Friday, September 02, 2005

Iraqi shenanigans 

An intriguing report from "Al Dostoor" that the former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has met with figures from the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Islamic Party, and done a deal whereby in exchange for the Sunni support in a new run for the premiership Allawi will work towards the American withdrawal, will stop de-Baathification, and will go easy on "the resistance."

Not that in Iraq you can trust official reports, much less anonymous sources. A few days ago, I mentioned that Ayatollah Sistani has released a statement against federalism. Our special correspondent Haider Aijina now informs me that Sistani has released another statement denying he has ever made the first statement (link in Arabic here).

I never much followed the covert war between the Defence Department on one side and the State Department and the CIA on the other, nor their proxy war in Iraq, but it's interesting to read the above story about Allawi (who was the realists' horse in the Iraqi race) in contrast to this profile of the original neo-con favorite Ahmed Chalabi, who seems to have pretty successfully bounced back into the spotlight recently.


Kathleen versus Katrina 

Life imitates Chrenkoff:
It will be interesting to see whether the left, which criticised the Bush team for not getting the US military to stop the looting in the post-liberation Iraq, will now call for the troops to be brought back to shoot the looters in New Orleans.
And later on today:
Governor Kathleen Blanco said: "Three hundred of the Arkansas National Guard have landed in the city of New Orleans.

"These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well-trained, experienced, battle-tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets.

"They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded.

"These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will."
Well, it's a good thing they went to Iraq in the first place to get all that "well-trained, experienced, battle-tested." Eagerly awaiting the first leftie pundit to call Gov Blanco a fascist.

It's already ugly in New Orleans, but I'm sure it will get uglier. There is a difference though between stranded residents making off with water and food, and Mad Max-esque well-organized and armed gangs roaming (or paddling) the streets and terrorizing the locals, unlucky visitors and those trying to assist.

In other interesting Katrina-related posts:

Deja Vu discusses which countries are coming to assistance.

Generation Why asks why the left is deifying President Bush.

EU Rota reminds us there was somebody else in the White House before Bush (hat tip: Astute Blogger).

Alenda Lux asks why blame criminals when you can blame Bush?


Hurricane exploitation - the quotes 

Update: More here.

Arguably not as stupid and inane as some of the quotes following the Asian tsunami (see here and here), one of the biggest natural disasters in American history has nevertheless provided many with a delicious opportunity to bash President Bush and the right side of the politics and the country generally. Here's the selection of some of the choiciest commentary.

1. Robert F Kennedy Jr suggests
God is punishing those who scuttled the Kyoto Agreement:
As Hurricane Katrina dismantles Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, it’s worth recalling the central role that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played in derailing the Kyoto Protocol and kiboshing President Bush’s iron-clad campaign promise to regulate CO2…

Now we are all learning what it’s like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged. Our destructive addiction has given us a catastrophic war in the Middle East and--now--Katrina is giving our nation a glimpse of the climate chaos we are bequeathing our children.

In 1998, Republican icon Pat Robertson warned that hurricanes were likely to hit communities that offended God. Perhaps it was Barbour’s memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast.
When in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election some observers suggested that the Democrats should "get some religion", I don't think that's quite what they meant.

2. Kennedy Jr. finds himself on the same wavelength as Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, director of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowment's research center, who penned an article titled
"The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah, But Not an Adherent of Al-Qaeda":
When the satellite channels reported on the scope of the terrifying destruction in America [caused by] this wind, I was reminded of the words of [Prophet Muhammad]: 'The wind sends torment to one group of people, and sends mercy to others.' I do not think – and only Allah [really] knows – that this wind, which completely wiped out American cities in these days, is a wind of mercy and blessing. It is almost certain that this is a wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire. Out of my absolute belief in the truth of the words of the Prophet Muhammad, this wind is the fruit of the planning [of Allah], as is stated in the text of the Hadith of the Prophet.

But before I went to sleep, I opened the Koran and began to read in Surat Al-R'ad ['The Thunder' chapter], and stopped at these words [of Allah]: 'The disaster will keep striking the unbelievers for what they have done, or it will strike areas close to their territory, until the promise of Allah comes to pass, for, verily, Allah will not fail in His promise. ' [Koran 13:31].
As a citizen of one of the major oil producing nations in the world, I have a feeling that Al-Mlaifi probably doesn't share Kennedy Jr.'s attitude towards the Kyoto Protocol.

3. Assorted Jihadis, however, are on
a similar wavelength:
Islamic extremists rejoiced in America's misfortune, giving the storm a military rank and declaring in Internet chatter that "Private" Katrina had joined the global jihad, or holy war. With "God's help," they declared, oil prices would hit $100 a barrel this year.
4. Robert Kennedy Jr. was just one of a long list of those blaming the hurricane on global warming and therefore on that environmental vandal Bush. Ross Gelbspan in “The Boston Globe” was another one, but with far greater sweep:
The hurricane that struck Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming.

When the year began with a 2-foot snowfall in Los Angeles, the cause was global warming.

When winds of 124 miles an hour shut down nuclear plants in Scandinavia and cut power to hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland and Britain, the driver was global warming.

When a severe drought in the Midwest dropped water levels in the Missouri River to their lowest on record earlier this summer, the reason was global warming.

In July, when the worst drought on record triggered wildfires in Spain and Portugal and left water levels in France at their lowest in 30 years, the explanation was global warming.

When a lethal heat wave in Arizona killed more than 20 people in one week, the culprit was global warming.

And when the Indian city of Mumbai received 37 inches of rain in one day - killing 1,000 people and disrupting the lives of 20 million others - the villain was global warming.
Global warming, currently curdling milk in Bulgaria and stealing pennies from orphans in central Africa, was unavailbale for comment.

5. Germany's environmental minister Jürgen Trittin
couldn't agree more, although he didn't have much to say about the recent spate of tornados, earthquakes, freak meteorite strikes and locust that devastated parts of Bavaria:
By neglecting environmental protection, America’s president shuts his eyes to the economic and human damage that natural catastrophes like Katrina inflict on his country and the world’s economy... Many Americans have long been unwilling to follow the president’s errant environmental policy. Indications are multiplying that Bush has more than Katrina’s headwind blowing in his face... When reason finally pays a visit to climate-polluter headquarters, the international community has to be prepared to hand America a worked out proposal for the future of international climate protection. The German Government stands ready.
The citizens of southern states are very much appreciative of Germany's offer to provide them with an emergency new climate change framework, which I'm sure can be used for kindling fires and as a toilet paper substitute (seriously though, as James Taranto points out, the German government has actually offered some real help, which is always appreciated).

6. But Germany's environment minister was not the only one laying into the United States - Germany's economy minister Wolfgang Clement was also on hand to give
a free kick:
Germany said on Wednesday the United States was partly to blame for record oil prices and should look to extend its refining capacity after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc at U.S. refineries, hitting output.

Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement told German radio that the damage to U.S. refining capacity caused by the storm would likely prompt American industry to buy more oil in Europe, which could further inflate prices.

"On this I must say the United States has had insufficient refining capacity for a long time, and this is presumably now impaired, so the situation is coming to a head," he said.

"It's a U.S. problem, a problem with American policy. It's to do with American planning rights which lead to yield expectations in investments in the sector not being high enough. I hope the American government reacts differently to this."
If I were cynical, I would think that there is an election coming up in Germany and the current Social Democrat government is way behind in the opinion polls. But I'm not a cynic.

7. Foreigners, however, were positively civil and constructive in their criticism of the Bush Administration.
The real venom came from one's own, like Bob Brigham at Swing State Project:
Remember, this was a top-three "likeliest catastrophic disasters" and Bush shelved the study of how to protect against Category 5 hurricanes like Katrina? For most of Bush's time as President, FEMA has been saying this could be the deadliest scenario facing America. And Bush cut the preparedness funding, sent our strategic reserve National Guard troops to fight an unnecessary war and then went on vacation. Not only is Bush the worst President ever, but he is also a total a**hole for f***ing over New Orleans.
In the same vein, Patricia Taylor at the Daily Kos:
Historically, it is the National Guard, along with other emergency personnel, who attempt to provide emergency services to the community in disaster relief situations like Katrina.

And where are these National Guard right now?


If they are alive.
And Democrank at Democratic Underground:
EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY! I'm taking over for the Commander in Chief since he's busy lounging in California, all tanned and buff. Got to hand it to him.... he's got this wake-me-when-it's-over thing down pat. Just like during the Vietnam War. What a guy.

I want to reach the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard units stranded in Iraq. Thought I could test this new Iraq "democracy" by asking each of them to vote either "yes" or "no" on coming home to help their family and friends. Katrina wrecked their states.
Or Mary MacElveen at Radio Left:
As we pray for those who are suffering in the aftermath of this horrific hurricane, in their memory let us fight back. Let us expose the duplicity and dishonesty of the Bush administration to all. He spent billions ending lives instead of using those billions to help a suffering people.
The angry left wasn't quite sure whether the Louisiana National Guard was unnecessarily getting killed or unnecessarily killing in Iraq, but all agreed that they should be brought home. A fuller list of natural disasters to pray for is being currently worked out to enable the left to call for the withdrawal from Iraq of the National Guard units from all other states. As an aside, it will be interesting to see whether the left, which criticised the Bush team for not getting the US military to stop the looting in the post-liberation Iraq, will now call for the troops to be brought back to shoot the looters in New Orleans.

8. The
prize for originality in "blame the Republicans" stakes, however, goes to Russell Shaw at the Huffington Post, for whom basing the current Republican president is not enough:
Would New Orleans and the nearby Gulf Coast be suffering so terribly today if President Carter beat back Reagan in 1980?...

I am wondering if those voters in Louisiana and Mississippi who helped polluter-allied Reagan win in 1980 would have found themselves fated differently under a second Carter term. If Carter came in, we could have had an alternative fuels program and tighter auto emission standards in effect by now.
Ronald Reagan who, as we all know, served as President from 1980 to 2000, should indeed be condemned. Would I be suffering so terribly today if President Carter beat back Reagan in 1980 is indeed a question that I ask myself every day of my life.

9. Aside from bashing Bush, the Katrina disaster has also enabled the left to
show their compassionate side, like Blunderford at Blogcritics:
I just stopped at the grocery store to pick up a candy bar... An employee approached me and said, "Would you like to give a dollar for Hurricane Katrina?"

I said, "No."

First off, I'm offended that the store employees are wandering around fundraising instead of helping customers, especially when it's so obvious that the store conglomerate uses these do-it-yourself machines to cut down on the number of employees necessary to help customers so that the store conglomerate can turn a larger profit while having fewer of those pesky union workers to deal with.

But beyond that, I'm sick of footing the bill for George W. Bush and the rest of his so-called compassionate conservatives.

Let Bush open his wallet. I'm sure he's still got a few nickels rolling around his pockets from flipping the Texas Rangers like a Miami condo.

You 60 million losers who voted for this loser open YOUR wallets. This president declared war on the poor long ago, and while some of us cared enough to vote for someone who gave a damn, you buried your heads in the sand, babbled about abortion and family values, and voted for the doofus.

And now you want to act all high and mighty and come asking me for a buck or two to help these poor people? Sorry, Charlie. Take an extra buck or two out of the fund you set aside to buy seventeen Support Our Troops magnets to stick all over your car to show how patriotic you are.

You want disaster relief? Impeach George W. Bush.
Oh well, but they care. Of course, when disaster strikes New York or Los Angeles, we can expect the same reaction from the right. Surely? Guys?

10. Joseph Cannon at BradBlog was initially feeling just as compassionate, but then he changed his mind -
So why was I thinking of starting a movement against giving aid to the stricken areas?

Because these are red states. They voted for Bush. These ninnies obviously wanted these policies, and they deserve to live with the consequences of their votes.

A large part of me still believes that many of these W-worshipping numbskulls deserve to suffer and to die. They brought it on themselves. Let them look to Jayzuss for aid: It's time they stopped leeching off the more productive blue staters...

But then (to paraphrase the old song) I thought I'd better think it out again.

Many of the victims, the ones who have suffered the most, are poor. The hardest hit were the blue state folk living among the red state maniacs. New Orleans, we should note, went heavily for Kerry.

And that's why we must help. Although it was very tempting to say otherwise.

But let us make one thing clear: We WILL politicize this issue.

The Republicans did not shirk from making political use of 9/11, and we should not shirk from reminding the country that Bush turned what should have been a mere problem into Ragnarok.

Conservatives may accuse us of lacking taste if we use this sad occasion to point out sadder facts of political life. Cable news pundits will try to pretend that now is not the time for partisan politics.

If they say that, screw 'em.

If the Bush-voters want Californians and New Yorkers and other blue staters to fork over dough, then they damn well had better take our words as well. Republican policies caused this catastrophe. Force them to hear that message -- again and again. That message is the price of the charity they now demand.
Helping people based on the way they voted? Nah, who would ever accuse you of lacking taste?

11. But why not - after all, it has all been a conspiracy to drown the lower class - at least according to Flip Floss at
the Daily Kos:
They will be scandal and rioting and rightly so in my opinion as the "Negroes" of New Orleans and tourists were left to drown.
More reading:

Global warming and hurricanes - The hurricanes
aren’t historically on the increase, and the number of the most serious – category 4 and 5 – is down compared to previous decades (EU Rota has some nice tables). Hurricanes are also a part of a natural decades-long cycle of changing temperature of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bush diverted the money away from flood-proofing New Orleans - Two problems with that – New Orleans has been on notice since the previous devastating hurricane Betsy in 1965. Bush has been in the White House for only the last five of these past 40 years, so one might as well blame every other President since LBJ for not doing enough – and then ask, why should all the blame be laid at the feet of the feds, instead of sharing it with state and local authorities?
Experts in the Netherlands expressed surprise that New Orleans' flood systems failed to restrain the raging waters.

With half of the country's population of 16 million living below sea level, the Netherlands prepared for a "perfect storm" soon after floods in 1953 killed 2,000 people. The nation installed massive hydraulic sea walls.

"I don't want to sound overly critical, but it's hard to imagine that (the damage caused by Katrina) could happen in a Western country," said Ted Sluijter, spokesman for the park where the sea walls are exhibited. "It seemed like plans for protection and evacuation weren't really in place, and once it happened, the coordination was on loose hinges."
There's plenty of blame to go around for the past four decades.

Louisiana National Guard -
Streiff at Red State actually knows what he's talking about.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

A bit more loved today 

Katrina – the world responds, sort of. Mostly with words, which are always nice, but not much action.

The rest is indifference, combined with the “America had it coming” attitude and debates whether rich country like America really needs foreign help – a sentiment I alluded to yesterday.

I found this snippet particularly interesting:
Throughout Europe, concerned citizens lamented the loss of life and the damage caused to New Orleans, often described as one of North America's most "European" cities.
God help us if Atlanta or Dallas were hit by a disaster. But if New Orleans’ Europeaness is somehow an advantage, it’s still to translate into much practical help from people in the Old World.

The State Department says that some 10 to 12 countries (plus the United Nations, if that counts) have offered actual assistance. Canada is one of them. Australia is also "looking at ways of providing assistance".

Chuck Simmins meanwhile is keeping tabs on Americans helping Americans.

Lists of good links to help:

Little Green Footballs

Michelle Malkin

Instapundit – a huge one


Solidarity, 25 years on 

Rafal Malko/Agencja Gazet

Twenty five years ago a seed was planted in a little crack on the communist monolith. That day, August 31, 1980, no one expected that the seed would grow to be a huge tree whose roots would nine years later split and shatter the edifice.

As President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso said,
Not every anniversary is a cause for celebration, just as not every birthday is a cause for celebration. But today we can and should celebrate 25 years of Solidarność, and I am honoured as President of the European Commission to participate in this event.

I do not think this is the last anniversary of Solidarność which will be celebrated. I suspect that in 100, 200 years time what happened in Poland in 1980 will still be recognised as a very significant event in the history of Europe after the Second World War. It is one of those moments which will continue to grow in importance as it is viewed through the telescope of history.
Yesterday, world dignitaries and the locals gathered at Gdansk’s appropriately named Solidarity Square to remember and celebrate underneath a giant banner which said "Solidarity opened the gates to freedom." It was not, by any means, a high level event comparable to the Moscow celebrations of the end of World War Two a few months back – the American delegation was led by the former Secretary of State James Baker and Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European affairs - but it was no less poignant for that.

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering how touchy the topic of the fall from the imperial grace still is in Moscow, and considering the strained relations between the two countries, Russia has stayed out the celebrations. But the leaders of Ukraine and Georgia did turn up. "For the Ukrainian people the idea of Solidarity was symbolic," Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said. "For millions it was a banner of independence." "Solidarity was the best thing which happened in the 20th century," added Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. Both gentlemen were of course the beneficiaries of the latest round of Solidarity-inspired popular revolutions in the post-communist world.

Lech Walesa, the hero and the symbol of the celebrations himself, was sounding a more cautionary note about the future, warning about dangers of a rush confrontation over the next possible domino to fall in eastern Europe's ongoing democratic revolution - Belarus.
“Russia is at a crossroads... Will Russia in future be a threat or a friend? That is the question. Russia is needed by every country — it has huge resources, but of course it is needed not as a hegemonic system but as a developed, democratic country...

