May 15, 2006

News about Iraq

May 15, 2006, 6:06 a.m.
How About Some Good News?
Progress in Iraq.

By Bill Crawford

I had hoped this Iraq-progress round-up would include news about the formation of a new government today, but infighting has stalled the process. Still there is lots of other good news to report from Iraq, and even signs that some in the media are taking notice: The article linked to says “Statistics cited come from a report in National Review.”
In a move to help quell sectarian violence, seven Sunnis were rescued from Shia militiamen by U.S. and Iraqi forces Thursday. U.S. and Iraqi forces arrived in a village where the kidnappings were under way after receiving a tip from village leaders. After a brief gunfight with the militia, the hostages were rescued. Five of the kidnappers were wounded and 36 taken into custody.

A newspaper affiliated with a Kurdish political party claimed that 1,577 Iranians had been captured in the last month crossing the border into Iraq. Also this week, a top Sunni political leader accused Iran of sending intelligence agents into Iraq and of setting up operations centers in Iraqi towns.

Iraq is planning on reorganizing its security forces in Baghdad. The plan includes consolidating police and army forces under one command, and one uniform. In addition, the plan calls for a significant reduction in the number of American troops in the capital city.


In Baghdad, a private art gallery drew a small crowd to an art exhibit. One artist commented that artists have more freedom now than under Saddam:

The young artists at the Cultural Attitudes Society art gallery in central Baghdad say they are more free to express themselves now that Saddam is gone.


Students of Watertown High School in Wisconsin recently collected backpacks filled with school supplies to send to Iraq. The success of “Operation Backpack” surprised even its organizers:

We picked up 80 backpacks from the Educational Service Center that were donated to the school district by the Watertown Kiwanis Club,” Mark McFarland, student council president, said. “

Eight large boxes were filled with the items from the backpacks. Those boxes will be shipped over to Iraq along with the backpacks.

The children of Sadr City are now going to school in new classrooms thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers:

Among the schools getting makeovers was the Mustafa School, which serves 930 high school students in the morning and 430 elementary students in the afternoon.

The $290,000 project included 300 new interior lights, 55 ceiling fans, 11 window air conditioners, 300 square meters of new concrete playground surface, remodeling of restrooms, roof repair, raising the perimeter security wall one meter, repairing all broken glass and installing a steel mesh to protect all exterior windows, painting all interior and exterior walls, and supplying a new 80kva generator.

“It’s one of 13 public-school renovations in East Baghdad that we oversaw in the last year,” said Jeremy Way, project engineer with Gulf Region Central District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


The head of Iraq’s central bank said this week the country was making progress in reforming the banking system:

He also said Iraq was on track in its financial reforms, including transformation of the banking system "from one depending on cash to a system depending on credit."

"By the end of the year God willing, our banks will have a developed payment system to carry out their settlements fast through accounts at the central banks," he said.

"Other reforms we are working on include improving the banks' managements and developing the technology they use to carry out transactions," he said. "We cannot say everything is perfect, but we are moving forward."

He also said Iraq’s foreign reserves now stand at $10 billion.

The Iraqi-American chamber of commerce will be holding its second trade show in Iraq in September.

Iraq’s oil minister announced that the country will be building three new oil refineries at a cost of $6 billion. When completed, the three facilities will be capable of pumping up to 900,000 barrels a day.

The American chamber of commerce third “Rebuild Iraq” conference ended this week on a high note for residents of Fallujah:

"Fallujah is a secure city and returning to a normal life and its soil is ready for investment". Delegates also heard from speakers of the huge resources available for utilization including 40,000 skilled and currently unemployed people in Fallujah and highlighted the many products that could be sold across Iraq and internationally including ceramics, stone and even a budding tourism sector.


Renovations to the Al-Musharra fire station are complete. The $110,000 project will benefit 750,000 Iraqis:

Located near the Tigris River, the structure was weakened by the high ground water table. Crumbling walls and floors, a polluted water storage tank and decayed roof tiles were just a few of the reconstruction problems. New joists and wall supports, roof tiles and floor tiles were installed to bring vitality back to the building. New electrical, water, sewage and air conditioning systems were installed and a sleeping quarters, kitchen area and general use room were built to accommodate the nine fireman stationed there.

