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December 20, 2004

Good News From Iraq

Topics: Middle East News and Perspectives

This important and informative article is available at several blogs. It is lengthy but if you take the time to read it all, you will be much more fully aware of what has been and what need's to be accomplished in Iraq. For me it gave me a sense of accomplishment as an American citizen.

Appropriate references are provided below, however this lengthy post was obtained from Chrenkoff. For your convenience it is provided here in it's entirety and without comments. Although I fully endorse the content of the article Hyscience has had no part in it's development. Those cudos belong to the authors that are identified herein.

Note: Also available at the "Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. Thank you to James Taranto and Joe Katzman respectively for their support for this project, and to all of you bloggers and readers who in various ways have kept it going for 17 installments now. You can be sure that "Good news from Iraq" will be returning early in the new year.

The newest member of the international democratic leaders club, Afghanistan's
President Hamid Karzai, recently had some words of encouragement and advice for the Iraqi people on their hard road to a better future: "They must go to polls. They must take this opportunity, elect their people to parliament, and have a government of their own, and have peace... The major lesson in Afghanistan was that the Afghan people wanted change, from the tyranny of terrorism. The Iraqi people also will gain nothing if they allow these people to come from outside and destroy their lives."

We will know soon enough to what extent the Iraqis as a whole have listened to this advice, but as of six weeks from the poll the indications are that the "silent majority" is keen for the election to mark a clean break from the past and a beginning of a new Iraq. It's not just in the political sphere that the Iraqis, with the assistance of the Coalition forces, governments and organizations, are trying to make progress. In the economy, reconstruction, infrastructure, health and education, cultural life and security, work continues everyday, often under dangerous and difficult circumstances and just as often considered not newsworthy enough to compete with the insurgency and the growing pains of a country just starting to lift itself up after three decades spent under the boot of a bloodthirsty megalomaniac. Below are some of these stories of the past two weeks.

SOCIETY: The election campaign has officially kicked off on Wednesday, 15 December, the day voter registration finished across Iraq. In the words of the current Prime Minister Iyad Allawi who announced his candidacy at the head of his Iraqi National Accord movement: "We strongly reject the injustice and separation of the past and we are working towards national unity." Allawi called the election "the precious dream stolen by tyrants".

Iraqis seem to agree. The
latest poll of 5,000 people taken in and around Baghdad, suggests that an overwhelming majority is prepared to make a clean break with the past and pursue democracy - now. Some of the specific results:

"What will you base your vote on?
Political agenda - 65%
Factional origin - 14%
Party Affiliation - 4%
National Background - 12%
Other reasons - 5%

"Do you support dialog with the deposed Baathists?
Yes - 15%
No - 84%
Do not know - 1%

"Do you support the postponing the election?
Yes - 18%
No - 80%
Do not know - 2%

"Do you think the elections will take place as scheduled?
Yes - 83%
No - 13%
Do not know - 4%"

With just over a month to go, preparation for the election day are picking up the pace: "At the offices of Iraq's election commission, workers scurry to field phone calls, greet sheiks and politicians, and prepare for the country's nationwide election Jan. 30. The pace borders on frenetic," says one report. "Registration of voters is under way. The registry is based on records of Iraqis who receive monthly food rations under a program that began in the early 1990s, when the nation was under U.N. sanctions. Today, rich and poor Iraqis alike still receive rations. 'Nobody could tell lies to Saddam. So it was a correct record. Whoever lied was killed,' said [Farid] Ayar, [the electoral commission spokesman]. Registration forms are delivered to citizens through food-ration agents linked to 542 distribution centers across the nation of 22 million to 27 million people."

While the totalitarian obsession with record keeping has made it easy to register votes within Iraq, the International Migration Organization will be trying to ensure through its
Out-of-Country - Voting for Iraq program that Iraqis living in fourteen foreign countries can also register over a one week period a fortnight prior to the voting. As part of the overseas vote effort, the Jordanian authorities have announced they will set up a center to count ballots from the estimated 100,000 Iraqis residing in the country.

Here, meanwhile, you can find the updated list of over
220 registered parties and independent candidates (entities) which will contest the election. The registered entities are, in turn, expected to field some 5,000 candidates running on 83 candidates list: "Nine of the lists were submitted by alliances of political parties, 47 by individual parties and 27 by independents."

One of the parties which will be participating in the poll is the
Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni party that until recently has been threatening to boycott the poll. You can also read this report about the aspirations of smaller parties, which hope to capitalize on the public distrust of established politicians.

This is how the elections
are expected to progress:

"Campaigning begins... Wednesday [15 December] and must end 48 hours before polling booths open.

"Iraq's election laws treat the entire country as a single constituency. A party or alliance will win seats in the National Assembly based on the percentage of votes its' list receives nationally. The system gives those candidates ranked high on the slate most chances to be voted in...

"According to electoral laws, at least one in every three candidates on a single list must be a woman.

