Saturday, May 28, 2005

Saturday reading 

First off, please welcome a new blog - Media Slander - it will monitor the mainstream media's misbehaviors, particularly regarding the military, and is a fine group effort by many talented bloggers you're probably familiar with, including Bill Roggio, Blackfive, La Shawn Barber, Winds of Change, and many, many others. Blogroll it.

Roger Simon asks what's fair and balanced?

Dean Esmay on Star Wars III: all is forgiven.

Greyhawk notes a milblogger running for Congress.

Polipundit looks at how opinion polls play with numbers.

Transatlantic Intelligencer notes that courageous Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali (under 24 hour police protection from Islamofascists) has broken away from the left.

Dadmanly writes to the media from Iraq: you don't support us.

Quillnews notes that an NBC drama takes a cheap shot at the military - just before the Memorial Day.

Speaking of Memorial Day - State of Flux asks that we think more about the armor for our troops in Iraq. And speaking of helping our troops - Blackfive gives you a few ideas.

Israellycool is now podcasting.

Spirit of America blog updates on some of their projects in Iraq and Lebanon.

Bohemian Conservative: Global values? WTF?

Tom Gara thinks the First Lady didn't do anyone any favors by commenting on Egyptian politics. Iraq the Model is similarly unimpressed with recent Egyptian reforms.

And why not visit some blogs that haven't appeared before at Chrenkoff: A Republic, Madam, If You Can Keep It (by Steven Donhue, "a full-time student at the University of Illinois in the People's Republic of Champaign-Urbana... [and] also a Former Democrat suffering from severe cognitive dissonance"), The Blogging Tories (self-explanatory - our fighting brethren from Canada); and Dreams Into Lightning ("Missing an opportunity to keep quiet").


Blaming Polish plumbers and British legal drafters 

If the EU constitution referendum goes down in France tomorrow (and according to Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of France's ruling party, it's not a question of if, but by how much), you will be able to blame - or thank, depending on your point of view - my compatriot:
If French president Jacques Chirac finds himself scratching his head on Monday morning, wondering why so many voters rejected the European Union constitution, he should know immediately who to blame: the Polish plumber.

This mythical, rarely seen figure has become the symbol of everything that is wrong with the constitution for French people, worried about an invasion of low-paid workers from new EU member states stealing their jobs and destroying their social system.

Just as crime became the big issue in the 2002 presidential elections, so concern about job losses and delocalisation, or outsourcing, has dominated this year's referendum campaign.
Predictably, upon closer look Polish plumber turns into a Polish strawman:
The Polish plumber debate has touched a nerve, in spite of economic data showing that France has far more to gain than it stands to lose from opening its borders to trade and workers from new EU members, just as it did when Spain and Portugal joined 20 years ago...

Pascal Lamy, the French former EU commissioner and incoming head of the World Trade Organisation, said "plumber-phobia" had been "cunningly manipulated" in a way that reminded him of "simple xenophobia".

Even the head of the French plumbing union thinks he may have a point: France is short of about 6,000 plumbers, according to John Christopher Vignati, delegate-general of the GCCP. He says there are perhaps 150 Polish plumbers in France, most on short-term contracts with sub-contractors on big construction sites. But he says worries about foreign plumbers are "not completely ridiculous" as even a small number could "create a social problem" by forcing down wages.
And so, the 150 Polish plumbers are today but one step away from walking into history books, to march alongside Leonidas's 300 Spartans or the 190 defender of Alamo as a group of people whose symbolism far exceeds their numbers.

I've spent quite a lot of time lately looking at the Frenchreferendumm - perhaps too much, but like a train wreck, I just can't resist watching. I can't remember the last time one political event in Europe has provided so many quotable quotes and demonstrated so clearly everything that's wrong with the Euroelites. And so the fun continues - the latest: the French blame-game:
[British] Government sources are braced for the French president to round on the Prime Minister [Blair] and blame him for making the constitution too "Anglo-Saxon" on economic issues and for plunging Europe into crisis as a result...

British diplomats believe that Mr Chirac will call for France, Germany and other nations to form a "core Europe" in which they can push ahead with integration without being held back by laggards such as Britain.
Laggards? But it's the French, not the British who are voting against further integration tomorrow. Never mind, who cares about the people, anyway? As Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, a European Commission spokesman, said recently, "it is clear that all 25 governments and all the European institutions... remain united in the desire to see the constitution enter into force eventually." It's also increasingly clear that governments and institutions in Europe are bodies that are completely detatched from those they are supposed to represent. I'm sure there'll be plenty more of that in the coming weeks.

Still, the invocation of the concept of "core Europe" - Old Europe? - is interesting, providing yet another indication that the elites are having regrets about the recent expansion of the EU, which, while paying lip service to the pan-European ideal has, only served to dilute the power and position of the Berlin-Brussels-Paris axis. Still, too late for regrets.

In the meantime, read our occasional guest-blogger Sophie Masson writing about France's "Asterix complex".


Boosting Hillary 

A new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll is boosting the "Dem most likely" media bandwagon: "Poll majority say they'd be likely to vote for Clinton" announces the story, reporting that "29% were 'very likely' to vote for Clinton for president if she runs in 2008; 24% were 'somewhat likely'." But, "seven percent were 'not very likely' and 39% were 'not at all likely' to vote for her."

The media would like nothing better than to turn the American politics into an epic, Wilbur Smith or John Jakes-style breathless narrative of a clash of two mighty families; to magically transform the Republic into some sort of a cake with alternating Bush and Clinton layers (Bush Sr, followed by Bill, followed by W, to be followed by Hillary, Jeb, and Chelsea?). Not only would another Clinton in the White House appeal to our news-makers and opinion-shapers on ideological grounds, but the prospect is also quite entertaining to boot.

Powerline is not impressed with the poll ("The fact that 53% of poll respondents will, in the abstract, seriously consider voting for any given Democratic candidate for President is hardly surprising"), and oversampling of Democrats also seems to be a problem. My attention, however, was caught by this comment from Karen White, political director of Emily's List, a liberal lobby and fundraising group which supports (liberal) women in politics:
"People realize that women reach across party lines and are problem-solvers, and they want to see more of that in public life."
Ain't it funny that a man spouting generalizations like that he would be shouted down as sexist and simplistic, but from a liberal feminist it doesn't even elicit a shrug.


Al Zarqawi update 

Thank you to all the readers who took on the opportunity to send their wishes to Iraq's Most Wanted. The original post certainly generated the biggest number of comments in the history of this blog (258 so far), many of them hilarious, all of them heartfelt.

Iraqi blogger Hammorabi is reporting unconfirmed stories that Al Zarqawi has died:
He received treatment from Arab doctors who were not very experts and lacking intensive care equipments which he needed for his puncture in the right lung. His wounds infection gets resistance to the antibiotics. He had what is called septicemia which is according to doctors an infection of the blood resulted from infected wound. Zarqawi's systems started to fail including his kidney and liver.
We've heard these sorts of stories before, so let's not get too excited. But maybe your prayers are working, although if I recall correctly most of you were wishing for a more violent and painful death, preferably as a result of a close encounter with the American or the Iraqi army. Will certainly keep you posted.


Written in blood 

Our special correspondent Haider Ajina offers his perspective on one case of real Koran desecration:
During the ninth Popular Islamic Congress hosted by Saddam in Baghdad in September of 1999. Saddam boasted and showed off a Koran that he wrote in blood and was given praise and admiration (by that same congress) for doing so. He also handed out large amounts of money to the attendees at this congress (oil for food money I suppose). Most of whom were terrorist or terror enticing or terror sponsoring Islamofascists, hijackers of Islam.

Here is the hypocrisy. In Islam exposed blood is considered dirty or defiled. For Saddam to write the Koran in blood is the ultimate insult, sacrilege and heresy. He has defiled the word of God by writing it in blood. All who attended this congress know this but they did not call for demonstrations, riots. They took their money kissed Saddam's feet and went on with their crimson sermons enticing Muslims to hate other Muslims who do not agree with them, hate Jews and Christians and any one who does not subscribe to their version of Islam.

It was an Arab Muslim (Saddam) who defiled the Koran and was praised and admired for it. When Newsweek runs a bogus story and retracts it, the same people who praised Saddam for defiling the Koran called for demonstrations, revenge, caused the killing of over a dozen Muslims. When will we Muslims realize that our own worst enemy are most of our leaders, not Christians, not Jews, not democracy not freedom.
The September 1999 congress, by the way, is the same event that Iraq's former PM Allawi has recently claimed was attended by, among others, Al Qaeda's number 2, Al-Zawahiri (under a false name but on the official invitation). Not only did Saddam's desecration of Koran did not elicit any response from the Islamic world in general (some 150 influential Islamic figures from 50 Muslim countries were present, according to Allawi), but not even a yelp from the attending Islamofascists who are always the first to stir up trouble against infidel blasphemers. Just call them the Axis of Sacrilege. And hypocrisy.


Friday, May 27, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Making a Better Movie 

Quite a novel experience for me: I've finally found a movie that's better than the book*. If I had 10 cents for every novel I enjoyed that was disappointingly adapted to the screen I would have enough money to buy at least a cheeseburger. But having first seen a few weeks ago and now having just finished reading "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" I can honestly say the movie is a great improvement on what otherwise is a one of the cult books of the late twentieth century.

Most films-from-books suffer from the fact that so much good material that adds to the plot, the color and the texture of the book has to end up on the cutting floor to make the finished product fit in under 2 hours running time. "The Guide" - made from a rather thin book - benefits from the fact that so much good material has been added to make the characters fuller and the plot more satisfying. The end result is a movie that's different and charming, and that's not an adjective I use very often with films. By contrast, I thought the book unfunny and rather pedestrian (here comes hate-mail from the purists).

(Mark Steyn (scroll down), by the way, is not as charitable to the movie - but then again, it's a very rare an occasion when a film tickles his fancy.)

This wouldn't be a political blog, without a bit of political trivia: while both the book and the movie are thankfully politics-free (at least in the overt, in-your-face way that Hollywood seems to be so fond of), in the book, Douglas Adams hints that the lead character, Arthur Dent, is a leftie, describing him as a regular "Guardian" reader. Since "The Guide" was written in the late 1970s, that's even scarier.

* I'm lying - come to think about it, I enjoyed "The Lord of the Rings" more as a movie than a book (here comes even more hate-mail).


"Non" means "Oui" 

In his amorous rush to consume his relationship with the European Union, Jacques Chirac doesn't seem to understand that "non" means "non":
President Chirac of France is preparing to throw Europe into confusion and put Britain on the spot by backing moves to keep the European constitution alive if it is rejected in Sunday's referendum.

French diplomats say that M Chirac is expected to urge other countries to proceed with ratification because France does not want to be seen to be blocking the European project. Any attempt to persuade other countries to go ahead will dash the hopes of those in the British Government who believed that a French rejection would make a British referendum unnecessary.
In other words, we don't take "no" for an answer.

As I've noted before, the French voters are about to reject the EU constitution mainly out of fear that the document represents the victory of Anglo-Saxon free market model. That is, they are going to do the right thing for a completely wrong reason.

This makes it difficult to be optimistic about the future of Europe, seeing that the electorate seems to be largely divided between what many of us would consider the left (whether it actually calls itself the left or the right) and the far left.

France, of course, is not exceptional in that regard. As Mark Steyn wrote about the recent provincial elections in Germany which humbled the ruling Social Democrats (link requires registration):
The electors of North Rhine-Westphalia certainly understand the nature of the times in which they live. If it were just a matter of kicking Gerhard Schroeder's sorry ass around the room, I'd be all in favour of last Sunday'’s election result. But, in fact, voters in the Ruhr were punishing his party for their temerity in proposing even a teensy-weensy, tentative, tepid reform of their arthritic welfare state. They may have ended four decades of SPD rule, but they did so in order to vote against change. The Christian Democrats and Liberal Democrats are merely passing beneficiaries of the electorat'’s determination to live in denial for as long as they can get away with it.
Change is never easy and rarely pleasant. We, human beings, are generally conservative creatures by nature and termperatment and we would rather the things stayed as they are, the way we're comfortable with, thank you very much. And even though the American societytends to be more dynamic and adventurous than most others, even there changes can be passionatelly resisted (think Social Security reform). All this makes me think that the situation in Europe will have to get a lot worse before there is a workable majority committed to making painful but necessary changes to make things better.


Hero returns 

Scum floats to the top again:
Maverick British lawmaker George Galloway, who captured headlines this month during a fiery Senate appearance, plans on continuing his anti-war theme during a summer speaking tour of the United States...

"As Oscar Wilde said, sometimes the most bitter trials turn out to be blessings in disguise," Galloway said Thursday. "In America, people pay huge sums of money to hear you speak."

Galloway said his talks would focus on America "and the way in which the United States has dragged us into disaster."
Ironically, this champion of the working class sees nothing ironic in being paid "huge sums of money" for his speaking tour. I hope that the money will go to Iraqi orphans.

If I already did not have reasons to intensely dislike Galloway for his disgusting commitment to keeping Saddam in power indefinitely, this would have been the clincher: Gorgeous George has confessed once that the day the Soviet Union collapsed was "the saddest day" of his life.

Now, if somebody prominent had ever said that the day the Third Reich collapsed was the saddest day of their life, he or she would be finished in public life, ostricized, ridiculed and kicked out of town. The fact that for so many Galloway continues to be a moral compass and a courageous hero that speaks truth to power really tells you everything you need to know about large sections of today's left.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Get well, go to hell, al-Zarqawi 

Supporters of the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, filled Islamist bulletin boards on the Internet with prayers for his recovery on Wednesday after his group said he had been wounded.

A statement posted on Tuesday on sites used by insurgents called on Muslims to "pray for the healing of our Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from an injury he suffered in the path of God"...

Within hours one posting had launched a "million prayers of recovery campaign," quickly garnering over 70 responses.

"Do not be sparing in your prayers for a speedy recovery for the Sheikh and may God return him to the fray in safety," the poster said, signing off with a graphic that featured Zarqawi's face, a bloodied knife and the words "behead."
70 messages of support in a few hours? C'mon people - we can do better than that. Forget "Get well, al-Zarqawi", it's time for the launch of the official

Get caught, al-Zarqawi

campaign. Abu Musab - wishing you a speedy meeting with the Coalition security forces.

So, dear readers, the comments section is all yours - please feel free to write in your "get caught" or "get [anything else] wishes for Al Qaeda's Number 1 in Iraq.

And let's show jihadis we can run a successful "million prayers of capture campaign."


