Though the evening news and above-the-fold coverage here in the U.S. about Iraq may not reflect it, we have come far. For starters this week, here are two stories that give an indication of just how much. The first story shows the progress we have made in reconstruction, and the second story highlights the progress made in training Iraqis to secure their own country.
The U.S. released a chart showing the progress made in the reconstruction of Iraq:
Since March 2003, 11,600 construction projects have been started and 9,340 projects valued at $9.3 billion have been completed,” said Kathye A. Johnson, director of reconstruction for the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps of Engineers. “Rebuilding the infrastructure is helping the emergence of democracy and establishing the foundation for a strong economy.
– Hours of electric power in all areas of the country except Baghdad are now above prewar levels; U.S.-funded electricity projects have added 2,710 megawatts to Iraq’s prewar generation capacity;
– U.S.-sponsored projects have provided potable water to 3.1 million more Iraqis and sewer service to an additional 5.1 million.
– Almost all Iraqi children have been inoculated against a variety of diseases.
– A total of 5,108 schools have been refurbished or repaired and more than 47,000 teachers have been trained.
In addition, attacks on Iraq’s infrastructure are down 60 percent in the past quarter, Bowen’s report said, citing the Defense Department.
And in Mosul, Operation Lion Hunt is underway. The operation was planned and executed solely by Iraqis:
The operation, dubbed Operation Lion’s Hunt and planned and executed entirely by Iraqi security forces, marks a turnaround from 18 months ago, when Iraqi police collapsed before an insurgent onslaught. Lion’s Hunt, U.S. advisers say, is proof that local police are now poised to take full responsibility for the city’s security.
Someday the media will have to admit what it doesn’t want to admit about Iraq, that with each passing day, the situation is getting better, but don’t take my word for it:
Gary Anderson, deputy regional coordinator for the United States Mission in Iraq, said from his own perspective, conditions are improving in Iraq. Anderson, whose first tour of duty was July 2004 to January 2005 in the Foreign Service, said some days are better than others. Anderson spoke as part of the Tyner Corn Bread and Beans luncheon Friday at Los Dos Amigos.
“It took us five years to finalize our constitution and even then, there were revisions afterwards,” Anderson said. “While (Iraq) isn’t going well every day, it is getting better than it was.”
Some of the ways Iraq is improving are safety on the streets and support from Iraq’s groups, Anderson said.
There was plenty of other good news from Iraq this week, so let’s get to it.
Iraqi oil revenues hit a four-year high in April of $3 billion.
Another member of the Paris Club, Hungary, has forgiven 80 percent of Iraq’s debt to it, totaling $184 million.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a reconstruction report on April 28. Several projects were completed:
§ Installation is complete on the Al Tahadi Compact Water Treatment Unit in Fallujah, Al Anbar Province. More than 60,000 residents of Fallujah will benefit from the project.
§ In Tall Afar, 200,000 Iraqis will benefit from the completion of a $480,000 project that resurfaced 4 km of road.
§ Construction is complete on the Adhamiyah Boys High School in Adhamiyah, Baghdad Province.
§ The $250,000 project included rehabilitating the lighting, electrical, and both sewer, and potable waters systems in the school. The project also included roof repairs, new doors and windows, the installation of 100 kVAgenerator, a security fence and additional classroom space.
§ A $1.2 million project to protect the Al Tameen oil pipeline was completed. Construction included a chain link security fence, concrete barriers, and guard towers.
§ 40,000 Iraqis will benefit from a $4.9 million project that installed 50 new power transformers in Erbil.
In Kurdistan, a new, independent newspaper was established with the assistance of USAID:
Since Awene’s first issue on January 5, Iraqi readers have taken note of the new paper. There is every indication that the paper will compete with its larger rival for the attention of the Kurdish readership. Though Awene has only recently published its seventh edition, the initial response suggests that the paper will succeed. Its circulation is now at 7,000, more than double the 3,000 copies of its first edition.
A public and private partnership launched the Iraqi Virtual Science Library. When completed, the IVSL will provide 80 percent of Iraq’s scientists and university students with access to an online library. The library currently has more than 17,400 complete scientific journals available online.