"Once all lists of candidates are submitted, the electoral commission will begin printing some 60 million ballots - in three different colors - for the 275-member National Assembly, the provincial councils and a national council for Kurdistan, Ayar said. The symbol of each political party or alliance will appear on the ballot along with the name of each group's leader.

"About 9,000 polling stations, with up to five booths in each, are expected to open on election day.

"To be eligible to vote, a person must be an Iraqi citizen, entitled to reclaim citizenship or eligible for citizenship. Voters are required to show an ID to prove they were registered on voter rolls that were based on a food rations database, created in the 1990s. Heads of families collecting the monthly rations have been asked to check the details of their households.

"Representatives of political parties, electoral commission staff and observers will monitor proceedings on election day. The commission has also invited the United Nations and several countries to send monitors."

In case of violence proves particularly disruptive, the authorities are considering a proposal to extend voting over a two or three week period in order to give everyone the maximum opportunity to vote.

As the campaign unfolds throughout Iraq, in Switzerland a large team of workers continues to
compile Iraq's new electoral roll:

"A team of Arabic and Kurdish speakers in this Swiss city are racing to compile a register of voters for Iraq's elections by the end of December... Manpower, a temporary employment agency [has been] contracted to help draw up the national register...

"Amid escalating violence in Iraq, a huge exhibition centre in Geneva has become the unusual location for the compilation of the voter lists, which are vital to the success of the polls...

"Iraq's electoral commission hired Manpower to recruit people with the right skills to correct names and dates in Arabic and Kurdish on a database of information about Iraqis who are eligible to vote. Despite safety concerns and difficulties in acquiring permits, the agency managed to hire enough staff and is now helping a group of companies oversee the compilation process in the exhibition centre, Palexpo...

"Some 200 people hired by Manpower were Swiss, another 200 had permanent residency in the country and the rest had temporary permits... The workers are split between two eight-hour shifts from 6:00 am until 10:00 pm as they race against the clock to get the job done...

"The electoral lists are being drawn up on the basis of food ration cards distributed by the United Nations under Saddam Hussein's regime, when the World Food Programme oversaw distribution under the UN's oil-for-food programme. Iraqis started registering in about 600 offices around the country on November 1 and have six weeks to come forward to be included on the electoral register. The lists are then scanned and sent to Geneva where they are corrected and entered on computer... They will then be returned to Iraq for use in polling booths.

"The exact size of the Iraqi population and the number of voters is unknown. The last national census under Saddam Hussein's regime in 1997 said there were 23.8 million inhabitants in the country."

Other foreign assistance for the election continues to flow in. Canada has offered to train election officials in Iraq and to help monitor the vote. Japan will be training 10 Iraqi electoral officials from Baghdad and Muthana province. Germany, meanwhile, is assisting with electoral education: "A new radio program is about to hit the airwaves in Iraq focusing on the upcoming elections scheduled for the end of January. It's radio for Iraqis, by Iraqis, with a little help from [the German broadcaster] Deutsche Welle." The report continues:

"Even getting to this hotel conference room in Amman, Jordan was at times a life-threatening trek for some of the young Iraqi journalists. Those who came from southern or central Iraq had to make long detours around hotspots like Fallujah or Ramadi. Those from the north had to travel through Turkey and Syria to Jordan.

"But they were willing to embark on the sometimes dangerous journey because they are all committed to one thing: making radio for their fellow Iraqis.

"In this case, they'll be making Election Radio, a project funded by Germany's foreign ministry and coordinated by Deutsche Welle. Starting in mid December, the Iraqi journalists gathered in this hotel will be sending in reports from the ground daily to create a 30-minute program of current information over the upcoming vote in Iraq.

"The 19 journalists taking part in the project come from all 18 of Iraq's provinces. When they return, they will start producing radio packages and interviews that have been discussed with coordinators at Deutsche Welle.

"The reporters will then send their finished pieces in MP3 digital format to Berlin, where they are turned into the half-hour moderated program in Deutsche Welle's studio. The completed program is then sent back to Iraq, again by MP3, to local partner stations where it is broadcast."

While Canada and Japan are training electoral officials, Denmark is providing training for some of the candidates:

"About 100 candidates for Iraq's first popular election in decades traveled to Kuwait on Saturday for a seminar about the democratic process.

"The men and women were bused from the southern Iraqi city of Basra for the two-day event organized by Denmark's government. Two of the candidates are running for the national assembly, while the rest are candidates for local offices.

"The candidates will attend lectures by experts from the United Nations and Denmark about Iraq's election law, the role of political parties, campaigning and how the vote will be conducted."

USAID, too, is contributing to training and capacity building in the run up to the election (link in PDF):

"A USAID partner recently organized a conference on the electoral process for 46 participants from 27 parties. Representatives from the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) gave a presentation on voting and individual and party registration procedures. The two-hour Q&A period that followed the presentation provided answers to participants' questions on coalition-building, security concerns, governorate versus national registrations, election monitoring, IECI staffing, women candidates, out-of-country voters, ethnic balances in the city council, and numerous other technical issues relating to the election process."

