Iraq

USAID: Iraq Reconstruction Weekly Update #13 (FY 2006)

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SUCCESS STORY

Radio Gives Women a Voice

Unfettered by political parties or governing powers, the women who work at Iraq's first independent radio station redefine their community's understanding of freedom as they broadcast music and talk shows championing the rights of women. The Community Action Program provided a grant to purchase furniture and equipment to establish the station. This is one of 3,871 community development programs USAID has implemented countrywide.

Saddam Hussein is the first world leader in modern times to have used chemical weapons against his own people. Hussein's goals were to systematically terrorize and exterminate the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, to silence his critics, and to test the effectiveness of his chemical and biological weapons. Hussein launched chemical attacks against 40 Kurdish villages and thousands of innocent civilians in 1987-88. The worst of these attacks devastated the city of Halabja on March 16, 1988.

After suffering decades of oppression, Halabja is now listening to the first sounds of freedom. A grant from USAID's Community Action Program (CAP) purchased equipment and furniture to support the launch of the first independent radio station in Iraq - a station operated by women and devoted to women's programming.

The station is the most popular in the city, says the founder, not just because it has the clearest signal, but "because we are independent." She explained: "There are no political parties associated with it and no foreign powers guiding or dictating it."

The 15 or so women who left their homes to take jobs at the radio station said they joined to serve women and the problems they face. The radio station gives Iraqi women a voice in public life. The station has no director: the staff elects a three-person directing committee from among themselves to design the programs.

Although it currently plays music, the station, which has been in operation since June 2005, recently obtained a talk show license and is currently writing programs that educate women on formerly taboo subjects such as family planning, independence, and constitutionally guaranteed rights. The station will also introduce off-the-air hot line where women can call in to find solutions to their problems.

The station has already had a profound effect on the women involved. "Before the radio station, I didn't have anything, not even my self confidence," said a young woman in her mid twenties who is currently on the station's elected directing committee. She added: "I now give my knowledge and experience to other women and help them emerge from their houses and discover themselves."

The radio station is one of 3,871 small community development programs USAID has implemented throughout Iraq. The CAP program instills community ownership and champions local solutions.

SUPPORT TO IRAQI WOMEN

With the help of USAID's capacity building activities, Iraqi women have strengthened their political voice and continue to improve their economic status. USAID partners have worked with female politicians, journalists, and NGOs that advocate women's interests. Programs support women entrepreneurs, business leaders, employees, and professionals to ensure they benefit from increased economic growth and increased public and private sector capacity building. USAID continues to educate Iraqi men and women on the importance of securing equal rights for all Iraqis.

ECONOMIC GROWTH

USAID works with Iraqi institutions to establish an environment for sustainable economic growth. Assistance empowers policy makers to formulate and execute decisions based on economic data, and to implement modern best practices in economic governance. USAID projects provide a framework for private sector trade, commerce, and investment throughout Iraq.

HIGHLIGHTS THIS WEEK

Over 40 Iraqi professionals attended a public awareness session on the World Trade Organization (WTO). Coming from the government, businesses, and higher education, these professionals received training on WTO rules for the safety and quality of products in international trade. This and other public awareness efforts help inform Iraq's leaders about the process and details of rejoining global markets.

The session, conducted by trade experts from USAID's Izdihar project, explained the business impacts of these rules and discussed possible strategies to meet existing international standards, increase Iraqi exports and protect Iraqis from the importation of poor quality products.

A Baghdad businessman noted, "Nowadays, many goods enter Iraq that don't match international standards due to the absence of monitoring and many of these goods are of poor quality or unhealthy for consumption. We need to learn more about international standards and the regulations of the WTO. They protect consumers."

The Government of Iraq recently submitted its Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime to begin the accession process and is preparing to answer questions from WTO member countries about the document. Accession into the WTO would increase Iraq's foreign direct investment and lay the foundation for a globalized economy. Although actual accession may take years, to be eligible for membership Iraq will need to implement economic reforms that promote economic freedom and growth.

Iraqi bankers to establish a loan guarantee company with support from USAID's Izdihar program. In forming an Advisory Committee of 24 private Iraqi banks, Iraqi bankers recently took the first steps in establishing a private company to guarantee small business loans and select microfinance institutions. The Al-Iraq Bank Guarantee Company will provide loan guarantees for well-appraised projects of small-and medium-sized enterprises and eligible microfinance institutions.

The new loan guarantee company will be the first of its kind in Iraq. Currently, small and medium-sized businesses need hard collateral to access loans since lenders do not have adequate legal recourse if a borrower defaults. The Al-Iraq Bank Guarantee Company will provide a new level of financial security, helping expand access to credit for private sector firms throughout the country. The guarantee company is being established on the basis of best practices worldwide.

The new company will enhance access to credit for eligible small, medium, and micro-sized companies as well as support the use of modern credit methods, sound banking practices, and the ability of Iraq's small and start-up businesses to generate new jobs.