In Najaf, the 451st Army Battalion is working to rebuild the Najaf Teaching Hospital after 30 years of neglect:
The Najaf Teaching Hospital is a 420-bed hospital in the Holy City of Najaf, Iraq. The hospital was in complete disrepair in August, 2004. The Mahdi Militia had occupied it for 5 months and used it for a military headquarters. Local medical professionals in cooperation with Coalition Forces, particularly the Army 451st Battalion, are committed to completely rehabilitating the hospital by August 2006. This hospital was and will be again the farthest South Teaching Hospital in Iraq.
The hospital currently evaluates and treats approximately 1000 outpatients a day. The hospital is functioning out of the First Floor only during the rebuilding process with 80 inpatient and 20 emergency room beds available. In addition, there are 150 undergraduate and postgraduate students studying Medicine and Pharmacy services at the hospital. Providing top-notch training using modern equipment to the next generation of Iraqi doctors is vital to the ongoing improvement of health care in this country.
A primary health-care center is being constructed for the 40,000 residents of Sulaymaniyah. The center will be staffed by ten doctors, and provide a wide array of services including:
[T]wo patient treatment rooms; six medical examination rooms; two dental examination rooms; seven doctor’s offices; an X-ray lab; a diagnostic and testing lab; classrooms for training; a pharmacy and a cafeteria.
A company has been awarded a $40 million contract to construct and renovate facilities for Iraqi security forces. Work will be performed on more than a dozen facilities across Iraq.
The Central Bank of Iraq is now publishing an online report of financial indicators. You can access the report here.
The third annual Rebuilding Iraq Expo will be held in Jordan this week. Companies, government agencies, and NGO’s from more than 36 countries will be present. Business opportunities in Iraq are expected to continue to grow:
Soaring demand for materials and technology in key sectors of the Iraqi economy may well exceed $150 billion in the long term,” according to the event’s site. “In the medium term, $60 to 70 billion will be needed to rebuild the country.
In al Kut, U.S. soldiers delivered supplies to the children during a humanitarian operation. Supplies delivered included school supplies and personal items:
Servicemembers distributed stuffed animals, sporting goods and school supplies during a joint humanitarian operation April 27 in Al-Kut, Iraq.
“You could feel a tangible and true feeling that they (the children) were happy we had visited them,” explained Cmdr. Richard Below, operations officer for the Kuwait Humanitarian Operations Center.
The children were animated about the visit but behind some of their smiles were more silent requests. With the help of its sponsors, the HOC in Kuwait hopes to bring two children, in particular, to the United States for medical care.
“The little girl just stole my heart,” said Col. Carlos Trejo, HOC representative.
Members of the 332ND Civil Affairs Brigade are leaving Iraq around Mother’s Day. One of the things they accomplished in Iraq was to get 5,000 free wheelchairs to hospitals throughout Iraq:
When 150 Pacific Army reservists depart from Iraq around Mother’s Day, they will leave behind 5,000 wheelchairs but take with them a sense of accomplishment after a spending a year working with Iraqi government agencies and civilians.
The “Free Wheelchair Mission” was coordinated by Iraqi Ministry of Health and 5,000 chairs were given to various Iraqi hospitals, clinics and institutions, said Lt. Col. Curtis “Manny” Manchester during a telephone interview last week.
Reasons to Smile
The Al-Widha primary school south of Baghdad was renovated with the help of U.S. and Iraqi army soldiers:
For two months, Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers, contractors, Iraqi army soldiers and the city council worked tirelessly after classes were let out in the afternoon to provide everything from new windows, removing trash and debris, improving the sewage system and painting and repairing the building.
“It looks good right now,” Carney said. “There are still some things I would like to get done. It is leaps and bounds from what it was.”
Future plans for the school include new desks, blackboards and air-conditioning units. No school is complete without proper learning materials, and the Soldiers are planning on providing the children with notebooks, pens, pencils and even an expansion of the building to provide relief from overcrowding in the classrooms.