And in another program,

"The first of three Iraqi election monitoring training academies was recently held in Amman. The five-day event brought together 26 Iraqi civic leaders from the Coalition of Non-Partisan Election Monitors for training on the specifics of Iraqi election law, best practices for monitoring, and how to develop and present a unified campaign statement. The academy also included special presentations from the United Nations on election preparations and regulations as well as a presentation from IFES on election violence mitigation. The final day included participatory mock exercises involving scenarios such as an error-plagued polling station.

"The participants of the conference are now responsible for recruiting and training an additional 100 monitors. The new monitors will work under the leadership of the Iraqi Election Information Network (EIN), which will serve as the domestic monitor coordinating umbrella. Using this train-the-trainer method, EIN hopes to train 5,000 to 8,000 Iraqi monitors for the January election."

And in a less material way, Muqtadah Al Sadr's uncle, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Sadr, executed by Saddam in 1980, is providing Iraqi and Arab democrats and human rights activists with inspiration in their struggle for constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law.

While not surprisingly much attention has been recently given to training candidates and election officials, a seminar in the Czech Republic is aiming to
help Iraqi judges in their task of rebuilding the country's independent judicial system:

"The Iraqi judiciary is corrupt, inept and relies on barbaric methods to inflict violent punishments on those with the misfortune to enter its chambers. Wrong, very wrong.

"If there is one thing instructors at the second training seminar for Iraqi judges learned at the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (CEELI) in Prague, it's that Iraqi judges were well-prepared to resurrect a democratic legal system.

" 'When I met judges in Baghdad in 2003 and in Prague, they were much more sophisticated than I expected,' said Judith Chirlin, a judge at the Los Angeles Superior Court whose most recent case involved rock star Rod Stewart's cancellation of a concert tour in South America. (He lost).

"Chirlin was one of five international legal experts at a two-week training program for 50 judges that kicked off Nov. 26."

The seminar is organized by the Sweden-based the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) with financial support from the Czech and British governments, and aims to provide Iraqi judges with additional education and support on topics such as human rights, DNA testing of evidence, ethics, media freedom, community outreach, and court procedures.

You might remember from the
previous installment the news about the establishment of Iraq's Commission for Public Integrity, the official body set up to investigate and fight public corruption using a public hotline for tips. This is how one report describes the Commission working in practice:

"In a country where corruption has been part of the government culture for so long, it's tough to keep up with all of the complaints -- up to 10 per day. Posters on the street now urge people to report financial abuse. Once callers knew they would be anonymous, the calls came in fast and furious. Investigators have already opened 121 cases based on tips from the hotline.

"One man looking at a poster said Iraqis are tired of the corruption, because they know it hurts them. 'This may be new for Iraqis, but I hope it will succeed,' said Abdul Karim Fakhri, 38, the manager of a supermarket. 'We want someone to fight this corruption'."

From politics to education, the interest in computers and information technology is spreading among the young generation of Iraqis: "During Saddam Hussein's iron-fisted rule, owning a computer was theoretically allowed but remained the privilege of the elite and Saddam's cronies." Now in Baghdad, the Karrada Cultural Centre for Youth Computer Teaching has opened in a villa which once belonged to one of Saddam's bodyguards. Safa el-Din al-Sultani, who runs the centre, "admits that the centre would have not been established without the help of the US military and explains that the idea of teaching children sprung to his mind following the fall of the former regime in April 2003. 'The Americans welcomed the idea and they gave us 37 computers and ten play-stations,' he recounts. 'Iraq is considered to be an under-developed country. We have ignorance here and there are no centres to inform adults and youths about computers, which have become an essential element in our life,' he says."

"More than 130 Iraqi boys and girls, aged 8-14, from 17 different schools in the Karrada area attend a two-hour computer course every day, delivered by fresh university graduates who volunteer to teach the children...

" 'The children are eager to learn. They want to know how to use computers, how to play games and how to draw,' says Mithal Alaa, 27, who studied at the Nationalist Computer Science Centre under the old regime. 'We teach these children for free. Most of them come from families who cannot afford to have a computer in there homes,' she said."

Iraq's neighbors are also trying to help the next generation reach their full potential:

"Shaikh Mohamed bin Issa Al Jaber, chairman of MBI International, signed an agreement with Taher Al Buka'a, Iraq's Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, to support a post-graduate study programme for Iraqi students. Under the agreement MBI will fund 60 post-graduate scholarships for Iraqi students from next year. The students will complete their education in universities in the UK."

The government of South Korea, meanwhile, has contributed $200,000 to the International Fund for Higher Education in Iraq, established by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) and UNESCO with an initial donation of $15 million from Qatar: "Despite the instability in Iraq, the [Foundation] Committee has made great progress and achieved many of the objectives, he said. The Committee has provided opportunities for Iraqi faculty members to attend training programmes in European and Middle Eastern universities. Internet connection to Iraqi universities and supply of computers, science equipment and books are part of the agenda. 'Around 100 faculty members are currently undergoing training at various universities and the lab equipment and books are scheduled to be delivered in a fortnight,' [director of the Fund, Bader Abdullah] al-Darwish said. The Committee chairman pointed out that Sheikha Mozah has provided seats to a group of gifted Iraqi students at the branch campuses of Weill Cornell Medical College and Texas A&M University in QF's Education City."

