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June 21, 2008

Iraqi flight teams protect date palm crop

Filed under: ag, CentCom, econ, ME, Video — Rosemary Welch @ 12:30 am

Armed Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, DC (June 10, 2008) – Iraq’s Agriculture Ministry improved its ability to protect the nation’s commercial date palm crop from deadly dubas beetles through a nationwide spraying program completed this week. Pilots and maintenance crews increased their coverage by 33 percent this year, spraying nearly 170,000 acres in six provinces. Last year, crews sprayed just more than 120,000 acres in four provinces. “Left unchecked, the dubas beetle, which bores into the tree and kills it, can seriously disrupt the production of dates in the area,” said Mike Stevens, a Baghdad 7 Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team agriculture advisor.

In the 1970s, dates were Iraq’s second-largest export, behind only oil. With more than 30 million date palm trees and more than 600 varieties, Iraq’s annual production of dates once exceeded 700,000 tons. But the date palm industry was slashed by more than half and lost most of its world markets after the Iran-Iraq war and after sanctions were imposed following Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. In the past two years, Iraq has begun the long, hard road to recovery.

To assist this recovery, Iraqi pilots and crews used two Russian-built Mi2 helicopters to spray date palm groves in the provinces of Babil, Baghdad, Diyala, Karbala, Najaf and Wasit. They overcame multiple challenges during the campaign, including time constraints, dust storms, a shortage of spare parts, and a lack of bases that could accommodate the helicopters. Iraq’s Defense Ministry, provincial reconstruction teams, and coalition forces supported the pilots, who sprayed some areas that had not been covered since before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Agriculture Ministry already has started planning for next year. The ministry has appropriated $20 million to buy new helicopters and spare parts for 2009 and expects to treat a larger percentage of the crop next year. “The real challenge now is to rebuild the date-packaging industry and re-enter the export market to regain market share,” Stevens said. “Convincing purchasers that Iraq is once again a reliable supplier will take time. But within five to 10 years, don’t be surprised to see packages of dates labeled ‘Grown and packaged in Iraq’ in your neighborhood grocery store.”

Related Links to this article: VIDEO – Helicopters spray insecticide on date palm crops in Iraq.

A helicopter sprays insecticide over date palm crops in Iraq..

Source: CENTCOM.


Improved security situation spurs reconstruction

Filed under: ag, CentCom, econ, humanitarian, ME, MNF-I, recon, security — Rosemary Welch @ 12:20 am

by Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD (June 15, 2008) — Improvements in overall security incidents and Iraqi forces continued to rise during the past week, enabling the central government and Coalition forces to begin progress in other areas vital to Iraq’s growth and sovereignty, a senior U.S. military official in Iraq said June 11. The country began to see a reduction in security incidents four weeks ago, marking the lowest levels since March 2004, Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a Multi-National Force – Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference. The Iraqi government is undertaking broader efforts to provide services that were not possible a year ago, such as reconstruction in Sadr City and the Shola neighborhoods as well as agricultural initiatives across the country, he said.

Electricity, water, cleaning, infrastructure restoration, and humanitarian aid projects are under way in Sadr City, said Tahseen al-Sheikhly, a civilian spokesman for Operation Fardh al-Qanoon, also known as the Baghdad Security Plan. These projects will help eliminate unemployment for Baghdad citizens, which is the cause of much of the violence in the city, Sheikhly said. [Possibly. Another cause may be that they HATE us? Hmm.] Now that security has been achieved, he added, the challenge is to provide the best services to the citizens, thereby raising the living and economic standards and infrastructure.

