Saturday, January 22, 2005

Saturday reading 

The Dems react to Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration speech. Powerline has a wonderful alternative history.

Iraq the Model responds to the Boxer smear.

Ali at Free Iraqi brings to your attention another positive opinion poll from Iraq.

The old Middle Eastern hand, John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia thinks this is the best opinion piece about the Iraqi election.

Speaking of Iraqi election - Decision '08 thinks it's time to ask the opponents of war to choose sides.

Athena at Terrorism Unveiled gives us excerpts from her larger work on the effects of Arab media on public opinion.

Bill Roggio notes that the "New York Times" once again can't bring itself to use the "t" word.

Transatlantic Intelligencer blogs about Hillary Clinton and the Trouble with 'Minority Rights'.

Clive Davis brings to your attention a nice BBC piece about Iraqi bloggers.

Pundit Guy slams Peggy Noonan.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Bad news from Iraq 

Updated - see at the bottom of the post.

Being avid consumers of news, most of us are aware of the consistent stream of negative reporting coming out of Iraq. Death, violence, terrorism, precarious political situation, problems with reconstruction and public frustration (both in Iraq and America) dominate, if not overwhelm, the mainstream media coverage and commentary on Iraq. The readers' reactions to my fortnightly "Good news from Iraq" segments show just how little good news reaches people.

But it's one thing to have a gut feeling about media negativity and another to know exactly how negative the coverage is. So today I decided to do a little tally.

Friday, 21 January (Australian time) is an average day as far as Iraq is concerned.
Google news indexes the following negative stories concerning Iraq:

2,642 stories about Condi Rice's confirmation hearings, in the context of grilling she has received over the Administration's Iraq policy

1,992 stories about suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks

887 stories about prisoner abuse by British soldiers

2,345 stories about President Bush's inauguration, in the context of the President failing to mention the word "Iraq" in his speech, or indeed discuss the war

216 stories about hostages currently being held in Iraq

761 stories reporting on activities and public statements of insurgents

357 stories about the anti-war movement and the dropping public support for involvement in Iraq

182 stories about American servicemen killed and wounded in operations

217 stories about concerns for fairness and validity of Iraqi election (low security, low turnout, etc.)

107 stories about civilian deaths in Iraq

123 stories noting Vice President Cheney's admission that he had underestimated the task of reconstruction

219 stories about possible military action against Iran

24 stories about tense relations with Syria

118 stories about complicated and strained relations between the US and Europe

121 stories discussing the possibility of American pullout

27 stories about sabotage of Iraqi oil infrastructure

660 stories about prosecutions in the Oil for Food scandal

Then we have 123 stories - ostensibly neutral - about details of current troop deployments and movements. I write "ostensibly" because among that number there are numerous stories about deserters or soldiers refusing orders.

Finally we come to positive news:

311 stories about voter registration for Iraqis overseas. Even here we have to be cautious as significant number of these stories comment on "disappointingly" low numbers registering.

16 stories about security successes in the fight against insurgents

7 stories about positive developments relating to elections

73 stories about the return to Iraq of stolen antiques.

If the media coverage was war, the good guys would be getting slaughtered. Well,
maybe the media coverage is war...

Update: Thanks for all the comments, both in support and against. A few quick points:

1) some objected that the Inauguration skewed the results of my survey. I have been following news coverage closely, on a daily basis, for the past few months as part of compiling my "Good news from Iraq" segment, and I can tell you that the results would be roughly similar any other day;

2) yes, many stories are "duplicates" of wire reports from AP, Reuters and others, but that's precisely the point: if a negative story from the AFP is picked up by hundreds of newspapers around the world then the story's penetration of the global news market is much greater than another story published in just one local newspaper. This, by the way, cuts both ways: if a wire service writes a positive story that gets syndicated world-wide (in fact most of the 73 positive stories above about the return of stolen treasures are such duplicates) - except that it's quite rare for a news wire service to have a good news story;

3) many good news stories, indexed on Google News, mostly about security or reconstruction successes are not even news articles as such but press releases, which rarely get picked up by journalists.

4) Derek Rose defends the mainstream media from the charge of "aiding and abetting" the enemy leveled at it by Col Tim Ryan (the last link in the original post above).


Friday reading 

Labour Friends of Iraq demolish the maverick ex-Labour pol George Galloway and his support for Iraqi "resistance."

Blithering Bunny notes that Sydney Uni is
hosting an unrepentant terrorist.

Idle Fellows watch an interesting documentary about
September 11 conspiracy theories.

John Hawkins announces the results of the bloggers' poll of the most - and the least - preferred
Republican presidential nominees for 2008.

Chuck Simmins continues to update his
"Stingy List" of private American donations to the tsunami relief - now at $686,982,534.

Zell Miller talks about Iraq, Vietnam and the 2004 election (hat tip: Melissa).

Eric Cowperthwaite is back and blogging about his experiences as a
Cold War soldier.

Crossroads Arabia notes that an American judge
cleared Saudi Arabia and various Saudi nationals in a S11 civil law suit.


The inauguration blues 

The inauguration. Wish I was there. Not the event itself - the anti-Bush rallies. They sound like tons of fun.

"Armed with signs reading: 'It's not a mandate when you cheat' and '51 per cent is not a mandate', thousands of protesters turned out for demonstrations..."
That seems like pretty tough onus to satisfy. You cheat to get 51% of the vote so you can get a democratic mandate, but after you get there you're told that 51% is not a mandate either. What is a mandate? I'm not sure, but if it's not 51% then 49% sounds even less like it.

"Bill Hollenshead, a 45-year-old accountant from Pennsylvania attending the DC Anti-War Network's protest, said he came to Washington to 'show Bush that not everyone agrees with him, because he doesn't seem to understand that'."
Having just directly participated in the presidential election, I'm sure that Bush has some inkling of that. There was that Kerry fellow, for starters, who disagreed. OK, at least on occasions. And then there were...

"Mr Hollenshead said he was not a traditional activist, but he decided to take part in the protest because 'I'm against everything that Bush is for and I'm for everything that he's against'."
President Bush is against cutting off children's ears with chainsaws. He's also not a great fan of peeing in your soup. Oh, and he is not in favor of executing Mr Hollenshead. Over to you, Mr Hollenshead.

"Garrett Meigs, 23, of Ithaca, New York, said he came to Washington to 'show the rest of the world that many Americans are opposed to the Bush agenda'."
Sadly, having been delayed in traffic, Garrett Meigs missed the election by two and a half months.

" 'I can't believe people of my generation allowed for this to happen again,' said Kathy Liggett, 52, of Indiana, recalling the Vietnam War era. Ms Liggett, whose son is a marine stationed in Fallujah, slammed the conflict in Iraq as an 'unjustified war', sporting a button saying 'Bush lied; people died' and holding a sign reading 'Iraq: Arabic for Vietnam'."
Actually, Iraq is ancient Persian for Lesser Iran.


"A small group of Bush supporters who had entered the park, only to be shoved out by demonstrators, shouted 'Four more years', waving four fingers in the air as they left."
Could this be the same incident as this?

"When the Bush supporters arrived, about 20 black-clad, self-described anarchists emerged from the crowd, shouting profanity and epithets and demanding that they leave the peace rally.

"When the Bush supporters refused to leave, the anarchists tore the sign out of the Bush supporters' hands and stomped on them. When ProtestWarrior leader Gil Kobrin objected, several male anarchists knocked him to the ground, kicking him in the back and punching him. Other anarchists punched and shoved Kobrin's 12 colleagues.

"After D.C. Antiwar Network members broke up the fight, the Bush supporters heeded their order to leave the park."
Anarchist: Arabic for idiot.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Freedom versus devil 

Two messages delivered today to millions of people on the opposite sides of the world. Different audiences, different topics, yet both hopeful and encouraging in their own ways.

"The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands... The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world... Freedom. This is a cause that unites our country and gives hope to the world... We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom, and America will always be faithful to that cause."
And the other:
"The greatest affliction to strike the nation of Islam came from some of its own sons, who were lured by the devil... They have called the nation infidel, they have shed protected blood and they have spread vice on earth, with explosions and destruction and killing of innocents... Because Muslims have strayed from moderation, we are now suffering from this dangerous phenomenon of branding people infidels and inciting Muslims to rise against their leaders to cause instability... The reason for this is a delinquent and void interpretation of Islam based on ignorance ... faith does not mean killing Muslims or non-Muslims who live among us, it does not mean shedding blood, terrorising or sending body parts flying."
The first quote comes, of course, from president Bush's inauguration speech; the second from a sermon by Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudeis, the preacher at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, addressing some 2 to 2.5 million pilgrims during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Amen to both.


Thank you 

As you might remember, in the first half of December last year, this blog - together with many others - participated in the fundraising drive by Spirit of America. I thought I might let the Spirit's Jim Hake let you all know the results:
"I want to thank you for participating in the Friends of Iraq Blogger Challenge. The Challenge raised $93,869 for Spirit of America and projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is OUTSTANDING, just wonderful. I know the benefits of your efforts extend well beyond the direct funds contributed via the Challenge. Overall, in December we received $409,133 in donations. I'm sure many of those donors learned about us and were inspired to give because of you and your fellow bloggers...

"I know it's a bit of a cliché but it's true: the point of this was getting a group of us working together toward a common aim and to have some fun doing it. The 'winners' are not the point. That said, we've allowed a month for checks to come in and be processed. Here are the official, final results:

Northern Alliance: $12,293
Castle Argghhh! Fighting Fusileers for Freedom: $7,305
Team Pajamahadeen - Operation Viral Freedom: $5,060
TTLB EcoTeam: $1,837
Lizardoid Nation: $1,180

Iraq the Model: $17,240
Little Green Footballs: $16,706
Roger Simon: $11,192
Adventures of Chester: $2,163
Chrenkoff: $1,485 (go Aussies!)"
These are Jim's words, by the way, not mine. On my behalf, I would once again like to thank all of you who kindly donated through Chrenkoff for your generosity and support. These are some of the great programs that your and everyone else's money is going to:
"We've been helping the team at Friends of Democracy with their project to provide countrywide, ground-level news and information on Iraq's upcoming elections. The goal is to provide a more complete picture of Iraq's elections from the perspective of the Iraqi people. This effort is a direct result of the funds you helped raise in December. Your support made this possible.

"Friends of Democracy is creating a grassroots correspondent network that they expect will provide information about the elections from Iraq's 18 provinces. Friends of Democracy is also seeking information from the people of Iraq via blogs and email. This part of the project is described here.

"The information coming from Iraq will be gathered and published in Arabic using the Arabic blogging tool Spirit of America developed and provided to Friends of Democracy. More on that here.

"The election information from Iraq - reports, photos and hopefully some video - will be available on the Web and will be presented at the National Press Club in Washington on Sunday, January 30 after the polls close in Iraq. We hope C-SPAN will cover the conference. This part of the project is described here.

"We all expect that the major newspapers and networks in the U.S. and elsewhere will focus on the expected violence in certain areas of the country. Friends of Democracy seeks to provide more complete picture. The elections are an historic event. Many Iraqis, Americans, Brits, Aussies and others have died to make them a reality. We think that people deserve more than the standard 'if it bleeds it leads' approach."
But this is but one - albeit the most topical - of great programs that Spirit of America is running on the grass-roots level in Iraq and Afghanistan, helping local people there to help themselves. So thank you once again for your assistance in making a difference.


Another Harry update 

The saga of young prince Harry and his confusing Wehrmacht/SS uniform continues to plod along. In the most bizarre development yet

"Hindus in Britain have launched a campaign to 'redeem' the swastika from its Nazi past and reclaim it as the symbol of life and fortune it once was.

"The swastika is a 5000-year-old symbol that has been used for centuries by Hindus and Buddhists to denote good luck, but because of the Nazis it has come to symbolise hate, anti-Semitism, violence, death and murder...