In media news, Iraq will be getting its first Arabic music
FM station when the United Arab Emirates' based Channel 4 Radio Network commences transmission at 98.8 FM. The company "will manage the operations of the radio station, which will initially cover a population of eight million within a 100 kilometre radius of Baghdad. In time, the promoters expect to cover the whole of Iraq." In another development, "Telkonet, Inc., working in commercial powerline communications (PLC), announced that it will support the execution of a U.S. State Department sponsored program to establish the Baghdad Media Center. The program will run through the International Republican Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy. Telkonet will work with several U.S. and Iraqi partners to implement a fully operational media center in the Iraqi capital dedicated to expanding civil programs, educational opportunities and training initiatives throughout Iraq."

Together with the growth of other freedoms in the new Iraq,
Iraqi workers are also discovering freedom of association:

"Iraqi labour unions making their global debut at a conference in Japan are seeking tips on their tough task -- how to make workers aware of rights suppressed for years by Saddam Hussein.

"Five trade union leaders from Iraq attended the 18th World Congress of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which began on Sunday in the southwestern resort city of Miyazaki.

"It was the first-ever appearance of Iraqi organised labour at a congress of ICFTU, which meets every four years. Saddam only allowed a government-run union and persecuted the underground labour movement.

"Since the collapse of the regime, at least 10 independent trade unions have been set up in Iraq."

Lastly, an innovative program is attempting to kill two birds with one stone: help improve the traffic management in Baghdad and integrate the disabled into the society:

"At a busy traffic junction in the Bayaa neighbourhood of the capital, Akram Alewi raises one hand to stop vehicles, while directing another stream of cars forward with the other, a whistle in his mouth ready to pull up offending motorists.

"It may sound like an every day scene, but there is one slight difference: Alewi has been confined to a wheelchair since 1986 when he lost both legs, fighting in the Iran-Iraq war.

"The forty-year-old volunteer, one of a growing number, has been helping the municipality's traffic department since the end of the war in April 2003. 'Before the fall of the regime I worked at the same junction, selling cigarettes to add to my disabled person's pension. I got just 27,000 dinars (18 US dollars) every three months and I have five kids, so it was never enough,' said Alewi. 'I started off helping out the young traffic policemen after the fall of Baghdad, when everything was chaotic. There were hardly any officers and even when they were there, people didn't take any notice of them'."

"Karim Abas, the traffic officer in charge of this area of Baghdad, says he encourages his new band of volunteers, 'They do a good job organising the traffic, people seem to respect them'."

ECONOMY: There is good news for Iraq's future within the international training regime, as the
World Trade Organisation's 148 member states approve request by Iraq to open membership negotiations. "Iraq... which [is] struggling to emerge from conflict, now faces several years of negotiations with other trading nations to adapt [its] laws and trade flows to global trade rules before [it] can hope to join the WTO." Says Iraq's trade minister Mohammed Al Jibouri: "We believe that these measures [the WTO negotiations and writing off Iraq's debts] and other positive economic initiatives on the part of the international community will help bring stability and security to my country."

Meanwhile, in a
baptism of economic fire, "the Iraqi Central Bank has succeeded in maintaining the exchange rates of the Iraqi dinar against the US dollar and other foreign currencies, despite a huge demand for the dollar by the market."

In Baghdad, there is an
unexpected spin-off from the US election:

"The good news and the bad news are the same in Iraq: America isn't leaving. A sign of how this resolve to stay the course is playing out in the minds of some Iraqis comes from the local real estate market.

"An Iraqi businessman was negotiating several months ago to sell a prime piece of commercial real estate in central Baghdad. He had tentatively agreed on a price with a Kuwaiti investor, who planned someday to build an electronics superstore on the 3,000-square-meter property. But after President George W. Bush was re-elected in November, the Iraqi jacked up the price by 25 percent. The prospect that a re-elected Bush administration would stay and fight - and ultimately stabilize Iraq - had instantly made his property more valuable."

Basra and its surroundings, meanwhile, are hoping that the January election will provide a similar stimulus for a local revival:

"Iraq's south produces about two-thirds of the country's oil, but is today its poorest region. Now some federalist-minded local officials are tying hopes for revival to their country's shakily unfolding democratic process. 'We can develop Basra like Dubai or Hong Kong, that's what we want,' says Abdul-Hafiz al-Atti, Basra's deputy governor. It would help if the city received a cut of Iraq's oil revenues. 'Even 5 per cent is enough to compensate Basra for the last 35 years,' he says."

