Teleconference With Generals In Iraq, Provide Students A Clearer Understanding Of War Effort

February 28, 2008

We’ve often said here that the media is very one-sided when they report news from Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter. Often, as during the Vietnam War, the media tends to show the bad, ugly side of war, emphasize mistakes that have been made, yet rarely tell the public about the positive things that are happening. Because of this type of coverage, many people in this country have a very jaded attitude about the war, because they’ve only heard the side that the media wants them to hear. Our young people, aren’t any different from their adult counterparts. Many proclaim that they are against the war in Iraq, without knowing anything other than what the media tells them. That’s one of the main reasons that we here at A Soldier’s Mind, and many other milbloggers continue to do what we do. We know how biased the reporting from the media is, as a whole and we also are aware of the progress that is being made, that they fail to report, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to ensure that the public is better informed.

The students at Naperville Central High School, in Naperville, Illinois had the opportunity last Thursday, to listen to a different side of what is occurring in Iraq. One student, senio Joe Cotton said that when he entered the auditorium, he firmly believed that the US should remove their Troops from Iraq. After an hour of participating in a teleconference with Lt. General James Dubik, US commander of multinational security transition in Iraq and Iraqi Lt. General Nasier Abadi, vice chief of staff of the Iraqi joint forces, Cotton walked out of the auditorium convinced that the Troops should stay in Iraq and finish the job that they started.

Cotton was one of 275 students who had the opportunity to participate in the teleconference and ask questions about the war and listen to what the leaders downrange had to say. One of the questions that Cotton had, was how the Iraqi media portrayed the US forces. Lt. Gen. Abadi answered that question, saying that the image was not portrayed very favorably at the beginning of the war - mostly because of the anti-American propaganda from Iraq’s neighboring countries such as Iran. He said however, that the image has improved vastly as insurgents are removed from power and the people of Iraq are beginning to see tangible results. Abadi said as well that most Iraqis are thankful to the American and Coalition forces for removing Saddam Hussein from power.

“Our people have recognized that America is not the devil,” Abadi said. “It’s Al-Qaeda who is the devil. They have seen what the American forces are doing for them — providing services and building hospitals.”

Lt. General Dubik pointed out that there was still much work to be done in Iraq. He said that there still remain areas of Iraq, including areas in Baghdad, where insurgents remain active and continue to terrorize the citizens. By doing so, he was able to provide a realistic picture of the progress and areas that still needed to be worked on, so that the students were able to get a more rounded picture of conditions in Iraq.

“I don’t want to give the impression things are better everywhere,” he said. “There are parts of the country where progress has not been as robust as we would like, and there are groups that will stop at nothing to undo the security that is already in place.”

Students had numerous questions for the Generals. One student asked how they could measure the progress in the country. The generals shared that several factors had to be taken into consideration, such as the most obvious factor, the decline in civilian deaths. Another factor they said showed progress, was the increasing numbers of Iraqis who are reporting weapons caches and identifying terrorists. According to Lt. Gen. Abadi, he considers that factor critical to achieving long-term success in the country.

“We don’t need guns or tanks. What we need most is information,” Abadi said.

One student, Visraant Iyer said that after listening to the generals’ comments, it just confirmed his opinion that there isn’t any one definitive answer about the war. That there are many factors that define the war in Iraq. Another student, Katie Fricke said that hearing the generals gave her a greater respect for the men and women who are fighting in Iraq and more understanding about what’s going on behind the scenes. The event at Napperville High School was attended by US Representative Judy Biggert from Illinois. She’s also the co-sponsor of the legislation requiring President Bush to provide updates every 30 days on the progress being made in Iraq. Rep. Biggert said that she was extremely impressed with the students who attended the teleconference.

“I think they had very thoughtful questions,” she said. “Some of them even better than what I’ve heard from Congress.”

I think teleconferences like this are a fantastic idea. It’s too bad, that we can’t have public teleconferences such as this on a regular basis, so that the people of this country, aren’t subjected to just what they’re hearing on television and reading in the newspapers, most of which is biased. I feel that it’s time that our citizens are allowed to see both sides of the issue, instead of just what the media wants us to hear.

