ministry.

"- A total of $6.2 million, which was supplied by the ministry, has been earmarked for the Fallujah General Hospital and medical clinic renovations in and around the city.

"- The Ministry of Health has also recently allocated $40 million for a new general hospital in Fallujah."
Troops also continue to embark on humanitarian and good-will missions. This from Baghdad: "Soldiers from the California Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment, traveled to the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Dora March 16. The visit was designed to distribute aid to local children and assess the needs of local families. Many families in this economically depressed area make only $30 to $40 a month and many cannot afford shoes for their children. One hundred and eighty four Soldiers distributed shoes to needy children and their families."

Sometimes the gestures don't have to be big - even small things can make a difference:
"Two Soldiers from the 256th Brigade Combat Team have made a new friend, and they want to show him what he means to them, so they presented him with a new bicycle.

"Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Bryant from Shreveport, La., of Company B, 1st Battalion, 156th Armor Regiment, and Staff Sgt. Joe Speck from Deville, La., of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, were won over by a little boy, whose mother is a first sergeant with the 36th Commando Iraqi Battalion. The 36th falls under the command of the 40th Iraqi National Guard, and Speck and Bryant are stationed at Camp Justice training them.

" 'His father was with the Iraqi Army and killed by an insurgent about a year ago,' said Speck, 'and this kid has the biggest smile. We just wanted to do something to make him happy.'

"Acquiring the bike proved to be a challenge. Bryant tried to purchase one in the Camp Justice area, and when all attempts failed, he turned to the 256th Brigade Combat Team historian.

" '[Bryant] came to the office and mentioned that he was trying to find a bike for a little boy, but that he was having some trouble,' said Sgt. Jessica Dubois from Abbeville, La, of Headquarters Co. 256th Brigade Combat Team, 'A man in one of the shops here usually gets me things pretty quickly, so I asked him about this, and in two weeks he had it for me'."
Not all assistance from the Coalition troops goes to humans:
"Captain Katherine M. Knake has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was 8 years old. Now the native of Arden Hills, Minn., is a veterinarian with A Company, 407th Civil Affairs Battalion, 256th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, stationed in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. As part of a civil affairs team, she helps local farmers by examining their animals and administering medicine with her on-hand supplies.

"On April 2, she went on a mission that included a lot more than veterinary care. Her day started with a pre-patrol briefing, where the vehicles were prepared for the day’s missions and rehearsals were conducted.

"Part of her checks included packing medicines and supplies into her aid bag and cooler. Unable to carry large amounts, she was forced to select a specific animal type and stock up for each mission. Her choice for that day was for sheep and goats. It was almost six hours into the patrol before she found a suitable herd of sheep and goats.

"After the interpreter explained to a local resident what the Soldiers were there to do, he was more than happy to allow their help. His herd of 133 sheep and goats were de-wormed and several were given shots for mange. While giving out medicine, Knake was also conducting a health assessment of the herd, identifying any possible diseases or herd issues."
It's not just the American troops - other Coalition members continue to do play their part in providing security and assistance to people of Iraq. In June, Bosnia is sending a multi-ethnic platoon tasked with clearing unexploded ordinance across Iraq. "More than 50 Muslim, Serb and Croat soldiers and officers -- of which 36 would be selected for the first of two 6-month tours -- have almost completed training, conducted in part by U.S. military experts."

Meanwhile, "the fifth Albanian army contingent with 50 more army troops for peacekeeping mission in Iraq left Tirana on Sunday. A total of 120 Albanian commandos of the new contingent will join the US-led operation in Mosul, northern Iraq, replacing the fourth unit sent by Albania."

In Baghdad, Georgians and cooperating with Georgians:
"The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division has welcomed a new infantry battalion to its ranks. And, just like most of the units in the Fort Stewart-based division, the soldiers of this battalion are from Georgia.

"However, most of these soldiers don't speak English.

"The 13th Infantry Battalion joins the 4th BCT from the country of Georgia, a former Soviet Republic located on the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia.

