Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Terrible Terrible Tragedy Take 2
I posted last week about a Terrible, Terrible Tragedy involving the other love of my life... the Ferrari Enzo. The evil Dr. Zubov had to point out yet another Terrible loss... a new Ford GT.
Why is it that only morons get to buy insanely fast cars?
Go check out the other horrible pictures over at Across The Board.
Fat and Happy on Fat Tuesday
It's fat Tuesday! Now for some of you that aren't from or familiar with the south area let me explain what "Fat Tuesday" is. Enlightenment on the heritage of a great melting pot of people in Louisiana Mardi Gras, which is French for "Fat Tuesday," is a big festival that takes place the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent -- a symbolic period of fasting and penance for many Christians.
The two weeks before "Fat Tuesday" are the most festive. Local carnival organizations called "krewes," the first of which dates to 1857, hold almost nonstop balls and parades. Individuals, given the honor of riding on elaborately decorated floats in the parade, wear theme costumes and throw bead necklaces and other trinkets to spectators. A French phrase that is often used during these festivities is Laissez les bon temps rouler! or "Let the good times roll!"
The melding of many heritages, such as Spanish, French, English, and African American, has created a unique culture in New Orleans -- a place famous for its rich musical tradition, its distinction of being the birthplace of jazz, its food and its colorful Mardi Gras celebrations.
If you ever get the chance, and despite the hurricane damage you must see it and experience it one time. You won't regret it.
Monday, February 27, 2006
ABC Family... Yeah Right
If you've ever flipped through the channels I'm sure you've come across ABC Family, the network famous for 'Full House' and 'America's Funniest Videos' re-runs. ABC Family advertises the fact that the network is 'television for today's families.'
"ABC Family is television for today's families -- connected by birth or by choice, diverse and multicultural, mirroring our changing attitudes and lifestyles. The movies, hits, holidays and originals of ABC Family feature reliable characters and coming-of-age stories, reflected with heart in the comedy and drama of the experiences of today's families."
I've come across a show every now and then on ABC Family that made me question how 'family oriented' the network really is, but this last Saturday night's ABC Family Movie really took the cake.
Get this... ABC Family was showing that all-time favorite family movie 'Risky Business.'
Yes, the same 'Risky Business' with Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, and lots and lots of sex, drugs, and more sex.
ABC Family... what a joke.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Post-Deployment Hearing Loss
As with many people who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, I had significant hearing loss in my left ear due to a rocket attack. Other than making sure it was properly diagnosed and documented in my medical records, I've never talked about it or asked for treatment for the simple reason that it was just an 80mm rocket. There are thousands of Army and Marine Corps soldiers who have had much worse damage due to IED detonations and close-quarter combat situations. I just assumed I'd let those guys who use our medical facility get the help they needed before I brought it up again with the Docs.
Today I came across the first article I've seen dealing with U.S. troops and hearing loss.
I hope that the DoD starts paying more attention to studies like this so they can better prepare for, mitigate, and treat hearing damage in the combat environment. Yes, if you take all of the physical and psychological injuries our soldiers are dealing with, hearing damage is not nearly as important, but it should at least be dealt with at some level.
The new Army study examined the cases of 806 U.S. soldiers diagnosed with "post deployment noise-induced hearing loss" at audiology clinics worldwide between April 2003 and March 2004. By comparing the hearing of those who had served in Iraq with the hearing of those who had not, researchers concluded that soldiers sent to battle zones were 52.5 times more likely to suffer auditory damage.
"These are not just mild hearing losses that you and I might have from listening to music, or from aging," said Brenda Lonsbury-Martin, director of science and research for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. "These are pretty severe hearing losses that will impact your life."
The most common problems were tinnitus and "permanent threshold shift," which means inner ear damage resulting in lifelong hearing loss. About 30 percent of the soldiers studied suffered these conditions.
About 6 percent of the soldiers studied suffered "acoustic trauma," often resulting from a single loud noise, like a bomb blast. Two percent had broken eardrums, which often heal but in the meantime leave soldiers vulnerable to inner ear infections in unsanitary battlefield environments.
Other than my initial diagnosis, I've had zero follow up or treatment... not even a call to see if it has progressed. Air Force Med Centers are supposed to be on the ball and good about treating their personnel. If the Air Force is ignoring the issue, I can't imagine how bad it is at the Army and Marine facilities.
Keith Urban Concert... and a Nicole Kidman Spotting
Australian Flag - $20
Drive to Indiana - $30
Keith Urban Tickets - $38 each
Being 10 feet away from Nicole Kidman - Priceless
Keith? Keith who?
Almost forgot that we originally went to see Keith Urban when Nicole Kidman walked by. The last time we watched him in concert we had third row center floor seats, and he gladly signed our daughter's Australian flag and a few of our CD jackets. This time around we sat in the front row to the right of the stage, and the show was just as good as the last.
Whether you like country or not, this guy rocks. Since he's an Aussie, the flag my daughter brought along got his attention. Right before the concert started his manager walked up to us and gave us a couple of guitar picks and thanked us for being there.
That was classy.
Here are a few pictures from this year's show.
My little toothless Aussie with her flag and guitar pick
And one from the last concert we went to in Dayton.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
A Terrible, Terrible Tragedy...
Once the love of my life, she is now lost forever. Please keep her in your prayers. Her untimely loss was such a waste of something so unique, so special. I could have done so much with her, yet now she will never know the pleasure I could have given her.
She will be missed.
She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean, she was the best damn woman that I'd ever seen....
Navy Pilots Debate Taking $125,000 Bonus Or Running
By Kate Wiltrout, The Virginian-Pilot
NORFOLK - Pin stripes or a flight suit? That's the bottom line in the choice Eric Perle must make. A C-2A Greyhound pilot with eight years in the Navy, the 29 -year-old lieutenant is at a crossroads: He could extend his service by five years in December, or he could put his pending MBA degree to work in the corporate world.
The Navy wants him to stay - and will pay him a $125,000 bonus if he decides to sign on for another hitch. It's a standing offer for young aviators: an extra $25,000 a year in exchange for a five-year commitment. Since October, the deal also has been
extended to naval flight officers who operate systems aboard various Navy
Perle said the bonus will play into his decision. "I'm on the
fence," he said. "Guys like us can make more money in the civilian world.
Definitely the bonus will be a determining factor in my decision. Who doesn't
hope they'll get more money?" Flight officer retention has risen 10 percentage points in response to the bonus deal, said Capt. Mark Guadagnini at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tenn. Retention rates had not dipped low enough that the Navy had to institute a stop-loss, which the military can use to halt critical losses during wartime.
Yet with conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq stretching forces thin, and a strong economy luring soldiers and sailors back to civilian jobs, it didn't want to see attrition get any worse.
Debate? There is no debate. Let me help those guys out by showing them something.
Delta, American Airlines, Continental, Northwest Airlines, etc, etc...
See a the pattern? They're all going bankrupt, have gone bankrupt, and will not be looking for pilots any time soon.
Stick to your day jobs boys and girls. Take your bonus, get your 20 in, and then look for a flying gig outside
Saturday, February 18, 2006
I Suck at Selling On Ebay
I'm using Ebay for the first time to sell something, and after one week I have zero bids. I figured it would be a no-brainer because similar items are selling left and right.
Does anyone out there have some experience selling stuff on Ebay? If so, let me know if you have any suggestions or tricks of the trade. If not, I'll go get my 'Will Work for Advice' sign and stand on the corner.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Send in Cheney to Save Australia from Invasion
Toxic toads 'threaten disaster': By Rebecca Morelle BBC News science reporter The toxic cane toad in Australia is evolving into an "eco-nightmare" capable of covering huge distances, a study in the journal Nature reports.
They kill snakes, lizards, water birds - even crocodiles and dingos. When harassed they secrete poison carried in two sacs behind the head which is lethal to a potential predator within minutes of being ingested.
I say we send Dick Cheney down under with his weapon of choice to take care of some business and save the Australian continent from ruin.
Bring. It. On.
CNN Slams Fox?
CNN Slamming Fox is like the Washington Nationals slamming the White Sox.
It's like Jimmy Carter slamming any past or present President.
It's like the Atari 2600 slamming the X-Box 360.
It's like John Kerry Slamming... well, anyone.
It's just too rediculous. Instead of whining about being such a loser network and missing the Cheney scoop, why doesn't CNN enroll itself in a 'Cable News gym'. Go hire a personal 'Cable News Trainer' and work off that crusty, flabby, 1980's Ted Turner spare tire around your waist. After that, go hire a 'Queer Eye for the Cable News Network' team to spiff up the antiquated and out of fashion wardrobe/Editorial staff. Once that's over with, join some 'Cable News' online dating service to get a piece. Hell, maybe even Dr. Phill can lend you guys a hand.
Just do something, anything, to help yourself before you try slamming one of the big boys.
The Future of Cheney, Rice, and the GOP
I can guarantee that the media's latest attempt at smacking down Cheney will once again prove fruitless. For this latest attempt at bringing The Man down, the Beltway media has thrown everything including the kitchen sink into the fight, yet Cheney will not yield to these media mortals. Cheney doesn't cut and run like most D.C. politicians when faced with cameras and insults.
Don't expect anything to happen within the next 4 months, but do keep an eye on the VP seat this summer. Once the hunting saga evaporates Cheney will do what's best for the nation and the GOP. He will step down. Now don't get me wrong. He's one of the best Veeps ever to sit in that office, but he knows all too well that if the Republicans are to maintain their majority in the executive and legislative branches he is going to have to bring someone in who can continue the fight for 2008.
I can only hope that they bring in Condi Rice as the Vice President. She has repeatedly said no to running for President, and I'm sure she'll stick to that promise, yet she's never said no to being the Veep. Vice President Condoleezza Rice... it just doesn't get any better than that.
I assumed that Rudy Giuliani would be the front-runner for the GOP ticket in 2008, and I really hoped that he had Condi in mind for his VP candidate. What better way would there be to pummel what remains of the Democratic Party into submission? I can't imagine a Hillary-'Moderate' ticket coming even close to shutting down a Giuliani-Rice campaign. Just wouldn't happen.
But why wait? Why wait until 2008 to set up this scenario? Do it now, and do it while the Democratic Party continues to fumble for a platform and a base. Not only would Vice President Rice help the GOP in the upcoming 2006 midterm elections, it would give Rice the experience and continuity (not to mention the perks) to roll through 2008 with Giuliani.
Cheney can't step down any time soon, but he needs to do it some time this summer. It must be a time and place of his choosing so as to maintain his stature of invincibility, as well as maintain the political integrity of the Bush administration.
No matter what... it must happen. The future of the GOP depends on a Vice President Rice administration. We need a strong woman in the White House, and there's just no better person for the job. Seriously... who else can destroy the opposition using just their thumb and index finger?
Senator Pelosi... I find your lack of faith in the force disturbing.