“Russia’s problems are in proportion to its size… As long as Russia is burdened by vast economic and social dilemmas, it will be liable to seek out scapegoats elsewhere. We have to find a way of talking with the Russians, sitting together and sorting out problems, freely, and as equals.”
Walesa also made a good point that if the West wants to see free and democratic Belarus, it should be prepared to put its money where it mouth is, when Russia stops propping up Belarusian economy. “We have to offer these societies a new Marshall Plan,” Walesa said. This is unfortunately unlikely to happen, with the European Union preoccupied with its own identity crisis, and the United States busy with the democratic project in the Middle East.

But the present and the future did not otherwise intrude too much on the celebrations of the past. "We hold our heads high, despite the price we have paid, because freedom is priceless," Lech Walesa told the special sitting of the Polish Parliament.

And there indeed have been costs and pain. Poland, while better off than many other post-communist countries, is still battling social and economic dislocation, biggest unemployment in Europe, and pervasive feeling of unhappiness and disappointment. Not many would want to go back to the old days, but the bright future looks very distant, and the journey there seems very hard.

Walesa himself is resigning from “Solidarity” next week, with mission accomplished. "I was a member of a freedom movement, not just a trade union... I feel that Poland is safe now. I am confident of its place in history and in Europe," he says. A national icon during the 1980s, a disappointing president in the early 1990s, Walesa is now slowly growing into the elder statesman role (not to mention the latest comic book hero). History will be kind to him.
"Polish members of the European Parliament yesterday proposed officially marking 31 August, the day the anti-communist Solidarity movement was born 25 years ago, as an annual 'European Day of Solidarity and Freedom'."


Night Trains: a free sample 

Before Twilight

I put the gun to the back of the woman’s head. The muzzle almost brushes against her bronze hair, once glorious, now matted and lifeless after al l the sleepless nights and the long journey on the back of a lorry. Her body quivers and she whimpers something in the incomprehensible gibberish of Yiddish.

It’s a beautiful day. The summer is so intense, so warm, so determined to stamp her full glory on the world before she’ll wither away in a few weeks’ time. The crisp, fragrant air fills my lungs, and I feel they could burst through my chest and float to the sky like two balloons. Above me, pine treetops spear the deep blue sky. There’s hardly any breeze to sway them. I have never felt so alive.

I pull the trigger.

A clap of thunder rings through the forest. And yet there are no storm clouds in the sky.

Blood, brain, and bone splinters rain on me, spray my face, coat the front of my uniform. Again. I’ll have to get it washed tomorrow. I wipe my cheeks with a handkerchief. The cloth is no longer white.

The women collapses as if the ground had suddenly disappeared from under her feet. A few short spasms convulse her body and then everything around me is still again. Only other thunders explode among the trees. No other sound intrudes. The birds are long gone, and the flies haven’t arrived yet.

The woman is lying a few feet away from a girl, seven, maybe eight years old, and a younger boy. I gave the mother a choice: which one of her children did she want to save? She took too much time deciding, so I shot the boy first, then the girl, and then, finally, her. By that stage, I suppose, her mind was already gone. Next to these three lay an old man, half his face missing, his long white beard matted with blood that has already started drying out in the warm sun. And further away, another woman. She screamed, tried to run, took two bullets.

I weigh the gun in my hand. The magazine is empty. I eject it and slip in a new one. Time for a break. I walk back towards the edge of the clearing.

Werner’s there, leaning against a tree, smoking a cigarette. He offers me one from a pack and I take it.

“How’s the pest control going?” he asks.

“Good,” I say. “Hopefully not many more today. I want to go swimming.”

“Yes, a nice day for a little dip, isn’t it?” Werner says, looking up to the sky.

Somebody, somewhere out there cries out. The shots keep on ringing.

* * *

The night is so peaceful and still that for a brief moment I can almost believe that none of it is real.

But it’s no use.

And so here it is, T.J. I made a promise to myself that one day I would tell you. I’m sorry it’s so late – too late–but I just couldn’t do it before ... Bear with me and you’ll know why.

When you’re listening to these words I’m probably dead. Or at least away. Far away. I’m sorry if it’s not making much sense to you. That’s because it all still doesn’t make much sense to me. It has destroyed my whole life, yet I still don’t know quite what to make of it.

But listen on. Even if you won’t understand, at least you’ll know, and for whatever it’s worth I’m now quite desperate for somebody to know. Having to hold it all inside has been tougher than anything else I’ve had to go through.

Maybe it’s better that I not tell you all this. Maybe it’s better if you remembered me like I was before. Maybe.

But the tape is rolling, and it’s too late for second thoughts.

So here it is, T.J.



It didn’t seem like the way my life would start to end. I guess it never does.

Just an ordinary station at midday. Walls of trees muffling the noise from distant roads, a dirty quilt of clouds, promising the rain that would not come. A world of its own, suspended like an insect in a drop of suburban amber.

All the smoothly dressed professionals working in the city were long gone, taking with them their rolled up newspapers, irritating cell ring tones, and bored looks. Schoolchildren were gone, too.

So it was just me, the platform, and three others.

There was a dishevelled schoolboy very late for school, swinging his legs from a bench too high for him, and a few paces away from him an unhealthy looking pensioner, his parchment-like skin tightly wrapped around his head as if his old skull were a precious gift. He was sweating profusely, suffocating inside a woollen coat two sizes too big.

And then there was an old man in a grey tweed suit, sitting on a bench against the wall of the station building.

Later, I would wish that I’d not have paid him any attention and forgotten about him as the train took me away. But now I realize that it wouldn’t have mattered. I don’t have the luxury of believing in coincidences anymore, and I know that if it hadn’t been that day, I’d have met him some other time.

So I can’t really curse myself that I suddenly grew tired of standing alone at the end of the platform and came over to sit on the bench next to the old man in a tweed suit.

* * *

Night. A different station. There’s no moon and no stars, all hidden under the dark shroud of clouds. The only light, a sickly bluish glare, comes from a few lamps swinging underneath the overhanging roof. On the platform, bundles wrapped in blankets and shapeless coats huddle against the wall of the building, barely distinguishable as human beings.

I strike a match and bring it close to my face. I feel the pale shadow of warmth on the palm of my hand as I shelter the flame from sudden gusts of wind. It comes violent and biting, like howling packs of wolves, travelling all the way from the deep bowels of a frozen continent.

The tip of the cigarette starts to glow faintly inches from my face. I inhale slowly and close my eyes. The tobacco is raw, fetid, and priceless. The smoke scratches at my eyes and flows down my throat like a vaporous sand paper. But it kills the stench of fear and burnt onion that hovers over the shapeless forms that share the platform with me. The one next to my feet stirs uneasily in its sleep, perhaps dreaming of home, a lost lover, or maybe just the warm welcoming darkness of death.

In a few minutes a train will slowly roll alongside the platform. An asthmatic steel centipede will exhale great clouds of steam as its wheels grind to a halt, and the station will erupt out of hibernation with a few frenzied moments of scramble and noise.

A man in his early thirties will step out onto the platform, a flowing overcoat with a fur collar hastily thrown on top of a drab olive uniform. He will look around, slowly and deliberately, a copy of yesterday’s paper tucked under his right arm as an agreed signal. Our gazes will meet for a moment and I will look into his eyes, burning in the pale lamplight with the sick glow of a morphine addict. He will take in a few deep breaths of the ice cold air, cough perhaps, and disappear back inside the carriage without acknowledging me. After the last drag, the cigarette will die under my boot and I will follow him onto the train, to the third compartment down the corridor.

I’m straining to hear that distant rumble of the steam engine, but there’s nothing yet. I turn my back to the wind and try to peer through the black curtain. The light of day, a cloud-covered sky and the rain that doesn’t fall are an unthinkably distant memory. So is the old man in a grey tweed suit. I can picture him in my mind as if I’d seen him only a moment ago, but he, the bench he sits on and the station - my station - are so very far away they might as well be somewhere beyond these stars that I can’t see tonight.

* * *

Although he was sitting down I could see he was small and rather chubby. His clothes were neither new nor fashionable, but they were tidy and well cut. Even the felt hat resting on his lap was color-coordinated with the rest of his outfit. The picture seemed just right; a perfect grandpa from a TV commercial shot in warm autumn colors through a misty lens.

There was a healthy glow about him that made him look at least ten years younger than betrayed by the whisks of white hair behind his ears and at the back of his head. His gaze was fixed on something in the distance, his thick rectangular glasses half way down his nose, overhanging a snow white, pencil thin, well groomed moustache that went out of vogue a long, long time ago.

I came over to the bench and sat down on the edge. He turned towards me, smiled and nodded. I nodded back, hoping that this would be the extent of our social interaction. I always hated small talk with strangers, with its fake politeness, fake concern and fake interest. No casual conversation with a stranger has ever had any consequences for my life. Until that day, that is.

“I hope it will not rain,” he said after a while, breaking the pleasant silence.

I turned and nodded in a non-committal way, but he didn’t elaborate and returned to staring into the distance.

I was just about to fall back into my thoughts when he spoke again. “I do not like these trains.” He turned towards me and added, “They are not real trains, you know?”

He saw the blank expression on my face and waved his hand impatiently.

“They do not have... how should I say it... any soul.”

Nothing mundane then. I was expecting a lecture about the perpetual lateness of service, overcrowding, or the schoolkids putting their feet on the dirty-green seat, but his was merely a metaphysical complaint.

“Those suburban trains; they are just glorified trams,” the old man went on, unfazed by my silence. “The real trains, now that is something. None of those electric wires, doors that open by themselves, and windows you cannot open at all. Trains were not meant to be like that.”

He hesitated for a moment, as if suddenly embarrassed by his exuberance. “But then I think that is what they call progress and I am just an old man who likes to complain, so do not mind me, please,” he added and a weak smile played briefly on his lips.

It was difficult to pinpoint his accent on a simpleton’s mental map of the Old World. I placed him somewhere in Central Europe, because it reminded me of a neighbor I once had. He was a stern-looking man who kept mostly to himself and listened to crackling foreign stations on his long wave receiver. For some reason he terrified me, though my older brother displayed an unhealthy fascination, imagining him a war criminal, hiding from his blood-soaked past on our quiet suburban street. Only when the man died and his estranged son came up from interstate to take care of his father’s affairs, we learned he was Estonian, a slave laborer in Germany during the war; a victim, not a perpetrator. That truth seemed to disappoint my brother. I would wonder whether in some twisted sort of way he really wanted to live next door to a pensioned monster.

“And one other thing; those suburban trains are just that – suburban trains,” I realized that the old man was still talking to me. “How far can these trains go? Just to the outskirts and that is it. Trains should be free like horses; go, go, go” he cackled. “Go across the empty fields, through forests, down the valleys...”

He paused suddenly and lowered his eyes, “Gosh, you must be wishing you had not sat next to me.” Suddenly he seemed almost bashful. His fingers drummed on the bench next to his leg, yet his face radiated with excitement, as if he had just won a hundred meter sprint.

I didn’t quite know what to say. “No,” I murmured, but meant yes, even if the old man seemed harmless enough. I glanced at my watch. A few more minutes of waiting.

The old man took a white handkerchief out of a coat pocket and wiped his brow. “You see, I was a stationmaster in Europe, a long time ago, during the war,” he went on, but more subdued now. “Do not get me started on trains, I can go on whole day,” he chuckled again, but it was a humourless response.

I bet he could. “I won’t,” I promised.

The train arrived just on time, its rumble breaking slowly like a distant wave above the white noise of the city.

“I–,” I stood up and pointed towards the train when it came to a halt in front of us.

The retired station master did not let me finish. “Well, have a nice day,” he waved me on. “Who knows, I might see you again some other time soon, young man.”

No promises, old man.


He was there again, one Saturday morning, some two weeks later. I forgot about the switch to the weekend timetable and found myself with twenty minutes to spare before my train was to arrive.

I was reclining back on the bench with my eyes closed, mentally undressing a girl I briefly kissed last night before she disappeared leaving me with her phone number. Things were looking good.

“Good afternoon, young man. I see we meet again.”

The girl vanished, and he was here instead, a rather poor replacement. He had a different suit on, a black woollen outfit with grey pin-stripes, as elegant but just as out of fashion as his previous choice. His hat was again resting on his lap, his long fingers caressing the felt rim. I didn’t hear him come over and sit down next to me.

“Indeed,” I forced a weak smile.

“Going to the city?” he asked.

“My car’s getting fixed,” I said. “Normally I would drive in on the weekend.”

He pursed his lips and nodded in apparent sympathy.

“By the way,” he said. “It is quite rude of me to chat with you like that all the time without introducing myself.” He extended his hand, “My name is Bartok. Franz Bartok. Like the composer.” he added with hesitation in his voice, judging me an inhabitant of a cultural desert.

“Martin,” I shook his hand. “Any relation? To the composer, I mean.”

If he were a maiden, he would have blushed then. “Oh, no. Not that I know, at least. One could hope, of course. It would certainly be exciting.”

His father was Hungarian, he explained, his mother Austrian (“God rest their souls.”), but he missed out by a few years being born the subject of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. Seeing the empire didn’t quite survive the end of the First World War, that made him what? Pretty old. Hell, time had obviously been very kind to him.

“-drew a new border and my parents decided they would rather take their chances in the new Austria. We had more family there and they wanted to help, so we moved to near Innsbruck. My father used to work for the imperial railways, after the war for the Austrian railways. When I turned fifteen I too-” He paused, “Oh dear, I am boring you very much, no?”

I shrugged. “No, that’s fine.” I didn’t really care.

* * *

By the time Hitler had realized his dream of uniting all the German people within his Reich, Bartok was a station master in a small town close to the Swiss border. A year later, when the war broke out, he avoided the draft as his work for the railways was deemed essential to the war effort. He survived years of bombing raids, but his home was hit by a shell in the last months of the war, and his wife and young son were buried under the rubble.

There was nothing left for him in his small town, and so one day he walked away and joined the wandering of millions of others to find a new life beyond the ocean. He kept on working for the railways in his new homeland, retired some time ago and now lived alone in a little house on Alicia Street, not very far from the station.

So that was it. Just another pensioner with nothing much to do in what the marketing industry has ironically christened as the golden years. Nothing much to do, except to sit on a bench and let the sun warm your old bones.

And talk to strangers about trains.

I didn’t remember seeing him at the station before, but he insisted that he’d seen me quite often in the past. I rarely paid much attention to people around me in public places, so he might have been right. I didn’t press the point.

The train finally arrived and we said our goodbyes.

“Until the next time,” he said as he waved me farewell.

* * *

His English was pretty good for a migrant with no more than a primary school education. Those who came off the ships after the war didn’t have a lot of time to better themselves. Railway work didn’t make one a polyglot either. They lived, played and prayed among their own, and their English remained clumsy and basic, barely overlaying the inflections of their old corners, and betraying them as surely as did their mannerisms and habits.

Bartok’s speech was different. Yes, he would never escape the distant echo of his mother tongue, but the way he spoke, his careful grammar and the textbook vocabulary made him sound more like an émigré professor than a railway man. Maybe this determined young man with no family and too many memories keeping him awake had taught himself the new language night after night while his friends slept, felled by the day’s backbreaking work. Maybe.


I can’t remember what woke me up.

I was a light sleeper; it could have been anything. It probably wasn’t.

I pulled the sheets over my head and curled up in the middle of the bed, hoping to catch a lift back to the comforting landscapes of my dream country. But it was no use. My mind was now awake, even if my body still resisted.

After a while I sighed and opened my eyes. Square digital numbers were glowing on the face of the alarm clock, just some red shapes too blurry for me to read. My hand felt around the paper mountain on the desk, searching for my glasses. I finally found them wedged between books and computer keyboard.

It was two thirty. Too early to give up on sleep. It would catch up with me by lunchtime, and I couldn’t afford to spend half the day barely conscious. But I couldn’t sleep either.

A gust of chilly morning air burst in from outside and gave me a violent shiver. I leaned over and slid the window shut.

The night was dark, cloudy, and moonless. Instead, it was the pinpricks of street lamps scattered along the valley down below that formed their own giant Milky Way, as if the heavens and earth decided to swap places for a while.

Ahead of me and slightly to my right, at the foot of the hill, lay the train yards. A maze of tracks, with a scattering of old sheds and decrepit buildings, spread out over a few dozen acres in the valley. At night the yards formed a rough rectangle of pitch darkness, a black hole surrounded by the lights of suburbia.

All tracks led to the city, and all of them would pass through the yards.

Once, when railroads still mattered, the whole wealth of the state would roll through there. That time was long gone. The lines have closed and the economy now bypassed the yards. Property developers salivated over the inner city site, community groups dreamed of a new park, and the transport bureaucracy, the yard’s cruel stepmother, sat back and reserved its judgment, as bureaucracies tend to do. A few freight trains would still pass through, and the old rolling stock would come down to their own elephant cemetery, but it was all a pretense. The last night watchman had left years ago, following the realization that there was nothing valuable left to steal, and even the part-time Satanists now preferred the local cemetery.