Inappropriate Comparison of the Day 

"The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law."
Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan

One can agree or disagree with the American government's policies regarding detention of people suspected of being members of terrorist organizations, but to compare US detention facilities to Soviet gulags does very little for the debate - and even less for the countless victims of real gulags. I guess it's a rhetorical progress of sorts when American military prisons are being compared to Soviet labor camps as opposed to Nazi concentration camps, but it doesn't make it any more historically accurate.

Let's recall that gulags were a nation-wide system of hundreds of camps, where over the life of the institution (but mainly in three decades between 1930 and 1960) tens of millions of Soviet citizens and foreign nationals have been kept in appalling conditions and forced to work. Several million inmates of the Gulag Archipelago died from hunger, sickness, exposure, neglect, being worked to death, or by execution. There's a number of good books about the Soviet prison system, and you can't go wrong with Anne Applebaum's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Gulag: A History". If you'’re feeling particularly generous, why don't you send a copy to Irene Khan so she can save herself embarrassment in the future.

If Guantanamo has indeed become the gulag of our times, then we're living in pretty fortunate times indeed compared to our parents and grandparents.

And, predictably, Amnesty spent more space on the United States, than it did on, say, North Korea, which unlike the United States, does maintain a real gulag system (5.5 versus 2.5 pages of summary).


In Iraq, efforts to report news fuel rage, fear 

...among readers back home.

Knight Ridder news service in search of more adjectives:
In Iraq, efforts to catch militants fuel rage, fear
And the story goes:
Thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers poured through Baghdad on Monday, detaining suspected insurgents in house-to-house searches and finding $6 million in $100 bills, the preferred currency for paying insurgent hit men and bomb-makers.

At least 285 suspected insurgents had been detained since Sunday. Bystanders were also apparently caught up in the dragnet, however.

Some Iraqis said that while Operation Squeeze Play took some insurgents off the streets, it angered moderate Iraqis while giving insurgents a friendlier environment in which to carry out attacks.
But how about the efforts to catch militants fueling relief or hope? Tom Lasseter was unable to find anyone to interview who was happy that the Iraqi and the American forces are catching insurgents, despite poll after poll showing that an overwhelming majority of Iraqis do not support the insurgency and terrorism, and are supportive of their security forces, their government, and the efforts to crush the insurgency and end the violence.

Oh well.


Why are cowboys angry at each other? 

I'll try not to be mean, because Isaac Ardoin, writing his opinion piece in "The Oklahoma Daily" ("The independent student voice of the University of Oklahoma since 1917"), sounds like a nice guy and probably means well:
It has been very disturbing for me, in recent years especially, to watch rampant partisanship tear our nation apart.

Less than two weeks ago, I was in a Wal-Mart parking lot and was walking toward a man unloading groceries into his truck. A second man, driving a truck of the same model, parked next to the first man's truck. As the second man walked past, he pointed to the ribbon - "Bring 'em home" - on the back of the first man's truck, rolled his eyes and shook his head. The first man saw him and lifted his hands in the air as if to say, "What?" The first man looked at the ribbon on the second man's truck - "Support our troops" - and then got into his truck angrily and sped away.

This was disheartening to say the least, especially because the two men obviously had a lot in common. They both drove the same truck and they both wore cowboy hats and cowboy boots.

In any other circumstance, the two men probably would have been friends, but they let the stickers on the back of their trucks decide their relationship. As soon as the second man read the first man's ribbon, all hope for friendly conversation was lost.
I don't know anything about Ardoin, but if he’s studying journalism, he's got a fine career ahead of him in one of the respectable major dailies, writing occasional anthropological pieces for the sophisticated East Coast audiences about the strange folk in Red States: all cowboy-looking people must be friends. They're not? Oh. Let's investigate.
I then realized that just as the two men were so similar, the messages on their trucks were also similar. When you think about it, both sides are really after the same thing.

People who "Support our troops" know that our soldiers are risking their lives for America every day. They want our soldiers to feel like we back them 100 percent and that we fully appreciate the sacrifices they make.

People who want to "Bring 'em home" also know that our soldiers are risking their lives for America every day. They want our soldiers to stay in America where the chance of dying is much smaller. "Bring 'em home" people usually think America should just mind its own business.

Both sides want our troops to be happy and safe; they just show it in different ways.
Well yes, and it is very nice and useful to focus on things that unite us - although if you follow comments on Democratic Underground and Daily Kos you realize very quickly that not everyone - albeit they are a small minority - wants our troops to be safe. More importantly, a rather larger section of that same side doesn't really give a stuff whether the troops are happy or not, having a tendency to look at all thing military through Vietnam era colored glasses (including, most recently, the funnyman Bill Maher, with his remark that the army has already recruited all the "low-lying fruit" - add that to the list of motivations behind liberal anti-military bias: a class-based snobbery).

Be that all as it may, the point is not that we all like (or should like) our soldiers - it's not even about the military per se, but about the foreign policy. The disagreement here between the two truck-driving cowboy-looking fellas is over America's role in the world. One of them thinks the United States should be deposing tyrants and helping to spread freedom and democracy, the other thinks we should rather stay at home and mind our own business. And that's a huge chasm of opinion, too big, too basic, I'm afraid, to paper over - or indeed find a common ground.

Still, Ardoin has the solution to all the sorry partisanship:
People who want to "Bring 'em home" need to realize that their opinion sounds unpatriotic to some people. They need to constantly reiterate that they are not anti-American, they just do not think the war is worth the lives of our young men and women. Instead of attacking people who "Support our troops," ask them if they know anyone in Iraq right now, and if so, wouldn't they rather have that soldier home right now.

People who "Support our troops" need to realize that it is OK to disapprove of the actions of our government. We are paying for it and we can criticize it. When people badmouth our government, it is not the same as badmouthing our country. When we question our government, we are really showing that we care about the actions it is taking.
So yes, the solution involves bringing the troops home like the left wants to, but maybe they'll promise to be pleasant about it.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Sith - the verdict 

Well, it had to happen - went and saw "Revenge of the Sith" last night. What can I say? It's visually stimulating (although often feeling overcrowded), but in a fine "Star Wars" tradition the script and acting are abysmal. As Mark Steyn wrote in his review of the remastered and re-released original, "At the time [in 1977], some critics reckoned the acting came in somewhere around the level of a Monogram B-western. But that's unfair to B-westerns: the clunky banter between Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill is more like the badly dubbed chat-up scenes of a Swedish porn film." Nothing has changed. Contrast with "The Lord of the Rings" where you remember the clunker lines (such as the "what does your heart tell you?" exchange between Gandalf and Aragorn) because there were so few of them - in "Star Wars" you remember not even the great ones but merely the normal ones, and for the same reason (and the only line I'm going to remember from "Sith" is "So this is how democracy dies...").

The movie is not overly political - you can easily blink and miss the now famous "if you’re not with us you’re against us" line - the erupting lava in the background, and the foreground, and everywhere in-between, is just too distracting. But the overall message - republics become evil empires - is a very familiar one, going back as it does to the old Roman times. In the modern context, the fear that the American republic will turn itself into an imperial tyranny is as old as the American republic itself. For the first century or so it was a domain of populists and nativists, subsequently, of the left.

It's true that the price of liberty is the eternal vigilance, but for the left the price of the eternal vigilance, in turn, has been the eternal paranoia, and the eternal tendency to see its own government as a greater threat to America and the world than any of the actual, existing, reality-based totalitarian tyrants that have ever roamed the earth. One can have reasonable discussion about the growth in size and reach of the government over the past two centuries, but the left's role in this debate has always been a boy who cried empire. Thus (to is critics) the United States seems to be perpetually on the verge of tumbling into tyranny (the Civil War, the Gilded Age corporatization, World War One, News Deal, World War Two, Vietnam, the war on terror, or generally whenever the Republicans are in the White House), but somehow it never does (except to some of these critics, for whom it already had).

Lucas might feel he's quite cool to have dreamed up the concept of "Star Wars" around the time of the Vietnam War as a cutting-edge commentary on the political trajectory of the United States; he might feel he's even cooler to have dreamed out a concept that still resonates (at least with him and the left) decades later. To everyone else, the never-ending carping about the slide into tyranny might sound dated, silly and self-absorbed, while the world outside of Hollywood witnesses the procession of real-life Evil Empires and their minor clones.

By the way, this piece is six years old, but I still think the SF author David Brin makes some of the most interesting critiques of the "Star Wars" moral and political universe.


Mad about Laurie 

The original Anglo desert warrior gets respect again:
He died 70 years ago, but T. E. Lawrence, the great British adventurer known as Lawrence of Arabia, is still helping coalition forces in Iraq.

US commanders are increasingly turning to his accounts of 20th-century warfare in Mesopotamia for guidance. General John Abizaid, the overall US commander in the region, said last week that one quote of Lawrence's had "always been in my heart". He was referring to a remark Lawrence once made about British attempts to organise government in the region: "Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly." The quote hangs over a US Marines conference room in Iraq's Al-Anbar province, where coalition forces recently concluded a week-long sweep against insurgents...

In a recent survey of US officers' reading material in Iraq, Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, published in 1926, emerged as the second-most recommended book. "Most of the US advisers out there have a copy," said Duncan Anderson, head of war studies at Sandhurst, who visited Iraq between January and March…

"Lawrence drew up a list of dos and don'ts for advisers to the Arabs," Mr Anderson said. "The Americans are using Seven Pillars at virtually every meeting, on a daily basis…" Copies of Lawrence's books are less evident among British officers, but only because most of them have already read them at Sandhurst. "We already have Lawrence pretty well sussed," Mr Anderson said.
Reading this, I was reminded of the words of a legendary Australian editor and critic Peter Ryan in a review of a 1991 biography of Lawrence (unfortunately not available online):
Peculiar he was. Put it down to his discovery of his illegitimate birth, put it down to his extreme shortness of stature, put it down to something else, but few odder fish swam to great fame... He invented - no other word will do - an episode in which he was supposedly captured by the Turks, who seized the chance first to beat and then to bugger him. He slanted his intelligence reports to suit whatever private scheme he was promoting at the moment. He lied to his British commanders and he lied to his Arab friend Prince Faisal...

Lawrence promoted the romance that "his" Arabs had been the first to enter fallen Damascus in 1918. In truth, the leaders were a group of Australian Light Horse led by (unromantically) a barrister from Brisbane... Although without doubt Lawrence was a brave and enterprising officer - perhaps a visionary one - in his behind-the-lines work, his achievement measured by cold military accountancy was slight. He spent the rest of his life - some 17 years - inflating that achievement into a legend and himself into a myth...

He devoted years of studied labour to writing "Seven Pillars of Wisdom", his account of the desert campaigns. This book is bunk as history and repulsive as literature. As autobiography it is embarrassing bombast: "I drew these tides of men into my hands and wrote my will across the stars." Really! Laurence Durrell could find "not one healthy or straightforward emotion or conviction in the whole thing." Elie Kedourie found it "profoundly corrupting", and the most overrated book of the century.
The ultimate lesson of history, if not "Seven Pillars", is that the Arab guerrillas of their own were not able either to defeat the Turkish empire or to decide the post-war future of their lands. But then again, unlike eighty years ago and contrary to many a contemporary paranoid raving, this time the Coalition is not in the Middle East to carve up the region between its empires but in many ways to try to help the locals unmake a century of bad choices made by their own and other peoples'’s rulers.


Remembering the fallen - the MSM-style 

Once again, as far as the mainstream media is concerned, the only good American soldier is a dead American soldier.

From Drudge:
One year since honoring the American service men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ted Koppel and ABC News "Nightline" will again pay tribute to the fallen by devoting an extended broadcast to reading the names and showing the photographs of more than 900 service members who have been killed in those countries over the last year. Entitled "The Fallen," the special "Nightline" broadcast will air Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, 2005 at 11:35 p.m. ET on the ABC Television Network. ABC News Radio will air excerpts of the program.
Make no mistake, tributes and remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice paid by the troops to bring freedom and democracy to the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan are all very worthy things, but - call me cynical - coming from the mouths of the mainstream media they ring neither true nor sincere. Since the MSM as a general rule doesn't believe in our mission in Iraq (less so in case of Afghanistan), its remembrance then is at best that of a futile sacrifice, at worst of a criminal one.

I've got a modest proposal to Ted Koppel and "Nightline": why don't you read one day the names and show the pictures of the 170,000 or so American servicemen and women stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan who every day are working their hardest to ensure that democracy takes root, terrorists are defeated, and these two countries have a chance to build a better future for their people. That might convince a cynic such as myself that you really care for the troops generally, and not just only when they can be cynically used to embarrass the Bush Administration.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Eurovision and Euroblindness 

Mark Steyn, as always brilliant, on Eurodemocracy, a topic I’'ve been touching upon frequently these past few days:
The Eurovision Song Contest is not always a reliable guide to the broader political currents coursing through the Continent. One recalls the 1990 finals in Zagreb, when the charming hostess, Helga Vlahovic, presented her own fair country as the perfect Eurometaphor: "Yugoslavia is very much like an orchestra," she cooed. "The string section and the wood section all sit together." Alas, barely were the words out of her mouth before the wood section was torching the string section's dressing rooms, and the hills were alive only with the ancient siren songs of ethnic cleansing and genital severing. Lurching into its final movement, Yugoslavia was no longer the orchestra, only the pits.

But this year's winner, Miss Helena Paparizou of Greece, was a shrewder analyst of the geopolitical scene. Her triumphant My Number One is an eerily perceptive summation of the EU establishment's view of its ingrate electorates this pre-referendum week: "You're delicious So capricious If I find out you don't want me I'll be vicious."
In case you were wondering, the standard – at least of the lyrics – at this year’s Eurovision, has been predictably awful. Tim Blair analyses the entries.

Needless to say, most entrants sing in the language of a country, which for most of its history had, at best, an ambiguous relationship with the rest of Europe - although the particular dialect most commonly used at Eurovision is Gibberish English and not Queen’s English. But it's the sentiment that counts.


Poetic justice 

The BBC faces a summer of hit-and-run action unless it backs down on its plan to axe thousands of jobs, unions said last night.

The threat followed a day in which the corporation had to ditch several flagship programmes and bring broadcasters out of retirement to help patch together its output.

Management said that only 6,500 staff took part in the strike but the unions put the number at 15,000.
We can only hope for more strike actions in the mainstream media and we might actually start, by default, getting a more balanced news coverage (hat tip: Dan Foty)


"Newsweek story is not America's story" 

Afghanistan's President Karzai and President Bush gave a joint press conference. I don’t usually quote extensively from speeches or opinion pieces, but Karzai's words deserve to be chiseled in meter-high letters on the edifice of the mainstream media:
You cannot imagine, Mr. President, and I cannot tell you that in a few words -- there are so many words, it has to take a much longer time for me to describe to you what Afghanistan was going through three years ago. So it's difficult to say, and I'm sometimes -- rather often -- neither our press, nor your press, nor the press in the rest of the world will pick up the miseries of the Afghans three years ago and what has been achieved since then, until today.
Somebody pass President Karzai the link to "Good news from Afghanistan", and kudos once again to "The Opinion Journal".

