Saturday, April 03, 2004

Iraq one year on 

As promised yesterday, a few words about what is really happening in Iraq. It has been over a year now since the war began (but not quite yet one year since President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1, 2003), but the footage reaching us on the news shows mostly the bloody aftermaths of terrorist bombings (suicide or otherwise), burnt-out vehicles on the side of the road, and wary American soldiers patrolling the streets with their fingers on the triggers. When it comes to the locals, more often than not, the media’s attention is focussed either on the sullen and silent, or the defiant Baathist left-overs jumping for joy every time a bomb goes up. It’s enough to make you think the whole enterprise is a gigantic failure and a costly waste of blood and money. Which is exactly what virtually everyone on the left, many in the media, and a small but vocal (and violent) minority inside the Iraq want you to believe.

To get the good news out of Iraq you have to ferret around the net a bit. But it’s all there, crying out for attention. I won’t bore you with a litany of good news, but here’s just a selection of interesting facts about the new Iraq that you might have missed if you are relying on the major networks and newspapers for your news:

- Iraq has got the freest economy in the Middle East, if not one of the freest in the world. There are hardly any laws and regulations in place, and what there is gets hardly enforced. There are no tariffs or duties, no restrictions on investment, and everyone pays a flat rate of tax set at 15%. A lot of the framework and infrastructure of the economy is still missing (for example a reliable banking system), but it’s a damned good start in the region that has always been such a socialist basket case.

- The recently adopted interim constitution is the most liberal in the Arab world: it guarantees and protects individual religious freedom, protects minorities, enshrines federalism, and sets the principles of democracy and the Bill or Rights as the ultimate constitutional bedrock. Unlike their Arab brethren elsewhere, the Iraqis have enjoy constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech, assembly, travel and privacy.

- Over 200,000 Iraqis already serve in security forces; health spending is 30 times higher than before the war; teachers now earn 12 to 25 times what they used to, and doctors at least 8 times – finally the right priorities in a country that for far too long had suffered from too many presidential palaces.

- Satellite dishes and mobile phones are now legal and all the rage in Iraq. At least half a million of used cars have been imported from neighbouring countries. The economy is expected to grow at between 7 and 9% per year for the next decade.

I could go on and on – if you want more information, check out these sources: Paul Bremer’s remarks to the Iraqi Governing Council in March this year (and that website generally), Mark Steyn in “The Spectator”, Fred Barnes in “The Weekly Standard” and Nina Shea in “National Review Online”.

There are still many problems, as you would imagine there would be in a country, which had suffered three decades of brutal dictatorship, numerous wars and economic sanctions, and which has no real tradition of democratic government, liberalism and free market. On top of that there is the continuing terrorism and violence, and let’s not forget the often ambivalent attitude of the Iraqi people themselves – as Fred Barnes writes, “Like the French, they [the Iraqis] may never forgive America for having liberated them.” The Arab mentality, which focuses so much on concepts such as honour, shame, and loss of face, does not make the job of reconstruction any easier.

The whole ambitious project of turning Iraq into a normal country can yet fail. But at least we (including 800 Aussies currently there) have tried our best.


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