"The 550-soldier battalion will be responsible for security at two of the most important sites in Baghdad—the al-Rasheed Hotel and the Iraqi Convention Center, the home to the newly-elected Iraqi National Assembly. The battalion will also provide security for United Nations convoys in Baghdad."
And in the clearest case yet of "for your freedom, and ours", Afghanistan will be sending some troops to Iraq.

SECURITY: No one would, of course, declare victory yet, but there are positive indications that as the time goes by the insurgency is slowly starting to unravel:
"There are growing signs of hostility between secular Iraqi insurgents and Muslim extremists -- some of them foreigners -- fighting under the banner of al-Qaida.

"The factions have exchanged threats and are increasingly divided over the strategy of violence, much of it targeting civilians, that aims undermine the fragile new government.

"The increased tension, critically, arises as the mainstream component of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency -- which remains active, deadly and vibrant nearly two years since it began -- has opened a campaign designed to reap political gain out of its violent roots.

"Post-election realities appear to have forced the tactical change as majority Shiites and Kurds consolidate power and the population grows increasingly angry over the largely Sunni-driven insurgency that is killing vast numbers of ordinary people and the country's fledgling army and police force.

" 'You see a withering of the insurgents that had a short-term agenda, like preventing the January election. But the insurgency is not unraveling yet,' said Peter Khalil, former director of national security policy for the now-defunct U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq.

"The divide among militants, however, is becoming more noticeable."
Another report agrees:
"Signs are growing that the slaughter of all Iraqis in the army or police, or civilians working for the government, is leading to divisions in the resistance...

"Posters threatening extreme resistance fighters have appeared on walls in Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim city on the Euphrates river west of Baghdad. Insurgents in the city say that resistance to the Americans is being discredited by the kidnapping and killing of civilians. 'They have tarnished our image and used the jihad to make personal gains,' Ahmed Hussein, an imam from a mosque in Ramadi, was quoted as saying."
The Sunni religious establishment has also for the first time clearly condemned terrorism, and not just what it sees as "terrorism" of the Coalition and Iraqi security forces, but also, more imprortantly "the terrorism of the forces that claim resistance, and the honorable resistance renounces them." As Sheikh Hareth al-Dhari, the president of the Association of Muslim Scholars said in the statement, "we peacefully reject the occupation and object to terrorism in all forms, whether by an enemy of a friend, especially when this terrorism is aiming at the innocent, institutions, security and cultural establishments and the leaders of thought."

Meanwhile, some insurgents are staring to come in from the cold: "Midlevel Iraqi insurgent leaders are attempting to give themselves up in return for deals that would allow them to join the political system, U.S. and Iraqi officials say. 'Groups that participated in the insurgency are now coming forward and saying they want to participate in the politics,' Steven Casteel, the senior U.S. consultant to Iraq’s Interior Ministry, said Wednesday. 'Normally, it’s a cell leader coming forward through an intermediary'." Read also this report of a growing split within the Sunni community in Ramadi about the future tactics.

The US forces are reporting progress in combatting the deadly threat of roadside bombs:
"Officials said the U.S. Army has perfected techniques to detect and neutralize so-called improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq. They said the improved capability reflects enhanced equipment, technology and expertise by soldiers.

"Over the last year, U.S. casualties from IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reduced by 45 percent, officials said. They said that in 2005 the number of bombing attempts has declined and the IEDs have become more crude in their design...

"U.S. troops were said to have had their greatest success in the Baghdad area. Officials said Task Force Baghdad has succeeded in finding half of all IEDs. They said 70 percent of the IED attacks against troops in the Baghdad area failed to produce casualty."
The hunt for Al Zarqawi, meanwhile, continues, with reports that the Jordanian-born terrorist is isolated in western Iraq, constantly on the run, and has recently only narrowly escaped capture.

Speaking of Western Iraq, the Marines are reporting increasing successes against the insurgents and terrorists in the region that borders Syria:
"To the U.S. military in Iraq, what looks like bad news is often the opposite. A spate of attacks against a U.S. Marine outpost on the Syrian border is just such a case, according to military commanders...