“The school looks really good since the school yard has been cleaned,” said a teacher at the school. She has been a teacher for 24 years and spent a majority of her career at the Al-Widha School and currently teaches one of the girls classes. “I look forward to the expansion of the school – more rooms for the classes.”
110 Iraqi children and their parents received a ride from the U.S. Air Force after participating in Operation Smile in Jordan. Operation Smile provides corrective surgery to children born with dental problems.
The security situation in Iraq continues to improve. Iraqis are providing tips on anti-Iraqi operations, Iraqi security forces are taking over more battlespace, and are operating independently on a more frequent basis.
Major General Tom Turner, commander of MND-North, provided an update of Iraq’s security forces in his area of operation during a press conference with the Pentagon pres corps.
Our role in achieving that end state focuses toward the last portion — an Iraqi security force capable of providing domestic order and denying safe haven to terrorists. We are partnered with four of the 10 Iraqi army divisions. They consist of 15 brigades and a total of 59 battalions. Of those 15 brigades, three are in the lead in their area of operations, and 18 of the battalions are in the lead. By the end of the summer, we anticipate two of the four divisions being in the lead.
All Iraqi army units in AO North are in the fight. Those that have not assumed an area of operations, it is generally due to the lack of equipment or specialized training, and those units are fighting alongside ours. We anticipate all units of the Iraqi army in our AOR operating in the lead by early next year. It will be some time before these units are rated at Level 1 and prepare to conduct independent operations.
His area of operations includes Mosul, Tall Afar, and Samarra.
In the city of Sinjar, Ninevah Province, troops of the Iraqi 3rd Army assumed the lead in security operations on May 3rd. The Iraqi troops have proved their capabilities in previous operations:
The 3rd Battalion has proven itself to be a skilled and professional fighting force and is confident in its ability to handle its increased responsibility. After completing a number of successful missions in conjunction with U.S. forces, the battalion recently planned and executed an extensive independent cordon and search operation that demonstrated the capabilities of the battalion.
Iraqis continue to show their ability to operate independent of U.S. Forces around the country:
In recent months, the soldiers–all from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division–have demonstrated their ability to operate without the assistance of Coalition Forces, said Staff Sgt. Mike Wear, intelligence chief assigned to the Military Transition Team here.
Moreover, coalition forces here say the Iraqis’ latest successful counterinsurgency operation is indicative of their overall progress in recent months.
They have independently raided insurgent hideouts, located weapons caches and set up traffic control points to catch insurgents transporting weapons in the past few months.
“I believe that with the progress they are making with us and the (Marines) in the province, these soldiers will be ready to take over their battle space in six to eight months,” said Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy, senior advisor for 2/2/7’s military transition team.
Most importantly, the soldiers have given a sense of security to local residents, according to “Mohamed,” who enlisted in the Iraqi Army just recently.
The media was invited to the event, but due to the lack of reporting on this event it doesn’t appear any were interested.
Ten terrorists were killed during an operation at an al Qaeda safe house southwest of Baghdad. Three of the dead terrorists were wearing suicide vests. All the dead terrorists were foreigners.
A police-recruitment center was attacked by a homicide bomber on the 2nd. The center was reopened one hour later, and volunteers continued to arrive:
“The fact that an overwhelming number of recruits arrived immediately after the attack signifies the local rejection of the intimidation and terrorism,” said Col. Larry D. Nicholson, commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 5.
“The people of Fallujah continue to look forward, not back, and understand that the way ahead, the road to progress and the path to self-governance depends on being part of the new Iraqi government,” Nicholson added.
There were several large weapons caches discovered this week:
§ Marines discovered a large cache in a village west of Baghdad. The cache included 100 20 mm anti-air rounds, 3,000 7.62 ball rounds, 1,000 7.62 armor piercing rounds, 65 mortar fuses, 24 grenades, 23 83 mm mortar rounds, three 120 mm mortar rounds and two 100 mm mortar rounds. There were also three 115 mm tank rounds, 12 57 mm fragmentation rockets, seven 80 mm fragmentation rockets, 13 rocket-propelled grenades, an improvised rocket launcher, two 107 mm rockets, a 68 mm rocket, three 155 mm artillery rounds, five 130 mm artillery shells, four 120 mm projectiles, an anti-tank rocket launcher, a machine gun, three assault rifles and an Enfield sniper rifle.