The Ministry of Electricity already has replaced light poles and restored power to the Sadr City hospital, he said. Officials also are establishing a solar power system in an effort to minimize future outages and continue growing employment opportunities. Agriculture also is benefiting from the low security-incident levels, Bergner said. The government’s date palm spraying campaign raised more than 33 percent from the previous year, covering more than 170,000 acres in Babil, Baghdad, Diyala, Karbala, Wasit provinces. Iraqi pilots flew 336 spraying sorties under difficult time constraints and challenging weather conditions using two government Mi-2 helicopters, Bergner continued. Baghdad and Diyala provinces were sprayed for the first time in six years, as security conditions since the war began hadn’t permitted spraying until now.

“Iraqi planning for the 2009 spraying campaign is already under way,” he added, noting the Ministry of Agriculture has appropriated some $20 million for helicopters and spare parts. “Progress in the agriculture sector and other improvements are a direct result of the security gains around Iraq and the growing capacity of Iraqi forces,” Bergner said. “The increasing support of Iraq’s citizens for the rule of law has been a key factor in reducing the levels of violence.”

Since the beginning of Operation Sawlat al-Fursan on March 25 in Basra and Operation A`Salaam on May 20 in Sadr City, Iraqi security forces have uncovered more than 500 weapons caches and stockpiles378 in Basra and 124 in Sadr City, Bergner said. More than 3,500 mortars, 1,600 rocket-propelled grenades, 600 improvised explosive devices, and 75 armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles were confiscated. “As Iraqi forces and Iraqi citizens cooperate to remove weapons from the hands of extremists before they can be used, their government is increasingly capable of being able to provide the services that Dr. Sheikhly talked about to the Iraqi people,” he said.

The increased security will “allow businesses to reopen, allow children to go back to school, revitalize the agriculture sector as they are in the process of doing, and allow Iraqis to rebuild their lives,” he said. “There is still much tough work ahead, but the steady progress in Basra, in Baghdad, and in Mosul is now providing better opportunities for the citizens of Iraq,” the general said.

Lance Cpl. Israel H. Aguirre pounds fists with an Iraqi child near Hit, Iraq. (Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Seth Maggard).

Source: CENTCOM.

June 12, 2008

Women find new opportunity in Arab Jabour

Filed under: CentCom, econ, jobs, ME, Women — Rosemary Welch @ 6:47 pm

by Kevin Stabinsky
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

ARAB JABOUR, Iraq (June 10, 2008) – She wears a head scarf and long robe covering her from shoulder to toe; only her hands and face are visible. Yet despite her traditional clothing, Maha Aziz Abass Al-Jabouri is working hard to cast aside the stereotypical role of women in the Arab Jabour region. Abass, a language teacher at the al-Hamza School, is one of several women in the village of Alemia who work to empower women in the area. “Before, our future was farming. Now we want jobs like the women in the city,” Abass said.

As the Rasheed Women’s Council representative from Alemia, Abass is striving to realize that dream. Establishing the women’s council was one of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division’s most important accomplishments in the area, said 1st Lt. Charles Staab, from Novi, Mich. Staab, a platoon leader in Company A, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, said starting the council was a remarkable achievement, marking something women had never done there before. “The importance lies in being a part of what’s happening,” he said. “They can either watch what is happening or be a part of it, and they are choosing to be a part.”

Through involvement in the council, these women are getting the Iraqi government to work to provide a better life for them. The improved security infrastructure in the area has provided the Iraqi government with a stronger foothold into helping its people.

“Before, when the bad guys were here, the government would not help. Now (the government is) giving money to make the area better,” Abass said. Abass, like many women in the area, was widowed because of insurgent violence, her husband killed by al-Qaida terrorists, leaving her to raise her three sons and two daughters alone. Now, new opportunities are available, giving hope to Abass and others like her.

Businesses catering to women are opening up, thanks to a combination of funding from coalition forces and the government of Iraq. A women’s sewing shop has already opened in Alemia. Abass hopes the Iraqi government will continue to support women’s initiatives and create more opportunities. In her opinion, training in both health care and literacy are needed. “I want my kids to get a better education,” Abass said. “I hope my daughters go to college and become engineers like their aunt.”