On prisoner abuse:
On the question of the prisoner abuse, we are, of course, sad about that. But let me make sure that you all know that that does not reflect on the American people.

Right now in Afghanistan there is an Italian lady that has been kidnapped by an Afghan man -- while there are hundreds of Afghan women demonstrating outside in the streets of Kabul demanding the release of that woman, the Italian lady. So the prisoner abuse thing is not at all a thing that we attribute to anybody else but those individuals. The Afghan people are grateful, very, very much to the American people. They recognize that individual acts do not reflect either on governments or on societies. These things happen everywhere.
On the Koran desecration riots:
Those demonstrations were, in reality, not related to the Newsweek story. They were more against the elections in Afghanistan; they were more against the progress in Afghanistan; they were more against the strategic partnership with the United States.

We know who did it. We know the guys. We know the people behind those demonstrations. And if -- unfortunately, you don't hear -- follow the Afghan press, but if you listen to the Voice of America, the Radio Liberty, and the BBC, the Afghan population condemned that -- those acts of arson in Afghanistan.

Of course, we are as Muslims very much unhappy with Newsweek bringing a matter so serious in the gossip column. It's really something that one shouldn't do, that responsible journalism shouldn't do at all. But Newsweek story is not America's story. That's what -- that's what we understand in Afghanistan. America has over a thousand mosques. I have gone and prayed in mosques here in America; I've prayed in Virginia; I've gone and prayed in Maryland; I've been to a mosque in Washington. And thousands of Afghans have been to mosques here in town, and as a matter of fact, tens of thousands of Muslims are going on a daily basis to mosques in America and praying.

So -- and this is what was also reflected in Afghanistan. People spoke in the mosques -- the clergy, and said, what the hell are you doing? There is -- there is a respect, there is this freedom in America for religion, and there are Muslims, on a daily basis praying in mosques in America. And there are Korans, Holy Korans all over America in homes and mosques. So it was a political act -- a political act against Afghanistan's stability, which we have condemned, which the Afghan people have condemned.
Karzai sees the big picture. Pity many others don't.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Waiting for a "grand Non" 

If you don't succeed the first time, keep trying. Faced with the prospect of a "no" victory in the French EU constitution referendum, the Euro-elites consider resorting to the "one person, one vote, however many times it takes to get the outcome we want" model. After months of reassuring everyone that there was no plan B if the French reject the constitution - guess what? - there might indeed be a Plan B:
From July 1 Britain takes over the rotating six-monthly presidency of the EU from Luxembourg, whose foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, and his deputy, Nicolas Schmidt, have been instrumental in drafting the rescue plan… Under the plan, the treaty would be voted on again by the French after its ratification by all other EU states.
There is, however, some scope for democratic choice, but it has to be convincing enough:
If France votes against the treaty by a big majority, a possible outcome dubbed a "grand Non", many EU leaders accept that the constitution would in effect be dead, and it would be futile to try to shore it up with an emergency statement.
Elsewhere in Europe, it’s getting perverse, as it often does (so writes Daniel Hannan, a Conservative Member of European Parliament):
With a week to go before the French referendum, something strange is happening. Many British Euro-sceptics are praying for a "Oui", while Euro-enthusiasts are crossing their fingers for a "Non".

Both sides have a point. The sceptics have been slavering at the prospect of a British referendum. They believe it offers the prospect of catharsis after 30 years of pent-up frustration with the EU. A British "No", they argue, would be a rejection, not only of the constitution, but of every successive transfer of power to Brussels since the 1975 referendum. Pro-sovereignty campaigners were delighted when Tony Blair declared that the vote would really be about Britain's wider relationship with the EU, and mean to hold him to his word. In their ideal scenario, most or all the other countries would proceed with ratification and push ahead without Britain, thus catalysing a long-overdue renegotiation of our membership terms.

A French "Non", they fear, would deny us this opportunity. Although it might prevent the constitution's formal adoption, it would not prevent the implementation of the constitution's main provisions. The matter would be referred to an inter-governmental conference which would then re-adopt 95 per cent of the constitution's contents using the existing treaty structure.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a restless campaigner for British independence, made this argument explicitly in the House of Lords on Thursday: "Eurosceptics must hope that the French vote 'Yes'," he told astonished peers. "Then we will have a referendum, and we will win it. Only thus can we be sure of starting the process of disengagement from the project."
As Hannan sums it up: "Across the EU (Norway and Switzerland don't have this problem) people feel let down by the political process. Turnout at elections is falling, and those who do vote are abandoning the established parties. Voters complain that, however they cast their ballot, nothing changes. And they are right: depending on how you measure it, between 50 and 80 per cent of national laws now emanate from the European Commission. On the rare occasions that national electorates get the opportunity, they tend to vote against closer integration; but their votes are ignored, which serves to increase their frustration."

As I've written yesterday, there are rumblings of change across the EU. When the democratic revolution hits the Western Europe, after sweeping Ukraine ("orange"), Georgia ("rose"), Iraq ("purple finger") and Lebanon ("cedar"), how shall we call it? Maybe just a "big middle finger"?


Civilizing the Islamist wolf 

A fascinating piece by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian pro-democracy and peace activist, Professor of Political Sociology at the American University in Cairo and head of the Ibn Khaldun Centre, who asks whether we should be worried about the electoral appeal of Islamist political parties throughout the Middle East:
As a sociologist, I have been studying these issues for 30 years. As an inmate of an Egyptian prison, I discussed them with my fellow prisoners, many of whom were imprisoned as supporters of Egypt's Islamic movement. My conclusion? Islamist parties are changing.

These parties understand the social transformations under way in the Middle East that are leading towards democracy, and they want to take part. In my view, we may be witnessing the emergence of Muslim democratic parties, much like the rise of Christian Democratic parties in Europe in the years after World War II.
Ibrahim notes that "since autocratic regimes in the Middle East left little room for free expression, the mosque emerged as the only place where people could freely congregate. Religious groups responded to this opportunity, emerging first as social welfare agencies, and then becoming the equivalent of local politicians. In the process, they gained credibility as trustworthy advocates of the people - a real distinction from repressive and corrupt governments."

This, in fact, closely parallels the situation in the former Soviet empire. The bad news for the religious, but the good news in this specific political context is that the "opposition Churches" have lost much of their influence and authority very early into the democratic transition, after their political role was no longer necessary in a more pluralist society. Granted, the religious faith is much stronger throughout the Middle East than it was throughout the Eastern Europe, but we could still expect some change in a more fluid, less "us versus the government" political environment.

Ibrahim continues: "When Islamist groups are denied access to electoral politics, their cause takes on a mythic aura. Their principles remain untested ideals, never forced to confront the practical realities of governance."

This really is a crucial point - nothing demystifies as much as cold, hard political reality. But there is one prerequisite: the political system has to stay open and democratic, with a fixed constitutional framework. Otherwise, the Islamists once in power can stay in power in perpetuity by following the "one person, one vote, one time" tactic or some variant thereof like "one person, one vote, our choice of candidates" (Iran). But if political system remains open, it will easily survive occasional Islamist governments.

As Ibrahim counsels,
it is a mistake to believe that force can eliminate Islamist movements. Instead, political reform ought to include them under the following conditions:

- Respect for the national constitution, the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary.

- Acceptance of the rotation of power, based on free, fair and internationally monitored elections.

- Guaranteed equal rights and full political participation for non-Muslim minorities.

- Full and equal participation by women in public life.
Which is the sort of a compact that works in many Islamic democracies or quasi-democracies, from Turkey and Jordan to Indonesia, and we can only hope will spread to other Islamic states that have not so far experienced democracy. Optimistic? Perhaps. Ideal? Hardly. But it's a realistic expectation in our quite imperfect world.


Spice up your revolution 

One of the better Middle East correspondents, Nicholas Rothwell of "The Australian" writes that the Lebanese election next month is already sending tremors throughout the region:
This correspondent was approached cold on the street in Damascus on the weekend by a Syrian passer-by. "Dr Bashar (President Bashar al-Assad) is making the country hungry," he declared, a look of stricken terror on his face, and melted away. This level of overt dissent is something new in the realm of the Syrian Baath party-state.

Assad's powerbase has been quickly redrawn in the past month, since the completion of his army's withdrawal from Lebanon, and he is now more reliant than ever on members of his own Alawi religious minority. The Lebanese vote, by both its proximity and its sheer complexity and openness, will send a strong message to the Syrian public about the degrees of freedom they are denied.
Still, Rothwell is reluctant to give credit to the Bush administration:
How easy, too, to read the weekend vote as a marker of the success of US President George W. Bush's advocacy of far-reaching Arab world political reforms. In fact, Lebanon's political trajectory is still to be shaped, and its capacity to transcend its internal divisions is not yet proven.

One striking aspect of the "cedar revolution" was its eastern European flavour: its principles descended from the anti-communist street protests of 1989 and the more recent upheavals of 2004 in Ukraine and Georgia.
As they would, since to have a truly American revolutionary flavor the Lebanese would have to reach back to 1776 for inspiration. Besides, all the talk about flavors is rather silly - the most important thing is that be it the Eastern Europe fifteen years ago or the Middle East and the post-Soviet republics more recently, it's the American policies and actions that have created an international climate favorable to those fighting for freedom and democracy. The US has lit up a fire under the pot – the locals can add their own flavors.


Don't hate us, we're "good" Americans 

Tim Blair reports some chuckles in Baghdad at the sight of the semi-nude former great leader and notes: " 'The Sun' should launch an Arab-language edition. Looks like they'’ve got a large potential readership."

Meanwhile, "Newsweek" strikes back retrospectively, with the cover of its Japanese edition from 2 February featuring the American flag in a rubbish bin.

Expect deadly riots to break out throughout the United States at this act of sacrilege. Or maybe not. After all, flag desecration is protected by the First Amendment, and as far as the American media is concerned, trashing your own country - particularly for the benefit of the overseas audiences - seems to be also taken as a constitutional right, if not actually a sacred obligation.

Check out the rest of the report by the Riding Sun blog, which broke this story, particularly the way "Newsweek" promoted the same set of articles in the Japanese and the American editions (hint: the Japanese pieces have significantly more negative titles – see also here for additional translation).

As Ed Driscoll notes, American journalists engage in a lot more America bashing to foreign audiences than they do at home (via Instapundit who comments: "I suspect that the Internet will make that much harder, as people are starting to pay attention, and to compare this stuff.") You only have to recall that Eason Jordan’s comments were made to an international - and receptive, or at least unquestioning - audience.

It's not just journalists, of course, but also film-makers, actors and artists. If the rest of the world are indeed Blue States, then our media and creative elites feel far more at home overseas than they do back in America which is much more split between the Blue and Red States, and where, regardless on specific political affiliations, the majority of people have generally positive feelings about their own country. Not only is it a matter of the staff at "Newsweek" and other major outlets having pretty much the same attitude towards America as do people in Berlin or Bangladesh, but trashing your own country actually serves a useful purpose of ingratiating and legitimizing yourself to your overseas audience - put the American flag in a rubbish bin, sneer at the swaggering Texan cowboy, and bemoan the Iraqi quagmire or the failure to ratify the Kyoto agreement and you can instantly show yourself to be a different, "good" American, more sophisticated and in-tune than the yokels back home. The foreigner are bound to think you're wonderful and reward you with recognition and applause - what comedian Martin Short once called getting the "French ego juice."

Maybe we should let the tabloids handle public diplomacy from now on.


Good news from Iraq, part 28 

Note: As always, available from "The Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Thank you to James Taranto and Joe Katzman respectively for their continuing support of the series, and to everyone else for helping to spread the good news.

You might remember Dhia Muhsin, carpenter from a working-class Baghdad neighborhood of al-Dora, who became a celebrity of sorts back in March, when he and his nephews stood up to insurgents who terrorized his area and in a firefight lasting half an hour killed three of them and forced the rest to retreat.

Well, two months on, and Muhsin is still ready to take on any intruders: “I expect them (the insurgents) to come back and I’m ready to face them,” says the 33-year old who seems to have inspired his neighbors:
Al-Dora residents had been too scared to face down the insurgents but after seeing Muhsin’s bravery, some, it seems, have decided to fight back.

“We are ready to confront any terrorist and the people in the area, after they saw what I did, have become more daring and strong,” said Muhsin.

Mudher Khudher, 42, a bakery owner, said he is proud of Muhsin actions and he and others have decided to follow his example, “Dhia taught us that the terrorists are cowards and they can’t face all Iraqis.”

Saleem Barakat, 32, a student, called Muhsin a hero and noted that their street in al-Dora has been quiet since the insurgents were killed.
Al-Dora has not been completely violence-free since that fateful day in March, but the example set by Muhsin is nevertheless very important one for the Iraqi people. Insurgents and terrorists thrive on fear and passivity - they can't win when society turns against them.

This is a lesson that increasing numbers of Iraqis seem to be learning, and it is important more than ever, now that the past two weeks have passed under the shadow of a bloody suicide bombing campaign. This carnage around Iraq has dominated the media coverage, and once again it managed to overshadow most of the positive developments taking place around the country, in security and other areas of life. Below are some of these stories that you might have missed.

SOCIETY: The selection of the new government finally reaches completion:
The Iraqi parliament has approved appointments for six cabinet vacancies, handing four more positions to the Sunni Arab minority...

Less than half of the National Assembly, 112 of the 155 legislators present, approved Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's six nominations on Sunday, including Shia Arab Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum as oil minister and Sunni military man Saadoun al-Duleimi as defence minister.

The other four designated ministers were Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shibli, a Sunni, as human rights minister; Mihsin Shlash, a Shia, as electricity minister; Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, as industry minister; and Abed Mutlak al-Jiburi, a Sunni, as a deputy prime minister.
Reflecting an encouraging sentiment, Al-Shibili declined the nomination as Human Rights Minister, saying that "concentrating on sectarian identities leads to divisions in the society and state." As it stands, "the new government, most of which was sworn in last week, includes 17 Shia ministers, eight Kurds, six Sunnis and a Christian. Three deputy premiers have also been named, one each for the Shia, Sunnis and Kurds. A fourth deputy premiership remains vacant; al-Jaafari has said he hopes to appoint a woman to the position." Here's a useful list of all the positions.