The yards should have been peacefully asleep now. It took me a while to realize they weren’t.

Somewhere in the middle of the dark expanse a few pinpricks of bluish light shone brightly, teasing the darkness like the eyes of a predator.

I don’t know why I paid it any attention. The last man out must have forgotten to switch off the lights. I would have probably collapsed back onto the bed if not for the train.

The only movement I saw with any clarity were the bellows of steam coming out of the chimney. Almost as soon as I realized what I was seeing the train disappeared somewhere behind the line of trees and old warehouses.

The muffled metallic tattoo of wheels rolling on the tracks lingered on a bit longer but soon it too receded into the night.

The spectacle lasted maybe ten seconds.

Steam engine, I thought, how quaint. It was almost like seeing a dinosaur, and just as surreal, at two thirty in the morning.

I took a few deep breaths and I felt the sleep descending on me again, gently caressing my back and pulling a curtain over my eyes. I lay back on the bed and let the night close in around me. In my last conscious thought I realized that after the train had gone, the lights have gone out too and darkness claimed the railway yards once again.

I didn’t think about the train until breakfast. It then suddenly occurred to me that I haven’t actually seen it coming. Suddenly it was just there, running at full speed through the yards, and moment later it had passed and vanished, like a dream. The more I thought about it the less certain I was that I have really seen it.


I cranked up the air conditioning and wound up the window to escape the summer heat, the bark of mad dogs, and the quintessentially suburban smell of freshly mowed grass, which I despised.

I was driving back from my ex-girlfriend’s place. I had to visit and console her on the tragic and unexpected death of her mother. The mother had turned 45 only a few days ago and was returning home after small celebrations with her friends from work when she wrapped her brand-new Toyota around a power pole on a particularly tricky curve about one kilometer up the road from home. She was never a heavy drinker; her friends later said that she wouldn’t have had more than two glasses of champagne.

There were no other cars involved, and no witnesses. An old lady who lived across the road heard the crash and called the police. It took the firemen two hours to cut the body out of the wreckage. The accident got a fifteen second mention on the nightly news, just before the sports segment.

“They did the autopsy the next day,” my ex said, her head resting on my shoulder, half turned away towards the window. I had my arms around her, but it was nothing like it once used to be. “You know what they’ve found?

She had an undetected cervical cancer. The doctor said she would have been dead in twelve months’ time. It was too advanced, he said, they wouldn’t have been able to do anything for her.”

“Double whammy,” I said. “Shit.”

We were standing in the middle of the living room. The sun filtered softly through the curtains and the dust danced on the rays of light.

“I’m glad you came. I really appreciate it,” she sighed. She did not cry, and somehow I didn’t think she would while I was with her.

“Don’t even mention it,” I said rocking her gently in my arms. “I’m sorry it took me so long. I’ve only heard last night. From Jim.”

Sarah was the only one of my relationships that ended without tears and recriminations. We allowed ourselves to slowly drift apart, intuitively satisfied that it simply wasn’t to be, but not blaming each other for our disappointment. Later on, we didn’t exactly try to keep in touch, but we did not avoid each other either when mutual friends brought us together for an occasional celebration. We exchanged Christmas cards every year and sincerely wished each other all the best.

We talked for a few more minutes about safe and neutral things, and after the obligatory offer of anything I could do, we said goodbye.

I remembered the road works and the line of traffic I passed on the way to Sarah’s place, and driving back I took a different route. I didn’t realize quite where I was until I felt the jolt of driving over a railway crossing. Then I knew.

I put the indicator on and pulled up on the side of the road. A wave of oppressive heat hit me when I opened the door. I swore under my breath and yanked myself out of the car.

There was another unguarded crossing about fifty meters down the road. The gate was locked and it didn’t look like it had been in use recently.

A rusty chain link fence separated the grounds from a narrow asphalt sidewalk and the street. Wilted weeds sprouted along its base, adding to the desolate feel.

Twenty meters beyond the fence a row of decrepit warehouses rose up from the ground. Just like the railways they serviced, the warehouses had seen better times, ages ago. The new management had not even bothered to paint over the ghosts of the old writing. On one wall I could still see “Johns & Sons. Grain Merchants,” which in its prime must have stood out in bold black against a white background, but now gray was only melting into another shade of gray.

Only two or three out of a dozen warehouses seemed to be still in use.

They looked just as decrepit as the others, but their doors were open and a few workers were milling around, attending to old wagons. Further away, a forklift was unloading small containers from a freight train.

A railway worker was standing outside a small gate, about twenty yards from where I parked my car. He was a tall, prematurely balding man in his thirties, turned rich brown from working outdoors. The black oval sunglasses gave him a menacing insectoid look. He was getting the last few drags out of his cigarette and absent-mindedly kicking the dirt with his boot.

“Excuse me,” I started walking towards him.

He turned towards me and stared at me like a man caught doing something improper.

“Listen,” I said. “Do you still get many steam trains going through here?”

His body relaxed. I wasn’t trouble.

“Steam train enthusiast, eh?” he said. It sounded more like an insult than a question.

“Yes, a bit,” I lied.

“Not from around here, are we?” he asked. I couldn’t see his eyes behind the sunglasses but his expression was pretty blank.


“Well, otherwise you’d probably know that they took all steamers out of action years ago.” There was a hint of satisfaction in his voice, as if he was happy to disappoint another sucker. “Too costly to run and too costly to fix,” he added, trying to sound like an expert.

I’m not sure what sort of answer I was expecting but this wasn’t it. “I could have sworn I’ve seen one here quite recently,” I persevered.

He pressed his lips tightly and shook his head. “Couldn’t ‘ave been. As I said we don’t use ‘em any more. Switched to diesel engines completely. There’s still some steam ones running, but that would be up north, just for the tourists. None here.” He paused for a few seconds as if pondering something. “When did you say you saw one?”

“Oh,” I shrugged. “A few days ago. Actually it was at night.”

It didn’t ring any bells with him. He shook his head again. “There wouldn’t ‘ave been trains going through here at night. And no steam trains as I said. You must’ave seen a normal one.”

“Yeah, I must have.” I hadn’t. Normal trains don’t blow smoke.

“Yeah,” he said, eager to finish the conversation with a budding trainspotter who couldn’t tell a steam engine from a diesel one.

I was just about to walk back to my car but I stopped and asked one more question. “Do you fellows do much work on the nightshifts?”

“We don’t have any nightshifts,” his eyebrows rose betraying impatience.

“So no one does any work around here at night?”

“No. Why?” The suspicious animal stirred again.

I made a vague gesture with my hand. “It used to be busier, eh? The government’s not spending much on railways anymore?”

“Too right, mate,” he said. “Too right. The bums only look after themselves and this whole place is going to shits.”

This time I was leaving. “Well, thanks anyway.”

“No worries,” he waved his hand, glad to be left alone.

I was staring at my car when I saw a Barman’s Express van pull by the gate. The driver stepped out, slid the side door open, took out a carton of beer and passed it onto the railway man. My railway insider exchanged a few words with the driver while fishing in his pocket for some change. It was one o’clock.

Maybe it was all a dream. Otherwise I was stuck with a steam train that wasn’t there, going through the yards lit up by workers who weren’t working there at that time.

The day seemed to be getting hotter and I already had a splitting headache. I didn’t feel like thinking too much anymore.


He waved at me as I was descending the stairs from the overpass onto the platform. Instinctively I waved back, realizing too late that now I would be obliged to go over to him and have a chat. The angel sitting on my right shoulder was taken aback by my antisocial impulse. Get a hold of yourself, he whispered in my ear, he’s just an old man, not a child molester.

“I saw a train,” I said as I sat down next to him. It was one of those Freudian slips; I meant to say ‘Nice day, isn’t it?’

“Ah,” he smiled. There was a delicate breeze in the air and it levitated a rebellious strand of hair behind his left ear.

“It was a–” I was suddenly lost for words, “–a different train.” I didn’t know whether I really wanted to go any further. It felt vaguely embarrassing, as if I had to owe up to still wetting my bed. But who better to confide about trains than a retired station master? Please lay down on the bench and relax, young man, and tell me about your relationship with your mother. And about the trains.

“A different train,” he repeated, just when the silence was starting to become uncomfortable. His gaze drifted off. “Every train is different.”

I pushed my glasses back. On humid days like this they had an irritating habit of slowly sliding down my nose. “It was a steam train,” I explained.

His upper body rotated towards me, as if to make the conversation more intimate. “Ah, a steam train,” he repeated. “Not many of those left around. Pity,” he sighed wistfully. “They were the real trains.”

A sharp staccato noise made me jump and look around. A half crashed can of Coke was rolling down the platform. It lingered motionless for a moment and then drifted, pushed by a sudden gust of wind, over the gray gritty concrete of the ramp, past the yellow “don’t cross this line while the train is approaching” line and disappeared over the edge. There was a dull clink as it hit the gravel and then the station was quiet again. I turned back around. Mr. Bartok, no relation to the famous composer, was still looking at me unperturbed.

“You did not tell me before that you were interested in trains,” he said.

A half-question, half-statement. Of regret, perhaps.

“No, I didn’t. I’m not, “ I shrugged. “I’m not interested in trains. But this one was different.”

“You said that already.”

A truck with a broken muffler thundered somewhere close by. This time I resisted the urge to be distracted.

“I know,” I said, feeling more self-conscious with every word coming out of my mouth. I was ready to stand up and make up some convenient excuse, then leave. It was silly. “It was in the middle of the night,” I heard myself stumbling on instead. “Pretty dark. A moonless night. But I could see it, you know, the smoke–”

He nodded, encouraging me to go on with my confessions. “I looked out the window but I couldn’t really see it. As I said, just a movement; a black shape against the black background. And the steam coming out... Then a few days later I was passing by the yards and I started talking to this fellow who works there, and you know what he told me?”

“That there are no steam engines working anymore?”

I opened my mouth but before I could say anything Bartok leaned over towards me and patted my hand with his. “I am a station master – well, a retired stationmaster, remember?” he shrugged. “I know such things.”

He was right, of course. But my palms were sweaty and it wasn’t just the Queensland summer heat. “So what was it?” I asked.

“It was a train, “ he said. “A different train, as you said.”

“How different?” I pressed on. “Some kind of tourist train from interstate?”

He took out a white handkerchief out of the blazer pocket and wiped his brow. “You could say that.” At that moment I thought I could imagine him like he used to be, almost sixty years ago, the smiling, friendly station master. It’s twenty-five past four, madam. I’m afraid there will be a slight delay. Some little problem up the line. Terribly sorry. Say, aren’t they lovely children? You must be so proud. “A tourist train from interstate,” the retired station master repeated slowly. He was old again and sitting next to me.

“Have you ever been on it?” I had no idea why I asked this question.

“Oh, no. Unfortunately not.” he sounded almost apologetic, as if sorry to disappoint me. “Not on this one. I know it well, though. It is the 2:35 to Vienna.”


“Why what?”

“Why is it the 2:35 to Vienna?”

“Well,” his hand caressed the rim of the hat. “Because it departs the station at 2:35, and it goes to Vienna.”

The eyes are supposed to be the mirrors of one’s soul and I peered very hard into his to find a glimmer of insanity, or maybe just a senile dementia. But he held my gaze and the only thing I thought I could see was a flicker of amusement. I now expected him to burst out in giggles, wave his hand around and apologize for having fun at my expense. But he didn’t. He stood up instead.

“If you excuse me,” he put his hat back on and then straightened the wrinkles on his coat with slow and deliberate movements. “It is my tea time.

When you get to my age you do not want to miss it.” He put two fingers to the brim of his hat in an old-fashioned farewell. “As always, it was nice talking to you, Martin.”

I didn’t call after him, or try to stop him as he walked away. The metal tip of his umbrella clinked on the concrete with his every step, until the passing traffic drowned it out.

The train to the city was two minutes late. It was only some time after I stepped out into the beehive of the central station that I realized I had left my bag on the seat. I stood on the platform, motionless, long after all the passengers disappeared up the escalators. On the billboard across the track an unnaturally joyful young couple were engaged in a pillow fight, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you what they were advertising.

Back to the
main post.


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Unloved in the hour of need 

With Katrina devastating the South, many, from Fox’s Neil Cavuto to blogger California Conservative, ara asking the question: where is the foreign humanitarian aid?

To be sure, the trendy anti-Americanism makes it unlikely that too many around the world will think "we're all New Orleans now." It’s probably also fair to say that many think that America is rich enough, and organized enough, to simply help itself. There is some truth to that - after all, if the world's remaining superpower can't, who can? - but this should not be an excuse not to offer help, even if just symbolic or out of courtesy.

But have no fear, one offer is already on the table:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered to send food and fuel to the United States after the powerful Hurricane Katrina pummeled the US south, ravaging US crude production.

The leftist leader, a frequent critic of the United States and a target himself of US disapproval, said Venezuela could send aid workers with drinking water, food and fuel to US communities hit by the hurricane.
Chavez can arguably say anything he wants, since it's unlikely that he will be taken up on his offer. As the report reminds us, “last week, Chavez offered discount gasoline to poor Americans suffering from high oil prices and on Sunday offered free eye surgery for Americans without access to health care.” Something that might be beyond Chavez's capacity to offer is fresh credibility for American political has-beens, like Rev Jesse Jackson, who on his current trip to Venezuela has welcomed Hugo's Oil for Poor program.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hitch = Hitler 

You haven't quite made it until you've been called a fascist.

So - welcome to the club, Hitch. Glad to have you with us.

That this life-long Trotskyite and a mortal and vocal enemy of bin Ladenism and Saddamism should be called a "fascist" shows just how clueless some on the left really are. With his anti-Stalinist background, though, I'm sure Christopher Hitchens will understand the delicious - though sick - irony of being tagged with the all-purpose communist term of abuse.

In the past, the term "fascist" was used by the Kremlin and its stooges who of course knew better (for example, members of Poland's Home Army who spent six years in the forests fighting the Nazis were called fascists). Nowadays, it's just used by those who should know better, but who in reality wouldn't know fascism if it came over to them and repeatedly kicked them in the groin with a jackboot.

(hat tip: Little Green Footballs)


Iraqis - keen and optimistic 

Our special correspondent Haider Ajina translated the results of the latest opinion poll published in the August 29th edition of the Iraqi Arabic newspaper “Alhayat”:
"New Iraqi Poll shows 88% will vote for constitution.

"A poll taken by “The Iraqi center for national development & dialog”, which is headed by former Planning minister Mahdi Alhafith. Reveals 88% of Iraqis polled said they will participate in the next vote (for the constitution) on the 15th of October. 5% said they will not vote 6% had not decided yet.

"Mr. Alhafith said to Alhayat newspaper: The poll included 3667 Iraqis, 53% men, the polls showed that 88% of those support holding the constitutional vote under current condition, while 10% were against for various reason. Some of the reasons were that Iraq is not a free country of its own sovereignty, the constitution will not meet their ambitions or that Iraq does not need democracy now and that the security situation will not allow the proper implementation of the constitution.

"As to how many polled support federalism, Alhafith said that 25% of those polled said they support federalism and consider it the preferred way to run the country. He added that 91% of those in favor of federalism were Kurds. While 58% prefer a central government with provincial administration. 17% refused to answer. Further, 45% want a central government, 23% prefer a union type government, 16% prefer a non central government and 13% refused to answer.

"As to the question of Islam being a main source of legislation. 42% support having Islam being the main source of legislation. 24% support having Islam be the only source of legislation. 13% support not having any law which conflicts with Islam. 14% support having Islam being only one of many sources of legislation, not the only one.

"As for women’s rights and women’s representation in the legislature. 84% support giving women full rights and benefits as men. 60% said that a minimum of 25% mandatory representation of women in the assembly is sufficient. 21% said that the minimum number should be raised to 33%.

"As for revenues from natural resources and how they should be divided. 50% said that a central government should divide the revenues proportionately between the central government and the provinces. 19% support an independent agency provided for by the constitution decide. 12% support the constitution decide the percentages between central & provincial governments. 8% support provincial governments in the provinces in which the natural resources exist decide how to divide the revenues.

"78% of those polled expected security to improve after the constitution is adopted. 85% said they are interested in and are following the elections. 10% said they are not interested and do not follow the elections. 5% refused to answer".
As Haider comments: “These are very interesting and telling results. They show a variety of expectations and requirements. A budding democracy for sure. Two things are certain, most will vote and most want women to have rights like men do. This is a unique situation in the Arab and Muslim world.”

The results certainly appear to be confusing in some instances. In particular, the Iraqis, just like their elected leaders, seem to have problems conceptualizing the best constitutional structure for their nation. Not surprisingly, the Kurds are overwhelmingly in favor of federalism. More interestingly, the overall majority, or close to it, favors a more centralized arrangement, showing that Shia politicians might be somewhat out of step with their own constituency – in contrast to Ayotollah Sistani, who seems to have picked the mood just right with his statement yesterday.

