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Coalition Progresses in Iraq, Challenges Remain on the Path

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2003 – Each day the conditions in Iraq are improving and the life for the Iraqi population is starting to return to the "normal pre-war standard," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

In his briefing to the Pentagon press, the secretary also said the department has no objection to officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency going back to Iraq.

Rumsfeld said the coalition would find it helpful for the U.N. scientists to tell coalition forces what was in the sealed areas of the atomic energy plants. He said the decision for sending the IAEA back is up to the United Nations.

Rumsfeld stressed that there are still problems in Iraq. No nation making the transition from a tyranny to a civil society "has been immune to the difficulties and challenges of taking that path," he said.

Rumsfeld gave some examples of the "good news" coming out of Iraq. Some 65 percent of the students in Baghdad have returned to school and a committee of Sunni and Shia Iraqis are working together to develop a new curricula for the schools.

The U.N. Children's Fund is distributing the "school in a box" to the cities of Basra, Umm Qasr and Safwahn. Each kit contains enough supplies for a school's worth of students for a year.

Passenger rail service between Basra and Baghdad has resumed and rail service between Baghdad and Mosul and Baghdad and Umm Qasr has started again, he said.

There will be a new mayor of Kirkuk sworn in on May 27. The city of Mosul elected its first mayor and town council.

In Baghdad, criminal courts have been reopened and U.S. soldiers have testified in cases involving looting.

"Throughout the country civil servants are returning to work and some 900,000 Iraqi civil servants have been provided emergency payments," Rumsfeld said.

Coalition officials met with trustworthy Iraqi military leaders who provided a list of 27,000 officers, noncommissioned officers and defense ministry civilians who may be ready to assist in security activities, he said.

Residential electric customers in the north and south of Iraq have more electric service today than at any time in the last 12 years. In Basra, Iraqis are dealing with a decaying infrastructure by launching Operation Leak Stop. Iraqi plumbers move through the city repairing water pipes.

In Kirkuk 13 of 16 primary health care centers and 46 of 56 health care facilities are operational.

Coalition officials are employing more than 1,500 Iraqis to handle trash duties and to clean up overflowing sewage.

The secretary said Iraqi Media Network began broadcasting last week and that its first broadcast included reports on Mosul elections and the resumed train service to Baghdad.

Iraqi cities are seeing the first uncensored newspapers and magazines in 20 years, he said.

More than 4,500 Iraqi police are back on duty in Baghdad and other cities are rehiring trustworthy men for their police forces. "Reports of looting, curfew violations and gunfire are decreasing," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary also discussed antiquities. "There now appears to be growing evidence that the theft at the museum was most likely an inside job and only an estimated 38 items seem to be currently confirmed as missing," he said.

Bottom line: There are challenges in the country, Rumsfeld said, but the conditions have improved and in the days and weeks ahead, they will continue to get better.

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