"A head-on military-style clash has generally been eschewed by the Iraqi insurgency. In conventional combat, they are outgunned: U.S. forces have better weapons, body armor, and training. That disadvantage is what drove insurgents to improvised explosive devices in the first place, according to the military: the bombs presented a low risk but a reasonably high payoff.

"However, innocent Iraqis are increasingly suffering from the attacks -- in part because U.S. forces have the benefit of armor protection. That fact seems to be eroding support for the insurgency, even among the Sunni population, according to U.S. military officials. That insurgents would again resort to the high-risk but more honorable assault on U.S. military bases suggests they see their waning stature and want to reverse it."
As the report notes,
"the apparent success [in western Iraq] against the insurgency is more than just the result of a blockade, the Marine official said. It is the direct result of the November assault on Fallujah which yielded a trove of intelligence, both from captured documents and fighters.

" 'The "intel" windfall from Fallujah painted a very good picture of the interconnections from Husaybah into the Mosul-Baghdad area. Once we could focus our troop strength... Hit-Haditha-Rawah corridor, we were able to overcome the enemy advantage of being able to hide amongst the populace or in remote desert hideaways,' the official said.

"The 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions launched two operations -- Operations River Blitz and River Bridge -- on the insurgent way stations on the Euphrates River beginning in February. For the last 18 months, the insurgency has evinced a frustrating adaptability -- if they are pressured in one town, they squeeze out and occupy the next, often staying one step ahead of a military force stretched thin.

"That dynamic may be starting to change. 'We were in pursuit mode ... the enemy was forced to move. To move he has to communicate. If he is moving and communicating, we can find him. The more we find, the more information we get from detainee interrogation. The more information we get from interrogation, the more they have to move. The more they have to move, the more they have to communicate.....etc,' the official said."
The situation in Mosul, which flared up late last year in the aftermath of the Fallujah operation, is also slowly improving:
"Since November, U.S. forces have killed at least 350 militants in the province, including 50 foreigners from Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, says Brown, 45, of Fort Lewis, Wash., where his 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division unit is based.

"Brown says attacks have dropped in recent weeks because the populace is coming around against the insurgents, with tips to security forces running at about 250 a week...

"During the Fallujah battle, guerrilla attacks doubled in Mosul from 54 over a week in early November to 100 reported the following week, according to U.S. Army figures.

"The week of the Jan. 30 elections – nationwide voting largely boycotted by Sunni Arabs believed to make up the backbone of Iraq's insurgency – attacks spiked again to nearly 90. Since the elections, attacks in Mosul declined to about 50 per week in mid-March, the most recent figures available."
Another report adds: "Indirect attacks — generally involving mortars or rockets — on U.S. bases fell from more than 200 a month in December to fewer than 10 in March." Read the whole thing to get a better perspective on how counter-insurgency is being fought in Mosul.

Speaking of Mosul, Iraqi security forces continue to take increased responsibility for maintainig order - and the process is accelerating:
"The two dozen Iraqi soldiers marched in formation into downtown Mosul, streets emptying in their path. The men trained their rifles on potential bomb threats: a donkey-drawn vegetable cart, a blue Opel sedan, a man with a bulge beneath his tattered gray coat.

"Less than a month ago, U.S. forces patrolled these dangerous streets. But on this humid morning there were only the Iraqis and a lone U.S. adviser, Marine Staff Sgt. Lafayette Waters, 32, of Kinston, N.C., who blended unobtrusively into the patrol.

"This is Area of Operations Iraq, slightly more than two square miles in the heart of Iraq's third-largest city. It is also at the center of the U.S. military's strategy to hand off counterinsurgency operations to Iraqi security forces and ultimately draw down the number of American troops.