I asked Haider what his sources in Iraq are telling him about Sistani's thinking. This is what he had to say:
While Sistani supports decentralizing the government he does not want to create a Sunni federal, a Shiite federal and a Kurdish federal state. He is more in support of the provinces having more autonomy (except Kurds - they have their state like Bavaria in Germany or even more so.) Most Shiites were pushing for a Shiite region to be a federal region. This Sistani does not support, this will divide Iraq wrongly.

Iraq can not have national police force with jurisdiction over the provinces. Each province, county and city must have its own police, answerable to its council.... This concept Sistani understood instantly. Sistani believes now is not the time for the Federal push, perhaps it can come later with a more stable environment. This sounds like the U.S. but back wards.
With the Sunnis and now Sistani coming out against federalism (and Sistani carries significantly more actual weight than the noisy Sadr), the passage of the constitution in the referendum is far from certain - that is if Sistani instructs his followers to vote down the current proposal just on that point (and we have to remember that the draft did not actually settle on any specific federal model, deferring the decisions to a future parliament). Either way, interesting political times ahead.

(And for a somewhat different perspective on the relations between Shis politicians and Shia clerics see Iraq the Model.)

Overall, though, a very positive result in the poll, regarding democratic participation, level of optimism, and women’s rights. The attitude towards the role of Islam is probably to be expected – there seems to be little support for secularism of any sort. But that does not equal theocracy, Iranian-style or otherwise. Religion plays some sort of a role in laws of almost all Muslim-majority states, but that still translates into difference between, say, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.


Good news from Iraq, part 34 

Note: Also available at "The Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Many thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for providing the venues for good news, and many thanks for all the readers and fellow bloggers who support the series.

Maj. Joe Leahy, is a civil engineer with the 20th Engineer Brigade of the Army National Guard. He has been stationed at Camp Victory, outside of Baghdad, since November 2004 - enough time to get frustrated:
"We all know it's a dangerous place. But the thing that I want people to understand is that they only see those one or two instances in the country that are negative. You don't really hear about the 100 things that have gone good,"
says Maj Leahy. "One thing we've got to understand is that it's not going to happen tomorrow, but we are doing something that's getting better everyday."

Maj Leahy's good-bad ratio might be debatable, but enough servicemen and women, as well as their families and friends back home, not to mention general public, were getting frustrated lately with the media coverage of Iraq to cause some limited, though still welcome,
soul-searching among major media outlets. Whether the coverage will improve as a result remains to be seen, so in the meantime, here are the last two weeks' worth of stories, at least some of them you might have missed.

SOCIETY: Some Sunnis might not like the constitution proposals, but that's democracy. There's certainly nothing like a major political disagreement to motivate people to
engage in the political process:
Angered by Shiite calls for a federal region, Sunni clerics urged followers... to vote against the constitution if it contains measures they believe would divide the country...

Iraq's three major Sunni organizations appeared to have taken a united stand both for voting and against demands for federalism after they boycotted the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections...

Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidaie, of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, told worshippers at Baghdad's Umm al-Qura mosque to register for the upcoming votes because "we are in need to your voice to say 'yes' for the constitution or 'no.'"
And such voices are growing louder and increasingly representative of the whole Sunni community:
The general conference of Sunnis in Iraq, which includes "the Sunni Mortmain", "the Association of Muslim Scholars", "the Iraqi Islamic Party", and a group of Sunni parties and organizations, was held in Baghdad and has urged all Arab Sunnis to participate in the coming elections.

In his speech before hundreds of attendees, Ahmed Abdel Ghafur Al Samera'i said, "Participating in the plebiscite on the constitution is a prescribed duty for all Sunnis."
He added, "I swear to Allah that the greatest privilege, through which you gain the love of Allah, is your efforts in participating in the coming elections and gathering the Sunnis, hoping that Allah would alleviate their suffering."

Alaa Maki, member of the political bureau in the "Iraqi Islamic Party", has confirmed, "The party has suggested the provision of cities of Sunni majority with additional lists, so that everyone would be able to register their information in the electors and plebiscite on the permanent constitution records."

He added, "We would enter the elections with a heavier weight than some people imagine. We would continue in participating in the political process side by side with the constituents of the Iraqi people." He referred to the existence of some misunderstanding among the political blocs, with regard to the elections' law and the mechanism of executing them. He called all Imams and preachers to direct and urge people to participate in the plebiscite on the permanent constitution and participate in the coming elections.
Here you can check out the flier being distributed by the Islamic Party, convincing Sunnis that voting is a religious duty. What a difference a few months can make.

There's also
a change of mind in this former trouble spot: "After boycotting the previous elections, Falluja is preparing to participate in the referendum on the constitution. Falluja's clerics council advised the Imams of the mosques and the people not to miss this historical chance and to take part in it through the four centers opened there. Community leaders and clerics organized lectures to educate the people about the importance of their participation and that the constitution is for the interests of all Iraqis, which will decide their identities."

Here's more from
All indications showed that there is high percentage of people in the regions that boycotted the last parliamentary elections are registering their names to participate in the coming October referendum and the general elections next January, Laith Kubba told the press.

In Fallujah, considered one of the major hotbed of Iraqi insurgency, clerics of mosques called on the residents in the city to participate in the constitution referendum scheduled to be held in mid October.

They urged the residents through loudspeakers to participate and say "no" to those who want to isolate them from the political process.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni party, also distributed handouts calling on the people to participate the referendum. Many of the residents showed support and desire to participate.

"I want to participate and I call on the people of the city to do so because we do not want to let those who came from the other side of the border to rule us again," said Mohammed Uthman, a government employee.

"If we don't participate this time, it means we let the present government to continue, and thus the real ruler would be the Iranians and not the Iraqis," he added.
Four registration centers have now been open in Fallujah.

both the main Sunni terror group, Ansar Al Sunna, as well as Shia radical Muqtada al Sadr, have been both calling on supporters to register to vote in the constitution referendum. "[One] statement issued by six of the seven Ansar groups promised that there will not be attacks against Americans on the day of the referendum, 'to protect those who go to vote.' 'Voting is a jihad of words and is no different from the jihad of the sword,' the statement said. 'There are no objections to participation in the referendum to show the world our strength and to defeat federalism'."

Registration of new enrollees is now in full swing:
The Independent Supreme Commission for Elections has announced launching more than 500 centers for registering electors in all Iraqi cities.

Farid Ayar, member of the commission council said in a statement, "There are543 centers all over Iraq, of which 517 are currently working regularly." He pointed out, "The necessary protection has been provided for the working centers. There are 26 closed centers at present, due to the lack of sufficient security protection."
USAID has been helping to bring the constitutional debate to the people (link in PDF): "The Constitutional Dialogue program has organized over 3,000 dialogues throughout Iraq, reaching almost 80,000 Iraqis who also shared their opinions through 64,000 questionnaires. To date, 210 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have participated, including 151 NGOs contracted by USAID and 59 NGOs working as volunteers. Feedback indicates that the dialogues are achieving their dual purpose; to educate and consult the public."

other recent USAID initiatives:
Over the past month, USAID arranged for 18 experts to provide assistance to the Iraqi National Assembly's (INA) Constitutional Committee resulting in the production of 72 topical papers in Arabic on issues including federalism, natural resource allocation, human rights and electoral systems...

The final constitutional dialogues were conducted last week, reaching over 79,000 Iraqis in over 3,100 meetings...

USAID representatives organized a workshop to address the advantages and disadvantages of various electoral systems.
USAID is also helping the growth of the local government throughout Iraq:

USAID's Local Governance Program (LGP) is promoting the organization of Local Government Associations (LGAs) throughout Iraq. The LGAs will act as lobbying and advocacy organizations to represent the interests of the local government without having any authority to direct their operations. Recent activities included:

- A training session on the role of LGAs for 23 new members of an LGA in Babil Governorate. LGA members met with the local INA office to explain the role of LGAs and to present a list of issues related to local government.

- In Karbala Governorate, LGP and LGA members met to map out forthcoming activities and to plan a conference on the impending Constitution to raise public awareness. On July 17 LGA members and the LGP met with the Provincial Council (PC) to provide an update on activities and to offer assistance. The LGA suggested providing education and advocacy to the general public on the legal responsibilities of the PC.

- The LGP presented training sessions on "Understanding Public Services" for 36 LGA members-24 men and 12 women.
Some of the past wrongs are being righted:
Even a year ago, the dusty, rolling hills north of Kirkuk were largely barren. But the horizon has changed rapidly in recent months with a flurry of newly constructed cinder block homes dotting the hillsides.

Thousands of returning Kurds have transformed pockets of land around Kirkuk into small settlements - leading to the rebirth of villages once emptied out by former dictator Saddam Hussein under his "Arabization" plan to force out ethnic Kurds and Turkomen.

In this village, 15 miles northeast of Kirkuk, hundreds of new houses have sprouted since January because the flow of displaced Kurds returning to the area has grown steadily since the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam in 2003.

"We are starting from the beginning again," Mayor Abdul Samad Rahim Karim said. "God willing, we will succeed in making Shwan better than before."

The returnees are a legacy from Saddam’s era, when the Ba’athist Party forcibly expelled tens of thousands of Kurds and Turkomen and replaced them with Arabs from the south to consolidate government control over oil resources and farmlands located in northern Iraq.

In other places, the Kurds’ return, many to squatter camps around the city, and their demands for restoration of their property have provoked sharp protests from many Arabs as well as Turkomen in the community.
In one of the other important aspects of dealing with the country's dark past, the Ministry of Immigration is working to restore Iraqi citizenships on people who have lost it or been stripped of it in the past. And in civil society news, once banned, trade unions, too, are reviving in Iraq.

In entertainment news, two thousand hopefuls sign up for the
Iraqi Idol:
Many Iraqis already obsessively watch "American Idol", a version of the original British "Pop Idol" franchise, and a glitzy Lebanese copy called "Arab Superstar" on free-to-air Arabic satellite channels.

But "Iraq Star" is a brave indigenous effort to perk up the spirits of a depressed nation. The studio set is spartan and drab, and there is no studio audience, though viewers are being promised tinseltown touches when the finale is held in Beirut.

"We are trying to lighten the load and problems Iraqis are going through," said director Wadia Nader during recording of an episode this weekend in a Baghdad hotel.

"We had shows like this in the 1960s when people were discovered on television. But since then, with so many wars, Iraqis couldn't see this kind of thing," he added.
Another show entertains and helps fight the insurgency at the same time:
Shattered glass, body parts, a blood-splattered blue sedan: the grainy video pans over the scene as Iraqi officers comb the site of a drive-by assassination.

It's "Cops" Iraqi-style, minus the "Bad Boys" soundtrack but otherwise roughly modeled after the American TV show.

Created to make government more transparent, "The Cops Show" featuring Kirkuk officers in action is the first of its kind in the country and is breaking new ground in Iraqi television. A live call-in portion gives the public the chance to praise the security forces or gripe about them.

Screened weekly on Kirkuk Television, which broadcasts in this northern city of nearly 1 million people, "The Cops Show" has opened the floodgates in a community long suppressed.

"During Saddam Hussein's time, it was very different," station manager Nasser Hassan Mohammed said. "You were unable to ask questions. You couldn't say anything bad about police.

"Now people can call in directly. Anyone has the right to do this. This is the difference now. This is freedom."

The call-in portion, initially a novelty, has become a staple of the show, and panelists field up to 30 calls per segment, Mohammed said. And because Kirkuk is ethnically mixed, the show switches among the languages spoken by Kurds, Arabs, Turkomen or Assyrians.

It took Iraqis a while to master the art of the phone-in.

"But after more than a year, they understand very well," Mohammed said.
There's also some much needed foreign help to preserve Iraqi historical heritage:
Denmark, Italy and the United Nations have extended new grants to preserve ancient sites in the southern Province of Dihqar, the province’s deputy governor, Ahmad Ali, said.

Dhiqar is home to some of Mesopotamia’s best-known ruins, among them those belonging to the fabled Sumerian cities of Ur and Larsa.

“An agreement has been signed with the United Nations Development program to maintain and develop archaeological and tourist sites in the province,” Ali said.

He said Italy has allocated $450,000 for the construction of “a cultural and information center in Nasiriya, the provincial capital.

Dhiqar, with an area of 12,900 km square, is a key southern province. Besides its archaeological riches, the province is the site of major oil fields.
ECONOMY: The International Monetary Fund report paints a picture of Iraq beset by problems, but nevertheless with good prospects:
Iraq is suffering from rampant inflation, endemic disease and falling oil production, the International Monetary Fund said yesterday in its first review of the country for 25 years.

Nevertheless, Lorenzo Perez, the IMF director who oversaw the review, said that in the medium term he was "quite optimistic" about the country's prospects, although this will "depend on the level of oil prices".

"It is easy to overlook that the establishment and maintenance of relative macro-economic stability in the midst of violence is an achievement in itself," he added.

The IMF said sweeping reforms were needed in almost every sector of the economy, which is thought to have halved in size between 1999 and 2003, when the invasion occurred.
A formal agency will from now on chase the investment dollar for Iraq:
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Andrew Natsios and Iraq’s Minister of Planning signed an agreement in Amman, Jordan, to establish the Iraq Investment Promotion Agency, which will play a leading role in job creation and economic development for years to come.

The agreement commits USAID to equip the new agency’s staff and train them in managing the organization and promoting investment.

Support will be delivered through USAID’s Izdihar project, whose staff had worked with the Government of Iraq to develop an investment promotion strategy that culminated in the signed agreement.

With the creation of the Iraq Investment Promotion Agency, Iraq will join the more than 160 other countries with similar agencies that compete for approximately $7 trillion annually in foreign direct investment worldwide.

In addition, the work of the new agency will help expand the markets for Iraq’s domestic products and services, stimulate economic growth and create new jobs at home.
Some tentative steps towards privatization are being taken by the authorities:
The Ministry of Industry has set up a committee to register eight major state-owned companies on the Baghdad Stock Exchange.

A statement faxed to the newspaper did not say when these firms will go public but stressed that the move will not be initiated until the ministry works out guarantees that tens of thousands of employees that will keep their jobs.

The committee is currently evaluating these companies and would advise the ministry on the price and number of shares that will be available to the public at the Baghdad exchange.

Taha Ismael, who heads a central commission charged with privatizing of state-owned companies, said the move will cover four cement factories, a pharmaceutical firm, and three construction enterprises.

“Employees will be given share options which they can buy and pay for later,” he said.
USAID is helping to bring the Iraqi accounting profession into the twenty first century: "Sixteen Iraqi accounting and auditing professionals recently received international accounting standards training in Amman, Jordan, as part of the Izdihar project. The sixteen professionals, who are members of accounting and auditing associations, university professors and industry practitioners, will become the core group of trainers who will lead seminars for more than 300 accounting students and industry professionals in Iraq. During more than a decade of isolation, Iraq lost touch with international accounting standards, international financial reporting standards, and ethical standards for accountants and requirements for typical modern annual reporting for corporations. In order to address these needs, the training of trainers program was developed to improve the skills of Iraqi accountants, strengthen the accounting industry in Iraq and enhance the accountability, transparency and usefulness of financial documents used to make sound business management decisions."

Kurdistan continues to boom:
Fly into Arbil, the regional capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and you feel that you have arrived in another country.

It is the Kurdish, not the Iraqi, flag that flutters from Arbil International Airport, Kurdistan's new, glass-fronted "gateway" to the world, which saw its first flights from Dubai, Beirut and Amman arrive last month.

The airport was built on a former military base once used by Saddam Hussein's regime to bomb the Kurds of Halabja.

Now it brings in investors. Businessmen, scared away from other parts of Iraq, are coming to Kurdistan instead, and helping its economy to take off.

"Before all we saw was war, and planes bombing our cities and villages," says the airport manager, Kameran Murad, who fought against the regime in the late 1980s.

"Now the aircraft are our link with the outside world. Everything is changing."

Take the town of Suleimaniya. Its skyline is dotted with cranes. Everywhere you look bulldozers are at work.

"Things are booming. The price of land is ridiculous. It's just going up and up and up," says businessman Bettin Saleh, who has two shops in a new mall.

"People have money, people are spending it, they feel it's safe to spend - and build for the future."

And there's no shortage of labour, as Arab Iraqis head north to join the Kurdish workforce.

"I'm here because it's dangerous where I'm from and there are no jobs," says Aziz Abed Ali, from Baghdad. "Here it is safe and there is work."
So does Najaf, thanks to religious tourism:
Property prices in Najaf are being driven through the roof by the Shia visitors who have flocked to its holy sites since the invasion of Iraq by Coalition forces.

Home to the shrine of Imam Ali, a cousin of the prophet Mohammed and a revered figure in Shia Islam, Najaf is considered a top pilgrimage site by members of the denomination.

These include millions living across the border in Iran, who were unable to visit during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

The fall of his regime and accompanying thaw in relations between the two countries has brought with it an influx of pilgrims. And there are plans to spend 20 million US dollars on a new international airport near Najaf, with the help of a low-interest loan from Iran.

At the same time, local real estate agents and entrepreneurs say they are doing a roaring trade.