"Ramesh Kallidai, of the Hindu Forum, is planning pro-swastika awareness workshops for every region of Britain with a large seminar in London."
Fortunately for workers and farmers, no such campaign to reclaim hammer and sickle has to be launched as no one sees need to "redeem" them from their communist past.

Meanwhile, Mark Steyn thinks we have
lost the sense of proportion:

"Worrying about a minor Royal schoolboy's alleged Nazi bent seems something of an indulgence at a time when the neo-Nazis get as many votes in Saxony's elections as Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party; when from Marseilles to Paris, Jews are being attacked and their homes, schools, kosher butchers, synagogues and cemeteries burnt and desecrated in a low-level intifada that's been going on so long the political establishment now accepts it as a normal feature of French life; and when the Berlin police advise Jews not to go out in public wearing any identifying marks of their faith."
In the current climate of opinion it might have been as unwise of prince Harry to wear an Israeli Defence Force uniform, because as we all know "the Israelis are now behaving just like the Nazis did", or an American military uniform for that matter, because, well, Bush=Hitler, end of story.


Another "martyr" 

"A lion from the martyrdom-seeking brigade of the al-Qaeda Group of Jihad in the Land of Two Rivers carried out an attack near the Australian embassy in Baghdad, and a large number of people were injured."
Or translated from the Islamofascist it means that an idiot blew himself up next door to the Australian embassy, outside a building which houses Australia's 120-strong contingent in Baghdad. Two Iraqis were killed and two Australian soldiers were injured.

The Acting Prime Minister John Anderson said the blast
will not change Australia's decision to keep the troops in Iraq. Meanwhile, the commander of Australia's forces in Iraq, Air Commodore Greg Evans, thanked the local assistance:

"From our American coalition allies who were on the spot amazingly quickly rendering crucial assistance... And of course the Iraqi police service was on the spot very quickly doing all the things you'd expect a professional police service to do, cordoning the area, gathering evidence, finding out what had happened. We're very proud of them."


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The New York Times smears Iraqi bloggers 

The mainstream media has disgraced itself again - this time in the form of Sarah Boxer's piece in the "New York Times" about Iraq the Model and its offshoot Free Iraqi.

The same media, which took months to catch on to the Swift Vets for Truth story, and then mostly to merely parrot John Kerry's condemnations rather than investigate the allegations themselves; the same media, which had to be dragged kicking and screaming into covering the Rathergate scandal, because the controversy was started by - God forbid - (right-wing) bloggers; the same media has now built a major quasi-investigative article on the "grassy knoll" theorizing of one minor left-wing blogger and hunches and opinions of his anonymous commenters. Great work.

The smear is nothing knew - the Fadhil brothers (Omar and Mohammed at Iraq the Model, and Ali now at Free Iraqi) must be paid CIA operatives, because as we all know, no "real" Iraqi could possibly support the liberation of their own country by the Americans. I blogged about this sort of ignorant condescension before, but I still see red every time it pop its ugly head - as it does in Boxer's opening paragraph:
"When I telephoned a man named Ali Fadhil in Baghdad last week, I wondered who might answer. A C.I.A. operative? An American posing as an Iraqi? Someone paid by the Defense Department to support the war? Or simply an Iraqi with some mixed feelings about the American presence in Iraq? Until he picked up the phone, he was just a ghost on the Internet."
Boxer at least does interview Ali (but not Omar or Mohammed) to let him put his case across, but even then she can't help herself with this charming ending:
" 'Me and my brothers,' [Ali] said, 'we generally agree on Iraq and the future.' (He is helping his brother Mohammed, who is running on the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party ticket in the Jan. 30 election.) But there is one important difference: 'My brothers have confidence in the American administration. I have my questions.'

"Now that seems genuine."
Now that seems offensive - an Iraqi can only seem "genuine" if he shares the liberal media elite's doubts about the liberation of Iraq. God forbid that anyone could possibly be happy that Saddam's gone and Iraq now has a chance for a better future - such people must obviously be frauds, or better still, frauds on American payroll.

Boxer's article, needless to say, generated a storm of anger on the right side of blogosphere:

Instapundit: "A miserable performance across the board."

Powerline: "[Boxer's piece] demonstrates both the bias and the stunning irresponsibility of the author."

Jeff Jarvis: "Irresponsible, sloppy, lazy, inaccurate, incomplete, exploitive, biased, and -- worst of all -- dangerous, putting the lives of its subjects at risk." Read the whole mega-post.

NZ Bear: "When I telephoned a woman named Sarah Boxer in New York last week, I wondered who might answer. A DNC flack? A hack posing as a journalist? Someone paid by The New York Times to craft hatchet-jobs on Iraqis who dare to express thanks to America for deposing Saddam? Or simply a lazy writer with some confused ideas about fact-checking and objectivity? Until she picked up the phone, she was just a ghost on the page."

Hugh Hewitt: "If [Ali] is not a CIA operative, then there is no defense for Boxer's incredible indifference to the man's safety. If he is, then what's the difference between him and Valerie Plame, except that Plame was never in any danger following publication of her name and affiliation?"

In Boxer's defence, she was not the first one to reveal the brothers' full identity - their surname has been reasonably widely known on the internet for quite some time now. Perpetuating a totally unsubstantiated political smear might not (so we pray) get Omar, Ali and Mohammed into harm's way, but if that's the best that can be said in defence of the "NYT"'s tendentious reporting, then the newspaper of record has sunk even lower than I expected.

The "New York Times": All the "news" that - if you're lucky - might not get you killed, but it's certainly still fit to smear.


Wednesday reading suggestions 

Omar at Iraq the Model writes about boycotting Al Jazeera, and Ali at Free Iraqi reports on the situation in Baghdad.

John Hawkins at Right Wing News has been a busy boy, scoring a short
interview with Dick Morris and providing a Reality-Based Quiz for the liberals.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at the Counterterrorism Blog writes about
the Syrian and Iranian role in Iraqi insurgency.

Geoffrey MG asks from Indonesia:
"Was a CIA agent outed at Ba'asyir court house?"

American Future blogs on
the Israeli-Palestinian face-off.

Michael Cosyns from DownEastBlog blogs about
his trip to Poland - a topic close to my heart.

MEMRI analyses
the clash of the giants: bin Laden versus Sistani (hat tip: Daveed).

Professor Donna M Hughes writes about
defeating the women-haters: "To defeat the world's leading state sponsor of terror, one must understand what keeps them it power. Insight into the role of misogyny hatred of women in the tyranny's ideology and its tactics of social control is the key to ending the reign of terror."


The Chinese chessboard 

Remember those first few months of the George W Bush presidency before September 11? I recall quite well the extensive discussion going on at the "Weekly Standard", among other outlets, about China stepping into the role of America's main global antagonist.

Then Islamofascists flew airliners into World Trade Center.

In those past three and a half years the red panda bear has been pretty quiet. Has China benefited, directly and indirectly, from sitting back and allowing the United States to run maniacally around the world and expend its resources and energy? Taiwan's "China Post"
"At a time when U.S. support is urgently needed for our democracy in the face of growing threats from communist China, new data is pointing toward a shift in the attitudes of ordinary American people following recent world events and U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"According to results of a survey performed by U.S.-based Zogby International on behalf of the Committee of 100, a group of prominent Chinese-Americans, 75 percent of ordinary Americans are opposed to using U.S. military power to defend Taiwan."
Meanwhile, on the western flank: "China is building up military forces and setting up bases along sea lanes from the Middle East to project its power overseas and protect its oil shipments, according to a previously undisclosed internal report prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld."

But let's look at the things from a different perspective,
argues Steve Vincent:
"If you lay a map of oil regions in the Middle East and Asia over one showing American bases and military presence in the War on Terror, you'd find they roughly overlap. Coincidence? Right, and Mullah Omar's the next guest host on SNL. Under the rubric of fighting Al Qaeda, the U.S. has moved assets around the Caspian Sea and into Central and South Asia, where they will eventually serve to check Chinese penetration into those regions in search of oil. America and the PRC are on a collision course similar to Britain and Germany before World War I. What we can hope is that the liberation of Iraq, Afghanistan and (to anticipate my argument) Iran will, in the long run, create good will toward the U.S. and gain us allies in a coming conflict with Beijing."
Actually, the really interesting pastime is not so much projecting the present-day China into the future, but predicting what China will be like in five, ten, twenty or fifty years from now. Yes, some things never change, as realists would want to remind us; great powers have their own national interests which they pursue with a single-minded zeal, and China will always, for example, strive to ensure its energy security. But aside from that, what will the country look like? Will it eventually turn democratic, or at least liberalize more, to be on par with, say, Singapore? Will Chinese people and infrastructure manage to cope with the economic growth? Will there be one China or perhaps several successor states? And then there is the Christian wild card - some estimate that over the next 20 or 30 years between 20 and 30 per cent of Chinese population could be Protestant or Catholic - and currently the 80 or so million of Chinese Christians are already concentrated among the country's elite, and tend to be pro-American and pro-Israel.

When they say "watch this space", it's a pretty large and significant space to watch.


More postcards from Afghanistan 

Major John Tammes of Task Force Eagle at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, better known as "Instapundit's Afghanistan photo correspondent" reports exclusively for Chrenkoff:

I have been both the Executive Officer and the Civil-Military Operations Officer for the base here at Bagram. I have noticed over the past 10 months, that all of our Humanitarian Aid ("HA") missions in our neighborhood have been done with privately donated items. This is significant for a couple of reasons, in my opinion. First, we have had a sustained outpouring of generosity from the folks back home that predates my deployment here and will continue after I leave here. Second, we have not had to spend any time or funds trying to gather what we need to assist some of the local communities here.

We have been running HA to 4 to 6 villages a week lately, and as fast as we take the clothing, blankets, winter jackets, gloves, hats, mittens, hygiene items, and school supplies out, we have been getting even more in donations. It is more than a bit humbling to witness this. I wish there was some way that people at home could understand what a great thing all these churches, civic groups, schools, clubs, fraternal organizations (the Kiwanas from Pennsylvania donated $42,000 that built a school at Qal’eh-ye Nasro for example!) and individuals have done.

Here is an example - this is a picture of one of our HA drops in December 2004, at the village of Kaluta, in Kapisa Province. The boxes are full of clothing, winter jackets, mittens and gloves, food and blankets. Every item you see there was donated by families and friends of the Soldiers, Marines and Airmen that also came along as security and helped load/unload it all.

Posted by Hello

I have a bit of an infatuation with the city of Charikar. It is the capital of Parwan Province and is about 8-9 km from our base. It has a kind of optimistic feel to it. Here's a couple of photos of around town:

The older fellow's shop is a fairly good example of the small variety stores you find all over.

Posted by Hello

Charikar-made knives have a good, "regional" reputation. Note the brass knuckles for sale as well, heh heh.

Posted by Hello

The traditional "brick-lined-hole-in-the-floor-bread-oven" is still everywhere. The bread is pretty good, and cheap too.

Posted by Hello


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Harry update 

Prince Harry could have never imagined the storm of controversy his poor choice of a fancy costume would create. Now comes the news that the European Union might follow the German example and ban Nazi regalia altogether:

"Franco Frattini, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, said he was open to discussing the issue at a Jan. 27 meeting of EU justice ministers. 'It may be worth looking into the possibility of a total ban, a Europe-wide ban,' his spokesman, Friso Roscam Abbing, told reporters Monday. 'Commissioner Frattini shares the general feeling of opprobrium on the use of the swastika and other Nazi symbols'."
Guess what? The ban is only meant to cover swastikas and not hammers and sickles. Surprised? I'm not.