"Since Iraq's Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, that process has accelerated much more rapidly than U.S. commanders have previously acknowledged. Although AO Iraq is one of just two sectors currently under Iraqi control (the other is the area around Baghdad's Haifa Street), two senior U.S. officers said the Iraqis' zone of responsibility would soon expand and eventually include all of Nineveh province, including Mosul and Tall Afar, another volatile city, possibly within a year."
Training of the Iraqi forces, combined with the increase in local policing, in starting to bear fruit:
"Though they have only been working with the Iraqi Army for two months, Soldiers of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 70th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armor Division, are making significant strides to build up the military force in Iraq. Along with providing the basic necessities required for soldiering, the 2-70th has trained the 507th Infantry and 1st Presidential Battalions of the future 4th Brigade, 6th Division, on infantry tactics and maneuver movements. Over the past several months, the training has resulted in the IA gaining loyalty from the local Iraqi community.

"Captain David Carey, from Kokomo, Ind., commander of A Co., 2-70th shared a story of an attempt by criminals to launch mortars, an attempt that was stopped by Iraqi civilians. 'They (the terrorists) went to put out the mortar tubes, and the local populace actually pulled out their AK-47s and fired on the mortar team,' he said. Carey attributes the actions of the civilians to the Iraqi Army and outlying American patrols.

" 'That’s a success story,' he added. 'You know you’re doing things right when the locals start doing things like that.' Carey, who was in Iraq a year ago for the ground war, explained that a lot has changed since he was last here, especially the focus, mentality, and capabilities of the Iraqi Army. 'Both of our battalions are doing really well, we see a lot of improvement from a year ago. They’re able to stand up, and the officers and Soldiers are better'."
The training efforts are also getting better integrated:
"Military and Iraqi police are working together in a partnership program to better train, support and secure the future of Iraq, according to Multi-National Forces.

"In order to enhance police command and control; staff operations; communications and intelligence networks; and to streamline law and order within areas of operation, the 42nd Military Police (MP) Brigade, Fort Lewis, Wash., has employed police support teams at the Baghdad police headquarters and stations, Maj. Curtis M. Schroeder, Iraq Police Service liaison, 42nd MP Bde, said.

" 'We are teaching and coaching the leaders to delegate authority and use their staff efficiently and showing them how to train their own troops,' Schroeder said. The MPs are working hand-in-hand with the Iraqi Police Services to train Iraqi police forces, making them equipped and automated so the Baghdad police can operate efficiently."
According to another report, "the academy, with the help of MPs, is graduating about 3,000 cadets per quarter. The attrition rate is at around 10 percent, said Capt. Jeffery Withers, commander, 411th MP Co." Says Withers: "We’re providing quality police officers to go out on the streets and insure that they can self-sufficiently and securely police their own country... We teach them the basic police skills that they need to go out and survive and secure Baghdad itself, or wherever they are stationed throughout Iraq... Iraqi cadets are disciplined and excited. They take and see this opportunity seriously as a great step forward. This is the first time in a long time that they will freely be able to be Iraqi Police and have a say in the democratic process,... They really care. They study, they don’t cheat and they’re very excited to be a part of it." Chris Cochran from Military Police Company B of North Versailles, Pennsylvania, was until recently another trainer.

Here's another report from the coal-face of training:
"Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil doesn’t own a how-to manual titled 'Building a Police Force in the Midst of an Insurgency.' He’s winging it.

" 'We are learning from current events,' said Fil, commander of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, or CPATT, charged with organizing, training, equipping and mentoring the entire Iraqi police force. 'Late last summer, early fall, it was evident that normal police techniques were insufficient against the very lethal, well-organized, viscous threat aimed at coalition and police forces. So a fighting police force was required, without creating another army,' the 51-year-old Portola Valley, Calif., native said.