Abu Graib Today
Black Five has some great photos from Abu Graib from the last 6 months. With all the latest media hype over the pictures that are 3+ years old, taken by some sociopath 'a-holes' rotting away in Leavenworth, the latest pix are simply too positive for the MSM.
One thing you can count on in the media... if it's good for the U.S. it won't be shown, whereas if it's bad it makes prime time.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
The Brady Boys Are at it Again!
Pilots Report Seeing Laser Lights While Flying
Tue Feb 14, 2:16 PM ET Police are on alert after more than a dozen pilots reported someone shining a laser light at the plane while descending into Metro Airport.You just can't trust those Brady boys these days. Damn Hooligans!
The incident occurred in the Dearborn and Dearborn Heights areas, where 16 pilots reported seeing the laser pointer lights near the tower at Metro Airport, Local 4 reported.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Valentines Day Chaos
I walked into the local Halmark store this afternoon at lunch to buy my wife a nice card for Valentines Day, but instead what I found was mass chaos. The store was packed solid with a hundred or so shleps trying to buy cards for their wives... just like me. I realized then and there that I too have become a shlep of a husband... waiting until the 'day of' to get a card. I could have done this yesterday, yet I waited until the last second.
It's ironic that I'm becoming more and more like the TV husband I laughed at for so long.
A buck fifty for a stink'n card??!! That's worth two beers at the nudie bar.
Treason! The most F'd up quote from a Hollywood actor... ever!
Zane said he was not bothered by the movie's anti-American tone, adding that the horrors of war should be exposed. "I acted in this movie because I'm a pacifist," he said in a televised interview. "I'm against all kinds of war."
If you're such a pacifist, why in the freak'n hell would you make a movie that will only result in more hatred, violence and death against Americans and Westerners, you f'd up piece of sh't? If you're such a pacifist, why don't you and your co-star Gary Busey talk a plane out to the hills of Afghanistan and go for a nice peaceful stroll? Even better, take a walk along some random city street in Gaza. See first hand what your movie will do for your health, and for the lives of other more innocent Westerners when it's used as propaganda by our enemy.
He might as well have made a movie about the purity and glory of Nazi Germany, and how it was peaceful paradise until the evil British, Russian and American governments unjustly invaded and killed the gallant and heroic Adolf Hitler.
Billy Zane and Gary Busey's film makes Jane Fonda look like an Uncle Sam/Apple Pie/Patriot compared to what they've now done. Absolute Treason.
Here's the Herald Tribune's article about the movie. Sit down while you read it, and keep the cursing to a minimum if you're at work.
Moviegoing Turks meet new enemy, and it is U.S.
By Sebnem Arsu The New York TimesMONDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2006
ISTANBUL The crowd cheered, clapped and whistled as the Turkish agent plunged the knife into the chest of the enemy commander.
"Valley of the Wolves - Iraq," which opened last week in movie theaters in Turkey, Austria and Germany, is a Rambo-like action story involving, in this case, Turkish gunmen who seek revenge against a tyrannical occupying army.
But in this version, the most expensive movie ever made in Turkey, the enemy is no oppressive third-world dictatorship. The commander's name is "Sam" - as in Uncle - and the opposing forces are Americans, who are being punished for offenses against Turkish as well as Iraqi pride and honor.
Sam William Marshall, played by Billy Zane, is portrayed as a sociopath, killing people without a second thought and claiming that he is doing God's will, a thinly veiled reference to statements by President George W. Bush about America's "crusade" for democracy in Iraq and the Middle East.
Indeed, while fictional, some of the movie is based on real events. The opening sequence portrays an incident that made headlines in 2003, when a group of Turkish special forces soldiers in Iraq was taken into custody by American marines. The Turks, mistaken for insurgents, were handcuffed and held with hoods over their heads. The incident angered many Turks.
Other scenes show ruthless marines killing Iraqis and soldiers mistreating inmates at Abu Ghraib prison. A Jewish-American doctor, played by Gary Busey, is shown as shipping inmates' organs to New York, London and Israel. All these, according to the screenwriter, Bahadir Ozdener, were inspired by real events.
Zane said he was not bothered by the movie's anti-American tone, adding that the horrors of war should be exposed.
"I acted in this movie because I'm a pacifist," he said in a televised interview. "I'm against all kinds of war."
Whatever its artistic merits, the movie, which has already broken Turkish box office records, has highlighted a growing discrepancy in how America is seen in Turkey.
Officially, the two governments have been enjoying much-improved relations after a low point in 2003, when Turkey refused to allow American troops to cross the country to invade Iraq. On the street, however, public opinion of America has been steadily declining since the invasion of Iraq, the revelations about the abuse at Abu Ghraib and the suspected transferring of Al Qaeda suspects to foreign countries to be tortured in secret prisons.
Yet since the invasion, Turkey has provided logistical support to American troops in Iraq from Incirlik Air Base and has contributed military personnel to the American-led mission in Afghanistan.
Washington has reciprocated by vocally supporting Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union and efforts to resolve the Cyprus conflict.
The issue becomes complicated, however, when it comes to the war on terror. Outwardly, the two countries are committed partners in fighting terrorism of all kinds.
But Turkey has been fighting with Kurdish separatists seeking independence since the 1980s.
Since the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military has been reluctant to act against the Kurdish Workers Party and has allowed it to operate in northern Iraq, which has distressed many in Turkey. Essentially, Washington tolerates a de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
"People think that the U.S. supports an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq and therefore threatens the unity of Turkish land," said Nilufer Narli, a sociology professor at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul.
Popular opinion of the United States and its allies, including Israel, seems to be steadily declining. Anti-American novels, including one that portrayed a war between the United States and Turkey, have been selling briskly; Hitler's "Mein Kampf" became a best seller last year.
Narli believes that the perceived U.S. support for the Kurds is at the heart of this decline.
Despite its popularity, however, "Valley of the Wolves - Iraq" neither triggered widespread anti-American violence in the country nor urged people to take to the streets to protest the war in Iraq.
"It doesn't show anything that we did not already know," said Fahri Kaya, a 22-year-old security guard. "It was more like a group therapy that gave people a chance to let go of their negative feelings against what's been happening in Iraq as they shouted, clapped and cried."
The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Robert Wilson, in a televised interview on NTV last week, acknowledged that it was only a movie made for entertainment, but he said he still was not pleased with the way America was portrayed. He highlighted the good relations that the two countries have shared.
Egemen Bagis, the former head of the Turkish American Businessmen's Association, agreed.
"Our alliance with the U.S. has very strong roots," he said. "A movie or a book just cannot destroy it."
God Bless Capitalism
Just 24 hours after the story broke, and someone's going to make some cold cash already. Now that's capitalism baby! (click on the link to purchase via Cafe Press) H/T Mrs. Malkin
I just wish someone would put it on a protest sign during one of Kennedy's speeches so he could see it for himself.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Saddam Loses Control In Court.... Disco Style!
God, what happened last night. I've got to stop hanging out with those 'Queer Eye' guys. I'm too old for hangovers like this, and that viagra doesn't help any.
Saddam, I've noticed you're looking pale today. I will cut the proceedings short if you need any medical attention. Is there anywhere you'd like to go to rest?
Young man! There's a place you can go. I said, young man! When you're short on your dough. You can stay there! And I'm sure you will find Many ways.. to.. have.. a.. good.. time.
It's Fun To Stay At The...
Saddam, you were simply ravishing up there on the stand. Way to go, you studly genocidal dictator!
You really showed them.
Viva La Protest Warriors - French Style
What happens when you mix two Pro-Denmark Free Speech protesters with Thousands of Muslim anti-free speech protesters.... read to find out.
What's even more amazing is that it took place in France. It's amazing that there are still some folks in France with the solid brass to resist. Sadly, these guys are in the minority. The rest of the nation has decided to drop trough, grab their ankles, and give in to their occupiers.
Dick Cheney - The Man, The Myth... The Legend
Two comments about Cheney's hunting accident. First, why do all the headlines say that Cheney shot his hunting 'companion.' When I lived in Alaska, the hunting Mecca of the western world, anyone referring to their hunting friend as a 'companion' would be laughed out of the state. It's amazing how easy it is to get the press to show how little they know about the world 'outside of the beltway.' Next thing you know they'll be calling the backseaters and wingmen 'flying companions'.
Second comment was something one of Michelle Malkin's readers wrote to her about the hunting incident. I'd like to see this repeated throughout the talk show world, but pigs haven't started flying yet.
Reader C.T. writes:
"I'd rather hunt with Dick Cheney than ride with Ted Kennedy ."
Thursday, February 09, 2006
New Air Force Uniform Regs Won't Make Many Happy
We just received the obligatory mass email telling us about the Air Force Uniform Board's latest decision on uniform wear. The items I'm sure many will have a problem with are the Board's disapproval for the wear of US Army Ranger Tabs, Patches, Combat Patches, Joint Service Badges or Patches, and the Army Air Assault Function Badge.
The problem is that many Airmen have served with distinction in Army combat units throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. Some have even completed Ranger training, yet the Air Force will not recognized these hard earned, well deserved patches or devices.
This only sends the message to Airmen that their contributions in Combat, and their joint service in Army (or even Navy) units mean nothing to the Air Force. To the best of my knowledge, the Air Force has no combat medal or ribbon to reflect that an Airmen has fought in a combat environment, yet Pilots (the minority in the Air Force) freely earn combat related Air Medals and other devices.
I'd like to know if there is any effort underway to recognize those Airmen who have fought along with Army or other service units. Wearing the hard-earned Ranger Tab, Combat Patch, or other Army unit devices should have been allowed, and the effort to change this decision needs to be properly and respectfully addressed up the chain.
Telling young Airmen that they can't show pride in their combat experience and Army training, and that none of it is worth more than a certificate of appreciation and a hand shake, just isn't right.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
You know you're becoming a 'Spinster' when....
... a Chicken gets more action than you have had in years.
'Woman Does 'Mouth-To-Beak' to Save Chicken'
"Sometimes a chicken does have lips, just sometimes not her own. Marian Morris saved her brother's exotic chicken, Boo Boo, by administering "mouth-to-beak" resuscitation on the fowl after it was found floating face down in the family's pond."What are the odds that Marian Morris is some hot super model? Seriously... if Boo Boo has smacked more lips than you have over the last year, it's time to suck it up and start online dating or something. Hell, there's always a single woman at an AA meeting. You can even head down to the local library. You know what they say about those librarians.
Whatever it takes. C'mon... you're better than Boo Boo, smarter than Boo Boo, and you have opposable thumbs for Pete's sake! Get out there.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
The U.S. Military.... Guardians of Islam
The US Navy helped rescue some of the survivors from that Egyptian ship that sank last week. Of course you'll never hear about it in the news. I've noticed that whenever the U.S. military helps out, saves, feeds, rescues, or liberates Muslims, it's never celebrated, or it just doesn't make the headlines. Yet a couple of idiot prison guards screw around and everyone in the U.S. military is assumed to be anti-Muslim and evil.