"Those experienced in religious tourism have started to buy land and buildings in order to turn them into hotels and tourist villages," said Hussein Abdullah, who owns a real estate agency. "They expect [that in the future] Iraq will be the focal point in the world."
Iraq's economic links with other countries keep expanding. "International Finance Corporation (IFC) considered the possibility of investing $210.3 million in the construction project of cement works in Iraq with a productive capacity of 2.9 million tons per annum. Also according to Russian analysis agency AK&M, IFC intends to participate in the capital of new company by investing $8.3 million. The first investment project in Iraq with participation of IFC was realized in finance sector in November 2004 when IFC invested $35 million in the capital of Credit Bank of Iraq."

Baghdad Chamber of Commerce and its Swedish counterpart have signed an agreement for the establishment of
a joint chamber of commerce to fester economic and other cooperation between the two countries. There is also some input from other European countries: "A group of German and European companies has asked the ministry of labor and social affairs to employ 5278 unemployed workers to employ them in projects that those companies planning to start in Iraq. The (RIRP) group-companies have asked the ministry to provide them with workers and the department of job finding in the ministry has started to provide the needed numbers."

Iraq's foreign debt, accumulated to a massive extent by Saddam, is being progressively written off. The latest country to partially forgive Iraq's debt is
Romania, which has reduced the liability by 80 per cent, from $2.5 billion to $0.5 billion. Bulgaria, too, is writing off $340 million of Iraq's debt, and extending the repayment of the remainder 80 per cent over 20 years.

In oil news, the oil production and exports
continue to improve:
Iraq has stepped up oil production from its southern oilfields by 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 2.3 mln bpd, a spokesman for the state-owned South Oil Company told Agence France-Presse.

'Production from the southern oilfields has been increased to 2.3 mln barrels per day from today,' said Samir Jassem Masquqi.

Southern Iraqi oil production was previously 2 mln bpd, of which 1.5 mln barrels were exported and the rest used for domestic consumption.

Iraq produces and exports from 450,000 to 550,000 bpd from its northern oilfields.

Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum said last week that oil exports and revenue had reached their highest levels since March 2003, when US-led forces invaded the country.

Crude exports rose 11 pct to 1.6 mln bpd in July, compared to 1.44 mln barrels the month before.

Oil export revenues reached 2.5 bln dollars in July, Ulum said.
In communications news:
The Korean government has expressed its readiness to supply Iraq with an internet system, of a capacity of 10000 subscribers as a test system, in the field of the mutual cooperation between the two countries.

This came during the visit of Dr. Javan Fuad Masum, telecommunication minister, to the Korean embassy, where she met the Korean ambassador to Baghdad.

The ambassador expressed his hope for establishing a group of projects relating to the field of telecommunications, including the development of an ADSL system, in specific. He promised to provide Iraq with an internet system, in addition to training 10 technicians in this field in Korea. The ambassador has promised to bear the responsibility of erecting and operating the Korean exchanges (Samsung brand), which Iraq has been provided with earlier.
In transport news, air travel revives in Iraq:
If there's one business that's quite literally taking off in Iraq right now, it's air travel, with more and more Iraqis lining up to get out of their troubled land, either for a break or forever.

Since resuming flights a year ago after being grounded for 14 years by sanctions, Iraqi Airways now operates 20 flights a week to destinations like Amman, Damascus, Istanbul and Dubai.

Many are fully booked, producing a hectic scramble at Baghdad airport when the gate is called, as desperate passengers clamber over one another to get to the front of the line.

Routes to Beirut, Cairo, Saudi Arabia and Iran are expected to begin in the coming weeks, and a flight to London from Basra or Baghdad is on the cards for late September or October.

"The expansion is going very well," Captain Ali al-Bayaa, chief executive of the airline and a former pilot, said on Thursday as he oversaw operations at Baghdad's airport, possibly the most heavily defended airfield in the world.

"We should have a flight starting to Cairo in the next 10 days, which will be very popular," he said.

For 18 months after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the country remained too dangerous for commercial airlines, with insurgents occasionally firing shoulder-fired missiles at aircraft.

Then Royal Jordanian began a regular service to and from Amman, employing South African pilots and air crew to fly the route, which involves a dizzyingly tight spiral take-off and landing in Baghdad to avoid the threat of rocket attack.

Now, two and a half years after Saddam's fall, there are half a dozen airlines jetting in and out of Baghdad, supplying a rapidly growing demand for air travel. At the same time, travel agencies are opening up again after years of inactivity.
The first international flight has touched down in Basra:
The first international airline flight to land in the southern Iraqi city of Basra in 15 years arrived here yesterday [22 August] receiving a warm welcome from local officials. A Sharjah-based Phoenix Air Boeing 747 arrived from Dubai with 22 passengers on board.

The company will begin two flights a week between Dubai and Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, officials said. "Hopefully flights to Iraq will increase from the region and the world," said Basra's governor Mohammed Al Waili at the airport while greeting the arriving passengers. Since the U.N. imposed economic sanctions in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait, no foreign airline has flown to Basra.
Iraqi authorities are now working to convert the Najaf airport from a military to international use. Meanwhile, the first flight of Tigris Air from Iraq touched down in Cairo. Flights between Iraq and Baku, Azerbeijan, are being planned. And so are six flights a week between Syria and Iraq.

On the land, the specialists from the state railway company are currently working on designs
to link the Iraqi and the Iranian railway networks. Speaking of railways, a major renovation effort is currently underway across the country:
Ninety-seven railway stations have been renovated by the Facilities & Transportation (F&T) Sector of the Project & Contracting Office (PCO). The $42 million railroad program has 28 more stations to complete.

Forty-one of the completed stations are in northern Iraq throughout the governorates of Salah al-Din, Ninewa and Tameem...

Reconstruction work included electrical work; plumbing, sanitation and water delivery system upgrades; roof repairs; installation or repair of air conditioning units; and interior renovations such as painting, plaster and tile work.

There are two main types of railway stations under renovation: five-room crew stations used only by railway workers, and nine-room passenger stations for use both by railway passengers and railway workers, according to the PCO. Of the 97 railway stations to be worked on by the PCO, approximately 22 are passenger stations; the rest are crew stations only.

Currently the railway works out to be about 30 percent passenger use and 70 percent freight use.

The railway stretches from southern to northern Iraq, approximately 1,260 miles of track, with railway stations appearing about every 15 miles.

One of the major stations under renovation is Baghdad Station, currently scheduled for completion by early December 2005. Other projects currently under construction include train maintenance and repair shops in Kirkuk, Al-Samawa and Baiji, with another one planned in Baghdad.

Station renovation work is a joint effort between PCO, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Iraqi Republic Railroads (IRR) and local Iraqi workers.
RECONSTRUCTION: In Baghdad, major telecommunications infrastructure will be undergoing rebuilding and renovation:
As of October 1, works would start on rehabilitating what has been destroyed, during the bombing with American planes and rockets, of the telecommunication building and tower in Al Ma'moun region, west of Baghdad, or what has been known as "Saddam Tower" before April 9, 2003.

An Iraqi company would be in charge of the reconstruction, while a European company from Luxemburg would set the new designs for this building, which is considered as one of the most prominent landmarks of Baghdad, according to Javan Ma'sum, Iraqi telecommunications minister.

The minister added that the cost of rehabilitating the building and the tower reaches 20 million dollars, which are designated from the US aid to Iraq. She pointed out that a celebration would be held in Baghdad on this occasion, where the start of works that would totally depend on Iraqi expertise, would be announced.

Ma'sum noted that the design of the building and tower would be totally changed, where modernization and touches that reflect the Iraqi prospective of the project are domineering.

She said that the whole telecommunication building in Al Senk region, on Al Rasheed Street in Baghdad, would be knocked down, to be rebuilt later this year. This is due to the fact that the ministry experts found out that the overhauling and rehabilitation of the building would be more expensive than rebuilding it.

She noted that Spain has promised to provide with the necessary finance for establishing a new exchange, with a high capacity to serve subscribers, in Al Diwaneya province (170 km south of Baghdad).
Italy is contributing to the reconstruction of the south: "Italy has allocated 2.18 million euros [$2.68 million] for development in Iran's southern Nasiriya province, where most of the Itaiy's 3,000-stong military contingent in Iraq is based. 'The funds will be used in Nasiriya and surroundings for several projects in the fields of health, education, drinkable water and infrastructures, including roads, sport facilities and the sewage system,' Ahmad al-Shaykh Ali, the deputy governor of Dhi Qar region - under whose jurisdiction Nasiriya falls - told Adnkronos International (AKI). The project areas will jointly identified by the Italian army and the regional council."

Judicial infrastructure is also rising up: "Construction is complete on phase one of the $865,000
Basrah courthouse project. This five-phase project is expected to be complete in October. The main courthouse, expected to hold a number of high profile trials, continues to operate during construction. Iraqi subcontractors are working on the project, and employing an average of 70 local Iraqi workers daily."

clean-up of Iraq continues:
Rakan Ahmed Al Allaf, director of the general municipalities' administration in the ministry of municipalities and general works said, "Al Wehda municipality has lifted 1800 tons of garbage, 1400 m3 of debris, 100 tons of wastes and has filled up 150 m3 of swamps.

He added Al Zohur municipality has lifted 840 tons of garbage, 500 m3 of debris and 40 tons of wastes, and has paved streets, filled up swamps with earth and finished the municipality building." He pointed out, "Al Jisr municipality has lifted the garbage and debris, which were accumulated in (101, 102, 103, 104 and 105) sites and Al Ta'mim district. It has lifted 1750 tons of garbage, 350 tons of debris, and 40 tons of wastes. It has also pulled the still rain water. Al Yousefeya municipality has lifted 125 tons of garbage and 30 m3 of debris, and has cleaned 2500 meters of roads. In Al Rashedeya municipality, the districts of Al Zahra and Al Bad'a districts have been cleaned in addition to Al Naheya region. Gardens, parks and platforms have also been maintained."

Al Allaf pointed out, "These municipalities managed to collect the rents of its real estate, lifted many violations over its lands, committed dust and stone operations in various districts to Iraqi contractors and companies to execute them."
USAID's Community Action Programme is helping local communities to carry out projects that benefit their neighborhoods:
USAID's Community Action Program (CAP) helped a community in Maysan Governorate rehabilitate its sports stadium. The 15,000 person stadium was built in 1959 and regularly hosted soccer and track and field competitions. However, during the war between Iraq and Iran, the stadium was used as an Army arsenal and was severely damaged during a bombardment, resulting in the closing of the facilities. CAP contracted the rehabilitation and the community association organized sports tournaments among the surrounding schools as part of its contribution towards this project. The stadium was handed over to the Directorate of Youth and Sports in May at an opening ceremony that drew many spectators and participants. The project is expected to benefit over 2,000 people.

A Baghdad area kindergarten was rebuilt with CAP assistance. The kindergarten was in a state of complete disrepair, making it almost impossible for teachers to gauge the educational and emotional development needs of the children. Classrooms were dark and damp and all furniture was broken. Parent and community association members in the area stressed to USAID the need to improve the facilities. The project was completed on May 4 and included the complete rehabilitation of the premises. The classrooms are now well lit, clean, and equipped with modern equipment. This project will benefit 204 pre-school children.

CAP helped a community in At Tamim governorate pave its sidewalks around the town center. Most of the roads are not paved in this town in the southwest of the governorate causing flooding and muddy conditions. With paved sidewalks, people can move freely in their town and a heavy rainfall will not cause a local catastrophe.
The Iraqi authorities, in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates are planning some health-related projects: "A medical city and a faulty of medicine would be established in Al Sadr city, and the Emirati authorities would start establishing a medical city in Al Sadr city, which would include 4 big hospitals, laboratories and a faculty of medicine. The construction of the two hospitals in Thi Qar and Al Selaimania would start at the same time. He specified the achievement date by a period of less than two years." Another two hospitals will be established with the American support in Maisan province.

Meanwhile, the authorities are setting up
mobile medical centers to provide care in areas of Baghdad with insufficient health infrastructure:
In coordination with a number of humanitarian, Baghdad health department has established medical centers and camps in some poor districts in Baghdad to offer medial assistance for the residents of these regions, which suffer from the spread of epidemics and diseases, due to the contamination of water and the lack of health services.

Dr. Ahmed Al Zubeidi confirmed that these centers offer examinations and medical supplies for poor modest families in the regions of Al Dawra, Al Amel district, Al Baya', Sowaib, Al Radwaneya, and other regions, where there are no centers or hospitals for treating patients, and epidemics and diseases have spread due to the poor health services. He added that the mobile medical center includes more than five doctors of various specialties, who offer their medical services to patients. Each center or clinic can accommodate more than 600 patients. He pointed out that the majority of cases received in the center are children's and elders' diseases, in addition to the wounded.
And Great Britain is involving its private sector in an effort to help train Iraqi medical personnel:
The government will today [25 August] invite the private sector to compete with the NHS for a contract to help rebuild the health service in Iraq.

About 50 medical teams will be invited to come to Britain over the next two years to update their skills. But, in a sign of the times, ministers think this assistance need not necessarily be provided by the flagship hospitals of the NHS.

They publish tender documents today for a "suitably qualified organisation or consortium" to arrange the clinical training at an expected cost of up to £5m. Aid for healthcare in Iraq has been directed at rebuilding hospitals and clinics. But discussions with Iraqi officials have identified upgrading skills as the most productive assistance.

The teams that come to Britain will be expected to become "change agents" to spread reform on their return.
In education news, improvements in schools continue:
More than 600 children will return to renovated or rebuilt schools in Maysan province when school starts this fall. This week, renovation on the Al-Eethnar Mud School was completed, and the Al Eethar Mud School was replaced at a cost of $87,000, benefiting 500 students who attend classes there.

Eight newly built schools in Wassit and Babil provinces are receiving new furniture before the start of the school year. Each of the school projects will receive office desks and chairs, file cabinets and new student desks. Collectively, 400 three-student desks will be proportionally divided among the schools, based upon the number of students.
In other news, "Dr. Abdel Falah Hassan Al Sudani, education minister, confirmed that the ministry has decided to establish four model schools in each province. He added that these schools would be similar to Baghdad College, upon technical and scientific specifications. He added that the ministry is currently coordinating with international authorities and humanitarian organizations for the purpose of including a great number of schools in several Iraqi regions. The minister pointed out that the ministry is currently establishing more than 400 schools, upon new engineering and constructional criteria."

Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program is helping to build ties between American and Iraqi universities to help rebuild the country's higher education system. Among the recent initiatives:
A fifth Iraqi archaeology student has arrived at the State University of New York's Stony Brook (SUNY/SB) campus. His English skills are in need of significant improvement but should improve during English training in the summer and fall semesters to be able to progress into the M.A. program in Archaeology in the Spring 2006 semester...

On July 2, the International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) at DePaul University's College of Law and the School of Law at a northern Iraqi university hosted the opening of newly renovated law library facilities...

A soil sciences laboratory has been set up at a central Iraqi university with the assistance of the HEAD program's Al Sharaka partnership, a cooperative effort between five Iraqi Universities and a consortium of American universities led by the University of Oklahoma...

Three boxes of learning materials arrived recently for distribution at two Colleges of Agriculture and Forestry at northern Iraqi universities.
Electrical projects are progressing across the country:
More reconstruction projects in Sadr City started this week, including a $13 million electrical distribution project. When the project is complete, an estimated 128,000 more people will have a reliable source of electricity. The project includes installation of power lines, 3,040 power poles, 80 transformers, 2,400 street lights, and power connections to individual homes, complete with meters.

Construction started on the $3.8 million Al Rayash Electricity Substation project in the Al Daur district of Salah Ad Din province, located between Tikrit and Bayji. The project, expected to be complete in early December, will provide reliable service to 50,000 Iraqi homes and small businesses. An electric distribution and street lighting project in Daquq was completed on Aug. 17, providing new overhead distribution lines and street lighting in the community.
Meanwhile, the construction of electricity system in Fallujah is now 90 per cent complete and should be finished by mid-September. And Iran will be selling 600 power generators to Iraq.

Work continues on various water projects in
Salahedin province: "Engineer Ghazi Naji, assistant of the water general manager in the ministry of municipalities and public works said that the works have included repairing broken pipes of various diameters in Biji, Al Dur, Al Tuz and maintaining and repairing the pipes, pulling stations, control panels, washing pumps, filters, and chlorine devices in the water projects of Biji, Al Dur, Al Tuz and Al Sherqat."

Meanwhile, in the capital: "About 2 million people will benefit from the
Baghdad trunk sewer line, which was completed this week. Workers cleaned and repaired the Baghdad trunk sewer line and its associated manholes and pumping stations. The $17.48 million project restored principal sewage collection elements in the Adhamiya, Sadr City and Nissan districts of Baghdad, and will provide for the intended sewer flows to the Rustamiya wastewater treatment plant."

And in
Basra: "Two million dollars of Iraq Reconstruction Program money was released to purchase electrical equipment for a Pump Station to upgrade Basra Sweetwater Canal system. This pump station will supply a constant and reliable source of water for two million Iraqis in Basra and the surrounding area."