Meanwhile, Neil Clark, a tutor in history and politics at Oxford Tutorial College, argues that
we are making far too much out of the whole incident:

"In the midst of the brouhaha over Prince Harry's choice of costume for a private fancy dress party, it seems that the British are in great danger of losing the one thing which provided them with an important bulwark against the advance of fascism all those years ago - a sense of humour.

"Some would say that the reason the Blackshirts were never a political force in Britain between the wars was that, unlike Germany, the country lacked a burning sense of post-World War I grievance. That may be true, but there is another factor. Oswald Mosley - unlike his fascist counterparts on the continent - never made it big in Britain, because people laughed at him."
While I agree with Clark's general argument about the dangers of Political Correctness going too far, I'm somewhat skeptical of the historical lessons he draws:

"The PC brigade... constantly urges us to take fascism seriously. But if we really want to ensure that the horrors of 60 years ago never happen again, then taking fascism seriously is the last thing we should be doing...

"The swastika is symbolic of the most barbaric crime in the history of mankind. But however horrific the symbol is, it does not mean we can never - in the right circumstances - laugh at it. By laughing at fascists, Nazis and their emblems, we defend ourselves against them...

"As we near the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it's worth remembering that such unspeakable atrocities occurred there not because people had laughed at far-right extremists. They occurred because too many people, a decade earlier, had failed to."
In other words, you scrooge on laughing gas, you will get the real gas instead. Actually, the problem prior to World War Two was not humorlessness but appeasement. It might be comforting - and intellectually titillating - to think that Hitler circa 1936 could have been stopped by twenty crack divisions of clowns and jesters instead of twenty crack French and British divisions. Comforting but wrong and pointless, although it doesn't surprise me that an academic like Clark will consider any method of fighting evil - but the use of force. In fifty years time, I'm sure, someone will write an article how instead of invading Afghanistan we should have made more fun of Osama bin Laden. As the old joke goes, "My father believed that laughter was the best medicine. I guess that's why my brothers and sisters all died of measles and tuberculosis."


Iraq Gothic 

Strange and ill winds are blowing through Mesopotamia and the kommentariat today.

Item 1: "The defense team of the toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein said it has witnesses willing to testify that the former Iraqi president was
not responsible for gassing the Kurdish population in the Iraqi city of Halabja on March 16, 1988."

Says Saddam's chief lawyer Ziad al-Khasawneh: "Those witnesses cannot be challenged in terms of the weight of their testimonies, their persons, positions and connection to the event."

The Kurds must have gassed themselves. Or the Zionists did it.

Item 2: "Iraq's Jan. 30 elections fall on
the 37th anniversary of the Tet offensive, the Vietnam War turning point that could hold lessons for Iraqi insurgents and U.S. policy makers anticipating more violence that could test American resolve."

The actual Reuters piece is broadly accurate, noting as it does that "the Tet offensive... was a heavy defeat for the communist forces in strictly military terms. However, it gave them a psychological and propaganda victory which vividly rebutted the Johnson administration's rosy portrayal of the fighting, broke the will of U.S. political elites, and triggered a steady erosion in American public support for the war."

Now, I wonder, how could have "a heavy defeat" magically transformed itself into "a propaganda victory"?

Reuters anyone?

Item 3: Robert Fisk
doesn't think the reporting from Iraq is negative enough - and he know why:

" 'Hotel journalism' is the only word for it. More and more, Western reporters in Baghdad are reporting from their hotels rather than the streets of Iraq’s towns and cities."
The hotels must be dreadful enough to account for the reporting we see every day on the news.

Item 4: Why accuse the United States simply of bungling and incompetence when you could
impute evil intentions instead?

"The Bush Administration is intentionally steering Iraq towards civil war. The elections are merely the catalyst for igniting, what could be, a massive social upheaval. This explains the bizarre insistence on voting when security is nearly nonexistent and where a mere 7% of the people can even identify the candidates."
But won't civil war interfere with the neocons' attempts to steal Iraq's oil?


Reducing poverty in ten easy steps 

The United Nations' Millennium Project has been released. The documents contains the blueprint for reduction of poverty and improving lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. It's an ambitious and ambiguous document, but should not be dismissed out of hand by the UN's many critics as yet another meaningless wish-list from an impotent organization - if only because it has been complied under the direction of Dr Jeffrey Sachs, the architect of the tough economic stimulus package which helped many (through not all) Central and Eastern European countries to jumpstart their economies in the early 1990s.

Needless to say, the media has generally focused on one aspect of the Project - the foreign aid, and the fact that the developed world is not giving "enough." This opening paragraph from

"More than 500 million people can escape abject poverty, 250 million people will no longer go to bed hungry and 30 million children can be saved if rich countries double development aid over the next 10 years to $195 billion."
And this from Australia's ABC:

"The United Nations (UN) Millennium Project wants Australia and other western countries to dramatically increase foreign aid to help lift living standards in the world's poorest areas."
Lost somewhere in the rush to point fingers at the stingy West is the fact that the Millennium Project also asks the developing countries themselves to undertake some significant reforms (link in PDF). The list of suggestions is so broad-ranging as to make one's head spin, as well as doubt how much of it can realistically be implemented: proposals range from political liberalization and market reforms, through greater spending on health and education, to improving nutrition and building more roads; all to be accomplished with the greater input from local civil societies.

All laudable goals, but how realistic? Since there is a fair correlation between poverty and lack of freedom, I'm not sure how confident we can be that many of the governments throughout the developing world really want us to help them help themselves. Government corruption and mismanagement aside, it's also difficult to expect more social spending until economies are functioning well enough to generate a secure tax base.

As the example of East and South East Asia demonstrates, poverty can be drastically reduced; what's needed is a strong commitment to economic growth. But it also takes time - decades, to be exact, which is always difficult to accept for people who think there are some miracle solutions out there ("If only the America gave more...",
"If only Israel didn't exist...")

Still, the Millennium Project has many aspects that deserve closer attention, such as a relatively simple and inexpensive initiative to cut down on malaria-related deaths by providing mosquito nets. This should make the "skeptical environmentalist"
Bjorn Lomborg happy, as has been arguing for a long time now that the limited aid resources should be allocated on the most cost-effective basis instead of spending money on sexy but wasteful projects such as the Kyoto Protocol.


Guest blogger: Teaching English - and liberty - in Eastern Europe 

Fifteen years ago the people imprisoned in the great late Soviet Empire revolted and won their freedom. But the work is not finished yet (is it ever?) and the instinct for liberty, suppressed for so long, has to be nurtured and assisted in its growth.

A decade ago, Stephen Brown, together with some friends, founded the Language of Liberty project. Every summer in Lithuania, the project offers a summer camp of intensive English lessons, using as reading texts works that explain the fundamentals of political liberty and free markets. In the past, the camp attracted students from Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus and even Romania. Now, the Language of Liberty is slowly trying to move from a part-time all-volunteer outfit to a legally registered and full-time funded organization. This is its story.

The Language of Liberty Project

This past summer we held the eighth annual Liberty English camp in Trakai, Lithuania.

The idea of the English courses was conceived more than thirteen years ago when I privately taught a Polish lawyer who wanted to read Adam Smith in the original. (In the old times he defended dissidents and kids caught putting subversive stickers up in public places – an offense that could get you seven years hard.) I warned him that the dialect was a bit archaic, he replied that it was, but that it was so much easier to understand because the argumentation was so logically laid out. I don’'t even want to think about what this means about modern writing….

This inspired the idea of an English course designed to teach students how to read, and discuss the original documents important to the history of liberty in the English-speaking world. I created course material with an introduction that gives a quick overview of the methodology we use to get people who are not professional ESL teachers into teaching quickly. Much remains to be done though. For example, we badly need a Business English course. There is a tremendous demand here for Business English – and everywhere I'’ve been, nobody is really happy with the available courses.

The Origin of the Idea

The idea of a camp for teaching an intensive course was actually suggested by a young Bulgarian girl who had been to a few libertarian-sponsored seminars in Eastern Europe. She remarked to me that a great many of the young participants arrived with inadequate English preparation and were simply sitting through lectures nodding politely, understanding perhaps one word in ten. She suggested that a weeklong intensive course before such a seminar would help prepare them to participate more fully in the presentations and discussions.

I suggested this ten years ago at the Rome conference of the International Society for Individual Liberty, and further suggested that it would be quite cheap to hold it somewhere in Eastern Europe where cheap, if somewhat primitive facilities were available. My friend Virgis Daukas from Lithuania took up the idea with enthusiasm, virtually the only enthusiasm displayed for the idea, not surprising given that you really have to live abroad to understand exactly how important fluency in English is to personal and professional success all over the world. Virgis arranged for us to us an old Young Pioneers camp -– what a delicious irony!

Lately we have started to attract funding to sponsor students from Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and Romania and the idea has been imitated in India and Turkey. We are presently discussing plans to hold more than one camp at various locations around Eastern Europe. And our friend Barun Mitra in India would be very glad to welcome teachers at their camp in the foothills of the Himalayas! Barun took our idea up with enthusiasm and in the first year of operation held a camp bigger than any of ours so far.

The Rationale of the Camp

English is the international language, that is beyond doubt these days. Fluency in English is the sine qua non of success in most high-level professional positions. For example, it is estimated that you have to have some English for 90% of the decent jobs in Warsaw. You have to have some English to work at McDonald’s in any Eastern European capital.

And as it happens, the great bulk of political literature that concerns the creation and maintenance of free states is either written in English or available in English translation.

The goals of the Language of Liberty project are:

1) To help the friends of liberty in the countries of the former Soviet empire and elsewhere to develop their English language skills, for the purpose of promoting their personal and professional success, and hence the influence they have in their countries.

2) To develop liberty-oriented English language course materials. (In case anyone should wonder if it is appropriate to use English lessons to spread our ideas, I assure you it is already being done – and not always by our friends.)

3) To inject these ideas into the public discourse in the recovering societies of the former communist world and elsewhere by means of these courses and materials.

4) To offer linguistic services to friends of liberty in these countries such as proofreading and correcting English language manuscripts, help with CVs, consultation with translators of important works into the local languages, writing texts in English etc.

5) To place full-time teachers in situ and develop a teacher support network across these lands.


6) A great many of us have been troubled by the notion that the libertarian movement is "theory heavy and experience lite". The movement can only benefit by the seasoning of libertarians in these lands now in the process of transition from command economy tyrannies to something approaching market democracies.

Our primary goal at the camp is to teach English, not to proselytize. If we cannot get that working, we will be just another lib org whose goal is to get a captive audience together so we can preach at them.

At the first camp we had a lot of beginners whose English skills were not up to the level necessary to read and discuss these ideas yet. Fortunately some of us were trained in the direct method for teaching beginners. We realized immediately that even if we couldn’t use the advanced materials with these students, it was still worthwhile to teach them. Simply put; help them with their English and they'’ll remember who their friends are. (And in fact, one enthusiastic beginner at one camp a few years back was a lady who is an influential official in the Lithuanian Ministry of Education and responsible for getting Karl Hess'’ "Capitalism for Kids" in the school curriculum.)

For materials, I prefer to work on developing lessons using historical writings for the following reason: the historical texts are, independent of their importance to our purposes, also useful for the professional education of anybody interested in an academic career in English and American history, Political Science or Law.

What we offer are lessons based around the presentation of ideas on liberty in their historical context and equip the students with the linguistic tools to discuss and debate them. The ideas are not always going to be those we personally hold, and indeed are not always going to be internally self-consistent. The practice of freedom has generated a lot of different ideas throughout history. Our purpose is to equip the future leaders of their countries with the cognitive tools they need, not to tell them what to think or push a particular political agenda.

For course materials in business and economics, more contemporary writings may be appropriate and "The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible" by Ken Schooland has been marvelous for skits and plays in the camp.