We need to change our slogan to reflect the millions of Muslim lives we've saved.
The U.S. Military.... Guardians of Islam.
Of course doing so would only piss everyone off, but I'm still for it.
Valentine's Day Ideas
I used to be the king when it came to finding just the right Valentine's Day gift. Now I couldn't think of a great gift idea if my life depended on it. I need serious help.
Please send me your gift ideas! Any ideas will do!
I was considering just another dinner at The Winchester, but their reservations are full.
Friday, February 03, 2006
That's not a gun.... THIS is a gun.
I've never wanted to quite my day job to be a security guard until now.
Introducing the Dillon Aero M134D, something we like to call Ol' Besse around here.
Nuclear lab brings out the big guns
"What we want to do is equip our protective force with the capability that will leave no doubt about the outcome," said Linton Brooks, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
I've had Dillon Aero, the manuracturer of this canon, linked on this site for a year now. They have everything I've ever wanted for Christmas.
The best part about this thing is you can mount it on the roof of your SUV and load it with paint balls. It's a great way to say thanks to those who cut you off every now and then.
Why It's So Hard To Watch The Superbowl.....
I just can't stop living in the past. When your team was the best in the NFL for so long, it's hard to accept any Superbowl without the 49ers. I'll most likely go for the Steelers because I'm a Bill Cowher fan and I like his style of coaching, but he'll never be a Bill Walsh.
49er Superbowl History
Superbowl XVI vs. Bangles
Superbowl XIX vs. Dolphins
Superbowl XXIII vs. Bangles
Superbowl XXIV vs. Broncos
Superbowl XXIX vs. Chargers
Hey Jerry, look at those little girly teams, the Seahawks and Steelers. Maybe we should break out our plethora of pumpitude and teach those wimps how football is really played.
You know Steve, I could smoke that Steelers defense blindfolded, with one hand tied behind my back, while hopping on a pogo stick. They'd have to invoke the mercy rule once we pulled ahead by 80 points.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
The New Face of the Supreme Court
Thanks Nickie Goomba for the great picture, reminding us all who the real boss is. Hope to see you back in the game soon.
Before every session, they break out in a song and dance routine and rack up quite a bar tab.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Good News From Iraq - January 2006
In mid-2004 Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff started a series called 'Good News from Iraq'. His intention was to share everything positive he came across from Iraq "that every day slipped under the radar or got lost among all the bad publicity." The series was important to many because it reassured everyone that good things were indeed taking place in Iraq, and that the reality of the war was completely opposite of what was actually being reported by the MSM.
Every two weeks I looked forward to reading the latest 'Good News' post, and the day Chrenkoff informed us that he could no longer blog due to a new job many of us asked what would become of the series. A few bloggers did try to continue the effort, but their attempt only lasted a few weeks.
I made the decision last December to try to revive the series. It is 100% Arthur Chrenkoff's baby, and I haven't asked him (yet) if he minded, but my desire to know what's really going on in Iraq and the progress we're making has driven me to give it a go. So far it's definitely been a learning experience, and I hope to improve the quality and quantity as I go along, but at least it's being accomplished. The information is too important to just sit on the shelf and be ignored by the MSM.
Your comments and suggestions are welcomed.
- W.T. Clark (aka El Capitan)
Throughout the second half of the 20th Century television became the primary source for information and entertainment throughout the world. It bridged borders, cultures, languages, and economic classes to make the world a smaller place, becoming the first true World Wide Web. After decades of living under strict laws banning access to outside sources of television via satellite, Iraqis have finally entered the modern era of TV and have taken full advantage of its possibilities, including reality programming.
The new face of Iraqi TV
Get out of this one Phil and Kirsty: a young couple in Sadr City, Baghdad, have found the home of their dreams. In fact, they used to live in it until a laser-guided missile turned it into a pile of rubble. Any ideas? This is Location Location Location, Iraqi-style, where contestants are chosen not so much because they are stuck for their next move but because their house has been bombed to smithereens. All you have to do is have your place wasted by war and you too could be a lucky winner with a brand new house built to your very own specifications.
At this point, enter Shaima Zubeir. With film crew in tow, the presenter and face of the new Iraqi TV selects the possible winners for each edition of the show and sends in the brickies to rebuild. Just when the US announces that it's calling time on improving Iraq's infrastructure, reality TV steps in. Call it Reconstruction Reconstruction Reconstruction.
Nobody is pretending that this peculiarly Iraqi morphing of makeover TV is going to reduce the rubble mountain of Baghdad - let alone elsewhere in the country - but for the lucky few in possession of a working television it offers an increasingly popular escape from the daily experience of war.
For an audience starved of homegrown entertainment for so many years, Shaima is a marvel. She swirls into action flicking her shawled head in the dust of what used to be the chosen family's home, directing the crew, builders and architects into action. She's one of the few prominent Iraqi women on TV - but rarer still, she's made the move from studio-based potted-plant Saddam-TV to the free-for-all of modern Baghdad light entertainment.
Known as Iraq's very own Oprah and voted Iraq's favourite television personality, Shaima's telegenic warmth has inspired affection and awe from a huge fan base across the country. "I went into a shop to buy clothes and there was a mother and daughter," she says as her crew van speeds across Baghdad on a shoot. "The child came up to me and touched the hem of my jacket, rubbed it a bit. She looked at her mum and said, 'Look mum - she's real'."
As Shaima talks, her bodyguards look on. Unlike the army of makeover artistes at work in UK TV, Shaima and crew go everywhere with armed protection. Fame is no insurance against the kidnappers and militias. In fact, quite the reverse. The programme's researcher, Majeed al Samera, is quite frank about the risks. "Shaima is a heroine and a star", she says. "She's on a suicide bid, taking risks with her life for the sake of others. She has often experienced difficulties. I don't envy her her fame because fame brings trouble."
Trouble, in Baghdad terms, means death, but Shaima herself plays down the risk to her. It is the cameraman who is always the potential target, she says. They have to go out again and again to shoot the necessary video when she can stay safely indoors.
Nevertheless, like most Baghdadis she has lost people and continues to lose people. "We all have our pains that we are dealing with," she says. "Every day you delete a name from the list on your mobile. We lose people in assassinations, explosions, booby traps. So we eat and drink with death but we still go out to work."
Shaima's show airs under the rather clunky title Labour and Materials - but then the functionality of the programme is every bit as important as the entertainment. Producers, presenter, researcher - all believe the programme is about providing a social service and not simply diverting a vast and curfew-captive audience
"In the rest of the world reality TV is a kind of entertainment but our show expresses a kind of burning pain", says the director, Ali Hannoun. "We deal with broken cities and destitute people. So this is reality TV with a flavour of Iraqi pain."
Shaima's channel, Al Sharqiya, mixes reality strands with current affairs. It is also home to a particularly unsubtle line in television satire: Caricature, one of its best loved comedy shows, features sketches of thinly disguised politicians talking nonsense at press conferences while ogling the female reporters. In an era where you can at least laugh at the ex-boss man, taking the mickey out of Saddam-era moustaches is a big hit with the punters at home.
Iraq's most popular show, perhaps not surprisingly, is its version of Pop Idol, Iraq Star, imitating the trusted format right down to mean old Mo - Mo Hadi, Baghdad's answer to Simon Cowell. Al Sumariya, the TV channel that broadcasts the show, doesn't trouble itself with news or current affairs. At a little more than a year old it has come from nowhere to top ratings with its wholehearted blend of education and entertainment/escape-TV.
Ghanem Hameed, one of its founders, says satellite TV stations have mushroomed in Baghdad into three distinct camps. First there are the religious and propaganda stations; then there are channels set up entirely for trade and money-making; and lastly there are the channels that are all about, as he puts it, "creating hope for Iraqis".This, naturally, is where his channel and shows such as Iraq Star come in.
This new feeling of hope for the future, seldom reported on by the Western Media, was put to the test last month when Iraqis went to the polls for the third election of 2005. The citizens had plenty of reasons to avoid voting that day, including a well publicized warning from terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
In the recording obtained from an Islamist website frequently used by extremists, the Jordanian head of the al-Qaeda network in Iraq focused his ire on the Islamic Party, a Sunni organization.
Sunni organizations urged Sunnis to vote in Iraq's December 15 elections, reversing the position they had taken ahead of the January 2005 elections when they called for a boycott.
In the recording, the authenticity of which could not be verified, al-Zarqawi said that voting could "ruin the Sunni people by making them focus on the earthly world and accept non-Islamic rule", when instead the party should have "urged people to Jihad (holy war)".
The Jordanian terrorist said that his organization could have disrupted elections but refrained from doing so because of "the possibility that average Sunnis confused by the matter" - that is Sunnis who cast votes - "might have been killed".
Al-Zarqawi criticized Arab states that promoted reconciliation among Iraqi religious and ethnic groups and Sunni participation in political life calling them "agents" of the United States.
The recording claimed that insurgents or mujahideen, as al-Zarqawi referred to them, had launched 800 attacks against the U.S. military since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003 and that they had killed or wounded 40,000 U.S. soldiers.
The Iraqis ignored those warnings and turned out in larger numbers than ever before. Over 70% of those eligible to vote did so, and by risking their lives they approved a constitution and new parliament. Ironically, the 70% turnout was by far larger than any turnout of eligible voters in the United States.
International reaction to the election, which was held under the tightest possible security conditions, has been largely positive.
US president George Bush hailed the ballot as a major milestone in the region. Britains premier, Tony Blair, meanwhile, congratulated the people of Iraq for very successful elections.
The United Nations commended Iraqis for their active participation in the poll, also praising the role of the IECI.
"Moreover, early reports indicate that large numbers of Iraqis turned out to vote, which may surpass the turnout figures for the January elections and the October referendum," added Paul Dacey, vice-chair of the IMIE steering committee.
The IECI said turnout was 70 per cent, and significantly higher among Sunnis who boycotted the previous poll. Even insurgent strongholds like Falluja and Ramadi saw queues of voters who had heeded the advice of Sunni leaders to get out and vote to avoid another Shia and Kurd dominated parliament.
Final results aren't expected until January and the eventual allocation of seats in the National Assembly will be based on a complex system of proportional representation.
Two hundred and thirty seats will be distributed among the winning party lists in each of Iraqs provinces according to the number of registered voters.
For example, if an alliance wins a quarter of the votes in a particular province, then it will be given a quarter of the seats allocated to that province. Candidates were listed in order of priority, so the first candidate on the list would be awarded the first seat, the second would get the second seat, and so on.
A further 45 seats will be given as compensation to parties who did not win a seat in any province but obtained a significant number of votes nationally. Further complications are added by a rule stipulating that at least 25 per cent of the assemblys members must be women. Even more confusingly, political parties may stand as part of a coalition in one province and by themselves in another.
In the battle to defeat the insurgency and the growing religious violence, many Arab nations are attempting to bring all parties to the table.
