Iraqi kolkhoz hits production targets

Another day, another carnage in Iraq -- the civil war too predictably gruesome to interest people anymore. With the ideological battles firmly anchored in the Israeli-Arab conflict and the current Israeli assaults on Lebanon and Gaza, we tend to forget that things are really falling apart over there:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Bombings and shootings across Iraq killed at least 52 people Tuesday, including 24 people in a bus destroyed by a roadside bomb. The attacks further damage the U.S.-backed government's efforts to establish control over the country.

The bus, carrying many Iraqi soldiers, was struck in the northern industrial city of Beiji, killing everyone on board, said Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari.

. . .

U.S. officials estimate an average of 30-40 people are kidnapped each day in Iraq, although the real figure may be higher because few families contact the police. Security officials believe most of the ransoms end up in the hands of insurgent and militia groups.

Many abductions are believed to be tied to the ongoing violence between Sunni and Shiite extremists who target civilians of the rival Muslim communities.

On Monday, the government said that since February, 30,359 families — or about 182,000 people — had fled their homes due to sectarian violence and intimidation. That represented an increase of about 20,000 people from the number reported July 20.
But, I wouldn't want to be accused of being a pessimistic liberal nihilist who's going to lose this war for the US, oh no. So I'll do my bit and highlight the good news:

U.S. agriculture secretary hails Iraq's farming potential
AP 01.08.06 | 11h50

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns arrived in Iraq Tuesday for a meeting with Iraqi officials and farmers, saying the sector holds great potential for strengthening the country's economy. Johanns is scheduled to participate in several meetings with «high-level Iraqi officials as well as Iraqi agricultural producers,» said a statement by the U.S. Embassy. It did not say how long Johanns, who is accompanied by representatives from the private sector and academia, will stay in Baghdad. «Many people are surprised to learn how important the agriculture sector is in Iraq and how much potential it holds,» Johanns was quoted as saying by the embassy statement. «I am eager to meet face to face with Iraqi ministers and agricultural producers to strengthen our relationship and intensify our collaboration,» he said. The agriculture sector is the second largest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product in Iraq after the petroleum sector, and employs 25 percent of the work force.
Can't wait to have an Iraqi potato and chew on the earthy taste of freedom. (And is it just me or does this stuff remind you of the Soviet Union c. 1960s? Or Al Ahram now?)
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.