Chrenkoff updates us with all the good news not reported by our liberal press:
SOCIETY: Some Sunnis might not like the constitution proposals, but that’s democracy. There’s certainly nothing like a major political disagreement to motivate people to engage in the political process:
Angered by Shiite calls for a federal region, Sunni clerics urged followers… to vote against the constitution if it contains measures they believe would divide the country…
Iraq’s three major Sunni organizations appeared to have taken a united stand both for voting and against demands for federalism after they boycotted the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections…
Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidaie, of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, told worshippers at Baghdad’s Umm al-Qura mosque to register for the upcoming votes because “we are in need to your voice to say ‘yes’ for the constitution or ‘no.'”
And such voices are growing louder and increasingly representative of the whole Sunni community:
The general conference of Sunnis in Iraq, which includes “the Sunni Mortmain”, “the Association of Muslim Scholars”, “the Iraqi Islamic Party”, and a group of Sunni parties and organizations, was held in Baghdad and has urged all Arab Sunnis to participate in the coming elections.
Recall that in our own Constitution process there were those who stormed out in disgust. The fact that they are even getting involved in the political process show’s how far they have come.
Registration of new enrollees is now in full swing:
The Independent Supreme Commission for Elections has announced launching more than 500 centers for registering electors in all Iraqi cities.
Farid Ayar, member of the commission council said in a statement, “There are543 centers all over Iraq, of which 517 are currently working regularly.” He pointed out, “The necessary protection has been provided for the working centers. There are 26 closed centers at present, due to the lack of sufficient security protection.”
USAID has been helping to bring the constitutional debate to the people (link in PDF): “The Constitutional Dialogue program has organized over 3,000 dialogues throughout Iraq, reaching almost 80,000 Iraqis who also shared their opinions through 64,000 questionnaires. To date, 210 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have participated, including 151 NGOs contracted by USAID and 59 NGOs working as volunteers. Feedback indicates that the dialogues are achieving their dual purpose; to educate and consult the public.” …In one of the other important aspects of dealing with the country’s dark past, the Ministry of Immigration is working to restore Iraqi citizenships on people who have lost it or been stripped of it in the past. And in civil society news, once banned, trade unions, too, are reviving in Iraq.
In entertainment news, two thousand hopefuls sign up for the Iraqi Idol:
Many Iraqis already obsessively watch “American Idol”, a version of the original British “Pop Idol” franchise, and a glitzy Lebanese copy called “Arab Superstar” on free-to-air Arabic satellite channels.
But “Iraq Star” is a brave indigenous effort to perk up the spirits of a depressed nation. The studio set is spartan and drab, and there is no studio audience, though viewers are being promised tinseltown touches when the finale is held in Beirut.
“We are trying to lighten the load and problems Iraqis are going through,” said director Wadia Nader during recording of an episode this weekend in a Baghdad hotel.
“We had shows like this in the 1960s when people were discovered on television. But since then, with so many wars, Iraqis couldn’t see this kind of thing,” he added.
Another show entertains and helps fight the insurgency
at the same time:
Shattered glass, body parts, a blood-splattered blue sedan: the grainy video pans over the scene as Iraqi officers comb the site of a drive-by assassination.
It’s “Cops” Iraqi-style, minus the “Bad Boys” soundtrack but otherwise roughly modeled after the American TV show.
Created to make government more transparent, “The Cops Show” featuring Kirkuk officers in action is the first of its kind in the country and is breaking new ground in Iraqi television. A live call-in portion gives the public the chance to praise the security forces or gripe about them.
Screened weekly on Kirkuk Television, which broadcasts in this northern city of nearly 1 million people, “The Cops Show” has opened the floodgates in a community long suppressed.
“During Saddam Hussein’s time, it was very different,” station manager Nasser Hassan Mohammed said. “You were unable to ask questions. You couldn’t say anything bad about police.
“Now people can call in directly. Anyone has the right to do this. This is the difference now. This is freedom.”
ECONOMY: The International Monetary Fund report paints a picture of Iraq beset by problems, but nevertheless with good prospects:
Iraq is suffering from rampant inflation, endemic disease and falling oil production, the International Monetary Fund said yesterday in its first review of the country for 25 years.
Nevertheless, Lorenzo Perez, the IMF director who oversaw the review, said that in the medium term he was “quite optimistic” about the country’s prospects, although this will “depend on the level of oil prices”.