Iraqi leaders will hold a reconciliation conference in Baghdad that many hope will help extricate Iraq from the present quagmire of violence. With daily attacks that are increasingly sectarian in nature, some believe the country could be on the brink of civil war.
An Arab League-sponsored conference that last month brought together rival Iraqi groups -- including many leaders who had never met before - set the stage for reconciliation, said many participants.
"We have been able to bridge gaps," said Yonadim Kanna, a national assembly member from the Democratic Assyrian Movement who attended the Cairo conference.
"It was a huge achievement to bring together the ruling powers and opposition political forces to discuss Iraq's situation and its political future," agreed Adil al-Bayati, a member of parliament for the Turkomen Islamic Party.
The Cairo conference drew more than 60 political and religious leaders who agreed that a timetable should be set for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, a major achievement for Sunni Arab groups that have demanded a US pullout since the occupation began in April 2003. It also declared that "resistance is a legitimate right of all peoples", but condemned terrorism.
Nearly all the major political factions took part in the Cairo gathering, including rivals such leaders of the Shia-dominated Dawa party and former Baathists from Saddam Hussein's regime, whose likely participation in the February conference - expected to address the occupation and other political grievances - remains controversial.
Although Baathists ended up attending the Cairo conference, the Dawa party chair and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari publicly criticised their presence. He may not wish to remain premier following the December 15 parliamentary elections if he has to share power with Baathists who are suspected of supporting attacks against his government. Sunni Arabs and former Saddam henchmen are believed to be leading the insurgency.
The Arab League is lobbying behind the scenes to include armed groups and former Baathists in the February talks - but this is being resisted by many prominent political figures.
"There will be wide participation, and [no group] will be left out except for those who committed war crimes during Saddam's era, terrorists and takfeeries [extremists]," said Kanna.
Something that should make every women's rights activist and organization proud, yet is going unreported, is taking place in Iraq: A growing constituency of female politicians and power brokers.
Rusul Ali, a 35-year-old engineer in the ministry of planning, put the final touches to her make up as she prepared to go to the polling station with her husband and 15-year-old daughter.
The three, together with residents of their predominantly Shia neighbourhood, strode half a kilometre to the local polling station, as children took advantage of the election-day ban on vehicles to play soccer in the street.
"This is the third time I'm going to vote, and every time I feel my pulse dancing as if it's the first time," said Ali.
"The former governments spent their time drafting rules and the constitution," she continued. "The new government has to apply these rules and improve them to support Iraq's interests and achieve stability."
Ali believes Ayad Allawi's secular National Iraqi List is the best bet to carry out those responsibilities, though she keeps this to herself. Her husband, a supporter of the religious and more conservative Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance, wants the latter to maintain its control of parliament.
"I voted for Allawi because he is a liberal and supports women's issues," she said after casting her ballot. "I see him as a powerful man that Iraq needs right now."
Dhilal Naji is a 33-year-old divorced mother of one and an assistant to a school headmaster in Ramadi. She lives with her daughter and her parents in the city, at the western corner of the so-called Sunni Triangle.
Fighting between insurgents and US troops regularly forces schools and shops in Ramadi to close. The chaos only strengthens Naji's determination to make sure her daughter has a secure future. Naji's dream is for 3-year-old Araw to become a doctor.
Last Thursday, for once, the city's streets were quiet, as a curfew was in force and many Sunni Arab-led insurgent groups had promised not to hit polling stations.
Like many in Ramadi, Naji did not vote in Iraq's two other polls this year. Only a handful of voting centres opened in the city in January and October due to violence.
"Even if it will cost me my life, I want to vote simply to ensure my daughter's future," said Naji.
Naji took Arwa with her to the polling station near her house, where she voted for National Accord Front, one of the main Sunni Arab lists.
"It's the only slate for the Sunni people that is keenly aware of our issues," said Naji. "Its main goal is to set a timetable for the Americans to pull out."
As she dropped her voting card into the ballot box, Naji looked up and saw her ex-husband. He told her he voted for the Iraqi National List.
"It seems we are different in many ways," he told her, "except in our desire to give Araw's generation a better life."
Awaz Ali, a 35-year-old primary school teacher, treated election day as a holiday. She woke up early in the morning, and prepared a meal of apricot soup, rice and meat.
Ali, her husband and her children all put on their traditional Kurdish clothing - shimmering, flowing dresses in bright hues for the women and girls, and baggy pants with wide waistbands and vests for the men and boys.
She painted the flag of Kurdistan on the cheeks of her three-year-old daughter and five-year-old son, who carried Kurdish flags to the polls.
"No one else sacrificed as much as we did, and now no one else is as happy as we are," she said, referring to her delight at voting in the election.
Women, she said, no longer fear the regime nor worry that their children will be forced to serve in the Iraqi military, which was notorious for persecuting Kurds.
And, she maintained, women now have a voice in democracy.
"You see that my husband and I went to vote together," she said as she left the polling station, holding her three-year-old daughter's hand. "Everyone now has the right to vote and I won't give up this right."
Ali and her husband both backed the Kurdistan Alliance, the main Kurdish list. She believes the list will empower her people and defend their rights in Baghdad.
"We are here today because of the blood of the martyrs and the efforts of our officials," she said. "I'm sure we will continue to be victorious.
2006 is expected to be a boom year for the Iraqi economy. In late December the International Monetary Fund dedicated itself to making sure the expected growth is as large as possible.
On 23 December 2005 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Board approved the first-ever Stand-By Arrangement for Iraq, which is designed to support the country's economic program over the next 15 months. The program envisages a boost in economic growth to 10 percent in 2006, as well as improved governance, and further steps toward a market economy. The Iraqi authorities are treating the $685 million arrangement as precautionary; they will not draw upon the resources unless they are needed.
In September 2004, Iraq received a $436 million loan through the IMF's Emergency Post-Conflict Assistance (EPCA) facility. This initial credit was designed to facilitate Iraq's negotiations with its Paris Club creditors over a debt-restructuring agreement that is now in place and to support the nation's economic programs through 2005. A condition for the second stage of debt reduction agreed with the country's Paris Club creditors was for Iraq to secure the Stand-By Arrangement.
IMF Deputy Managing Director Takatoshi Kato said that the Iraqi authorities had been "successful in promoting macroeconomic stability in 2005, despite the extremely difficult security environment."
Economic growth, at an estimated 2.6 percent, was modest in 2005, following a rebound of almost 50 percent in 2004. Inflationary pressures moderated, although prices remained volatile, and the projected fiscal deficit was much smaller than expected under the EPCA-supported program, mainly owing to higher-than-projected export prices for crude oil. On the other hand, security concerns and capacity constraints resulted in a slower implementation of structural benchmarks than was envisaged.
The authorities' 2006 program aims to allocate resources toward the planned oil sector expansion, redirect expenditures away from general subsidies toward better public services and strengthen administrative capacity. The country's fiscal stance in the near term will be driven by reconstruction needs.
Kato noted that "a critical component of the overall strategy is to contain expenditures within revenues and available financing by prioritizing expenditures toward reconstruction, controlling the wage and pensions bill, reducing subsidies on petroleum products and expanding the participation of the private sector in the domestic market for petroleum products, while strengthening the social safety net."
The authorities have recently increased prices of refined petroleum products and will need to press ahead with other structural reforms, including measures to enhance the efficiency and transparency of public financial management and the development of a comprehensive restructuring strategy for the state-owned banks, Kato said. At the same time, the Central Bank of Iraq aims to establish a modern payment system, implement modern supervisory frameworks, facilitate the proper functioning of foreign exchange and money markets, and conduct a monetary policy geared toward ensuring financial stability.
Good news for small business owners in Iraq.
Iraqi bankers are establishing a loan guarantee company with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Izdihar program.
In forming an Advisory Committee of 24 private Iraqi banks, Iraqi bankers recently took the first steps in establishing a private company to guarantee small business loans and select microfinance institutions.
The Al-Iraq Bank Guarantee Company will provide loan guarantees for well-appraised projects of small-and medium-sized enterprises and eligible microfinance institutions.
The new loan guarantee company will be the first of its kind in Iraq. Currently, small and medium-sized businesses need hard collateral to access loans since lenders do not have adequate legal recourse if a borrower defaults. The Al-Iraq Bank Guarantee Company will provide a new level of financial security, helping expand access to credit for private sector firms throughout the country. The guarantee company is being established on the basis of best practices worldwide.
The new company will enhance access to credit for eligible small, medium, and micro-sized companies as well as support the use of modern credit methods, sound banking practices, and the ability of Iraq's small and start-up businesses to generate new jobs.
To further help small businesses in Iraq, the backbone of the economy, USAID is giving the little guy a hand.
In Baghdad, military civil affairs and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Izdihar project recently coordinated to provide two days of training in financial planning and business association management to 18 small business owners from the Al-Rasheed and Al-Karradah chambers of commerce.
The training was designed to help business associations build capacity, giving leaders and entrepreneurs the skills to expand their organizations and create new jobs.
"We are working hard to help these chambers of commerce become vibrant, functional organizations," said Maj. Carlos Molina, a civil-military operations economic development officer from the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. "[USAID's Private Sector Development] project is a perfect fit for our needs as it is focused on growing the private sector in Iraq and already provides excellent training for small businesses in a number of key areas."
The first day of training introduced the small business owners to accounting techniques and discussed cash flow, budgeting and an organization's balance sheet. The second day featured training in how to build a business association, how to generate money to run the association, how to select issues to advocate on behalf of the members and how to become a more respected board member or leader of the association.
"The training programs are great and hard to find inside Iraq," said Mahmood Shakir from the Al-Karradah district. "It has helped me a lot. It will help me establish our chamber in Al-Karradah."
"We are excited to be working with the civil-military operations team to strengthen the business management skills of small business owners," stated Khalid Al-Naif, head of USAID's Izdihar project. "The desire of the businesspeople to gain new knowledge and skills bodes well for the future of Iraq's private sector."
According to Molina, the military's partnership with the Izdihar project is just the start of support that will help build the capacity of the local chambers. "We definitely will be providing more training programs...and we are working with USAID to bring microfinance loans to these small businesses as well."
In order to access funds from the World Trade Organization, Iraqis need to be educated on how to sift through the massive WTO bureaucracy to make it work for them. USAID is holding classes on how to do just that.
Over 40 Iraqi professionals attended a public awareness session on the World Trade Organization (WTO). Coming from the government, businesses, and higher education, these professionals received training on WTO rules for the safety and quality of products in international trade. This and other public awareness efforts help inform Iraq's leaders about the process and details of rejoining global markets.
The session, conducted by trade experts from USAID's Izdihar project, explained the business impacts of these rules and discussed possible strategies to meet existing international standards, increase Iraqi exports and protect Iraqis from the importation of poor quality products.