AGRICULTURE

USAID's goals are to work in conjunction with Iraqi ministries, the private sector, and higher education institutions to revitalize agricultural production, stimulate income and employment generation, nurture rural development initiatives, and rehabilitate the natural resource base.

HIGHLIGHTS THIS WEEK

Canal bridge in Babylon completed. This week, local workers completed reconstruction of a canal bridge in Babylon governorate. The Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI), funded by USAID, financed the project.

The reconstruction of the bridge directly benefits 40,000 rural families from 35 communities in the district. By reducing costs to farmers who bring their crops to markets, the bridge increases profit margins. ARDI believes that the rising profitability of the region's agriculture will encourage more output and even larger earnings.

Due to the improved efficiency of travel, the bridge is increasing rural Iraqis' access to government resources and services. Additionally, the bridge provides children with improved transit to the six schools located on the other side of the canal.

Grant to rehabilitate nursery in Kirkuk approved. After suffering years of neglect, looting, and near destruction, an important nursery in Kirkuk, run by the Directorate of Agriculture, recently received approval on a grant. Previously, the nursery's staff struggled with renovation efforts. Due to lack of equipment and funds, the nursery has been able to operate at only 15 percent of its productive capacity. The ARDI grant will help restore the nursery to full productive capacity through the provision of funds to renovate the facilities, clean and weed the fields, and purchase equipment necessary to produce seedlings and maintain the mother trees.

The renovation of the nursery will help increase the production and provision of seedlings in Kirkuk, ultimately increasing agricultural production. This nursery provides seedlings for fruit and forest trees to private-sector nurseries, which, in turn, raise and propagate the seedlings for sale to farmers. Farmers depend on these private nurseries for seedlings. Their increased access to seedlings from private sources will help them improve agricultural production and increase their incomes. Many farmers in Tameem, who have recently returned to their fields, are especially in need of seedlings.

The nursery, once fully renovated, will be able to produce approximately 80,000 seedlings per year. Specialists working at the nursery will also be able to develop improved varieties of tree crops and high value crops. These varieties could include disease resistant and high-yielding crops. In addition, the production of forest tree seedlings will help repopulate trees in deforested areas in and around Tameem.

NATIONAL GOVERNANCE

USAID continues to plan and implement a variety of programs, undertaken in partnership with Iraqi counterparts, matching the needs of the evolving Iraqi democracy. In particular, USAID provided extensive support to the Iraqi National Assembly in the lead-up to the December 2005 elections.

HIGHLIGHTS THIS WEEK

Iraq election-day summary. On Dec. 15, the USAID-supported Iraqi Election Information Network (EIN) monitored Iraq's third election. Throughout Iraq's 18 governorates, EIN trained and deployed more than 14,000 monitors, including 12,740 grassroots monitors, 366 cross-regional monitors and 1,189 cross-governorate monitors. Monitoring activities also reached a record number of locations. EIN observers were present in over 90 percent of all polling stations and polling centers submitting monitoring reports.

In early December, National Democratic Institute (NDI) provided in-depth training to 505 EIN team leaders on election monitoring activities. NDI also worked with these leaders on methods to train others to monitor the election. Between December 10 and 14, each team leader subsequently trained on average 25 individuals from his/her own community, amounting to over 13,000 grassroots monitors nation-wide. EIN regional and governorate coordinators carefully planned the distribution of monitors to disperse an average of approximately 600 trained monitors in each governorate, except for Al Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Baghdad.

An average of 583 grassroots monitors were deployed in each governorate, aside from the capital. Excluding Al Anbar and Baghdad, the number of deployed monitors in each governorate varied between 356 (in Al Muthanna) and 861 (in Basrah), which offered a balanced and comprehensive assessment of election activities throughout the country. Al Anbar had just 318 observers due to security reasons and fewer opened polling centers, and the capital city Baghdad had 2,828 election observer. Noticeable efforts were made to deploy monitors in Sunni and/or less stable areas of the country, such as in Salah ad Din (602), Ninawa (500) and Diyala (554). On Dec. 12, EIN also deployed dozens of observers to monitor the early votes of Iraqis in hospitals, detention centers, prisons, and on army bases.

In addition to grassroots monitors, EIN deployed 366 cross-regional monitors in 14 governorates and 1,189 cross-governorate monitors in 13 governorates. The information gathered by these monitors complimented the information gathered by the thousands of grassroots monitors and helped to enhance the accuracy and legitimacy of monitoring results-indirectly strengthening the network's credibility and non-partisanship. On Election Day, cross-regional monitors submitted more than 1,000 election monitoring forms and cross-governorate monitors submitted over 3,000. These were incorporated into the national database along with the 12,257 other forms from grassroots monitors.

TRANSITION INITIATIVES

USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) supports the transition to a participatory, stable, and democratic country. OTI provides quick-dispensing, high-impact grants meeting critical needs-providing short-term employment, restoring basic government and community services, increasing access to information and communication, and encouraging protection of human rights.