"That meant equipping police forces with body armor and rifles, instead of just badges and handguns. It meant building a mock police station at the Baghdad Police Academy where recruits could learn to fortify their stations against attacks. It meant creating teams of specialized police members in areas of specialized weapons and tactics and emergency response units, Fil said."
The ranks of graduates in Iraqi police force keep on growing. This, in Taji: "With cheers and chants of loyalty to the new Iraqi government, 247 exuberant recruits picked up graduation certificates from the Iraqi Highway Patrol Academy April 7 and headed for new jobs guarding their country’s streets and thoroughfares. This was the first class to graduate from the new academy. Before the ceremony even began, the first wave of highway patrol officers was celebrating their accomplishments with a patriotic march romp. They also waived an Iraqi flag as several hoisted instructor Gene Rapp on their shoulders and carried him around the gravel-covered grounds." More here.

Meanwhile, another class of 260 has graduated from advanced and specialty courses at the Adnan Training Facility on April 14:
"The courses consist of Basic Criminal Investigations (BCI) with 46 graduates, Interview and Interrogations (II) with 34 graduates, Violent Crime Investigation (VCI) with 27 graduates, Internal Controls Investigation (ICI) with 31 graduates, Critical Incident Management (CMI) with 27 graduates, Kidnapping Investigations (KI) with 29 graduates, First Line Supervision (FLS) with 38 graduates and Organized Crime Investigation (OCI) with 28 graduates."
Here's a profile of the Baghdad Police Academy and the basic training courses currently producing 3,500 new police officers every month. And here's a similar profile of the Babylon Police Academy in Hilla: "The Feb. 25 suicide bombing in Hilla that slaughtered 125 police candidates waiting in line for medical testing didn’t deter Salah Hamad, 28, from signing up. 'The attack motivated me to be an IP rather than make me afraid,' Hamad said. 'If being here lets me serve my society, I am ready'."

Read also these two profiles of Iraqis who are risking their lives everyday while serving in the police force to protect their fellow citizens:
"He was a soccer star in a previous life, the one untouched by war. He was famous among his fellow Iraqis, as soccer players usually were.

"But now, he lives a life in obscurity — his face hidden behind a black ski mask when on the job. It’s too risky for the 24-year-old soccer star-turned-cop to reveal to the world his life as a member of the Emergency Response Unit, an elite part of the rebuilding Iraqi police force.

"He prefers his new life. 'My jobs are almost the same. In soccer, we made goals. Now I make goals. Goals by capturing terrorists,' he said Monday during a training break at Camp Dublin, near Baghdad International Airport."
And this:
"For about $200 a month, 24-year-old Mnieer risks his life getting to and from the office. He’s an Iraqi police officer. Strike one. He’s employed in the U.S. coalition-controlled International Zone police station. Strike two.

"But the young police officer said he sees a dire need to help protect his country, and the spate of insurgent threats and terrorist bombings that has killed hundreds of his brethren won’t dissuade him. 'We have a good system and we’re taking care of the country'."
As ABC reports:
"Despite the risks, Iraqis keep signing up to serve. The Baghdad Police College says it has no shortage of recruits. In a country with unemployment well over 50 percent, a police paycheck — about $200 a month — is simply too tempting.

"The cadets interviewed by ABC News insist their motives aren't financial. Faisal Ghazi gave up a higher-paying job in the private sector and joined the force to avenge the death of his cousin — a police officer who was beheaded by insurgents. 'Me [and] my uncles joined the police force in order to capture the terrorist who killed him,' he said. 'With God as my witness, I will sacrifice my life to capture his killers'."
Others do it for patriotic reasons: "Finjan — who was a truck driver before the war started — acknowledges the inherent dangers but says he wants to do it "for [the] defense of my country and my brothers and my kids."

The training of the Iraqi Army is also moving ahead. Most recently, 700 former Iraqi National Guard soldiers from Al Anbar Province have commenced basic combat training at the Kirkush Military Training Base on April 12; "Originally recruited into the 500/501 Battalions of the 60th Brigade ING based in Ramadi, these Soldiers will now be trained and integrated into the Iraqi Army. Approximately 40,000 ING Soldiers will become part of the Iraqi Army as a result of actions initiated at the Ministry of Defense earlier this year."