Thanks to Iraqi production, OPEC’s oil output topped 30 million barrels per day for the first time since November:

The biggest single increase came from Iraq, which saw volumes rise from 1.82 million b/d in March to 2.01 million b/d in April, thanks to a big boost in exports from the south, which had been constrained by a combination of weather problems, power outages and sabotage.


U.S. and Iraqi troops uncovered a massive weapons cache near Baghdad on Wednesday. The cache was largely made up of materials used to make IEDs:

…searched a house in New Baghdad and discovered 142 land mines, 58 blocks of C4 explosives, approximately 8,000 feet of detonation cord, 107 fuses, 22 rocket-propelled grenades, a launcher, 59 mortars, 40 pounds of mortar propellant, four shape charges, 43 blasting caps, explosive-formed projectile materials, two gas masks, six two-way radios, multiple mortar launching tubes, maps of Baghdad and Iraq, and anti-Iraqi force literature.

The story continues:

The discovery of weapons caches, often a result of a local's tip to Iraqi or American forces, occur nearly every day in Iraq, but the May 10 discovery was particularly large.

In a press conference this week, Major General Lynch noted that tips from Iraqis have increased significantly this year. During the first eleven days of May, Iraqis had phoned in more than 1,500 phone calls. Lynch said that 98 percent of the tips contain usable intelligence. The tips have been especially useful in the fight against al Qaeda and IEDs:

Improved intelligence and increasingly capable Iraqi security forces also led to the capture or killing of more than 161 senior leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq, as well as a marked decrease in effective improvised bombs. More than 50 percent of the bombs now are found and defused before they can kill, he said.

Major Lynch also made a rather interesting statement, and I couldn’t agree more:

"People want to talk about what the enemy did. But they don't talk about what the enemy couldn't do," Lynch said. "And there is a lot he couldn't do because of that increased presence."


The Iraqi army is now conducting independent operations in Diyala Province:

Iraqi army Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division are independently conducting operations in their area of Diyala Province. They are performing tasks such as gathering their own intelligence, to patrolling their streets and hunting suspected anti-Iraqi forces.

Independent operations are also being conducted by the Iraqi army in Mosul. Three terrorists on the Iraqi army’s most-wanted list were captured during the operation planned and executed solely by Iraqis:

The Iraqi brigade demonstrated their military planning skills by formulating the mission, issuing appropriate orders to its subordinate units, and overwatching the conduct of the operation.


Terrorists are still using mosques to plan attacks against Coalition forces. In Baghdad, an IED exploded in the basement of a mosque, killing one terrorist, and wounding two others.

A tip from an Iraqi led U.S. troops to a weapons cache, and to the capture of two members of an IED-making terrorist cell.

U.S. and Iraqi forces captured an al Qaeda-cell leader in Adhamiyah. The captured terrorist immediately sang like a canary and seven more terrorists were promptly rounded up.

U.S. soldiers uncovered IED making equipment thanks to a tip from an Iraqi citizen. The cached included an IED ready to go:

The cache included an IED ready for placement, nine anti-tank mines, eight hand grenades, various other weapons and IED making equipment, as well as an improvised rocket launcher.

Three men on the Iraqi army’s most-wanted list were captured during an operation in Mosul. The operation was planned and led by Iraqis.

Two terrorists were killed when they fired on Iraqi police in Tikrit. A search of the building they were in led to the discovery of a tunnel and weapons cache:

The Soldiers uncovered a false wall that led to a tunnel system and another hidden door that opened into a room used as clandestine sleeping quarters.

The “Ready First” Soldiers discovered a variety of weapons and munitions scattered about the tunnel and underground room. A Katusha rocket, 10 rifle grenades, four mortar rounds, three IEDs and two mortar tubes were seized.

Helicopters from the 101st Airbrone Division fired on two terrorist placing an IED during a nighttime patrol, killing one and wounding the other.