“It is easy to overlook that the establishment and maintenance of relative macro-economic stability in the midst of violence is an achievement in itself,” he added.
The IMF said sweeping reforms were needed in almost every sector of the economy, which is thought to have halved in size between 1999 and 2003, when the invasion occurred.
A formal agency will from now on chase the investment dollar for Iraq:
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Andrew Natsios and Iraq?s Minister of Planning signed an agreement in Amman, Jordan, to establish the Iraq Investment Promotion Agency, which will play a leading role in job creation and economic development for years to come.
The agreement commits USAID to equip the new agency?s staff and train them in managing the organization and promoting investment.
Support will be delivered through USAID?s Izdihar project, whose staff had worked with the Government of Iraq to develop an investment promotion strategy that culminated in the signed agreement.
…Property prices in Najaf are being driven through the roof by the Shia visitors who have flocked to its holy sites since the invasion of Iraq by Coalition forces.
Home to the shrine of Imam Ali, a cousin of the prophet Mohammed and a revered figure in Shia Islam, Najaf is considered a top pilgrimage site by members of the denomination.
These include millions living across the border in Iran, who were unable to visit during the reign of Saddam Hussein.
The fall of his regime and accompanying thaw in relations between the two countries has brought with it an influx of pilgrims. And there are plans to spend 20 million US dollars on a new international airport near Najaf, with the help of a low-interest loan from Iran.
At the same time, local real estate agents and entrepreneurs say they are doing a roaring trade.
…In communications news:
The Korean government has expressed its readiness to supply Iraq with an internet system, of a capacity of 10000 subscribers as a test system, in the field of the mutual cooperation between the two countries.
…Speaking of railways, a major renovation effort is currently underway across the country:
Ninety-seven railway stations have been renovated by the Facilities & Transportation (F&T) Sector of the Project & Contracting Office (PCO). The $42 million railroad program has 28 more stations to complete.
Forty-one of the completed stations are in northern Iraq throughout the governorates of Salah al-Din, Ninewa and Tameem…
Reconstruction work included electrical work; plumbing, sanitation and water delivery system upgrades; roof repairs; installation or repair of air conditioning units; and interior renovations such as painting, plaster and tile work.
There are two main types of railway stations under renovation: five-room crew stations used only by railway workers, and nine-room passenger stations for use both by railway passengers and railway workers, according to the PCO. Of the 97 railway stations to be worked on by the PCO, approximately 22 are passenger stations; the rest are crew stations only.
Currently the railway works out to be about 30 percent passenger use and 70 percent freight use.
The railway stretches from southern to northern Iraq, approximately 1,260 miles of track, with railway stations appearing about every 15 miles.
…The Iraqi authorities, in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates are planning some health-related projects: “A medical city and a faulty of medicine would be established in Al Sadr city, and the Emirati authorities would start establishing a medical city in Al Sadr city, which would include 4 big hospitals, laboratories and a faculty of medicine. The construction of the two hospitals in Thi Qar and Al Selaimania would start at the same time. He specified the achievement date by a period of less than two years.” Another two hospitals will be established with the American support in Maisan province.
Meanwhile, the authorities are setting up mobile medical centers to provide care in areas of Baghdad with insufficient health infrastructure:
In coordination with a number of humanitarian, Baghdad health department has established medical centers and camps in some poor districts in Baghdad to offer medial assistance for the residents of these regions, which suffer from the spread of epidemics and diseases, due to the contamination of water and the lack of health services.
Dr. Ahmed Al Zubeidi confirmed that these centers offer examinations and medical supplies for poor modest families in the regions of Al Dawra, Al Amel district, Al Baya’, Sowaib, Al Radwaneya, and other regions, where there are no centers or hospitals for treating patients, and epidemics and diseases have spread due to the poor health services. He added that the mobile medical center includes more than five doctors of various specialties, who offer their medical services to patients. Each center or clinic can accommodate more than 600 patients. He pointed out that the majority of cases received in the center are children’s and elders’ diseases, in addition to the wounded.
And Great Britain is involving its private sector in an effort to help train Iraqi medical personnel:
The government will today [25 August] invite the private sector to compete with the NHS for a contract to help rebuild the health service in Iraq.
About 50 medical teams will be invited to come to Britain over the next two years to update their skills. But, in a sign of the times, ministers think this assistance need not necessarily be provided by the flagship hospitals of the NHS.