§ In al Kut, Iraqi and U.S. soldiers discovered a cache consisting of bomb-making materials, triggering devices, a 152mm round, a 132mm round, three 82mm rounds, two PKC machine guns, an RPK, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher with two RPG rockets and a 57mm aerial rocket with an improvised launcher.
§ Two more caches were uncovered east of Balad Ruz. The first cache consisted of three 120 mm rounds, one 17 5 mm, 152 mm, 130 mm rounds and 40 rocket propelled grenades. The second cache, found at a different location, consisted of 50 82 mm rounds, four 106 mm rounds, two RPGs and one armor piercing mine.
In related news, a tip from an Iraqi citizen led Iraqi and U.S. troops to a weapons cache in Bayji. The cache consisted of three 155mm artillery shells used to make IEDs.
Another tip led Iraqi soldiers to a weapons cache in Mandali.
In another security incident, two terrorists were killed by their own bomb. They were attempting to plant an IED near Tikrit when it exploded.
Iraqi and U.S. soldiers captured five wanted members of an IED making cell:
As Soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team provided oversight, Iraqi soldiers moved into the targeted residence in the village of Tawilah, just outside Kirkuk . Inside, they found the five suspects they were looking for; members of a local terror cell responsible for making and emplacing improvised explosive devices. The five suspects, along with four other individuals who were in the home at the time, were taken to a U.S. military compound in Kirkuk.
Marine Sgt. Maj. Bradley A. Kasal was awarded the Navy Cross for actions in Fallujah during Operation Al Fajr. During the battle, Kasal saved a group of Marines pinned down by enemy fire, and continued to fight even after sustaining serious wounds, and then shielded a fellow Marine from two grenades:
When then-1st Sgt. Kasal assisted one of his platoons with an over watch inside Fallujah that day, intense gunfire broke out in an Iraqi home to his immediate front.
Seconds later, Marines were rapidly exiting the building, known as the “House of Hell.” “That house was a death trap,” said Maj. Gen. Lehnert.
“It was set up for one purpose: to kill United States Marines.” Kasal could have easily stayed out of the house.”
When he found out that there were Marines still pinned down inside the infamous house, nothing the insurgents could put on the table would stop him from rescuing his Marines.
“Going in for them was the right thing to do,” said Kasal, 39, who hails from Afton, Iowa. “They’re Marines, and I’m a Marine. We look out for each other.”
Upon entry of the house, Kasal found himself face-to-face with an insurgent who he neutralized at extreme close range. Shortly afterwards, AK-47 gunfire was coming from all directions, and Kasal was hit from behind.
“While I was in that house, I made three life or death decisions,” Kasal said. “I never thought I would live through any of them, but I did what I did to help the other Marines.”
The first decision Kasal made was to expose himself to enemy fire in order to pull another wounded Marine out of the line of fire. Kasal took more enemy fire doing this.
While both Marines were under cover, they assessed their wounds. Both had multiple injuries, but there were only enough bandages for one of them to live.
Kasal made his second decision to forfeit his medical supplies to the other Marine.
“It made more sense to use all of the bandages on one of us then to split the supplies and have us both bleed to death,” Kasal said.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jose Sanchez was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq:
Sanchez was a platoon commander with the 2nd Marine Division.
From March 15, 2005, to July 5, 2005, he led nine separate battalion and regimental operations supporting three rifle companies along the Euphrates River Valley in Al Anbar province.
The attack that left him wounded and burned occurred while Sanchez and his platoon traveled between two bases.
A car bomb blew up about 15 to 20 feet from Sanchez’s armored vehicle. The explosion disabled his vehicle and wounded three of its crew members. Before his wounds required his own evacuation, he directed the evacuation of other Marines back to the nearest base.
“They got me out pretty quick,” Sanchez said. “I was wrapped up and flown by helicopter to the north of Baghdad.”
— Bill Crawford lives in San Antonio, Texas. He blogs at All Things Conservative.