Her sister, Suha Azit, a computer engineer, is also doing her part to empower women in the area. In addition to her regular job, Azit has opened up her own business, with the help of a grant from the Iraqi government. Azit said she has always had an interest in fashion. She is hoping to turn this interest into income through a beauty shop she opened two weeks ago. “At age eight I was watching other women being made beautiful and fell in love with the idea,” Azit said of her inspiration to open the shop. Her shop offers women the latest makeup, hair styles and fashions from catalogs. Just as she once worked as an apprentice at a beauty shop, Azit is now employing another woman to learn the trade. In the mornings, when Azit is working as an engineer, her apprentice takes care of the shop.

“The new kinds of work women are doing in Arab Jabour sends a message that women are valuable members of the community with much to contribute,” Staab said. Empowering women also sends a strong message to al-Qaida members who once operated in the area. “Women moving independently from their homes into the work force and also meeting openly … is showing their defiance toward al-Qaida, and shows their independence in this nation,” Staab said.

A woman in the Alemia sewing shop works on a sewing machine to create a new garment. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky).

Source: CENTCOM.

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Military analyst sees signs of progress in Arab Jabour

Filed under: CentCom, econ, Gov't, ME, progress — Rosemary Welch @ 5:37 pm

by Kevin Stabinsky
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

COMBAT OUTPOST MURRAY, Iraq (June 8, 2008) — The battlefield in Iraq has become a classroom for military analyst Steven Biddle and several associates, who visited 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers on June 4 to get a sense of progress in the area. Biddle, a four-time visitor to Iraq and the author of two military-themed books entitled “Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle” and “Afghanistan and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy,” said his visit was multi-purposed.

Information in the (U.S.) is limited,” said Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Here, I get to see things with my own eyes. Nothing is filtered.” To assess conditions in Arab Jabour, Biddle spoke with senior leaders in the U.S. and Iraqi Army, and prominent members of the Arab Jabour community. Biddle spoke with key leaders, reviewed charts and maps documenting the decrease in attacks in the area. He also spoke with key leaders such as Capt. Nassim, operations officer for the 6th battalion, 25th brigade, 6th IA division. The IA battalion will soon assume responsibility of the area it currently patrols alongside Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment.

“Before the 1-30th Inf. Regt. arrived,” Nassim said, “the area was an al-Qaida stronghold, with an estimated 1,500 fighters, 200 of whom were foreigners. Now, he said, thanks to the cooperation of coalition forces, Iraqi security forces and Sons of Iraq, the community is becoming secure, with most of the insurgents killed, captured or driven away.”

Biddle’s observations were in line with Nassim’s assessment. “It is definitely a lot safer,” Biddle said of the change he’s seen in Iraq since the implementation of the counterinsurgency policy. He said many places were once too dangerous to visit. Now, through the work of surge brigades like the 2nd BCT, Iraqis are able to live without fear. The 2nd BCT was the last of the five surge brigades to arrive in country and elements of the brigade are scheduled to redeploy to Fort Stewart, Ga., beginning in late June, after completing a 14-month tour of duty.

Having spent more than a year in Iraq, the 2nd BCT’s mission has laid down the groundwork for ISF to build up and take control of the area. An Iraqi police company is scheduled to join the IA forces in securing the area; an IP station is currently being constructed. “I’m impressed by what has been accomplished,” said Biddle, on his third trip to Iraq since the U.S. troop surge began 15 months ago.

Steven Biddle prepares to enter Combat Outpost Murray on June 4. Biddle, a military analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, was in Iraq assessing progress made in the country. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky).

Source: CENTCOM.