Chicago Tribune

Vocational Tech School Expands in Al Kut

February 21, 2008

When our children graduate from High School, they have quite a few options available to them, as they move into adulthood. They may chose to attend a Community College, or a 4 year University. They may chose to enter the workforce immediately following High School, perhaps join the military. Another option available to them is a Vocational Technical School.

As rebuilding has taken place in Iraq, different advanced educational options are being made available to them. This allows them to learn a trade and thus help them to find jobs that will enable them to provide for their families. Much like teenagers here in the United States, the young people in Iraq, are weighing the options available to them. One of those options is the vocational technical school in Al Kut. There, they can learn auto mechanics, air conditioning repair or even an electrical trade.

The US Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the expansion and renovation of the vocational technical school in Al Kut. When completed, the facility will help equip the students with marketable trade skills, which will in turn, improve their livelihood and ability to contribute to the local economy, according to Major Clay Morgan, resident engineer of the Wassit Resident Office of the Gulf Region South district. He says that the expansion is critical to the maneuver force.

“It’s also very important for the Al Kut government and especially the headmaster of that particular school,” he said.

Currently, over 100 students are attending the school, studying in 6 different areas. The capacity is expected to increase up to 175 students, as two new workshops are completed. Work on the project was started in October. The project includes construction of two workshops, the erection of a storage building and pads for two back-up generators and fuel tanks. Renovation also will include modernized restrooms for the students and staff, repair to water and sewer lines, installation of fire suppression equipment and the repair and repainting of interior and exterior walls. The renovation will allow the school to provide more courses for young Iraqis and thus provide them with a marketable trade.

“They do everything from air conditioning to metal shop to carpentry; even auto mechanics,” said Morgan. “It’s a very diverse Vo-Tech and a visible part of the Al Kut community.”

The construction and renovation currently employs 20-30 workers from the local area. The school is expected to be ready for occupation over the new buildings in the spring. Final completion of the project is awaiting the delivery of the new generator which is coming from outside the country.

I’m sure the students of the Vo-Tech are really looking forward to the completion of the construction. This is yet another example of the positive things our Troops continue to do in the country of Iraq as well as Afghanistan.


Teamwork Provides For Save Landing Of Blackhawk

February 17, 2008

For months now, we’ve been telling about the countless numbers of Iraqis who are joining the Iraqi Police Forces and the Iraqi Army. Once they’ve been recruited and passed security checks, they are then trained by US and Coalition Forces. In doing so, they develop close relationships with the Troops who train them. While, in some areas, the Iraqis appear slow to learn the necessary skills, training together allows them to develop closeness with their American and Coalition counterparts and be able to operate together as a team. The evidence of that teamwork was highly visible on February 15th in At Ta’Mim Province. When hearing news like this, it only affirms to me, that our Troops are doing their jobs, by properly training the Iraqi Security Forces and it shows in their response to this incident.

A Blackhawk experienced an emergency during a flight on Friday. An emergency which required a precautionary landing in At Ta’Mim Province. The Blackhawk was able to safely land in an area that was unsecure. The wingman provided security and called for Coalition air and ground security to help secure the area, while they worked to troubleshoot their Blackhawk.

Arriving first on the scene were the Iraqi Police from Sargaran Police District. The police officers who arrived, immediately secured the area, which allowed the Blackhawk’s crewmembers the ability to troubleshoot their helicopter. According to Coalition forces, the quick response by the Iraqi police and their ability to provide security, allowed for the safe evacuation of passengers and eventually the safe recovery of the helicopter.

“Sargaran Iraqi Police, without prior coordination, responded to a Coalition Force aircraft that made a precautionary landing at At Ta’Mim province in an unsecure area,” Col. Jessie O. Farrington, Combat Aviation Brigade commander said. “Their security efforts and swift action allowed the safe and rapid recovery of the Blackhawk, its crew and passengers. This was a most impressive effort by the Iraqi Police.”


Inaugural Meeting Held By Hawr Rajab Women’s Committee

February 13, 2008

In the United States, it’s very common to see women involved in all facets of decision making, from decisions being made in their homes, to decisions made in their workplace. Women hold many leadership positions in industry, education and in the government. Things have not been that way in Iraq. It was traditionally the woman’s place to stay in the home and raise the children and care for the household. Women didn’t have a say in the political process, because that was traditionally seen as a ‘man’s job.’ Slowly that is changing. Women are entering the workforce in Iraq, in record numbers, women, for the first time are taking an active role in their communities and becoming involved in the political process. I’m sure it’s extremely empowering to these women, to finally be able to have a voice in their communities and not be punished if they stand up and speak their mind, as in the past.