Much remains to be done. We have gone as far as we can go as a part-time volunteer-supported organization. We have to organize the Language of Liberty Institute as a registered non-profit foundation with a full-time staff in order to do serious fund-raising. We have the experience, we have the contacts and we have the track record. And most important, we have a large body of student/ participants who are relying on us to go forward with the idea. And most exciting, we have an offer to do a full camp next year in Sarajevo!

Stephen Browne is a writer, technical editor and has taught English as a Second Language in Eastern Europe since 1991. He has worked with Libertarian dissidents in Yugoslavia and Belarus and was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights in 1997. He is currently living with his wife Monika and son Jerzy Waszyngton [George Washington in Polish - AC] Browne in Oklahoma while he pursues advanced study in journalism. Stephen can be contacted at SWaBrow "at" msn "dot" com.


Monday, January 17, 2005

Good news from Iraq, Part 19 

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. A traditional warm thank you to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their support for the "Good news" project, and to all of you who are reading it, blogging about it, and cluttering up your friends' inboxes with a link to it.

Marine Cpl. Isaac D. Pacheco of Northern Kentucky enlisted in the Marines on September 12, 2001, and has been serving in Iraq at the Combined Press Information Center. Recently he wrote this for his local newspaper:

"Something struck me as odd this fall as I watched a U.S. satellite news broadcast here in my Baghdad office. Something just didn't seem right. There was the usual tug-of-war between presidential candidates, a story about the Boston Red Sox and a blurb about another explosion in Iraq. The latter story showed the expected images of smoke and debris and people frantically running for cover - images that have become the accepted norm in the minds of many Americans thanks, or should I say no thanks, to the media.

"There were no smiling soldiers, no mention of rebuilding efforts, no heartwarming stories about honor and sacrifice. I could swear I've seen that 'stuff' here.

"I've become somewhat callused to this kind of seesaw reporting because every day I work with the news agencies that manufacture it. However, many service members shake their heads in frustration each time they see their daily rebuilding efforts ignored by the media in favor of the more 'sensational' car bomb and rocket attack stories. Not to say that tragedies don't happen - Iraq is a war zone - but there is so much more happening that gets overlooked if not ignored."
It has been a mission of this fortnightly column, now in its nineteenth edition, to bring to readers' attention all that "gets overlooked if not ignored" in Iraq: the advancements of the political and civil society, the rebirth of freedom, economic growth and reconstruction progress, generosity of foreigners and positive role played by the Coalition troops in rebuilding the country, and unremarked upon security successes. Contrary to some critics, the intention has never been to whitewash the situation in Iraq or to downplay the negative; the violence, bloodshed, disappointments and frustrations are all there for everyone to see and read about in the mainstream media on a daily basis. But to point out positive developments is not to deny the bad news, merely to provide a more complete picture. As voters faced with the defining foreign policy issue of the new millennium we owe it to ourselves to be fully informed about the state of affairs in Iraq. And that means both the car bombs and rebuilt hospitals.

Below is not the full picture of Iraq - merely that part of it you don't often see on the nightly news or the pages of newspapers. This does not automatically make it more - or less important in the scheme of things, merely equally important to consider.

SOCIETY: Throughout Iraq the election campaign enters its
second last week:

"Leaders of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority and other skeptics say it is so dangerous in large parts of the country that it will be all but impossible to hold nationwide elections Jan. 30. Even President Bush recently conceded just 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces are ready for elections.

"But on the busy second and third floors of a building inside this city's heavily fortified Green Zone, dozens of United Nations officials, Iraqi poll workers and monitoring groups - some strolling in and out wearing flak jackets and blue helmets - are hard at work to ensure the elections go on as scheduled."
Read the story of those who are making it happen. You might also find useful this brief guide to how the election will work in practice.

Iraqi women, who due to past bloodshed constitute a clear majority of Iraqi population, are looking forward to building a better future through the democratic process. According to the
latest poll conducted by Women for Women International in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra, "94% of women surveyed want to secure legal rights for women; 84% of women want the right to vote on the final constitution; [and] nearly 80% of women believe that their participation in local and national councils should not be limited." As the report notes, "the most unexpected result of the survey is that despite increasing violence, particularly violence against women, 90.6% of Iraqi women reported that they are hopeful about their future."

Other sections of Iraqi society are also excited about the coming election. On the streets of Baghdad,
democracy makes more converts:

"Just months ago, Fattahlah Ghazi al-Esmaili was penning articles in support of Iraq's Shi'ite uprising as editor for Ishriqat, a newspaper for rebel cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi's Army militia.

"Now the 38-year-old has abandoned his Arab head scarf for a neat beige suit and is out pumping the flesh in his run for parliament at the head of a 180-candidate list representing the impoverished Shi'ites of Sadr City.

" 'Before, we were men of the Mahdi's Army. Now we are men of politics,' says the journalist, who goes by the pen name Fattah al-Sheikh. 'Yesterday, we were out on the streets. Today, we are here campaigning, and hopefully tomorrow, we'll be in the presidential palace'."
It has been a stunning transformation: "Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond of the 1st Cavalry Division, says Sadr City is the safest place in or around Baghdad. About 18,000 people have reconstruction jobs, he says, earning about $6 a day. 'Sadr City is what the future of Iraq can look like,' he says. Those who were once taking up arms are now talking democracy. 'Before, the men were buying black cloth for their (martyrs') banners. Now for the election, we are buying white cloths' for posters, says candidate Fatah al-Sheikh." Even the Iraqi Islamic Party is now cracking: "Iraq's principal Sunni Muslim political party conceded... that its effort to delay Iraq's parliamentary election had failed and that it was preparing a strategy to influence the elected government following the vote on Jan. 30." But still more encouragement is being given to recalcitrants:

"Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiar Zibari said Tuesday the interim government is going to try to bring opposition groups into the nation's upcoming elections. Zibari told reporters in Cairo a reconciliation conference in Baghdad would be aimed at convincing opposition groups to take part in the Jan. 30 elections to select a legislative council that will draft Iraq's new constitution."
And more efforts are being made to ensure that as many Iraqis as possible can meaningfully participate in the poll:

"The Iraqi Election Commission plans to set up polling stations in the violent Anbar province and other problem areas in Iraq, despite insurgent attacks aimed at disrupting elections... The commission said it will establish special procedures to include voters who could not register because of the insurgency.

" 'We have asked the government, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense ... to prepare many forces to guarantee security in all election centers in Iraq,' said Fareed Ayar, spokesman for the commission."
The United Nations representative is optimistic about the prospects of the election:

"Day after day, Carlos Valenzuela faces the same question: Can legitimate elections take place amid the chaos and bedlam that is contemporary Iraq? 'I say, "Of course,"' says the soft-spoken Colombian who is the chief U.N. electoral officer in Iraq. 'Look,' he continues from his tiny office in this fearful capital's fortified Green Zone, 'in my own country we have elections that are not perfect, that have been marred by violence and terrible intimidation. But still people go to the polls. And still the results are accepted as legitimate'."
Valenzuela also comments on the commitment of the Iraqi election workers: "A lot of these people could have other jobs, much less riskier, that probably pay more... But they're here because ... they believe in these elections." Elsewhere, Valenzuela has announced a new plan to make voting easier in the Sunni areas, by allowing people in the troublesome Anbar province as well as in Mosul to register to vote on the same day as the vote itself. He adds: "Nobody has the mandate to postpone the elections. The commission’s own position has been that they will postpone the elections only if it is physically impossible to hold elections. Otherwise they feel they have to do it in the timeframe that was laid down in the law... So far all the technical, logistical preparations are on track, so the commission sees no reason why they should be thinking about postponing. Overall the electoral preparations are going quite well."

Iraqis living overseas, too, are preparing to vote in the election: in
Turkey, they will be able to vote in Ankara and Istanbul; in Australia, in Sydney and Melbourne. Up to 250,000 Iraqis living in Syria, 120,00 living in Iran, 234,000 living in the United States, and 150,000 in Great Britain, and 30,000 in Canada will also get a chance. Even Israeli citizens of Iraqi origin will be allowed to vote: "Anyone who is or once was an Iraqi citizen, even if he was deprived of the citizenship, is eligible to vote... 'There are no restrictions on Iraqis on the basis of religion, race or sex,' said [Sarah] Tosh, [spokesperson for Iraq's out-of-country-voting (OCV) central headquarters] 'This definitely includes those who are Israeli citizens today.' Anyone who has an original Iraqi birth certificate may take part in the vote."

With campaign well underway throughout the country, Iraqi blogger Mohammed at
Iraq the Model provides various election snippets:

"It's been announced that 40 brigades from the Iraqi armed forces are going to be deployed to protect the elections centers through out the country in cooperation with the [Multi National Force].

"During my last tour in the north I saw a lot of electoral education activities as well as campaigns run by individual candidates, individual parties or alliances; seminars, conferences and posters are all over the place...

"In Kirkuk which is considered a sensitive point for many parties because of the mosaic formation of the population (Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Christians)... everyone is trying to prove that he's the best and the more representative...

"In the south, the tribes decided to contribute to the IP and the army efforts in protecting the electoral centers within their regions and this was agreed on after a meeting for the higher commission with the tribes' heads in Hilla and Nasiriyah...

"Most of the parties are focusing now on the universities in an attempt to win the students votes and they're holding lectures and events in the universities to advertise for their platforms and lists. In the city of Najaf, the Hawza suspended the activities of its school and asked the students to stop working on their researches and head to the provinces to encourage the people to vote."
Campaigning is now hitting the media : "In Baghdad, minor parties can promote their candidates in the pages of the many small newspapers circulating there. For example, the radical group Hezbollah's newspaper printed a color calendar featuring its slate of candidates for readers to clip and display. Radio is also filled with election talk from many voices. And in response to charges that the incumbent and the big parties have a decisive advantage, several Iraqi newspapers are offering free advertising for slates. State television says it will offer free airtime."

Television is playing major role in educating the public and breaking down barriers. The story below
could not have happened under Saddam, and still doesn't happen in many other places around the Middle East:

"Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi simply smiled during the live television show when a man called to praise terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Iraqi leader then moved on, offering to find information about a woman's detained son and see why a student didn't get into the graduate program of his choice.

"The surprisingly frank hour-long call-in program, 'The Iraqi Podium,' is a rarity for the region, giving Iraqis the chance to pepper Allawi with questions, from the mundane to the serious. Judging by the show's popularity, Iraqis are taking advantage.

"The show's host, Abdul-Karim Hammad, said he proposed the show to Allawi, who agreed. It may be a campaign ploy as Allawi tries to burnish his image ahead of Jan. 30 elections, but from the nature of the questions, it appears the calls aren't screened.

" 'I told him the one condition, which is that you have to accept anything the people say even if they insult you,' Hammad said. 'He said it was fine, as long as he wasn't criticized personally, but they can say anything they want about his work.'

"The program is broadcast every Sunday on the U.S.-funded Al-Iraqiya television station. Although it is linked to the United States, it's a major change for Iraqis after Saddam Hussein's 23-year reign ended in April 2003. Then, tightly controlled state-run media only praised Saddam, and many Iraqis would not dare criticize the president, even in their homes.