In Julaybah, a terrorist compound was destroyed by Coalition forces:

After killing three terrorists and detaining four others, the troops conducted a thorough search of the area. They found six affiliated vehicles, three of which were loaded with various weapons and explosives to include rifles, mortars and improvised explosive device material. The troops also uncovered numerous weapons caches with AK-47's, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds and IED material.

Five safe houses, six cars, and all lethal material were destroyed on target. No civilians were injured or harmed during the assault or resulting firefight.

Centcom released captured al Qaeda documents this week in which it is clear the terrorist group is having a tough time in Iraq. An excerpt particularly relevant here:

The actions of the Iraqi Security Forces are having a significant negative impact on the Mujahideen’s ability to operate in Baghdad. Al Qaida in Iraq attacks Mosques and other public places to draw media attention and is having difficulty recruiting members because the people of Iraq do not support its cause.

Great news, but here is how the Reuters’ story on the documents began:

A purported al Qaeda document published by the U.S. military may or may not be authentic but its message that the Sunni Islamist guerrillas face problems in Iraq could reflect reality, security experts said on Tuesday.

Fake but accurate, now where have I heard that before?

In Al Furat, a mostly Sunni area of Anbar, men said they were volunteering for the Iraqi army because they are tired of the insurgency:

One 30-year-old Iraqi man accepted for enlistment said his younger brother had his left leg amputated after infection set in from a gunshot wound from insurgents. He’s hoping his enlistment in the Army is the beginning of the end of the insurgency in Al Anbar Province, he said.

“He told me, my brother – ‘save our country,’” said the man through an interpreter. “’Don’t let another guy end up like me.’ I just do this for him.”


And in case you missed it, here are some highlights from the latest Brookings’s Iraq Index:

Per Capita GDP (USD) for 2005 is forecast to increase from the previous year to $1,051. In 2002 it was $802.
Increases in GDP for the next five years: 16.8, 13.6, 12.5, 7.8, and 7.2.
Actionable tips from Iraqis have increased every month this year. In January, 4,025 tips were received; February, 4,235; and March, 4,578.
On an index of political freedom for countries in the Middle East, Iraq now ranks fourth, just below Israel, Lebanon, and Morocco.
Crude oil production reached 2.14 million barrels a day (MBD) in April of this year. It had dropped to 0.3 MBD in May of 2003.
Revenues from oil export have only slightly increased from prewar levels of $0.2 billion, to $0.62 billion in April.
Electrical output is almost at the pre-war level of 3,958 megawatts. April's production was 3,600 megawatts. In May of 2003, production was only 500 megawatts. The goal is to reach 6,000 megawatts, and was originally expected to be met in 2004.
The unemployment rate in June of 2003 was 50-60 percent, and in April of this year it had dropped to 25-40 percent.
The number of U.S. military wounded has declined significantly from a high of 1,397 in November 2004 to 430 in April of this year.
Iraqi military casualties were 201 in April of 2006, after peaking at 304 in July of 2005.
As of December 2005, countries other than the U.S., plus the World Bank and IMF, have pledged almost $14 billion in reconstruction aid to Iraq.
Significant progress has also been made towards the rule of law. In May 2003 there were no trained judges, but as of October 2005 there were 351.
As of January 2006, 64 percent of Iraqis polled said that the country was headed in the right direction.
Also as of January 2006, 77 percent said that removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.
In May of 2003, Iraqi security forces were estimated at between 7,000-9,000. They numbered 250,500 in March of this year.
The breakdown of foreign terrorists by country of origin is interesting. The largest number come from Algeria, at 20 percent. The next two countries are Syria and Yemen, at 18 percent and 17 percetn, respectively.
The number of foreign terrorists fighting in Iraq was estimated at between 300 and 500 in January 2004. That number increased in April of this year, to between 700 and 2,000.
From May 2003 and April 2006, between 1,000 and 3,000 anti-Iraqi forces have been killed each month.

— Bill Crawford lives in San Antonio, Tex.

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