The first meeting of the Hawr Rajab’s Women’s Committee was held on February 7th, beginning with a press conference at the Hawr Rajab boy’s school. They met to discuss topics that are vital to the welfare of their community. The group is newly formed and the members of the group are passionate about their cause.

The crowd in attendance listened attentively as the 8 speakers, all women talked about their cause. The crowd consisted of more than 200 women, young girls, collegues, government leaders, community and Coalition leaders. They knew however that they group they were addressing was a much larger one, what some might even consider the backbone of their community itself. They addressed issues such as creating job opportunities and training, safety and security.

“This message is for the entire world. We need to show them that we have rules. We need to help side-by-side with the men to help our city be safe. This can’t be done with one hand, all of us need to help,” said Manar Fahdil Salman, an attorney who grew up in Hawr Rajab.

Salman and the other leaders of the women’s group shared their appreciation for the increased security in their community and addressed steps that could be taken to ensure continued security. They also addressed the need to focusing on the future of their community.

“Women in this area are looking for training. They are looking for special skills and training to help them provide for their communities,” she said.

Like their American counterparts, the women realize that they too must take an active role in their community, through the job force, as well as becoming involved in their community as a whole. Two years ago, when al-Qaeda moved into the area, many of the men, the primary breadwinners, were killed. Because of that, many of the families were left without their traditional head of household figure. This forced the widows to rely on extended family members to provide for the basic needs of their family. Because of the cooperation between Coalition forces, Sons of Iraq, the Iraqi Security Forces and the Iraqi government officials, slowly security has returned to Hawr Rajab. Rashid District Chairman Yaqoub Yousif Bakhaty showed his support for the Women’s Committee and said that he felt it was a good idea, which would encourage women to begin participating in the political process.

Initiatives such as this are beginning to appear all across Iraq. In Hawr Rajab, the process occurred because of the initiative of local women. This allowed the local organization to get off to a good start and take root. Coalition members, like newly-appointed women’s affairs representative 2nd LT Cynthia Peters, 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, said it was an educational experience for her. She said that she was able to gain a better understanding of the unique issues that the women of Hawr Rajab faced, by attending the meeting.

As the newly formed Hawr Rajab Women’s Coalition continues to gain support and members, they will continue to gain a voice in the political process of their community. It’s great to see the women of Hawr Rajab, who for years were suppressed, begin standing up and advocating for themselves and taking ownership for their lives and for things occurring in their community.


Army Hospitals Continue Caring For Kids In The War-Zone

February 8, 2008

I found this article very interesting, because I know how hard our Troops try to do what they can to help the children of Afghanistan and Iraq. Throughout the history of American forces in combat, there’s always been the inclination for the Troops to go out of their way to take care of and protect the innocent… the children. I’ve seen countless photos of our Soldiers holding an injured child in their arms, with tears running down their faces. In our country, children are important and our inclination is to protect them. A smile or touch from a child, can melt the heart of the most battle-hardened Soldier. The newest generation of American Soldier is no different than those before them; they’ll do everything humanly possible to save the life of a child.

In a recent study that was just released, during the early years of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, US military hospitals cared for a large number of injured and ill children. Today, they continue to care for children who arrive at their hospitals.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unique in the face that there is no real front line or battle zone and that often puts children in danger of being struck with stray bullets, as well as other combat hazards. In Iraq, with the medical system collapsing, or nonexistent, families are taking their wounded and ill children and family members to the US military hospitals for care, even with the more convential childhood illnesses.

“I took care of children burned from a kerosene heater, regular car accidents, other injuries secondary to the conflict itself,” said study co-author Dr. Phillip Spinella, who served as an Army doctor in Baghdad in 2004 and 2005.

Some of the routine things that military doctors see when children are brought into their facilities are children wounded by rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs. The study was published in February in that months issue of the journal of Pediatrics. It is based on Army hospital data from December 2001 to December 2004.