…Electrical projects are progressing across the country:
More reconstruction projects in Sadr City started this week, including a $13 million electrical distribution project. When the project is complete, an estimated 128,000 more people will have a reliable source of electricity. The project includes installation of power lines, 3,040 power poles, 80 transformers, 2,400 street lights, and power connections to individual homes, complete with meters.
Construction started on the $3.8 million Al Rayash Electricity Substation project in the Al Daur district of Salah Ad Din province, located between Tikrit and Bayji. The project, expected to be complete in early December, will provide reliable service to 50,000 Iraqi homes and small businesses. An electric distribution and street lighting project in Daquq was completed on Aug. 17, providing new overhead distribution lines and street lighting in the community.
…THE COALITION TROOPS: The troops are active on the ground in Diyala province:
Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, Task Force Liberty are working with the people of the Diyala Province to build schools, improve the water supply, pave roads and rebuild their local government.
Coalition Soldiers are providing Iraqis with money to improve their way of life and, in order to ensure projects in the Diyala Province are progressing on schedule, Soldiers conduct routine checks of these sites.
The work the Soldiers are doing is helping to rebuild the city services, said 1st Lt. Jeremy Krueger, civil-military operations officer for Task Force 1-30, and native of Pensacola, Fla.
…According to Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, reconstruction of Fallujah is going well:
Reconstruction is seeing some “amazing” progress, Lynch pointed out.
“Last November, there were significant military operations in (Fallujah),” he said. “By this November we will have completed 438 projects totaling $71.3 million and will continue the progress with an additional 19 projects worth over $65 million after the elections.”
The people of Fallujah, he said, have reliable access to electricity and water, and can send their children to one of the 49 schools now open. Fallujans also will soon have their own TV and radio station.
The troops continue to work on important water infrastructure projects:
In Iraq, where even water that comes from the tap could be contaminated with chemicals or sewage seeping into the ground, clean water is the most basic need of people throughout the country.
While there is an adequate supply of bottled water, water for cooking, cleaning and bathing is a precious commodity. In many cases, wells have not been dug deep enough to go below the contaminated ground water.
…The troops are also building roads:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region South District (GRS) has been working on modern asphalt roads in Najaf to facilitate agriculture sales and to provide better routes to village schools and hospitals.
?GRS is currently managing the construction of two village road projects in the Najaf Province,? said Art Bennett, GRS Transportation and Communication Sector project manager. ?The roads serve small villages and local industries ? in this case, cement and gypsum plants. The second project, or segment, parallels the Euphrates River.?
The troops are working on Iraqi hospitals:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region South District estimates a Dec. 25 completion of a refurbishment and renovation project for the Najaf Maternity Hospital.
Engineers report the $8.2 million project is 30 percent finished.
The project began Oct. 25, 2004.
Renovations include a new sewage system, a new boiler for heating, ceramic tiles throughout all of the renovated portions of the facility and a new residents? office. A reverse osmosis water treatment plant for the hospital is finished and is ready to be turned over to the hospital. An incineration system is also in the works.
…The troops continue to support the reconstruction of the education system: “Approximately 18,000 Iraqi schoolchildren will sit in freshly refurbished schools when their new school year starts in about six weeks. Iraqi and U.S. government agencies announced Aug. 6 that renovations of 43 schools in the northern and southern provinces are funded for repairs, and contracts have been awarded for the work. As part of the Iraq Relief Reconstruction Fund, over $1.3M was set aside to continue a nationwide school repair program that addresses rehabilitating sanitary facilities, electrical and mechanical systems, and structural repairs to schools in Karbala, Dahuk, Najaf, Basrah, and Qadisiyah.”
SECURITY: A new opinion poll has been conducted between July 12 and 17 in Baghdad, Basrah, Salah Ad-Din, Najaf, Diyala and Irbil, with more than 1,200 Iraqis participating:
An overwhelming number of Iraqis say there is no justification for attacks on Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces or Iraqi public service infrastructure. A total of 94 percent of Iraqis say there is no excuse for attacks on Iraqi security forces, 97 percent say there is no justification for attacking civilians, and 97 percent are against attacks on infrastructure.
…Iraqis are proud of their security forces – a sea change from the way most regarded the forces under Saddam Hussein. The poll shows 75 percent of Iraqis say their security forces are winning the fight against anti-government forces. Iraqis regard the security forces as representing the nation and not just one group (77 percent), and 73 percent of those polled believe the Iraqi police and military work within the law and respect the rights of the people.