"Other members of the government, including the interior minister and defense minister, have occasionally appeared in similar shows on Al-Iraqiya, but not with Allawi's frequency. Such programs have been aired in Lebanon but the practice is otherwise rare in the Middle East, where leaders are more accustomed to working behind closed doors, without much criticism from their people."
The US-backed Alhurra Iraq TV station is also heavily promoting the election: "Beamed via satellite into Iraqi cities (and elsewhere in the Middle East), Alhurra's election news reports have one overriding message: Vote as if your life depended on it. 'We are telling people why it is important to take part in the elections and how they can decide their own future by voting,' said Alhurra news chief Mouafac Harb. 'We are interviewing people who lost families under Saddam Hussein's rule, who were tortured, and the message is if you do not take part in these elections, they can come back and rule you again,' Mr. Harb [said]... A series of public-service ads also are broadcast repeatedly by Alhurra to encourage Iraqis to vote. One of them shows Iraqi victims of Saddam's terror talking about their suffering, followed by this voiceover and screen caption: 'So the horrors won't recur, be a part of drawing your future. Vote'." Among the programs:

"- 'Iraq Decides,' a weekly show on the latest election news, along with interviews explaining the election process. There is a steady parade of political and religious leaders on this show. 'You see clerics on our channel, telling people to go and vote,' Mr. Harb says. (That's something you never see on the nightly news here.)

"- 'Vote,' a weekly program that shows Iraqis where and how to vote, and what they can expect on Election Day.

"- 'Iraq Today,' daily election news that leads the first 30 minutes of each day's newscasts, which will be lengthened as the election nears.

"- 'Half of Iraq,' a series aimed at encouraging women to participate in the political process."
Another report discusses the coming of political TV advertising to Iraq: "Far from Madison Avenue - in more ways than one - television advertisements are emerging as a crucial element in Iraq's landmark Jan. 30 election...

"When Iraqis head to the polls, they will face a daunting ballot listing more than 230 candidate slates vying for portions of the 275-seat national assembly that will draft the nation's constitution.

"Information is critical, and the primary sources of it are expected to be mosques, word of mouth and television.

"Here, the power of television far outstrips that of radio - plentiful, but hyperlocal - and newspapers, which have proliferated after the fall of Saddam Hussein but still have a circulation of just 300,000 in a nation of 25 million.

"Iraq has more than 20 licensed local TV stations. A recent survey showed that as much as 65 percent of the population has once-banned satellite dishes through which they pipe in popular international channels such as Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and a new favorite, Al-Sharqiya."
USAID, meanwhile, is doing its share help the political and social development in Iraq (link in PDF): "USAID has awarded a cooperative agreement to the Consortium for Election and Political Processes Strengthening (CEPPS) which includes three US NGOs. This agreement has a $50 million ceiling, of which $23 million has been obligated to date. Within this electoral processes grant USAID seeks to achieve the following: Educate voters and promote participation in the electoral process; Build the capacity of Iraqi election monitoring organizations; and Support efforts to monitor and mitigate electoral conflict. USAID also awarded a $40 million cooperative agreement to an NGO to support the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq’s (IECI) administration of the transitional election cycle, which includes the January 2005 elections, the October 2005 Constitutional Referendum, and the December 2005 National Assembly Elections. This program is being implemented at the request of the IECI and in direct coordination with UN activities." Some of recent grass-roots initiatives include: a conference for women politicians, another conference on federalism, as well as training sessions for electoral workers, journalists, and political activists.

Meanwhile, "
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif.,... has traveled to Jordan as part of a four-member bipartisan Congressional delegation to train women running for office in Iraq. Tauscher is a co-chair of the Iraqi Women's Caucus in Congress and will be meeting with 25 to 30 female candidates to help them prepare for the Jan. 30 elections."

A. Heather Coyne, who runs the U.S. Institute of Peace programs is Baghdad, notes some hopeful signs in the work to
rebuild Iraq's civil society:

"- Potential Iraqi leaders continue to apply for the institute's seminars. More than 90% of those who sign up actually attend, even though participation in the program could mark them for death as collaborators.

"- When the institute suggests to Iraqis that Americans could help with such things as ethnic outreach for drafting the constitution or an interfaith dialogue, Iraqis often say they already are performing such tasks.

"- Students applying for Fulbrights no longer confine themselves to subjects that were safe under Saddam, such as medicine and science. 'Among the youth, both Kurds and Arabs, there is enthusiasm for politics,' notes Phebe Marr, an Iraq scholar and a senior fellow at the institute.

"- Relations among Kurds, Sunnis, and Shia are as bad as they have been in decades, Marr concedes. Yet residents in Kirkuk, which the Kurds lust after, are determined to avoid sectarian violence. They want a peaceful resolution concerning control of the city. And both the Kurds and Shia have resisted retaliating against the numerous horrific provocations from the Sunnis. Many international observers thought such a level of good faith and determination to avoid civil war was impossible.

"- Groups are coalescing on the basis of interests, not ethnic background. Women's groups often look to link forces with other women's groups, for example, and whether a group is Kurdish, Sunni, or Shia doesn't even come up, Coyne says. Issues of ethnicity tend to arise over specific matters, Serwer notes. Sunnis oppose complete removal of Baathists from government because the largely Sunni Baathists have the experience to run the country. But the Shia want the Baathists out because they ran roughshod over the Shia when the Baathists were in power."
Says Daniel P. Serwer, a stabilization expert at the Institute: "This is the most hopeful period [the Iraqis have] had in their history... They don't want to blow it." Other element of Iraq's civil society - the trade unions - are also trying to rebuild in face of the terrorist attacks.

At the same time, Iraqis are trying to deal with legacies of past conflict and oppression. After years, even decades, of exile the
refugees continue to come back to their homeland: "The UN [High Commission for Refugees] is to close several camps for Iraqi refugees in Iran because more than half of the 202,000 exiles have returned home. The UN's refugee body said 42,000 out of 50,000 Iraqis at the centres had left since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Six out of the UN's 22 camps in south Iran are empty and another two are due to close by the end of the month." This exodus is taking place despite the fact that "the agency has discouraged repatriation because of insecurity in Iraq and the border-crossing is riddled with mines."

There are more efforts underway to transform into positive outcomes
Iraq's most dangerous legacy:

"Sixty-three hundred miles from his beloved oaks and squirrels on the University of Richmond campus, biologist Peter Smallwood tries to find new careers for displaced Iraqi scientists.

"The 43-year-old UR associate professor has given up a comfortable job in academia for a year to work in Baghdad, helping idle Iraqi scientists, engineers and technicians turn their talents from developing chemical, biological and radiological weapons for Saddam Hussein to more peaceful purposes.

"Smallwood directs the Interim Iraqi Center for Science and Industry, an inter-governmental organization funded by the U.S. State Department."
In the field of education, USAID's Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program continues to link up American and Iraqi universities (link in PDF). "One of the five partnerships is a cooperative effort between five Iraqi Universities and the State University of New York (SUNY/Stony Brook). The consortium is working to improve faculty training, curriculum and facilities for the study of Archaeology, Assyriology and Environmental Health. Recent activities of this partnership have included:

"- Plans for 35 participants to attend an upcoming training session for environmental health specialists in Amman, Jordan have been established. Applications are currently being reviewed, and women are strongly encouraged to apply.

"- The first shipment of environmental books to Iraq has been completed. Nearly 300 medical and scientific environmental books will be distributed to each of three universities.

"- Laboratory rehabilitation work has been completed at three Iraqi universities. The facilities are now ready to be furnished and equipped."
Meanwhile, on the grassroots level, "the opportunity to pioneer [English Language Teaching] in Iraqi Kurdistan has never been better as English is perceived as a vital tool in education and business and is emerging as the second language in the region. Despite the recent instability in the rest of Iraq, ELT initiatives have taken off in the peaceful and secure Kurdistan Region." And on the general education front:

"More than 80 million school textbooks were printed last year, according to Education Minister Sami Mudhafar. Mudhafar said the books, covering more than 600 titles, were handed out to nearly six million Iraqi students.

"The minister said the content of at least 16 titles was drastically changed to meet the needs of the new era. Texts praising former leader Saddam Hussein, exhibiting sectarian or ethnic supremacy or claiming Kuwait was still part of Iraq were all removed, he said.

"The educational sector, like many other things in Iraq, was an exclusive territory of Saddam Hussein's Baath party. Only party members were allowed to teach and those who refused to join the Baath party ranks were sacked.

"Mudhafar said more than 30,000 teachers the former regime had fired were reinstated in their positions. The minister said demand for both teachers and school buildings was still high in Iraq. 'More than 25,000 qualified graduates have been appointed,' he said."
For something totally different see this unlikely sports story:

"Faisal Faisal's Olympic dream appears to be just that -- a goal far out of reach, almost entirely unrealistic.

"In 2006, he wants to become the first Iraqi athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics, but he can hardly describe the sport, skeleton, in which he hopes to qualify. It's fast and fun and it happens on ice, Faisal said. And in part thanks to the U.S. Olympic Committee, he's been hurtling down an icy track in Lake Placid, N.Y., for two weeks. He's successfully completed, he said proudly, 21 skeleton runs.

"Faisal is, in short, remarkably un-Olympian.

"But skeleton specialists who've watched him over the last two weeks have reached a surprising conclusion about the beginner. Faisal might well debut as Iraq's first winter Olympian at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, some said, because a determination this intense is difficult to doubt."
Lastly, this good animal news:

"One is an Army captain with a master's degree in archaeology. Another is a South African game warden. The third is a young Iraqi veterinarian barely out of school.

"In 2003, soon after coalition forces took control of Iraq, the three faced a seemingly impossible task: restoring the Baghdad Zoo, which had been looted of most everything not nailed down, including the animals.

"Two years later, thanks to their improvisational skills and advice from zoo leaders in the United States and elsewhere, the three have rebuilt what was once the largest zoo in the Middle East."
ECONOMY: On the work front, there has been a slight improvement in the unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2004, with a fall of 1.3 per cent. The unemployment is still a huge challenge for Iraq, in large extent a legacy of the economic mismanagement of the past. As report notes, "The number of graduates without jobs is mounting as only a few those who completed their university studies in the past 15 years could find a decent job in Iraq."

Much needed efforts to reform and reshape Iraq's
tax system continue with valuable foreign assistance: "The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is supporting the development of tax administration, tax policy and customs reform, the latest including a new automated tax accounting module, a policy on the introduction of a new sales tax and a training curriculum for Iraqi customs staff." And to assist business development, the staff of USAID's "Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) program are laying the groundwork for a series of activities in northern Iraq that will work with Iraqis to establish local business centers and business training programs in the area." In other recent initiatives of the VEGA program (link in PDF): Women's Entrepreneur Workshop and New Association in Arbil and a handicapped training workshop.

There's good news for Iraq's
banking system:

"Despite the continuing war and political uncertainty, Iraq's long-suffering financial industry has begun creaking to life. The revival is being led by some private Iraqi banks that have begun using new economic rules, harnessing the surge of reconstruction money and, in some cases, forging foreign partnerships.

"Though the environment here is such that businessmen in suits tote revolvers and hire bodyguards just to check their bank balances, 'The prospects for banking are good, when they fix the problem of security,' said Abdul Muhsin Shansal, chairman of the Iraqi Bureau of Financial and Economic Consultations, a business consultancy in Baghdad. 'We need a complete rebuilding of infrastructure,' he said. 'We need everything from bridges to roads to dams. That's billions of dollars. We'll need banks for all of this.'

"Currently, those banks include two government-owned behemoths, with about 160 branches each nationwide, and 19 private-sector banks - some with shares listed on the Baghdad stock exchange - ranging in size from a single branch to 19. All but one of the banks run according to Western, rather than the more restrictive Islamic, banking principles.

"Many analysts said the industry is in a sorry condition, a legacy of Saddam Hussein's stranglehold on business and a dozen years of United Nations sanctions that prevented many technological advances from reaching the country."
But still more reform for the banking system is on the way: "Iraq's financial and banking sector is expected to witness a significant change during next two years following the restructuring of banks which includes updating of technology, providing technical assistance and capacity building of the financial institutions. This was stated in National Development Strategy (NDS) for Iraq during 2005-07. The NDS has identified immediate and medium-term priorities during the next two year. The basic aim of the strategy is to create an effective operating structure for the central bank to provide services and supervision of the banking system." You can also read how USAID is assisting the Iraqi banking system through its Iraqi Economic Governance II program (link in PDF).