The main task ahead of the National Assembly is drafting Iraq's new constitution. The Assembly has already set up a 55-member committee to draft the document. In the meantime, Japan has volunteered to invite Iraqi experts to assist with them with the tasks ahead. And in USAID's contribution:
In support of Iraq’s transition to an autonomous democracy, USAID is funding work with Iraqi civil society organizations (CSOs) that will improve their ability to provide input into the constitutional drafting process and the formation of the subsequent government. Over the past month, one of USAID’s partners in the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) has conducted several activities. Including assessment trips to monitor the progress of the Regional Democracy Center, work with student organizations, women's groups and nine civic organizations from the mid-Euphrates region establish advocacy campaigns and workshops. They Initiated the organization of a conference entitled “Gender Equality in the New Iraqi Constitution”. Prominent Iraqi women and foreign trainers will hold the conference. They also worked with a women’s CSO to develop a detailed three months plan for their involvement with the constitution development process.
More recently (link in PDF), "USAIDs partner providing support to the [Transitional National Assembly] officially awarded 20 micro-grants to civil society organizations (CSOs) from South and South Central Iraq. The grants finance projects focused on promoting public awareness in the constitutional process."

Iraqi blogger Mohammed, is noticing increasing number of announcements being posted on the walls of Sunni mosques in Baghdad, encouraging the faithful to participate in the next election, scheduled for January 2005. Mohammed also reports this:
For the fourth week in a line, the "department of Sunni property" which is an official entity that takes care of Sunni mosques and Sunni heritage has been distributing inquiry forms to the people who attend the Friday prayers as such prayers are usually attended by more people than other week days. The inquiry (or poll) includes four questions:

1-would you like to have a role in drafting the constitution?
2-would you like to participate in the next round of elections?
3-would you prefer to see a unified committee for the Sunni?
4-Are you with the call for joining the Iraqi army and police?
*You can submit any suggestions you have.

The results I could take a look at in Baghdad were as follows:

In "Ghaffar Al-Thunoob" mosque in A'adhamiyah, 273 people filled the forms and 96% of them answered the 4 questions with "yes".

In "Al-Yakeen" mosque in Al-Sha'ab quarter I wasn't able to get the exact number of the people who took the poll but the percentage of those who answered the 4 questions with "yes" was 92%.

In "Haj Ahmed Ra'oof" mosque in Al-Baladiyat quarter south east of Baghdad, 95% of those who took the poll answered all the questions with "yes".
In a related development, "The Iraqi Islamic Party headed by Muhsin Abdul Hameed has said it regards all acts of violence aimed at Iraqis as crimes of the utmost gravity. The party, which boycotted the January elections, has denounced all kinds of violence, regardless of whether the targets are Sunni, Shia, police, or National Guardsmen. The party called for dialogue instead of violence."

Meanwhile, in the former number 1 hotspot, "the first democratically-elected city council of Fallujah held its inaugural meeting... at the Civil-Military Operations Center in Fallujah. The 20-member council met for approximately two hours, during which time they elected the chairman, vice chairman and secretary of the council. Imams, sheiks, engineers, lawyers, educators, administrators and businessmen are among those who make up the council."

And USAID reports that (link in PDF), "Violence Education Resolution (EVER) Project is making some inroads into the Sunni-dominated areas north and west of Baghdad. In late March, the project’s office in Arbil held trainings for all new Civil Society Organization (CSO) partners, including four from Mosul, four from Tikrit and two from Kirkuk. The Salah ad Din representative of the Independent Election Commission of Iraq (IECI) also attended. In total, 17 people were trained. This represents tremendous progress; in January, Tikrit had no participating CSOs, Kirkuk had only one and Mosul had only two. During the training, all program officers from these locations were present and now feel very united in purpose and comfortable with this northern partnership."

Post-liberation Iraq offers unparalleled opportunities for Iraqi media and the arts:
After decades of government censorship and a two-year U.S. occupation, actors, filmmakers and television producers are embracing new artistic freedom to tell stories about Iraqis for an increasingly housebound audience.

A dozen new private TV channels are pumping out soap operas, sitcoms, reality shows and dramas. For the first time, Iraqi television is tackling issues of social injustice, government corruption and, on occasion, life under Saddam Hussein.
Another thing unthinkable under Saddam - freedom on the airways:
When the host of a radio talk show asked which government department provides the best services in Iraq, an irate listener spoke with frankness unthinkable under Saddam Hussein.

"There are no best services. They are all lousy," she told Uday al-Itawi, host of the popular Good Morning Orange City programme, one of Iraq's few call-in radio shows.

After two years of bloody chaos, some Iraqis are turning to talk radio to let off steam.

There is plenty to complain about, especially in towns like Baquba, a battleground between guerrillas and government and U.S. forces about 50 km (35 miles) north of Baghdad.

The on-air attempt to get official responses to grievances would have been unthinkable before a U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"The most important thing about this programme is that people can be on the air live, and they can talk directly with officials," Wissam al-Obade, the FM station's manager, told Reuters.

While people call radio chat shows around the world, it is a rare freedom for Iraqis who endured years of human rights abuses under Saddam's iron-fisted rule.
Not to mention variety on the TV:
Oprah has a fan base in Iraq. Iraqi mothers fret about the amount of time their teenagers spend watching "Star Academy," an Arabic-language cross between "American Idol" and "The Real World."

And an ad for the satellite channel MBC's new lineup - which includes "Inside Edition," "Jeopardy!" and "60 Minutes" - declares: "So you can watch what THEY watch."

Satellite dishes, which Saddam Hussein and his coterie withheld from ordinary Iraqis, have sprouted everywhere since his regime fell. They sit on the roofs of mansions and sidewalk vendors' stalls, pulling in hundreds of channels from all over the world. Even squatters in a bombed-out and looted club once reserved for air force officers have a receiver set up, next to a swimming pool filled with trash and a layer of green slime.

Before the war, television was all Saddam, all the time. Even music videos featured his image. Iraqis giddy to be free from the propaganda snapped up satellite dishes soon after American tanks rolled in. Watching television is one of the few safe forms of entertainment left in a country living under curfew and the constant fear of violence.
Cartoons, too, can now show life, warts and all - mostly warts - and jeer without fear or favor. Muayad Naama is Iraq's most popular cartoonist:
Mr. Naama's fortunes have risen and fallen with Iraq's own painful history. He was born in 1951, almost two decades before Mr. Hussein's Baath Party took control of the country. At the time, Baghdad was a bustling, cosmopolitan city with lively cafes and bars.

But when Mr. Hussein began in the late 1970's to clamp down on political opposition, including by the Communist Party, of which Mr. Naama was a member, his life quickly changed. In 1979, he was arrested and beaten. He still barely hears out of one ear as a result of the beatings.

Now, after decades of dictatorship, a chaotic political scene has burst forth. And unlike Mr. Hussein's government, under which open criticism brought dire, often fatal, consequences, the new Iraqi government appears to be fair game.

For that, and many other reasons, Mr. Naama said, life is better now. People can speak freely and practice their religion as they like, he said. The chaos and lack of rules, he said, must eventually improve.
USAID is also helping with the growth of expression through arts (link in PDF):
A six-day photography exhibition held in Southern Iraq celebrated the January elections and the birth of democracy in Iraq. A local photography NGO hosted the event with the support of an Iraq Transition Initiative (ITI) grant. After the abuses of the previous regime, which had carefully monitored art and frequently restricted free self-expression, artisticminded residents took full advantage of this opportunity to showcase their talents, practice freedom of expression and celebrate democracy...

An Iraqi NGO that focuses on the arts conducted 48 three-day participatory art workshops for youth in southern Iraq. More than 3,000 youth participated in the workshops that focused on artistic self-expression and using art as a social and educational outlet. With art programs stifled by the previous regime, schools around the country had insufficient resources to provide wide-scale art instruction. This program enhances and broadens education for Iraqi youth. An ITI grant provided for the equipment, stipends and lodging for these workshops.
Meanwhile, Kurdish-Iraqi film is wooing them at the Cannes festival:
"Kilometer Zero," by Kurdish-Iraqi filmmaker Hiner Saleem, is the first Iraqi film to be selected for the official Cannes competition since the festival's inception in 1946, generating a buzz of its own.

At the press screening late Wednesday ahead of its official showing Thursday, journalists appreciated the dark humor in its tale about a Kurdish-Iraqi conscripted into Saddam Hussein's army to fight against Iran in 1988, but were more intent on putting it into the context of the ongoing controversy about the Iraq war and its aftermath.

The film itself invited comparison with the U.S.-led war by bracketing the story with contemporary scenes of the main characters reacting to the conflict in Paris, first with surprise then with glee over the fall of Baghdad.

"This director doesn't swim with the tide of European thought, and I thought that was refreshing," said Harlan Jacobson of USA Today magazine.
ECONOMY: Further liberalization of the Iraqi economy is on the way:
The industry ministry plans to partially privatise most of its 46 state-owned companies, as part of the government’s plan to establish a liberal free market economy.

Later this year, the ministry is expected to launch a search for domestic and foreign partners in the private sector to jointly run companies in the petrochemical, cement, sugar, silk and heavy industry sectors.

Initially, the ministry plans to privatise around ten small factories and companies that do not contribute greatly to the economy, such as those producing clothes and tyres.

“We have plans to develop and pave the way for domestic and foreign investment in these sectors,” said Mohammed Abdullah, acting minister of industry.

Under Saddam, only Arab countries were allowed to invest in Iraq. But the new commercial laws established by the Coalition Provisional Authority, CPA, allow foreigners to own 100 per cent of Iraqi businesses - the exceptions being those dealing with natural resources such as oil.
Many employees are worried what impact privatization might have on their jobs; others see that Iraqi economy has little choice if it wants to catch up to the twenty-first century:
Faris Mohammed, director of the industry ministry’s petrochemicals sector, said Iraq needs the experience of foreign private companies because its own businesses have deteriorated over the past 30 years due to lack of maintenance and modern technology.

“Developing and reconstructing these [State Owned Enetrrpises] needs huge amounts of money and we think the government right now is not capable of providing that amount,” he said. “That’s why new partners willing to invest.”
Iraqi Stock Exchange is reporting great increase in activity. And foreigners are now allowed to buy and sell Iraqi securities. Here's more background about the past, the current operations and future challenges of the Exchange:
On a recent Monday morning at the Iraq Stock Exchange, investors yammer into cell phones as about 30 traders on the floor scribble orders, study boards for stock prices or stand casually smoking cigarettes.

The scene doesn't match the frenetic pace of the New York Stock Exchange or the Chicago Board of Trade. This is Baghdad, after all. But the activity is a good sign for those who are trying to shore up the country's financial institutions despite the daily violence carried out by insurgents.

"Financial institutions and markets make our economy grow again," says Taha Ahmed Abdul Salam, the exchange's chief operating officer. "You can't do business unless you have good banks and good capital markets."

The Baghdad Stock Exchange opened in 1992, but under Saddam Hussein's regime it was heavily regulated. Exchange spokeswoman Jaimy Afham says stocks traded within a specific price range. The exchange closed amid the chaos after the collapse of Saddam's regime.

The exchange, renamed the Iraq Stock Exchange, reopened last June under the supervision of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Salam says. It started with 15 listed companies trading about 1 billion Iraqi dinars ($683,000) in shares daily, he says. Today, the exchange lists 89 companies and averages about $2 million in daily trading, he says.

A law created last year allows foreign investors to deal in Iraqi stocks and has encouraged trading, Salam says. The market subsequently was boosted by an influx of capital from Iraqi exiles and a recent increase in disposable income driven by higher government salaries, Afham says.
Iraqi banking system is also getting modernized:
Iraq's cash economy will get a jolt of modernity in the coming weeks -- automated teller machines and credit cards, the president of the Trade Bank of Iraq said yesterday.

"We expect to have cash machines in 10 days in Baghdad," said Hussein al-Uzri, president of the Trade Bank of Iraq, which was set up in December 2003 as part of an international consortium of banks headed by JPMorgan Chase.

Besides serving as regular cash-dispensing machines, the ATMs are also expected to be used to pay government workers.
Meanwhile, as of 10 May, Iraqi credit cards are now internationally recognized. And foreign investment will in the future play a major role in helping the industry modernize and grow:
HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe's biggest bank by market value, won Iraqi approval to buy a local lender as it competes with Standard Chartered Plc and Arab banks to return to the country for the first time since 1964 nationalization.

HSBC will acquire a 75 percent stake for an undisclosed sum in Baghdad-based Dar Elsalam Investment Bank, upgrade the lender's communications and computer systems and expand its network of branches across the country, Faleh Dawood Salman, deputy governor of the Central Bank of Iraq, said in a telephone interview. HSBC confirmed the talks today in a Regulatory News Service statement.

"We need banks like HSBC to modernize our banking system, and help finance foreign trade and lending," Salman said by telephone from Baghdad on May 15.
Iraqi authorities are receiving training and support thanks to USAID’s Iraq Economic Governance II (IEG II) program to help in economic reform and improving administration. Among the most recent initiatives (link in PDF): training courses for the officers from the Central Bank of Iraq "to improve its ability to conduct sound macroeconomic policy and supervise banking within the country"; drafting a comprehensive training program for the regulators; providing electricity capacity workshops for the Ministry employees; and working with the government on reforming tax system and introducing computerized budget system.

Iraqis can now afford to buy cars - and they certainly do:
More than a million used cars have entered the country in the past two years, a traffic police study shows. The figure is double the number of cars that existed in the country before the fall of Baghdad to U.S. troops in April 2003, according to the study.

The study says the northern city o Mosul, for example, only had 57,000 registered cars in early 2003. But the number has surged to 125,000 now at a time there has been no improvement in roads, traffic signals and lights. On the contrary, conditions on roads have deteriorated, the study adds.

Former leader Saddam Hussein restricted the flow of cars to the country and the import of vehicles was an exclusive right which he exercised himself. He only gave new cars to his cronies and people showing unwavering loyalty.

Cars were expensive and not everyone could afford to buy one. But currently conditions have changed and civil servants earn meaningful wages enabling them to buy not only cars but many other commodities they could not afford in the past.
Telecommunication network keeps expanding: Business Satellite Solutions and Iraqi partner BusinessCom have recently teamed up to provide a high speed broadband satellite system in downtown Basra.

In a great case of swords into ploughshares:
A major military corporation is now producing cranes and electrical cables instead of missiles and bombs.

Al-Simoud Enterprise, the pride of former regime’s military industries, has been converted to civilian use.

Its main products include cranes, pylons, communication towers, concrete bridges and steel in addition to power infrastructure equipment. Three of the corporation’s companies are now operational, said director-general Yousif Ali. One of the revitalized companies is specialized in the production of concrete blocks and electrical posts.