Iraqi soldiers are also getting some health training:
"Soldiers of the 1st Iraqi Army Brigade received training on basic first aid, sexually transmitted diseases and personal field hygiene on April 12. 'The purpose is to increase education of the Iraqi Army medical sections, and to clarify the existing knowledge,' said Lt. Col. Fuoud, 1st IA Bde. Surgeon.

"He said the Iraqi medical personnel are well-educated, but most have only hospital experience. His vision is for them to be proficient medically on the battlefield. He hopes to improve on the training program, with the help of the U.S. Army. 'We are in need of a sophisticated program, one that will educate the soldiers in all positions,' said Fuoud.

"Battalions were tasked to send five medics to the training. After they receive and pass all requirements, they will go back and train their own soldiers. The education, until now, was primitive, said Fuoud."
In good news for the Iraqi navy, "for the first time in its country’s history, the Iraqi Navy has joined with coalition forces to participate as observers during exercise Arabian Gauntlet 2005 in the Persian Gulf March 22-30. Arabian Gauntlet is a multilateral air, surface and mine countermeasure exercise designed to enhance interoperability with coalition partners and allies in the region to conduct maritime security operations (MSO)."

Overall, as President Bush pointed out recently, Iraq’s army, police and security forces now for the first time outnumber the American troops in Iraq. As the US delegation reported recently back to the United Nations on behalf of the Coalition forces, these Iraqi security forces now consist of:
"- In less than a year, the Iraqi Regular Army and Intervention Forces grew from one operational battalion to 27 operational battalions. The total number of operational combat battalions is now 80, which includes the units incorporated from the intervention force and the National Guard.

"- Iraq's Navy became operational, with five 100-foot patrol craft, 34 smaller vessels, and a naval infantry regiment that recently completed training.

"- Iraq's Air Force has three operational squadrons; one additional squadron was stood up in late-January/early February. They have nine reconnaissance aircraft, a helicopter squadron, and three C-130 transport aircraft.

"- Iraq's Special Operations Forces now include a superb Counter-terrorist Forces and a Commando Battalion, each of which has conducted dozens of successful operations.

"- Iraq's 1st Mechanized Battalion became operational in mid-January, along with a tank company and a transportation battalion; the remaining elements of a mechanized brigade will be trained and equipped by the summer.

"- Iraq's two Military Academies reopened in October 2004 and each graduated a pilot course of new lieutenants, 91 total, in early January. The new year-long military academy course has already begun.

"- The Iraqi Police Service has over 55,000 trained and equipped police officers, up from 26,000 last Summer. Of the nearly 29,000 police officers who have been trained since then, over 12,000 were former police who underwent three-week transition course training and over 16,000 were new recruits who underwent eight-week basic training. More than 35,000 additional police are on duty and scheduled for training.

"- Five basic police academies became operational; together, they produce over 3,500 new police officers from the 8-week course each month, a course recently modified to better prepare the new police officers for the challenging environment in which some may serve. Several other regional academies are under construction.

"- Iraq's Mechanized Police Brigade recently completed training and began operations in mid-January, using fifty BTR-94 wheeled armored vehicles. One additional Mechanized Police battalion is in training.

"- Nine Police Commando battalions are operational.

"- Nine Public Order Battalions are operational. Three more battalions will commence training shortly.

"- Iraq's National Police Emergency Response Unit is now operational, and its elements have conducted operations in Baghdad, Fallujah, and Mosul.

"- Iraq's First Special Border Force Battalion is operating on the Syrian border in western Anbar Province; the Second Battalion competed training in February and has begun its deployments, and a third completed training in March.

"- Seven provincial SWAT teams have been trained, two more are in training, and eleven more are scheduled for training by August 2005."
Recent successes in fighting the insurgency, as well as increasing role played by the Iraqi security forces is good news - it means that the United States can now seriously consider reducing its ground forces in Iraq. As Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, says: "I've never been more optimistic in my almost two years of association with this area... The energy, the enthusiasm of the people is catapulting this movement forward. The Iraqi security forces are capable, well-led and confident, and that confidence flows over to the Iraqi people."