…Western Iraq has seen more “red on red” violence: Rising up against insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Ramadi fought with grenade launchers and automatic weapons Saturday to defend their Shiite neighbors against a bid to drive them from the western city, Sunni leaders and Shiite residents said. The fighting came as the U.S. military announced the deaths of six American soldiers
…The “Iraqization” of security will be the key to the future of the country – and to the Coalition withdrawal. To that end, training of Iraqi army and police continues. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, recently spoke about the successes – and challenges – of training Iraqi troops:
?I believe that Iraqis will save Iraq,” he told CNN in an interview and said the United States has helped Iraqis help themselves.
“I think that over the course of the past 15 months or so there has been enormous progress in doing just that,” he said.
He said Iraqis and the Americans need to work together.
“There’s a great deal still to be done,” he said, “and it is a long-term endeavor that will require persistence, patience and resilience because the enemy is going to do everything that he can over the next several months to derail the constitutional process and then derail the elections in mid-December.”
Petraeus has said more than 110 Iraqi police and army combat battalions are “in the fight” — a total of 178,000 trained and equipped forces — a vast increase since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.
…There is also training of trainers: “In Taji, Iraqi soldiers completed a Strategic Infrastructure Battalion “train-the-trainer” course. The 90 graduates will go on to serve as instructors at an Iraqi Army training base. A class of future Iraqi army noncommissioned officers graduated from their primary leadership development course on Aug. 15 in Tikrit. Iraqi army unit training also included combat lifesaving, staff training, computer skills and weapons training.”
In other training firsts: “The 1st Iraqi Army Brigade implemented Iraq’s first noncommissioned officers academy this week. Iraqi soldiers from the most recent class were the last group to be instructed by the U.S. soldiers who had developed the training. During Saddam’s regime, an NCO corps did not exist in the Iraqi army. The class will now be taught by NCOs from the 1st Iraqi Army Brigade, who assisted earlier courses.”
Iraqi air force is also rebuilding:
Now the site, 375 km southeast of Baghdad and once Saddam Hussein’s centre of air operations against Iran during the 1980-1988 war – is home to Air Force Squadron 23 and its three C-130 Hercules transport planes.
The US-donated planes are the backbone of Iraq’s new air force, which also includes a dozen light reconaissance planes and another dozen helicopters spread across the country. Officials are vague on numbers for security reasons.
Currently, 109 Iraqi students – all air force veterans with years of experience – are learning how to maintain and fly the Hercules fleet. The youngest trainee is 30. Others appear twice that age.
Iraqi Navy is also slowly starting to make a difference:
“The Iraqi Coast Guard had a busy and successful month of operations in July, according to their monthly operational reporting to the Ministry of Interior. According to the report, the Iraqi Coast Guard searched 183 barges and vessels in July, with 11 of these searches resulting in the discovery of illegal documentation. In addition, 60 tons of illegal fuel were confiscated along with AK-47 automatic rifles, ammunition and fuel pumps. Six people were detained during the operations.”
Overall, by mid-August, 100 per cent of the brigade level operations in Iraq were conducted jointly by the Coalition and the Iraqi forces.
And another first in the south:
“Coalition forces turned over Camp Zulu in As Suwayrah, Iraq, to the Iraqi Army Aug. 21. This is the first coalition forces camp within the Multi-National Division Central?s South area of responsibility to be turned over to Iraq?s 8th Division. The division?s 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade will be permanently housed there.”
American forces have also withdrawn from two bases in Najaf area.
Security infrastructure continues to be created, like these facilities for the police:
“Construction started on a Police Facilities project in the Samarra District of Salah Ad Din Province. This 250-officer station in the northeast part of Samarra, which is a $4.3M investment, will provide a presence in the city to help stabilize law and order. The contractor employs 25 Iraqi workers, and the project is scheduled for completion in November.”
There is more:
“A patrol station in the Karkh district of Baghdad province was completed, as was a $390,300 border-post project on the Saudi Arabian border. A division headquarters building for the Iraqi Army in Salah Ad Din province was also completed this week. The $7 million project includes a single-story building with a concrete roof and interior office space to accommodate the unit. Additionally, a $2 million firing range in Taji was completed this week.”
And that is just a few snippets from his great series. Go an read it all, it’s a long read but that’s a good thing, lots of good news.