Another produces cranes with a capacity ranging from 5-50 tons. He said the corporation was in talks with Turkish and German companies on how to upgrade production.
The companies are desperate for foreign investment, so why not consider? There's another example:
The Ministry of Industry is striving to breathe life into a major corporation which played a pivotal role in the country’s former weapons program.

Al-Shahid Company was one of the crowns of the now defunct Military Industrialization Commission specialized in the manufacture of high quality copper and brass products. Al-Shahid was reported to be working to provide oxygen-free copper for the former leader’s rail gun project or the doomsday gun.

Current director-general, Bassel Hameed, said the Ministry of Industry has now taken over the operations and is trying to bring all the production lines on stream.

Al-Shahid has three major companies situated in the country’s restive western region. The three companies were fully operational under Saddam Hussein despite the sanctions, turning scrap military brass shell casings into commercial grade brass. The corporation also financed university research focusing on energy loss from the safety dump of copper from its furnaces.

But Hameed said any production would be geared towards civilian use.
And in other business and industry news, the Department of Industrial Development has issued licenses for 7661 new industrial projects in 2004: "1025 food-stuff production projects, 200 textile industries, 676 plastic and chemical industries and 1363 metalwork industries."

In oil news, "Ivanhoe Energy has received the required data from the Iraq Ministry of Oil to perform its previously announced study of the shallow Qaiyarah Oil Field in northern Iraq. The Company is evaluating the potential response of the Qaiyarah Oil Field to the latest in enhanced oil recovery techniques, along with the potential value that could be added using the RTP(TM) Technology. If the evaluation indicates economic viability, Ivanhoe Energy will present a technical and commercial development plan for Qaiyarah."

In transport news, the authorities have approved the construction of a new port:
Mr. Mahmoud Saleh, general manager of the Iraqi ports company [said] that the significance of the port project is considered as one of the most prominent infrastructure project as it gives Iraq a new gate at the waters of the Arab Gulf and therefore to the global ports in the high seas. Its achievement participates in helping the Iraqi ports out of the bottleneck, which is represented by the current navigation channels that connect the Arabian Gulf with the two ports of Om Qasr and Khur Al Zubair, and getting rid of the dilemma of the shallow water draft that hinders the entrance of big ships with a draft higher than 11 meters, which is the best available draft at this moment...

He explained that the project, which extends for a distance of more than 22 km in Ras Al Bisha, in Al Faw region, which is the last ground of Iraqi lands, would be committed to global specialized countries to be executed. It lies on depths of more than 28 meters, which are depths that provide with comfortable draft for the biggest ships and giant oil tankers. The port would consist of 50 platforms to receive commercial ships and giant tankers and is annexed with areas for loading, unloading, warehouses, administrative facilities and housing complexes. It is connected with a network of highways and selected area for free trade and an airport shall be established later.
The Iraqi General Railroad Company is starting a regular service between Baghdad and Mosul and resuming a daily service between Baghdad and Basra, with more to come following the renovation of the line.

An a British-Iraqi entrepreneur wants to link the two countries:
No-frills airline Air Scotland wants to fly tourists directly into the Iraqi capital from Stansted Airport.

The company has applied to the Department of Transport for permission to launch its Baghdad service in November, which would be the first direct commercial flights from Britain to Iraq since 1990.

The airline, founded two years ago by Iraqi-born Dhia Al-ani, wants to operate twice a week to Baghdad and once a week to Arbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

It will use either Boeing 757 aircraft, which hold 233 passengers, or Tri-Stars with a capacity for 309.

Mr Al-ani, who is based in Scotland and has lived in the UK for 25 years, said: "We hope to be the first to get direct flights to Iraq and beat British Airways to it.

"I want to be on that first flight, travelling from my country here to my country of birth."
RECONSTRUCTION: Australia is committing more resources towards rebuilding Iraq:
The Australian Government will provide an additional $45 million over two years to provide further reconstruction assistance to Iraq. This funding demonstrates the Government's commitment to helping build stability and democracy in Iraq. This additional funding will bring Australia's total reconstruction commitment to Iraq to over $170 million since 2003...

Australia will continue to focus on those areas where it has particular expertise, including governance, agriculture, and related economic and trade reforms.
From one dry country to another, "assistance to Iraq's agricultural sector will include providing on-going training programmes in Australia for Ministry of Agriculture officials; utilising Australia's expertise in areas such as dry-land agriculture, irrigation, salinity and water resources management."

In Baghdad, USAID is working on the grass-roots level to create economic opportunities and help in the reconstruction process (link in PDF):
Since May 2003, USAID’s Community Action Program (CAP) has been working in the poorest neighborhoods in Baghdad at the grassroots level, empowering Iraqi communities to develop and implement reconstruction projects and improving individual lives...

CAP’s Business Development Program in Baghdad focuses on sustainable long term job creation, with a goal of creating over 100,000 jobs over the next fiscal year...

The CAP program also plays an essential role in building a foundation for democracy in Baghdad. Working with — and being represented by - [Community Action Groups], imparts an understanding of what a representative democracy should look like and how it can act to provide services to the citizenry. For example, a CAG selected as a priority the construction of a health clinic in their community. Within three months, the community members celebrated the opening of a clinic that can provide 200,000 residents with health benefits. Although projects like clearing debris from a road and pumping sewage out of facilities seem a small part of improving Iraq’s future, these challenges impact every aspect of people’s lives.
A province bordering Iran is getting some important infrastructure:
Two new bridges are to be constructed in the city of Amara, the capital of the southeastern province of Missan, the head of the department in charge of roads and bridges in the province said.

Mohammed Jassem said his office had completed the designs and readied equipment to start with the implementation “as soon as possible”...

Jassem said a 16-km long road linking a border district with a major urban center was paved recently.

He also said his office constructed 24 smaller arched bridges on the Amara-Baghdad highway to protect the road against erosion and rain water.
Kirkuk and its surrounds is receiving 1.65 billion dinars for various reconstruction projects in the area of roads, communications and agriculture.

Shortly, rural communities near Baghdad will be enjoying clear drinking water, often for the first time:
Everyone knows that all living things need water to survive and during the upcoming summer months in Iraq, the demand for clean drinking water will drastically rise.

The near-term completion of a project in the Al-Rasheed district will fulfill this need and provide more than 100,000 villagers fresh water.

The $500,000 project began six months ago and employed 36 people, of which 30 were from the local area.

In the 2nd Kurtan village, which has roughly 5,000 residents, there hasn't been a source for purified water since it was formed, according to Capt. Christian Neels, the civil-military operations officer for 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment.

Sheik Alwan Kartan, a local tribal leader who has participated in the project since the beginning, said that the villagers who had cars could go to the adjacent areas to get water. Others who didn't have vehicles had to get their water from the canal that connects to the river, putting them at risk for disease.

"This project will supply the local population with drinking water and reduce some of the water-borne illnesses that the children are coming up with," Neels said.
In Baghdad (link in PDF): "USAID’s work continues on the augmentation of trunk sewer systems serving Zafaraniyah, a district in South Eastern Baghdad. The current sewer system is undersized and unreliable. Sections have collapsed, deteriorated or been damaged... Excavation continues for the forced main sewer piping; to date, 480 meters of pipe—out of 5.5 km—has been laid... The project will add gravity-flow lines and pumps to the existing main trunk sewage line. To make the system reliable, two major pump stations also require a total of 10 pumps, both vertical and horizontal types, and supporting electrical systems."

In other recent USAID projects (link in PDF):
Workers continued placing concrete foundations for treatment units, as work moves forward on the refurbishment of a water treatment plant in Karbala...

Work is 81 percent complete to rehabilitate the water and sewage treatment plant facilities serving rural, north-central Diyala Governorate. The plants require rehabilitation and expansion to better serve the 60,000 residents of the region...

To ameliorate water shortages in Sadr City, Baghdad, a modern water treatment plant will be designed and constructed to increase the quantity and quality of potable water to the neighborhood.
In electricity news, Japan will be building $100-million, 60MW thermal power station near Samawa in southern Iraq. Construction will begin this summer and is expected to be completed in 2007.

USAID continues to work on rehabilitation of the power infrastructure (link in PDF):
The newly arrived V-94 combustion gas turbine and its generator have been placed on their foundations at the Taza substation outside of Kirkuk. Iraqi construction workers are currently assembling and aligning the unit on its foundation, welding the fuel lines and exhaust stack, and installing the electrical controls. Work at the substation includes the installation of the V-94 and a second combustion gas turbine, a V-64 unit. Combined, these turbines will add 325MW to the Iraq electricity grid.

Work continues on the rehabilitation of the Doura power plant in southern Baghdad. Upon completion, an additional 320 MW is projected to be available for Iraq’s national electrical grid. Although its four steam boilers and turbines are each rated at 160MW, all have been poorly maintained for many years, largely due to spare parts shortages. Its cooling systems are now severely damaged so its turbines can no longer be operated at full-load without risk of further damage from overheating. As a result, the plant has operated far below its full-load rating of 640MW.

To provide reliable power by the end of June 2005, the Iraq Infrastructure Rehabilitation program is rehabilitating eight of Baghdad’s power distribution substations. Electrical demand is increasing in Baghdad as a result of increased economic activity and higher temperatures after the milder spring months. The city’s existing electrical distribution infrastructure is currently overloaded and must be upgraded to service this larger load. The rehabilitation project will restore and expand greater Baghdad’s deteriorating electrical distribution substation network resulting in a more reliable electrical distribution network that will service the Ministry of Electricity’s present load demands.
More about the Kirkuk plant ("the largest to be constructed in the country since 1990 ") here.

USAID also reports that "the installation of water treatment units at four major power plants in Basrah nears completion... The entire project is expected to be completed by mid May. The new facilities will improve the efficiency and reliability of Basrah’s thermal power plants." (link in PDF) 50 large generators with a total output capacity of 96 megawatts will be refurbished and installed in Najaf. Read also this personal account from an Iraqi blogger about a power plant rising from the ashes south of Baghdad.

Efforts to improve Iraqi health continue. "With funding from USAID, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is implementing a comprehensive package of activities designed to help Iraq meet Millennium Development Goals in public health." Some of the recent projects include (link in PDF):
- The Ministry of Health distributed 48 million tablets of Ferrous Sulfate and Folic Acid to maternal and child health units to contribute to the reduction of iron deficiency anemia, prevalent in children and women of child bearing age. This emergency drug distribution is part of a larger program funded by USAID and other partners to improve health care throughout Iraq.

- In support of the Ministry of Health’s immunization campaign, Iraq’s central vaccine storage facility in Baghdad is being rebuilt. To date, all cold/freezer rooms are operational and ready to store vaccines. The facility has already received 500,000 doses of Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine—which prevents tuberculosis—into its cold storage units.
In another program (link in PDF), "USAID with WHO and UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health’s campaign to vaccinate children aged 9 months to five years against measles, mumps and rubella. In the first few days of the campaign, approximately 36% of the target population of children received vaccinations."

In education news, USAID is working at many different levels (link in PDF): through its Education and Development (HEAD) program, it has recently awarded 18 grants, ranging from "$5,000 to $30,000 (totaling $205,500) and funded the equipment, supplies and support services not otherwise available to Iraqi scientists"; it's helping the Ministry of Education with planning and implementing education reform; and is also "developing a television series to help Iraqi preschool children develop early childhood learning skills."

Renovation of schools throughout the country is progressing: "The Buildings & Education sub-sector of the Iraq Project and Contracting Office (PCO), in collaboration with the Iraqi school system and the Iraqi Ministry of Education (MoE), created the School Renovation Program in fall of 2003 with the initial goal of overseeing the rehabilitation and renovation of over 1,200 schools throughout Iraq." Eventually, the number of targetted schools was reduced to 800, as the initial assessment showed many will need significantly more extensive renovation than previously thought.
Currently, more than 450 schools throughout Iraq have been renovated, with 350 left to rehabilitate. These 800 schools will greatly improve the education of more than 300,000 Iraqi children...

Because the Buildings & Education sub-sector only uses Iraqi laborers to conduct field inspections and reconstruction, the sector is not only looking to revitalize Iraq’s future by improving the education of its citizens, but is also ensuring the development of local skills and revenue that could improve the country’s present outlook as well.
The Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education is currently engaged in 297 different projects throughout Iraq, valued at 37 billion dinars [$22.2 million], and expected to be completed by the end of 2007. The projects include "building study halls in Iraqi colleges, scientific laboratories, centers for information service, a conferences hall, creating new colleges in various universities, establishing libraries and buildings for boarding departments, in addition to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Iraqi universities’ buildings and establishing a building for the Iraqi council for medical specializations."

And German representatives have announced more scholarships for Iraqi students, in addition to 150 since the beginning of 2004.

And in agriculture, in the north of the country (link in PDF) "wheat technology field days are being held this week in Arbil, Dahuk, and As Sulaymaniyah. Forty field days will be held, and a total of approximately 1,300 farmers are expected to attend."

HUMANITARIAN AID: Clean-up in Fallujah continues:
More than 800 Iraqis recently participated in the removal of rubble in Fallujah from Operation Al Fajr.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) approved more than $840,000 to assist cleanup teams during the next two months.

“We’ve got to clean the rubble up,” said Lt. Col. Harvey Williams, director, reconstruction cell, 5th Civil Affairs Group.

“Bottom line is we’ve got more than 1,100 young men engaged in the trash removal effort.”

Navy Seabees cleared the streets after military operations in November; but as people returned they dispensed additional trash and rubble because the public dump was no longer operational, according to Multi-National Forces.
Even those who opposed the war are playing role in helping to rebuild Iraq:
A Minnesota resident is among a group of Iraqis and others who will lead a clean up team in the destroyed city of Fallujah. Sami Rasouli is the former owner of Sindbad's restaurant on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. He sold his business a few months ago and returned to his homeland of Iraq to help his family and the country recover from the war. He's a member of a group called the Muslim Peacemakers Team. They're cooperating with a group called the Christian Peacemakers Team in activities they hope will prevent civil war.
In Najaf, $500,000-worth of donated medical supplies have arrived for the needy local hospitals. Meanwhile, thanks to the efforts of South Korean religious leaders, four important hospitals in Korea will cooperate in a project to train Iraqi medical personnel from the south-eastern part of the country. "The project itself entails training 16 Iraqi medical teams--including medical specialists, Ph. D. and other medical students--in Korea who will then be able to apply new methods and techniques back home... As part of the project, Iraqi patients would also receive medical care in the four participating Korean hospitals."