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Iraqi-funded projects boost economy

Filed under: CentCom, econ, Gov't, hope, ME, recon — Rosemary Welch @ 5:13 pm

by Travis Hayes
4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

FORWARD OPERATING BASE ISKAN, Iraq (June 8) – Residents of Khidr and Abu Shemshi recently received almost $2.5 million from the government of Iraq to fund eight projects. The money came in the form of Iraqi Commander’s Emergency Response Program funds, which use GoI money in the existing framework of coalition forces CERP. Two of the I-CERP projects are bridges that will allow crucial access for local residents to travel to markets and highways. Another key project is a marketplace that will provide stores for vendors to sell their products, helping develop the local economy.

In addition, the Babil provincial government funded the construction of the al-Jineen and Manahil schools, providing education for hundreds of children who were previously without schools. Reaction to these projects from the community has been exceptional, said Sheik Jaffar, head of the Khidr town council. “This is great,” Jaffar said. “I can’t explain in words what this means to me. I’m so happy. We are all proud to finally have the support and attention of the Iraqi government. This gives us all hope of a peaceful future.”

A civil affairs team based out of FOB Iskan has been working alongside Company B, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, working for months to ensure the contracting and construction of these vital structures are carried out correctly. Staff Sergeant Mathew Taylor, civil affairs Team A civil-military operations non-commissioned officer in charge, has been responsible for managing and disbursing millions of GoI dollars. His team not only pays contractors but focuses on providing quality control for ongoing projects to ensure contractors are staying on task. Soldiers in 3-7th Inf. Regt. have aggressively pursued I-CERP funding, which allows the GoI to fund and take ownership on projects, said the San Diego native.

This process builds Iraqis’ confidence in both their local and provincial government. Now with the flow of resources and vast funding, a sense of assurance and belief in government has spawned and taken root here.

“The psychological effect these projects have had on the people here is insurmountable,” said Maj. Sean Hood, a Nassau County, N.Y., native and CA Team A chief. “This town has undergone a complete transformation; everything from the new schools, bridges and marketplace. Khidr has grown from a few sparse buildings when we started working here into a booming economic success story. I like to think of Khidr as the phoenix that rose from the ashes.” The Babil provincial government has approved I-CERP funding on reconstruction projects such as schools, water purification plants, health clinics and city planning facilities.

Sergeant 1st Class Earsker Hawkins and Staff Sgt. Mathew Taylor, both with the civil affairs team, visit the al-Jineen School, which is one of eight GoI-funded projects in Khidr. (U.S. Army photo by 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs).

Source: CENTCOM.

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South Baghdad economy booming again

Filed under: CentCom, econ, Gov't, ME — Rosemary Welch @ 3:37 pm

by Sgt. David Turner
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq (June 5, 2008) – When Capt. Shawn Carbone first took a good look at the south Baghdad area’s economy, he found it similar to his studies of America during the Great Depression of the 1930s. “Most of the historically strong businesses were gone,” said Carbone, economics team leader for the Baghdad-7 embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team. “The owners had left; packed up. The businesses were shut down and there was mass unemployment across the board.”

There were many reasons for the economic troubles of Iraqis in the area which 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, took control of in June 2007. The basic lack of security forces left a gap which al-Qaida terrorists filled, using the area as a base. Farms and businesses were damaged and violence caused many to flee – some of whom have yet to return. Sectarian strife heated up following the 2005 elections, which left many in the area without a voice in government. Basic service needs, such as electricity and water, went largely unmet. Until security was restored, citizens felt isolated.

Carbone saw an opportunity to help turn things around. His training in economics at Niagara University, in his hometown of Niagara, N.Y., prepared him for the task of helping the citizens of south Baghdad province. “It’s rewarding because it’s an experiment in economics,” Carbone said. “This is from the ground up. It’s much like our depression-era economics. I’ve actually sent e-mails to my professors, asking them their opinions on some of these things, and researched books on depression-era economics.”

After security was established, the biggest obstacle to economic recovery, said Carbone, was the centralized nature of the economy in the past. Local industries such as a chicken hatchery, a poultry processing plant and a meat processing facility, for example, received inputs from and sold their goods to the Iraqi government at set prices. “Cooperation is the biggest thing. From where I sit, these businesses are complimentary,” Carbone said. “But they never had a capitalist society, which is all about bringing down costs.”