Army medical personnel continue to treat the children of Iraq, when they are brought in to their hospitals. On February 1st, for instance, two young Iraqi burn victims and a young Iraqi boy who had abdominal injuries and an amputation were treated at the Air Force Theater hospital at the US airbase in Balad. Balad is located about 50 miles North of Baghdad in Diyala province.

“The majority of our patients at any given time are Iraqi nationals,” Air Force Major David Norton, who runs the intensive care unit there said via email. “With respect to children in particular, we see far too many. Iraqi children, through no fault of their own, are forced to grow up quickly and are oftentimes the unfortunate victims of an adult world.”

In the United States, our tendency is to protect our children. It’s no different when our Soldiers are in Iraq and dealing with Iraqi children. They pour their hearts and souls into helping save the lives of the injured and ill children that they treat. According to one nurse at the hospital in Balad, often the intensive care unit resembles a pediatric unit because of the number of children who are being treated there.

All researchers in the study are current or former military doctors. They wished to quantify what they were seeing, thus they began analyzing the data and discovered that children made up approximately 4% of the admissions and approximately 10% of the bed-days in the US military hospitals during the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the three year period of the study, more than 1,000 children were admitted to US military hospitals.

Dr. Eaman Algobory, an Iraqi medical officer in Baghdad with the International Office for Migration said that by caring for the children, it creates an enormous good will among the people of Iraq. He likened it to an angel touching the hearts of the Iraqi people, as he described the effect on the Iraqis who experienced the US Army’s medical care of their children.

“American Soldiers in the field, if they see any child hurt, automatically they will try to protect them and evacuate them and try to save his life. This is well known on the street,” said Dr. Algobory.

Very few military doctors and nurses who are deployed are pediatric specialists. However, recognizing the number of children that they come into contact with, the US Army Medical Command has adapted to what the study authors called the “increased load of pediatric patients.” The Army is doing everything possible to ensure that their deployed medical personnel are able to appropriately handle the influx of pediatric patients they might see during a deployment. The Army now offers training in pediatric trauma, to the hospital staff, prior to their deployments. They have also addded child-sized equipment and liquid antibiotics to hospital supplies. Doctors also have access to pediatric specialists by telephone.

“We’ve been able to overcome the difficulties,” said Spinella.

The study was unable to determine how many of the children who were treated during the study period, had combat related injuries, as opposed to childhood illnesses and other injuries you might see in an active child. Data gathered was based on hospital codes and the reseachers did not review patient charts. The average length of stay in the hospital was 4 days. Most children treated were between the ages of 11 and 17. 45 patients were infants younger than 1 year old.

There is no doubt in my mind, that as long as children continue to be brought into American military hospitals for care, whatever the reason; that these children will continue to receive topnotch medical care. They’ll receive the best.

Army Times

Revitalizing Baghdad

February 1, 2008

In the United States, we’re used to having everything we want or need, virtually at our fingertips. If we decide that we need something from the grocery store, it’s just a matter of hopping in our car and driving to the nearest grocery store. Convenience stores are on almost every block and many cities have Walmarts and malls. When visiting these places of business, we rarely think about safety and convenience of parking, as most of these places have well lit, large parking lots with security cameras. Convenient shopping is something that we’re accustomed to here in the United States. We have the convenience of safe parking, clean supermarkets with pretty much anything we’d want at our fingertips. In Baghdad, shoppers haven’t had that convenient for many years, even before the war started in 2003. They often risked their lives to purchase groceries. They didn’t have the convenience of electricity to keep produce cold and thus preserved.

Soon though, shoppers in Baghdad will have these convenience, when the New Baghdad Market opens. Thanks to the “Baghdad 2″ provincial reconstruction team and the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2-69th Armor Battalion, who have been working with the Baghdad Provincial Council, local district and neighborhoods and the US Agency for International Development’s Inma agribusiness program. The plans are for a modern community-based retail food market. In Arabic, the word “Inma” means growth, and growth is just what’s happening.