The unemployment rate in Iraq fell from 28 per cent at the end of 2003 to 26.8 per cent during the first half of 2004. To help tackle this still unacceptable level of unemployment, a two-day conference sponsored at the Iraqi government's request by the International Labor Organisation "brought together more than 60 representatives of government, employers and workers in Iraq, as well as representatives of local authorities, civil society, UN agencies, the World Bank and international donors" who have been working on plans to reduce this economic and social problem.

Meanwhile, the US authorities are trying to help Iraqi
female business owners:

"The Iraq Projects and Contracting Office (PCO) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a conference for woman-owned businesses at the Baghdad Convention Center November 29 to outline procedures necessary to follow to learn about potential contracts in Iraq and for bidding on them.

" 'This is a huge culture shift for most businesses in Iraq. We want to give owners and managers of woman-owned businesses an understanding of our processes and procedures so they will have an equal opportunity to bid on the various contracts for construction and services that we have available,' said Shirley Wilson, deputy director of the contracting office for the Gulf Region Division of the Corps."

Similar seminars are being planned for Basra and Mosul.

In oil news, the Southern Oil Company of Basrah recently took ownership of the restored
water injection system at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant. This $225 million-project was necessary in order to continue extraction from the field: "As the oil is extracted, the reservoir loses pressure... To preserve the life of the reservoir, water is injected into the rock to replace the pressure created by the oil." The Missan province, also in the south of the country, is planning some major energy developments:

"Relative stability in the southern city of Amara has encouraged private entrepreneurs to draw plans for the construction a refinery, a power plant and a liquefied gas factory.

"The local branch of business and industry chambers in the city has set up a 'consultancy board to energize the role of the private sector,' said Ali Jaber. 'We are preparing for the construction of a refinery and have submitted a feasibility study to the Ministry of Oil,' Jaber, who leads Amara's business chambers, said.

"Jaber said the city entrepreneurs were also planning other projects 'among them an electricity generation station.' Amara is the capital of the Province of Missan where some of the richest undeveloped Iraqi oil fields are situated."

Continuing the focus on the south of the country, "Kuwait and Iraq have reached an initial agreement on a KD238 million ($809 million) deal to supply Kuwait with 200 million cubic feet of gas per day. 'We have agreed on the gas project, which is expected to begin in October after infrastructure is rehabilitated and upgraded,' Essa Al Oun, undersecretary at Kuwait's Energy Ministry said. The project will be divided into two phases, the first of which will supply Kuwait with 35 million cubic feet daily of Iraqi gas beginning October, followed by another 165 million cubic feet daily within the next two to three years, Oun said."

In the Kurdish north of the country, meanwhile, Eagle Group of Iraq, the Kurdish oil entity, will benefit from the cooperation with
Heritage Oil Corporation in developing the oil and gas potential in the region. For Micael Gulbenkian, Chairman and CEO of Heritage Oil Corporation, the new cooperative venture is like coming back home:

"Because of my family's centuries-old links to Iraq and the region, I have been able to visit Iraq regularly during the last two years. My great grandfather and great uncle were closely associated with the development of the Middle East oil industry. In fact, the Gulbenkian family was fundamentally involved with the establishment of Iraq Petroleum Company in the 1920s and the drilling of the first well in Kirkuk in 1927. My father for decades since the 1950s was associated with the development of the Iraqi Oil industry and, by investing in numerous social and development programs played a very important role in the fields of education, health, arts and science for the benefit of the Iraqi people. I have been touched with the warm reception I have enjoyed within Iraq in general and the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in particular. As a result of my family's historical connections in the area, this joint venture could have the ability to transform Heritage Oil Corp. in the short to medium term."

Russia, too, is "ready to lend the country a helping hand in modernizing its installations and developing new fields."

In transport news, more work is on the cards to give Iraq
another international airport:

"Iraqi and multinational officials are moving forward with plans to upgrade Mosul's Airfield to a Category I airport. The International Civil Aviation Organization designates Category I airports as those properly equipped to host international commercial flights.

"On November 27 officials awarded a $10.3 million contract to construct a new air traffic control tower and install new runway lights and navigational aid equipment, all critical components that will help bring the airfield up to international standards. Renovations at the airfield's terminal have been underway since July. There are also plans to renovate the airport taxiway and update the weather forecasting equipment."

And in the work on Iraq's railway network, as USAID reports (link in PDF),

"the refurbishment of the rail track connecting Basrah with Umm Qasr port is 78 percent complete. 1,260 sleepers - the rail components used to reinforce the track - were recently delivered to the site and the mining, crushing and placing of foundation gravel is nearly done. In recent months USAID installed all 29 planned culverts and repaired ten railway gatehouses along the track.

"Track reconstruction is being complemented with training for Iraqi Republican Railway (IIR) staff. The final training plan was selected from competing proposals last week. By teaching IRR staff best practices in track construction and maintenance, USAID is supporting the sustainability of Iraqi rail restoration.

"Upon completion of the project in January, 2005, the weight-bearing capacity of the rail line and train speeds will increase significantly. Iraq needs safe and effective transportation networks, and rail remains the least expensive way to move grain, fuel and other bulk cargo around the country. The railway was barely operational prior to the conflict, suffering frequent derailments, accidents, and delays."

