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June 22, 2008

Soldiers deliver toys to Iraqi girls’ school

Filed under: CentCom, children, good works, ME, MNF-I — Rosemary Welch @ 2:51 pm

by U.S. ARMY SGT Daniel Blottenberger
18th Military Police Brigade

CAMP VICTORY — When Iraqi Police and Coalition troops arrived at the Zainab Girls School in Hurriyah June 12, they were met by the smiling faces of more than 50 children and their caretakers in the Baghdad community. “This makes it all worth while,” said 1st Sgt. Thomas Gray, 64th MP Co., 18th Military Police Brigade, Multi-National Division – Baghdad, who is a native of Oxford, Conn., after boxes full of school supplies and toys were handed out to the grateful Iraqi children.

The Hurriyah IP brought toys and supplies to hand out to the children to help show the families of the area that IP were here to help protect and serve the community. “This event gives the IP an opportunity to interact with the people other than neighborhood patrols and checkpoint operations,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Reinsburrow, squad leader, 64th Military Police Company, who is a native of Towanda, Pa.

Reinsburrow and his squad of military police Soldiers have been conducting police transition team (PTT) operations with the Hurriyah IP for eleven months now. The PTT Soldiers are military police who interact, train and advise IP personnel from the local police officer, or “shurta,” to the most senior leaders as they conduct their day-to-day missions.

The mission for the IP on this day was to hand out school supplies and toys to the local children, many of whom are orphans.“It is always a good feeling when you can make an Iraqi kid smile,” said 1st Lt. Geneva Arnold, platoon leader, 64th MP Co., who is a native of Tucson, Ariz. The IP handed out backpacks, school supplies and soccer balls to the children, who were ecstatic upon receiving the items from the policemen and MND-B Soldiers. The operation helped further the relationship between the locals and the IP.

“The citizens of Hurriyah are not afraid to come and talk to the IP,” said Sgt. Angel Villegas, 64th MP Co., who is a native of El Paso, Texas. “On normal operation days at the station, there are lines out the door of people coming to get assistance from the IP.” The PTT Soldiers said they felt the Hurriyah citizens recognize the Hurriyah IP as a force dedicated to bringing the rule of law to the community. “The citizens see the IP are just out there doing their job as IP,” said Reinsburrow.

In the past year of working with the IP, the PTT has seen them become a well-recognized force that brings law and order to their local community. “When we got here, the IP were just getting a foothold in the area,” said Villegas. “Now, they are a force capable of operating on their own.”

The Hurriyah IP showed their ability to protect their community during an uprising by criminal groups in Baghdad.“The IP stayed at their posts and manned the checkpoints during the uprising,” said Reinsburrow. Now that violence has decreased in the area, IP can focus on building better relationships within their local communities.“The IP are making a positive impact on their citizens’ lives,” said Arnold.

After all the school supplies and toys were handed out, the IP and MND-B Soldiers mounted back up in their vehicles to return to their daily mission of keeping the citizens of Hurriyah safe. The 64th MP Co. is deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, and is currently assigned to the 716th Military Police Battalion, 18th MP Bde., MND-B.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Reinsburrow holds an Iraqi child June 12 in Hurriyah, while Iraqi Police and Coalition forces hand out toys and school supplies to the local children. (Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Blottenberger).

Source: CENTCOM.

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June 21, 2008

Iraqi girl to get life-saving surgery

Filed under: CentCom, ME, medics, ota, otb — Rosemary Welch @ 12:39 am

by SFC Stacy Niles
214th Fires Brigade

FOB DELTA, Iraq (June 19, 2008) – When she was born, doctors didn’t expect her to live a week, but a 1-year-old Iraqi girl is defying the odds. She overcame the initial diagnosis, but without proper care, Noor Majeed could still die. Fortunately, surgeons in Boston have agreed to donate their services to help her, and a donor in Cambridge, Mass., donated $100,000 for the medical care of this patient. Noor’s surgery is scheduled for June 30 at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Noor was born with bladder exstrophy, which is a rare congenital disease in which the bladder protrudes outside of the abdominal wall. It occurs once in every 30,000 – 50,000 births, most often in boys. Separation of the pelvic bones also accompanies the condition, which is often associated with other birth defects. Surgery to repair bladder exstrophy is usually performed within the first 48 hours after birth.