The Iraqi Central Bank is also currently releasing brand
new coins. By way of background, the coins will be put into circulation "for the first time since Saddam Hussein's regime abolished them in the aftermath of the 1990 Gulf War... Coins were scrapped in 1991, when the international embargo sent Iraq's annual inflation rate soaring upward of 1,000 percent. Hyperinflation caused the dinar's exchange rate to fall drastically, thus making coins and small denomination banknotes virtually worthless."

In oil news, "Iraq plans an
investment of approximately $3.75 billion in its oil sector, according to a strategy paper prepared by the Iraqi government."

In transport news, the first post-liberation
flight took place between Baghdad and Basra. "About 50 people were on board the Boeing 737, which landed at Basra international airport... Basra international airport in southern Iraq is due to open to commercial passenger traffic in July following extensive renovation... Iraqi Airways resumed international commercial flights in September for the first time in 14 years, with flights to Amman, Baghdad and Damascus. Iraqi Airways planes were left grounded around the Middle East, in Jordan, Tunisia and Iran, after Saddam made his disastrous decision in 1990 to invade Kuwait." There are now three daily flights between Baghdad and Amman. And the Iraqi Airways have also commenced direct international flights from Iraq to Saudi Arabia, carrying Iraqi pilgrims for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. "The first Iraqi Airways flight took off from the northern city of Irbil, the ministry said in a statement. The airline will have two or three daily flights from Irbil, Baghdad and the southern city of Basra for 12 days. More the 17,000 Muslim pilgrims are expected to take the roundtrip flight, which costs $500."

RECONSTRUCTION: Reconstruction is
picking up pace, according to Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Bostick, the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division:

"1,550 construction projects are under way throughout the country -- compared to just 200 projects under way in June [2004]...

"These reconstruction projects include large, long-term capital projects that address water and sewage treatment facilities, power plants and the oil- distribution infrastructure. They also include smaller community projects that are more visible to the Iraqi people and have an immediate impact on their lives, he said. The focus of these projects is schools, clinics, hospitals, rail stations and police stations, many being rebuilt with funds from Commander's Emergency Response Program funds...

"He estimated that some 130,000 Iraqis are working on the wide range of projects under way throughout the country. The true number is actually larger, he said, when factoring in the behind-the-scenes workers who manufacture the products used on the construction sites."
A useful change in reconstruction procedures is also currently underway, which will additionally benefit Iraqi economy:

"In a shift largely made necessary by the continuing violence in Iraq, U.S. officials in charge of reconstruction projects say they are now hiring Iraqi firms to do many of the jobs once performed by Western contractors. It may have been the anti-Western insurgency in Iraq, which made U.S. officials here realize the capabilities and talent the Iraqis themselves could apply to the country's reconstruction efforts.

"The program director for the U.S. government's Projects and Contracting Office in Baghdad, Robert Slockbower, says the violence, which has severely delayed rebuilding the country in the past year, has helped accelerate the recruitment of Iraqi firms to keep reconstruction efforts on track."
In addition, the emphasis on smaller, local projects continues: "Men in yellow rain coats shovel heaps of black sludge at the bottom of a reservoir used to collect water from the Tigris for treatment and pumping to hundreds of thousands of people in a poor southern Baghdad area. US officials are increasingly highlighting their success with small community projects like the Rashid water treatment plant after work on a lot of major infrastructure projects stalled because of the increased violence...

" 'We hope to finish the work before the spring and summer when people's demand for water is highest,' says Lieutenant Colonel Brian Dosa of the 1st Cavalry Division at the plant in Al-Zafaraniya. He speaks with pride about the half a million dollars that will be invested in works at the plant to increase the water quality and quantity, which currently serves about 300,000 people in the area.

"About 150,000 dollars has been spent on repairing the pumps at the plant which dates back to 1969. No major work or maintenance had been done since then, according to the plant's manager Mohammed Hashim who stands nearby."
Nasreen Berwari, the minister of public works, has announced that this year her ministry will be spending $250 million, in addition to foreign assistance, on major infrastructure projects "in the field municipalities, water purification and sewage systems." Omar Farouq al 'Damlouji, the minister of housing and reconstruction, meanwhile, has announced that his ministry will be constructing 35,000 residential units over the next two years, in addition to building and rehabilitating some 310 schools and transforming presidential palaces into cultural and tourism sites. Almost 25,000 Iraqis will also benefit from loans from the official government housing fund. And the government has also allocated $200 million for direct assistance to private sector companies working in the construction sector to speed up the country's building drive.

USAID is committing another
$200 million for reconstruction projects in southern Iraq. To improve availability of clean water, USAID is also pursuing construction of water and sewer projects in Mosul and Baghdad (link in PDF).

You can also read this profile of
Dave Nash, the retired admiral who worked in Iraq as the director of the Program Management Office, the official American body overseeing the reconstruction effort.

In the
energy sector, "following the near completion of Restore Iraq Electricity's (RIE) quick-recovery renovation projects, the Southern Electric Sector, operating under Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Funds (IRRF), plans to surge into action." Meanwhile, "the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is designing a Power Plant Operations and Maintenance program to provide training, facility assessments, coaching, mentoring, maintenance and plant outage support for Iraq's power plants. The program will also furnish test equipment, special tools, permanent plant equipment, materials and parts." A new substation is being constructed in the province of Irbil; "just two months ago responsibility was transferred to the deputy of the Ministry of Electricity for a completed $27.4 million emergency reconstruction project that restrung 174 kilometers of power transmission line and rebuilt 444 towers. The project was largely responsible for reconnecting the Kurdish power grid to the rest of Iraq."

USAID, meanwhile, is pursuing
other electricity projects throughout the country (link in PDF): "Work is 82 percent complete at a power generation facility north of Baghdad. This project will increase electrical generation capacity by 325 megawatts through the addition of two combustion turbines to the existing substation site... USAID is expanding a thermal power plant in southern Baghdad with a 132 kV connection to the national grid. This project will add 216 MW of generation capacity... USAID's project to increase generation at a major power plant in Babil Governorate is now 40 percent complete... Work is 79 percent complete in the restoration of heat exchangers at four generating stations in southern Iraq."

The construction of
150 new health clinics will commence soon at the cost of $37 million. "The new centers... are not meant to serve the health needs of urban centers alone. Many of them... will be constructed in towns, districts and villages whose inhabitants normally find it difficult to visit major hospitals. At least 21 of these centers will be supplied with maternity and emergency wards and will be open round the clock... Each center will have its own ambulances and annexes which will include, among other things, houses and flats for the medical staff and employees." Meanwhile, in the capital, "the Ministry of Health has allocated ID 67 billions [$46 million] to restore and rehabilitate three hospitals in Baghdad as well as developing family welfare project. The official spokesman of the ministry announced that the ministry has allocated 15 ID billions [$10 million] to rehabilitate the Central Children Hospital in Baghdad whereas the hospital will be developed by adding an infrastructure to it to be a completed and developed hospital. The ministry allocated ID1, 2 billions [$0.8 million] to rehabilitate al-Karkh General Hospital as well as rehabilitating al-Yarmouk Teaching Hospital, indicating that the ministry is seeking through this step to provide medical services for all citizens especially Baghdad's residents who constitutes half number of Iraq's population."

There's also more assistance coming for the Iraqi agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture and USAID's Agricultural Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI), for example, are working to
improve mechanization of Iraqi farming. In other recent initiatives of the ARDI program (link in PDF): launching 24 new demonstration sites in the three northern governorates of As Sulaymaniyah, Arbil, and Dahuk, renovating veterinary clinics, and increasing land availability for farmers in the Ninweh governorate.

networking opportunities are coming up soon for those involved in reconstruction: "More than 750 participants from 30 countries are expected to participate in a major fair in Jordan in April to meet Iraqi businessmen to rebuild the war-wrecked country, organisers said yesterday. Rebuild Iraq 2005 is aimed at providing international firms a 'safe and ideal venue to present their products and transfer the much needed technology to Iraqi businessmen', a statement said." Meanwhile, the achievement in reconstruction work will be officially recognized later on this year:

"The Iraqi-British Business Council will honour individuals and organisations who have made an outstanding contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq at a ceremony in June. The Iraq Reconstruction Awards Ceremony will take place at the Iraq Procurement Summit 2005, to be held in Amman, Jordan from June 28 to 30.

"The ceremony will be organized to honour the hard work and integrity of those people who have strived above and beyond the call of duty in all sectors of the Iraqi economy.

"The awards will be split into a number of categories, these will include: humanitarian aid; public works; trade; transport & communications; oil, gas and petrochemicals; agriculture; health and welfare; education; housing, construction and infrastructure; water and irrigation; science and technology; electricity; finance and planning; security and justice; municipalities and regional development."
HUMANITARIAN AID: Humanitarian assistance continues to roll in from Japan:

"Japan... will disburse about 10 billion yen (US$97 million...) in aid to help war-ravaged Iraq fund public services and buy ambulances and police vehicles.

"With that spending, Tokyo will exhaust all but US$100 million... of a total of US$1.5 billion... in aid pledged for Iraq's reconstruction... Tokyo's aid will enable Iraq's Health Ministry to buy 700 ambulances worth 5.83 billion yen (US$56.60 million...). Iraq's Home Affairs Ministry plans to spend 2.62 billion yen (US $25.45 million...) on 150 police buses and 500 police motorcycles...

"For southern Iraq's Muthana province, where about 550 Japanese non-combat troops are based for a humanitarian mission, Tokyo set aside 866 million yen (US$8.41 million...) for medical equipment at 32 health clinics and 658 million yen (US $6.39 million...) for garbage-collecting vehicles."
And Turkey has recently delivered $1 million worth of humanitarian aid to be distributed by the Red Crescent society.

USAID is heavily involved in the provision of humanitarian assistance through its Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). Among the
recent highlights (link in PDF):

"Ninawa Governorate: More than 3,400 families have received winter items. Distributions began December 23 and will be completed by mid-January.

"Salah Ad Din Governorate: 1,000 families have received winter packages. The distribution began on December 7 and distributions will continue through January benefiting more than 3,300 families.

"Diyala Governorate: More than 18,000 IDPs and returnees received emergency supplies including 840 barrels used for the delivery and storage of kerosene. A total of 1,500 barrels valued at USD $30,000 have been procured for the region.

"At' Tamim Governorate: distributions began on November 28 for more than 6,000 families. Some 2,000 families have received the winter packages to date. All distributions are expected to be completed by mid-January.

"OFDA has supported the distribution of 100 Livelihood Assets Packages (LAPs) to IDP families in Diyala Governorate. In total, more than 100 families received the packages valued at $31,000. A second distribution by OFDA's implementing partner distributed 20 additional LAPs valued at $6,200 to remote villages in Diyala Governorate. The content of supply kits provided to IDPs varies according to their needs, but may include items such as blankets, towels, cooking equipment, a radio, containers for water, a kerosene heater, soap and detergent, or a small stove...

"OFDA projects in northern Iraq increased access to potable water for an estimated 1,975 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and vulnerable persons in Arbil Governorate, and 1,785 IDPs and vulnerable persons in Ninawa Governorate.

"OFDA has completed seven shallow wells and installed water pumps in schools in one region of Diyala Governorate, benefiting approximately 700 students. In another village in the governorate, a deep water well has been completed and a water tank was installed. Construction of the pump house is still in progress. Following completion of the water system, 350 residents will have access to clean water."
In Kirkuk, a local initiative is helping the city's young people:

"Set up a year ago, a Save the Children-run youth centre... is looking to expand its activities. Established in a mixed Turkmen-Kurdish quarter on the city's eastern edge, the cultural centre started working out of an old Baathist youth club in September last year. Catering to young people over the age of 14, it has a library, a sports hall and Internet room. At any one time, staff say, between 70 and 200 people are attending courses it offers in computing, art and music...