Now the government is in a state of transition and moving toward free trade. “Everyone is going through the change,” Carbone said. “Some of the government systems are not yet in place, but that’s where we’re heading.”

In an effort to revive the local economy, the Baghdad-7 ePRT worked in conjunction with 2nd BCT Civil Affairs, using money as their main tool. Armed with U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development funds, Soldiers and civilians on the Baghdad-7 ePRT looked for projects which would benefit the community as a whole. Civil affairs Soldiers used their battalion’s bulk funds to stimulate individual small businesses through a series of $2,500 microgrants. Though most of the projects focused on agriculture, which dominates the local economy and employs the largest percentage of people, other avenues were explored as well.

Major Douglas Betts, commander of Company A, 415th Civil Affairs Battalion, said Soldiers on the ground identified who could best use the grants. “The troop commanders and company commanders are all very smart guys,” Betts said. “They know what they’re doing, and they know what’s best for their areas.” Microgrants were given to businesses ranging from chicken farms to internet cafes. Most recently, a women’s beauty parlor opened up [woohoo!] in Arab Jabour, something that would have been impossible in that area until recently.

Betts said Soldiers have found other creative ways to involve women in business. One example he gave was women’s sewing cooperatives, which grew out of women’s committees looking for ways to employ themselves and raise revenue for their causes. “Capt. (Trista) Mustaine in the ePRT did a great job with sewing co-ops. That’s a new one to me,” Betts said. “One (co-op) that I know is basically made up of war widows,” Betts said. “These ladies want to do something for orphans and school children. They are actually making clothes and selling them. I thought that was pretty original.” [You would, Sir, you’re a man. We’ve been doing this for centuries. lol.]

The only condition that comes attached to the microgrants is that business owners attend business training and meetings of their local business associations, Betts said. The formation of local business associations has been vital in helping citizens to help themselves, he said. The focus now is in getting business owners weaned off of coalition force funding and to get them working with their own government.

Basil Razzak, a bilingual, bicultural adviser with the Baghdad-7 ePRT, said that it took some adjusting for local farmers and businessmen to get used to the new economic model. “Up until now, it was all supervised by the government. Everybody belonged to the government,” Razzak said. “I remember at one business association meeting, the chairman said, (to Carbone) ‘You are our boss.’ He said, ‘I’m not your boss. I’m here to help you and support you, but it’s your organization and you can conduct your meeting as you like,'” Razzak said.

Razzak, a Canadian citizen who grew up in Baghdad and holds a degree in administration and economics from the University of Baghdad, said the capitalist spirit is slowly but surely taking hold here. “They are open to new ideas,” Razzak said. “They realize the era of state-owned business is gone. They are willing to work and cooperate.”

Carbone said the stimulus coalition forces provided to the local economy has already produced unexpected results. As more businesses reopen and new ones appear, local entrepreneurs have taken it as a sign that it’s okay to open shop again. “When they start to see these places opening with the help of coalition forces, some of the people have come back and opened up on their own,” Carbone said. “That’s something we didn’t expect.”

One business owner who received significant coalition help has been encouraged to invest even further in his business. The owner of a meat-processing plant in Arab Jabour received a grant to get his facility running again after shutting down operation in 2006. Prior to that, the factory employed more than 90 people. “Even though we gave the kupa factory a grant, the owner pitched in $200,000 of his own money. The money is out there,” Carbone said. “The biggest thing was that when the owner came back to the area and saw that the security situation had changed progressively, he was more willing to re-invest and start over,” he said.

