Friday, March 9, 2007

More Progress in Iraq

I know, I know I just did one of these yesterday, but when there is progress to report there is progress to report.

This first story really touched me. Not in a misty eyed, go salute the flag sort of way, but I think this story represents the kind of progress that cannot be measured.

In America we take so much for granted. If you wanted to, you could stop reading this post right now and go take a 5 hour shower and think nothing of it. You could go turn on the faucet and pour a nice, tall, clean glass of water with ice cubes if you wanted... though in America we are so stuck up now that you would probably go to the fridge instead and pull out a bottle of water that you bought from the store, because that water is somehow more "pure" than our "dirty" tapwater.

I say we take these things for granted, because when we enjoy the clean water that we have come to expect, we never even consider what people in some parts of the world must do for water. In Iraq, the US Forces just opened another water treatment facility. Prior to that, the Iraqi people of Al Kuaam had to have water delivered from a neighboring city at the price of:

$3 U.S. for 45 gallons. The average unskilled laborer in Al Kuaam earns about $30 a month. Most families have at least eight members.

At the Red Cross's minimum recommended one gallon per person per day, a typical family's 240-gallon monthly water debt would cost more than half their total budget. Unable to afford clean water, most families drew water from the local rivers. According to UNICEF, 2 million tons of raw sewage is released into Iraqi rivers each day.

So that is why this story really touched me. This sort of progress isn't likely to put an end to Al Qaeda in Iraq, or keep Iran from selling IEDs to insurgents, but this sort of progress will allow people who could not afford clean water a chance to have something we in America all take for granted.

Unlike the progress in Sadr City, I KNOW this is the sort of story that the US press will ignore, but it is the sort of story we should all be telling:

Team opens sixth water plant

CAMP ADDER — Children, community leaders and Coalition Forces attended the opening of a reverse osmosis water-treatment plant in Al Kuaam, Iraq, a small rural farming village of 2,000 people on the south bank of the Euphrates River, Feb. 18.

"We all know how important clean water is to public health, agriculture, and economic development," said Lt. Col. Larry Herke, chief of staff for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.

"The water treatment plant is a great example of the Iraqi Government making progress to restore basic services to the people of Iraq," said Herke.

The water purified by the plant is available to passersby through free faucets on site and distributed throughout the village by water trucks for a fee.

To put this in context, consider conditions before the plant opened: water was delivered from a neighboring city at the price near $3 U.S. for 45 gallons. The average unskilled laborer in Al Kuaam earns about $30 a month. Most families have at least eight members.

At the Red Cross's minimum recommended one gallon per person per day, a typical family's 240-gallon monthly water debt would cost more than half their total budget. Unable to afford clean water, most families drew water from the local rivers. According to UNICEF, 2 million tons of raw sewage is released into Iraqi rivers each day.

Using contaminated water is one of the reasons 80 percent of all patients at the local hospital suffer from waterborne diseases.

"The plant is capable of providing 20,000 liters of water an hour," said Capt. Colin Fleming, deputy civil military operations officer.

The 20,000 liters of water an hour is more than enough water for Al Kuaam. The plant can now provide enough clean water for more than 150,000 people.

The construction of the plant employed more than 45 local contractors and engineers funded by Coalition Forces through the brigade combat team. Since unemployment in the area is a major cause of unrest, the workers and their family members are thankful for the jobs in addition to the safe water.

The event was attended by Italian officials from the Provincial Reconstruction Team and Australian soldiers of the Overwatch Battle Group West 2 Civil Military Cooperation team. The Australian team met with local officials to work towards their own reconstruction projects in Dhi Qar province. Al Kuaam is located 70 miles west of An Nasariyah, the capital of Dhi Qar province in southeast Iraq.

The Al Kuaam plant is the sixth of its kind opened during the deployment of the 1/34 BCT.

The Minnesota National Guard 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division includes soldiers from Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, New Jersey, Georgia, and California plus several active-duty units.

This next story is the kind of progress that will put an end to the violence in Iraq:

Suspected AQ Media Emir, alleged "Butcher" captured in raids

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Coalition Forces killed one terrorist and captured 16 suspected terrorists including an alleged al-Qaeda media emir during raids Friday morning throughout Iraq.

In Mosul, Coalition Forces captured an al-Qaeda related suspect known as “The Butcher” who is allegedly responsible for numerous kidnappings, beheadings, and suicide operations in the Ramadi and Mosul areas. Coalition Forces captured five additional suspects and killed one terrorist during the raid.

During operations in Fallujah, Coalition Forces captured two suspected terrorists with alleged ties to foreign fighter facilitation.

Northeast of Karmah, a suspected al-Qaeda media emir was captured along with seven others. The suspects are also believed to be part of an al-Qaeda courier network.

“Coalition Forces will continue to target al-Qaeda in Iraq and foreign terrorist facilitators regardless of where they may hide,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, MNF-I spokesperson.

This next story is interesting: it makes me thing back to what I've leanred about WWII, and how important a role the radio played in reporting the events of the war.

Stations broadcast throughout Iraq

DIYALA — The Independent Radio and Television Network in Diyala is now transmitting broadcasts throughout the province, as well as to Baghdad, Fallujah, Tikrit, Al Kut, Balad and other areas throughout Iraq after three months of virtually no local media in the area.