"Heartened by the success of the centre, manager Suhad Abdullatif has a couple of new projects she wants to implement. So far, the sporting facilities on offer have been weighted towards men. It's an imbalance that female users of the centre have commented on and one she hopes to remedy early next year with a gym for women... From 12 December, the centre began hosting the first book fair Kirkuk has seen since liberation. Due to run for two months, the fair is based on one which took place in Sulaymaniyah, a Kurdish city an hour and a half to the east."
The determination and hard work of two Americans is starting to make a real difference for the Iraqi health system:

"Alex Garza, an Army Reserve captain and emergency room doctor from Missouri, saw firsthand how hopelessly outdated Iraq's medical libraries were. Back in the United States, David Gifford, a retired Army colonel and physician, learned of the problem from a physician friend stationed in Iraq.

"Unbeknownst to each other, the two men thought of a plan: to modernize Iraq's health care system by getting up-to-date medical textbooks and journals into the hands of Iraqi professors and students. Garza and Gifford eventually joined forces, and soon medical schools, publishing houses and people around the globe donated boxloads of medical literature to the war-scarred country. More than 100,000 items have been collected so far.

" 'This is really a big change,' said Thamer Al Hilfi, a tuberculosis specialist and professor at the University of Tikrit College of Medicine. 'Everyone here - doctors and students - feel like they are born again.'

"Before the two Americans stepped in, most of Iraq's medical books were at least two decades old and several editions out of date. The more recent ones were photocopies of medical textbooks housed at the Ministry of Health in Baghdad. Topics such as AIDS and the latest surgical techniques were wholly absent from the editions Iraqis medical students were using, Garza said."
Their action has been a huge success: "Publishers that had planned to destroy their old editions donated them instead. Medical schools started campus book drives, collecting books that students would have otherwise resold. Individuals from around the world sent material. WebMd Corp. donated 3,000 copies of its 2003 surgery and internal medicine textbooks, valued at about $500,000. Among the largest medical school donors were the University of Tennessee and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, which sent more than 2,000 textbooks and journals each."

And the efforts of this
Idaho 17-year old have also paid dividends:

"Thanks to the generosity of Monsignor Donovan High School students, teachers and the business community, 900 children who will attend two newly rebuilt schools in Baghdad will have pencils to write with and paper to write on. They also will have arts and crafts supplies, sporting equipment, backpacks, lunch boxes and educational games and toys...

"Courtney Good, a 17-year-old junior at the Toms River school, launched the project called 'The Innocent Child' with her honors Christian service class. Good's father, R. Scott Good, is employed by Washington Group International Inc., and currently is working in Iraq with the company to help rebuild the country's infrastructure... 'After talking to my dad in Iraq, I wanted to do a service project that would help the innocent children in that country,' said Good."
Another hero is even younger: "Stories of heroes are common in Iraq. The daily struggles of life in a combat zone have borne thousands. Our Servicemen and women usually dominate these stories, but one in particular involves a hero who doesn't wear a uniform at all, at least not a military uniform. This one is dressed to play soccer and he's 10 years old. Jared Jolton was home in Colorado, when the Soldiers with the 39th Brigade Combat Team's 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry, were lining up their convoy at Camp Taji, Iraq, for their day's mission on Dec. 11. Although physically on the other side of the world, it was Jared's vision that led to the mission to deliver a 5-ton truck full of soccer balls, clothing and equipment to some of the more needy children in Iraq."

Collection of
toys for Iraqi children also continues:

"When Mary Green started collecting Beanie Babies to send to children in Iraq, the Holland woman set a goal of sending 2,000 of the stuffed toys overseas.

"Then the goal grew to 5,000. Then 10,000. Now, more than 17,000 Beanie Babies later, donations still are streaming in. And the mission of Operation Beanie Babies has expanded beyond Iraq.

" 'It's just awesome what people are doing,' Green said. 'It's overwhelming.' Green, whose nephew is a U.S. Army staff sergeant stationed in Iraq, began collecting the Beanie Babies this fall, and started sending the toys to Army Capt. Stacy Trethewey Nelsen, a Holland native also stationed in Iraq.

"Nelsen, who is working as a social worker in Iraq, began distributing the Beanie Babies to soldiers to give to Iraqi children while on patrol. She said the gestures are meaningful to the children who have received them."
An Iraqi boy is receiving medical help in the United States: "An 11-year-old Iraqi boy whose legs were blown off below the knees by a bomb blast near his home underwent surgery... in Akron to prepare for prosthetic legs. Doctors say Majid Fadhil Sabor needed the surgery done at Akron Children's Hospital to remove bone shards that would otherwise make wearing prosthetic limbs painful. Sabor lives about 100 miles from Baghdad. Doctors expect him to recover from today's operation within 10 days. A specialist on the team said the boy could be walking within one month."

THE COALITION TROOPS: In addition to providing security throughout the country, the troops are also engaged on a daily basis in many other tasks, helping with reconstruction of infrastructure and engaging in humanitarian work. The US troops in
Kurdistan are doing a lot of good work:

"Here in Irbil Province, part of what is commonly called Kurdistan, the people came to know the Americans as friends.

"First with Alpha Company and then with Charlie Company, the 133rd labored hard here to build health clinics and schools and community centers. The soldiers repaired old roads and created new ones, cut ribbons while local television cameras rolled and brought candy and school supplies to legions of smiling children.

"They dined with local leaders, haggled with savvy contractors and, on virtually every project, made sure that the finished product co-mingled American and Iraqi sweat and ingenuity."
Read the whole long piece.

The support of the US troops for Iraqi education system continues. Near
Mandali, soldiers from Task Force 150 participated in renovation of the Hamilathania Primary School. "The attendees handed out school supplies to children. The small boxes were filled with pencils, crayons and a variety of supplies that are needed for the students to be successful. The supplies were donated from people in the United States... The 30th Brigade Combat Team, the coalition unit responsible for Mandali, has spent more than $870,000 USD on projects in eastern Diyala and the Tuz area and there are plans to spend almost two million more US Dollars on future educational projects." Another school has been opened in South Hiteen village thanks to the assistance of the Task Force 2-11 Field Artillery. And "the construction of four schools in Iraq's northern-most province, Dahok, began in early January. On December 28, 2004, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in cooperation with local government officials, awarded $1.3 million for the construction of two 12-room two-story schools, one six-room kindergarten and one nine-room secondary school. All work will be done by Dahok province contractors."

Health system is often the beneficiary of the reconstruction and humanitarian assistance by the troops. "In the small village of
Marina, northern Iraq, the people now have a functional health clinic. Multi-National Forces completed $35,000 worth of renovations on the clinic that sees 40 to 50 patients a day." Soldiers of the 116th Brigade Medical Team have recently conducted their first medical assistance visit in Lower Jawaala, near Kirkuk. The mission - "to improve the health of the local populace, provide feedback to the Ministry of Health, and to establish and strengthen the town's future health care capability" (more on the visit here). Another village near Kirkuk, half-Sunni Arab, half-Kurd Allo Mahmoud now also has a medical clinic, thanks to the work of 116th Brigade Combat Team.

Some of the missions are purely humanitarian. For example, Marines and Soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division have recently distributed humanitarian aid in a town Kurdish village of
Al Taash, located southwest of Ramadi. "During the operation, members of the brigade passed out more than 9,500 humanitarian daily rations, 4,500 blankets and more than 3,000 pairs of shoes to more than 400 households. In all, the daylong mission served to improve the lives of more than 4,000 people." In Kirkuk, Task Force Danger soldiers have assisted Iraqi charity organization Al Salama to distribute aid donated by the American public.

Much of the humanitarian effort is a result of private initiative. To that effect,
a new group is currently being formed: "In the midst of tsunami relief, not to be forgotten are the needy in Iraq. A group of individuals hoping to form the first chartered Noncommissioned Officers Association, or NCOA, in Pacific Air Forces plan to kick off an Iraq charity drive Monday. 'It's for Iraqi people in general. We're looking for clothes, toys, any school supplies that people are willing to donate - used or new, as long as it's in good condition,' said Staff Sgt. Larry Behrens, a 35th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter and the group's acting president."

The Coalition troops are also working on vital technical infrastructure projects. "Spc. Kashamba Busby, a Soldier with the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion in Baquba, is coordinating several interrelated projects that will significantly improve the
telecommunications network in Diyala. She is working with local government officials, business leaders, American development experts, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division to ensure that all of the residents across the province hear a dial tone when they pick up their phones. Thanks to her efforts, it will be easier for them to dial the right number every time." The work involves reconstruction of a microwave station in the town of Sheik-Shnaif, building supply depots, and construction of several smaller UHF stations throughout the governorate.

Power infrastructure is also on the agenda, often on a micro level, supplementing the large scale civilian reconstruction effort. For example, "soldiers from Company A, 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, brought electricity to a village in northern Iraq. The village of Alkishki is a small rural community of approximately 250 located in the mountains of northern Iraq. The people live in mud hut homes and make their living primarily in agriculture. The $50,000 project involved erecting electrical poles and placing wiring in addition to adding a junction box and transformer to connect Alkishki village to the nearby villages' power grid. Local contractors were hired to complete the project."

The 411th civil affairs public works team together with the 1st Division engineers and the ministry of electricity has recently completed the construction of a
chemicals warehouse at the Bayji Power plant. "This facility meets specifications needed to minimize both the chance of an accident and the impact if one occurs. The site is able to hold at least 14 days worth of supplies for all needed chemicals, a significant improvement over previous stores."

And in
Mosul, soldiers of the 133 Engineer Combat Battalion (1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) are working with local contractors to improve local roads: "The total cost is $2.25 million with 810 jobs created. The roads were previously asphalt and in poor condition. In conjunction with this work, the groups will add concrete surface drainage cross gutters. The total cost is $250,000 with another 90 jobs created."

The troops' reconstruction contribution also extends to improving the security infrastructure throughout the country. For example, $340,000 has been recently spent to renovate the
Erbil Police Training Academy. "Currently 300 students live and train at the academy full time. There are accommodations to train and house another 100, who travel in from other city police agencies for courses that last between one and eight weeks. The academy trains both professional and semi-professional personnel for law enforcement positions within the municipality and governorate." And in Owja, south of Tikrit, the renovation of a police station is nearly complete and ahead of schedule. "The police station in Owja is one of six similar projects conducted by Task Force 1-18 to enhance the functionality and professional appearance of the region's police."

Some of the reconstruction assistance is
not as tangible as a new school or a water treatment plant, as this story shows:

"Delta Detachment, 106th Finance Battalion, continues to work hand in hand with local Iraqi banks in an effort to stabilize and improve local confidence in an ailing Iraqi banking system. Through meetings with the Kirkuk Provincial bank managers, the finance detachment, along with civil affairs elements, has made significant strides with the banking system...

"Both finance and civil affairs quickly noted that the people of Kirkuk and its surrounding regions must be able to walk into a bank whose physical appearance portrays confidence, competence and security. Most recently, Delta Detachment, in conjunction with civil affairs elements and the 2-25th Brigade Combat Team, has organized renovation projects of two major state run banks located in Kirkuk.

"First, Delta Detachment has coordinated to have major infrastructure improvements made to the Kirkuk Real Estate Bank. Of all the banks in Kirkuk, this bank was damaged the most during the war as the majority of the bank was burned and looted. The new renovations will concentrate on electrical, plumbing and customer-service-oriented construction. This includes cashier windows for the bank tellers and meeting areas for the bank supervisors. This bank already services 1,100 homeowner mortgages...

