One of the most valuable resources for keeping informed about what’s going on in Iraq is Arthur Chrenkoff’s phenomenal series of articles on Good News from Iraq. This monthly feature is now in its 33rd installment, and he has done what most of us don’t have the time and resources to do and gone through every possible source, and used his unique contacts inside Iraq to come up with a comprehensive summary of all the positive things which are happening in Iraq which the media around the world chooses to ignore. Not to blame them – they are stuck in the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ mentality, and can’t sell a lot of papers based on electricity production figures and school openings. But too few people outside of Iraq realize that for every terrorist attack there, a dozen good things are happening to make the lives of everyday Iraqis better.
So here are some quick highlights gleaned from the hundreds of news items Chrenkoff has gathered. Please note that this is a tiny fraction of what he has to report and it’s just a summary. If you’re astonished by all the good news, he has the full descriptions with links to sources and all his previous installments on his site.
Attacks damaging infrastructure like roads and powerplants are down enormously, from 41 per month last year to an average of 7 per month since February.
Iraqi forces have successfully shut down most terrorist operations in Diyala province, which had been one of the most violentin the country. They are lifting curfews and life is returning to normal. Towns like Bahraz which were under rebel control are not at peace and under government protection.
Mortar attacks are down all over Iraq compared to last year, with a 50% drop in western Mosul where they had been common.
Car bombings are now a thing of the past in Sulaimaniya where Arif Anwar, an ER surgeon commented to a reporter “Car bomb? Are you joking? We don’t have anything like that. The biggest problem we have here is car accidents — too many car accidents.” He works in a newly built and totally modern wing of the Sulaimaniya hospital.
Also in Sulaimaniyah 1816 new police recruits just graduated from training academies, bringing the total of trained officers there to over 40,000.
The Iraqi army is also picking up speed, with a new mechanized division in the field and the creation of a special division of 32,000 former Kurdish Peshmerga freedom fighters, valuable militarily experienced former guerillas. They are taking over control of Camp Echo in a Diwaniyah from coalition forces. This is part of a general hand-over of security throughout Diyala province to Iraqis.
Along the same lines preparations are underway for turning security over to Iraqi forces in Karbala, Najaf, Nasseriya and Samawa, some of the larger cities in the south, where terrorism and insurgency are now under control.
Under the Iraqi Reconstruction Program a new military academy is being completed which sounds a bit like a country club. It’s one of 2800 projects the IRP is involved in, including building water treatment plants, new schools, power infrastructure upgrades, fortifications on the border and health clinics. Some major projects of the IRP include a new $8.2 million water treatment plant at al Zakho, the new $2.5 million Civil Defense Headquarters building in Baghdad, the new $8.5 million Baghdad courthouse, and many others.
Then there are the endless reports of terrorist killed or captured. Too many to go into in detail here. In the first week of august alone there were 144 in and around Baghdad, 10 in Ramadi, 56 in Mosul, 37 in northern Iraq, 15 in Rawah, 7 in Tal Afar, 24 in Haqliniyah, 39 in Sharmiyah, 2 in Hit, 4 in Abu Ghraib, 4 in Sadr City, 32 in Al Batha, 11 in Haditha, 25 near Salman Pak, 4 in Sarmmara, 63 in Northern Iraq. The total for that week is the discovery and removal of 109 IEDs, 32 weapons caches and the capture of 805 insurgents.
On Politics and Society…
Large numbers of Sunni leaders are now actively encouraging Sunnis to be involved in the political process and take part in the upcoming elections, which they failed to do in large numbers in the previous voting. Imam Abdul-Sattar al-Jumaili told a crowd in Falluja “It is a duty for all those here to take part in the upcoming elections so that we are not politically marginalised. I call upon you to register your names in Falluja and other cities.” Many prominent Sunnis have said the boycott of the January election of the interim government was a major blunder.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have taken part in town-hall style meetings to give input into the new Constitution according to a UN report. There have also been radio and television debates, a conference of religious leaders and a lot of activism by womens groups. The report observed “Women’s groups have been particularly active, with literally dozens of conferences demonstrating that, although they have a great variety of views, Iraqi women have a common aspiration to increase their level of participation in politics.”
Iraq already has a well established network of new radio and television stations, plus local and national newspapers. In addition this month saw the creation of their first independent news agency under the sponsorship of the Reuters Foundation, the UN and the SpanishAgency for International Cooperation. The new agency employs 50 journalists and is called Voices of Iraq.
This month Iraqis have also officially taken over the International Press Center in Baghdad, a US-built facility with computers, scanners, color copiers, laptops, CD burners, high-speed Internet and satellite news channels at the disposal of local and international journalists.
Additional new equipment includes 30 English-learning programs with headsets, an LCD projector, a scanner, a color copier, dozens of memory sticks, hundreds of blank CDs and floppy discs, CD writers and dozens of computer programs. This new equipment joins the satellite dishes, TVs, laser printers, copier, computers, refrigerators and other high-tech gadgets already being used by journalists.
Another interesting new development is the launch of Radio Almahaba, a radio station specifically devoted to women’s issues, funded by an American humanitarian and with a grant from the UN.
The Economy and Infrastructure…
Iraq is still risky, but full of business opportunities.