The security forces are reporting substantial increase in tips from the public:
"U.S. and Iraqi security forces say they are gaining ground on insurgents and criminals because more Iraqis are phoning tips to a hotline set up in October.

"The hotline, known as the Joint Operating Center, has fielded about 1,100 calls in six months, dramatically improving street-level intelligence, says Army Sgt. Major Jerry Craig, a military policeman who oversees the call center.

"Most of the tips have come from anonymous tipsters.

" 'Not only have the calls increased, the calls that give us actionable intelligence have increased, and our success rate has improved,' Craig says.

"The center, which is inside the U.S. Army's heavily guarded Camp Liberty near the Baghdad International Airport, forwards callers' tips to U.S. and Iraqi security forces for investigation.

"Since October, 82% of callers have offered information on insurgent actions directed against Iraqi security forces, Craig says. Seven percent have reported crimes. Eleven percent haven't been useful."
In recent examples of increasing cooperation from Iraqi civilians which is paying off security dividends:

"Multi-National Forces from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) detained three suspected insurgents during operations in northern Iraq [on April 8]. Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment detained three known insurgents in areas southeast of Mosul thanks to tips and positive identification from an Iraqi citizen. Two of the individuals were detained by MNF and the third was turned over to Iraqi Police";

The arrest on April 12 of three suspected insurgents in connection with an roadside bomb attack on a Coalition combat patrol near Muqdadiyah in Diyala Province. "After the IED detonation, civilians in the area identified one of the suspects to the Soldiers in the patrol. The suspect fled the scene on a motorcycle, and was followed to a house by Task Force Liberty AH-64 Apache helicopters";

On April 12, a local residents in a neighborhood northeast of Baghdada tipped soldiers about an artillery round inside a concrete block with wires coming out of it. Task Force Baghdad soldiers secured the site and disabled three improvised explosive devices;

"Task Force Baghdad Soldiers detained a former regime intelligence service brigadier general during a targeted raid April 15 in the Ghazaliya district of Baghdad. Information on the former general's alleged involvement with terrorist activities was obtained from tips from local residents and informants. During the raid, Task Force Baghdad Soldiers also seized several AK-47 rifles with ammunition and several computers and data storage devices";

The capture of a senior insurgent leader, Hashim Hussein al-Juboury, a relative of Izzat Ibrahimal-Douri, who's one of the most wanted men in Iraq, with a $10 million bountt on his head. Al-Juboury was captured on 7 March in Shumariyah area in Salah al-Din province, based on a tip-off from a local resident;

Discovery and disarming of a bomb near the home of a former Iraqi ministry official in Baghdad, thanks to information from a local resident;

"An Iraqi teenager’s tip helped Task Force Baghdad Soldiers discover an insurgent safe house and take a terrorist into custody April 16";

There are many reasons for this increasing cooperation, but the hit TV show "Terror in the Hands of Justice" is being seen as one of the main factors:
"Both American and Iraqi troops agree that there has been a drop in the number of insurgency attacks over the last few months. There is also a general feeling among the Iraqi population that this is the case.

"One of the reasons for this, according to Iraqi government and the American military sources, is the phenomenon of the public becoming more cooperative in providing precise information about insurgents. Until recently, people were very reluctant to do so.

"It is claimed that a controversial programme on the state-owned TV station 'Al-Iraqiaya' is responsible for this change in the public mood. The programme has become such a hit that other privately-owned Iraqi TV stations are now showing it as well."
In other recent security successes:

Detaining of five suspected terrorists around Mosul by the Multi-National Forces from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) on April 7;

The capture on April 10 of Ibrahim Sabawi, Saddam's nephew, suspected of playing a major role in financing the insurgency, soon after his father, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti, a half brother of Saddam was also arrested for bankrolling the neo-Baathists;

The arrest of more than 30 armed Iranian agents, members of the elite Qods (Jerusalem) Force branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala;