The care required to correct bladder exstrophy is unavailable in Iraq. In addition to surgery to repair the bladder, Noor will also require orthopedic surgery on her pelvis and hips as well as reconstruction and corrective procedures, said Capt. Michael Mullaly, an operating room nurse with the 912th Forward Surgical Team. Mullaly was attached to the 948th FST as an operating room nurse when Noor began treatment in the FOB Delta medical facility.

“When Noor was born…and when I saw her condition…I wished to die,” said Zainab Najy, Noor’s mother. I felt hopeless and helpless…and because of the lack of adequate care that can treat her and because of our financial situation, we could not afford to help her. I was expecting her to die at any moment; I even told my mother that I don’t want to get attached to her, because I thought she would die soon. But as days go by, Noor resisted…and stayed alive. I was hurt all the time as I watch other children walking and playing…but Noor can’t even sit or walk. My life became filled with depression, sadness and pain,” said Najy.

“I was so sad and depressed, but now, I am happy because I feel that Noor will live and all this made possible by the American people…and the American troops and the medical staff who helped us save Noor’s life,” she added. “My feeling was desperate, for a father who sees his daughter suffering…and we could not help her. The Iraqi doctors could not help her, that’s why we came (to Army doctors),” said Neseer M. Jemeel, Noor’s father.

“I was so happy when I heard my daughter will be treated…because I had lost hope completely…but I am so happy now. I feel safe because (the Americans) are caring. They care about children, mothers; they know life is valuable, and they are true human beings.”

When Noor and her mother arrive in Boston, they will be greeted by a friendly face – Mullaly, an operating room nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worchester, Mass., plans to meet them when they land. “It can be overwhelming,” said Mullaly of traveling to a new country where you know no one and don’t speak the language. “I think a familiar face would make it easier.”

Mullaly has seen Noor on five occasions. “I’m pretty vested in this case. I’m attached to this baby,” said Mullaly. Doctors from the 948th Forward Surgical Team first saw Noor in February. Without treatment, Noor’s ailments could be catastrophic. Both conditions are rare in the U.S., and the causes for both are unknown, said Lt. Col. Paul Brisson, general and pediatric surgeon with the 948th FST.

Noor Majeed at the Forward Operating Delta medical facility where she received several life-saving procedures. She will undergo reconstructive surgery in Boston, June 30, 2008.

Source: CENTCOM.

Editors Note: This is a very precious and moving article to me. I ask all of you to join me in prayer for this child to have a successful operation and long, healthy life. God bless the children. Amen.

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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.

Life returning to Ramadi

Filed under: bombs, CentCom, ME, security — Rosemary Welch @ 12:25 am

by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones
RCT-1 PAO

RAMADI, Iraq (June 17, 2008) – In a small, granite-floored room, a group of Marines eagerly wait alongside a squad of Iraqi police for their foot patrol to begin. Lt. Col. Brett A. Bourne, battalion commander of 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, enters the room full of confidence and asks, “Are we ready to go out?” Without delay, he receives a resounding “Yes” from both groups.

The Marines and Iraqi police, decked out in full gear, began the patrol in a dust storm towards the marketplace, or as the local Iraqis call it—the souk. Upon arriving at the vibrantly colored shopping area, the Marines and Iraqi police immediately received smiles, hand shakes and greetings of “Al salaam a’alaykum’s,” which is a term of endearment and greetings meaning “God be with you.” The two forces have made their presence known in the souk, they are here for one thing: the people. Their mission is to intermingle with the locals and hear their valued opinion of the rebuilding of their city.

“We went on the patrol to accompany the battalion commander, check out the souk, interact with the locals and view all of the progress in the area,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Giovanni Lozano, hospitalman with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. This patrol would’ve been out of the question nearly two years ago when the souk and Ramadi was the tip of the spear for the insurgency. The city’s market area was widely considered by most as a “no go” zone. Within seconds of entering the area, Marines would often encounter small-arms and sniper fire, along with rocket propelled grenade attacks. But since then, the locals have rebelled against the insurgency and embraced the presence of coalition forces, in turn launching the rebuilding of the bullet-riddled city.

“The people got sick of having their wives and children blown up by people who just want to cause trouble,” said Cpl. Chris Sarlo, an anti-tank assaultman with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. “They saw that the Marines were trying to get the terrorists out of the province, so they decided to help us out with the Awakening.” Nowadays, Ramadi is much safer and the vivacious souk is visited almost daily by Marines and Iraqi policemen.