(Army Capt. Alexis Perez-Croz and Lt. Col. Khalid, executive officer of the 319 Iraq Army Tank Battalion, survey the New Baghdad Market. The “Baghdad 2″ embedded provincial reconstruction team and the US Army 2-69th Armor Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, have been working with local leaders to revitalize the market. US Army Photo by Spc. Nicholas Hernandez)

The new market is located near a highway and next to a bus station. It’s also surrounded by a large residential community. The design of the market was done with the idea of secure shopping, sanitary food handling and safe food storage in mind. The market was build with USAID funding in 2004 and remained unoccupied due to violence and ethnic tension in the area, which drove many of the residents away.

Local police were kept busy running squatters out of the stalls. Coalition forces often had to clear the area of weapons caches. As things began to stabilize in the community, vendors returned to the neighborhood and took over nearby streets, building makeshift stalls from scrap materials to sell their products, mainly vegetables, chicken and other meats.

“The area developed so fast economically that it attracted people even from outside the area,” said Army Capt. Alexis Perez-Cruz. “Neighborhood council meetings have now shifted focus from security to economic issues.”

The council observed that the New Baghdad Market remained unoccupied and saw an opportunity ripe to be developed. For the Iraqi police, opening the market, allowed them to clear the roadways and coalition forces saw yet another chance to work with the locals people and the Iraqi government, in order to improve the community and make life easier for the residents.

“A clean safe market, offers Iraqi shoppers one small semblance of normalcy in their lives,” said Inma Chief of Party Herschel Weeks. “The facility will ultimately impact farmers by becoming an introductory step toward modern marketing and packaging.”

The next step was for Inma engineers to visit the New Baghdad Market. They found street lights in place, but no electricity, sewers and toilets were needing cleaning and repair, but had no running water. Correcting these problems was tantamount to being able to strengthen Iraq’s agribusiness value chain.

Soldiers from 2-69th Armor designed security for the market to ensure the safety of shoppers and business owners alike. The security includes the placement of T-wall barriers, drop arm vehicle entry gates and pedestrian checkpoints. The battalion is also coordinating with crews to clean the streets and parking lots and cleaning the sewer system. The Iraqi government and local councils have documented land ownership at the market and will secure an agreement that will allow vendors to hold official leases for their stalls.

Display stands will be completed by USAID contractors, as well as the installation of roller shutters. Any construction repairs and upgrades that are needed, will be managed by USAID contractors as well. These upgrades and repairs could include things such as electrical, plumbing, flooring, roofing, doors and shutters, for the booths located in the market.

Inma will take the lead in the market completion and will install security elements, as well as provide generators and cold storage units. The facility will be managed by the 9 Nissan Market Agricultural Association. They will register as a legal nongovernmental organization and will conduct training for association members, in facility operations and food safety management.

When opened, the market will have 730 new stalls. Vendors who are now selling on the street, say that they would prefer to rent one of the booths, in order to improve their safety and comfort. New tenants will also be candidates for micro loans and grants, which could help them purchase items such as coolers and other fixtures they may need in their stores.

Not only will the market provide work for the vendors, but it will also create job opportunities for transporters, cleaning personnel, as well as other service providers. By sticking to a high standard of cleanliness and safety, it will enable restaurants and cafes to grow up around the market. This will also provide more job opportunities for women.

As more and more improvements are occurring in Iraq, the people of the country are beginning to lead more normalized lives. As hospitals are built or improved, core services such as water and electricity and updated and modernized, schools are reconstructed or built, life is beginning to return to normal across the country. Many of these seemingly ordinary things, we allowed to become run-down or didn’t exist during the reign of Saddam Hussein. By helping Iraq to rebuild their cities and communities, the US Government is demonstrating to the Iraqi people that they are committed to ensuring their security, economic and political stability, by working hand in hand with the Iraqi government on all levels. As times goes by, we’ll see more and more examples of success and revitalization in the country of Iraq.


Iraqi Security Forces Stepping Up To The Plate Against al-Qaeda

January 26, 2008

It’s been often said that one of the things that will show that Iraq is ready to retake their country from terrorists, is for them to be responsible for the safety and security of their people, instead of relying so strongly on US and coalition forces. In an announcement on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that Iraq is sending troops for a “decisive” battle with al-Qaeda militants in Mosul, one of the places where al-Qaeda fighters continue to have a major stronghold. According to al-Malaki, extra Soldiers and Police are being deployed to the city in Northern Iraq to push al-Qaeda and militants out of their last major stronghold in the northern part of Iraq.