Detaining of 13 suspects in and around Mosul by the Multi-National Forces from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) on April 10;

The arrest on 4 April of one of the kidnappers who have held two Frenchmen hostage for 124 days last year;

Detaining 12 suspected insurgents in raids east of Baghdad by Task Force Baghdad soldiers and Iraqi Security Forces on April 11;

"Hundreds of American and Iraqi forces swept through central and southern Baghdad early Monday [11 April], capturing at least 65 people suspected of being insurgents in one of the largest raids yet seen in the capital... The operation, which began at 3 a.m. and lasted more than six hours, disrupted three insurgent networks and netted men suspected of assassinations, beheadings, kidnappings and attacks on both Iraqi and American forces... Among those captured were three major insurgent leaders and a group of militants who were planning attacks on Iraq's new National Assembly... In the raid, more than 500 Iraqi Army and police officers cordoned off areas in some of Baghdad's most dangerous and crime-ridden areas, conducting house-to-house searches in more than 90 locations with American troops playing a supporting role, American military officials said. One suspect was wounded in a raid";

The attack on 12 March against an insurgent and smuggling link near the city of Qaim, on the western border with Syria; "The terrorists immediately assaulted coalition forces with small-arms fire and multipurpose assault weapons. Initial reports say a number of foreign terrorists were killed, including at least one suicide bomber. No coalition forces were injured in the operation. Two other raids conducted in the Al Qaim area in the past week resulted in the capture of smugglers who confessed to bringing weapons, foreign fighters and money for terrorists across the Syrian border into Iraq";

The arrest on April 12 at a farm northeast of Baghdad of a high ranking Baathist, Fadhil Ibrahim Mahmud Al-Mashadani, the former leader of the Military Bureau in Baghdad. "The government said he is suspected of coordinating and funding attacks carried out as part of Iraq's insurgency';

Five more suspected insurgents arrested over April 13 and 14; "a cordon-and-search operation by Iraqi Army Soldiers resulted in the capture of a terrorist wanted for working with anti-Iraqi forces April 13. The suspect was taken to the Iraqi Army unit’s headquarters for questioning. Another Iraqi Army unit searched a house in north Baghdad after a detainee from a previous raid told them weapons were being hidden there. The Iraqi Soldiers found 12 grenades, two rocket-propelled grenade missiles and one mortar round... Task Force Baghdad Soldiers arrested four more terrorists in three separate raids conducted early this morning. One of the detainees belonged to an extremist group involved in several terrorist attacks and another is a member of a mortar team. All three men are in custody";

The surrender in Mosul of four senior insurgency commanders; "the four gave themselves up to the authorities after several days of negotiations. One of the insurgent leaders, called Abu Kifah, had a bounty of millions of dollars on his head. Two others were reported to have occupied senior positions in the former army and intelligence. The authorities have revealed very little about the identity of the fourth";

The almost immediate recapture by the Iraqi security forces of 11 Iraqi prisoners who escaped from the Camp Bucca detention facility;

Detaining five suspected insurgents in connection with three roadside bomb attacks on US troops in Baghdad on April 16;

The arrest by the Iraq Security Forces in early April of two men suspected of working for Al Zarqawi. Hamza Ali Ahmed al-Widmizyar, known as Abu Majid, and Salman Aref Abdulkadir Khwamurad al-Zardowe, were arrested during a raid on the city of Ramadi;

"Task Force Liberty Soldiers detained a suspected terrorist cell leader near Hawija during a raid at about 3 a.m. April 18. The detainee was an intelligence officer in the former regime, and is suspected of leading a terrorist cell responsible for attacks on oil pipelines in Kirkuk Province and improvised explosive device attacks against Coalition Soldiers and Iraqi Security Forces";

And so, everyday little triumphs and major victories keep unforlding throughout Iraq. As Saad from Basra, already quoted in the introduction, says: "Wait two or three years and you will be pleasantly surprised." Although probably somewhat less surprised if you have been reguarly reading this column for the past year.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?