Iraqi oil extraction is still recovering slowly, but the Ministry for Oil has announced its intention to issue new tenders in the last quarter for contracts to develop 11 southern oilfields the oil sector will be a growth area for the Iraqi economy. In June, the oil production stood at 1.44 million barrels per day, in July it rose to 1.6 million. In that month, Iraq earned $2.5 billion from oil sales. In early August, the exports stood at 1.6 million barrels and the local consumption at 600,000 barrels. As in America the main bottleneck is refinery capacity, so new refineries are planned for Baghdad, Mosul and Basra with capacities ranging between 250,000-300,000 barrels per day. The Ministry also plans to build mobile refineries with 10,000 b/d capacity to be increased later to 30,000 b/d in Arbil, Sulaimania, Amara, Haditha, Nassiriya and Diwaniya. These new refineries will be supported by foreign investment from companies including Korea National Oil Corp. An agreement has also been reached to send 35 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to Kuwait for five years. Kuwait will also be supporting new Iraqi refineries with training and spare parts.
Iraqi banking is coming back online. The IMF has accepted their Monetary Survey which will allow them to begin to participate in international banking. Standards are also being developed for banking practices under the guidance of USAID.
Iraq still faces a serious housing shortage and the Ministry of Housing and Construction is making land available at a discount to developers who want to construct the 3 million housing units the nation needs. Housing investments will be insured through the American Export-Import Bank. With support from the world bank, Japanese investors plan a $1.2 billion housing development project. Ironically, Denmark is also funding the construction of housing in Iraq, eager to encourage recent Iraqi immigrants to return home.
The Iraqi Ministry of Housing & Construction is keen to set up a property system like that of the United Kingdom, which is based on a highly competitive building society market.
The Diyala Company for Electrical Industries is increasing production of key electrical generation hardware. They have signed a 19 billion-dinar contract (approx. $140 million) to supply the ministries of oil, industry and communications with electrical transformers and meters as well as fiber optic cables. They are just one of 45 similar companies in Iraq whose revenue is projected to hit more than $300 million in 2006.
The cellular telephone business is also booming, with three competing providers. The fastest growing is Asiacell based out of Sulaimaniya, which has attracted $300 million in foreign investment. The owner of the company also owns two cement factories, a steel plant and a 28-storey five-star hotel and is planning to branch out into cultural projects, apartment complexes, satellite broadcasting, wireless technology and computer training centres. He anticipates Sulaimaniya’s development into the high tech and international commerce center of the new Iraq. Sulaimaniya is growing rapidly as people move there from more troubled regions like Basra, bringing with them skills and resources.
Air travel into and out of Iraq has resumed, with regular flights to Istanbul and a new airport planned near Najaf to take advantage of the pilgrim interest in that city, funded by a low interest loan from Iran.
For the first time this month Iraq’s electricity production has exceeded the levels that were standard prior to the war, at 5,350 megawatts. This is a happy development during a very hot Iraqi summer. The rise in power supply of over 1,000 megawatts has come from an extra 500 megawatts generated by hydroelectric power after Turkey increased water flows from the Euphrates River to Iraqi dams and from importing electricity from Iran, Turkey and Syria. Ironically, although this is a record for Iraq, it is only about half of the level of production the country really needs, and a third of what they would like to be able to produce. Further development is expected with the help of Japan, Iran and Turkey. There are still blackouts and power rationing, but no more now than there were under the previous regime. However, with all the new development in the country demand for electricity is rising rapidly. New generators are already scheduled to come online later this year in Mussayab and Kirkuk.
Water distribution has also made great progress, with water available to almost the entire country, with the exception of Basra which continues to present some of the largest problems with terrorism and with unreliable local government.
The UN is supporting the revival of Iraqi schools, with new computers, sports equipment, building renovations, books and other school equipment. USAID has established a center fro training women teachers in Babil, and has granted 41 grants to Iraqi contractors for school reconstruction in Baghdad, Arbil, Diyala and Hilla. The Ministry of Education has also launched a model schools program to create 4 model schools in each region to demonstrate improved systems and teaching methods.
Universities are also growing with the return of 87 professors who were removed from their jobs under the old regime at universities in Baghdad, Al Musel, Al Mostansereya, Al Kufa and Babylon. In total the ministry has rehired 2365 politically discharged or harmed persons in the ministry, the universities, and its affiliate administrations.
The WHO reports that health is also improving in Iraq, with a 93% polio vaccination rate among children, additional doctor trainign from USAID for approximately 5000 medical center staff, 1,400 physicians, 1,000 nurses, 2,100 medical assistants, and 150 center directors who will get improved knowledge and enhanced clinical. complete; Currently 23 new health care centers are either under construction or being planned. 19 medical training facilities are also being reconstructed or built from scratch. 450 million dinars is being spent to rebuild the National Drug Quality Control Laboratory.
The US Department of Agriculture and the US Grains Council are working to revitalize Iraqi agriculture and make seed grain more widely available. They are also providing loans for farmers and poultry producers, plus training and irrigation projects. USAID is providing 6 outreach teams with veterinarians and agronomists to conduct educational workshops in 240 different villages. They are also training mechanics to repair farm machinery.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of what Chrenkoff has to report, and I’ve left out all of the most touching and interesting stories about the humanitarian relief projects, like the amazing efforts of people like actor Gary Sinise for Iraqi children, and the phenomenal things our military is achieving working with local leaders to rebuild basic conveniences and provide training and security advice. Before you write off Iraq as ‘a disaster’ as so many ill-informed people seem to be doing, take some time to read up on the subject and Chrenkoff’s report is the place to start.
I’ll just leave you with this quote from Army Capt. Christopher Vick who was interviewed on CBS: “I think it’s hard for Americans to get up every day and turn on the news and see the horrible things that are going on here, because there’s no focus on the good things that go on. What they see is another car bomb went off… You’ve got to win the information war. I mean, it’s, if they (the terrorists) can turn public perception away from the good that is happening in this country, then they will eventually win the battle.”