And this, from the United States:
The leaders of the Rapid Prototyping (RP) industry will announce today free medical support for victims in Iraq at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing conference in Dearborn US. “RP for Baghdad” is a humanitarian joint effort of Fried Vancraen-Materialise, Abe Reichental-3D Systems, Scott Crump-Stratasys and Tom Clay-Z-Corporation to provide medical models for victims in Iraq.

The effort will focus on the most severely injured victims with serious head injuries or missing limbs. While helping people in serious need, the RP industry will demonstrate how its technology can fundamentally influence people’s lives for the better. Even in the difficult environment of war, 3D printed models based on medical image data are important tools to support surgeons in the most complex craniofacial reconstruction surgeries.

The Iraqi League for Medical Profession is providing the infrastructure for this service. People with serious injuries will first be CT Scanned at a medical facility. The data from the scan will be processed using the Mimics software of Materialise to generate a 3D Model of the anatomy. 3D Systems, Stratasys and Z-Corporation will provide physical models based from the virtual model. The models will be delivered back to a surgeon in Iraq who can use this bone replica to plan and practice surgery on. As the project progresses the plan is to build RP parts for socket construction in artificial limbs.
Read also about the good work that the Dwarfs’ Association is doing to protect and help people who still can face ridicule and obstacles in society.

A community in Massachusetts is collecting for Iraqi children: " 'Someone Else's Child' is participating in a project with the Sundance School to acquire toys for children living in Iraq. A doctor from South Dakota who has been deployed to Iraq for three tours of duty has written to his local paper describing the needs of the children he has encountered. The doctor explains that the children he treats do not have toys or craft items." See the story for details if you can help:

So are people from North Dakota:
Capt. Bill Shomento and soldiers with his Army company have been distributing shoes and pens to children in villages in northern Iraq, thanks to the generosity of a shoe drive conducted in the Minot and Harvey areas.

The shoe and pen drive, headed by Shomento's parents, Bert and Anna Marie Shomento of Minot, and conducted a few weeks ago resulted in a donation of 773 pair of shoes, more than 7,000 pens (it couldn't be pencils because they don't have pencil sharpeners there) and $815 for postage to mail the items.

"He got them delivered," said Bert Shomento Wednesday. However, he said there might be some shoe deliveries for his son and the other soldiers still to do. The last batch of shoes collected may not have arrived in Iraq. They were mailed about 10 days ago and take three or four weeks to get there, he said. He said those shoes - about 217 pair - were collected by a group in the Harvey area - the Lutheran Ladies of Lone Tree Cluster.

When Bill Shomento told his parents how badly many children in Iraq needed shoes and that they loved getting ink pens more than candy, they decided to start a drive.
And in Florida, students at a Tallahassee school are helping a National Guardsmen bomb Iraq - with confectionery:
Students at a middle school in Tallahassee, FL are getting generous with their candy. Students at Fairview Middle School wrapped candy in plastic bags and shipped two cartons to a Rhode Island National Guard helicopter pilot for distribution to Iraqi children.

The candies are being dropped in Baghdad and surrounding areas with messages such as "America Loves You." Teacher Jennifer Simmons says it's a friendly hello from Americans.

The project ties in with a school requirement that every student complete three hours of community service.

Brian Trapani, a Rhode Island National Guardsman who has been dropping "candy bombs" donated by others, has e-mailed to say the first box is already empty. His only cautionary note is "No Chocolate." It melts too easily in transit and in the desert heat.
As another report mentions, "the 'candy bombs' were inspired by the Berlin Airlift after World War II, when pilots would drop packages of chocolate or gum for children in Berlin."

Even Californian cyclists are helping their colleagues in Iraq:
As they gear up for Sunday’s 16th annual bike ride, members of the Cyclists for Cultural Exchange are also in the midst of another ambitious undertaking: raising $15,000 to support the Iraq Junior National Cycling team.

The 10-member Iraq team caught the attention of Matthew Werner, a Cyclists for Cultural Exchange board member, after seeing a photo essay about them in a cycling magazine.

"There was a picture with barbed wire in the foreground where the riders are practicing," Werner recalled. "It just hit me as a courageous thing to do under the difficult circumstances. They have a vision of being competitive athletes and persisting even when the conditions around them aren’t necessarily encouraging that."
And this from North Dakota:
Captain Grant Wilz with the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion says 15-thousand-dollars was raised in a seven-hour fund-raiser yesterday. In Fargo recently, officials raised 18-thousand-dollars in eight hours.

The money will be used to pay travel expenses for the wife and seven children of a man who was killed by Iraqi insurgents after providing information to members of the 141st during their tour of duty.

The federal government still must approve the relocation of the family, which has not been named to ensure their safety in Iraq.

Wilz says another 20-thousand to 25-thousand-dollars still is needed to meet the family's travel costs.
Meanwhile, this soldier from Idaho wants locals to help with his project:
One local soldier stationed in Iraq is asking for the public's help in supporting his project called "Operation Tenderfoot".

Soldier Randy Russell is a part of the 116th Brigade of the Idaho National Guard. The idea for the fundraiser came to him while on a convoy mission where he saw children running around barefoot.

Russell's plan is to gather as many shoes as he can for the Iraqi children. His goal: 50,000 pairs of shoes.

Any type of shoe is welcomed, new or used, as long as they're in fairly good condition.
This Montana soldier now has things to share thanks to family and friends back home:
For the past two years, Caleb Wilson of Philadelphia has been getting a close-up look at life in Iraq.

As an infantry machine gunner with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, he and his fellow soldiers routinely patrol some dangerous areas. They also frequently encounter Iraqi children who offer smiles when greeted by the Americans.

As a goodwill gesture, Wilson has occasionally shared with kids some of the treats he receives in care packages from home. Then one day in a letter to his family, he urged relatives and friends to send him some crayons, pencils and coloring books that he could pass out to Iraqi children.

The response from home was quick. Relatives, friends and members of Wilson's church — Bethel Baptist of Smileyville — sent a box full of stuff to Wilson, who promptly shared it with some other American soldiers so everyone would have small gifts to pass along to children they encountered on the streets of Iraq.
THE COALITION TROOPS: Read this extensive report in which Brig. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division talks about the background, challenges and successes among the projects he is overseeing all across Iraq:
The state of the infrastructure Americans found when they liberated Iraq is one indication of the job ahead, he said. In 2003, World Bank officials estimated it would take $60 billion to rehabilitate the Iraqi infrastructure to the point it was before 1990 and Operation Desert Storm. "That's electricity, oil, water, sewage -- all of the major essential service areas," Bostick said.

To rehabilitate the electrical grid alone, officials estimated it would cost $12 billion. To date, coalition efforts have cost about $4 billion.

"This country experienced 35 years of neglect under Saddam Hussein," Bostick said. Power plants, for example, have old equipment. He said when workers open up a generator or a turbine, they often find they have to do "wholesale rebuild of those items or replace them completely. So the cost is much higher than initially estimated."
But the pace is now picking up:
When the Iraqis assumed sovereignty in June 2004, there were about 200 projects actually turning dirt. "Today there are more than 2,400, and more than 1,000 have been completed," the general said...

An example is Sadr City, a primarily Shiite area where Saddam Hussein neglected the people and infrastructure. In April 2004, followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to the streets and made the area a battleground for the 1st Cavalry. "You couldn't walk the streets of Sadr City before," Bostick said.

"But the maneuver forces defeated the insurgency, took away their safe havens and then followed with reconstruction," he added. "There's about $800 million now going into Sadr City - sewers, water, electricity, cleaning up the trash - and that has made a huge difference. On any given day you can have 15,000 to 20,000 Iraqis working in Sadr City. You can actually walk the streets now."
And if you have never heard of most of the reconstruction projects going on - don't worry, neither have the Iraqis:
The Iraqi awareness of the reconstruction projects is mixed, Bostick said. The projects in their neighborhoods are welcomed. But the large capital projects - like power plants, oil refineries, pipelines, sewage treatment plants and water treatment plants - are not close to large population centers, and go largely unremarked, the general noted.

The coalition has rebuilt 11 power plants, adding 2,000 megawatts to the Iraqi electrical grid. Workers also have erected 1,400 power towers carrying more than 8,600 kilometers of transmission wires. "That's really been invisible to Iraqi people," he said.

Bostick cited a recent trip he made. He stopped at one town where the coalition financed two wells for about $500,000. "They provided fresh water to 10,000 people who had none," he said. "We were welcomed by all members of the town, given flowers, given food, and there was a lot of joy and happiness."

He left the town and flew to a water treatment plant being built. Once operational, the plant will provide 100 times more potable water than the wells. The plant costs about $100 million. "It will take care of the entire region," he said. "But there was no joy because no one lives there. Still, this is going to make a huge impact for a long period of time. It will take 18 months to build, but when we're finished they won't need the wells any more."
The Army Corps of Engineers is playing an important role in "Iraqization" of the reconstruction effort:
We have all heard the saying, “...teach a man to fish and he’ll feed himself forever.”

Based upon its current reconstruction mission in Iraq, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division, has updated that axiom to read, “… and if you train and enable an Iraqi engineer to intern with your experienced staff, he or she can become a prominent contributor to Iraq’s reconstruction.”

The Corps works in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works (MMPW) to build capacity to design, supervise, and maintain the country of Iraq’s infrastructure over the long term. In order to make this goal a reality, the GRD has entered into an agreement wherein promising MMPW engineers from across the country attend a six-day training course in Baghdad to familiarize themselves with Corps standard construction practices. During that initial period, in addition to formal classroom instruction, the interns also garner hands-on experience at construction sites in the International Zone.
This is how it's working out in practice in other areas of Iraq:
The Corps’ Danger Resident Office, near Tikrit, recently held a Construction Quality Management (CQM) workshop for local Iraqi engineers. Derek Chow, Danger Resident Office Engineer developed and led the training. Before arriving in Iraq, Chow was a senior project manager in the Corps’ Honolulu District Civil and Public Works Branch. In that position he was responsible for managing and overseeing federal water resources development projects in the planning and design phase.

“The workshop was a success and all participants gained an overview of the CQM system,” said Chow. “Weekly meetings are planned to continue building the understanding and implementation of the CQM process. The end-result will be Iraqi team members providing quality assurance inspections of projects in the Salah ad Din province.”
In Baghdad, the troops are reporting on their work in Al-Oubaidy district:
Reconstruction is an ongoing process throughout Iraq and daily strides improve the living conditions in the southern, central, and northern regions of the country.

As with any progress, along with each step forward, there may be occasional steps backwards. The 425 civilians, 80 military, and numerous Iraqi contractors working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) take each step forward and each occasional setback in stride and continue to move ahead. Together, they remain focused on a common goal -- reconstruction of Iraq for the Iraqi people.

The Oubaidy District sewage network is just one of 28 planned for renovations throughout Iraq, of which 13 are completed. The badly neglected network was designed for use by ten thousand people, but now supports a population ten times that number. As a result, the neighborhood has suffered for 25 years.
As the report notes, "the construction is centering on a complete sanitary sewer system with trunk lines and rehabilitation of the current water distribution system. The new system includes sewer mainline pipes and manholes, connections and/or construction of laterals to approximately 12,500 homes – each averaging 8 to 10 occupants, as well as businesses. The project also provides for the construction of three pump stations."

Meanwhile, another project supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers has made the difference for Iraq's transport network:
Passengers and consumers in the Kirkuk area will be pleased to learn that two rail station rehabilitation projects were recently completed in Kirkuk. The Kirkuk and Al Maraei stations are the first two completed of four station renovations scheduled in Kirkuk Governorate. Stations in Al Thawra and Al Reyadh are scheduled for completion later this year. From all indications, the once bustling Iraqi rail system is on the track to steady recovery.

Both station renovation projects took about four months to complete at a cost of over $70,000 each. The initial work mainly consisted of cleaning and removing rubbish from the sites and demolishing unsafe portions of the buildings. Station renovations included repair and replacement of plumbing and sewer systems, replacement of roofing and other structural components, painting, plastering, installing new windows, doors and frames, as well as flooring and tile.

The Iraq Republic Railroad (IRR) supervised all of the renovations performed. Prior to 2003, the IRR operated a network of 2,603 kilometers of railway.

The main railway routes are Um Qasr/Basra-Baghdad and Baghdad-Husaiba on the Syrian border. There are also branches to Kirkuk and Akashat.

“There are 105 kilometers of railway in Kirkuk,” said Shakir Mahmoud Shukri, manager for Kirkuk Region IRR.
Montana's combat medic Staff Sgt. Dean Sowers is reporting on the changes he is seeing recently near Hawija with 1-163 Infantry Battalion:
Sowers called the elections a turning point, giving way to a feeling of Iraqi freedom and cooperation. American troops gave out candy and stuffed animals while medical teams entered villages to treat the locals for their ailments.

Those ailments included scabies, a parasitic skin infection, and impetigo, a bacterial infection linked to poor sanitation. While American forces powered up a large generator to supply electricity to the region, engineers, Sowers said, are still working to improve the water supply.

"The populace is becoming more friendly as we move through their area," Sowers said. "The people are starting to bring their children to be seen. They know we're there to help them."

With help from Sgt. Jerry Davis of Great Falls, and Sgt. Wayne Hard of Livingston, Sowers has begun training Iraqi soldiers in the art of combat medicine. Currently, he said, 64 medics, including members of Iraq's Oil Securities Battalion, the Iraqi army, and the nation's police force, are enrolled in the program.

"I was skeptical at first, but we discovered that they wanted to be there, and that they were interested in the techniques and procedures of being a medic," Sowers said. "They're very fun-loving people, they like to joke, and they're very respectful. In all my years, I've never seen such enthusiasm to learn. They're the vanguard of what the future of the Iraqi army is."

The day Sowers left to come home, 22 new Iraqi medics graduated from the program. When he returns next week, the newly trained medics will join U.S. patrols, demonstrating growing trust and cooperation. More than once, Iraqi soldiers have alerted Montana troops to hidden roadside bombs.
In a project suprevised by the 42nd Infantry Division, "the Al-Matarares Water Treatment Plant in Tahrir in Diyala Province passed the 50 percent completion stage May 8. This project, which will cost more than $200,000, will provide drinking water to Tahrir and Buhriz. The plant will draw water out of the canal and filter it." Also recently,
"Task Force Liberty Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry, and the town of Multaka finished the Multaka Market and Sports Center May 3 in Kirkuk Province. The center will allow the citizens to play volleyball, work out, and shop for groceries, furniture and trinkets."

And this report from the north of the country:
Thousands of cars, trucks, tractors, and donkeys crowd a winding mountain highway outside the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq, lurching and honking and weaving, careening within inches of precipitous slopes as drivers battle to make their way to mountaintop parks and resorts. There are no lanes, no traffic lights, and only a handful of weary cops wave at passing cars with resigned expressions. But despite the tumult, drivers and passengers alike slow and cheer as cars pass a log-jammed patrol from the Idaho National Guard’s 148th Field Artillery Regiment, deployed to Camp Stone just outside the city.