On Wednesday, a massive blast in Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, which is blamed on al-Qaeda, killed 40 people and wounded around 220. The following day, when the province’s police chief was touring the area, inspecting the damage, the police chief was assassinated. According to al-Maliki, that assassination is what prompted him to order the crackdown.

“This heinous crime, committed against our people and sons in Nineveh hurt us but also gave us a push to expedidte the activation of the operations command,” he said in a press conference in Karbala.

Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf of the Interior Ministry told reporters that around 3,000 additional police would be added to the police force in Mosul. While he and al-Maliki both admit that the job will be a big one, they claim that their intelligence has infiltrated al-Qaeda.

“We have set up an operations room in Nineveh to complete the final battle with al-Qaeda along with guerrillas and members of the previous regime,” Maliki said, referring to other Sunni militants the Shi’ite led government says remain loyal to former leader Saddam Hussein.

Nineveh is one of four provinces in northern Iraq, where Iraqi forces are teaming up with US forces to try to room out insurgents. The other provinces are Diyala, Tameem and Salaheddin. Al-Qaedas operations in areas such as the Diyala River Valley have been lessened, due to US and Iraqi security forces working together to rid these areas of the problem, and the fact that many citizens, having become fed up with the constant threats to their safety from al-Qaeda and other terrorists, have caused them to begin cooperating and working with security forces.

“Today, our forces started moving to Mosul. What we are planning in Nineveh will be decisive,” Maliki continued during a ceremony for the victims of violence in the city of Karbala, that was broadcast on state television.

It’s great to see the Iraqi’s stepping up to the plate and addressing the problems that continue to threaten the lives of their citizens. I’ll be watching this situation closely, as Iraqi forces take the offensive and the lead, against the insurgents. This is yet another step in the right direction… that of Iraqi security forces being able to ensure the safety and security of their people.


Yahoo News

Revival Of Farms Is Key To Economic Recovery In Anbar Province

January 23, 2008

In the United States, agriculture is one of the mainstays of the American economy, especially in certain parts of the country, such as the midwest. Much of this nations wheat, corn and other grains are grown in the region. For many families, agriculture is what keeps the roof over their heads and many families have been farmers for generations. Others rely on beef, pork, and poultry production.

John Jeans, of the Inma Agribusiness Program, and Navy Cmdr. Kevin Anderson inspect a lettuce field in Ramadi, Iraq, as part of the effort to revive agribusiness in Anbar province. Photo courtesy of Inma Agribusiness Program

Certain regions of Iraq, that once were dependant on agriculture, have not been able to rely on that industry, for many years, due to years of sanctions, conflict and neglect. Many people in the country also relied on the products from the farmers, to put food on the tables of their families. One of the things that the area sheiks wished to do, when meeting with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, was to receive help in re-establishing the country’s fading agriculture business, and that’s being accomplished.

I’ve seen several (poultry) growers who have returned to production during my seven months here, and more will return as things continue to improve,” said Marine Maj. Daryl F. Remick, an agricultural planner with the Fallujah-area provincial reconstruction teams. “We have to evaluate the entire agricultural value chain for al Anbar,” he said.

Major Remick, himself the son of a poultry farmer, is very aware that this is only a beginning, but one that brings hope to the region. One of the pieces of the agricultural chain. According to Major Remick, in order to assess a value chain, one must consider not only what is taking place on the farm, but also looking at how farmers receive inputs, such as seed, fertilizer or poultry feed, and how they market the products they produce at the markets. They must be able to identify the weak links in the chain and take measures to correct those weak links, in order to ensure that the agricultural process is a profitable one.

Experts embedded with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, interact with the local population in the communities in order to identify where in the chain the process might need upgrading or revamping, in order to restore the agricultural business in the region. When several enterprises fitting this description were identified by the Ramadi PRT’s embedded personnel, Navy Cmdr. Kevin Anderson, detailed to the State Department, and Marine Maj. Lee Suttee, a Marine Corps civil affairs specialist, requested members of the Inma Agribusiness Program visit the area. Inma is an Arabic word meaning “growth.”