Betts sees signs that businesses have returned to stay in the area. “I’ve noticed it in the short time that I’ve been here,” Betts said. “When we first went out, there were some shops, but there weren’t that many. But I’ve noticed in the past several months, in Sayafiyah especially, a lot more of those businesses. They look better and they’re repainted. People are repairing their shops and restocking supplies.” Betts said the greatest benefit of the renewed prosperity was a population that was employed and able to meet their needs. “That’s the key to security. People that are able to take care of themselves and their families are not out there planting bombs and killing people for money,” Betts said. “I want to see a strong economy, because that’s the cornerstone of stability.”

Hussen Jowd, a butcher in Arab Jabour, serves a sandwich at his newly renovated butcher shop and food stand. Jowd received microgrants that enabled him to increase his stock and expand his business. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky).

Source: CENTCOM.

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Al-Kut agricultural union headquarters reopen

Filed under: ag, CentCom, CF, econ, ME, recon — Rosemary Welch @ 2:57 pm

by Sgt. Daniel T. West
214th Fires Brigade

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELTA, Iraq (June 5, 2008) – Agricultural industry representatives from around Wasit province gathered, June 2, 2008, in al-Kut, Iraq, to celebrate the reopening of the province’s agricultural union headquarters after its refurbishment in cooperation with coalition forces. The reopening followed completion of the project’s first phase, which included repairing the offices and conference rooms in the headquarters. The project aims to restore the union’s function in the agricultural industry in Wasit province, said Patrick Moore, agricultural adviser for Provincial Reconstruction Team Wasit.

The headquarters used to be a major part of the agricultural industry in the province, helping farmers with distribution, settling irrigation problems and setting fees for the maintenance of the irrigation system. However, after more than 10 years of neglect, the building was run down and useless.

“Our goal with this project was to help restart services and to give the union a headquarters for meetings, business and to facilitate training,” Moore said. The union is particularly important in Wasit province, where agriculture is a very large part of the economy. Moore estimated that 40 to 50 percent of employment in the province was related to agriculture.

The union remained on the back burner for a long time, with little support from the local government since the general feeling was that it was a responsibility of the government of Iraq, Moore said. This project aims to change that view and revitalize the agricultural industry in Wasit through representation and education. “We are looking at training programs throughout the province,” Moore said. “The union will provide people and locations, and it will begin immediately.”

The training will be held at 17 locations throughout Wasit province, and will educate an estimated 500 to 600 farmers over a six-month period. The trainers will be provided by the union, with coalition oversight. “If the program is successful here, it could be implemented on the national level,” Moore added.

The cost to refurbish the union headquarters was $50,000 for the first phase, with funding split evenly between the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State. The second phase – refurbishing the meeting hall, is scheduled to begin immediately and is estimated to cost $25,000.

Dignitaries perform a ribbon cutting ceremony at Wasit province’s Agricultural Union headquarters in al-Kut, Iraq, June 2. The ceremony marked the grand re-opening of the headquarters. (Photo by Multi-National Division-Central).

Source: CENTCOM.

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May 14, 2008

‘Sisters’ are doing it for themselves

Filed under: CentCom, econ, ME, Women — Rosemary Welch @ 12:30 pm

by Lance Cpl. Robert Medina
1st Marine Logistics Group

FALLUJAH, Iraq (May 8, 2008) – Marines on a female search team and Iraqi women with the “Sisters of Fallujah” program have been working together at an entry control point here to help make the city of Fallujah a safer place. The program was formed because females were needed to search other females. In Islamic tradition, a man touching a woman who is not his wife is considered offensive. Just like Iraqi security forces that have been assuming more responsibilities, Iraqi women are striving to do the same with the help of Marine FSTs.

“(The Sisters of Fallujah) are our eyes and ears inside the booth, where we cannot go,” said Sgt. William A. Lamascus, sergeant of the guard of ECP-1. “It helps to have them here because when they find things, they bring it to our attention.”