A Baghdad businessman noted, Nowadays, many goods enter Iraq that don't match international standards due to the absence of monitoring and many of these goods are of poor quality or unhealthy for consumption. We need to learn more about international standards and the regulations of the WTO. They protect consumers.
The Government of Iraq recently submitted its Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime to begin the accession process and is preparing to answer questions from WTO member countries about the document. Accession into the WTO would increase Iraq's foreign direct investment and lay the foundation for a globalized economy. Although actual accession may take years, to be eligible for membership Iraq will need to implement economic reforms that promote economic freedom and growth.
Iraqi bankers to establish a loan guarantee company with support from USAID's Izdihar program. In forming an Advisory Committee of 24 private Iraqi banks, Iraqi bankers recently took the first steps in establishing a private company to guarantee small business loans and select microfinance institutions. The Al-Iraq Bank Guarantee Company will provide loan guarantees for well-appraised projects of small-and medium-sized enterprises and eligible microfinance institutions.
The new loan guarantee company will be the first of its kind in Iraq. Currently, small and medium-sized businesses need hard collateral to access loans since lenders do not have adequate legal recourse if a borrower defaults. The Al-Iraq Bank Guarantee Company will provide a new level of financial security, helping expand access to credit for private sector firms throughout the country. The guarantee company is being established on the basis of best practices worldwide.
The new company will enhance access to credit for eligible small, medium, and micro-sized companies as well as support the use of modern credit methods, sound banking practices, and the ability of Iraq's small and start-up businesses to generate new jobs.
The large oil city of Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, is getting a different kind of boost to help it maintain its dominance in the region.
The Kirkuk Main Substation, a $123,000 project, will have 1,500 meters of 11 KV underground feeder cable in the Almas Quarter connecting the substation to a distribution network.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Project Manager Saman Mosa said that the substation supplies power to an expanding community in downtown Kirkuk. "An expanding city definitely needs more power for all kinds of consumption," Mosa added. "Examples of these needs are: domestic use, industrial use, sewer services and water. This feeder cable is part of the infrastructure that will fulfill these needs."
USACE believes that the installation of this cable will provide a more reliable electricity supply for the Kirkuk area's 1.5 million residents.
"There are other kinds of loads which need a reliable power supply, such as hospitals. This leads to the necessity of making this substation more reliable by connecting more feeders to it. This project is going to serve about 3,000 people in Kirkuk city," Mosa said.
Excavation for the feeder cable began in this month. Completion is scheduled for March.
When bridges are built, more Iraqis can reap the rewards of their growing nation.
Local workers completed reconstruction of a canal bridge in Babylon governorate.
The Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI), funded by the U.S. Department for International Development (USAID), financed the project.
The reconstruction of the bridge directly benefits 40,000 rural families from 35 communities in the district. By reducing costs to farmers who bring their crops to markets, the bridge increases profit margins. ARDI believes that the rising profitability of the region's agriculture will encourage more output and even larger earnings.
Due to the improved efficiency of travel, the bridge is increasing rural Iraqis' access to government resources and services. Additionally, the bridge provides children with improved transit to the six schools located on the other side of the canal.
And when water systems expand, the lives and health drastically improve. This is but one of hundreds of stories on how the U.S. is making sure Iraqis have the clean water they deserve.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recently launched a program to bring potable drinking to 700,000 Iraqi villagers. The rural water program will install 71 potable water systems in rural communities of fewer than 5,000 people, resulting in 35 liters of potable water per person each day.
USAID's rural water program is installing 71 of these potable water treatment systems (with over 500 remote distribution sites) throughout Iraq. These sites collectively will process over 32,000 cubic meters of water per day, benefiting nearly 700,000 Iraqis. In villages where the safe drinking water is installed, the Ministry of Health will provide hygiene training in each village to augment the expected decline of infant mortality and gastrointestinal disease.
The water sites are designed to serve villages with populations between 500 and 5,000 people. The program utilizes chlorination, compact filtration units, and/or reverse osmosis filtration to purify the local water source (ground or surface water).
By placing water distribution points in remote villages surrounding the treatment sites, each site will generally reach a wider geographic area. Tanker trucks, provided by donor nations to the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, will collect water at the treatment sites and deliver the potable water to storage tanks in the remote villages for daily consumption. In northern regions, where travel becomes difficult during the winter, pipelines supplied by USAID will be installed by the local populace to deliver water directly to these villages.
The program also provides six months of in-depth, on-the-job operation and maintenance training on how to operate the treatment systems and maintain the 300 or so delivery trucks to sustain this vital resource for rural Iraq.
The education system in Iraq continues to grow and improve, with more boys and girls in classrooms than ever before.
Over 70 Science Master Trainers recently completed a 12-day training session.
Teacher training programs are a key feature in the education program.
Thousands of teachers throughout Iraq are benefiting from new education materials and instruction in modern teaching methods.
Using a cascading training program, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) prepares master trainers through workshops and teaching materials to train Iraqi educators throughout the country.
Including representatives from the Ministry of Education's (MoE) Directorates of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, the master trainers are prepared to instruct other Iraqi educators in modern methods of teaching in the sciences.
Nearly 60 teachers and principals from Baghdad and central Iraq will participate in a Pilot Model Schools training workshop.
The Iraqi Ministry of Education (MOE) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are working together to establish a series of model schools under the basic education program that will help Iraqi educators implement new and innovative teaching methods while giving students access to improved equipment.
The model schools program seeks to establish four model schools in each MOE directorate to demonstrate improved systems and teaching methods. Each MOE directorate will have two primary model schools and two secondary model schools. Ultimately, this will include 84 schools.
In addition to cooperative teaching methodology, Iraqi teachers are also receiving training in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and Information and Communication Technology (ICT), preparing teachers to use computers effectively in the classroom.
Writing a new chapter for Iraq's children.
Iraq Transition Initiative (ITI) supported 25 artists in their efforts to create a children's magazine. The magazine promotes peace by teaching about democracy and tolerance in a colorful and entertaining format. Using illustrated fables and drawing workbook exercises, the magazine engages the young reader in its lessons. The characters come from across the spectrum of Iraq's ethnicities, showcasing the potential normalcy of cross-ethnic interactions and friendships. The main objective of the magazine's creators was to convey a peaceful environment for children whom may never have encountered one first hand. The magazine aims to highlight the hope the children themselves embody, empowering them with visions of a tolerant and peaceful future. As a result of ITI's support, the magazine reached over 4,000 Iraqi children.
A central Iraqi community takes action to improve sanitation. In one neighborhood in central Iraq, community members came together to fix the problem of trash in public areas. They felt the debris was impeding the return of an optimistic atmosphere. The community members decided the best place to start on the project was the grounds of the local hospital. ITI encouraged the community to address the problem by offering a grant for $8,000. The ITI grant provided the labor costs, cleaning equipment, and garbage bins necessary to clean the targeted area. This cooperative effort dramatically improved sanitation in the area, benefiting over 1,000 local citizens.
As with any democratic nation government institutions require lawyers, and USAID is making every effort to create a new influx of Iraqi lawyers and scholars to help anchor the new government.
USAID renovated the law library at a northern Iraqi university as part of the Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program. The new resources and study area have allowed students to re-connect with international law and pursue aggressive research on topics including terrorism, Islamic law, and media crimes. "We are winning their hearts while enriching their minds" said Kimberly Morris, the chief of party for DePaul University, one of USAID's partners implementing higher education reforms at several Iraqi universities.
The new library has reconnected students and faculty to the global international law community. Most of the library resources had been outdated and obsolete because, as an Iraqi professor explained, "Saddam stopped the books from coming in 1990." Internet access was virtually impossible; the entire university of 12,000 students shared only 30 computers. Now the 600 law students have their own internet center and law library. New books and resources, mostly in Arabic, line the newly installed rolling stacks, a simple technology that increases book storage space by 75 percent.
Senior law students radiated enthusiasm when talking about their new research facilities. The current resources in the library and internet center give the students a dynamic education, keeping them abreast of current international legal thought.
In a region riddled by human rights violations, these Kurdish students pursue law so they can become "defenders of human rights" a third-year student explained. "We need to pave the way for our society to become a civil society," a young Kurdish woman who hopes to use her law degree to become a political leader explained. "We can't solve our problems in a tribal way; we need social solutions."
USAID's HEAD program ended December 31, 2005. Since 2004, DePaul University College of Law, one of the five U.S. partner universities, has worked to advance and reform Iraq's legal education, bringing a new emphasis on rule of law, curriculum reform, clinical education, and library and education technology. Throughout the program, HEAD/DePaul provided seminars for professionals and academics on post-conflict justice, facilitated training programs and workshops on curriculum reform, and established moot courts in three different major university law schools, giving students the opportunity to try their skills at writing and presenting briefs before a judge in a simulated session. Three law libraries were renovated while equipment and new text books were delivered to improve access to information.
Bridges to Babylon
This week, local workers completed reconstruction of a canal bridge in Babylon governorate. The Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI), funded by USAID, financed the project.
The reconstruction of the bridge directly benefits 40,000 rural families from 35 communities in the district. By reducing costs to farmers who bring their crops to markets, the bridge increases profit margins. ARDI believes that the rising profitability of the region's agriculture will encourage more output and even larger earnings.
Due to the improved efficiency of travel, the bridge is increasing rural Iraqis access to government resources and services. Additionally, the bridge provides children with improved transit to the six schools located on the other side of the canal.
Kirkuk, the epicenter of the Iraqi petroleum industry, is also a center for agriculture. Recently, the local government received a grant to renovate a nursery to help in the current explosion of the agricultural industry.
After suffering years of neglect, looting, and near destruction, an important nursery in Kirkuk, run by the Directorate of Agriculture, recently received approval on a grant. Previously, the nursery's staff struggled with renovation efforts. Due to lack of equipment and funds, the nursery has been able to operate at only 15 percent of its productive capacity. The ARDI grant will help restore the nursery to full productive capacity through the provision of funds to renovate the facilities, clean and weed the fields, and purchase equipment necessary to produce seedlings and maintain the mother trees.
The renovation of the nursery will help increase the production and provision of seedlings in Kirkuk, ultimately increasing agricultural production. This nursery provides seedlings for fruit and forest trees to private-sector nurseries, which, in turn, raise and propagate the seedlings for sale to farmers. Farmers depend on these private nurseries for seedlings. Their increased access to seedlings from private sources will help them improve agricultural production and increase their incomes. Many farmers in Tameem, who have recently returned to their fields, are especially in need of seedlings.
The nursery, once fully renovated, will be able to produce approximately 80,000 seedlings per year. Specialists working at the nursery will also be able to develop improved varieties of tree crops and high value crops. These varieties could include disease resistant and high-yielding crops. In addition, the production of forest tree seedlings will help repopulate trees in deforested areas in and around Tameem.
Further efforts are underway by USAID to improve the health of Iraqis, as well as create jobs and opportunities for all. An example of such a project is the Canal Cleaning program.