In a 2006 New York Times article, when the region was in chaos, then-Governor Awad of al-Anbar province said, “The performance of the police and national guard is very weak in all of central Iraq.” In a startling contrast to those comments, the policemen have made an incredible improvement since the area was deemed secure. Now, the policemen are operating independently with coalition forces only serving in an overwatch role to mentor and assist the budding force. “The Iraqi police are doing well,” said Sgt. Nicholas V. Rojas, a forward observer with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, currently on his second deployment to al-Anbar province. “Compared to my first deployment in 2005 at Camp Hit just northwest of Ramadi, I’ve noticed a considerable change in how the Iraqi police conduct themselves and with their tactics. The Iraqi police show more of a desire to take over, for instance, if they see an improvised explosive device, they know what to do, they no longer come to us with questions. They come to us with the finished product. They’re definitely doing a great job.”

The Marines and Iraqi police receive a positive response from the locals every time they patrol through the marketplace. “The souk is usually pretty busy, a lot of hustle and bustle,” Sarlo said. “For the most part the people are really friendly, if you say hello to them they’ll smile and say hello back. The area is 100 percent better than what it used to be.” The new found trust between the Marines and the locals has allowed both sides to realize, despite their differences, we are all looking for the same thing, for Iraq to be a success story. “Once I got here, I realized they’re pretty good. I’ve gained a lot more respect for the Iraqi people – they’re awesome,” said Lance Cpl. Cody A. Collins, rifleman with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, currently on his second deployment to Iraq.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Giovanni Lozano, a corpsman with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, patrols with an Iraqi police officer through the market area of Ramadi June 9. The Iraqi police are continuing to make tremendous progress since the area became stable.

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.

Public works substation opens in Yarmouk

Filed under: CentCom, equip, ME, MNF-I, recon, security — Rosemary Welch @ 12:15 am

by Sgt. Paul Monroe
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division

BAGHDAD (June 15, 2008) – Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, opened a public works substation in Yarmouk, a neighborhood in northwest Baghdad, June 14. The Yarmouk substation will serve the southeast Mansour District and provides workers a place to store equipment used for basic services, such as trash removal and sewage maintenance. “All of this was built from scratch” said 1st Lt. Nicholas Anderson, a civil military operations officer with the 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, operationally attached to the 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div.

Soldiers picked up where the Soldiers they replaced from 2nd “Patriot” Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st infantry Division, left off, who worked during their 15-month deployment to improve security and get essential services going. The unit went as far as hiring 50 workers to pickup trash in the Yarmouk area while funding for the substation was on hold. The Soldiers are working just as hard to take advantage of improved security and are striving to work on finishing the essential service projects the Patriot Battalion started. At the substation, they worked closely with local officials to build a permanent building with two offices. They also worked with contractors to install two trailers to provide workers with showers, a change room and a break room.

Iraqi army and MND-B Soldiers, along with members of the Yarmouk community and the assistant zone director who oversees the operation of the substation, attended the grand opening together, where a red ribbon was cut and attendees enjoyed Iraqi hamburgers afterward. The ceremony, however, did not mark the end of work for the substations, said Anderson, adding that the substation currently employs 53 Yarmouk residents with proposals to eventually increase that number to 100. “The equipment we have right now is under a rental agreement,” He added. “Coalition forces have rented those vehicles; we are expecting that (local officials) will take that over.”

The proposal stems from an agreement reached between coalition forces and local officials in September, he added. “We construct the site; we hire all the workers; we provide equipment for them” said Col. Louis Fazekas the Baghdad-6 governance team leader part of the embedded Provincial Reconciliation Team supporting the 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div., who explained it was part of the agreement. He said there is an expectation that local officials will hire the workers and purchase the equipment after one year.

Fazekas, a reservist from Mechanicsburg, Pa., deployed to Iraq in April 2007, has been in Iraq for 14 months. During that time, he has met with government officials to hash out the details of agreements such as this one. “I extended another year to try and see (the PWSS’) through,” said Fazekas. “It’s taking a little longer than we expected because the funding got delayed, but the funding is back on and things are moving ahead.” Originally, Strike brigade Soldiers planned to open four substations in Northwest Baghdad. The success of PWSS sites in the Adil and Ghazaliyah neighborhoods in northwest Baghdad has opened the possibility of opening additional substations.

No matter how long it takes to get the new substations built, Fazekas said he doesn’t plan to extend once he reaches the end of this tour. “Certainly, you fill some ownership and you want to stay involved,” he added, but also noted that he has full confidence in the ability of Soldiers – whether they are from the Strike Brigade or a follow-on unit – to continue progress. “The plan is there; it’s like a McDonalds franchise,” he said. “Now, it’s just a matter of picking sites and implementing what we’ve done at the others.”