Sisters of Fallujah came together in December 2007, to help stop the smuggling of contraband into the city. In the past, women and children have been used to transport forbidden items that can be used to make improvised explosive devices, as well as other items that are not allowed into the city for the safety of the citizens who live there. “I wanted to help the people be safe in their own city,” said a Sister of Fallujah. “It is our job to put forth the effort to stop bad people from bringing in contraband,” she said after being with the group for four months. Some days are busier than others. “Today is Otlah, a holiday for Iraqi people or the weekend,” said another Sister. “Today, we searched a little more than 2,000 people at this checkpoint.”

Marines help the Iraqi women on these busy days with the daunting task of searching all the women and children that go into the city. “We are out here to make sure that the searches are done correctly,” said Lance Cpl. Corina J. Hernandez, basic water support technician and FST member with Combat Logistics Battalion 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group. “They do a really good job and they care about what they do.”

The Sisters of Fallujah risk their own lives each day, as well as their families’, to help fight terrorism. “They are more concerned about other people’s safety than their own,” said Hernandez, from Dededo, Guam.

“Before, we did all the searching ourselves,” said Cpl. Rebekah D. Hall, combat engineer and FST member with CLB-1, 1st MLG. “Now, we work together and supervise the search techniques that have been taught to the Sisters of Fallujah.” Hall, from San Diego, said being a part of the FST gives her a sense of accomplishment here in Fallujah. She added that the female Marines also provided security for the Sisters of Fallujah. “This is how we can help out the infantry guys,” said Hall.

For Lance Cpl. Amanda M. Molina, basic water support technician and FST member with CLB-1, 1st MLG, this was her first time working with the Sisters of Fallujah. “It was interesting to see a different culture,” said Molina, from Fullerton, Calif. “I feel like I am needed. It was a good experience to be able to work with the Sisters of Fallujah.”

Cpl. Rebekah D. Hall and a member of the Sisters of Fallujah search handbags for contraband at an entry control point. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Robert Medina).

Source: CENTCOM.

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Security in Abu Shemsi offers new opportunities

Filed under: CentCom, CF, econ, jihad/ists, ME, recon, security — Rosemary Welch @ 11:47 am

by 1st Lt. David Psiaki
3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs

FOB ISKAN, Iraq (May 2, 2008) – Residents in Abu Shemsi in the North Babil province of Iraq continue to see improvements in security and economic development. The former al-Qaida stronghold is quickly becoming a rural community with soccer games, flourishing farm fields and locally-run stores. “I see the community rebuilding itself,” said Sgt. Donald Callis, a Gerrardstown, W.V., native. “Our major role in that is providing security, and the (government of Iraq) is helping out with grants.”

In recent weeks, coalition forces have worked with local businesses to find out what equipment they need to improve serving their communities. With this knowledge, coalition forces are able to request additional funds and help stimulate economic capacity in the region, said Callis, who is with Company B, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

Callis said his mission during his last deployment focused more on raids. “This is my sixth deployment,” he said. “This is my first time actually interacting with the locals. You are able to see subtle changes in the civilians and you can tell if they are benefiting or if something is wrong.” Additionally, over the past few months, coalition forces have seen new canals dug, water pumps installed, and farming equipment used to plow fields. These improvements have resulted from funding by the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

A new brick factory in Abu Shemsi supplies locally-produced building materials to families for home or business renovations. With locally-operated businesses, the area of Abu Shemsi is slowly moving toward a self-sustaining economy based on agriculture and fish farming. “The recent progress is due to a combination of the people of Iraq wanting to help themselves and coalition forces being able to help the communities by providing a safe environment,” said Sgt. Christopher Waliser from Bismark, N.D.

During the al-Qaida stronghold, many Abu Shemsi residents were displaced. Others fled because of the lack of security and protection. The support that Iraqi security forces and coalition forces provide, has given local citizens more opportunities to come back and rebuild, said Waliser. Families can reopen businesses and return to farming for income.