Under the previous regime, the agricultural canals fell into disrepair. Because the channels fill with silt, much of their water-carrying capacity is lost, lowering productivity. Most farmers do not have the technical skills, nor do they have the financial resources to pay to clean the canals.
Canal cleaning is a simple way to rehabilitate the existing irrigation infrastructure. Technical knowledge of water flows and relatively inexpensive inputs are all that is needed for widespread direct-impacting benefits. USAID's Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI) has awarded 14 grants for canal cleaning projects that will rehabilitate canals in five governorates. At a total cost of $651,005, these projects will improve irrigation to 38,714 acres of land. ARDI estimates that productivity on the affected donums will increase by an average of 20 percent by improved water efficiency.
The effects of these canal cleaning efforts will reach over 45,000 farmers and community members. Once they are all completed, ARDI canal cleaning projects will have provided from 17-60 days of paid labor for 2,928 workers, many of whom are farmers themselves.
Of course women are an integral part of the reconstruction effort.
Flower nursery established for women's union. Through a grant to the Kurdistan Women's Union (KWU) to establish a flower nursery in Dohuk, ARDI is promoting economic innovation as well as community self-reliance and development.
In December, ARDI completed construction of the nursery complex, which includes an administrative office, a shed for equipment storage, four plastic greenhouses for plant propagation, a water tank, and a show room for direct sale of the grown flowers/plantlets. ARDI also provided a generator, peat moss processing machine, gardening tools, planting material, loamy soil, fertilizers, and vases.
Managed by the KWU, the nursery aims to produce and sell 38,000 flowering plants, 2,700 shade plants, 4,000 flower bouquets, and 8,000 kg of peat moss per year, as well as to provide garden services for the public. The KWU will use the net revenue to fund smaller nurseries in other communities. Once firmly established, the nurseries will provide the KWU with sustainable funding for activities geared toward aiding women, especially poor Iraqi widows.
The 23 local women selected to work at the nursery are all widows with small children and no means of earning income. The next phase of implementation will be training the recently hired women. The KWU has contracted horticulture specialists to design training courses for the employees next month. Through work at the nursery, the women will learn business management and technical horticultural skills.
Talk radio has revolutionized Afghanistan in terms of providing a voice to the people to share ideas, frustrations, and hope. Iraqis have jumped on this opportunity, and it's paid off.
Radio Gives Women a Voice
Unfettered by political parties or governing powers, the women who work at Iraq's first independent radio station redefine their community's understanding of freedom as they broadcast music and talk shows championing the rights of women. The Community Action Program provided a grant to purchase furniture and equipment to establish the station. This is one of 3,871 community development programs USAID has implemented countrywide.As with any national reconstruction effort, the local community is the where everything begins.
Saddam Hussein is the first world leader in modern times to have used chemical weapons against his own people. Hussein's goals were to systematically terrorize and exterminate the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, to silence his critics, and to test the effectiveness of his chemical and biological weapons. Hussein launched chemical attacks against 40 Kurdish villages and thousands of innocent civilians in 1987-88. The worst of these attacks devastated the city of Halabja on March 16, 1988.
After suffering decades of oppression, Halabja is now listening to the first sounds of freedom. A grant from USAID's Community Action Program (CAP) purchased equipment and furniture to support the launch of the first independent radio station in Iraq, a station operated by women and devoted to women's programming.
The station is the most popular in the city, says the founder, not just because it has the clearest signal, but because "we are independent." She explained: "There are no political parties associated with it and no foreign powers guiding or dictating it."
The 15 or so women who left their homes to take jobs at the radio station said they joined to serve women and the problems they face. The radio station gives Iraqi women a voice in public life. The station has no director: the staff elects a three-person directing committee from among themselves to design the programs.
Although it currently plays music, the station, which has been in operation since June 2005, recently obtained a talk show license and is currently writing programs that educate women on formerly taboo subjects such as family planning, independence, and constitutionally guaranteed rights. The station will also introduce off-the-air hot line where women can call in to find solutions to their problems.
The station has already had a profound effect on the women involved. "Before the radio station, I didn't have anything, not even my self confidence," said a young woman in her mid twenties who is currently on the station's elected directing committee. She added: "I now give my knowledge and experience to other women and help them emerge from their houses and discover themselves."
The radio station is one of 3,871 small community development programs USAID has implemented throughout Iraq. The CAP program instills community ownership and champions local solutions.
A neighborhood cleanup and public education campaign benefits a community in south-central Iraq. Three local organizations collaborated to develop and organize a trash cleanup and removal campaign, bringing neighborhood residents together for a common goal. Over 10,000 local residents, particularly families and local youths, benefited from the three grants by the Iraq Transition Initiative (ITI). This public education campaign compliments other ITI-sponsored sewage and garbage removal projects, helping create employment for Iraqis and engaging them in behavioral change activities.
Community trash collection and removal were promoted through a number of activities, including a series of soccer training camps for youths, where notable national and local sports personalities coached aspiring soccer players. In a soccer tournament for over 30 youth club teams, players and referees promoted the cleanup campaign with neighborhood trash collection drives and by wearing uniforms that highlight the cleanup campaign logo and slogan. The public education campaign also commissioned a children's story for use in schools and youth clubs. Also, a series of billboards were posted throughout the area to highlight the positive changes in the physical and social environment in the sector as a result of community cleanup activities. Finally, a neighborhood tree-planting campaign helped to beautify and improve environmental conditions.
Community support for a soccer championship engages local youths. In a multi-ethnic community in northern Iraq, a local government worked with USAID to sponsor a two-week soccer championship, helping build a sense of community and engaging young people in positive ways, important priorities for maintaining stability. An ITI grant provided sports equipment and uniforms to 38 soccer teams from surrounding villages.
The Umm Qasr Seaport is one of the most vital links Iraqis have to the rest of the world, and nearly every industry relies on it. Here's a recap of the reconstruction and revitalization of the seaport since 2003.
Since the cessation of the 2003 conflict, USAID has completed its planned work at Umm Qasr Seaport, restored significant portions of Iraq's telecommunications network, rebuilt three major bridges and restored the rail line connecting Umm Qasr with Basra city and points north. USAID also helped avert a humanitarian crisis during the conflict by providing assistance to the United Nations World Food Program. USAID advisors continue to assist with management and distribution of food rations to Iraqi citizens.Engineers are some of the busiest people in Iraq. Not only are they rebuilding the nation, they're also improving the lives of the poorest who live near the major rebuilding projects throughout Iraq.
- The $45 million program to rehabilitate and improve management at Umm Qasr seaport was completed in June 2004.
- Port reopened to commercial traffic on June 17, 2003; completed first passenger vessel test July 16, 2003.
- Up to 50 ships offload at the port every month.
- Completed dredging to open all 21 berths to deep-sea ships.
- Applied port tariffs on June 20, 2003.
- Renovated the grain-receiving facility to process 600 MT of grain an hour.
- Renovated the administration building, passenger terminal, customs hall, and electrical substations.
- Rebuilt three major bridges: Khazir, Tikrit and Al Mat bridges, critical to moving people and commercial products throughout the country.
- Rebuilt a substantial portion of the Iraqi Republican Railway line connecting Basrah with the port of Umm Qasr including physical track construction, installing culverts, and repairing gatehouses. The remainder of the work has been handed over to the Ministry of Transportation (MOT). This work allows shipments of bulk cargo from the port to Baghdad and throughout the country.
- Audited more than 1,200 km of the fiber optic backbone network and performed emergency repairs, reconnecting 20 cities and 70 percent of the population.
- Reconstituted Baghdad area phone service by installing switches with 240,000 lines at 12 sites.
- Installed and fully integrated 13 new switches with 14 existing switches.
- Worked with the Ministry of Communications to reactivate more than 215,000 subscriber lines.
- Installed a satellite gateway system at Baghdad's largest telecom exchange and restored international service.
- Trained telecom engineers and technicians in the operation and maintenance of the satellite gateway system and the new switches.
- Worked directly with the World Food Program (WFP) and Coalition Forces to re-establish the Public Distribution System (PDS) in less than 30 days, avoiding a humanitarian food crisis and providing food security throughout the country.
- With Iraqi food distributors, Food for Peace, the WFP, and Coalition Forces maintained deliveries from June through December 2003 in all 18 governorates.
- Played a key role in an agreement between the WFP, CPA, and the MoT that provided the WFP with the resources and authority to continue to support the PDS through June 2004.
- Completed a rapid food security field assessment from 17 impoverished districts in May 2005 and presented assessment findings in the USAID food security forum in August 2005. Forum participants reviewed data to better understand food security in Iraq and recommended actions to reduce risk among Iraq's vulnerable populations.
After years of tyranny and war, the children of Iraq have almost nothing and are very grateful for each gift they receive.Iraq: Year in review - A wrap up of humanitarian events
Lana Aziz, an Iraqi citizen and junior engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, coordinates the collection and distribution of shoes and school supplies for Iraqi children. With each gift she gives to a needy child, she also gives joy and hope to their lives.
Through her childhood, Aziz watched as American organizations sent clothing and items to local churches in her community. She watched as the goods were distributed, and noticed some didn't make it to the families that needed it the most. Dismayed at the lack of support for American generosity and the misdirection of goods, Aziz decided if she could, she would do something about it.
While on assignment for USACE in the local villages last year, she found that opportunity. She noticed the children lacked proper shoes for the cold environment. This gave her the idea to collect shoes for the needy and make sure they were distributed to those who truly needed them.
Aziz put the word out through co-workers, friends and family that she was collecting shoes. Word spread quickly, and before she knew it, shoes came rolling in. Church groups from the States, Aziz's family, and friends of friends rose to the challenge and collected about 150 pairs of shoes, which Aziz distributed in Dohuk, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah. The collection effort was a huge success and well received by those in need, she said.
Now, almost seven months later, packages again began arriving addressed to Aziz. She opened the boxes and was happily surprised to find not only shoes for the children, but school supplies and toys, as well. Aziz's response to the unexpected generosity was, "If they send it, I will deliver it!"
Word travels fast when there is good news to spread, and the story of Aziz delivering goods to schools last year made it all the way to Texas and Utah. Donations came not only from Aziz's family members, but also from friends' families, friends of friends, churches, schools and large corporations. Contributors included the Southwest Airlines maintenance and engineering department in Dallas; Hewlett Packard in Richardson, Texas; and the second grade class from the William Penn Elementary School in Salt Lake City. Aziz received toys, school supplies, candy and shoes. Last week, she and Lt. Col. Greg Gunter, USACE Gulf Region North deputy commander, traveled to two schools in Dohuk and delivered the goods.
"It was an honor to take part in such a noble and worthwhile effort initiated by Ms. Aziz," Gunter said. "It was heartwarming to see that the generous gifts sent from within Iraq, as well as the United States, found their way to the children at these two schools."
The class in Utah received photographs of their delivered donated goods. "My students and I were ecstatic when we put your photos on the big screen and saw our red Christmas houses," their teacher commented. "Seriously -- we went crazy!"