HIGHLIGHTS THIS WEEK

A neighborhood cleanup and public education campaign benefits a community in south-central Iraq. Three local organizations collaborated to develop and organize a trash cleanup and removal campaign, bringing neighborhood residents together for a common goal. Over 10,000 local residents, particularly families and local youths, benefited from the three grants by the Iraq Transition Initiative (ITI). This public education campaign compliments other ITI-sponsored sewage and garbage removal projects, helping create employment for Iraqis and engaging them in behavioral change activities.

Community trash collection and removal were promoted through a number of activities, including a series of soccer training camps for youths, where notable national and local sports personalities coached aspiring soccer players. In a soccer tournament for over 30 youth club teams, players and referees promoted the cleanup campaign with neighborhood trash collection drives and by wearing uniforms that highlight the cleanup campaign logo and slogan. The public education campaign also commissioned a children's story for use in schools and youth clubs. Also, a series of billboards were posted throughout the area to highlight the positive changes in the physical and social environment in the sector as a result of community cleanup activities. Finally, a neighborhood tree-planting campaign helped to beautify and improve environmental conditions.

An Iraqi neighborhood discussed and voted to renovate a local school. Located in central Iraq, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) worked with students and community leaders to implement a community priority-the renovation of a village school. During the identification process, discussion groups involved youth in the planning process to specifically engage the project beneficiaries. ITI helped provide the essential labor and equipment through the NGO. Projects protecting and benefiting youths have become a high ranking priority for Iraqi communities.

Community support for a soccer championship engages local youths. In a multi-ethnic community in northern Iraq, a local government worked with USAID to sponsor a two-week soccer championship, helping build a sense of community and engaging young people in positive ways - important priorities for maintaining stability. An ITI grant provided sports equipment and uniforms to 38 soccer teams from surrounding villages.

COMPLETED PROGRAMS

Since the cessation of the 2003 conflict, USAID has completed its planned work at Umm Qasr Seaport, restored significant portions of Iraq's telecommunications network, rebuilt three major bridges and restored the rail line connecting Umm Qasr with Basra city and points north. USAID also helped avert a humanitarian crisis during the conflict by providing assistance to the United Nations World Food Program. USAID advisors continue to assist with management and distribution of food rations to Iraqi citizens.

INFRASTRUCTURE

- The $45 million program to rehabilitate and improve management at Umm Qasr seaport was completed in June 2004.

- Port reopened to commercial traffic on June 17, 2003; completed first passenger vessel test July 16, 2003.

- Up to 50 ships offload at the port every month.

- Completed dredging to open all 21 berths to deep-sea ships.

- Applied port tariffs on June 20, 2003.

- Renovated the grain-receiving facility to process 600 MT of grain an hour.

- Renovated the administration building, passenger terminal, customs hall, and electrical substations.

- Rebuilt three major bridges-Khazir, Tikrit and Al Mat bridges-critical to moving people and commercial products throughout the country.

- Rebuilt a substantial portion of the Iraqi Republican Railway line connecting Basrah with the port of Umm Qasr including physical track construction, installing culverts, and repairing gatehouses. The remainder of the work has been handed over to the Ministry of Transportation (MOT). This work allows shipments of bulk cargo from the port to Baghdad and throughout the country.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

- Audited more than 1,200 km of the fiber optic backbone network and performed emergency repairs, reconnecting 20 cities and 70 percent of the population.

- Reconstituted Baghdad area phone service by installing switches with 240,000 lines at 12 sites.

- Installed and fully integrated 13 new switches with 14 existing switches.

- Worked with the Ministry of Communications to reactivate more than 215,000 subscriber lines.

- Installed a satellite gateway system at Baghdad's largest telecom exchange and restored international service.

- Trained telecom engineers and technicians in the operation and maintenance of the satellite gateway system and the new switches.

FOOD SECURITY

- Worked directly with the World Food Program (WFP) and Coalition Forces to re-establish the Public Distribution System (PDS) in less than 30 days, avoiding a humanitarian food crisis and providing food security throughout the country.

- With Iraqi food distributors, Food for Peace, the WFP, and Coalition Forces maintained deliveries from June through December 2003 in all 18 governorates.

- Played a key role in an agreement between the WFP, CPA, and the MoT that provided the WFP with the resources and authority to continue to support the PDS through June 2004.

- Completed a rapid food security field assessment from 17 impoverished districts in May 2005 and presented assessment findings in the USAID food security forum in August 2005. Forum participants reviewed data to better understand food security in Iraq and recommended actions to reduce risk among Iraq's vulnerable populations.

EDUCATION

- Through the Higher Education and Development (HEAD) program five American and 10 Iraqi universities partnered to aid the reestablishment of academic excellence in Iraq's higher education system. More than 1,500 Iraqi faculty and students have participated in workshops, trainings, conferences, and courses all over the world since January 2004. Also, the HEAD program rehabilitated university facilities throughout the country and provided books and electronic resources to university libraries.

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