“They need some type of council to serve as their voice and they need to work together more than ever now to see the results they want,” said Staff Sgt. Cale Terrill from Wapakoneta, Ohio. There has also been talk of building an Iraqi police station in the area, Terrill said. Bringing in the IP will further legitimize the area and show residents that the government of Iraq cares about them.

Source: CENTCOM.

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Iraqi women’s committee reps meet in Mahmudiyah

Filed under: CentCom, econ, education, ME, money, security, terrorists/ism, Women — Rosemary Welch @ 11:33 am

by Sgt. David Turner
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

FOB KALSU (May 7, 2008) — Representatives from four local women’s committees in the Rasheed Nahia met in Mahmudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, May 5. Among those attending the gathering were Soldiers of Multi-National Division – Center and the U.S. State Department’s embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team Baghdad-7, who helped organize the committees. Women’s issues are nothing new to the Government of Iraq, and now, after years of turmoil and the rebuilding of the nation’s institutions, the committees have provided many women a support channel, said Capt. Trista Mustaine, ePRT women’s assistance group leader. “It’s trying to build connectivity that’s been severed,” she said.

A key goal for the meeting was to introduce committee members to one another, as well as link them to their representatives in the nahia and other organizations. Representatives of the Iraqi Ministy of Labor and Social Affairs and the Red [Cross] Crescent attended the meeting. Mustaine, from Bradenton, Fla., said getting women involved in government and giving them better economic opportunities fosters stabilization and a return to normalcy.

One of the ways ePRT achieves this is with microgrants, up to $2,500 per person, to help women start businesses. Those businesses include anything from internet cafes to agriculture, but sewing cooperatives have been the most popular. These co-ops provide major employment opportunities in their neighborhoods, giving women the means to buy materials and sell their goods collectively. Sewing co-ops, in turn, provide revenue for the women’s committees, Mustaine said.

Chairwomen from the four committees addressed several issues at the meeting, but the foremost topics included the need for grass-roots level assistance from Coalition forces and the needs of widows and orphans. Zaytoon Hussain Mraad, from Adwaniyah, showed a placard with pictures of more than 30 children in her village orphaned by recent violence. Fifteen of the children, all from Shiite families in Sunni majority region, lost both parents to criminal activity and sectarian violence.

Not the Americans? Hmm. How interesting. Why doesn’t our news media tell us this when they report how many Iraqis have died? You know why, but I shall remain quiet…here.

Aieda Hassan Aziz, chairman of the Busayefi women’s committee, said her husband was kidnapped months ago and she doesn’t know where he is. Insurgents also stole her livestock, depriving her of an income. There are 62 widows in her town and even more orphans, she said. Education, she said, was what citizens in her village need most.

The chairwoman from the Hawr Rajab women’s committee, Manal Najeeb Mahmood, offered some words of strength and hope. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq killed, kidnapped and destroyed. We stood strong with the help of Coalition forces, Iraqi Army and the local councils. We’re here to stay,” she said. Mahmood said that profits from her women’s committee’s sewing co-op would go to help the 215 widows and numerous orphans of her town.

Doctor Maha al-Hadithy, a Red [Cross] Crescent representative, said assistance from Coalition forces was welcomed, but much more could be done on the local level. In the beginning, money spent on programs at the national level failed to reach them, she said. Another big issue, al-Hadithy said, was the rise in divorces among religiously-mixed couples in her country. Sectarian strife has torn families apart, and legal assistance may help put them back together again. Al-Hadithy struck a positive tone in her remarks, however, saying that women’s committees have nothing to do with religion or tribal loyalties. Only the improved lives of Iraq’s women matter, she said.

Mustaine was pleased to see representatives come together, belonging to committees she and others helped form. “I think it’s definitely been a success,” she said. “The most productive stuff has nothing to do with the money we’ve spent. It’s primarily relationship building. That’s key, because that’s the only thing that’s going to be sustaining after we leave.”

Source: CENTCOM.

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