She added, "What a joy it was to actually see our school supplies and cards in the hands of those beautiful Iraqi children!"
In one year of employment with USACE, Aziz moved up within the ranks from interpreter to junior engineer. She graduated from Mosul University in 2004 with a degree in computer engineering and worked part time for the U.S. Embassy on Forward Operating Base Courage.
Strengthening democracy and the formation of a new government was the focus of humanitarian events in Iraq in 2005. The year started with the landmark January elections for the transitional Iraqi national assembly, where 60 percent of an eligible 14 million voters cast ballots, according to government officials. This paved the way for a Shi'ite government, the first in 50 years.The Coalition Troops
Results showed 141, of the 275 seats, were won by the Shi'ite United Iraq Alliance; 75 by the Kurdistan Alliance; 40 to former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's National Iraqi List; and 5 to interim President Ghazi Yawar's independent list. The remaining 14 went to minority groups.
The Sunnis, who previously formed the government under Saddam Hussein, boycotted the January election and lost out on seats.
"Sunnis are against US occupation because their time [US forces] in our country has ended and it is time for us, Iraqis, to decide our future. Boycotting the January election was a way to show our indignation to the occupation," Adnan al- Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front said.
"The political process started out highly problematic with the exclusion of Sunni Arabs in the January election," Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, Joost Hiltermann said from Amman, Jordan.
Nevertheless Iraqi officials hailed the start of the political process in 2005, given the circumstances.
"The preparation and the process of guaranteeing Iraqis a vote since January has been difficult, due to security issues. But despite these huge challenges, we achieved our objective and managed to hold the follow up election in December," Farid Ayar, spokesperson for the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq (IECI), noted.
"These were sectarian results, the Shi'ites were victorious and the Sunni's absent and not represented - this was a stage of a very problematic political process," he added.
The Shi'ite majority appointed Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister and, for the first time, the Kurds joined the government with President Jalal Talabani.
During Hussein's rule, the Kurds ran their own affairs from the north, independent from Baghdad.
"The Sunnis should have participated and therefore there was no proportional representation," Hiltermann said, adding that: "Everything was done in a hurry to accommodate the US agenda."
The main political parties in the country are the Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance, the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front and the Kurdish Alliance.
Another milestone was marked on 15 October, when a much disputed constitution was voted on by the country.
Once again there was heavy Sunni opposition due to sticking points such as federalism in favour of the Kurds and a ban on ex-members of the Baath party returning to the new Iraqi government. The distribution of natural resources, namely oil was also problematic. Iraq is home to the second largest oil, reserves in the world.
In the end, the constitution was approved by nearly 70 percent of votes, the government said.
"Sunnis were brought in for the constitution but were again marginalised, and the constitution favoured the two other groups the Shi'ites and Kurds," Hiltermann said.
The ICG has said that the constitution needs to be revisited and a new arrangement made on distributing natural resources such as oil to ensure stability.
Exactly two months later, on 15 December parliamentary elections were held. Nearly 7,000 candidates stood for 275 seats and Sunni parties participated.
This time round one of the highest Shi'ite cleric's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani stayed neutral and didn't back the Shi'ite Alliance, unlike in the January election.
Anti-US Shi'ite cleric Moqtadar Sadr joined forces with the Sunni parties who decided to participate in this election.
The two main Kurdish parties, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) also joined forces under an alliance.
With results soon to be released, Shi'ites are again expected to sweep the polls, however Sunni parties have already complained of irregularities - despite international observers and the UN confirming a clean run.
Special Representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, welcomed the invitation of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) for additional international observers to assess the 15 December elections following accusations of fraud. Some 1,500 complaints were lodged according to UN officials.
"The good thing about the December election was that Sunnis participated but the logic of sectarianism was already set in motion," Hiltermann said.
There is now a situation where the two dominant groups hold political power and the Sunnis are going to be a political minority, according to the ICG expert. "We need to wait and see what kind of tactical alliances will emerge in 2006. If everything goes well we will see alliances between Shi'ite and Sunni groups," he added.
Insecurity in Iraq was one issue without much development in 2005.
While there are no official statistics, thousands of Iraqis died mainly due to the ongoing insurgency.
According to a dossier on civilian casualties in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, published by the NGO, Iraq Body Count, in association with the Oxford Research Group, 30,892 civilians have been killed. Some 30 percent of these deaths, the report said, was caused in the initial invasion of Iraq.
In a 12 December speech in Philadelphia, the US president said that some 30,000 Iraqis had died in the conflict since the US-led war and occupation began in March 2003.
Still, local officials remain adamant that they are doing all in their limited power to improve security. "There has been an improvement in security in 2005, but we know much more needs to be done," Lt. Col. Ahmed al-Badeen, a senior official in the Ministry of Interior said.
The US and Iraqi forces have been engaged in heavy clashes in western Iraq in efforts to flush out insurgents. This has resulted in displacement of thousands of people, with many still in need of assistance, according to aid agencies.
Al-Badeen said that bomb attacks had decreased by 25 percent compared with 2004, but that kidnappings by insurgents or criminal gangs had increased.
More than 600 kidnappings were reported in 2005, he said, and many others were not registered because families feared reprisals.
Foreign workers and local and international journalists were the most targeted group in the country in 2005, followed by local doctors and teachers, most of whom have fled, leaving behind a brain drain of professionals.
"The situation in Iraq looks austere and the implementation of a new all inclusive government is very important for better security," Hiltermann said.
"There is a need to have an inclusive police and security force that is representative of all ethnic groups," he added.
2005 was considered to be a progressive year in terms of reconstruction, according to Iraqi and US officials. This, despite insecurity hampering aid work. While analysts remain sceptical about progress in development.
"Last year was really an impressive year for rebuilding Iraq and more than 8 billion has been invested with the full participation of the USAID and PCO [Project and Contracting Office]," Sardawi Karam, a senior official in the Ministry of Reconstruction and Development, said.
"Despite attacks, security concerns and an infrastructure that has deteriorated, the reconstruction effort has made great progress," Karam noted.
Most international NGOs have left the country for security reasons and are working from a distance, based in neighbouring countries such as jordan.
The United Nations reentered Iraq, opening up offices in the north and south and working in a low-key manner due to security concerns. Some 22 people were killed in August 2003, when the UN headquarters in Baghdad was attacked, one of the worst attacks ever on the world body.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has been coordinating reconstruction in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. The USAID programme in Iraq has supported five objectives with funding of over US $5 billion.
"Both the US Defense Department (Army Corps of Engineers) and the State Department have roles in reconstruction, however, the Iraq Project and Contracting Office (PCO) manages most of the pledged $18 billion," Heather Layman, a spokesperson for USAID said.
More than 90 percent of the $18 billion that Congress put aside to rebuild Iraq has already been committed. This is in addition to money the Iraqi government has set aside. More than 40 percent of the total was invested in 2005, local officials said.
"Iraq's economy is forecasted to grow at a rate of 4 percent this year, and accelerate into the double digits next year. Per capita income is nearly double what it was two years ago," Layman added.
In the capital, Baghdad, more than 20,000 new businesses have been registered in 2005, giving an impressive boost to the country's economy. However, local residents still complain of facing regular shortages of water and power due to sabotage or insurgency.
"Very little happened on the reconstruction front and money has not been allocated properly," Hiltermann said. "Most was spent on projects with no follow-up and so projects fell apart."
"Insecurity has contributed to the implementation of reconstruction, he explained. You cannot have an integrated reconstruction plan without security," he stressed.
Along with seven of his officers, former president, Saddam Hussein, faced dramatic court proceedings in 2005, accused of crimes against humanity.
"Saddam's trial means the start of respect for human rights in a country which has suffered for 30 years in the hands of a dictator," Saleh Farhan, senior official in the Ministry of Human Rights, said.
Hussein and the others have gone on trial for the massacre of 148 Shi'ites from the town of Dujail, north of the capital, in 1982.
Saddam would only answer 12 charges of crimes against humanity, although there are more than 500 cases against him.
Six of the most significant crimes according to human rights activists are: the execution of more than 145 Iraqis in 1982 in Dujail; the gassing of nearly 5,000 people in the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988; the execution of key political and religious leaders during the 35 year rule of the Baath party; the killing and deportation of more than 10,000 members of the Kurdish Barzani tribe; the 1991 suppression of a Shi'ite uprising in southern Iraq, and the illegal occupation of Kuwait in 1991.
The trial is expected to resume in February, as soon as the new government assumes its post.
It's amazing what some special forces soldiers found when raiding a house last month.
A British man kidnapped in Iraq and held for five days by armed men who threatened to behead him was rescued last week by American special forces and astonished to discover that no one had noticed he was missing.Hope for all that the job is getting done: Bush says thousands of troops to leave Iraq, Afghanistan
Phil Sands, 28, a freelance journalist, was held by gunmen who ambushed his car in Baghdad. He said the worst aspect of his ordeal was imagining the anguish of his family. But his parents were holidaying in Morocco and knew nothing of his sufferings until he called them after he was released during a chance raid by US forces on a farm outside Baghdad.
The rescue was a rare slice of good fortune in Iraq, where yesterday Rizgar Amin, chief judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein, quit in protest at pressure from the Iraqi government on his court, which has already seen two defence lawyers murdered and witnesses threatened.
For Sands, the escape came after he had surrendered all hope. 'I thought with absolute certainty, "I'm dead - it's now just a matter of the technical details,"' he told The Observer. 'I was strangely calm - there was no point in panicking.'
One of Sands's captors told him, in Arabic, that if he was a soldier, or helping the occupation, he would be beheaded. He was made to record a video urging the British people to remove Tony Blair from office. The same thing had happened to Ken Bigley, the hostage from Liverpool executed in Iraq in 2004.
But the US army, on a routine mission, came to the rescue. He recalled: 'I was in bed and heard helicopters, which I assumed would move on. But then there were footsteps and a banging at the door. It burst open and two young American soldiers came in with flashlights. They woke up my guard and shone a torch in my face. One of them said, "What the fuck?" I said: "I'm a Brit, dammit."'
He said he was not treated badly by his Sunni captors, who were arrested in the raid. He believes his driver and interpreter were also rescued but is still seeking confirmation.
Sands, from Poole, Dorset, has been to Iraq 10 times since February 2003, sometimes for three-month spells. On Boxing Day, shortly after 9.30am, he was blindfolded, handcuffed and forced into the boot of a BMW by men with balaclavas and AK-47 automatic rifles. 'I just knew I was dead, that I wouldn't get out alive. I began to think of my parents in Britain, how they would have to watch this on the news and what it would do to them. I felt I could cope with whatever happened to me; it was what they would go through that was unbearable.'
Sands's parents, David and Jackie, were in a state of blissful ignorance throughout, as were the authorities. They spoke to their son on Christmas Day, then went on holiday. David said last night: 'We were fortunate that we didn't go through the nail-biting anxiety of knowing he was missing. I feel fairly philosophical about it, and so does my wife. He loves that place and I'm sure he'll be going back.'