“They love us here,” Sgt. 1st Class Jose Alvarez Jr., 34, says. He smiles and waves at a truck full of pretty Kurdish girls in traditional dresses...

[Staff Sgt. John] Murdoch and his fellow soldiers almost can’t believe their luck. They spend most days training the nascent Iraqi Army. Between training, they play ambassador to an adoring nation. They tour the countryside with Kurdish colonels and generals, eat kebabs in restaurants where the patrons smile and wave, and even visit a carnival built atop a former Iraqi Army outpost to shake hands and sip smoothies.
The troops continue to be involved in renovating schools:
For the last 10 years, children attending the Alzebn Village primary school here have had to make do with precious little.

In winter, the seasonal rains trickled through the school's straw roof and puddled the mud floors. With no electricity, little could be done to provide relief from soaring late spring temperatures. The school's only bathroom was about the size of a closet and had no door.

So the mood was expectant last month when members of the Texas Army National Guard arrived for the opening of a new village school. Lt. Col. Stephen Bentley said the 56th Brigade Combat Team spent about $90,000 to build the school and monitored its construction over three months. This is the second school the brigade has helped build.

Staff Sgt. Jerry Fair, who works in the brigade's civil affairs unit, said the school project was part of the military's effort to demonstrate its commitment to helping rebuild Iraq and establish a democratic framework.

"If we can win the children, we can win their parents to understand what freedom is, and this can be a great nation," said Fair, an Azle, Texas, resident.
In another recent opening, "Abu Saydah residents and Task Force Liberty Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, and 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, celebrated the opening of the Sha’ab Primary School following renovations recently in Diyala Province. The $73,000 project was funded through the Project Coordination Office and was completed in approximately three months. More than 550 students attend the school and more than 40 teachers teach there." And repairs are currently underway by Task Force Liberty soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor on Samarra Secondary School which was damaged by an insurgent bomb on the election day.

Here's a larger project:
The Iraqi Ministry of Education has partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Iraqi army and soldiers of the Texas Army National Guard's 56th Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, to help lay the foundation for the future of the Iraqi children by constructing seven new schools in southern Iraq.

Richard W. Riley, of Plymouth, N.H., a project engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Southern District, explained that the new schools were built to replace existing school houses in several rural villages in the area that were in very dilapidated conditions.

Riley added that before the projects broke ground, most of the children had to go to overcrowded schoolhouses that were made of mud and straw. He explained that during the rainy season the uneven dirt floor would turn into mud and cake onto the children's bare feet even as they tried to learn their lessons.

Although the corps is involved with several major public-works projects in Iraq, Riley said that helping to build schools is one of the most fulfilling things that he has ever been involved with. "We're trying to make the lives of the Iraqi people a little better, ... especially for the children," Riley said.
The troops are also helping to improve the health standards throughout Iraq: "Task Force Liberty medical personnel from 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry, assisted a newly remodeled clinic April 25 in Shumayt in Kirkuk Province. The Shumayt doctor, assisted by Task Force Liberty physician assistants, treated more than 150 patients while Iraqi police and Iraqi army elements provided security."

In another typical action, "soldiers of the 155th Brigade Combat Team, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) provided health care to more than 150 Iraqi adults and children during a six-hour Medical Civic Action Program Saturday in Najaf... Soldiers treated patients with a variety of conditions, including gunshot and shrapnel wounds, birth defects, asthma, skin irritations and arthritis."

In Suleymaniyah district, "soldiers from Task Force Liberty’s 145th Support Battalion and 1st Battalion, 148th Field Artillery, conducted medical and dental assistance visits to the border regions of Iraq, May 2-3. The visits provided basic health care, identified chronic problems, administered immunizations and educated the local Iraqis." Similar operation had been conducted in five villages of the Diyalah province on May 7.

Some activity is preventative. For example, "soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Engineer Company and the 6th Battalion of the Iraqi army gave classes to local children at three schools on the hazards of unexploded ordnance May 4 in Balad Ruz. The soldiers taught the children how to report UXO findings and safety measures to take if they find any unexploded ordnance."

Increasingly, the Coalition soldiers are helping schools, hospitals and communities together with locally-stationed Iraqi troops. For example:
The Choarta Department of Border Enforcement, with assistance from Task Force Liberty Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 148th Field Artillery, distributed kerosene heaters to schools and health clinics throughout the district April 22 in Sulaymaniyah Province. The department handed out 75 heaters within three days...

The Department of Border Enforcement, in conjunction with Task Force Liberty Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 148th Field Artillery, distributed soccer goals to schools in Penjwin April 23 in the Sulaymaniyah Province. Coalition Forces constructed the goals out of scrap lumber.
Elsewhere, "an Iraqi soldier from the 202nd Battalion assisted Soldiers from Task Force Liberty’s 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor, delivering equipment to the Samarra Fire Department May 5 in Diyala Province. The equipment is enough to equip up to 30 fire fighters with suits, oxygen tanks, helmets, boots, and hand-carried tools." And in another action, "Iraqi soldiers from the 201st Battalion passed out clothes and toys May 5 in As Siniyah in Bayji in Salah Ad Din Province. Task Force Liberty Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 103rd Armor, provided the supplies, and the Iraqi company commander and his soldiers selected the area for distribution."

It's not just the Coalition soldiers but also American cops who are trying to help, like these officers from Wisconsin:
To Onalaska police officer Shawn Young, it just made sense to help Iraq's police force get up and running. And this was even before it was a possibility that the Onalaska Police Reserves could lose two of its members to a National Guard deployment, maybe to Iraq.

Young had read an article last month in American Police Beat about an organization called America for Americans that had started collecting surplus supplies from U.S. police departments and shipping them to Iraq for use by that country's police.

Iraq's police force lacks a lot of basic equipment, Young said, which makes it hard to train them adequately. Sending them out to keep the peace without adequate hands-on training, he said, would be like asking a doctor to practice medicine without first getting clinical experience.

So Young decided to see what Onalaska and other area police departments could come up with. At a press conference at Onalaska City Hall Tuesday, Young said 250 pounds of police equipment had been donated over the past month, coming from departments in Onalaska, Holmen, Tomah and Middleton, Wis.

The equipment includes bulletproof vests and riot helmets, duty belts, gun cleaning kits, holsters, duty belts, clothing, a large assortment of batons, pepper spray, uniform pants and shirts and other items related to police work.
SECURITY: The US forces are also getting better in minimizing the damage from the scourge of roadside bombs:
The U.S. Army told Congress on Thursday it had sharply reduced the proportion of military casualties from roadside bombs in Iraq even as they have become increasingly powerful in the past year.

Even as insurgents continue to launch devastating attacks on Iraqi police, politicians and civilians, the ratio of death and injury among among U.S. troops from roadside "improvised explosive devices" has fallen by three-quarters, two generals told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
The insurgency and the terror campaign, while bloody and persistent, are also suffering setbacks, although far less publicized. The February near-capture of Al Zarqawi is nevertheless bringing in some valuable intelligence:
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's office... the security forces had possessed significant information on Zarqawi's terror network in Iraq through the confessions of his driver.

In a statement, the office said that Zarqawi's driver shed light on the weakness of the terror network as a result of capturing and killing many leaders of the terror groups in Iraq by the security forces...

Further information provided by the driver might lead to the capture of other key elements in the network, said the statement, adding he also disclosed the external resources for the terrorist groups.
There are also increasing noises are coming out of the Sunni circles about some possible peaceful accommodation.

This report will give you a fascinating glimpse on how the American troops are working every day in one Iraqi locality:
Even before the car bomb blew up at the head of his armoured column, Lieutenant Colonel Roger Cloutier of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division had had a busy day trying to quell unrest in this Iraqi farming region.

The bombing late on Sunday that left one attacker dead but U.S. troops untouched ended a long day that saw him deal with a fight over a junkyard, threaten to cut off millions of dollars worth of projects and hand out candy to schoolchildren.

U.S. forces are using diplomacy, money and firepower in places like Muqdadiya, 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Baghdad, in a bid to weaken popular support for a raging insurgency...

His battalion is the target of an average of one roadside bomb a day, though attacks on the area's Iraqi forces have dwindled to almost nothing since local Muslim leaders issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, several weeks ago...

Cloutier told Mayor Allawi Farhan, police chief General Ammer Kamel and other officials at a meeting earlier in the day at city hall, a low-rise building surrounded by blast barriers, guards and barbed wire, that his patience was at an end.

"I want some names (of suspected bombers). As of now, all the money that is coming into the city for projects is going to stop," said Cloutier, who oversees 60 development projects worth $15 million.

Farhan, whose city has a jobless rate of 70 percent, pleaded for more time to get Sunni Muslims at the heart of the rebellion involved in politics...

"The people's mentality is not at that point yet. I, personally, I have told people repeatedly that if you don't attack the Americans they will stay on their bases," said the Sunni mayor, who has a personal security detail of 10 men.

Police chief Kamel, a Sunni imprisoned under Saddam, told Cloutier that seven of his 11 cars were out of service and he needed more officers.

He added, "I tell people every day, 'Hey, you ass-holes, they are building a road that Saddam didn't do anything about for 25 years. What the devil do you want?'"

Cloutier backed off his threat to cut project funds, agreeing to heavier patrolling and stricter enforcement of the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
And here's a profile on American soldiers searching for weapons caches around Abu Ghraib:
“Life is a garden: dig it,” one Soldier says, quoting the movie Joe Dirt before he begins to move earth with a rusted shovel.

When not conducting raids or other combat operations, Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, treat the town of Abu Ghraib like a giant treasure hunt as they leave no stone unturned in the search for weapons caches.

First Lt. Joshua Betty, a platoon leader from College Station, Texas, said digging for potential weapons is a daily routine for him and his Soldiers. Entire patrols are often dedicated to searching large areas for buried munitions.

“We’re denying the enemy the ability to operate,” Betty said. “It’s become a big part of our operations. It’s really starting to pay off.”
Read also this story about the everyday effort to win hearts and minds near Samarra.

"Iraqization" of security seems to have paid off in Mosul:
With local security forces now patrolling the city centre, Mosul residents say violence has ebbed.

The US began handing over security duties to Iraqi forces more than a month ago and now local police, army and Iraqi National Guardsmen can be seen patrolling the northwestern city.

"The Iraqi police, in cooperation with National Guard forces, are determined to impose security on the city,” said police officer Waleed Hussein, 33.

Iraqi security forces lost control of Mosul in November 2004 under a sustained insurgent offensive, and have only recently retaken the city.

However, Mosul is still seen as a volatile area and there are periodic episodes of violence - such as on May 5, when a car bomb exploded near a police patrol, killing four officers and wounding several others.

But furniture seller Shawkee Ommar, 34, told IWPR that he can now stay out until 9 pm, unlike before when insurgents were controlling the city and he had to be home by 4 pm for safety reasons.

“Since the Iraqi forces came into the city, it has become quiet and we have led a normal life,” he said. “There are explosions now and then, but right now we are living in peace compared with the past.”

Ziyad Mohsin, an electricity directorate employee, 30, said the situation has been relatively calm since Iraqi forces restored security.
And this is how Iraqization of security is working in practice elsewhere:
When Major Mark Borowski plunged with Iraqi troops into a date palm grove notorious as an insurgent hideout, he did something a U.S. officer would not have done a year ago -- almost nothing.

Borowski's hands-off approach during the dawn sweep by hundreds of Iraqi soldiers marked the changing role of U.S. troops as they shift the burden of fighting insurgents onto under-equipped, barely trained Iraqi troops and police.

The brigade-size raid through dusty streets and a maze of towering palm trees, irrigation ditches and thickets at Buhriz, a town about 50 km (35 miles) north of Baghdad, was judged by U.S. officers to have been a success.

"I was pretty happy, this is a complex mission," Borowski, a battalion operations officer in the 3rd Infantry Division, told Reuters. "You saw the terrain. It was like the land that time forgot back there."

U.S. aircraft and artillery were available for support. But most of the few U.S. troops on the ground stayed close to their Humvees as Iraqi soldiers kicked down gates, searched through brush and bashed open the doors of uninhabited huts.
Although one can querry the broad-brush description of Iraqi forces as under-equipped and barely trained at the time when their performance is markedly improving.

In Baghdad, the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division has transferred the security responsibility for another two sections of the capital to 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division. "There are seven zones in the area of Adamiya, and when I came here in January, we controlled five of those seven zones. Now, the 1st Battalion controls all seven," says U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jim Blackburn, commander of the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is responsible for training the Iraqi 1st Battalion. The Iraqi battalion now controls around one fourth of Baghdad.

And a southern province is currently training its own rapid deployment force:
The southeastern province of Missan will soon have its rapid deployment force to protect major roads and guard the province’s long borders with Iran.

The force’s nucleus will initially include a battalion which will be linked to Interior Ministry’s Dhaib (or wolf) Brigade.

The battalion’s commander, colonel Muhannad Ismael, said his unit is one of several that will be established to reinstate security in southern Iraq.

“The battalion is part of the (Interior) Ministry’s plan to set up commando forces in the southern region to root out terror and help government and civil institutions function properly,” he said.

Volunteers have registered to join and intensive training is underway, Ismael said.
Meanwhile, this report that recruitment of Sunnis into new security forces is picking up now that the fatwa against serving has been lifted by the religious establishment:
After the Iraqi government confirmed the appointment of a Sunni in the position of defense minister. Iraqi Arab Sunnis started heading for the army enlisting centers to join the new Iraqi Army. This was evident by the long lines and large crowds of young men outside these centers in the largely Sunni area of Baghdad. This is the main reason for the increase in the terrorist activities in and around these centers.

The high unemployment amongst the Sunnis is due to non-participation in the electoral and governmental process. This is due to their religious leaders forbidding them from joining the government and the security forces in the past. This situation has now changed. We witnessed thousands of Iraqi Arab Sunnis coming from different provinces to military enlisting station in Baghdad.