RECONSTRUCTION: There is plenty of - underreported - good news about the Iraqi reconstruction effort from USAID: "[Andrew Natsios, the administrator of USAID] said the United States has completed or is working on 7,000 assistance projects in Iraq, efforts that he said largely have been overlooked because of the focus on security problems... While foreign news media tends to focus on the insurgency in Iraq, 'the more mundane work that we do in reconstruction is not covered as well, or as much or at all, in some cases', [says Natsios]." Among the highlights of USAID's contribution to building the new Iraq:

"- Reconstruction of the port of Umm Qasr, which was essentially closed for more than 20 years. Now 50 ships offload there every month.

"- Substantial overhauls of the power grid have produced an increase of more than 10 percent in megawattage compared with the prewar figure. 'Right now, we have between 11 and 15 hours per day of electricity in almost all areas of the country that are electrified, and by the end of 2005 our expectation is we will be at 18 to 20 hours,' [Natsios] said.

"- Rehabilitation of nine sewage treatment plants is expected to lead to an increase of treated waste water by 250 million gallons per day by the first quarter of 2005.

"- More than 3 million children under the age of 5 have been immunized, and 700,000 pregnant women have been educated in neonatal care. In addition, high-protein biscuits and fortified milk have been distributed to more than 450,000 children and 200,000 pregnant and nursing mothers.

"- Some 2,500 schools have been repaired as of March and 32,000 teachers trained."

Natsios adds that the United States had already spent $3.6 billion of $18.4 billion approved by Congress for reconstruction, and currently projects accounting for an additional $9.4 billion are in the planning stages or had already been approved. "Our work in Iraq is the largest reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan," he says (note that most current sources put the money already spent at only $2 billion).

Meanwhile, "U.S. officials announced... they would try to begin 150 more construction contracts in Iraq by the end of [December]. They have begun work on 363 schools, 16 military bases, 88 border posts, 41 clinics and 14 hospitals, among other projects, according to the Defense Department."

Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Bostick, who heads the Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division, which together with the Project and Contracting Office administers and conducts most of the reconstruction projects, updates on the
progress being made in reconstruction program:

"Bostick explained $12 billion of [$18.4 billion] will go toward physical construction projects and the rest toward 'non-construction type' projects and supplies. He estimated that about $2 billion has been disbursed so far and expects another $2 billion more to be spent by the end of December.

"Thus far, 57 healthcare centers and 343 schools are under construction, and 12 hospitals are being renovated, Corps officials explained. Other significant project starts include those to generate electricity and to treat water and sewage throughout the country.

"In addition, about 75 kilometers of roads are also being built, and renovation work is continuing on railroad stations around the country. And there are 12 new police stations and 120 border posts under construction."

The recent speed-up in reconstruction work is in part due to the change in tactics: "The United States has shifted to smaller, low visibility projects from the high-profile, more expensive ones originally planned and the approach is paying off, said Charles Hess, head of the Project and Contracting Office in Baghdad. 'We have taken all the smaller ones we planned and moved them to the front of the queue. We can get out there with these and have more impact,' said Hess, whose office is in charge of much of the U.S.-funded reconstruction work in Iraq...

"As of Wednesday, Hess said, a daily average of about 100,000 Iraqis were employed on U.S.-funded projects and he expected this would peak to 140,000-150,000 by next summer. Dirt had been turned on 1,167 projects worth about $3 billion and 70 to 100 new ones were starting each week. Of the $18.4 billion, he said, $2 billion had been paid out and $9.6 billion legally contracted with companies to do work."

From outside the United States, the World Bank has recently signed on a major reconstruction assistance deal:

"The World Bank signed three contracts for Iraqi reconstruction and health projects worth 145 million dollars.

"The deals for a 65-million-dollar Baghdad water and sanitation project, 25 million dollars for emergency health and 55 million dollars for private sector development were signed in Amman in the presence of Baghdad Mayor Alaa Tamimi.

"World Bank representative Joseph Saba said the grants were part of the 400 million dollar Iraq trust fund administered by the institution."

From June 13-16, 2005, a series of exhibitions, workshops and seminars is expected to provide networking opportunities for businesses and agencies participating in rebuilding Iraq: " 'Gateway to Iraq - Exhibition, Business and Investors Summit', a major event to support the reconstruction and economic development programme of Iraq, and to create awareness of the vast investment and trade potential in that country, will be launched in Dubai... The 'Gateway to Iraq' Exhibition will bring together under one roof regional and international companies, offering a range of products and services related to the reconstruction effort in Iraq, and also any company looking to join the list of suppliers who will be supporting the lead contractors in Iraq. Exhibitors will represent a broad spectrum of sectors and interests including Construction & Transportation, Water & Sewage, Oil & Gas, Electricity & Power Generation, Communications & Information Technology, Healthcare & Education, Agriculture & Food, and Non Governmental Organisations."