The program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is working to restore Iraqi agribusiness, a sector estimated to support 27 percent of the population. During a recent two-day tour in and around Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital, Anderson and Suttee escorted USAID’s Ron Curtis and David Smale and Inma party chief Herschel Weeks to several private-sector agribusiness investment opportunities.

Speaking with local farmers about the poultry business recently, several identified the same problem - day-old chicks are expensive and often require costly shipping. Farmers must use costly imported feed of unknown quality. Immunizations and veterinary care are expensive, and disease-testing labs are unavailable.

Inma wants to make sure that the feed and other needs are in place for the farmer to make money,” Weeks said, “and that there is a market for the products.”

Working with local sheiks, the first step in correcting the poultry problems, was the availability of affordable feed from a local source. Inma’s maize-growing demonstration project introduced hybrid seeds and precision planting to local farmers. Iraq’s traditional maize yield tripled, and by planting between the annual wheat crops, farmers used their fields off season and produced much-needed animal feed, Inma officials said.

The availability of having locally grown feed in Ramadi, strengthens the poultry business in the region. As the poultry production increases, the demand for more locally grown feed with also increase. Other links in the chain that can be improved are the increase of local feed-mill production, providing storage and facilities that can produce the chicken feed from the grain that is grown.

Herschel Weeks, of the Inma Agribusiness Program; Navy Cmdr. Kevin Anderson; and a sheikh discuss a fish pond as part of the effort to revive agribusiness in Iraq’s Anbar province. Photo courtesy of Inma Agribusiness Program

The commitment that Anderson and Suttee’s team have to revitalizing Anbar’s economy was evident in the two-day assessment tour of Ramadi’s Zangora and Jazeera districts. In addition to all the poultry interests, they also had identified a potentially profitable fish pond and a mushroom farm that in 2003 employed 80 workers. At one local market, Iranian mushrooms sell for $2.50 a pound.

“Private industry can flourish,” Weeks said. “Agriculture can become profitable and provide food for the Iraqi people.”

“Our goal,” Anderson added, “is to see Iraqi-grown produce in not only the local markets, but also in markets of Jordan and Syria.”

As grain production increases to meet the demand of the poultry farmers, more jobs are created and thus the economics of the region are stabalized. This is yet another way that our Troops are working together with the Iraqi government, to create jobs and allow the Iraqis the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. Something, that in many cases, hasn’t happened in certain regions, since before the war began in 2003.


Iraqi NCOs Attend Leaders’ Course

January 22, 2008

When US Soldiers become NCOs, part of the training that they must attend is leadership courses. They’re taught basic leadership skills, combat tactics and their abilities to be able to train, teach, coach and mentor the Soldiers in their charge, are honed. NCOs first and foremost, take care of the Soldiers underneath them and ensure that they become the best Soldier possible. NCOs are the eyes and ears of the commanders, the backbone of the military.

NCOs in the Iraqi Army recently were given the opportunity to attend a leadership course of their own. Starting on January 15th at FOB Kalsu, Iraq, 56 Iraqi Soldiers and 18 US NCOs stood side by side at the welcoming ceremony that was held to commemorate the first group to begin training at the new Task Force Marne NCO Academy.

“The two-week course that we have designed will teach you, the students, the basics in leadership and combat tactics, and enhance your procedural abilities to be able to train, teach, coach and mentor Soldiers in your units,” Multi-National Division Center Command Sergeant Major Jesse L. Andrews Jr. told the Soldiers during the welcoming ceremony. “For years our NCO Corps has been called the ‘backbone of the Army.’ We want NCOs and leaders of the Iraqi Security Forces to gain this same distinction - to become the backbone of the ISF.”

An interpreter relayed what CSM Andrews had to say. Afterwards, his words were met with enthusiastic applause from the Iraqis. All of them appeared to be eager to begin the course as soon as possible.

“I’m very happy to be here,” said Iraqi platoon leader Gessam Gafel Shanan, a member of 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 6th Army Division. “All this training is going to make our NCOs stronger and more able to learn from our US partners.”

The aim of the academy is to provide the NCOs the opportunity to build competence, which in turn will build their confidence. Their training will emcompass everything from first aid to combatives, in order to make them as well-rounded and highly skilled as possible.

“They’re going to be armed with the right tools, the right skill sets, to go out there to be able to make sound and timed decisions in this ever-changing combat environment that we’re operating in right now,” Andrews said.