"Additionally, the finance detachment has coordinated for similar renovations for the Rasheed Branch Headquarters in Kirkuk. This bank, the Rasheed-Al Wahed Huxarian Bank, services approximately 190,000 banking individuals, government accounts and private businesses. Much needed infrastructure improvements will further assist in gaining popular confidence in the use of pension accounts, savings deposit accounts, loans and other services."
The troops are also working to strengthen security at university campuses throughout Iraq:

"No nation on the planet boasts better university campus security programs and departments than the United States. In the fledgling, democratic country of Iraq part of the overall security and police training operation is the creation of campus security forces at Iraqi universities. This is just one of the untold stories of US nation-building efforts in the war on terrorism.

"Soldiers from the 416th Civil Affairs Battalion's higher education team are working to improve security around Mosul's schools. The team handed out thousands and thousands of dollars worth of security equipment such as body armor, megaphones, flashlights, reflective vests and metal detectors to the security guards from Mosul University. The 416th, an Army reserve unit based in Norristown, Penn., arrived in northern Iraq in February and is working with the Iraqi people to improve living conditions in the local area."
Lastly, read this story by an American Army journalist of an Iraqi boy "adopted" by an American unit:

"If the Army had an adopt-a-child program, Logan would be the poster child. For more than a year, the 13-year-old boy, who contends he's 13 and a half, has lived and worked with Coalition forces at a forward operating base in Mosul. The boy speaks four languages and his official title at the FOB [Forward Operating Base] is translator and supervisor, but he is a Soldier at heart.

" 'I love American Soldiers. I want to help them in every way possible, because without them we (Iraqis) would have nothing,' said Logan, who also speaks Turkish, Arabic and Kurdish and is currently learning Spanish. 'When Saddam ruled Iraq, he would kill somebody for speaking English or Kurdish. Things were very bad, but now we are much happier and I can speak all my languages freely.'

"Not a day goes by that Logan doesn't use his four languages. At the FOB, he helps Soldiers with more than 50 workers, who maintain buildings, electricity and plumbing."
SECURITY: There are increasing signs of fraying of the relationship between the home-grown Iraqi insurgents and Al Zarqawi's Al Qaeda group:

" 'We have concrete information that a sharp division is now broiling between' Iraqis waging a nationalist war and foreign Arabs spurred by militant Islam, said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. 'They are more divided than ever.'

"Al-Rubaie said one reason was the perception among Iraqis that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whom bin Laden endorsed as his deputy in Iraq, was of little help during the American onslaught on the Iraqi insurgent hotbed of Falluja in November. 'Al-Zarqawi and his group fled Falluja and let the Iraqis face the attack alone,' al-Rubaie said."
One of the counter-insurgency weapons is an old favorite of law enforcement agencies world-wide: a simple anonymous phone hotline:

"Leads generated through a hotline to report insurgent activity in Iraq demonstrate that the Iraqi people want to bring an end to the violence against innocent civilians and critical infrastructure, a top officer in the Army's 1st Cavalry Division told reporters in Baghdad today.

"Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Hammond, the division's assistant commander for support, said the tips hotline received more than 400 calls during the past few months. These enabled the coalition to take prompt action - from freeing several women who had been kidnapped for ransom to identifying and destroying vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices Hammond said 'were rigged and ready to explode.'

"Billboards throughout Baghdad promote the hotline as a way for the Iraqi people to 'fight the war in secret' without fear of reprisal, Hammond said. Because of a campaign of intimidation aimed at Iraqis helping to move their country forward, 'people were virtually paralyzed to reach out for help,' he noted. Now, thanks to the hotline campaign, 'people today are picking up the phone and calling us. They are sharing information,' the general said.

"Hammond said the hotline and its success have 'hit a nerve with the insurgents' who regularly vandalize billboards promoting the campaign. But Hammond said the 200 billboards around Iraq are replaced as quickly as they're destroyed. 'I'm not going to stop,' he said."
According to prime minister Allawi, the Iraqi successes are also becoming considerable: "Numerous members of 'Jaysh Mohammed,' or Mohammed's Army, said to be a loosely knit group of former Baath Party officials, former Iraq army leaders and foreign fighters, are being interrogated by investigative judges and will be tried in court, Allawi told journalists. Most were picked up as a result of work done by Iraq's fledgling intelligence service, which has been working for about four months."

You can also read this
first-hand reporting from an American military lawyer with the 1st Armored Brigade about a new program by the US forces to help reintegrate ex-detainees back into Iraqi society through a system of "half-way houses."

Increasingly, the security duties around the country are being taken by Iraqi army and police force. To better enable them to perform their tasks, the security forces are currently undergoing restructure. Read all about the changes
here. In addition to the absorption of Iraqi National Guard units into the country's new army, the 4th Iraqi Army Division has just been established. Overall

"Iraq's military has rapidly expanded and sent forces throughout the country in an effort to ensure security for the Jan. 30 elections. Iraqi and U.S. officials said that over the last six months the Iraq Army has grown in size and capability. They said that from a nascent force in July 2004, the army now operates nine divisions throughout Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Over the next few weeks, officials said, a range of new units would be launched in both the army and air force. So far, the Iraq Army and Intervention Force consist of 18 battalions, a major increase from one battalion in July 2004. By late February, nine additional military battalions were scheduled to become operational, officials said. They said several of the battalions would be ready in time for national elections, scheduled for Jan. 30."
There's more news on the security infrastructure front:

"After nearly a year of work, officials recently celebrated the completion of a $4.6 million project which renovated nine fuel bunkers that serve as one of Iraq’s most secure sources of fuel.

"The fuel bunkers built in the early 1980s by Yugoslavians are located on a former Iraqi air base where MiG pilots once trained. The installation is currently being used as Logistical Support Area Anaconda for multinational forces but will eventually be returned to the Iraqi military...

"The bunkers securely store aircraft jet-A fuel, diesel and motor gas... Now that the system is operational a 6,000 gallon truck can pull up curbside and fill up in 12 minutes."
The Zahko Military Academy in northern Iraq will shortly be renovated at a cost of $5.2 million. "Before the Iraqi freedom war, we only trained cadets from Kurdistan. Since the war we have begun to train cadets from all provinces of Iraq. For instance, cadets from Baghdad, Baquba, Kut and Mosul are sent here for training by the Ministry of Defense," says the Academy Commandant Maj. Gen. Shihab Duhoki. Adds Rich Maskil, the project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Northern District: "The collaboration between the Kurds and Arabs is a great thing. It's a big difference going from Saddam Hussein's campaign against the Kurds to where we are now -- the Kurds and Arabs training and fighting together to provide security for a free Iraq." And in Tikrit, the new headquarters for the 30th Brigade, Iraqi Army have recently been opened.

arming of the Iraqi security forces also continues: "NATO is helping ship military hardware including guns and possibly tanks for use by Iraqi security forces, at the same time as expanding its training mission in Baghdad... NATO military experts are seeing if they can provide transport for 77 T74 tanks offered by alliance member Hungary to Iraq, along with a growing list of equipment from other countries." Meanwhile, in early January, the 1st Infantry Division has presented their 4th Iraqi National Guard Division counterparts with vehicles and other equipment: 10 four-wheel drive pickups and four Mercedes Benzes, 200 uniforms, cold-weather jackets, and protective vests with plates, 20 radios, and some weapons.

police officers continue to hit the Iraqi streets: "The Iraqi Police graduated 1,938 specialized police officers; 1,190 Public Order Police and 748 Mechanized Police officers Dec. 30. The officers completed intensive five week training programs conducted at the Civil Intervention Force Academy... The 8th Mechanized Police Brigade is a paramilitary police force designed to battle insurgents and assist local law enforcement officials dealing with serious insurgent threats or major criminal activity. The unit is equipped with 'BTRs,' wheeled armored vehicles with fire power capable of full-combat operations." You can also read how the Iraqi police are training with American military and civilian instructors near Samarra.

As US general in charge of the training effort sums it up, "the job is tough, but it is a mission that must be accomplished before coalition forces can leave Iraq. And, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, [adds],
progress is being made":

"There are 20 battalions in the Iraqi army today. A total of 27 will join the service by the end of February. The Iraqi National Guard and its 42 battalions also are being integrated into the army. Specialized Iraqi army units also are forming and undergoing training, including a special operations unit, a counter-terrorism unit and a mechanized brigade.

"The Iraqi police force is a prime target for insurgents. Hundreds of Iraqi police have been killed in terrorist attacks. 'If they didn't matter, then they wouldn't be important targets,' Petraeus said. There are now 53,000 Iraqi police trained and equipped, and the police academies will start graduating 4,000 officers each month."
In more "dogs that didn't bark" stories: "An Iraqi police station in southeast Mosul came under attack by multiple rocket propelled grenade fire during a coordinated effort by insurgent fighters to overrun the station. The Iraqi Police successfully repelled the attack. This is the fifth attack on the station this week. Each attack has resulted in defeat for the insurgents and a victory for the Iraqi Security forces. This is the twelfth time since Nov. 10 that insurgents have tried but failed to overrun police stations here. Since Nov. 10, no police stations here have fallen into the hands of insurgent fighters." In another failed attack, "an insurgent attempting to emplace an improvised explosive device near a school in Ar Rutbah wound up being the victim... Members of the Iraqi National Guard witnessed an insurgent emplacing an improvised explosive device and engaged with small arms fire causing the insurgent to prematurely detonate the improvised explosive device, which instantly killed him. Insurgents in a white Toyota pickup truck approached and engaged the ING personnel with small arms fire after the improvised explosive device detonated. The ING personnel repelled their attack."

In Baghdad, the troops are
getting better at stopping terrorist attacks. According to Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, for every car bomb that explodes, another one is located and defused. "Despite almost daily attacks on Iraqi security forces that have killed hundreds of officers, Chiarelli said Iraqis continue to want to join the National Guard and police force. There have been reports that many Iraqis were deserting their posts for fear because of the insurgent campaign. 'We're having no problems recruiting and keeping our units filled up, and that is a good thing, and it is truly amazing,' Chiarelli said. 'They want to get out there'."

Mosul, "an Iraqi child led Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, to a large cache of weapons in an abandoned building during a patrol in western [part of the city] that consisted of 30 60 mm mortars, 21 rocket propelled grenade rounds, dynamite, various roadside bombs and components, five RPG launchers, more than 100 mortar fuses, grenades, ammunition and intelligence documents. Soldiers also discovered a stolen fuel truck in the configuration stages of a truck bomb." In Kirkuk, the soldiers from the 208th Iraqi Army Battalion and American Task Force 1-21 Infantry discovered and dismantled an Improvised Explosive Device. "Iraqi Army soldiers noticed a blinking light emitting from a cement block."

In other recent security successes: rounding up of
49 suspected insurgents in Tiktit; the capture of a key member of the Al Zarqawi network in Mosul (more here); multiple seizure of arms caches in Rutbah and Ramadi, as well as prevention of several terrorist attacks in these cities; the arrest by the Iraqi National Guard south of Baghdad of 228 suspected insurgents including Hatem al-Zawbai believed to be the head of the 1920 Revolution Brigades; seizure of three weapons caches in Sa'dah; detaining of 49 suspected insurgents near Ad Duluiyah; seizure of several arms caches and detention of 15 suspected insurgents in Al Anbar province; capture of 17 suspected insurgents around Mosul; detaining 14 people wanted to insurgent activity around Mosul and another 11 around Baqubah.

Only time will tell where the future of Iraq lies - more violence and decline, or more of the overlooked and ignored stories that Cpl. Isaac D. Pacheco writes about. If media has the tendency to report mostly the bad news, we can only wish the people of Iraq the future where their country rarely graces the pages of our newspapers. The election coming up in only two weeks' time is hopefully the first tentative step on the road to that boring future. But the Iraqis who survived numerous wars and decades of oppression would, I think, agree: boring is not bad.


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