Bush said progress on security and political developments were the chief reasons for the reduction of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.Our Allies across Europe have not only donated time, money and troops, theyÂre also sending millions worth of equipment to the new Iraqi Army to modernize its forces.
After meeting with top U.S. defense officials, Bush confirmed plans to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq from 17 to 15 brigades. Brigades have 3,500 troops each:
"The adjustment is under way," Bush said. "This adjustment will result in a net decrease of several thousand troops below the pre-election baseline of 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The decrease comes in addition to the reduction of about 20,000 troops who were in Iraq to assist with security during the December elections."
'Progress' In Iraq
The president said U.S. commanders told him that 215,000 Iraqis performed well as security forces during the parliamentary elections.
He also expressed optimism about the political will of Iraqis after the high turnout in December's parliamentary elections. Iraq's main political parties are reportedly nearing an agreement on forming a coalition government that would include Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs, as well as Kurds.
Bush hinted this could lead to further troop reductions: "Later this year, if Iraqis continue to make progress on the security and political sides that we expect, we can discuss further possible adjustments with the leaders of a new government in Iraq."
Bush said decisions on troop levels would be based on recommendations of U.S. commanders and not on what he called "false political timetables in Washington." He has come under increasing pressure from opposition Democrats in Washington to provide an exit strategy for U.S. forces in Iraq.
Bush also cited emerging concerns about abuses committed by Iraqi police and said U.S. forces would place new focus on improving their professionalism.
His comments came after insurgents launched one of their bloodiest series of attacks since the elections. Attacks on 5 January killed more than 50 people, many of them mourners at a funeral procession.
In Afghanistan, Bush said U.S. forces would decline from 19,000 to 16,500 this year. He said this was possible because of NATO plans to increase its force level from 9,000 to 15,000.
"Our strategy has been to provide a strong commitment to provide stability so that democracy can flourish and then as others, including Afghan troops as well as NATO troops, step in we step back," Bush said. "We're going to continue to conduct antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan as well. This is all part of a global war against a terrorist network."
Bush said both Iraq and Afghanistan remained the major fronts for U.S.-led campaigns against terrorism.
NATO member countries are responding to the Iraqi people's desire for increased security in their country by providing a large quantity of donated arms and equipment in support of the Iraqi Armed Forces. For example, Romania has donated around 6,000 AK-47 rifles and various types of other equipment. A large shipment of donations from Slovenia arrived this year, including among other things, around 17,000 AK-47 rifles and around 10,000 helmets. Demark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary and Latvia have also donated various types of equipment to the Iraqi Security Forces.
Donations of weapons from many of the East European nations that have now joined NATO are ideal for the Iraqi military because many Iraqis are already familiar with those weapons from the days of the former regime, say western military experts. While not all are new, the weapons are in excellent shape. The above-mentioned donations are estimated to be worth around 30 million.
The largest donation to date arrived on 11 November. Seventy-seven tanks and four tank-recovery vehicles, donated to the Iraqi Armed Forces by Hungary were delivered and they are now located at Taji, north of Baghdad, which is the headquarters of the Iraqi 9th Division (Mechanized). The tanks were tranferred from Hungary by a combination of land and sea transport and are expected to be operational by mid-December. This donation is estimated to be worth around 70 million, which takes the total of NATO donations to the Iraqi Armed Forces in 2005 to 100 million.
In response to a request from the Interim Iraqi Government (IIG), NATO announced at the Istanbul Summit that it had agreed to assist with the training of Iraq's security forces. On October 8, 2004, the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, based in Norfolk, Virginia, established the NATO Training and Equipment Coordination Group (NTECG). The NTECG was created to support the ongoing NATO Training Mission in Iraq (NTM-I), under the Sumpreme Allied Commander Europe. The NTECG's mission is to assist NATO military authorities in training selected Iraqi personnel out-of country, and to develop a NATO role in coordinating and harmonising Iraqi Interim Government equipment needs with national offers to support those requirements. In-country coordination is undertaken by the NTM-I Training, Equipment and Synchronization Cell (TESC), which addresses the Iraqi Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Interior requirements by coordinating the delivery of NATO nation offers of equipment that meets Iraqi requirements.
NTM-I is in Iraq at the request of Iraqi authorities. The Mission mainly concentrates on training Iraqi officers and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces with donated equipment, not combat operations.
Coalition and Iraqi troops continue to
make progress towards securing the new Iraq, fighting side by side for a
Enabling Iraqi soldiers to operate independently is one of the key tasks of
the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment.
The "Talons" of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, wasted no time getting to work with their Iraqi counterparts, coaching and mentoring them even as they engage terrorists together.
"We fight shoulder to shoulder," said Capt. Colin Brooks, commander, Company B, 2-8 Inf. "The goal by the end of the year is total self-reliance so these guys can fight and win on their own. They are already fairly close."
Soldiers drill Iraqis in formation movement, rifle marksmanship, cordon security and Military Operations in Urban Terrain situations.
"This area is very dangerous," said Iraqi Sgt. Tahseen Ali Ghano, executive battalion sergeant, 4th Brigade, 8th Iraqi Army Division. "This teaching gives us a lot of confidence. We hope to take more responsibility away from the Americans. We want to get more experience and secure this area."
Sgt. Paul Swanson, squad leader, Company E, 2-8 Inf., said he has seen a
performance improvement in the Iraqi soldiers since his previous deployment 1.5
"We are out there with them on missions," said Swanson. "I am very confident in their abilities."
The 2nd BCT is in the phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom where there is a deep partnership between the two armies, said Brooks. Company commanders and other leaders from both armies meet several times a week to plan missions, operations and train together.
"They are no longer huddled in a command post," Brooks said. "They are
taking the fight to the terrorists."
The units live in close proximity to each other, allowing them to learn more about each other's cultures and strengthen the bond that is forming from conducting missions together.
"We play soccer with them," said Swanson, grinning. "We are trying to
teach them how to play basketball, but that may take a while."
Soldiers from both Armies agree that there are challenges that need to be overcome to ensure the success of the Iraqi Army's development.
The Iraqi Army is much further ahead tactically than they are logistically, said Brooks. Other elements in the 4th Inf. Div. will train Iraqis on managing personnel and logistics.
Getting more Iraqis to join the military is another test at hand for the IA, said Lt. Asad, commander, 4th Company, 8th IA Div.
"We hope to someday get on the same level as the Americans," Asad said. "We are
trying to end terrorism in Iraq. As Iraqis, we need to save each other."
IED Suspects Captured
Four suspected terrorists are in U.S. custody after an IED attack against coalition forces near Balad Thursday night.
A patrol from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division was investigating a possible IED when the device was detonated. A coalition aircraft in the area spotted the four men running from the area into nearby homes and guided in additional ground forces that quickly captured the suspects.
No Soldiers were injured during the incident, but one coalition vehicle was slightly damaged.
Iraqi Police prevent IED ambush of Coalition Forces
Fast-thinking Iraqi Police spared Coalition Force Soldiers from an improvised explosive device in eastern Baghdad Monday.
Iraqi Police manning a checkpoint stopped a convoy, headed by Staff Sgt. Mark Matthews, 801st Brigade Support Battalion, 506th Regimental Combat Team, and warned them of the device. The Iraqi Police explosive ordnance disposal team soon arrived and destroyed the IED.
"The Iraqi Police provided additional security to help secure our convoy while we waited, then their EOD guys exploded the device," said Matthews. "The IPs tested the route, then we made it through with no problems."
"Our training is definitely paying off. I appreciate the IPs letting my guys know about the IED. Their actions saved lives," said Capt. Henry Groulx, commander, Company A, 801st BSB.
And one for the Darwin Awards, Terrorists recently blew themselves up while setting up an IED.
TIKRIT, Iraq, Two terrorist bombers and two gunmen were killed during a series of unrelated incidents throughout northern Iraq Jan. 9.
Two terrorists were killed in Samarra early in the evening Jan. 9 when an IED they were attempting to emplace detonated prematurely.
In a separate incident near Samarra, Soldiers killed one man and captured another during a brief engagement after the gunmen fired at their patrol.
Accurate return fire from the patrol killed one and forced the other to run away, but the Soldiers chased and quickly apprehended the man.
A lone gunman was also killed the morning of Jan. 9 after shooting at a joint Iraqi and U.S. patrol near Balad. The man began firing at the patrol as it approached the building he was in and the patrol returned fire, killing the gunman. The Soldiers searched the building and seized a variety of IED-making materials.
A joint mission by Iraqi and Coalition Soldiers in Mosul resulted in the detainment of a man who was attempting to follow the Soldiers as they moved through a residential neighborhood. The man was questioned by the Iraqi Soldiers and detained after he tested positive for explosives residue.
Chalk up another success for Marines in Iraq, finding 72 Caches of hidden weapons was no small victory.
CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, AR RAMADI, Iraq, U.S. Marines discovered more than ten metric tons of munitions hidden at 72 cache sites 39 km south of Fallujah during the week-long Operation Green Trident.
First Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8 began the operation last week near the village of Al Latifiyah to search suspected locations for hidden weapon caches. More than 1,000 artillery and mortar rounds were unearthed along with scores of rocket propelled grenades and hand grenades. Most of the caches were shallowly buried along the banks of the Euphrates River and surrounding area.
The weight of the explosives contained within these munitions is approximately one metric ton (2,200 lbs). The artillery and mortar rounds are commonly used by insurgents to make improvised explosive devices.
And another Cache found.
Diwaniyah Province, Iraq -- MNDCS and Iraqi Soldiers seized illegal weapon caches in Diwaniyah and Wasit provinces. During operations six suspicious men were detained and the following weapons and munitions were found: 75 assorted mines, 40 artillery and mortar rounds, seven RPG launchers with 69 rounds, 50 hand grenades, sniper rifles, machine guns and explosive material.
History and nostalgia is an important part of every military organization, and the Iraqis have made an effort to not let go of either.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Multi-National Force - Iraq Commanding General George Casey praised the dedication of the Iraqi police force January 9 in recognition of the force's 84th anniversary of its founding.
The Iraqi Police Force, with more than 118,000 members, "is moving forward towards living up to its full potential as the provider of security to Iraq's neighborhoods and upholder of the rule of law in the nation," according to the officials' joint statement.
Khalilzad and Casey are calling 2006 "the year of the police" because of its "critical role in Iraq's march toward becoming an independent and stable nation in the Middle East."
"We are putting more resources into helping Iraq have effective police forces by reviewing the vetting process to avoid infiltration by militias, investing additional resources into the training and equipping program, bringing more than 100 additional trainers and putting more U.S. military advisors (Police Transition Teams) to work side-by-side with them," Khalilzad and Casey stated.
The officials added that police are also vital to the preservation of an environment conducive to international investment.