The Iraqi NCOs appear eager to learn new skills. Shanan, who has been a member of the Iraqi Army for almost 3 years is hoping that terrorism in Iraq will be completely irradicated during this generation and says that he feels strongly that the NCO Academy is a stepping stone in the right direction.

“I think — no, I’m sure that after this experience, our NCOs will be ready to stand in the Iraqi streets and follow their training to protect the people. Then we can have a normal life,” Shanan said as he marched his Soldiers off to their first class.

While Marty was deployed with 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division in Diyala province, they operated a joint US and Iraqi Soldiers Leadership Course in their province, with great sucess. At their Academy as well, US Soldiers and Iraqi Soldiers trained side-by-side, learning the same skills.

Baghdad Book Market Endures

January 10, 2008

One of the signs that things are becoming safer in Iraq, are the number of marketplaces that are beginning to flourish. Initially, after the invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi citizens were afraid to leave their homes, for fear of being caught in the middle of a firefight. Once the insurgents moved into their neighborhoods, shop owners were afraid to open their shops, due to the constant threat from the insurgents, who often demanded high fees from the shop owners in order for them to continue to keep their businesses open. There was also the threat from the insurgents, if they were seen talking with American and Coalition Troops.

The book market located on Mutanabi Street in Baghdad has seen a revival. Books lie on flattened cardboard boxes on sidewalks. The shopowners, who are a mixture of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish work side by side in harmony. On March 5th, many wondered if the book market would continue to exist. That was the day that a car bomb, which was linked to al-Qaeda ripped apart the market, killing at least 38 people and injuring over 100 people. Dozens of the bookstores, stationery shops and presses that lined Mutanabi Street were destroyed.

“The bomb did not change the way we feel about each other in the market,” said Atta Zeidan, who runs a secondhand bookstore. “What it did was make us all afraid for our lives.”

After that fateful day in March, response of the authorities was to ban all motor vehicle traffic from Mutanabi Street and to install blast barriers and checkpoints. US Troops were sent in to help restore calm and assure the shop owners of reconstruction funding. Initially, shoppers stayed away, but they’re beginning to return, though the numbers remain lower than prior to the bomb.

“People must eat, so they will still shop at food markets that have repeatedly been hit by attacks,” said Zein al-Naqshabandi, a bookseller in the market and author of a “History of Coffeehouses in Old Baghdad.” “But people postpone buying books or go without altogether if they sense danger or are generally uncomfortable with security,” he said.

Because of the increased security, sales have been improving according to one vendor, Mohammed Hanash Abbas. His main income comes from lending textbooks to students for a fee. One shop owner, Hazem al-Sheikhli, who is the owner of a stationery shop, is an example of the resilient spirit of the vendors on Mutanabi Street. He lost 4 of his brothers, as well as a nephew in the bombing on March 5th. His father, who owned and operated the Shahbandar coffeehouse for 45 years, was dragged alive from the rubble, in the aftermath of the bombing.

According to the vendors on Mutanabi Street, at least 10 booksellers were killed in sectarian violence during a burst of Sunni-Shiite vengeance killings that occurred during 2006. According to the vendors, the interfaith relations among the vendors on Mutanabi Street remains good, because the killers were considered outsiders and not market workers and also because those who were killed were known extremists.

With the fall of Saddam in 2003, books that were once banned, such as Shiite book, poured into the area from Iran. Those books went on sale at discount prices next to books about Sunni Muslims. Bookstores selling religious books generally concentrate on one or the other sect. The market for book that have titles, such as “Saddam the Criminal” continue to sell well on both sides of the religious divide.

“Some have 90 percent of their books on the Shiite faith, while others have 90 percent of their books about Sunni Islam,” said Bookseller Shaalan Zeidan, with a chuckle.

Despite their differences in faith, the booksellers still manage to work side by side in harmony. Perhaps some of their fellow Iraqi’s should look at them as an example of what a unified Iraq could look like. It’s great to hear this type of news coming out of Iraq, as it shows that with perseverence, determination and by working together, the citizens of Iraq can and will rebuild their country into something that can be beneficial for all members of the Iraqi society.

San Diego Union-Tribune

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