Also: "The Ministry of Environment announced a
project to control the quality of the drinking water for Iraq, which is aided by the World Health Organization. Nahla Hatim, manager of the project, said the cost of the project, which includes laboratory work and installing laboratories for environmental tests, is $2 million and will help out in protection of the environment and the water resources."

USAID is promoting
the best agricultural practice throughout the country: "The Agriculture Reconstruction and Development for Iraq (ARDI) program’s recent winter crop demonstration showed that the modernized farming methods used produced crop yields that were an average of 48 percent higher than fields planted using traditional methods. Under the program, ARDI and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) planted 40 demonstration areas on the fields of cooperating farmers in Sulaymaniyah, Arbil, and Da-huk. Each area contained two one-hectare plots; one planted using traditional practices and the other using modernized practices... A total of 1,219 farmers and agriculture students participated in the field days."

other recent USAID initiatives:
Tomato farmers are harvesting higher yields thanks to improved technologies learned under the Open Field Tomato Demonstration initiative of USAID's Agriculture Reconstruction and Development for Iraq (ARDI) program. For the demonstrations, ARDI established plots in Baghdad, Diyala and Babylon governorates on which they introduced drip irrigation, black plastic mulch, and fertilization. With the Ministry of Agriculture, USAID representatives monitored the plots and helped participating farmers control tomato pests...

A new sustainable fodder project in Wasit governorate will help livestock breeders improve the health and productivity of their sheep flocks. The project, which is sponsored by the ARDI program, focuses on farmers who tend flocks of 30 to 150 head of sheep, providing them with fodder for temporary relief and training in fodder production...

An ARDI program to improve buffalo calving rates through hormone treatments is showing positive results. The program is being implemented in Baghdad, Muthanna and Dhi Qar governorates where buffalo sometimes do not enter estrus during the hot season because of climactic stress, and may not successfully mate or produce milk.
A Connecticut man, meanwhile, has been working to revive Iraqi bee-keeping:
Hundreds of honeybees swarm around the 3-foot-high wooden hive in the suburban backyard at 33 Kettle St.

Flying in and out of narrow slits in the box-like structure, they form a buzzing cloud around Andrew Cote, who is trying to avoid being stung a seventh time.

"Mother of God," he says, his deadpan voice belying the pain of the sixth sting.

Cote has at least two stings on his underarms and one on his lower back, areas not covered by the mesh hood he donned minutes ago, as the bees became more agitated. "I got twice as many stings today as I did in two months in Iraq."

The 34-year-old Norwalk native returned on Aug. 11 from an aid mission to Iraq, where he spent the summer sharing his knowledge of bees and pollination with Iraqi farmers and beekeepers.

During the trip, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, heavily armed guards swarmed around him as he traveled from city to city in a convoy of armored vehicles.

With estimates that as much as 80 percent of everything humans eat depends on pollination by bees, Cote said, restoring and improving agriculture in the war-ravaged country depends heavily upon the men, and a few women, who Cote helped train during his 10-week trip.
A new survey will help Iraq better manage its scarce water resources:
Ministry representatives met to discuss the progress of the Strategy for Water and Land Resources in Iraq.

All participating ministries are collecting data relevant to water and land use, including hydrologic and hydro geologic information, water quality and crop-water requirements. This data will be used to analyze specific interventions and strategy priorities...

The Strategy for Water and Land Resources in Iraq will serve as the first inclusive planning document for Iraq’s water sector since 1982. Through the planning process the Iraqi government will determine the availability of water resources. The strategy will then enable coordination between ministries and governorates to allocate those water resources. The strategy will also provide a foundation for continued restoration of the Southern Marshlands, and provide the Iraqi government with a strong position when negotiating international water treaties with its neighbors.
Speaking of marshlands, more good news for the southern marshlands and wetlands once drained by Saddam as punishment for their rebellious inhabitants:
The Iraqi water minister Abd al-Latif Jamal Rashid has given the go ahead to an ambitious plan to build modern villages around the lakes in the south of the country and turn them into tourist areas. Announcing the plan, the ministry's spokesman told Adnkronos International (AKI): "the ministry has confirmed the start of work on different projects in those areas, with the financial and technical support of the US government in the context of the donation made to the Iraqi government," amounting to 450 million dollars.

It follows an announcement last week by the water ministry that the Treasury had agreed to increase the money earmarked for the relaunch of the marshlands in the south of the country to 300 billion Iraqi dinars (one US dollar is roughly the equivalent of 1,470 Iraqi dinars). This money will also be used to carry out the projects to develop the lakes, which will be re-filled using fluvial channels.
As to the marshes themselves:
The ancient Iraqi marshlands drained by Saddam Hussein as punishment against their occupants are back to almost 40 percent of their former level, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Wednesday.

In a rare good news story for Iraq, Nairobi-based UNEP said latest satellite imagery showed a 'phenomenal' recovery rate for the southern marshlands, back to almost 3,500 square km after dwindling to just 760 in 2002...

UNEP said the marshlands totalled almost 9,000 square kilometres in the 1970s – one of the world's largest wetlands with rare species like the Sacred Ibis bird.

While satellite images showed wetland cover back to nearly 40 percent of that in August, the figure was closer to 50 percent back in the Spring thanks to winter rains and snow melt in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, UNEP said.

'The new satellite imagery shows a rapid increase in water and vegetation cover over the last two years,' it added in a statement. 'While more detailed field analysis of soil and water quality is needed to gauge the exact state of rehabilitation, UNEP scientists believe the findings are a positive signal that the Iraqi marshlands are well on the road to recovery.'

Toepfer, however, warned that full reflooding would still take 'many years' and must be carefully nurtured.
With foreign assistance, Iraqi environmental specialists are getting trained:
A Lab Technician training course to be held in Amman, Jordan, in early September is being planned for technicians from Iraq’s five regional Environmental Health Education Resource Centers (EHERC).

The course is being sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program which supports a partnership between the State University of New York at Stony Brook (SUNY/SB) and several Iraq universities to build capacity for teaching and research in environmental health...

Workshop topics include training on equipment for soil, water, and lead testing; and the operation of air pollution monitoring equipment.
HUMANITARIAN AID: United Nations World Food Programme is helping Iraq's most vulnerable and needy:
Support to Vulnerable groups - A total of 21,576 mt of commodities (7,781 mt High Energy biscuits, 5,791 mt wheat flour, 3,166 mt vegetable oil and 4,838 mt pea/wheat blend) have so far been dispatched into Iraq under WFP's current emergency operation 10360.0.

Distributions so far amount to about 14,946 mt of the total dispatched commodities benefiting 1,324,740 beneficiaries. The present security situation continues to affect the overland transport of food into Iraq.

Food for education - Preparations are underway to preposition the High Energy Biscuits and vegetable oil for the children when the schools re-open in September after the end of the summer holidays.

During the last school year about 8,886 mt ( 7,781mt of HEB and 1,105 mt of veg. oil) have been delivered into various schools in Iraq with approximately 5,201mt of High Energy Biscuits and 806 mt of vegetable oil distributed under school feeding activities benefiting 806,558 school children...

Vulnerable Group Feeding - A total of 12,690 mt of various commodities including Wheat Flour, Vegetable Oil and Pea-Wheat blended food have been delivered into Iraq with 8,939 mt having been distributed to 518,182 beneficiaries.
A charity is helping Iraq's disabled:
Free Wheelchair Mission recently shipped a container of 550 wheelchairs to the port of Shuwaikh, Kuwait in a momentous humanitarian mission to aid Iraq's disabled and poor. United States Military Major Glenn Rubalcava, Public Health Officer stationed in Kuwait City, coordinated the compassionate effort through the Humanitarian Operations Center (HOC) located in Kuwait.

Both the Iraqi and Kuwaiti governments waived import fees for all the humanitarian aid that involved the HOC. The wheelchairs were convoyed from Kuwaiti to Iraqi military bases and then were picked up from the military bases by civilian contractors. The civilian contractor transportation companies then delivered the wheelchairs from the military bases to their final destinations throughout five geographical locations in Iraq. Wheelchairs were distributed to camps, hospitals, clinics, and orphanages throughout the country.

200 wheelchairs were distributed to the British and Polish sector (southern Iraq), which includes An-Najaf, Ad-Diwaniyah, An-Nasirayah and Al-Basrah. 300 wheelchairs went to the Iraqi Assistance Center (IAC) in Baghdad. They will distribute to Civil Affair units in Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, and Samarra.

Iraqi authorities will be constructing three major housing complexes for Iraqi refugees who chose to return home.

The good work of one
Colorado business continues to bring cheer to Iraqi schoolchildren:
A small girl, not much older than 6 or 7, struggled with a math lesson at her school northeast of Baghdad, Iraq.

The subject was not the reason for the girl's frustration; she was equipped with only a broken pencil and a few pieces of paper.

A U.S. soldier visiting the school in the Diyala province of eastern Iraq saw the students' dilemma and decided to do something about it.

"I was very sad for her because she reminded me of my daughter, and I wanted to do as much as I could to help these children," said Army Spec. Steven Wilkerson.

The young soldier, a member of the Army's "Battle Boar" 1st Battalion, Googled for help.

EZ School Supplies, based in the Denver West Office Park in Golden, popped up on the Internet search engine. In May, Wilkerson e-mailed the company to see if it would donate some school supplies.

"The local schools do not have funds to purchase supplies, as they are very impoverished," Wilkerson wrote for his commander, Lt. Col. Roger Cloutier.

Officials of EZ School Supplies, a company formed just two years ago by a 2000 graduate of Golden High School, were excited by the request.
The rest in history:
EZ partners with the Learning Legacy Foundation, which specializes in providing supplies to underprivileged students.

Tapping into that connection, EZ sent 35 packs of pencils, paper, erasers and folders to the 1st Battalion's 30th Infantry, which is serving a 12- to 14-month tour in Iraq.

Students who received the first shipment got "very excited and are extremely happy," wrote Wilkerson, who responded by sending photos of smiling schoolchildren.
Other actions to help Iraqi children are also bearing fruit:
A request for assistance for children in Iraq sent home from a 36th Division soldier has generated overwhelming response, according to a member of his family.

"The response has been almost overwhelming," Charles Snow, the grandfather of SPC Adam Gregory, said Thursday. "We are extremely grateful for all the donations."

Gregory's letter was quoted in a Brownwood Bulletin story published Aug. 6.

A deadline of Friday, Aug. 26 has been set for the donations so they can be boxed for shipment to Iraq.

Gregory has been stationed in Iraq since January, and he said he has a special feeling for the children.

Snow said some donations of adult shoes have been received, but children's items are especially sought. Even used shoes are acceptable, if they are clean. Cash donations will be used to pay postage for shipping.
See the story for details if you can help.

A joint Iraqi-American effort is
also helping children: "Children in a village of Tamim province received school supplies, clothing and toys from the Nahrain Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on providing proper nutrition, decent clothing and medical supplies to Iraqi women and children. The foundation received its supplies as part of a joint effort between American donations and a coalition forces-run program known as 'Operation Provide School Supplies,' which accepts donations from private citizens and corporations in the United States."

And Mennonite Central Committee is helping
Iraqi schoolchildren: "MCC is shipping 4,200 relief kits and 24,000 school kits to Iraq, which continues to be troubled by violence and instability. The relief kits will be distributed to Iraqis who have been displaced to camps by urban warfare, and the school kits will be distributed to children in low-income neighborhoods of Baghdad. The total value of the shipments is $442,000 Cdn./$360,000 U.S."

Louisiana shows that it has a heart:
In bringing a young Iraqi to this country for a critically needed operation, Tulane University's medical center and Louisianians serving in Iraq are showing that this country has a big heart.

An 8-year-old Iraqi boy will undergo surgery at Tulane to repair a hole in his heart.

Operation Mend a Heart was inspired by one of our own, Lt. Col. Mark Matthews of Denham Springs, who recently returned from a nine-month tour of duty in Iraq.

Earlier this year, Matthews, while stationed at U.S. Central Command in Qatar, helped arrange for a 5-year-old Iraqi girl and her father to be transported to this country so she could undergo heart surgery at Maine Medical Center in Portland. The surgery was completed successfully in February.

Matthews' wife, Toni, a surgical nurse, nicknamed that effort "Operation Have a Heart to Save a Heart." It's now evolved into a joint project of the U.S. military, Tulane Hospital and Clinic and Tulane Health Sciences Center.

"It is a project of the heart," Mark Matthews said.
The Chicago Rotarians are also helping:
Ali Ayad is only 9, yet he wears a colostomy bag and has a heart filled with holes. He lives in Baghdad in a single room of a small house shared by 16 other people. He arrived Monday at O'Hare Airport after 25 hours of travel. Yet, many could learn something from Ali, who refused a wheelchair as he walked onto American soil for an operation that could change his life...

Ali and Masuma Hmod, 11 months old, both from Iraq, are in Chicago for surgeries to correct a congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot...

Ali and Masuma are being sponsored by the Rotary Club's Gift of Life program. It helps bring children from developing countries to modern health-care facilities, said Dr. George Harris, a local Rotary official and a pediatrician at Advocate Hope Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn, where the two youngsters' surgeries are to be performed.

The Iraqi-American Association of Illinois was a primary donor for the children's trip. Other donors include Rotary Clubs in Hinsdale and Orland Park and 10 Roman-Catholic churches.

Rotarians donated nearly 500,000 frequent-flier miles to buy tickets for the children and their companions: Ali's aunt, Nadia Murzoq; Masuma's mother and two Iraqi physicians who are accompanying them, Abdul Raheem Daoud and Mohammad Jassim Hassan Ali Nassir.
There will be more help for Iraqi patients, thanks to this initiative:
Next month, an international medical team consisting of 60 specialists in cardiac surgery and the technology of operations' equipments would arrive in Iraq for erecting a field station to conduct such surgeries for several Iraqi citizens who are suffering from heart diseases and the current events are hindering executing such operations.

Sheikh Ali Al Ka'bi, director of the Emirati Red Cross in Iraq, said in a statement that the team would include global surgeons from all over the world and specialists in equipments and anesthesia. The field hospital would be established to execute heart operations in Ibn Al Bitar Hospital in Al Karkh region in Baghdad.
THE COALITION TROOPS: The troops are active on the ground in Diyala province:
Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, Task Force Liberty are working with the people of the Diyala Province to build schools, improve the water supply, pave roads and rebuild their local government.

Coalition Soldiers are providing Iraqis with money to improve their way of life and, in order to ensure projects in the Diyala Province are progressing on schedule, Soldiers conduct routine checks of these sites.

The work the Soldiers are doing is helping to rebuild the city services, said 1st Lt. Jeremy Krueger, civil-military operations officer for Task Force 1-30, and native of Pensacola, Fla.

"I think the projects in our [area of operations] are important," said Krueger. "What we are doing is improving the infrastructure for this whole area that has been torn down over the last several years. It’s helping the population immensely. It is providing new schools for them, new roads, new water projects, water supplies that they have never had and also some of the projects are businesses that are going to provide some revenue for the area."

The unit is still working on developing more projects in order to better the area, said Sgt. Maj. Matthew J. West, civil-military operations sergeant major for Task Force 1-30 and a native of Dallas, Texas.

We have 83 projects that have been submitted or are currently underway, West said.
According to Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, reconstruction of Fallujah is going well:
Reconstruction is seeing some "amazing" progress, Lynch pointed out.

"Last November, there were significant military operations in (Fallujah)," he said. "By this November we will have completed 438 projects totaling $71.3 million and will continue the progress with an additional 19 projects worth over $65 million after the elections."

The people of Fallujah, he said, have reliable access to electricity and water, and can send their children to one of the 49 schools now open. Fallujans also will soon have their own TV and radio station.
The troops continue to work on important water infrastructure projects:
In Iraq, where even water that comes from the tap could be contaminated with chemicals or sewage seeping into the ground, clean water is the most basic need of people throughout the country.

While there is an adequate supply of bottled water, water for cooking, cleaning and bathing is a precious commodity. In many cases, wells have not been dug deep enough to go below the contaminated ground water.

Under the $18 billion Iraq Reconstruction Program, 184 public works and water projects are planned, including 158 water treatment facilities, two sewage treatment plants and 11 water resource projects. The Corps of Engineers and Project Contracting Office program contracts the work out to local laborers, with the Corps of Engineers Gulf Region District overseeing the construction.
Read about some of the projects currently on the way, for example: "A massive $125 million water treatment plant in Ifraz will pump treated water about 20 miles southeast to the more than 900,000 residents of the city of Irbil."

In other recent
water-related projects financed and overseen by the military:
Officials from [Iraq and the United States] also signed a charter to detail plans to bring much-needed projects to the people of Husseiniya, an agricultural town north of Baghdad whose population boomed during the previous regime. Coalition Forces are working with the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works to build storm drainage projects, water-quality improvements, and most importantly, sewage treatment facilities. The Husseiniya Charter is the first of its kind in the area, and will serve as the test-bed and guide for other projects in impoverished areas in and around Baghdad...