Brig. Gen. Ghassan, commanding officer of the 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, talks with a local television network to get the word out to the local populace about the establishment of the public works substation, June 14, in Yarmouk, a neighborhood in northwest Baghdad.

Source: CENTCOM.

General: Iraqi Air Force making great strides

Filed under: aircraft/drops/flights, CentCom, ME — Rosemary Welch @ 12:11 am

by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (June 18, 2008) – The Iraqi air force is making great strides as it continues to train and begins supporting Iraqi army and police forces, the U.S. adviser to the force said today. During a news conference in Baghdad, Air Force Brig. Gen. Brooks L. Bash said the security situation in Iraq is improving each day, thanks to the investments the citizens have made in their country’s future and to coalition training efforts. Bash, commander of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team in Iraq, said the Iraqi air force, though small and still developing, is providing important capabilities to the Iraqi military and police.

“The Iraqi air force is growing in personnel and aircraft, leading to important capabilities in three missions: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; battlefield mobility; and, soon, ground-attack operations,” Bash said. The ISR capability is farthest along, the general said. The Iraqi air force provides intelligence that ground forces can act upon. The air force has 11 surveillance aircraft, with five more coming this year. The aircraft are capable of flying photo reconnaissance missions and video surveillance, day and night. The video can be transmitted live, and the Iraqis have used it against specific targets as well as for battle space surveillance in Sadr City and Mosul, Bash said. The aircrafts also support to the Oil and Electricity ministries, using the surveillance capability to monitor power lines and oil pipelines.

The Iraqi air force also has demonstrated its battlefield mobility capabilities during operations. The air force has 15 Mi-17 helicopters, 16 UH-2 helicopters and three C-130E aircraft to transport and resupply Iraqi ground and police forces, Bash said. That mobility was crucial to successes in recent operations. In Basra, the Iraqi air force transported more than 3,400 soldiers to the fight, evacuated 111 wounded personnel and delivered food and supplies to the forces, Bash said.

In Mosul, Iraqi choppers conducted the first all-Iraqi air assault mission to insert security forces into a suspected terrorist enclave, Bash said. It will be a couple of years before the Iraqi air force perfects its close-air support mission, but helicopter and fixed-wing pilots are working to learn the skills necessary to support ground forces in close contact with the enemy, Bash said. While the force is making progress, problems remain in supply, maintenance, logistics, procurement and personnel, Bash acknowledged. The Iraqi government plan calls for a total of 376 aircraft by 2020, he said.

Source: CENTCOM.

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June 20, 2008

Tarmiyah meeting builds relationships

Filed under: CentCom, ME — Rosemary Welch @ 11:23 pm

2nd Stryker Brigade

CAMP TAJI, Iraq (June 18, 2008) – Hussein al-Tahan, governor of Baghdad, visited the areas of Mushada and Tarmiyah, northwest of Baghdad, June 13 and attended the first Joint Rural Planning Committee at Bukhari Hall in Tarmiyah. The meeting brought together leaders from the Tarmiyah Qada, members of the Provincial Council and a special visit from al-Tahan. It served as a forum for local leaders in the area to discuss specific issues and get feedback directly from the decision makers in Baghdad.

“This (meeting) was very successful,” said Maj. Todd Woodruff, a native of Bollingbrook, Ill. Woodruff, the executive officer for 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, “Warrior,” 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad said this meeting was mostly about relationship building, mentioning that the Qada council members have met with Baghdad officials in Baghdad, but this meeting was the first time those officials were invited to Tarmiyah to meet.

“This was an opportunity to show them that Tarmiyah is safe and secure and the markets are open for business,” he said. “It also shows that the area is ready to receive funding from the Baghdad province and the government of Iraq and they are ready to start moving forward on large scale projects.” The officials discussed many projects to include improvements to the healthcare system, education system, agriculture, roads and electricity.

“These are things that in the past, due to poor security, probably would not have succeeded,” Woodruff said. With security gains in Tarmiyah taking center stage, al-Tahan further encouraged partnership between councils in the area and coalition forces. While al-Tahan praised the efforts by American forces, he emphasized that only Iraqis truly know what they need and should have more input on the projects chosen and the leaders in the area should take charge.

Woodruff described the meeting as mostly ceremonial, but a good forum to “air initial thoughts” and attributes talking between the small groups to get the job done in the future. “It means that the projects that are currently Iraqi funded and coalition force lead and coordinated will start shifting,” he said. “It will turn so that Iraqi money will be allocated and coordinated by Iraqis, and these projects will become Iraqi spearheaded. This meeting demonstrated that they are more than capable of doing that.”

