Dr. Watson: Providing an update on Iraq

Published 2:30 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2006

The tragic war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon rightfully has the attention of the world. However, we must not lose sight of what is going on in Iraq.

An essay by Amir Taheri, former editor of Kayhan, Iran’s largest newspaper, paints an encouraging picture. He asserts that the Iraq we have come to know through television and the printed page is a gross distortion of that country. He decries the constant pessimistic refrain of how the war is going. “The half-truths and outright misinformation that now functions as conventional wisdom have gravely disserved the American people” he wrote. Amir Taheri’s essay runs over seven pages documenting his assertions about the war and the country of Iraq. Here are some of his power points:

— During Saddam Hussein’s rule about 1.2 million people fled to other countries, notably Iran. After Saddam was toppled, over 1.2 million people returned to Iraq and the refugee camps have all but disappeared.

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— Over 3,000 clerics have returned from exile. The Shiite seminaries, which enrolled only a few dozen students before, now boast over 15,000 from over 40 countries. The seminaries in Iraq are in contrast to the ones in Iran where a radical, politicized version of Shiism is taught.

— The Iraqi dinar dropped in value in the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule until it was no longer traded in Iran and Kuwait. The new dinar, issued in 1995, is doing well against the dinars of Iran and Kuwait. Today the Iraqi dinar has also risen in value against the U.S, dollar and the citizens of the neighboring countries view it as solid currency.

— According to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the Iraqi economy has been doing better than any other in the region. The Iraqi gross product rose to almost $90 billion in 2004 (the latest figures available) and more than double the 2003 figure. Exports increased by more than $3 billion while the inflation dropped from 60 percent to 30 percent, down from 70 percent in 2002.

Agriculture had almost come to a halt as Iraq depended on the oil-for -food program under Saddam. In the past two years agriculture has dramatically come alive and Iraq is now exporting foodstuffs to the neighboring countries.

— The Iraqi people have always been a talkative people but under Saddam Hussein they fell silent out of fear. Today the entire nation is abuzz with conversation on the t.v. talk shows, talk radio, debate in the tea-houses, bazaars, mosques, offices, and in their homes. Free speech has resulted in over 100 privately owned newspapers and magazines, and over two dozen radio and television stations.

— Many in America believe that democracy will not work in Iraq because they have no history of it, no culture to sustain it, and no tradition of self-government. However, before the Soviets replaced it with a leftist dictatorship in 1958, Iraq did have a brief but significant democratic government. Iraq came into being through a popular referendum in 1921. They set up a government modeled after the United Kingdom with a bicameral parliament, several political parties and periodic elections. They also enjoyed a free press. When democracy was squelched in Iraq, almost a quarter of its population went into exile. When the nation became a free society again, many of the exiles and their children came back home.

— Only their taste for freedom can explain why 70 percent of the eligible voters cast their ballots in a series of municipal elections and two general elections. The overall result has been the appearance of 60 political parties and organizations, the only free-trade unions in the Arab world, a new constitution, and the establishment of a broad-based government of national unity consisting of a representative parliament, a prime minister, and a presidential council.

— In spite of the bombings, kidnappings, and sectarian killings, almost 9 million Iraqi children are in school.

— By January of 2006 over 600 state owned hospitals and clinics were in operation, along with dozens of private clinics.

— The insurgents have created much death and destruction but they are being defeated by the U.S. led coalition and the Iraqi military and police force.

Amir Taheri ends his essay with this question: “Is Iraq a quagmire, a disaster, a failure? Certainly not; none of the above. Of all the adjectives used by skeptics and critics to describe today’s Iraq, the only one that has a ring of truth is messy. Yes, the situation in Iraq today is messy. Births always are. Since when is that a reason to declare a baby unworthy of life?” Let’s hope and pray he is right.

A veteran of the war in Iraq reviewed this column before publication and offered this observation: Good article.all the news coming out of Iraq comes out of Baghdad.what is going on there.because the reporters stay safely sequestered in the safe “green zone” of the city. When they report a car bombing or IED in Baghdad, the rest of the country wonders why there was no report of the multiple weapons cache’s destroyed, or about the insurgents that were captured or killed over the night. Further, you rarely hear about the hospitals, schools, etc that the coalition opens in conjunction with the Iraqi government..