Ahmend Mahmud, age 30, from Aathamiah came to the enlisting office to join the new Iraqi military. "I came because I desire to join in protecting the peace and my country," he said. Adnan Hussein from Meqdadieh who was in the old Army said; "Since the fall of the old regime I had no employment to feed my kids, thus I decided to join the new military, which pays a decent wage, and I heard a number of (Sunni) religious leaders call for us to join the new army". Luaai Ahmed from Aathamiah said, "I voluntarily enlisted in the new military because I wanted to and upon advise from my relatives".
Training of Iraqi security forces continues. Task Force Liberty soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment near Samarra have been instructing soldiers from 1st Company, 2nd Battalion, Iraqi Army on how to properly clear rooms and buildings. Task Force Liberty soldiers from the 278th Regimental Combat Team have been training local police in the communities of Qara Tapa and Jabarra in Diyala province. Army medics have received advanced training from soldiers Task Force Liberty Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 116th Armor Regiment in the Kirkuk province. Virginia-based 1st Battalion, 317th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Divsion is now heading back to Iraq to train Iraqi forces. 326 soldiers from the 31st and 33rd Brigades have recently graduated from basic training at the 4th Iraqi Army Division Training Center. Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division have graduated from initial combat training program. Meanwhile, in south of the country, the first Iraqi Army bomb disposal company has begun training. Read also about British soldiers from 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, who are training Iraqi security forces near Basra.

One elite unit is now on the way to take on security tasks in Baghdad:
After more than four months of side-by-side training with U.S. Marine and Army forces, the Iraqi Security Forces of the 2nd Battalion, Muthanna Brigade are heading home to Baghdad.

The parting is bittersweet for troops from both sides who have formed bonds of both professionalism and friendships. But while some would have liked for the battalion to remain in the Fallujah area, it’s time for the unit, also known as the "Prime Minister’s Brigade," to take on the missions for which they have been training.

"They’re some of the best soldiers I’ve ever worked with," said Marine Capt. Andrew "Del" Del Gaudio, 30, with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, who serves as the senior adviser. He has helped train the armies of six Middle Eastern countries. "These guys really want to show us that they’re capable of running their own show"...

Del Gaudio’s challenge has been molding the soldiers to be an army that works under a democracy, instead of a dictatorship plagued by corruption, intimidation and fear tactics.

The army under Saddam Hussein’s reign was based on an old Soviet model, he said, in which only the senior echelons made decisions. Now, decision-making trickles to the lowest levels of the rank-and-file.
American airmen are also currently training the reactivated Iraqi air force:
Pilots and enlisted Airmen from the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., are here working hand-in-hand with pilots and crewmembers who served in Saddam Hussein’s air force before Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“By the time the program is over, which we estimate to be May 2006, they will be a fully functional squadron,” said Maj. Roger Redwood, operations flight commander for the 23rd Advisory Support Team that is part of the 777th EAS. They are training airmen at Iraq’s 23rd Squadron.

While many of the new recruits have ample flight experience, their exposure to English has been more limited, officials said.

“Most of the officers can communicate pretty well, but they have a hard time understanding the radio calls from air traffic control,” Major Redwood said.

“They know the airplanes. They know the systems. They can do it all in Arabic, but we require them to do it in English, because if they are going to fly worldwide, they will need to be able to do it in English,” Major Redwood said. The Iraqi airmen are certainly not lacking in determination and dedication, the major said.

“These guys are all true patriots. They want to help their country,” Major Redwood said. “All of them were higher ranking in the Saddam era, so they took a pay cut. A lot of these guys were colonels and now they are majors. The guys coming in now are all captains, and they used to be majors and lieutenant colonels.”
The military authorities are also reporting successes in training Iraqi border guards:
The chief of border patrol training in Iraq believes the U.S. has now “turned a corner” in setting up an Iraqi border force.

Colonel William Wenger tells Associated Press Network News 20,000 border guards have been trained. And he says about half of the 250 border forts under construction with money from the U.S. and its coalition partners are now operational.

Wenger says there have been “some pretty remarkable successes” in rounding up would-be smugglers and insurgents in the areas that border Syria and Jordan. He says hundreds of men have been arrested and interrogated. Wenger says detainees “regularly” point Iraqi border forces to hidden caches of weapons and bomb-making materials and identify other insurgents.

Wenger says the detainees have come primarily from Syria, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates—but he also says there are a number of Iraqis too.
In recent examples of increasing security cooperation from the community:

"A young boy observed a group of individuals emplacing an improvised explosive device in Kirkuk May 1, and reported it to local police. Iraqi police and Coalition Forces disabled the device with a robot";

"On May 5, a local Iraqi tipster led U.S. Soldiers conducting a reconnaissance mission in west Baghdad to a house in the Ghazaliya neighborhood where too many cars were present for normal activity. The Soldiers searched the house and detained seven suspects, including a man specifically targeted for participating in terrorist activities and two of his brothers";

A large arms cache destroyed near Samarra on May 8, following a tip-off from the public;

"Iraqi police, aided by local citizens unearthed a large weapons cache in Narwon May 8. The operation was undertaken by the Iraqi people themselves with Task Force Liberty Soldiers transporting the munitions to Forward Operating Base Gabe for disposal";

"A local citizen found and reported several unexploded ordnance to Iraqi Security Forces after finding hundreds of projectiles near Route Ford in Dibis, Iraq, May 7. With support from 208th Iraqi Army Battalion, Task Force Liberty troops transported the civilian to the location of the unexploded rounds. The IA secured all the rounds, identified as USSR 57mm FRAG-T projectiles, and transported them to another site for disposal";

A walk-in tip-off from a local resident resulted in confiscation of a significant weapons cache and a car bomb by the soldier from Task Force Liberty near Samarra on May 12;

"A group of Iraqi children led Task Force Baghdad Soldiers directly to a weapons cache in southeast Baghdad May 13. The Iraqi children showed the Soldiers where three rocket propelled grenades and 10 fuses were hidden. An explosives ordnance disposal team was called to the site and safely detonated the munitions";

On May 15, "Task Force Baghdad soldiers, acting on a tip from an Iraqi citizen, arrested five suspected terrorists thought to have participated in drive-by shootings in southeast Baghdad. Numerous cell phones, wires and bomb making materials were found with the suspects";

"Iraqi citizens prevented a potentially devastating attack by alerting Iraqi police to a vehicle-bomb threat near a crowded marketplace May 16. Local nationals thought something was suspicious about a vehicle parked on the side of a road next to a densely populated market area in Zafaraniya, a suburb of Baghdad, and alerted local police, who responded immediately... Police officers secured the area, but the bomb exploded before an Iraqi police explosive ordnance disposal team arrived on the scene to detonate it. No injuries were reported".

In other recent security successes:

The arrest by Syrian authorities of 137 Saudi nationals who were trying to enter Iraq through Syria to take part in insurgency (two Saudi fighters have recently been killed fighting with American forces);

"Iraqi police arrested a Dibak Toppa man April 25 in Kirkuk Province that they believe set improvised explosive devices and trained other insurgents how to build IEDs";

The arrest in late April of Ghassan al-Rawi, the leader of Al Zarqawi's network in the town of Rawa, and two of his associates;

The arrest in a joint American-Iraqi operation of six suspected insurgents in Al-Ali and Esawid in Dyiala province on late April;

In late April, "Marines and soldiers of Multinational Force West recently discovered and destroyed hundreds of weapons and tons of ammunition found in 13 hidden caches near Al Amiriyah in Anbar province. The find was the largest in recent months in western Iraq." Also, "Marines of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, and soldiers of the 155th Brigade Combat Team unearthed a series of caches April 27 while they were conducting cordon-and-search operations. The caches took nearly a week to uncover, catalog and destroy";

"Iraqi army soldiers from the 204th Battalion detained a terrorist for emplacing an improvised explosive device along a Coalition Forces supply route April 30. The soldiers detained the suspect when he returned to check the status of the IED";

The capture on May 1 of four suspected insurgents during an operation in the town of Mufrek;

The surrender on May 2 to Iraqi forces of a very important local target: "An Iraqi man suspected of leading a terrorist cell loosely tied to al-Qaida and considered a 'high-valued target' for his alleged role in crimes ranging from beheadings to bombings, has surrendered to coalition forces... Nabil Badriyah Al Nasiri turned himself in after a number of his bodyguards and associates were arrested during a series of recent raids in Bayji";

"The Iraqi Army, police and U.S. Soldiers apprehended 84 suspected terrorists in 19 different combat operations conducted in and around Baghdad May 1 and 2. The largest operation netted 40 terror suspects during raids carried out early in the morning May 2. Thirteen more suspected terrorists were captured in four other missions conducted Monday morning";

Iraqi soldiers from the Oil Security Battalion (OSB) disarmed a bomb on the Kirkuk-to-Baji main pipeline in Kirkuk Province on May 3;

"Task Force Liberty Soldiers detained 22 suspects involved in an indirect fire attack on a Coalition Forces base near Bayji after 9 p.m. May 4. After one round impacted outside the base, a Task Force Liberty helicopter observed two vehicles at the attack’s point of origin. The helicopter kept the vehicles under observation until a combat patrol from the 1st Brigade Combat Team arrived and detained the suspects";

A giant weapons cache destroyed near Amiriyah in the Anbar province; it took a week to "uncover, catalogue and destroy" the munitions from 13 different locations: "more than 4,100 mortar rounds, more than 800 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, more than 100,000 rounds of machine-gun ammunition, 400 grenades, and several thousand pounds of different types of explosives and bomb-making materials";

The capture in Baghdad of a key Al Zarqawi aide, Amar al-Zubaydi, also known as Abu Abbas, thought to be responsible for the recent attack on the Abu Ghraib prison and series of car bomb attacks in the capital;

The arrest of four suspects in Mosul and recovery of an arms cache in Tal Afar during the operations over May 6 and 7;

"In Babil province May 7, Multinational Division Central South forces detained 17 terror suspects during cordon-and-search operations. Iraqi, Polish, Salvadoran and U.S. troops conducted the combined operation in an area of Al Mashru, capturing anti-Iraqi and anti-coalition forces, illegal weapons and ammunition";

A successful pursuit outside a Coalition base in Tikrit of a car loaded with explosives on May 7;

"In other action May 7, Task Force Baghdad raids snared 38 terror suspects in the Baghdad area, including two high-value targets in a series of early morning raids May 7. The raids included getting 29 suspected terrorists in the largest strike of the day in south Baghdad. And a separate operation detained five more suspected terrorists, one thought to be the leader of a terror cell in southwest Baghdad. There, troops also found 1,000 rounds of assault-rifle ammunition in a burlap bag covered with mud. In addition, U.S. soldiers on patrol in east Baghdad also found another weapons cache containing two mortar rounds and 10 rocket-propelled grenades";

On May 8, "Iraqi Security Forces captured 14 suspected terrorists, found two weapons caches and saved the lives of Multi-national forces and innocent civilians when they stopped an attempted car bombing here";

The killing of 6 and arrest of 54 members of Al Zarqawi's network in a sweep of Al Qaim area close to Syrian border on May 8. According to a statement, "Coalition forces also destroyed car bombs, bomb-making material and two buildings that contained large weapons caches to include hand and rocket-propelled grenades"; overall, at the end of the action, codenamed "Matador", 125 terrorists were reported killed, many wounded, and 29 with "intelligence value" detained;

A failed ambush on a Marine convoy near Al Qaim on May 9, which resulted in deaths of two suicide bombers and surrender of 10 attackers;

Iraqi security forces in Mosul discovered a car bomb factory with four cam bombs ready to go and arrested 22 suspects the al-Muhalabiya district in the city on May 10;

Detaining by Iraqi and American troops of four insurgents who were financing their operations by carjackings in Udaim in Salah Ad Din Province;

During a joint Polish-Iraqi operation in the Wasit province between May 6 and 10, "twenty-nine terrorists have been detained, forty kinds of guns have been confiscated and explosive materials have been found. Clockwork time fuses, propaganda materials, including films that show executions of some Iraqi Internal Ministry officials, and other materials concerning anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi administration activities were also found";

"Coalition forces stepped up combat operations throughout Baghdad May 10, foiling three terrorist attacks, taking 23 suspected terrorists off city streets and confiscating two weapons caches";

Defusion of a 4kg explosives package near Ayatollah Sistani's residence in Najaf;

Four insurgents killed and 97 detained by the Iraqi forces in operations around Mosul on May 10;

"Iraqi Security Forces and Multi-National Forces from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), detained 17 suspected terrorists during operations in northern Iraq May 10 and May 11";

The arrest of three suspects and seizing of two weapons caches (one consisting of 1000 mortar rounds) by Iraqi and American troops in Baghdad on May 11;

Task Force Baghdad soldiers arrested 20 terror suspects and seized another weapons cache on May 12;

The arrest of several people, including four Palestinians, suspected of involvement in a terrorist attack in Baghdad on May 12;

The seizure of a large weapons cache southwest of Qayyarah in northern Iraq, by the soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), on May 12;

Iraqi soldiers and soldiers from Stryker Brigade Combat Team detained 18 suspected insurgents and confiscated a number of weapons during operations in and around Mosul on May 12 and 13;

Two buildings thought to be insurgent command centers near Fallujah destroyed in an air strike on March 13;

two Saudi militants killed in the operations in Iraq in mid-May;

The arrest of 10 suspects, including three specifically wanted ones, and seizure of weapons and equipment throughout Baghdad on May 13;

Twenty one suspects detained by soldiers from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) on May 15 in and around Mosul;

On May 15, "in central Baghdad, a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol captured a self-professed bomb maker along with $4,500 in U.S. currency in sequential $100 bills and washing machine timers that could be used to detonate bombs... Earlier in the day, Task Force Baghdad soldiers captured another suspect identified as a supplier of explosives to terror cells and seized nearly five pounds of plastic explosives. Soldiers got a second targeted terror suspect in east Baghdad thought to be responsible for planning and conducting attacks against Iraqi civilians and multinational forces. And task force soldiers arrested a third suspect at an electronics store in south Baghdad";

Repelling by Iraqi forces of an attack on one its convoy on May 16, resulting in death of four and wounding of two insurgents and confiscation of cars and weapons;

"Troops from the 3rd Infantry Division’s Task Force Baghdad carried out a series of early morning raids Monday [16 May] on suspected terrorist safe houses and arrested 10 suspected insurgents. U.S. officials think seven of the detainees were involved in car bomb attacks against civilians and military personnel";

"Iraqi police working with Task Force Baghdad soldiers captured 13 terror suspects and confiscated a variety of weapons during a search of a mosque in the Mahmudiyah district, south of Baghdad, May 17";

The discovery on May 17, by an Italian Joint Task Force patrol of a weapons cache near Sooq Ash Shuyookh, in Dhi Qar province, containing "450 pounds of explosives, 130 mm rockets, 150 fuses, and anti-tank mines".

Iraq clearly has a very long way to go before it reaches peace and normalcy, but throughout the country countless individual Iraqis assisted by the Coalition troops and civilians are trying to do their best, often against great odds and in dangerous conditions, to make sure that Iraq gets there. If they succeed, a little monument to Dhia Muhsin might not go astray.


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