Iraqi workers in Baghdad finished the $3.6M Al Amari Water Distribution project this week. The project can produce approximately 250 cubic meters of potable water daily and service about 2,000 families in the Al Amari and 9-Nissan areas of Baghdad.
The troops are also building roads:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region South District (GRS) has been working on modern asphalt roads in Najaf to facilitate agriculture sales and to provide better routes to village schools and hospitals.

“GRS is currently managing the construction of two village road projects in the Najaf Province,” said Art Bennett, GRS Transportation and Communication Sector project manager. “The roads serve small villages and local industries – in this case, cement and gypsum plants. The second project, or segment, parallels the Euphrates River.”

Bennett said that segment one – the Alhaydariya village road - is about 15 kilometers long and costs $1.2 million. The contract was modified and extended to move power poles away from the shoulder of the road, and to create that shoulder. The modifications also included the shoring up of water pipelines that were unsupported off the side of the road. The additional money is $18,000. He added that the project is 40 percent complete. Total cost of the project with the modifications is $1.3 million.

Segment two, the Al-Cement factory village road, is about seven kilometers long at $337,697. Also modified because of power pole and water pipe issues, the additional allocated money is about $12,000. It is about 38 percent complete. Total cost of the project is about $348,000.

“The intent of these projects is to provide paved roads for everyday use by the local population,” said Bennett.
Work on water infrastructure also continues:
Three governorates will be receive upgrades in treated potable water, according to an announcement August 18 by a team of Iraqi and U.S. government entities.

From the $18.4 billion allocated for the total Iraq Reconstruction Program, about $3 million is budgeted for bringing treated potable water to approximately 25,000 Iraqi citizens in the Dahuk, Babylon and Wassit Governorates. The projects will upgrade 15 systems, each including water wells, compact potable water treatment plants and pumps.

The contracts were competed and awarded to local Iraqi contractors, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) providing quality assurance oversight. Each of the 15 sites will employ approximately 20 Iraqi laborers on a daily basis.

The work will also train local operators on site in the technology and maintenance of the water systems. Completion dates for the 15 projects vary, but all are scheduled to be finished by January 2006.
Army surveyors are also laying groundwork for future reconstruction and infrastructure expansion:
The weight of their body armor combined with the strain of having to lift a jackhammer over their heads makes their arms quiver like jello. Sweat pours down their faces and burns their eyes, but they won’t stop now. They can’t.

One after another, they connect four-foot stainless steel rods together and drive them further below the surface of the earth. Thirteen rods and 52 feet later, the rods refuse to be driven any further.

The engineers assigned to Multinational Corps-Iraq then cover the exposed tip of the rod with a custom access cover and insert a fluorescent orange sign to indicate the location is ready to be surveyed.

The team of U.S. and British Army geodetic surveyors has successfully established another reference point along the road to reconstruction in Iraq, one of many in the first Iraqi Geospatial Reference System that identifies geospatial locations using names or numeric coordinates.

Coalition and Iraqi engineers use the data collected by Iraqi Geospatial Reference System to create accurate maps of Iraq and safely rebuild the country’s roads, bridges and pipelines.

“Establishing a geospatial reference system is the first and most crucial step to reconstructing Iraq,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Motaz Mostafa, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of one of six Multinational Corps-Iraq geodetic survey teams and assigned to the 175th Engineer Company, 20th Engineer Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C.

The joint coalition team began working on the project in April, which is modeled on the National Spatial Reference System in the United States.

Geospatial reference systems have already proven to be quite effective in helping the United States and several other countries in Central and South America, Africa and Eastern Europe recover from natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. War-torn countries like Iraq require the same geospatial reconstruction, said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Kenneth Joyce, Iraqi Geospatial Reference System project leader assigned to the175th Engineer Company.
The troops are working on Iraqi hospitals:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region South District estimates a Dec. 25 completion of a refurbishment and renovation project for the Najaf Maternity Hospital.

Engineers report the $8.2 million project is 30 percent finished.

The project began Oct. 25, 2004.

Renovations include a new sewage system, a new boiler for heating, ceramic tiles throughout all of the renovated portions of the facility and a new residents’ office. A reverse osmosis water treatment plant for the hospital is finished and is ready to be turned over to the hospital. An incineration system is also in the works.

Similar renovations continue at Najaf teaching hospital two kilometers away from the maternity hospital.

The 266-bed hospital continues patient care even while renovations continue.
More about the Maternity Hospital project here. And here's an update on the Teaching Hospital:
From a bloody battlefield and one of the most dangerous places in Iraq to a safe, prosperous and growing community of over one-half million, the Najaf Teaching Hospital reflects the changes of the city of Najaf.

One year ago on August 27 the battle for Najaf ended.

A year ago the Najaf Teaching Hospital was closed. It had been looted and its medical equipment destroyed by the Sadr Militia who had used its eight floors as a military fortress. Its basement flooded, windows and walls riddled with bullet and mortar damage, to many in Najaf, the hospital looked hopeless.

Now the hospital is open, seeing hundreds of patients per day and housing 80 in-patients. It is a training hospital for 200 medical students, 50 pharmacy students, and 100 resident doctors who are looking forward to improved and expanded services.

This is a true success story brought about by a close partnership of Iraqi doctors and a U.S. team of doctors, engineers, project managers, contractors, and Soldiers and U.S Army Corps of Engineers civilians. When finished, the hospital will house a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, have computed tomography (CT) scan services, and have increased specialty surgical services including its first open heart surgical team.

The hospital will employ 1,250 people, in an area where good jobs are hard to come by.
The troops continue to fill in the gaps in medical care by conducting visits to locations with limited access to health care:
U.S. soldiers from the 116th Brigade Combat Team’s Task Force 1-163 Infantry delivered much-needed medical care to the village of Husseinia, Iraq, Aug. 1.

The medical assistance visit was done at the remote village because of the lack of availability of medical care. Many smaller villages in the western portion of Kirkuk Province are far from hospitals and medical clinics.

“The visit was intended to be a mini-(medical assistance visit) but it turned out to be a full-blown (medical assistance visit),” said U.S. Army Capt. Jeff Westfall, the Task Force 1-163 Infantry officer. “We were expecting maybe 30 patients, but we ended up with over 100.”

According to Task Force 1-163 Infantry, some villagers may not see health care professionals for years at a time, making it tough on the community and particularly the young. The task force also credits the success of the visit to the improved security provided by an ever-growing number of Iraqi security forces in the area.
Here's a similar operation in Mosul: "More than 200 Iraqi children received medical screenings from Coalition Forces, with support from Iraqi Police, during an operation Aug. 5 in western Mosul. Soldiers and medics handed out soccer balls and hygiene products to the local children while they conducted the screenings. More than 1,000 children have received medical screenings during this and four similar operations over the last three weeks."

The troops continue to support the reconstruction of the
education system: "Approximately 18,000 Iraqi schoolchildren will sit in freshly refurbished schools when their new school year starts in about six weeks. Iraqi and U.S. government agencies announced Aug. 6 that renovations of 43 schools in the northern and southern provinces are funded for repairs, and contracts have been awarded for the work. As part of the Iraq Relief Reconstruction Fund, over $1.3M was set aside to continue a nationwide school repair program that addresses rehabilitating sanitary facilities, electrical and mechanical systems, and structural repairs to schools in Karbala, Dahuk, Najaf, Basrah, and Qadisiyah."

The 155th Brigade Combat Team, meanwhile, is doing a lot of
community outreach, in addition to its important sucurity work:
The 155th is attached to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and operates in the Karbala, Najaf and Babil provinces of Iraq. Blanton said each unit in the brigade has adopted at least one school in its area of operations and the soldiers distribute school supplies, furniture, medicine and other goods.

The unit's commander, Brig. Gen. Augustus Leon Collins, hopes a pen pal program the unit plans to facilitate for American and Iraqi children will offer a bridge between two diverse cultures.

"I believe it is critical that we expand the horizons of not only Iraqi youth, but American youth as well," he said this past week in an e-mail to The AP. "If we are able to establish a campaign where our children are introduced to theirs, then we will remove the stigmas and bias and possibly develop a bond that will be much stronger than any military or diplomatic action."

In the Karbala Province, members of the 2nd Battalion, 114th Field Artillery of the Mississippi National Guard, which is attached to the 155th, identified a substandard facility that housed orphaned girls.

Lt. Col. Gary E. Huffman said the soldiers teamed with Iraqi security forces to rebuild the orphanage and delivered 50 beds and mattresses, bed linens, clothes and toys.

"The work is continuous and through cooperation, mutual understanding, and robust work efforts Karbala will grow and achieve the success that the citizens and leadership seek," Huffman said.

Collins said projects to rebuild schools and orphanages are imperative because "the future of this nation lies in its youth. What direction this country takes will be determined by them."
It's not just the American troops. Australians have been making a positive contribution in the south of the country:
Local forces being trained by Australian troops in southern Iraq were close to taking over responsibility for security in the area, the new head of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said...

Air Chief Marshal Houston told the Herald Australian troops training Iraqi security forces in the province of Al Muthanna had been very successful and the Iraqis would be ready to take over responsibility for security for the entire province "in the not too distant future".

He also praised another group of 50 Australian soldiers who had trained 750 Iraqi logisticians.

The Australian soldiers in Iraq had an impressive ability to work with the Iraqis because they were "classically Australian", Air Chief Marshal Houston said.

"It's really a very successful model for how successful you can be in training the Iraqis.

"Our ability to engage them man to man - it was very much a male-dominated environment I have to say … It was classically Australian; we weren't carrying any baggage and we had established a very good relationship with them."
Italian soldiers, meanwhile, are protecting Iraq's historical heritage:
Italian troops stationed in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, will provide 125,000 dollars for the restoration of the local museum which has been looted and vandalised since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. "Work will be carried out by an Iraqi company under the surpervision of the Italian military," the museum's director, Abd al-Amir al-Hamdani, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

"Restoration will include the building's first floor, with seven separate exhibition halls, including prehistoric, Sumero-Babylonian, Assyric and Islamic sections, as well as exhibition space on the second floor and the museum's library and the administration offices," al-Hamdani explained.

Italian police are holding a training course in Nasiriya for Iraqi guards who will be in charge of safeguarding their country's museums and archaelogical sites.
Here's more of the Italian assistance: "The Italian contingent of Iraqi multinational forces, based in Dhi Qar region of Nasiriya in southern Iraq will supervise the construction of 60 desalinisation plants for the rural population. The project, financed by donor countries, is needed because of the increase in drinking water salt levels, explained Ali al-Dajili, an engineer coordinating the project between the Italian forces and the provincial council. Works will start in a month, he specified... The desalinisation plants, designed by Italian army's engineers, will be built in specific areas along the Euphrates river which will be determined by the provincial council."

new opinion poll has been conducted between July 12 and 17 in Baghdad, Basrah, Salah Ad-Din, Najaf, Diyala and Irbil, with more than 1,200 Iraqis participating:
An overwhelming number of Iraqis say there is no justification for attacks on Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces or Iraqi public service infrastructure. A total of 94 percent of Iraqis say there is no excuse for attacks on Iraqi security forces, 97 percent say there is no justification for attacking civilians, and 97 percent are against attacks on infrastructure.

The percentages slip when it comes to disapproval of violence against Iraqis working with the coalition and attacks against coalition personnel. A total of 81 percent of those polled are against attacks against Iraqis working with the coalition, with 12 percent saying there is justification for the attacks and 7 percent with no opinion.
One negative of the poll: "Half of those polled said there was no excuse for attacks against coalition personnel, while 40 percent said there is a justification and 10 percent saying they don't know."
Iraqis are proud of their security forces - a sea change from the way most regarded the forces under Saddam Hussein. The poll shows 75 percent of Iraqis say their security forces are winning the fight against anti-government forces. Iraqis regard the security forces as representing the nation and not just one group (77 percent), and 73 percent of those polled believe the Iraqi police and military work within the law and respect the rights of the people.

Almost 80 percent of those surveyed said the sooner that Iraqi forces maintain security, the sooner coalition forces can leave.

The poll showed some Iraqi misperceptions, officials said. A total of 64 percent of those surveyed said anti-government forces come mostly from other countries. Coalition officials said most anti-government terrorists are Iraqis.

Finally, 62 percent of the Iraqis surveyed said the security situation in Iraq has gotten "much better" ( 16 percent ) or "somewhat better" ( 46 percent ) in the past three months. Twenty percent of those surveyed said the security situation was "somewhat worse" and 14 percent said the security situation was "much worse" than three months ago.
Western Iraq has seen more "red on red" violence:
Rising up against insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Ramadi fought with grenade launchers and automatic weapons Saturday to defend their Shiite neighbors against a bid to drive them from the western city, Sunni leaders and Shiite residents said. The fighting came as the U.S. military announced the deaths of six American soldiers.

Dozens of Sunni members of the Dulaimi tribe established cordons around Shiite homes, and Sunni men battled followers of Zarqawi, a Jordanian, for an hour Saturday morning. The clashes killed five of Zarqawi's guerrillas and two tribal fighters, residents and hospital workers said. Zarqawi loyalists pulled out of two contested neighborhoods in pickup trucks stripped of license plates, witnesses said.

The leaders of four of Iraq's Sunni tribes had rallied their fighters in response to warnings posted in mosques by followers of Zarqawi. The postings ordered Ramadi's roughly 3,000 Shiites to leave the city of more than 200,000 in the area called the Sunni Triangle. The order to leave within 48 hours came in retaliation for alleged expulsions by Shiite militias of Sunnis living in predominantly Shiite southern Iraq.

"We have had enough of his nonsense," said Sheik Ahmad Khanjar, leader of the Albu Ali clan, referring to Zarqawi. "We don't accept that a non-Iraqi should try to enforce his control over Iraqis, regardless of their sect -- whether Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs or Kurds."
Iraqi authorities are at the moment holding 281 foreign nationals in connection with terrorist activities: "In a press conference, [Leith Kabba, spokesman for the Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al Ja'fari] said, 'Until now, the number of foreign detainees involved in charges that are related, in a way or another to terrorism, is 281.' Kabba pointed out, 'They are from Egypt (80), Syria (64), Sudan (41), Saudi Arabia (22), Jordan (17), Libya (7), Palestine (10), Algeria (7), Tunisia (6), Turkey (4), Iran (12), Qatar (2), and Britain (1), in addition to other countries. He added, "Most of the reporting about those came on behalf of citizens'."

Sadr City is now safer and better:
Patrols by U.S. and Iraqi Army Soldiers have resulted in safer streets for the citizens of Sadr City.

The once hotly-contested area is now patrolled by troops from B Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

On July 28 the Soldiers performed a neighborhood patrol designed to allow the Soldiers to become acquainted with their new neighborhood.

“It’s a lot of work, getting to know a new sector – we gather intel on terrorist operations, assess how receptive the locals are to our presence and develop informants,” said 1st Lt. Jason Schwab, platoon leader. “We try and impress upon them that it’s in their best interests to help us, because the people who kidnap and extort them are the same ones planting bombs in the roads.”

During the patrol, Schwab stopped at the Al-Kanasa Police Station and spoke with a warrant officer about the neighborhood.

“The people we talk to in the neighborhood have been pretty helpful and want things to get better in Sadr,” said Sgt. Lee Minyard. “They’re starting to realize we’re here to help them.”

Minyard pulled security throughout the patrol, which took the dismounted infantrymen through the streets and alleys of Sadr.

“We tell people that it’s up to them to make a difference in their communities,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Brisley, section leader. “They’re so used to relying on one leader to make all the decisions, but they’re gradually taking the initiative.”
And so is the once infamous Haifa Street, thanks to the Iraqi security forces now in control of the area:
Soldiers called it the "Street of Death" and "Purple Heart Boulevard," a 3-mile-long residential corridor in central Baghdad that had become a shooting gallery for insurgents. In 2004 alone, Haifa Street, once a coveted address for the middle class, was the bloody site of more than 400 attacks on American and Iraqi security forces. Many residents on the most troubled blocks fled their homes, some of which were promptly commandeered as rebel sniper roosts.

An American-Iraqi military campaign begun last year to retake the street seemed to bear fruit as insurgents were captured, killed or driven out of the area. And on Feb. 6 the American command handed over a cut of north-central Baghdad, including Haifa Street, to the 1st Brigade, 6th Division, of the Iraqi army. This transfer made the 1st Brigade the first and only Iraqi army unit to have control of its own battle space and put it on the leading edge of the Bush administration's plan to have Iraqi forces take responsibility for the country's security.

The good news for American officials, in a war where territorial gains have been elusive, is that the Iraqi troops have not lost ground on Haifa Street. Since the 1st Brigade took control, there have been only three terrorist attacks along the street, and those came in the first three weeks, commanders say.
Italians, meanwhile, are finding that there has been a great improvement in security situation around Nasiriyah:
The Italians have overseen about $50 million worth of projects in Dhi Qar province, most of them related to water or medical services because the hospital is one of the most important in southern Iraq.

The lesson from Nasiriyah, [Lt. Col. Danico] Presta and [Capt. Fabio] Pacelli said, is that things can change for the better in Iraq, and can seem to do so all at once. The improvement happens when security is good enough that reconstruction can take root and the people can see improvement in their life. That begets more cooperation, and more willingness to turn in spoilers and therefore even more security. It's a formula that is being attempted all across Iraq with varying levels of success.