Hussein al-Tahan, governor of Baghdad province, walks with Sheik Sa’ed Jasim, the head sheik in Tarmiyah, to the first Joint Rural Planning Committee meeting in Tarmiyah June 13, 2008.

Source: CENTCOM.

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Security, funding send children back to school

Filed under: CentCom, ME, recon, school, Women — Rosemary Welch @ 10:51 pm

by Sgt. David Turner
American Forces Press Service

FOB KALSU (June 18, 2008) — For school children in the southern Baghdad area, getting an education has become a difficult and even dangerous prospect in recent years. In some cases, supplies were short and facilities were in disrepair. Sometimes the teachers weren’t there. In a few cases, the schools themselves were all but gone. The area where the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team arrived in June 2007 had long been an insurgent stronghold, with many villages controlled by al-Qaida terrorists who kept children, especially girls, from attending school. With no coalition or Iraqi security forces presence, local schools suffered the same fate as many farms and businesses in the area. They were looted and damaged, and even became battlegrounds.

“About two years ago, the Ministry of Education ordered all of the teachers out of the rural areas because the security situation was so bad,” said Army Capt. Trista Mustaine, education advisor to the Baghdad 7 embedded provincial reconstruction team, which works with 2nd BCT soldiers to rebuild the local infrastructure and economy. The area is now more secure than it has been in years, with Iraqi soldiers and police establishing a presence and preparing to hold gains made by 2nd BCT, which is scheduled to redeploy in July.

In addition to repairing critical infrastructure and breathing new life into the damaged economy, the 2nd BCT and Baghdad 7 embedded PRT have spent millions to keep schools open and make it possible for children to pursue an education. With the school year now over for children in the area, it’s a chance for workers to complete renovations and building projects throughout the 2nd BCT’s area of operation. Although reconstruction costs largely have been provided by coalition forces up to now, the Iraqi government is taking up the task and helping get local schools repaired and reopened before the next school year begins.

As he and his soldiers near redeployment in July, Army Capt. Richard Aaron, commander of Battery B, 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery, feels good about the work they have done. “We’ve made a huge impact on the community with the school, and with other projects we’ve done,” he said.

Now that the area is safe again and schools are getting the attention they need, the Iraqi government is ready to re-invest in a more significant way.”As of about a month ago, the Ministry of Education has ordered the teachers to return to their rural schools,” Mustaine said. Thanks to gains made by 2nd Brigade Combat Team, she said, government officials can work freely in the area to make sure their schools have what they need to teach the children. “Our goal is to provide accessible education for everyone. We have started the ball rolling, and the [Iraqi government] will keep it going in the future,” she said.

Children at Menahay Primary School in southern Baghdad pose for a photo. When al-Qaida operatives destroyed their school, students took classes in a nearby five-room private home until their school could be rebuilt. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Luis Delgadillo).

Source: CENTCOM.

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June 15, 2008

Admiral praises Iraqi political debate

Filed under: CentCom, ME, pols, Troops, UN — Rosemary Welch @ 11:23 pm

by Gerry Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (June 12, 2008) – Ongoing debate within Iraq’s political realm about negotiations over the U.S.-Iraq strategic framework agreement indicates the healthy development of Iraq’s young democracy, the U.S. military’s top officer said here today. The completion of the agreement would allow for continued U.S. military operations in Iraq after the United Nations security resolution ends Dec. 31.

Political debate in Iraq “historically, has not taken place,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted at a Government Executive Magazine-hosted breakfast at the National Press Club. Mullen said he is encouraged by what he called the “healthy aspect” of Iraqi officials’ statements regarding the agreement. Such debate over policy would be inconceivable under Saddam Hussein’s regime, he noted.

U.S. State Department and Iraqi officials are in negotiations over the agreement, which, among other things, specifies how U.S. troops posted in Iraq would be treated under Iraqi law as part of a status-of-forces pact. The United States does not want a permanent presence in Iraq, Mullen said. “This is no desire to have permanent bases in Iraq,” Mullen emphasized. “The desire, quite frankly, is to return our forces [home] as rapidly as we can. But, at the same time,” the admiral continued, “we’re also committed to providing the security that they need until they can stand up and provide their own security.” If no strategic framework agreement between the United States and Iraq is in place before Dec. 31, Mullen said, the U.N. resolution would have to be extended.

Source: CENTCOM.

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