The radio station broadcasts on 99.2 FM, while the television station broadcasts on UHF Channel 34. These stations will broadcast a mixture of popular music and TV programming, news, information and educational programming, and religious discussion.

One of the premier new shows, "Common Ground," will feature four Iraqi friends, two Sunni and two Shia, one of whom is a woman, talking about the world they share. They will discuss common and different customs, all within the context of living together in peace.

Additionally, the Balad Ruz and Khanaqin radio stations continue to transmit daily to their local populations, while an ongoing project is under way to restart the printing of the Al Parlaman newspaper.

"These changes represent positive steps toward ending the culture of fear and rumor that enables terrorists to intimidate the people," said Col. David W. Sutherland, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division commander and senior U.S. Army officer in Diyala.

The availability of these networks is important, as the government of Diyala and the Iraqi Security Forces are able to inform their people of efforts and progress in the province.

Governor Ra'ad Hameed Al-Mula Jowad Al-Tanimi, the Provincial Governor, said he will provide information and perspective to his people through interviews and statements to these stations. Media that focuses on Diyala is critical to a transparent and representative government and security force.

In the past two weeks, Ra'ad has conducted three media engagements discussing his plans for security and support to the region.

"These stations are important because they allow the people to see their government at work," added Sutherland. "The Provincial Council will be able to show the people of this province their work on various issues such as the Provincial Budget and reconstruction projects. These stations represent a tremendous source of news and information for the people of Diyala, and a way to end unwarranted hysteria."

Last, but not least (for this post anyway):

Marines dispose of weapons, explosives

CAMP ELLIS — Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines attached to the California-based Battalion Landing Team 2nd Marines, 4th Marine Regiment have supported current operations in the Barwanah area by disposing of weapons and explosives found in caches throughout the area.

To date, EOD has disposed of more than 2,000-plus pounds of weapons and explosives since operations began here in late November.

According to Gunnery Sgt. Aaron M. Salyi, EOD chief from Combat Logistics Battalion 15 attached to BLT 2/4, the weeks in Barwanah have not slowed much since the beginning of operations.

Though the weapons caches have become smaller due to the efforts of Marines on sweeping operations, calls still come in on a daily basis keeping Salyi and his Marines busy.

Salyi explained, even though the caches being found are smaller, they are new. What this means for Marines working in the area is the amount of weapons and explosives that would be used by anti-Iraqi forces are being depleted.

“I’d say overall the weeks haven’t really slowed down for us. The quantity of calls we’ve done have declined, but we still go out nearly every day. Usually the stuff that we find is minimal now. But it is new, meaning it has recently been brought into this area,” said Salyi, a San Diego, native.

A typical cache usually consists of some type of ammunition, usually for an AK-47 assault rifle, the most commonly used weapon of AIF. Aside from ammunition, rifles and munitions such as mortar and artillery rounds are typically found, said Salyi.

Long range cordless phones are another item has been found in several of the caches throughout the area. These give insurgents the ability to detonate improvised explosive devices from remote locations, he said.

Though IEDs and weapons caches are common, the way the weapons are being employed has changed dramatically, Salyi said. Believing that the AIFs surplus of weapons are being used up, and with the IED builders being captured or leaving the area, many of the items being found recently have been imported into the region by new AIF personnel.

“This area has matured greatly in the planning and ability to employ IEDs. Now, they don’t have the ordnance left or the people to manufacture them. But what they are getting into this area of operations and what they are able to do has changed dramatically,” said Salyi.

“We have found IEDs that were wired to accept two form of initiation, electric blasting caps for pressure plate (IEDs) and a tail of detonating cord primed in to the nose, so they could use that in conjunction with a land mine to enhance the explosion. The part that makes this significant is that no one has seen those here before,” said Salyi.

The average size cache here, according to Staff Sgt. Daniel Thibeault, an EOD Marine with CLB-15 in support of BLT 2/4, is typically about 100 pounds of explosives or ordnance. The largest cache that he recalls destroying consisted of approximately 1,100 pounds.

“The biggest one we’ve (destroyed) was about 1,100 pounds which was located south (of here) and with the high explosive we put on it, it was about a 1,400 pound shot,” he said.

Having been on more than 80 calls, Thibeault explained, the first weeks were busy. But due to their arduous work, a sizeable dent has been made in the amount of weapons and explosives being found.

“We’ve done four or five missions in one day, but it just depends on the day (that dictates) how busy you are,” said Thibeault, a Lewiston, Maine, native. “I mean, whenever the phone rings we’re wondering ‘are we going or not.’”

The EOD carries an array of tools to ensure the job gets done right and done safely, explained Thibeault. Loaded down robots, explosives, a bomb suit and a sniper rifle, the team has several options on hand to deal with each situation as necessary.

For Thibeault, the job is relatively safe approximately 50 percent of the time. Most of the time when he and the rest of the team are called out, it is simply to destroy a cache of weapons. It’s not until the occasional IED is found the job becomes tricky.

“The scary part is when it comes to IEDs. I’m not going to lie. I don’t like going on the IED calls much. But as long as we get there and do a thorough search of our area, then it’s a relatively safe environment because anything we do to that IED is going to be done remotely,” said Thibeault.

BLT 2/4 is currently deployed to Iraq as part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and has been operating in the Barwanah area since late November.

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