Iraq's reconstruction is not progressing on a linear path. It is a delicate balance that once achieved and allowed to mature, can yield results. The trick is lining up all the components.

One of the unique components in Dhi Qar was the establishment two months ago of a 17-member reconstruction committee separate from the political leaders in the province. The committee comprises university professors, health care professionals, sheiks and engineers. No improvement project is undertaken without the permission of the council, which sets the priorities. Presta believes that sense of local control is a key to success.
Generally in the south of the country:
The British Royal Marine in charge of coalition operations in southeastern Iraq is optimistic about ongoing efforts there to train Iraqi army and police forces to eventually assume security duties.

"We have been able to force ahead with the main effort, which is security sector reform," Maj. Gen. Jim Dutton, commander of Multinational Division Southeast, told Pentagon reporters via a video link from Basra.

Dutton's 13,000-plus-troop multinational command is made up of 7,900 British troops, 3,000 Italians, 640 Australians, 622 Romanians, 562 Japanese, 388 Danes, 97 Czechs, 33 Lithuanians, five Norwegians, and two Portuguese.

Those troops, along with Iraqi army and police forces, are charged with providing security for four southeastern Iraqi provinces, which make up an area half the size of Great Britain. Dutton's area of operations contains the cities of Nasiriyah, Basrah, and Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-water port...

The general said he remains "confident that southeastern Iraq will continue to develop."

"There is a real enthusiasm here for the democratic process, and there was a very high turnout" for the January 2005 election, he said.

Dutton said there is "no shortage of volunteers" who want to join the new Iraqi army, noting there are now about 5,500 Iraqi soldiers in his sector. That number is expected to increase to 9,000 soldiers next year, he said.

The new Iraqi police are receiving good training at academies in Jordan or Baghdad, Dutton said. There are about 25,000 police in southeastern Iraq, he said, more than 14,000 of whom have received training.
And security is also improving in the north-western Ninweh province:
Progress is evident in that more than 60 election registrations sites have opened on time. That has been possible through the combined efforts and partnership of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, provincial governments and Iraqi security forces, [Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of Multinational Force Northwest and Task Force Freedom] said.

Gains also are being made despite the insurgents' ongoing attempts to accomplish their objective of "destroying the Iraqi nation and the people," he said. Since the election held in January, for example, 62 mid- to high-level terrorist leaders have been captured or killed in Nineveh province alone, including 44 since early May...

Insurgents' attempts to use improvised explosive devices to their advantage also have been reduced, Rodriguez said. Over the last three months the number and effectiveness of insurgent IEDs is down by about 20 percent, he noted. The general attributes this to Iraqi and coalition forces' better operations conduct, disruption of insurgent senior leadership, less complex IED devices and more local tips. The seizing of several large caches of bomb-making materials also has contributed to that decrease.
Najaf province, meanwhile, is reporting a 90 per cent decline in crime over the July and August period.

The "Iraqization" of security will be the key to the future of the country - and to the Coalition withdrawal. To that end, training of Iraqi army and police continues. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, recently spoke about the
successes - and challenges - of training Iraqi troops:
"I believe that Iraqis will save Iraq," he told CNN in an interview and said the United States has helped Iraqis help themselves.

"I think that over the course of the past 15 months or so there has been enormous progress in doing just that," he said.

He said Iraqis and the Americans need to work together.

"There's a great deal still to be done," he said, "and it is a long-term endeavor that will require persistence, patience and resilience because the enemy is going to do everything that he can over the next several months to derail the constitutional process and then derail the elections in mid-December."

Petraeus has said more than 110 Iraqi police and army combat battalions are "in the fight" -- a total of 178,000 trained and equipped forces -- a vast increase since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Pentagon officials, quoted in an August news article on the Defense Department Web site, said "this time last year, only one battalion was trained and equipped well enough to assist coalition forces."

While $2 billion has been invested in bolstering Iraqi security force infrastructure, more needs to be done, Petraeus said, such as establishing logistics and combat service capabilities and building an air force.
First batch of Iraqi soldiers has finished their training in Great Britain:
The first Iraqi soldiers to be trained for the country's new security force by the British Army in the UK have taken part in a passing-out parade.

Thirty-five National Guardsmen spent the last three months at the Infantry Battle School in Brecon, mid Wales.

They have been trained in military planning and strategy in the hope that Iraqis will eventually take over the Allies' peacekeeping role.

The guardsmen will start to instruct other Iraqi recruits on their return.

The course, based around British Army junior leadership training, took place in both Arabic and English and was said to be tailored for the demands of working in Iraq.
More courses are on the way. See also this profile:
Under Saddam Hussein's regime, Durgar Jassim was a member of the Republican Guard's 10th Armoured Division, which fought against the British south of Baghdad. Yesterday, two years later, he was on the parade ground with his former enemy as one of 35 junior officers and non-commissioned officers from the Iraqi army who had completed a training course at the Infantry Battle School in Brecon, central Wales.

Capt Jassim, 29, a soldier for 12 years, said that training with men he had once fought was not a problem. "We are not political persons; we are military professionals," he said through an interpreter.

The newly-qualified instructors, who marched to Arabic commands at their passing-out parade, will return to Baghdad at the weekend to train the new generation of security forces.
And a young Iraqi officer, who for security reasons chose to remain anonymous as Officer Mohammed, received the Overseas Sword, the award for the outstanding foreign cadet at Britain's Sandhurst military academy.

There is also
training of trainers: "In Taji, Iraqi soldiers completed a Strategic Infrastructure Battalion "train-the-trainer" course. The 90 graduates will go on to serve as instructors at an Iraqi Army training base. A class of future Iraqi army noncommissioned officers graduated from their primary leadership development course on Aug. 15 in Tikrit. Iraqi army unit training also included combat lifesaving, staff training, computer skills and weapons training."

In other training firsts: "The 1st Iraqi Army Brigade implemented Iraq's
first noncommissioned officers academy this week. Iraqi soldiers from the most recent class were the last group to be instructed by the U.S. soldiers who had developed the training. During Saddam's regime, an NCO corps did not exist in the Iraqi army. The class will now be taught by NCOs from the 1st Iraqi Army Brigade, who assisted earlier courses."

air force is also rebuilding:
Now the site, 375 km southeast of Baghdad and once Saddam Hussein's centre of air operations against Iran during the 1980-1988 war - is home to Air Force Squadron 23 and its three C-130 Hercules transport planes.

The US-donated planes are the backbone of Iraq's new air force, which also includes a dozen light reconaissance planes and another dozen helicopters spread across the country. Officials are vague on numbers for security reasons.

Currently, 109 Iraqi students - all air force veterans with years of experience - are learning how to maintain and fly the Hercules fleet. The youngest trainee is 30. Others appear twice that age.

In police news, "the Iraqi Police Service graduated 239 police officers from advanced and specialty courses at the Adnan Training Facility August 18, according to the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team."

Fresh from training, more and more Iraqi security forces are coming onboard and taking on responsibilities around the country. One of the new Iraqi units has been
making a difference in north-western Iraq:
The U.S. military has achieved major success in developing and training an Iraq Army battalion.

U.S. officials said the success in the training and deployment of the 1st Battalion of the 1st Brigade was demonstrated in operations in the Mosul area. The reconstituted battalion, part of the 3rd Iraqi Army Division, has operated its own personnel, intelligence and logistics sections.

"This battalion is undoubtedly one of the best in Tall Afar," Capt. Greg Mitchell, a U.S. company commander, said. "It can maneuver on its own without American support. If it's going to take control of the city, they'll require more training and assistance, but they've made great progress."

The success of the battalion was cited for the unraveling of the Al Qaida network led by Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi. Since May 2005, Iraqi forces such as the 1st Battalion have played a major role in capturing senior Al Qaida commanders in the Mosul area.
Iraqi Navy is also slowly starting to make a difference: "The Iraqi Coast Guard had a busy and successful month of operations in July, according to their monthly operational reporting to the Ministry of Interior. According to the report, the Iraqi Coast Guard searched 183 barges and vessels in July, with 11 of these searches resulting in the discovery of illegal documentation. In addition, 60 tons of illegal fuel were confiscated along with AK-47 automatic rifles, ammunition and fuel pumps. Six people were detained during the operations."

Overall, by mid-August,
100 per cent of the brigade level operations in Iraq were conducted jointly by the Coalition and the Iraqi forces.

another first in the south: "Coalition forces turned over Camp Zulu in As Suwayrah, Iraq, to the Iraqi Army Aug. 21. This is the first coalition forces camp within the Multi-National Division Central’s South area of responsibility to be turned over to Iraq’s 8th Division. The division’s 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade will be permanently housed there." American forces have also withdrawn from two bases in Najaf area.

Security infrastructure continues to be created, like these facilities for the
police: "Construction started on a Police Facilities project in the Samarra District of Salah Ad Din Province. This 250-officer station in the northeast part of Samarra, which is a $4.3M investment, will provide a presence in the city to help stabilize law and order. The contractor employs 25 Iraqi workers, and the project is scheduled for completion in November."

There is
more: "A patrol station in the Karkh district of Baghdad province was completed, as was a $390,300 border-post project on the Saudi Arabian border. A division headquarters building for the Iraqi Army in Salah Ad Din province was also completed this week. The $7 million project includes a single-story building with a concrete roof and interior office space to accommodate the unit. Additionally, a $2 million firing range in Taji was completed this week."

Read also about the work of the
94th Engineer Battalion which has been doing much work on upgrading security infrastructure around Mosul and in the western Iraq.

There is also smaller scale assistance: "The Coalition's Multi-National Division Central-South (MND CS) gave
seven cars to Iraqi Police in the southern city of Ad Diwaniyah August 16. The MND CS Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) team made the transfer possible."

In stories of security cooperation from the locals:

"Local citizens in the city of Hit gave Iraqi soldiers
the location of an IED that they said three anti-Iraq force operatives had planted earlier in the day {August 9]";

"Iraqi soldiers were led to a
weapons cache in Fallujah while on a dismounted security patrol Aug. 10. Soldiers with 3rd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Intervention Force, located followed instructions to the cache from a local Iraqi. The cache consisted of four rocket-propelled grenade launchers, three machine guns, 22 RPG rounds, one rocket, two rifle grenades, RPG fin assemblies, one bag of ammunition, one can of .303 ball/tracer mix, one can of armor piercing/tracer mix, one timing device and one battery. They detained three suspected insurgents";

Thanks to information from local residents,
ten suspects were arrested and three weapons caches seized by Task Force Baghdad soldiers on August 13;

On August 14, three insurgents were
arrested and weapons confiscated in the town of Hit by Iraqi soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Intervention Force, and U.S. Marines from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, following a tip from a local citizen;

"Based on
two separate tips from Iraqis, coalition forces discovered weapons caches that contained rocket-propelled grenades and two launchers, 16 mortar rounds and a launcher, and five boxes of anti-aircraft ammunition hidden in northwest Baghdad. Another tip led coalition forces to a large cache of artillery shells in the early hours of Aug. 16. The shells apparently were intended for use as improvised explosive devices. The 25 to 30 individual rounds, located inside a building within Anbar province, were destroyed after security forces confirmed there was no one in the building. After a local Iraqi identified his neighbors as insurgents, Iraqi soldiers and coalition forces conducted a joint cordon-and-search operation in northwest Fallujah and detained two suspects";

"Coalition forces
captured a known Al Qaeda-in-Iraq member, two suspected terrorists and destroyed a terrorist sanctuary, weapons and equipment near Al Asad Aug. 23. Acting on tips from local Iraqis, Coalition forces raided the hide-out and confirmed that the location was being used by the terrorist to facilitate weapons and vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) operations. After he was captured, the Al Qaeda-in-Iraq member provided information about related terrorist activity in the area. Based upon this information, Coalition forces captured two suspected terrorists. Coalition forces also captured and destroyed a VBIED and two weapons caches consisting of mortars, rockets and rocket propelled grenades";

In other recent security successes:

Several roadside bombs discovered and disarmed by Iraqi troops throughout the country on August 9 and 10; in Balad, Baqubah, Raway and Tikrit; more details here;

Several suspected terrorists were detained and numerous weapons caches were seized in military operations west of Balad Aug. 10... During raids of suspected terrorist safe houses in Salah Ad Din province, Task Force Liberty soldiers detained one individual and uncovered three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, nine RPG rounds, a mortar tripod, several rifles and two hand grenades. About 20 pounds of bulk explosives were also found at the site. In other action, after taking small-arms fire, task force soldiers returned fire, killing one insurgent and wounding another during a raid in Ad Duluiyah. The task force also detained six individuals and confiscated several rifles, a bulletproof vest, two RPGs, seven RPG rounds, multiple grenades and a 130 mm projectile";

"Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers
squelched a terrorist attack on a patrol base in southwest Baghdad Aug. 11 when terrorists fired five rocket-propelled grenade rounds at the base, along with 10 minutes of rifle fire. A patrol consisting of Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers set out in the direction of the attack and captured six of the attackers and a weapons cache of two RPGs and three rifles with ammunition hidden nearby";

Muhammad Salah Sultan, also known as Abu Zubair,
an aide to Al Zarqawi, killed in Mosul on 12 August; more here;

"Task Force Baghdad soldiers...
thwarted attacks and captured suspects Aug. 12. Three separate combat operations in northern and southern Baghdad resulted in the capture of six terror suspects and the seizure of a car bomb before terrorists could use it";

The raid in Mosul on 12 August, which discovered an insurgent facility containing
1500 gallons of 11 different chemical substances;

In Abayachi and Fallujah, "Iraqi Army soldiers
detained several suspected insurgents and seized weapons during operations on Aug. 13";

Task Force Baghdad soldiers
prevented three car bomb attacks in a space of five hours in southern Baghdad on August 13; they also captured ten suspects and recovered two weapons caches;

"In northern Iraq, Task Force Freedom detained
21 terrorist suspects in Mosul Aug. 13-14 in several separate operations by Multi-National Forces and Iraqi Security Forces";

On August 14, Iraqi and American troops in Hit
disarmed a roadside bomb, located an arms cache in Mosul, and found more weapons and arrested eight suspects in Baghdad;

Five large improvised explosive devices on major Baghdad highways were identified by Task Force Baghdad Soldiers Aug. 14 and then safely destroyed before they could hurt anyone";

In mid August, "Iraqi Police Service officers in the New Baghdad district conducted a variety of operations, including
raids involving over 450 officers. Police confiscated 30 AK-47 rifles, two hand guns and a machine gun during the raids. They also arrested 30 suspected terrorists, three of whom were targeted in the raids";

On August 16, "Thi Qar province police announced that they
foiled a plan to blow up the electricity station of Nasiriya in southern Iraq, which is the second biggest station in Iraq. The police found Katiosha rockets pointed at the station and they defused them seconds before they were to launch";

cache discovered by Iraqi troops under a vehicle in Rawah; "The cache contained two light machine guns and 3,000 rounds of ammunition, nine AK-47 rifles and 500 rounds of ammunition, a NATO machine gun and 200 rounds of ammunition, four concussion grenades, one fragmentary grenade without fuses, and various other ammunition";

"Iraqi soldiers and coalition Special Forces advisers
killed three terrorists in a combined raid on a kidnapping cell southeast of Fallujah on Aug. 19... Soldiers found numerous weapons and bomb-making materials in the house";

"Task Force Liberty Soldiers
stopped a pair of improvised explosive device attacks and detained four individuals in north-central Iraq Aug. 20. Soldiers in a combat logistics patrol near Balad Ruz observed two adults and a child digging a hole for an IED at about 6:15 p.m. The three individuals were detained and Soldiers seized the IED. The two adults were taken to a Coalition Forces base for questioning and the child was released to his family. The IED consisted of two 130mm artillery rounds and was destroyed. Later, a combat patrol near Tikrit caught two individuals digging near a previous IED blast hole at 7:30 p.m. and took the suspects in for questioning";

The arrest by the Kurdish authorities of 11 members of an Ansar al Islam
terrorist cell plotting the assassination of the Kurdish leader Mas'ud Al Barzani;

All in
one day's work on August 21: six suspects captured and weapons confiscated in Haditha, two roadside bombs and a weapons cache found in Hawija and Mugdadiyah, three other roadside bombs defused by Iraqi forces throughout the country, three weapons caches retrieved in Samarra, three suspects captured in Rawah and another nine in the north, eight captured in Khalidiyah together with bomb making equipment, and nine other suspects arrested throughout the country by Iraqi forces;

"Iraqi police were inspecting a truck hauling ice in the New Baghdad area when officers uncovered
20 rockets concealed beneath the ice. The rockets were intended for an attack against a government ministry... In other developments, Iraqi police officers on patrol discovered 32 mortar rounds and 20 rockets in two separate incidents in Baghdad Aug. 21".

One day, Maj Leahy might open a newspaper and not get frustrated – but until such time he, and his family and friends, will have to keep on reading “The Opinion Journal”.


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