Meanwhile, back on the ground, what a difference a few months can make in one of the country's
worst hot-spots:

"The outdoor markets are busy again and the gridlocked traffic is back. The bands of excited children who walked behind local militiamen heading to battle in the fall now clamor around machinery laying down new water pipes.

"After spending much of the year as a battlefield between militiamen and U.S. forces, Baghdad's Sadr City district is now embracing peace and reconstruction. Anticipation is high for what the residents of the mainly Shiite district say is their overdue empowerment through elections Jan. 30.

"Workers in orange jumpsuits are laying asphalt in dozens of potholes dug by the fighters to conceal roadside bombs meant to kill American soldiers. The clerics who replaced their turbans and robes with track suits to join the fight are back in mosques and seminaries."

Meanwhile, some $120 million dollars has been committed to the reconstruction of Al Anbar province, which included Fallujah:

"Marine civil affairs units are making damage assessments throughout the city and progress has been made in restoring some key infrastructure like water and power...

"Officials say as the city is cleared of insurgents and unexploded ordnance, announcements will be made that heads of families will be allowed back district-by-district to inspect their homes and businesses...

"Addresses on food ration cards issued before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq will be used to verify each family resides in the district being opened.

"US navy Rear Admiral Raymond Alexander says military personnel will be in the city to hand out damage claims forms. 'If their house is damaged, we're going to let them turn in a claim. Their house may be gone, do they want to rebuild or take that cheque and go somewhere else?' he said."

Navy Reservist from Wisconsin, doctor John Williams of Marshfield is now in charge of rebuilding the health infrastructure throughout the province.

Iraqi Planning Ministry has received 5.7 billion dinars ($3.9 million) to develop projects to
redesign and modernize the cities of Kirkuk, Hilla and Kut. Following the successful tendering process to redevelop the city of Najaf, foreign firms will also be welcome to submit their proposals in this latest round. "[Ministry official, Riyadh al-Wazir] said his department's plans included the drawing of new designs for most Iraqi cities. Most Iraqi cities lack modern sewage systems and suffer from chronic shortages of basic public amenities. Oil revenues in the 1970s and 1980s fuelled a reconstruction boom across the country but most of the development was haphazard and poorly planned. 'We want to give each city its special Iraqi identity,' Wazir said. Wazir said his engineers were drawing on experience collected by world organizations such as U.N. Development Program and the World Bank."

Every dollar helps, and the Iraqi government will have a few more of those to spend on reconstruction as
100 million pounds recovered by the British government from the funds hidden away in the West by Saddam is returned to the Iraqi government.

Reconstruction work is currently progressing elsewhere throughout the country. In the
Kirkuk province several major projects have already been finished and several more are underway at a total cost of $8 billion. USAID, meanwhile, reports (link in PDF) that "the rehabilitation of a water treatment plant in northern Iraq that will provide clean water to 375,000 At' Tamim residents is 82 percent complete. The plant is more than 10 years old and suffered operational and structural problems before USAID's work began." And elsewhere

"In south central Iraq USAID will soon begin to expand and refurbish a faulty 30-year-old water treatment plant in Karbala that has long experienced structural failures. Before the existing facility is repaired, compact water treatment units will be installed nearby to allow continued water service while the rehabilitation is completed. The Karbala project is scheduled for completion in July 2005. Repairing this plant is particularly important because it supports millions of visitors and religious pilgrims each year. The spring pilgrimage to visit a shrine located near the treatment plant is part of religious life for many Iraqi Muslims."

In Najaf, meanwhile, USAID's Community Action Program

"has developed 90 projects in 77 communities in Najaf governorate valued at $3.6 million. Initiatives have directly benefited 865,769 Iraqis in addition to 654,403 indirect beneficiaries. Recent Najaf projects include the construction of a health clinic that will serve a combined population of 52,500. The area is located near a shrine that is frequented by many religious visitors each year. A local municipality will donate the land for the clinic, which will be equipped with triage services, a waiting room, an x-ray room, a laboratory, a dental office, and examination rooms.

"Community Action Groups in Najaf have also developed projects to build maternity wards near existing health care centers. One $17,000 project will construct and equip a maternity ward with examination and recovery rooms and a pharmacy, serving 84,000 Iraqis. A second $50,000 maternity ward will serve 80,000 people in three communities."

A major plan to help Iraqi health infrastructure is currently underway:

"The Iraq Project and Contracting Office (PCO) hopes to improve the healthcare situation in Iraq through its Buildings, Health, and Education Sector (BHE). The sector plans to renovate 19 hospitals and build 150 primary healthcare centers (PHCs) throughout Iraq by January 2006...

"The PHCs will be 15,000 to 21,500 square feet in size and will have physician clinics, dental offices, radiography departments, vaccination centers, labs, pharmacies and classrooms. Some of the PHCs will also include an urgent care center and a birthing center.

"The equipment provided will cover air conditioners to X-ray machines, patient beds, examination tables, microscopes, incubators, wheelchairs, scales, heart monitors, sterilizers, resuscitation units, defibrillators, pediatric blanket warmers, refrigerators, mammography units, water purifiers, ultrasound equipment, ventilators, stretchers, surgical instruments, dental chairs and dozens of other items.

"Overall, the PCO will spend more than $700 million on healthcare-related construction and medical equipment in Iraq. This includes $225 million to construct PHCs; $149 million to renovate hospitals; $50 million to construct a pediatric hospital in Basra; $60 million for equipment for hospitals; $70 million for equipment for PHCs; and $165 million for training and general distribution of hospital equipment."

The US is also funding the training of medical personnel - and not just doctors and nurses, but also "receptionists, medical technicians, orderlies, medical records clerks, medical maintenance personnel and others" throughout all 18 governorates. And in the northern governorate of Diyala, USAID and an international NGO are continuing to do a lot of good work to improve the local health infrastructure (link in PDF):

"- Training 22 doctors in Ninewa, and 18 doctors and 36 nurses in Diyala'.

"- Providing community outreach health services by establishing six mobile health teams that provided health services to 2,906 patients, provided antenatal care to 176 pregnant women, and vaccinated about 1,116 children and pregnant women in Diyala' Governorate.

"- Rehabilitating a primary healthcare center in Mosul, which had been closed by the Ministry of Health due to lack of funding for rehabilitation. The center will be handed over to the Directorate of Health in Mosul and about 364 IDPs (52 IDP families) will benefit from its services.

"- Undertaking a community outreach health promotion initiative using volunteer educators and reaching 3,049 returnee beneficiaries in Northern Iraq and 5,677 IDP beneficiaries in Diyala' Governorate. The NGO's strategy was to identify individuals among IDPs and host populations to provide them training and orient them on health promotion in their communities and villages.

"- The NGO trained 20 community health volunteers in districts of Ninewa and Erbil, and 18 community health volunteers in Diyala'."

Progress is also being made in improving the health of Iraqi children, who have suffered greatly under the sanctions regime throughout the 1990s so that Saddam could make a political point. Over three-million children under the age of five have now been immunized and children are also now receiving twice yearly doses of Vitamin A, which are expected to reduce child mortality rates by more than twenty percent.

USAID is also helping Iraqi farmers through its Agricultural Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI). Some of the
recent activities include (link in PDF): helping authorities build capacity to collect accurate agricultural data, conducting wheat seed manipulation programs to increase yields, expanding farming tracks, and renovating a veterinary clinic. USAID's Community Action Program, is also assisting: "An animal vaccination campaign has begun in 1,058 At' Tamim villages. With the facilitation of USAID's Community Action Program (CAP), 56 unemployed veterinarians will vaccinate 780,000 sheep and 500,000 chickens that are at risk of pox and Newcastle disease, a highly contagious bird disease that is endemic to Iraq."

Operation Iraqi Children, a brainchild of actor Gary Sinise and Laura Hillenbrand, author of the book "Seabiscuit: An American Legend," has become one of the most successful humanitarian actions directed at Iraq. The idea of helping Iraq's next generation came to Sinise during an United Service Organistaion tour in Iraq in November 2003: "I went to this school, and I saw what it did for the troops to go out there and visit these kids and to see these smiling kids... These soldiers had helped to rebuild the school. So when they showed up, the kids just ran out and threw their arms around the soldiers. And the troops are very protective of kids at the school. I just saw a lot of good will there that day, and I wanted to reinforce that in some way."

"So he told the troops that he would gather and ship school supplies back to them so they could take them to the children.

"In this endeavor to foster good will between U.S. troops and the Iraqi civilians, he and Hillenbrand started an OIC Web site. It was their way of showing people how they could help support the troops and the Iraqi children at the same time. And the response from the military and the public has been terrific...

"The American public has also embraced the organization. 'We get stuff every week, every day from all over the country,' [Sinise] said. 'Now we're asking for blankets, which they need - (they) desperately need blankets over there. At night it's very, very cold.'

"Sinise said donations of blankets, shoes and other winter items are being collected for shipment after the holidays because of the high volume of packages shipped at this time of the year.

"The program wouldn't have become as big as it is without some help, Sinise said. That help comes in the forms of People to People International and the Veterans of Foreign Wars."

Meanwhile, from Michigan, this smaller but also successful action:

"Beanie Babies are on the ground in Iraq. The humanitarian effort Beanie Baby Aid -- launched by three Ironwood women to get the dolls into the hands of Iraqi children -- has been a success.

" 'He says they're working,' said Tricia Doan, mother of Army Lt. Anthony Doan. Doan wrote to his mother, asking that she use his income tax return to purchase Beanie Babies for distribution by soldiers to children. She shared the idea with friends Pamela Mack and Lynda Van Rossum.

"In one month some 5,000 Beanie Babies have been donated. Some 3,000 of them arrived in Iraq Wednesday [1 December], via Air Force cargo plane."

More beanie babies were collected by students from

Posted by Hyscience at December 20, 2004 2:17 PM

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